Greetings and salutations!  As this record frigid winter (sorry, readers in Boston!) slowly creeps toward nature’s annual rebirth of spring, one’s mind thinks of warmer and more hospitable times with friends and family.   The question of what great wines should be uncorked with the change of seasons emerges each year, and in my experience there is no better way to find terrific new Value Wines and Splurge Wines that agree with your seasoned palate than attending a wine festival in which multiple vintners and distributors proudly display their wares!


In this mindset, 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!  Hosted by the elegant Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Resort, the Star Chefs Dinner was presented under the bright starts adjacent to the beautiful Caribbean Sea, presenting a truly memorable evening for your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth and his lovely significant other.   During the event, skillful musicians provided an exotic backdrop of classical Spanish acoustic guitar with a smattering of jazz which permeated the event while the always-refreshing sound of the gentle surf kept time by crashing the white Cancun sands.


Faithful readers of “The Wine Bargain Sleuth” will know that we are fans of the polished yet earthy Rioja Wines, as well as the bold, flavorful Malbecs of Argentina.   This event would mark a first opportunity to sample the wines of the Baja California region of Mexico and compare the same to the above world-class wines.   We spoke with several of the Mexican vintners and learned about the pride they take in their wine crafting, and learned the interesting tidbit that very few Mexican wines are imported to the USA due primarily to the low volumes of production.   Many of these Mexican wine operations are but an hour’s drive south of San Diego, California near the Ensenada area.  These wines are grown in climate similar to those of Southern California such as the Temecula region north of San Diego, with sunny, warm days and cool nights provided by the Pacific Ocean and its fog.


As noted above, the Star Chefs Dinner was truly a memorable event.    The invited Star Chefs from the Americas (which included Dallas’ own Bruno Davaillon from the Mansion) simply outdid themselves, with clever and appetizing small bites that included local seafood and meats, local produce and even tantalizing shots in small tubes blended with Mezcal for a little bite!    I bet that you didn’t see that one coming!   One local Cancun restaurant served a perfect frozen Margarita in a hollowed lime as a memorable sorbet.   Your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth could quickly become spoiled at this rate!


After dutifully sampling the remarkable foods and the copious pours provided by the participating wineries, four wines stood out as truly remarkable:  the Cune 2010 Reserva (100% Tempranillo) from Rioja, the Marques de Riscal 2009 Reserva (also 100% Tempranillo) from Rioja, the 2012 Big Blend from Vena Cava (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sav, Petite Sirah and Grenache) from Ensenada, Mexico and last but certainly not least the Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Malbec from Argentina.   Each of the four wines distinguished itself from the pack by displaying balance and a deft touch of the underlying source grape or grapes.   I was delighted to discover that a local Mexican wine was capable of running in this world-class company.  Hats off to the personable and witty Phil Gregory, the ringleader at Vena Cava! The truly good news, with the possible exception of the Vena Cava offering, which was difficult to obtain pricing as of the time of this post, is that each of these delightful wines can be had for under $25 with careful shopping.   If your Big Red tastes are looking for some exotic and flavorful alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or even Petite Sirah, I highly recommend any of the above four wines.   And one more thing, if you find yourself craving a red wine while vacationing in Mexico, do not be reticent about sampling the local wines!


After due consideration, the best wine from this year’s Star Chefs Dinner at the Cancun Food & Wine Festival was…the Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Malbec.  For a more detailed review of that amazing wine, see this month’s Value Wine No. 2 below!


If a festival in a sunny, foreign place is not in the cards this year, no worries!   Spring brings terrific opportunities for food and wine festivals throughout the US.   For example, in Dallas alone March brings the annual Savor Dallas festival, and May brings the Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour event.   There are lots of additional opportunities to sample international, national and even local wines at these festivals that a wine sleuth should take advantage of to expand his or her horizons a bit.   Of course the best possible date to such an event is a non-wine fan to act as designated driver while you, ahem, perform ample research to the subject!


Without further ado, we present this month’s Value Wines and Worth a Splurge Wine!


Value Wine No. 1:   Peju 2012 Sauvignon Blanc

I recently had the opportunity to taste the Peju 2013 Sauvignon Blanc  a second time at a recent local tasting.  I had previously sampled the lovely white wine at a Peju wine dinner last fall and was impressed.  The second opportunity convinced your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth that this Peju Sav Blanc was one of my favorite white wines, regardless of varietal, that I have tasted in the past year!  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.  Retailing for $22, but available with some smart shopping for closer to $19, this lovely Peju Sav Blanc has made its way to the front of my wine refrigerator and will delight your Sauvignon Blanc and white wine fans!  The Peju 2013 Sav Blanc is a gold medal winner in the San Francisco Wine Competition, and it received a 90 rating from both Tasting Panel and the consumer-driven Cellar Tracker website.   With the warmer weather of spring just around the corner, this is a wine that savvy wine sleuths should stock up on and now!


Value Wine No. 2:  Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Malbec

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!  Listed for $21 per bottle but available closer to $17 with careful shopping, the Trivento is simply a spectacular wine for a Value Wine price.  The Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve is a big wine, befitting the macho reputation of Argentinian Malbecs.   However, the Trivento offering has nary a rough edge on it, unlike many similar Malbecs, instead rewarding one with a rich, lush wine that manages to simultaneously beg for a juicy rib eye steak yet pair beautifully with a lighter dish such as grilled chicken.   Lush dark fruit such as plums and dark cherries are prevalent, along with a satisfying cocoa hint.  The finish on this Trivento red has a hint of polished tannins combined with an earthy quality, and the wine seems to linger for minutes.   No less an authority than Wine Spectator bestowed an impressive 91 rating on the Trivento 2012 Golden Reserve Malbec.   A value wine rarely attracts that type of praise from the major wine publications, but one sip of this Malbec will quickly convince you why.   Pick this one up while you can! 


Worth a Splurge Wine:   Stolpman 2012 Estate Syrah (Ballard Canyon)

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 Canyon).  This delicious yet unique Syrah from the terroir of Ballard Canyon 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.  This wine would pair beautifully with a grilled port tenderloin.  I recently had the opportunity to meet the president of Stolpman, Peter Stolpman, at a tasting hosted by our friends at Ronin Wines.  Peter presented a compelling case for the often-overlooked Syrah grape, and one of my favorites, particularly when value was factored in, was the 2012 Estate Syrah.   No less an authority than Wine Enthusiast describes Stolpman as “one of Ballard Canyon’s premier vineyards”, and after having the delicious opportunity to sample several Stolpman offerings, it is easy to see why that is the case.   What do the experts think of the 2012 Stolpman Estate Syrah, which retails at a reasonable $30?   Wine Enthusiast bestowed an impressive 94 rating, remarking that “The mouthfeel is all silk….”   This is a terrific bargain, even for a Worth A Splurge Wine.


Wine Thought of the Day:   The Origin of Toasting


In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to assure  guests the wine was not poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.”  “Toasting” started in ancient Rome when the Romans continued the Greek tradition but started dropping a piece of toasted  bread into each wine glass to temper undesirable tastes or excessive acidity. 


Until next month– Cheers!

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