Wine of The Week

Picks from Napa Valley

Posted on: Saturday 6/25/2011 9:53am

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

Yes, Virginia, there really are some wine values in Napa Valley, California. But just like the early gold rush, you have to mine for those nuggets.

I have just returned from a whirl wine (or is that wind?) tour out west where I spent three days judging just over 400 wines in the San Francisco International Wine Competition and then rewarding myself with three glorious - and hot - days kicking around the wine-fantasy world of Napa Valley.

After tasting all of those wines at competition - winners to be announced at a future show - kicking back and sampling a hand-picked selection of Napa's best was a welcomed relief.

Wines I tasted ranged in price from $15 a bottle all the way up to $500!!! a bottle. Needless to say, I enjoyed the later on someone else's charity. But for us mere mortals who still have car payments, here are a few wines in the "reasonable" price range that you might have to hunt around for, but it will be worth the effort.

The 2009 Neal Family Sauvignon Blanc is made from 100 percent organically grown grapes. The first thing you notice is the floral bouquet of acacia flowers and ripe mango fruit. The smooth, juicy mouthfeel exudes bright tropical fruit, including guava, mango and papaya, and finishes crisp and fresh with a pop of grapefruit on the finish. Just $18 for this remarkable wine.

Owners Randy and Lisa Lynch call their 2006 Bennett Lane Winery, Maximus a "Red Feasting Wine" and it's easy to see why. The blend of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Malbec results in a wine that opens with aromas blackberry, violets and chocolate covered cherries. On the palate the wine displays flavors of dark berries, mocha and more ripe cherry fruit. With elegant, velvety tannins that enhance the mouthfeel, the wine has a long fruit driven finish and pairs well with practically everything. $35

I am not a fan of over-oaked, over-extracted chardonnay wines - particularly ones made from fruit grown in the hot climate of the Napa Valley floor, but the beautifully balanced 2008 Signarello Chardonnay is stunning. It is a lesson in new-age California Chardonnay where the fruit is grown, managed, harvested from old-age vines and made on site. This kind of control helps produce a wine with a nose of creamy pears, orange blossoms and roasted nuts that lead to lovely flavors of green apples, tropical fruits and a hint of baked pear and butterscotch on the delightful finish. This is a wine in search of seared scallops. $42

While the name Silver Oak may not conjure up an association with delicately nuanced Pinot Noir, the famous producer of big California Cabernet's sibling, Twomey Cellars sure does. Their 2009 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley is their first vineyard designated Pinot Noir bottling. Made from organically farmed fruit, the wine is crafted in a forward style, featuring aromas of sweet strawberry and wild raspberries on the nose and repeated on the palate where they are joined by lush, ripe berries and undercurrents of red currants and violets, all built on a graceful framework with a fine balance between tannins and acidity. $50

Kirk Venge has definitely stepped out of the shadow of his father, legendary winemaker, Nils Venge and into his own spotlight. And his 2008 Venge Vineyards Silencieux (The Silent One) Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley is proof. Much of the fruit for this labor of love comes from vineyards that Kirk's family has farmed for nearly a half-century and the name, Silencieux, is a tribute to these old vineyards that stand silent and bear consistent grapes year after year. The wine opens with scents of blackberries, cassis, licorice and coffee on the nose and then leads to flavors of black fruit, black current and minerals on the concentrated, viscous palate.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP & Scott Greenberg. All Rights Reserved.)

Wines, gifts and gadgets for Father's Day

Posted on: Saturday 6/18/2011 9:54am

by Scott Greenberg, Special to WTOP.com

When I was a child, I always felt cheated that Mothers and Fathers had their own "day." Of course, I was given the standard, "every day is children's day" retort whenever I voiced concern over the injustice of having to buy cards once a year for people who seem to have it their way all year long. It is amazing what several decades and a few children of my own did to change my perspective.

Now that I am a proud member of the Father's Day club, I am looking forward to kicking back and relaxing in my favorite chair this Sunday as my grateful children gather at my feet and bestow upon me cute cards and gifts that they have purchased with the money they have been saving all year long. Yeah, right. If you believe that, I have a vintage bottle of Manischewitz I'd like to sell you.

Here are a few ideas that I am sure any dad who is either new to wine or already a connoisseur would love to get this Father's Day.

