<![CDATA[Wine for the Rest of Us - Home]]>Wed, 16 Dec 2015 13:37:22 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[Finding white wine values among the Spectator Top 100]]>Wed, 16 Dec 2015 15:57:30 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/finding-white-wine-values-among-the-spectator-top-100Picture
The red wine values lurking in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2015 were hard to find locally. “Availability” is one of the four pillars the magazine’s editors say they use to choose their Top 100. Yet a rigorous search turned up just four red wines from the list priced $20 or less in stock locally, and each was available only at one shop (two at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg and two at Calvert Woodley on Connecticut Ave., NW).

Fortunately for white wine drinkers, a few of the affordable whites on the list are more plentiful. The highest ranking affordable white at No. 29, 2014 Tenshen White Santa Barbara County, wasn’t one of them. This California blend of white Rhone Valley grapes, plus chardonnay, is available only at the Wine Loft in Pikesville, MD, for just $19.99 a bottle, according to wine-searcher.com. [Find it online or at a wine shop near you.]

“This is lush and powerful, offering fleshy peach and apricot flavors at the core, with plenty of aromatic highlights, including orange blossom and honeysuckle,” wrote Wine Spectator’s MaryAnn Worobiec, awarding the wine 92 points. “The texture is appealingly smooth and mouthwatering, with the complex details gaining momentum on the finish, where this reveals hints of dried spice and matcha green tea.”

Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling Eden Valley 2014, from Australia landing at No. 33 on the Top 100, is available at both State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD, for $17.99 a bottle and Cordial Fine Wine & Spirits in the District at Union Market on 5th Street, NE, for $19.99. [Find it online or at a wine shop near you.]

“Taut, sleek, polished and distinctively spicy, with black pepper, white pepper, floral and citrus flavors on a lively frame,” is Harvey Steiman’s description to go with his score of 91 points. It’s apparently a relatively rare age-worthy white, as he advises drinking it “from 2019 through 2030.”

Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc California 2014
is not only the least expensive of Top 100 wines available locally but also the most widely distributed, though you may find the 2013 vintage on some shelves, so make sure to check. (Timeless Wines in Middletown, VA, for example, has both, and oddly sells the acclaimed 2014 for $12 a bottle and its older brother for $13.99.) Total Wine in Maryland sells Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc for $10.99, while it costs $11.99 at Rodman’s and Cairo Wine & Liquor in the District and $14.49 at Total Wine in Virginia. [Find it online or at a wine shop near you.]

“Graceful, with fragrant orange blossom, ruby grapefruit and white peach flavors that are fresh and lively, set on a light, lithe body,” wrote Worobiec, describing the wine that earned 90 points and the No. 40 spot on the Top 100. “Appealing lime zest and passion fruit accents show on the long finish. Drink now.”

Calera Chardonnay Central Coast 2013, No. 48 on the Top 100, is also widely available for $19.99 at Total Wine in Virginia, and on sale for $18.69 at Calvert Woodley. It’s also on sale at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg for $21.98, and costs $22.99 at Well Discount Liquors in Baltimore, $23.99 at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits and $24.69 at Montgomery County Liquor stores. [Find it online or at a wine shop near you.]

“Clean, pure and juicy, offering a refreshing mix of ripe pear, apple and melon flavors, shaded by a chalky minerality and followed by a long lingering finish,” is how Spectator’s James Laube describes the 90-point wine, advising readers to “Drink now.”

And finally at No. 73 on the Top 100 is Alpha Estate Malagouzia Florina Turtles Vineyard 2014, a Greek white made from the malagouzia grape, which costs $19.99 at MacArthur Beverages in the District. [Find it online or at a wine shop near you.]

“Rich and flush with fresh-cut green apple, honeydew melon and grapefruit flavors that feature a vibrant minerality,” wrote Kim Marcus, scoring the wine 90 points. “Delivers hints of savory herbs, leading to a lush finish of cream and spice. Drink now through 2018.”

Red wine drinkers will typically have to go out of their way to find affordable Top 100 wines. White wine drinkers should be able to score one or more of these wines at a wine shop near you.

Cheers!

Check out our appearance on The Tony Perkins Show and listen to it here!

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<![CDATA[Ferreting out values in Wine Spectator’s Top 100]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 18:17:31 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/ferreting-out-values-in-wine-spectators-top-100Picture
Like many wine enthusiasts, we used to eagerly await the fall unveiling of the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the Year. Not to stalk the top 10 (typical average price $90 to $100 a bottle), as collectors often do, but to seek the values on the list ($20 or less).

