What to Look for in February

Ancient-Earth-Front-Label-July-2016This month The International Wine of the Month Club is pleased to deliver an exceptionally diverse portfolio of quality wines to its Premier Series members. To begin this month’s adventure is the 2014 Bellingham Ancient Earth Pinotage Shiraz, a crowd-pleasing red with a nearly opaque purple and ruby-highlighted robe. An intriguing blend of Pinotage (80%) and Shiraz (20%), this juicy red wine offers deep berry tones, hints of forest floor and wood smoke in its aromatic profile to complement its eye-catching color With a just a bit of aeration, deep black cherry and mulberry flavors emerge on the palate – all wrapped in a light patina of oak. The result is a wine of overt charm and a smooth texture that finishes with real panache. No wonder Stephen Tanzer awarded 90 Points to the 2014 Ancient Earth Pinotage Shiraz

Our next Premier Series offering is the 2014 Franklin Tate Estates Margaret River Chardonnay from Australia’s most lauded wine region. Margaret River’s temperate climate and formidable terroir yield balanced wines, which combine the finest in New and Old World winemaking. The 2014 Franklin Tate Estates Margaret River Chardonnay offers more than a mere glimpse into the region’s traditional style of Chardonnay, whereby all of this wine’s attributes contribute to its overall success with no characteristic dominating another. With a bright medium-straw color and glint of green, Franklin Estates’ 2014 Margaret River Chardonnay resembles more a white Burgundy than a Chardonnay from California or elsewhere. This Margaret River Chardonnay offers a complex set of aromatics: hints of citrus, nectarine, spring flowers and hazelnuts meld with scents of freshly baked bread and creamy oak from partial barrel fermentation in new and old French barriques. Pure fruit, nougat and mineral tones present themselves on the palate. Lithe yet satisfying, the 2014 Franklin Tate Estates Margaret River Chardonnay captures the unique character, quality and style one can expect from Margaret River.

Next in this month’s exciting portfolio is the 2013 Boccadigabbia Rosso Piceno. A traditional red wine from Italy’s Marches, the 2013 Rosso Piceno Boccadigabbia does the Marches proud. Boccadigabbia makes the finest and fullest Rosso Piceno around. The opaque 2013 Boccadigabbia Rosso Piceno is bold, brooding, and thoroughly packed with flavor, yet it also offers a level of sophistication and suavity. It provides entrancing deep down scents of black fruits, tinged with licorice and truffle. In the mouth, it appears equally full, rich, and immensely flavorful, where it yields savory notes of black fruits, earth, roses, violets, and forest woodlands, which meld harmoniously with the wine’s substantial tannins to offer an authoritative, powerful finish. Without a doubt, Boccadigabbia sets the bar for Rosso Piceno.

Rounding out this month’s Premier Series offerings is the 2014 Domaine Dyckerhoff Reuilly from the diminutive 450-acre French appellation of Reuilly. Situated along the upper reaches of the Loire River, Reuilly was once considered “the poor man’s Sancerre,” but it is now a shining source of elegant, balanced Sauvignon Blanc as the 2014 Domaine Dyckerhoff Reuilly can attest. From the superb 2014 vintage, Dyckerhoff’s 2014 Reuilly offers soft scents of crisp mountain apples and spring flowers. On the palate, pure fruit and herbal flavors emerge where they mingle with a gentle minerality and a light fresh acidity to afford balance and delicacy to this superb Sauvignon Blanc. Elegant, easy and delightfully engaging, the 2014 Dyckerhoff Reuilly plays counterpoint to some of the more aggressive, sometimes off-putting Sauvignon Blanc wines from elsewhere.

Galena-frt-label-(1)The International Wine of the Month Club’s Collectors Series is pleased to offer three rare and exceptional selections in February. To lead the way is the 2013 Galena Priorat from Spain’s rugged, starkly beautiful Priorat. The 2013 Galena Priorat boasts an intense dark cherry color that expresses the extroverted nature of the land. The wine’s remarkable aromatic allure offers a wealth of aromatic complexity in the form of black fruits, cranberry, exotic spices and a refreshing minerality. In the mouth, one tastes and feels the essence of the land; deep down fruit flavors mingle with a vibrant minerality imbued with touches of spice and wild herb. Powerful, yet supremely balanced, the 2013 Galena Priorat drinks remarkably well now but will evolve favorably in the bottle for more than a decade. Not surprisingly, Wine Spectator awarded the 2013 Galena 92 Points.

