Friday, December 31, 2010

Grape Sense's Top 10 Value Wines of 2010

What do you get when you combine Cabernet, Malbec, a Beaujolais, a Chianti, Syrah, and multiple Spanish grapes? You get the Grape Sense Top 10 Wines of 2010.

Are these the best ten wines I tasted in 2010? No, but close. These are 10 of the best wines tasted that were under $20 and purchased in Indiana. Last year, I ranked the Top 10 – this year the best are presented in no particular order.

George Deboeuf’s La Trinquee Julienas - The Gamay wine from Beaujolais has nice fruit structure, tannins, and well-balanced acidity. It will change your mind about Beaujolais if you’ve only had the Nouveau. ($12-99-$15.99)

Domaine de Niza Languedoc 2005 - The French wine is a blend of 60 percent Syrah, 35 percent Mourvedre, and 5 percent Grenache. It has a big nose, an herbal, spicy, and smoky taste with a long finish. Wine Spectator gave this juice a 91. I might not go quite that high, but darn close. ($13.99)

J. Lohr Cabernet - The wine is a rich and well-structured bottle of Cab. It can be found in wine shops from $13-$17. It can be picked up at many Indiana groceries for $14.99.

Etim Seleccion - This is a blend of 60 percent Garnacha, 30 percent Carinena and 10 percent Syrah from Spain. It's aged six months. The wine has an irresistable rich black cherry and spice flavor.($13.95)

Montebuena 2009 Rioja – The 100 percent Spanish Tempranillo is about as good as you're going to find anywhere for $9. Getting good European wine under $10 is always a challenge. Wine icon Robert Parker gave this great wine 90 points!

Errazuriz Cab – The Errazuriz gets its own listing because it’s that good. Chile is making some great wine and the Errazuriz is widely available. They also make a dynamite Sauv Blanc. The Cab is widely available for $19.

Altos Malbec – A consistent 88 to 90 point wine delivers a great punch. Altos offers a deep colored hue with earthiness and a silky smooth finish. You even get a little sour cherry on the mid-palate. ($10-$13)

Il Fiorino 2008 Chianti - This is a really satisfying and easy-to-drink Chianti. The Il Fiorino is the classic and traditional blend of 90 percent Sangiovese with 10 percent Canaiolo. The winery Poggio Romita ages the wine in stainless steel instead of oak. It has that smooth drinkability new wine drinkers are always seeking out. ($13)

Este de Bodegas Alto Almanzora – A critic’s favorite from Almeria, Spain. It's largely Monastrell (Mourvedre), with a little Garnacha and Tempranillo, plus smaller amounts of Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz. It is flavorful with bold raspberry and a hint of vanilla from the oak. ($9.99)

Durigutti Malbec - Last year I ranked my year-end wines 1-10. I didn’t do that this year, but if I did the Durigutti would be No. 1. This is rich wine with a peppery finish. And if you’ve never had Bonarda (traditional Argentinian grape), try Durigutti. The Malbec sells for $11-$14. They have a Reserva that is fabulous wine for $23.99

Howard’s Picks comes down to some personal highlights from 2010. I joined a group of 10 wine writers for a three-day press trip to Paso Robles, Ca, in October. I’ll be returning to California wine country in January.

For specific wines I’d list my discovery of aged French Vouvray (chenin blanc), Ortman Family Wines, Paso Robles, and my first excursions into Amarone from Italy as just a few of many highlights.

Thanks to you for reading Grape Sense and your local newspaper editor for carrying the column. I get lots of great feedback, usually when I least expect it.

Cheers to 2011!

If one of the above wines interests you and you can’t find it, write me at and I’ll tell you where I purchased the wine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Simple Rules for Pairing Wine and Cheese

Wine and cheese go together like Tom and Jerry, Sonny and Cher, and other iconic pairings.

I’m most frequently asked about pairing wine with food. I recently wrote about pairing wine with appetizers. I’ve written about pairing wine with chocolate.
Finding cheese you’ll enjoy is like finding wine you’ll appreciate. You have to taste and taste some more. But the same as wine, many people become intimidated if they find a large selection of cheeses.

And there is so much more to be enjoyed than simple Swiss, cheddar or Gouda.
“I like to introduce people to cheese by doing a cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk, and a goat’s milkcheese,” said Fred Roesner, cheese specialist at Vine and Table in Carmel, In. “And a lot of the people who come in the store, when I say goat, they say ‘no way.’

Those not familiar with goat’s milk have often tasted fresh and very pungent goat cheeses. “They think of the animal, they don’t like it,” Roesner said.

“When they’ve tasted a couple goat cheeses here they go ‘Oh, wow – who knew? There are some wonderful goat cheeses and not all of them are fresh, a lot of them are aged a little bit and they’re delicious.”

Roesner even recommends fooling your guests just a little. “If you’re going to do something, you don’t have to tell people what it is,” he laughed. “You put a good cow’s milk, a good sheep’ s milk or goat cheese out there and throw in some cheddar or something that they recognize and they’ll love it.”

Pairing wine with cheese is similar to pairing wine and food. Seek out cheese that complements the wine or a cheese that will accentuate the wine by contrast.
“If you have a Cabernet that’s a big wine with big tannins, I’d send over a triple crème, very mild and very creamy. If you’re into the medium reds it gives you a whole wide spectrum of inexpensive cheeses that will go nice depending on your tastes.

“If somebody says ‘I’m drinking a Pinot Noir tonight’ I’d say let’s try this and this and this. With Pinot, you can go light. There is a huge body of cheese right in the middle and a huge range of wine right in the middle.

Roesner might chuckle when asked about his “cheese specialist” title. After working in an unrelated industry in L.A. he decided to retire early. He wanted to work in wine but no openings were available. “So for me it’s been on-the-job training,” he said.

He’s spent the past four years learning about cheese and assisting customers in Vine & Table’s gourmet grocery.

“It’s educating people,” he agreed. “If I can introduce something new to somebody and they like it and their friends like it, that’s great to me. You should eat what you like and drink what you like.”

Howard’s picks:
Swiss Gruyere
- Gruyere is often easy to find at a reasonable price. French Comte is the same cheese, but with a richer flavor to my palate. Comte is $12-$14 a pound, the Gruyere a little less.

Triple Cream Goat Cheese – A triple cream, or crème, is the other end of the spectrum. It’s the creamy and mild delicious cheese that Fred recommended above. A good creamy goat cheese is likely to cost you $18 a pound and up.
Don’t let the price scare you, often you’re only buying a quarter or half pound if it’s for nibbling with wine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wine Shops, A Sassy Bitch & Notes

Anyone in the writing business knows sometimes there are ideas that don’t quite add up to individual columns. So, the following items are shared as Wine Briefs.

New Fishers Wine Shop
Any time a new retailer opens an Indiana wine shop, it’s worth a mention. Small retail is tough but wine shops and gourmet grocery stores really have to fight to find a niche.

Tasteful Times, at Olio Rd. and 116th St., Fishers, is a delightful shop with a big supply of gourmet grocery items and an eclectic wine selection. The store was opened by Ian and Linda Sadler along with their son Jonathan.

“We wanted to combine offering the finest products with having some fun,” Ian Sadler said. “We’re passionate about good food and good wine as a family and with friends.”
The British couple are delightful hosts. The grocery includes a wide mix of meats, cheeses, dairy products, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, flavored oils, and I was told a very popular Bloody Mary mix.

The wine selection included many labels not seen in other Indianapolis shops. “We’ve been very selective because we don’t want to carry wines that everybody else has,” Sadler said. “We also want to carry wines that we’d be proud to serve in our home to family or friends.”

Wines with Funny Names
Many a wine critic or writer will bash “critter” wines or wines with cute names. Much of the criticism is well founded. But I continue to stumble across some worth consideration. “Sassy Bitch” wines are available throughout Indiana.

Tami Fricks, a Macon, Ga., native started the company after talking with friends about how confusing wine buying can be for the average consumer. She and her husband wanted a good product with a catchy name and seem to have found both. They traveled to Chile and found boutique winery Casa del Bosque and then launched Sassy Bitch wines.

They are currently producing four wines right around the $10 price point - Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Merlot. The Cab was named a Wine Enthusiast “Best Buy” this year.

I received media samples of the Cab and Pinot. I would describe them as good $10 wines. The Cabernet is rather soft without much of a finish but better than some I’ve tasted at the price point. The Pinot Noir was the better of the two. It’s hard to find a Pinot under $15 that is drinkable. This one doesn’t have big fruit but it is nicely balanced and drinkable.

Obviously, they wanted to have fun with the name (enough said), but the wines are good $10 values.

Stand up for Shipping Rights
You’ll be reading a lot about Sunday liquor sales over the next few weeks. But nothing is stranger than wine shipping laws and Indiana’s laws may be the most ludicrous in the nation.

Did you know if an out-of-state winery has a Hoosier distributor it cannot directly ship to you if you visit their tasting room? Did you know it can cost more than $500 to get an Indiana license if they don’t have a distributor and want to send you the 12 bottles you just purchased? It goes on and on.

Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, introduced the bill to allow Sunday sales. His quote, as reported in the Indianapolis Star, is what really caught my eye.
“No government, in my opinion, should create a monopoly in any one area,” Boots said. “We need to have a free-market society. We need to have a free-market environment where everybody can compete.”

