Following are wines that merited "Better than Bargain"
status in the past.
DISCLAIMER: The vintages
reviewed below may not be on the shelves anymore and I can't
guarantee that the current releases will be as good. But reputation still
counts for something -- and who knows? You may find one of these lurking
in a sale bin.
Here to Return to Better than Bargains Page
RED ROUNDUP IN COWBOY COUNTRY (September 6, 2002) On
vacation in Wyoming, we entertained friends with a blind tasting of
some favorite affordable reds, all purchased locally. We had a swell
time, but the results would have been a lot better if the wines had
been given a chance to survive by America's out-of-date, 3-tier
distribution system. In this wine rodeo, your chances of roping a pristine bottle
are pretty slim. For example:
In previous tastings, the Argentina version of Patrick Campbell’s
2000 Terra Rosa has pleased me mightily, and it was going
for just $10.50 at a local shop in Cody, Wyoming. Unfortunately,
this particular bottle is showing unexpectedly wimpy. Cooked
flavors finger the culprit -- heat damage. Summer temps in the Big
Horn Basin often rise about 90 and I’m told the warehouse trucks
are not cooled, so it’s all too easy to visualize how
Same deal for Patrick’s $9.50 2000 Reds. Tasted at
other times, it’s been dandy, but this bottle must have given
up the ghost somewhere in its torture-trek to our table. Not much
left but the alcohol.
I don’t detect heat damage on the usually-amazing 2000
Falesco Vitiano, but this one’s corked just enough to
obliterate the flavors. Some folks profess to like it a little
better, as the sheer size of the wine struggles against the TCA
taint. I gnash my teeth. To
think I paid $13 for this faded flower.
Finally, happily, wonderfully, *+Marietta Old Vine Red Lot
29 delivers all I was hoping for from the other duds, and then
some. Either this fruit-bomb received gentler handling or you just
can’t kill it. Berries galore and a lip-smacking finish, all for
under $10. Yee-hah!
SHARPEN YOUR PENCILS,
CALIFORNIA (August 15, 2002) Shell-shocked by prices for
California Cabs, this soldier peeped out of his foxhole today -- and
hallelujah, here come the French. The first of the
2000 Bordeaux vintage is landing at local stores, and while the
heavy artillery is priced out of sight, there's value aplenty from
the foot soldiers.
Today's case in point is *+2000 Château
Mirambeau-Papin. Comes on like a mini Cos D'Estournel, with
coffee bean, cocoa and lots of cassis flavors. A trace of green bean
intrudes with some airing, but if you drink this pup young, you
won't notice. Lotta value here for $12.99.
HOT NIGHT, SPANISH WHITE (June
1, 2002) A sultry evening out on the patio provides a perfect
showcase for *+2000 Lagar de Cervera Albarino Rias Baixas. A
passel of nice Albarinos have hit the market this spring, but this
is the classiest I've tasted so far. The peachy aromas are sexy even
outdoors in the breeze. Take a sip and it's quality quaffing, with
flavors of honeydew melon, silky texture and a very nice finish.
Decent acidity helps in the heat. Served with seafood pate, it seems
CAL CABS UNDER $12...(May 2, 2002) are getting scarcer than chickens with
lips, but I'm sipping one now that's worth clucking about. *-2000
Dreyer Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon "Sonoma County" features
flavors of very ripe red currants, gussied up in perceptible (but
pardonable) oak. The texture is silky, the body's not bad and I'm
not going to squawk about a little dill on the finish. Drank half
a bottle last night and tonight the second half's just as good. If
you like Silver Oak or St. Francis, see if you can find some of this
for just $11.50.
LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS (March 6, 2002) Patrick Campbell of
Laurel Glen just released his first 100% Zinfandel and it's smiles
all the way -- lush, juicy, fruit-charged and nicely affordable. *+1999
!ZaZin offers up pure black cherry and raspberry flavors,
finishes well and betrays no heat from its 15% alcohol. I got it for
under $16 locally, which is what I used to pay back when I used
to consider California Zin a great value. Thanks for bringing back
the good old days, Patrick.
JACKPOT! (March 2, 2002) I
count myself lucky if I taste one compelling new bargain in a
typical week, but this week ten appeared before me on very
the same evening. All from Spain, all distributed on the East Coast
by Tempranillo, Inc., and all just delicious:
. Fruity and friendly, with a
mild sort of mousse, this isn't the usual, bone-dry kind of Cava
that makes you feel like you've sucked a lemon. Think of a
well-bred Moscato with extra kick. Weighing in at 11.5% alcohol,
this should be very pleasant summer fare and you can pour it at
parties with nary at flinch for only $7.99. Excellent with
marinated olives and other wine-challenging tapas.
*-Marques de Gelida NV Brut
*-1999 Vega Sindoa Chardonnay won't make you forget Marcassin,
but it sure beats most California Chardonnays under $10. The French
oak is frank but won't turn off seasoned Chard-junkies like my own
Best Beloved. With air, things come into balance just fine and
you're left with a Beringer taste-alike for about half the price.
There seems to be plenty around for $8.99
*-2000 Martivilli Rueda Verdejo was compared by one taster to
a good California Sauvignon Blanc minus the grass, and I think
that's about right. Honeydew melon with a squirt of grapefruit and
not a trace of veggie. Decent acidity, good viscosity, nice clean
aftertaste. What's not to like for $5.99?
REDS (in rough order of seriousness):
*2000 Campo de Borja Borsao. Fragrant and juicy, this
Garnacha-Tempranillo blend delivers a gush of fresh raspberry and
plum flavors. Nice palate presence, finishes well and just $5.99! I
first tasted this five months ago. It's not for the cellar, but
should remain swell drinking for the remainder of the year.
*+Venta Mazzaron Tinta de Toro is shamelessly forward
Tempranillo in a fun, drink-me-now style. Ripe red fruit, soft
texture, good follow-through, start-to-finish yum. For $8.99, here's
proof that once in a while life really can be a bowl of cherries.
*++1998 Partal Bullas. If you don't mind Silver Oak Cabs,
this Tempranillo should float your boat fine. With cherry, chocolate
and coconut notes, you can surely taste the American oak, but the
result is so round and well-balanced, most folks won't mind a bit.
The $14.99 price tag doesn't hurt either.
*+2000 ViZa Alarba
Old Vines Grenache plays to those who go for super-ripe Zins or
Amarones. You'll either dig the depth or complain that it's too pruney. Ultra-ripe and almost
raisiny, it needs about half an hour
in the glass to collect itself, but then the raspberries pop up and
it's smiles all the way. For $7.99, you can afford to smile often.
**- -1998 Sierra Cantabria "Cuvée
Especiale" gets my vote for STEAL OF THE EVENING. The pure,
focused blackberry flavors really ring my chimes, plus there's
plenty of depth and some structure for short-term (like maybe 3
years) cellaring. Gorgeous juice that can stave off your Cal Cab
Jones for a phenomenally reasonable $9.99.
