Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Red Wines from the Southern Hemisphere

Last week was the vernal equinox, the point in the year when the days are as long as the nights. This year, celebrate spring by drinking wines from the southern hemisphere. Below the equator, they are celebrating fall and looking forward to the cooler temperatures of winter. Here, we've got other things to look forward to: warm sunshine, the first cookouts of summer, the last pots of stew to keep the chill away during the spring rains. Red wines from Argentina and South Africa go well with all these foods and more, with their warm, spicy, fruity profile.

Here are my recommendations for very good QPR wines including a Malbec, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Shiraz-Pinotage Blend that will help you bridge from winter to spring to summer without missing a step.

2007 Bodega Septima Cabernet Sauvignon (suggested retail, $12; available for $7-$12) From Argentina, this luscious Cabernet has aromas of warm baking spices and currants, touched with herbal notes. The flavors are rich, too, with coffee and currants predominant. There is good acidity, and a juicy aftertaste. Drink now, or set aside for 12-18 months.

2008 Sebeka Shiraz-Pinotage "Cape Blend" (suggested retail, $7.99; available for $6-$8) This blend from South Africa features currant and plum aromas and flavors, accented with espresso and baker's chocolate. Like most red blends, it will pair nicely with a variety of foods including burgers, chili, and grilled chicken. Drink over the next 9 months.

2008 Diseño Malbec (suggested retail $7.50; available for around $9) Always a reliable choice in affordable Malbecs, this bottling has floral, blackberry, and truffle aromas. The blackberry and mocha flavors are silky in the mouth. At present the tannins are slightly drying, so give it some air if you're drinking it now or set it aside to drink over the next two years.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Great Gewurz for Spring

Now that it's spring, my mind has turned to cleaning, lightening up, and enjoying the outdoors. In the wine department, that means my mind has turned to Gewürztraminer, a grape that always reminds me of this time of year.

Finding a good, affordable of the grape can be challenging. Some are too sweet, and some have an almost plastic quality with the aroma of cheap perfume. So if you have had Gewürztraminer in the past and not enjoyed it, make it your mission this spring to find one that suits your palate and your pocketbook.

One that I like is the 2009 Dancing Coyote Gewürztraminer (suggested retail, $10.99). It's a very good QPR domestic example with springlike aromas of apple, litchi, and honeysuckle. All of these notes can be found in the flavors, along with a nice acidity that adds to the juiciness of the wine and balances out the natural sweet impression that the grape gives.

This wine will be terrific with grilled sausages, salads, and spicy Asian cuisine.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Case of Bubbles for Spring: J. Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut

Upcoming spring brunches--check.
Celebration of first flowers blooming--check.
Toasting friends who just got engaged/married--check.
Toasting friends who just had new baby--check.
Mother's Day--check.

See how many celebrations you have coming up in the next few months?

That's why you need to know about this wine. It costs under $15 a bottle and is absolutely yummy. Buy it by the case, and you will have bubbles to see you through into June (provided you don't toast too many Tuesdays along the way...).

The NV J. Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut is one of the best sparklers--if not the best sparkler--I've ever had for under $15 and represents excellent QPR. Available in lots of markets for between $9 and $13, this wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France has a lovely, creamy taste. Abundant fresh citrus pith and brioche dough make a point-counterpoint of zest and richness in the flavors, with fruit notes of pear, apple, and lemon. A great feature of the wine are the tiny, frothy bubbles which make for a delicate impression. The wine is dry (brut), but it's a soft, gentle brut like spring itself. You can enjoy this wine with a wide range of foods and for this price, why wouldn't you??

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Looking for Affordable Pinot Noir?

The idea of affordable Pinot Noir is a guaranteed attention-grabber. Blame it on the movies, the delicacy of the grape, or its status as a fashionable tipple. No matter what you blame it on, there's one thing for sure: Pinot Noir is pricey.

And, in my opinion, deservedly so. When Pinot Noir is well made, it is a joy to drink. It's juicy, fresh, and silky. It pairs beautifully with a wide variety of foods. And there is something elegant about the grapes that are made with this wine that always leaves me wanting more: more of it on my dinner table, more in my glass, more in my cellar.

