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Ms. Drinkwell’s Top 5: Shoulder Season Wines

13 Oct

boarding-bass-shiraz_1Welcome to shoulder season, that moment between the lows and the highs.  It’s a term used almost exclusively by the travel industry, but I don’t see why it can’t also be used in the context of wine.  In fact, it seems to fit quite nicely given that the wine industry is also a cyclical one with (usually) predictable high and low periods.  Wine sales are traditionally at their lowest during the summer months and peak during the November and December holiday season, which means that now, in October, we’re in the lull.

What’s so great about shoulder season is that it makes you think differently.  Ever dream of Christmas in Hawaii?  So does everybody else.  It’s as common as going into a wine store on New Year’s Eve and declaring that you want a bottle of Champagne.  Everybody wants Zinfandel and Pinot Noir on Thanksgiving and Beaujolais Nouveau on the third Thursday in November.  They want big, impressive (but not too expensive this year) California reds to wow friends or clients during the month of December.  In wine and in travel, it seems that everybody wants the same thing at the same time, often dictated by the weather or the holidays.  But, what if, as now, there is not discernable weather pattern to guide you, no big holiday to prepare for?  What do you drink?  And where in the world do you go to find it?

Below are five shoulder season suggestions from wine roads less traveled that are both budget friendly (all under $20) and perfect for milder weather.  Welcome to the delicious in-between!
* Importer, where applicable, and approximate retail price in parentheses.

2008 Quinto do Alqueve, Ribatejo, Portugal (Robert Kacher Selections, $12)

quinto do alqueve

So many Rhône varieties, so little time… and so much money.  I’m often disappointed by white Rhône because for all its heady aroma, it’s often flabby and overpriced.  This Portugese pour made from Fernão Pires is from the Ribatejo region, which lies about 40 miles north of Lisbon.  A superior stunt double for the French stuff in terms of quality and price, it offers a nose redolent of dried apricot and linden blossom.   It’s chiffon-soft mouthfeel is at first ripe with pineapple and mango but finishes a squeeze of meyer lemon juice to give it just the right amout of zip.

2008 Cor Cellars Alba Cor, Columbia Gorge, WA ($17)

Alba Cor

Not only is the Columbia River Gorge (the natural border between Oregon and Washinton), well,  gorgeous, it also produces some mighty fine wine, like this 52% Pinot Gris, 48% Gewürztraminer blend.  It’s lychee and rose petal aromas give way to full bodied flavors of clementine and dried nectarine that are stopped just short of sweetness by a backbone of mouthwatering acidity.

2007 Domaine de la Pepière La Pépiè Côt, VdP de Jardin, France (Louis/Dressner Selections, $16)

50_274_274_pepiecot1

A Malbec by any other name would never taste like this.  Marc Ollivier’s very natural (only natural yeasts, no sterile filtration) Malbec, which goes by the alias Côt in the Loire Valley, is an elegant take on the variety.  One you’d never expect if your only experience has been in the form of brawny Argentine versions or even the inky, earthy offerings of Cahors.  No, here in the Garden of France Malbec is treated delicately and the finished product is a nearly clear garnet stunner that’s much more elegant than its drunken chicken label might imply.  Each pour brims with black raspberries, bing cherries, and violets.  Can’t get much lovelier than that.

2008 Palmina Dolcetto, Santa Barbara County, CA ($16.50)

palmina dolcetto

I admit that I have not traditionally been a fan of the Cal-Ital movement, primarily because I have found time and time again that Cali wines labeled as Sangiovese or Barbera are more or less unrecognizable as their stated varieties.  They have no character.  Thankfully, there are a handful of producers like Palmina, who are dedicated to upping the ante in the Cal-Ital game and are doing so with integrity and offering good quality at fair prices.  During shoulder season I like their Dolcetto, a friendly, easygoing wine filled with spicy cherry, rhubarb, and plum flavors that shows the characteristic Italian brightness (i.e. the acidity hasn’t gone down the tubes in favor of squeezing out extra gooey fruit).  Tasty and true.

2006 Bibich Riserva, North Dalmatia, Croatia (Blue Danube Wine Co., $18)

Bibich

This blend of three grapes — Lasin, Plavina, and Babic — drinks like a lusty, dusty spiced Dry Creek Zin poured into a lithe dancer’s body.  There’s a lot of muscle here but it’s lean, meaning this wine’s berry spiced intensity is discovered slowly, one sip at a time, not in a single knock out punch.  A perfect red to ease you into heartier glasses come winter.