*-1999 Vega Sindoa Merlot suffers only in comparison to the
above. With scads of soft, sweet fruit, the wine reveals a touch of
weediness on the finish, but its so sanely priced at $8.99, who's
*++2000 Tresantos Vinos de la Tierra is promisingly dark and
fulfills expectations with big, deep cherry and blackcurrant fruit.
This 100% Tempranillo is very close in appeal to the Sierra
Cantabria, above -- close in price too at $11.99 -- and some may
prefer its slightly more structured style.
CAB RELIEF. (January
29, 2002) Argentina's economy may be a mess, but their wine scene
continues to thrill me. *-2000 Susannah Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon
"Crios" offers up a passel of pleasures for a mere
$11.99. The color's dark, concentration is pretty darned good and
the ultra-ripe fruit is fairly complex, with flavors of cassis,
prune and bitter chocolate. This is their bargain basement offering.
Can't wait to taste the Reserve!
RED WINE BARGAIN OF THE YEAR 2001
(December 9, 2001) It's a shoo-in -- such a great bargain that I
made up the award just because of this wine. With its rich flavors,
plush texture and classy finish, **-2000 Falesco Vitiano is
just what us sticker-shocked California Cab fans have been longing
for. Made in the Umbria region of Italy from classic Bordeaux
varietals (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon), it goes for under ten bucks
(I got it for about $8!) and lots was produced, so go get yourself
some. Worth a bit of a trip to find, but shouldn't take much effort
if you're in a wine-friendly state.
DART TO THE HEART (October 31,
2001) Kurt Darting reliably scores with Riesling and the *+1998
Kurt Darting Forster Schepfenflug a.d. Wstr. Huxelrebe Auslese hits
the bull's-eye for just under $16. Medium gold and laden with
penetrating apricot and pineapple flavors, it's plenty sweet, but
balanced so beautifully you can drink it just about anytime. We
trotted it out as an aperitif, then polished off the bottle over a
meal of vegetarian chili. Yes, chili! Worked great. Now if these
Germans could just work a little on making the names easier to
SPANISH STEAL #2 (October 14, 2001) Just
when I thought I'd tasted the sexiest red that money can buy for
under $6 (see below), along comes its
After tasting *2000 Bodegas Nekeas
"Vega Sindoa" (Navarra), I could hardly believe I'd
bought it for $5.71. It's got bee-oo-ti-ful red cherry flavors with
nary a fault from attack to finish. You might mistake it for a very
good California Cab, but the label says it's 70% Tempranillo and 30%
Merlot. Another sensational Spanish selection from Jorge OrdoZez.
Better than the Borja Borsao? I just
can't make up my mind. But the nice thing about wine is that no
one's going to mind if you fall in love with both.
BEST RED I'VE TASTED ALL YEAR UNDER $6
(October 7, 2001) Yes, I said six, not sixteen! The price tag made
me wonder if *+2000 Campo de Borja Borsao could be serious
wine, but this Borsao is wow. Very aromatic, with loads of ripe red
cherry flavors, nice palate presence and even a very good finish.
Made from Garnacha and Tempranillo, it tastes as if there may have
been some whole berry fermentation going on. Don't expect it to age,
but if you want lots of fun in the year ahead, find yourself a case.
HEINZ 57 (September 30, 2001) Unfamiliar
grapes and blends can often give you more bang for the buck, and
that's surely the case with *+1998 Antipodean Barossa. The
label on this Australian tongue-twister is not awfully inviting,
proudly informing you that you're purchasing 50% MourvPdre,
34% Touriga, 9% Grenache and 7% Shiraz.
But just smile, pay the $12.99 and
pretend you're getting a bargain Chateauneuf du Pape, because that's
what it tastes like. With soft, yummy strawberry flavors shaded by
mint, spice and bramble-fruit, it's thickly textured and finishes
well. Drink now.
ARGENTINA COULDN'T BE KEENER
(September 26, 2001)...when it comes to price/quality, delivering a
Cab-Malbec blend for something like (gasp!) $7.99. The *--2000
Septima isn't for laying down, but right now it's a perfect
weeknight quaff. Cherry-scented, soft on the palate with a spicy
(and quite decent) finish.
TRY A VACQUEYRAS (August 31, 2001) This
village on the Côtes-du-Rhône
has only been an official appellation for about a decade and is not
exactly famous. Even many wine-geeks don't know what they've stumbled on when they see a
bottle. This works nicely for you in the case of *++1999 Domaine
des Amourier Vacqueyras, a little-known bargain imported by
If you like Gigondas or
Chateauneuf-du-Pape, this deep purple youngster's a shoo-in.
Vacqueyras can be made from quite a few different grapes, but it's a
good bet this one is mostly Grenache and Syrah. The cassis and
blueberry flavors are focused and downright mouthwatering. There's
depth to this baby too -- all for $15.99 if you shop hard.
WOW, I COULD HAVE HAD A SPÄTLESE.
(August 12, 2001) I've been tasting through a fair amount of
current-release German Riesling this summer. If you're put off by
the jawbreaker labels, join the club and let me hand you my sneaky
little secret. Just learn the names of a few reliable producers like
Kurt Darting, Muller-Catoir, Willi Haag...or easier still, look on the
back and see if Terry Theise imported it. Then consider your need.
If dinner or aperitif, you generally can't go wrong with a
Or, if you actually don't
mind writing down 53-character names, do look out for *++1998
Willi Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese.
For around $16, you get an intensely aromatic wine, offering up a
blast of minerals, shaded by pineapple and a little citrus.
WEIRDLY WONDERFUL (July 8, 2001) The South of Italy
continues to pump out some of this summer's best values, as
witnessed by an odd duck of a bottle we opened last night.
It's *+1997 Marco Maci Salenti
"Sire," imported by Heritage International, and the
first weird thing you notice is the extra-tall, super-skinny bottle.
Then you look for the vintage. Is there
one at all? Hmm. Yes, here it is buried in the extra-fine print, way
down in the nether regions of the back label.
Now for the region -- not weird, but
unknown to most Americans, Salento is way down in the heel of
Even the grape sends you scooting to
reference books. Negroamare may be the sixth most plentiful grape in
Italy, but it's not exactly a household word over here.
But the wine itself is a real
crowd-pleaser. Brimming with red cherry and earth flavors, it tastes
rather like a fine, ripe Sangiovese. At $15.99, I like it a lot.
NEW LOIRE BARGAINS. (June 24, 2001) At a
barbecue yesterday, we tasted a bunch of Loire beauties, including
some that are winsomely findable and affordable:
*+Cuvée de la Chevalerie
Saumur Brut (Non-Vintage). Here’s exhibit "A" in
the case for Loire sparklers. It’s a little denser and fruitier
than most Champagnes, but the acidity keeps it from cloying and it
finishes pretty well too. For $10, you can’t go wrong. Chill and
serve with just about anything you feel like eating.
*+1999 Pascal Reverdy Sancerre "Cuvée
It’s got the floral
aromas of Sauvignon Blanc at its best, with pear and gooseberry
flavors, and a long finish. Acid levels won’t punish your ulcers
but give it enough bite to make for fine summer drinking. Super
with salad, squid, octopus, shrimp, lobster or lighter varieties
of fish. This bottle cost all of $16.06, so forgive me if I cheat a little
and call it a Better than Bargain.