Many of the things I love best about Pinot Noir, however, can be hard to find in less expensive bottlings. Which is why these two selections are such finds--and both cost $20 or less.

2008 Hayman & Hill Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Reserve Selection (suggested retail, $18; a new release so ask your local merchant about whether they will be stocking it). Very characteristic of the Central Coast appellation where the grapes were grown, this wine had juicy black raspberry and elegant floral aromas with hints of chalk and limestone around the edges. Its fruit-forward core reminded me of homemade raspberry jam and fresh blackberries. It had the hallmark smoothness in the mouth, and left behind a satiny feeling that is hard to find in inexpensive Pinot Noir. Excellent QPR.

2008 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir (suggested retail, $20; available $14-23). The grapes in this Pinot come from the Russian River Valley which makes for a spicier, earthier wine. Expect notes of raspberry and earth in the aromas, which are echoed in the flavors. There is lots of allspice and clove in the aftertaste. At this early stage of its life, the wine's initial impression is disjointed and awkward but as it gets air (give it a vigorous swirl!) the flavors start to deepen and knit together. This wine is suitable for short-term aging, and will continue to improve until around 2012. Perhaps buy a few bottles if you find it, and set some aside in a cool, dark place for your 2010 Thanksgiving dinner. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Dry Spanish Sparkler for Champagne Lovers

If you think all Cava is fruity, perfectly enjoyable, but not too interesting--think again. (image from the great LA Food blog, Food She Thought, where you can also read another review of this wine)

I had a great bottle of Cava lately, and it made me realize I just don't know that much about the stuff other than it's from Spain, has bubbles, and is usually affordable.

The wine was the German Gilabert Brut Nature Reserva (domaineLA, $14.99; available elsewhere for $14-$15). This interesting Cava had a price point under $15 and an aromatic profile like Champagne: yeast, lemon pith, and mineral notes. It is dry--and I do mean dry--with no sugar added (the technical term is dosage). Bright, intense lemon and bread dough flavors are accented by a bit of stoniness in the aftertaste. Fine, abundant, active bubbles make for a very fresh, brisk feeling in the mouth, although the overall impression is rather creamy despite the dryness.

If tasted blind, I think that most would think it was a French sparkler, perhaps an inexpensive Champagne. And if you like very dry sparkling wine but have steered clear of Cava in the past fearing it might be too fruit-forward for your tastes, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by this.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Benefits of Short-Term Aging: the Case of Cabernet Sauvignon

I suppose there is a technical difference between cellaring and short-term aging. Cellaring wine, for me, means putting wine away for so long that you forget you have it and then are pleasantly surprised to discover you actually do NOT need to buy wine for Christmas 2015 because you actually bought wine for that occasion back in 2007!

But even short-term aging--by my definition wine that you set aside for 1-3 years--can make for a nice discovery when, on a cold winter's night, you make yourself a soup or roast or even whip up some burgers and find that you have a perfect bottle of wine that's been sitting around waiting for you.

As you know I drink mostly wine under $20, but even bottles that cost relatively little can benefit from some time to grow. What happens when they do? To my taste, the wines become smoother and more subtle. The fruit steps quietly aside and lets other notes--floral, herbal, woody--come forward. These are all transformations that I enjoy.

Take, for instance, my recent experience with the 2005 Black Sheep Finds "Genuine Risk" Cabernet Sauvignon. I bought it from online retailer domaine547 (now with an LA-based store, domaineLA) back in February 2008 for $20.99. Fast forward two years to February 2010. I loved this wine, and found it had excellent QPR because of its outstanding Cabernet characteristics. There were aromas of currant, plum, graphite, and licorice, all of which were echoed in the flavors. Hints of herbs and a nice spark of green pepper emerged, too, keeping the wine lively and interesting. It never became too vegetal, with red and purple fruit continuing through into the aftertaste.

If you are interested in more recent releases, the 2006 is available. Based on my experience I'd recommend buying three bottles, enjoying one now for a point of comparison, and drinking the remaining two bottles sometime between 2011 and 2013.