May 13, 2015
I’m frequently asked, particularly at this time of year when weddings and large outdoor gatherings are being planned, to recommend exceptional wines priced for a crowd. The favored price points seems to be $15 or less, so the question on everyone’s mind is what they can get for $15.
As it turns out, plenty. Here are ten rock solid wines that will please even the most discriminating palates and not exceed the $15-per-wine budget.
Banfi 2013 Centine Rosso, Toscana IGT, Italy ($11) – I refer to this as a baby “Super Tuscan.” It has impressive depth and complexity for a red wine in the price range, and benefits from Banfi’s vast vineyard resources in the Brunello and Chianti districts of Tuscany.
Bolla 2012 Soave Classico DOC, 883 Selection, Italy ($10) – In recent years Bolla has been one of the most improved wineries in Italy, successfully breaking away from past inclinations to over-crop and produce thin, uninteresting wines. This Soave is a superb summer white.
Carmen 2012 Carmenere, Apalta Vineyard, Colchagua Valley, Chile ($15) – The forgotten grape of Bordeaux, Carmenere has found a home in Chile. In the warmer regions such as Colchagua Valley, it positively thrives. This is a great example.
Dr. Konstantin Frank 2014 Gruner Veltliner, Finger Lakes ($15) – This region in upstate New York produces some of the finest white wines in America, and the Dr. Frank Gruner is right there at the top. It’s crisp and refreshing, and excellent with steamed or raw shellfish.
Paul Mas Estate 2014 Malbec, Gardemiel Vineyards, Pays d’Oc, France ($13) – The Languedoc in the south of France is the world’s largest grape-growing region and for years suffered from over-production that yielded mediocrity. The Languedoc has changed dramatically, and there is a new emphasis on the attention to detail in the vineyard that makes for quality in the bottle. Paul Mas is one of the producers leading the charge, and this inexpensive Malbec is testimony to the Languedoc’s ability to deliver exceptional quality at a modest price.
Navarro Vineyards 2014 Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County ($15) – One of California wines hidden treasures, Navarro is tucked away in western Mendocino County, the Anderson Valley to be precise, quietly making some of the finest wines in America. This Pinot Blanc is a stunner.
Giesen 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand ($15) – This family-run winery in Marlborough is best known for its scintillating Sauvignon Blanc and impressive vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, but the Pinot Gris is anything but shy and retiring despite all that competition. This is a mouth-watering example of a white variety that should be more widely planted than it is at the moment.
H & Q 2010 Priorat DOQ, Spain ($15) – The red blends of Spain’s Priorat region can be pricey and no one begrudges that because quality is generally very high, but it’s still nice to see one in that both delicious and modestly priced. The Garnacha in this blend shines through.
Sartori di Verona 2012 Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC, Italy ($15) – Valpolicella is no longer the stepchild in the Veneto region of northern Italy, where Amarone has long ruled. In the hands of the top producers, the Valpolicella blends now have access to the finest grapes that were once reserved exclusively for Amarone, and the result is some seriously good red wine at prices the average person can afford.
Souverain 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast ($15) – Over the more than 20 I’ve been writing this column, Souverain (formerly Chateau Souverain) has been one of America’s most reliable value wines. That’s because the longtime winemaker, Ed Killian, doesn’t compromise on quality. It was true then and it is true now. The brilliance of Killian can be found in this bottle. You would be hard-pressed to find a superior $15 Cabernet Sauvignon from California.
May 7, 2015
And so it begins over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, when millions of Americans put winter squarely in the rearview mirror and take to their outdoor barbecues. Serious grillmeisters understand that burning the steaks and charring the corn on the cob is not the only task at hand.
There are thirsts to slake, among other things. I, for one, enjoy a good dry rose when flipping the burgers (one-handed, I might add). Dining al fresco does not mean dumbing down your wine experience.
On the other hand, there are a few easy steps anyone can take to enhance the outdoor wine experience.
1. Do not fear the screwcap. Once thought to be the sign of an inferior wine, the screwcap turns out to be a superior closure for many wines, especially crisp white wines. Many top producers have gone to the screwcap even for their very finest wines. The list includes Sonoma Cutrer, Bonny Doon, Domaine Laroche, Baileyana and just about every top-notch winery in Australia and New Zealand. The screwcap is perfect for dining outdoors or serving wine at a picnic because you never have to worry about forgetting the corkscrew!
2. Don’t be afraid to chill the reds. Red wines served warm tend to be dull and lifeless, and sometimes harsh. Ten to 15 minutes on ice will freshen your reds and make them go down easier. Besides, on a warm day something cold always refreshes more than something lukewarm.
3. Avoid the plastic stemware. Sipping wine from plastic often leaves a metallic taste on the palate. Glass is always better, unless the rules of the outdoor area for your picnic expressly forbid it. If you are worried about breakage, use a sturdy water tumbler for the wine. You are less likely to have breakage and the tasting experience will be significantly improved.