Volume 7, Number 2
As I write the new volume number on this latest edition of Words on Wine I am struck by the fact that we are going into the seventh year of this endeavor. My, how time flies when you’re having fun.
And the money flies by these days, as well. Though the government-reported "inflation rate" doesn’t show it, it seems to me that prices are going up on everything. That’s certainly the case on the specialty wines and foods we showcase at Wine & Words and Washington Wine & Gourmet. European wines are being hit not only by the rising cost of transportation and port security but by the strong Euro and weak dollar.
But I’m still able to find some extraordinary values from all over the world. And I want you to be able to try them this month to see for yourself that tightening the belt doesn’t mean having to fall back on items of lesser quality. The featured wines this month are not just "affordable," something you can settle for because you can’t afford anything better. They’re actually quite good wines. They’ve got balance and finish and varietal character and…well, they’re interesting wines that are no sacrifice.
The prices of these wines are so good that I can’t offer the usual 20% Featured Wine Discount. But you don’t need it. At $10 or less per bottle, these wines are truly an affordable luxury.
Decker "Willowside Lane" Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley, California) - $8.50
We start with a wine from California, because, strangely enough, that’s where I have the hardest time finding good values. Most lower priced California wines are mass produced and mass marketed. You can find them everywhere (Wal-Mart, Food Lion, the local "breaded and fried" restaurant) and I find them bland and uninteresting, on the whole. That’s not the case with this little beauty from the Decker family, maker of our most popular California Chardonnay. It’s got the grassy, herbal notes characteristic of the Sauvignon Blanc grape and the ripe fruit you expect from California. This one is a steal, and there’s not much left.
Tall Horse Chardonnay (Western Cape, South Africa) - $9.25
The "Tall Horse" is a South African nickname for the giraffe that’s pictured on the bottle. This is a delicious Chard in the Southern Hemisphere style – ripe tropical fruit flavors with a luscious finish. It has actually recently had a price reduction! And it’s our policy to pass this kind of value on to our customers. But it won’t last. This could be an example of where I’m finding a lot of my good values…a winery that’s got plenty of product and is trying to get attention in the world market by selling at an extremely low price. You should also make a point of trying the Tall Horse Merlot at the same price.
Soledoro Bianco (Marsala, Sicily) – $8.00
"Soledoro" is Italian for "golden sunshine" and is an apt name for this bright beauty. We pour this wine by the glass as a "House White" at the Back Bay Café. It’s a blend of Cataratto and Grecanico, two native Sicilian grapes that yield a wine that’s as food- friendly as Sauvignon Blanc. It’s an excellent match with any kind of seafood dishes and is a superb thirst quencher on a hot afternoon. Its sibling, Soledoro Rosso, is also a house pour, and its blend of Sangiovese (the grape of Chianti) and Nero D’Avola (a native Sicilian) is an amazing everyday red. Pour yourself a little Sicilian sunshine and celebrate the money you saved.
Vega-Sindoa Viura/Chardonnay (Navarra, Spain) – $9.15
Wines from Spain are really making a big hit on the world market. The big names from Rioja and Ribera del Duero fetch prices that would make a Frenchman blanch. But the smaller regions, still little known to American wine drinkers, are showing their wares at extraordinarily good prices. This white blend is a good example. The blend of Viura (Macabeo) and Chardonnay is what you find in "white Rioja" wines at a much bigger price. The Viura softens the Chardonnay, making a very easy-drinking quaffer that goes as well with tapas as it does with a shady patio. This one also has a red sibling, a blend of Tempranillo and Merlot (also $9.15).
Simonet Blanc des Blancs (Alsace, France) – $9.98
This is the sparkling wine we turn to for parties, weddings and other events where you need a lot of decent bubbly. "Blanc des Blancs" means it’s a white wine from white grapes, in this case 100% Chardonnay. That makes it very food friendly, as well as festive. With it’s gold label and its French pedigree, you can serve this to your friends and earn huge style points. Tell them the Wine Guy sent you.
Salmon Run Petit Noir (Finger Lakes, New York) – $9.55
We’re used to getting good Pinot Noir from cool weather growing areas, and that’s certainly the case with this fine example for the Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine Cellars, founded by the late dean of Finger Lakes wine. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel, rather than oak, in order to bring out the spicy fruitiness.
Vecchia Torre Salice Salentino (Puglia, Italy) – $10.00
Salice (suh-LEECH-ay) Salentino is a small wine region situated to the north of Lecce in an area of vineyards and olive orchards with scattered farmhouses and ancient watchtowers (Vecchia Torre means "old tower").This robust wine is made from the dark-skinned Negroamaro grape, which is believed to have been brought to southern Italy by the ancient Greeks. After a long maceration (crushed grapes "stewing" and fermenting), the wine is aged in oak casks for 8 months. You get a big, full-bodied wine that will go with, say, pasta with spicy Italian sausage…but you never get a nasty bite on the finish.
Deakin Family Estate Merlot (Murray/Victoria, Australia) – $8.50
We often associate Australia with cheap, easy-drinking plonk like Yellow Tail. But here you get estate-bottled, varietally correct Merlot from one of Australia’s best winemaking regions at $8.50 a bottle! The Merlot grapes are handled gently to yield the softest tannins, then further gentled in oak barrels. The result is a wine of distinction at a price of satisfaction.
Borsao Red (Campo de Borja, Spain) – $8.50
Campo de Borja is a little southeast of Navarra, where the Vega-Sindoa is from. I couldn’t resist including a picture of the town of Borja. It’s so like many of the ancient fortified towns we’ve seen in Spain. The vineyards are probably out on the hillsides and valleys you can see in the background. The wine is 75% Garnacha (this producer also makes the every-popular Tres Picos Garnacha) and 25% Tempranillo, the grape that is found throughout Spain because of its reliability and early ripening (before the autumn rains). At 14% alcohol, it’s a big wine; but it carries its alcohol nicely in a body of ripe fruit, soft tannins and a hint of mouth-watering acidity. This is one we could drink every day. In Spain they’d drink it over a two-hour lunch.