Drinking inside the Box: Black Box Merlot

Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.
Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

When you are on a budget, as many people are these days, and you want a decent win for festive gatherings or proper hostess gifts. It’s time to let the Merlot out of the box. Yes, out of the box.

You see, Back Box Merlot arrived on the doorstep in little boxes that looked a bit like the juice boxes that often accompany my lunches to work. However, these were 500ml Tetra Paks, larger than a juice box and able to provide two large glasses or three “normal” glasses of wine.

So what did we do? Since it was now “wine time” we just had to try it.

The wine was definitely a Merlot enhanced with some Syrah, Petite Syrah and a touch of Sangiovese, and the four of us, Khadija, Karl, Beverly and I, were delighted by this unexpected treasure.

We found it to be a soft, easy-drinking, medium-bodied red wine, with rich aromas of plum and black cherry followed by some spice nuances, and a hint of cinnamon in the oak.

Khadija, fellow sommelier who works for Joe Canal’s in Marlton, said “It has a nose of cherries, cedar, spice and a hint of vanilla.” All four of us agreed about the delicious come hither “cinnamon-leather-oakiness” that made our mouths drool to try it.

The palate was rich and lavish with juicy fruit flavors of ripe plum, black currant and black cherries followed by some spiciness and chocolate notes. Khadija noted smoky vanilla and cinnamon, while Beverly noted a slight oakiness and strawberry flavors.

Karl, a romantic at heart, commented on the “subtle tannins that gave the wine its soft, velvety and voluptuous texture.”

It offered a long, warm finish tinged with sweet red currant and a lingering hint of chocolate. Simply put, you can’t go wrong with this easy-drinking red.

We all agreed that this would make an excellent “porch pounder” and holiday party wine, but it’s versatile enough to pair with almost any meal—poultry, red meat, pork, pastas or salads. It was delicious with our tasting platter of Gruyère, Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Muenster cheeses, proscuitto, salami, and mushrooms; and it would work well with a range of Italian dishes, savory roast chicken, steak in a red wine sauce or with casseroles. Speaking of sauces, this wine would make a rich base for red wine sauces.

Black Box Merlot’s tannin levels are mid-range and the flavors are fruit forward, which makes this wine a prime candidate for consumers just “getting into” red wines. It’s a good choice for an every day red to keep on hand for yourself or for company—planned or unexpected—it’s a party in a box.

As for the packaging, Black Box Tetra Paks are shatterproof, lightweight and portable so they’re great for taking anywhere—without having to worry about a corkscrew or broken glass around the pool, the beach or on the boat. The mini carton serving size is perfect for one or two.

In addition to the cute little Tetra Pak, Black Box wines come in a nice 3-liter sized box (equivalent to four 750ml bottles), perfect for standing neatly on the refrigerator shelf—no spillage can occur like it can with a corked bottle. besides, aving the box in your fridge makes it easier to pour that glass of wine while you’re in the kichen preparing dinner. In fact, it’s perfect for when you need to add wine to a recipe—it’s ready and waiting.

The best part of the big Black Box is that it stays fresh for about a month, so you don’t have to worry about opening a bottle for just one glass and having leftover wine (I know, who has leftover wine?)

Plus, the environmental benefit of this eco-friendly packaging is impressive: a 12-bottle case of wine weighs 40 pounds and holds 9 liters of wine, while a Tetra Pak case weighs 26 pounds and holds 12 liters of wine. This means packaging costs are reduced and more wine can be shipped while using less fossil fuel.

Besides Merlot, Black Box Wines also offers Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the 500ml Tetra Pak cartons. The wines are available here at the Shore for around $5 for the 500ml and around $25 for the 3-liter box at Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant. These budget-friendly boxes are definitely worth a try.

School Days: September’s Back to School Wines

Okay, the kids are back in school and the “Bennies” with packed SUVs are on their homeward migration paths which tells me that fall is on the horizon.  Soon, the leagues and business networking groups will be back in full swing, and the temperatures and leaves will both begin to drop­—telling me that it’s time to leave the light summer wines behind and head for something more “fall-ish”—in other words, red wine is back in style and on the table.

Fall reds are generally somewhat lighter as the weather is still a little too warm to enjoy the big hearty reds that are waiting in the wings. We want deeper hued wines, yet we want them to be more transitional to blend in with the change in diet and habit. For our salute to back-to-school month, you’ll see the wines have a theme—most have the word “School” in the title—and, because September has been designated as California Wine Month by no other than the Golden State’s esteemed governor, most of the wines hail from California.

Two popular reds that go right to the head of the class come from Liberty School. Liberty School wines are actually part of The Hope Family Wines portfolio. Located in Paso Robles in central California, the Hope Family has five separate and distinct brands: Liberty School, Treana, Candor, Troublemaker and Austin Hope; but they have been producing Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon since 1990.

Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, this medium-bodied red offers aromas of ripe red fruit, dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate and cassis with a touch of cedar that are followed by vibrant and rich currant, blackberry, and cherry flavors. Silky and supple  tannins lend excellent structure, while maintaining the soft approachability of a Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine has a ripe finish echoing flavors of bell pepper, with hints of ginger, oak, and vanilla throughout its long finish. At 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) it’s fruit-driven style lends ease to food-pairing as well as casual sipping; it’s an excellent choice for grilled, braised or roasted meats and semi-aged cheeses. (about $15)

Liberty School Cuvée 2009. This Central Coast Cuvée is a full, smooth, crisp Syrah-based Rhône blend of 85% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Viognier. Currants, cherries, raspberry, strawberry and smoke backed by floral notes greet you from this glass. With accents of smoke and pepper, this fruit-forward blend shows fine tannins—reminiscent of wines from the southern Rhône Valley. The predominant grape, Syrah, shows off jammy, strawberry and plum-like flavors. Cabernet Sauvignon adds leather notes and firm tannins. Petite Sirah adds deep color and provides structure. Not only does the Grenache soften the wine and add needed balance, it brings an element of spice to the blend. Viognier (yes, it is white) adds floral aromatics and a bit of roundness. This is one full-bodied, balanced, complex wine with a velvety mid-palate and an excellent finish.  (about $15)

If you’re in the mood for a good bottle of California Merlot, look no further than this Clarksburg find:
Tortoise Creek’s Schoolhouse Cuvée. This affordable red will have you smiling after one silky sip. Schoolhouse Cuvée is made with 100% Merlot sourced from a large single sustainably-farmed vineyard block in the newer Clarksburg AVA that sits within the larger Lodi AVA; and the name refers to the old schoolhouse built by Clarksburg’s Mokelumme settlers in 1859.

This balanced Merlot is full of fresh, bright aromas and flavors without resorting to over-extraction. The flavors are classic Merlot: jammy blackberry, black cherry, cassis, black olive, cafe au lait, mocha, bay leaf, blueberry, peppercorns, dill, and cola, laced with lead pencil, wood smoke, a touch of leather and stone notes. Like most Lodi wines, it is generous and graciously expands and softens as it breathes. There is a graceful balance of acids and soft tannins, a lovely smooth texture, and judicious use of oak. Try pairing this wine with grilled or smoked meats, burgers and pastas. (about $15)

School House Mescolanza 2007. This next red blend of  76% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah and 7% Carignane comes from the Spring Mountain District in Napa Valley. Mescolanza is a Spanish word for “medley.” and is a direct link to Napa Valley’s frontier days as a wine region. Produced from a one-acre parcel that represents the oldest vines on Spring Mountain—some of the vines are well over 100 years old—this wine is Zinfandel-based with Petite Sirah and Carignane lending support. It is a concentrated. elegant and spicy presentation of ripe red berries, sweet bramble berries, rhubarb and spice. It is a intense wine with balanced acidity, a firm tannic backbone and a lengthy delicious finish. This robust wine will make a perfect pairing with rich, well-flavored foods. Only 20 barrels were produced, so you may have to ask for this one. (about $46)

For Pinot Noir lovers, we have find for you! A wonderful, earthy and mushroomy classic French style Pinot Noir: School House Vineyard Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2008.

