Category Archives: Under $250

Spring Fever? | 6 California Chardonnays You Can Count On Under $40

Spring Fever? | 6 California Chardonnays You Can Count On Under $40

Best Chardonnay

From my Instagram page. The Frank Family Chardonnay traveled with me all the way to Newport Beach! You can click the image to see more.

To say it has been an uncommonly warm winter here in the nation’s capital would be quite the understatement. In the last week of February alone, I witnessed cherry blossoms in bloom, heard the hair-raising crackle of intense thunderstorms, and played tennis in record-setting sunny seventy-five degree weather. Thank goodness climate change is a complete farce, right?! (Insert sarcastic, scared to death emoji here.)

So understandably all of this warmth has me reaching for chilled, crisp white wines far earlier than usual. I mean, this should be Cabernet Sauvignon prime-time for me! So I thought I would take this opportunity to point out some Chardonnays you can reliably count on in the coming months, as temperatures promise to rise alongside political tensions.

Reliably Good Chardonnays You Can Actually Find, and Afford!

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Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Review | Standing Out in a Tough Crowd

Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Review | Standing Out in a Tough Crowd

Tenuta di Arceno

Tenuta di Arceno’s Tuscan estate | Photo Credit: Tenuta di Arceno

To say it was a tough crowd that crisp September day amongst the sun-drenched vines of Sonoma would be quite the understatement. Vintage Vérité is an annual event whereby those lucky guests have the opportunity to taste the most recent release of Pierre Seillan’s highly acclaimed Vérité wines alongside a library release (usually ten years old) to observe how well the wines develop with time in the bottle.

And develop they do, with enough interest to command nearly $400 per bottle and a bevy of perfect Parker scores to match (twelve to be exact). But while Vérité might be the star of the show, guests had the opportunity to sample more offerings from the Spire Collection’s compelling portfolio. When I remarked how taken I was with the 2012 Vérité Le Désir, composed predominantly of Cabernet Franc, I was offered a blind pour of a mystery wine, and it was beautiful.

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Caballo Loco | The Still Valdivieso Wine You’ll Go Crazy For

Caballo Loco | The Still Valdivieso Wine You’ll Go Crazy For

Caballo Loco

To say that Valdivieso Winery is an iconic Chilean wine producer would be an understatement. It was all the way back in 1879 when Alberto Valdivieso founded Champagne Valdivieso, Chile’s first sparkling wine house; predating the laws in Champagne that would now prohibit such controversial nomenclature today.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting winemaker Brett Jackson, who had made wine all over the world (including France, California and South Africa) before arriving at Valdivieso, where he has been for an impressive 16 years now.

Caballo Loco

Winemaker Brett Jackson Eveluating A Wine | Photo Credit: Valdivieso Winery

Brett explained that  it wasn’t until the 1980’s that Valdivieso began to focus their efforts on producing still wines in addition to the sparkling wines that had been a runaway success for the winery.

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Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent | The Serious Side of Beaujolais

Chateau du Moulin-a-Vent | The Serious Side of Beaujolais

Chateau Moulin a Vent

When you think of Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau is likely first to come to mind. This simple, light-bodied, uncomplicated quaffer arrives to market with substantial fanfare, produced from grapes that were literally hanging on the vine just three months earlier.

The King of Beaujolais, Goerges Dubouef, would be proud of such instant recognition, which he is largely credited with creating. It is after all arguably one of the greatest marketing feats known to man, itself a case study in effective marketing that has captivated an often mercurial audience, the wine consumer.

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Lake County Cabernet | The Other Other California Cabernet

Lake County Cabernet | The Other Other California Cabernet

Lake County Cabernet

If you’re not familiar with Lake County, that’s okay. Most aren’t yet aware of the potential of this sleepy section of Northern California wine country. But that’s about to change, as one of Napa’s power players just made a Warren Buffet style investment in these sun-drenched hills.

What’s interesting is that up until 1861, Lake County and Napa County were actually the same county – yet this quiet community with deep farming roots has mostly missed out on the fantastic wine industry successes of neighboring Napa and Sonoma counties to the south – and with it all of the tourism and hospitality fueling those economies today.

