Mont Redon is one of those Chateauneuf du Pape wineries that totally messes with my life. They bottle wines like Zeus throws lightning bolts. bolts. A place that throws out muscle-bound luxury wines like Dwayne Johnson with a Harvard degree in Veni, Vidi, Verberavi.
Then they turn around and make a wine that tastes like a kitten singing some sweet Bing Crosby ballads. This is one of those new-fangled rose wines that appeal to pretty much everyone, whether you are a crooner or a swooner (we don’t judge).
This bottle isn’t coming from their CdP vineyards, but a vineyard they own just across the river near Orange (and that’s your geography lesson for today).
I made a few rosé in my time as winemaker, and they always freaked me out. Pro note: sulfur bleaching isn’t much fun.
In most classes at the wine school, I behave myself. I don’t let my deep love of Cali Chardonnay get in the way of a great wine class. Back when I was making wine in the late 90’s, it wasn’t outlandish a passion. Chardonnay doesn’t show itself in the vineyard. If you picked it right –and that means its a swamp water yellow– you just might have something special. Even then, you really didn’t know until about two weeks into fermentation.
Vine Cliff has a sweet 20 acres on the Napa side of Carneros, and it’s one of those spots that is a Chardonnay Shangri La. The vines are 20 years old and a healthy array of modern and old-school clones.
This is an excellent bottle that we are rating at 91 points. Honeysuckle and cream on the nose with a deep ripe pear …
On occasion, I sit next to a normavin at a conference. After a few minutes of awkward conversation they invariably ask me one question:
“What is your favorite wine?”
I don’t have an answer to that question. I just mumble something about footwear and wander off. I probably should just start saying Rioja. After all, it’s the answer to most questions: Where should I go on vacation? Where are my socks? What should I have for dinner? You know I’m right.
One of the great truths of Rioja is that quality standards are ridiculously high. They bottom out somewhere around “very good” and crescendo somewhere around “sell your soul for another bottle”. The pricing is also tricky, good bottles can be had for $8, and amazing ones for less than $40.
Montecillo is a standard in the world of Rioja, and I’ve reviewed their …
When I was the national wine buyer for Bacchus Wines, one of my first additions to the portfolio was Villa Cafaggio. They’ve been producing excellent Chianti Classico since the 1960’s. For a while there, you couldn’t take a wine 101 class without me pouring you some. Their price to value ratio is on point.
The current vintage is 2013, and things are getting a bit confused. The quality is there (and possibly higher than ever) but they’ve expanded their offerings and changed their name from Villa Cafaggio to simply Cafaggio. Up until this point, they offered four wines: a Chianti Classico, a Chianti Classico Reserva, Cortacio (100% Cabernet Sauvignon), and San Martino (100% Sangiovese).
From the 2013 vintage onward, they have expanded their offerings under the Cafaggio label. Cortaccio is now Basilica del Cortaccio; Basilica del Pruneto is a new 100% Merlot bottling. …
Chateau Los Boldos 2015 Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
This is such an exceptional value that I want to jamb a $10 bill into the empty bottle and mail it back to the winery in Cachapoal Valley, Chile.
We did a bit of a psychology experiment with this bottle. When sommeliers knew the price of this wine ($10) before tasting it, they used terms like “very charming” “top value” ” wisp of leather” “surprised by the wine’s balance” “food friendly” and “over delivers”
When sommeliers don’t know the price of this bottle, they use very different phrases. “Smart and polished” “lovely balance of flower and cedar” ” Polished and rich-tasting” “well-proportioned” and “tobacco and earth, herbaceous notes, and a mineral streak.”
Both sets of sommeliers loved this wine –most rated it as exceptional– but their language in describing the wines was very different. Why is that? A group of researchers and scientists …
Poggio Stella 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva
Labels like this confuse most wine consumers. Let’s break it down.
Vino Nobile = another term for the grape Sangiovese. The same grape that’s in Chianti
Montepulciano = a town in southern Tuscany near another famous wine town, Montalcino.
Riserva = In Italy, this means the wine has seen more barrel aging than usual. Usually a sign of higher quality.
So that label really reads “High-quality Sangiovese from the Tuscan town of Montepulciano” and that’s pretty spot-on.
In the glass, this shows up ruby-red with aromas of wildflowers and quince. A note of burnt leather is layered into a spicey attack that ends with fennel and cherry. The texture is lush despite the delicate freshness and medium-bodied frame. There is a touch of age on this wine, coming out as orange marmalade and toasted almond on the finish. An outstanding Sangiovese.
