Penfold’s Ghost! My Best Aussie Value Is Penley’s Killer 2009 Cabernet.

2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon
2009 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon

…You might have figured that out judging by the way Penley’s Phoenix flies out of here. Cases just disappear as soon as they arrive. It’s grown-up cabernet, plummy rich and smooth, subtly surprising, elegant. Quite a switch from all that shiraz ’round the barbie… not that there’s anything wrong with that. This cabernet is worthy of a good petit chateau. Two good reasons for that. First, it’s from the red-soil terra rossa in Coonawarra, flat out the best cabernet terroir from Down Under. The other is owner Kym Tolley, descendant of the good doctor Penfold himself, and famed winemaker Douglas Tolley, as well as a student of Max Schubert and a first class vigneron in his own right. Tolley has made this cab with medium body and firm tannins that guarantee at least a decade of good cellaring. Always a smart buy, and at our B-21 price I know you’ll want more than one.

2008 Black Slate Porrera Rocks! 92RAS

2008 Black Slate Porrera
2008 Black Slate Porrera

You know we love Priorats, especially from the mountains around Porrera. I love how you can taste the very slick and slate-y licorella rocks of the terroir, down deep in the richness. And it smells like you’re in the mountains, climbing through the gorse and wild herbs. It’s such a difficult wine to grow that it can fetch $50 to $100 a bottle and up, yet this version from Marc Ripoll Sans is just as deep, pungent and silky and less than half the price. Even Rhett Beiletti, our French-loving connoisseur, says it has grenache spice and Burgundy grace, the best he’s tasted. Lucky for you we know Daphne Glorian of Clos Erasmus (one of founding winemakers of the Priorat revival) and her husband Eric Solomon so well. He started the Black Slate project not far from Erasmus to make village wine, from the same grenache and carignan and the same rocks as the big stars In 2008, Black Slate from Porrera is a classic old-vine garnacha-cariñena made by Sans whose family has been in Priorat for 200 years. It packs the black berries, licorice and spice of Spain‘s most distinctive terroir into a very sleek red. And for you, $20 $18. If you don’t know Priorat, now’s the time.

Summer Doldrums Go Pop with Sparkling Prosecco

prosecco-bubbles-max470wcHad a great time pouring through Proseccos at a Saturday afternoon in-store tasting. Prosecco is made for the kind of days and nights we’ve had recently. Light, bubbly, and perfect for the backyard pool or boat; summer, Italian style. A reward for an afternoon of yard work, even an hour in the sun. And affordable enough to open on a Tuesday. Plus, for $20 or less you get an explosive cheer the  crowd loves…and wasn’t expecting until December.

We went through a dozen or so and when finished, Nino Franco (90WA, 91B-21) remained my favorite, slightly off-dry yet powerful. But three others stood out. For me, La Marca (90CS) was the crispest, most French and brut-ish in its “Carolina blue” label.  The surprises came from names we know well, but not for Prosecco. Santa Margherita delivered more elegance in a Prosecco (91 W&S) than in its over-advertised Pinot Grigio. Best buy was a light, melony Prosecco from our friends at Cupcake (89CS); the no-fear winemakers from Monterey seem to exercise good taste wherever they go (they’re in Asti, the Mosel, and NZ too).

Hold Your Horses! 2008 H3 Merlot, Cab, Chard

col-crest-h3-merlot-lWonder if anyone knew how good the Horse Heaven Hills would be (that’s H3 to you on the quick uptake). They have made and continue to make some of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s finest and critically acclaimed reds, strong evidence in the argument that Washington can make the best French varietals. 20 years ago or so the smart folks at CSM staked out this corner of the Columbia River valley for Columbia Crest, and it was a great call. I say so and so do Washington’s best small winemakers who buy grapes here, guys like Bob Betz and Andrew Will. CSM has been here all along. This is hot, dry country, and incredibly windy; the winds may have carved the hills themselves, sloping from 100 feet south to the river. Genuinely special terroir with a lot of basalt underneath, long hang times, wines that are rich and intense. Merlot is a Washington signature and the 2008 is a beauty, ripe fruit with an earthy back bone, and I should note a Top 100 Wine Value for Wine & Spirits. The Chard is green apple-juicy, with a bit of butter while the Cab is serious stuff, with smoke and pepper. You’re gonna want that.



Blend on a Budget: ’08 Amitage from Washington State

I'm so broke I got married for the rice

There’s no shame in saving money. I recently shared time with a friend who suffered dearly at the hands of the current economy, losing a six figure job and careening to a scoonch over minimum wage. He admitted it’s not as hard to live on next to nothing as he suspected and suggested he could be comfortable at half his previous wage. If this economic debacle has taught us one thing it’s how to live a more thoughtful and tempered lifestyle. And to this end I’ve found a way to help.

