The Best Red Wines of Bordeaux

Cars_GirondeFor most red wine drinkers, Bordeaux aficionados included, the best red wines of Bordeaux are not, and will likely never be, the region’s illustrious First Growths, Grand Cru Classés, and other classified or press-deified garagiste wines of miniscule production. Many wine lovers know the best red wines of Bordeaux will be the finest red wines they can afford from the world’s most renowned wine region, but let’s face it: only a small handful of billionaires can afford to fork over thousands of dollars for a single bottle of a fine vintage of Château Margaux, Petrus, or Haut-Brion, and fewer still will wait until these sanctified reds are truly ready to be enjoyed to the fullest.  So, what can red Bordeaux lovers do to slake their thirst for fine red Bordeaux?

Bordeaux, France, is the largest fine wine producing region in the world – a viticultural paradise jam-packed with small, family-owned châteaux and affordable red wine treasures.  This is particularly true in excellent vintages produced in 2010 and 2012.  Consequently, some of Bordeaux’s best bargains and most pleasing, ready-to-drink red wines can be found among Bordeaux Petits Châteaux, many of which bear just a Bordeaux Supérieur classification.

These are not the “big” names of Bordeaux, nor are any of these châteaux’s wines household words. However, select Petits Châteaux, such as the 2010 Château Barreyre and 2010 Château Laronde Desormes, constitute some of the best bargains in all Bordeaux and are ready to enjoy now. These are tasty, beautiful reds that over-deliver in every way.

For even more bang for the buck, the elegant, silky smooth 2012 Château Saint André Corbin St. Georges St.Emilion is downright irresistible now and much more inviting than many of the wines from its St. Emilion neighbors, most of which cost two to three times the price.  Another tasty, affordable gem is the 2012 Château Ducasse Graves, a sophisticated red Bordeaux that demonstrates why Graves, the oldest wine-producing area in Bordeaux, continues to enjoy the favor of critics and consumers alike.

The keys to finding the best red Bordeaux are the track record of a given château and the quality of the vintage.  Presently, the 2010 and 2012 vintages are the ones to look for, while we await the best red Bordeaux wines from the outstanding 2014 and 2015 vintages.


The Best Red Wines from Spain

TempranilloThe quintessential Tempranillo grape varietal figures prominently in the greatest red wines of Spain. Whether it is the iconic Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero, Valenciso in Rioja, or a bevy of extraordinary values from Castilla, Leon, Toro, La Mancha, and elsewhere in Spain, Tempranillo grapes reign supreme.

Tempranillo, a dark-skinned grape variety indigenous to Spain, is Spain’s noble red grape varietal.  It is grown throughout Spain, though it thrives in Ribera del Duero, Rioja, and in the interior of Spain, where the climate is continental rather than Mediterranean. The grape derives its name from the Spanish word temprano, meaning “early,” for its propensity to ripen earlier than other red grape varietals.  In some parts of Spain, and especially in Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo shines on its own as a varietal, while Rioja and other Spanish wine regions blend Garnacha, Mazuelo, or other grape varieties with a predominance of Tempranillo. Tempranillo yields a medium- to full-bodied wine, which benefits greatly from extended ageing in French and American oak barrels.

The list of incredible Tempranillo wines from Spain is nearly endless, yet no one consistently produces a better portfolio of estate grown and bottled Tempranillo wines than the legendary Alejandro Fernandez, the “King of Tempranillo.”  Fernandez fashions four outstanding Tempranillo wines at his four estates: Pesquera, Condado de Haza, Dehesa La Granja, and El Vinculo.  Pesquera and Condado de Haza bear the great Ribera del Duero DOC, while Dehesa La Granja hails from a prized property in Zamora along the Duero, a sprawling ranch which once served as Spain’s greatest bull raising ranch. El Vinculo hails from La Mancha, whose vines are over 80 years old.  For consumers searching for great Spanish red wines, they need look no further than Alejandro Fernandez’s four Tempranillo jewels.


Champagne and All That Sparkles

Finding the Best Champagne from Around the World

Champagne GlassesAll that sparkles is not Champagne, despite the enduring legacy in America to refer to any wine with bubbles as Champagne.

Champagne is an ancient province of France, and lends its name to a distinctive sparkling wine whose name and method of production are protected by law. Actual Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France.

For centuries, Champagne has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a wine of conviviality and good cheer. Among critics and connoisseurs, it still weighs in as the world’s finest sparkling wine, and the most expensive. Perhaps for these reasons, most Americans continue to relegate Champagne and other fine sparkling wines to special occasions: Thanksgiving dinner, weddings, late-night holiday parties, New Year’s Eve celebrations, etc. Frankly, Champagne and other top-quality sparkling wines deserve better, not only because they add a note of celebration to any occasion, but because they also pair splendidly with a wide variety of foods.

