|Vinum, Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, 2004. $11 Find|
As spring approaches and the weather improves, Chenin Blanc makes for a great spring transitional wine. And with temperatures in the high 60s today, spring is in the air. In the past week, I tried five Chenins and this cheapest one (and only new world one) stood up well, perhaps because the non-interventionist team in South Africa is headed by Frenchman Edouard Labeye. Light notes of flowers,
a squeeze of lime, and faint vanilla infuse this snappy value vino. Serve it with fish or appetizers or wherever you would have had American Chardonnay 5 years ago. Importer: Vinnovative Imports, Charlotte, NC. 5,000 cases produced
Bodegas Naia, Las Brisas, D.O. Rueda, 2004, $9. Find this wine
Not so long ago white wine from Spain was dismissed as industrial plonk but several regions have been coming along and raising the country’s profile.
Rueda, a region on the Castilian plain (where it doesn’t rain all that much actually), has started making some crisp and lively whites based on the Verdejo grape. In this Las Brisas, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura blend with Verdejo to make a wine that has crisp acidity with floral notes–think orange blossoms. It’s a great wine for summer weather but even in the winter, it pairs well with soft cheeses or grilled white fish. Importer: Jorge Ordonez.
Quinta do Dorado, Auratus, Alvarinho/Trajadura, 2004. $13 Find this wine
Snappy and crisp, this refreshing wine has a certain softness to it that makes it more appealing than many Sauvignon Blancs from the New World-or
even albariños from north of the border in Galicia. This is a cross-border wine: Spaniard Marcial Dorado crossed into Portugal to find a 70 year old vineyard planted with the Albariño/Alvarinho grape. He started to farm the vineyard organically, reduced the yields, and hand harvested the grapes, which preserves them intact better than machine harvesting. He also built a winery that relied on the flow of gravity to run the juice through the various stages of fermentation and maturation. The resulting wine is the best white wine I have ever tasted from
Portugal, granted a small category, but it really is an excellent wine. Try with seafood or stir-fry. Importer: Vieux Vins, Vinesbrug, CA.
Casa Castillo, Monastrell, Jumilla, 2003. $10 Find this wine
Murcia once was a region known for its sausages. Now the wines are giving the sausages a run for their money. Located on the Mediterranean coast just below Alicante, the wine growing region of Jumilla lies inland at an altitude of 2,000 ft with hot summer days and cool nights. This red, dark in color and rich in flavor, definitely punches above its featherweight price tag. Try with sausage (from Murcia?). See pictures of the arid vineyard here. Importer: Jorge Ordonez.
Falesco, Vitiano rosso, IGT 2004. $9 Find this wine
Readers of this web site sometimes write in that they have trouble finding the wines I recommend (but a lot less since I started adding a link to online retailers) but that shouldn’t be a problem with 200,000 cases of Vitiano produced. This bargain red blend-equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese-is made by Ricardo Cotarella at his own winery though his fame as a consulting winemaker
led Robert Parker to call him “Italy’s answer to France’s Michel Rolland. . .” The resulting wine is a great pizza wine that is light in color and
in alcohol with crisp, clean notes of dark fruit. While still a good bargain, it was an even better bargain a couple of years ago when it was a couple of dollars cheaper. Importer: Winebow, Montvale NJ.
Domaine Lafond, Roc-Epine, AOC Lirac,
2003. $12 Find this wine
Located where the southern Rhone drifts into Provence, Lirac proves to be good ground for this wine that resembles a Chateauneuf-du-Pape but at a fraction of the price. (yes, it is over $10 but hey, it’s only about 5 US Postal stamps more.) This wine has a terrific complexity for the price with balanced notes of dark fruit and tannin and a long pleasant finish. An excellent mushroom-chard
pasta was a great food match. Jean Pierre and Pascal Lafond of Lirac, you rock! Importer: Wines of France: Mountainside NJ.
Terrazas de los Andes, Malbec 2004. $9. Find this wine
Polyphenols, they’re all the rage. No, they’re not a chemical additive dumped into wines by industrial wine makers; instead they are chemical compounds, high in antioxidants, that may fight cancer. Since polyphenols occur naturally in red wines, enthusiasts and the producers of red wine have been quick to make tout the health benefits of red wine (yes, something we enjoy doing may
actually be good for us). According to a 2001 study in the magazine Nature, the high elevation of the Argentine vineyards gives their reds more exposure to ultraviolet rays and raises the polyphenol level. So don’t reach for a bottle of POM pomegranate juice, reach for an Argentine Malbec. This Terrazas is a great place to start. After tasting through a half a dozen entry-level Malbecs, I found this 100% Malbec
grown at 3,000 ft above sea-level to be the most attractive. Dark in color, with notes of blackberry, plum, cassis, and saddle leather, and the tannins in the finish were smooth. The obvious food pairing is a steak but would also be good with burgers. Importer: Schieffelin & Somerset, NY.
|Le Petit vin d’avril, NV $9. Find this wine|
Father and son team of Paul and Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes make great wines. The only trouble is that their 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape is about $40-for a half bottle! If you can find it, that is, since it snagged the #2 WS wine of the year (yoink–not as if that means anything to us). The Avrils have made this excellent nonvintage “table wine” that is exemplary in two ways: a light-hearted
label and punching well above its weight. The wine is light in color and has the gentle sweetness that is characteristic of Grenache as well as dark berries and a faint spice. It is balanced with a mere 13% alcohol—I’m heading back to the store where I got it and stocking up! Importer: Wines of France, Mountainside, NJ.
Tres Picos, Garnacha, D.O. Campo de Borja, Spain, 2004, $9.99. Find this wine
Like rivals the Capulets and the Montagues, Grenache and Tempranillo have been duking it out, in this case, for red grape domination in Spain. With an old-vine Grenache value like this, it would be shocking if the Tempranillos
didn’t just lay down their swords. From the obscure Campo de Borja region comes this beauty with notes of red berries and earthiness. I included it in a recent tasting with wines three times the price and it had no problem keeping up. The heavy glass bottle makes for a nice presentation — rate this one a great value gift wine! Importer: Jorge Ordonez, Dedham, MA.
signature Blanc Saumur, NV $8. Find
Sparkling wine is a contentious issue. Not for consumers who
gladly sip the stuff at weddings and graduations. But for producers from outside
the Champagne region who chafe to free ride on the term Champagne. (While such
usage has been stamped out in the EU, a recent accord has let the issue bubble
in America.) In France, there are several sparklers from other areas beyond Champagne
and this is a particularly attractive price-to-quality ratio from the Loire. A
pale yellow color and a fine bead appear in the glass with pleasant crispness
and surprising depth. The grape is almost all Chenin Blanc, which adapts very
well to the methode champenoise that Bouvet employs. While dyed-in-the-wool Champagne
enthusiasts will no doubt recoil at the thought of a sparkler not from the sacred
region, this is a choice that is easy on the palate and on the wallet—a welcome
relief for the party host or the father of the bride. Importer: Kobrand, NY.
Still value vino,
but higher prices
See previous list of value vino