More on Portugal

Having taken an informal sabbatical from blogging for a while, I neglected to post my interview in the Portuguese news magazine Sabado. You can find it here. Google Translate does a fairly decent job of rendering the Portuguese text into English, though it sometimes makes me sound more philosophical and Yoda-ish than I really am. There’s a short video in English, with Portuguese subtitles, that covers most of the interview. I can’t figure out how to share the video here, unfortunately.

Sabado

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In Vino Veritas

In vino veritas, the Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote. In wine is truth. It’s an old Latin phrase making fun of people who speak their minds under the influence of alcohol. The quote is buried in a rather hilarious and frightening chapter of Pliny’s Natural History devoted to chronicling drunkenness in Russian society.  In this context, the saying is a warning against excessive drinking, and is often followed by in aqua sanitas, or in water is health.

Today, in vino veritas has been embraced by wine lovers as a positive, or at least a nuanced, statement. There is always that negative connotation of loose-lipped inebriation, but it also hints of a more positive truth, hidden within ourselves and revealed through wine’s mystical quality to elevate our spirit, as the wine we take at communion brings us closer to God.

On two consecutive evenings, on two sides of the country, and with two different groups of people, I experienced this positive truth in wine. The first occasion was a wedding. About a hundred people gathered at District Winery in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the union of two men in a hilarious and unconventional ceremony that combined elements of Greek drama and slapstick comedy with traditional religious ritual. Wine flowed as freely as the tears, and there was cheese and charcuterie amidst the camaraderie. Throughout the reception and dinner and dancing that followed, total strangers bonded over their mutual affection for the happy couple. (At one point, I heard someone exclaim, “I want to meet his sister!”) And I became closer friends with people I deal with regularly but rarely in person.

Wine was secondary to the occasion, of course, but we cannot conceive of such an event without it. Wine is the drink of celebration. We raise our glasses to toast each other, commemorate the past and welcome the future. It helps bring us together. Wine never tastes quite as good when we drink alone — it benefits from, even as it contributes to, communion.

Twenty-four hours later, I was in northwestern New Mexico with about a dozen colleagues. A long day of travel included airport delays, a flat tire in the middle of the desert for one of our team, and the kick of driving along the old Route 66. After all the work was finally done, several of us gathered at our hotel to unwind and debrief on the day’s events.

There was wine, of course. One colleague brought a bottle of Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 from Napa Valley, a gift from his father. I contributed a Limerick Lane 1910 Block Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. Argentine malbecs from Gascon and Alamos, procured at local supermarkets, were offered and quickly emptied. There may also have been Crown Royal. Wine is supposed to be paired with food, but all we had was some cold gluten-free pizza and the makings of bruschetta, leftovers from a mid-afternoon dinner. They disappeared quickly, but fatigue was our main course.

And we feasted on conversation. After recapping the day, talk moved on to work and life. We didn’t say about much about the wine. Instead, we ragged on bureaucracy and bragged of our individual accomplishments, as well as those of our children. Before long there were several conversations going at once, as colleagues became friends and an ordinary work trip became an experience that we will remember for years and may ultimately be mentioned at our retirement parties. No one was drunk, but we relaxed and laughed and communed as wine transformed our fatigue into energy for a few hours. When the bottles were empty, we cleaned the room and called it a night, happy and ready to do it all again the next day.

Life and work drove these days, not wine. But wine added its charm and a measure of honesty. It was a voice in the celebratory choir of the wedding, though not the melody. It played magician to a small group in a hotel meeting room, changing a long and weary day into a memorable evening. On a more mundane level, wine can help us celebrate minor victories as well as major life events, or lift our cares and spirits when we are down.

In vino veritas.

A different version of this article was published on WashingtonPost.com in late May 2018. 

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Excitement in Portugal

My list of my favorite “Great Value” wines of 2017 — posted here yesterday and published earlier this month in The Washington Post — caused a mini stir in Portugal. Or at least, the winery that produces my #3 wine, Confidencial Reserva, jumped at the chance to publicize my writeup. Here’s a clip from Portuguese TV. A few days later, I was contacted by a reporter for the weekly news magazine Sábadoasking to interview me. We disturbed early bird diners at Tavira restaurant in Chevy Chase, Md., for 90 minutes the other evening as we chatted and the photographer took way too many photos of me.

