Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) On Sunday, December 31st, Bar Boulud, Boston, invites guests to ring in 2018 with a festive and elegant Five-Course Prix-Fixe New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner. Beginning promptly at 8:00 p.m., revelers will gather in the lobby of the adjacent Mandarin Oriental, Boston hotel for a welcome reception, complete with celebratory sips and decadent canapés such as: fresh Oysters topped with a Champagne gelée and Citrus Cured Scallops laced with caviar and crème fraîche.

As the night progresses, guests will be seated at 9:00 p.m. in Bar Boulud where they will enjoy a five-course dining experience featuring savory French-inspired dishes including: Rohan Duck Breast, tender Wagyu Beef and Aurora, a delectable dessert comprised of hazelnut milk chocolate cream, raspberry espuma, and moelleux au chocolat crafted by Pastry Chef Robert Differ.

While diners treat their taste buds, live jazz music will add to the evening’s ambiance. Enhancing the experience further, guests will also have the option to add a wine pairing with each course, hand-selected by Sommelier David Bérubé.

Cost: $195 per person (optional sommelier-selected wine pairings for $125 per person)
To make Reservations, please call 617-535-8800

2) Hanukkah begun on December 12th and will continue to the 20th. Kane’s Handcrafted Donuts is celebrating Hanukkah by offering Sufganiyot, mini-jelly donuts traditionally eaten during the celebration of Hanukkah.

These deep-fried Israeli delicacies commemorate the miracle of one night of oil lasting for eight in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Kane’s Sufganiyot are filled plump with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

In modern Israel, over 18 million sufganiyot are consumed in the weeks around the holiday. More people enjoy the fried treat than fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The Israeli Defense Forces also purchase more than 50,000 of the donuts each day of the eight-day holiday to boost the morale of its troops.

These donuts are available for order by the dozen at both Kane’s locations, in Saugus and Boston.

3) Loco Taqueria + Oyster Bar, South Boston’s funky neighborhood taco joint, is launching Winter Lunchin’ Land starting this Friday, 12/15 at 11:30am to 5pm and running until the end of January. Normally, Loco Taqueria is not open for lunch. Winter Lunchin’ Land also kicks off with live entertainment from Sam Chase this week from 1-5PM, the artists for the following weeks will be announced via social media.

Winter Lunchin’ Land has all of the Loco favorites from Executive Chef Matt Drummond’s such as ten different Tacos (such as General Tso, Chicken Tinga, and Cola Pork Carnitas), Tuna Ceviche, Grilled Street Corn, Sheet Pan Nachos, Lobster Toast, Bacon Guacamole, and Loco Taco Salad.

Accompanying the menu are a number of new winter cocktails from Beverage Manager Kaitlyn Fischer. These new cocktails are available during Winter Lunchin’ Land only, including:
The Grinch - tequila, crème de menthe, rumchata, bailey’s, candy cane rim
Cousin Eddie (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) – vanilla vodka, amaretto, brandy, Averna, chocolate, whipped cream
Ralphie (A Christmas Story) – Captain Morgan, Averna, angostura bitters
Sticky Bandit (Home Alone) – cabrito reposado, Werther’s cinnamon mixture, lemon, garnished with Werther’s candy rim
Dallas, Denver, Orlando (Four Christmases) – mezcal, grapefruit juice, pineapple rosemary simple, grapefruit bitter
Billy Mack (Love Actually) – Myers rum, lime, banana, cardamom, sherry, orange bitters
Kevin McAllister (Home Alone) – two scoops vanilla ice cream, Captain Morgan, root beer, chocolate sprinkles

Make Reservations by calling 617-917-LOCO

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017: Favorite Wine-Related Items

What were some of my favorite wine related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2017. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Wines Over $50 lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine-Related Items, which are not specific wine recommendations. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Analysis Of Top Ten Wines: In my three prior Top Wine lists of 2017, I mentioned a total of 36 wines, which included wines from 13 different countries, three more than last year. Tied at the top were Georgia and Portugal, each with 6 wines (and I'll note Spain was in first place last year). Alsace came in second place with 5 wines and Spain, California and Greece ended up tied in third place, each with 3 wines. Moldova and Israel each hold 2 spots while France, Italy, Chile, South Africa, Germany, and Great Britain each hold 1 spot. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into 5 Sparkling, 9 Whites, 2 Rosé, 18 Reds, 1 Fortified and 1 Dessert Wine. Sixteen of the wines were first tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, where I often find a significant number of intriguing wines.

Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight three such stores which continue to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, Wine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge
Wine Press in Brookline
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain

Favorite Wine Breakfast: As a rather novel wine tasting, representatives of Chapel Down, an English winery, held a tasting of a couple of their Sparkling Wines at a breakfast at Bar Boulud. Smoked Salmon & Eggs atop English muffins with delicious bubbly. In my post, The British Are Coming! Chapel Down Sparkling Wine, I wrote about my experience, impressed with the first two English Sparkling wines I've ever tasted. The English climate is similar to that of the Champagne region during the 1960s-1980s. And their chalky soils are similar as well, so it isn't a stretch to understand why English Sparkling wines have become such a hot item.

Favorite Wine Dinner: A deconstructed Flammekeuche with some killer Alsatian wines, surely a combination for success. At Bistro du Midi, I dined with Jean-Frédéric Hugel, of the famed Alsatian winery Hugel et Fils, discussing Wines Without Make-UpAlsatian wine pairs so well with various foods and you should always have some in your cellar. Besides the delicious food and wines, there was plenty of interesting conversation, especially concerning the philosophy that wine is made in the vineyard, not the cellar. And two of the wines from this dinner ended up in my Top Wine lists.

Runner-Up Favorite Wine Dinner: This category was a tie, between a Moldovan wine dinner and a Portuguese wine dinner. The Moldovan wine dinner at Moldova Restaurant, in Newton, exposed me to Moldovan cuisine for the first time, accompanied by numerous tasty Moldovan wines, including two which ended up on my Top Wine lists. I strongly recommend you dine here to experience a taste of Moldova. The Portuguese wine dinner at Terra Nostra, in Fall River, was such a fun evening as I was hosted by the good people of LGL Imports, a distributor of Portuguese wines. The food was excellent, including some intriguing Portuguese dishes including Grilled Limpets and Cow's Leg Stew. The wines were compelling as well, which wasn't a surprise, and I would definitely dine here again the next time I was in Fall River.

Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: At the 2017 Boston Expo, the Wines of Georgia had a major presence, with approximately 18 producers showcasing their wines. I ended up tasting about sixty of their wines, a broad swath through their intriguing and delicious offerings. You can read about my experiences in multiple articles, including Boston Wine Expo: Giorgi Samanisvili & Wines of Georgia, Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 1)Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 2), and Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 3). A number of wines from this tasting also ended up on this year's Top Wine lists. With 8000 years of history, Georgian wine has much to offer, and you can read numerous reasons to taste their wine in another of my articles, Drink More Georgian Wine! 

Favorite Wine Seminar: Also at the 2017 Boston Wine Expo, I attended one of their wine seminars,  Quinta Vale D. Maria, Port & The Douro, which was informative, fun and absolutely delicious. This Portuguese winery has an interesting history and the owner, Cristiano Van Zeller, was an excellent speaker, explaining their history and philosophy. The wines we tasted, especially the comparative ones, were fascinating and we even got to taste a wine from 1870! Two wines from this seminar ended up on my Top Wine lists. As was mentioned at this seminar, "Port is the greatest poetry in wine."

Favorite Large-Scale Tasting: This year, this award goes to the 2017 Boston Wine Expo, a huge consumer wine event. I ended up tasting about 175 wines and spirits, and sixteen of those wines ended up on my Top Wine lists. The Expo has its issues, primarily due to the large crowds that attend, but there are ways to maximize your wine exploration and enjoyment, from attending the Seminars to focusing your tasting on certain regions and/or wine styles. Unfortunately, it seems that there won't be a Boston Wine Expo in 2018.

Most Unique Wine Pairings: What wine would you pair with a showerhead? Or an ornate faucet? I had the opportunity to make such pairings, using only Georgian wines. At a Georgian Wine presentation at Lefroy Brooks in New York City, we tasted the attendees through four Georgian wines, pairing each wine with one of the bathroom creations from Lefroy Brooks. It was an unusual pairing combination but lots of fun. The attendees loved the wines and the company enjoyed the presentation so much that they had us do it again for them in Chicago this past October, which was also another big success.

