Thursday, December 16, 2010

Affordable Holiday Sparklers

When I'm not indulging in dessert wine this month, I'm usually rooting through the cabinets for a bottle of sparkling wine. It's not something I save for special occasions--unless you consider a Tuesday night sufficient! More sparkling wine is sold in the US between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than in the rest of the year. So what will you be drinking this month to put some sparkle in your life? Here are my recommendations for tasty, affordable bubbles for the holidays--and of course they're all under $20.

NV Jaume Serra Cava Cristalino Brut (suggested retail $8; available in the market for $5-$8). Quite possibly the most excellent QPR of any sparkling wine I've had this year, this is stunning value. The aromas and flavors tend toward lemon, toast and apple. There is a yeasty aftertaste, and a strong yet small bead. Delicious for the price.

NV Presto Prosecco Brut ($10.99, Whole Foods; available elsewhere for around $12)
I'm not sure I agree this is a dry enough to be brut, but it is delicious anyway with soft fruit, citrus, and yeast notes. The wine is very well balanced between acidity and richness. Very good QPR.

NV Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley ($19.99, Whole Foods; available in the market for $16-$20) You just can't go wrong with this classy, excellent QPR sparkler from the Anderson Valley. Rich notes of apple, hazelnut, and toast leave an appealing freshness in the mouth.

NV Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée (just over $20 in my local independent grocery store; available in the market for $16-$22). The warm, pale yellow color of this wine is a good indication of the gentle wine within. Abundant mousse and fine bead sets up the aromas of pear and lemon. These elements are echoed in the flavors, and are accompanied by cherry and toast notes. Predominantly Pinot Noir, with some Chardonnay and a touch of Muscat. Very good QPR.

NV Laurens Crémant de Limoux Brut ($15.99 in my local independent grocery store; available in the market for $12-$18) Another reliably excellent QPR sparkler, this wine has a creamy mouthfeel and aromas of citrus pith and brioche dough. Creamy pear, apple, and lemon flavors are enhanced by tiny, frothy bubbles. Delicious and lively.

NV Vinos de Terrunos German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Reserva ($14.99, domaineLA; available in the market for around $13) This excellent QPR sparkler has an aromatic profile reminiscent of French Champagne: yeast, lemon pith, mineral. Brightly intense lemon and bread dough flavors with lively bubbles.

NV Latitude 50 Pinot Noir Spatburgunder Sekt ($16.99, domaineLA; available in the market for around $15) This very good QPR dry sparkling wine is pale rose in color. Faint aromas of wild strawberry and bread dough lead to a rich, round-tasting strawberry flavor accented with notes of toast and clay.

2008 Reginato Malbec Celestina (suggested retail, $20; available in the market for $17-$20) Unlike any other sparkler I've had, this is very dark in color--like watered-down pomegranate juice. The flavors are quite fruity, with lots of raspberry and a hint of deeper plum as well. There is a dry finish, making for a delicious, seasonally appropriate cranberry-colored sparkler for holiday toasts.Very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of the Reginato and the Jaume Serra sparkling wines for review. The rest I purchased when out shopping in my favorite wine and grocery stores.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dessert Wines for Drinking and Gifting

I don't drink much dessert wine between January and November, but something happens to me at Thanksgiving and between then and New Year's Eve I find myself longing for a glass of sweet wine, a good book, and some holiday music.

Dessert wines typically come in smaller bottles (usually 375ml or 500 ml, rather than 750 ml), although there are exceptions. They are perfect for four to five people to share after dinner, and survive on the counter or in the fridge with a cork in the bottle for 3-5 days if you don't finish them up.

Though they are a bit more expensive than most of the wines reviewed on this blog, 'tis the season for gifting and indulging, so I decided to do a roundup of some of the more affordable bottles I've enjoyed recently in case you wanted to give a friend--or yourself--a bottle.

NV Martini & Rossi Asti Dolce ($6-8/375ml and $8-11/750ml) A sweet sparkling wine from Italy, this is frothy with ripe peach and honey aromas and flavors. Would be very nice with any desserts involving orchard fruits, and is a glass of this on its own is a dessert in itself! Very good QPR.

2009 Susana Balbo Torrontés Late Harvest (suggested retail $30/500ml; click here to find retailers in your area who might have it) A winning dessert wine from Argentina, with great acidity and spice along with honeyed citrus peel aromas and flavors. The wine becomes more flowery as it warms slightly and gets some air. This is a little like a Sauternes in its balance between sweetness and bright acidity. Very good QPR.

