GRUET NEW MEXICO BLANC DE NOIRS $16
In 1984, Champagne native Gilbert Gruet planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at elevation 4,300 feet near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. His children relocated, founded the Gruet winery in Albuquerque, and in 1987 made its first sparkling wines, Champagne-method, of course. Following two years’ aging on the bottle lees, the inaugural vintage was released to rave reviews. Today, Gruet sells 125,000 cases in 48 states, its Blanc de Noirs, a Wine Spectator Top 100 honoree. This features aromas and flavors of apples and pears in cream, and warm pie crust. Serve at brunch with a western omelet.
ERATH 2013 OREGON PINOT GRIS $15
2015 marks Erath Winery’s 50th anniversary. In 1965, Dick Erath planted Dundee Hills’ first wine grapes. Thirty years later, he added Pinot Gris to the portfolio. I love Oregon Pinot Gris. It sits comfortably between crisp, appley Pinot Grigios of northeast Italy and the dense, weighty versions of Alsace. Erath’s 2013 is scented of green apple, melon, Meyer lemon, and crème brulee. From a cool vintage, it’s crisp and mouthwatering on the palate. Invites sole sautéed in butter.
SANTA RITA ESTATE 2011 RAPEL VALLEY CARMENERE RESERVA, CHILE $14
Like South Africa’s Pinotage, Carmenere is the signature of its winegrowing land, Chile. A native of Bordeaux, it’s just an afterthought there now. Long mistaken for Merlot in Chile, it’s now planted in its own devoted vineyards, on original rootstock. When not over-cropped, Carmenere can produce a “Super-Merlot” like this barrel-aged reserva, abundant in both berry jam and charry oak aromas and flavors. Will surely flatter braised duck breast with cherry sauce.
MAN FAMILY 2013 COASTAL REGION PINOTAGE BOSSTOK, SOUTH AFRICA $10
A South African cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault first propagated in the 1930s, Pinotage has become the Cape’s signature grape variety. MAN’s is a bargain-priced representative that suggests both the Pinot side of its parentage in its bright cherry and tea aroma and its Cinsault Mediterranean warmth. Some Pinotages steer toward coffee aromas, others game. This one is all about varietal fruit character. Serve with grilled hanger steak.
HOGUE 2013 COLUMBIA VALLEY RIESLING LATE HARVEST $10
I love Columbia Valley Riesling for its high-pitched aromatics and racy acidity. Hogue’s Late Harvest has been a personal favorite since soon after the winery’s founding in 1982, when Mike and Gary Hogue decided to add wine grapes to their considerable agricultural endeavors. Redolent of peach-apricot, honeysuckle, and citrus blossoms, the 2013 carries significant sweetness plus good acid foil. Just the thing for poached pears.
CLIFFORD BAY 2014 MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON BLANC, NEW ZEALAND $11
Clifford Bay marks the eastern entrance to the Cook Strait. This eponymous winery sources its grapes from both nearby Wairau Valley in northern Marlborough and from Awatere Valley in the zone’s south to compose a distinctive and complex Sauvignon Blanc representative. The 2014 is a juice bomb featuring insistent, irresistible aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, mango, and passion fruit. A natural for Goan fish curry.
THE FEDERALIST 2013 LODI ZINFANDEL $16
Since introducing Santa Margherita in the late 1970s, Tony Terlato has proved a masterful creator of brands. One of his latest is The Federalist, featuring American currency images on its labels, this Lodi Zinfandel that of the $1 bill, George Washington. Lodi, core of the Sacramento Delta region east of San Francisco Bay boasts many of California’s oldest Zinfandel vineyards. The 2013 contributes fine structure to contain Lodi’s sweet, jammy fruit core. Deep black raspberry zinfandel essence. Racy, peppery, zesty, well textured. Full concentration of oak and fruit. Exotic aura. Perfumed. A real 3D Lodi zin experience. Very flavorful. Body and texture in spades. Ready for bacon - blue cheese burgers.
LE CHIANTIGIANE 2011 CHIANTI CLASSICO TENIMENTI GEGGIANO PONTIGNANO, ITALY $12
Chianti Classico is one of the most recognizable place names in wine-dom. This hilly, 10 x 25 mile central Tuscan DOCG zone stretches between Florence in the north and Siena in the south, once rival city-states. Sangiovese is the informing grape variety. Le Chiantigiane, a consortium of many growers, enjoys economy of scale that enables it to offer a Chianti Classico at an unbeatable price. Full, concentrated, almost tarry. Some barrel time evident. Bright berry flair. Wow! Acid, grip, material, glycerol. Gives and gives. And lasts. Slow-roasted saddle of rabbit, please.