Wine Library's owner and energetic wine expert, Gary Vaynerchuk, has put together a collection of his favorite "wines for dudes" in a sampler six-pack ($50, shipping included). These wines were picked by Gary specifically for guys who might not ordinarily try wine or are looking for wine to match with more masculine epicurean feats from the grill. In addition to the six miniature bottles (think hotel mini-bar size), a $30 gift certificate is included so that dad can buy bigger bottles of his favorite wine. Available online at tastingroom.com.

Wine tasting seminars are a unique and practical gift and there are so many cool choices in our area. The Washington Wine Academy in Alexandria, VA, offers a wide range of courses, starting at $35 for single night classes and going up to $300-plus for the lengthier professional wine certification classes. Not sure which class dad wants? Buy a gift certificate online and let him chose.

A wine loving dad can never have too many decanters. They are not only practical, but can be works of art as well. My favorite is the Wine Enthusiast "U" Decanter. It's only $20 and shipping and handling is currently included . For $10 more, add a special touch and engrave dad's initials on the decanter. He is sure to think of you whenever he uses it.

When dad wants to open a special bottle of wine, but doesn't want to finish the bottle, he'll be glad he has the automated Wine Vac ($30) vacuum pump. It uses two AA batteries to perfectly seal an open bottle of wine, protecting the bouquet and flavors from oxidation. It's a high-tech way to protect and prolong the enjoyment of any wine. It also has a built-in thermometer to let you know when it has achieved the ideal temperature. Available at Sharper Image and other wine specialty shops.

Does dad like to travel with wine from time to time? The Jet Bag is an inexpensive and lightweight solution to provide protection for breakable items stored in checked luggage. The bio-degradable carrier features a reusable zip seal closure that is lined with the same absorbent materials found in baby diapers which pads and protects the wine bottle. Heaven forbid the bottle breaks, the Jet Bag rapidly absorbs any liquid spilled, preventing leakage in the suitcase. It's also an ideal way to safely travel with other valuable liquids, such as perfume or liquor. A three-bag pack is $15.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP & Scott Greenberg. All Rights Reserved.)

International white wines for red hot days

Posted on: Friday 6/10/2011 12:11pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to WTOP.com

Here are a few white wine we're loading up in our frig, hoping we can make a summer in Washington - or anywhere it's hot, hot, hot - just a little more bearable.

If your tongue is on fire, try chilling it down with the 2009 Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Torrontes from Argentina, South America. It has white flower aromas such as orange blossom and rose. Fruity notes of pear, mango and passion fruit play on the palate where the excellent acidity provides outstanding freshness. $18.

When the weather warms up in Spain, the Spanish turn to Albarino. The 2009 Nessa Albarino from the Rias Baixas region of Spain is a delicate, well-integrated white wine that features scents of honeysuckle, jasmine, nectarine and melon. Flavors of orange blossom and white peaches are buoyed by delicate mineral notes and soft acidity. Medium-bodied and highly versatile, this will pair beautifully with a wide range of seafood dishes. $13.

The wine drinkers in New Zealand keep their cool with the 2009 Seifried Riesling from Nelson, New Zealand. The bright notes of lemon zest, nectarine and slate on the palate are welcome relief for any palate dying of thirst. Best of all, the ever-so-slight residual sugar provides just enough sweetness to tame the heat of spicier fare. $17.

Of course, the Romans know a thing or two about hot weather. So when in Rome - or anywhere it's hot - try the Fontana Candida Frascati Superiore from the province of Lazio in Italy. Delicate fragrances of wild flowers and green apples fill the bouquet while lively flavors of peaches, nectarines and almonds refresh the palate. Bright acidity keep the finish light and bracing. $10.

(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Hammock Wines

Posted on: Friday 5/27/2011 12:54pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to WTOP.com

Memorial Day kicks off the beginning of the summer season in Washington - but I don't stand on ceremony, so I won't be putting away either the blue blazer or the red wines.

The 2009 Monte Velho from the Alentejano region of Portgual is made from the three local white wine varieties, Roupeiro, Antao Vaz and Perrum. Vinified without oak, this refreshing wine has good balance between the flavors of tropical fruit, nectarine and citrus and the abundant acidity, which keeps the bright flavors fresh and the finish crisp. Great with grilled seafood. $10.

For a summer red, many people might go with the obvious choice, pinot noir, but I am picking the 2008 Castillo Labastida Madurado from Rioja, Spain. This is a 100% estate bottled Tempranillo that spends just 4 months aging in oak barrels - enough to give the juicy black cherry fruit, plums and licorice flavors a chance to mellow and meld with the refreshing acidity. The touch of vanilla on the bright finish is just enough. $13.

