Best value wines from Australia

Posted on: Friday 10/5/2012 7:25pm

Scott Greenberg, Washington Examiner wine columnist

How to avoid the red wine headache

Posted on: Friday 9/28/2012 7:25pm

Scott Greenberg, Wine Columnist for the Washington Examiner "Wine of the Week"

Wine from California's San Louis Obispo County

Posted on: Friday 9/21/2012 8:22pm

Scott Greenberg, Wine Columnist for the Washington Examiner

Wine of the Week

Posted on: Friday 8/31/2012 7:42pm

Scott Greenberg, Wine Columnist for the Washington Examiner

Wines that are worth the hunt

Posted on: Saturday 8/25/2012 1:02am

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Some wines are just worth looking for.

There are many wines that I really want to review but am reluctant to write about because they may not be readily available in our metropolitan area. While this is certainly a dilemma, it should not be a deterrent. After all, there are some very good wines that just may be worth the hunt.

Since many states now allow consumers to have wine shipped directly to them - within reason - acquiring a prized wine is easier than it has been in the past. However, shipping costs definitely add to the total price tag of the wine and weather may limit when you can receive the wine.

In addition, many wine shops in the area are fairly accommodating when it comes to hunting down a particular wine, so definitely ask your favorite merchant if they can help you locate something special. Retail prices are approximate.

Jamie Kutch fell in love with wine in a chat room on the internet. It's not as strange as it seems, since many budding oenophiles often meet and get together for "offline" tastings through internet postings. But Jamie was bit harder than most by the wine bug. He left a good job in New York with his wife, Kristen, in tow to pursue a dream of making high-end pinot noir in California. The 2009 Kutch Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast is sourced from several vineyards throughout the Sonoma Coast and sports a lovely nose of red berry and bramble scents. Pretty flavors of cherry, raspberry and red plum wash over the tongue and finish with notes of toasty oak and minerality, balanced by moderate tannins. $40

The good news is the 2009 Alex Gambal Bourgone Chardonnay from Burgundy, France, is available in a few local wine shops. The bad news is due to its exceptional value, it can sell out rather quickly. In 1993, at the tender young age of 40, D.C. native Alex Gambal moved to France with his family for what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical. Fortunately for wine lovers, he stayed and is now making world-class wines. His entry-level chardonnay is charming, with delicious flavors of green apples and nectarine on the front of the palate and lemon-lime citrus notes that pop in on the back of the palate and onto the bright, medium finish. $30

When my children were younger, they really wanted a dog. They convinced my wife to go along with the idea by telling her that they would name him in honor of her favorite zinfandel. And that's how we ended up with Turley. Today, we still enjoy their wines, including the 2010 Turley Old Vines Zinfandel, produced from old, dry farmed vineyards from Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and several other counties in California. This bar-raising red wine is full of character, including flavors of blackberry jam, black licorice and mocha that seduce the palate. Firm tannins support highlights of cracked black pepper and dried sage on the lengthy finish. $26

Legendary winemaker Nils Venge, a six-foot-something, broad-shouldered blonde of Danish decent, fancies himself a modern-day cowboy. His 2007 Saddleback Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Calif. is worth rounding up. Aromas of blackberry, cassis and cedar dominate the fragrant bouquet. Ripe black fruit - black plums and blackberries - sit on a well-balanced frame, with smooth tannins and pitch-perfect acidity. Notes of cedar, cocoa and roasted coffee linger on the supple finish. $55

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Wines That Are Easy to Find

Posted on: Saturday 8/18/2012 12:46am

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - One of the questions I am most often asked is, "Where can I find that wine you wrote about last week?" As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, finding a wine that is widely available can be a challenge.

Of course, one of the most useful tools in finding any wine is the Internet. I have found some success in using search engines to locate a particular wine. My favorite online tool is wine-searcher.com. While their standard version is free, it is limited to searching inventory of wine shops that pay a fee to be listed.

Wine shop websites are also getting better at maintaining up-to-date inventories online (although it is always prudent to contact the shop to confirm availability before trekking out).

This week, I thought I would dedicate the Wine of the Week spot to wines that are widely available in our area.

Bubbles are always fun. And organic grapes are just icing in the sparkling wine, like the Prosecco grapes used to make the Non-vintage Mionetto Brut Prosecco from Italy. It possesses a lively palate with flavors of Red Delicious apple, nectarine and tangy citrus. The finish is crisp and clean, and would make a perfect pairing with fresh strawberries or grilled oysters. $12

As we glide into the last half of the summer season, I am spending a lot more time outside, cooking on the grill, so I am looking for a smooth, easy-drinking wine to compliment both the food and the mood. Enter 2010 Bolla Soave Classico from Italy. This isn't your parent's Soave. This charming white wine (Soave means "soft" in Italian) is full of aromas of white peach and white flowers on the nose and flavors of stone fruit, citrus and pear on the light-bodied frame. A touch of marzipan on the delicate finish reminds me to enjoy it with grilled chicken. $12

One of the most renowned producers in Burgundy region of France is Domaine Louis Latour. Their Louis Latour Ardèche Chardonnay from France is a value-driven white wine that has a lot to offer for the money. Crisp apple, white nectarine and lemony flavors cover the palate on a sheet of crisp acidity. Notes of steely mineral on the back end of the medium-bodied finish provides a great backdrop to roast chicken or pork loin. $11

I really enjoy off-dry (ever-so-slightly sweet) wines as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to spicy fare. The 2011 Yalumba Christobel's Eden Valley Riesling from Australia shines with floral aromas of peach nectar and mango on the bouquet and crisp flavors of white nectarine, pineapple and guava in the mouth. The bright acidity balances the sweetness of the fruit and the hint of minerality provides depth on the finish. $12

If a charming red wine is on your agenda, then the 2008 Columbia Winery Merlot from Washington State is a fun choice. Merlot grapes make up about 85 percent of the blend, but malbec, sangiovese, cabernet franc, barbera and petit verdot are also added in for balance and finesse. The nose is full of red plum, dried herbs and cedar aromatics. The palate is rewarded with flavors of blackberry, dark plum, black cherry and baking spices. A touch of tobacco highlights the soft, pretty finish. $20

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Wine of the Week: Wine Deals For Restaurant Week

Posted on: Friday 8/10/2012 8:15pm

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Most of us can't wait to get out of Washington, D.C. in August. But if you're considering sticking around next week, there are two things that will work in your favor; less traffic and the annual summer Restaurant Week dine-a-thon.

From August 13th through the 19th, over 200 of the area's finest restaurants will offer three-course meals for set prices during the 18th biannual Washington, D.C. Restaurant Week. Participating restaurants will offer a three-course lunch for $20.12 (get it? 2012) and a three-course price-fixed dinner for just $35.12.

Further adding to the value-oriented experience, many of these restaurants will also offer up wine tasting specials that you can pair with lunch or dinner.

Click here for a complete list of restaurants taking part in the promotion.

Art and Soul, at 415 New Jersey Ave, Northwest is the brainchild of restaurateur Art Smith. Art grew up in a small southern town where he says, "... My cuisine is certainly a reflection of my upbringing."

But Smith has come a long way since his youth, cooking for some of the world's most famous celebrities, including a ten year stint as the personal chef for Oprah Winfrey. Art and Soul celebrates Art's southern roots with a modern spin.

Continuing with the southern theme, Vidalia restaurant, at 1990 M Street, Northwest, is planning of offering some of chef and owner Jeff Buben's classic dishes, such as shrimp and grits, on the week-long menu.

Sommelier Ed Jenks has put together a list of red and white wines that represent great quality and value, including an Argentinian Torrontes from Don Manuel Villafañe, as well as a selection of craft beers and artisanal cocktails made from small production American craft spirits.

All three of the local outposts of the Capital Grille steakhouse, in McLean, Chevy Chase and the District, are currently featuring their "Generous Pour" concept along with dry aged steaks and fresh seafood. The Generous Pour allows patrons to select any number of tastes from a pre-set list of nine premium wines for $25. During Restaurant Week, the steakhouse will also offer a three-wine tasting option for $9.

Owner Dean Gold of Dino's, at Connecticut Ave, Northwest, is extending Restaurant Week through September 6th. The free corkage policy featured Monday through Wednesday is suspended during Restaurant Week. But, Dean will be offering special wine pairings as well as 33 percent off of wines over $50 on Sunday and Monday.

And speaking of corkage policies, if you are celebrating a special occasion and have been patiently waiting to open an extraordinary bottle of wine, Restaurant Week might be the time to consider taking it out to dinner. But there are a few things you need to know before you tote your wine along with you.

Patrons should remember that corkage is a privilege, not a right. Policies vary widely from restaurant to restaurant and from state to state, so call ahead of time to let them know that you are planning on bringing in your own wine and confirm restaurant's corkage policy.

By the way, I recommend that you always offer a taste of the wine to both the sommelier and your server. A little kindness goes a long way and a sip of a unique wine just might help the server forget the bottle of wine your table didn't buy. Another tip, I always try to order at least one bottle of wine off of their wine list as a way of showing my appreciation.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

A case for Virginia wines

Posted on: Friday 7/27/2012 6:45pm

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Virginia's wine industry is getting a lot of attention these days. In just the past year, the former 776-acre Kluge Wine Estate was purchased by Donald Trump and the Virginia wine country was listed as one of the top ten wine destinations by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

But are the wines any good? Rest assured, many of them are delicious. Earlier in the year, I was asked to participate as a judge in the annual Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition. Over 400 wines were submitted to the competition. They ranged from traditional table wines to fruit-centric dessert wines and only wines made from 100 percent Virginia-grown fruit were allowed to participate in the competition.

After two days of swishing, sniffing, slurping and spitting, the results from the initial round were tabulated and sent off to the event organizers, who then whittled the list down for the final judging in Richmond.

Recently, the Virginia Wineries Association announced the winner of the 2012 Virginia's Governor's Cup and put together a "sample case" of the winning wines for wine journalists and critics to try.

I assembled a panel of amateur wine enthusiasts and asked them to evaluate the Governor's Cup case. The wines were evaluated based on appearance, aroma, taste and overall quality and scored on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). The identity of the wines was kept concealed until the end of the tasting.

Here are the top six results from my informal panel of judges (scores have been averaged):

  • 2009 Glen Manor Vineyards Hodder Hill Meritage, Front Royal, Va. Score 9.3 - This wine took first place in the 2012 Governor's Cup competition as well as in my amateur competition. It is a blend of traditional Bordeaux varietal wines, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. Comments from the panel included, "long finish, really well-balanced," "impressive flavors of dark fruit and roasted coffee," and my personal favorite, "it's yummy." ($40)

  • 2008 King Family Vineyards Meritage Blend, Crozet, Va. Score 9.1 - According to the winery's website, grapes for the wine are "estate-grown merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot blended with locally sourced malbec." My panel liked the "earthiness" and "expressive nature" of the wine and flavors of "cherry compote" and "cocoa and coffee." I liked the structured finish. ($30)

  • 2009 Keswick Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Keswick, Va. Score 8.8 - This wine was my personal favorite. My favorite comment about this wine was "it tastes like it was made for steak." The firm tannins and dark fruit could certainly hold their own against any sirloin. ($40)

  • 2007 Delfosse Vineyards & Winery Meritage Blend, Faber, Va. Score 8.7 - Produced in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson's old stomping grounds, this wine is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. The common consensus among the panel was "really smooth" and "easy to drink." ($40)

  • 2010 Veritas Vineyard & Winery Vintner's Reserve Meritage Blend, Afton, Va. Score 8.3 - The meritage (blends) were a bit hit with the panel. This particular one elicited remarks such as "spicy," "refined" and "fruit-driven." ($25)

  • 2010 White Hall Vineyards Gewürztraminer, Crozet, Va. Score 8.2 - I was really happy that a white wine made it into the top five and even more thrilled that it was a gewürztraminer. This almost bone-dry style stimulated the group and the palate. Comments included "orange blossom and rose water, all in one" and, my favorite, "lychee nuts dipped in honey." ($20)

Other wines included in the Virginia Governor's Cup Case included:

  • 2008 Trump Winery Kluge Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine Score 7.9
  • 2010 Bluestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Score 7.8
  • 2010 Keswick Vineyards Merlot Score 7.5
  • 2009 Potomac Point Winery Heritage Reserve Meritage Blend Score 7.5
  • 2010 Jefferson Vineyards Cabernet Franc Score 7.3
  • 2010 Tarara Winery Honah Lee White Vinifera Blend Score 6.8

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Calistoga finally gets its AVA

Posted on: Saturday 7/21/2012 2:23pm

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

While many California wine lovers know that the town of Calistoga is located at the northern most edge of Napa Valley, most probably did not realize that until recently, wines produced in or near Calistoga could not reference the area on the label. That's because Calistoga and the surrounding area was not recognized as a separate American Viticultural Area (AVA). The wines were traditionally labeled as "Napa Valley."

An AVA is a specific geographic region that is demarcated by unique characteristics such as soil type, climate and physical landmarks such as rivers, lakes and valleys that clearly distinguish it from other surrounding areas. It can be large or small and can cross political and administrative borders, such as county and state lines.

However, a bottle labeled with a specific AVA must contain wine that was produced in the AVA from grapes - at least 85 percent - that were grown in the AVA. "Produced" means that the grapes must be crushed, fermented, and vinified into wine in the AVA.

Calistoga is known as an area that has large swings in daytime and nighttime temperatures and contains rich volcanic soils. This combination produces very structured wines with ripe fruit and high acidity. Now it is a place that Calistoga wineries can finally call their own.

Consulting winemaker August "Joe" Briggs knew that he could capitalize on his experience and contacts in Napa to produce exceptional wines, so in 1995 he and his wife Sally founded August Briggs Winery in Calistoga.

Today, winemaker Jesse Inman carries on the tradition of producing hand-crafted wines.