Favorite Sangria: Quincy has become a fascinating culinary destination and one of the new restaurants is 16C, which is owned by Kerri Lynch-Delaney, who is the niece of famed Chef Barbara Lynch. Sitting at the bar, I opted for their Red Sangria, which is made with blood orange, dragonfruit, and raspberry. The different fruits are what intrigued me, and I was very pleased with the Sangria. It was fruity, with a nice depth of flavor, and with only a mild sweetness. I'm picky about Sangria and this is actually one of the best versions I've tasted in quite some time. I could have easily drank a few of these without feeling like I was in a sugar coma.

Favorite Wine Travel Event: This past June, I attended TasteCamp Maryland, exploring the food and drink or Maryland. TasteCamp is always one of my favorite events as a small group of wine writers get together to explore a wine region, though the event has expanded to include additional alcoholic beverages as well. Maryland was a compelling destination, with delicious and interesting wines and spirits, such as those of McClintock Distilling Co. and Tenth Ward Distilling Company. We were based in Frederick, which has some delicious restaurants, though we traveled a bit to various regions within Maryland. I very much look forward to the next TasteCamp, wherever it might be.

Favorite Wine Rant: My weekly Monday Rants cover a wide range of food and drink-related issues and my favorite one dealing with wine this year was Rant: Become A Wine Activist. It touched on an article written by Peter Weltman, which states "Wine transcends borders and bridges cultures, and it can be used to improve lives if we make the right purchases." Though wine is often seen as a mere luxury, its purchase can possess the power to help people as "Financial support of a country’s wines contributes to the well-being of regions, countries, and producers." I like how this article helps to elevate the status of wine, and how it can benefit people from all over the world. It is definitely an idea we all should embrace when engaged in wine buying.

What were some of your favorite wine-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

2017: Top Wines Over $50

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my third, and last, Top Wines List. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15 and Top Ten Wines Over $15. It is now time for my Top Wines Over $50. This isn't a Top Ten list as there aren't always sufficient wines at this price point that I've tasted and deemed worthy for inclusion. Like the prior lists, this list includes wines that not only did I enjoy, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) 2013 Katlav Cabernet Sauvignon ($70-$75)
From Israel, this wine, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, possessed an alluring aroma of black fruit and spice. It was a more elegant, complex and subtle wine, which might have needed a little time to open up. However, its potential was clear, with such a fascinating depth of flavor, smooth tannins, a beautiful melange of flavors, and such a lengthy and satisfying finish. This is not an over-the-top wine, but still shines forth and I would have loved to spend an evening with this wine.

2) 2006 Quinta Vale d. Maria Douro Red (about $70)
This intriguing Portuguese red wine is a field blend of 40 indigenous grapes, the vines averaging about 60 years. This wine is usually aged for 20-22 months in 65%-75% new French oak. The wine has an excellent aging potential, at least twenty years, and it could age even longer. This 2006 wine was complex and delicious, with notes of black cherry, blackberry, ripe plum, a hint of eucalyptus, and a strong, spicy backbone. The tannins were restrained, being a very elegant wine, with a long and luxurious finish. Throughly impressive, this is the type of "wow" wine which will make you savor each compelling sip. This wine would probably be best paired with food, especially beef, wild boar, game meats or other hearty dishes.

3) Quinta Vale d. Maria 2007 Vintage Port
From the same Portuguese winery, this Port is made from a field blend of more than 25 indigenous grapes, from vines aged 25-60 years old. The wines are aged in ancient (more than 100 years old) oak and chestnut wood Port casks, as well as small stainless steel vats, for about 18 months. The color of this Port was rich and dark, with alluring aromas which will seduce you into sampling it. This Port was excellent, delicious and complex, with a nice freshness to it and plenty of primary fruit flavors, both red and black fruits, from cherry to plum. It was powerful though not overwhelming, well balanced and fascinating. I would love to taste this again with much more age on it.

4) 2010 Chapel Down Three Graces ($50)
Sparkling wine from England? Yes and there are plenty of reasons why excellent bubbly is now being produced in that country. The 2010 Chapel Down Three Graces is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 7% Pinot Meunier. About 10% of this wine includes reserve wine from 2009, and there was a tiny bit of oak in that reserve wine. It was fermented in stainless steel, underwent 100% malolactic fermentation and spent about five years on the lees. It was disgorged a few months before release. With a 12% ABV, wine had a pleasing golden color, with lots of tiny bubbles as well as fruit notes on the nose with a touch of toast. It has a clean and crisp taste, with lots of freshness, and tasty apple flavors and hints of citrus, but with more brioche elements and a lengthy, pleasing finish. It is complex and elegant, delicious and intriguing.

