As with prior years, our 2020 Annual Thanksgiving Wine Recommendations Chapter will offer both Value Wine and Worth a Splurge Wine options in each category we recommend, so that regardless of your budget you can bring showstopping wines to your Thanksgiving table for your family, friends and other loved ones and, equally important, retain your respective wine sleuth titles within your chosen ones for another year! In a nod to some of my snarkier (yet pretty darned funny) readers who have asked my pandemic recommendations for a “good breakfast wine”, your wishes will be suitably accommodated below. Yes, it is true: the Wine Bargain Sleuth is a giver!
The Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 had delicious notes of dark cherry, plum and a hint of leather and baking spice, with a memorable, lingering finish. Quite simply, this beautiful Antinori Red reignited my love for Tuscan wines in general and Chianti Classicos in particular.
Participating in a Zoom virtual wine tasting is actually much simpler than the uninitiated might think. You need to make sure your computer has both a microphone and a camera. All a clever sleuth needs from there is a tasting package from the winery hosting the virtual tasting, normally offered at a discount from retail from farsighted vintners, and his or her favorite wine glass.
The Bodegas Muriel Crianza 2016 is a polished and balanced wine, with a flavor profile of dark cherry and dried fruits, with a classic forest floor hint and a satisfying, lengthy finish. It would pair beautifully with a juicy burger with Muenster cheese on top.
While admittedly a very enjoyable diversion from the quarantine, at some point the reality of drinking expensive Napa Cabs or French Red Burgundies sets in, and wise sleuths begin to look for less taxing alternatives. And a terrific alternative Worth A Spurge Wine is the Marchesi Antinori 2015 Villa Antinori Riserva (Chianti Classico).
Well, fellow sleuths, Merlot is back in a big way (not that it ever left the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where Merlot-based classic wines are typical), and we all benefit from the presence of great Value Wines such as the Pedroncelli Merlot Dry Creek Valley Bench Vineyards 2017. Unlike the flabby Merlots of 15 years ago, this Big Red has ample structure and acidity to pair extremely well with a grilled beef filet, an idea which sounds delicious for tonight’s dinner.
This Olema Chard has overtones of nectarine and green apple with a hint of vanilla. Not overly oaked or buttery, the Olema Chardonnay Sonoma County 2018 has nice, bright fruit and acidity which will complement seafood, pasta with a cream sauce and even grilled chicken.
Greetings and salutations! I am writing this month’s Chapter with the realization that I am no longer a 50-something white guy, as last month’s birthday kicked past yet another important mile marker. Two thoughts: (i) How in the wide world of sports is that possible(?); and (ii) All things considered, it beats the heck out of the alternative. And what better wait to celebrate that big day than to get together with good friends and possibly another January 1960 baby (not to name any names, Lori, as that would be indiscreet) and to head to Napa and Sonoma for a long tasting weekend. In any event, our merry group was more or less evenly divided between females and males, so it was decided by the Birthday Girl that we visit some amazing Sonoma County purveyors of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and some remarkable Napa Valley Big Red wineries to satisfy everyone’s palates over the course of the long weekend.
I am always on the lookout for a satisfying Big Red that meets our criteria as a Value Wine–i.e., high quality and a price of less than $20. We at The Wine Bargain Sleuth have long been a fan of Washington Cabs and Merlots and have frequently recommended the same to our wine sleuths! The Milbrandt Merlot Columbia Valley 2017 is a terrific example of a great Value Wine: at its modest $17 suggested retail, it far outdrinks many Merlots that cost 2-3 times more.
Thanksgiving means that our 5th annual Thanksgiving Wine Pairing list is here for your holiday enjoyment! As with the last couple of years, our list will recommend excellent Value Wines as well as Worth a Splurge Wines. For those new to The Wine Bargain Sleuth, each Value Wine gives great bang for your hard-earned buck at the retail price of $20 or less while remaining a delicious wine for your more finicky friends and family. By contrast, the Worth a Splurge Wines are also great values relative to their respective classes without the $20 governor, as sometimes a sleuth just needs to pop a special cork to celebrate!
A terrific value version of Napa Sauvignon Blanc is the Courtney Benham Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2018, which retails for a reasonable $18. The Courtney Benham 2018 offering adds the unique profile of a hint of mango to the classic Napa Valley Sav Blanc palate, making the wine slightly exotic and pleasing.