School House Pinot Noir has been  produced since 1957. Aromas of cherry with hints of tea leaf and oak waft from the glass. The wine enters your mouth softly, and develops full Pinot richness that lingers on your palate. Impressively flavorful with dried  cherries and plums, cherry compote, baking spice and green leaf, with notes of raisin, prune, herbs and a wonderful minerality braced by a moderately firm tannic backbone. The finish is unbelievably long finish. Only Eleven barrels of this delicious wine were produced. (about $90)

For those of you who are old school and prefer to drink French wines, here are two Old School wines from the South of France, the first is a rosé, a perfect seasonal transition wine and the second ia a Rhône-style blend.

Château Maris Old School Rosé Minervois-La Livinière 2011. Sourced from an Old School vineyard planted in 1959 in AOC Minervois, this Rosé de Presse is 100% Cinsault. There aren’t many rosés that come from certified biodynamic vineyards, and this is a beautifully delicious one. Old School Rosé is salmon in color but dry, crisp and refreshing. The wine offers an aromatic and lively bouquet of red currants, spiced cherries, salty minerality, and hints of rose petal. The flavors are straightforward rosé: berry, spice, strawberry, orange zest and candy followed by a round, harmonious and seamless palate.

It is Provençal in style, elegant and light with a medium-bodied texture, racy acidity, and a clean finish balanced with nice minerality and a touch of  orange zest. Cinsault lends itself particularly well to the production of rosé, and this version can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with a wide range of Mediterranean dishes. Only 488 cases were made. (about $16)

Old School Rouge AOP Minervois 2011. Old School Rouge is a blend of 90% certified organic young vine Syrah with 10% estate-grown certified biodynamic Grenache. Located in the Languedoc-Rousillon region of the Southern France, this estate is a stone’s throw away from the Mediterranean sea. Their slogan, “By any (natural) means necessary”reinforces the fact that the estate is committed to natural and sustainable practices in the vineyard, winemaking, and all aspects of operation—from working with plough horses, to a winery built to run with zero carbon emission, to bottles made of recycled glass and labelled with recycled paper.

Old School Rouge explodes with aromas of black plums, tar, pepper, mocha, tobacco and leather. Velvety and round in the mouth, it coats the palate with waves of blackberry, cassis and plum complemented by accents of herbs, black pepper, mushrooms, tobacco and licorice. Long and lingering, it finishes with earthy, plummy fruit, tobacco and herbal notes. This is the wine to pair with grilled eggplant, your first beef stew of the season, roast leg of lamb and hearty pâtés. (about $12)

At this point, you white wine lovers are probably asking, “What about white wine?”

Well, not to worry, Chardonnay is a great fall weather wine.

Liberty School Chardonnay. This Chardonnay is a blend of 94% Chardonnay and 6% Viognier from the cool Monterey and the warm Santa Barbara regions of California’s Central Coast. Fruit-driven in style, the wine offers aromas of crisp green apple and full citrus blossom. The flavors lean to fresh fruit — pears, red apples, quince, citrus, pineapple, caramel and honey. There is a subtle hint of toasted oak and vanilla on the rich md-palate that is balanced by a clean, crisp, flinty/mineral finish. Try pairing this with grilled crab, shrimp or white fish, pastas in olive oil, mild cheeses and fresh tart fruits—or even pears. This Chardonnay reminds you that a good Chardonnay is not a light, mindless wine. (about $14)
Another white I love this time of year is Chenin Blanc, the great grape of the French Loire Valley. Okay, I admit I love this wine any time of the year, but while it can make light, refreshing, summery wines, its best iterations have more body, either through bottle aging or aging in large wooden casks at the winery. My favorite Chenin comes from the Loire’s Savenièrres appellation, so in looking for a California Chenin Blanc I look for ones that try to capture the wonderful notes of apricots, peaches, lanolin, and beeswax prevalent in the French version.

Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009. This white is 100% Chenin Blanc and certified 100% organic.  Heller Estate Chenin Blanc  balances the grape’s rich, fruit-driven apricot nature with Carmel Valley’s mineral quality, crafting a wine that is at once bright and flavorful yet refreshingly dry and crisp. Fragrant floral aromas of pineapple, white peach, melon and citrus leap from the glass.  A few swirls reveal an underlying minerality, even some chalky notes, which are an ode to the variety’s Loire Valley roots. Rich and round, the wine is at once lovely, soft and flavorful. The palate expresses soft apple characteristics, zesty citrus, muted apricot and a wonderful sense of balance and freshness  followed by a crisp minerally finish. The well-balanced acidity and a crisp finish make this wine a perfect patio sipper as well as a perfect match for spicy dishes, grilled seafood, cheeses and fruit plates. (about $20)

The key to switching from summer white wines to fall wines is to look for wines that are a little richer, fuller and rounder than the wines you have been happily sipping this past summer. That means look for whites that have a touch of oak for falls cooler days and evenings and get ready to break out the red for the fall semester.

In the pink – Easter Rosé

This year, Rosés are hot and for this season of youth and renewal pink wines and sparklers set a mood of festiveness and joy. They also clear the palate and prepare it for the sensory experience to come.

Although most Rosés are dry, most folks shy away from  these pink or “blush” wines because they associate it with the sweeter incarnations of  white zinfandel.  There are variations of Rosé wines that have only a hint of sweetness to some that are very dry. To make certain your Rosé is dry, choose one with at least 12 percent alcohol.

Rosé wines are a great alternative to the various white and red wines and most often white and red wine drinkers can agree that  they have the light crispness of a white with the complex body of a red, without the tannins…and they are pretty.

Gruet Brut Sparkling Rosé, New Mexico, USA.
This brilliantly-hued pink is both fun and serious. It is creamy with a hint of strawberries in the aroma, but with the structure, acidity and a crisp finish that can stand up to most foods, especially Easter ham.

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto, Piedmont , Italy.
This is a unique vivacious and festive red sparkling wine that is delightfully sweet and subtle with the lush flavors of ripe raspberry and juicy strawberry.  Aromatic with a hint of rose petals and raspberries, it has a fruity character and gentle acidity that  extends across all  occasions and food pairings, from savory to sweet. On its own Rosa Regale is an elegant aperitif, it tempers the heat of spicy Asian and Latino fare, and  is an ideal foil to the piquant richness of goat cheese, especially in a spring mix salad with almonds and cranberries. Easter quiches, glazed hams, beets, vichyssoise, dark chocolate, pair enchantingly with Rosa Regale.

