BORGO MARAGLIANO CHARDONNAY BRUT, ITALY $15
In the center of northwest Italy’s Piemonte zone, at 1500 feet, 18th century Borgo Maragliano grows 200 acres of Chardonnay, Moscato, and Brachetto in highly calcareous soil and subsoil. The land is so limey that if the winery’s water softener fails, its pipes clog up in two days. As in France’s Champagne and Burgundy regions, Chardonnay thrives in this kind of earth. The estate’s delightful sparkling Chardonnay is tank-fermented and aged to emphasis the original fruit, as the fruit-salad aroma of this creamy, frothy, soft brut demonstrates. The winemaker suggests serving it with a warm hors d’oeuvre of vegetables and puff pastry.
HOEPLER 2014 BURGENLAND PANNONICA WHITE, AUSTRIA $11
Southeast of Vienna, bounded on the east by the long, shallow Lake Neusiedl, Burgenland is part of region the Romans called Pannonia, a zone in the heart of the European continent that is blessed with 2000 hours of sunshine per annum. Here the Hoepler family farms 115 acres of vines and makes a range of red, rose, and white wines of which 70% are exported. Every 10th bottle of Austrian wine shipped to the US comes from Hoepler. That may grow higher given the price-quality advantage of its new Pannonica White. Of Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gruner Veltliner, it offers aromas and flavors of warm hay, apricot, rose, lime, and a bushel-full of aromatic apple varieties. This dry, tender, juicy treat will delight with Wiener Schnitzel.
STEFANO MASSONE 2014 GAVI VIGNETO MASERA, ITALY $15
Defined by the Cortese grape variety, Gavi is Piemonte’s leading dry white wine. Stefano Massone cultivates 15 acres of the cru (vineyard) Masera on calcareous soil in the warmer, southeast sector of this denominazione, where vines are over 35 years old. His Gavi is redolent of Cortese’s attractive green aromatics: pungent green fruits like apple, pear, and lime, and green herbs, particularly sage. Stony soil and deep roots contributed decided minerality to the wine, which makes it a great foil for creamy risotto dishes.
THE WHITE KNIGHT 2014 LODI PINOT GRIGIO $11
The Other Guys’, Don Sebastiani and sons, sure have a good time developing whimsical wine brands the likes of Hey Mambo, Moobuzz, Pennywise, and Plungerhead. Their latest, The White Knight, is designed to “save the world from the tyranny of Chardonnay.” Sure enough, it offers up the likes of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco, and Pinot Grigio, the last from those balmy lands of Lodi, where grape varieties ripen to exaggerated varietal expressions This 2014 boasts lemon custard, honeysuckle, almond, and vanilla, the likes of which you’ll never find in a Venezie Pinot Grigio. It’s all about good fun, and certainly rich enough for Lobster Newberg.
DOMAINE DE MENARD 2014 COTES DE GASCOGNE COLOMBARD-SAUVIGNON, FRANCE $11
As sales of its signature brandy Armagnac slumped during the 20th Century’s waning years, Gascony’s winemakers turned to make table wines from grapes once destined for its unique stills. Most of the region’s brandy grapes are white, including Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Gros Manseng, so it’s no surprise that dry white wines are its forte. Colombard, once widely planted in California and the basis of its “Chablis” jug wines, and the popular Sauvignon Blanc are 50-50 partners in this 2014 of Domaine de Menard, a family-owned, 200-acre estate. Its flashy, neon-pink-citrus aromatics just dazzle, as does its mouth-watering acidity, a complement for the yin-yang of Bayonne ham and melon.
HAY MAKER 2014 MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON BLANC, NEW ZEALAND $10
Hay Maker is the second label of New Zealand’s Mud House Wines, whose founding couple sailed the world before discovering and falling in love with South Island’s Marlborough country. In 1996, they planted vineyards and build a home from the native earth. Today there are four families involved in this ever-growing venture that has lately introduced Hay Maker, a contender for “best buy” in NZ Sauvignon Blancs. It’s bursting with gooseberry and grapefruit, a sweet-tart taste adventure with suggestions of guava and nettle. Stick to the Pacific Rim and serve with a Thai green chicken curry.
NIK WEIS 2014 MOSEL RIESLING URBAN, GERMANY $11
Nik Weis is third-generation owner of the venerable St. Urbans-Hof winegrowing estate at Leiwen in the Mittel Mosel. His wines are made in minimalist fashion solely of Riesling sourced from old vines growing on steep, slate-covered hillsides. Weis forms his modest-priced Urban Riesling from neighbors’ grapes as well as his own. This 2014 is the embodiment of his winegrowing philosophies. Pure, slate-saturated, unmanipulated, it conveys the essence of its origins, and it positively tingles the nostrils and dazzles the palate with its display of mineral saturation and appley Riesling goodness. Sure to brighten up Tandoori chicken.
DOMAINE LES APHILLANTHES 2014 COTES DU RHONE ROSE, FRANCE $14
In 1987, Daniel Boulle inherited 25-acre Domaine Les Aphillanthes and has since added another 70 acres to the spread, converting all to organic, biodynamic viticulture. Like Nik Weis, he supports minimal intervention in the winery: no oak, no filtration, no pumping. Let the wines’ terroir do the talking. Boulle’s rose is founded on Cinsault, augmented by Grenache, Counoise, and Mourvedre. It’s been a staple of my rose portfolio for years, proving a trouper in warm and cold months alike because it certainly improves in bottle through fall and endures into winter to enhance a hearty cassoulet. Rose - It’s not just for June anymore.
