Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2012 Provence rosé shines again

My search for the perfect summer wine has been exceptional so far because of the plethora of great rosé that is available. The Rhône region of France, more specifically Provence and the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, traditionally produces great rosé, and many of these can be had at bargain prices. My latest tasting exploration brought be to the 2012 vintage Minervois from Chateau Sainte Eulalie.

While the DMZ from South Africa and the Spanish Jumilla rosé I tasted remain top contenders, you won't go wrong with this wine, particularly when you consider it's just $10 a bottle.

Like all the rosé I've tasted so far, this is very food-friendly and would go great with roast chicken.

It is a blend of primarily of Syrah and Cinsault with smaller proportions of Carignan and Grenache. It's full of strawberry, raspberry, and even cranberry, with a hint of herb. It has a long, fresh finish that leaves the palate clean.

I score this an 8.5 using my scale at the left.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Jumilla rosé hurray!

My annual hunt for a summer wine is getting very interesting! My latest find comes from the Spanish region Jumilla, an appellation I'm quite familiar with in terms of its red Tempranillo. These wines are often very inexpensive and very expressive, although they are frequently wound so tight you can leave a bottle open for hours before it will finally relax and connect you with a sumptuously complex red that is both easy drinking and food friendly.

Needless to say, when I saw the Bodegas Olivares 2011 rosé for just $8 a bottle at Whole Foods, I grabbed one, expecting it to be tightly wound and delicious.

I was correct on one count: The wine was delicious! Juicy with strawberry and subtle spices, yet remaining dry and fresh. It was not as tightly wound as I would expect from a wine from Jumilla, but then again, this wasn't made with Tempranillo. It is a blend of 70 percent Monastrell and 30 percent Syrah. Like all great rosé, this wine is both great for just drinking and food-friendly. This is a wine I will be definitely going back for more!

I rate this with a 9 using my scale at the left.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

South Africa has a hit rosé

Admittedly, I have not always had good luck with South African wines. The reds I've tasted have been fruit bombs that made many an Australian red seem tame. And the whites I've tasted have been too citrusy and not enough herb. So I haven't tasted many because I've been disappointed so many times.

But the 2012 DMZ rosé from DeMorgenzon is delicious. This rosé is made with Cabernet Sauvignon. It is crisp, juicy, full of strawberry and kiwi flavors that roll deliciously about the tongue and finish with a fresh zest. There's watermelon and pomegranate as well, but it remains a refreshingly dry quaff. The nose is light spring fruit and subtly floral. And the color, wow! A vibrant pink, even reddish, but clear as crystal.

Also, an interesting note, the producer plays music in the vineyards under the idea the vines will produce better grapes!

Best part: it's just $12 a bottle. This will definitely be at the top of my list of summer wines. But the hunt continues!

I score this with an 9 using my scale at the left.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc

Whenever someone asks me what is my favorite wine, I unhesitatingly reply "Châteauneuf-du-Pape." This region consistently produces outstanding red blends that cellar well and can rival classic Bordeaux. Best part too is that Châteauneuf-du-Pape - even the classic ones - can be had for a fraction of the cost of classic Bordeaux.

What is fun for me as well is to see that expression of surprise on one's face, particularly if that person shows any familiarity with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, when I talk about the classic white wines that come from this appellation in the Southern Rhône. I even stumped a chef one time when a friend and I showed up at the restaurant with a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. The chef admitted he had never heard of it. And needless to say, it went spectacularly well with the whitefish on the menu.

Describing a Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc is a bit tricky. First, there are six permitted grape varieties that may be used, but all six need not be used. There are, in fact, examples of this wine produced entirely with a single varietal. These grapes are not widely known even among those who consider themselves wine aficionados; they include Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Clairette and Picpoul as the most common. So when first tasting this wine, one might be a bit perplexed. This wine has the stern, mineral character, as well as the lightness, of a white Burgundy, rich with delicate orchard fruit like peach and pear. But there are spices and other flavors here that can befuddle the experienced palate, flavors of star fruit, anise, almond, and even fennel.

It's not a wine that will show up with any frequency at most wine stores, let alone a restaurant wine list. Part of this obscurity is due to its limited production. Just 7 percent of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation is set aside for white varietals, and many of these are used in the red blends, leaving just 5 percent of the yield available for white wine production. Plus, despite the price (this wine can start at $30 per bottle, ranges mostly in the $40 to $60 area, but some can cost hundreds), these wines are generally crafted to drink young; very few are cellar-worthy (there is some debate about this).

But oh my, when you find one, they are worth it. And I recently found the 2011 vintage from Domaine Chante Cigale at the tempting price point of $30. I bought two of these and I admit I am tempted to go back for some more.

This particular blend is an even 25 percent each of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Roussanne, and Bourboulenc. I served it with sword fish steaks that had been marinated with mango and herbs. It paired beautifully with the heft of the sword fish, the wine showing as bright, juicy, and yet steely clean. There was just the right amount of orchard fruit, but that hint of anise and fennel was there dancing about the chilled taste of river stones.

While this wine is not something to keep for decades, it should store well over the next 3 to 5 years provided the right conditions can be had. And at $30, this is a good find.

I score this a 9.5 using my scale at the left. Wine Spectator scores it 91.

Bargain Bordeaux Blanc

The Chateau Haut Sarthes 2011 Montravel is a Bordeaux Blanc that can be picked for - wait, hold on to your chapeau - $9 a bottle. This is a delightfully food-friendly bargain, but I caution you, it's really not to my taste for drinking on its own.

Sauvignon Blanc is the primary grape in most Bordeaux Blanc and this wine is no exception (there are Bordeaux Blanc blends that use zero Sauvignon Blanc). With 50 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 40 percent Semillon, and 10 percent Muscadelle, this wine retains crispness and acidity with keen citrus notes. There is grapefruit for sure, and this tartness will stand out if the wine is consumed without any food. But combine this with food and that acidic grapefruit disappears with the wine retaining its robustness. Lime with a hint of herb assumes the starring role now.

I tried this wine with sushi and it paired wonderfully. Even with the Miso soup and gari this wine's character and structure held firm. It also managed well with a simple appetizer of sharp cheddar and saltine crackers. This will probably be a good bet as an inexpensive wine to take to a BYOB sushi or fish restaurant.

Because I would buy this again, I score it with an 8 using my scale at the left.