Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Wine Resolutions 2009

It's time to make your 2009 wine resolutions. (image from

Last year I resolved to read more wine books, get to know the wines of Italy, drink 100 different grape varieties, dabble in champagne, and make dessert wines more of a habit and less of a special occasion.

I didn't do too badly. I did launch the Wine Book Club, which started out with great participation and trickled down to a regular handful of die-hard, well-read oenophiles. (I'll have a WBC announcement on Thursday, for those of you who are wondering what's up.) I finished my Wine Century, drank some grower champagne, and enjoyed myself enormously as I explored 11 Italian wine regions. I bombed on the dessert wines, though. I was trying to lose weight, too, and the dessert wines were a few calories too many!

So what are my resolutions for 2009?

1. More Italy. Those in the know realize that Italy has more than 11 wine regions--it has 20. I'm having too much fun to stop now. Besides, we haven't reached the Piedmont, the Veneto, or Emilia-Romagna yet! So there will be more Italian wines in 2009, beginning with the Valle d'Aosta in January. As always, I love getting tips and recommendations since I'm an Italian wine novice.

2. 46 Degrees North. I've realized this year that my ignorance of wine regions is not limited to far away places. So, I'm going to learn more about Washington State wines this year, and will be leaning on my friend and fellow blogger Catie, the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, for advice. Sometimes, we forget that American wine is not just about California. It's even easier to forget this if you live in the Grape State, as I do.

3. Wine Travel. My trips to wineries this year have reminded me that there is nothing--nothing--that increases your knowledge and enjoyment of wine as much as actually going to a winery or vineyard and seeing where the grapes are grown, talking to the people who make the wine, and then tasting some of it. I'm going to try to make a few more wine trips this year. I definitely want to go back to Paso Robles, maybe I'll get myself to Washington, and my experiences in Napa this summer and fall have convinced me that I have a lot to learn about that region's microclimates. I also hope to take a winehike with the Winehiker.

4. Some New Features on GWU$20. An author has to keep growing, and a blog has to keep changing, if it's going to stay fresh. In the past few months, I've felt the need to change things up a bit here at the blog, and I thought long and hard about what to do. I'll be adding new recurring features to help give the blog some focus and provide additional variety. There will still be tasting notes, travel features, news and opinion pieces--but there will also be some new things such as "Adventures in the Cellar," and an approach to having wine on Friday nights that will help you trim your budget without feeling deprived. I'm hoping to convince some friends to come by every now and again and taste their way through a bunch of wines with me so that we can explore the subjectivity of taste, too.

I hope that you keep enjoying GWU$20 as much next year as you have this year. The number of subscribers and readers has grown , and I'd like to see that continue. What are your 2009 Wine Resolutions?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Waving Goodbye to 2008

Since we're waving goodbye to 2008, and I'm a historically minded wine blogger, I decided to dip into CellarTracker! and see what it told me about my year in wine. (photo /wave by striatic)

I tasted more than 400 wines this year, and was pleased to discover that my average cost for a bottle was $15.17--up only .86 since last year. The most valuable wine I drank was a 2003 Vincent Girardin Echezeaux. Mercifully, it was a gift. Even better, it was AMAZING. In the same seven day period that I sipped my Echezeaux, I also had my least expensive bottle of wine: the NV Zonin Primo Amore Juliet. At under $5, it was a pleasant, bubbly treat. That juxtaposition of a fabulous Burgundy and a fun, frothy wine somehow captures exactly what GWU$20 is all about.

I bought wine all over the place this year, but I was happy to see that my favorite wine retailer (no surprise here, really) was my local online wine retailer, domaine547. This was followed by my favorite local wine store, Pasadena's Chronicle Wine Cellar. Rounding out my top three--and a departure from previous spending habits--was direct purchases from wineries. In retrospect, I feel good about my decisions to support local businesses and wineries. In a touch-and-go economy, it's all the more important.

Finally, I looked at what it was that I drank in 2008. I was astonished to see that I tasted more Chardonnay than any other wine. CHARDONNAY? I'm not even aware that I'm all that excited about Chardonnay, but I guess the proof is in the numbers. I'm drinking it without even realizing it! Pinot Noir came in #2, followed by Sauvignon Blanc (I really would have thought that was #1), White Blends, and finally (my weakness) Red Rhone Blends.

