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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…
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!
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.
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.
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…
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! 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.
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.
Your humble wine sleuth has previously confessed to being a fan of the Napa Valley “Rutherford Dust” said to be from the terrior of certain Valley Floor grapes bottled in Rutherford. I was fortunate to have the recent opportunity to travel to Napa Valley and sample the offerings of Round Pond Estate which included the delightful Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Round Pond Estate is located within walking distance of several notable Rutherford neighbors, including Beaulieu Vineyards, Peju Provence and Caymus, to name a few, so fans of those world class Big Reds should definitely take note of their this vineyard’s wines. Although arguably lesser known than some of its Napa Valley floor neighbors, Round Pond Estate has been delivering some terrific Cabs and Cab blends over the past several years, including its own highly acclaimed Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
So last month I managed to carve out a few hours for a decadent Italian lunch at Il Mulino, one of New York City’s finest Italian restaurants. As luck would have it, I dined during NYC’s Restaurant Week, no less! What glass of wine would pair beautifully with the scrumptious cheeses, freshly-baked bread, oysters, bruchetta, Caesar salad and incredible veal parmigiana without overwhelming the multitude of subtle yet amazing tastes of the feast? Well, wine sleuths, I have your answer: Botteca Vinaia Trentino Pinot Grigio 2014 from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy. Unlike many Pinot Grigio’s I have sampled over the last couple of years, the Botteca Vinaia Pinot Grigio 2014 had a lovely palate of honeysuckle, apricots and light minerality yet retained the refreshing acidity that one expects out of a fine Pinot Grigio.
One of the perks from authoring The Wine Bargain Sleuth is that my dinner guest friends and family often defer to me when it is time to order wine to pair with dinner at a restaurant. While I look forward to the challenge of a new and voluminous wine list now, I will confess that as recently as five years ago the thought of being responsible for my guests’ wine experience was somewhat daunting, even nerve-wracking. After all, who wants to be the idiot who chooses a less-than-tasty wine for his companions’ dinner–especially at the princely tariff of two to three times retail that many fine restaurants routinely charge for a bottle of wine?
If you enjoy Chardonnay from Napa or Sonoma, then you know how challenging it can be to find a complex yet affordable one. Perhaps this month’s Value Wine No. 2, the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2013, might be your solution. Neither overly oaked nor too creamy, the Chalk Hill 2013 manages a rare balance for a Chard in its price range.
Are you wine sleuths looking for an aged, elegant Bordeaux blend Big Red to get you through the winter chill that doesn’t set you back the equivalent of a January gas bill? We have just the wine for this month’s Value Wine No. 1, the Chatter Creek 2008 Blend 105 from Columbia Valley, Washington. Yes, that’s right, this Northwest Big Red is actually a 2008 vintage, meaning that it is perfectly aged at the vineyard and refined for your immediate enjoyment. Reminiscent of a Right Bank Bordeaux, the Chatter Creek 2008 Blend 105 is a Merlot based blend, with helpful dollups of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc to complete the classic five Bordeaux blend varietals.
Those of you who follow The Wine Bargain Sleuth regularly are undoubtedly familiar with Cameron Hughes’ terrific value wines. In fact, it is fair to say that we could easily feature a Cameron Hughes wine as a recommended Value Wine each month. Savvy wine sleuths understand the value that all Cameron Hughes wines bring in terms of bang for your hard earned buck, and the Lot 403 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot is no exception.
As your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth peeks at his Outlook calendar he is somewhat surprised to see that the pending countdown to Thanksgiving, that uniquely American holiday and excuse to polish off a week’s worth of calories in between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys football games with impugnity. That, of course, can only mean that it is high time for this month’s Chapter to unveil our recommendations to allow you sleuths to shine with your thoughtful wine selections at your own annual battle for the turkey leg with your families, friends, significant others and hungry, random strangers who popped in to purloin your dressing and that last piece of pumpkin pie!
In today’s world of pedestrian bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that run nearly $100, it is indeed a delight to find a Big Red that one can enjoy…
First, a few fun facts about Paso Robles before your wine brain rejects my hypothesis out of hand: (1) The town is pronounced “Pass-O Roe-Bulls” by the locals, and its name is derived from the Spanish phrase El Paso de Robles, meaning “the pass of the oaks;” (2) Paso boasts the oldest continuously operating winery in Central California, the York Mountain Wine Co., which dates back to 1882 (making it just slightly older than your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth) and is now owned and painstakingly operated by Bill and Liz Armstrong, the proprietors of Epoch; (3) Paso Robles can boast of the first (dating to 1983) and the largest (614,000 total acres) American Viticultural Area (“AVA”), which has now been subdivided to 13 smaller AVA’s as of 2014; (4) Zinfandel is the region’s heritage varietal, dating to the early 1880’s, but the majority of Paso’s plantings are actually Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other Bordeaux varietals; (5) A large volume of Paso’s grapes are actually blended and released under Napa Valley labels; and (6) Paso is the fastest growing AVA in California, with 32,000 vineyard acres and more than 270 bonded wineries (up from 75 just ten years ago!) ranging from nationally distributed, mid-size to boutique in size.