5) 2007 Hugel Schoelhammer Riesling (about $140)
This famous Alsatian winery scored a major hit with this 100% Riesling, the first release which comes from the historic Schoelhammer vineyard. It took the winery 5-6 years to decide whether this wine should be bottled and sold or not. Then, it took another five years before they placed the wine on the market. It is a special, terroir-driven wine which should be able to age for one hundred years. This is an incredible wine, complex and beguiling, with sharp acidity, rich mineral notes, and some intriguing fruit flavors, including some green apple and lemon with a mild saline character. It is dry and full-bodied with a lingering finish that continues to please long after you swallow a sip. It is strong enough to stand up to pork but would be great with more subtle seafood as well.

6) 2009 Hugel Vendange Tardive Gewurtraminer (about $55)
Also from that same winery as the Riesling, this is a late harvest wine, produced from Gewurtraminer, from a great vintage. It's nose alone was complex and alluring, calling to you like a mythical Siren. It was certainly an impressive wine, lush and decadent, with a mild sweetness, balanced by its crisp acidity, and with a complex melange of concentrated flavors that will tantalize your palate. You'll find orange, apricot, cardamon spice, floral notes, herbal accents and much more. Try pairing this wine with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, the famed Spanish ham from the black-footed pigs.

Alsace and Portugal are tied for first place, each occupying two spots, while Israel and Great Britain each occupy one spit. Of these six wines, there is 1 Sparkling Wine, 1 White wine, 2 Red wines, 1 Fortified wine, and 1 Dessert wine. Three of the wines were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, an event where I often find a number of excellent wines.

Not all expensive wines are worth their high price but these wines well worth the splurge. These are the type of wines that words often cannot do justice. These are wines to experience and savor, not to dissect and analyze. These wines should be shared with others, with family and friends, to share the experience. With the holidays near, why not splurge and buy one of these wines.

If you have some of your own recommendations for unique and compelling wines over $50, please add them to the comments.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50)

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my second Top Ten Wine List. Last week, I posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, which I hope you enjoyed and found useful. Now it is time for my Top Ten Wines Over $15, though these wines also cost less than $50.

Like the prior list, this list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws. Please also note that this is technically a Top 12 list as three Sherries are tied at one spot.

1) Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20.00)
A Sparkling Muscadet? This was my first such wine and it won't be the last. Made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, this French wine is certified organic and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. Highly recommended!

2) 2016 Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce ($18.99)
This Italian Sparkling Lambrusco was produced from 100% Salamino di Santa Croce, from 40+ year old organic vines. The wine was a deep, almost purple color, with an alluring aroma of berries, violets, mild spices, and a hint of earthiness. On the palate, it has a creamy effervescence, with enticing, dry and juicy flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum, with an underlying earthiness and mild spice notes. The tannins are well-integrated, the acidity is strong, and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. It was easy drinking but with plenty of complexity, the type of addictive wine which you'll likely finish the entire bottle before you know it.

3) 2011 Artevani Qvevri Aged Rkatsiteli ($30-$35)
One of the top three wines I enjoyed at the Boston Wine Expo, this Georgian wine is impressive on many levels. Artevani is a family-owned winery, seeking to produce more natural wines, reflective of terroir, and combining ancient traditions with modern technology. This wine is made from 100% Rkatsiteli, from seventy-year old vines, and is fermented in qvevri for about 24 days and then aged in qvevri for another 8-12 months. With a rich amber color, the wine presented with a fascinating aroma, an alluring mix of herbs, spices, and dried fruits. On the palate, I found a complex and intriguing melange of flavors and it was actually difficult to describe everything happening in my mouth. It was full bodied, with nice acidity, and a lengthy and satisfying finish. This is the type of wine you slowly savor, enjoying the new and surprising flavors you encounter with each sip.

