Old World Whites at Stunningly Low Prices

10 Oct

Le Domaines Robert Vic: Comtesse de Marion Chardonnay 2014, Pays D’oc, Vias, France. ABV 13%, available online from $8-14/bottle, sourced at $17/bottle from Xavier Wine & Spirits, NYC.

Translucent, pale straw in  color with a delicate nose of wildflowers and a hint of orchard fruit. Classically balanced chardonnay, mild up front with a rich and savory mid-palate, plenty of acid and a refreshing finish. Shows the kind of depth normally expected from a higher price tag, this is a no-brainer for those who adore quality $40-60 bottles of white and a killer find for those who work the under $20 range. Flexible to pair on the light and medium sides with fish, shellfish, salads, vegetables, light cheeses, white meats and of course, by itself for a glass of pure mediterranean sunshine.


Bonny Doon Vinyards Le Cigare Blanc 2012, Beeswax Vineyard, Santa Cruz, CA. 13%ABV, $10/bottle from Wine Exchange.

Color of medium straw green tinge. White peach and honeysuckle on the nose. On the palate, a mature blend of white fruit akin to delightful Bordeaux Blanc- white pear, golden delicious apple, asian pear, medium finish with notes of orange rind, slate and limestone.

This is a blend of 48% grenache blanc, 44% roussane, and 8% picpoul blanc (a Rhône blending varietal known for acidity and minerality) purported to use a very hands-off approach to winemaking, and as a result feels very old world in balance, acidity, and comfort.

With other vintages selling at three times the price, this is a go-to value bottle that drinks easily as well as a $20 bordeaux blanc and $25 california white blend. Don’t let the alien face on the yellow screwtop scare you away, this is a serious wine that can offer delightful pairing and huge value on the price point.



à votre santé!


Francophiled, or Drink What You Like

5 Oct

I recently attended a blind A/B tasting. That means we (the tasting panel) were given four pairs of wines poured from concealed bottles, were given no information on them, and we had to compare each pair of wines against one another. The common thread was that one set was presented by a famed importer of classic old world French wines from the Loire Valley, while the other set was provided by a small, youthful winery from Santa Barbara, California. What made this most interesting was that it was a pair of brothers, born five years apart, who both work in the wine industry, pitting their wines against one another. It was a fascinating evening and enlightening tasting.

Unfortunately,  this tasting came after a month of too little wine and too much work. Stupidly, I arrived fresh from taking my daughter horseback riding- parched and on an empty stomach- which somewhat threw me off my “A” game.

I took my wine notes, choosing many of the regions and grapes correctly. But I did something I’ve never done before. Our hosts asked us to tell them which wine we’d rather drink. So after tasting both wines in a pair, I quickly made a tiny heart-shaped notation indicating which of the wines I immediately preferred, knowing nothing more than my initial nose & sip. Normally I’m in critical mode, thinking about everything BUT which wine I might prefer to drink. My energy is spent deciding what the region, grape, style, and vintage might be, before possible food pairings. This time, I spent less concern on those criteria and just let my mouth decide.

So, what did I learn, you ask?

I learned that even an old dog can learn new tricks. As an outspoken Francophile (for the newbies, in the wine world that means I prefer old-world French wines) this tasting forced me to remove my size twelve boot from my mouth (Zut alors!) and replace it with a flip- flop, Duuuude!

In not one, but in EVERY single instance, I had chosen the Santa Barbara wine. The Loire Sauvignon Blanc had more grapefruit upfront while the Santa Barbara felt muted and ergo drank with greater balance. With the chenin blanc, it was the slight petrol on the French wine’s nose that made me prefer the other wine. With the pinot noir, it was that the French wine was actually a red sancerre. With the Cabernet Franc, it was the slightly deeper color and depth of palate that made me think it was aged longer in the barrel (it was) and was tastier on its own, while the French Chinon was a tiny bit sharper (more acidic) on the palate and ultimately would pair better with food, but fooled me into thinking it was Californian.