Other than simply toughing it out through the misery until October blows in from somewhere north of Calgary, lucky folks from the Southwest often head for the hills–or rather mountains–or the cool ocean breezes if they have a choice. Speaking of which, there are much worse places to hang in the brutal summer months than Sonoma and Napa, California, where I recently found myself with my lovely significant other for a long weekend that blended (pun intended) my dual loves of Shelby cars with great wines in the idyllic setting of northern California. Hey, somebody had to be there!
Greetings and Salutations! Your humble wine bargain sleuth occasionally fields questions relating into my apparent love of wine and all things related thereto. Why wine instead of other passions such as golf, hunting, fishing, knitting or maybe canasta? Well, my friends, the answer to that question is complicated and lengthy, but I thought it might be insightful and a little fun to stroll down memory lane to demonstrate five recent examples of why wine has become such a fascination of mine.
Say you have a birthday or a big anniversary coming up. Or you closed that big deal at work…or just because you are worth it! Some days you…
With spring comes colorful, fragrant flowers and budding trees, as well as warmer weather that pairs so delightfully with light, crisp wines. Some of my personal favorites include Bordeaux Blancs from France’s legendary wine region. In addition to being refreshing with their cleansing acidity and nuanced with their classic blends of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, many of these French beauties are an amazing value as well. One vivid example of a value Bordeaux Blanc is the Chateau Guiraud G Bordeaux White 2016, which retails for a very reasonable $17.
The Cline Zinfandel Contra Costa County 2016 Value Wine Big Red was also named Number 40 of 100 of Wine Spectator Top Wines of 2018, despite its humble suggested retail price of $15. This wine, from south of Napa Valley in Contra Costa County of the East Bay, pairs wonderfully with pizza, BBQ, burgers and even steak skirts.
I have a treat for the readers of The Wine Bargain Sleuth in this month’s special Chapter. Indeed, I have the privilege of introducing a dear friend and this month’s special guest, the one and only “Yodelmeister” of Peju Province Winery in Napa Valley, a man recognized by San Francisco Magazine as the 2017 “Napa Valley Wine Educator of the Year”: Alan Arnopole. For those have met Alan or who have had the opportunity of tasting with Alan at Peju or during one of his frequent road shows to Dallas and many points beyond, then you already know just what a dynamo and force of human nature he is. For the rest of you, buckle up, my friends.
On the positive side of things, that first stinging cold snap also means that your humble Sleuth’s favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is just around the bend. And what a better time to take inventory of one’s wine cellar than to evaluate the best pairings for that most American of holiday feasts? If your family resembles my own, then you will celebrate the traditional Thanksgiving meal with a variety of palates, tastes and levels of wine sophistication, so the task of picking just the right wine (or even better, wines!) is not a feat for the weak of stomach. Since you are the sleuths of your respective packs, this month’s Chapter is designed to simplify your job and to help you make certain that the wines to be served are equal to the terrific foods to be devoured, whether Mimi’s cornbread dressing, Aunt Mabel’s pecan pie, the Mom’s homemade cranberry jelly or even the big bird its ownself!
This terrific everyday Big Red is from Bogle, a remarkably consistent California producer of value wines. Big, bold and spicy yet still elegant, this Zinfandel is a terrific pairing for your favorite pizza, BBQ ribs or a juicy cheeseburger on Wednesday night or Saturday night!
The New York Wine Experience is held over a long weekend in October, and includes two nights of generous tastings of award winning wineries from around this planet, with each invited winery presenting its wine that earned at least a 90 point rating from the picky reviewers of Wine Spectator. Approximately 210 world class wineries presented their prized juice on the 5th and 6th floor ballrooms of the Marriott Marquis Hotel. In other words, attending a Grand Tasting event required, um, commitment to the task of tasting these gorgeous wines!
The Ken Wright 2015 is delightful as a cocktail wine, yet with sufficient substance and acidity to pair beautifully with roasted pork tenderloin or crispy duck. As many Oregon Pinot Noir fans are aware, most Ken Wright Pinot offerings are single-vineyard sourced and typically priced over $60; however the Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2015 breaks the mold as a blend of numerous terrific Willamette vineyards.