Etude Rosé of Pinot Noir, USA
This salmon pink Rosé  offers vibrant aromas of fresh raspberries, strawberries, red cherries and sweet blood oranges. Flavors of strawberry rhubarb and cherry persist on the palate and combine with a pleasing note of minerality. The perfectly-balanced acidity makes this wine a wonderful complement to many foods.

Mayne Sansac Rosé Bordeaux, France.
As with most Rosés from Bordeaux, this wine has has a central core of Merlot (80%), which contributes a rich fruitiness to the wine. Providing structure, the 20% Cabernet Sauvignon  exchanges its formidable tannin for a lovely fruitiness with a fine savory edge. This Rose makes a perfect alternative to red throughout the year, and when paired with the right food it absolutely comew alive. If you love the classic pairing of lamb and red Bordeaux, this  rose would be ideal for pairing for any lightened-up lamb dish or sautéed mushrooms.  This is a power Rosé.

Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, Argentina 2010.
This wine is a beautiful, deep, vibrant rosé color with a surprising amount of body. It exudes beautiful aromas of fresh, ripe wild strawberries with hints of spice. The fresh jammy flavors of strawberries and young cherries come rushing over your tongue, accompanied by spice notes and a clean, dry finish. This is the perfect chicken wine and a charming companion to mildly spicy Asian cuisine or  light snacks and cheeses.

Jaboulet Parallele 45 Rosé .
This fresh, dry French Rosé has plenty of power and balanced lip-smacking fruit characteristics. This is a charming blend of 50% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 10% Syrah full of floral and crushed red cherry aromas. It’s full-bodied, ripe, mineral-driven fruit on the palate, with tangy undertones and a note of white pepper.  The wine has acidity and tannins that are ripe but firm; this is no wimpy Rosé. The wine has an easygoing, uncomplicated nature that makes it pair well with a variety of dishes salads, quiche, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, and Asian cuisine.

Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé,  Rhône Valley, France.
A consistent and elegant Rosé that is balanced and fresh with an expressive nose of redcurrants, raspberries and citrus. This is a complex, perfumed wine that is dry yet flavorful  with spicy red fruits, white pepper and blood orange. It has a firm memorable finish it easily pairs with  Easter ham, roast chicken or vegetarian.

Don’t be afraid to drink pink this Easter, the Easter bunny will love you for it.

2011 the year of the comeback

What are the new trends for wine in 2011?

Well, let’s begin with the fact consumers are still looking for quality and are willing to pay for it, but value is more important. Many wine directors are heeding customer suggestions and are highlighting value rather than price on their lists.

So with this concern for value, what will we be hearing more about in 2011?

The next great frontier: Malbec.

Discovering value wines is always popular, this year look for robust wines from Chile, Argentina and even Uruguay—these wines are not only getting better, they’re getting cheaper. In fact some great “discoveries” are coming out of he foothills of Argentina’s Andes Mountains. Malbec is the new darling of the red set—some call it the new Cabernet. It’s soft and supple like Merlot, but with the bigger and more complex Cabernet taste profile. In fact, Malbec has a big, smoky, flavorful taste profile that Americans want, while delivering exceptional depth and structure . Plus, it offers huge value for the money. Think of it as a less expensive alternative to Cabernet Sauvigon, falling somewhere between a fruit-forward new-world wine and a classic, more structured old-world. Since a good California Cabernet Sauvignon under $40 is becoming harder to find,  an easy to find good Malbec under $20 can be just the ticket.

iPad Wine Lists will become more prevalent.

The latest “sommeliers toy” is an iPad wine list. Digital wine list tablets are adding a dynamic twist to learning about wine in a restaurant setting. It doesn’t totally replace the sommelier, but it makes selecting a bottle of wine more interesting than traditional paper wine lists. Plus, with the ability of the “wine tablet” to educate us about the wines on the wine list through a “SmartCellar” application, choosing a wine should become simpler.

South Africa—it’s not just Pinotage anymore.

This underappreciated region is seeing South African wines increasing in popularity. The lower prices on these wines are a good match for Americans’ thinner wallets, with most drinkers shopping for wines that cost less than $20 per bottle.  With the success of the world cup and a big marketing push by the wineries of South Africa, this region is on people’s minds a lot more.  Beautiful Bordeaux blends, big Shiraz, crisp Chenin Blanc (Stten) and unique Pinotage are appearing on wine shop racks more often.

Spain will continue to amaze us.

Spanish wines are still highly popular. Spain’s sizzling wine regions, are producing wines that are unique, and convey freshness and elegance. Spain has the largest number of old vines anywhere in the world and with new winemaking techniques, the chances are that you will find more than one perfect match. Spain seems to have managed to defy the value of the euro and send us luscious, well-priced wines. The bang for the buck is still there.

Crazy for Pinot Noir?               

Pinot Noir continues to be popular, but it no longer appears to be recession-proof. That simple fact alone, could be good news for Pinot lovers. Thanks to the Pinot Noir phenomenon, sparked by the movie Sideways several years ago, a lot of pinot was planted—not only in California, but in Oregon and New Zealand—and supplies may soon outstrip demand.  Pinot Noir’s oversaturation of the market  may have led the pendulum to swing the other way—a perfect scenario for lower prices.  While there may not be a collapse, there will be many more value-priced offerings coming to market.

“Boomer” Chardonnay.

If you want to date yourself, order Chardonnay. California Chardonnay is associated with baby boomers, so it has gained “a geezer image”. (Yep, baby boomers are becoming “geezers”, who’da thunk it?) Although Chardonnay continues to be this country’s top-selling varietal, this grand dame of white wines has lost it’s luster and sales have been dropping. There is still a core of loyal followers but, it’s not developing any new drinkers. Which is too bad, because California Chardonnays have become better, featuring less heavy oak and more complexity and style, making ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) a phrase of the past. Chardonnay producers are taking the cue, finally moving to un-oaked Chardonnays emphasizing fruit flavors and toning down oak and buttery notes. Restrained and elegant examples that are the perfect balance of oak, fruit and quaffabilty have stepped forward. Thankfully, those blousy over-oaked California fruit bombs are now few and far between.

Riesling reigns

In the world of white, Riesling is the undisputed darling du jour. People are getting away from Chardonnay, and Riesling gives people the flavors they want in a diversity of styles. It’s the fastest growing white wine, and in the wine-growing region where it thrives—Germany, Australia, New Zealand, California, Oregon and Washington State—demand outstrips supply.  The shift away from oak flavors to aromatic wines with higher acidity and the “talk dry, drink sweet” phenomenon (by which consumers profess an affinity for dry wines when in reality they prefer higher sugar content), has opened the door for Riesling. This versatile wine can be dry or sweet and it’s food friendly or great all by itself.  Riesling is particularly appealing thanks to the explosion of Asian and spicy cuisines that work so well with the grape.

Pink: Here-to-stay Rosés

Rosé wines have been on fire for the past five years. As Americans finally understand that all pink wines aren’t sweet, dry rosé consumption is growing and is no longer confined to the most sophisticated. Most of the Rosé table wines are French, but you can also find high-quality Spanish, Italian, New Zealand and even American Rosés. Rose wine is no longer just a summer wine, but a must have regardless of occasion.

Dessert wines are making a comeback. 

Yes, that’s right, dessert wines, always a hard sell in America, are coming back on the scene. These sweet, Port-style syrups are dark, fortified and more versatile than you might think. With giant bouquets and fruit on the nose, many dessert wines today have a zingy freshness that pairs well not only with desserts like chocolate cake, but also with cheese dishes, gourmet pizza, savory dishes, and even Swedish meatballs.