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Ms. Drinkwell’s Top 5 – California Wine Edition

1 Sep

i heart wineIn honor of California Wine Month, I’ve put together a short list of some of my favorites, recent and perennial:

Best Chardonnay with the Worst Name
2007 Wind Gap Chardonnay Brousseau Vineyard

There’s a nice story on the Wind Gap website about how the vineyards are planted along wind gaps and how the wind shapes the flavors of the wines, and I’m sure this is all true, but the name is just plain bad.  However, the wine is so good that I developed temporary aphasia upon tasting it.  So what’s it like?  Marilyn Monroe in a bikini –voluptuously built with each curve counterbalanced by acidity so racy it’s practically electric.  And, there’s so much minerality in each sip, it’s like there’s a quarry in the glass.  In my opinion, no Cali Chard has ever tasted as Chablisienne as this one while still managing to capture essence of opulent California style.  

Best Version of a Variety No American Can Pronounce 
2007 La Clarine Farm Mourvèdre Cedarville Vineyard

It’s awkward that I never know how to say the name of this grape correctly (moor – ved, or  moor – ved – druh?).  No matter, I’ll just call La Clarine’s version good stuff.  It reminds me of a solid French country wine — not too fancy, not too polished, not too expensive — and best of all, not too over the top.  The kind of wine you keep reaching for again and again with pleasure.  It’s a much leaner rendition than you might expect coming from this notoriously hearty, big boned variety, and that’s probably why I like it so well.  It checks all the right boxes: violets, leather, dusty blackberry, savory spice, but it’s not heavy handed.  Rather, it’s like the fresh faced girl next door — pretty in its youth without a trace of makeup.

Best New Zin that Could Give Ridge a Run for Its Money
2005 Hunnicutt Zinfandel Napa Valley, Chiles Valley District

I’ll admit to being biased against Napa Valley Zinfandel.  For me, it just doesn’t possess the nuance or subtelty that can be achieved with a well made version from Dry Creek or Russian River Valley.  So when I bounded into work on a recent day to be met by a rep with a lineup which included Hunnicutt’s Napa Valley Zin, I felt pretty confident that an underwhelming tasting was to follow.  Ah, hubris!  I was wrong, of course, which is the great thing about great wine.  It kicks your ass back into line  in the most delicious way, which is exactly what  Hunnicutt did for me with its rose petal, bing cherry, and pink peppercorn potion.  It’s delicate without sacrificing lush texture or lusty fruit.  Quite the impressive balancing act.

Best and Most Thoughtful California Wine Blog
Tom Wark’s Fermentation:  The Daily Wine Blog

OK, OK so Tom Wark doesn’t write exclusively about California wine, but he’s located in California and his “day job” as I understand it is in Public Relations where he is responsible for promoting many California wineries large and small. If you’re not reading Tom Wark’s blog, you should be. Why? In addition to being a dependable (he really does blog everyday!) and articulate voice, Mr. Wark is honest and self-reflective in his posts.  He’s continually striving for ways to connect wine to themes larger than himself, and he won’t sacrifice this aim to cover the hot new trend simply because it’s timely.  This blog — unlike so many others — isn’t gimmicky; it doesn’t exist to gossip or break news.  Rather, it’s a meditation which if you let it, just might teach you something about yourself.  Fermentation is exceptional because its author is at once true to his subject and to us.
I think I want to be Tom Wark when I grow up.

Best Crazy Genius California Winemaker/Marketer
Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon

Clearly this is not breaking news.  Randall Grahm has been making and marketing wine since I was in grade school.  I will forget for a moment that the Bonny Doon website makes me a little queasy with all of its spinning, and that I once submitted my resume for an open position and never received a response.  Anyone who has the balls to sell off two of the most profitable divisions of his company in order to concentrate on producing bizarro biodynamic wines using grapes most California wine drinkers have never heard of (Erbaluce? Albariño? Nebbiolo? Dolcetto?) is impressive (and borderline insane) enough.  But, to sell those wines, lots of them, and make customers fall in love with them (and him) is unthinkable for anyone except Randall Grahm.  Combine with this a recent appearance on Oprah and a forthcoming book and there’s no single person out there who’s doing more to promote California wine than this guy.  Yeah, I know it’s been said before, but the truth is always worth restating.

Want to add to my list?  Bring it on in the comments!