Greetings and Salutations.  In the Great Southwest, Spring has made its annual appearance, with the commensurate budding leaves, beautiful flowers, greening of the dormant grass, and of course the classic Texas torrential rain thunderstorms and their kissing cousins Mr. Killer Tornado and Ms. Softball-Sized Hail.   Unlike summer, Texas weather is anything but predictable in spring.  To borrow a classic line from a friend from West Texas, “Our annual rainfall is 13 inches…and you should have been here that day!”


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.


In my defense I will note that I have been busily gathering information for my favorite wine sleuths, at New York’s restaurant week (see this month’s Value Wine No. 3 recommendation below), at the Flavor! Napa festival (quick hint:  the best Big Red in that amazing food and wine bonanza was definitely Hall’s 2012 Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon–a monster Cab that shined through the mass of competition displayed that night at the Culinary Institute of America) and at a fun and festive Boony Doon wine dinner with proprietor Randall Grahm (see this month’s Value Wine No. 2 recommendation below)  The payoff will be this Chapter and the half-dozen terrific spring wine choices.


Without further ado, here are this month’s wines for your consideration:


Value Wine No. 1:  Cune Rioja Crianza 2012.

For wine fans who really prefer reds period, this month’s Value Wine No. 1 is a terrific offering from the stellar Spanish vintner CUNE from the legendary Rioja region: the Cune Rioja Crianza 2012.  Made in strict compliance with the Rioja standards, the Cune Rioja Crianza 2012 is aged in oak and additionally aged in the bottle for 1 year each before release to assure that the wine is ready for your enjoyment.  As compared to a Big Red, the Cune Rioja Crianza is lighter in body yet surprisingly complex and satisfying for this price point. Flavors of cherry and vanilla dominate the initial palate, followed by a classic Rioja earthiness and cedar mid-palate, followed by an elegant, lengthy finish.  I would describe this Cune offering as plush and even a bit round in the mouthfeel.  This wine is an excellent candidate for a blind tasting event and will certainly hold its own against much more expensive offerings, as it definitely outdrinks its price point (suggested retail of a very reasonable $13).  Wine Spectator highly recommends this Spaniard, describing the wine as having “orange peel acidity, cedar and tobacco notes” and bestowing a very stout 91 on the Cune Crianza 2012.   Red wine lovers, here is your spring red for a remarkable price. Go stock up now!


Value Wine No. 2:  Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare 2015.

Slowly but surely wine lovers in the USA are thinking pink during the more temperate months.   Whether following the influence of European wine fans (particularly in France), Brangelina making their own Rose Miraval in Provence to the typical fanfare that those two attract or perhaps the novelty of drinking pink, Rose’s and blush wines are beginning to attract some serious consumer dollars.  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 touch.   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. This is a terrific poolside summer sipper, or it would be delectable with a triple cream brie cheese or even boiled shrimp.   The 2015 vintage is an unusual Rhone varietal blend of 44% Grenache, 20% Grenache Blanc, and remaining smaller portions of Carignane, Mourvedre, Cinsaut and Roussanne.   With the delicate touch of Bonny Doon’s owner and wine genius Randall Grahm, sometimes referred to as the “Rhone Ranger”, this is clearly a special wine.  It has a suggested retail of $18, but careful wine sleuths can find a bottle for several sheckels less.  Add a great review and a solid 90 rating by Wine Review Online, you have the very definition of a value wine in the terrific Bonny Doon Vin Gris  de Cigare 2015.  Stock up before your neighbor beats you to it!


Value Wine No. 3:  Botteca Vinaia Pinot Grigio 2014.

A couple of months back 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 an inviting palate of honeysuckle, apricots and light minerality yet retained the refreshing acidity that one expects out of a fine Pinot Grigio.  With the delicious aged parmigiana cheese and fresh bread, the Botteca Vinaia Pinot Grigio complemented the richness of the aged cheese while not washing it away.  Similarly the minerality of the Italian Pinot Grigio paired beautifully with both the raw oysters and the spicy bruchetta.  Finally, the Botteca Vinaia 2014 managed to hold its own with the delicate yet hearty veal, marinara and rich cheese entree.  Best of all?   This lovely Pinot Grigio could be had by the glass at a reasonable $12 per glass on the Upper East Side.   By the bottle for those of us off the island, it retails for $16 per 750 ML bottle, even less with some careful sleuthing. If your impression of Pinot Grigio is a white wine that is suitable to peel the enamel from your bicuspids, then this month’s Value Wine No. 3 is definitely worth checking out.   Not yet rated by the experts, past vintages of the Botteca Vinaia Trentino managed ratings in the mid-to-high 80’s, very respectable for a quality Italian white import.   This wine would definitely make a great summer sipper, with its balance yet refreshing acidity.   I recommend that you pick up a bottle or three!


Value Wine No. 4:  Birichino Saint Georges Pinot Noir 2013.