Have you taken time to review your 2008 wine habits? Tune in tomorrow for my 2009 wine resolutions.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sangiovese: Something for Everybody

Sangiovese is one of those grapes that may actually suffer because it's so versatile and mutable. Soil, climate, winemaking technique--each shapes the wine in the bottle. This is true of all grapes, of course, but it's somehow more evident in a cheerful, acidic grape like Sangiovese. (image © Cephas Picture Library)

To finish up with my exploration of Tuscan wines, I tasted three different bottles filled with the juice of Sangiovese grapes--and I was astonished at how distinctive each wine was.

The 2006 Cantine Da Vinci Chianti (available for $10-$13), for example, was a simple Sangiovese with shy aromas and flavors of cranberry and sour cherry. The wine wasn't terribly complex, but it would be terrific with pizza or pasta, and has good QPR.

The 2007 Rocca di Montemassi Le Focaie (available for just under $20) was very different. It was made from grapes grown outside the Chianti zone in Maremma, and had cherry and chalk aromas and flavors that turned sour on the finish. It will appeal to traditionalists, who like their wine focused and restrained. I liked it because it wasn't trying too hard to be a big wine. I'd try this with some rosemary-grilled chicken, or a piping hot bowl of minestrone. Very good QPR.

The 2007 Castello d'Albola Chianti (available for under $15) showed yet another side of Sangiovese. Its full, rich plum and sour cherry aromas gave way to a similar spectrum of flavors wrapped up in a gorgeously rich and velvety texture. This wine was supple, smooth--everything you are looking for in a Chianti and never find. Especially not in one that costs under $20. Try it with a juicy steak, some flavorful sausage, or roast pork. Excellent QPR.

There's a Sangiovese for everybody, no matter what your taste in wine. After my two month exploration of Tuscany, I think that what's true of the grape is true of the region, too. From simple everyday wines to opulent Super Tuscans, this is a region that I'm glad I got to know better.

Full disclosure: I received these bottles as samples.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays!

Posts may be a bit erratic this week and the next given all the festivities, so I appreciate your patience during this busy time of year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Today on Serious Grape: Budget Bubbles

Sparkling wine and the holidays just seem to go together. (photo by Gaetan Lee)

There are a lot of excellent, affordable choices in the market right now that will add a little bit of festive cheer to your celebrations.

This week on Serious Grape, my weekly column on Serious Eats, I've pulled together a buying guide for budget bubbles. All the bottles listed are widely available and affordable, so there's no excuse.

Go out and get yourself some sparkling wine. Even if you drink a glass by yourself after crawling back from the mall, you'll feel more of the spirit of the season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chiant vs. Chianti Classico

If you've never tasted a Chianti and a Chianti Classico side by side, you might wonder what the difference is--besides the price.

Chianti and Chianti Classico are both Tuscan wines, produced under strict regulations that limit what grapes go into the wines (mostly Sangiovese) and where the grapes are grown. There are actually eight Chianti wines, each coming from a different region of Tuscany. They are: Chianti Classico; Chianti Montalba; Chianti Colli Fiorentini; Chianti Montespertoli; Chianti Rufina; Chianti Colli Senesi; Chianti Colline Pisane; Chianti Colli Aretini; and just Chianti, which covers vineyards in areas outside these more specific places. Many of these regions produce small amounts of wine, and they are not common in the US market.

We are awash, however, in Chianti and Chianti Classico. New vintages of Chianti come into the market after March 1 of the year following the harvest. Chianti Classico arrives later, after October 1.

What most of us care about, however, is how do the wines taste? Here are my impressions of two wines--one Chianti, and one Chianti Classico--from the same maker. One is available for around $10, the other fpr $15-$20. Both wines represent very good QPR--but they taste very, very different, and would suit different kinds of food.

The 2006 Tiziano Chianti (available for $8-$11), for example, stuck in my mind as the Italian equivalent of a Gamay from the Beaujolais. There were fresh sour cherry aromas and flavors. It wasn't a particularly complex wine, but it would be great with pizza and pasta with red sauce, served slightly colder than you would most red wines. And it cost about the same as an ordinary Beaujolais, which means it's an affordable everyday red.