Well said and I couldn’t agree more. Write your U.S. House representative and ask him to oppose H.R. 5034 which would cripple wine producers from all states. Write your state representatives and senators to ask them to tear down the antiquated three-tier system and to allow direct wine shipments to Hoosiers.

Welcome Aboard
Just a quick shout out to new readers in Monticello, Indiana. Editor Trent Wright has added Grape Sense to the Herald-Journal!

Monday, November 29, 2010

J.Lohr Makes a Cabernet Easy to Find, Afford

It can be hard to find a really good bottle of wine at the supermarket or local liquor store that delivers great quality for under $15. That’s why this column is about a single bottle of wine.

J. Lohr Vineyards is one of the iconic names in California wine, particularly the central coastal region. The chance to share comments from Steve Lohr, Jerry’s son and COO of the company, made it easy to focus one column on J. Lohr’s Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine is a rich and well-structured bottle of Cabernet for its mid-teen price. The wine can be found online anywhere from $13-$17. It can be picked up at one of Indiana’s biggest grocery chains for $14.99.

The chance to share Lohr’s comments on the Cab adds a little education rather than a simple review.

“With over 20 years of experience in growing grapes in Paso Robles, we know what it takes to coax the best flavors from our vineyards,” Lohr said. “Our Paso vineyards receive only 12 to 14 inches of rainfall per year, with almost none of that occurring during the growing season. Thus, we are able to limit how much water each vine receives, encouraging the vine to put more energy into fruit maturation than cane and leaf growth. We work diligently to allow just enough sunlight to penetrate the grapevine canopy. If there is too much light, the clusters will suffer from sunburn and turn rosy or raisin – just like humans! If there is too little light, they will not develop their full berry flavors.”

A recent trip to Paso Robles, CA., provided the opportunity to talk with many of the area’s pioneers.

“We feel Paso Robles is ideally suited for Cabernet in part because of the large diurnal changes in temperature (the difference between the daytime high and nighttime low) that occur here,” Lohr explained. “Cabernet needs warm days to bake out the (chemicals) that can lead to green vegetable aromas and flavors, and cool nights to preserve the acidity and color in wine grapes. With a daily swing of 40 to 50 degrees during the summer, Paso has the largest diurnal shift of any winegrowing region in the country.”

The great thing about this inexpensive wine is it tastes like a $20 or $30 bottle. The mouth feel is comparable to a more costly wine.

“We don’t over crop our vines since that dilutes flavors; however, we don’t under crop our vines either since that leads to aggressive vegetal growth and a reduction in the length of time the cluster remains on the vine, leading to sugar accumulation before flavor development,” Lohr said.

“This attention to detail is carried through the winemaking process. We ferment in small to medium size tanks which allows us to closely monitor color, flavor and tannin extraction from the grape skins and seeds. Our focus on traditional winemaking techniques, such as the exclusive use of 225 liter oak barrels to age our Seven Oaks, is more akin to a boutique winery than a winery with good national distribution. Balance in blending occurs with the addition of other Bordeaux varieties to our Cabernet such as Merlot and Petit Verdot, as well as other red varieties which grow well in Paso such as Petite Sirah and Syrah. The finished Seven Oaks is a wine that expresses rich blackberry, black cherry and vanilla aromas and flavors with a plump, softly textured mouth feel and finish.”

J.Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet is easy to find. Try it with the next big beef dish you have planned.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner Pairs with Many Wines

What wine to serve with the Thanksgiving turkey? It’s the most frequently asked question of the season and one with plenty of answers.

Let’s talk some turkey about white and red wines which will really highlight your holiday meal.

Chardonnay is a really easy choice. But if it was that simple, who needs a wine columnist? The way food is seasoned, cooked, and side dishes should always figure into the equation of wine-food pairing for any meal.

Recently, I gathered four good friends to evaluate six wines to pair with turkey and the trimmings. It’s a great way to pick holiday wines and great fun.

We tasted three whites and three reds with some sliced turkey, bits of cheese with cranberry, pecans, and crackers. We started with a Michigan Riesling - a classic choice. The wine offers nice fruit and acidity and will pair well with nearly everything on the dining table. Riesling is widely available, just check out a few because the wine does come in sweet, semi-sweet, and dry versions. It’s also acidic (a good thing), but if that turns you off – just read on.

One of the most popular Thanksgiving wines in recent years has been Gewurztraminer. The French and German versions are widely popular for their strong floral and spicy nose and taste. In Indiana, you can buy a Traminette at your local Indiana winery and get essentially the same flavor profile. It is a great choice. But note, the Indiana versions tend to be on the sweeter to much-sweeter side.

Our final white was a very nice California Sauvignon Blanc. The group was pleasantly surprised how well the wine went with the turkey and trimmings. Ask your wine shop for a Sauv Blanc with mild acidity. Many California Sauvignon Blanc wines will go really well.

Still, there are those who want red wine with food regardless of the occasion and there are plenty of choices that won’t overpower the bird. My wine buddies first tried a nice Beaujolais Villages gamay-grape wine. The Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine, but for better taste pick up a Villages or Grand Cru Beaujolais. The difference is only a few dollars for much better wine.

The Georges Duboeuf Villages wine was beautifully crafted, light, and balanced nicely against food. It’s also a wine even your non-wine drinkers are going to really enjoy. You’ll look like the sophisticated host serving one of the beautifully-labeled Beaujolais wines.

The final two wines were both Pinot Noir, but from different regions. The first was a light and tasty California Central Coast Pinot at $14. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are probably the most frequently recommended Thanksgiving red wines. The light Pinot not only pairs with turkey, but again is a good choice if you’re not regular wine consumers.

We also tasted an awesome $30 Oregon Pinot that might be a bit much for non-wine drinkers but will really impress regularly red wine fanatics. The Oregon Pinot is more Burgundian, or lighter in style, but earthy and aromatic wine that is made to impress.

The cook in the house invests a lot of time on Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends. So take a little time to get to a wine shop, ask some questions and pick a really great wine for the holiday.

Howard’s Pick:You can watch video on my blog as my four friends evaluate six Thanksgiving wine choices. A new video will be up each night the week of Nov. 8-13. If you miss it, just search through the blog to find the six entries! You’ll see the exact wines I’ve written about here and enjoy the comments.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wine Sales Bouncing Back Modestly

The growth of U.S. wine sales stuttered only briefly in the recent years of economic downtown. Though dollars declined, bottle sales did not drop significantly.

Going into retail wine stores the last two years has meant a wider selection of value wines and more bargains on premium wines as the nation’s economy continues to struggle with recovery.

When the economy soured, wine drinkers didn’t stop drinking. The $20-and-up customer just moved to $20-and-under wines. Retailers are beginning to see modest overall recovery.

“There has been some recovery but I would say not as much as we all hoped,” said Ashley Lockwood, owner of Cork and Cracker, Indianapolis. “I felt like we were picking up earlier this year and then in early summer the media was talking about double-dip recession and our sales took another dip.”

But speaking in early October, Lockwood was regaining guarded optimism. “Now I feel like we’re inching up over last year’s numbers. But if I look at them side by side I’ll be very surprised if we see much more than low, single-digit growth over last year.”

Lockwood’s shop is dominated by wines $15 and under. A little farther to the north, Vine and Table in Carmel has a wider selection of high-end wine but also a large value selection.

“I see the market getting a little better every year,” Wine Manager Bethann Kendall said. “We are still a long way away from where we were. I think in coming months we will see a nice increase from last year from consumers who are comfortable spending money without the constant fear of losing their jobs.”

Both wine retailers see customers moving back slowly to premium wines. “Everyone wants a good value but they all have that wine they adore at whatever price point and they consume for special dinners or to celebrate,” Kendall said.

Lockwood agreed consumers who had moved to her less-expensive wines are back buying more premium bottles. “I have a lot more people shopping the ($15-and-over) walls than I did a year ago,” she said. “One year ago I couldn’t sell a bottle of wine for over $20 to save my life. They’re starting to buy off the walls again and even in bad months those wines are moving again.”

Indianapolis is obviously the state’s most competitive market. Lockwood has heard from distributors that many retail outlets are worse off than her sales. “We have seen several places go out of business in the five years we’ve been here, places similar to us,” she said “And, we’ve seen a lot of restaurants close.”

The slow wine business has resulted in a lot of wine in warehouses and retail shelves. Customers benefit from the wine glut with more deals for the savvy wine shopper. “There has been some adjustment in prices and for us there were a lot of closeouts,” Lockwood said. “You do see that but I still think there is room for readjustment. It’s mostly domestic and largely California.”

Kendall echoed the sentiment and offering a heads up to consumers to look for great deals from most retailers during the holiday season.

Howard’s Pick:
Instead of a specific wine, its back to the advice offered in my first column two years ago. Find a wine shop you like and establish a relationship with the proprietor. Good retailers will help you find wines you like at the best price.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time to Break Out the Big Muscle Wines

A chill is in the air and frost is on the pumpkin which means it’s time for steaming stews and hearty chili. Wine pairing for big foods really is not as difficult as for more subtle flavors.

When it comes to big-flavored foods the wine picks should match. ‘Go big or stay home’ works for wine too!

Syrah and Zinfandel are great matches with those steamy pots of hearty fare. Both wines are characterized by bold fruit, spicy and peppery flavors and enough tannin structure to match well with big food.