Sometimes inspiration comes in surprising and unanticipated circumstances. Following a challenging week (yes, it’s true; your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth actually has a serious day gig!) I went to pick up my order from a terrific wine dinner at Veritas, a well-stocked wine bar and retail establishment in a hip area of north Dallas, and I thought I would sample a domestic Pinot Noir while I waited for my order to be finalized.  Man, am I glad that I did:  my sample turned out to be a terrific Cali Central Coast Pinot, the Birichino Saint Georges Pinot Noir 2013. Featuring an impressive nose of cherry cola and spice, the Birichino Saint Georges 2013 turned out to be even more complex and delightful than the nose had hinted.  On the mid-palate, a hint of baking spice and pomegranate, with an unusual touch of chocolate mint made my taste buds excited, with light tannins and a touch of cedar on the satisfying finish.   Like the previously mentioned Cune Crianza 2012 above, this Birichino 2013 Pinot Noir definitely outdrinks its $22 price point, which can definitely be had for less with some careful sleuthing.  Wine Enthusiast shares our enthusiasm, bestowing an impressive 91 rating on the Birichino 2013 Pinot Noir.  The California south central coast Pinot Noir is medium bodied but contains the lovely characteristic that it tends to become bigger and rounder in the glass as oxygen does its thing on this wine. In my case, one sample led to a full glass, which in turn led to my pickup package now requiring a small box rather than just a plastic bag.   What the hey, it was Friday, and I deserved it!   You deserve it also–treat yourself on this great Pinot Noir value from Birichino!


Worth a Splurge Wine No. 1:   2013 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.

I couldn’t resist one Big Red recommendation this month.   So sue me!  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 harvested 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 VineyardsPeju Provence and Caymus, to name a few, so fans of those world class Big Reds should definitely take note of 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, which was awarded an impressive 92 by Wine Spectator. However, the Round Pond employees I spoke with felt that the 2013 Rutherford Cab would ultimately be judged superior to the 2012 vintage, and they have convinced me that they may just have a point.  Unlike many Napa producers that add Merlot to their Cabernet Savs for roundness, Round Pond instead opted to blend a healthy dollup of Petit Verdot (19%) and Malbec (4%) to the estate Cab Sav (77%).  However, the lush Napa Valley bench fruit blend in this Big Red was both robust and approachable even at a young age. Besides the balanced, elegant tastes of oak, baking spice, blackberry and cassis and the finish that seemed to go on for over a minute, one of the best things about the Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cab 2013 was the reasonable price when compared to its more well known neighbors.    Retailing at approximately $59 (have you priced a Caymus Cab lately?), the Round Pond 2013 is a relative value in today’s stratospheric Napa Valley Cab prices.  What do the experts think? Anthony Galloni of Vinous simply stated “Round Pond’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is fabulous. Aromatic, pliant and expressive, the 2013 is incredibly nuanced for such a young wine,” while awarding the wine a stellar 92 rating. Robert Parker of Wine Advocate called the 2013 Round Pond Cab “a beauty,” adding that the wine is “…also realistically priced by Napa standards…reveals toasty oak, blackberry and cassis fruit, beautiful texture, purity and length. This is a big-time winner and should drink well for 12-15 years.”  Looking for a new Big Reg to splurge on without breaking your monthly wine budget?   Look no further than the Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2013!


Worth a Splurge Wine No. 2:  Far Niente Chardonnay 2013.

Sometimes a wine sleuth just needs to splurge on a classic.  Under that train of thought, we recommend the Napa Valley stalwart Far Niente Chardonnay 2013.  Although it is rare that the Far Niente Chardonnay is not very good regardless of vintage, the 2013 Chardonnay is arguably a notch above the high level to which we have become accustomed. Although aged in oak (59% new) for nine months, this Far Niente Chard is more reminiscent of a French white Burgundy, neither overly oaked nor particularly creamy in mouthfeel.  It contains a delightful taste of pears and red apples, with a hint of lime and honeysuckle.  A touch of stone adds to the complexity.  Finally, the lovely Far Niente finish with a citrus tone is of course present.  Wine Spectator was impressed as well, calling the Far Niente “firm and intense, well-focused and vibrant, while awarding a strong 92 rating on the Cali Chard. This is a medium to full bodied Chard that has always left me with the distinct impression that it is a red wine lover’s Chardonnay without excuses or apologies.   Your splurge will be rewarded on this one, wine sleuths!



Wine Thought of the Day:   Not Your Mother’s Wine Quotes.


“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.”

Napoleon Bonaparte


“It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine”

― Brian O’Donnell, Winemaker of Belle Pente, 2013


“I can certainly see that you know your wine.  Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.”

― Basil Fawlty, “Fawlty Towers”


Until next month– Cheers!

© The Wine Bargain Sleuth 2016—All Rights Reserved