The 2004 Tiziano Chianti Classico Gold (available for $15-$20), on the other hand, was much more complex. I detected richer cherry, violet and leather aromas and flavors. This wine was smooth and velvety on the tongue, and the 12 months it spent in French oak barriques produced a wine that was heavier in the mouth and tasted more robust than the Chianti. For food pairings with the Chianti Classico I'd think more of grilled beef, or something like the excellent baked pasta dish with a pork sugo that we had with these wines. (Tip: this is one of those dishes designed for hassle free entertaining on a day you have some time to be at home and let the sauce simmer on the stove. Assembly is quick, and then you pop the casserole in the oven 45 minutes before you want to eat--during which time you can sit down and enjoy the evening with your guests.)

I confess that I've been a bit snobbish in the past when it comes to Chianti, and since Chianti Classico or Chianti Classico Riserva bottlings can often come in at over $20 I've not been drinking much Chianti lately. This side-by-side tasting changed all that. Not only were both these wines affordable, they provided two different flavor profiles. It wasn't a case of one wine being "better" than the other--they were just different. And deliciously so.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Top Twenty Wines Under $20

It's time once again for the annual GWU$20 "Top Twenty Wines Under $20." (photo from

Each year I go through my tasting notes and gather together the most memorable and exciting wines I tasted. Then I hit the internet and make sure that they're available--for under $20. Who wants to get excited about a wine only to discover you can't get it anymore?

The world is awash with year end, top (fill in the blank) wine lists. Here's my contribution. You won't find many of these wines on other lists--I can promise you that!

What was the best wine you tasted this year? Share your favorite in the comments below, and of course if you've had any of these wines and agree with me, tell the world that, too.

Here they are, in reverse order. Click on any of the wine names to search for a retailer near you who might stock the wine.

20. 2006 Domaine Vissoux/Pierre Chermette Cuvée Traditionelle Gamay ($13-$18). Shy aromas of cherry, berry, and some chalk. The flavors are pure, juicy Bing cherry with an earthy undertow and some mineral notes in the aftertaste. Drinkable now, and should still have a few years left in it, too.

19. 2006 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($12-22). Very, very good Pinot Noir for the price. High toned cherry and raspberry fruit aromas, with a touch of allspice. Silky texture, and flavors of cherry, raspberry, allspice, and cobbler.

18. 2004 Domaine de la Noblaie Les Chiens-Chiens (around $20). The best Cabernet Franc I've ever had. Smoky, vegetable, and red fruit aromas combine nicely on the palate with a long, smoky aftertaste. Medium body, nice texture in the mouth.

17. 2003 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes ($13-$36/375 ml). A honey-colored wine, with aromas of pineapple, coconut, and honey. Good acidity on the palate, which tasted of pineapple dipped in honey and deepened and gained weight as the wine opened up.

16. 2006 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc ($13-$15). One of the best domestic Sauvignon Blancs I've had in a long time. Fresh and grassy, but not assertive with warmer melon, Meyer lemon, and clementine flavors.

15. 2006 Fort Ross Pinot Noir Rosé ($12-$16). A lovely, relatively full-bodied rose with aromas and flavors of strawberry and mineral. Delicious.

14. 2005 La Sibilla Piedirosso ($11-$15) An Italian red for Burgundy lovers. Light, true garnet in color, very clear and bright. Aromas of bacon fat and smoke, with a bit of high-toned black cherry underneath and flavors of leather, tar, and black cherry.

13. NV Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley ($15-$20) Pale straw in color, with abundant mousse and a small bead. Aromas of brioche and Meyer lemon and flavors of apples, toast, and a firm, nutty edge. Just terrific.

12. 2005 Arnaldo-Caprai Grechetto ($9-$24) Yummy, distinctive wine. Truly golden in color, with aromas of pears, herbs, and honeycomb. Slightly frizzante upon first opening, which dissipates quickly. Flavors run to orchard fruits--pears, a hint of white peach--with a zingy flash of lemon pith at the finish.

