“What's up with your wine reviews? I can't find anything recent, and I'm heading to the DC Costco that has wine today!” wrote a reader via Facebook message last week. “I looked in examiner.com and the last one was in July.”
Embarrassingly, day-job demands have kept this column on the back burner. But with Thanksgiving looming, there’s at a bargain on an ideal holiday wine that’s just too good to ignore. Pinot noir, the delightfully light red wine that’s food-friendly and versatile enough to go great with turkey and the traditional fixings, has been a repeated Thanksgiving recommendation. (See "Thanksgiving wine tips: more of the same" and "Giving thanks for value pinot noir".) And one of the most consistently excellent pinots, from a perpetually pricey source—Oregon—is on sale in Montgomery Country for about the lowest price in the country. Okay, two Total Wine stores in Minnesota sell if for $1 a bottle less, but it's at least $5 a bottle less than the best price we could find in the District.
As if last week’s post touting a bargain in Montgomery County hit a nerve, within days Rodman’s in DC put that Spanish red (Los Dos) on sale for 50 cents a bottle less, robbing County liquor stores to the north—including one less than half a mile up Wisconsin Ave.—of best-price honors.
Montgomery County rarely enjoys that distinction and is never going to rival DC’s Rodman’s or Calvert Woodley for everyday competitive prices. Nor will its weekly or monthly specials challenge the three- and four-week sales Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits in the District or the Doorbusters at Arrowine and Chain Bridge Cellars in Virginia. And no area wine merchant can touch Total Wine’s combination of vast selection, competitive pricing and enticing sales.
But if recent sale prices in MoCo are any indication, the County is trying give wine bargain hunters some viable alternatives to trekking across the Potomac or Western Ave. every time they want to stock up on wine.
When our favorite blogger, The Wine Curmudgeon, praised an $8 Spanish red blend as perfect for kicking off grilling season, he raised doubts about its availability, so we didn’t give it a second thought. But we did when Washington Post columnist Dave McIntyre recommended the same wine in Wednesday‘s paper under the heading “5 patio wines to try.”
Los Dos from Bodegas Aragonesas is a blend from Spain’s Campo de Borja district, which produces an array of good, inexpensive wines made from garnacha, the Spanish name for the grape called grenache in France, and widely planted in the southern Rhone Valley. (Think Bodegas Borsao.) Like many Rhone blends, Los Dos includes a 15 percent splash of syrah, which according to McIntrye is “to tame the juiciness and give the wine minerality and heft.”
“Kirsch and licorice flavors mingle with smoke and coffee notes in this juicy red, which features moderate tannins and balanced acidity,” writes Wine Spectator’s Thomas Matthews in the June 15, 2014 issue (thanks to the magic of online publishing). “Fresh and clean,” he calls the 2012 vintage designated as one of the magazine’s Best Values.
It costs a little more to be a wine drinker in Montgomery County. We don’t enjoy the competitive prices and wide selection available in the District or Virginia. Even neighboring Prince George’s County has one Total Wine super store, which makes stocking up on good, inexpensive wine easier for our Maryland neighbors to the east.
We won’t belabor the evils of the state-mandated three-tier distribution system that keeps prices high and limits selection in Maryland—exacerbated in Montgomery County, where the County government is the wholesaler through which all wine, beer and spirits must pass. Suffice it to say that MoCo residents have to hunt down the occasional local bargain like pigs rooting for truffles. Otherwise, we make a periodic pilgrimage over the District line to Rodman’s or Calvert Woodley or across the Potomac into Virginia if we want to pay competitive prices for our favorite wines.
We buried the lead in our post two weeks ago on South African wines. Sure, we mentioned the crowd favorite—the only non-South African wine in our blind tasting—but not until the 4th paragraph, and we didn’t give tasting notes until the bottom half of the piece.
Yet the HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon California 2011—supplied as a winery sample—merits its own column. In part because its average score of 3.31 stars on the Wine for the Rest of Us five-star scale was among the highest earned in our blind tasting to date. But more importantly, it’s part of an entire line of good, inexpensive, “artisan” wines that are gaining wider distribution in the Washington area; and they are on sale in Montgomery County for the rest of the year.
It's one of the most consistently pleasing $10 wines you can find ($9.98 at Finewine.com). At $8 a bottle (Total Wine, Calvert Woodley, Rodman’s DC, MacArthur Beverages, Montgomery County Liquor stores) it's an awesome bargain to buy by the case. At less than $7 a bottle?! ...
Last year influential critic Robert Parker called Borsao Garnacha "possibly the single greatest dry red wine value in the world." (After we named it one of our Top 5 Spanish Red Values.) The similar Las Rocas Garnacha was an $8 wine when Parker first raved about the 2001 vintage, and it now averages $10 to $13 a bottle locally.) Yet now that the 2012 Borsao Garnacha has begun to hit local wine shops, you can buy it for as little as $6.75 a bottle by the case this weekend at Chain Bridge Cellars in McLean.
If there’s a single takeaway from the blind tastings we conducted through the summer and fall, it’s that today there’s an abundance of enjoyable wine at all price points, but particularly in the $8- to $12-a-bottle range that is the sweet spot for this website.
We’re woefully behind in reporting the results of those tastings (due to numerous day-job commitments—for which we are seasonably thankful—that kept the wine writing on the back burner for weeks). So since we’re not reporting in real time, there’s no reason we can’t skip ahead to the 10th in our series of tastings, for no other reason than to explore a winemaking region that produces some great values but has been grossly under-represented here. (We promise to pick up with tastings six through nine shortly.)
Before this website took a nearly two month hiatus (sorry about that), we were in the midst of a series of Wine for the Rest of Us (WRU) blind tastings that offered further evidence--as if we needed more—that enjoyment of wine bears almost no correlation to price. And the fifth in the series of double blind tastings was no exception.
For whites, a $9 Italian pinot grigio edged out a high-scoring Washington state pinot gris (same grape) that averages $16 a bottle in good vintages. And in the blind comparison of red blends, yet another Concho Y Toro Casillero del Diablo wine that sells for less than $10 a bottle and a $12 Washington state blend crushed a well-regarded Bordeaux that scored 91 points from at least one influential wine critic.
We’re determined to publish our “Top 5 value sauvignon blancs” before the official end of summer in September, but this Top 5 list poses particular challenges. There are several distinct styles of this popular summer sipper, and representing each of them in a list of just five wines requires some serious juggling.
The intense and bracing sauvignon blancs from New Zealand’s Marlborough region will undoubtedly top the list, since the grassy, citrusy wines have grown immensely popular over the past decade or so and are often considered the world’s best. But a nod should also go to the subtle minerality of sauvignon blanc from the grape’s native France, particularly the Loire Valley. While some room on the list must be made for sauvignon blanc from the Americas, floral-scented wines that typically express a middle ground between the vibrant intensity of New Zealand and the chalky complexity of French sauvignon blanc.