There's no place like Rhone

Posted on: Friday 1/20/2012 12:03pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Many wine regions that have their own distinctive personalities.

Napa drips with big, rich cabernet sauvignon. Burgundy seduces with its pinot noirs. Tuscan wines demand cuisine. And Rhone wines wrap you in a warm blanket.

The Côtes du Rhône region is located in the Southern part of France and is actually two distinct vinicultural areas; the Northern Rhône Valley and the Southern Rhône Valley.

The most famous vineyards, Côte Rôtie and Hermitage, are located in the northern end of the Valley, where the hearty syrah grape grows on steep, sun-drenched slopes and accounts for the majority of the wine production from this area.

The southern half of the valley has a distinctive Mediterranean influence and is home to the famous Châteauneuf du Pape appellation where red wines are blended from a variety of grapes, including granache, mourvèdre, cinsault and carignan, to name a few. In addition, aromatic white wine varietals, such as viognier, marsanne, roussanne, bourboulenc and grenache white are grown throughout the region.

The different soil combinations provide each grape varietal with its own specific characteristics and provide winemakers with a veritable spice cabinet from which to create well-balanced, finely tuned wines. For example, grenache adds red fruits and warmth. Syrah contributes dark fruits and body. And mourvèdre provides structure and tannins for aging.

A classic example of a white Rhône varietal blend is the 2010 Gonnet Cotes du Rhône Blanc. According to the winemaker’s website, “The Gonnet family employs strict biodynamic and organic practices in their viticulture… absolutely no chemical fertilizers have been used.” And, no oak either. This wine has been vinified in “neutral” oak barrels, which allows the pure flavors of apricot, peach and orange peel to shine all the way through, from start to finish. The bright acidity keeps the wine fresh and clean. $12

The 2007 Santa Duc Vieilles Vignes is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre that hails from four villages in the Northern Rhône Valley that neighbor the region of Gigondas and delivers a lot of wine for the money. The average vine age is over 40 years old and the mature fruit produces a wine full of ripe raspberry and black cherry flavors on a dense, medium-bodied frame. It has nice balance and a long spice-laden finish. $13

The Vacqueyras appellation is located next door to Châteauneuf du Pape and is known for value-oriented hearty red blends. The 2009 Arnoux Père & Fils is chocked full of fruit, including blueberry, black cherries and red currants. There is the slightest hint of cedar on the back end of the rustic finish. $18

One of the most prominent producers in the Northern Rhône region is the Chave family, and their 2007 Jean-Louis Chave Crozes-Hermitage is one of the best values in red Rhône wines. It features a distinctive bouquet of candied cherries and dark plum on the nose, leading to flavors of ripe cherry and blueberry on the tongue. Hints of tobacco and cedar buoy the medium-bodied finish. $20

Of course, no review of Rhône wines would be complete without mentioning at least one from the Châteauneuf du Pape appellation, and the 2009 Pere Caboche Châteauneuf du Pape is a solid value worth considering. This multi-varietal blend is supple and rich, with scents of berry fruit and cedar on the nose. Luscious flavors of black cherry, tobacco and Asian spices glide over the tongue on their way to a smooth, smokey finish. $25

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Va. makes top ten wine destinations

Posted on: Friday 1/13/2012 1:21pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Yes, Virginia – there really is a wine country, and according to this month’s Wine Enthusiast magazine, Virginia has been named one of the 10 best wine travel destinations for 2012.

Virginia was listed as only one of three domestic wine regions that are considered an ideal place for wine lovers to visit in 2012, along with regions in Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Hungary, Germany, France, Chile and two in California.

The article cites Virginia’s rich history, natural beauty and winemakers as some of the many reasons why Virginia is a hot wine travel destination.

As evidence of the growing popularity of Virginia wine country’s popularity, Wine Enthusiast Magazine references Virginia’s historically significant vineyards and picturesque pastoral landscapes, as well as, “affable winemakers that set Virginia apart as an excellent wine destination on the East Coast.”

But it is the president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Alisa Bailey’s comments, that really makes an excellent case for visiting the wineries of Virginia. She states, “Where else in the world can you enjoy bluegrass music at a winery, kayak to a winery, taste local wines at a national park, sip local wines at a National Historic Landmark or bike from winery to winery? All those experiences are found in Virginia.”