Green is the new black!

New sustainable practices have made your glass of vino even more guilt-free, and in 2011 conscious farming will flourish. In every facet of life, people are turning towards healthier foods and more sustainable choices. The demand for organic products continues to grow as more and more people are paying attention to the quality and ingredients of their food and beverage items. Expect to see new organic selections at your supermarket and liquor store shelves, as well as more organic cocktails on menus at bars and restaurants.

Think global – act local.

Another huge trend is locally produced wine, and in particular urban wineries, which go beyond the tasting room to include in-house grape processing as well. A weekend in Napa is nice, but when you can’t make a trip out to Napa wine country, then indulge in a trip to a local winery. New Jersey has 37 local wineries all within a short drive away, perfect for a weekend outing, or find the local vineyard wines in your local wine shop.

Dinner at 8 — wine dinners are in vogue.

This supposedly will be the comeback year for the wine dinner.  The art of food and wine pairing is too good to be left out.  Education is the best friend of the wine dinner and it makes for an entertaining evening with good friends.

There you have it a concern for price and great priced and value wine from Spain, South America and South Africa which are perfect for your stay-at-home wine dinner with friends. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are getting competition from Riesling and Malbec, and more people will be be drinking Rosé and seeking dessert wines instead of cheese cake. Pinot will continue to hold its own and we’ll be looking for more organic and sustainable wnes on that iPad wine list.

Just don’t forget to invite me to your wine dinner! Cheers!

The Twelve Reds of Christmas

Or, a dozen of the 2010 Top Wines

Every year the Wine Spectator publishes their “Top 100” wines and folks go rushing to find these wines to try only to discover the vintage listed in the Spectator is long gone and the price listed is nowhere near the price on the store shelf. It’s a conundrum.

These poor wine drinkers sometimes think retailers are holding back or marking them up because of the great rating. In reality, the rating has created a larger demand for a finite supply of wine. What little remains of the highly rated vintage, becomes pricier and the new vintage can command the new higher price too.

Another issue the readers often complain about is that the price listed in the magazine isn’t the same as what they find on store shelves. If it doesn’t accurately reflect your region it’s because the price listed is an average of the price of the wine worldwide.

Many think that only high priced wines appear on the list. Not true. This year, five of the wines are over $100 and there is only one over $500  (Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin Grande Cuvée 2007). But 69 of the 2010 Top 100 are under $50 and of those, 45 are in the $10 – $28 range.

Happily, many of my favorites are listed. Since anyone can love an expensive wine, I decided to select some favorite reds from the list that are definitely affordable and always consistent from vintage to vintage. Not only do they taste great, they make great gift ideas. These reds definitely look sexy in a glass.

Here are a few particularly good buys offering consistency, so you don’t need to worry if you find the “correct vintag” on the shelf.

The Basic: Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir lovers will find Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2008 fragrant with ripe raspberry and holiday spice. At 94  points, this ruby-hued pinot noir is ranked  6th  and it’s bursting with Russian River Valley character. It’s firmly structured, silky and hosts a plethora of Bing cherry and blackberry flavors spiked with hints of Darjeeling tea and cardamom. There is a subtle earthiness and balanced acidity that punctuates a lengthy finish. (About $45)

At nearly half the price of Paul Hobbs, and ranking 75th, A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2008 is a deeply colored ruby with aromas of minerals, red and black cherries, and spice. Rated 90 points, this  wine shows rich, red cherry and blue berried fruits, dark spice and dusty tannins. (About $22)

Sideways Anyone?
Merlot may have gotten a bad rap in that “Sideways” movie, but many still name this varietal as their favorite. We offer two from the great Northwest that you should definitely consider for holiday drinking. The first is number 43, Columbia Crest Merlot from Horse Heaven Hills H3 2007. This 91-point Merlot blend ( 92% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc) entices the nose with aromas of blueberry, cassis, hints of tobacco and spice aromas. The silky and sweet mid-palate has a slightly dusty, earthy component compounded by rich berry notes cumulating in a long and delicious finish. (About $15)

Following closely behind at number 46 and 92 points, is the Waterbrook Merlot Columbia Valley Reserve 2007. Here you will find aromas of brandied black cherries, mint, tar and charcoal on the nose. Smoky and dusty notes are followed by black walnut with a hint of molasses and lingering oak on the finish. (About $22)

Que Syrah, Shiraz
Bigger, bolder and more intense, this next wine is California Syrah at it’s best. Ranked 17th, the 95-point Tensley Syrah Santa Barbara County Colson Canyon Vineyard 2008 has bright raspberry nuances. We love the pepper, smoke, coffee, chocolate, and  sweet vanilla flavors that bring us to the fabulous finish. This is a BIG, balanced, approachable Syrah that will age gracefully over the next 8 to 10 years. (About $38)

At around $15, number 92 is De Martino Syrah Choapa Valley Legado Reserva 2007. This South American gem offers up fresh aromas of red fruit with hints of chocolate and a rich, velvety mouth-feel. The velvety texture is balanced  with hints of pepper and  persistent mineral notes. This 90-pointer makes for a great food wine accompanying everything from burgers and pizza to steak and lasagna.

When in Doubt, Go with a Red Blend
Whenever you’re in doubt about your gift recipient’s favorite varietal, go with a blend. Blends are great, there is usually at least one grape your “giftee” will love. My first find is a Portuguese wine ranked in 9th place: CARM Douro Reserva 2007.  CARM stands for Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira. A blend of a few indigenous grapes (50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, and 25% Touriga Franca), this is an elegant and powerful red, with intense aromas and flavors of red berry, smoke, raspberry and spice leading to a rich finish of crushed red fruits an fig. It seems very Burgundian in style with its structured well-integrated tannins. This 94-point wine should cellar well through 2017. (About $25)

Number 77 is a 90-point red from Australia: Peter Lehmann’s Clancy’s Barossa 2007. This red begins with Shiraz blended  to it is 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. This robust full-bodied wine shows delicious velvet fruits of dark plum and berry. Licorice, smoke and herb flavors follow through to the lingering finish. It reminds me of a black forest chocolate cake. It is a soft, approachable and enjoyable wine. (About $16)

Our third red blend is ranked 63 and is d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Red South Australia 2008. The name ‘Stump Jump’ refers to the Stump Jump plough, a South Australian invention with the ability to ride over stumps and gnarled roots. Like the plough, this light and fragrant 90-point Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvèdre blend just jumps with flavor. There are ripe juicy fresh red berries, mulberry, fresh plum mixed with dark cherry, rhubarb, and a hint of pomegranate. Then there is the subtle layer of spice—cardamon, star anise, and cinnamon—adding complexity and interest. There are refined tannins and a nice lingering finish. This wine retails for about $11 yet we’ve seen this as low as $7.99. It’s definitely a great buy!

The Foodies: Italian Wines
Italian wine lovers will love number 25. The  96-point Ruffino Toscana Modus 2007 from the Chianti hills blends Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the Sangiovese base. This is a solidly structured wine with typical cherry and red berry aromas. Complex and smooth, the wine is enriched by delicate notes of mint and small black berry fruits from the Merlot; the austerity, herbaceousness and elegance comes from the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon. Delicious with meals it makes an excellent gift. (About $35)

One of my all-time favorites and consistently rated above 90 points every year, is number 65: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Chianti Rufina Castello di Nipozzano Riserva 2007. This clean and racy mouthful shows the bright fruit flavors of sweet blueberry, cherry, and hints of  violet and lilac, all supported by a firm minerality. This is a full-bodied wine with fine tannins and vanilla in the lingering finish. (About $24).