Posted in Bargain Wines, Cheap Wine, Humor, Portugal, Washington Post, Wine | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Great Values of 2017

This is a new feature I’ll probably do annually for The Washington Post, highlighting my favorite wines of the past year that I gave the “Great Value” designation. I’m deleting the store listings here, so it won’t be such a long post. You can see the original, with photos, here. 

With all the wines on the shelves vying for your attention when you walk into a wine store or a supermarket, how do you choose which one to take home for dinner? A catchy name or pretty label stands out. A heavy bottle looks and feels important. But you wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if the money you shell out for that wine might be paying for that designer label or studly bottle, rather than the juice inside.

In 2017, I recommended more than 250 wines in this column. Of those, I labeled slightly more than 100 as “Great Values.” The Great Value designation is subjective — after all, I recommend only wines I believe are worth what they cost. A Great Value offers extra excitement, performing at a level above its price. Value doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. The Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne I recommended last week impressed me so much, I gave it three stars (“exceptional”) and a Great Value  tag because it far outperforms other $40 champagnes. But only a handful of my Great Values were over $20, and most of those were sparkling wines.

My list would suggest that wine’s best values come in the $12 to $20 range. In all, I put the tag on 27 wines that I also gave my highest rating of 3 stars. These ranged in price from $13 to $40. I gave 2 1/2 stars (excellent to exceptional) and the Great Value  label to 36 wines ranging from $10 to $24, and 2 stars (excellent) and Great Value to another 38 wines ranging from $9 to $20. Eight wines, from $8 to $12, scored 1 1/2 stars (very good to excellent) and Great Value.

France led the way with 41 great values, followed by the United States with 15 (10 from California, four from Oregon and one from New York), Italy (13), Spain (9) and Portugal (6). Other countries making cameos included Chile, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia and South Africa. As 2017 was the year of rosé, 26 pink wines made the list — nearly a quarter of the total. That reflects the growing number of rosés in the market as well as my enthusiasm for them. Fifteen great values were sparkling.

So here is a case of wine for you:  my 12 favorite Great Values  from 2017, with the most expensive at $16 and the cheapest at $8. These are not just  top scorers. Those I list here were memorable in a certain way, either their sheer quality for the price, or their uniqueness, or some other factor. I’ve ranked them in descending order, after applying a simple equation that takes into account my star rating — my enthusiasm for the wine — and the price. The better the wine and the lower the price, the higher the ranking. Note that some of these wines have moved on to the next vintage; don’t let that stop you from trying them. Others may be sold out. We provide the store lists to show where the distributors say the wines should be available, but it’s always best to call and check, or to ask a favorite retailer to order for you. Wines this good, at this price, are worth the wait — or the hunt.

 

  1. Château Montaud Côtes de Provence Rosé 2016

2 Stars

Provence, France, $13

I like this rosé every year, but in 2017 it came in a 3-liter box for $26, or about $6.50 a bottle, making it cheaper and more fun. Bottles are still available, though the boxes have sold out. I suspect they will reappear with the 2017 vintage for next summer’s picnics and patio parties. ABV: 12 percent.  

  1. Evolucio Blaufrankisch 2014

2 Stars

Weinland, Austria, $12

When I first tasted this spicy, delicious red, I made a note and put it aside. When I found it two weeks later and tried it again, I was even more impressed with its vibrancy and “flavors of black cherry, raspberry, caraway and fenugreek.” I used no vacuum pump or inert gas to preserve it, just replaced the screw cap and kept it at room temperature. Well-made wine can keep that way. (The distributor has moved on to the 2015, a great vintage in Austria.) ABV: 13.5 percent.

 

  1. Chateau de Passavant 2015

2.5 Stars

Anjou, Loire Valley, France, $15

Chenin blanc deserves more respect for its ability to delight, both dry and sweet. You could enjoy this dry version by itself, but it really wants to dance with poultry or seafood. Demeter certified as biodynamic, made from organic grapes. ABV: 12.5 percent.

 

  1. Loosen Bros. Dr. L Sparkling Riesling

2.5 Stars

Germany, $15

Sparkling Riesling may be Germany’s best-kept secret. This delightful example shows Riesling’s bubbly personality at its best. ABV: 12.5 percent.

 

  1. Cavalchina Bardolino Chiaretto 2015/2016

3 Stars

Veneto, Italy, $16

This zesty, juicy rosé made from the grapes that typically go into Valpolicella (corvina, rondinella and molinara) is super, year after year. It’s great by itself, but excels with salty or garlicky foods such as olives or hummus. This is a rosé to drink year round, and not worry about having the freshest vintage. Alcohol by volume: 12.5 percent.

