2009 Red Burgundy is bliss in a bottle

Posted on: Saturday 3/31/2012 8:44am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Great vintages in Burgundy, France happen about as often as getting your passport renewed, so they are celebrated with the appropriate pomp and circumstance reserved for coronations and State dinners.

The 2009 vintage is being referred to as a vintage of "nines," alluding to other great vintages that occurred in '59, '69, '79, '89 and '99.

This exceptional vintage proved especially beneficial for the exceptionally finicky pinot noir. While chardonnay - the other "sanctioned" varietal of Burgundy - performed well, it's the red wine counterpart that is stealing the show with exceptional balance, bright flavors and remarkable aging potential.

Of course, when wonderful vintages like this come along, demand goes up and prices head towards the stratosphere. However, there are still some great values to be had by both major négociants and smaller producers.

One of the most well-known families in Burgundy is behind the value-driven 2009 Maison Joseph Drouhin Bourgogne Laforet. Aromas of raspberry, cherry and red currant have a delicate attack on the nose and are repeated on the palate as well. A touch of strawberry and clove appear on the light-bodied, charming finish. This is a crowd-pleaser and a great alternative to heavier red wines. $15

Made from fruit sourced from the villages of Ladoix and Auxey-Duresses in the Cote d'Or the 2009 Champy Bourgogne Pinot Noir Signature is a delicious entry-level wine. With scents of red fruit and dried cherries on the bouquet and flavors of fresh strawberry, raspberry and red cherry on the palate, this wine is fun and easy to drink. The abundant acidity keeps the fruit in balance on the medium bodied finish. $20

The 2009 Domaine Dublere Savigny Les Beaune Les Planchots du Nord is produced by local ex-pat Blair Pethel. The grapes for this wine are literally grown in the backyard of the Dublere winery and much of the fruit is used in this stunning wine, which sports a pretty nose of cherry, red berry, clove and cinnamon. The vivid flavors of cherry and wild strawberry shine across the tongue and are joined by wonderful mineral notes on the long, graceful finish. $30

The Premier Cru (1er Cru) designation is the second highest classification of quality in Burgundy, and the 2009 Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Clos des Couchereaux is certainly worthy of the distinction, delivering wonderful depth with perfumed scents of strawberry, sweet cherry and violet on the nose and rich flavors of plum, strawberry and clove in the mouth. The impressive finish remains charming and graceful thanks to the great balance between acidity, fruit and soft tannins. $46

Drinking like a wine twice the price, the 2009 Remoissenet Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Serpentières runs to the bigger side, featuring scents of ripe black cherry, smoke and mushrooms on the floral nose. Layered flavors of dark plum, ripe strawberry and cocoa coat the tongue with richness and balance. The elegant finish ends with a distinctive toasted cedar note. $50

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Chile Meets Bordeaux in Lapostolle

Posted on: Friday 3/23/2012 6:31pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

What if you could get the experience of a world-famous French winemaker and the deliciously ripe fruit from Chile in one bottle of wine? And get it at a great price, too? You’d have a winning combination. You’d have the wines of Lapostolle Vineyards. Lapostolle was founded in 1994 by Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle (of Grand Marnier fame) who clearly recognized the potential Chile had for producing world class wines.

The region had grape vines originating from pre-phylloxera rootstock (phylloxera is a small insect that is deadly to grape vines) that had been brought to Chile from Bordeaux in the 1800’s. Alexandra’s goal was to incorporate high-end French winemaking practices with the ideal climate of Chile to produce high-end quality wines.