A Go-to Wine
Number 44 is a great go-to wine, Bodegas LAN Rioja Crianza 2006 from the heart of Spain. This bright, zesty Tempranillo is a brilliant cherry red sporting  scents of crushed rose petals and frisky cherry tomato. The tannins are light, with a gravelly feel. This is a versatile red perfect for drinking by the glass or pairing with practically anything. This wine is consistently rated around 90 points  and makes and excellent hostess gift. (About  $12)

The twelve reds for Christmas, all perfect for gift giving and drinking. Happy Holidays!

Wine I Like It Blind Tasting – November 2010

The latest Wine I Like It blind wine tasting was an eye-opener for many of the tasters. None of them were prepared to discover these wines each had an average price point of $12 and were wines most of them knew, had previously tried, or had once considered as a favorite wine. The ten wines hailed from eight different wine regions.

This tasting group seriously set about tasting and providing feedback.  Most tried guessing the varietals and a few tried guessing both the varietal and region. One taster correctly identified each varietal and region of all ten wines and named the producer on three. Two correctly identified seven of the ten wines and the remaining tasters each averaged five correct indentifications.

The fifth wine tasted was correctly determined by all to be Chardonnay, with one taster correctly identifying the region. Another interesting note about the tasting: wines number one and two were only one point apart, and wines three, four, and five were each separated by two points. This was the highest rated and closest point grouping to date.

So what were the top five wines from this selection?

Well, number one was the last wine tasted: [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a multi-regional blend from Coonawarra, Wrattonbully & Padthaway, Australia. Full-bodied, structured, complex, and elegant, it had aromas of ripe, black cherries, blackberries, mint, oak, and velvety smooth tannins.

Overall our tasters commented on the “smoothness and lack of harsh tannins”. Some comments included:  “very smooth cab”; “a drinkable red, touch of sweetness at end”; “good flavor, smooth, yet has nice body to it”;  “very yum”;  “great nose, nice color, nice finish, tastes great!” and  “Love it!”

Our tasters were surprised to see that this was [yellow tail] Reserve Cabernet and that it retailed for around $13 not the $18+ they had guessed.

Number two was [yellow tail] Reserve Chardonnay. This wine was correctly identified by everyone and one person correctly identified it as [yellow tail] Chardonnay from Australia. Gasps of “Yellow Tail? You’re kidding!” were heard at the reveal.  Tasting it blind, they had been able to concentrate on the full-bodied wine’s melon, peach, tropical fruit rather than brand name. All of the tasters commented on the fresh palate and powerful fruit.

Some of the written comments were: “a little sweet, but good”; “dry, smooth, great dinner wine”;  “a hint of oak/butter in the finish”; “It’s oaky—Chardonnay. Not sure where it’s from”; “powerful, tropical fruit”; “oaky”: “ It’s my favorite white so far.”; “ Loving these wines”; “tend not to like Chardonnay, but would drink this again”; “hint of citrus oak flavor comes through” and “nice bouquet and great flavor”.

The tasters said they would pay up to $16.80 for it. The actual price point is around $12. Both top wine’s alcohol level hovered around 13.5%.

Number three was Ramon Bilbao Crianza Tempranillo from Spain. This medium-bodied wine was a bright, deep, cherry-red with intense aromas of ripe black berries, savory hints of balsam and licorice. It was fresh, well-structured and textured with smoky cedar, spice box, leather, violets, and blackberry nuances.

All of the tasters commented on the intriguing earth, smoky aromas and the lenghty, peppery finish. A few noted a bitter edge to the cherry flavors. Overall, the wine was well received and comments included: “Nice nose, deep color, very nice”; “smooth, mellow, love it!”; “ Great flavor and body, dry finish, like this a lot”;  “definitely yummy. Strong finish”; “My favorite so far”; “ love the flavor”;  “smooth cherries”, and  “not sure of what this is, but would drink again.” All wanted to know where this wine could be purchased and the average estimate for this $12 wine was $16.50

The first wine of the evening  [yellow tail] Bubbles ranked at number four. The first thing the group noticed was the stopper or “zork”—a reusable sparkling wine stopper that the user presses down firmly to seal, and then pulls the side clasps down until a click is heard—they were intrigued. Made using the Charmat process (Tank Fermentation),  Bubbles was delightfully fresh and fruity. Flavors of tropical fruits and a medium sweetness led to a delightful, crisp finish.

Some of the group thought it was  a $14 Cava. The sparkling wine lovers  thought this was “a delicious, fun sparkler”. One stated it was “too fruity for my taste”, but most agreed that it was a “good, general occasion bubbly”. Other comments included:  “good flavor, but a twiggy after taste”; “sparkling wines are my favorite.”; “Refreshing lemon-lime, yummy and light”; “nice amount of bubbles”; “love the apricot and peach flavors’; and the final comment “It’s sparkling, it’s white, what’s not to like?” They especially liked the $9 price tag.

Rounding out the top five was Hob Nob Merlot, a red from France made in a “New World” style.  The group picked up on the black-currant, plum, and blackberry aromas and flavors. Most of the group commented that it was “Full-bodied with a nice soft, dry finish”. One commented “This is interesting. I like the smooth, deep flavors would pay $15.” Written comments included:  “nice tannic finish and the best so far”; and  “tastes like rasins, but I think it’s merlot— nice chocolate undertones.” Most  agreed they would buy it again and they would pay around $15.50 for it. They were delighted to discover it was an $11 wine.

This tasting offered several surprises, instead of tasting something new and different, they were  reintroduced to some old favorites and great values.

The next wine I Like It tasting will be held at Branches Catering on January 25, 2011.

Most of these wines can be found at local retailers, including: Gerards Wine & Spirits in Point Pleasant, Wine King of Wall, Spirit of 76 in Manasquan and Monmouth Bottle Shop in Oakhurst.

Fall’s top ten wines

Fall has arrived! There’s a nip in the air, and that means it’s time to shift our focus toward the fall, cooler days, cooler nights and red wine.

My light and bright summer whites are making room for my richer and more full-bodied wines—both white and red. It’s time to head down to the wine cellar to begin the transition to medium-bodied wines, ones that work well with autumn’s erratic temperatures and seasonal foods. This month we share ten easy drinking favorites that pair beautifully with fall menus. All were selected because we love them, not according to price so you will find an organic Argentine Malbec that retails $10 or less to a $50+ (gasp!) Chardonnay.

My first selection is reltively inexpensive, Cantele’s Salice Salentino Riserva—an easy drinking red blend of  Negroamaro (85%) and Malvasia Nera (15%) from Puglia, Italy. Ripe fruit and a firm sense of structure come together beautifully in this expressive, mid-weight red. This wine  possesses textbook aromas sweet, perfumed herbs and black cherries. The flavors are dense wild cherries, sweet herbs, licorice and new saddle leather. The wine seems to gain depth with air, melding vibrant tones of spice and fruity richness with vibrant acidity and a long, finessed finish. This generous, inviting wine offers incredible quality for the money, not to mention plain deliciousness. A good tailgating wine, it’s perfect to drink with almost anything from pizza to stew to steak!