Yet after a bumper crop of values in 2010 (see Local bargains abound among Wine Spectator Top 100), the pickin’s grew slim in 2011, rebounded a bit 2012 then dropped again in 2013, so we gave up on the increasingly arduous hunt. (Full disclosure: this column also went semi-dormant starting in the fall of 2013, as day-job demands took precedence. However, my recent appearance on The Tony Perkins Show has reinvigorated the column!--listen to it here.)

The pendulum continues to swing back and forth for Wine Spectator’s editors, who chose affordable wines for a third of the spots on last year’s Top 100, yet included only 16 wine priced $20 or less in the Top 100 Wines of 2015. “Each year, Wine Spectator editors survey the wines reviewed over the previous 12 months and select our Top 100, based on quality, value, availability and excitement,” the magazine explains on its website.

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But “value” and “availability” clearly take a back seat to “quality” and the impossibly subjective “excitement.” The average price of both the 2014 and 2015 Top 100 was $47 (with an average score of 93 points) and “many wines on the list are made in limited quantities,” the magazine acknowledges. If that’s how Wine Spectator defines value and availability, you have to wonder what they’d consider overpriced and hard to find?

Nonetheless, among the paltry 16 affordable wines on the 2015 Top 100, nine are available locally, five whites and four reds (plus a bonus Spanish red that’s listed by Spectator at $23 a bottle, but on sale locally for $20). This column will look at the reds, and the next will explore the whites.

Red wines from Spain’s Rioja region make a great accompaniment to a lavish holiday meal, and Finewine.com in Gaithersburg has No. 58 on the Wine Spectator Top 100, La Rioja Alta Torre de Oña Rioja Finca San Martín Crianza, on sale for $16.98. Made from the tempranillo grape, “This red is focused and polished, delivering harmonious flavors of black cherry, olive, smoke and mineral,” according to Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews, who gave the wine 91 points in the September 30 issue. “The tannins are well-integrated, the acidity fresh. A bit reserved, but has depth. Drink now through 2022.”

[Find Oña Rioja Finca San Martín Crianza online or at a wine shop near you.]

Another Spanish red earned the No. 53 on the Top 100, 2013 Descendientes de J. Palacios Bierzo Pétalos, made from the mencia grape grown in the Bierzo region. Though Spectator lists it at $23, Finewine.com has it on sale for $19.98.

[Find Pétalos Bierzo online or at a wine shop near you.]

“Expressive black cherry, currant, licorice, mineral and smoke flavors mingle in this focused red. The texture is gentle but firm, with well-integrated tannins and racy acidity providing structure,” Matthews wrote, scoring it 91 points. “A compact wine that shows good intensity. Drink now through 2023.”

Listed at $18 a bottle and No. 66 on the Top 100 is 2013 Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier Victoria, on sale at Calvert Woodley for—you guessed it--$17.99.

“Fresh and expressive, medium-weight but vivid, with black cherry and floral notes, balanced by a stony minerality that glides into the long finish against fine tannins,” wrote Harvey Steiman, awarding 91 points and advising readers to, “Drink now through 2020.”

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Calvert Woodley also has No. 84 on the Top 100, a $20 Portuguese red blend, Duorum Douro, priced at $18.99 (so a case discount brings it down to $209 or $17.42 per bottle for 12). This blend of grapes traditionally used to make Port, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, plus some Tinta Roriz has earned solid scores from the critics in six straight vintages.
“This has a delicate core of violet, plum and red berry flavors that are broad yet well-defined,” wrote Spectator’s Kim Marcus, scoring it 91 points. “Medium-grained tannins gain power midpalate, with mineral and shiso leaf notes on the taut finish. Drink now through 2020.”

Presuming you appreciate the taste of shiso leaves, this wine may be a worthwhile splurge.

And finally, the least expensive red on the Top 100 reportedly available locally may actually not be. At No. 32 on the Top 100 Wines is 2012 Viña Carmen Cabernet Sauvignon Maipo Valley Alto Gran Reserva, listed at $15 but carried at Montgomery County Liquor stores for $12.95 a bottle. Yet the website is showing that it is “temporarily out of stock,” so when it’s restocked, it may not be the 2012 vintage that made the Top 100. In case it does come back, Marcus wrote about the 91-point wine:

“A rich, well-spiced red, with luscious flavors of tar, licorice and dark plum, supported by ample acidity and firm tannins,” adding that it, “Offers a lip-smacking finish of dark chocolate and pepper. Drink now through 2019.”
Sounds good, especially if you can find it for $13 a bottle.

Cheers!