Though still quite small in comparison to Napa, vineyard acreage is on the rise, with around 9,000 acres now planted to vine, up from just around 100 in 1965. Compare that to over 45,000 in Napa and 60,000 in Sonoma, and you’ll see that Lake County has room for growth – and none other than Napa grape-grower extraordinaire Andy Beckstoffer has taken notice, in a big way.

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Perliss Vineyards | Expect Big Things from this Small Producer

Perliss Vineyards | Expect Big Things from this Small Producer

Perliss Vineyards

When you think of Calistoga, you would be correct in thinking that this sleepy locale nestled within the Northern stretches of Napa Valley is known for its relatively warmer temperatures than those areas of the valley located further south, with their proximity to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.

Yet on the beautifully clear August morning when I visited Perliss Vineyards, I pleasantly surprised by the cool, persistent breezes serenading me as I explored the organically cultivated, gently sloped 2.6 acre Raven Vineyard with vintner Anthony Perliss.

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Bodega Teso La Monja Almirez Review | Tantalizing Toro

Bodega Teso La Monja Almirez Review | Tantalizing Toro

Teso La Monja Almirez

If you’re a looking for rich, layered, broad-shouldered wines at bargain prices, dare I suggest a tangle with this bull? The Toro Bravo, or Spanish fighting bull, is prized for its aggression and stamina. Oddly enough, the wines of the Spanish Toro appellation share similar characteristics – yet us wine lovers can rejoice in that they don’t share quite the same level of notoriety as the venerable Toro Bravo.

A few years ago, I read an e-mail advertisement for the 2011 Bodega Teso La Monja Almirez touting a huge 94 point Parker score. The review was nothing short of glowing, even going so far as to say that “At this quality level, one would expect the price to be three digits or more.”

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The Unusual Suspects | Beyond California Cabernet

The Unusual Suspects | Looking Beyond California Cabernet

Kobler Estate

I’m definitely guilty of writing a lot about California Cabernet. I freely admit that I have a real penchant for the sturdy varietal, particularly when it’s built to last. In California, Cabernet is king and sadly many of the best examples fetch a princely sum.

But if the myriad of interesting, lesser-known and even esoteric varietals I encountered on my recent trip to Napa and Sonoma are any indication, Cabernet isn’t all that’s thriving here in Northern California. Not only was I surprised to find Spanish and French stalwarts like Albariño, Tempranillo, Grenache and Malbec being produced at wineries I visited, but I was surprised by just how good they were. Oh, and did I mention I encountered an Aglianico?

The best part? These wines don’t command the regal prices of Cabernet. They lack the cachet, and are often the ‘pet’ projects of winemakers – who produce them because they are passionate about the varietal and love drinking them, while their bread and butter Cabernet and Pinot Noir offerings keep the lights on.

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Ehlers Estate | Where To Start Your Day In Napa

Ehlers Estate | Your Mornings Will Never Be The Same

Ehlers Estate

I’m not much of a morning person. It typically takes me a few hours, and a least as many coffees before I’m completely awake. My morning routine is pretty mundane here in Washington, D.C. Up at 7:20, make a quick coffee and then take the kids to school. After returning home,  I make some fried eggs, another coffee and get to work in my home office. Exciting stuff, right? But after my recent visit to Ehlers Estate, it has been quite the challenge to return to my normal morning routine…

I’ve been to many tastings that start at 10 am, but to my knowledge Ehlers Estate is the only Napa Valley winery offering the opportunity to wake up over a flight of estate-grown wines paired with buttery, flaky croissants delivered fresh from Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Where else but in Napa Valley can you literally wake up to a wine tasting?!

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Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru | Top Costco Wines

Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru | Top Costco Wines

Kirkland Signature Chablis

So there I am, wandering around Costco, surreptitiously updating my popular Guide to Costco Wine, when I spot the fabled unicorn: Costco Kirkland Signature Series Premier Cru Chablis for $14.99 per bottle!

Hailing from Burgundy’s Northernmost growing region, the Chardonnays produced in Chablis are world-renowned for their tension, energy, and flinty, mineral-driven personalities. The best examples are both delicate and full of energy, but carry a price tag that’ll knock the  wind out of you. For example, a Google search of [Premier Cru Chablis] yields the following shopping suggestions:

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