Month: January 2017

White Wines to Seek Out in 2017 – Part 1

fnfu6rw5_400x400Do you always order a glass of Pinot Grigio when you’re out to dinner with friends?  Do you consistently buy the same brand of Sauvignon Blanc at your local wine or grocery store because you know you like it?  If you answered yes to either of those questions, congratulations!  You are a human, a well-documented creature of habit.  For those who would like to get out of their wine rut and have a little fun exploring new varieties, here are a few wines that I suggest you seek out in 2017.

Oregon Chardonnay

You’ve probably tried Oregon Pinot Noir, which has been a darling of the red wine world for a couple of years now.  Given the amount of attention it receives and the fact that it is the most widely planted grape in Oregon, you might not realize that you have other options in the state that is home to Mt. Hood, Nike HQ, and a the world’s largest cheese factory, but in fact many other grapes are grown in Oregon and most of them are white.  I’m recommending Chardonnay for two reasons:  1) It is a grape everyone is familiar with and the one that will be the easiest to find in markets that are far from the Northwest; and 2) I feel like I’ve been tasting an Oregon Chardonnay renaissance lately.  As if winemakers finally stopped focusing all of their attention on the red darling and gave a little love to this variety, with excellent results.

The 2014 Roserock Chardonnay was easily one of my favorite surprises of the countless wines I tasted last year.  Roserock is a new label from Domaine Drouhin, which has been making wine in Willamette Valley for three decades.  If you drink California Chardonnays, you’ll find the ones from Oregon to be brighter, fresher takes on the variety and this wine is no exception.  For a bottle priced in the low $30s (not inexpensive, but in far more reasonable than the ocean of Chardonnay from California and France on offer at $50+), I enjoyed a lot of complex flavors and aromas:  Meyer lemon, pineapple, white flowers, saline – in addition to a lovely, silky texture and a long finish.  Roserock is new and 2014 was the first release.  If you have trouble finding it, try its sibling the Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay instead (around $30).

Pink Bubbles

If you have Champagne taste on a microbrew budget, you’re in luck because there are plenty of high-quality, reasonably priced sparkling wines made around the world these days.  Since still rosé has exploded in popularity over the last few years, I’m hoping a little of the fairy dust from that trend will rub off on sparkling rosé in 2017.  Why?  Because you’re missing out if you’re only drinking bubbles on special occasions.  And, pink bubbles are just more fun.

My pick in this category is a wine from the Penedès region of Spain, not too far from Barcelona, called Raventós i Blanc “di Nit” Rosé Conca del Riu Anoia (just ask for Raventós Rosé to simplify things).  This is a blend of three white grapes, Macabeu, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, and a small amount of one red called Monastrell from which the wine derives its pink color.  I can say from experience that I’ve shared this bottle at multiple dinners with different groups of friends and it has been a hit with all of them.  It’s a sophisticated sparkler that makes a lively aperitif or dinner companion, and it’s certified organic – and delicious (around $20).

White Bordeaux

White Bordeaux has issues.  For one, it’s overshadowed in reputation, volume, asking price, and prestige by the more famous reds of Bordeaux, and secondly because it hasn’t figured out how to sell itself.  Labels on its bottles are often nondescript and they don’t typically advertise the name of the grape variety(ies), leading many wine buyers to pass by without a second glance.  Bad for them but great for you because wines with such issues can be great values, which is exactly why white Bordeaux is on this list.  If you decide to take a chance on it, what exactly are you getting yourself into?  Sauvignon Blanc primarily, sometimes blended with a little bit of a grape called Semillon for additional weight and viscosity.  If you enjoy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, California, or Sancerre, I encourage you to seek out a white Bordeaux or two this year and see what you think.

Because they are something of wine wallflowers, there are lots of excellent white Bordeaux options under $20, under $15, and even some very good bottles under $10. Look for the Sauvignon Blanc-driven Chateau Reynon (around $15) with its crisp, green apple-y character or, if you prefer a richer style, the 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend Chateau Chantegrive Graves (around $18), which shows stone fruit and honeysuckle. Because this is not a popular category, you may have trouble finding a lot of options in your city.  My advice:  give something in the $10 – $20 range that is recommended by your local wine shop a shot for your first go-round.

I’ve got additional, more adventurous wines to for you to seek out in 2017 in part two of this post coming soon.  If you have trouble finding any of the wines I’ve suggested in your area, please post in the comments or email me and I’ll be happy to help you with alternatives.  Cheers to new discoveries!

 

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Myth: Red Wine is Better Than White

Here’s a short list of the number one wines of 2016 as ranked by four wine industry influencers – two publications, one critic, and one retailer:

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Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines: #1 -2013 Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

James Suckling’s Top 100 Wines: #1 – 2013 Opus One (Cabernet blend), Napa Valley

Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Wines: #1 – 2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (Tempranillo blend), Rioja

Total Wine & More’s Top 20 Wines:  #1 – 2013 Mascota Vineyards Unanime (Cabernet blend), Mendoza, Argentina

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that all of the number one wines above are red and that three of the four are Cabernets.  Lest you think that’s an anomaly of the 2016 lists, in addition to this year’s Top 100 list Wine Spectator also published the names of all its number one wines since the list began in 1988.  Here’s the quick math on the previous number ones, and (in bold italics) what these rankings lead many wine lovers to believe.  I know because I used to believe it, too.

Of the 29 Wine Spectator lists published to date, a white wine has earned the top spot only twice:  Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay in 1996 and Chateau Rieussec Sauternes (dessert wine from Bordeaux) in 2004. Which means, of course, that a red wine has held the first position on 27 of the 29 lists. Clearly, red wines are superior to whites.

A Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet blend has been granted number one status on 15 of the 29 lists, or 51% of the time.  Obviously, Cabernet is the best red.

Pinot Noir, traditionally a light to medium-bodied red wine, has been chosen as the number one wine only once.  All other reds that have topped the list – Syrah/Shiraz, Brunello, Chateauneuf-du-Papes, Vintage Port, Super Tuscan – sit very squarely in the full-bodied camp.  And, although Pinot Noir is by comparison “lighter” than all of the other reds listed, Kosta Browne, whose Pinot was the one chosen for top honors in 2011 produces the variety in a “bigger” style.  Big reds are better than lighter reds.

If you tend to believe the bold italic statements are true, I don’t blame you.  “Best of” lists, the fact that red wines command higher prices on average than whites, and a whole host of other societal and cultural cues reinforce these ideas.  But, this blog is here to rebut them.  I am here to tell you they simply aren’t true.  It’s like saying roses are better than orchids or cats are superior to dogs.  You may prefer one or the other, but preference does not equate to fact.

I realize that red wines will likely continue to dominate these types of lists and that alone will continue to influence many people’s perceptions of them as superior.  However, my hope is that there are enough of us out there who are curious to try new things, who think tasting and learning about a variety of wines is more fun than drinking the same thing all the time, who are willing to let our own sense of pleasure dictate what we drink, to change that perception.  I hope wine drinkers and the wine industry will follow the lead of last night’s Golden Globes and finally appreciate the diversity we have to choose from.  There’s so much exciting wine out there.  And most of it is a lot less red than you think.

Ready to start exploring?  Stay tuned for my next post – White Wines to Seek Out in 2017.