One of my favorite Virginia vineyards to visit is the Barboursville Winery (17655 Winery Road Barboursville, VA 22923), located near Charlotte, Virginia, as much for the historical significance as for the wine. The original plans for the estate were drawn up by Thomas Jefferson and are only one of three residences he designed for his friends. In addition to a tasting room (open daily), there is also a first class restaurant, a charming inn and a wine museum that chronicles the history of the vineyard. If you go, definitely try the 2008 Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve. Rumor has it that it is the “house” wine at the Inn at Little Washington, whose high standards are definitely recognized in this wine, where lovely flavors of red cherries, plum and notes of clove drape the tongue in layers. The finish is long and soft and leaves an impression of baked cherries on the end. $25

Another favorite destination located in the heart of Virginia wine country is the Prince Michel Vineyard and Winery in Leon, VA. It is home to both Prince Michel and Rapidan River wines. In addition to award winning wines, Prince Michel offers luxury accommodations, a first-class restaurant and facilities for private tastings and events, including weddings and corporate retreats. If you go, don’t miss the opportunity to try the 2008 Prince Michel Barrel Select Chardonnay. The extended sur lee aging in barrels lends a characteristic note of butterscotch to the apple and nectarine flavors. The slightly creamy mouthfeel has just the right touch of acidity to keep the finish clean and crisp. $18

Dennis Horton is considered one of the pioneers of the modern Virginia wine industry. His eponymous winery, Horton Vineyards in Gordonsville, VA produces some of the best wines in the region. My personal longtime favorite is the 2008 Horton Vineyard Viognier, a white varietal, originally thought to hail from the Rhone Valley in France. This domestic version boasts a striking nose featuring scents of white flowers, tropical fruit and white peaches. Flavors of peach, pineapple, vanilla and toasty oak are remarkably focused on the palate. The crisp acidity keeps the wine balanced and the finish refreshing. $20

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Que Syrah Syrah

Posted on: Friday 1/6/2012 2:20pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

It’s cold outside. Winter has hit Washington like a snowball in the face. Even the dog doesn’t want to go outside… and he wears a permanent fur coat.

When it gets this cold, there’s only one thing a wine lover can do: drink BIG red wines. And the biggest of them all is Syrah.

Today, it can be found in the warm, sunny climates of Argentina, Australia (where is known as shiraz), California, France, South Africa, Spain, and Washington State to name a few

Whether you say Syrah or Shiraz, nothing warms the soul quite like the dark red wine that is made throughout the grape-growing world.

Here are some big wines to warm up with:

Former Canadian investment banker-turned-cult-winemaker Jayson Woodbridge made his claim to fame as the producer of high-end wines at Hundred Acre. Now he has set his sights on making a series of inexpensive, high quality wines under his Layer Cake label. The 2009 Layer Cake Shiraz from McLaren Vale region of South Australia is a stunning example of value in a bottle with flavors of blueberry, black cherry and chocolate on the well-balanced frame. The medium-finish features rich mocha and pepper notes. $17

Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to try more wines that were from wine regions that are a bit off of the beaten path – well the 2008 Stark-Condé Syrah from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa is a step in the right direction. This brooding beauty features melted licorice and black plums that enchant both the nose and the tongue. Additional flavors of jammy blackberries, olives and espresso weave in and out of the beautiful, if not massive, structured finish. $23

If you’re looking for something to spice up your New Year with, the 2002 Rocca Famliy Syrah from the Napa Valley should do the trick. A great expression of classic syrah, with a bouquet filled with scents of cassis and black olives. The soft mouthfeel delivers plenty of warm blackberry, dark plum and black raspberry fruit flavors on the front of the palate and hints of tar – not a bad thing – and black pepper on the long, lovely finish. $40

Another nice winter warmer-upper from California is the 2006 Pax Wine Cellars Syrah from the Sonoma appellation. A striking nose of black fruit, saddle leather and roasted meat is intriguing and lingering. The palate is filled with flavors of black cherry, dark plum, roasted game and smoke that glide over the tongue and onto the finish. Hints of mocha mingle with soft tannins to provide a medium-bodied finish. $50

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Sparklers for the holidays

Posted on: Friday 12/23/2011 7:35pm

Scott Greenberg, wine columnist, Washington Examiner

Sparklers for the holidays

Posted on: Friday 12/23/2011 10:39am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – There is nothing quite like wine with bubbles to create a festive atmosphere and elevate a holiday celebration to the status of memorable occasion.

The good news is that there are a number of sparkling wines on the market that don’t cost a lot of money, so you won’t have to sacrifice your Christmas Bonus to enjoy tasty bubbly.