 

  1. Domaine de Chevalier, La Petite Lune 2015

3 Stars

Bordeaux, France, $16

The only thing getting the Bordelais more excited than their 2015 vintage is the 2016. When I saw this wine was from Domaine de Chevalier, one of my favorite producers, I immediately had high expectations. The wine didn’t disappoint, and is phenomenal for the price. This blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc is rich and ripe with cherry, plum and blackberry fruit and a lush texture to carry all that fruit. Classy. Alcohol by volume: 13.5 percent.

  1. Marietta Cellars, Old Vine Red Lot Number 66

3 Stars

California, $16

What a treat it was to reunite with this old friend and find it as good as ever. Based on zinfandel, this savory, stylish blend is so good it may distract you from your meal. ABV: 13.5 percent.

 

  1. Hugl Weine Zweigelt Rosé 2016

2.5 Stars                                                                                                       

Austria, $13

Austria is most famous for its outstanding white wines from gruner veltliner and Riesling. This delightful rosé from Zweigelt, Austria’s main red grape, is vibrant and peppery, with loads of cherry and raspberry flavors. The distributor is now sold out; the stores listed below placed orders after July. ABV: 12 percent.

 

  1. Chateau de Marjolet Cotes-du-Rhone 2015

3 Stars

Rhone Valley, France, $15

Rhone wines have crept up in price, but this beauty manages to overdeliver for the category. Deep and savory, with a sense of mountain air, sea breeze and wild herbs. Alcohol by volume: 14 percent.

 

  1. Confidencial Reserva 2013

2.5 Stars

Lisboa, Portugal, $12

This wine reminded me why Portugal is one of my favorite regions to hunt for value. It’s a stylish, juicy red with Bing cherry and sour plum flavors, a texture like the rough side of velvet, and elegant tannins. It’s a red-meat wine. ABV: 13.5 percent.

 

  1. Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2016

2 Stars

California, $8

This wine shined when I rated 29 of America’s favorite cheap wines. It stood out from the crowd of mediocre plonk because it had clean, bright fruit flavors and “a good balance of acid and sweetness.” Best of all, it’s available everywhere, from convenience stores to wine megamarts. ABV: 13.5 percent.

 

  1. Goru Verde 2015

2.5 Stars

Jumilla, Spain, $10

 

When I started compiling this list, this was the first wine I thought of. Back in June, I said it “may be the best $10 red I’ve tasted in a long time.” It still is. Made from organic monastrell (mourvedre) grapes, it features dark cherry and dried fig flavors with hints of black olive, tea and tobacco. Alcohol by volume: 14 percent.

 

 

Posted in Austria, Bargain Wines, California, Cheap Wine, France, Germany, Portugal, Rhône, Riesling, Spain, Wine, Zweigelt | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Bubbles! Bubbles! Bubbles!

WordPress has managed to cut me off from my blog on my computer (I may have had something to do with it) but not my phone. So I will just post a link to my most recent recommendations of sparkling wine for the holidays. Happy New Year, everyone!

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Wednesday wine recommendations 12/13/2017

The holiday season is here, the month in which Americans buy the vast majority of sparkling wine sold in the United States. So throughout December, I will recommend a variety of bubblies from around the world, from good inexpensive fizz to high-end champagne. Stock up — if you don’t get to them all by New Year’s, they’ll help keep 2018 festive.

Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Blanc des Blancs Grand Cru Brut

3 Stars

Le Mesnil sur Oger, Champagne, France, $48

Mesnil is an area in Champagne’s Cote des Blancs, where chardonnay (in my opinion) achieves its greatest expression. Wines from Mesnil are typically big and bold flavored (Krug being a prominent example), but Michel Turgy achieves a remarkable finesse and delicacy. And at this price, it’s a relative value. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.