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<![CDATA[The tyranny of the $10 wine]]>Sat, 05 Dec 2015 17:58:53 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/the-tyranny-of-the-10-winePicture
It’s no secret that one of our favorite wine bloggers is the Dallas-based Wine Curmudgeon, author of the $10 Wine Hall of Fame. We love his value sensibilities and no-nonsense approach to everyday wine drinking.

His annual listing of the year’s best wines priced at $10 or less is a great tool, and we eagerly look forward to the new edition every January. But if I have one quibble with the Curmudgeon—and it’s only the slightest of quibbles—it’s his slavish devotion to the $10 price point. Almost every year he kicks one or more wines to the curb because they’ve floated above the magical $10 price of admission to the Hall of Fame.

To his credit, the Curmudgeon lists some honorable mentions and maintains an “Asterisks Wing” in his Hall of Fame for perennially great values that bounce up and down in price and may no longer qualify. (One of our Top 5 Italian Red Wine Values, Falesco Vitiano, has earned a spot in the Asterisks Wing.) But we find the $10 ceiling for a good value wine too arbitrary, especially the way wine prices vary so widely from year to year and from place to place.

PictureThis single-vineyard Cotes du Rhone is widely available throughout the DMV for $14 to $22 a bottle, and it's a bargain at almost any price.
This is particularly true in the Washington area, where the wild, wild west of wine retailing—the District—is surrounded by two states that mandate three-tier distribution (where the producer, an importer or distributor and ultimately a retailer or restaurant all get a cut of the price we consumers pay for a bottle of wine).

Rather than an Asterisks Wing, we prefer the Baseball Hall of Fame approach; players who don’t get voted in for whatever reason during their period of eligibility can be added by the Veteran’s Committee, but once they’re named to the Hall, there’s no asterisks by their name. A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer.

That’s the approach we take with our Top 5 Value Wines lists. These wines are all good values, whether you buy them on sale for $8.99 or they cost $12.99 where you live or even $14.99 at the mom-and-pop beer and wine store on the corner. The reality is that there can be good values up and down the price range, from the $9.99 bottles that taste like $20 bottles and are great for everyday drinking to that extra special $50 bottle that is fun to splurge on for a special occasion or makes a great gift for a wine lover in your life.

We spend most of our time—and the bulk of the space in our wine cellar—stalking great values for less than $10 a bottle. Even at $10 a bottle, everyday wine drinking can add up. If you go through a 12-bottle case of wine per month, your annual wine budget needs to be nearly $1,600, including the 9 percent tax on wine in the District, MD and VA (or “the DMV,” as the hipsters have dubbed our area). But there’s a case to be made that the sweet spot of value wine is in $12 to $20 a bottle price range, where some truly special wines can be found that are a cut above most inexpensive wines, yet they don’t break the bank.

Case in point (pun intended, as you might want to buy this by the case) is one of our favorite wines from France’s Rhône Valley, Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone ‘les Champauvins’. A wine that’s beyond our everday drinking price range at $14 to $18 a bottle, it is a spectacular value year in and year out, and worth splurging on a case that can be enjoyed over several years.

The 2013 vintage sold out at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg at $17.99 a bottle and costs $21.99 at Total Wine in Virginia, but it’s on sale for just $13.99 at Magruder’s on Wisconsin Ave. in the District.

“A peppery, juicy, medium-bodied effort, the 2013 Cotes du Rhone (made from declassified Lirac grapes and a blend of 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% each of Cinsault and Carignan) has plenty of black cherry and assorted berry fruit, hints of bacon fat and underbrush,” wrote Jeb Dunnuck in the January 2015 issue of Wine Advocate. “It’s a clean, classy quaffer to enjoy over the coming couple of years.”

The 2012 Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone ‘les Champauvins’, which earned 89-91 points from Wine Advocate, is still available at a few Montgomery County Liquor Stores for just $16.15 a bottle.

“Tasting like a mini-Chateauneuf du Pape, with ripe mulled blackberries, spice, toast, licorice and hints of flowers, the [Domaine Grand Veneur] 2012 Cotes du Rhone Les Champauvins is a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre that spent 12 months mostly in concrete tank,” Dunnuck wrote back in the October 2013 Wine Advocate. “Medium to full-bodied, rich and balanced, it should drink nicely for 7-8 years.”

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The reference to Chateauneuf du Pape—the most prestigious and expensive wine region in the Rhône Valley—is not mere hyperbole. This relatively pedestrian Cotes du Rhone features the name of the single vineyard—‘Les Champauvins’— where the grapes are grown on the label (itself a sign of distinction in French wine). That vineyard lies just north of the geographical border of Chateauneuf du Pape, literally separated by a gravel road from land, or as the French say, “terroir,” that would otherwise double the price of the wine. A good wine from Chateauneuf du Pape typically costs $40 to $80 and up. And some are worth every penny.

