Weekend Wine Notes: Nine Wines at $13 and Under

The title of today’s Weekend Wine Notes requires no explanation. I offer nine wines priced at $13 and under, each in a group of three, divided into Washington State, California and Italy’s Veneto region. Sorry to say that a couple of them are not recommended, but it happens, n’est-ce pas? As usual in this series, I omit detailed historical, technical and geographical data for the sake of brief reviews ripped, as it were, from the ages of my notebooks. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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The Washington State wines of Charles Smith stand out on any shelf they occupy, distinguished by their stark black and white labels heavy on the graphic elements, a collaboration with Danish designer Rikki Korff. They also distinguish themselves by their solid QPR — quality/price ratio.
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Band of Roses Rose 2017, Washington State. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot ...

Drink from the Comptrollers Cup at Catoctin Breeze Vineyard

Each year  the Maryland Wineries Association holds a state competition now named the Comptrollers Cup that is a blind tasting historically judged by fellow winemakers. This year other industry professionals such as sommeliers joined the panels and the Best in Show winner was a winery that I belong to their wine club: Catoctin Breeze Vineyard and their 2016 Estate Cabernet Franc


Catoctin Breeze is located north of Frederick Maryland on Route 15 between Thurmont and Emmitsburg.  It was founded in 2010 when Voytek Leon Fizyta planted two blocks of vines along a hill slightly east of the Catoctin Mountains. These blocks consisted of  Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Viognier.  The well draining, loose, alluvial soil contains some quartz deposits which assist in preventing frost prevention as well as the ripening of fruit.  The estate also receives a consistent breeze from Owen's Gap - keeping the vines ventilated helping to ...

#FirstSipNZ with Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Villa Maria Estate Winery

"Taylors Pass Single Vineyard wines are pure expressions of soil and climate and varietal interactions",  Kathrin Jankowiec Marlborough Winemaker at Villa Maria Estate Winery

The Villa Maria Estate Winery's Taylor Pass vineyard is located in Marlborough's Awatare Valley along the northern bank of the Awatere River. In the larger picture Marlborough is in the northeast of the South Island with the Awatare Valley in the southernmost section of this famous wine region. The river not only helped carve the vineyard plots but also gives the region its name as awatere means "fast-flowing river" in the local Maori dialect. The vines are planted on rugged terraces and with each terrace the soil type changes: stony gravels are nearest the river, whereas the mid terrace has silt over gravels, and the highest terrace is deeper silt over clay-papa base. The grapes benefit from a large diurnal temperature swing as cool ocean breezes ...

Spar’s new wines for 2018

A whistle-stop tour of some of Spar’s new wines for 2018 – more details about them HERE Villa Cerro Garganega Pinot Grigio 2017, Veneto, Italy (£6.50 Spar) Simple fresh glugger with hints of citrus fruit and apple, what I call ‘fair enough’ wine. C Wildflower Pinot Grigio 2017, Romania (£6.50 Spar) Compared with the above, […]

Wine of the Day, No. 401

Time to get back to the Wine of the Day, a series that has been on hiatus since May 25. For today, let’s look at the Rombauer Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Napa Valley, produced by a winery well-known for cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel. The grapes are fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in neutral French oak barrels, and the wine ages three months in this combination, the wood lending a nuance of layering to the texture. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet is an appealing melange of lime peel, lemongrass and pear, highlighted by notes of lychee and grapefruit, limestone and flint; a few moments in the glass bring out touches of fig and yellow plum with a hint of gooseberry. After this panoply of delights, the wine feels both transparent and dense on the palate, where lively acidity animates citrus and stone fruit flavors ...

Nebbiolo is Still King at Breaux Vineyards

Breaux Vineyards opened in 1997 when it was only the fifth winery in Loudoun County and the 50th in Virginia. Today Breaux is one of the largest of the 43 wineries in Loudoun and statewide (270 wineries) and its success can be attributed to several factors -- starting with their location at the western foothills of the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains. The 104-acre estate benefits from plenty of sunshine from late morning to sunset and consistent breezes that help alleviate mildew.

