From the north-central region of Spain famously called Rioja comes an exceptional example from a wine area finding its own again. Welcome back earthy, robust Rioja. You took a trip to a few famous wine writers’ palates and thankfully, you came back to your authentic home where you belong. By Spanish law, a Rioja Riserva must be aged in barrel for two years then held in bottle for another two before release, so thus the 2008 vintage. It’s one of the only wine regions that sells its wines when they’re ready to drink. A blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha (Grenache) and 5% Mazuelo grapes, the Rioja Bordón Riserva has characteristic Spanish dustiness tinged with black cherry aromatics. It’s best enjoyed after being decanted for 10-15 minutes, to bring out its inner beauty. Rioja Bordón sports a personality of a warrior who secretly likes rom-coms — some flavors of strong brewed tea, smoky oak and a touch of silky tannin, balanced with the soft fruitiness of black cherry, plum and blackberry. Food friendly and enough acidity to stand up to a long list of fatty foods — from grilled ribeye slathered in a spicy rub to aged cheeses like Parmesan Reggiano. A fantastic effort for an obscenely low price.
Read more: Wine review: Franco-Espanolas “Rioja Bordón” 2008 Riserva
Discovered during a blind tasting, I mistook this stellar red Burgundy for a Chambolle Musigny, a Côtes de Nuits wine region up the road which can be twice the price. This Bruno Clair hails from Marsannay, a newer, French village-level appellation (established in 1987) which is no slouch Burgundy wine region. The Pinot Noir grapes, from which this gorgeous wine is made, are aptly worshiped in this area of the world. It shows.
Read more: French wine review: Domaine Bruno Clair 2010 Marsannay “Les Vaudenelles”
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
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
The square in rural downtown Paso Robles, California (pronounced “ROBE-less” by purists, “RO-bulls” by locals), is often covered with lush green grass and a sea of smiling tourists during harvest. It’s difficult to believe this sleepy, virtually unknown wine region has been producing wine for a quarter century, but when you taste the quality, you quickly realize this former cow town isn’t hokey-pokey. An extremely warm climate area with the widest swings in daily temperature on earth, Paso specializes in grapes that bask in heat: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel and other French Rhône-origin grapes. One night recently, my husband and I grilled out steaks and I grabbed this unfamiliar label, Ancient Peaks Renegade, from the “samples rack” — which we affectionately dub our wine play area. I’ve found some gems amongst the army of bottles perched in our family room over the years and when I tasted this wine for the first time, the eyebrows raised.
Read more: Wine review: Ancient Peaks 2009 Renegade Paso Robles
I’ve finally comes to terms with the fact that I’m a Pinot-lovin’ woman. Call me an acid freak, but I just can’t sit down with only a glass (and no food), pop a cork on a Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoy the hell out of the experience. Nope, won’t happen. Too assaulting. Cabernet is a food wine, plain and simple — the tannins don’t allow my palate to fall backwards into its loving yet astringent arms. But Pinot Noir is a different story. It’s the smooth operator — the wine that massages your shoulders before making its move. It guides your hand to the glass, introduces its beautiful self to your life and entertains… nay… does a lap dance on your tongue. Seduction complete.
Read more: Wine review: Gary Farrell 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley
Chianti is likely the entry-point for Americans to begin learning about this complicated country of 3,000 different grape varietals. It’s on these hallowed Tuscan grounds that wine was not necessarily invented (the Turks lay that claim) but quite possibly where it was first perfected. They follow the same wine identification system as France – by region and not varietals — and it’s likely for that reason Italian wines remain mysterious. I thankfully studied Italy’s regions for weeks during my race to achieve my CSW badge but I could’ve spent countless more. It’s a confusing morass. But Chianti is pretty simple: Within these bottles lies the earthy, cherry-infused elegance of the Sangiovese grape.
Read more: Wine review: Nozzole 2008 Chianti Classico Riserva
Lake County, located just north of Napa Valley in northern California, has been a sleepy yet under-rated wine-producing area for a while now. But with its hot climate, as well as biodynamic and organic focus, Lake County is churning out some pretty slamming fruit. Grapes that love the heat — like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and many Italian varietals like Barbera — bask in all the rays the sun can provide but also enjoy the cool nights. Recently, I wrote about Shannon Ridge, who took up residence in Lake County because the fruit is cheaper to grow (lower land costs) and the volcanic soil begs for grapes. Hawk and Horse Vineyards, founded in 1999, followed a similar path.
Read more: Wine review: Hawk and Horse 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County