The 2014 vintage of Domaine Grand Veneur ‘les Champauvins’, which has yet to hit local stores, promises to be every bit as good as its older siblings. It’s the 14th straight vintage that impressed the critics, earning 88-91 points from Dunnuck in the October 2015 Wine Advocate. (Often when they taste wines before bottling or very young the give a range to account for anticipated improvement with age.)

[Find Domaine Grand Veneur ‘les Champauvins’ online or at a wine shop near you.]

Grand Veneur ‘les Champauvins’ will never make the $10 Wine Hall of Fame. But at $18 a bottle, it’s a great value; at $16 it’s a terrific value; and at $14 it’s a spectacular value! And its year-in, year-out consistency may very well earn it a spot when we refresh our Top 5 French Reds.

Cheers!

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<![CDATA[Tale of the tasting: discovering a crazy red wine bargain]]>Tue, 14 Jul 2015 13:24:56 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/tale-of-the-tasting-discovering-a-crazy-red-wine-bargainPicture
Our most recent Friday Night Blind tasting was sparsely attended, so the data from only five tasters is hardly meaningful statistically. But the unanimous crowd favorite – a first in more than two years of blind tastings – uncovered a rare and ridiculous red wine bargain in Montgomery County.

Rob Garretson In addition to the small crowd (we typically have double digits) and the unanimous consensus, this tasting was atypical in that the most expensive wine in the tasting--2012 'Zuccardi Q' Malbec—came out on top. Only twice in nearly two dozen tastings over two years has the top-scoring wine been the most expensive. And it may be no coincidence that the first such instance was also a $20 Malbec from Argentina that topped challengers ranging in price from $9 to $12.

As recently as five years ago the Argentina shelf at most wine stores was full of great values. (See, for example, Second time's the charm for this $7 malbec bargain.) But as is typical with wine, what becomes fashionable tends to get overproduced and homogenized for the American market. And where once were lots of interesting, charming $10 wines that expressed some regional and varietal character, there are now mostly generic tasting reds that could just as easily come from California or Australia. To enjoy the type of character we used to find in inexpensive Argentine Malbec, you now have to pay closer to $20 a bottle.

Special thanks to Cecile Giannangeli, proprietor of Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, for suggesting the Zuccardi Q when we were browsing for a “ringer” to put in Friday’s blind tasting up against 2013 Trivento 'Decopas' Malbec (average price $9 a bottle and provided as a sample by the winery) and 2013 HandCraft Artisan Collection Malbec from California (average price $11 and a winery sample). The Zuccardi Q—not to be confused with the regular Zuccardi Malbec, a competent but lower-priced bottle--averages $19 a bottle nationally and earned 90 points from Wine Spectator.
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2013 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Devil's Collection Reserva White Chile
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2013 Trivento 'Decopas' Malbec Mendoza Argentina
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2012 Familia Zuccardi 'Zuccardi Q' Malbec Mendoza
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2013 HandCraft Artisan Collection Malbec California
“This is dark, with a racy edge to the cassis, crushed plum and raspberry notes, gliding along a full-bodied frame,” wrote in MaryAnn Worobiec in the November 15, 2013 issue of Spectator. “Hints of cream and mocha balance the tannins on the finish. Drink now through 2015.”

Though none of the five members of the Wine for the Rest of Us Tasting Panel picked up crushed plum or hints of cream, the each awarded the Zuccardi Q four stars on our five-star scale, which is as follows:

* Yuk, where’s the spit bucket?
** Drinkable, but I don’t need another taste, thanks. …
*** I like this, please fill my glass.
**** I love it; I’d buy a bottle if it’s less than $20.
***** This one’s a ringer; what’s this $35 bottle doing at this two-bit tasting?

And since the unanimous four-star score for the Zuccardi Q translates to “I love it; I’d buy a bottle if it’s less than $20,” our tasters are in luck. Not only is the national average price below $20, the wine’s on sale at Finewine.com for just $14.98 a bottle. At $15 it’s a great bargain. (It’s regularly priced at $19.99 at Calvert Woodley but on sale for $16.99; and costs $21.99 at Potomac Wine & Spirits.)

But if you’re convenient to the Montgomery County Liquor stores in Kensington or Potomac, it’s available for an insane $10.15 a bottle. (If you use the DLC Search page, don’t be fooled by the inventory list that shows nearly two dozen bottles in the Seneca Meadows store. That store only has the regular Zuccardi Malbec in stock, not the Q.)