First, let’s clear up a common misperception Syrah, Sirah, and Shiraz is all the same grape. Petite Syrah is a different varietal. The U.S. and France use the Syrah spelling while the Australians seemed to have coined the Shiraz spelling with great marketing success.

The wine, regardless of how you spell it, tends to have dark berry, plum, and sometimes even an olive taste characteristic. They almost always have some spice on the palate. The better Syrah wines are often quite silky in the mouth despite the big and bold flavor.

Syrah is frequently blended with Grenache or Mourvedre to make the great Cotes du Rhone wines. Elegant and beautiful French Syrah wines are available in good wine shops. There are plenty of great California Syrah wines in any shop.

California Syrah tends to be bigger in flavor but still retain the smooth style. Look at the label closely because some Syrah can be high in alcohol content.

Petite Syrah is a different grape altogether. It has waned in popularity in recent years. It is often used in blending. Don’t let the name fool you. Petite Syrah is almost always a bigger and more muscular wine.

If you want a pairing with a little less fruit but equally powerful then try a California Zinfandel. Zins often exhibit dark berry or cherry flavors with a peppery finish. It’s very much a food wine and will go well with pizza, burgers, or that bowl of hearty stew. Zinfandel is a robust wine. It generally is not a sipper.

Yes, it is the same grape used to make the very sweet and cheap White Zinfandel. But that is where any similarity ends.

Zin is one of those wines that can vary greatly depending on region and style. They can be rich and silky but also powerful enough to make you blush.

These two red wines are a regular on most wine drinker’s dinner tables in cold weather months. If you are not already enjoying these wines, go to your favorite retailer and ask them to help you select an introduction to Syrah and Zinfandel.

Howard Picks:
Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel – This wine is rich in cherry flavor, big on the pepper with balanced tannins producing a glass that will hold up to any winter dish. It’s widely distributed in Indiana at $16-$18. This producer also makes a great Syrah around $15.

Columbia Crest Shiraz – This Washington state winery goes with the Australian spelling for its black cherry and silky smooth wine. It has a hint of the Viognier grape to add nuance. Columbia Crest wines are also widely available. This wine retails at a real bang-for-your-buck price of around $12.
Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for 12 Indiana newspapers, a national online wine magazine, and his own blog –

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Two Great Fall Wine Road Trips

One-tank trips aren’t just for the summer. There is no better time in the Midwest to take a one-day drive or weekend trip than the fall and enjoy locally made wines. You might even catch some fall harvesting action!

You can find wine trail maps for Indiana and all surrounding states readily available on the internet. In this column, I’ll recommend a southern Indiana trip and an easily-accessible Michigan trip.

Huber Orchard, Winery, & Vineyards in southern Indiana is a real destination year-round. But during the fall they have a Fall Festival with live music, lots of special activities, and big crowds. The kids can pick out their Halloween jack-o-lantern while Mom and Dad enjoy Spiced Apple Wine or Fall Sangria.

Plan your day so you can go a quarter mile down the road to Joe Huber’s Family Farm & Restaurant for lunch or dinner. If Huber’s doesn’t have the best fried chicken, served family style, you’ve ever had then I want to know where you found better.

Another great Indiana wineries is nearby Turtle Run, west of Corydon. The folks there also have a bounty of fall activities and some of the most interesting wines you’re going to taste in the Hoosier State. One thing I like about Turtle Run is you’ll find wines there you’re not going to taste elsewhere. Turtle Run and Hubers make good dry wines to go with the expected sweeter wines you find all over Indiana.

Other fun trips would be to French Lick or Brown County wineries, maybe with a short run down to I-64 to take in Winzerwald. Oliver Winery is the state’s most popular but a good day trip would also include a visit to Butler Winery nearby. Or if you want to visit the Indianapolis area go to Easley Winery downtown and Chateau Thomas Winery just off I-70 in Plainfield.

For readers in the northern half of the state, or those a bit more adventurous, there are great Michigan wineries not far from the Indiana border. I’d recommend you visit a small cluster of wineries situated between Highway 31 and I-94 around Baroda and Buchanan for an easy day trip.

Round Barn Winery, Tabor Hill Winery, Domaine Berrien, and Lemon Creek Winery are all within a couple miles of each other. I visited all but Lemon Creek this summer. Round Barn also has a brewery so you can taste their wines and handcrafted beers. The winery tasting room is in an old Round Barn purchased in Fulton County, Indiana, and moved up to Baroda, MI.

The drive from Merrillville to the Baroda area is just over an hour. From Michigan City, it is under 45 minutes to these four wineries.

Round Barn makes some great dessert wines and a fabulous Gewurztraminer. Domaine Berrien does some Old World varietals you won’t find anywhere else in the Midwest. Go to Tabor Hill for the fabulous Norman Love chocolates and their lighter-style wines.

The links to all of these sites are listed below. You can read about the wineries, check out the maps and plan your trip. If you want to experience the Midwest’s best wines in Northern Michigan, it’s not a one day trip but drop me a line and I’d be happy to make some recommendations. That will also be a future column.

Howard’s Picks - Huber’s Winery Joe Huber’s Restaurant, Turtle Run, Round Barn, Domaine Berrien, Tabor Hill, Two other great resources: Indiana Wine & Grape Council, Michigan Wine & Grape Council.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine for 12 Indiana newspapers, a national wine blog – Palate Press, and his own wine blog at:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On Wine Storage & Wine Competitions

Editor's Note: As an old newspaper guy, with ink in the veins, I still like seeing my column in print. I was reminded of that today when I received a copy of The Chronicle from my friend Publisher Brenda Kleihege.

The Chronicle is a unique publication serving Portage, Valparaiso, Chesterton, and Hobart, Indiana. It is a nicely designed features publication in an area with some strong newspapers. I like this idea and think we're going to see more of this type paper in coming years.

Meanwhile back in the electronic world, here is my latest print column:

With the two-year anniversary of Grape Sense approaching, it dawned on me many readers missed some earlier columns that covered some basics.

I was reminded of that after the column debuted in Columbia City two weeks ago. I got an email from a reader asking: “Should wine be refrigerated after opening? And, how long will wine keep if sealed properly?”

The second question, in particular, is a frequent one. I have a couple of items for today’s column so thought I’d start with the Columbia City questions.

You will find conflicting opinions about both questions but through my years of enjoying wine I've decided to refrigerate white wines, which I think will keep 2-3 days and sometimes a little longer. I do not refrigerate red wines after opening though. I use the rubber seal and air pump device for leftover wine. I honestly don’t believe red wines are drinkable much past 24 hours. I have had a few good up to two days after opening but that’s an unusual exception.

I hope that helps.

2010 Indy International Wine Competition.

I was a guest judge at the Indy Wine Competition again this year and really enjoyed the experience. Just imagine tasting, spitting and trying to evaluate 50-plus wines in an hour-and-a-half!

Readers interested in Indiana wine can go to the Indiana Wine and Grape Council website for a full list of winners.

Several folks in Indiana really scored big. French Lick Winery was honored for its 2008 Traminette as the competition’s White Wine of the Year. Oliver Winery, Bloomington, won the Winemaker of the Year Trophy, which honors the winery winning the most gold medals.

Indiana wines compete with more than 2,700 wines from around the world. But there is also an Indiana grown wines division. Other Indiana winners included Huber for its 2009 Vignoles and 2008 Knobstone Blaufrankisch. Easley Winery was honored for its Pink Catawba.

Visiting Oak Hill Winery

Whenever I’m driving the Hoosier byways and have a little extra time I try to find a nearby Hoosier winery to visit. Recently I stopped in at Oak Hill Winery at Converse. Converse is about 15 minutes east of U.S. 31, on Ind. 18, north of Kokomo.

Rick Moulton has a small operation of about 1,000 cases a year. He makes mostly dry wines from grapes usually associated with Indiana’s traditional sweet wines. His style is very different than most. Not only does he make a dry Concord red wine, among others, but he makes them in a very light style.

Howard’s Picks:

Summer is winding down so instead of a specific wine recommendation how about some generic suggestions. Next time in the wine shop pick up a bottle of dry Rose’ and give it a try. Rose’ is great by itself and great with most foods. Pink Wine isn’t for wimps anymore!

The other summer suggestion would be non-tradition whites. More than a year ago I wrote about Albarino, which comes primarily from Spain and Portugal.
You can find good Rose’ and good Albarino at most Indiana wine shops. These wines also are great values ranging anywhere from $10-$15 for really good ones. You can buy great ones around $20.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Indiana-Based Wine Rack Maker Flourishes

A growing appreciation for wine usually means buying more wine, drinking more wine, and sooner or later needing a place to put all that bottled goodness.

Wine storage systems and wine racks are everywhere with plenty of choices for wine consumers. Finding racks that hold more than a dozen bottles, though, can be a bit of a challenge in Indiana.

Radel Wood Products, Peru, IN., is a commercial wine rack production company that will still build a custom rack for any consumer. Radel’s products are in more than 40 states across the U.S.

“We’re mostly a commercial business but we’ll build a rack for the individual,” said Gerald Radel, a former newspaper pressman. “We do tasting rooms for wineries, custom tasting tables, products for wholesalers, but wine racks are our primary business.”