Champagne Styles and Preparation Methods

Champagne provides the ideal accompaniment to all types of seafood and poultry, as well as many cheeses and vegetarian dishes. The traditional Champagne houses of Comte Audoin de Dampierre, Joseph Perrier, and Philipponnat offer exceptional quality and value in non-vintage Champagne to enliven any meal or add festivity to any occasion. Dampierre’s Grand Cuvée Brut, Joseph Perrier’s Cuvée Royale, and Philipponnat’s Royale Réserve Brut and Royale Réserve Rosé are especially worth seeking out. Thierry Lombard’s Magenta Cuvée Supérieure also provides exceptional quality and value in a lighter, easy-to-drink style of Champagne.

Although all that sparkles is not Champagne, many sparkling wines throughout the world are made using the same painstaking method and are well-worth seeking out. The words “traditional method,” or similar words in the producer’s language should appear on the label. California fashions many exceptional sparkling wines through the traditional method, many of which are made by French Champagne houses. For those seeking tasty California bubbly that won’t break the bank, the Signal Ridge Chardonnay Brut offers plenty to like.

Cava, often referred to as Spain’s rendition of Champagne, provides many more opportunities to enjoy fine sparkling wines made in the traditional manner. Mont Marçal from the Penèdes region of Spain, just south of Barcelona, only makes cava, and consistently fashions some of the very best vintage Brut Reserva and Rosé cavas.

Another exciting sparkling wine, and perhaps the bubbly most currently in vogue, is Italy’s prosecco. Prosecco is typically lighter in alcohol than either cava or Champagne, but it is rarely made using the painstaking traditional method whereby the wine ferments and ages in the bottle. Bortolotti from Valdobbiadene, the classic production zone for prosecco, offers an exceptional prosecco experience.

With so many excellent sparkling wines to choose from, why limit the pleasure of Champagne or fine sparkling wine to a few occasions or just one time of year? Pour a glass of good bubbly today and enjoy!


Syrah: California’s Other
Great American Red Wine

stolpman-estate-grown-ballard-canyon-syrah-2012Aussies call it Shiraz, Americans refer to it as Syrah, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same great grape.  Syrah reigns as Australia’s premier grape variety, garnering the accolades and attention reserved in America for California Cabernet.

Yet, American Syrah is every bit as exciting as Australian Shiraz, and it’s often more complex and compelling.  Furthermore, premium California Syrahs remain veritable bargains in comparison to the Golden State’s top Cabernets.  So, why don’t we drink more Syrah?

The fact is, America is just starting to discover Syrah, and California’s acumen with the nation’s other great red varietal may, in the not so distant future, rival Cabernet Sauvignon in popularity and quality.

Napa Valley, Santa Barbara County, and California’s Central Coast contain a trove of great Syrah wines. From Napa Valley, one can always count on outstanding Syrah from Colgin, Konsgaard, and Phelps, to name just a few of Napa’s iconic producers of this varietal, but at a price.

Equally persuasive and even more complex are the Syrah wines from Santa Barbara County and California’s Central Coast region.  Alban, Beckmen, Carlisle, Jaffurs, Olai, Sin Qua Non, Stolpman, and Tensley fashion pure, polished Syrahs to make even the most diehard Cabernet drinker swoon.  Moreover, many of these Central Coast Syrahs provide tremendous pleasure even in their first few years of life, unlike the state’s top Cabernets, and these Syrahs can be cellared to perfection for up to a decade or more.

Best of all, one doesn’t have to be a billionaire to drink great California Syrah.  Producers such as Beckmen and Stolpman fashion Syrahs that qualify as the finest quality and value wines among all premium California varietals.  Enjoy!


Great California Wines From Off the Beaten Path

Pietra Santa Winery
Pietra Santa Vineyard

John Steinbeck would have no problem finding Hollister, California, or making his way through the nearby Cienega Valley to taste the fruit of the vines that grow upon the slopes of the Gabilan Mountains or in the valley of the Salinas River.  But, how many of the wine tourists that crowd the tasting rooms of Napa Valley would know where to begin to look for Hollister or the Cienega Valley?

Off the beaten path and under the radar of the masses who travel to more trodden wine destinations, Hollister and the Cienega Valley offer the thirsty traveler in search of fine wine a trove of affordable treasures.  Located on the San Andreas Fault in the northern half of California’s Central Coast AVA, Cienega Valley may well be the most unspoiled wine country in California.

Calera is perhaps the region’s most recognizable name and the most lauded winery in Steinbeck country. Year in and year out, Calera’s wines are consistent favorites among critics and consumers, especially its award-winning Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.  Who knew that Calera wasn’t in Napa or Sonoma?

Pietra Santa is another Cienega Valley jewel.  Pietra Santa’s Tuscan-born winemaker, Alessio Carli, possesses a magic touch with Sangiovese, as the estate’s recently released 2010 Pietra Santa Sangiovese will attest.  Equally compelling is Pietra Santa’s Sassolino, a delicious, age-worthy super Tuscan red consisting of a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Recent Pietra Santa Signature Selection Pinot Noirs merit special attention, too, as does the 2014 Pietra Santa Estate Chardonnay and Amore Pinot Grigio, easily one of California’s finest Pinot Grigios. In addition, remember that Léal and Derose are two other noteworthy Cienega Valley wineries.

If you are in search of a wide variety of high-quality California wines at affordable prices, wander the road less taken and beat a path to Cienega Valley.