Our tasters also generally liked the other two malbecs, scoring both the California wine by HandCraft and the Trivento Decopas nearly three stars, 2.9 and 2.7 on average, respectively. And as is typical, the two white wines in the tasting scored slightly lower, though still respectably above two stars. The 2014 Trivento 'Decopas' Sauvignon Blanc, Mendoza, a winery sample also from Argentina, earned an average of 2.2 stars, and Concha y Toro 2013 Casillero del Diablo Devil's Collection Reserva White, a blend from Chile (winery sample) scored a very respectable 2.6 stars on average.

This south-of-the-border tasting showed that South America is still a great source of good, inexpensive wine. And the one clear standout in the tasting showed that if you look long and hard enough, you can find wine bargains even in Montgomery County.

Cheers!

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<![CDATA[A pinot noir bargain to be thankful for]]>Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:40:09 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/a-pinot-noir-bargain-to-be-thankful-for
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“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.

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The 2012 vintage of Acrobat Pinot Noir Oregon made the Wine Spectator’s much anticipated Top 100 Wines of 2014 (No. 78) and earned a “Smart Buys” designation at a price of $20. “The crisp tannins and sleek structure give the up-front blackberry, currant and floral spice flavors good lift, coming together smoothly on the persistent finish,”wrote Harvey Steiman in the Feb. 28 issue.

At a national average price of $17 a bottle, Wine-Searcher.com calls Acrobat Pinot Noir, “More affordable than the typical red wine from Oregon.” And at only $12.99 at Montgomery County Liquor stores, it’s an incredible bargain, perfect for buying in bulk if you’re entertaining a houseful at Thanksgiving. Such bargains are rare for MoCo buyers, but the Acrobat Pinot Noir sells for $16.99 a bottle at Total Wine $17.99 at Magruder’s on Connecticut Ave.

Pinot noir is a go-to Thanksgiving wine because it’s almost always light- to medium-bodied and won’t overpower the relatively delicate flavors of roast turkey. Yet it has enough bright, red fruit flavors to stand up to exotic stuffings and heavily seasoned side dishes typical of the Thanksgiving feast. It’s one of the most versatile wines around, and it doesn’t have the mouth-drying tannins that turn some people off to red wine. That’s why it’s often called – along with Beaujolais made from the gamay grape – a white wine drinker’s red.

We rarely recommend pinot noir from Oregon, a premier “New World” source of good pinot, because—like its ancestral home in France’s Burgundy region—Oregon commands ridiculously high prices, typically $40 to $70 a bottle and up for the good stuff. With the exception of Castle Rock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Chile, New Zealand and California tend to produce the best values. (If you’re not convenient to a Montgomery County Liquor store, read our Top 5 value pinot noirs.)

Acrobat pinot scores well with the critics year in and year out. Wine & Spirits magazine scored the 2011 vintage 88 points and called it, “More savory and complex than many of its counterparts in price.”

Wine Spectator scored the 2012 90 points and awarded at least 88 points to each of the past five vintages. Wine Enthusiast has also been a fan, going back to the 2008 that it awarded 89 points. Paul Gregutt was less enthusiastic about the 2012 than his peers, scoring it only 86 points (still very good).

“Deep in color and lushly scented, this wine speaks of moist earth, dark chocolate and black cherry,” he wrote on the web in February. “While the start is promising, the palate falters a bit as the wine thins out and quickly loses its fruit.”

We tried a bottle last week in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday and noticed no such thinning in the finish. But it will only cost you $13 to try it for yourself.

Cheers!

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<![CDATA[Tale of the tasting: expensive wines shine … barely]]>Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:48:18 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/tale-of-the-tasting-expensive-wines-shine-barely
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With summer has come the return of the Wine for the Rest of Us Friday Night Blind tastings, and they continue to underscore our contention that price has very little correlation to wine enjoyment. That said, our first of the season found the pricier red and white wines edging their affordable counterparts as favorites of the tasting panel, if only by the slightest fraction of a star.

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Carneros 2012, which costs $25 a bottle ($24.99 at Rodman’s to be exact) beat out Mandolin Pinot Noir Monterey 2012, which costs half as much, yet by the paper-thin margin of just 3/100 of a star. The $25 Mondavi earned an average rating of 2.81 stars from our tasting panel of casual wine drinkers, compared to Mondolin’s 2.78-star average. Both earned a solid score on the Wine for the Rest of Us five-star scale:

* Yuk, where’s the spit bucket?
** Drinkable, but I don’t need another taste, thanks. …
*** I like this, please fill my glass.
**** I love it; I’d buy a bottle if it’s less than $20.
***** This one’s a ringer; what’s this $35 bottle doing at this two-bit tasting?

But does an extra 0.03 of a star really merit twice the price?

