What’s New in Italian Wine?

Tuscany - San GimignanoItalian wine often gets overlooked with the proliferation of New World wines invading the market, but Italy continues to be a source of new and interesting wines.  Although much of what is new in Italian wine stems from recent releases rather than new wineries, there is no shortage of the latter.  And many first time Italian wines to our shores may indeed issue from centuries old wineries.  After all, what are a few centuries to Italy?

Most intriguing to me from Tuscany are the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino and 2010 Brunello di Montalcino wines from Le Potazzine Gorelli, both of which are a home run.

Equally compelling are the organic wines from newcomer Monterotondo.  Monterotondo’s 2010 Chianti Classico Riserva positively sings from the glass.  It invokes the fecundity, purity and everlasting charm of Tuscany.

Not to be outdone, Alesandro Sderci’s Il Palazzino Chianti Classico estate has recently released the family’s outstanding 2010 Chianti Classicos.  Sderci also introduced Bertinga, an elegant Tuscan Cabernet blend, to the U.S. for the first time with the 2008 vintage.

Lest we think southern Italy the neglected step child, there are plenty of exciting wines flowing from the fabled Amalfi Coast as well as the hinterlands of Campania and points south.  Benito Ferrara, Caggiano, and Colli di Lapio make some of the best red and white wines in southern Italy.  Colli di Lapio’s outstanding 2013 Fiano di Avellino and 2010 Taurasi Vigna Andrea might be the two best white and red Campanian wines to start and finish a meal, though every wine from the diminutive Colli di Lapio estate merits seeking out.  White and red wines from Benito Ferrara and Caggiano stand out as well.


Great California Wine Bargains

Zin GrapesIn the past decade, the number of California wineries has exploded, and with that explosion came a plethora of superior-quality bargain wines.  Although California has suffered through years of drought and small crops, the proliferation of new wineries, coupled with greater attention to viticultural areas other than Napa and Sonoma, means that wine enthusiasts don’t need stacks of $100 bills to enjoy quality wine.  Boutique and family-owned wineries are mostly behind the Golden State’s wine bargains.

Cambridge Cellars is one of the newest wineries in California’s wine scene, and the Cambridge Cellars’ Limited Series of wines stand out as bargains.  The winery’s 2013 Limited Monterey Chardonnay constitutes extraordinary value as does the Cambridge Cellars Limited 2013 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both sell for well under $20.00 a bottle.

Donati Family Vineyard in Paicines, California, fashions top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon and Claret, with the latter featuring an exceptional blend of Bordeaux varietals.  Donati’s 2012 Claret exemplifies the high quality one can acquire at an affordable price. While many California Meritage wines sell for  $50.00 and more, Donati’s Claret is a veritable bargain at $22.00.

Fore Family Vineyards, which strides the Napa/ Lake County border, turns out award-winning wines from Napa, Carneros, and Lake County.  The Fore Family’s 2009 Napa Carneros Pinot Noir exemplifies the exceptional quality emanating from dedicated family wineries in California.  At just under $40.00 a bottle, it may not be in the reach of every Pinot lover, especially those in search of the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir at $15.00, but it tops many $50.00 and $75.00 Pinots.

Napa Cellars crafts classic Napa Valley wines at incredibly affordable prices. Whether it’s Napa Cellars’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc or the winery’s award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot, Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Zinfandel, I am hard-pressed to find better quality and consistency in Napa Valley for under $25.00.

Pietra Santa in California’s Cienega Valley produces extraordinary Sangiovese along with many other varietals.  Although renowned as a producer of Sangiovese, Pietra Santa also excels lately with Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot and various white varietals.  Pietra Santa’s recently reviewed 2010 Sangiovese earned 91 Points from Wine Enthusiast and it can be purchased for $18.00.


What’s New in French Wine?

Wine & CheeseWhat’s new as well as what’s great about French wine today is not so much about what new French wines there are as it is about how good many of the traditional tried and true wines are from well-established appellations. France remains a true treasure trove of affordable wines of exceptional quality, and never has this been more the case than today. Aside from that nation’s top 100 collectable wines – a subjective list in its own right – there are literally thousands of reasonably priced wine treasures in France just waiting to be discovered, or more accurately, rediscovered.

As one of the planet’s two leading purveyors of wine (Italy being the other), France not only turns out a plethora of outstanding affordable wines, it also fashions a tremendous variety of delicious wines; red, white, rosé, sparkling, dry and sweet wines all make the case for France being the world’s leading source of reasonably priced, high quality wines. So, leave the top 100 wines to the billionaires and start drinking well for so much less.

