Gems from “Down Under”

The holidays have passed — hopefully filled with good times, family and friends that warmed the season. Presents are unwrapped, put away; and, if you have young children, they could even be broken by now! With the season passed, what would be really good is to find great drinking wine that doesn’t cost a lot.

Well, here are a couple of Australian go-to wines from Mollydooker that are in wide distribution and – in my estimation – deliver a great bang for the buck. I have been drinking Mollydooker wines since the very first vintage in 2007. One is a Shiraz (called Syrah in the US, but it’s the same grape) and the other a Cabernet. These descriptors and ratings are from Wine Spectator.

“The Boxer” – Shiraz – South Australia – 2013
91 points | $28 | 13,160 cases imported | Red
“Broad, spicy and dense at the core, with plum and blackberry fruit playing against toasty, spicy overtones and polished tannins as the finish persists. Drink now through 2019.” – H.S.

“The Maitre D’” – Cabernet Sauvignon – McLaren Vale – 2013
92 points | $28 | 3,187 cases imported | Red
“Rich, ripe and generous, with plump blackberry, black cherry, licorice and mint flavors that flow smoothly into a long and expressive finish. Has depth and power. Drink now through 2020.” – H.S.

Both wines have been imported in significant quantities and hopefully you will find them in a wine store near you. On my travels, they are go-to wines for freshness and depth of flavor. Mollydooker consistently delivers an easy drinking wine that is packed with fruit and accessible upon just opening the bottle. You will find them with screw caps, but do not let that color your view before you taste.

You may be wondering where the name “Mollydooker” came from. Well, the owners/winemakers are Australian, and he and his wife are both left handed. Mollydooker is Aussie slang for left-handed. These wines will not let you down, if what you are looking for is something that has depth of flavor and is easy on the pocket book.

Look for them in your neighborhood, mate!


A Time to Sparkle

The approaching New Year brings many opportunities to celebrate. It is routinely a time to remember the friends and experiences that make a year memorable. It is a time to reminisce and savor the accomplishments of the year gone by, as well as to usher in the possibility of the coming year. What will you create? What will be the mark and moments of 2015?

Celebrations, as such, are frequently accompanied by sparkling wines. Although most commonly and collectively referred to as “Champagne,” all that bubbles is not that.
Champagne itself is made from grapes solely from the region in France named Champagne. Yes, it is a specific region that owns that name. The effervescence is accomplished through secondary fermentation in the bottle. The winemakers in Champagne also use specific grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier). Many believe the French have mastered the craft, and the bottles may be expensive (and worth it).

Another lovely sparkling wine is Prosecco. It comes from Italy and a grape variety sometimes known as Glera. The method for the “sparkle” is from a different method called Charmat (also known as Cuve Close) where the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in a large closed tank. This approach allows for larger production at a lower cost and helps preserve some of the fruity character that makes the wine so appealing. Average price here is $12-15 dollars per bottle, a price which, in part, has spurred the growth of this wine. Sales of Prosecco priced between $10 and $15 now account for one third of all sparkling wine sales.

Another sparkling wine called Cava mostly comes from the Penedes region in Catalonia, Spain. It is a slightly aged wine that goes through secondary fermentation in the bottle — like Champagne. Most of the grapes used are indigenous to Spain and are known as the white Macabeu, Parellada and Xarello. Winemakers in Spain can deliver impressive sparkling wines that are well-priced.

Last, but not least, is Moscato d’Asti. This is a delightful sparkling wine that comes from the Muscat grape. Production is achieved similar to Prosecco, which again keeps the Moscato d’Asti a very affordable option. It can be bone dry to very sweet. Expect an easy drinking wine that is low in alcohol with a peachy flavor. Yes, this is the wine that was widely known as Asti Spumante.

Whatever you choose, flutes may add to the fun with the bubbles rising up. Please make sure your sparkling wines are served chilled and do not use the freezer to chill them rapidly. These wines are best enjoyed between 46 and 50 degrees.

Have a wonderful and expressive New Year!


Older Wines Need to be Laid Down…

My mother told me that if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. I usually abide by that statement and yet sometimes… I was in a wine store the other day (imagine that) and was picking up a prize for a wine tasting party. I could not help myself – I had to browse the aisles and see what gems there might be on the shelf. I was a bit disturbed to see some older wines standing up. An example was a 2006 wine called La Serena Syrah – there were nine bottles, all standing at attention. The challenge for you, the consumer, is not knowing where and how these bottles were held for the last six years (many wines are not released from the winery until about two years after the harvest year). This wine costs about $60 and should be resting on its side to reach you and your glass in the best possible condition.

Why is that? Oxygen is a key ingredient in a wine’s evolution. Just a little, and the chemical reactions proceed at a pace that allows the wine to really show itself and evolve. Too much too quickly, and the wine will become oxidized and will not be at its best for you. The “governor” for that rate of oxygen exchange is the cork. Corks are actually rated by the amount of oxygen they let in – formally called the OTR (Oxygen Transmission Rate). In order to provide the best seal for your wine, the cork needs to stay moist. That is the reason your wine should be stored on its side at your home or in the store. Now the store would be okay standing these bottles up, if they allow the cork to be moistened by laying down the bottles once a week. (I know this sounds bad, but it is accurate.) I doubt that in this store – to remain nameless – that it is going to happen.