Radel was in the newspaper industry for years and after a couple of job moves decided to return to Peru to get into wood milling and custom work. When nearby Grissom Air Force Base closed its doors the enormous hangers became warehouses. Cost Plus World Market rented one of the former hangers to use as a distribution center.

When one of Radel’s friends saw wine racks in storage at the Peru base, they bid on building the 44-bottle racks and got the contract. Even with the ups and downs of the economy, Cost Plus remains Radel’s biggest customer. During a July visit, Radel and his six employees were busy finishing an order for 600 of the 44-bottle racks.

He started building wine racks in 1999 in his garage. He’s grown the business and operates now from a building on the west side of Peru on Highway 24.

“We’ve been doing wine trade shows the last five or six years with the last three years really starting to pay off,” Radel said. “Most of our business is in the eastern part of the United States. I have two big customers in Florida.”

He is getting ready to build racks for a tasting room in St. Joseph, Michigan. Earlier this year he worked a trade show at Grand Rapids.

His goal is to keep coming up with new ideas and ideas for custom racks. Though he has built doors for home contractors and even kitchen cabinets, wine racks are now his primary business. He builds racks in Pine, Alder Wood, and Oak in all shapes and sizes.

The wine woodworker became a wine drinker as his business expanded. “I like wine,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t drink a lot of wine until I got into this business but you have a tendency to accumulate a lot of wine. We like to visit wineries when we travel and you usually can’t leave without buying a couple bottles, maybe more if they’re a customer.”

He said Riesling was probably his favorite. Obviously, he doesn’t have any storage issues.

His products can be seen and priced on his website

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Primer on French Cotes du Rhone Wines

If you like affordable and richly flavored wine you have to embrace the French.
Wine drinkers who want great fruit, a bit of earthiness, and smooth drinking juice, should try wines from the Cotes du' Rhone region.

The wines pair great with food, have a spicy and almost juicy fruit characteristic on the palate, and the better ones give you a taste of what the French call "terrior" - the earth or environment. These wines will give you a beautiful bouquet on the nose that will bring you back again and again.

The Cotes du Rhone region sits in the very southeastern corner of France above Provence and below Beaujolais and Burgundy. The area is broken down into about 20 appellations or regions.

If you're relatively new to wine or French wine, you know there is something different going on with the French. Well, in this case, we're just talking about the wine.

Very few French producers put the name of the grape on the bottle. The French labeling laws are extensive and confusing for the non-French. The wines are labeled by the region where they are grown. The varied and rich French soil, which has grown grapes for decades, produces very different wines from micro climate to micro climate.

Don't expect to see that change any time soon. Italy is the same.

So for great and inexpensive French wines keep your approach simple. Cotes du Rhone means it comes from the region. It might be a blend of grapes from different vineyards. Cotes du Rhone Villages wine comes from a specific region and is usually a little higher in price and quality. There are many great Cotes du Rhone wines under $15 and really great ones aren't unusual at $12.

The top of the line wines are the big, bold and earthy Chateauneuf-du-Pape or "New Castle of the Pope." You can read up on the 1300's and Pope Clement V's residency in Avignon in your spare time.

But the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are generally the area’s best. They are pricey starting at $35-$40.

So let’s stick to the Cotes du Rhone. The area produces mostly reds but also some white and rose'. Grenache is the dominant grape. The wine is often blended to include Syrah, Cinsault, Carignane, or Mourvedre.

I've liked the Grenache-Syrah blends best. They deliver big dark fruit flavor from the Grenache with a hint of spice and earthiness from the Syrah.

Many of the producers are very small by Bordeaux, and especially California, standards. But in 2008/2009, the region produced nearly 400 million bottles. It is the second largest French wine-producing region in land mass and production.

Cotes du Rhone has become my fall back wine. When I don't know what I want to drink I grab one. If I want to give a gift of wine I can do so with the confidence the label may bewilder the lucky recipient but they'll like the wine.

Don't be afraid to ask questions at your favorite retail shops. Cotes du Rhone wines are easy to find.

Howard's Picks:
Domaine Lafage Grenache Noir
- This juice is incredible. I looked back at my blog tasting notes and wrote "rich feel in the mouth, and very smooth finish." I've had it several times since that first bottle. It is a great introduction to the region, especially at $11.99.

Patrick Lesec's Bouquet - I've plugged this wine several times but it's for a reason. It was my 2009 'wine of the year' in my newspaper column and online blog. It's bigger in taste than the Domaine Lafage with more herbal notes and a bigger flavor. It has more of the earthiness and pairs great with food. It is dynamite wine for $12.99.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Argentina's Bonarda Making a Comeback

Argentina means Malbec, right? For many people that is the logical and most accurate perception. But long before Malbec became the rage, Bonarda was the grape of choice in that South American country.

I’ve written many times about Malbec as a great introduction to new varietals and also written about Malbec as one of Argentina’s best-known exports. But it might surprise many to know there is nearly the same amount of Bonarda planted in Argentina as Malbec.

Bonarda has been a staple in Argentina’s wine industry for years, used mostly in blending and for table wines. It is believed the grape came originally from Northern Italy’s Piedmont region. One school of thought was that Bonarda was California’s Charbono but that theory has been dismissed.

There is another faction that believes the grape comes from Savoie, France. But whether it genetically got its start in Italy or France, it’s definitely known as Argentine today.

The wines are easy to drink, fruity and very inexpensive. They have a bright and fresh texture with just enough acidity and even a little pepper. In most cases you’ll get really rich flavor along the lines of raspberries and other dark fruit from this deep purple juice.

The wine is easy to drink and good with grilled meat and red sauces.
A little research shows the grape is frequently described as the “workhorse” grape. It demands heat and sunshine, provides big yields, and is usually less expensive than Malbec.

It’s all over the internet that many of Argentina’s winemakers are taking a second look. Malbec has really taken the world by storm over the last decade. Could Bonarda be next?

I first discovered Bonarda at a wine bar in San Francisco in 2006 and have searched for great ones since. It seems in recent months more Bonarda is turning up in Central Indiana wine shops.

It’s pretty easy to find a Malbec/Bonarda blend. There will even be a little Syrah thrown into some bottlings. It’s tougher to find the 100 percent Bonardas but worth the effort.

I like the wine’s richness, acidity, and it has a certain earthy or smoky characteristic that many wine drinkers will find enjoyable.

Besides my pick-of-the-week below, here are a few names of reliable Bonarda producers: Familia Zuccardi, Altos, Alamos, Argento, Caligiore, Sur de los Andes.

Howard’s Pick:
Durigutti 2007 Bonarda
– This is one of the best Bonardas I’ve found since that first one in San Francisco. It has a big, earthy nose of dark fruit. I picked up a little plum and it has an astringency I like in red wine. Although I paid $14 for this at an Indiana shop, the wine is widely advertised for as low as $10-$11.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Many Great Wine Choices for Steak

If you love summer grilling and struggle with a good wine pairing you’re not alone. Too many people fall back to the classic Cabernet Sauvignon or maybe Merlot when there’s beef on the barbeque.

I love a powerful Cabernet with a charred piece of beef tenderloin anytime of the year but many palates aren’t accustomed to the tannins and dryness of a big Cab. Perhaps you’re trying something new on the grill or just want something different.

There are lots of options and it’s fun to pair a familiar food like steak to a new wine. I think that’s a great way to find something you’ll really like.

Argentina is the great beef-producing country and if you have a steak there you’ll be served Malbec. I think Malbecs are a logical match for about any grilled steak. Malbec is almost always lower in alcohol than Cabernet too. The Malbec is going to be smoother, probably less tannic, and a great match for most beef.

How about thinking outside the box with tonight’s steak? If dinner was going to be a red-sauce pasta dish you’d probably reach for an Italian Chianti. If you’re putting a red barbeque sauce on beef ribs why not pair it with the Italian classic wine?

If you like to really coat your grilled beef with cracked black pepper and make a spicy steak, then a peppery California Zinfandel makes a lot of sense with its big fruit forward characteristics and spicy finish. Another alternative for those who shy away from big wines would be a jammy Australian Shiraz.

If the steak flavor is big, try an earthy Cotes du Rhone wine from France. If it’s a special occasion and your budget allows, go all out and serve an earthy but bigger Chateanuneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone. CdP wines were all the rage a few years ago but they’re not cheap. Entry point for a good one will start in the $35 range.

But there are lots of great Cotes du Rhone wines at reasonable prices. My top wine of 2009 was a $12 Patric Lesec Bouquet bottling from the Cotes du Rhone region that would be really good with grilled beef.

If your dinner guests are big Pinot Noir fans, yes Pinot can work with beef, use a Pinot Noir you know. The California Russian River Valley Pinots and some from the Monterrey area tend to be big wines that will hold up.

Traditional Burgundy and Oregon Pinot Noir made in a more delicate style are probably going to be a better pairing for a lighter grilled meat - think lamb!

And if your beef is hamburger don’t think the beverage has to be beer. Frankly, a grilled burger may give you the greatest flexibility to match a great wine. Hamburger and Cabernet will work just fine! A mild Italian Valpolicella would make great sense with a burger. If you want something even lighter, especially if you don’t know your guests’ tastes, try a French Beaujolais or South Africa’s Pinotage.

Howard’s Picks:
Alamos 2007 Seleccion Malbec
– This is one of the best Malbecs I’ve had under $20. It has rich flavor and intensity you just don’t get in most value wines. It’s deep purple with hints of caramel and cherry. You can find it in bigger wine retail outlets for $16-$20.