Her dream became a reality when she convinced world-renown French wine consultant, Michel Rolland, to join the inaugural winemaking team. This blending of talent, grapes and terroir led to the new mantra for the project; “French in Excellence. Chilean by Birth.” The “Casa” series are wines made from younger fruit sourced from the Rapel and Casablanca valleys and tend to emphasize a brighter and more vibrant expression. The 2009 Lapostolle Casa Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in stainless steel and aged for just under a year in neutral French oak barrels. Scents of red currants and cedar wood waft on the bouquet and join flavors of plum and black cherries on the mid-palate. Subtle notes of vanilla mark the smooth finish. $10

The 2011 Lapostolle Casa Sauvignon Blanc is fermented and aged exclusively in stainless steel tanks, giving the wine a pure fruit core. Grapefruit and nectarine aromas dominate the nose while full-bodied flavors of green melon and tropical fruit – thanks to a touch of sémillon – coat the palate. Touches of lemon/lime citrus provide bright notes on the crisp finish. $10

The “Cuvée” series are wines that are produced from single vineyard estates under the organic/biodynamic program. The grapes are harvested by hand and then vinified using only wild yeast, with no filtration. The 2009 Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Carmenère is an excellent example of Chile’s “home town” grape varietal, showing off an elegant nose of red plums, black cherries and cardamom spice. In the mouth, the wine is well-balanced around a core of black fruit and tobacco flavors. There is a slight green leaf/herbaceous note on the structured finish that turns a touch smoky at the end. $19

The ultimate expression of Alexandra’s vision is expressed in the 2008 Lapostolle Clos Apalta, a blend of carmenère, merlot and cabernet sauvignon sourced from 60 to 100 year-old pre-phylloxera vines from the Apalta vineyard in the Colchagua Valley. All of the carmenère and cabernet sauvignon berries are all hand-picked and hand-sorted. The wine is made with minimal intervention so that the vivid and intense flavors of black cherry, black plum, red currants and roasted espresso shine through on the elegantly balanced palate. Buoyed by sweet tannins, the richly structured finish shows of hints of cocoa and coffee and persist for over a minute. $65

New Zealand's Cloudy Bay Vineyards

Posted on: Friday 3/16/2012 6:34pm

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

I am not one to often disagree over simile, but when Captain Cook, on his 1770 voyage to New Zealand dubbed the inlet at the eastern end of the Wairau Valley, "Cloudy Bay," he definitely got it wrong. Good thing, too, since Cloudy Bay is both a wonderfully sunny place to grow grapes and home to Cloudy Bay Vineyards.

Cloudy Bay Vineyards was established in 1985 at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand, in the Wairau Valley of the Marlborough appellation. The Wairau Valley enjoys the longest hours of sunshine in the country and maritime influences provide cool, clear nights. This combination results in ideal conditions for growing cool-climate grape varietals. In addition, the porous soil of the valley floor allows water to drain away, leaving behind minerals and nutrients for the vine roots.

The Marlborough region is blessed with a unique terroir and a cool maritime climate that results in large diurnal swings in temperature (the difference between daytime highs and nighttime lows). These conditions are the foundation for producing the classic expression found in the 2011 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks, prolonged exposure to yeast and minimal intervention by the winemakers combine to yield a wine full of aromatics that include mango, guava and lemon/lime citrus scents. The weighty mouthfeel is slightly atypical for a sauvignon blanc, but the juicy flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruits and nectarine are hallmark traits of the varietal. Abundant acidity and mineral undertones combine on the crisp, refreshing finish and would be a brilliant pairing with fresh oysters. $20

A judicious use of oak is used in the barrel fermentation of the 2007 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay . Most of the wine is allowed to go through malolactic fermentation. This secondary fermentation leads to an appealing mix of ripe citrus, white fig and toasted hazel nuts on the bouquet and creamy flavors of grapefruit, nectarine, green apple and roasted nuts on the well-balanced frame. The light touch of oak highlights notes of baked bread on the medium-bodied finish and would pair well with Pasta Primavera or roasted halibut. $28

In 1989, Cloudy Bay decided to produce their first pinot noir, and the winemaking team has been obsessed with the varietal ever since. It is the only red wine varietal in the Cloudy Bay portfolio and they believe it is the only red grape wine that grows flawlessly in the Marlborough climate. The 2009 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir is painstakingly crafted from 40 unique plots from 25 different vineyards. Thoughtful blending of the lots leads to a wine with enticing aromas of red berries, boysenberry and baking spices. The delicate palate sports lovely flavors of red cherries, red plums and cinnamon that flow into a well-integrated finish that highlights earthy notes of dark strawberries and mineral undertones. This lighter-styled pinot would pair beautifully with grilled salmon or roasted pork loin. $38