11. 2004 Di Majo Norante Aglianico Contado ($11-$20) Aromas of blackberry, tea, and a whiff of roses. Flavors of blackberry tending towards blueberry, tea, sassafras, and a little minty lift in the aftertaste.

10. 2004 La Rochelle Pinot Noir ($20) Beautiful, bright ruby color. Aromas of cherry and spice give way to flavors of cherry, pepper, and allspice with a spicy finish. Nicely made, with great acidity at the core.

9. 2006 Spann Vineyards Betsy's Backacher Bottle Blond ($14-$20) Contender for all around house white with its blend of Viognier, Semillon, and Chardonnay. Expect aromas of yellow apple, pear, and a touch of peach from the Viognier and flavors that are soft and round nectarine, peach, and apple.

8. 2007 Vignerons des Terres Secretes Chateau du Charnay ($18.60) Aromas of creme fraiche and pear and flavors of pear, apple, sour cream, and grapefruit pith. Very fresh and subtle, this is a wine for those who don't like the big California style. Excellent value.

7. 2007 James David Cellars Dry Muscat (price N/A, will be available directly from winery soon) A first offering, and a great dry muscat. Clear pale straw in color. Honeysuckle and mandarin orange peel aromas. Dry flavors of beeswax, Meyer lemon, and grapefruit pith.

6. 2002 Domaine des Baumard Savennieres ($11-$24) Aromas of lime, chalk, and almonds and flavors that were nutty, mineral, and citrus (somewhere between lime and lemon). Chalky finish. Piercing quality to the flavors, not sharp but very intense.

5. 2005 Veramonte Primus ($11-$26) Mix of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Heady aromas and flavors of plum, blackberry, spice, and plum blossom. Satiny texture, integrated tannins, and a cedar-spice finish. Nicely made, well-balanced.

4. 2006 Adelsheim Pinot Gris ($14-$20) Delicious aromas of peach, honey, and a kiss of carmelized sugar. Lots of acidity to keep the peach and apple flavors in balance. Long, luscious aftertaste.

3. 2005 Preston of Dry Creek Valley Old Vines (I paid $20, but the price has risen) Amazing wine that's full-bodied and restrained at the same time. Aromas of plums and berries, yields to a silky-textured wine full of blackberry, dark chocolate, and roast coffee notes with a peppery aftertaste.

2. NV Osborne 1827 Sweet Sherry ($11-$18) Made with Pedro Ximenez grapes, this coffee-colored wine has molasses and cherry cola aromas and flavors. It's so syrupy that I believe those who told me that they serve it over vanilla ice cream. Delicious, affordable, memorable dessert wine.

1. 2006 Brooks Riesling Willamette Valley ($14-$20) Aromas of lime, apple, meyer lemon, petrol, and stone. Flavors of lime, honey, slate, and currants. Exceptionally complex for a wine at this price point. Well worth seeking out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Taking a Break with Albariño

I'm rich fooded out.

After the fifth holiday party, the ninth cookie platter (my downfall), and the umpteenth meal out that I start feeling this way.

I crave something lighter, something leaner, something fresher. And the same goes for my wine. I love reds--but a nice white is a lip-smacking change of pace.

So I opened up a bottle of Albariño, Spain's zesty white wine from the Riax Baixas region.

It was just the break I needed.

The 2007 Martin Codax Albariño was a very good QPR find. It had aromas of apple, pineapple, and citrus fruits that were palate cleansing without being overly acidic. These enticingly fresh scents were echoed in the flavors, which turned more pineapple-y in the aftertaste. Albariños are known for their tongue-tingly acidity, but you want there to be enough fruit as a counterbalance and this wine had it.

Albariños are made for seafood--clams, in particular--so if you are looking for a simple meal get some Littlenecks, and cook them with garlic, paprika and wine, perhaps some tomato, and a few slices or cooked chorizo or sausage and serve it with a hunk of bread to sop up the juices. Or you can do as we did and have the wine with the Barefoot Contessa's grilled salmon sandwiches with a zesty spread made with dill, capers, and basil. Either way, you will find that the acidity is lovely with the seafood or fish, and that the apple, tropical fruit, and citrus flavors are a perfect foil for the aromatics and herbs used in these dishes.