The second factor occurred when founder Paul Breaux and original winemaker Dave Collins (owner of Maryland's Big Cork Vineyards) not only heavily invested in new state-of-the-art wine making equipment but also planted a pioneering set of vinifera grapes. These grapes include the standard Bordeaux varieties but also Virginia's signature grape Viognier and Nebbiolo. In fact, to this day Breaux is still only the third winery in ...

Wine of the Day, No. 398

Though it’s the basic bottling from this three-generation, certified organic estate, the Lucien Crochet Sancerre 2015 exemplifies all that’s best about the sauvignon blanc grape from a favorable vintage at the far eastern end of the Loire Valley. In fact, I’m willing to designate this wine as a little lesson in the character of the grape and the location. The color is the palest of straw-gold hues, though it emits a sort of inner brilliance. The bouquet? A classic snap of gun-flint and gravel, notes of lemon balm and quince, piquant celery leaf and dusty preserved lemon, all pierced by a penetrating line of iodine and seashell. On the palate? Let’s be alliterative again and speak of piercing and penetrating acidity, bright and lively, that drives through to a finish of scintillating limestone minerality, all at the service of spare and refined elements of mingled stone-fruit and citrus flavors. 14 ...

Wine of the Day, No. 392

I would describe the Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Dry Creek Valley, as zippy, zingy and zesty — the three Dwarfs left out of the movie — on account of its incredible freshness, crisp attack and immediate appeal. The making of it is interesting. The wine is a blend of 81.5 percent sauvignon blanc; 13.5 percent sauvignon musqué, a sauvignon blanc clone characterized by its musky, floral nature; and 5 percent sauvignon gris, a pink-skinned cousin of sauvignon blanc. This was fashioned primarily in stainless steel tanks — 82 percent — but also in barrels, 10 percent acacia, 5 percent neutral French, 3 percent chestnut. You’re thinking, Wow, that all sounds pretty complicated, and that may be the case. The result, on the other hand, is a wine of terrific tone and elan. The color is very pale, displaying just a tinge of straw-gold; it’s definitely a ...

Miner Family Winery 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

In July 1993 the Oakville and Rutherford AVA's were carved out of the central Napa Valley AVA in order to accentuate their specific micro-climates best suited for Bordeaux varieties. Both areas contained well drained gravely soils and moderately warm with each region influenced by early morning fog and afternoon breezes (with Rutherford warmer, lower in elevation, and less affected by wind and fog). Whereas Cabernet Sauvignon is the principle crop in both AVAs, each also shares an affinity for Sauvignon Blanc. The same is true with the Chiles Valley AVA, another sub-AVA in northeastern Napa Valley. This AVA is located in the Vaca Mountains and has a cooler climate than the majority of Napa Valley due to its higher elevations and a cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean. Miner Family Wines encompasses these three AVAs with their 2017 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22) where 40% comes from Rutherford's Shartsis Vineyard, ...

Wine of the Day, No. 385


So, let’s say that for lunch you’re having chicken or shrimp salad, or it’s grilled trout or salmon for dinner, perhaps with a light butter-lemon-caper sauce. Here’s your wine. The Lucas & Lewellen Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Santa Barbara County, made in stainless steel and with 10 percent viognier to the sauvignon blanc grapes, offers a pale straw-gold hue and penetrating aromas of lemon balm and lemongrass, tangerine and peach, a bare hint of guava; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of leafy fig, waftings of summer meadow flowers, a tint of lilac. In short, an irresistible bouquet that grows in complexity as the moments pass. The wine is quite dry, characterized by chiming acidity that cuts a swath through a lovely talc-like texture and scintillating limestone-flint minerality, all serving to bolster spare and elegant citrus and stone-fruit flavors that finish with a tinge of grapefruit. 13.9 ...

Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc

The Chalk Hill AVA is one of Sonoma County's 13 appellations and was carved out of the northeast corner of the Russian River Valley AVA in 1983.  It is distinguished from its neighbors - the cooler Russian River Valley to the west and the warmer Alexander Valley to the northeast - by its higher elevation and chalky white ash that characterizes the soils and its name. This is also the name of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery,  The estate is one of only four wineries in the AVA and is a collection of 60 different small vineyards - each growing a diverse set of grapes from Chardonnay, white and red Bordeaux, Viognier, Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and even Pinot Noir. I recently received a sample of one of the wines made from these grapes: Chalk Hill 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($33). Bluntly, this wine is fantastic, a much different Sauvignon Blanc ...