*1999 Patient Cottat Pouilly Fumé
"Domaine des Berthiers." Although I find it not
quite the equal of the Reverdy Sancerre, some folks I know might
like it more. The fruit flavors are shaded by honey notes and the
texture is a bit more slippery. Just a tad simpler and shorter,
but a little showier. A veritable bargain at $15.99.
CALIFORNIA CUTIES. (June 10, 2001) Maybe
it's time I stopped grousing about the high cost of California
wines. Napa Valley pricing may be mostly unreal, but I've run into
some nice surprises elsewhere:
The best news this week comes from *+1999 Seghesio
Sonoma County Zinfandel. Even alongside the much more
expensive **1998 Turley Pringle Vineyard Zin, this Seghesio stuff
needs no apologies. It's straight-down-the-middle Sonoma Zin, brimming
with brambly blackberry flavors, possessed of a nice thick texture
and finishing well. At $13.99, you can't miss.
It's a been a long time since any wine from Chalone rowed my
boat, but their sister label is another story. *1999 Echelon
Central Coast Pinot Noir delivers lots of ultra-ripe red
cherry fruit for just $12.99. It gets a little kinky on the
finish, with some beet-like flavors, but all in all it works well.
Drink soon. This wine is all about young fruit.
I've been stung so many times by expensive California
Merlot, that I don't often try lower price levels. But *1999
Trellis Sonoma County Merlot was practically forced on me by a
trusted retailer and whaddya know? It's a go. Ripe, juicy,
currant-packed wine that's well-priced at $15.99. Don't expect it
to age, but you'll be happy in the months ahead. (Second time
tasted with the same results.)
YES, BARGAINS FROM PENNSYLVANIA. (June 3,
2001) I sometimes forget that America's East Coast producers are no
strangers to quality and value. With California prices over the
moon, these discoveries are sweeter still:
There aren't too many hybrid grapes that do it for
me, but when Chambourcin is handled well, it works. This one's a
big winner for $10.99—medium ruby and light-bodied, with lots of
soft, ripe raspberry fruit and hints of cinnamon toast on the
finish. This and subsequent reds we tasted were happily lacking in
the sharp bell pepper notes that often mark East coast reds. Drink
now while the young fruit is strutting its stuff. At the price,
you can do so often.
*-1999 Chaddsford Pennsylvania "Proprietors Reserve
*-1999 Chaddsford Pennsylvania Cabernet/Chambourcin. If
you're cocking at eyebrow at the blend, well, so did I. At first
sip, I'm tempted to wonder if the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet
Franc are simply covering up the juicy Chambourcin. But then the
wine opens and tada—this too is a charmer. Flavors veer over to
cherries and strawberries. At a slightly higher $14.99, it's still a value.
AND THE SOUTH ROCKS ON. (May 13, 2001)
South of France, that is. The '98s and '99s continue to roll into my
local stores and it's tough to make mistakes with these juicy
vintages. If you like well-stuffed reds, you don't have to spend
much for a mighty fine evening with:
*-1999 Domaine les Grands Bois Côtes
du Rhône. Importer
Weygandt-Metzler rarely hits a clinker -- just look for the name
on the back of the bottle and prepare to feel smart. This
selection will set you back a mere $9.99 and for that you get a
deep ruby wine with delicious, ripe cherry flavors, some mint and
no veggies. Fine back-porch drinking with burgers or barbecue.
Better still is *+1998 Patrick Le Sec Pic Saint Loup "Tonneaux."
This is a negotiante blend, but don't let the lack of pedigree
daunt you. For only $10.99, you're buying a purple palate-stainer
that would be decent value at twice the price. It's thick and
satisfying on the palate, offering up pools of pomegranate and
strawberry, shaded by mint and a hint of toast.
POTENT PORT FOR A PITTANCE. (February
27, 2001) I must credit fellow wine wonk Mark
Squires for putting me onto an incredible buy in Late Bottled
Vintage Port. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular
category of wine -- well, think of it as a kinder, gentler version
of Vintage Port. Anyhow, **1994 Rozés LBV Port is pretty
darned close to a fine vintage Port for a jaw-dropping $10 --
repeat, $10 -- per bottle. Yes, the producer is not among the
superstars, but for a mere two fins you can afford to be a sport and
chance it. You will discover a deep purple youngster, loaded with
black cherry and cassis flavor. Takes about an hour to open, so you
may even want to decant.
SEASON'S BEST BUY IN PINOT NOIR?
(February 24, 2001) *1999 Steven Ross Central Coast Pinot Noir
is medium ruby with lots of seductive red cherry flavors --
and absolutely none of the cola and vegetal notes can be so annoying
in Central Coast Pinot. At $15 a bottle, it may not be Burgundy, but
I'm thinking of buying a case.
DON'T GET TRIPPED UP BY THE
APPELLATION. (February 17, 2001) All you need to know is that
it's somewhere on the Rhône and a deal. *+1998 Domaine de la
Charbonnerie hails from Vacqueyras (pronounced Va-KAY-rahs), a
Rhône appellation that only became official in 1990. But like so
many other better-known 1998 Rhônes, it's big, hearty, meaty
delight. Could easily hold its own against higher-priced
Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For $15.99, you'll have very a nice evening
BEST $7.99 RED I'VE TASTED THIS YEAR. (February
17, 2001) Perhaps it won't surprise you to hear that it's from the
Languedoc. But you may be surprised at how much quality $7.99 can
buy in these days of wineflation. *-1999 Domaine de la Brune
Coteaux de Languedoc is a purple-hued, raspberry-scented cutie.
It's mostly Syrah, but the pure fruit flavors that may remind you a
little of young Pinot Noir. Seems a little dilute on the finish, but
otherwise satisfies mightily. Doesn't fade, either. I left a
half-consumed bottle in the fridge for two days and came back to
find it delightful. That's a good sign.
RHÔNE TO PHONE HOME ABOUT.
(February 4, 2001) Here's one more 1998 Côtes du Rhône to add to
your list of big black bargains. *+1998 Denis Alary Cairanne
"La Font d'Estèvenas" delivers a load of juicy
blackberry flavors, heavily laced with pepper, Provencal herb and
mint. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler it drinks well now and I have to
guess it will hold up for at least 5 more years. At $16, what have
you got to lose?
WELL, I'LL BE...(January 22,
2001) I've been critical of BV in the past for underperforming its
heritage. Maybe things are turning around. *+1997 BV Cabernet
Sauvignon Napa Valley is a terrific buy. Dark ruby with pleasing
aromas of black cherry and acceptable levels of dusty tannin. At
just $14.99, it's what the not-as-good $65 Caymus Napa should
MERLOT OF THE YEAR? (December
2000) Every vintage of Falesco Merlot has been on my "Better
than Bargains" list since the superb 1997. The great news is
that **-1999 Falesco Merlot may be their best yet -- and it's
still a mere $14.99. To get dark, concentrated Merlot of this
quality from California or Pomerol, you'd have to pay $50 or more. It's got
lots chocolatey fruit and a very
good finish. The oak is a little too prominent now, but should fall into balance with a year or two more in
the cellar. (Yes, this $14.99 wine really could use some cellaring!)
BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL. (November 5, 2000) I
reviewed *1997 Taft Street Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County below
and pronounced it a fine buy at $12.50. Now I'm seeing it for $9.99.
If you love California Cab and hate to pay more than $10 -- this is
the only ten-buck-Cal-Cab I've tasted this year that's worth
bothering with. Ask your local wine merchant if it's
HONORARY BARGAIN (October 14, 2000) Okay, I'm cheating.
Can't help it. My cut-off for "Better than Bargains" is
$15.99, but for a buck or two more, this is a Brunello in all but
name. In fact, *++1998 Livio Sassetti Pertimali Rosso di
Montalcino could put quite a few full-fledged Brunello di
Montalcinos to shame. Deep dark ruby with ample structure, it gives
you the dried cherry flavors you expect in a good Sangiovese, then
throws in walnuts, cedar and other goodies too. I wouldn't be
surprised if it aged well for five years or more, but I'm drinking
mine young. I can't help it.
GET TO KNOW ALSACE (August 22, 2000) Like
whites? You just gotta love Alsace.
Year in, year out, it's your easiest
white wine bet in the whole wide world. The labels are easy to read,
the wines aren't hard to understand and the region's best producers
are fairly easy to find. And even if you're saying "yes, yes, I
know" to all the above, here's one that maybe you haven't yet
tried, for an easy $11.50...
*1998 Albert Mann Pinot Auxerrois.
Light gold. Brimming with pineapple and lychee flavors. Fairly soft
as Alsace whites go, but crisp enough to marry well with seafood,
salad or whatever. Not the most complex juice in the world, but
offers a lot of fruit for your money. Drink it over the next 6
months while it's still young and lively.
CÔTES DU RHÔNE TO MOAN FOR (August 22,
2000) "Côtes du Rhône" is usually a safe answer for
someone seeking affordable reds. But I'm getting the feeling it's
going to be downright irresistible over the coming months, as the
1998 vintage hits the shelves.
In particular, as the name suggests, *+1998
Henri De Lanzac "Clos de L'Hermitage" Côtes du Rhône
could pass for a much more expensive wine. Deep purple, grapey and
peppery, it doesn't have bacon-fat nuances, but otherwise the
flavors are classic Northern Rhône. Seems to me like it will age
well, too. Just about $16.
CHECK OUT THIS CHINON (August 10, 2000) Red
wines from the Loire just keep getting better -- and better still,
the prices don't yet have a Bordeaux accent. Among current
offerings, I especially like *+1996 Vignoble Gasnier Chinon
"Cuvée Prestige." It's a dark, silky-textured wine
with pretty floral aromas.
You can taste some herbal flavors that
remind you this is Cabernet Franc. But after some airing, these are
overwhelmed by cassis and strawberry. The wine holds up well through
the course of an evening, it's got reasonable depth and a sound
finish. What's not to like? Good stuff any Bordeaux-lover should
enjoy, at a Loire price.
1999 BURGUNDY TEASER. (August 8, 2000) I
keep hearing that 1999 will be a great year for red Burgundy. Is it
true? Maybe so, if the wine I tasted tonight is any indication.
It's only a generic blend, but the *+1999
Daniel Rion Bourgogne could outdo many Pinot Noirs with fancier
labels. The color is a fairly dark ruby. Pour a glass and
immediately you can smell tell-tale Burgundy notes of raspberry,
minerals and sweat. Takes a good hour to open -- and it's actually better
the second night, no mean feat for any Pinot. Best of all, at under
$16, you can enjoy this just for fun.
YOU WANT CHEAP? (August 7, 2000) Usually,
if you want to drink well, ten bucks a bottle is as good as it gets.
But every once in a while, a genuine five-bucks-plus bargain hits
A whole bunch of these rarities have
just hit local stores -- about six different good wines from France,
all under $6, all imported by our friend Dan Kravitz of Hand Picked
Selections. Please understand, the earth is unlikely to move when
you drink them, but you'll have a good time with some very nice
juice for an amazingly small amount of cash.
My personal favorite of the lot is 1998
Domaine Des Pomarèdes Vin Pays D'OC Merlot $5.49. The ripe,
juicy fruit is this wine is so forward and raspberry-tinged, you'd
scarcely know it's Merlot. It develops well for about an hour, then
gradually starts to fade.
I wouldn't cellar this wine for more
than 6 months, and if you open a bottle, you'd be well advised to
finish it off the same evening. But these are minor quibbles for a
serious $6 Merlot!
ANOTHER BARBERA BARGAIN. (July 27, 2000) If
you're looking for great deals in red wine and you haven't
been trying the 1998 Barberas from Italy, rectify the mistake now --
by trying *+1998 Rivetti
Barbera d'Asti La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian."
purple and packed with juicy blueberry and currant flavors. Thick in
texture, with acidity that makes it refreshing even on warm summer
evenings. There was a time when you could buy Zinfandel as good as this for under sixteen bucks. Those days may be
gone, but I'm happy with the alternative.
'99 IS MIGHTY FINE (July 19, 2000) for one
of my favorite bargain reds. Just uncorked my first bottle of *+1999
La Carraia Sangiovese and oooooh...you ain't gonna find a sexier sweetheart
this year for just $10.99.
Bargain Sangiovese can be overly acidic,
tannic and shallow, but this stuff is deep ruby, with ripe red
cherry aromas and lots of soft fruit flavors in every sexy slurp.
This is yet another example of how Italy
is hitting the sweet spot these days for folks who love red wine but
don't want to take out a home equity loan. If this is any indication
of the 1999 vintage in Umbria, I can hardly wait for the flashier
cuvées to hit the market.
PINK PASSION. (July 16, 2000) If you're
looking for something tasty, stylish and cool for summer drinking,
don't scorn rosé. Wine newbies often avoid it because it reminds
them of White Zin, but that just means there's more for you at
affordable prices. Lately I've liked:
label says red but the color says pink. It's a very light
strawberry hue, with nice aromas and raspberry-leather flavors
that remind me of Grenache and Bandol Rosé. However, the grape is
Plousard -- a big, thin-skinned grape that apparently doesn't have
much pigment. According to Jancis Robinson's handy Guide to
Wine Grapes, this means they can leave the wine on skins for a
week, and it still turns out pink. At $12-$13, it's a good deal as
well as a nice departure from the expected.
*1997 Frederic Lornet "Arbois" Red Jura Wine
*1999 Saintsbury Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Carneros. I used to
love the Etude Vin Gris de Pinot Noir made by Tony Soter. Can't find
it anymore, but this wine is nearly as good. Has a lovely Pinot Noir
perfume and delicious strawberry flavors. Low in acidity, so I'd recommend chilling before serving. Don't remember the exact
price, but it's under $15.99.