Nothing beats the heat like a well-chilled Rose wine - and the one I plan on chilling out with this summer is the 2010 Robert Oatley Rose of Sangiovese from the Mudgee region of Australia. The grapes are harvested at night and kept cool. The juice is immediately bled off the skins to give the wine a pale pink color. Made on the drier side, this rosé features refreshing notes of watermelon and wild strawberry up front and a touch of citrus flavors on the crisp, tangy finish. All it needs is a hammock. $12.

Here's a white wine blend that hits all of the high notes for relief on a hot day. The 2009 Clif Bar "The Climber," White Blend from California is a blend of sauvignon blanc, pinot blanc, chenin blanc and muscat and the combination delivers a wonderful bouquet of tropical fruit, honeysuckle and citrus. The layers of pear, white nectarine and peach flavors in the mouth is kept light and in balance with loads of crisp acidity. A twinge of sweetness on the lengthy finish adds just the right touch and makes this wine a good choice for either an aperitif or a match with sesame noodle salad. $14.

Sushi wines

Posted on: Friday 5/20/2011 1:32pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg, Special to WTOP.com

Here are a few choice selections to look out for at your favorite sushi restaurant or to pick up with your carry out.

I really like sparkling wines with sushi dishes, particularly if they're on the drier side. The Non-Vintage Fitz-Ritter Sparkling Dry Riesling from Pfalz, Germany is lively offering features notes of brioche, peach and honey on the nose. Flavors of apples, nectarines and white cherry are buoyed by the tiny bubbles and hints of spice on the crisp finish. The abundant acidity provides a palate-cleansing finish that goes nicely with the avocado-rich California Roll. $20.

Off-dry wines can be a heavenly match with sushi, like the 2007 Trimbach Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France. This lovely gewürztraminer exhibits a floral bouquet of nectarine, Lychee nut and nutmeg. Flavors of mango and passion fruit are built on a slightly sweet frame, but the crisp acidity keeps the flavors focused and clean. Hints of tangy ginger on the finish make this an ideal pairing with sweet shrimp or yellow tail. $18.

Sometimes, I like a wine with bright acidity to clean my palate. The 2009 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand from down under does the trick, with fresh flavors of passion fruit, grapefruit and green grass. The lemon/lime finish refreshes the palate and makes a great match with brinier offerings on a sushi menu such as uni (sea urchin). $20.

Pinot Noirs go great with richer fish, such as salmon and tuna. This substantial weight and grip of the 2007 Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, Yamhill Cuvee from Willamette Valley, Oregon is a great choice, with a wonderful nose of strawberry, black plums and graphite. Concentrated flavors of black cherry, wild strawberry, spice and violets are in balance with the firm tannins and abundant acidity. $35.

If Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls are how you roll, then you'll want a glass of the 2008 Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California by your side. This spicy red has intense flavors of plum, cherry and black pepper that coats the entire tongue and has great mouthfeel. The briary finish is long and lithe and can certainly hold its own with spicier fare. $16.

The 2009 Stickybeak Semillion (72%) Sauvignon Blanc (28%) from Sonoma County, California is a white blend that is a bit softer than a traditional Sauvignon Blanc, with more emphasis on fruit than finish. The fragrant nose features scents of tropical fruit and lemon/lime that also show up on the palate where they are joined by flavors of honeydew melon and peach. The wine has a nice balance between acidity and fruit with a slightly softer finish featuring lingering notes of citrus and minerals. A good wine to enjoy with scallops or oysters. $15.

2008 Deloach Vineyards Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Calif ($21). This domestic pinot has a lighter style with aromas of cherry cola, red plums and vanilla. Cherry and red berry flavors stay bright on the palate thanks to tangy acidity. Hints of cinnamon and orange rind float in on the medium-bodied finish. Just right for the mild flavor of tuna, particularly the ultra-smooth toro.

Discovering wines by the glass

Posted on: Friday 5/13/2011 2:42pm By jmeyer

Here is a summary of some of the top spots in our area to taste a variety of varietals. Prices are approximate.

Northern Virginia

Wine from a vending machine? At Evo Bistro in McLean, restaurant patrons can purchase a debit card and use it to help themselves from a list of over 50 wines from around the world. Guests insert their card, select a wine, and receive a one ounce, three ounce, or five ounce pour. Swipe, dispense and sip.

EatBar in Arlington has one of the most eclectic wine-by-the-glass programs in the area. With over 50 wines available in 3, 6 and 10 ounce pours ($4 - $25) from over ten countries, the list will keep any palate busy for many visits.

