The Best White Wines for Summer

White-Wine-wmcSummer calls for white wines that quench the thirst and refresh the palate, wines with zip that disappear eagerly down the throat and immediately make me want to come back for more.   Big, buttery Chardonnays with plenty of oak have their place, but summer makes me search out a wide array of white wines with distinctive varietal character, minimal oak, and real quench-ability.

Sauvignon Blanc is my first go-to summer varietal, particularly from Sancerre and producers such as Fournier and Moreux.  Sancerre is France’s quintessential Sauvignon Blanc with crisp, racy flavors that capture the palate and enliven the senses.

Excellent Sauvignon Blancs from Chile, New Zealand and South Africa abound, too.  The Errazuriz Max Reserva and Casa Silva Cool Coast from Chile are particularly noteworthy, as they provide more body, flavor and quench-ability than most.  Although New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc have become nearly synonymous, some New Zealand examples strike me as a bit thin and acidic, but not Dog Point’s Marlborough Section 94Dog Point Section 94 is full-throttle Sauvignon Blanc that’s truly world class; it drinks great young and is even better after five or more years in the bottle.

For high-quality, everyday summer white wines, Italy is hard to beat, and I don’t mean just Pinot Grigio.  Costantini Frascati from estate organic grapes, the remarkable Stefano Massone Masera Gavi and any Verdicchio from Bisci or Tavignano make me smile as often as I drink them all year round.  Authentic estate grown Soave from the Veneto’s premier grape varietal Garganega offers plenty of pleasure, too, in every season.  Gini and Tamellini are clear stand-out producers who make consistently exceptional Soave every year.

Another wonderfully refreshing summer wine is Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s quintessential white grape.  Premium producers, such as Pichler and Hirtzberger, fashion world-class examples, but for every-day fare, Domaine Wachau gets my vote for their hard to beat, affordable, and tasty Grüner Veltliner.

Blends make great summertime whites, too.  California and South Africa have become quite adept at putting together thirst quenching blends with plenty of character.  Bouchard Finlayson Blanc de Mer from South Africa’s South Coast strikes me as one of the best.  Fashioned initially with seafood accompaniments in mind, this mouth-watering blend of Riesling, Viognier, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc offers especially pure fruit flavors as well as good, crisp acidity, which makes it a summer stand-out as well as a great all year round quaff.

It’s summer, be adventurous.  Try something other than big, buttery Chardonnay, even if it’s a delicious un-oaked California Chardonnay, such as the soon to be released 2014 Pietra Santa Estate Chardonnay.

Salud!
Don

The Best Wines of Southern Italy

Red and White Italian Wines from the Best Grape Varietals

Cantine-Antonio-Caggiano-Taurasi
Antonio Caggiano vineyard in Campania, Italy.

Southern Italy is best known for its robust reds, a flavorful family of wines that accompany the region’s traditional pastas that seem inevitably steeped in heady tomato sauces laden with olive oil, garlic, and herbs.  Negromaro, Nero d’Avola and Primitivo are just a few of Southern Italy’s red grape varietals capable of producing big-boned reds to accompany the region’s specialties.

Unfortunately, few Americans have heard of Aglianico, Southern Italy’s most prized red varietal.  Brought by the Greeks to Italy more than 2,500 years ago, Aglianico thrives in the Campania on the hills and spine of mountains inland from Naples and the spectacular beauty of the nearby Amalfi Coast.

The finest Aglianico is known as Taurasi.  Not only is Taurasi the most robust and age-worthy of the wines of Southern Italy, it matures into a velvety potion with exceptional aromatics and deep down complex flavors.  Taurasi ranks with Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, and the finest Super Tuscan reds as Italy’s greatest wines.

Superlative Taurasi emanates from a growing number of exceptional estates, including Antonio Caggiano, Colli di Lapio, Benito Ferrara, Molettieri, and Mastroberardino, the region’s oldest producer of Taurasi.  Although not Taurasi, some very good lighter Aglianico is produced in outlying areas of the Campania.  Cantina del Taburno and Vesevo make tasty medium-bodied Aglianico at an affordable price.