STILL A SUPER BARGAIN. (July 4, 2000) I
first tasted *+1996 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon "Agrelo
Vineyards" more than a year ago -- and recommended it here
as a super bargain. Last week I read a rave of this wine by old
friend Pierre Rovani, which got me wondering if it could still be on
Well, it is! It's going locally for
about $15.99, which makes it one of the best buys in Cab today. And,
as usual, Pierre knows a good thing when he tastes it. In fact, it
seems even better with another year of bottle age.
I benchmarked it alongside the
outstanding **1997 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa
Valley. Ric Forman's wine is a classic -- with thick texture, lovely
concentration, lots of pure and focused cassis flavor. Tannins are
ample but supple. The finish is good, but could be longer.
By comparison, the Catena features tart
cherry and plum flavors. It's a tad more acidic and rustic. But all
in all, quality is pretty darned close to the Napa Valley wine. And it's easy
to forgive a few rough manners when you're paying about $30 less.
SCORE ONE MORE FOR OZ. (June 17,
2000) Ten bucks for an excellent Oz Shiraz used to be no big deal,
but now I'm mighty happy when it happens. *1999 Paringa Shiraz
"Individual Vineyard" has the weird kind of name you
expect from Australia these days -- but remember it well! It's dark
ruby, with aromas of blackstrap molasses and fresh, raw grapes. Give
it a chance to air in the glass and it gets more civilized. This
stuff is yummy! Worth buying a few for summer consumption and maybe
one more just to see how it ages.
WHAT A KICK! (May 21, 2000) Remember how
affordable California Zinfandel used to be? If you love the fruity
flavors of Zin, but wince at the recent prices, here's a suggestion
-- try Australian Grenache. It's juicy, meaty, goes well with food,
and right now it's often less expensive than Zin for comparable
In particular, *Boots Grenache
Barossa Valley "Size 98" offers quite a kick for
$15.99. Medium ruby, it didn't impress me at first -- but over a
couple of hours, it swells to something more impressive. Big
strawberry flavors with a twist of black pepper in the background
and a darned decent finish too.
Plus, it seems immune to oxidation. I
drank half the bottle, stuffed the cork back in the bottle and lost
it in the fridge for five days. When I came across it again, I
assumed it was spent -- but no! Better than ever.
BARBERA BEATS BOUTIQUE CAB. (May 6, 2000)
Yum. The last vintage was luscious enough, but *+1998 Parusso
Barbera D'Alba "Ornati" may be even better.
Just for fun, we matched it up against a
newcomer Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, the *1997
Spelletich. Nothing the matter with this stuff -- it's got
intense flavors of cherry kirsch and jammy cassis, medium body and
disappoints only on the finish. The winemaking seems to be decent;
perhaps some crop-thinning might add oomph to subsequent vintages.
But the Parusso pleases even more. It
goes toe to toe with the Spelletich when it comes to delivering
up-front flavor, and offers a little more complexity on the
mid-palate. Finishes better too. At under $16 (about half the price
of the Cabernet), this Barbera is a no-brainer.
BARGAIN BURGUNDY. (April 30, 2000) If you
crave the grace of real Burgundy, but don't want to float a home
equity loan, try *+1997 Domaine Robert Chevillon
Here’s a wine that’s both lovely tasting
and light on its feet -- with flavors darting here and there just
like good Burgundy is supposed to do. You taste strawberry, cherry
and rhubarb, with some autumn-leaf and earthy aromas to keep things
Ninety-seven Burgundy has been billed as
a "drinkers vintage," meaning that it drinks well now, but probably
isn’t for the ages. And that’s just fine for this pretty little
generic Burg. At $15 a bottle, you could take home a case and make
it your house pour over the next 6 months.
MONTELENA'S NEW MYSTERY WINE. (April 5, 2000)
I'm pretty sure it's from Chateau Montelena. The label has a picture
of the castle and a Calistoga address.
In any case, *1997 Silverado Cellars
Napa Valley Red Table Wine is very tasty stuff for just $12.50.
Dark ruby, it's bursting with various berry flavors. The texture is
fairly serious -- and it even delivers a pretty good finish.
I just wish I knew what's in it.
Grenache? Zinfandel? Syrah? Petite Sirah? Maybe even Cabernet? Maybe
all the above and then some? Who knows, but I do know it's fun. Give
it a quaff.
BEST CAL CAB FOR $12.50? (March
12, 2000) Lo and behold, here’s a
drink-me-now winner for a mere $12.50! *1997 Taft Street Cabernet
Sauvignon Sonoma County is a juicy, ready-to-rip, good-time wine
that begs to be quaffed and enjoyed. Plenty of delicious black
cherry flavors in every sip, it’s ripe without being over the top
and survives an overnight stay in the fridge without losing a beat.
Comes up a little short, but hey, what do you want for the money?
This gets my nod for a case-buy, provided you drink it up over the
next couple of years.
AND ANOTHER ITALIAN! (February 26, 2000) This
will be the last for a while, I promise. But the value just happens
to be terrific for *1998 Parusso Dolcetto D’Alba "Pianni
Noce." Last month I thumped the drum for a Dolcetto from Luigi
Scavino. This is almost as good, and costs even less. Dark, more
tannic than the Scavino, but still pretty juicy on the palate. Round
cherry flavors that remind me of village Burgundy when it’s in a
I had it with chicken. I expect it will
also be very happy with fish and meatless dishes. If you want lovely
red stuff for not a lot of money, don’t be stubborn. Do a Dolcetto!
CAB FOR A CASE BUY. (February 7, 2000) If
wine consumers gave awards for quality at a sane price, Chris
Bilbro of Marietta should be wearing a chest-full of medals.
Truth be told, you can hardly go wrong buying any of his bottlings,
but today I wish to single out *+1997 Marietta Cabernet Sauvignon
For about $16, California Cab just
doesn’t get any better. In fact, I could name a few that sell for
$50 that are worse. This is dark, structured stuff with a lot of
honest depth to it. I squirreled a half-done bottle away in the
fridge for three days, pulled it out, and it was still drinking
I opened my last 1991 Marietta Cab last
year; it was going strong. If you’re looking for a case buy, this
one’s a no-brainer.
GET USED TO SAYING "CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE"
(February 3, 2000)...if you want to drink well for reasonable money
in the year ahead. That’s my prediction, anyhow, after tasting
*+1998 Jean-Pierre Boisson Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Elisabeth
Chambellan Vielles Vignes.
This is the first ‘98 CNDP I’ve tasted
and it pleases mightily. The wine delivers a lot of ripe cherry and
raspberry flavors, shaded by roasted herbs. With airing, the fruit
flavors broaden and sweeten, as the sage and rosemary fall back.
To be sure, it’s a little dilute on the
finish -- and the wine is so sediment-free, I have to wonder if it’s
been over-processed. But for just about $16, I’m not
Bring on the rest of the '98s, please. I
TIME FOR DOLCETTO. (January 30, 2000) It’s
hard to find something not to like about Dolcetto D'Alba
these days. It’s red, it’s fruity, it's friendly to food. You
can drink it with chicken, fish, steak or whatever. The vintages now
on the market are very nice indeed. Best of all, prices are still
This evening I’m sipping *+1998
Luigi Scavino Azelia Dolcetto d’Alba "Bricco Dell’Oriolo."