Follow Along: I’ll be traveling Michigan’s wine country July 13-16 and blogging daily about the wineries and experience. Most of the visit will concentrate on the beautiful Leelanau County area in northwestern Michigan. Follow along on my blog - Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Rise of South African Wines

Sports have long been a catalyst for economic development. You don’t have to look any farther than Indianapolis. Indy city leaders built the RCA Dome, Conseco Fieldhouse, and now Lucas Oil Stadium not just for the sports teams but to lure business, improve the economic climate downtown and create new business.

As the eyes of the soccer world look to South Africa, the South African wine industry is trying to capitalize on all of the attention.

Wine production dates back to at least the 1600s but the years of apartheid stymied any international expansion. Right now South African wines are one of the “hottest things” in the wine world.

The World Cup has been the necessary impetus to build the wine brand in South Africa and around the world. Project Laduma started in 2008 aiming to create 2010 wine stewards by this summer’s World Cup. The wine industry’s marketing arm, Wines of South Africa, came up with the job-creating idea to welcome World Cup guests.
WSA funded the drive by having members create specific red wines to be sold to finance the steward training. The red wines sold to the consumer at the $15-$20 price point. About half of the 2,000 workers were identified as restaurant workers but the other half came from the nation’s unemployed.

But the country hasn’t been looking inward only. South Africa exports more than 10 million gallons of wine annually. Nearly 300,000 people are employed in the wine industry. The country produces less than four percent of the world’s wine, ranking it eighth in overall volume.

The country has nine wine regions with the most recognized being Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Constantia. The country grows a lot of Cabernet, Shiraz, and Pinot Noir. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc are also plentiful. Chenin Blanc, sometimes called Steen, is the most widely grown grape in the Cape region. It is often cited as South Africa’s best white.

South Africa’s signature grape is Pinotage. It’s one wine many people have heard of and perhaps never tried. It is a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. The Cinsaut grape normally adds a certain softness and fragrant nose to wine. Pinotage dates back to 1925 and has had its ups and downs. It’s not the most widely planted grape but it is South African’s best known original.

The wine has smoky, earthy, tones that are usually quite smooth. As a point of reference, I’d compare the taste of Pinotage to France’s Gamay grape. Gamay is the grape behind Beaujolais wines.

Now a bit of advice before you rush off to the wine shop, ask for advice. I had not purchased much South African wine before preparing to write this column. My purchases were hit and miss. Fairview is a big and consistent producer. Other names to look for are Neil Ellis, Nederburg, Ken Forrester, Kanonkop, and De Wetshof Estate. Those are just a very few.

Howard’s Pick:

Nederburg 2007 Pinotage
: A beautiful, deep purple wine that has great dark fruit on the front of the palate, a solid mid plate that will keep you interested, and a little bit of oak on the finish for a well-balanced wine! Nederburg makes a very drinkable introduction to South African wines. You can find this bottling at many places in Indiana at $10-$14 a bottle.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hosting Your Own Wine Tasting Party

One of the great joys of wine is sharing it with others. Not only do you enjoy the companionship but you’re likely to learn something about the wine you’re drinking. You can read and even study about wine but drinking it and sharing your thoughts with friends is one of the best ways to improve your wine knowledge.

Hosting a wine tasting might sound pretentious or something you’d do in a fancy wine shop or fancy home. But all you really need for a great and unique evening is a few friends and a plan. I’m here to help with the plan.

Here is what you’ll need besides the wine: wine glasses, unflavored cocktail crackers, mild cheeses, napkins, paper plates, and a great sense of humor.

The wine obviously depends on the group. But for first-time wine tasting party, I’d suggest keeping it simple. There is no great guideline to how many wines. From experience hosting and participating in wine tastings, I would suggest that 6-7 wines are the maximum before the palate starts to go flat. Pour about a two-ounce amount into each glass and let the fun begin.

Someone has to lead your group through the tasting. If you have a friend who knows wine that’s great but anyone really can do it. Think of your leader as more of a discussion stimulator and less of a real oenophile.

Provide small notepads and pens so your guests and write down a few thoughts and ask them to rate each wine on a 1-5 scale.

Keep your wines consistent in price. A good starting point is the $12-$15 range. There are many choices of good wine at that price point. And choose some variety and new wines. There isn’t much use in hosting a tasting and doing nothing but Chardonnay, Merlot, and maybe a Cab. Try a Malbec, Shiraz, or Zinfandel. Be sure to include at least one white – A.B.C. – anything but Chardonnay!

Start by introducing the wine. What is it? Who made it? Where was it made? What is the alcohol percentage? The notes on the back of most bottles can be very helpful. Encourage your guests to swirl the wine in their glass and look and think about the color. The next step is one of the most pleasurable for me – really get your nose into the glass and enjoy the smell. Can you identify certain smells in the wine? Start with something easy. Get a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and ask if they can smell the grass. (They’ll think you’re a genius!)

When tasting the wine suggest your guests think about the wine as it hits their mouth, travels mid-palate, and then the finish when they swallow the wine. Do they taste fruit up front? Do they get something different as the wine lingers? Is it acidic or do they feel a bit of heat (alcohol) as they swallow the wine? Get everyone involved in the discussion. There are no wrong answers. If the bottle says the taste has dark cherry and currant, and someone tastes melon just encourage them!

Then it’s time to evaluate the wine. What did the group like or dislike about the wine? Have everyone make some notes and move on.

Having some plain crackers, bread, and cheese to cleanse the palate. Most supermarkets have Swiss Gruyere which works well with most wines.

The evening ends with a final discussion. Which wines did they like the best or least? You’ll find it fascinating to see the differing opinions.

Leading a group of friends through some new wines is one of my favorite activities. If you give it a try, I think you’ll agree.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, In., is a former career journalist who writes about wine. Read his blog at:

Young People Moving to Wine

As anyone even mildly interested knows, wine sales have been on a steady climb since the early 1990s. One trend which has been well documented by the sales people and through ever-increasing anecdotal evidence is younger people are drinking more wine.

The Nielsen Company recently issued reports on the drinking preferences for “millennials.” Millennials are generally described as the generation born in the late 1970s and into the 90s.

The first thing to keep in mind is that generation grew up with choices the Baby Boomer generation never thought possible. While Boomers were thrilled to choose from Pepsi, Coke, 7-Up or Dr. Pepper, the millennials have enjoyed convenience stores with a wall full of coolers with many choices of beverage.

For decades the adult beverage of choice has been beer within this age group. That’s still true but the numbers are changing. The beer numbers have decreased for more than a decade – though a frosty cold one still comes out on top. Millennial consumers spend 47 percent of their alcohol dollars on beer, 27 percent on spirits, and 26 percent on wine.

Growing up with all those choices mean the young adult consumer isn’t afraid to try Micro-Brew beers or wine from New World producers.

The younger consumer also likes the better-known and more expensive brands while Boomers are more likely to buy the value labels – at least when it comes to spirits.
The Millennials are red wine drinkers by a 51-44 percent margin. It’s not difficult to figure the favorites would be Cabernet and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay remains the favorite white. But the younger age group does buy more Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling than the older consumer.

Here is the opening for wine retailers and educators. One of the interesting facts I read in the story about the Nielsen report was many young consumers believe they know something about wine but more than one-third wanted to learn more!

Here are a couple of other interesting things in the wine news world:

- A recent report by the Wine Market Council reports women have surpassed men as once-a-week wine drinkers. The report said 53 percent of the wine drinkers in the U.S. are women.

- Guess who is buying up all those Bordeaux wine futures? If you guessed the Chinese, then you’d be right! The San Jose Mercury-News recently reported that California is gaining ground, though. China wine consumption has doubled since 2004.

The Chinese don’t bat at an eye spending big money for French Bordeaux and are a major players in Bordeaux wine futures. But California wine exporters are trying to target the middle class with California wines.

Still, the staggering numbers belong to the French. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, China imports 46 percent of its wine from France, 20 percent from Australia, 8 percent from Italy, and then comes the U.S. at 5 percent.

- I wrote a column in early March about all of the great values available, particularly through the internet, due to worldwide wine supplies and the economy. And, that’s still true. But the U.S. market seems to be recovering. Wines & Vines, a wine industry news site, reported U.S. sales of off-premise table wine increased 6.8 percent compared to the same period a year ago. That followed a four-week period of increases just over 5 percent.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast and former journalist. Read his wine blog, updated throughout each week, at:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Warm Weather Means Time for Light Wines

Warmer weather is time to break out the lighter and refreshing wines. That means it’s white wine time even for you non-white wine drinkers.

If you are one of those people – and I admit to former membership – who ‘only’ drink red wine, it’s time to expand your palate. Instead of the usual suspects, today’s column is about exploring which might be new to you.

Let’s start with Pinot Gris. The grape is thought to be a clone of Pinot Noir and it’s also known as Pinot Grigio. I’d recommend you try Oregon’s Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris/Grigio is fast becoming one of the more popular white wines in the United States. It’s great with chicken, pork, and about any fish dish.

Pinot Gris is a light- or delicate-flavored wine with nice floral scents and the expected lemon citrus. Much of the wine from Oregon is stainless-steel aged so you get a clean, crisp, and slightly acidic white wine.