Lest one think red wines are the only prized wines of Southern Italy, the Campania also produces two of Italy’s greatest white wines in Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo.  Both white varietals thrive in the hills and low mountains above the Amalfi Coast and are made by the great producers of Taurasi.  Caggiano, Colli di Lapio and Benito Ferrara consistently fashion exceptional Greco and Fiano.  To my taste, there are no better white wines to accompany the region’s seafood than these.

What to Look For in Southern Italian Wines

Colli di Lapio Taurasi Andrea 2010 and Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino 2013 are wines to look for in our red and white wine June Collector Series. This pair comprises two of the best wines we tasted on a recent trip to southern Italy and are not to be missed.  Both are highly allocated.

Querciola Barbera d’Alba 2012 and Errazuriz Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 make a formidable duo as our June Primary Premier Series offerings.  Past vintages of Querciola’s Barbera have been some of our most popular red wine offerings, while Errazuriz’s Max Reserva Sauvignon Blanc is making its International Wine of the Month Club™ debut in June.

Salud!
Don

South Africa: This Year’s Hottest Wine Destination

South-African-VineyardWith stunning scenery, excellent restaurants, and exceptional wines, South Africa’s Western Cape has become a must go wine destination.  Add the American Dollar’s present favorable exchange rate to the South African Rand and the Western Cape’s proximity to Cape Town, arguably Africa’s most beautiful city, and it’s easy to see why South African vineyards are this year’s hottest wine destination.

Stellenbosch, along with nearby Franschoek, Paarl and Swartland, dominate the wine production on South Africa’s Western Cape.  Some must-see wineries include the iconic Klein Constantia estate, known for fashioning excellent Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Vin de Constance, one of the world’s greatest dessert wines.

More excellent South African wineries include Black Pearl, Mary-Lou Nash’s pearl of an estate for fabulous Shiraz; Edgebaston, the source of David Finlayson’s very impressive age-worth Cabernet Sauvignons; Rustenberg, the home of the John X. Merriman, which might be the best Meritage offering anywhere for the money; Eagle’s Nest, an upcoming star for Shiraz and Viognier; Downes Family, outstanding producers of  incredible Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc; and Barista, a leader in the burgeoning Pinotage market.

Don

Long Island Wines: No Longer a Best Kept Secret

Long Island Wine CountryFor more than forty years, Long Island has been a budding wine region and an increasingly popular source of excellent red and white wines from traditional European varietals.  With soils and a climate similar to that of Bordeaux, we should all be wondering why it took so long for anyone to plant vines there, especially on the island’s North Fork, the warmest and sunniest spot in all New York State.  A better question is why has the rest of the nation been deprived of these wines, many of which are truly world class?

Although the total Long Island acreage under vines remains relatively small and densely concentrated on the island’s North Fork, Long Island’s 50-plus commercial wineries turn out a dizzying array of red and white wines that are snapped up by local restaurants and the hordes of summertime visitors to the Hamptons and other East End vacation spots.  Hence, the reason the rest of the country has been so long deprived of Long Island wines.

Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, and plenty of blends from a litany of varietals abound and attest to both the quality and variety of wines to be found on Long Island.  But, change is on its way.  More and more Long Island wineries have begun allocating some of their production to national markets.  The International Wine of the Month Club™ has been paying attention, and here are some Long Island wineries we suggest looking for:

  • Bedell Cellars: Excellent Merlot- and Bordeaux-style reds. Musée is the winery’s top performer.
  • Castello di Borghese Vineyard and Winery: As the name suggests, these noble wines hail from Long Island’s oldest winery (formerly Hargrave), which dates back to 1973.
  • Lieb Cellars: Sustainably farmed, award-winning Pinot Blanc and Merlot are stars.
  • Paumonok Vineyards: This winery produces a first-rate Chenin Blanc, along with a fine collection of other varietals.
  • Pellegrini Vineyards: Excellent Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

For anyone visiting New York City, why not leave the din of Manhattan behind for a day or two, drive East onto Long Island, and head to the island’s North Fork where fresh air, light sea breezes, warm sunshine, and plenty of good wine awaits?

Don

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.

Don