Our next February Collectors Series offering is a rare and highly allocated Grand Cru Alsace Riesling from Emile Beyer, one of Alsace’s premier domains. Alsace Rieslings bear little resemblance to the inexpensive German Rieslings of yesteryear and most are fermented dry. The 2014 Emile Beyer Grand Cru Pfersigberg Alsace Riesling is delightfully dry and meant to be enjoyed at table with a splendid meal. Hauntingly beautiful in aroma, delicate and complex in flavor, Emile Beyer’s 2014 Grand Cru Pfersigberg Riesling offers an enthralling potpourri of spring flowers, orchard fruits, cardamom, and pure fruit and mineral flavors to delight the nose and palate. Balanced acidity with the mouthwatering freshness of lemon zest adds crispness and lift to the wine’s refreshing finish. With a glass of Emile Beyer’s Pfersigberg Grand Cru Riesling, put aside all preconceived notions of the noble Riesling varietal and discover the grape’s true beauty, without the residual sugar.

Rounding out this month’s exceptional Collectors Series is the superb 2012 Fisher Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which not only exemplifies the greatness of Fisher’s high elevation mountain fruit, it offers all fortunate enough to acquire a bottle of this highly allocated offering a taste of one of California’s quintessential Meritage or Bordeaux blends. A deeply saturated purple robe first greets the eye and is followed by a bouquet that gloriously wafts from the glass. A deep, dense wine, the 2012 Fisher Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon offers plenty of savory scents and flavors to gratify the senses. Rich blackberry, cassis, wood smoke, tobacco, incense and wild herb flavors well up to greet the nose and grace the palate. Concentrated, yet smooth and rich, Fisher’s Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon possesses concentration, depth, and precision with just the right amount of tannin and verve to offer a long, lingering, expressive finish. Not surprisingly, the 2012 Fisher Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon earned 93 points from Antonio Galloni at Vinous.

What’s the difference between a wine geek and a wine snob?

Our Tasting Panel (AKA Wine Geeks!)
Our Tasting Panel (AKA Wine Geeks!)

We all know at least a couple of wine geeks, and plenty of pretentious wine snobs, too.  The geeks don’t bother me, maybe because I am one.  I love wine and I like talking about wine and sharing it with others.  If that makes me a wine geek, I accept the descriptor.  I admit to having friends who are wine geeks, too, so yes, I am a wine geek.  Wine is one of my passions.  A wine snob on the hand is a different story.  To be knowledgeable about wine and to enjoy it doesn’t make one a snob.

The difference between a wine geek and a wine snob is that the wine geek truly loves wine, gets excited about sharing wine with someone else because he or she wants to share the passion and the pleasure of wine.  It’s all about the motivation and the attitude.  The wine snob on the other hand purchases a label or price tag to impress, and then never fails to brag about how much he (yes, it’s usually a guy, though this club isn’t as exclusive as wine snobs would like) paid for the bottle.  The snob then launches into a soliloquy about his most famous wine exploits, always mentioning and not so casually the cost, again with the intention of impressing his victims rather than pleasing them.  He may then launch into a tirade about the ignorance of others on the matter of wine or zero in on some esoteric fact about wine. Who cares about the ph of the wine if the wine tastes good?

In short, the wine geek is about sharing a pleasurable experience and pleasing others, while the wine snob is about impressing others and inflating his own knowledge, importance, or deep financial pockets.  So, I am proud to be a wine geek and pleased to meet others, but please leave the wine snobs home.  Enjoy!


The Best Wines for Valentine’s Day

VDay Wine GlassIn an ideal world the best wine for Valentine’s Day, or any day, would be the wine in your glass. But not everyone loves the same wine. Beauty in wine resides on the palate of the beholder. To add to the drama, men and women often have different tastes in wine. Happy is the couple who enjoys the same wines or can happily accommodate each other. Valentine’s Day is all about love and making that special someone, male or female, feel special, so consider the preferences of that special someone before you choose a wine to share or give a Valentine’s Day wine gift.

