2014 E. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc

Year: 2014

Producer: E. Guigal

Region: Côtes-du-Rhône, France

Grape(s): Viognier (65%), Roussanne (15%), Marsanne (10%), Clairette (8%), and Bourboulenc (2%)

Alcohol: 13.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Apricot, peach, Meyer lemon, honeysuckle, orange blossom, white flowers

Pairings: Seared scallops, grilled Mauritian lobster, pan fried or grilled fish, Vietnamese spring and summer rolls, Bún thịt nướng with shrimp or grilled pork

Price (approximately): $13.99

 

My Musings:

I must admit, I adore southern Rhône white blends. Although they are difficult to locate, particularly in Hawaii, this E.Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc often finds a tropical home on the shelves of Tamura’s Fine Wine & Liquors.

Driven by the aromatic Viognier, this wine’s perfumed bouquet offers alluring stone fruit of peach and apricot, with honeysuckle, orange blossom, Meyer lemon and white flowers. The palate is rich, bursting with a honeyed sweetness that accentuates the ripe stone fruit. Citrus, minerality and mild acidity balance the palate in an elegant presentation. This easy-drinking wine represents incredible value in a designation (Côtes-du-Rhône) that can be hit or miss. [Below I give a few tips for reading wine labels of southern Rhône!].

Southern Rhône Valley

Winemaking practices in this region have ancient origins. At the time King Nebuchadnezzar II was building his famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) in 600 B.C.E., nearby Phoenician merchants and Greek sailors with vinous ambitions set up shop and began to cultivate the vine. Greek civilization and commerce spread that early viticultural acumen. By the time the Romans occupied the region in 67 AD, winemaking was a vast industry spread across the southern region, utilizing well-established infrastructure and trade routes to expand its sphere of influence. As the Roman trail through France commenced, the Romans surmised that copious wine was an excellent excuse for a hostile takeover. I’m inclined to agree. The Roman occupation utilized the region as a respite for the Roman Legion. Even in ancient times, Southern France was the prime destination for drinking and frivolity. Party on!

At the time of the Greeks and Romans, the vinous wisdom opined that winemaking required warm climates and plenty of sunshine. Rhône Valley fit the profile, brilliantly. The region benefits from a warm Mediterranean climate that combines an abundance of sunshine, arid conditions, cooling Mistral winds, and the distant sea’s tempering maritime influence. Traversing the region, one is pleasantly greeted with the aromas of Provençal herbs that grow wild in the Valley, filling the air with olfactory delight. Be certain, however, to watch your step! Across the southern Rhône, vineyards are visibly marked with stony gravels and soils, an ancient remnant of its glacial past during the Ice Age period.

Most vinters in southern Rhône opt for blends rather than a wine produced from a single  varietal. And with 19 permitted varietals, there are plenty of options for the winemaker. For the white wines, the workhorse grape varietals include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc, followed by Picardin and Picpoul. The unexciting Marsanne, finicky Roussanne and my personal favorite, the aromatic Viognier, round out the blending options.

Know Thy Label

French wine labels can often appear intimidating. Fear not; just a few guideposts can navigate your vinous journey through the wine aisle.

Basic Level: Côtes-du-Rhône. The most basic designation for wine from the region is Côtes-du-Rhône. Côtes-du-Rhône is the largest appellation in the Rhône Valley and easily produces the most wine - roughly half of the total production in the entire Valley. Under this designation, grapes can come from anywhere in the region, and winemaking requirements are less stringent. As a result, the wines broadly range from low-quality, oxidized, alcoholic wines to (albeit few) exceptional, rich and balanced wines. Although this week’s wine is a Côtes-du-Rhône designation, quality here can be a bit sparse, so traverse carefully. As with this wine (E.Guigal), look for reputable cooperatives that are known to produce consistent, drinkable wines.

Mid Level: Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. The next quality designation is Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages. These wines originate on vineyard sites located near important winemaking villages in the southern Rhône. In these specific villages, winemakers are permitted to include the “Villages” tag on their labels, as well as the name of the specific village. These wines are characteristically more structured and higher quality than Côtes-du-Rhône. This can be prime bargain wine territory.

Top Level: AOC Specific. Specific villages have developed a reputation for producing wines of such a high quality that they were elevated to their own appellation d'origine contrôlée, or "AOC" - the highest tier of French wine classification. In Southern Rhône, look for my personal favorites in this category, Vacqueyras and Gigondas, which are consistently growing in quality and prestige, producing rustic, powerful and spicy cuvées that can rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price. Read: find value here.

The Flagship: Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The flagship AOC in southern Rhône Valley is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This region famously crafts some of the best wine in France and, indeed, the world. It does, however, typically come with a price tag to match. While you will not find many bargain wines bearing the Châteauneuf crest, this is a truly magnificent region that should be explored as your budget permits.

Cheers!

 

 

 

2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir

Year: 2014

Producer: Mt. Beautiful Winery

Region: North Canterbury, New Zealand

Grape(s): Pinot Noir

Alcohol: 14.5%

Price (approximately): $19.99

Pairing: Classic Pinot Noir pairings include salmon, duck and mushrooms. A local Hawaiian twist on these classics include furikake salmon, Cantonese roast duck and a sautéed Japanese mushroom medley.

My Musings:

This wine was a beautiful, luminous ruby red color and possessed fruit aromas of cherry, cranberry and blackberry with orange blossom, subtle earth and baking spice. On the palate, the wine wonderfully balanced fruit, earth and mineral elements, with soft tannins that provided structure and a long, lingering finish. An absolutely stunning and tremendously enjoyable wine. 

Mt. Beautiful Winery is wonkish heaven. It’s founder, David Teece, is [obviously] an oenophile, but he doubles as a professor of Global Business and Economics at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and has authored over 30 books. For me, trained in global business law and economics, I have discovered a new vinous exemplar. Hail to the geeks. 

Mt. Beautiful also makes it easy to feel good about yourself while sipping your refreshing inebriating beverage. Committed to sustainable farming methods, holistic vineyard management and alternative bottle closure methods (which bottle closure lore I explored in this post), Mt. Beautiful ensures that its practices assist in safeguarding the picturesque landscape famous to New Zealand. The world needs more wineries like Mt. Beautiful (and regions like New Zealand) that wholeheartedly embrace and emphasize the importance of sustainable viticultural practices.

In Honolulu, procure as many bottles as you are physically able to carry from Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors.  

Aotearoa: The Land of the Long White Cloud

While Côte-d'Or remains the gold standard, one of the most exciting New World regions for Pinot Noir, in my experience, lies on the outskirts of the Antarctic, in the Land of the Long White Cloud. 

Bibles and grapevines were traveling companions to New Zealand, brought in the suitcases of Anglican missionaries in the early Nineteenth Century. Where there are missionaries, there is wine. Early local wines were a cheap proletarian drink that possessed few ardent admirers. Inebriation sufficient; craft not necessary. The fledgling industry was later disrupted by the Prohibition movement at the end of World War I, when temperance advocates denounced the inexpensive intoxicant as “vile Australian wine” and “Dally plonk,” pejoratively referring to the winemakers’ Croatian descent. Racism, patriotism, and temperance bundled into a short, succinct phrase. Well played, temperance movement.

Fortunately, the industry survived its early challenges, and has matured to become, in my opinion, one of the preeminent value wine regions in the world. With a re-focused strategy on quality rather than quantity, it is no longer difficult to procure well-crafted, high-quality vino in the Southern Hemisphere.

New Zealand, home to the southernmost vineyards in the world, is breathtaking in its natural beauty. Dense tropical and temperate forests, majestic mountain ranges, imposing volcanoes, and a craggy coastline constantly battered by the Pacific Ocean produce endless picturesque landscapes. It is naturally divided into two regions, the North and South Islands, each unique in culture, climate, and winemaking.

The South Island is a cool, maritime climate that benefits from extended, sunny summer days due to cloud dissipation and the earth’s axial tilt. Obliquity lends a helping hand. The Southern Alps, the tallest mountain range in the Southern Hemisphere, cause a rain shadow effect that shelters the vineyards from the prevailing westerlies generated in the Pacific Ocean. Vineyards find a weathered safe harbor in the east. On the downside, water is scarce and irrigation essential.

Midway along the eastern coast of the South Island is the capital city of Christchurch and the rolling, breezy plains of Canterbury, the home of Mt. Beautiful Winery. Canterbury’s vineyards are planted primarily in shallow, stony alluvial topsoil consisting of sand, limestone, schist and loam, overlaying deep free-draining glacial gravels from Jurassic periods long ago. These soils possess low-to-moderate fertility and absorb heat during the day that is slowly released throughout the chilly nights. Vine roots’ rocky heat regulators. Here the Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, alongside elegant and expressive Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

In a country where sheep residents outnumber their human counterparts 10 to 1, there is plenty of open range for farming and viniculture. Kiwis have made the most of it. Their wines are brilliant, expressive and unique. At every opportunity, I would unequivocally recommend exploring these wine regions and varietals. You will not be disappointed! And you can confidently commence exploration at Mt. Beautiful Winery ...

Cheers!

2015 Cascina Luisin Langhe Nebbiolo

Year: 2015

Producer: Cascina Luisin

Region: Langhe, Piedmont, Italy

Grape(s): Nebbiolo

Alcohol: 13.5%

Body: Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Raspberry, cherry, rose, floral

Pairings: Anything highlighting truffles, earthiness or funghi - such as risotto, pizza, and pasta dishes, hard aged cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano

Price (approximately): $22.99

 

My Musings:

Ah, Nebbiolo, one of my all-time favorite grape varietals. There is often little question what is in the glass when it comes to Nebbiolo. It’s unique and distinct color is the first indication - brick red-orange, light and luminous in the glass. An absolutely stunning wine. The intense aromatics are the next giveaway, with a young Nebbiolo consistently showcasing fresh cherry, raspberry and rose petals, gradually maturing over time to include notes of dried cherries, leather, tar and truffle. A complex, structured, age-worthy wine.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Sommelier-in-Chief, was noted amongst the admirers of Nebbiolo da Barolo during his travels through the region in 1785 (although the wine at this time was much different and notably sweeter).

Despite its noble character and stunning wines, Nebbiolo has a surprisingly limited diaspora. Nebbiolo is notoriously temperamental and demanding (or perhaps simply neurotic). As such, it only truly thrives in its hometown hills of Langhe, Piedmont, in northern Italy. For budding Nebbiolo enthusiasts, it is best to stick close to home.

Nestled between the French Maritime Alps to the west and the Apennines of the Italian Riviera to the south and east, the region of the Langhe has a temperate continental climate with characteristically hot summers, cold winters, and excellent diurnal temperature variation, particularly in the summer months. This combination contributes to a long growing season that is ideal for Nebbiolo - the first grape to bud in the region and the last to ripen.

Due to its late-ripening and fussy tendencies, combined with its high market value, Nebbiolo commands the preeminent hillside sites in the region that consist of calcerous marl soils and optimal sun exposure. Nebbiolo, like its more famous colleague, Pinot Noir, is extraordinary in its ability to express the subtleties of terroir, which creates demand for very specific vineyard locations. With Nebbiolo, as with real estate, it is about location, location, location.  

Nebbiolo particularly shines in the Lange Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco. The best Nebbiolo from these appellations unequivocally rivals the finest wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Montalcino. Unfortunately, they carry a similar price tag. Want to enjoy fabulous Nebbiolo without breaking the bank? The Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) of Langhe, with less stringent requirements than Barolo and Barbaresco, is your vinous destination. 

This wine carried all of the classic elements of Nebbiolo at a value price point. Wonderful aromatics of raspberry, cherry and floral elements of rose petals burst from the glass. The palate is structured and complex with firm tannins and wonderful red fruit. Admittedly, the wine is lighter, less tannic and did not rise to the level of complexity found in Barolo and Barbaresco. One cannot, however, always enjoy the best Nebbiolo at the weekday table. At approximately $23, this wine isn’t necessarily cheap, but nonetheless well worth the price tag for a noble grape that drinks fabulously on its own, and pairs easily with a variety of cuisines. 

Speaking of food, Nebbiolo pairs excellently with white truffles, which are local to the region, funghi and other earthy elements. A few of my local favorites are mushroom rice-otto for date night at BYOB friendly The Rice Place and Hamakua Mushroom Mania Pizza from Fendu Boulangerie.

Distributed locally by Flavors of Italy, you can pick up a bottle at Fujioka's Wine Times.

Salud!