So, fellow sleuths, you have a big milestone coming up, say your birthday or perhaps a meaningful wedding anniversary. You are a Big Red drinker and have made a decision to grab a bottle of something out of the ordinary and even extraordinary. However, your budget is not unlimited (have to save your hard-earned bucks for flowers or some other goodies for your significant other!). The solution? This one is easy–the Justin Isosceles 2014. Justin’s delectable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot is sourced from the Paso Robles area of central California.
Many White Wine fans simply prefer a Chardonnay to a Sauvignon Blanc or other Whites. However, finding a delicious Chard that doesn’t bruise your Mastercard can be a real challenge. The Sleuth has a great suggestion for this Chapter: the Tangley Oaks Lot 12 Chardonnay 2015 from Mendocino in Northern California.
Not many Value Wines are impressive enough to make the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines for any vintage; this Vina Santa Ema Cab Reserva 2015 was awarded the number 29 slot and a strong 91 rating, a pretty amazing bang for your buck for a widely available Big Red that retails for only $15! Or as Wine Spectator said itself, “This reserva punched above its weight in 2015….”
This month’s Chapter is set in the sun-washed climate of Miami Beach for the annual South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where world-class chefs from around the country present their delectable bites, vintners present outstanding wines selected by Wine Spectator and celebrity bartenders offer up their potable drink creations. There are far worse places to find oneself in late February. Just sayin’….The SOBEWFF events run for nearly a week, and include events ranging from intimate dinners with renowned chefs to seminar-style educational events to the show-stopping Wine Spectator Best of the Best event on Friday night, in which approximately 50 vintners poured some of their finest (each wine was rated 90 or better by Wine Spectator’s judges to be eligible) and chefs from Miami to Los Angeles to Boston to NYC presented their creative and delicious food bites.
One of the interesting side effects of writing a wine blog is that, intentionally or otherwise, your now-college-aged daughters tend to pay attention to both your wine collection and the wines you recommend in the blog. As one of my daughters is now officially 21 and the other one seems to think that she is (“Dad, I have been 20 for about, um, 10 years now!), I will confess that it was duly noted that some of the herd of my private wine stash was thinned a bit over the Christmas break from their respective colleges–including a world-class Hall Stag’s Leap Cabernet that was more or less innocently consumed by a late night movie-watching binge without the Sleuth’s knowledge or permission–but that is a whole ‘nother story. I digress.
It’s time once again for our recommendations for that most American of holiday feasts: Thanksgiving. Our goal as always is to allow you wine sleuths to heroically pair great wines, both Value Wines and Worth a Splurge Wines, with their favorite holiday dishes. Whether your preferred Thanksgiving entree is a classic roast turkey, a savory honey-glazed ham, a grilled fish or something completely different, our recommendations include sparkling wines, whites and reds, domestic and foreign, classic wines and a few curve balls thrown in to keep ’em guessing!
A classic Right Bank blend of primarily Merlot with a healthy dollup of Cabernet Franc, the Chateau Tessendey 2014 is drinkable now as a cocktail wine or as an elegant pairing to a roast pork tenderloin or lamb chops, but it has the structure to lay down for a few more years as well. The Chateau Tessendey 2014 has a mouthful of berry fruits and currants, with a classic Bordeaux earthiness and a long, bone-dry finish. Wine Enthusiast Magazine agreed and bestowed a strong 91 rating on this Big Red to boot! If this description sounds like a French wine that will put a serious bruising on your Visa card, then we have a nice surprise for you!
The Fabre Montmayou Malbec Gran Reserva Mendoza 2013 is just coming into its own, but is definitely drinkable with perhaps 15-30 minutes of breathing to allow it to open up. Clever wine sleuths know that wines that are released from the Southern Hemisphere are actually a growing season ahead, making a 2013 release from, for example, Argentina the functional equivalent of a 2012 release from the USA. The initial flavor profile of this Fabre Montmayou Gran Reserva is of fresh dark fruit, pepper and spice, with a lovely earthiness on the mid-palate, followed by a lengthy finish of chocolate and licorice hints. While the Fabre Montmayou Malbec Gran Reserva 2013 would be an amazing pairing with a charcoal-grilled ribeye steak, it was also silky and elegant enough to be served, as it was to our birthday party, with chocolate truffles and apple pie.
