February 19, 2009

February Wines of the Month

February Wines of the Month

I'm still looking for great buys and great deals - lots of good wine out there and sometimes the distributors are looking to move some of it at a reduced price - we're still tasting before we buy! So, these are wonderful wines at great prices!

To that end, I'm looking for excellent wines at better-than-excellent prices!

Tier One

White:

Cambas Chardonnay 2006 (Peloponnesus, Greece) Reg. $9.99 Sale $8.99 – Definitely NOT an oaky Chardonnay. This is clean, crisp with nice lemon and honey aromas and flavors. It also has hints of nuts. Medium-bodied. Nice acidity. Food pairing – richer fish such as tuna, salmon, halibut, etc. Lobster. Rich cheeses.

In many ways, Greece popularized wine in the Mediterranean - its production dates to the island of Crete as far back as the Minoans (2,600-1,100 BC). Greek colonies spread vines throughout Europe, the Black Sea and even into Northern Europe. This laid the foundation for modern viticulture throughout Europe. Greek wines were a valuable trading product through the Byzantine Empire, but when the Ottoman Turks occupied Greece, production fell and never recovered. When the Turks left Greece and the modern Greek state was founded in 1913, most farms and vineyards were destroyed.

Until recently, Greece was known for making Retsina (that pine resiny drink) and bulk wines that were popular because they were cheap. There were a few exceptions - this winery is one of them. Founded it 1882, Cambas Winery is unusual in that it grows both traditional Greek grapes as well as grapes such as Chardonnay. Greece's entry into the European Union in 1981 helped open markets to Greek wines and bring in needed investment dollars - at the same time, the EU was floating on a veritable sea of jug wine. So, the focus was on increasing quality. Greece is following the path that revolutionized winemaking in Italy and Spain in the 20th century - focus on quality first and foremost.

Cambas Winery was established in 1882. Today, it is one of the Greek wineries leading the Greek wine renaissance!

Red:

Celler La Bollidora Terra Alta D.O. "CLB" 2006 (Spain) Reg. $21.99 Sale $14.99 – Excellent! Dark, purple color. Aromas of blueberries, black cherries and spices. Big, rich, spicy....lots of big, dark ripe fruit. Tannins and acidity backing up the fruit. Long, long finish....Blend of 50% Garnacha Negra, 40% Syrah and 10% Samso (Carinena). Unoaked. This will drink real well over the next 2-3 years and drink well through 2015.

Terra Alta is a Designation of Origin (D.O.) wine-growing area in Spain - that's what the D.O. means on a bottle. This is an area we are just beginning to discover in the US. The area is in Catalonia, near Tarragona. This is the part of Spain closest to France along the Mediterranean Sea. It's about 17,000 acres in size. Winds, El Cierzo, up the Ebro River Valley help reduce the humidity in the area - protecting the vines from disease. The climate is a mixture of Mediterranean and Continental - long, hot, dry summers and cold, cold winters. Terra Alta has been a D.O. since 1972 and they've made wine there since the 13th century. In ancient times, the Romans built a road from Saragossa to Tortosa - they probably introduced grapes to the area (they did everywhere else!). In the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar planted vines, but the remoteness of the area made it impossible to make money from the wines, so they converted most vineyards to olive groves. Picasso features a great many local scenes in his paintings.

Food pairing – Pair this with lamb, steak, poultry, pork, salmon, mushroom dishes, etc. Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, 90 points

Tier Two

White:

Branko Collio D.O.C. Tocai Friulano 2005 (Friuli, Italy) Reg. $24.99 Sale $17.99 - Tocai Friulano is a grape that is local to northeastern Italy! Friuli, tucked next to Slovenia, north of Venice, produces Italy's greatest white wines.

The wine is minerally and spicy more than fruity. The fruits are green apples, pears and white peaches. The minerals, spices and apples dominate the flavors and aromas. This has a real lush texture at the front - it's real soft and round in its feel. The finish is dry with a nice crispness to it. This is aging nicely and will age for several more years.