Tips for Guys: Guys continue to gravitate to Cabernets and other full-bodied reds, and they may love that big, brawny Cabernet that they drank at the steakhouse last week with the guys, but odds are she won’t be so enamored. Why not appeal to her sensual self and desire for romance with a fine bottle of Champagne, Cava or Prosecco? Many good sparkling wine choices abound, beginning with Dampierre’s Grand Cuvée Brut Champagne – elegant, sophisticated, highly rated Champagne. For an even fuller and more traditional style of Champagne, consider the Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut. Signal Ridge Brut, a home-grown sparkling wine from Trinchero Family Vineyards that is made in California using the traditional method, offers plenty to admire, too. It may also be one of the best bargains in sparkling wine. If a lighter and more delicate sparkling wine is in order, Mont Marçal Cava from Spain and any Valdobbiadene Prosecco from Umberto Bortolotti are sure to provide charm and send the message I am thinking of you. And, if she prefers red, Pinot Noir can say “I love you, too.” There is no shortage of fine Pinot Noirs in the marketplace from California and Chile. Benovia, Casas del Bosque, Fore Family Vineyards, and Pietra Santa, are just a few producers of excellent, fairly priced Pinot Noir that should appeal to her.

Tips for Ladies: Men are visual creatures and delight in adventure and surprises. Power is often more exciting to them than subtlety, so unless he just can’t wait for another glass of the Chardonnay you adore or the delicate, complex Pinot Noir you crave, consider something more appealing to him. A big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from California or elsewhere that he has never tasted before will go a long way to saying “I love you.” The Fisher Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Edgbaston GS and Obsidian Ridge Estate Red Hills Cabernet Sauvignon are a few of the finest quality Cabernets around for under $50.00 that are sure to appeal to your guy’s senses as well as his taste for adventure. Châteauneuf-du-Pape and full-bodied Syrah or Shiraz offerings will likely strike chords in him as well. Combes d’Arnevel, Domaine Grand Tinel, and Domaine Vieux Lazaret each craft excellent Châteauneuf-du-Papes, while Australia, California, and South Africa produce a bevy of great Syrah/Shiraz wines. Ben Glaetzer, Chapel Hill and Mr. Riggs from South Australia are accomplished Shiraz producers whose wines are hard to beat, while Chile’s Casas del Bosque Pequenas Producicones Shiraz and South Africa’s Robertson’s Number One Constitution Road Shiraz deserve high marks, too. Beckmen and Stolpman from California deserve every bit of the high praise and 90+ point scores they receive for their outstanding Ballard Canyon Syrahs.

Tips for Guys and Girls: Compare notes at the end of the evening, taste each other’s wines, enjoy the communion, and have a happy Valentine’s Day together with whatever wine is in your glass.


Italy’s Piedmont: A Tapestry of the World’s Greatest and Most Affordable Wines

In the north of Italy, nestled just beneath the great Alpine wall as it tumbles out of Switzerland and the gleaming Mediterranean Sea, lies Italy’s Piedmont.  This is a region of myriad beauty.  It is also the region of Italy closest to France in proximity as well as in the sheer quality and variety of exceptional wines it produces.

For centuries, Italy’s Piedmont remained a prize to be won among European powers, no doubt in part on account of the province’s exceptional wines and world famous cuisine that still draws happily on the abundance and quality of local truffles.  Yet today, it is the superbly made wines of Italy’s Piedmont that garner the most international recognition: complex, hedonistic red wines, still delicate whites, and sweet haunting Muscats.  Although not inexpensive, the great enological treasures of the Piedmont constitute the most affordable of Italy’s great wines and form a tapestry of the planet’s most affordable and exciting wines.  With such exquisite fare, should anyone question why the hearty robust delights of the Piedmontese table remain the region’s most famous ambassadors to a hungry and thirsty world?

linzs-italy-vineyard-2016Barolo, the region’s quintessential red wine from the prized Nebbiolo varietal, is Piedmont’s most renowned wine. It has earned the moniker “The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings,” and for good reason.  It offers complexity, flavor, nuance, and power, and it comes in a variety of styles, both modern and traditional.  Luigi Pira, Querciola, Revello, Seghesio, Renato Corino, Silvio Grasso, and Vietti are prime producers of Barolo who consistently offer high quality and value.  And not surprisingly, they also fashion some of Italy’s finest Barbera and Dolcetto, the Piedmont’s other exceptional red varietals.  La Morandina from nearby Asti and Stefano Farina also turn out first rate Piedmontese Barbera and red blends.