You can buy a Pinot Grigio from Italy and find an even lighter and drier white wine than many of Oregon’s examples. But you’d be missing out on some of Italy’s best white offerings. Soave is a personal favorite perfect for warmer months. It is close to Pinot Grigio but still has different taste characteristics. It’s grown largely in the Veneto region and is Italy’s best-selling white wine.

If you think of Spanish white wines, the signature grape is Albarino. This grape is much closer to a crisp and acidic Sauvignon Blanc than the others already mentioned. It’s very light in body, with hints of mineral, and its fabulous white wine with about any fish. Albarino will be acidic, but when paired with seafood you’ll find an enjoyable match.

If you want something not quite as dry or acidic, then I’d suggest Argentina’s Torrontos grape. This wine has a much sweeter mouth feel than matches my palate, but many are going to like it. It is intensely floral and a terrific bargain. You can find many great Torrontos wines at $9-$12.

If you’re a traditionalist and willing to spend a few more dollars, then you should be trying the really awesome Chablis whites from the Burgundy region of France. Remember Burgundy only grows two grapes – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The Chablis is Chardonnay that is often done in a light style without ever seeing oak. Some of the higher end Chablis will have a combination of juice aged in vats and wood. They are beautiful wines but at a higher price.

I recently wrote about Indiana’s signature grape, Traminette - a great summer ‘sipper.” More than half of Indiana’s 40-plus wineries produce a Traminette wine. Most of those are on the sweeter side. They are all under $15 and great on the porch with friends.

Other great summer whites: Try a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, Italy’s very dry Gavi, an unoaked Chardonnay from New Zealand, or Gruner Veltliner from Austria. And, don’t forget the Reisling!

Howard’s Picks:
Lange 2008 Pinot Gris
– This winery has been one of the pioneers for Pinot Gris in Oregon. This limited-production white wine has hints of orange, lemon, and a zesty citrus feel in the mouth. ($16)

Burgan’s 2007 Albarino – I love this wine. With strong lemon and a floral bouquet of a nose, you’ll have a hard time putting this down before the food hits the table. It’s extremely well balanced and affordable. ($12)

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast and former journalist. Read his blog at:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Time to Stop "Dissing" Boxed Wine

There’s boxed lunches, Jack-In-The-Box burgers, and boxed wine.

What do those three things have in common? Generally, they are best all avoided.

But that has changed with recent innovations in boxed wine. Yes, it’s okay to drink your Chardonnay, Cabernet, or red wine blend from a tap on the kitchen counter.

Now, before the purists drop their newspaper and wonder what wine that guy must be drinking, consider the uproar 20 years ago when screw caps started turning up on wine. Today the screw cap has become common place in the value wine market. As a matter of fact, I purchased a $40 California Pinot Noir a few weeks ago with a screw cap! That would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. And it was a great $40 wine.

Franzia, long the standard bearer for box wine, is one of the biggest selling names in wine. The good news is companies now pack wine in vacuum sealed containers that preserve the wine for up to six weeks.

I recently tasted two different wines packaged in the Octavin Home Wine Bar system. Ten different wines are being offered in the three-liter containers – or about 20 five-ounce glasses of wine. The price for the boxed juice runs $22-$24.

The Octavin system is a patent-pending design which prevents oxidation. Another huge upside to the wine box according to the Octavin folks is its green efficiency. By choosing boxed wine over heavy glass bottles, you reduce packaging waste by at least 85 percent and carbon emissions by 55 percent.

There are other innovations going on in the wine world. Wine is turning up in cans and experiments are going on with plastic bottles and how that might impact the wine. A revolution takes time but consider the possibilities. Anyone who has ever picked up a great bottle of Pinot Noir probably thought they were getting a bicep workout.

Another big advantage to box packaging systems is the convenience. For those who just want a simple glass of wine, the boxed wines provide just that without wondering what to do with the rest of the bottle or how to preserve it.

I was sent two different boxed wines by the marketing company for the Octavin Company. I have been sampling a Monthaven 2008 Central Coast Chardonnay since March 31. I last tasted the wine April 21. While Chardonnay isn’t my favorite varietal, and this one is a tad thin, the wine tasted no different over that four-week time frame.

I also have a box of Big House Red which I just opened recently. It’s a blend of Syrah, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and about a half dozen more grapes. Big House Red is widely available and a nice every day wine. It usually lists around $11, but the Octavin box sells for $22.

I’ve tasted other box wines in retail shops in the last year and, frankly, been blown away at the quality of the wine. Now, make no mistake this isn’t wine you’re going to be reading about in Wine Spectator or from the nation’s top critics. But the wines I’ve tasted make a nice single glass of wine from a container which will keep it fresh for up to six weeks.

The idea is catching on across the nation. Last year box wine sales went up 24 percent, according to the Nielsen research folks.

Boxed wine is no longer a punch line for wine enthusiastists. Now, if we could just do something to reduce the calories in those great Jack-In-The-Box burgers!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Try Indiana's Signature Wine - Traminette

It’s a fair guess most Hoosiers didn’t know Indiana has a “signature wine.” Sure, California has Cabernet, Oregon has Pinot, and Italy has Chianti – but Indiana?

Last fall Indiana’s Department of Agriculture, Office of Tourism and the Indiana Wine Grape Council introduced Indiana’s first signature wine – Traminette.

Would it help if it’s noted Traminette is much like Gewurztraminer? Hmm, guess not!
Traminette is a grape that is ideal for Indiana’s climate. Currently 23 of Indiana’s more than 40 wineries offer a Traminette. For many years Indiana seemed limited to the Concord, Niagara, and Chambourcin grapes but many wineries are really expanding their crops.

Indiana has a booming wine industry with more than a million visitors last year.
The great thing about this wine is it’s very likable. It’s incredibly floral on the nose with some spice. Most of Indiana’s Traminette is on the sweet to semi-sweet side of the palate. There are a few wineries making really interesting dry Traminette. (Note my picks at the bottom of the column.)

Indiana is up to 46 wineries with no end in sight. Most make wines based on the sweet grapes that have flourished here for so long. But there are wineries like Huber’s at Starlight now growing Malbec and Petit Verdot. Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run is experimenting with interesting blends unlike anyone else in the state.

As the vines in Hoosier vineyards mature, so are Indiana’s winemakers.

On recent visits, Easley (Indianapolis), Huber, and Turtle Run (east of Corydon) are pouring great Indiana wines. Recent tasting opportunities, including six to seven newer Indiana wineries last summer, has convinced me Indiana’s wineries are taking a big step forward. Most Hoosier wine remains on the sweeter side, but I’ve learned to appreciate well-made wine even if it doesn’t suit my particular palate.

There is a winery near you wherever you read Grape Sense. The Indiana Wine Grape Council has a website listing all wineries, wine events, and lots of other great information.

Indiana also has a couple of great wine festivals where you can taste the wines of many wineries in a really fun atmosphere. One of the two biggest is coming up at Story, Indiana, April 24. Story is near Nashville, Indiana. You can find plenty of details for the Indiana Wine Fair online.

The other big show is Vintage Indiana June 5 in downtown Indianapolis. It is held in Military Park near the Eiteljorg and IUPUI.

The great thing about these two festivals is almost every Indiana winery participates. For a flat cover fee, you can select from hundreds of different wines to taste.

These are all fabulous one-day trips. And with Indiana’s wine trails, you can easily visit four or five wineries in a single day!

Howard’s Picks:
Turtle Run 2008 Dry Traminette
– There is a lot of Indiana Traminette I have not tasted, but Turtle Run offers the driest version I’ve found. This is going to be similar to a dry Riesling or a dry Chenin Blanc for someone who has yet to try Indiana’s signature grape. ($12)

Easley and Huber Traminette – I find both of these wines similar with strong floral hints and a beautiful balance. Both are semi-sweet wines that really express the grape boldly. Both wines are selling for approximately $15.
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a wine enthusiast who writes about wine in this column and his blog – Grape Sense – at

Friday, April 2, 2010

You Must Try Chile's Wonderful Carmenere

If you like a red wine with big, bright, and dark fruit flavor with a mild finish it’s time to try Chile’s signature wine, Carmenere.

Chile’s explosive growth and ever-increasing quality has been a major wine story in recent years. It’s fueled in no small part by Carmenere. The Chileans are also producing nice Cabernet, Syrah, and experimenting in some areas with Pinot Noir.
The Colchagua, Rapel, and Maipo valleys have long been the leaders in Carmenere production.

Like so many varietals, Carmenere is believed to have been originally grown in the Medoc region of Bordeaux, France. It was used primarily for blending of the great Bordeaux wines.

Chile came by its signature wine somewhat mistakenly. For years many thought Carmenere to be Merlot or a Merlot clone. Scientific studies have shown it’s more likely to be a clone of Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenere was believed to have first appeared in Chile in the mid-1800s.

The grapes were planted around Santiago. Chile’s light summer rain and warm temperatures allowed the grape to flourish.

The wine is incredibly delicious, approachable, ready to drink, and inexpensive. If that sounds like my description of Argentina’s Malbec from previous columns, you’d be right!

Carmenere is an extreme value buy. You can find good bottles for well under $15 in most wine shops.

The grape has almost disappeared from France while thriving in Chile. Italy, California and Washington state have limited Carmenere vineyards.

The Chileans have started to use Carmenere as a blending grape with their Cabernets. If you find a Carmenere, you’re likely to find a Cabernet/Carmenere blend from the same label.

The wine has a really bright characteristic to it. Some wine drinkers might use the word “freshness” to describe the palate. It often has characteristics of blackberry, blueberry, and a peppery finish. It pairs well with all kinds of food and is quite drinkable alone.

If you are expanding your wine palate, and taking Grape Sense’s advice to try, try and try new things – you need to buy a Carmenere.

Here are a couple of names to look for: Concha Y Toro, Cantus, Santa Alicia, Terra Andina, Santa Rita, Santa Ema, and Montes Alpha.

The wine is becoming more sophisticated with each vintage. Montes Alpha, one of Chile’s most respected producers, makes a premium Carmenere called “Purple Angel” which sells for $55-$65. I recently participated in a grand tasting of more than 40 wines with eight wine journalists. The Purple Angel was the top scoring wine of the group.

Howard’s Pick:
2006 Santa Ema Carmenere Barrel Select
– This wine will just amaze you. It has a huge nose with really intense flavors of licorice and dark berries. It is often scored high in “Best Buy” categories by many of the major publications. The winery has been around since the early 1900s, so they know what they’re doing. The most amazing thing about this wine – the $10 price tag!

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, is a career journalist who now writes about wine. Read his frequently-updated blog at:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Never A Better Time to Buy Better Wine

We are in a golden age for value wine. Emerging New World wines have given $10-$20 wine drinkers more choices than ever before. And the economic downturn is now making high caliber wines affordable.

I recently purchased a $41.99 Spanish Garnacha wine for $17.91! Earlier this spring I bought a California Cabernet I’ve long wanted. I paid $50 for the bottle, something I very seldom do. But the wine normally retails for very close to $100. I’ll share how that happens below but how did we get to this strange place?

Everything starts with the economic downturn which has led to a suppressed market for wines over $25. The Nielsen Company reports wine sales at $25 and higher dropped 30 percent last year. And for the first time in 16 years, California wine sales decreased while global sales continued an upward trend.

Next California’s 2009 harvest was a bumper crop. Fruit prices dropped as much as 75 percent in some cases. So when you combine a decrease in sales and a bumper crop, you have a lot of California wineries sitting on wine.

One movement is to increase direct-to-consumer sales. I was shocked to see one report suggesting only 20 percent of California wineries had a presence on Facebook. But now wineries are creating mailing lists, Twitter accounts, and such to build a loyal customer base and skip the middle man.

But the more beneficial development is some wineries are cutting prices through internet clearing houses or off their own shelves to increase cash flow. There has even been speculation in the wine press (there is such a thing and I read a lot of it) this price suppression could lead to a re-positioning in the market for California’s higher priced wines.

But for consumers it’s a boom in quality for a few dollars more than we’re used to spending. Most people buying outside the supermarket but within the ‘value wine” category are spending $12-$16 for a pretty good bottle wine. Now with some of these internet sites (three are listed below) you can spend $12-$30 and buy incredible wine that might normally sell for up to $30-$60 or more. And the quality difference is very substantial at that price point.

Most of the sites are offering free shipping for a minimum purchase. That minimum purchase often gets you to around $50-$60 of wine. But, here is a way around that. I work in an institution with several people who enjoy wine. I saw a California Alexander Valley Cabernet, which is normally $40, on Wines Till Sold Out for $19. A 4-bottle minimum purchase included free shipping. I didn’t want to invest $80 in wine but ended up splitting the order with a friend to get the incredible price and free shipping!

There are several of these internet sites. I’m listing three that I know ship to Indiana, which is always an issue.

Howard’s Picks:

Cinderella Wine
( – This site is operated by Wine Library, New Jersey. That is Gary Vaynerchuk’s empire. I’ve watched these sites for about a month and this site probably has the best deals. Prices are often 50-70 percent off retail.

Wine Till Sold Out ( – All of these sites post a featured wine and when they’re gone, they’re gone. I have ordered a couple of times from WTSO and been very happy with the service.

Cellar Thief – ( – Here is another site offering up three different wines at a time, the other two feature just one. The operators have family in the Chesterton/Valparaiso area so they have some Hoosier roots.

News Note: A big welcome to readers in Shelbyville, Avon/Brownsburg, and the area of Portage, Chesterton, Valparaiso, and Hobart to Grape Sense.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Please, Anything But Another Chardonnay

Specific wines come in and out of vogue every few decade. There’s been much debate about the movie Sideways’ impact on Pinot Noir and Merlot sales.

Argentina has re-introduced the world to Malbec, Chile to its Carmenere, and Australia to big, fruity styles of Shiraz. South Africa wine is emerging as ‘the next big thing.”

White Zinfandel helped launch the American wine industry. Chardonnay is now the dominant white varietal in the U.S.

But before all of these trends was perhaps one of the most versatile of all white wine grapes, Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc dominated California’s white wine scene until the late 1970s. The grape can produce wonderful dry table wines, sparkling wines, age-worthy wines, and even rich dessert wines.

Chenin Blanc is great by itself or with light foods. It pairs well with light fish dishes, salads, and like many others I love it with some cheese. The wine often has floral characteristics along with honey, peach, and melon notes. It is aged in stainless steel instead of oak to produce a light and easy-to-drink wine that almost anyone can enjoy. It’s relatively low in alcohol with modest to sometimes strong acidity.

The growth of the California wine market in the 80s and 90s almost killed off Chenin Blanc. Critics would say California killed off Chenin Blanc because the wines became sweet, too thin and just not very interesting.

A recent trip to two sizable wine shops found only two choices for California Chenin Blanc.

The grape remains celebrated in its birthplace, the Loire Valley in France. Keep in mind French wines are identified by geography and not the grape, I’d advise any wine drinker to try a French Vouvray or Saumur.

I tasted my first Vouvray in an Italian wine bar in Florence just a few weeks ago. Vouvray is a small wine-producing region in Loire that makes a delicious and rich Chenin Blanc. The wine can be aged with an incredibly rich and smooth-textured result. I drank a 1996 Domaine Freslier Vouvray with soft French goat cheese that was one of the best pairings I’ve ever enjoyed.

The Saumur region makes a bigger, drier Chenin Blanc that might please red wine drinkers. It is perfect for food with a stronger minerality than the Vouvray wines I’ve recently sampled.

The wonderful thing about these Chenin Blanc wines is the affordability. You can find great examples under $15 at most wine stores. As noted, you may have more success searching for a French Vouvray or Saumur than a California Chenin Blanc.

Howard’s Picks:
Dry Creek 2007 Chenin Blanc
– This is one of the easiest to find California Chenin Blancs. I picked up a bit of apricot on the nose with a mildly acidic finish. I thought it was thin at mid-palate but worth a try. You can find the wine at $9-$12. Bonny Doon is a producer often cited for its great version of this wine. I bought a bottle I will be blogging but haven’t tried yet.

Remy Pannier 2008 Vouvray – This was a light colored wine with a beautiful nose. The richness of flavor will grab your attention. This wine is widely available and a great introduction to Chenin Blanc. It ranges $13-$16.

Domaine des Hauts de Sanziers 2008 Saumur – A strong nose of lemon and pear make you sit up and take notice of this $14.95 wine. It has tremendous balance between flavor and acidity.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Political Dollars Determine What You Drink

If you love hazelnuts the best Oregon and Washington state producers would be happy to ship you some.

Whether it’s fruit from Florida, books from Amazon, or outdoor clothing from L.L. Bean – those companies will be happy to ship to your front step.

But if you want wine, just start banging your head against the wall now. Wine shipping laws vary from state to state, are contradictory, and unfair.

And one of the dirty secrets is the amount of money state legislators pocket from those wanting to keep the system in place.

Most states are governed by three-tier systems. Nearly all wine is sold producer to wholesaler to retailer. In other words, wholesalers have complete say over what product you can buy off the retail shelf not to mention the additional mark-up in price.

The laws concerning direct shipment to your door are even more convoluted. I was in an Oregon winery in April wanting to buy a case of wine but they couldn’t direct ship it to my home because they do have an Indiana wholesaler. I feel obligated to point out that you read the previous sentence correctly.

But lets’ go back to that dirty little secret.

Grape Sense runs in eight different Indiana communities. I looked up six or seven legislators from the varying communities, not everyone, and found every single lawmaker had accepted campaign contributions from wholesale distributors. As a matter of fact, it seems if you’re in the general assembly you’re guaranteed at least $500 from the booze lobby every campaign cycle. And if your legislator is in leadership, the dollar figure will be higher.

But don’t take my word for it! Check your Indiana legislator’s record at

Every Indiana legislator I researched had contributions from one or more of the major wholesalers.

Legislators consistently repeat the incredibly inane argument promulgated by the wholesalers about “keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors.”

There has never been a single complaint, arrest, or incident of an underage person trying to buy a nice Cabernet for his or her Friday night binge. No, they find someone a bit older to buy their booze at the corner liquor store. Which seems to be the bigger problem?

By the way, to buy booze online you have to have a credit card – something most of us understand.