If you like a dry, zippy white wine to slake your thirst and whet your appetite, consider the 2013 Château de Fontenille Entre-Deux-Mers – a delicious white Bordeaux that pleases the palate and goes down easy. Emile Beyer’s 2013 Alsace Pinot Blanc provides another tasty, satisfying, easy drinking white wine. For Chardonnay lovers and something more substantial, consider the 2012 or 2013 Domaine de la Collonge Pouilly-Fuissé from Gilles Noblet or the 2012 Jacques Girardin Les Terrasses de Bievaux Santenay. The Girardin offering impresses with its flavor as well as its elegance, and it may constitute the absolute best value in white Burgundy.

For those who prefer Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it is hard to beat the 2009 Château Barreyre Bordeaux Supérieur. Although officially considered a petit château, there is absolutely nothing little or petite about this wine, except the price. For those who prefer the full-flavored reds of the Rhône Valley, the 2010 Guigal Gigondas and the 2012 or 2013 Chevalier Crozes-Hermitage Marius provide all the comfort and pleasure one can imagine, without breaking the bank. Better still, these are just a few of the many oenological treasures that await the savory American wine drinker. Santé!


Don’s March Collectors Series Top Pick

ClaretNVMy March Collectors Series Top Pick might be different if this were May or June, but it’s not. Very few California wineries make a Chardonnay equal to the Sonoma County Chardonnays that Benovia turns out in small batches. Beautiful could easily be a synonym for Benovia’s wines. And who makes better Rioja than Luis Valentin at Valenciso, whose 2007 Rioja Reserva made Decanter magazine’s Wine of the Year? I love these wines, but for the weather, the need for immediate gratification, and the fact that so many think that top notch California Cabernet must emanate from Napa Valley, I am going with Donati Family Vineyard’s 2011 Ezio Cabernet Sauvignon as this month’s Top Pick. Named for the founder and patriarch of the Donati Family, the 2011 Ezio pays tribute to a visionary and dispels the notion that Central Coast and Paso Robles Cabernets can’t hang with those from Napa Valley. In our panel tastings, Ezio actually blew away quite a few big name Napa Valley Cabs, so there it is. Enjoy!


Winter Warmers: Wines for a Cold Winter’s Night

Fire & WineIn most parts of the country, February is the snowiest and often coldest month of the year (or at least it appears that way to most of us who live outside the Sun Belt).  To ward of the chill of a cold winter’s night, a hearty, mouth-filling red wine can work wonders.  To make the best of the season and the weather outside, consider these Winter Warmers, red wines that are sure to warm the blood as well as please the palate.

Amarone – A special, fleshy, utterly decadent red wine from Italy’s Veneto, Amarone packs a punch (16%-plus alcohol) and delivers layers of luscious flavors sure to warm the bones and everything else, even without a roaring fire.  Bertani, Tommasi and Tenuta Sant Antonio are all trusted names in Amarone and worth seeking out

Barolo – Barolo has been dubbed “The King of wines, and the wine of Kings,” and rightly so. It is arguably Italy’s greatest red wine and just the elixir one needs to make it through a cold winter’s night.  Luigi Pira, Paolo Conterno, Querciola, Revello, Seghesio, and Silvio Grasso all make top notch Barolo.

Gigondas – As the Rhône Valley’s heartiest red wine, stouter even than many Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas was once used as bonesetter, AKA wine to beef up the finest red Burgundy wines in cool years because of its strength, vigor, and substantial alcoholic content.  Domaine Raspail-Ay and La Vau are two excellent examples of powerful, palate-pleasing Gigondas.

Ribera del Duero – Spain’s grandest, fullest-bodied Tempranillo based wines emanate from the hills along the Duero River.  Pesquera, Condado de Haza and Dehesa la Granja (from nearby Zamora), Emilio Moro, and Montecastro are just a few of the top producers who fashion hearty reds from Ribera del Duero, a wine that provides both comfort and warmth during the long winter months.

Syrah/Shiraz – Not all Syrah- or Shiraz-based wines make great winter warmers, but the biggest and best surely do.  Chapel Hill, d’Arenberg, Henschke and Torbreck from South Australia; Bellingham’s Bernard Series from South Africa; and the best California Syrahs from Joseph Phelps, Qupé , Runquist and others will more than fill the bill as winter warmers.

Enjoy and stay warm,

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc