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.





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. 




2015 Kirkland Signature Chablis Premier Cru

Year: 2015

Producer: Kirkland Signature

Region: Chablis, France

Grape(s): Chardonnay

Alcohol: 13%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Lemon citrus, tart apple, subtle pear, minerals, honeysuckle 

Pairings: Almost any seafood! Good alternative to sake for traditional sushi, nigiri, sashimi.

Price (approximately): $15


My Musings:

I Am often critical of the Kirkland label, finding it most frequently to be an average wine that expresses the characteristics of a region for a cheap price. Procure with appropriate expectations. This wine, however, is absolutely delightful and a reminder that, with a little perseverance, you can happen upon an excellent quality Kirkland label at a fraction of the region’s typical price. A tip of the cap to Kirkland Signature for this effort. Well done.

The wine opens with bright fruit and citrus aromas of citrus lemon, tart apple and subtle pear. On the palate the body is medium with excellent structure driven by minerality famous to the region and balancing acidity. As the wine warms some grapefruit citrus notes join the party, along with honeysuckle on the palate. Aged in stainless steel barrels, the fruit expression is clear and brilliant. At the Kirkland bargain price of $15, this wine is definitely priced under its punching power. Often a Premier Cru such as this is retailing for over $30. Extraordinary value found here; buy in bulk.

The nornthernmost region in the famous French appellation of Burgundy, Chablis is famous for its Kimmeridgian limestone soils that produce mineral-driven, steely, structured white wines. Focused exclusively on the Chardonnay varietal, the region is home to 40 Premier Cru vineyards and one Grand Cru (divided into seven Climats), the highest distinction in the appellation. Although the Romans introduced wine to the region, it was local medieval monks and monasteries that refined rudimentary viticultural practices and established wine as an essential component to a rural economy.  Medieval Monks: winemakers and soul savers. 

The Kimmeridgian remnants of Chablis’ ancient beginnings can still be found amongst the soils. The region, now a semi-continental climate, was for a time covered by a shallow sea dotted with islands, shoals and coral reefs. Fossilized bones and shells of long-vanished oysters and other sea life from the basin along with ocean basalt and limestone produce well-drained, mineral-rich terroir that has consistently translated to exceptional mineral flavors, finesse and structure famous to Chablis.




2015 Kirkland Signature Gigondas

Year: 2015

Producer: Kirkland Signature

Region: Gigondas, Rhône Valley, France

Grape(s): Grenache (85%), Syrah (10%), Mourvèdre (5%)

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium+/Full

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Dark cherry, raspberry, licorice, spice, black pepper

Pairings: Beef stew, Chinese-style spare ribs, tomato-based pastas

Price (approximately): $14.99


My Musings:

A mere 10 miles from the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the village of Gigondas, an appellation d'origine contrôlée in the Rhône River Valley, extends from the plain east of the Ouvèze River up to the Dentelles de Montmirail, a wondrous tableau of jagged limestone hills. Wine production in the appellation can be traced back at least to the Roman era, when Gigondas was utilized as a respite for the Roman Legion. Even in ancient times, Southern France was the prime destination for drinking and frivolity. Party on!

Gigondas enjoys a cooler climate than its more famous neighbor due to higher altitude (in some cases up to 600 meters) and a steady Mistral wind that blows down the valley.  The soils are more calcerous and consist of limestone and clay. This combination works brilliantly for the Grenache varietal, far and away the appellation’s most important grape.  While Grenache commands the best locations, smaller percentages of the vineyards are also devoted to other classic Rhône varietals, such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsaut. Consistently growing in quality and prestige, the rustic, powerful and spicy cuvées from this region can rival Châteauneuf-du-Pape at a fraction of the price.  We are in bargain wine territory.

As I have previously mentioned, and will steadfastly preach, Kirkland wines do not customarily bestow significant depth or complexity, nor is that their primary intention. At the price they are offered, that would indeed be a lofty expectation. While the occasional Kirkland label can come with surprising quality, these wines are better understood as providing an affordable entry to many classic wine regions around the world. They are excellent for this purpose, so please explore! Keep in mind, however, that to experience the best of a region, you must journey beyond the Kirkland empire. 

This wine is a great example. 2015 was an excellent vintage for Gigondas, with perfect September conditions that contributed to a long and steady growing season. A young wine, this bottle benefits greatly from decanting for an hour or more. Even with some patience, the wine opens with noticeable bitterness. Get past this initial bitterness, and the palate is greated with a classic Gigondas combination of black cherry, raspberry, plum, licorice, spice and black pepper on the finish. The tannins were pleasantly pronounced and firm, and the wine’s full body coated the palate. Can’t finish the bottle in one sitting? No worries; this wine was actually better the second day. The bitterness softens with time and matures into a raisinated taste on the palate. I realize Kirkland labels are not usually destined for the cellar, but this wine could use a few years to soften. 