Those who are kind enough to follow The Wine Bargain Sleuth are aware that I am a fan of Washington wines in general and Washington Cabs, Bordeaux Blends and Merlots in particular. In terms of high quality and low price points, the very crux of value wines, I am of the view that there are very few competitors to Washington wine offerings at prices that casual wine fans and wine sleuths on a budget can equally enjoy.
I recently had the opportunity to sample some of the higher end wines of Columbia Crest, including their world renowned Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and their Walter Clore Private Reserve Reds. Presenting the Columbia Crest Big Reds was Laura Sorge, a winemaker for Columbia Crest. While Laura acknowledged that Columbia Crest was possibly best known for its value wines such as the H3 Les Chevaux, H3 Cabernet Sauvignon or the Grand Estates Merlot, she maintained that it would be a mistake to overlook the two high end Columbia Crest offerings, which are in and of themselves a great value, particularly when compared to Napa Valley Big Reds.
A recent family vacation to idyllic Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic afforded just such an opportunity to try a terrific Argentinian wine — the Trivento Cabernet-Malbec Mendoza Reserve 2013. The very definition of a food friendly Value Wine, the Trivento Big Red contains elegant red berry, earthy green tea and dark current profiles, with a seemingly seamless, lengthy finish.
Sometimes your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth is a slow learner, but I have learned that without a doubt my favorite wine festival is held annually in June at the classic Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, California: The Taste of Howell Mountain. As luck would have it, I was able to string together a weekend getaway to this terrific event presented by the Howell Mountain Vintners and Growers Association. And yes I did have a large time, thank you for asking!
Sometimes your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth is just plain fortunate to be invited to amazing wine events. That was definitely the case with last weekend’s by-invitation tasting at Hall’s beautiful St. Helena winery in Napa Valley, for which my lovely spouse and I were somehow included. I have found that many times in life it’s better to graciously accept rather than question why, just in case one’s invitation was delivered by mistake!
I don’t know that I tasted a better, more elegant, more nuanced Cab the entire trip to Napa, if not this year to date, than the Lamborn 2008 Howell Mountain Cab. Deep aromas of blackberry and even a hint of black cherry and cassis began the experience, with an oaked but polished mid-palate, with a smooth, earthy and complex finish that felt like it lasted for 2 minutes.
Without a doubt, the State of Washington is producing some terrific wines, and you savvy wine sleuths should definitely pay heed. Exhibit A is the Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon, which is an delicious medium-bodied Cab that is widely distributed. I picked up hints of cocoa, blueberries and blackberries, with a noticeable but delicious oak overtone. Not overly tannic, this is an everyday Cab that can be served as on its own, or it would be a delicious pairing with a grilled filet or even a pork tenderloin.
My giving nature aside, the alarming cost of great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is on my mind this month. And like the absurd price increase in college costs since I myself was a college freshman back in the Dark Ages (which now, according to my daughter and her friends, makes me “vintage”), the prices of Napa Valley’s trademark Napa Valley Cabs have shot up astronomically since the wine bug first nipped on yours truly. I have a sharp recollection of purchasing my first high-end Cab (a Peju Reserve 1994) in January of 1998 during a La Nina monsoon that blanketed Napa Valley. I held my breath and purchase this prized bottle…for the princely sum of $40. That equivalent bottle in April of 2017, just 19 years later, is now $125, over 300% of that first prized bottle that made my head spin, thinking that purchase was a one-time only deal! Well, so much for best laid plans, etc….
Looking for a new house Big Red that impresses your savvy wine buddies but still leaves a few quid in your pocket from a $20? The great state of Washington and one of its shining wine stars, Chateau Ste. Michelle provides this month’s answer in the form of its Indian Wells Merlot 2014. A full-bodied but lush expression of Merlot, the taste profile for the Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot 2014 is that of ripe dark cherries, cocoa, spice and just a hint of oak for balance.
As prices of our favorite Bordeaux and Napa Valley Big Red offerings continue to soar, much to our chagrin (I remember the good old days when I nearly had a stroke when I paid $40 for a top rate Napa Reserve Cab!), we wine sleuths are constantly on the lookout for a satisfying steak wine but still need change back from our $20 bill. Add bonus points if you are willing to look south of the Equator for sometime somewhat exotic and really amazing. Well, my thirsty friends, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth has your solution for this month: the Bodega Norton Malbec Reserva 2014.