The 2010 August Briggs Zinfandel is a charming wine with balance finesse. The fragrant nose of blueberry liqueur, blackberry and cherry is a tantalizing precursor to the full, ripe flavors of spicy cherry, raspberry and red plum. The wine is kept in balance by loads of soft tannins and noticeable acidity. Characteristic notes of black pepper and dried sage slide in on the lengthy finish. $33

In 2002, Randy and Lisa Lynch where looking to crush some grapes that they were growing on their second-home property when they stumbled on a facility for sale. They ended up buying the winery and naming it Bennett Lane Winery. Today, the Lynch's own vineyards located throughout Napa Valley, but the 2008 Lynch Family Estate Cabernet is made exclusively from the best grapes grown on the 12 acre parcel surrounding the their home in Calistoga. The wine possesses intoxicating aromas of dark red fruit, violets and cocoa. Richly textured flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and blueberry jam jump out on the front of the tongue while subtle notes of black plum and vanilla fill in on the supple, incredibly lengthy finish. $95

Chateau Montelena is one of the most famous wineries in Calistoga. Jim Barrett, along with his son Bo, began making wines at Chateau Montelena in 1972 and quickly gained fame when their 1973 Chardonnay was voted the best white wine over other famous French wines at a tasting in Paris in 1976. Today, Bo heads up the winemaking team and continues to produce world-class wines. The 2008 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely a big splurge, but the expansive flavors of cassis, dark plum and black cherry, and the powerful-yet-elegant finish is definitely worth the price. Lingering notes of dark chocolate and rich espresso complete the picture. $140

Other wineries in Calistoga that have plans to incorporate the Calistoga AVA on their label in the near future include:

  • Sterling Vineyards
  • Frank Family Vineyards
  • Von Strasser Winery

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Pinot gris or pinot grigio - two sides of the same coin

Posted on: Friday 7/13/2012 7:33pm

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Last week we talked about the allure and versatility of pinot blanc wines.

I received an interesting email from a reader asking me if pinot gris and pinot grigio were wines made from the same grape, and if either of them are related to pinot blanc.

A perfectly legitimate question.

As it turns out, pinot grigio and pinot gris are actually the same white wine grape, just with two different names. And while pinot gris/grigio is not technically related to pinot blanc, it is thought to be a mutation of the pinot noir grape just as pinot blanc is - so I guess they share a distant parent.

When pinot gris is fully ripened it makes a golden yellow to blush colored wine. It is very popular in Alsace, France where it is sought after for both its bright, clean flavors as well as the dessert wines made from late harvest grapes, called Vendange Tardive.

The confusion over the name is a result of where the grapes are grown. For example, in Italy and California, wines produced from the grape are called pinot grigio, however, in France, Canada and Oregon it's referred to as pinot gris. The main difference in the style is a result of the climates the grapes are grown in and how the wines are produced. In Italy, pinot grigio tends to be dry, with a citrus-centric core and a minerally finish. In France, the wines lean more towards stone fruits and white flowers. Both styles are found throughout the grape-growing world, so it's just a matter of finding the variety that appeals to your palate. Retail prices are approximate.

In 1870, Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino had a dream of starting a winery dedicated to making the best wines possible from Tuscan grapes. Today, the Folonari family runs the winery and their 2009 Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio from Venezia, Italy steals the show with an aromatic nose of orange blossom, grapefruit and pineapple. Crisp notes of nectarine, peach and lemon/lime fill the mouth while bracing acidity keeps the finish fresh and lively. $10

For six centuries, the Albrecht family has been making wine in Alsace, so they know a thing or two about pinot gris. Their 2010 Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvée Romanus from Alsace is one of the most well-known white wines from that region. The intense bouquet explodes with scents of white flowers, juicy stone fruits and wet stone. This extraordinarily easy-drinking wine emphasizes flavors of nectarine, white peach and melon highlighted by abundant acidity. Citrus notes provide a tangy and refreshing finish. $18

Oregon was the first state in America to grow pinot gris and Adlesheim was one of the first wineries to make it a regular part of their portfolio. Their 2011 Adelsheim Pinot Gris is the 28th vintage they have produced in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The nose is full of ripe green apple, melon and honeysuckle aromas. The slightly creamy mouthfeel supports luscious flavors of green apple, pear and tropical fruit. The textured finish is long and crisp with hints of tangerine acidity on the back of the palate. $22

J Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, California is known for their refreshing sparkling wines, but their 2010 J Vineyards "Cooper Vineyard" Pinot Gris may just change that. Blessed with a fragrant bouquet of honeysuckle, lemon meringue pie and apricot on the nose and a succulent mouthfeel featuring flavors of tropical fruit, kiwi and honeydew melon, this wine is an elegant version from first sip to last impression. The hint of orange clove honey on the finish is particularly memorable. $26

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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