4) 2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino ($15.99)
This Spanish wine is made from 100% Palomino Fino, the grape usually used to produce Sherry, but the producer chose to make an unfortified version. The organically cultivated grapes are 20-25 years old. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, and then it is aged for about 6 months on the fine lees. With a 12% ABV, it has a nice golden color and the nose reminded me immediately of a Fino Sherry. On the palate, it also was reminiscent of Fino Sherry with a bright salinity, citrus flavors, a strong minerality backbone and savory notes. It was crisp and very dry, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It was fresh, elegant and complex, an intriguing wine that certainly shows the potential for Palomino Fino in unfortified, still wines.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz, California, produces a fascinating range of intriguing and delicious wines. Another of my top three wines from the Boston Wine Expo was their 2014 Clos de Gilroy “Cuvée Particuliere", which is produced mainly from Grenache with a little bit of Mourvedre. It was more of an Old-World style wine, with bright red fruit flavors, some peppery notes and a mild earthiness. It was complex and intriguing, an elegant and delicious wine that calls out for lamb or wild boar, or a hearty Italian ragu. The wine easily seduced my palate and it was hard to refrain from draining the bottle on my own.

6) 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre ($31)
Alex Russan, with his Alexander Jules Sherries, has been on these prior lists multiple times and this year he earns a spot for his non-Sherry wines. His Metrick Wines explore the different wine regions of California and the 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre is a blend of 85% Mourvedre, 5% Marsanne, 5% Counoise, and 5% Syrah. The wine was fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete. 95% of the juice was free run, and it was then aged for about 11 months in concrete. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. This wine was thoroughly impressive, a light bodied and savory elixir. A complex blend of herbs, olives and earthiness dominated the taste, with subtle hints of berry. It was so ethereal on the palate, with a compelling taste, including a lingering finish, which made me crave a second and third glass. I would pair this with an herbed, roast chicken or a mushroom risotto, or maybe a venison steak.

7) 2015 Alapiani Shavkapito ($25)
Another Georgian wine, I was thoroughly impressed with this wine produced from the indigenous Shavkapito grape which is even in Georgia. Its name means "vine with a black cane" and is said to be terroir-reflective. The grapes were sourced from a vineyard in the Okami village of the Shida Kartli region and the wine was fermented and aged in qvevri. With an alluring aroma of black fruit and herbs, the wine presented with a fascinating melange of flavors, including ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry, along with herbal accents, a smoky note, and a touch of spice. Lots of complexity, smooth tannins and a lengthy, pleasing finish.

8) 2016 1865 Pinot Noir ($18)
Finding excellent Pinot Noir for under $20 is difficult so I was extremely taken with this Chilean wine. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the El Platero Vineyard in the Valle Del Elqui, the wine was aged for about eight months in a combination of foudres, concrete eggs and barrels. With a 13.5% ABV, the wine has a light red color, and an alluring and complex nose of red fruits and touches of earth and spice. Those aromas will draw you in and you won't be disappointed once you taste it. The wine is elegant and light bodied, with a complex and fascinating melange of flavors, including bright red cherry, more subdued black cherry, subtle spice notes, and underlying hints of earthiness. There was excellent acidity, mineral notes, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It was well-balanced and compelling, reminding me in different ways to Burgundian Pinot as well as Oregonian Pinot, yet still with its own unique character.

9) 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton ($47)
I love Greek wines and this is a killer wine, compelling and delicious. It is a blend of three indigenous Greek grapes, including 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragano & 20% Mavroudi. This wine is fermented and aged in French oak, has a 14% ABV, and has an inky dark red color, with an alluring aroma of black fruit, mild spice, and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, the wine is muscular and big, though it is still elegant and the tannins are well restrained. There are complex & rich flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, and blackberry, enhanced by a spicy backbone, good acidity, and a hint of herbs. It is delicious and well-balanced, with a lengthy, pleasing finish. It would be great paired with hearty dishes, from a grilled steak to a leg of lamb.

10) 2016 Rară Neagră de Purcari ($22-$23)
Another tasty wine from Moldova, this Rară Neagră de Purcari was impressive, luring me in from my first sniff of its compelling aroma. The wine is made from 100% Rară Neagră, was fermented in stainless steel, aged in French oak barriques and has a 14% ABV. The aroma is very savory, with black fruit accents and subtle spicy notes. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with soft tannins and good acidity. It presents an intriguing melange of bold flavors, ripe black fruit, spicy notes, hints of vanilla, and an almost meaty undertone. A lengthy finish completes this well balanced and delicious wine.