BONNY DOON 2014 CENTRAL COAST ROSE VIN GRIS DE CIGARE $15
The irrepressible comic genius Randall Grahm started his vinous journey in search of Pinot Noir’s Holy Grail. Then, steered off course, he became California’s original Rhone Ranger. “Flying cigars” allegedly sighted over Chateauneuf du Pape in the mid 1950s gave Randall inspiration for his red and rose “Vins de Cigare,” each made up of a potpourri of Rhone Valley grape varieties. Redolent of strawberry, peach, and bergamot, this pale rose would be just the ticket for ceviche.
DOW’S PORTO FINE WHITE, PORTUGAL $14
The Brits say: “The first duty of a Port is to be red.” Nonetheless, the Symington family makes, and is apt to drink in summer, a white rendition. This is not blanc de noirs; there ARE quality white grape varieties grown in the Douro. White fruits, nuts, wood exotica. Good and full and strong and nutty. Perfectly balanced. Musky. A complex of orange notions: pulp, peel, marmalade. Fine balance of sweetness and strength. Try with a twist of lemon and splash of tonic alongside a bowl of fresh grapes.
HAPPY CAMPER 2013 CALIFORNIA CHARDONNAY $8
I taste a lot of under $10 California Chardonnnays over the course of a year of trade shows and wine judgings. While standards are high and values abound, only a handful roll my socks up and down. Like Happy Camper’s whimsical label: truncated Air Stream and empty director’s chair before a lovely vista. Crisp, cool, coastal. Pleasing apple and citrus aromas. Some malo creaminess. Vanilla crème sensation, not likely from oak. Good acid. Halbtrocken style. The website recommends roast chicken with creamy risotto. Spot on.
BODEGAS AGE 2011 RIOJA CRIANZA SIGLO, SPAIN $12
I remember this sack-cloth-wrapped bottle from years ago. I’m glad it’s back in the market. Once the sack had a practical purpose, same as a Chianti fiasco’s straw casing. Wet it down, and evaporation cooled the contents for field workers’ lunch-time repasts. Today’s Siglo, a crianza aged a year each in barrel and bottle, is much more sophisticated than its former iteration. Rioja Alta contributes black fruit, Alavesa red fruit, and Baja jammy fruit, all married seamlessly to barrel nuances. Time for a pig roast!
WILD OATS 2012 CENTRAL RANGES SHIRAZ, AUSTRALIA $14
Robert Oatley is one of Australia’s 50 richest. He started his fortune as a New Guinea coffee and cocoa exporter, then invested it in winegrowing, founding Rosemount Estates, which he developed into one of Australia’s leading brands. Divested of Rosemount, he created two “retirement” projects, Robert Oatley and Wild Oats, the grapes all sourced from premium appellations. The Shiraz at hand bears the Oatley signatures of ripe black fruit, peppercorn, and toasty oak character. You know you want BBQ baby-back ribs to complement this full-bodied wine.
DOMAINE DE BEAUREGARD 2013 MUSCADET SEVRE ET MAINE SUR LIE, FRANCE $15
In the gravelly soils of France’s Loire Maritime grows a white grape variety named Muscadet. Called Melon in Burgundy, it was transplanted here in the early 1700s after a terrible winter wiped out extant varieties. Muscadet’s most important growing zone lies about the Loire tributaries Sevre and Maine. The wine is dry, and rarely oaky. Aging on its fermentation lees supplies extra character to its understated profile. Usually consumed young, Muscadet nonetheless ages famously. Beauregard’s conveys classic aromas and flavors of green fruits and moist undergrowth. Ideal with steamed mussels in an herbed broth.
PEHH CORA 2013 TERRE DI CHIETI PECORINO, ITALY $15
Pecorino is an increasingly popular varietal of central Italy’s Adriatic regions because, like Viognier and Albarino, it has the attractive stone-fruit and flower aromas associated with sweet wines yet is finished dry. It shares its name with Italy’s famous sheep’s milk cheese. The brand name plays on this. A sheep’s bray is “baa” to us, “pehh” to Italians. Great cool fruit aromas of peach, nectarine, lime peel. Lots of textural tingle in the nostrils. Full flavor and racy texture. Bright and balanced. Pecorino glycerol meets its astringent foil. Serve with white pizza. Pecorino the cheese of choice, naturally!