Distributed by Dionysus: Available in the District at Arrowine & Spirits, D’Vines, MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s; on the list at Kapnos. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley Food and Beverage in Bethesda, Wells Discount Liquors and Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in the Virginia at Arrowine & Cheese in Arlington, Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), J. Emerson Fine Wines & Cheese in Richmond, Vienna Vintner, Wine Cabinet in Reston; on the list at Nostos in Vienna.
Champagne Jean Michel Cuvée Cep Extra Brut

2.5 Stars

Champagne, France, $60

This wine is labeled “Champagne à l’état pur,” or champagne in its pure state. That means no additives to the wine and no sulfur used at bottling. As a champagne for the natural wine movement, it is a bit rough-and-tumble, with delicious fruit and a chewy texture that shows more brawn than delicacy. Its honesty kept drawing me back for another sip. ABV: 12 percent.

Distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Cordial (the Wharf), MacArthur Beverages. Available in Maryland at Remington Wine Company and Wine Source in Baltimore; on the list at Banditos in Easton, Marie Louise Bistro and Pen and Quill in Baltimore.
Contratto Extra Brut 2011

2.5 Stars GREAT VALUE

Italy, $30

The label says Contratto was the first Italian producer — about a century ago — to make sparkling wine in the traditional champagne style, with the second (bubbly) fermentation taking place in the bottle. It sports an over-the-top Belle Epoque label that promises hedonistic revelry, and it delivers. The wine bursts with delightful scents and flavors of raspberries, currants and white flowers. For bubbly fiends, it’s single vintage, with no dosage of sugar added at disgorgement. It’s not well known, but it is worth seeking out. ABV: 12.5 percent.

Distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at MacArthur Beverages, Rodman’s; on the list at Fiola Mare. Available in Virginia at Unwined (Alexandria).
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne

2 Stars GREAT VALUE

Burgundy, France, $20

“Cremant” is a term for most French sparkling wines made in regions outside Champagne. The most common are Burgundy (Bourgogne), Alsace and Loire. Simonnet-Febvre is in Chablis, the northern part of Burgundy known for chardonnay. This cremant crackles with crisp bubbles and refreshing acidity, making it an ideal aperitif for a toast or to wash down appetizers. ABV: 12.5 percent.

Distributed by M. Touton Selection: Available in the District at Best in Liquor, Burka’s Wine & Liquor, Cairo Wine & Liquor, Capital City Wine & Spirits, Circle Wine & Liquor, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Spirits, Eye Street Cellars, Freedom Market, Harry’s Reserve Fine Wine & Spirits, Magruder’s, McReynold’s Liquors, Potomac Wine & Spirits, Rodman’s, Sheffield Wine & Liquor Shoppe, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits, U Street Mini Mart, Virginia Market. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, the Bottle Shop in Potomac, Bradley Food and Beverage in Bethesda, Clarksville Village Wine & Liquor, Cork & Bottle in Laurel, Eddie’s Liquors in Baltimore, Hillandale Beer & Wine in Silver Spring, Kenilworth Wine & Spirits in Towson, Midway Discount Liquors in Joppa, Old Farm Liquors and Spin the Bottle in Frederick, the Perfect Pour in Elkridge, Pine Orchard Liquors in Ellicott City, Potomac Beer & Wine in Rockville, Preserve Wine & Spirits in Hanover, Rodman’s (White Flint), Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington; on the list at the King’s Contrivance in Columbia.
Cricova Blanc de Noirs Pinot Noir Extra Brut

2 Stars GREAT VALUE

Moldova, $17

Moldova boasts the world’s largest underground wine cellar, as well as some really good inexpensive bubbly. Cricova makes a basic brut called Crisecco that is a stunner for about $12. This slightly more expensive blanc de noirs is robust with flavors of red berries and ripe peaches, over spicy gingerbread. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Distributed by Salveto: Available in the District at Chat’s Liquor, Cork & Fork, D’Vines, S&R Liquors; on the list at Ambar, Mintwood, Partisan. Available in Maryland at Dunkirk Wine & Spirits, Potomac Gourmet Market in National Harbor. Available in Virginia at Crystal City Wine Shop, Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton, Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Screwtop Wine Bar & Cheese Shop in Arlington, Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview), Wine Outlet (Great Falls, McLean, Vienna), on the list at Ambar in Arlington.

Originally posted on WashingtonPost.com on December 2, 2017.

 

Posted in Biodynamic, Champagne, France, Holidays, Italy, Natural Wine, Sparkling Wine, Washington Post | Leave a comment

Champagne Pannier Rosé Brut

img_5216Berries and roses, not whiskers on kittens; bubbles up noses, not warm woolen mittens. These are a few of my favorite things — in my glass!

Champagne Pannier Brut Rosé NV, 12% abv, $48.

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