When I think of the Turley Juvenile Zinfandel 2013, I think of elegance and balance, with a pleasant but not overpowering nose of cherry and strawberry, followed by a hint of spice and a touch of green pepper, followed by a lovely and lengthy smooth finish. The winemakers at Turley have the reputation of being one of California’s foremost Zinfandel experts, and this bottle should quickly convince a wine sleuth that they are not just whistling Dixie on their mass-production Zins.
You have probably noticed the recent trend of wine reviewers spotlighting the wines of Portugal. Or stated differently, Portugal’s liquid imports are not just about Port dessert wines anymore. As an example, 3 of the top 4 wines in this year’s Wine Spectator Top 100 wines were Portuguese offerings. If you haven’t had the opportunity to travel to Portugal or otherwise familiarize yourself with the Portugal wines, your Wine Bargain Sleuth has an excellent opportunity for you as one of this Chapter’s Value Wines: Feuerheerd’s Anchor Wine 2012 from the Douro region.
This month’s Value Wine No. 1 is the cleverly named Seven Deadly Zins 2012 Old Vines Zinfandel. This Lodi-sourced example of the robust Zinfandel grape is a worthy match for your backyard BBQ ribs or that extra-juicy burger fresh off the old grill. This inky purple wine (it contains a small dollup of Petite Sirah) has a profile of blackberry jam with multiple layers of earthiness, pepper and minerality woven throughout. Its fine tannins ensure that the Zin is seamless and remarkably elegant for a wine at this price point of $16 retail. I would describe this bold Red as the ideal mid-week wine for those who enjoy grilling out during the warmer months. Widely available, this Zinfandel was recently awarded an impressive 91 rating by Wine Enthusiast. My recommendation is that Wine Sleuths should stock up immediately!
The sheer size of the event and the enormous number of wines on display at the Dallas Grand Tour was an intimidating factor. I have been fortunate to attend some amazing tastings over the past decade or so, both locally and in my travels, but nothing on this mammoth scale. Clearly, some clever planning would be key to a successful (and relatively sober!) event. Even assuming that my lovely significant other and I sampled different wines, we would collectively be hard pressed to taste even ten percent of the delicious offerings. Yes, I am aware that many if not most wine professionals taste and then spit out the wines. Having said that, are you kidding?
This month’s Worth a Splurge wine is a treat for those who enjoy the polished, earthy Tempranillo wines typically associated with the Rioja region of Spain. The craftsmen of Epoch have offered their Paso Robles, California interpretation of this European classic wine in the form of the Epoch 2011 Tempranillo. I recently had the opportunity to sample this robust red on two different occasions, once pairing the wine with aged cheeses and fruit and once pairing the Epoch wine with one of the absolute best bone-in filets that New York City had to offer. May I say that the Epoch Tempranillo was magnificent in both instances, and my only disappointment is that my cellar is now empty of more bottles of the 2011 Tempranillo.
I have had the opportunity a couple of times in the past month to enjoy the 2012 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon with good friends. Honig has long made high quality Cab from its classic Napa Valley location in Rutherford on the bench floor. This is classic Rutherford Cab Sav, with dark berry profiles, hints of cocoa and vanilla bean and a silky, lingering finish with the classic “Rutherford Dust” that so many Cab fans (your favorite Wine Bargain Sleuth among them) seek. As with a great Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2012 Honig pairs beautifully with a juicy T-Bone steak, but its polish and balance also make it equally tasty with pan-seared scallops.
I recently attended the annual Wine and Food Festival in Cancun, Mexico, where one of the showcase events was the Star Chefs Dinner. The Star Chefs Dinner gave 23 decorated chefs from all over Mexico, San Francisco, California, Miami, Florida and even my own hometown of Dallas, Texas the opportunity to display their creative bites before 500 enthusiastic attendees, Similarly, vintners and other purveyors of great wine from the legendary Rioja region of Spain, Argentina, Chile, the host country of Mexico and even a token representation of the Pacific Northwest of the USA were present with big smiles and hopes that their crafted wines would be the perfect pairing for the dishes of the creative Star Chefs!
Your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth was introduced to the Argentine vineyard Trivento nearly two years ago, and recently had the unique opportunity to sample the Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Lujan de Coyo Malbec against several other high quality producers hailing from Argentina, the Rioja region of Spain, the US and Mexico at the Cancun Wine & Food Festival. How did this South American red fare, you ask? Well, to my palate it was the star of the Cancun Star Chefs Dinner event!
With fruit grown on the valley floor in Napa Valley, the Peju 2013 Sav Blanc stands in lush contrast to more austere examples of the Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand. The Peju white is one of the more complex domestic Sauvignon Blancs I have sampled, managing in one sip to hint at the lovely grapefruit, pineapple and honeysuckle overtones on the front palate, while the mid-palate experiences a lush passion fruit and creamy lemon quality, with a refreshing, clean finish that is delicious by itself or with a salad or light cheese. That is a lot of complexity for a modestly price wine from Napa Valley.
Love your Big Reds but are looking something a bit different than a Napa Cab or Merlot? Want to get ahead of the curve on the great wines being grown around Santa Barbara but don’t know where to start? Well, my friends, look no further than the Stolpman 2012 Estate Syrah (Ballard County). This delicious yet unique Syrah from the terroir of Ballard County in southern California may just break your impression that all Syrah wines are big, jammy fruit bomb. By contrast, the Stolpman 2012 Estate Syrah is silky, elegant and bone dry yet manages to deliver satisfying black cherry on the nose and a sage and earthy quality on the mid-palate.