Maryland

Grapeseed in Bethesda was one of the first restaurants to bravely go where no restaurant had gone before - offering high-end wines by the glass in Montgomery County, where the liquor laws are a bit quirky. But chef/owner Jeff Heineman persevered and now offers over 25 whites and 25 red and a variety of sparkling and dessert wines (over 80 total), either by the glass or sample pour ($5 - $20).

The Wine Harvest, with two locations in Montgomery County (The Kentlands in Gaithersburg and Park Potomac in Potomac) is a specialty wine shop that offers sandwiches and light snacks along with samples of wines by the glass ($4 - $9), so you can "try before you buy."

Florida-based Seasons 52 restaurant's newest outpost recently landed in the Rockville area and offers guests up to 60 different wines by the glass (6-ounce pour ranging from $6 - $15). Best of all, the wines are personally selected by Master Sommelier George Miliotes, so there are a lot of interesting and diverse wines to chose from.

Washington, D.C.

Mark Culler has been collecting wine for over 25 years, so when he launched Proof, wine was a major focus. He purchased a state-of-the-art wine dispensing/storage system that serves 16 white wines and 16 red wines. The temperature controlled Enomatic system uses Argon gas to keep the bottles fresh for up to three weeks, but they rarely last more than a day or two. In addition to the 2, 6 or 8.5 ounce pours of reds and whites (ranging from $7 to $22 per glass), there are also 8 sparkling wines and 8 dessert wines available.

If you're looking to see the world through wine, then take the tour at Cork Wine Bar, near Logan Circle. Cork offers over 50 wines by the glass from big and small producers from around the world and prides itself on making wine tasting approachable by providing easy-to-understand descriptions for each wine. In addition, they offer flights of wine so you can sample different regions and varietals. No passport necessary.

Mother's Day Wines

Posted on: Friday 5/6/2011 2:07pm By jmeyer

Roses are always a good idea on Mother's Day, so why not bring home a rosé - particularly one with bubbles, the ones found in the Non-Vintage Domaine Chandon Sparkling Rosé wine from Napa Valley. Made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the Méthode Champenoise, the bright pink color is festive and inviting. Ripe strawberry, juicy watermelon and raspberry hit the front of the tongue like a kid on a waterslide. Bright notes of red cherry fruit bring up the rear of the vibrant, refreshing finish. Only $17.

If you want to give mom diamonds, look no further than the 2009 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Director's Cut Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma. This lovely Chardonnay is only $18 and has an old-fashioned filmstrip wrapped around the bottle as an homage to the famous director who owns the winery. The wine is aged entirely in French oak barrels that lend a note of buttered toast and vanilla on the seductive nose. In the mouth, the wine has a round, lush texture featuring favors of green apple, nectarine and honeysuckle on the front of the tongue and bright citrus notes on the crisp finish.

For just $15, you can give mom her own clone with the 2007 Pedroncelli Winery "Mother Clone" Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma, California. This zesty Zinfandel took home top honors last year at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in the "Under $20 Zinfandel" category - and it's easy to see why. This is a classic Dry Creek Valley aromas of ripe blackberry, dusty earth and subtle black pepper spice. This is a concentrated wine that offers a great balance of jammy fruit flavors, savory spices and enough tannins to provide a long, lush finish.

If you're looking to splurge on a precious metal, look no further than the 2006 Silver Oak, Alexander Valley, California. With notes of cassis and dark fruit on the nose, the powerful-yet-easy to drink wine offers a nice balance of blackberries, ripe plums and black figs. The smooth finish will long be savored after the bottle is gone. And so will your thoughtfulness. $60.

Big House offers big value

Posted on: Friday 4/29/2011 4:22pm By jmeyer

Eleven, yes, eleven different varietals contribute to the 2010 Big House White Wine. The aromatic nose really does have a perfume quality, including scents of spring flowers and lychee fruit. Flavors of white peaches, dried apricots and nectarines fill the mouth while bright acidity provides a clean, citrusy finish. $10/750ml or $22/3 liters

When chardonnay is made without the use of oak, it is referred to in the industry as "naked." The 2010 Big House Unchained Naked Chardonnay is an excellent example of the pretty flavors unadulterated fruit can provide. Bright green apple, ripe nectarine and lemon/lime flavors zip over the tongue on their way to the clean, crisp finish. $10/750ml or $22/3 liters