I received this wine as a sample. You will find it near you for $11-$15.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today on Serious Grape: Super Tuscans, the Italian Super Hero

Today on Serious Grape, my weekly column on Serious Eats, I tackle a topic of heroic proportions: Italian Super Tuscans. (photo by bohman)

Many of us have heard the phrase, but I'm always surprised at how few know what the term means or how it came into being.

Today's post provides you with a little bit of history, and a tasting note for one of the more reasonable Super Tuscans in the market. Super Tuscans are not usually found under $20, and this one is no exception. But if you're looking for a special red wine for the holidays it may fit the bill and your budget. See what you think.

In addition, I posted another gift guide for wine lovers there. Yesterday, I posted my roundup of recommended wine books for this holiday season here on GWU$20. If you are looking for something that isn't a book, you will find five recommendations under $25 that might be just perfect for someone on your list.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gift Ideas for Wine Lovers: A Roundup of Great Books

The days are passing, and unless you've done your homework about shipping laws it may be too late to send wine to the wine lovers on your list.

If good wine is out, how about a good book about wine? Personally, I think I'm even more delighted to receive a book than a bottle.

Here are some of the best books available, with my recommendations for just who might love to have them on their shelves.

For Adventurous Types
Oz Clark, Oz Clark's Grapes and Wines: the Definitive Guide to the World's Greatest Grapes and the Wines They Make ($25; $16.50 from
This is the book for wine lovers who never pick Chardonnay off the wine list. It's chock full of information on rare grape varieties and it takes account of geographical diversity and how climate influences the character of grapes.

For Pinot Noir Lovers
John Winthrop Haeger, Pacific Pinot Noir: A Comprehensive Winery Guide for Consumers and Connoisseurs ($21.95; $14.93 from
If you have someone on your list who loves West Coast Pinot Noir, then get them a copy of this new book. It has notes on more than two hundred wineries stretching from California through to Oregon, tasting notes, vintage reports, and more. I found Haeger's characterization of various "house styles" on target and very useful. A highly recommended new release from the University of California Press.

For History Buffs and Keepers of Great Tasting
George Saintsbury, Notes on a Cellar Book ($29.95; $21.56 from
George Saintsbury (1845-1933) was an English literature professor at the University of Edinburgh. In 1920, he published his Notes on a Cellar Book, a wonderful collection of reflections on drinking everything from the best French Burgundy to a refreshing pint of beer. Reading this new edition of Saintsbury's work is a glimpse into our viticultural past, as well as a revelation of how great wine and great
literature can go hand-in-hand.

For Biography Lovers--and Fans of Bubbly
Tilar J. Mazzeo, The Widow Clicquot: The story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It ($25.95; $17.13 from
I've been waiting for this book for a long, long time. Finally, Tilar Mazzeo tells us the compelling story of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin (aka Veuve Clicquot). How this woman transformed the reputation of Champagne from a lowly tipple to the toast of tsars and emperors sheds light on the power of image in the wine business and the determination of one woman to do things her way despite years of tradition and resistance.

For Mystery Lovers
Benjamin Wallace, The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine ($24.95; $16.47 from
Combine a famous president, some classic Bordeaux, a lot of wrangling for the "best" and the "rarest" and you get the perfect conditions for fraud, skulduggery, and behind-the-scenes machinations that would but Machiavelli to shame. This is a real page-turner, and will delight history fans and wine collectors as well as mystery buffs.

For Those Just Beginning Their Journey Into Wine
Tyler Colman, A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip for Each Season ($24.00; $17.44 from
Colman's new book is the perfect choice if you have someone on your list who is new to wine or is intimidated by wine. Taking a steady, month-by-month approach, Colman proves that context is all and that the wine you love in January may not be the one you want to sip in August. Specific recommendations and travel tips accompany pairing suggestions and round out this accessible, informative guide. It's like having Dr. Vino right in your house whenever you need him!

Even last minute shoppers are sure to find something here to suit almost everyone on their list. And with no shipping restrictions, you are sure to be able to get your gift to its recipient in time for the holidays.

Full disclosure: With the exception of Oz Clarke's book, I received these books as samples.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday #52: Value Reds from Chile

Welcome to Wine Blogging Wednesday #52, hosted by Tim from Cheap Wine Ratings. This month's theme is value reds from Chile. I rooted around in the closet and found the perfect wine: the 2005 Viña Cono Sur Carménère from Chile's Colchagua Valley. ($7.95, Chronicle Wine Cellar; available elsewhere for $6-$9)

This excellent QPR wine really helps you understand
Carménère's relationship to Bordeaux.

In the 19th century, vine cuttings were taken from Bordeaux and planted in Chile. They thought they were taking Merlot cuttings. But, it turns out that
more than 60% of the cuttings were actually Carménère. Merlot and Carménère leaves look quite similar, and the mistaken identity led to a problem for Chile's winemakers because the two grapes don't ripen at the same time. It wasn't until 1996 that the Carménère and Merlot were separated and it became possible to label bottles with one of these varieties.

In many ways, however, Carménère is ideally suited for Chile's growing conditions. It requires rich soil, not too much water, and a late harvest. When conditions are right, the wine produced is superb. This wine--which was well under $10--could have been mistaken for a simple Bordeaux in a blind tasting. It had herbaceous and cassis aromas and smooth, cassis flavors. There was a spicy kick at the end, and left a cool, menthol sensation in your mouth.

If you are wondering what food goes well with Carménère, my advice it to treat is as you would Merlot. We actually tried it with a zany pasta dish that involved a homemade pineapple salsa tossed with penne and slices of chili-rubbed flank steak. Yes, it's odd. But the citrus and herbal flavors of the salsa really worked with the Carménère, as did the rare flank steak.

After this experience, I'll definitely be trying out more Chilean wines in the future. Thanks to Tim for a great theme, and see you back for another year of Wine Blogging Wednesdays in January 2009.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gift Ideas for Wine Lovers: Giving Wine that Gives Back

A lot of people want to give wine to friends and family for the holidays.

If you are looking for a perfect gift of wine--one that costs under $50 (+shipping) and tastes great--I've found it.

And the best part? The profits from your purchase go to charities including America's Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, and Reading is Fundamental.

Humanitas Wines
is the brainchild of Judd Wallenbrock. After twenty years in the wine biz, Judd decided he wanted to not only make wine, he wanted to make a difference. Since 2002, he's been doing just that. Lately, he's been promoting his vision of "drinking charitably" on his own blog.

This year, Judd put together a trio of affordable holiday wines for $45. The selection includes a fresh, unoaked Chardonnay that will make you think you are in an apple orchard; a lively Sauvignon Blanc with abundant pink grapefruit flavors; and a rich and fruity Cabernet Sauvignon full of blackberry and blueberry notes. I got a chance to sample all three of the wines and they were all excellent QPR that are versatile and food-friendly. I'm not the only one to think these are terrific: check out the tasting notes from the recent Twitter Taste Live event. (Never heard of a Twitter Taste Live? Check out their site, too.)

Now more than ever we need to think of people who are less fortunate than we are. If you want to give a wine lover you know a gift that you can feel good about giving, head over to Humanitas Wines and order their holiday pack.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Recession-Proof White Wines

This time of year, people are looking for bargains to help them get through the holidays with a little spare cash in their pockets. Now, more than ever, most of us are cutting corners given the tough economy.

Today I've got three recommendations for recession-proof white wines that will leave some extra change in your pocket without leaving you feeling deprived. Each one is widely available, and each one retails for under $10 in most markets.

My first recommendation is the excellent QPR 2007 Robert Mondavi Riesling Private Selection. Made from Monterey County fruit, this is a fresh, off-dry Riesling. Aromas of apple, litchi, and honey are the preamble for flavors that include apple, lime zest, and peach. It has a long, juicy aftertaste and more complexity than many domestic Rieslings at this price point. And, best of all, it's not too sweet so it will go nicely with Asian cuisine. (I received this wine as a sample. Suggested retail price is $10, and you will find it selling for between $7 and $14 at retailers throughout the country. Please note: this wine used to be called "Johannisburg Riesling," and you may still see it advertised as such.)

My second recommendation is the very good QPR 2007 Mandolin Chardonnay. Inexpensive Chardonnays are often too sweet and have a clumsy use of oak. This wine is more sophisticated than most at this price point, with buttered pear and apple aromas. These are echoed in the flavors, with a bit of vanilla and oak in the aftertaste. This wine is nicely balanced, and is as good with food as without. (I received this wine as a sample. Suggested retail price is $10.)

Finally, everyone needs some sparkle over the holidays. The excellent QPR NV Freixenet Cava Cordon Negro Brut fills the bill perfectly. This sparkler is nutty, frothy, and citrusy. Unlike some inexpensive sparklers, there is not a harsh or unpleasant note to mar your experience. Definitely a bargain, and it's good enough that you don't have to mix it with orange juice to enjoy it. It will be perfect with appetizers or just sipping with friends before a holiday dinner or party. (I received this wine as a sample. Average retail price is under $10, and you can find it at most retailers for between $7 and $15)

I wish pinching pennies always tasted this good.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Today on Serious Grape: A Holiday Mixed Case

Buried in to-do lists?

Have you vowed never again to brave the mall/ supermarket/ shopping district until after the holidays? (photo by tomsaint11)

Today on Serious Grape, my weekly column on the fantastic food site Serious Eats, I try to make your life a little bit easier by providing you with a shopping list for a holiday mixed case of wine that should help you avoid those aggravating, last minute trips to the wine store.

Last minute wine purchases almost never work out as well as those that are planned in advance. And, the craziness out there is only going to increase. So take a moment this weekend and head to your favorite local or online wine store and order a mixed case while the selection is still good, and the sales team isn't too harassed.

Check out my suggestions, and be sure to leave some of your own either here or over there to help your fellow wine enthusiasts. What are your holiday go-to bottles?

Getting Started with Wine Blogs?

Google Reader, the feed aggregate program linked to the Google Search Engine/Empire, has revamped its look and some of its features.

One of their innovations is to change how you can search for feeds you might be interested in, and then subscribe to them in one easy click through something called the "feed bundle." Designed for people who are new to the world of blogs, these feed bundles are subject-oriented. Feed subscriptions make it easy to keep up with your favorite blogs because every day the blog is updated, you get a notification in your reader of choice.

Tim Elliott, from Winecast, alerted me this morning to the fact that Good Wine Under $20 was one of the eight blogs included in Google's "Wine Feed Bundle." It's in some pretty heady company, and I just wanted to thank all my existing subscribers for joining me the old-fashioned way and getting Google's attention! And if you're new to GWU$20, or to wine blogs, why not subscribe to some of the other great blogs out there like those highlighted in this list?

Of course, there are a lot more than eight wine blogs. Check the left sidebar for some of my favorites. You can subscribe to them, too, simply by going to their site and clicking on the subscription link.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On the Road: Tablas Creek Vineyard

Late in October, I had the chance to visit Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, where some of the best wine in California is made. I went with Jill from domaine547 and Jason Haas, who writes the award-winning Tablas Creek Blog, was our tour guide. After we walked in the vineyards, Jason took us through the winery's new releases. I've got some pictures above, and some tasting notes below. I hope that they encourage you to look for Tablas Creek wines in a store near you and to visit the winery if you are ever in the Paso Robles area. It's a special place.

Please note: most Tablas Creek wines cost a bit more than the wine normally featured on this blog, and retail for between $20 and $45 for the dry wines. The dessert wines (listed first) cost even more (in the $65-$85 for a 375 ml bottle). However, these are distinctive, memorable wines and they are worth the splurge if you can afford it. All the wines described here I would classify as very good or excellent QPR, even though they cost more than $20.

2005 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille "SacreRouge" (find this wine)
100% Mourvedre dessert wine. Cocoa nibs and dark chocolate aromas knock you over, and they’re followed up with flavors of chocolate extract with a cherry chaser. Dusty, cocoa powder finish.

2005 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille (find this wine)
Nectar, honey, and white peach aromas are followed up by applesauce, cream, honey, and peach jam flavors. Wonderful acidity keeps this white dessert wine from being cloying.

2006 Tablas Creek Tannat (find this wine)
Abundant blueberry aromas and flavors are fresh and arresting. As the wine opens up, darker blackberry fruit emerges. Great tannic grip in the midpalate and finish is in no way overwhelming though it does turn a bit drying. If you’ve never had Tannat, this is a great introduction to the grape.

2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge (find this wine)
Another excellent, excellent vintage. Mint, blackberry, and plum aromas. Crisp, clear fruit on the midpalate with lots of cherries and chocolate. Much lighter on its feet than the 05, this should age spectacularly.

2005 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge (find this wine)
Milk chocolate and flower aromas are paired with meaty, chocolate, and black cherry flavors. Lots of roasted herb, grilled meat, and plum emerge as the wine opens up in both the aromas and flavors. Acidity and emerging minerality add complexity to the fruit.

2006 Tablas Creek Counoise (find this wine)
I loved this silky yet earthy wine with red fruit aromas and high-toned raspberry and blackberry fruit flavors. The earthy undertow keeps it interesting.

2005 Tablas Creek Syrah (find this wine)
This wine was all about the plums for me. Dark plum color. Aromas of plum blossom, flowers, plum, and roasted herbs. Rich plum and stone flavors and a creamy midpalate with lots of body.

2006 Tablas Creek Mourvedre (find this wine)
A classic, beautiful example of the grape. There was a beautiful perfume of flowers and red fruit, which turns decidedly in the direction of violets as the wine opens up. Rich red fruits in the flavors. Nice, gritty tannins and great acidity. The aromas pick up smoky notes with air.

2006 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas (find this wine)
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Counoise. Apples, cherry, and strawberry aromas and palate. Candy apple notes emerge as the wine opens, as well as sweet apple-spice aromas. Lovely streak of limestone adds complexity.

2007 Tablas Creek Rosé (find this wine)
Mineral and raspberry aromas emerge from this dark wine, as do frais de bois and raspberry flavors. Very nice, rich mouthfeel and a concentration of flavors in the midpalate with a chalky, stony finish.

2007 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (find this wine)
Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul. Rose petal aromas and flavors with golden delicious apple at the core. Great concentration to the flavors, and though this is still very young and a tad acidic, I anticipate it will flesh out beautifully.

2006 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (find this wine)
Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Picpoul. Beautiful pale gold color is indicative of the honeyed apple and honeydew aromas and flavors that have beeswax touches and mineral notes. Perfectly balanced between fruit and acidity.

2006 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc (find this wine)
Honeysuckle, white nectarine and stone aromas. There is apple and more stone in the midpalate, with a deceptively heavy mouthfeel. Great acidity in the finish.

2007 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Blanc (find this wine)
Melon, white flowers, and mandarin peel aromas and flavors. Nice body.

2007 Tablas Creek Vermentino (find this wine)
Shy aromas of stone, lemon, and apple. Juicy pear and apple flavors, with kaffir lime and white ginger suggest this would be great with shellfish and fish.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Leftovers? Rosé to the Rescue!


We all have them.

We all need to get rid of them.

After a long holiday weekend like the one we just survived, they threaten to engulf us. And it's not just turkey. There's leftovers from dinner the night before. And there's more leftovers from dishes people brought by after Thanksgiving.

When will it end? And what wine will you serve with them?

Rosé, of course.

If you're looking for a good QPR rosé, one with the stuffing to stand up to, well, stuffing, try the 2007 Breggo Rosé of Syrah. I got my bottle in a Wine Bloggers Pack from domaine547, but domaine547 is now selling it solo for $17.99. The wine was selected by fellow blogger Wannabe Wino, and it was a delicious example of a bone dry, refreshing rosé. The aromas and flavors were of tart strawberry and stone, which were terrific with leftover turkey and all the trimmings--especially the cranberry sauce. I never say this about a rosé, but if anything the wine could have been a bit more fruity. So if you like your rosés stony rather than lush and summery, you will love this wine.

And, it is the all-purpose leftover solution. Since the bird in your fridge is probably not the last cooked turkey in plastic bags you will see this winter, get some of this stuff in the house now. You'll be all set.