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As always we tasted the wines double blind—meaning the tasters not only don't know the producer or price (single blind), but also don't know the type of grapes used or place of origin. The brown paper bags we cover the bottles with obscure these relevant facts, which have been proven to influence people’s perceptions of wine, and also whether that are winery freebies or purchased. (In this case, all but the outrageously priced French white below were winery samples.)

“Nice tannins; good finish,” was the note of one taster who awarded the Mondavi four stars. “An okay table wine,” wrote another who gave it just two, while scoring the $13 pinot four stars. “This begs for a pepper-crusted filet mignon,” scribbled another, calling the Mandolin, “A cheese-plate drinking wine.”

“Trim and spicy, with dried herb, mint, black tea and black cherry flavors, showing touches of baking spices and firming on the finish,” is how Wine Spectator’s James Laube describes the $25 Mondavi in the August 31, 2014 issue, scoring it 88 points.

Generally, one taster’s “good tannins” is another’s “black tea,” but none of our tasters picked up the dried herb, mint or baking spices. (Tannin is wine-speak for the astringent, drying characteristic typical or red wine that is similar to that feature of tea.)

[Find Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Carneros or Mandolin Pinot Noir Monterey online or at a wine shop near you.]

Our tasting panel also scored the two white wines very closely, but the gap of about one quarter of a star was not nearly as tight as between the reds. Yet the price difference between the Grand Cru Chablis—an expensive, aged white Burgundy that averages more than $50 a bottle—and the $13 Chilean chardonnay it was up against made that quarter of a star seem even more insignificant. (Chardonnay is the lone grape used in the iconic white wines from Burgundy in France, so this was a head-to-head taste between and Old World chardonnay and one from the New World.)

 

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Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2005 averages $52 a bottle nationally, but locally you can only find the more recent 2010 vintage, for a mere $85 at Chain Bridge Cellars. For that price, you could buy a six pack of Viu Manent Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2011, which our tasters gave a 2.25-star rating, compared to 2.56 for the nine-year-old French white.

[Find Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles or Viu Manent Gran Reserva Chardonnay online or at a wine shop near you.]

“More balance, less pizzazz,” was one taster’s comparison of the Chablis Grand Cru to the Viu Manent Chardonnay, which pretty well summed up the consensus of the panel. Many noted both sweet fruit with an acidic bite in the Chilean wine. While a drier, milder flavor profile came through in the French wine, probably due in part to its extra six years of bottle age, if not also from its expensive pedigree.

“I want a citrusy chicken dish with this,” wrote our food-pairing taster, giving it just a two-star “drinkable” rating. By comparison, that same taster awarded a solid three-star score to the Chilean chardonnay that costs a small fraction of the prestigious French Grand Cru. “Easy to drink, summery and pleasant,” he or she described the Viu Manent.

You can’t ask much more of a $13 bottle of wine. Now for $50 to $85 a bottle …

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<![CDATA[Grilling season calls for these red wine bargains]]>Sat, 24 May 2014 14:00:28 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/grilling-season-calls-for-these-red-wine-bargainsPicture
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.

The latest case in point is a terrific red blend from Washington State, Columbia Crest H3 Les Cheveaux, which attentive readers will recall outscored a 91-point Bordeaux in a Wine for the Rest of Us blind tasting last summer. The current vintage, 2011, is on sale for $10.59 a bottle at Montgomery County Liquor stores, compared with $10.99 regularly at Total Wine in Maryland, $11.99 at Total in Virginia and $12.95 on sale (regularly $17.99) at Pearson’s in Glover Park.

“Supple, ripe, medium-weight and appealing, with blackberry and pear flavors, lingering gently,” is how Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman describes the 2011 H3 Les Cheveaux in the current May 31 issue. The blend of syrah and merlot is ready to drink now, he adds.

[Find H3 Les Cheveaux online or at a wine shop near you.]

Of course, a few isolated bargains at the County store is hardly reason to forgo a trip across the District line to stock up on wines for the grilling season, which starts in earnest this weekend. And Rodman’s ongoing sale—particularly its Spanish Wine Sale—offers bargains on several fixtures on the Wine for the Rest of Us Top 5 Value Wine lists.
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In addition to Bodegas Aragonesas Los Dos on sale for $6.99 a bottle, Borsao Garnacha, which influential critic Robert Parker called "possibly the single greatest dry red wine value in the world," is also on sale for $6.99, as is Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego, another perennial favorite (and a candidate to join the next update to the Top 5 Spanish red wine values list).

“This has been a big-time winner in just about every vintage it has been produced,” Parker wrote in the November 2012 issue of Wine Advocate about the 2012 vintage of Borsao. “A delicious black cherry, crushed chalk and flower-scented nose jumps from the glass of this richly fruity, medium to full-bodied, supple, velvety-textured red.

