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
El Dorado County, a tragically obscure grape growing region east of Sacramento, is not an area that I would dub “Riesling Country.” Known generally as a grape that thrives in cooler climate areas (think Germany, Alsace in northern France, southern Australia, Washington State), Riesling would basically be caught dead in a frickin’ hot area like El Dorado. El Dorado, where the gold rush started… where Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and countless hot-loving Italian varieties roam. (Read more about Riesling) I sure love being shocked. Madrona, who grows Riesling on their estate at more temperate elevation of 3,000 feet above the valley floor, shocked me. And a few other wine writers recently at a blind tasting.
Read more: Wine review: Madrona 2010 Signature Dry Riesling El Dorado
The 2011 Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley are simply spectacular. Loaded with tart acidity, peaches and grapefruit, you can be assured that any bottle of 2011 Oregon Pinot Gris you grab from the shelves will be worthy of passing your lips. But if you can find this one, you’re golden. The Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris has refreshingly crisp acids, resulting from the cooler climate experienced throughout the state during that vintage year. Fragrant citrus fruit on the nose leads into a light-bodied white with flavors of pink grapefruit (but smoother than a New Zealand Sauv Blanc), lime zest and green apples. This grog is sassy and simply easy to drink on a warm day.
Read more: Wine review: Elk Cove 2011 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley (Oregon)
Serenading and reviewing one of the best sauvignon blanc wines I’ve had. With a touch of sweetness, this wine pairs with lots of different foods, has a depth of character with the additional of Rhone white grapes Viognier and Roussanne and worth every penny of its $23 price tag. Really.
Read more: Wine review: Dutcher Crossing 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley (a poem)
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 can say with certainty that I haven’t walked away from many winemaker interviews wanting to sign up for their wine club. I simply have too much wine sitting in my cellar at home. But the wines from Pure Cru, made by the ever popular and ever well-connected Napa Valley winemaker Mitch Cosentino, had that effect on me. They were like crack, but better for you. Pure Cru is Mitch’s “side” wine project, making about 3,000 cases per vintage to create a “small, hands-on entity where I could do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning.” The rather simple yet delicious premise is to grab fruit from his favorite vineyards throughout Napa Valley and northern California to craft small quantities of wine blends. Wines that the average consumer can afford too. How novel from a Napa winery.
Read more: Pure Cru = Pure pleasure from Napa and Mitch Cosentino
Although I unfortunately missed the witticisms during the #AlbarinoDay on Twitter May 9th, I eagerly consumed the quips from my fellow bloggers post haste. Albarino [al-bah-REEN-nyo], a finicky, aromatic white grape, is grown primarily in the small, green, lush region on the northwestern coast of Spain, Rías Biaxas [REE-ahse BYEE-shash]. The grapes here practically drown in over 50 inches of rain a year. In order to avoid rot, the fruit is hung far above the wet ground, using granite support posts, rather than wood, to support the vine canopies. Rías Biaxas only produces whites and Albarino is the primary grape, which deliciously complements the area’s primary cuisine, seafood. The flavor and style is similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc mixed with the creamy fuller-bodiedness of Chardonnay, and it smells and tastes like a fruit salad of green apples, pears and citrus.
Read more: Underappreciated yet joyous Albarino wines: The best tweets from #AlbarinoDay
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