All night long, I kept thinking there was a wine switcheroo– that the Californian wine was actually the French and so forth. I was slightly amused, and yet irritated at myself for getting it wrong, not coming to the tasting with my “A” game, drinking the wine more than just tasting it, and enjoying the process of tasting and just having fun, instead of taking it so seriously- which is, after all, really the best way to do a tasting, right?

So instead of coming away with a set of killer tasting notes, I had a blast. I really enjoyed eight wines, and based upon minutiae, I selected four that I’d rather drink – and in every single case thought I’d chosen the old world French wines of my youth. Instead, I found myself having selected the Santa Barbara competitor time and time again. That, my friends, was the switcheroo.


Towards the end of the evening, I found myself chatting with a lovely couple across the tasting table. The wife admitted to me apologetically, “I know nothing about wine,” and I kept reminding her that the historic wine rules are no longer valid or in force. “As long as you know what you like, that’s what matters,” I preached. For this evening, I can do nothing but take my own advice. As an avowed Francophile, I am tipping my hat. For at least this one night, I am now California Dreamin’.


Knowing what you like means I have the best of both worlds. I can drink what I like from the new world, and I can also buy, hold, and drink what I hold so dear: those old world French wines.

My thanks to James Parisi and Xavier Wines for hosting this event. And both my thanks and respect to brothers Lyle Railsback from Kermit Lynch and Eric Railsback from Lieu Dit Winery for the astounding evening of great wines that I seriously enjoyed.

Know this, gents: I’m a true fan of all of your work and will continue to enjoy all your brands, drinking both what I like at the moment, and what I have loved my whole life.

À votre santé!

Garnacha Day!

24 Sep Secastillo

September 18th, 2015 was deemed #GarnachaDay from Wines of Garnacha. If you are a wine newbie, the Garnacha grape is also known as Grenache, which is widely planted in Italy, France, the USA and Spain, and is as big and popular as cabernet!  I was happy to join in a virtual tasting panel from Snooth. Here are my in-depth tasting notes for the wines I tasted:

Clos Dalian 2014 Garnacha Blanca, Terra Alta, Spain 12.5% ABV.

Deep Straw in color. With an aromatic nose of pineapple, white peach and pear. In the mouth, bracing acidity followed by long lasting and rich lemon, dominant on the palate Residual notes of sodium, granite, clay and petroleum. A solid expression of white Grenache grape, suited to help quench the hot spanish sun, early evening tapas, and complementing salads, shellfish, white fish, white meats, cheese or light pastas.

White Grenache



Beso de Vino Old Vine Garnacha 2014, Ariñena, Spain 13.5% ABV

Color is deep ruby with a purple center. The prominent nose of dark fruit and wet stone leads into the mouthfeel of black cherry, black plum, and green underbrush with notes of loamy earth, silt, stone, and toasted young oak.

Beso de Vino



Viñas Del Vero’s Secastilla Garnacha 2010, Somantano, Spain. 14%ABV.

Color shows a garnet center with deep purple edging. A large nose with black fruit, a touch of funk, aged tobacco leaves and forest floor. On the palate, reserved dark fruit gives way to smooth tannins enveloped in a series of notes that come after the hidden acidity springs forth: black earth with clay and mineral-rich soil. A clear-cut result of deep-rooted, older vines and some decent age on a well-conceived wine, a good demonstration of how Garnacha evolves. Solid value. My favorite, and a huge hit of the virtual tasting.


The spanish wines we tasted remind me why I love this grape and how flexible and expressive a grape it can be. You might think you love Châteauneuf-du-pape without realizing you love the main ingredient, grenache. #GarnachaDay is an excellent reminder of both the amazing wines from Spain as well as the fabulous wines worldwide that owe their backbone to garnacha.

What’s your favorite garnacha/grenache wine?

à votre santé!



Trois Belles Dames Françaises! (Three Lovely French Ladies)

8 Sep

Les Hauts du Tertre 2004 Margaux, Bordeaux, France. 13%ABV, $45/bottle from Xavier Wine Company.

Color is opaque garnet with purple edging, the nose offers cassis, black plum, menthol, rose bush, and stone.  On the palate, cassis and a touch of black cherry are met with forest floor, notes of eucalyptus, saddle leather, mocha, cedar plank and wet stone on the luxuriously supple and medium finish. The tannins are quite reserved and after decanting for half an hour, this Margaux drank so easily I found it difficult to put down the glass. I was impressed by this nicely-aged bottle, a second label of the fifth growth classification of Chateau du Tertre, and paired it with mild cheese, pasta and a spicy tomato sauce, and sockeye salmon but it would also pair well with red meat. I truly enjoyed it so much just by itself!





Jacques Puffeney’s Cuvée Sacha Arbois 2012. ABV 13%, $34/bottle from Crush Wine Company.

Made in a classic Jura style (this is not your mother’s chardonnay), this blend of savagnin and chardonnay features sherry-like oxidation for an intense and very dry white wine. A deep straw color with a nutty almond nose that could be mis-interpreted as being off, one sip quickly proves otherwise to the savvy taster. Features the flavors of dried pear, lemon zest, saline, black walnut, and limestone. This wine, slightly tart and acidic, is best for an advanced palate and begs for fresh fish or shellfish but delights with anything that likes a dry counterpart- mild cheese, salad, cooked vegetables, tapas, etc. After a week of rationing this beauty, I finished the bottle with some grilled peaches. I’m so glad to have managed to snag a few of Puffeney’s remaining bottles, but they disappear oh-so-quickly from my cellar!


Cuvee Sacha



Château de Valmer Vouvray 2012, Loire Valley, France. 11.5%, ⓊP; $16/Bottle from Mayfair Wine & Liquor.

Pale straw with green tinge, the nose offers citrus blend, wildflowers and honeysuckle. In the mouth, fleshy white fruit including red pear, gala apple and quince, a solid sense of minerality, with an off-dry finish. One of the few wines my wife will drink an entire glass of, Vouvray is a wine I buy in late spring and again in late summer when I want a sweet wine that isn’t sweet, that is delightful in the afternoon sun  when the bottle is chilled and that opens up her aromatics after warming to pair perfectly with a summer salads, vegetable medly, fish or white meal entrées. Delightful from opening to empty, I don’t know why I drink so few bottles of this (perhaps the wine is too much a crowd pleaser?) but at this price, I really should have a case in the cellar when I know I like Chenin Blanc but I adore Vouvray and the Loire Valley’s more aromatic, fruitier, slightly sweeter appellation.



à votre santé!

Passion on the Shelf: Xavier Wine Company, NYC

30 Aug Xavier 2

The Meatpacking District of Manhattan is not exactly known for being a haven of amazing wine stores, until now. There is at least one, called Xavier Wine Company. A tiny storefront off Little West 12th Street, it was the pedestrian sign that caught my attention:


Xavier 1

I went inside, and saw shelves laden of lovingly selected, carefully chosen labels. This is a place of quality over quantity. I identified several wines I had great interest in, and met James Parisi, owner and oenophile. He explained to me that Xavier’s focus is on sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines! It made perfect sense to me- as the shelves are curated with great precision, from delightful Italian and Spanish choices on the shelves you first encounter; perusing a wide selection of nice California, Washington, & Oregon wines in the middle of the store next to a centerpiece of high end spirits that are opposed by a variety of chilled sparkling wines directly across the aisle; with a wide alcove of Burgundy, Alsace, and Bordeaux wines in the annex with selected offerings from Beaujolais, Rhône, Provence & Loire wine regions completing the sales floor. I was entranced by such careful selection of specific winemakers, the attention paid to a wide selection of regions. I recognized bottle after bottle that I wanted to snatch into my arms and congratulate the owner on having such excellent taste- not on having a store of good wines, but one of great winemakers, and for being a fellow Francophile. What can I say, this buyer has great taste in wine. So what’s his deal?

James Parisi, owner, Xavier Wine Company, explained to me that his store has been open for “about a year, and if you come by regularly, you’ll notice the store is more of a community” for wine aficionados; “a fine wine experience”, if you will. To be certain, I was entranced, finding bottle after bottle of small winemakers I normally have to fight to seek out across the tristate area or sometimes across the country, while Jim has their wares in threes and fours, ready to take home and enjoy, sometimes perfectly chilled! And still, while I saw a few price tags in the hundred dollar range, in the racks were far greater options in the magic “$20 and under” that so many of my readers are looking for.

Xavier 2

James Parisi of Xavier Wine Company with a few of his Rhône varietals. 


What did I take home, you wonder. I was cautious at first, but shortly I was salivating. My picks:

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013 White Burgundy, 12.5%ABV, $34. Pale yellow in color with a delightfully floral nose. On the palate, a combination of white stone fruits and strong Meyer lemon finish with notes of limestone and clay. Gentle, balanced, delightful.

Domaine Moreau-Naudet  Parques Chablis “Vielle Vignes”- 2012 White Burgundy, 12.5%ABV, $38. Medium straw in color with a light, floral/citrus nose. In the mouth, a delicate balance of fruit and acidity; a classic chablis of near idyllic quality. The uneducated palate would say “oh this is nice” but the burgundy-fanatic will howl in joy at the expressive, terroir-driven finish that competes with wines double the price.

Les Hauts Du Tertre Margaux 2004. 13% ABV, $45. What can I say…I’m a fan of Margaux, of Tertre, and to find a bottle of their second wine with eleven years of age for a reasonable price, I’m not about to pass it up. I will have to wait and decant this after it has some rest, though.

The only bad part of discovering Xavier Wine Company was being on foot, and staying true to my promise to not buy more wine than I can hold in my arms. I saw so many bottles there I wanted to take home…you, my friends, will have to help me.  


à votre santé!


Mount Defiance Pinot Noir

29 Aug

Phelp’s Creek Vineyards’ Mount Defiance Wines, Pinot Noir, Columbia Gorge, OR.

In an Italian restaurant in Jackson Hole Wyoming, my first choice (Barolo) is unavailable. Perusing the list, I inquire about a wine I don’t know- and am told it’s an excellent choice, so here’s my review:

Bright ruby color; nose of young plum and boysenberry. In the mouth, lustrous strawberry with bracing acidity. Nice medium finish featuring lingering fruit. A great pairing for the salmon and English pea purée, not as good for the ricotta gnocchi but a delicious wine, and entirely enjoyable by itself.

Mt D 2 Mt D 1

#What’s in Your glass?

à votre santé!

Joya Red & White Sangria

24 Aug

Joya Sangria, La Puebla de Almoradiel, Spain. 12%ABV, $12.95/bottle MSRP. Samples provided by Aaron Kendall, CSS, Innovative Marketing LLC

The red is a blend of tempranillo, garnacha, and bobal grapes. This classic Spanish drink is actually purple in color and features a nose of sweet black cherry and boysenberry, those flavors carrying through the palate and the finish. If made per the directions, “Just Add Ice, Garnish with Fruit” it is indeed a fun adult beverage. I tried the wine (incorrectly) first alone and found it full of bright red fruit but cloyingly sweet. Yet with a few ice cubes, a squeeze of lime and a tiny slice of apple, I was pleasantly surprised as the sweetness melted under the acidity and the sangria felt familiar and enjoyably relaxing, like the sun on the Mediterranean sea.

Made from the Airén grape, Joya White Sangria’s color is pale straw with a light green tinge. The delicate nose offers a hint of pear and honey. In the mouth, stone fruit- young pear and tart green apple blend with gentle acidity for a pleasing sensation. it features a medium finish; fruit lingering on the back palate.

Both these wines would be perfectly at home in the backyard during a warm afternoon or accompanying tapas. While I’ve not previously sought out sangria, I think these wines will offer welcome opportunities for the adventurous wine lovers who long for a bit of Spain in their hearts and on their palates, or those who wish to entertain with something different- and this might be the perfect pour.


à votre santé!


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