Te Koko is the indigenous name for Cloudy Bay and is characterized by the vineyard as the "wild child" of the portfolio. It is a full-bodied alternative styled sauvignon blanc that undergoes both barrel fermentation and malolactic fermentation, inoculated with wild yeast. It is then bottled aged and released as a fully matured wine. The 2006 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc delivers a rather intricate and intense bouquet combining lemon curd, acacia flowers and ripe peach. In the mouth, complex flavors of orange blossom, tropical fruits, white peach and grapefruit attack in waves and layers. Notes of ginger and spice, underlined by vibrant acidity, dominate the clean, balanced finish. The complexity and depth of this wine would make it an excellent choice to enjoy with poached lobster or steamed mussels. $42

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

German Rieslings of The Mosel

Posted on: Saturday 3/10/2012 9:39am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Some of the best values in the wine world are German Rieslings. Not only are they delicious, but many of these wines languish away on retailer's shelves, due, in part to their confusing labels that are written in imposing gothic script. Eventually they get marked down in order to make room for the next vintage.

I am a fan of Germany's wonderfully aromatic Riesling wines from the Mosel River region. These wines are produced in a variety of styles that range along a continuum from crisp and dry to sweet and bright. The vineyards are usually found along the steep river valleys that feature sheltered slopes, each with their own unique terroir. Much of the mineral laden soil is covered with slate which absorbs the sun's heat during the day and gently radiates it back into the vineyards at night. And as an added bonus, flavors of slate and mineral can be underlying characteristic trademarks of these wines.

One of the best values for a genuinely delicious Riesling is the 2010 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Estate Bottled from Mosel. It is loaded with notes of bright Gala apple and ripe peach fruit, dotted with notes of baking spice and slate on a broad, tangy body. The wine is crisp and the flavors are well-delineated from start to finish. The finish features more undertones of steely slatiness. $16

The term Kabinett in German literally means cabinet and is used as a category of wine that is made from fully ripened grapes of the main harvest. These wines are generally lighter in style. The 2009 Margarethenhof Kabinett from Mosel is on the lighter side of most Kabinetts and is just slightly sweet (lieblich). It features an aromatic honeyed nose, with concentrated flavors of white fig, ripe peach, nectarine and apricot. The wonderfully tangy citrus notes on the end provide a crisp and refreshing finish. $18

The German word Auslese is used to denote that the grapes originated from a "selected harvest." It applies to a riper category than Kabinett as the grapes are hand-picked from very ripe bunches in the vineyard. This category of Rieslings is usually made in only years when the weather has been warm, such as in 2009 when the 2009 Leonard Kreusch Auslese Mosel was produced. Featuring aromatic scents of gooseberry, green melon and gardenia, the wine dives into a pleasant-yet-unusual creamy mouthfeel that sports luscious flavors of white raisin, mango and ripe fruit cocktail. A mere hint of slate on the slightly sweet finish is a reminder of its pedigree. $19

One of my "go to" Riesling wines if from a producer that I fondly call "JJ." The 2008 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett form Mosel has a vibrant bouquet of white flowers, ripe pear and tropical fruit aromas. The mineral undertones support flavors of honeyed peach, baked apple and ripe nectarine. A hint of lime sherbet is punched up by the mouthwatering acidity on a finish that coats the palate and leaves you anticipating your next sip. $32

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

The wines of South Africa

Posted on: Friday 3/2/2012 6:15pm

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Located at the tip of the African continent, South Africa is home to some of the most diverse vineyard lands in the world.

Originally founded in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a replenishment station for Dutch merchants sailing to and from India, Cape Town, South Africa, became a bustling trading port. A vibrant wine industry quickly followed.

The first vineyards were planted in 1655 and began producing wines from Cape grapes a few years later. Within a couple of decades, South Africa began to produce wines of international distinction.

Varietals include chenin blanc (the most popular), colombard, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinotage and shiraz.

The wine industry today is an interesting mix of old and new, taking advantage of classic Old World style charm while using modern winemaking techniques that produce New World fruit-centric styles.

The combination of styles - combined with the unique and varied terroir of the different regions - results in wines that run the gamut from simple yet charming to powerful yet elegant.

The Stellenbosch region is home to over 80 wineries that are scattered throughout an area that reaches from lush inland valleys to slopes that run down to the sea. It is also the region where the 2009 Raats Chenin Blanc is produced. The tantalizing nose sports aromas of honeysuckle and pear scents. Flavors of ripe pear, peach and nectarine are supported by bright notes of citrus fruit and abundant acidity. Hints of minerals are found on the pretty finish. $24

Paarl is one of the oldest winemaking towns in South Africa. Lately winemakers, such as Black Pearl, have been concentrating on shiraz and other hearty reds. The 2006 Black Pearl Oro is a blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon and has a distinctive bouquet of Thin Mint cookies and ripe blackberries. The extra-rich mouthfeel supports luscious flavors of blackberry, black plum and dark chocolate on the front of the palate and notes of black pepper and cinnamon on the long, lingering finish. $17

The Constantia region was home to the first vineyards of South African wine and today is tucked into the suburban landscape of Cape Town, and it still receives a lot of attention from the local population. One of the most noted wines that are exported to our area is the 2009 Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc. Fans of a grassier style of sauvignon blanc with enjoy the nose of green grass and citrus fruit. Flavors of green melon, white fig and tropical fruit are accentuated on the palate by the crisp, citrusy acidity. Grassy notes pop up on the tangy finish. $18

From the Wellington region comes the hearty 2006 Eventide Cabernet Sauvignon, with a jammy bouquet of blackberry, dark cherry and black currant. Soft tannins support ripe flavors of blackberry, dark plums and cocoa on the front of the tongue while notes of roasted coffee and vanilla linger on the medium-bodied finish. $15

I don't think you can talk about South African wines without mentioning pinotage. This hearty red grape was created in 1925 by crossing cinsault (a Rhone Valley staple) with pinot noir. The resulting varietal is, to my way of thinking, "pinot on steroids." The 2008 Simonsig Pinotage from Stellenbosch offers plenty of black cherry jam, sweet plums and Asian spices on the palate and just a touch of spicy cedar on the lengthy finish. $18

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Argyle makes wines with soles

Posted on: Saturday 2/25/2012 10:53am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Texas native Rollin Soles is not your average winemaker. First of all, he began his winemaking journey in Switzerland, on steep vineyards at the foot of the Alps. Then he set his sights on producing wines in Oregon, well before the state was known as a winemaking powerhouse.

Rollin believes that, "if you love where you live, you will nurture the land and make the best wines the land can produce." His vision was embodied in 1987 when he co-founded Argyle Winery in the beautifully sculpted Willamette Valley in the northwestern region of Oregon. And from the beginning, Argyle has been dedicated to practicing sustainable agriculture and ecological stewardship.

Rollin's philosophy has paid off. His sparkling wines continue to set the standard for domestic bubbly, and Argyle's still wine collection of riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir represent some of the best values in Oregon.

Rollin has a passion for proving that Oregon can make top notch sparkling wines. His mission is accomplished with the 2008 Argyle Brut, a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay from the Knudsen and Lone Star Vineyards in Willamette Valley. The fine bubbles carry scents of pear, apple, vanilla and yeasty bread on the bouquet. The beautifully balanced wine displays precisely delineated flavors of ripe pear and apricot. The citrus-centric finish is delicate and crisp, and the touch of toasted brioche adds a nice layer of richness. $27

The term "Nuthouse" originated from Argyle winery's origin as a hazelnut processing plant. The 2008 Argyle Nuthouse Chardonnay actually has a prominent nose featuring hazelnuts along with peach and pear scents. The creamy mouthfeel is filled with flavors of pear, green melon and white peach up front and notes of baking spices on the crisp finish. $33

The entry level 2010 Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is actually a cuvee from some of Willamette Valley's finest vineyards, including Lone Star, Stoller, and Knudsen. The nose features dark strawberries and ripe black cherries while the palate reveals flavors of dark raspberries, cherries and red plums. The medium-bodied frame is well balanced and has enough acidity to hold the flavors together on the earthy finish. $25

Moving a notch up the pinot scale is Rollin's 2009 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir which combines finesse with muscle. Scents of spice box, cinnamon and cedar fill out the nose. Flavors of dark cherries, plums and ripe strawberries soak the front and mid palate while lovely earthy notes of black tea fill in the superbly balanced finish. The touch of mineral-oriented black cherry on the back of the tongue definitely leaves a powerful impression. $40

Legend has it that the spirit of Lena Elsie Imus, who died by her own hand in 1908 in the former Dundee City Hall building, still roams the halls of what is now the tasting room for Argyle Winery. I don't know about ghosts, but the 2008 Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir is frightfully good, with aromas of cedar wood, cigar humidor and spice box. The wine unfolds in layers on the tongue, beginning with dark plum up front, luscious red cherries in the middle and ending with a dominant mark of wild red berries. Notes of vanilla, bramble and earthy nuances highlight the charming, lush finish. $75

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

The Sicilian wines of Planeta

Posted on: Friday 2/17/2012 6:36pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Sicily has long been known for being the Italian crossroad of both ancient and modern culture. The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, separated by a narrow strait of water from the “toe” of southern Italy, Sicily has been home to settlers from ancient Greece, North Africa and various European countries, including, of course, Italy. But what many people don’t know is that it is also home to some of the most remarkable wines in Italy. And lately, many of those wines bear the name Planeta.

In a word, Planeta wines are environmentally friendly and delicious. What’s not to love?

The 2010 Planeta Carricante is a white wine that hails from the Sambuca di Sicilia region where the Planeta family has owned the vineyard since the 17th century. The nose sports a very fragrant bouquet of citrus fruit and white flowers. Flavors of green apple, nectarine and roasted almonds are balanced by bright acidity and abundant minerality on the crisp, bone dry finish. $40

The white Fiano grape for the 2009 Planeta Cometa Fiano comes from the Menfi region, located on the southwestern coast of the island. The maritime influences and chalky soils contribute to the fragrant nose of guava, kumquat and apricot. It has a distinctly tropical fruit palate that includes papaya and pineapple on the front of the tongue and notes of pear on the mellow finish. $40

From the Vittoria region comes the 2010 Planeta Cerasuolo de Vittoria DOCG. Cerasuolo means “cherry color” in Italian and that’s just what the wine looks like. Aromas of cherry and strawberry fill the bouquet while charming flavors of strawberry, pomegranate and red cherry fills the entire mouth on a simply-but -delightful frame. Just a touch of truffle on the medium-bodied finish adds to the amiable appeal of this wine. $22

The limestone and tufa content that make up the soils of the Noto region also contribute to the wonderfully flavorful 2007 Planeta Sant Cecillia Nero D’Avola. Nero d’Avola is to Sicily what Chianti is to Tuscany and the flagship grape produces a wine with a heady nose of dark plum, cocoa and leather. Chewy flavors of dark cherry, black plum and tobacco are nicely integrated on a full-bodied frame. The nicely balance finish is long and smooth, with just a whisper of smokiness on the tail end. $40

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Roses are Red but Rosés are for Valentine's Day

Posted on: Saturday 2/11/2012 10:01am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

This Valentine's Day, there is no better wine to celebrate new love with - or the love you already share with someone - than with a bottle of bubbly. But not just any sparkling wine - for the day named in honor of a young Roman priest, Valentine of Rome, who was martyred for secretly preforming wedding ceremonies during a ban in 269 AD, one should chose a special wine that adds color as well as style for this year's day of love.

Sparkling rosé wines are just what Cupid ordered.

Rosé wines are not a specific varietal, but rather they are a style of wine.

Traditional red wines get their color from lengthy contact between the juice and the red grape skins. The longer they stay in contact, the more color the skins impart to the juice.