It’s medium ruby with beautiful aromas of ripe red cherries and
cranberries. Supple and downright juicy on the palate, with a very
decent finish. What a mouthwatering wine for just $13.99! Won’t
replace great Burgundy, but I repeat, what’s not to like?
In the dark night of wine price
inflation, here’s a flickering candle, if not a beacon. Enjoy it
before it gutters out.
MAJESTIC MACON. It’s probably too late to
find any more *+1996 Guillemot-Michel Macon-Clesé "Quintaine"
on the shelves, but I’ll certainly be looking for the next
vintage. Finally, here’s a French Chardonnay that can give Valette
Macon-Chaintres Jeunes Vignes a run for its money. Aromas of mineral
and lemon, excellent body and darned nice length. It was $12.99 at
release. I’m hoping the new ones won’t be much more expensive.
(November 20, 1999) Turkey feasts can be tough on wines. The big
challenge is not just to match the bird, but to overcome the
stuffing and cranberry relish. Champagne works well, but if you want
a red, try this unimpeachable bargain....
You can still
pick up *1997 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Paso Robles "Incredible
Red" Bin 107 for about thirteen bucks -- and you’ll never
regret it. This stuff is fun. Ripe, juicy strawberries and
cherries galore. Finishes well, but thins out a little. Not for
cellaring. Drink it now and enjoy.
BARBERIC BARGAIN (November 12, 1999) If only
the winery were allowed to call this stuff Merlot, they’d sell a
ton of it. It’s dark, full-bodied, brimming with fruit and doesn’t
have any rough edges. The only problem is that it’s, uh...
What? Yeah, Barbera. Why does
this grape get no respect? Do people think maybe Conan made it?
Anyhow, *1997 Parusso Barbera D’Alba
"Ornati" is a real crowd-pleaser. So young and sassy,
it’s almost purple. Flavors tend toward loganberry. Nice, supple
mouthfeel. And affordable. Decant, serve it to your Merlot-loving
guests and lie.
IF YOU THOUGHT OZ WAS ALL ABOUT SHIRAZ
(October 24, 1999) So did I not so long ago. But if you want
to nab today's truly fine values in dry Australian reds, you just
gotta try the Grenache. I keep tasting terrific ones for
under $16 bucks! This week it was *1997 Yalumba Grenache Oxford
Landing "Limited Release." Medium ruby color. Powerful, young,
grapey aromas. Essence of strawberries with a touch of raspberry
Chambord. There’s plenty of fruit on the palate too, seasoned with
white pepper. Thick texture. Probably won’t age well, but drink
now and enjoy. At $13.99, you can’t go wrong.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPEEN. (September 19,
1999) If you’re paying more than $11.99 for terrific Sangiovese,
you may be forking out too much. Why? For the second vintage in a
row, I was smitten by the very reasonably priced *+La Carraia Sangiovese
Umbria. This time the year is 1998 and it may be even
better than the super ‘97. What a gorgeous glass of cherry jam!
Good acidity, but maybe a little lower than you may get in a Chianti
-- and for me, that doesn’t hurt. Am I waxing too enthusiastic to
compare it to Bon Pasteur? Maybe, but you get the picture. This may
be the red wine bargain of the year. Don’t miss it!
FINALLY A WINNING CHARD FROM THE FOOTHILLS.
(September 19, 1999) Up until now I wasn’t awfully enthusiastic
about Chardonnay from California’s Sierra Foothills -- although
there are plenty of other wines from this off-the-overpriced-path
locale that ring my chimes. But at last, here’s a Chablis-style
Chard that makes the cut. It’s 1997 Stevenot Chardonnay.
Steely, flinty juice with just enough oak to please my spouse.
Could be non-malo -- certainly has noticeable acidity. Good match to
seafood. Costs under a ten-spot, so you can afford to give it a
SPAIN IS COMING ON STRONG. (August 29, 1999)
If you seek serious red wine these days for under $10, prepare to
kiss a lot of frogs. But you can certainly better your odds by
scouting out the new wave of wines from Spain.
It used to be that most Spanish reds
were overly oaky, too tannic, not fruity enough, or all three. That’s
changing and it’s great news for bargain-hunters. First, because
Spain is a huge wine-producer, with ample capacity to supply
thirsty American palates. Second, because Spain’s most famous
red-wine grape, Tempranillo, can produce wines of tremendous class
and subtlety. If you love good Cabernet Sauvignon, give it a try.
Last night, I tried *1996 Hermanos
Lurton Tempranillo Crianza. Seems earthy right out of the
bottle, but that blows off rapidly, revealing lots of juicy red
raspberry flavor. There’s some grit on the finish, but I’ll
forgive that for just $8.99. Drank a couple of glasses, came back
two days later -- and it hadn't flinched. Maybe even better! It's
got the character of a good Ribera del Duero red for about half the
LODI DOES IT AGAIN.
(July 28, 1999) I’ve whined about this before, but it’s getting so
hard to find good Zinfandel for under $15. However, a couple of months
ago, I tasted a winner from Lodi.
And now Lodi does it again. The *1997
Ravenswood Zinfandel Lodi is the kind of bargain that first won me
over to Zinfandel in the good ol’ days. It’s deep ruby, with a rich,
thick texture. Positively wallops you with red raspberry and plum jam,
plus a hint of metal on the finish. Drink now and have a ball for $14.99.
LESS OAK! TASTES GREAT! (July 22,
1999) It ain’t what you might expect from California Chardonnay...but it
sure is high class juice for just $9.99. I’m talking about *1997 Travis
Monterey Chardonnay, a yummy new cuvée from Dan Kravitz of Hand Picked
Selections. The attack is crisp, the flavors lean toward apple and melon,
and the finish is quite satisfying. There’s no heat from the 14.6% alcohol
and very little oak apparent. I would guess the wine is non-malolactic. Best
California Chard I've tasted this year for under $10. Kind
of reminds me of Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch on a slightly smaller scale.
GIMME SAMUR. (July 21, 1999) I do like Cabernet Franc a lot. But mostly I
find that red wines from the Loire are just too vegetal for my taste. (Or the affordable
ones are, anyway. Once the price climbs over $20, Id rather be drinking Bordeaux.)
Ta da! I have tasted a Loire red I actually like for
the price. Its 1997 Domaine de Touche Noir Samur-Champigny made by Thierry
Templai. This stuff plays up the fruit in Cab Franc -- with lots of sweet strawberry and
plum jam flavors. Its got a nice, thick texture too. On the finish you get a hint of
licorice and a twist of herbs, but the last is bearable. Nice stuff for under $16!
Id buy more.
THE UN-CHARDONNAY. (July 10, 1999) Fair warning. Phylis hated this.