Georgetta's approach to wine is "the more the merrier," and the 2009 Big House Red certainly lives up to her philosophy. With over 14 red varietals in the juice, including Petite Sirah, Syrah, Montepulciano and Barbera to name a few, it delivers oodles of juicy red fruit flavors, including blackberry, red cherry and cranberries. $10/750ml or $22/3 liters

Zinfandel grapes from old vines produce elegant wines, like the ones used in the 2009 Big House Beastly Old Vines Cardinal Zin. Made from 80 percent old vine Zinfandel grapes from vineyards around California, it delivers sumptuous blackberry, cherry and blueberry flavors on the front of tongue. Dried herbs and spicy pepper notes fill out the medium-bodied finish. $10/750ml or $22/3 liters

A couple other wines in the Big House portfolio, namely the 2010 Big House The Birdman Pinot Grigio and the 2009 Big House The Usual Suspects Cabernet Sauvignon (both $10) also deserve to be sprung free from the bottle.

Around the world with wines for Easter

Posted on: Friday 4/22/2011 5:32pm By jmeyer

If you're planning on serving ham for Easter dinner, then try the 2008 Takutai Pinot Noir from the Nelson region of New Zealand. This pinot is not too brooding but it has an intense nose showing an attractive bright berry fruit profile. A deeply impressive Pinot Noir that gets it just right. Excellent. $15

Easter ham can be rich and salty, so I think a nice, delicately sweet Riesling with enough underlying acidity will cut through the richness of the ham like a knife while providing a nice counterpoint to the saltiness. My recommendation is the Poet's Leap Riesling from the Columbia Valley in Washington State. $19

If your plans call for a turkey dinner this Easter, serve something a little different - Grüner Veltliner. The 2008 Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner from Kamptal Austrian has aromas of ripe apples and a typical Veltliner spiciness that combines to create a charming fruit bouquet. $25

And if leg of lamb is on the menu, then Chateauneuf du Pape is the way to go. The 2004 Feraud Chateauneuf du Pape from the southern Rhone Valley of France is rich, full and spicy, with peppery notes of black cherries, dried herbs and tobacco. It has excellent balance and is ready to enjoy now. $30

Passover wines: Not your father's Manischewitz

Posted on: Friday 4/15/2011 2:20pm By jmeyer

by Scott Greenberg,
Special to WTOP.com

Kosher wines have entered a new era. There are a several countries that are dedicated to producing quality wines for all consumers. Israel is leading the way with six wine producing regions turning out some pretty good juice. Italy, New Zealand, Australia and California are also on the map with respectable Kosher wine offerings.

Nothing gets a party - or Seder - started like a glass of sparkling wine. The 2008 Bartenura Moscato from the Lombardia province of Italy is a fun and festive way to kick off the first cup with. This sparkler features bright flavors of ripe pear, tangerine and nectarine on the front of the palate and a touch of green melon on the crisp, refreshing finish. Serve cold in a fluted glass. $15.

White wine lovers will rejoice when they taste the 2008 Yarden Chardonnay from Galilee, Israel. This Chardonnay is an exceptional full-bodied wine with plenty of toasty oak and buttered brioche on the bouquet and fresh flavors of pear, apple and a bit of melon in the mouth. Well balanced, with a long, elegant finish. $20.

If you really want to see how far kosher wines have come, try the 2007 Galil Mountain 'Yiron' from the Galilee appellation in Israel. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. It is aged for 16 months in small French oak barrels which produces a wine with a full-bodied frame featuring blackberry, cassis and jammy ripe plum on the front of the tongue. The finish is chocked full of nicely layered flavors of cocoa, dried herbs and earthy notes. $20.

All the way from the land Down Under comes the 2009 Goose Bay East Coast Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Utilizing grapes grown in the Marlborough and Nelson appellations, this wine is on the lighter side, with delicate notes of strawberry and red cherry that seem to float on the tongue. The abundant acidity provides splendid balance and carries the hint of baking spices throughout the supple finish. $20.

Another choice from south of the equator is the 2009 Beckett's Flat Five Stones Shiraz. Located in the Margaret River appellation of Australia, Becket's Flat has been making kosher wines since 1998. Their Shiraz - or Syrah as it's know north of the equator - displays characteristic blackberry and dark plum flavors up front and distinctive notes of black pepper on the balanced, powerful finish. $21.

Of course, no celebratory meal is complete without dessert. The 2008 Barron Herzog Late Harvest Riesling, Monterey County, Calif. is a nicely balanced dessert-style wine. The abundant bright acidity keeping the sweet flavors of candied orange, apricot and dried pineapple in check and the finish clean. Serve it well-chilled. $25.

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