Back in the Iron Age, I worked my way up into an executive chef position. I’m not talking prehistory (that would be a feat) but when all food was cooked using the raw power of hot iron grills under massive exhaust hoods. I left the kitchen back in the 90’s, just before a quiet revolution was about to begin.
Actually, it had already started in the 1970’s in France, but it wasn’t until the first years of the 21st century that it started making its way into commercial North American kitchens. The technique, called sous vide cooking, remained virtually unknown outside of the professional chef community, despite how fundamentally it changed cooking.
This is a cookbook that should be on every home cook’s shelf. Chef Chris McDonald has a firm …
Concha y Toro 2015 “Marques de Casa Concha” Carmenere
This brand is one of the oldest and most consistently high-quality coming out of Chile. The label debuted in 1976, and its name set the bar very high. Marques de Casa Concha was the title conferred upon the Concha y Toro family by King Felipe V of Spain.
Those first wines were aspirational. It wasn’t until Marcelo Papa took on winemaking duties in the early 90’s that the brand started to fulfill it’s potential. Since then, Marques de Casa Concha has been a line of single-vineyard bottlings that rarely tip over the $15 price point but almost push through into a 90-point rating.
It’s one of the only brands I trust to work with Carmenere. That is largely due to the varietal fingerprint of this grape. Those notes of tobacco are extreme. They can easily push towards dirty-old-ashtray or wet-cigarette flavors which are …
You can now earn a specialized sommelier certification in a single month.
This Spring, the National Wine School is unveiling a bold new qualification for the wine trade: the Single Semester Sommelier Program (SSSP).
The program offers a versatile curriculum tailored to the professional needs of each student. New qualifications include Certified Winemaker, Spanish Wine Specialist™, International Wine Scholar™, Certified Sommelier-Instructor, Wine Law Specialist™, and many more.
Spanish Wine Specialist Program
In April, we are offering the Spanish Wine Specialist™. The program is open to everyone, even if you haven’t taken the Core Sommelier Program yet. It also can be applied towards your Advanced Sommelier Certificate or even your Master-Level Sommelier certification.
Beringer 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Knights Valley
One of the top pieces of advice I can give anyone is this: if you want to buy great wines at a discount, don’t buy from famous places.
Case in point: Knights Valley produces some killer Cabs, but you probably never heard of it.
Beringer has been the main player in Knights Valley since the 1960’s and owns much of the vineyards, about 600 acres. It sits at the northeastern tip of Sonoma, where it connects with Napa Valley at Calistoga; Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill lie to its western borders.
The valley sports the warmest daytime temperatures in Sonoma, but its high elevation contributes to a wide diurnal shift –hot days, cool nights– that contributes to a long growing season. The gravel-rich and well-drained alluvial soils keep water stress in the peak zone without the need for irrigation.
Ant Moore 2016 “Signature Series” Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
Yeah, so Ant is the guy’s name. Short for Anthony. Yeah, that’s a thing. He’s one of those up-from-nothing and built a small wine empire kinda guys. He also is the kind of guy who buys a few acres of land in the middle of nowhere, clears the land with his own hands, plants some vineyards himself, tends to them, and then starts making wine there a decade later.
This is his personal brand, but he’s also behind the New Zealand wine brands Pear Tree, Catalina Sounds, Isabel Estate, and Crowded House, too. This is my favorite of all his projects.
This is classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with a cut more depth and creativity. Exotic fruit, citrus and lemongrass on the nose with a dusting of sumac and fresh basil. Pumped up and alive, this is a fun and extracted bottle of …
If you drew a line between Napa Valley in California and Willamette Valley in Oregon, Rogue Valley is just about the halfway point. It’s a place of rolling hills, warm sunshine, and several river systems: that is to say, Southern Oregon is a far cry from the Willamette Valley up north.
Del Rio’s vineyards were a century-old pear farm until 1997 when the first vines were planted. Like many new wine regions, their really isn’t yet an established set of grapes grown. I love this time in a wine region’s history: the push and pull of hundred of ideas competing all at once.
One of those ideas is Pinot Gris. The style here is a bit of a curiosity. A touch of residual sugar, a touch of skin contact, and a touch of oxidization. It works well and is a tasty bottle, …
I was going to include this in my recent Barolo & Beyond class, but at the last minute I swapped it out for the Oreste Buzio 2016 Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese.