But rose wines are made by removing the skins soon after the grapes are crushed, thus imparting a lighter shade of red to the final wine.

Many different wine grapes lend themselves to rosé production. The most popular is pinot noir, but other varietals include grenache, syrah, sangiovese and even malbec.

And just like the ubiquitous nature of love, sparkling rosé wines can be found in just about every wine grape growing in the world. Best of all, many sparkling rosés are a relative bargain and can be found in plentiful supply.

One of the best values for a sparkling rosé is the non-vintage Cristalino Brut Rosé Cava from Spain. Made from roughly equal parts pinot noir and trepat (a grape varietal indigenous to the region), it sports beautiful scents of wild red berries and cherry on the nose. Fresh, clean strawberry and cherry flavors are light and bright in the mouth, with just a touch of ginger on the crisp, clean finish. $8

The Piedmont region of Italy is best known for their prized Barolo and Barbaresco wines, but it is also home to the non-vintage Banfi Rosa Regale. Made from the brachetto grape, the wine displays vibrant scents of floral notes, such as rose petals and violets on the nose. Flavors of raspberries and red strawberries are supported by a slightly sweet frame. Given the off-dry nature of the wine, it is an ideal choice to enjoy with chocolate covered strawberries and other chocolate-centric desserts. $19

Champagne is not the only part of France to produce sparkling wines. The non-vintage Chevalier Rosé Cremant Bourgogne hails from the renowned Burgundy region, where chardonnay and pinot noir grapes are used to produce a delicately fresh wine, with refreshing scents of red fruit aromas on the nose. Flavors of strawberry, red currant and nectarine are supported by tiny, delicate bubbles. The creamy texture is in balance with pleasant acidity. $20

If you want a domestic sparkler with a Champagne pedigree, try the non-vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rosé from Anderson Valley, Calif. The cool climate of Anderson Valley is ideal for growing the chardonnay and pinot noir grapes used in this lively rosé. Pretty red fruit aromas of summer raspberries, red currants and cherries are repeated on the equally fruit-driven palate, ending with notes of brioche on the balanced finish. $27

For a special treat, pop open a bottle of non-vintage Jacquart Rose, an authentic Champagne from Reims, France. The nose is wonderfully fruity, featuring strawberry and dark cherry notes. The mouthfeel is elegant and refined, where finely tuned bubbles carry flavors of cherry, raspberry and grenadine over the entire palate. The finish is crisp, dry and refreshing. Versatile enough to enjoy with sushi, pizza or fruit tart. $40

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Super picks for the Super Bowl

Posted on: Friday 2/3/2012 4:34pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

The 46th annual Super Bowl is crawling towards us this Sunday like a supertanker pulling into port. Looming large on the horizon, it churns steadily and purposefully towards television sets poised in homes and sports bars across the country and around the world.

Millions of viewers eagerly await both the kickoff and the attention-grabbing commercials with equal anticipation.

And, of course, copious amounts of food of every manner will be consumed while watching the Big Game. From pizza and chicken wings to smoked brisket and barbequed ribs, the range of Super Bowl fare has the potential to run the gamut of every major food group. The choice of which beverages to serve alongside these culinary selections can be a challenge.

Here are a few ideas that will please a diversity of palates while leaving enough money in your wallet to still buy a few picks in the office pool.

Beer is always a great choice for watching any football game. But for The Big Game, only a big beer will do. And if you’re a New England Patriots fan, the patriotic choice is Sam Adams Third Voyage Double Indian Pale Ale. This creation is part of Sam Adams “Small Batch Series” and is a limited edition brew. The name pays homage to Captain James Cook, whose third voyage took him from England to New Zealand and then to the Pacific Northwest.

The beer was crafted using hops from each of these regions and produces a bright citrus nose with flavors of hops, a touch of malt, and more citrus on the mid-palate. The bitter finish ends crisp and clean and would be perfect with – what else? – New England clam chowder. $6 for a 22 ounce bottle

BEST PICK – If you’re a Giants fan, then you’ll enjoy this gigantic wine during the game. The 2008 Clos de los Siete from Argentina is a behemoth. The winery was founded by legendary wine consultant Michel Rolland along with a group of six Bordelaise partners. Using a combination of malbec, merlot, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon, Rolland crafts a wine that is massive and seductive at the same time.