Here are a few recommendations from around the globe:

The Sparkling wines from the Cava region of Spain are the unsung hero of bubbly. Particularly the NV Segura Viuda Brut Riserva Heredad from Cava, Spain. I really like this wine for its balance and abundant flavors. It has a pretty nose of rose petals and crème brulee. Its nutty and creamy at the same time with flavors of green apple and ripe pear on the mid-palate. This is a great wine to pair with food. $19

Of course, Proseccos are always fun and affordable. The Casalnova Non-vintage Prosecco from Vento, Italy is one sure way to get your evening off to a great start. Made from the prosecco grape, this straw gold white wine has a bouquet of honeysuckle and acacia and flavors of crisp apples, apricots and hints of honeyed oranges. The tight bubbles refresh and cleanse the palate, sip after sip, getting the tongue properly dressed for the feast to come. $15

If you’re looking for a classic sparkling wine with a domestic label, the Non-Vintage J Vineyards Cuvée 20 Brut from the Russian River Valley of California is a great pick. It sports a wonderful bouquet that is full of toasted brioche, green apple and lemon scents. Tight, compact bubbles carry flavors of ripe apple, citrus and roasted almonds across the entire palate. Great acidity adds a crisp finish and a perfect pairing with oysters on the half shell or shrimp cocktail. $20

Of course, if you want to really splurge, the Non-Vintage Veuve Clicquot Rose from the Champagne region of France is a wonderful indulgence. Aromas of ripe peaches, honeyed nectarines, red raspberries and hints of yeasty notes are buoyed to the surface by tiny, precise bubbles. The party continues on the palate where flavors of baked apples and rich pears mingle with hints of buttered crust. It’s all built on a creamy frame that emphasizes the long, clean finish. A great wine to start the evening with and end the evening with particularly if you want to pair it with strawberries or crème brulée. $65

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

No better way to celebrate than with bubbles

Posted on: Friday 12/16/2011 8:21pm

Scott Greenberg, wine columnist, Washington Examiner

Go big wines

Posted on: Friday 12/16/2011 2:53pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – I love writing about great wine values. I try very hard to find and share delicious wines that won’t break the bank. And the good news is that there are a lot of wines that deliver high QPR – Quality to Price Ratio.

But once in a while, I like to pamper my palate with something on the extravagant side. Like getting dressed up to go out for a nice dinner, splurging on a high-end wine can be a memorable experience, especially when it is paired with a special event, such as a holiday dinner or New Year’s Eve party.

So forgive me if this segment seems a bit over the top, but once in a while, you just have to Go Big!

There is simply no better way to get any special occasion started than with bubbles. And the 2002 Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésime from Reims, France is a spectacular Champagne. Made with equal amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this bubbly displays a fragrant bouquet of toasted brioche, ripe apple and honey on the nose. The palate is rewarded with pear, nectarine and apple notes, delivered by tiny, precise bubbles. The crisp finish is youthful and fresh and made distinctly memorable by the notes of candied orange rind that lingers on and on. For a Champagne of this quality, it is a relative bargain at $50

For Chardonnay lovers who are looking for something other than an over-oaked vanilla bomb, try the refined and elegant 2005 Domaine Drouhin Puligny Montrachet from the Burgundy region of France.

The minerally nose offers up scents of apple, nectarine and citrus that leads to a mouthful of ripe nectarine, pineapple and lemon flavors. The bracing acidity and mineral-laden undertones seems to hold the flavors in place on the long, bright finish. $57

One of my favorite special occasion dishes is duck ala orange – and one of my favorite wines to pair with it is pinot noir, specifically the 2009 Pener-Ash Pinot Noir from the Shea Vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It sports a charming nose of cassis, cloves and cinnamon and a mouthful of great fruit featuring black cherry, ripe plums, Asian spices and orange peel. The elegant finish offers a touch of dark chocolate. $70

You can’t go big without a visit to the land down under where Syrah – or Shiraz as it’s known south of the equator – is the source of national pride. And the 2010 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz from the McLaren Vale region of Australia does the country proud. A beautiful bouquet of blackberries, black cherries and licorice spill onto the palate where they’re joined by flavors of plum, coffee and creamy dark chocolate – all supported by solid, precise-but-soft tannins. The classic peppery finish rounds it all out. An absolute must with rack of lamb. $89

If you’re game for game this winter, there are few wines that can match the power of the 2007 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape from the Southern Rhone region of France. The aroma of ripe black cherries and barnyard scents fill the bouquet. Elegant, perfectly balanced flavors of sweet cherries, tobacco and cedar coat the entire palate and then linger on the finish for over a minute. Perfect with venison, goose or Cassoulet. $80