 

2016 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rosé

Year: 2016

Producer: Domaine du Salvard

Region: Cheverny, Loire Valley, France

Grape(s): Pinot Noir (65%), Gamay (35%)

Alcohol: 12.5%

Body: Light

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Strawberry, Kiwi, Floral, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon

Pairings: Steamed salmon, Burmese tea leaf salad, Vietnamese spring rolls (without peanut sauce), strawberry, spinach and goat cheese salad

Price (approximately): $16.99

 

My Musings:

Happy New Year! I was celebrating in France, metaphorically speaking, with a not-so-bargain Champagne and wonderfully-priced bargain rosé from the Loire Valley. Wait ... rosé, for New Year? You might wonder how the non-bubbly version managed to sneak onto the sparkling menu, but this rosé was definitely worth the New Year’s Eve spotlight. 

The Loire River is the longest river flowing through France. It begins in Massif Central, a south-central, mountainous region, and flows north several hundred miles into the center of France near the city of Orleans before turning west and eventually emptying into the Atlantic. The climate of the Loire Valley becomes cooler as one travels east and away from the tempering effects of the Atlantic Ocean. The banks of this river are prime real estate for vineyards, and because of its long length and different climate zones, grape varietals and styles vary significantly within the region.  Here, there is something for everyone.

Touraine is a large appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) located in the central portion of the Loire Valley. This far inland, the Atlantic’s influence is significantly diminished, and the climate is more mild and temperate. Touraine is the largest subregion of the Loire Valley, and home to more than 150 AOC subregions.

In upper Touraine, the AOC of Cheverny has a few unique aspects working in its favor. First, terroir. Erosion of the Loire River, and corresponding deposits, is higher here than most other regions. Second, blending. Much of the Loire Valley’s wine regions subscribe to a singular varietal paradigm. One grape to rule them all. In contrast, Cheverny’s wines take a more polyvarietal path, and winemakers are not afraid to experiment with different grapes and blends. For Cheverny, more is better.

This wine, consisting of 65 percent Pinot Noir and 35 percent Gamay, dazzles in the glass with a stunning light salmon color. While Pinot Noir is a common varietal utilized for rosé blends, Gamay, most associated with the Burgundian subregion of Beaujolais, is not. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing it used for rosé. [Anyone have another example?] The grape, however, offers incredible ripe berry fruit flavors and floral characteristics packed into a lighter body.

On the nose, ripe red fruit, dominated by fresh strawberries, kiwi fruit and citrus (lemon, lime and pink grapefruit) rounded out an expressive bouquet. On the palate, the character was light and fruit-forward with plenty of ripe strawberries and citrus. Light and crisp, with pleasing mineralality and balanced acidity. The wine did drink a touch thin, perhaps due to the Gamay, and the complexity wouldn’t rival the best rosé producers. But at a $17 price point, this wine really impresses. 

Light and delicate, the wine shines on its own. Need a refreshing glass on a warm summer afternoon? This wine would satisfy brilliantly. For food, try pairing with steamed salmon, strawberry, spinach and goat cheese salad, Burmese tea leaf salad, or Vietnamese summer rolls (sans peanut sauce). 

In Honolulu, pick up a bottle at Fujioka's Wine Times.

You may notice that my Bargain Wines received a price increase for 2018. In Hawaii I have found it extraordinarily difficult to consistently find intriguing bargain wines priced under $20. My objective is to find interesting and unique wines from regions across the globe that you can enjoy at the weekday table without breaking the bank. Along the way, I hope to explore rare grape varietals, interesting blends, and regions less traveled that can broaden our knowledge of, and appreciation for, the vinous world. I have discovered that increasing my ceiling by a few dollars provides access to a host of new and exciting wines to share. I hope you enjoy them. 

Cheers!

 

 

Maui Wine Hula o Maui Pineapple Sparkling Wine

Year: Non-Vintage

Producer: ‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine

Region: Maui, Hawaii

Grape(s): Pineapple

Alcohol: 12.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Brut

Tasting Notes: Pineapple, cream, tropical citrus

Pairings: Spicy Asian Cuisine, Mimosas, New Years Eve

Price (approximately): $20

 

My Musings:

Special New Years Edition! Want to try something a bit different this New Year's Eve?  Yes, toasting with Champagne is the gold standard, as it should be, and Cava is the bubbly bargain man's best friend. The tropical shores of Maui, however, present an intriguing sparkling intoxicant that should not be overlooked. Want the best? Go with Champagne this New Year, and the $50 plus price to tag to match. Want to try something a bit more unique with a fun story? Read on...

‘Ulupalakua Vineyards and Maui Wine, the only large commercial winemaker in Hawaii, was established in 1974 on the high slopes of the dormant volcano Haleakalā on the island of Maui. The vinous mastermind, Emil Tedeschi, procured equipment for the new winery that would be necessary in the winemaking process and decided to conduct a few tests to ensure that it functioned properly. Unfortunately, Hawaii had no indigenous vines, which can take years to mature. With grapes still maturing on the vine, Tedeschi turned his sights to a fruit with abundant supply on Maui: pineapple. Although pineapple wine was only intended as a testing method for the equipment, it soon became a favorite amongst tourists for its sweet characteristics and authentically-Hawaiian appeal. The King of Fruit was initially utilized for two wines: a crisp white wine called Maui Blanc and a pineapple sparkling wine. Although the Maui Blanc went on to become the winery's best selling wine, the sparkling line was quickly phased out due to difficulties in production.

The bubbles made a reappearance in 1994, initially as a friendly challenge in conjunction with the twentieth anniversary of the winery. One hundred cases were produced for the occasion, which sold out almost instantly. The winery couldn’t ignore the popularity and demand. The sparkling machine was reignited; pineapple bubbly was on the menu again. Along with Maui Blanc, the sparkling wine, named Hula o Maui, is one of the vineyard’s best sellers, and is a unique representation of Maui’s geographical location and agricultural history.

Hula o Maui is produced in the traditional methode champenois, famously and meticulously developed by the seventeenth-century Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, in Champagne, France. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in bottle, and is then aged on the lees for 6 to 8 months to develop a creamy texture without sacrificing the bright, fresh tropical fruit characteristics.

The wine’s first impression is unsurprising, with strong pineapple and tropical aromatics. The palate is brut (semi-dry) with pleasant effervescence, balanced acidity and strong flavors of pineapple with subtle accents of tropical citrus. Not a complex wine like its sparkling counterparts in Champagne, but an enjoyable and unique wine that is accompanied by a great narrative to recount at your New Year's Eve party.

Is it Champagne or even Cava? Of course not. Pineapple is vastly inferior to the grape in terms of biochemical complexity, phenolic variation and diversity of flavor profiles. But that doesn't mean that Hula o Maui cannot be an enjoyable bubbly for a festive occasion.

As a bonus, its brut dryness, refreshing effervescence and tropical fruit characteristics make it a brilliant food pairing partner, particularly with spicy Asian cuisine (Thai food!), and as a companion for mimosas and other sparkling cocktails.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

 

2015 Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel

Year: 2015

Producer: Dry Creek Vineyard

Region: Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California

Grape(s): Zinfandel (79%), Petite Sirah (20%), Carignane (1%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Blackberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Cherry, Spice, Pepper, Vanilla

Pairings: Christmas dinner!

Price (approximately): $17

 

My Musings:

Christmas dinner is approaching and you need a bargain wine for the holiday table. Food friendly and fruit-forward with some spice reminiscent of the season, Zinfandel plays the role extraordinarily well.

This wine, from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma County, has a bright bouquet of baked red and dark fruit, including blackberry, strawberry rhubarb and cherry. The palate is greeted with jammy fruit of raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry, balanced splendidly with spice, black pepper, vanilla and licorice. Well balanced with bright acidity, this wine would be an excellent addition to the holiday table.

In Dry Creek Valley AVA, Zinfandel is king. Although the appellation was established relatively recently in 1983, its viticultural origins extend back nearly 150 years. After the California Gold Rush, European immigrants, in search of farmland, were lured to Dry Creek for its rich and fertile soils. Well-drained alluvial gravel and sandy loam soils on the valley floor were also a good match for vineyards, and consequently there were nearly a thousand acres planted and nine wineries by the 1880s. Today, the remnants from this vinous tradition are still visible, with vineyards proudly touting gnarled Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old. Want to find terrific value, old vine Zinfandel? Look no further than Dry Creek.

Happy holidays!