Scents of blackberries, dark cherries and black pepper fill the bouquet as flavors of blackberry, black olives and cassis liqueur coat the palate in waves of complexity. The superbly balanced finish highlights dark mocha notes that glide down the tongue like silk. Pair it with gourmet burgers topped with Gruyere. $16

One of the most versatile white wines on the market is Viognier, and the 2009 Miner Simpson Vineyard Viognier from Madera Valley, California is no exception. Stainless steel fermentation promotes the aromatic bouquet of acacia flowers and honeysuckle and lets the flavors of tropical fruit and notes of white peaches and nectarines shine through on the bright, crisp body. The tangy acidity offers a clean finish that would pair beautifully with the flavors of sweet pineapple and rich ham on a Hawaiian style pizza. $17

The Tempranillo grape is often overlooked as a utility player in the wine world. The 2005 Bodegas LAN Reserva from the Rioja region of Spain plays well with a variety of food, including ribs, chicken and steak. Aromas of cherries and red plums fill the nose as well as the palate, where they are joined by flavors of raspberries along with hints of cinnamon. The velvety finish is long and juicy and offers a touch of licorice for good measure. $18

The Super Bowl is a duel between two powerful teams. The 2009 The Federalist Dueling Pistols from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, California is a duel between two powerful varietals; zinfandel and syrah. Aromas of dark cherry and violets fill the nose. In the mouth, zinfandel contributes juicy red cherry/berry notes while the syrah provides structure and hearty flavors of blackberry and mocha. The peppery, powerful finish would be a perfect partner with spicy wings and barbecued ribs. $35

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

The best wines under $30 you've never heard of

Posted on: Friday 1/27/2012 3:28pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – I was recently invited to a dinner party where the theme was “various varietals.” The guests were not allowed to bring any “commonly” produced wine like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and the like.

There are over 200 fairly common unique grape varietals from which wine is produced, and probably another three or four hundred varietals of wine grapes that many of us have simply never heard of.

Best of all, many of these lesser known varietals and blends tend to deliver a lot of quality for the money. Here are a few wonderful wines made from varietals you probably have never heard of, all priced under $30.

From a small family winery located in the foothills of the Quilos in Bierzo region of Spain comes the 2010 Bodegas El Agosto Mencia. The mencia grapes are harvested by hand from vines averaging 60 years old in a vineyard that utilizes no pesticides or chemicals. The dark-skinned grape produces an intriguing nose featuring scents of smoked meats, black plums and dark currants. The mouthfeel is juicy and luscious, supporting flavors of black and red cherries, red currants and hints of clove and red licorice on the velvety finish. $25

Located near Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, Italy is the highly regarded wine region of Valpolicella, known for its prized Amarone wines. It is also home to the 2008 Lonardi Ripasso Valpolicella, a kid-brother to the more popular Amarone, which is made from grapes that have been dried on rooftops in order to concentrate the juice. With Ripasso, grapes dried by a similar process are added to the must of a dry wine. This particular offering is made predominately from the corvina grape, along with rondinella and malinara and offers up lovely flavors of condensed pomegranate, dark cherry, roasted coffee and dried herbs. Notes of dark cocoa highlight the charming finish. $25

The Mendoza region in Argentina is known mostly for the forward fruit-laden wines made from Malbec, but it also has a small production of white wine varietals. The 2010 Vina Alicia Tiara White Wine from Mendoza is made from a blend of riesling, albarino, and savagnin that is vinified without oak, but is allowed to ferment in extended contact with its yeast and other sediments. It produces a delightfully complex wine with aromas of lemon/lime citrus, nectarine, honeysuckle, and acacia flowers. Flavors of white peach, ripe nectarine and apricot fill the mouth and coat the entire palate.

The crisp acidity and bracing minerality highlight the notes of Meyer lemon on the bright, clean finish. $30

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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