Night before last I cracked a bottle of Columbia Crest’s ’08 Amitage. Mostly Merlot with splashes of Syrah, Cab Franc, Cab, and Malbec, this is absolutely the best red blend value of which I am aware. Spectator gives it 89 points and calls it a “Best Value.” I wrote 88-89 in my notes, so that sounds just fine to me. Suggested retail is $12. And you know how we roll (it’s under $10).


2008 Columbia Crest Amitage Grand Estates
A lithe, graceful style, playing generous currant and plum fruit against hints of coffee and smoke, with refined tannins pulling together seamlessly. Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Drink now through 2013. 89 points Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator Jul 31, 2011.


Four Stunning Rhones You Gotta Try 91-pt Andezon, 92-pt CdR Blanc

Rhone_SignBy now my love of the Rhône is an open secret. Must be the excitement of watching a great traditional region reclaim its energy and flavor. Bordeaux and Burgundy are full of pleasures but they are known — and at this point, maybe too much so, watching the global big spenders drive up their prices. Not yet the Rhône. Outside Châteauneuf-du-Pape proper, Grenache and Syrah are doing new tricks in great vineyards and with great winemakers. If you met Philippe Cambie and the Gang of Pour at the shop a couple of months ago, you know how good and passionate they are. And they’re great value but that’s almost beside the point because the quality would be worth the price. Where else but the Côtes du Rhône can you get a 91-pt wine of silk and spice like the Andezon for under $20? Same price on the ’09 Côtes du Ventoux Pesquie Terrasses; you gotta have a case of that for the summer. Better stash a white too, that new ’10 CdR blanc from Andre Brunel’s (of Chateauneuf fame) Domaine Becassonne is the richest parfait of flavors and meticulous wine making I’ve had. It’s a 92 in my book yet we’re selling it for under $20, a super value. And for a sip of the future in the new wines of the old Rhône, get a bottle of the ’09 Calendal Côtes du Rhône-Villages, Cambie’s sensational Grenache/Mourvedre from the Plan de Dieu. Parker gives it a 92. You’re gonna want all that.


Sunday School: Uva di Troia

santa-lucia-melograno-lSay it with me, “OO-vah dee TROY-ah.”

If you caught my 15 minutes of fame on Brighthouse a few months back you got a little info on Uva di Troia, the obscure Italian grape that makes up Santa Lucia Melograno. Hailing from Puglia in the heel of Italy’s boot (as does Primitivo, or Zinfandel), this is a very unique grape, earthy, primary and fruity with a decidedly tannic bottom end. Scholars dispute its etymology, some translating it directly as “grape of Troy,” which points to Greek origins; and some translate “troia” as “lady of the night” in the sailor slang of Puglia’s port at Bari. Whatever the meaning, with current plantings shrinking to accomodate more profitable varietals, this is a wine you must try at least once.


Mumm Napa You Must Try: Brut, Demi-sec and Rosé! All 90 pts

mumm-brut-prestige-lJune is a month for sparkling and the house of Mumm is blowing lovely California bubbles like you won’t believe. Surprised me too but I’m not complaining. Mumm has truly refined and sharpened its entire line, lush and elegant in every strength. The Brut Rosé is big enough for dinner and very pretty too. The new Cuvee M is a sweetheart without cloying, and that Brut Prestige is on the Top 100 for stunning luxury at everyman prices. Whether you’re in wedding mode or just want to pop a surprise around the pool on a warm evening, this summer calls for a case of sparkle. You’re gonna want that.


Chalone Deal You Can’t Resist: 92pt Estate Chard

chalone-chardonnay-lYou read that right. We were down to our last few bottles when I scored cases and cases of the 2008 Estate Chardonnay. The price may be hard to believe but the wine is the Chalone Estate you love, that big melony complex chard that grows in a cool canyon site on the Central Coast so unique the Estate is its own appellation. If you’re a Chalone fan, you know that the 2008 was a grand year: 92 points grand says Spectator. Some people sell it for $25, not us. The B-21 price  is the lowest in the country. You’re gonna want that.

Absolute Steal of the Italian Tasting

009 Briccotondo by Fontanafredda Barbera, Piedmont (750ml)
Barbera with no Hanna gets me all animated.

I am always on the lookout for wines in the sub $15 sweet spot. And at Sunday’s Italy Grand Tour I had my first taste of the ’09 Briccotondo Piemonte Barbera by Fontanafredda. I know someone who just made the team!

Not quite Vietti Barbera d’Alba Scarrone or La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti la Crena. Duh. But who cares? This wine is tasty and fresh, vibrant with perfect acidity. And for the same money, I can buy three bottles or simply pocket the difference in singles and make it rain (albeit briefly) at my next shindig.

91 from me.

What Were We Drinking…By Ourself?

Looks more like a palm tree to me, dude.