Amazingly, our little blog is about to celebrate 4 full years. What began as a basic idea and clearinghouse of quality wine information with a little dollup of fun mixed in has continued to grow exponentially and, hopefully give you the reader more and better information.
On a visit to Oregon’s Willamette Valley earlier this year, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth and our festive group had the opportunity to taste many excellent examples of…
Greetings and salutations! It is hard to believe, but we find ourselves on the precipice of that truly American of holidays, Thanksgiving. And what Thanksgiving feast…
As your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth is ever vigilant and on the lookout for value Pinot Noir that actually resemble high quality Pinots and Burgundies, the Wine by Joe project…
Greetings and Salutations! After a few fits and starts and several near misses with the best of intentions, your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth was finally able to engineer…
Greetings and Salutations! Lots of catching up to do with my fellow wine sleuths from the events of the last couple of months! A world class wine festival in Napa Valley hosted by the Howell Mountain growers in June, a brief tour of Sonoma and Russian River later that month, and a return to a great Paris wine bar for a French wine tasting in July. So much to talk about and so little time to do so! There is no time like the present, so let’s jump in with both feet.
As temperatures creep up to the dreaded 100’s in the Great Southwest, one might think that it is not an opportune time to look for a new house Big Red. On the contrary, my fellow wine sleuths, when others zig we like to zag, and your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth has a real treat for you in this month’s Value Wine No. 1: the Cameron Hughes Lot 457 Meritage Napa Valley 2013. We have reviewed and highlighted other Cameron Hughes wines previously, as the negociant’s philosophy and ours tend to align. However, the CH Lot 457 Meritage is a cut above even the typical high quality of Cameron Hughes offerings.
Quiz for the day: When is sparkling wine from France not considered Champagne? I’m sure that many of you sleuths know the answer to today’s pop quiz, which of course is when the sparkling wine in question is sourced from a region other than Champagne! A great example of the non-Champagne sparkler is the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blancs NV, a Cremant from the region of Burgundy, France. As its name implies, the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Blancs NV is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes from the world-famous Burgundy region. After all, you have to get Chardonnay grapes from somewhere, so it might as well be northern Burgundy near the region of Chablis!
Although I recently had the privilege to sample four Chards, including one cuvee and 3 single vineyard Chardonnays, without question the one that rang all the bells of my senses was the world-class Kistler McCrea Vineyard Chardonnay 2013. The 2013 Kistler McCrea beauty, blended from a Sonoma Mountain source, was truly reminiscent of a Burgundy Grand Cru, managing to be elegant, balanced, complex and absolutely thrilling all in one sip. With tones of muted lemon, fresh apples and a hint of creaminess, as well as the minerality that gives this Kistler beauty the complexity and a thrilling, lengthy finish,this Chard would pair impressively with boiled crab, roasted turkey or a zesty green salad.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a Bonny Doon wine dinner, and to my surprise the Boony Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2015 stole the show! Crisp, fresh with a flavor profile of pears and a hint of blood orange, yet this elegant Rose finishes bone dry with a savory hint. Cleverly nicknamed “Pink Wine of the Earth”, this Bonny Doon offering may have just become my summer go-to. The style of this Gris de Cigare 2015 is very much reminiscent of a southern French Rose from Provence. Served properly chilled like a white wine, the Bonny Doon Rose is so smooth that is doesn’t seem to have a rough edge on it, despite the refreshing acidity present.
Even we fans of the Big Reds have to grudgingly admit that there comes a time during warm weather days when perhaps something a bit lighter and more chilled than a Bordeaux red or a Napa Valley Cab becomes welcome in our favorite wine stem. So the question for you, my wine sleuths, is what will YOU be sipping on when spring springs in your neck of the woods? How about a few outside the box ideas from your favorite Wine Bargain Sleuth? In light of my tardiness with this Chapter, I humbly offer a make good by doubling my typical recommendations, meaning four Value Wines, two whites (well, a white and a Rose, actually) and two reds, and two Worth a Splurge Wines, one white and one red.