This is always my toughest list to compile because there are numerous other excellent wines which I could have added. I had to ponder long over which wines to actually select for the main list, meaning that I had to eliminate other worthy wines. To give some credit to those other worthy wines, which almost made the Top Ten list, I have an Honorable Mention list. These are also wines you definitely should check out.

Honorable Mention

1) 2015 Metrick Chardonnay ($36)
This Metrick Chardonnay is made with grapes from the Sierra Madre Vineyard, planted in 1971 and sustainably farmed, in the Santa Maria AVA. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees, in stainless, for about 11 months. It underwent malolactic fermentation, allowing it to be bottled unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. I found this wine to be crisp and clean, with bright citrus notes and some minerality. There was some richness in the mouthfeel and it came across as elegant and delicious. I paired this wine with some stuffed clams and it was an excellent pairing. It was obvious that this Chardonnay would be perfect with seafood, from sushi to oysters.

2) 2015 Batono Qvevruli Tetri ($20)
This Georgian wine is an intriguing blend of three indigenous grapes, 40% Kisi, 40% Mtsvane and 20% Rkatsiteli. It was produced in both qvevri and oak, and was a fascinating and delicious wine with a unique melange of spice, dried fruit, herbal accents and a touch of eucalyptus. Each sip brought a new flavor combination to my palate and this is a very good value wine to savor and enjoy over time. This wine would work well with seafood dishes and roast chicken.

3) 2016 Alpha Estate Rosé ($19.99)
You should enjoy Rosé year-round and this Greek Rosé should please you. Made from 100% Xinomavro, it spent two months on the lees and has a 13% ABV. With a bright pink color, this wine has a delightful fruity nose and on the palate, it is crisp, dry and fruity, with tasty flavors of strawberry and cherry and subtle floral notes. It has a medium-body, with a lengthy, satisfying finish.  This would certainly be a food-versatile wine, from oysters to burgers, roasted chicken to pizza. Though sipping it on its own, while relaxing poolside, would be quite the pleasure as well.

4) 2013 Adega de Borba Reserve ($18-$19)
Another excellent value Portuguese wine, this is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet. The wine spent about 12 months in French oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. This is a delicious, complex wine and though it is also powerful in some respects, that power is restrained within a velvet glove, presenting a silky smooth taste. There are lush black fruit flavors, plenty of intriguing spice notes, and some exotic herbal accents. This is another wine which would benefit from pairing with meat dishes.

5) 2013 Vallegre Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial (about $21)
Another tasty Portuguese wine, this is an intriguing blend of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Tinta Francisca, from 60+ year old vines. It presents as deep and dark, complex and smooth, spicy and tannic. Concentrated flavors of Rich ripe plum and flavors, with hints of chocolate and leather. A well-balanced wine with plenty of acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish. So much going on in this wine, it is sure to impress.

6) 2015 Artevani Saperavi ($24)
The Georgian winery of Artevani also produced a compelling organic Saperavi, made from an old recipe and which sees no oak. With a dark red color, it presented with a fruity aroma, and a rich palate of red fruits with a hint of earthiness. It was smooth, with low tannins, good acidity, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. A wine that would pair well with plenty of different foods, from pizza to burgers.

7) 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos ($35)
Another fascinating Greek wine, the Biblia Chora Biblinos is made from 100% of an unknown grape that was discovered on the slopes of Mount Pangeon. DNA testing couldn't identify the grape but it was able to verify that it was vitis vinifera, of Greek origin. Essentially this is a lost grape, one whose origins could extend back to the ancient Greeks, and it might never be identified. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French oak for about 12 months. With a 14.5% ABV, the wine is inky dark in color with an interesting aroma of black fruit with some light floral notes, like wild violets. On the palate, there is an intriguing and complex melange of flavors, with ripe plum, blueberry and black cherry up front and leading to some spicy and savory notes, especially on the long and lingering finish. Good acidity, some rich voluptuousness up front, and well-integrated tannins. The savory aspect, hints of herbs and roast meat, was compelling and I was well enamored with this wine.

8) 2013 Ramat Negev Ramon Petit Verdot ($39.99)
This Israeli winery saw its origins back in 1997, with a desire to establish a winery that was based only on local produce. Their Petit Verdot, from a single vineyard, spent about 18 months in new French oak and then six months in the bottle. With a powerful spicy aroma, this wine is deep and dark but with restrained tannins. It possesses juicy blackberry and plum flavors with a touch of blueberry, a spicy aspect, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is a wine that is probably best paired with food and it should also impress many wine lovers.

