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Wine: Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Region: Margaret River
When you mention Australian Cabernet, most wine consumers immediately think of the expensive, full-blown, high alcohol Cabs from Barossa Valley. But cooler growing regions, like Margaret River, Coonawara and Padthaway are also producing quality wines at a comfortable price level. A few years back I had an Aussie wine manager, James Alexander, who extolled the virtues of Margaret River wines. He, like me, prefers elegance and finesse to power and muscle when it comes to red wines. He talked me into carrying Ringbolt Cabernet, and it is now a staple in my shop. Customers ask, how can a $16.50 Cabernet be as good as you say it is? I have a stock reply – buy it and that will answer your question.
Wine: Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2011
Region: Campo de Borja
A quick geography lesson: Spain has 17 autonomous regions, all of which are now producing wine. 20 years ago Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Andalusia were the only regions exporting wine to the US. Now we are seeing wines from Galicia, Priorat, and Jumilla and on and on. This wine comes from a very small region, Campo de Borja, east of Rioja and south of Navarra. Deep and sweet, this Garnacha (aka Grenache) has ripe red fruit flavors, with great mouth feel and a long, silky finish. Due to its subdued tannins, it can be enjoyed without food, or matched with grilled fish or a big, juicy burger.
Wine: Mount Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Country: New Zealand
The Antinori brothers, who produced Italy’s illustrious Ornellaia, purchased the Mount Nelson property, located in the Wairau Valley of New Zealand’s Marlborough region, in 2003. This wine mirrors some of the traditional traits one expects from NZ Sauvignon Blancs – crisp acidity, natural exuberance and what I refer to as “raciness” – while displaying restraint and elegance. It is the perfect wine to sip by the pool or at a barbecue, but also matches well with shellfish and sautéed fish.
Wine: Pascual Toso Malbec 2010
One recent day I walked into my shop and was approached by a massive man (he could easily qualify as a Steelers’ linebacker). As we spoke I found his personality and passion for wine matched his physical profile. I am speaking of Enrique Toso, producer of some of Argentina’s finest reds. I have been a staunch fan of his value priced Malbec for years, featuring it in the wine shop as well as a perennial restaurant wine by the glass selection. Malbec was traditionally a grape produced in France’s Bordeaux region and blended with other grapes like Cabernet. Argentina has developed a reputation for producing wonderful 100% Malbecs. This wine is full-bodied and hearty, but without the monsters tannins found in Cabernets and Syrahs.
Wine: Benvolio Pinot Grigio 2011
Italian Pinot Grigios have improved dramatically. There was a time that I wouldn’t think of drinking one – I found them to be thin and weak, with no substance. Now producers like Elena Walch and Villa Russiz are producing stellar Pinot Grigios, at price points that would have shocked consumers five years ago. The Benvolio is my pick for a very good one at a “fits into my budget for everyday drinking” price. It is dry and medium-bodied, with some minerality, nice acidity and flavors of lemon and pear.
Wine: Andre Brunel Cuvee Sommelongue Cotes du Rhone 2009
Region: Rhone Valley
These days it’s hard to find a good French red that is reasonably priced, but this wine from highly respected producer Andre Brunel fits the bill. The blend is predominately Grenache with a bit of Syrah and Mourvedre. The grapes come from a small parcel contiguous to Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. The juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks – there is no oak influence. The result is a supple, fresh, fruity wine that is enticing in its youth. Only 1300 cases have been produced.
Wine: Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2011
Country: United States
Appellation: Arroyo Grande Valley
Laetitia used to make two “regular” bottling of Pinot Noir – one, produced from purchased juice, was strictly for restaurants, the other, made from estate fruit, for retail. Two years ago they decided to drop the restaurant brand and stick with the estate bottling. A wise decision, as the estate Pinot was far superior. And they lowered the price on this wine, another wise decision. I carry over 75 pinots – this is my top seller. The quality-value ratio is high on the Richter scale. Talley Vineyards established Arroyo Grande as a legitimate source for great Pinot Noirs – Laetitia is riding on their coattails.
Wine: Discoveries Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Country: United States
It is pretty much a given that to enjoy a quality California Cab you are going to have to reach fairly deep into your wallet. So it’s always a challenge for me to find a cabernet that is sweetly priced to pour as the house Cab in my restaurants. I have featured at least ten house Cabernets over the last 30 years, and the Firestone is by far the best. I shouldn’t be surprised – Firestone Vineyard, on the brink of closing, was acquired by Bill Foley, a maestro when it comes to resurrecting wineries and reestablishing their credibility. This wine, 76% Cab, 9% Cab Franc, 8% Syrah and 7% Petite Sirah, is soft and fruity, but has depth and weight, and actually tastes like a Cabernet, unlike other inexpensive, generic California Cabs.
Wine: Yangarra Old Vine Grenache 2007
Region: McLaren Vale
Yangarra is an aboriginal word for “from the earth.” This winery focuses on natural viticulture, with minimal intervention. In other words, it lets the earth do the talking. The gnarly vines on which these Grenache grapes are grown are 55 years old, lending complexity and body to a grape that at times produce a wimpy wine. When customers ask me to describe a Grenache, I link it to a Pinot Noir, but with more depth and darker fruit. That is what you will find in this wine – finesse and power and lots of drinking pleasure.