But I liked it a lot with my pan-fried trout. If you dont mind a white with some
bite, try a bottle of *1997 Domine des Godons Sancerre.
This is not the most complicated Sauvignon Blanc in the world, but its brimming
with steely, palate-cleansing fruit. Lots of grapefruit on the attack and a nice note of
honeydew on the finish.
Phylis cant abide acid, but I found it crisp and palate-cleansing. I kept it a
week in the fridge, pouring out a glass now and then. Didnt seem to fade much if
any. Nice juice for $12.49!
THINK PINK. (July 5, 1999) The *1998 Domaine de Fondreche Cotes du
Ventoux is the best bargain rose Ive tasted all year and a perfect summer
quaffer. Scented with peaches and strawberries, it satisfies even when chilled down to 45
degrees (or lower). Never gets cloying and simply begs you to try another swallow. At
$7.99, you can afford to!
WORTHY HOUSE POUR. (July 1, 1999) I liked the DArenberg
"Custodian" Grenache so much that I tried a lower-priced wine from this
Australian producer. And 1996 DArenberg Red Ochre is another winner, this
time for just $9.99. A blend of Grenache and Syrah, its peppery as all get-out, with
lots of raspberry flavor underneath. At 13.9% alcohol, its thick, satisfying and
seems built to drink young.
INSTEAD OF BERINGER... (June 22, 1999) Last I checked, Beringer Knights
Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was selling for around $24. I guess they're getting it, but
pardon me if I drop out. It's a free market, guys -- and I just tasted a wine that sings
pretty much the same song at the old-time price.
*+1996 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon "Agrelo Vineyards"
is another red marvel from Mendoza, Argentina. It's deep ruby and positively oozing
with the flavors that I liked in Beringer KV. Toast, licorice, cassis. Nice thick texture.
Decent finish. At $14.99, it won't unseat 1997 Terra Rosa as my favorite South
American bargain -- but it's way cheaper than Beringer and very nice for a change.
THE BEST SOUTH AMERICAN RED I've tasted this year is from... California?
(June 16, 1999) In a manner of speaking.
For years now, winemaker Patrick Campbell has been working
small miracles with his ten-buck Cabernet Sauvignon, Terra Rosa. It used to be made
from California fruit, but grape prices have forced him to become a flying winemaker.
Now he typically produces two separate bottlings each year --
one from Chile and one from Argentina. The wine is vinified at the site, shipped north
immediately after it's stable and goes through barrel treatment in Sonoma. Sounds
complicated, but the results speak for themselves.
His *1997 Terra Rosa from Mendoza, Argentina has
just hit the stores near me. And I'm here to tell you that the man has found some
spectacular fruit. It's the best Terra Rosa I've tasted in several years -- and it just
may be the best $10.99 Cab on the current market, period.
Sniff the glass and you get a lovely hit of currant, blueberry
and raspberry aromas. Take a sip and you'll love the brambly fruit. It's got thickness,
depth, and all for under eleven bucks!
I remember speaking with Patrick about this vintage over a
year ago, and he seemed mighty pleased at the time. (Click here to see that article.) Now I
know what he was grinning about.
GAWJUSS GRENACHE! (June 8, 1999) If you don't mind wine that's ripe, lush
and open, you won't have any trouble sucking down a glass of *1996 d'Arenberg Grenache
McLaren Vale"The Custodian."
This Ozzie doesn't try to fool you with a European accent --
just explodes with raspberry and pomegranate flavors, shaded by a hint of pepper. At just
under $16, it sneaks into Better than Bargain status.
NOTE to the marketing mavens at d'Arenberg: nice
wine, but find a new name! When I was in grade school, "custodian" was PC-speak
for "janitor" and I can't help think of industrial-strength cleansers when I
look at the label.
COO-OOL DEAL. (June 3, 1999) Temperature can transform a wine. The first
time I tried *1997 St. Hallet Gamekeeper's Reserve (Barossa) I could taste
something here, but the wine seemed flabby and hot. Summer's here, however, and the wine
had been sitting on my counter for hours, so I checked the temperature in the glass. 74
degrees Fahrenheit. It was, literally, hot.
The next night, I chilled the bottle down to cellar temp. And
voila -- the fruit comes out to play! Lots of strawberry and raspberry flavors. Thick
texture. Good juice! The label says it's a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Touriga.
At $10.49, this wine is a deal, but do remember to cool it. At
about 60 degrees, it sings.
QUALITY QUAFFER. (May 23, 1999) It's white and French and that's about all I
can tell you for sure -- except it's good. 1997 Chateau Le Roquebrun is from the
Languedoc region, very pale, and has graceful, delicate flavors of pear and white peaches.
No obtrusive oak, good acidity and very refreshing. I might wish for a little more
intensity, but for $12.49 I can't complain. Nice choice for a hot summer night.
KILLER ZIN AT AN OLD TIME PRICE. (May 19, 1999) There's so much Zin out
there. Some of it very good. But much of the good stuff, alas, has marched beyond the
20-buck border. So doesn't it feel good to pay just $13.49 for *1997 Vigil Zinfandel
Mohr-Fry Ranch "Lodi Old Vines"?
You bet it does! One glass of this and you feel like you
robbed the raspberry patch. Medium to deep ruby, it announces its brambly essence as soon
as you lift the glass to your shnozz. Thick, fruity and powerful on the palate. Weighs in
at 15.1% alcohol, but there's nothing pruney about it. Reminds me of one of De Loach's
single vineyard Zins. A smashing good buy for summer barbecues.
YOU LIKE YOUNG? (May 9, 1999) How about a 1998
California Sauvignon Blanc? On our recent visit to the Sierra Foothills, I fell in love
with the rushed-to-bottle *1998 Boeger El Dorado Sauvignon Blanc.
Warning to those who like mannerly, melon-scented
SBs -- this ain't your ticket! But if you like grass and gooseberries, go for it fast.
Loaded with citrus, grassy as a spring meadow, with a fairly long finish. A terrific,
palate-cleansing aperitif and salad wine. And at $12.30, a terrific buy! Youthful fruit is
what makes this wine special, so drink it within the next 6 to 12 months.
A GRAPE CALLED MONICA. (May 4, 1999) Italy's lesser-known regions are a
consistent winner for value these days. And here's one that just about anyone can afford.
Last night I opened 1996 Argiolas "Perdera" (Isola dei Nuraghi).
It's from Sardinia. And I'd say it's Sangiovese from the taste
of it -- but apparently it isn't. The grape, believe it or not, is called Monica
(no wonder they don't name it on the label).
In any case, it does a swell impression of a good Chianti for
only $8.99. Medium to deep ruby, with sweet cherry aromas. Light bodied, but very
flavorful. Rustic tannins that surrender to the fruit with some airing. Lovely match both
to my portobello mushrooms topped with mozzarella and to my yellowfin tuna main
Yes, it's a shade lighter than *1997 La
Carraia Sangiovese (below), but also a few bucks cheaper. You'll have a good time for
POOR MANS PAHLMEYER. (May 1, 1999) I love the
fresh-baked-bread-and-papaya flavors of Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, but the latest release is
going for $60 a bottle. Hey guys, this is Chardonnay and even wine geeks arent
totally brain dead.
