Branching out–grape varieties worth a try

olmdanbraveSometimes we get stuck in a wine rut. We find a comfort zone and stick with it, always ordering the Sauvignon Blanc or the Malbec. It’s time to play “if you like, you may like,” a little tool to help you branch out. Some of the varietals called out here are also featured in one of our very cool, new gifts, “Brave New World of Wine.” It is based off the new book by renowned wine educator and author, Mark Oldman. In this book, Oldman calls out some slightly off-the-beaten-path varieties to try, as well as some old favorites that should be re-visited. So I’ll be using some of those great suggestions, here. If you like these ideas, the Brave New World of Wine is worth checking out!

If you like Sauvignon Blanc…
You may also like Chenin Blanc – particularly those versions from South Africa. Dry, crisp and delightful, It’s also a great value.
Also try Gruner Veltliner – Austrian’s white gem, this wine is crisp and refreshing with a wine peppery backbone.

If you  like Pinot Gris
You may also like Rhone Blends and Torrontes. Both are very crisp and Torrontes has lovely aromatics.

If you like Cabernet Sauvignon
Try Aglianico or Nero d’Avola from Italy. Or a Petite Sirah from California. These all have great tannic structure and density to please a Cab-loving palate.

And maybe you’re more into “styles”…

If you like light & fruity reds, try Barbera, Dolcetto or Gamay (as in Cru Beaujolais). All three of these varieties offer lots of great acidity and red berry fruit, making them excellent for food-friendly beverages.

Are you more earthy & spicy? Give Carmenere a go – it’s got a meaty & smoky characteristic that is so specific, but not too heavy. You could also try some South African reds. Pinotage, Syrah/Shiraz and Bordeaux blends from South Africa all have that spicy punch.

But don’t take my word for it. Get a look at Mark Oldman’s new book – it will have you drinking bravely in no time!

Building the perfect case–a little bit of everything

Let’s say you could only order 12 bottles, but you wanted a bit of every style. Here’s what we’d pull together – a list of each varietal we’d choose, and a recommendation for each.

Champagne: Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee ($59.99) – one of my favorite NV Champagnes, the Bollinger is a full-bodied, rich and creamy sparkler. It is ideal for holiday dinners and celebrations, though drinking it is a celebration in itself.
Other Sparkling: Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose ($19.99) – Not only is it good to have a value bubbly around, but it’s good to have a rose as well. We love this producer, region and style. Beautiful color, fresh on the palate, delightful all around.

Riesling: Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling ($19.99) – I was pouring this wine when I met my husband, we served it at our wedding, and we always break it out when we order in good Chinese food. Bright fruit, excellent acidity and firm minerality. It’s Riesling all the way – not sweet, but just a hint off-dry. Hard to tell with the puckering acidity it gives you though. Great sipping wine, great with food.
Viognier (or Viognier blend): d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Marsanne/Viognier 2008 ($15.49) – Excellent example of a Vigonier blend – this wine is 72% Viognier, showing the floral and perfumed nose of the grape. Lots of apricot and peach come through, but with excellent acidity coming from Marsanne.
Chardonnay: Two options here because with Chardonnay I’m always torn – I like that big, rich style (if well-balanced) from some California producers, but I also love a crisp, classy Chablis. Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay ($59.99) – I am a devoted follower of this rich, creamy and decadent wine. It has that rich creaminess of a California Chardonnay, balanced by tart acidity and a super long and layered finish.    Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru 2009 ($34.99) – crisp, mineral-driven with layers of flavors and a lingering finish. Chablis shows its stuff with some age, too.
Spanish White: Pick up some Albarino or Godello, or, if you’re feeling really daring, some Txakoli. Rafael Palacios Louro Do Bolo Godello 2007 (16.99) – A fantastic deal for an old-vine Godello. If you like old-school, old-world whites, like white Bordeaux, Loire Chenin Blanc and Mosel Rieslings, you must try Godello. It’s vibrant and balanced, with excellent character.

Must have a token Rose in your case. My all-time favorite go-to Rose? Mulderbosch ($11.29) – Made from Cabernet Sauvignon and hailing from South Africa, the wine is dry and crisp, with a fragrant nose and delightful body.

Pinot Noir: Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2008 ($29.99) – combining the earthy subtleties of France with the rich fruit of California, Oregon Pinot Noir hits the right note. From the acclaimed 2008 vintage, we love this Adelsheim. It shows lots of bright cherry fruits, a hint of spice and some herbal notes. Quite elegant and definitely food-friendly.
Red Rhone: Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2007 ($19.99) – Perrin is an excellent producer, 2007 was a banner year, and Vinsobres is a hot, new region. The combination makes this a delicious (and affordable) wine choice – for parties, dinners, whatever.
Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend: Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($39.99) – I truly love this wine. Not an over-the-top Cabernet from California, this wine has structure and finesse. It has backbone, yes, but it does not knock your socks off with over-ripe fruit and high alcohol. Perfectly balanced is the best way to describe it.
Malbec: Bodegas Norton Malbec Reserva 2007 ($15.99) – Ripe, spicy and dense, just as a Malbec should be, the Norton one of those well-balanced Malbecs that make you crave another sip, again and again…
Italian Gem: Vietti Barbera d’Alba or Asti Tre Vigne – Love all of Vietti’s wines, but he makes an excellent Barbera in the $20 range that is fantastic – lighter bodied, with bright acidity, velvety tannins and a smooth finish. It represents Italy well.