“This mouthfilling 2012 should drink well for several years,” he adds.

[Find Borsao Garnacha online or at a wine shop near you.]

That’s why we buy at least a case of this one every year. But for some reason, it never seems to last “several years.”

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<![CDATA[A rare MoCo bargain on a ‘simply’ delicious Spanish red blend]]>Mon, 12 May 2014 14:33:51 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/a-rare-moco-bargain-on-a-simply-delicious-spanish-red-blendPicture
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.

Jeff Siegel, a.k.a. the Wine Curmudgeon, doesn’t find it quite so complex, calling it “too simple” to qualify for his $10 Hall of Fame. “But it delivers much, much more than its $8 cost,” he writes. “Look for garnacha-style red fruit (cherry?) and a certain richness in the mouth.”

Siegel is a favorite of ours because of his down-to-earth perspective on wine and his enthusiasm for cheap wine. (His term, not ours. We like to think of it as “value wine” or fine wine that happens to be inexpensive.) But we part company with his mild dis’ of this wine; “simple” is a characteristic that many casual wine drinkers appreciate. Many wine drinkers can do without the “minerality” or “smoke and coffee notes” that they probably don’t detect anyway.
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“Still, if you can find the Los Dos, it’s worth buying,” Siegel writes, redeeming himself in our eyes. “It’s clean and professional, and someone tried for balance when making it, which isn’t usually the case with wines targeted for the U.S.”

Where the Post’s McIyntre and The Wine Curmudgeon are in lockstep is that Los Dos is a good companion to the backyard grills that are firing up all over town, now that warm spring weather has finally arrived in Washington.

“Stock up on this and put some burgers and sausages on the grill,” suggests McIntyre. “This is a food wine, for red meat and barbeque, and a very pleasant and welcome surprise,” Siegel agrees. “Assuming we can find it on a store shelf, of course.”

An not only can you find it on store shelves—it’s distributed locally by Winebow, which has very good penetration in the District, Maryland and Virginia—but it’s on sale through the end of the month at Montgomery County Liquor stores for just $7.49 a bottle (regularly $8.65). And it’s still a good buy for $7.99 a bottle at Cairo Wine & Liquor or even $8.99 Calvert Woodley or at Well Discount Liquors in Baltimore.

[Compare prices and find these wines online or at a store near you nationwide.]

Just don’t buy it for the $14.99 they’re asking at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits (especially when there are always so many outstanding bargains available there). It’s regrettably not uncommon for Montgomery County resident to pay twice as much for a wine available in DC or Virginia for half the price. This is one of those truly rare occasions when the reverse is possible.

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<![CDATA[MoCo prices get better on these Top 5 red wine bargains]]>Mon, 10 Mar 2014 13:34:23 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/moco-prices-get-better-on-these-top-5-red-wine-bargainsPicture
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.

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The price premium, which typically runs $3 to $5 a bottle or more for County residents, does seem to be shrinking for some popular wine. Take, for example, Marietta Old Vine Red Lot Number 60, recently featured in Dave McIntyre’s Washington Post wine column as among “The New California Wine” that occupy a middle ground between “the innocuous supermarket wines and the [exorbitantly priced] cult cabs” produced in California.

McIntyre quotes San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné calling it “an example of a traditional-style wine that provides value at a reasonable price.”

We couldn’t agree more, which is why Marietta Old Vine Red leads our list of Top 5 Value Domestic Red Blends. But McIntyre lists the wine at $15 a bottle, which would probably knock it out of our “value wine” category, if that’s what it typically cost. Thankfully for most of the Washington area, it’s available for less than $12 a bottle at wine shops like Calvert Woodley or Total Wine (in both Virginia and Maryland). And in Montgomery County it costs just a dollar more ($13.79) at County Liquor stores, though elsewhere it’s probably $15 or more.

[Find Marietta Old Vine Red online or at a wine shop near you.]

(Many wine publications and writers use $20 a bottle as a threshold for budget wine. But for everyday wine drinkers, $15 to $20 per bottle can add up fast. You’ve got plenty of fine wine to choose from that costs $10 to $12 a bottle or less. We think spending $15 or more for a bottle only makes sense for special occasions or as gifts for wine lovers.)

Another one of our Top 5 Value Wines that’s typically only a dollar more expensive in Montgomery County is Tormaresca Neprica Puglia IGT, which is widely available for $10 a bottle in the District and Virginia and costs just $10.85 a bottle at MoCo liquor stores. This terrific red blend from the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot) used to be hard to find. But since it started showing up in more wine shops throughout the area a few years ago, it’s become one of our go-to Italian values.

And now may be one of those times to take a stock-up trip into the District, since the 2011 vintage of Tormaresca Neprica is on sale for just $7.98 a bottle at Pearson’s in Glover Park or $8.49 at Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, just over the District line on Connecticut Ave., NW.

The tasty blend of native Italian grapes negroamaro and primitivo (genetically identical to American zinfandel) along with cabernet sauvignon has been a consistent winner year in and year out; a wine we buy by the case (like Falesco Vitiano) in every vintage. And the 2011 is no exception.

“Round and fruity, with jammy plum, spice and light herb notes that lead to a rich finish,” is how Wine Spectator’s MaryAnn Worobiec described it in the July 31, 2013 issue.

[Find Tomraresca Neprica online or at a wine shop near you.]

She rated it “Very Good” (86 points) at $12 a bottle. So it’s a bargain even in Montgomery County at less than $11 a bottle. And if you’re inclined to stock up, a trip to Chevy Chase or Glover Park will save you $20 to $25 on a case.

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<![CDATA[Don't overlook these tasty $10 bargain wines]]>Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:03:42 GMThttp://www.winefortherestofus.com/home/dont-overlook-these-tasty-10-bargain-winesPicture
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.

The HandCraft Artisan Collection is a relatively new brand from DFV (Delicato Family Vineyards), a giant California wine company that specializes in inexpensive wines like Gnarly Head Zinfandel, the Twisted label and the 3-liter Bota box wines. In addition to the Cabernet that our Tasting Panel enjoyed, HandCraft makes a Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah and a Chardonnay—all available at Montgomery County Liquor stores as well as Total Wine in Virginia and Maryland—plus both red and white blends that are harder to find. (The HandCraft Inspiration Red is available at Rodman’s DC for $9.99 a bottle.)

The HandCraft wines are made in a fruit-forward style that typically appeals to casual wine drinkers (i.e., most of us). They’re promoted as blending “a playful dash of Italian heritage varietals” to the juice of signature California grapes; in the case of the Cabernet, it’s a 2 percent splash of Sangiovese, the Italian grape made famous in Tuscany in the wines of Chianti and Brunello. Probably a more important addition that helps soften the tannins and round out the Cabernet’s juicy flavors is the substantial measure (21 percent) of petite sirah.

Like the HandCraft Cabernet that both our Tasting Panel and Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Steve Heimoff liked so much, each of the other HandCraft Artisan wines have earned a “Best Buy” designation from the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI). Possibly the best value is the juicy HandCraft Petite Sirah California 2011 that BTI liked at $14.99 a bottle, but is on sale for $9.99 in Montgomery County and costs just $10.99 every day at Total Wine.

“A spot on sippable petite sirah,” is how BTI describes it based on its January 7, 2013 tasting. “Rich aromas of roasted coffee bean, cocoa, and spicy berry pie with a supple, fruity-yet-dry medium-to-full body and a chewy chocolate craisin and leafy earth finish.”

“A really nice evocation of this variety, this is made in a soft style, with a Merlot-like velvety texture,” wrote Heimoff in the December 31, 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast. “But there’s nothing shy about the flavors: It bursts with ripe, jammy cherry, grilled pancetta, crushed pepper and sandalwood, and has a long, spicy finish.”

The full-flavored character of the Petite Sirah could be enhanced by the added syrah and zinfandel (in unspecified proportions). While the equally well-regarded HandCraft Pinot Noir California 2012 has the same splash of sangiovese that rounds out the Cabernet.

“Vibrant aromas of coffee candy and chocolate cherries with a silky, fruity medium body and a rich, mocha, spice, and citrus accented finish,” is BTI’s description of the Pinot Noir, which earned a Gold Medal and a spot on its “Top 10 Red Wine $15 and Under” list in the 2013 World Value Wine Challenge. “Very pure and fruity flavors with a great smooth texture.”

The 2012 HandCraft Chardonnay California hasn’t been reviewed to date, but if recent vintages are any indication, it should be well worth a try, especially at $10 to $11 a bottle. The 2011 earned the same Gold Medal and “Top 10 White Wine $15 and Under” honors at BTI’s 2013 World Value Wine Challenge.

“If you like your Chardonnay on the fruity side, this one’s for you,” wrote Heimoff about the 2011 HandCraft Chard in the November 1, 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast. “It’s rich in pineapple, orange and apricot jam flavors, with notes of buttered toast and cream.”

Sounds like a chardonnay that many white wine drinkers would like. And it won’t cost more than $10 or $11 to find out if you are one of them.

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