Celebrating Malbec World Day

Manos-Negra-Malbec-DayToday is Malbec World Day and after searching my wine stash for a Malbec, I was surprised that I didn’t have a single bottle of Malbec. All I found was a Meritage from California, that included Malbec grapes in the blend and several Bordeaux blends from France that also included Malbec grapes. With no Malbecs to celebrate with, I had to go out at lunch and pick up a couple of bottles, one for drinking today and the other for my wine stash.

Argentina produces 70% of the world’s Malbec grapes and the hilly northwest region of Mendoza is perfect for growing Malbec grapes. I love a good Malbec from this region so today, I am drinking a 2010 Manos Negras Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.


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!


South African Wines: Where the Quality and Values Are

A decade ago, finding an exciting bottle of South African wine in the United States was a hit-or-miss proposition at best. Not so today. In the past decade, South Africa has ramped up both the quality and variety of wines available for export. Today, South Africa offers a wide selection of very high-quality red and white wines at affordable prices. Thanks to the strength of the U.S. dollar versus the South African rand, even the most compelling South African wines remain in the reach of most American oenophiles. Some of the most exciting recent offerings from that other land down under include:

Vineyard at Bellingham


  1. Bellingham-ancient-earth2013 Bellingham Ancient Earth Pinotage/Shiraz: A smooth, succulent blend of Pinotage and Shiraz that is nearly impossible to resist because it goes great with all kinds of foods (or all by itself). The estate’s flagship offering, the 2011 Bellingham’s Bernard Series Syrah/ Mourvedre/Viognier, provides even more pleasure. It is a deep, rich Northern Rhône-style wine that will thrill those looking for a powerful, complex wine of noble bearing.
  2. 2012 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 Rustenberg John X. Merriman: The 2012 Rustenberg Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the finest values in Cabernet Sauvignon on the market from anywhere, while the 2011 Rustenberg John X. Merriman is the estate’s iconic super premium red Bordeaux blend that puts to shame more than a few big name Bordeaux châteaux.
  3. 2012 or 2013 Black Pearl Mischief Maker Shiraz: These two wines are a perennial favorite of Mary Lou Nash, the American-born winemaker who never misses a beat.
  4. 2012 Boschendal S&M (Shiraz/Mourvedre) and 2013 Boschendal Chardonnay: These two excellent wines offer the best value in red and white wine on the market today.
  5. 2012 Groot Constantia Pinotage: The ideal medium-bodied red wine for purists who want unadulterated Pinotage from one of the longest surviving trademarks in the world, and the oldest wine producing farm in South Africa.
  6. 2010 or 2011 Edgebaston GS Cabernet Sauvignon: A staggering Napa Valley-style of Cabernet Sauvignon that won’t set you back a king’s ransom. And, for those seeking exceptional, every-day drinkable wines, try any vintage of the Edgebaston Berry Box, an easy drinking blend of Cabernet and Merlot, or the Edgebaston Honey Shale Hill white, a delightful, fruity white wine with a zip.

Equally impressive are South African Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs from the above producers.


New Year’s Resolution: Drink the World’s Best Undiscovered Wines

Some of the world’s least known grape varieties can offer the wine world’s best undiscovered treasures, so why not make 2015 the year you drink new, exotic wines beyond the usual Chardonnay and Cabernet? At least once or twice a week, make it a point to search out little-known wines and undiscovered varietals. A whole cache of exciting wines and little-known grape varietals awaits those looking for the most exceptional of wines. Here are a few of the undiscovered grape varietals wine lovers shouldn’t miss.

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREWhite Wine Grapes

Garganega might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it sure does know how to please the palate. Garganega is a grape indigenous to Northern Italy, and it is, in fact, the premium grape variety responsible for just a handful of authentic, exceptional estate-bottled Soaves. Commercial Soave contains a high percentage of innocuous Trebbiano grapes and does no justice to the elegant, rich flavor of Garganega. Unfortunately, few Soave producers make Soave from 100% Garganega, but those that do are worth seeking out. Look for Tamellini, Inama or Anselmi for exceptional Garganega-based wine.

Another little-known white grape varietal is Godello from Galicia and Bierzo in Northwest Spain. Overshadowed by Albariño, the region’s better-known grape, Godello is just beginning to emerge from its compatriot’s shadow. Godello produces a softer, richer and, often, more complex wine than Albariño. Two exceptional values in Godello grapes emanate from Casal Novo, in Valdorreas, and Pazo de Arribi, in Bierzo, though many others are worth seeking out.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURERed Wine Grapes

Mencia grapes, from Spain’s cool northwest corner, deserve more recognition. Though it languished in obscurity until recently, Mencia grapes are, by most accounts, a very old varietal whose origins go back nearly two millennia. A resurgence of interest in Mencia in Spain, and now elsewhere, may make this grape the world’s next hot varietal. Mencia produces complex, potentially long-lived wines that evolve slowly, which has made some aficionados dub it the Burgundy or Pinot Noir of Spain. Losada, Dominio de Tares, and Pazo de Arribi are three especially reliable producers. Losada fashions three particularly outstanding Mencia wines in various styles and at different price points, all of which offer exceptional quality and value.

With a name like Tannat, you would think the grape variety would garner a bit more attention. But not so. Tannat, the grape that gives us the name tannin, has remained hidden and forgotten for far too long. Although Tannat does contain an ample amount of tannin, modern Tannat is no mean monster, and is no chewier than a good Cabernet or Syrah. Indigenous to Southwest France, but more closely associated with the finest wines of Uruguay — yes, I said Uruguay — Tannat can stand on its own as a varietal, or blend harmoniously with Merlot or Malbec. Artesana, one of Uruguay’s best boutique wineries, fashions a particularly fine Tannat that is well worth seeking out. Pair it with a good steak or rich stew and you may never order Cabernet again.

Learn more about the different wine grape varietals here!


photo credits: TARLANT via photopin cc