Why do I care? At this time in the holiday season, you may be looking for that special wine for a friend or loved one. It would be attractive to pick up a well-aged wine for enjoyment right now. If you’re picking up an older bottle, it’s good to know how that bottle was stored; and, if it’s on the shelf standing up, be cautious. If it came to the store from the winery last week, well that is great. Many wineries do maintain libraries and sell them off to retailers from time to time. If the retailer cannot tell you where it has been, make sure you can return that bottle if it is less than expected.

What about young wines? They can take a short time standing up and be just fine. California wineries are shipping out 2011s and 2012s. Those should be just fine, even if you find them standing up at the store. Again, a young wine will deal well with a short time in an upright position. I am only suggesting you be cautious buying older wines standing on the shelf. Remember too, I am only talking about wines with a cork. In today’s market, you will find screw caps on some wines. The OTR is less, and some wineries are experimenting with these closures. They are fine for wines that are intended to be drunk young, yet the jury is still out on whether they are the closure of choice for wines that are intended to be aged.

It’s the Holiday Season, enjoy family and friends and share some wine!


Chappellet Winery on Pritchard Hill: Come for the Wine and Stay for the View

Just recently, I visited Chappellet Winery. Chappellet is located high on Pritchard Hill and was the second winery to make its home there. This winery is truly a family affair, as the Chappellets have resided and grown vines here since 1967. They are most known for their cabernets, which have great depth and concentration.

Pritchard Hill is situated in the Vaca Mountains, which are on the eastern side of Napa Valley and have elevations of 700-2,000 feet. This height allows the vines early morning sun with more moderate temperatures. For the grapes, it provides a wonderful environment to develop deep flavors. For us – it is a setting that provides great views.

The Chappellets have been real stewards of Pritchard Hill. They were certified organic in 2012, they have installed solar panels for electricity to sustain the property, and they established a gray water process for irrigation, and more. They value the land, and it has provided them with wines of depth and finesse.

When I visited, it was a clear day after the rain. The view was glorious and in keeping with the wine. I had the distinct pleasure of a private tour of the winery and vineyards. We started inside the winery with Chenin Blanc – very little is grown in the valley. We walked the vineyards with a Chardonnay in hand. This was an opportunity to learn about the plantings and the evolution of the winery itself. Back inside, I tasted the ’11 Cab Franc and was blown away by the ’09 Pritchard Hill Cabernet. This is their flagship wine – a real beauty! It was open and fragrant with real richness and a long finish. The ’12 Pritchard Hill has already been rated by Robert Parker and been given 99 points – near perfect. I cannot wait to taste that. This is a winery worth the trip, and the wine is wonderful.

For details, check out their website. Like many wineries, you need an appointment to do a tasting here.



Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014

It is that time of the year again when Wine Spectator announces and lists its top 100 wines of the year! Movies have their Emmys, sports have their Espys, music has its Grammys, and so on. Such is the “case” for wine (pun intended). Remember that this is not an industry announcement, but an evaluation of a magazine with seasoned and experienced tasters making their judgments – so there is some credence to their assessments. This is what Wine Spectator states about their list:

“Each year since 1988, Wine Spectator has released its Top 100 list, where our editors select the most exciting wines from the thousands we reviewed during the course of the year.

Vintage showed its trump card in this year’s wine releases, influencing key shifts in the makeup of the 2014 Top 100 list, which includes wines from 14 foreign countries and three U.S. states. California, France and Italy play major roles as in years past, but with an atypical mix of grape varieties and regions. Meanwhile, some countries saw big upticks in their numbers on the list, due to magnificent vintages and continued improvements in the vineyards and wineries.

Our editors found dozens of thought-provoking wines among the 18,000 we tasted in 2014. Whether from emerging labels and regions or historic estates upholding tradition, these wines turned our heads for a singularity and authenticity we call the X-factor.

Our selection also prioritizes quality (based on score), value (based on price) and availability (based on the volume of cases either made or imported). These criteria were applied to determine the Top 100 from among the more than 5,400 wines that rated outstanding (90 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale) this year.”

At this time of the year, the magazine allows everyone access to their website to view the list. Otherwise, you need a subscription to the magazine, which can also afford you access to the on-line edition. Here is where to go to peruse the list: Top 100 Wines of 2014.  If you click on the plus signs next to the wine on the list, you will get a descriptor of the wine.

Obtaining these wines may pose a challenge, yet it’s worth the try. For Chardonnay fans, you will see that Rombauer 2012 made the list. Also a notable wine was the Amavi Cabernet, which is quite a value. Turley made the list again, this time with their Zinfandel called Juvenile, a wine that is $20 from the winery. Herman Story won a spot with their Grenache, On the Road 2011. Notable is the presence of Mollydooker with two offerings – Carnival of Love and Bella’s Garden – both rich Shirazes.

One of the opportunities that the Top 100 list offers us all is the opportunity to explore. With this recommendation in hand, we can feel comfortable trying wines from other countries and see what gems there are to taste. This listing contains wines from Italy, France, Argentina, Australia, Spain, Germany, and Austria – the world is yours to choose from and experiment. The list can serve as an entrée to explore other wine varietals.

What you will notice is the small number of California wines that gained recognition on this list this year. 2011was a challenging growing season in California, and I believe you can see the impact by the absence of many California wines in the Top 100. Nonetheless, it is always fun to see the “reveal” each year and to see wines that I may have tasted or purchased get some accolades. Remember though, what is most important in the end is what pleases your palate.