9) 2015 Survivor Pinotage ($18-$20)
This South African wine is made from 100% Pinotage and it was aged in 95% French and 5% American oak for about 18 months. Pinotage can be a divisive grape but I've always been a fan, and this example was compelling. I found it to be smoky and spicy, with deep flavors of plum and black cherry, with hints of vanilla, spice and bacon. The tannins were well integrated, it had a lengthy finish, and would be an excellent accompaniment with lamb, steak, or other roasted meats.

10) 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30)
Pinot Noir is probably not something you think of much when you consider German wines but maybe you should based on this fine example. It has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs. With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening.


Summary

Eight countries made the list this year, as opposed to seven last year. Georgia and California occupy the most spots on my Top Ten list, each with two spots. The rest of the list is occupied by France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Greece, and Moldova. The list is also broken down into two Sparkling Wines, two White wines, one Rosé, & five Reds.

On the Honorable Mention list, seven countries made the list and Georgia, Greece and Portugal occupy the most places, each with two spots. The other regions include California, Israel, South Africa and Germany. The list is also broken down into two Whites, one Rosé, & seven Reds.

When you combine the two lists, Georgia is in first place with four spots while California and Greece are tied for second place with three spots each. Portugal has two spots while France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Moldova, Israel, South Africa and Germany all have only one spot. In addition, you'll find two Sparkling Wines, four White wines, two Rosé, & twelve Reds. Eight of the wines on these lists were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo.

I have plenty of other recommendations for wines at this price point on my blog. There are top notch wines from countries all over the world, made from an incredibly diverse selection of grapes and you can still find plenty of values too. My advice is that you seek out wines outside of your comfort zone. Explore the multitude of diversity in the wonderful world of wine. Taste and try anything new, unique or potentially interesting. I am sure your search will lead to new favorites.

If you have some of your own recommendations for wines that are over $15 but under $50, please add them to the comments.

Friday, December 8, 2017

2017: Top Ten Wines Under $15

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

As 2018 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2017 winds down, I'll be posting my annual series of Favorite Lists over the next few weeks, covering food, wine, sake and spirits. These lists should provide a comprehensive summary of my favorites from this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, the best of my recommendations.

My first Favorites List of 2017 is my Top Ten Wines Under $15. This list includes wines that not only did I enjoy, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) Cricova Crisecco Vin Spumant Alb Brut ($12-$14)
A Moldovan Sparkling wine! This wine is a blend of 90% Fetească Albă (an indigenous grape) and 10% Muscat, produced by the Charmat method (like most Italian Prosecco). At 12.5% ABV, this bubbly is aromatic, with a distinctive Muscat nose enhanced by some citrus notes. On the palate, it is dry, crisp and tasty, with flavors of apple, pear and subtle citrus. A very pleasant and easy-drinking Sparkling wine, this is also an excellent value and highly recommended.

2) Telavi Wine Cellar NV Marani Sparkling White Brut ($11)
Another excellent value Sparkling wine, this bubbly is from the country of Georgia, which has over 500 indigenous grapes. This bubbly is a blend of Rkatisteli, Mtsvane and Kisi (three indigenous grapes) and has a 12.5% ABV. It is dry and lightly effervescent, with bright peach, citrus and almond notes, and a hint of toast. A tasty and easy drinking bubbly, with plenty of complexity at this low price point.

3) 2015 Batono Chinuri ($12)
Another wine from Georgia, this white wine is produced from 100% Chinuri, another indigenous grape. I found this wine to be interesting and delicious, with notes of ripe pear and melon, accompanied by some intriguing herbal accents. It was easy drinking but with some complexity, good acidity, and a nice texture. An excellent value wine offering a fascinating taste profile at this price point.

4) 2015 Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Blanc ($12.99)
The French region of Alsace has long had a special place in my heart and this white wine is a fine example of some of the values found in this region. Produced from 100% Pinot Blanc, the wine sits on the lees for about 4 months, is then filtered, and sits in stainless steel for several months before bottling. With a light golden color, it has a delightful fruity aroma, and on the palate, there are bright notes of peach, citrus and lemon. It has a rich mouthfeel, with a nice crisp acidity, and a clean finish. It is an easy drinking, but not single-note, wine and a very good value at this price.

5) 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12)
Spain is another country which produces some excellent value wines, such as this one. From the Rias Baixas D.O., this wine is made from 100% Albariño, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point.

6) 2015 Hugel Gentil ($12)
Alsace offers another great value wine for this list. The Gentil is a blend of 50% Sylvaner & Pinot Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewurztraminer, 7% Riesling and 6% Muscat. I should note that the 2015 vintage was considered exceptional in Alsace. This is an excellent value white wine, with lots of character and complexity at this price point. From its aromatic nose to the delicious melange of flavors on the palate, this is a wine for everyday drinking, especially with food. There were tasty flavors of pear, lemon and melon, with a hint of spice, and plenty of crisp acidity. It was fresh with a pleasing finish and pairs well with seafood. 

7) 2014 Montes Clares Reserva Tinto ($13.99)
It's certainly no surprise that Portugal appears on this list, as it always does, because I believe they have some of the best values in the wine world. This red wine is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tinta Caiada, which was matured for about 12 months in new French and American oak and then 6 additional months in the bottle. With rich flavors of plum and blackberry, there was a strong spicy undertone with a subtle earthy element, especially on the finish. Tannins are manageable and it has a fairly lengthy finish, especially for such a value wine. Pair this wine with meat, from wild boar to steaks, though it would work with a juicy burger as well.

8) 2012 Costa Do Pombal Red ($8-$10)
Another Portuguese wine, this is an incredible value as you would be hard pressed to find a wine from another region priced under $10 that offers as much as this wine. This red wine is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Barroca which is a fruity and easy drinking wine, with low tannins, a hint of spice, and a pleasing finish. It is more than a one-note wine, possessing more character than most wines at this price point. Highly recommended.

9) 2015 Ruhlman Pinot Noir Cuvee Mosaique ($14.99)
About 90% of Alsatian wines are white, so it is more difficult to find their Pinot Noirs, but you should seek them out. This wine was absolutely delicious, an easy drinking Pinot with a nice melange of flavors. It is very light red in color as well light-bodied on your palate. It offers bright red fruit flavors, cherry and raspberry, a hint of an underlying earthy element, and a decently long finish. At this price point, this is one of the best value Pinots you'll find and highly recommended. I'd buy this by the case to enjoy on its own or with dishes from burgers to pasta.

10) 2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo ($11.99)
This Spanish wine is another killer value, made from 100% Garnacha and with a 13.5% ABV. It is fermented in stainless steel and then is aged for five months in new French oak barrels. It possesses a more subtle aroma on this wine, mild fruity notes with hints of spice. On the palate, the wine immediately impressed, presenting delicious black fruit flavors, enhanced with a touch of earthiness and spice, and there was even some minerality beneath it all. The tannins were well integrated, presenting a smooth and easy drinking wine, with a moderately lengthy and satisfying finish. You could easily enjoy this on its own, or accompanied with food, from pizza to ribs.

Five countries made the list this year, as opposed to six last year. Alsace took the lead with three spots on the list, with Georgia, Spain and Portugal each occupying two spots. Moldova occupied the last spot. Five of the wines on this list were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, an event where I often find a number of excellent value wines. There are no real surprises on this list, though I'll note you probably start seeing more Georgian wines on local shelves as more people find the treasures being produced in that country. Moldova is the newcomer to the list and I suspect you'll see more on these lists in the near future, if not on another list this year. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into 4 Whites, 4 Reds and 2 Sparkling. Last year, there weren't any Sparkling Wines on the list.

I have other recommendations for wines under $15 on my blog and you just have to search for them. You can find value wines all over the world, in every region, though some regions provide a greater range and diversity of value wines. It is important to remember that though wine stores sell plenty of wines in this price range, not all of them are of equal value. Wines in this price range do not have to be one-dimensional wines that all taste the same.

You can find wines of character and complexity, though you might need to spend a little more time seeking them out. Wine blogs can help you in that regard, pointing out wines that you might not otherwise know about. Tasting the wines before you buy them is another way to find such values. Or simply ask your trusted wine store staff for advice and suggestions. For more advice on finding value wines, please check out my prior article on the subject.

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $15, please add them to the comments.