What really defines and distinguishes Friuli from the rest of Italy is its emphasis on quirky, unusual local grape varieties. 100+ grape varieties are grown in this area. These growers are not planting the currently popular grapes - they keep plugging away at their traditional grapes! Also, this area focuses on quality to a degree that is rare in the world.

This is a Venetian wine - the grape may be native to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. There is speculation that it is from Hungary, but it has zero resemblance to any Hungarian variety. Tocai Friulano was documented in Friuli in 1771. It's also called Sauvignonasse (which is not Sauvignon Blanc, despite the name). It's the most widely planted white wine in Friuli (and planted widely in the Veneto and eastern Lombardy. Where is Friuli? Here!

This is not to be confused with Tokay, Tokaji or Tokay d'Alsace . And, Tocai Friulano will soon be known merely as "Friulano" after a fight with Hungary (Hungary won the battle for the name in the European Union). This is a shame because Friulano is made from Tocai grapes and Tokay or Tokaji is made from Furmint and Harslevelu grapes and Tokay/Tokaji is the name of a wine style, not a grape. France's "Tokay d'Alsace" is made from Pinot Gris (which is what the Alsatians and Germans call Pinot Grigio).

This is a cool climate grape - it buds late and ripens late. It really likes the deep, gravelly soils found in Friuli, especially the Collio area. Food pairing - smoked fish, smoked shellfish, ham, lobster, scallops, duck, poultry, etc.

Red:

"In Situ" Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Chile) Reg. $25.99 Sale $18.99 - Deep, rich red color. Aromas of ripe red berries, eucalyptus, spices, rosemary, dried fruit and vanilla. Flavors of plums, raspberries, cola and mint. The tannins are smooth, mature and well-integrated. The finish is nice and long.

Almost all (90% ) Cabernet Sauvignon with a little Cabernet Franc and Carmenere to round things out. Hand-harvested grapes. Fermented in stainless steel tanks and then 100% of the wine goes into French and American oak barrels for 12 months aging - mixture of new and older oak barrels, so this is not "oaky." Bottle aged for 6 months. The vineyards are in the Aconcagua Valley (that's the Western Hemisphere's highest mountain).

Vina San Esteban is a family-owned winery. They farm sustainably. This is drinking nicely today and will aged well for 3-6 years. Food pairing - steak, beef, lamb, rich cheeses.

Tier Three

White:

Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2007 (Australia) $21.99 - Excellent Viognier! I love this grape and Yalumba does it as well as anyone in the world! In fact, they are pioneers of this grape in Australia and this vintage includes a couple of new clones they've developed.

The wine is a pale color (golden-green) with aromas of stone fruits (apricots and nectarines), honeysuckle, orange rind and white flowers. The tastes are long-lasting - long, rich and luscious. Stone fruits with bracing citrus acidity.
After harvest, 60% of the fruit in put into oak barrels and the rest into stainless steel tanks. They use indigenous yeasts, which are natural to the vineyard. The wine is left on its "lees" (residue at the bottom) for 10 months with regular "batonage" (stirring the lees into the wine) - this adds complexity and richness and adding a voluptuous texture to the wine.

Yalumba is Australia's oldest family-owned winery. Founded in 1849! Samuel Smith, a brewer, emigrated to Australia and put his knowledge of fermentation to work after planting vineyards. Today, six generations and 160 years later, his descendents continue his work! 1,600 cases imported. Drink now through 2011. Food pairing - salads, poultry, fish, seafood. Wine Spectator, 91 points, Top 100 2008 Wines, #55

Red:

Stanley Lambert “Silent Partner” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Australia) Reg. $49.99 Sale $29.99 - Yes, that price is correct....that's a $20 savings on a great wine!

Lindsay Stanley, the winemaker was here in September and we did a tasting with him. This was a huge hit at the higher price - now it's a steal!

Delicious! This winery’s FLAGSHIP wine & a HUGE hit at a recent tasting! Rich and elegant wine. This rivals the best Cabernets from California! Dark, rich fruit – black currants, black cherries and vanilla. Smooth, lush finish that LASTS! Hand-picked grapes. Single vineyard with low-yielding vines. Aged in fine-grained American oak hogsheads for 18 months. 1,000 cases made. Food pairing - rich foods. Drinking with friends who know good wine!

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