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!