Why? A class on Barolo and similar wines needs a bit more gravitas. This bottle is just too damn joyful.
Fresh flowers and dark fruit on the nose, this bottle rocks a palate of fresh blackberries, cake spices, and a zesty finish. This is one of my favorite dinner wines. Especially good with a simple meal of rotisserie chicken and greens.
This past year was a fantastic one for those of us living in Pennsylvania, at least for wine. The first independent wine shops started cropping up all over the state, and a handful of state-run stores finally found their footing (go here for our new list of the region’s top wine stores).
We reviewed over a hundred amazing wines, along with the two thousand bottles tasted during wine classes in 2017. We distilled those down to our top 10 favorite wines of the year. To be our top picks, wine could not just be fantastic; they had to be offered at an amazing price, as well.
Some of these wines are probably sold out by the time you read this. If you want to be kept appraised of all the best wine deals in the Fine Wine and Good Spirits …
Nicolis 2007 Ambrosan Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Nicolis is a benchmark producer of Amarone who has been crafting top-notch wines since 1951. This particular bottling is a bit more modern than its usual releases. Instead of aging exclusively in botte grande (HUGE Barrels), some smaller barriques have been introduced. This gives the wine a more lush and rich impression.
Primary aromas of burnt vanilla, muddled mint, and fig waft over delightful secondary note sof walnut and toasted cardamom. A medium-bodied wine, the tannins have softened luxuriously into the fruit. A pleasurable pump of Good & Plenty greets the tongue while the finish moves into chocolate and Asian five-spice. A core of minerality keeps the complexity intact.
Drink over the next year or two: This wine is at its peak now. 600 cases produced.
Corsica is a beautiful puzzle. It’s a French Territory and the birthplace of Napolean. It’s also an island off the Italian coast with a millennia-long cultural relationship with the Italian mainland. Want to know what the fusion of French and Italian culture tastes like? Try a Corsican wine.
This bottle is a great introduction. It’s produced by Union de Vignerons de l’Île de Beauté, the main wine cooperative on the island. The wine is primarily Nielluccio, which is a classic Corsican grape with strong genetic links to Sangiovese.
Fresh and vibrant, this rose offers up scents of blood orange and basil. Melon and black pepper are delightful flavors that fade into fresh cherry and river rocks.
Algeria was once apart of the French Empire, and a lot of wine was grown there. When the country declared it’s independence, most of the winemakers headed to the France. Jean-Guy Lavau was one of those emigres. He and his wife Anne-Marie took charge of a wine cellar near Chateauneuf du Pape, in the tiny town of Sablet.
Their winery, Maison Lavau, has thrived. They recently purchased vineyards in the nearby village of Rasteau. This is the inaugural wine of this new project. The wine is sourced from very old vines of Grenache and Syrah along with small amounts of Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault.
This is a huge blockbuster of a wine. Aromas of forest floor fall into a huge blast of dark fruit. Cuban cigar and lavender notes drive into a deep flavor pit of licorice, chocolate, and blueberry preserves. Velvet tannins and a lush full …
Sokol Blosser is one of those wineries everyone should know about. It’s a historic family-owned Oregon winery that keeps on producing quality wines. It’s great to see the current generation pushing quality levels even higher the last few years. The winery has always been focused on sustainable agriculture and has been certified organic since 2005.
The winery was one of the first in the Willamette Valley. Its first vineyards were planted on a two-hectare hillside in 1971 by the husband and wife team Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser. Prior to those first Pinot Noir vines, it had been a down-on-its-luck plum orchard.
This is the finest Pinot Gris this winery has made in a long time. Aromas of apricot stones and honey are underpinned with the minerality of ocean air. The palate is a delightful balance of fat white fruit and crisp acidity. …
If you think of wine like art or architecture, then this is one of those wines that is on the “Must Taste” list. It’s historically relevant to the origin of modern winemaking in Australia; it also stands on its own as a damn fine wine.
This is the wine that put Coonawarra on the map as one of the world’s top regions for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a small area in Southern Australia. About 17 miles long by one mile wide, Coonawarra is defined by it’s unique “Terra Rossa” soils. True to its name, the dirt is dark red due to high levels of oxidized iron which is layered over a fractured bedrock of limestone. This is the perfect soil structure for Cabernet in an environment like Southern Australia.
The story starts in 1913 with Shlomo Weintraub, a Polish Jew fleeing from the advancing Russian army. …