Between 2000 and 2009 alcohol wholesalers contributed more than $66 million to state campaigns. In Indiana since 2000, wholesalers contributed a minimum of $203,000 in even-numbered election years. They really twisted some arms in 2004 stuffing Hoosier legislator’s pockets with $678,389. (

What can you do? There is an Indiana website with regular updates and calls to action at

But you can have an impact talking and writing to your state representative and senators. These laws are 70 years old and don’t protect consumers they just inhibit free enterprise. It won’t change overnight, but it starts by educating wine lovers about the self-serving interests who control what you can buy.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes regularly about wine. Read his blog at Contact him at:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Finding a Really Nice Chianti

Who hasn’t seen that fat-bottomed bottle of Chianti? It’s the one with the basket around the bottom of the bottle. Or, if you’re old enough, perhaps you remember burning a candle in such a bottle in your younger days.

Italian wine has come a long way from the days of those Chianti jug wines, but if you’re nostalgic enough you can still find those. Chianti and Chianti Classico are readily available with a wide range of value and quality. The history of the grape is a lot of fun. It’s a history that dates back to the 13th Century!

Let’s start with geography. Italy and France are the real “old world” wine countries and designate their wines by region. Chianti is an area just south of Florence, Italy, in the heart of Tuscany. The Chianti Classico region is the very best growing region at the heart of Chianti.

The great Italian red grape is Sangiovese (sän'jō-vēz', -vēs'), the most widely planted grape in Italy. The grape is at the heart of Chianti as well as the big and expensive Brunellos and Super Tuscan wines. Many U.S. west coast producers have started growing Sangiovese in recent years.

Italy, just like France, has a carefully governed wine industry. Wine regions are regulated and wines must contain certain percentages of certain grapes to carry the famous wine names.

Sangiovese is generally high in acidity and moderate in alcohol, which makes it a great food wine – especially with those red sauces associated with Italian food.
For years Chianti was seen as not much more than jug wine or a step above that derisive label. But in the 1970s and 1980 Chianti producers really took the grape seriously and started producing much better wines.

Sangiovese is a tricky grape so producers have experimented with blends. To be called Chianti, the wine must be 80 percent Sangiovese. A number of varietals have been, and continue to be, used to balance the wine. The two most popular choices are Merlot and Italy’s native Canaiolo.

As a matter of fact, there has been controversy in the last few years over the amounts of Merlot added to the bigger Italian wines to soften their taste.
Never hesitate to ask questions at your wine shop. If the bottle doesn’t tell you the amount of grapes used in the blend just ask. I like the traditional Canaiolo much better than Merlot. If you want a true representation of Chianti, I strongly recommend the Sangiovese-Canaiolo combination.

That combination gives you the rich and deep cherry flavor of classic Chianti. The Merlot blend tends to club the wine with overpowering blandness.

Howard’s Picks:
2008 Ruffino Chianti - This is a wine available in shops and many supermarkets. It’s a Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino blend. It’s got the cherry flavor with a hint of spice. The basket is gone but it’s a nice choice for $9.

Il Fiorini Chianti – This is an amazing Chianti Classico for roughly $13. It’s full flavored with cherry hints and very smooth tannins. This is great Sangiovese-based Chianti with 20 percent Canaiolo.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Two Great Winery Visits in Tuscany

FLORENCE, Italy - One of the great joys of wine is great wine experiences. I just returned from 10 work-related days in Italy but had a full day in Tuscan wine country and a couple of great wine experiences.

The highlight was visiting two wineries in Tuscany. Tour companies wanted up to $200 Euro (or $300) for a day-long wine tour, so I kept looking. I found a U.S. transplant, Anthony Finta, who has lived in Florence for five years. He is trying to start a business bringing small production wines to the U.S. for internet sales.

He arranged visits at two small wineries deep in the Tuscan hills. So while the column is about my visit, it’s also to suggest getting off the beaten path and finding stops many will miss.

Neither winery has a current U.S. distributor, but there are hundreds of small wineries in Italy, and other old world countries, facing the same challenge. Our first visit was to Corzano e Paterno near San Pancrazio, about 30 minutes south of Florence.

The winery was purchased in the 1970s by a successful Swiss architect, Wendel Gelpke. His daughters Arianna, the wine maker, and Sibilla, who heads the cheese making, gave us a wonderful tour.

The estate included the ruins of three old homes the family has renovated as guest houses. They produce a Rosso (table wine), Chianti, Chianti Reserva, and a Tuscan. All Italian restaurants serve table wine but most during our trip was, frankly, terrible. The Corzano Rosso was better than many Chianti wines I tasted – and it sold for just 6 Euro.

The Corzano Tuscan wine was a big beautiful blend of Cabernet, Merlot, and, the traditional Italian grape, Sangiovese. The Tuscan was 23 Euro, aged in new oak, with 14.5 percent alcohol. It was a dynamic bottle of wine. The Chianti Riserva was equally outstanding.

Sibilla was a gracious host in the new cheese-making facility. The farm has 600-700 sheep at any given time. The sheep cheeses were smooth and not quite as earthy as a traditional goat cheese.

Our second stop was at Fattoria di Rignana, located in an old farmhouse that dates back to the eleventh century. The assistant manager was running late but still gave us a tour of the fascinating wine cellar. We tasted their wines in the kitchen of the main house.

Rignana’s Chianti and Chianti Classico were the best Chianti wines of my visit. They were well-structured wines with big cherry flavor and balanced tannins. Rignana makes less than 4,000 cases of wine a year. The two wines sold for $15 and $20 US dollars.

The great thing about both of the wineries was they make wine in a very traditional method. They use no additives, they age their wines in oak and much of the work is done by hand.

So the point is whether it’s Italy or Napa Valley the best treasures and experiences are off the beaten path. As my new friend Anthony put it, you want something that just tastes the same or something that is handcrafted and a little different?

If it’s Napa, visit Mondavi and all the big wineries but stop at some of the smaller wineries for a real treat. If you’re in Italy there is nothing wrong with finding Antinori and Frescobaldi, but the little places are making great wines and need your business!

You can do the same thing when you buy wine in the shop near you. Ask the proprietor for wines from producers who make small amounts. You might be surprised by the quality and the value.


In the photo: Arianna Gelpke talks about the wine of Corzano e Paterno with Howard Hewitt

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

HH's Top Ten Wines of 2009

Looking for a great wine to start the new year and decade? Here is my first-ever “Top Ten Wines of the Year” culled from a year of writing about wine.

I reviewed my blog ( to refresh my memory and offer up the “best of” list from all the wines I sampled in 2009.

I also used a little geography in creating the list. All of these wines were purchased in Indiana wine shops for less than $20. Several of them are widely available!

No. 10 - Domain Lafarge Catalan Cote EST – This is a fabulous French white for a paltry $11. It’s 50 percent Grenache, with Chardonnay and Marsanne to finish it off. It’s a light flavored wine with lemon and green apple flavor. It will remind you of a cross between Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

No. 9 - Turtle Run’s Dry Tortuga – I sampled a lot of Indiana wine this year and the best was Jim Pfeiffer’s Dry Tortuga for $15. It is a non-vintage Chardonel and Vignoles blend. The grapes come from Pfieffer’s property just east of Corydon. It’s great with food and has a hint of vanilla and orange. It will remind you of a dry Chardonnay.

No. 8 - Burgan’s 2007 Albarino – I fell in love with this grape over the summer. It’s a great alternative to the usual whites. This wine has strong hints of lemon with a little orange thrown in. It has an unusual – almost creamy – finish! Parker gave it 90 points – a heck of a buy for $12.

No. 7 - Dona Paula 2007 Malbec – I start wine newcomers, those emerging from supermarkets, off with Malbec or Tempranillo. This $13 bottle of Malbec is a beautiful wine with flavors of dark berries and it’s as smooth as a piece of chocolate.

No. 6 - Creta Roble 2006 – This 100 percent Tempranillo red wine rocks! It’s really smooth, easy to drink, with a bit of earthiness and a little spice. It comes from 70-year-old vineyards in Spain. It’s rather high in alcohol at 14.5 percent but very affordable at $13.

No. 5 - Pasanau Ceps Nous 2006 Priorat – This Garnacha, Merlot, Mazuelo, and Syrah blend was the best Spanish red wine I had this year. It’s a big mouthful of lively fruit with enough acidity for great balance. Robert Parker gave it 92 points! The wine retails around $19.

No. 4 - Milbrandt 2006 Traditions Cabernet Sauvignon – This Washington state Cabernet is great $16 wine. It is a blend of 75 percent Cab, 12 percent Merlot and a little Petit Verdot. It’s a big enough, but smooth enough Cabernet for any wine drinker.

No. 3 - Domain Lafarge Grenache Noir – Note this is the winery’s second appearance on the Top Ten! This $12 French Grenache has tons of “wow” for the price. It has big fruit with a rich feel at the mid palate. It’s a bit of a fruit bomb with some spice.

No. 2 - Klinker Brick 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel – This $17 bottle drinks like a $30 wine. It has an intense fruit-forward flavor of dark cherry and a bang of an alcohol finish at 15.8 percent.

No 1 - Patrick Lesec’s Cotes du Rhone Bouquet – This is my (drum roll please) 2009 ‘Wine of the Year.’ This $13 French wine is great alone or with food. It has herbal notes on the palate with a big, rich texture. You can almost taste the terroir (dirt) from the Rhone River Valley. Parker gave it an 89. But for a wine under $15, it makes the top of my list!

Thanks for reading Grape Sense. I’d love to hear from you with questions or comments!
Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, In., is a wine enthusiast. You can write him at: