Sweet wines are everywhere. Previously eschewed for fear of being snubbed by snobs, wineries now proudly tout their full-frontal sugar on their labels. Consumers who love dessert for their appetizer should be in high heaven. Leading the pack is Moscato, whose popularity has shot up like blood sugar after a glass of it. But, sadly, most Moscatos lack balance. When I first started drinking wine in Europe, Swiss-grown Muscat (as it is called in French) tantalized my palate with sweetness and acidity. I reveled in its dry finish after my tongue feasted on a fruit salad of apricots, peaches and juicy, red apple. I had not experienced this same sensation in a wine until recently in Franciscan’s 2012 Equilibrium from Napa.
Read more: White wine review: Franciscan 2012 Equilibrium Napa Valley
As a general rule, wines embellished with a celebrity name aren’t particularly well made. Relying on their fame to sell the wine, they siphon schlock into a bottle and call it a profitable day. (Read my blast of this trend from a few years ago.) But I have admit that the pop group Train at least tried to make a decent Pinot Noir. Jimmy Stafford, the quiet lead guitarist for Train, is a huge wine fan and teamed up with California winemaker, James Foster, to make their line of Save Me San Francisco wines last year. James is Senior Winemaker at The Wine Group, the same company that introduced generic Flip Flop Wines, Franzia and Big House to the wine drinking public. Not a huge endorsement for making great juice, so I didn’t have major expectations when I popped the (fake) cork on this bottle of 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir.
Read more: Celebrity wine review: Train’s 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir
I’m a quinoa lover. Although I love my animal protein, this savory, high protein grain is a savior to many vegetarians. Quinoa originated in the Andes mountains and is super versatile, has a uniquely nutty flavor and substitutes for practically any nutritionally neutral grain (think white rice or pasta). I featured a mushroom and quinoa risotto on my site late last year, but this recipe — recently enjoyed at a wine luncheon — sadly puts it to shame in the flavor department. The host chef, Ruth Van Warebeek, works for Concha y Toro in Chile and she paired this delectable recipe with a 2011 Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere (CAR min YARE), a grape originally from France now happily residing in Chile’s welcoming climes and soils. Marques de Casa Concha created a soft, silky yet robust Carmenere that cozies up to food in a friendly way.
Read more: The beauty of wine and food pairings: Carmenere meets quinoa mushroom risotto
Many people bemoan the cost of drinking juice hailing from the great granddaddy of wine regions, France. Yes, Bordeaux and Burgundy reign as the pièce de résistance of vin from this country but when you pull your almost empty wallet out of these collectors’ areas many bargains can be grabbed. Take the Touraine region, for instance. Nestled in the Loire Valley, southeast of Paris, the Touraine sub-region is better known for its Chenin Blanc (Vouvray). But while Vouvray certainly satisfies part of the French white craving, I’ve recently turned my sights on the region’s other, crisper white varietal: Sauvignon Blanc.
Read more: Wine review: Merieau Les Hexagonales 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine (France)
There might be a turf war in our midst. For many years, Argentina has hung its wine hat on Malbec, a red wine so smooth, so drinkable and food friendly that Americans fell hard and fast for this grape. But enter one of their neighbors… Chile. Bastion of Carmenere, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, they’re taking the Malbec leap. Successfully, I might add. Casillero de Diablo Malbec hails interestingly from Chile’s Rapel Valley. Warm and dry, Rapel is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, its climate is very similar to Napa Valley where the north-south mountain ranges shelter it from the Pacific Ocean and trap warmth over the grapes. One of the newest arrivals varietals in this region is Malbec.
Read more: Wine review: Casillero de Diablo 2011 Malbec (Chile)
Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand’s white wine darling, was born in France’s Bordeaux region. But New Zealand put this grape on the American map, no matter what people say. And Matua Valley figured out how to bottle the New Zealand Sauv Blanc essence for less than $10. Impressive. This wine isn’t going to shock you or deliver anything super innovative. But it’s one helluva summer pool wine for the money (screwcap too). It is, by definition, the typical NZSB: tart grapefruit, lime rind, zippy acidity and loads of citrus. It has a refreshing fizziness on the tongue and a long, clean finish. Despite the hefty acids, it drinks pretty smooth, especially for a wine in this price range.
Read more: Wine review: Matua Valley 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
This is a tale of three wine stories — an up-and-coming California wine appellation, a growing business model in the wine biz, and an under-appreciated-yet-slowly-gaining-a-rep grape, Chenin Blanc. This wine review highlights all three in one, 5-minute post. Who says service is dead? The Clarksburg appellation in northeast California enfolds 59,000 acres of warm-climate land, encompassing Sacramento and bordering on the Sacramento River. About 10,000 acres of heat-loving grapevines are planted here but it’s not particularly recognized as an appellation. This is mostly because the majority of the fruit is sent outside the area for crushing not to mention the best grapes grown here remain a mystery to the majority of wine drinkers — Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah. Clarksburg Wine Company hopes to change that. Naming their wine label after an unknown region borders on ballsy but they’re also exploring a relatively new business model — “custom crush”. Imagine calling up a winemaker and asking them to make a wine specifically to your tastes? “I’d like it to taste slightly sweet but not syrupy; high acid yet full-bodied”… that’s what custom crush companies do for you (as well as commercial entities). So, in addition to making wine under the Clarksburg Wine Company label they also make wine for others. Something for everyone, you might say.
Read more: Wine review: Clarksburg Wine Company Chenin Blancs
Temperatures are hitting the eighties here in Sonoma County and my hands are reaching for some chilled white wines (and rosés, but that’s another column). They seem to go down smoother and easier than the lonely, almost dusty Cabernets and Syrahs in the wine rack. And with more and more thirsty folks branching out from their normal white wine routine, I thought it appropriate to introduce a couple of other soft, aromatic, mouth-watering whites: Tablas Creek 2011 Cotes de Tablas and David Hill 2011 Pinot Gris.
Read more: Sippin’ and chillin’ white wines for spring: Tablas Creek & David Hill
I will admit I’m not much of a Cabernet Sauvignon fan. Appreciation flows from so many other places, I rarely see the need to fawn. Often, it’s a wine with so much tannin that it begs for food to balm its harsh edges and I’m kind of a wine-for-all-purposes kind of girl (before, during and after dinner). But sometimes, just sometimes, one drops in at a blind tasting that woos me. This happened one night when the Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon showed up.
Read more: Wine review: Jordan 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley
Available exclusively at Trader Joe’s — not sure if it’s distributed outside California, but let’s hope it is — La Ferme Julien Blanc from France’s Luberon region is a luscious blend of white French grapes most people have never heard of: Ugni Blanc [oo NE blanhk], Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and an odd-man-out Italian grape, Vermentino. Smooth and tasty, it’s a perfect warm-weather wine with food like raw oysters, slightly spicy fare, or simple roasted chicken. And it’s staggeringly inexpensive… $6
Read more: Wine under $10 review: La Ferme Julien Blanc 2011