Wine of the Day #375


The Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Napa Valley, was fermented and matured in a combination of stainless steel tanks and neutral French oak barrels. The effect is of a white wine that’s crisp and animated as well as framed by a subtle, supple haze of mildly spicy wood. The color is pale gold; a knock-out, seductive bouquet of smoke and heather, lime peel and pink grapefruit is amply supplied with roasted lemon, lemon balm and verbena. The texture is dense, almost talc-like, yet graceful, elegant and lively on the palate, while flavors are deftly balanced between citrus and stone-fruit; a few moments in the glass add notes of hay, thyme and leafy fig, with hints of limestone and lemongrass on the finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. A beautifully made sauvignon blanc for drinking through 2020 with roasted and grilled fish and seafood. Winemakers were Charles Thomas and Kari Auringer. Excellent. ...

Wine of the Day, No. 370


In case you were wondering what sauvignon blanc to buy by the case to drink through this Spring and Summer, here’s my urgent suggestion. Pick up your phone or open you laptop and head for the Hewitson LuLu Sauvignon Blanc 2017, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills appellation. Made all in stainless steel, this sprightly and zesty sauvignon blanc features a very pale straw-gold hue with a green shimmer and incredibly attractive aromas of celery leaf, lemongrass, fennel and lime peel; a few moments in the glass unfurl a subdued charge of gooseberry and gunflint, dusty fig and greengage. Sleek, crisp and lively on the palate, the wine flows over shelves of scintillating limestone and flint that support spare flavors of lemon and spiced pear, all encompassed in an aura of sunlight, lilacs, sea-breeze and a whole orchard of greenness. A moderate 12.7 percent alcohol. Now through 2019, with fresh-shucked oysters, ...

Smith Story Wine Cellars: A Story of True Love, Delicious Wines, and a Handsome Goldendoodle

Hello Friends,

I recently had the opportunity to take part in the first Charles Communications Brandlive virtual event of 2018, and what great fun it was. The live broadcast featured Smith Story Wine Cellars, along with a tasting of several of their recent releases from Sonoma County, California. The story of Smith Story Wine Cellars—a true love story—goes back some 15 years when Ali Smith and Eric Story met while working at K&L Wine Merchants. Ali was a marketing manager, hence her early adoption and use of social media, especially Twitter. Eric was one of the leading buyers for German, Loire Valley, Alsace, Austrian, and Greek wine.

A particularly fortuitous trip to the Anderson Valley, “way back when,” as Ali says, sowed the seeds of a dream that would one day become reality. She and Eric got engaged in 2012, and then eloped to Hawaii the following ...

Wine of the Day, No. 362

Here’s a zesty little number to sip this weekend, especially if shrimp salad, crab cakes or similar fare shimmer in the offing. The grapes for the Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2016 derive mainly from the vast North Coast AVA — this wine’s designation — meaning in this case Napa Valley and Lake and Mendocino counties, with some minority from Monterey County, which, being south of San Francisco, is included in the equally vast Central Coast AVA. It’s a model, then, of how grapes from different areas and micro-climates, chosen for slightly differing characteristics, can be blended to fashion a seamless whole. The very pale straw-gold Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2016 is fresh, clean and bright, featuring pert aromas of grapefruit and fennel, lime peel and celery seed, over ethereal layers of a leafy, lemongrass-like quality. Plenty of lively flare on the palate from crisp acidity supporting flavors of peach and ...

Latta Precarious Bianco O2 2016


Western Victoria. 60% Sauvignon blanc, 20% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir (free run), 10% viognier, Gewürztraminer (whole bunch). 13%.

Indigenous yeast, a blend of white and red bedfellows and deliberate oxidative handling. Clear straw; a sweet armpit; the smallest player, the gewürz, seems the loudest; traminer spice, nutty rancio and musk. Glue. Thick and unctuous, curious and formidable. A vinous full stop?