I don’t have a lot of company to the house. It’s nothing personal, I just happen to live a little farther than folks prefer to drive and my schedule is unorthodox, so by the time the whistle blows most of my peeps have already eaten dinner and lay swaddled in Slankets for an NCIS snoozefest or a night of mind-numbing Facebook status updates. That being said, if I crack a bottle of wine I usually do it Lone Ranger style. And I don’t typically drink with my meals. Even dining out I’ll have iced tea or water while I’m eating and then cycle booze back into the mix after the plates are cleared.

So what do I drink alone? Short answer: anything. Bourbon, rum, beer, sherry, wine – you name it. Most recently I dug into an ’08 Festivo Malbec. I can’t say enough about this stuff. Under $15 and kick ass. I like it so much I selected it as one of our hidden gems on the Vino Vino TV show (Brighthouse channel 340 in Tampa Bay). It’s rich and smooth with big fruit. Dense for a Malbec. Spicy with ripe, dark cherries, and a ribbon of mocha on the finish.

Bob Parker says 87 points. I say hogwash (and I never say hogwash, because it’s a stupid word and I’m vulgar and enjoy the way spewing profanity makes me feel). Shannon gives it 90 points. I’m going to go out on a limb and say 91+.

If you’re looking for something a little smaller than a Cab and a little bigger than a Merlot this just might do the trick.

87 points, bro? Funk dat.


Sunday School: Wine, Women, and Sex

Wa wa wee wa!

I absolutely love writing articles about wine’s influence on health and longevity. And from the looks of it, you enjoy reading them. I’m sure the title lured you in here so I’ll stop filibustering and get on with it.

“The properties found within red wine when drunk in moderation have been shown to reduce heart disease and decrease the inflammation found within arthritis in women,” says Dr. Jan Berger of Health Intelligence Partners. “And depending on the amount of wine consumption and the type of cancer, the drinking of red wine can decrease the rate of cancer.”

Easing arthritis. Diminishing some forms of cancer. I like it. What else?

Red wine combats pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses. E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella are unable to survive wine’s onslaught of ethanol, low pH, and phytochemicals such as resveratrol. Wine also aids in dieting. Drinking a glass or two with a meal augments your sense of fullness, decreasing the amount of food necessary to satisfy your little belly (just don’t toss back four glasses and start eyeballing the Doritos, Miss Thang).

This next bit trumps them all.

Researchers from the departments of Urology and Public Health at the University of Florence (those Italians love them some wine studies) recently unearthed a wine marketer’s dream: women who drink one or two glasses of wine per day have better sex than those who abstain. Oh man. Release the hounds!

The survey focused on 800 women between 18 and 50 using the “Female Sexual Function Index,” which notes factors such as arousal, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain (ouch). Those who consumed two glasses per day logged an average score of 27.3 out of 36 on the satisfaction section. Their nondrinking counterparts? 24.4 (and one glass-per-day chicks, 25.9). “Historically,” asserts the study’s lead author Dr. Nicola Mondaini, “the aspects of wine and sexuality have been well known since the time of Ancient Greece.” Amen. This wins my award for best…study…ever.

So grab some vino. And give us a call.

[source 1 2]

2007 Las Gravas (Jumilla) — A Personal Recommendation

casa-castillo-gravas-lWe recently dove into this wine after tasting a couple of times and doing the business of it all, and it’s a smoker. Jumilla, you know, in its earthy glory, Las Gravas is made from 70% Monastrell, 15% apiece Cab and Syrah. This high altitude wine is of solid construction and dark and rich, somewhat big, but balanced and structured. This is a wine that delivers far more than its $20 price tag would make me expect. Stellar.

B Scores?
93 Rhett, 93 Bob, 93 Shawn

Jumpin’ Jumilla: Casa Castillo’s Killer Monastrell, Less Than Half Clio Price

2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas, Jumilla
2007 Casa Castillo Las Gravas, Jumilla

My new favorite Spanish red, plush with flavors I can just sink into, as good as any $40 or $50 you can spend in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Of course in France they call it Mourvedre. By any name you get the same intense flavor and texture, especially in the right terroir. Smart vintners rediscovered old vines in Jumilla and so did Eric Solomon, our Mediterranean explorer. I loved it from the first taste of Casa Castillo, still a bang of a bargain, and you did too. I was stunned when they kicked it up a notch to Las Gravas, from their most prized vineyard at the foot of the mountains. You can taste the big fruit of Monastrell bolstered by Cab and Syrah and something else: my kind of classy minerality from the heavy gravel and chalky soil of world class terroir. The winery itself is much older than you think; it started out 100 years ago when French winemakers discovered how good the area was for the grape they loved in the southern Rhône. Jumilla still is and Casa Castillo again one of its best, that’s plain in the juicy purity of 2007 Las Gravas, hard to believe you can drink like this for less than $40. Francophiles and anyone else who hasn’t dipped into Spain, now’s the time to get in on what you’re missing. One taste of Las Gravas (or a case at these prices) is the convincer. You’re gonna want that.