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
One the juiciest parts of blind-tasting wines is the shock and awe when you uncover a really, really tasty find. It’s like unearthing a lost twenty in your jacket pocket or getting something on sale that you needed anyway. A delicious surprise. I hadn’t tried Pepi wines for many years, finding them rather boring and uninspiring in days past. But this fruity little Chenin-Viognier number caught the eye of every taster at the group tasting table. From the wine pro to the casual consumer, virtually everyone gushed, anxiously awaiting the “reveal” to find out the price. So they could go buy a case. They got their wish… Pepi Chenin Blanc-Viognier is quite affordable at $10. I hadn’t tried Pepi wines for many years, finding them rather boring and uninspiring in days past. But this fruity little Chenin-Viognier number caught the eye of every taster at the group tasting table. From wine professionals to casual consumers, virtually everyone gushed, anxiously awaiting the “reveal” to find out the price. So they could go buy a case. They got their wish… Pepi Chenin Blanc-Viognier is quite affordable.
Read more: Wine review: Pepi 2011 Chenin Blanc Viognier California
There’s nothing like sipping a wine that smells like your grandmother’s powder room. It sends you down a memory lane of rose garden, violets and red fruits. Soothing and sweet, like grandma. And Moscato is likely what she drinks too. But whether that memory is pleasant or nightmarish relies on a good relationship with your relatives. And your relationship with sweet wines. Moscato — a low alcohol white wine that’s typically quite sugary and super fragrant — is so popular with millions of people (mostly women, which makes sense), there are actually rumblings of a grape shortage. California producers of this easy going, uncomplicated sipper are considering sourcing grapes from Italy just to fill the orders. Moscato is like the Pinterest of wine. Also called Muscat Blanc or Muscat Canelli, it originated in the Piedmont region of Italy, where it’s often made into a lightly spritzy quaffer to be enjoyed with brunch, fruit tarts and bears the name Moscato d’Asti — named after the region where it’s grown.
Read more: Sweet sweet wine love: A review of Moscato Allegro 2010 California
Malbec is like the the golden retriever of wines — everyone loves its softness and friendliness. It’s grown around the world but Argentina’s Mendoza region owns this dogged grape variety and it’s rare that I’ve consumed a Malbec that was absolutely disgusting — can’t say the same for Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. This country simply keeps producing great, everyday drinking Malbecs.
Read more: Wine review: Argento 2010 Malbec Mendoza
Sicily is one of those steeped-in-history places you see on the Discovery Channel, where warring tribes battle among the decadent, carnal masses. True to their roots, Sicilians claim they inhabit the birthplace of vino, where Bacchus himself bent down and buried the seeds in the rich soil. This fertile, 10,000-square-mile island (about the size of Vermont), floating in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa, has been fought over since 500 B.C. and more often than heroin deals in the Corleone and Tattaglia families. Fractious warriors including the Greeks, Romans, Barbarians, Arabs, French, Spanish and then finally the Italians marked the Sicilian territory. Each of these thirsty cultures left its footprint on Sicilian wine making, such as the Zibibbo grape introduced by the Saracen Arabs and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) by the Albanian refugees in the Ottoman conquest. Though probably trampled many times over during battle, those grapes still thrive today, making Sicily a bright, unique wine region.
Read more: Sicily’s native son: Cusumano 2010 Nero d’Avola IGT wine review
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
Without a doubt, White Zinfandel, with its strawberry syrup-ness, has sentenced the entire class of rosés to a crude and classless reputation. But dry rosé has made a Brittany-esque comeback. Today’s new, snazzed-up pink wine is fragrant with strawberries and watermelon, and packs a tart finish fantastic for summer. My fridge is bloated with dry rosé wines all summer long, since it’s perfect for both day and nighttime, whether happy hour, picnic, lunch, dinner or brunch. I force it on everyone who crosses my threshold, explaining how the refreshing acids and understated tannins make it super food-friendly, matching both light fare and spicy food. The only thing bad about dry rosés is their lack of availability. They don’t exactly fly off the retail shelves since pink still suffers from marketing woes, so they unfortunately aren’t stocked very often. But seek and ye shall find. Especially this one from Clayhouse Wines in California’s Paso Robles.
Read more: Think pink for summer: 2011 Clayhouse Adobe Pink (rose wine review)
Torrontés is one of those grape varieties that teeters on the edge of massive popularity. Its soft, elegant feel in the mouth, coupled with extreme fragrance and fruit could make it a no-brainer for women wine drinkers and men with enough balls to drink a white wine that smells like flowers. It is truly a lovely wine. From Argentina, Torrontés was long believed to be a descendant of Spanish Torrontés but DNA evidence says it’s a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and the Mission grape (more history about the Mission grape). Thus, if you like Muscat (aka Moscato) — a wine that’s blowing up right now — then Torrontés should be flying up there with it.
Read more: White wine review: Callia Alta 2010 Torrontes Valle de Tulum (Argentina)
I’ve wondered whether the lack of mass success of the Viognier grape is because of the tongue-twisting name(pronounced VEE oh NYAY”) or some other reason. With its luscious, aromatic fruit, slight sweetness and sip-ability, you’d think it would be a girlie girl’s dream and be as popular with the chicks as Moscatos are now (more on that later). But, unlike Moscato/Muscat it’s tough to make Viognier well. Pick it too early in the growing season, you won’t get the pretty aromas and rounded flavors; pick it too late and you’ll get a wine that’s syrupy, flabby or has no acid at all. Some wineries get it just right though — Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino County is one of them.
Read more: Wine review: Bonterra 2010 Viognier Mendocino County