For the same money, I can get 4 bottles (thats right,
f-o-u-r) of *1997 Jory Central Coast Chardonnay "El Nino" (Unfiltered). Now
this wine is a deal. You get plenty of yeasty, bready, fruity yum for just
$14.99. Ill grant you it doesnt have the depth and finish of Pahlmeyer, but it
sure isnt four times worse. Hit the spot dead-center as we sat on our back porch
last night, listened to the birds and watched the sun set.
WHOOPS. (April 27, 1999) Today I called to see if I could get
more of **1997 Sierra Vista Syrah Herbert Vineyard, which I had found locally for
the unbelievable price of $10. It seemed too good to be true -- and it was. The retailer
had made a mistake and I regret I must move this wine off the Better than Bargains
page. Sorry! (It's still a good value at the $17 real price, by the way.)
VALETTE, ENCORE. (April 20, 199) They done it again.
Tonight my Chardonnay-loving wife and I opened a
bottle of *+1997 Domaine Valette Macon-Chaintres Jeunes Vignes ($12.49).
Previous vintages of the Vielles Vignes have smitten us, but it's almost doubled in price
since the '94 vintage.
So this year, we decided to see what the young
vines could offer. Dialogue ensued as follows...
ME: What do you taste...apples?
ME: Okay, I'll give you that, pears. And minerals.
PHYLIS: What are minerals?
ME: Like sucking a stone.
ME: Oh, all right. Steel and Flint. Ya know?
PHYLIS: Yes, that's it.
ME: Any other comments for the record?
PHYLIS: Can we get more?
Good finish, too. And decent structure. I'm going
to see about getting half a case. This time I'll try to age a few bottles.
(Phylis usually gets to them first.)
NAPA VALLEY...VALUE? (April 19, 1999) Are Napa Valley producers
obsessed with making high-profit trophy wines? Maybe so. Have they forgotten how
to make good Cab at reasonable prices? Not quite yet! For $11.99, you can still
buy 1995 Innisfree Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It's medium to dark
ruby, with a pleasing blackcurrant aroma, and plenty of Cabernet flavor on the palate.
Made by Joseph Phelps from their own estate grapes. Doesn't have the power and complexity
of Phelps' $75 Insignia, but the flavors do share a family resemblance. And for $75, you
can buy a half case of Innisfree and order yourself a Pizza with the change.
BLIND, CHEAP & ROWDY. (April 15, 1999) A bunch of local
wine buddies decided to celebrate tax day with a blow-out tasting of wines for
$12.99 or less. Some of us cheated, but click
here to check out my notes (in the Tasting Notes section) all the same. You may make
LET THIS GINI OUT OF THE BOTTLE! (April 11, 1999) If Italian
whites leave you bored, I can only agree -- most of the time. But *1997 Gini Soave
Classico "La Frosca" is well worth drinking, especially with seafood.
Attacks crisply and follows up with refreshing citrus and melon flavors. Bathes the palate
with a full, lush texture. Second time tasted, with consistent notes. Nice alternative to
Sauvignon Blanc at just $12.99.
THE UN-CHIANTI. (April 9, 1999) The Umbria region of
Italy is red hot these days...and *1997 La Carraia Sangiovese (Umbria) is
red, ripe and bee-oo-tiful! Deep ruby, with delicious red cherry aromas, moderate oak and
lots of thick, rich body. What's the story? Is it the '97 vintage? Does Sangiovese get
riper when it's grown south of Tuscany? Or is it simply that no-name wines are better
bargains? Whatever, you'd be very hard-pressed to find a Chianti of equal value.
Just $10, though I'm told prices may soon rise to $12 (still a bargain).
IF IT'S FRENCH YOU WANT... (April 5, 1999) Great vintages are a great time
to bottom-fish and *1996 Maison Ambroise Bourgogne "Pinot Noir" proves it
for the 1996 Burgundy vintage. You wont find better Pinot Noir at the price today.
Rolls across your palate with racy cherry flavors, seasoned with well-balanced oak. Plus
all the gamy character you want to remind you this is real live Burgundy. You fear it may
fade but it only swells with swirling and airing. A Robert Kacher selection. Gorgeous
glass of red for $13.99.
Want white tonight? Go for 1996 Laroche Chardonnay Pays
DOc "Grand Cuvee." Very pale, with aromas of wet rocks, vanilla and
earth. Country French Chardonnay that thinks its White Burgundy -- and only $12.99.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS LESS. (March 19, 1999) World-class Cab for $11.99? If
you don't mind some wood, try *1996 St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon. Brimming
with ripe, plummy flavors. Lots of toasty oak, but it works -- the effect is chocolatey,
with no whiskey-barrel flavors. And you'll never get a cork-tainted bottle,
because every St. Francis wine is finished with an easy-to-extract SupremeCorq.
MERLOT FROM ITALY? (March 18, 1999) You bet. The
Italian producer Falesco makes such a delicious high-end Merlot ("Montiano") that I had high hopes for the
new release of their basic *1997 Falesco Merlot Umbria. Turns
out it is very good -- but give it some air!
The first time I tasted it, two nights ago, it seemed way
tannic, with some dried cherry flavors. My guests and I had a few glasses anyway,
whereupon I put the bottle in the fridge. By the next night the wine had opened and was
much more generous, yielding up the chocolate and berry flavors I was expecting. The
texture had also thickened some.
This wine won't make me forget the terrific Adastra -- but it's also almost half the price
and good value for what it is. You may want to buy some now and sock it away for six
months to a year. Can't hurt.
CAB QPR CHAMP. (March 16, 1999) QPR is wine geek talk for
"quality/price ratio." I verified tonight that the belt still belongs to *+1996
Quintana Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the new "third wine" from Patrick
Campbell, made with Laurel Glen estate grapes blended with purchased North Coast fruit. At
$14.99, it's priced a notch below his Laurel Glen ($35) and Counterpoint (over $20).
After one taste you'll sit up and take closer notice.
Its not quite as concentrated as big daddy Laurel Glen, but I wonder if it may get
even higher scores from folks who adore forward fruit. The color is dark ruby, the aromas
are rich and fruity...and the flavors leave you thinking about comparisons with Chateau
Yes, of course, Im serious. Cassis, blueberry, a whole
lot of lead-pencil, and a longer finish than you dare hope for this year in a $15
California Cab. All this, and a meaty under-note that matches perfectly with rare steak.
CHARDONNAY FROM WHERE? (March 15, 1999) The bite of an
excellent Macon...lemon and minerals galore...with just enough well-restrained oak to
offer a kiss of creme brulee on the finish. Kind of reminds me of Domaine Valette, but
this baby is from Portugal.
It's 1997 Sabe Chardonnay "Entre Serra"
Vinho Regional Beiras and it only cost $9.99 at full retail. Beautifully balanced
character that should satisfy my flab-averse friends, yet the flavors are so full that
even my wife Phylis ("make mine California Chard") gave it the thumbs up.
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