Burgans, Albarino, Rias Baixas, 2004. $11 Find this wine
Just because the summer is winding down doesn’t mean that you have to abandon this crisp white from northwestern Spain. A cooperative formed 20 years ago in Galicia, Martin Codax makes this custom cuvee for the American market. The steel tank fermented Albariño had notes of peaches and green apples and is great for impressing lovers of kiwi Sauvignon Blanc—at a lower price. Try with grilled white fish or cheeses, consumed indoors or out. Importer: Eric Solomon.
Simonsig, Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2005. $9.99 Find this wine
Having sampled the 05 vintage from Beaujolais, I’m getting my “freshly squeezed” wine from the southern hemisphere for now. This Chenin Blanc is crisp and clean with neither too much acid (though there’s a great zip) nor too much floral/sweet notes that can be annoying in the grape. Surprisingly, cheese wasn’t much of a food pairing but it was great with grilled fish with Asian glaze. Hmm, a butternut squash soup with a grind of pepper would be good too I bet. Yum, I think I’m going to have to find another bottle of this one. (Importer: Quintessential, Napa, CA. 28,000 cases made)
Hugel, Gentil, 2003 $10. Find this wine
This wine recently stumped my class in a blind tasting. A Gewurtz? A Riesling? A Pinot Gris? In fact, it is all three with a bit of Muscat and Sylvaner thrown in too. If that sounds like a hodge podge, it actually makes for a great bit of value vino. It has the lush mouthfeel you might expect from an American Chardonnay but none of the oak. Floral notes leap from the glass and the light sweetness is not cloying is balanced with acidity that makes it an excellent match for Asian food or seafood. Not bad for a family who has been making wine since 1639! Importer: Frederick Wildman.
Basilium W., Pipoli, Chiaro, IGT 2004. $8 Find this wine
This wine has an identity problem—it drinks like a red but looks like a white. It is actually a white wine made from red grapes but the skins were removed immediately from the fermentation process to lighten both the tannins and the color. But the substance remains, which along with the low 12% alcohol, makes it an excellent match for the cuisine of late summer and early fall. It’s never been easier to discover Italy’s “indigenous varietals” here in the US so try something different. (Gregory Smolik Selection, Sauvage Selections, Bensenville, IL) Read more about Gregory Smolik and this winemaker.
Fontaleoni, Chianti, Colli Senesi, 2004. $11. Find this wine
The theme at this week’s Wine Media Guild lunch was “Out of the Zone: Chianti NOT from the Classico Zone.” I went because I am generally lost when it comes to Tuscan wines. Two wines really stood out from the 25 or so that we tasted, this wine and another one. When I realized that this wine was around $10, I said “booyah!” (well, not out loud). The other standout was a Super Tuscan from Castello di Poppiano, so, alas, it was no value vino. This Fontaleoni, however, a blend of Sangiovese and Canaiolo, is a great food wine—and I don’t mean that to be derogatory. The high acidity characteristic of the wines from this area just goes great with food, especially cheese or other fatty foods. The acidity in the wine is balanced with supple tannins, dark fruit aromas and an excellent, long finish. Yum, this wine is an excellent value! I’ll be stocking this one in the Dr. Vino cave for the holidays. Importer: Michael Skurnik, Syosset, NY.
Scala Dei, Negre, Priorat 2002. $11. Find this wine
This fall I have enjoyed tasting many wines from Priorat, the craggy, inaccessible wine-growing corner of northeastern Spain. The vertiginous hillsides produce powerful and, sadly, prodigiously expensive wines. One of my favorites from the “reasonably” priced wines was the Scala Dei Cartoixa Reserva 2000 (about $26; find this wine), which is complex and brooding thanks to old vines and a good helping of Cabernet Sauvignon. Fortunately, the monastery-turned-winery (see photos at BK wines) has a value vino priced offering in its Negre 2002. This young red wine has a light sweetness that’s typical of Grenache and pairs well with food,
such as a salad with grilled salmon and a hunk of rustic bread. Scala Dei means ladder to heaven—see if your ascension starts here. Importer: Vinum International, Napa, CA.
Chateau de St. Cosme, Little James Basket Press Rouge, $10 Find this wine
This light-hearted label has six light-hearted images—but no vintage and no varietals. Sound like a stunning lack of information even by French standards? Well, that’s because it is a lowly vin de table, a category that dwindles in production volumes every year. Chateau de St Cosme is a well-reputed Gigondas producer owned by Louis and Cherry Barroul who have made this vat-aged Grenache in honor of their son James. Vin de table rules don’t allow a vintage but this current batch is from the 04 vintage. The light sweetness of Grenache and the fruit-forwardness of the wine make it a good match for autumnal foods. This is good example of what clever winemakers can do inside the bottle and out—French wine makers in distress should use this as a point of reference. Imported by Stacole Fine Wines, Boca Raton, FL.
MontGras, Reserva Carmenere, Colchagua, 2001. $9.99 Find this wine
This wine is built for the long haul. It’s not just that it came all the way from Chile, but in the under $10 universe, it’s one of the rare performers that can be as good on day 2 as it was on day 1 (assuming, that is, there’s anything left after day 1). The winery is only a little more than a decade old and Paul Hobbs, superstar flying wine maker from Sonoma, consults. Inky purple in color, aromas of dark fruits, leather and spice leap out of the glass and the wine is lush and balanced with smooth tannins on the palate. This “forgotten” Bordeaux varietal of Carmenere has found a good home in Chile. Try this excellent value vino with smoked meats or firm goat cheeses. Importer: Palm Bay Imports.
Elsa, Syrah, Mendoza 2004. $9 Find this wine
This value vino comes in a new package. The second vintage of Syrah for the Bianchi family of southern Mendoza sports a new, larger bottle and a swanky redesign of the label (a big grape leaf background.) Fortunately this bottle need not be judged by its cover since it what’s on the inside is more important. More in the style of the northern Rhone than a brash shiraz from down under, this elegant wine punches above its weight. Although I didn’t have the Barbera, I found this syrah to be the strongest of the Elsa line at a recent tasting. Pair with autumnal foods-I’m thinking anything with a mushroom sauce would be good. Imported by Quintessential (Napa, CA).
Cousino-Macul, Cabernet Sauvignon, Antiguas Reservas, 2002. $12. Find this wine
This wine combines two of the most overused and underspecified wine terms: “old” and “reserve.” At Cousino-Macul, the line was developed originally at their Macul vineyard in what is now downtown Santiago using old vines. But this current bottling comes from their newish vineyard in the Maipo Valley’s region of Buin. As opposed to the regular Cab, this wine sees 12 months of aging in French oak and a further six months bottle aging. Those dark fruits, tobacco, leathery notes of Cab shine through in the wine—a comparable wine from California would be at least double the price. Importer: Billington Imports.