ROOT:1 2013 COLCHAGUA VALLEY CABERNET SAUVIGNON, CHILE $10
Root:1 is a joint venture between Chilean winery Vina Ventisquero and its American importer Winebow. Its name refers to the vines growing on their original rootstock thanks to Chile’s natural barriers to the devastating vine-root louse phylloxera. Cabernet Sauvignon is the brand’s flagship; Root:1 is the largest-selling imported $10-$15 Cabernet in America. Little wonder; this product of ungrafted vines is a textbook lesson in the varietal, a wine of black currant confiture concentration, with airs of mint leaf. Its makers suggest serving the wine with spicy meat dishes like ginger beef or peppercorn tenderloin.
AMALAYA 2014 SALTA MALBEC 5500’, ARGENTINA $12
In Salta’s high desert, a mile above the Calchaqui Valley floor, growing conditions are hardly conducive to bountiful harvests, so farmers once made offerings “in hope for a miracle,” the meaning of Amalaya in the local language. Swiss water magnate Donald Hess has made significant vineyard investments in this northern Argentine zone, some of his vines planted above 10,000 feet. The extreme conditions produce grapes of astonishing flavor concentration. This Malbec cuvee, which incorporates 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Syrah, offers intense black cherry, tar, and licorice aromas and flavors, augmented by savory oak seasonings suggestive of potpourri. Go for asado with chimichurri.
WINDY BAY 2012 OREGON PINOT NOIR $16
It’s not easy finding an Oregon Pinot Noir for under $20, much less one that reflects the qualities of a great vintage and of careful craftsmanship. Windy Bay’s 2012 was sourced from four sub-appellations of Willamette Valley. Prior to fermentation, the uncrushed grapes were cold-soaked for 4 days to extract fine aromatics and “melt” tannins. Then the must was fermented 10 days at 80 degrees, primarily in oak. Following upbringing in French oak barrels, it emerged a wonder of black cherry, cola, baking spice, and toasty oak aromas enhanced by flavors of rose petal, sweet cherry, and Darjeeling tea, leading me to recommend Sichuan’s famous tea smoked duck recipe.
VAL DU CHARRON 2013 APHAEA CELLARMASTER’S RESERVE RED, SOUTH AFRICA $10
While wine touring in South Africa, be sure to book at least a night at the Val du Charron guesthouse in beautiful Wellington Valley north of Capetown. Settled in 1699 by French Huguenots, it was originally named Valley of the Wagonmakers (Charron), the last stop of trekkers headed for the Cape’s interior. Aphaea is a lone, majestic tree on the estate, colorfully illustrated in mosaic fashion on this wine’s label. Aphaea consists of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, and Tinta Barocca, offering an astonishing range of berry aromatics, including blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, and blueberry, plus peppercorn, cedar, and chocolate. Enjoy it with a dry-rubbed, grilled ribeye steak.
BODEGAS VENTA MORALES 2014 LA MANCHA TEMPRANILLO, SPAIN $7
Tempranillo, under its various guises, is Spain’s leading red grape variety and the backbone of northern Spain’s great red wines of Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Toro. It’s widely planted too on the vast plain of La Mancha in south-central Spain, where it accounts for a warmer, riper sort of experience, uninspiring if overcropped. At Venta Morales in eastern La Mancha, poor soils and old vines give yields of only two tons of fruit per acre, the foundation of a wine that paints a picture of warm-climate Tempranillo at its best, for a song of a price. You’ll want at least a case at your next pig roast.
CA’ MOMI 2014 NAPA VALLEY ROSSO DI NAPA $10
With Napa Valley vineyard land selling for north of $200,000 an acre, it’s a wonder you can still find a wine under this AVA for $10 a bottle! It’s made by a pair hot-shot Veneto expatriates who left their home (named Ca’ Momi) to start up a California venture in 2006. Today they offer a proud range of top Napa Valley varietal and reserve wines, even sparkling wines. Plus this bargain-priced rosso blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. Cabernet blackberry and Zinfandel raspberry cremes are prominent, and there’s even a smoky toasty aura of wood char. Go to the website and download Ca’ Momi’s Coda alla Vaccinara (oxtail) recipe for a perfect match.
KOURTAKI SAMOS MUSCAT, GREECE $15
Founded in 1895 by Vallilis Kourtakis, the first person in Greece to obtain a diploma in oenology, Kourtaki winery was projected into the 20th century by his son Dimitri, a wine-marketing genius, and is today headed by his grandson, who holds a winemaking degree from the University of Dijon, in Burgundy. Prominent in Kourtaki’s full range of Greece’s top wines is its Muscat from the eastern Aegean isle of Samos. Of the “petits grains” variety of Muscat, the foundation of Italy’s Moscato d’Asti and France’s vins doux natural, Samos Muscat was a favorite of British poet Lord Byron. Featuring honey, dried apricot, and orange peel aromatics, Kourtaki’s is an intense, sweet, and warming dessert-wine classic to serve with baklava.