Overall, it is certainly not the most elegant or structured Gigondas I have tasted, but it presents the basic regional characteristics and can introduce the appellation to a wine seeker. Already a Gigondas enthusiast? This wine can probably be skipped or cellared for a few years. 

Gigondas produces full-bodied wines with plenty of tannins, so foods must be similarly robust. No wimpy foods here. In Hawaii, this wine would be great with locally-style beef stew or Chinese spare ribs. The added spice and earthiness of the Syrah and Mourvèdre pair well with tomato-based pastas, beef bourguignon, red meat and game dishes, and hard or pungent cheeses.




2015 Château de Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône Syrah

Year: 2015

Producer: Château de Saint Cosme

Region: Côtes-du-Rhône, France

Grape(s): Syrah

Alcohol: 14.5%

Body: Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Black Fruit, Sour Cherry, Licorice, Tobacco, Black Pepper

Pairings: Barbecue and grilled meats, roast pork, aged hard cheeses, mushroom risotto

Price (approximately): $17


My Musings:

A bit of a surprise to me initially for a Côtes-du-Rhône wine because it is made with 100% Syrah, rather than the characteristically lighter bodied, food-friendly red blends that are brilliant for the dinner table. Syrah isn't what you would classify as lighter bodied, with its medium-to-firm tannins and tobacco, leather and black pepper flavor profile. This wine, however, managed to find the sweet spot - almost as though it were a combination of the Northern and Southern Rhône Valley. Pleasant aromatics of black fruit, sour cherry, licorice, pepper and tobacco entice the nose. On the palate, acidity characteristic of the region frames the fruit, leather, tobacco and black pepper spice. Tannins were medium and firm, particularly on the finish, and the wine probably could have benefited from a quarter to a half a percent less ABV. However, still a pleasant wine that can be enjoyed with a wide variety of foods. The tobacco, black pepper and medium tannins afford pairings with grilled meats and hard, aged cheeses. However, unlike a typical Syrah, the wine was solidly medium-bodied and would not overpower lighter dishes, such as roast pork, duck or mushroom risotto. It is also pleasant just to sip on a cool autumn evening with a few friends!

Pick this up in Honolulu at Fujioka's Wine Times for under $17 bucks! A great bargain wine in one of my favorite regions in the world.

Bonus Time!

For those Costco fans out there, I will throw in a bonus this week. We also opened the 2011 Kirkland Signature Ribera Del Duero Gran Reserva. For $12.99, really a delightful wine and a great expression of the Spanish appellation and its most famous grape, Tempranillo. Ribera del Duero neighbors the more prestigious Rioja appellation and, in many respects, is the little brother. Some excellent value wines come out of this region, and this bottle is no exception.  On the back of the label, if you read the fine print (which of course I do, being a lawyer and all), you will notice that Kirkland Signature has sourced this wine from Bodega Viña Solorca, a reputable producer whose non-Reserva wines are often priced above $13! Once again, Costco brings the deals. This and the Ti Point Sauvignon Blanc are the best Kirkland Signature wines I have tasted all year.




NV Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut

Year: NV

Producer: Kirkland Signature

Region: Champagne, France

Grape(s): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier

Alcohol: 12%

Body: Light-Medium

Dry/Sweet: Dry

Tasting Notes: Green Apple, Minerals, Lemon

Pairings: Seafood (Oysters!), Tako Poke, Brie or Soft Goat Cheese, Fruity Dessert Crepes, Fruit Tarts, Acai Bowl

Price (approximately): $20


My Musings:

This one is a little tough to wholeheartedly recommend. True to Kirkland form, the wine is not a magnificent specimen of its home appellation. It is also $20 in a region that is rarely accessed for less than $40.

On the nose and palate, green apple, apple and more apple in a rather one-dimensional offering. The finish provides a little more structure with citrus (lemon), pleasant minerality and a subtle, toasty richness.  Delicate, persistent effervescence makes for an enjoyable experience on the palate, and a beautiful presentation in the flute.

Would I recommend? Conditionally, yes. Champagne is world famous for providing a complex sparkling wine balancing ripe fruit, minerality, and citrus, with bright acidity to add freshness to the palate. It is simply tremendous when done well, and the best the sparkling world has to offer. If you have not experienced this region, and want to give it a try at a cheaper price point, then this would be worth picking up. Two things to keep in mind. First, the Kirkland label has some signature characteristics of Champagne, but does not afford the complexity of flavor that distinguishes the region. If that is what you seek, best to expend in the extra cash for a notable producer. Second, you likely won't find a good Champagne for less than $40. That is the price to pay for excellent bubbles.

If you are simply looking for tasty, good value sparkling wine, there are other and better options available. At $20 or less, it might be time to explore Cava from the Catalan region of Spain, or Prosecco and Lambrusco from Northern Italy, among others.