Next on our list is Poggio del Sasso from Cantina di Montalcino, a small 250-member cooperative in Tuscany. Poggio del Sasso is a new-age style Sangiovese—young and lush with rich cherry and berry-like fruit. Clear and ruby red in color, this well-structured wine shows cherries and plums, followed by spicy vanilla and clove aromas. It’s lively and fresh with soft, rounded tannins. The fine intensity and long finish make it a perfect pairing for so many dishes—chicken, red meat, lamb, pork, pastas, stews or well-aged cheeses.

What’s fall without harvest soups and stews? What’s a stew without a Burgundy?

Domaine Jacques Prieur Chambertin Grand Cru 2007. This is a medium red and is, as are all red Burgundies, made from 100% Pinot Noir. Complex aromas of raspberry, red licorice, earth and smoked meat presage a stewed-fruit palate that’s rich and creamy. Pungent earth tones and a wonderfully enveloping texture enhances the suave, ripe tannins. It’s perfect for all things Burgundian: Bourguignon, duck with raspberries, salmon Dijon, beef stroganoff, or anything in a creamy mushroom sauce.

El Coto de Rioja Crianza from Spain  is a perfect addition to fall. This Crianza is the classic Rioja marriage of wine and wood. Made from 100% Tempranillo from Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja, this sleek red is created in a modern-style, with intense red fruit that combines the fresh, crushed strawberry and red cherry flavors typical of Tempranillo with expressive hints of vanilla and oak. It’s spicy, with gentle tannins and bright acidity, offering a rich, ripe finish. This style of wine just calls out for hearty beef—covered with black pepper, grilled or braised. Paired with “game birds”, paella, Parmigiano Reggiano or asiago chese it’s spectacular, but it’s also an easy drinking wine to to pair with a “the works” pizza and football on the side.

Cuma Malbec, a certified organic wine produced by Michel Torino Estate in Cafayate Valley, Argentina was hidden in the southern hemisphere section of the cellar. Cuma means “pure and clear” in Aymará, the language of a tribe who once inhabited the region. This lively red-violet wine exhibits opulent aromas of bright cherry and plum jam, with raisin, vanilla and rosemary notes. There is plenty of ripe fruit, date-raisin flavors, and soft, sweet tannins. There’s a trace of nuts and spice on the long finish. This is the red wine lover’s wine to pair with chicken—barbecued, baked, broiled, roasted, or sauced like Chicken Cacciatore. A perfect party or get-together red, it also pairs well with pork, sausages, hard and semi-hard cheeses, calzone, burgers, cheesesteaks, cold cuts, and lasagna. Pastas with meat, vegetable, tomato, pesto or marinara sauces love this wine.  This should become a staple in your wine collection as it is in mine.

Pumphouse Shiraz 2007 hails from Backsberg Estate in Paarl, South Africa. This Malbec (12%) and Shiraz (88%)  blend is a bold, full-bodied Shiraz.  It’s distinctive with roasted mesquite flavorings, and lots of mouth-watering black cherry, raspberry, blackberry, and black currant fruit blending with anise, vanilla, and a graphite notes. The long, smoky finish lets an espresso hint linger, allowing the wine to pair very well with dark chocolate. For more substantial pairings, steak, lamb, venison, or chili make for a nice meal. For snacking, cheesy dishes, Parmesan, asiago, Gorgonzola or blue cheese with prosciutto are magically delicious with this wine.

Bell Winery Estate’s  Big Guy, Red Wine, California, 2007 is a blend of California appellations using Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec) blended with Syrah (a Rhône varietal). Big Guy  displays lively fruit aromas and flavors. Enjoyable while young, the tannin structures will allow the wine to develop gracefully for several years. It’s delicious easy to drink and can hold its own with bleu cheese and filet mignon.

One Napa Valley favorite to pair with nearly everything is Summers Charbono Napa 2007. There is a real juiciness in this dark purple, almost black wine. The rich, ripe berry and plum flavors are combined with a pleasant minerally earthiness. This wine is big with high acid and soft and fleshy tannins. This is what makes the wine so drinkable and so easy to pair with food. When in doubt, pull out a Summers Charbono, it serves well alongside fattier proteins like  “wild game”. For vegetarians the earthy flavors found in fennel, spinach, and mushrooms make for a pleasant pairing. Lovers of Italian comfort food, this wine pairs marvelously with hearty lasagna.

Even though it’s the start of the red wine season, we still need to keep a few whites with “old world” richness to pair with our cooler weather menus.

Hugel Pinot Gris 2006 is a rich, yet bone-dry wine that is savory and creamy on the palate and has generous acidity to balance its fullness. The aromas are fresh floral and spice with a bit of earth.  There are apple-pie and lemon curd notes, sidling up to aromas of pear, jasmine, lime blossoms and smoky hints of moss, fern, and mushrooms. Full-bodied, balanced, and nicely structured, its a vivid, fruit-driven wine with delicious acidity.  The lively, juicy fruit flavors offer a hint of sweetness. Ripe pears orbit around citrus and peach notes that make for solid pairing potential with seafood, poultry, veal, or mushroom risotto. The wine’s cinnamon and cardamom notes will bring out the savory side of autumn pumpkins and apples.

Nothing says fall like a good white burgundy. Even the “anything-but-chardonnay” types will find Olivier Leflaive Meursault Premier Cru Charmes 2006 something special. Yes it’s pricey, but for a special meal, Meursault is a delight.  It is a rich, round, elegant and powerful wine, with a ripe nose of white flowers, peach, pear and apricot. There is a hint of brioche that serves as a refined introduction to the clean, crisp and naturally pure sweet flavors that this generous medium-bodied wine offers.  The excellent vibrancy and a silky texture displays plenty of citrus-like acidity and finesse. This is  a perfect accompaniment to calf’s sweetbread (yes, liver), lobster or cream dishes, and can be served with all kind of cheeses, fish, poultry and any white meat with cream. This is a charming, enjoyable wine that’s definitely worth the price.

Our final wine is a sparkling or “frizzante” wine from Piedmonte, Italy— Marenco’s Pineto Brachetto d’Acqui. Made from 100% Brachetto, is a  medium-bodied, reddish-pink wine offering a trace of sweetness  making it perfect for toasts, desserts or as an aperitif. Brachetto has wonderful aromas of black raspberry and black cherry with notes of tar, clove, rose, and violets. It is a cheerful treat; mild, soft and delicate on the palate. Combine the moderate alcohol (5.5%) along with the fresh, fruity, floral aromas and you have a wine that is perfect with fresh fruit, sweets, fruit cakes, or chocolate as an after-dinner treat.

Do yourself a favor give some of these a try.

The Joy of BYOB

This month we explore the joys of BYOB. BYOB is  most commonly meant to stand for “bring your own bottle”.  It is generally recognized that the more modern usage of the term was initiated by drinkers in the 1950s, but in the early 19th century, the term BYOB was used in society slang to mean “bring your own basket”, with reference to group picnics. A basket would of course often include alcoholic beverages, but this is not believed to have been the primary focus of the term. Later, “BYO” (Bring Your Own) emerged to allow guests to bring their own bottle or bottles of wine.

Here on the Jersey Shore Bring Your Own Bottle restaurants represent an incredible windfall to the conscientious diner. Many are exceptionally fine dining establishments to which you may tote along an exceptional vintage of your own choosing and match it up with superior cuisine. This gives us the best of both worlds fine dining and favorite perfectly matched wines.

If you are a relative newcomer to the world of wine, a visit to a BYOB restaurant could seem to you to be a major inconvenience. Not only does it necessitate a trip to your local wine shop, and the time and trouble spent scouring the shelves for what you hope is an appropriate vintage; it also represents the mental anguish of wondering whether your selection(s) will ultimately be considered beneath contempt by some restaurant lackey. But as you become more adept at deciphering oenological esoterica and, perhaps, even begin to lay away a few bottles in that unused hall closet or cellar, your fears will undoubtedly dissipate. In the meantime, console yourself with the fact that you are saving your hard earned dollars by frequenting a bring your own restaurant.

There is only one rule of thumb to consider: Choose a wine that will be compliment both your food and your surroundings. Fine restaurants call for equally fine wines or, more simply put just bring a good wine.

The rules for wine pairing have relaxed a bit, but the fact remains that certain flavors of food and wine mix better together than others. When pairing food and wine, the goal is synergy and balance. While it isn’t unheard of to have a white wine with meat or a red wine with fish or seafood, you don’t want to serve a very strong tasting wine with a delicate entree (think Cabernet Sauvignon with sole), or the other way around. The wine and the food should complement each other, not battle against each other. One way to decide is to remember what some experts recommend, “Simple wines with complex foods…complex wines with simple foods.”

When in doubt about your menu choices, bring  two bottles, one white and one red. This is particularly important when you’re not quite sure where your taste buds may lead, or when you’re dining at an exceptionally fine restaurant. When you tote along two bottles you are not only increasing the spectrum of gastronomic possibilities, you are also serving notice that you take both food and wine seriously. Like it or not, whether purchased on site or ferried across the threshold, wine makes a statement, a statement that restauranteurs are quick to pick up.

I often bring two of the bottle I plan on drinking with my meal. No, not because I plan on drinking more, but in case the first bottle opened is tainted in some way, corked, oxidized or displays some other fault. There’s nothing worse than having only one bottle and discovering it’s gone off.  Of course a stelvin enclosure (screw cap) or zork top will greatly decrease the odds of a bad bottle. (Yes, good quality wines can be found in these easier to open bottles) .

BYO is not only affordable, it’s also a guarantee that you’ll get to drink your very favorite wine or beer, no matter where you are.

Above all don’t stress over the perfect food and wine pairing. The best pairing is good food, good wine and good company. Friends and loved ones are the most important ingredients—we’ll drink to that!

Simple Rules for Pairing wines with your meal

  • Wine drunk by itself tastes different than wine with food, because wine acts on food similar to the way a spice does. Acids, tannins and sugars in the wine interact with the food to provide different taste sensations.
  • A good match will bring out the nuances and enhance the flavors and unique characteristics of both the food and the wine. Remember that if you are having more than one wine at a meal, it’s customary to serve lighter wines before full-bodied ones. Dry wines should be served before sweet wines unless a sweet flavored dish is served early in the meal. In that case, match the sweet dish with a similarly sweet wine. Lower alcohol wines should be served before higher alcohol wines.
  • Balance flavor intensity. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter food and fuller-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful, richer and fattier dishes.
  • Consider how the food is prepared. Delicately flavored foods — poached or steamed — pair best with delicate wines. It’s easier to pair wines with more flavorfully prepared food — braised, grilled, roasted or sautéed. Pair the wine with the sauce, seasoning or dominant flavor of the dish.
  • Match flavors. An earthy Pinot Noir goes well with mushroom soup and the grapefruit/citrus taste of Sauvignon Blancs goes with fish for the same reasons that lemon does.
  • Balance sweetness. But, beware of pairing a wine with food that is sweeter than the wine, although I do occasionally like dark chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon. I also like chocolate with a beautiful single malt. Come to think of it, I like chocolate with just about anything.
  • Consider pairing opposites. Very hot or spicy foods — some Thai dishes, or hot curries for example — often work best with sweet desert wines like sauternes, or reislings or torrontes from argentina. Opposing flavors can play off each other, creating new flavor sensations and cleansing the palate.
  • Match by geographic location. Regional foods and wines such as French fare with French wine, Spanish food with Spanish wine, having developed together over time, often have a natural affinity for one another.
  • Adjust food flavor to better pair with the wine. Sweetness in a dish will increase the awareness of bitterness and astringency in wine, making it appear drier, stronger and less fruity. High amounts of acidity in food will decrease awareness of sourness in wine and making it taste richer and mellower — sweet wine will taste sweeter. Bitter flavors in food increase the perception of bitter, tannic elements in wine. Sourness and salt in food suppress bitter taste in wine. Salt in food can tone down the bitterness and astringency of wine and may make sweet wines taste sweeter.
  • If a dish is acidic — citrus or vinegar — then an acidic wine would be appropriate, although a lightly acidic dish can be balanced with a lightly sweet wine. Acidic white wines are Sauvignon Blanc and most sparkling wines. Acidity in wine cuts saltiness, so sparkling wines generally pair with salty foods better than less tart wines such as most red wines.
  • Tannins from the skins and sometimes stems of grapes and the oak barrels used for aging cause the bitter or astringent aftertaste in some red wines. Tannins mellow with age and are one of the components that add complexity to a mature wine. Foods with a prominent salty, sour or bitter taste will make a wine seem sweeter and less tannic. Bitter red wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel and Syrah.
  • Alcohol gives wine a sense of body and weight, the higher the alcohol, the more full-bodied the wine. Rich meat, fish or chicken dishes that include cream are well suited to full-bodied wines (13–15 percent alcohol) whereas light, simply prepared and flavored dishes pair better with low alcohol wines (7–10 percent).

The Dining Dozen of $12 & Under

The current economy has most of us cutting back on non-essentials, driving less, and trying to find ways to save a few bucks and with  the recent tax hike on wines and spirits,. choosing a good wine you  enjoy thats affordable can be a daunting task..  So,  this month we  are sharing our favorite finds.  These budget friendly wines have good consumer accessibility at very welcoming price points — all  under $12.
We all have our favorite well-know name brand inexpensive wines, and  those who know me know I love my $6 bottle of Rene Barbier
Mediterranean White for everyday drinking, but even I need to venture  from the tried and true and try something new every now and then. For
me, my favorite varietal, sauvignon blanc, seems to be the most  interesting of inexpensive whites— they always seem to have a crisp,  summery character and personality. It may be that because of its  piercing flavors, sauvignon blanc is more adaptable to an inexpensive approach than chardonnay, a grape that can reach greater heights when treated to costlier winemaking. That being said, we set out to find  12 great easy drinking wines slightly off the beaten path under $12 it’s worth it to give some of them a try.


Fazi Battaglia Titulus S.p.a.
I remember the first time I ever had this wine. It was the 1980’s and  good friend insisted we (my then boyfriend & I) try this dynamic wine – the best she ever had, she said. I did and we were both underwhelmed by this thin acidy stuff. I recently tried it again,  and what a difference a few decades can make! This Verdicchio Dei Castelli di Jesi is a prime example of the changes in the wine  industry and the pursuit of excellence. This  is 100%  verdicchio, hand harvested and then fermented in stainless steel  tanks prior to additional time in the bottle. The resulting wine is a
lovely pale yellow-green. It’s gossamer light with hints of almond  shell and golden apple on the nose, then softly fruity with a fresh,
clean mineral finish. You’ll want to slurp it with a straw, but  control yourself. Practice a little decorum. A lovely aperitif and  ideal with light seafood (particularly shellfish) and it comes in a  classy green bottle — all for around $8.

Snap Dragon Winery Chardonnay 2007
This wine was a big hit at the in-store wine tasting events. This  Chardonnay’s  flavors and aromascurl and whirl across the tongue in a myriad of sprightly tropical flavors, fleshed by ripe yellow peaches  and warm apple notes. Accents of vanilla and allspice enhance the of this inviting and enjoyable wine. Sipped on a warm summer day, this wine makes an excellent complement to grilled chicken salads, poached fish or tasty prawns. This is a supple and refreshing chardonnay for around $9.

Bohemian Highway Chardonnay
Another wine that is a pleasant surprise Inspired by the legendary Bohemian Highway, that winds through the rural landscape of Northern  California’s wine region, Bohemian Highway strives to create a style  that captures the easy-going California approach to living. Lightly oaked and fruit-driven with enticing pear and apple flavors and just  a touch of refreshing citrus, this Chardonnay bursts with ripe flavors of apple and pear. Being lightly-oaked it has a full, creamy  mouth feel. Its creaminess and bright citrusof lemons and granny  smith apples flavors are rounded out by a lingering finish. This  unpretentious c hard is truly fun to drink for a pricetag around $8

Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc 2007
No wine list from me is complete without at least one sauvignon blanc and this one is organic from Chile. Elegant, expressive and dressed  in a green-yellow shade of color, this Sauvignon Blanc impresses with  its citrus notes of grapefruit and green apple, which mingle in with  herbal hints. In mouth, its freshness and balance with clean citrus  and herbaceous notes stand out, along with its pleasant mineral  finish. It’s a great wine for an aperitif. and an excellent choice to  serve with vegetarian combinations. It also goes well with soft and  fresh cheeses. Go green with this one for around $9

Chateau Mayne Sansac Bordeaux Blanc 2007
This is our second wine to have a bit of Sauvignon blanc in it, well,  Mayne Sansac is 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Semillon, and 25%  Muscadelle. This white wine combines all the qualities of elegance  and finesse that you look for in a great white Bordeaux: perfect  expression of the best Bordeaux soils and premium grape varietals.  This wine has been extremely well-made and aged. Like me, you are  sure to appreciate this wine’s brilliant color, fruity, floral  bouquet and excellent balance on the palate. Mayne Sansac starts out  crisp and fresh wine. It is very round and full-bodied and a fabulous  deal at around $9.

Colombelle Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne 2008
Colombelle,  there is so much to love and enjoy about this wine.  From the eye-catching packaging to the zippy, fresh flavors and the  oh-so-affordable price tag (around $7), this little wine has it all.It is made from  a blend of 70% Colombard and 30% Ugni Blanc. Yes, Colombard and Ugni Blanc – two grapes that you might never have heard of before (unless you drink a lot of Armagnac or Cognac). But this is a wine that is definitely worth getting to know. Classified  as a Vin de Pays de Côtes de Gascogne, this wine is from the  Southwest part of France, below Bordeaux. This wine is pale with  hints of lemon yellow, watery rim with slight tinge of green. It’s  aromatic, with slightly floral, spicy and green apple notes. This  wine exhibits the pedigree of usually more costly wines, with superb  balance of sweet apricot, wild honey and a perfect spike of tangerine  acidity It is definitely dry,with  crisp acid, balanced  alcohol,leading to a pleasant mouthwatering sensation. This is a very  light and refreshing, almost weightless, though intense wine. It would be reckless to miss this type of intelligent bargain.

Now for the reds

Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
The 2006 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon is a delicious, forward drinking  100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Boasting notes of lush dark cherry, red currant, blackberry, and cassis, that blend well with hints of  vanilla and toasted bread.  A medium-bodied wine, it has rich, well  developed flavors of black fruit and a touch of oak which complements  the fruit nicely.This wine is supple, friendly and ready to drink.  With its $9 price tag, Crosby is an ideal choice for a house red.

Cellar No. 8 Zinfandel 2007
Cellar No. 8 zin highlights the classic flavors of the varietal, and  delivers rich, robust flavors that are enhanced by 100 percent oak  barrel aging. The color is candy apple red with aromas of sweet  cherry, dried cherry, cinnamon, and hints of cocoa and vanilla. A  tasty, medium bodied zin, its a delicious palate pleaser; with ripe, cedary spicy oak overtones that evolve alongside bright cherry and  chocolate flavors. It is pleasant round and soft with a dry finish.A great wine for grilling at $11 (Cellar #8 also makes a great Pinor Noir, Cab and Merlot at the same price point)

Cline Cellars Red Truck Red Blend 2006
The Red Truck California Red Wine’s label was inspired by a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon. This red  is big-hearted, well-made, and full of life with complex, flavors of  chocolate, berries, and cherries. It’s a blend of  45% Syrah 29%  Petite Sirah 20% Cabernet Franc for a juicy berry base then the  winemaker added teensy bits of Grenache, Malbec, and Mourvedre to  round out this wine with licorice and spice for a full-bodied  black
pepper finish with smooth tannins.  About $12.

Ars Poetica’s  Volcano
This is a 100% Aglianico, the second wine of Ars Poetica’s trademark  Aglianico del Vulture. A remarkable value, it has the flavor, body,  complexity, structure, and finish of a Super Tuscan in the $30-45  range but it’s priced around $9. This is a medium-bodied red wine  displaying ripe fruit and surprising complexity. Deep, full aromas  erupt from the glass at first sniff: black fruits, licorice, tobacco,  tar, earth and some vegetal notes.Y.ou’ll taste similar flavors along  with juicy black raspberry and black cherry, with hints of licorice,  black currant, bell peppers and a bit of coffee bean. A rush of ripe tannins, and medium acidity balance out the fruit I’ll take this over  a 50-dollar Super Tuscan any day, and spend the savings on two big T-bones to go with it.

Lello Red Douro
Lello is an elegant, fruity wine made from Portugal’s traditional Douro grape varieties: Touriga-Nacional, Touriga-Franca, Tinta-Roriz  and Tinta-Barroca. Lello has structure and character, it’s luch with  layers of dark fruit flavors, boysenberry and strawberry preserves.  This gives the wine an elegant note of wood and a lingering finish of  cream and spice. Lello is a good accompaniment to grilled meat and  game or can be enjoyed on its own. it’s a great buy around $7..

Dante Coraggio Chianti
For the chianti lovers, I’ve added a chianti in the $10 range. This  is made from 100% sangiovese aand it is a  strong and bold yet medium-bodied wine. Corraggio sports typical Chianti flavors: cherry, plum,  strawberry, spice, almonds, tobacco, vanilla and coffee. Chianti is  often called a “fruity” wine, meaning it appeals to new wine  drinkers.j Chianti goes well with well-seasoned food because of the  juicy fruit notes of cherry, plum and raspberry and Food pairing.

Well, there you have, 12 pocketbook loving wines. Enjoy!