N.V. Rotta Black Monukka Dessert Wine (available for $26/375ml; also available directly from the winery) Exceptional in every way, this may well remind you of old and rare Palo Cortados or Olorosos from Spain. Fantastic caramelized orange peel and toffee aromas and flavors are rich and pure. This wine would be superb with pumpkin pie, caramel desserts, or with a selection of aged cheeses. Highly, highly recommended and a steal for the price. Excellent QPR.

2008 Susana Balbo Malbec Late Harvest (suggested retail $30/500ml;
earlier vintages available for $22-$30/500ml) This smells and tastes just like the holidays with cinnamon, clove, orange peel, and anise aromas and flavors. The wine has a silky texture, and is much lighter than a port. Bright red fruit, with cinnamon--yes, cinnamon--running from the midpalate through the finish. Very good QPR.

2005 Château Doisy-Védrines Sauternes (available for $23-$26/375ml or
$36-$60/750ml). A lush, affordable Sauternes with characteristic apple, honeycomb, orange peel, and a touch of pineapple. This wine is still very young, and will continue to improve with age but it is drinking just beautifully now. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of the Asti Dolce, Late Harvest Torrontes, Late Harvest Malbec, and Black Monukka wines for review. All other wines mentioned were purchased by me in the market.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Comparing Oregon and California Pinot Noirs

Pinot Noir's popularity doesn't seem to be waning. That's no surprise, since the grape is capable of producing food-friendly wines that have a beautifully silky feeling in the mouth and great acidity along with bright fruit.

As with most grapes, however, the final flavors in the bottle can vary widely depending on where the grapes were grown. When I tasted two Pinot Noirs side by side--one from Oregon and one from California's Russian River Valley--the differences were clear. Both were delicious. But one will appeal more to people who like fruity, bright wines and the other will appeal more to people who are looking for a richer, spicier wine. Which would you prefer?

From Oregon: the 2008 Erath Pinot Noir Oregon (suggested retail $18; available for $13-$20)
This pure-tasting, fruit-forward Pinot Noir represents excellent QPR. There are clear and focused raspberry aromas that are bright and lively. On the palate, the raspberry flavors gain weight with some deeper notes of earth and leather. The overall impression is light, juicy, and vibrant. This wine would be perfect with salmon, roast chicken, or why not pair it with an easy, slimmed-down version of the French classic, coq au vin? You'll need a bottle of it for the recipe, so pick up two while you're in the store!

From California: the 2009 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Estate Vineyards (suggested retail $20; available for $12-$22)
Pinot Noir is grown all over the state of California but this one is made from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley, where the coastal fog gets sucked into the vineyards providing the cooler climate that the grape prefers. Rich and spicy, this affordable Pinot Noir also represents excellent QPR. Juicy cherry cola aromas hint at the cherry, cola, and black tea flavors. Then there is a spicy, juicy aftertaste. The wine feel satiny in the mouth. Try this one with mushroom risotto topped off with a dollop of mascarpone, a classic patty melt, or even a softer cut of steak like filet mignon.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for review.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Got Gewürztraminer?

This week, I'm on the run. From home to work to appointments, to the store, to run errands--you know exactly what I mean. Often, this means that there is a fair amount of takeout and/or prepared foods bought at the supermarket sitting on our dinner table. When I'm feeling frazzled, I'm always glad if there's some Gewürztraminer on hand.

Gewürztraminer is a spicy white wine that, though dry, gives a sense of sweetness on the tongue. As a result, it's perfect with:
  • sausages
  • roasted chicken from the supermarket
  • roasted butternut squash soup
  • Thai curries
  • Pho
  • Sushi
  • Indian food
  • Spicy Chinese Food
If these are turning up on your table with some regularity, having some Gewürztraminer in the house will make your life easier.

My recommendation is the 2009 Snoqualmie Vineyards Gewürztraminer Naked (suggested retail $10; available for $9-$14). I've enjoyed getting to know this line of wines better, and reviewed their Chardonnay positively, too. In fact, I can't remember the last time I've had a domestic Gewürztraminer that pleased as much as this one did. Exotic aromas of honey, cinnamon toast, and cream entice you to take your first sips. The flavors reminded me of spicy apple compote, with a bit of honey in the aftertaste. Though the impression in your mouth is sweet, the wine is actually quite dry. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.