If you want to go big – and I mean really big – then break the bank with the 2008 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, California. Small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot are also blended in to produce a massive wine that offers up prominent aromas of cassis liqueur, roasted coffee and toasty oak. Layers of blackberry, cassis, dark plum, vanilla and espresso flavors fall over the tongue in waves and are kept in balance by sweet, chewy tannins. The ultra-long finish is marked by a hint of dark chocolate that lends a decadent impression. Make sure you decant this beauty at least two hours before enjoying it. And find a friend to share the $150 price tag with.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Party wines for under $20

Posted on: Friday 12/9/2011 3:43pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

The holiday party season is in full swing and chance are, you’re either hosting a holiday party or have been invited to one.

What wine can you serve that will be delicious but not add to the national (or at least household) debt?

Here is a selection of wonderfully tasteful wines under $20 that you can serve your guests or take as a hostess gift. Now that’s a real holiday treat.

Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and the 2009 Alpha Sauvignon Blanc from Florina, Greece is first on my white wine list, this holiday season. The nose is full of honeydew melons, lemons and limes and the mouth is quenched by crisp, clean flavors of papaya, ripe peach, melon and grapefruit. Perfect with shrimp cocktail and only $19.

If you really want to make a splash at your next holiday party, try serving a 2009 Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon from California. On the nose, red cherry, cocoa, and a hint of toasty oak dominate the bouquet. The balanced mouthfeel is full of bright strawberry, red cherry and ripe blueberry flavors. There is just a touch of cocoa on the soft, smooth, easy-drinking finish. There is a lot going on in this wine for $15.

If you’re looking to stump your guests with a delicious red wine, how about serving the 2010 Gran Reudo Edicion Tempranillo from Navarra, Spain. This wine jumps up in your mouth and shouts, “Ole” from start to finish. Bright red cherry, raspberry and plum flavors sit on a medium-bodied frame with great balance and structure. Abundant acidity keeps the finish fresh and lively and ready for another sip. Just $10!

Whoever said that Pinot Noir has to be expensive to be good never tried the 2009 Pennywise Pinot Noir from “The Other Guys” – AKA members of the famous Sebastiani family in Napa Valley. The ruby-tinged wine boasts aromas of cherries, strawberries and earthy floral notes. Flavors of strawberry, watermelon, red plum and blueberries swirl around in the mouth and the lingering hint of cocoa on the finish is simply delicious. For $12, I vote for The Other Guys.

If you really want to impress your guests, how about serving a Grand Vin de Bordeaux? Namely, the 2008 Chateau Clos du Moulin from the Medoc appellation of Bordeaux, France. The bouquet is chalked full of dried herbs, cedar and dark currant aromas. It has good weight in the mouth that supports flavors of black currant and cherry fruit intermixed with spice box and plums. The medium-bodied finish is supple-textured, with remarkable concentration that sports a touch of chocolate. An unbelievable buy at $13.

If you need to trot out the Big, Bad Red Wine, then the 2009 Yard Dog from South Eastern Australia will have your guests barking for more. This masculine red is a blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and is howling good. It shows off aromas of ripe black plum, dark raspberries and red currants. The full-bodied frame supports oodles of black and red berry fruit on the front of the tongue and ends with a good , long dried cherry finish thanks to the rustic tannins and medium acidity. Off the leash for only $14.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

White wines for winter

Posted on: Friday 12/2/2011 4:06pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

We all know that when the weather turns a bit chilly, the first wine we think of – well, the first wine I think of – is red wine.

But what about white wines for winter weather?

Most of us think of white wines as warmer weather companions. But there are many white wines on the market that can be enjoyed all year long and, in my opinion, are even more enjoyable when the temperature scoots down a notch or two.

Like wool scarves and flannel sheets, big white wines can provide warmth and contentment. Pair them with comfort foods such as white bean chili or roasted chicken and you have a dynamic duo akin to Sean and Hillary.

The requisite characteristics that I look for in winter whites are simple but precise. It’s all about structure, structure, structure. I look for white wines that have weight and density in the mouth and deeper fruit notes centered around pear, peach and tropical fruits.

They are typically Rhone varietals, such as Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne, but can also include dense Semillon and creamy Chardonnays.