Although red wines dominate the wine scene in Piedmont and garner the most international attention, the white wines of Piedmont reign as some of Italy’s finest. Arneis and Gavi are the region’s most elegant and traditional dry white wines.  Neither receives much, if any, oak barrel ageing, and they are the better for it.  Elegance, subtlety, pinpoint minerality and laser like precision are hallmarks of these varietals.  La Scolca, Massone Stefano, and Ottosoldi are trusted producers of Gavi, while Ceretto Giacosa, Malabaila, and Vietti consistently fashion exceptional Arneis.  And if sweet ethereal Moscato slakes your thirst, La Morandina and a host of Piedmontese producers make fine, easy to drink Moscato – a Moscato as succulent as any on earth – slightly effervescent and sweet but not cloying.  Enjoy!


Great Holiday Wine Gifts for Under $25.00

fire-wineWorld-class wines abound, but seemingly only at prices that billionaires and multi-millionaires can afford. This is especially truly for classified Bordeaux, Burgundy, California Cabernet Sauvignon, and the top 100 wines from any given wine region. However, there is no cause for despair because a treasure trove of world-class wines exists for under $25.00 a bottle. Whether it is a superb red or white wine for personal consumption or a special gift for someone who appreciates fine wine, more world-class wines abound at prices that most consumers can imagine, and at prices most of us can afford.

The key to finding the finest wines and greatest wine values is to be open to wines whose names are not on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For example, consumers seem to be fixated on finding the single best Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir for under $25.00 a bottle. Certainly, some very good examples of these varietals exist at reasonable prices, but more often than not the search for world-class examples of these varietals becomes tantamount to a quest for the Holy Grail. Instead, why not consider varietals and wines with unfamiliar names that deliver more for less?

Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon’s Bordeaux kinsman, offers rich mouth-filling flavors, smoother tannins, and a whole lot more bang for the buck than most Cabernets. As for any type of wine, varying levels of quality exist among Carmenère producers, but names such as Casa Silva, Casas del Bosque, Carmen, and Casa Lapostolle consistently turn out exceptional Carmenères. The Carmenères from these producers routinely grace my table and provide exceptional, well-appreciated Holiday gifts for friends and family. Why not tune into something a bit unfamiliar and turn friends and family on to something new and exciting at a cost you can afford and any red wine lover would be thrilled to receive?

Although Carmenère may most resemble Cabernet Sauvignon in flavor and style, other red varietals shine in their own right. Sangiovese and Tempranillo in particular offer much to appreciate in red wine and deserve better representation among red wine lovers. Sangiovese, Tuscany’s premier grape, is rapidly gaining favor in California and in some cooler locales, giving Cabernet a run for its money. Pietra Santa, Seghesio, and Trinchero Family Vineyards’ Terra d’Oro fashion exceptional California Sangiovese, wines which routinely garner 90 point ratings. Meanwhile, Tempranillo, Spain’s premier varietal, continues to be the source of Spain’s finest wines and greatest values. This versatile varietal is gaining accolades in California and Washington state, too, where plantings of Tempranillo are expanding rapidly. For the finest Tempranillo values, look to Spain’s Ribera del Duero, Zamora, Rioja, and Castilla Y Leon regions. Tridente Old Vines Tempranillo from the legendary Juan Gil in Castilla Y Leon, Rioja producers Martinez Corta and Montana, and Dominio Basconcillos from Ribera del Duero all offer excellent quality and outstanding value.

For exciting, affordable alternatives to Chardonnay, consider the many delightful, little known white wine gems that flow out of Italy. Gavi, Lugana, and the many proprietary white wines from outstanding producers are well worth seeking out. If you or the person receiving these wines are not addicted to the “butter and oak” of California Chardonnay, the thrill will be all the greater. Ottosoldi Gavi, Tenuta di Calcinaie Vernaccia di Gimignano and Dei’s Martiena, the latter a racy proprietary Tuscan white wine, are all splendid, well-crafted white wines that are worth seeking out. For a slightly more exotic treat, Mura’s Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura from the island of Sardinia will convert many a Chardonnay aficionado. Enjoy!