Enjoy building your case!

Top 100 Wine Lists

trophyred_130Today announced its Top 100 list for 2010. This is the fourth year we have produced this list, and it features the top one percent of wines sold on the website during 2010. We’re certainly not the only one to produce a Top 100 list each year, but we do it a little differently than most others.

Publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine and Spirits Magazine, Wine Enthusiast and many different newspapers, gather their Top 100 lists each year based on ratings and opinions of the editors. Our Top 100 is decided by our customers. One way to look at it – we’re like the Billboard Top 100 Music chart, reporting our Top 100 “hits” of the year. The list is based on volume of bottles sold, not revenue, so it reflects the amount people are buying.

We enjoy following the other Top 100 lists, because they are usually a diverse list of wines and represent everything from great values to hard-to-find collectibles. From the lists of large publications that take in all the wines of the world, to smaller lists, like the Seattle Times which focuses on the top 100 Washington Wines, they are all worth a look.

For the 100, our results are on consumer trends, and here is what we found for 2010.

– The number one wine, d’Arenberg’s Stump Jump Shiraz 2008 has a retail price of $9.99, but the average selling price for the list this year is $28.44, up 30% from last year and the highest it’s been in our four years of publishing the list.

Napa Valley featured 20 wines on the list, up from 13 last year.

Pinot Noir was the grape for 10 wines on the list, up from 2 last year. Most of them were around or under the $20 mark, noting a growing trend for great value Pinot Noir.

Cabernet Sauvignon was still top varietal, representing 25% of the list, while Chardonnay fell to just 4 wines, having had 10 last year.

– 50% of the wines were domestic, while in previous years, imported wines had led by at least 60%.

– Wineries that have been featured every year include: Caymus, Chateau St. Jean, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Conundrum, Cristalino, d'Arenberg, Falesco, Kim Crawford, Punto Final, Silver Oak, Veramonte, Veuve Clicquot.

What are some of your favorite Top 100 lists of the year?

Why lighter bottles matter

It’s happened to most of us – we grab the bottle, sure there is some wine left to pour into our glass, only to find out that it is empty. Yet it weighs as much as some full bottles. Why? Why is it necessary to put wine in such a heavy bottle? bottleMost wine bottles weigh about a pound. In the past decade, certain wineries and winemakers bottled their wines in much heavier bottles, some up to four pounds. The move may have been to indicate higher quality wines – heavier bottles, deeper punts, and you know our wine is top-notch. Yet nothing about thicker, heavier glass is better for the wine (unless you’re drinking Champagne). Some of the most age-worthy Bordeaux are packaged in much lighter bottles than some California Cabernet. But the trend is changing due to some heavy bottle backlash.

In 2008, both Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke, two highly regarded wine writers and experts, blasted the heavy bottle trend, noting its environmental irresponsibility. Heavy bottles have a much higher carbon footprint, adding to shipping weight and glass waste in the world. Luckily, in an effort to be more green, wineries are taking note and making the move to lighter bottles.

There is also a move by some producers into alternative packaging. You’ll see more tetra packs, bag-in-box wines and PET bottles coming into the market.

So take notice of which producers are packaging your wines in ultra-heavy bottles. If you don’t like it – let them know. Which wineries do you know of that are using lighter bottles for their wines?

Good Wine Punch

While wine itself is plenty to go around at a party, sometimes you want a little something more… like wine punch! One of my favorite ways to drink wine in the winter is in the “mulled” style. Mulled wine, called “glogg” in the Nordic countries, is often associated with winter due to it being warm and spiced.

It’s a great way to make a bottle go a bit further – serve it like “punch” and don’t worry about having to open more bottles! That said, don’t use too cheap of a bottle as bad wine will not make good mulled wine.

When choosing a wine for mulled wine, don’t spend too much, but don’t spend too little – you want a good, solid $10 – $15 of wine. Also, don’t choose a wine with too much oak – Merlot, Zinfandel, Rhone blends and some Syrah are good choices.

Here’s a recipe for great mulled wine:

7 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
zest of one small orange
4 cinnamon sticks
1 750mL bottle of red wine
1/4 cup of brandy 
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water

Put the first 4 ingredients into a mesh bag or tie it into a cheesecloth.

In a non-reactive pot, add remainder of ingredients, including the bag of seasonings. Bring to almost a boil, then let simmer at just under a boil for about 10 minutes. You should taste and adjust sugar or water to your desired tastes. Serve into mugs and drink warm. Serve with cinnamon sticks!

The Official Blog