One of my favorite winter whites is the 2010 d’Arenberg Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne Blend from McLaren Vale, Australia. The wonderfully rich wine is packed with tropical fruit characteristics, orange marmalade, honeysuckle and white flowers. It would pair beautifully with fish tacos. $18

The French version of the aforementioned wine is the 2010 Gonnet Cotes du Rhone Blanc from the Rhone Valley region. A blend of Roussanne and Viognier, it has a floral nose featuring scents of acacia and honeysuckle. The mouthfeel is juicy, featuring ripe pear and notes of canned peaches. The structure is wonderfully solid for a wine at this price – just $14. Pair it with grilled halibut or seared scallops.

Now for the American version of the white Rhone invasion, the 2009 Treana Viognier-Marsanne blend from the Central Coast of California is perfect to cuddle up with on a cold night. It displays a characteristic floral nose with aromas of orange blossom and white flowers. Hefty flavors of ripe peach, pear, pineapple have a beautiful weight in the mouth. The wine has excellent balance and complexity, and notes of honey on the back of the finish keep you come back for another sip. Perfect with roasted chicken. $23

While I may like my Chardonnays naked in the summer, I want them fully clothed in oak for winter consumption. It is the oak aging that gives Chardonnay wines their depth and richness. The 2008 Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California is an excellent example of, with a rich, complex style that bends towards opulent without being excessive. It has layers of ripe fig, honeydew melon and juicy pear on the front of the palate. Notes of hazelnut and spicy nutmeg glide in on the remarkably balanced finish. It is a big white wine in search for a lobster dinner. $30

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Book gift guide for any wine lover

Posted on: Friday 11/25/2011 8:24am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

We all know that the day after Thanksgiving can only mean two things: turkey sandwiches and the start of the holiday shopping season. Making a turkey sandwich is easy. Trying to figure out what to give the wine lover in your life takes a bit more thought.

Of course, wine is the obvious choice, but buying wine can be tricky unless you know what wine your recipient favors, and cork screws are the proverbial neckties of the wine world.

For my money, books are the way to go. They're perfect for the novice as well as the old pro and they can be used over and over again without having to replace a single cork. Best of all, you can ship books to any state and they won't break!

Here is a collection of books that should satisfy the intellectual palate of any wine, beer and spirits lover in your life.

When I first got interested in wine, my bible was Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Wine Course. Today, Zraly's Complete Wine Course 2012 Edition is the new standard. Before you jump directly into his eight wine classes (not glasses), be sure to read the first chapter "Prelude to Wine" and then skip to page 249 and read "The Physiology of Tasting Wine". When sipping your way through the book, notice the factoids written on the white space of the chapter as well as the questions at the end of each chapter. And make sure you sample your way through the chapter on "Best Value List: $30 and Under." $28

My favorite book this year is 1000 Great Everyday Wines From the World's Best Wineries, Editor-in-Chief Jim Gordon. It is researched and written by a group of wine writers who catalog, by country, their top value wines. For example, one recommendation from France includes a second label wine by a renowned chateau. A recommendation from California highlights the Franco-American paring between the Perrin's (Southern Rhone) and Haas' (Central California) Tablas Creek venture. And wines from emerging wine regions, such as Israel, are a treat to learn about. This book provides a lot of bottle for the buck. Only $25!

The long and colorful history of the winemaking industry of Argentina is chronicled in The Vineyard at the End of the World by Ian Mount. This historical accounting dates back approximately 600 years and continues through to modern times, recounting the evolution of the winemaking industry, including the integration of French and American winemakers' influences on the industry. The political clime of Argentinean history provides an interesting backdrop during the industry's developmental timeline. $27

If you're looking for a good, solid reference guide, then the Beverage Basics Understanding and Appreciating Wine, Beer, and Spirits by Robert W. Small and Michelle Couturier is an excellent choice. Think introductory textbook for Wine, Beer, and Spirits 101. The chapters are easy to navigate, have adequate white space for your annotations, and offer classic food pairing suggestions for each grape varietal. The appendices are particularly useful and provide a wealth of consolidated information in tables and charts for easy reference. $65

If the current economic situation has you staying close to home this year, then pick up a copy of Saint-Emilion: The Chateaux, Winemakers, and Landscapes of Bordeaux's Famed Wine Region by Beatrice Massenet, Emmanuelle Ponsan-Dantin and Francois Querre and take a virtual trip to France's most famous wine region. Open a bottle of your favorite Bordeaux wine, curl up with this book and take a vicarious journey to 70 famed Bordeaux houses, such as Chateau Cheval Blanc and Angélus. The accompanying interviews with the winemakers literally bring the people who make some of the greatest wines in the world right to your fingertips. $55 is cheaper than a plane ticket to France!

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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