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

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

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

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

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.)

Thanksgiving Day Wines

Posted on: Friday 11/18/2011 2:12pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to

Every Thanksgiving, my wife and I experience the same crisis. It has nothing to do with who we invite or which guest will sit next to whom, or even what size turkey to buy, but rather what wine to serve.

Yes, in our house, it’s a big deal, mainly because my spouse and I differ on the style of wine to serve during the annual feast. I take a modern approach to wine and food pairings while Cindy likes to take a more traditional approach when it comes to her selections.

In order to keep the peace in the family this year, we decided to employ the advice of a few “neutral” wine experts in Washington, DC, to play referee and keep our Thanksgiving Day wine choices stress free.

Jon Genderson, co-owns and operates Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, a third generation wine shop in northeast DC, near Union Station. He loves Rosé sparkling wines because they work wonders with Thanksgiving dinner, so he has selected the 2009 Mont Ferrant Brut Rosé from Cava, Spain to get the festivities started. This elegant Cava possesses fragrant cranberry and rhubarb aromas leading to creamy, intense, savory middle and a long clean finish. ($20)

Omar Hishmeh is the wine director/sommelier at Bistro Bis restaurant in Washington, DC. He knows everyone’s menu varies considerably on Thanksgiving, so he likes wines that pair well with fall seasonings and flavors. For example, he thinks that the 2008 Weingut Glatzer St. Laurent is reminiscent of an earthy, spicy Burgundy from a ripe vintage. On the nose, dark fruit spice and wet earth dominate. The palate shows a wonderful richness of fruit balanced with minerality and soft tannic structure. According to Omar, “This is a whole turkey dinner in a bottle.” ($20)

Ben Giliberti is the former wine writer for the Washington Post and current Director of Wine Education at Calvert Woodley Fine Wines and Spirits in DC. Paring wines with Thanksgiving doesn’t present a conundrum in Ben’s house, since their traditional white choice is Caymus Conundrum from California. The multi-grape blend (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon) is ideal because it harmonizes well with both the bird and the trimmings. He likes the juicy, honeysuckle and citrus fruit and noticeable sweetness on the finish that sends a big wake up call to the palate after every sip. ($18)

Ben is also a big fan of employing a good Beaujolais-Villages on Thanksgiving because it is a red wine that really captures the harvest. Because 2009 is the best Beaujolais vintage anyone can remember, Ben is going to open a 2009 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages this year, because, as Ben notes, “He (Duboeuf) is the King of Beaujolais and always will be, for me.” ($12)

Mark Wessels, is the managing director at MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC. His palate usually tends towards old-world styles, but this Thanksgiving, Mark steps outside his traditional choices with two domestic selections, including the 2009 Girard Chardonnay from the Russian River region in Sonoma, California. This chardonnay has a nice body to go with the Thanksgiving meal, but it is not too oaky. It works very with the turkey as well as the trimmings. ($19)

Mark also thinks Pinot Noir is a versatile wine, and it is especially delicious when it’s from the terrific 2008 vintage in Willamette Valley, Oregon. The 2008 Holloran ‘LaChenaie’ Pinot Noir from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA is a well balance and stylish Pinot with medium dark cherry fruit and good balance, which means that this wine will work perfectly with the traditional turkey dinner. ($20)

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Starter Wines

Posted on: Friday 11/11/2011 4:56pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to

Last week, I touched on a couple of ways that consumers who want to learn more about wine can do so by reading wine books and attending tastings. But when it comes right down to it, the best thing to do is to simply taste more wine. The trick, however, is finding wines that will expand your horizons without shrinking your bank account.

The idea of spending north of a $100 on a bottle of wine for a learning experience is a bit outlandish, if not impractical. The good news is that with advances in winemaking techniques and choices from more countries, there are some very good wines that offer a lot of “palate education” for the money.

With a little bit of research and a lot of tasting, I have compiled a list of several wines that any wine novice or accomplished enthusiast can cut their wine teeth on for around $12 a bottle.

One of the best ways to really get a feel for a particular varietal is to try it “naked” – meaning without any oak treatment during the winemaking or aging process. The wines made by Ryan Flock for Simply Naked allows the expression of each type of grape to shine on its own. Ryan makes a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that are clean, fresh, and straightforward, using premium fruit that has been sourced from some of the best regions in California. One of the most remarkable aspects of these wines is how fruit-centric the palate is while remaining balanced and structured. Best of all, they are each $10.

Originally launched in 1998, Echelon Vineyards was created to showcase fruit from the Central Coast region of California. Today, Echelon Vineyards has expanded its roots beyond the Central Coast to showcase the characteristics unique to several of California’s diverse appellations by introducing their “California Series” of wines. Echelon sources fruit for their new brand from a mixture of winegrowing regions including Lodi, the San Joaquin Valley, Monterey County and the Central Coast. Winemaker Kurt Lorenzi combines the best of these regions to layer flavors and complexity. For example, grapes from the cool, coastal valleys are used in the Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio ($10) wines and have great concentration and structure, while grapes for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Blend ($12) come from the warmer, interior valleys and add richness and suppleness.

One of the old wine tasting rules of thumb assumes that Italian wines must be paired with food. Castello di Gabbiano has two wines that will let you be the judge of that. The 2010 Gabbiano Chianti DOCG ($10) is a new-world Tuscan red that is aged in stainless steel tanks. It offers up pretty floral aromas and complimentary flavors of red cherry and dark strawberry. While the bright acidity would love to play with a tomato-based pasta dish, the sweet tannins are content to remain a solo act. The 2010 Gabbiano Pinot Grigio ($10) is perfectly happy performing on its own. Aromas of acacia flowers and citrus on the nose combine with flavors of tropical fruit and citrus in the mouth to deliver a wine that is crisp and clean. Winemaker Federico Cerelli adds touch of chardonnay to provide depth and balance.

The Familia Zuccardi line of wines hails from the Mendoza region of Argentina. They recently introduced a line of wines named Santa Julia ($10) that include Torrontes, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. They use grapes are sustainably farmed on their own estate. The 2010 Torrontes and the 2010 Malbec offer an interesting dichotomy from white to red. The Torrontes offers up notes of white peaches, orange rind, pear and citrus flavors that are delicate, while the Malbec is full-bodied, featuring ripe plums, blackberries and mocha flavors and a long, expressive finish. Both are good examples of their varietal’s characteristics.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Wine Primer 101

Posted on: Saturday 11/5/2011 10:45am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to

So, you want to learn more about wine but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’re just looking for a reasonably priced wine that will expand your palate’s horizon. Either way, you’re not alone.

Where to start? A lot of new wine drinkers may want to drink wine, they don’t necessarily know how to go about understanding what wine they are drinking. With an estimated 40,000 different labels of wine crowding various wine shop shelves, picking the right wine can be downright confusing, with decisions often dictated by price or, worse, an eye-catching label.

The first thing I recommend is to read about wine from as many different sources as you can. Of course, I am partial to the advice given in this column, but I also advocate reading books and magazines from a variety of authors. Natalie McLean, a veteran wine author and self-proclaimed wine cheapskate, has a new book out, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines ($16), where she travels the world in search of the best wine values. One of her more whimsical tips in the book is to buy wine with impossibly long names, written in gothic script. This usually applies to German Rieslings, whose bottles may sit on retailer’s shelves as a result of misunderstood labeling – driving the price down for a very good wine.

One of my favorite recommendations for neophyte oenophiles is Oz Clarke’s ‘Let Me Tell You About Wine’ – A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Wine ($20). While it is simplistic in format – which makes it easy to understand the concepts – it is also very comprehensive in content. About half of this book is devoted to wine basics such as what types of grapes wines are made from, how to buy and store wines, and, of course, how to taste wine. A section on food pairing is invaluable for dinner parties and holiday entertaining.

How would you like to learn about, appreciate, and enjoy wine from a wine professional – and have fun doing it? That is the mission of the Capital Wine School, founded by Master of Wine, Jay Youmans. Jay’s vision is to offer the highest quality wine education and tasting instruction available in the Washington, DC area. His classes and events are fun and unpretentious, but offer the depth of knowledge and insight sought by those wanting to learn more about wine. What a great combination. Go alone, with a friend or as a group.

Wine shops love developing loyal customers, so many wine shops will periodically offer tastings to introduce new wines to consumers. Check out a couple of wine shops and tell them what you want to learn about and be very specific about your price range. Some retailers will even open a bottle or two for you in the shop so you can try-before-you-buy.

Of course, actually tasting wine is the best way to really learn. I think one of the best white wines to cut your teeth on is Sauvignon Blanc since it’s easy to identify specific characteristics. The 2010 Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc ($9) from Chile offers plenty of classic grapefruit and nectarine flavors on the palate while delivering a clean, crisp finish filled with citrusy notes.

The 2010 Norton Malbec ($10) from Argentina is an easy-drinking red wine that offers loads of juicy red and black fruit on a soft frame. A nice touch of spice on the finish provides a bit of depth and complexity.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Third annual wines to say 'boo' to

Posted on: Friday 10/28/2011 2:18pm By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to

Halloween is just around the corner – and judging from the hype on the morning news shows and party store displays, the annual ghostly celebration appears to be enjoyed as much by the adult crowd as it is by the traditional younger-than-sixteen gang.

At our house, it appears that as I get older, so do the ghosts and goblins that show up on my doorstep – most notably in the form of adult friends and parents who know that I usually have a bottle or two of wine open and ready to share when the doorbell rings. Plastic wine glasses compete with plastic pumpkins and paper bags, extended at arms length, looking for a liquid goody of the red or white varietal.

If you’re looking for a bloody good wine, Vampire Vineyards from California offers nine different wine varietals for your Halloween treat including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay. My favorites are the 2006 Dracula Syrah from Paso Robles and the 2007 Dracula Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. The Syrah features a jammy core of fruit reminiscent of a chocolate covered black cherry and has a long, lush finish.

The Pinot Noir is produced from grapes that are – and I am not making this up – picked before sunrise! It offers up beautiful concentrated raspberry, dark cherry and pomegranate flavors with a silky texture and a balanced, pretty finish. The Syrah is $17 and the Pinot Noir is $34 and I recommend having either with a bite of soft cheese.

If you are looking for a wine to “die for,” try the 2009 Armida Winery “Poizin” Zinfandel from Sonoma, California. This full-bodied zinfandel is from the heart of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma and according to the website, it’s “the wine to die for.” Bright notes of cherry, raspberry and blueberry cover the tongue on a medium-bodied frame. The slightly dusty finish features just a touch of black pepper. The label sports a wicked skull and crossbones and best of all, you’ll only be “coffin” up $25.

If you’re looking to wear a mask this Halloween and go incognito, then the 2010 Michael David Vineyards “Incognito” White is for you. Created from a blend of Viognier, Chardonnay, Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, and Roussanne all sourced from Lodi, California, it’s a goody bag filled with beautiful flavors of honey, apricot, peach and pineapple. Highlights of candied orange rind that glide over the palate and onto the lengthy finish. At $18, this wine is a wickedly wonderful value.

One of my favorite local wines also sports a wicked label – the 2009 Horton Vineyards “Black Cat” Chardonnay. Blended from select barrels of chardonnay grown in Orange County, Virginia, this wine sports a wonderfully rich, round mouthfeel, featuring sumptuous flavors of apple, nectarine and guava. The oak-accented finish is lush and long, with a nice touch of vanilla on the back of the tongue. Just $15.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

The value-oriented wines of cupcake vineyards

Posted on: Friday 10/21/2011 11:18am By jmeyer

Scott Greenberg, special to

What happens when a naval aviator for the Royal Australian Navy turns his sights to winemaking? You get wines that take off in the mouth with well-grounded prices. You get Cupcake Vineyard wines.

Adam Richardson has always loved aviation. He earned his pilot’s license before he learned to drive. But the winemaking bug bit him late – and hard.

Adam joined the Cupcake team in 2008, bringing with him the same passion for winemaking that he shared for flying as well as a sense of organization and efficiency that he learned in the navy.

His inaugural release of three wines, a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot, all from the central coast of California, were an immediate success.

Since then, Richardson has expanded the Cupcake Vineyards portfolio to consist of wines from five different countries. His repertoire now includes sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, malbec from Argentina, Prosecco from Italy, riesling from Germany and Shiraz from his native Australia.

I am a fan of Prosecco in general and this one in particular. The Non-vintage Cupcake Vineyards Prosecco is produced using the traditional glera grape varietal and possesses a brilliant nose of citrus, green melon and nectarine. The bubbles are remarkably tiny and precise and give the flavors of creamy lemon, roasted nuts and nectarine a wonderful lift in the mouth. Charming toasted bread notes chime in on the bright, clean citrus-fueled finish. $14

The 2011 Cupcake vineyards Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and proves that not all sauvignon blancs are created equal. While the wine does sport notes of traditional grassy scents on the bouquet, it is the extended exposure to the yeast sediments during maturation that really bring out the best of the fruit. Flavors of grapefruit, lemon and lime hit the front of the palate with a refreshing citrusy blast, but the creamy mid-palate expands to incorporate yellow cake and mango. The creamy texture continues onto the medium-balanced finish, with just enough acidity to keep it clean and crisp. $14

If you’ve been looking for a reasonably priced, high quality domestic Chardonnay, then the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay from the Central Coast of California is your wine. About 30 percent of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation which imparts a creamy texture in the mouth, where flavors of apple, nectarine, lemon/lime and buttery highlights meld together. Use of American oak barrels (about 20 percent new) imparts additional complexity and notes of toasted buttered bread and vanilla on the soft finish. $14

It’s only appropriate that Adam’s talents shine even brighter when he gets a chance to make a wine from his native Australia, like the 2010 Cupcake Vineyards Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. Deep, dark and brooding, it features full-throttled flavors of ripe blackberry, dark plums, smokey cassis and rich chocolate on the front of the palate and just enough black pepper spice on the medium-bodied finish. $14

The 2009 Cupcake Vineyards Red Velvet is a blend of zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah grapes that has been sourced from vineyards located throughout California. Each varietal has been vinified separately and then blended. The result is a wine that actually is reminiscent of a blackberry cupcake with chocolate icing. Hints of red fruit and mocha add a delicious note on the creamy finish. $14

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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