Ten Fun Wines to Try in 2015
The holidays gave us a great opportunity to try many wines, some old favorites and some new delights. After sorting through all of our tasting notes, we found ten fun wines that we highly recommend for 2015 – some are bargains (under $25), while others are splurges. Either way, there is something here for everyone.[/vc_column_text]
Soliste is one of those hard to find cult wines, sold only through their mail order list, or found at high-end restaurants. We were very fortunate to have come upon a few bottles, including the outstanding 2010 L’Espérance Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($65). Our tasters all felt that this wine might be the best US pinot noir they’ve ever experienced. It is a moderate reddish purple color in the glass, with intense aromas of black cherry, black raspberry, with a bit of sweet herbs and spice. The taste is silky soft. feminine in character, with layers of black cherry and black raspberry fruits touched by an array of sweet and savory herbs. The wine fills the mouth with pleasure that carries over to the long and expansive finish. This wine has a lot of flavor, so pair it with game birds (perfect with duck), lighter red meats (such as veal), and fish with flavor – we used this wine with halibut finished with The Serious Foodie Calimyrna Fig/Orange sauce.
We were looking for a reasonably priced red wine to match with fish (see our Feast of the Fishes post), and came across the Paolo Scavino Barbera D’Alba Affinato in Carati 2012 ($22). Why choose Barbera instead of the many great Italian reds – Barolos, Barberescos, Brunellos, Chiantis and Super-Tuscans? The simple answer is that Barbera has enough acidity to make for an inspirational and creative match with fish & seafood, especially dishes having lemony or tomato sauce. Paolo Scavino makes many outstanding Barolos, and this Barbera shows the same skillful artisan touch. This wine is a very clean expression of Barbera, with a powerful floral component, having flavors of fig and mint along with cherries, raspberries and a good medium length finish. A very enjoyable and very elegant Barbera. We did also taste the Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne (2012; $17), which made the Wine Spectator Top 100 list. By far, the Paolo Scavino Barbera was much more favored by our tasters.
We have tried several wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region without finding something we liked. We now have one we can recommend: A.O.P Minervois 2012 from Benjamin Darnault ($15). The red wines from Minervois typically have Carignan, Grenache, Liedoner Pelut, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes, and tend to be fruity and very ripe. This version is rich and ripe, deep purple, with lots of stone fruit and spice aromas. The palate is a bit plummy, but there are other ripe stone fruits underlying the initial taste. There’s some tannin, but it is a “drink now” wine. It has a fast, but pleasant, finish. It matches well with braised and stewed dishes – especially having strong herbal flavors and fatty meats. This wine would also make an interesting match with BBQ.
Ca’ Marcanda is the Tuscany project developed by the great winemaker Angelo Gaja, owner of the famed Piedmont Gaja Winery. Located in the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany, the Ca’ Marcanda wines utilize primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, and Syrah. The Promis is their entry-level wine, costing $42 to $55 – but with a high level of sophistication (Merlot, Syrah, and Sangiovese blend). We had the wonderful experience of tasting the 2006, supplied by one of our more experienced tasters in our network. It had a deep, dark color, with fruity and spicy aromas. There were flavors of coffee, cherry, chocolate, and aromatic spice (primarily cloves). It was broad and large in the mouth, with a silky smooth and lasting finish. For the price, this wine shows enormous elegance and balance. It might be hard to find an aged version, but it is certainly worth the money to buy a few bottles to hold for a few years. This wine is perfect with roasted or grilled red meats (think Florentine steak).
Olema Pinot Noir 2012 (Sonoma County, CA) is the second label from winemaker Joel Aiken (Amici Cellars). It is hard to find a well-constructed serious Pinot Noir at bargain prices. At a price in the low 20’s ($22 at Total Wine), wine is certainly one of the rare pinot value wines. The wine is dry, silky and elegant, having cherry, red licorice, cola and slight herbal and spice flavors. The wine pairs perfectly with grilled fish and pasta dishes.
Lagrein is a relatively unknown Northern Italian varietal grape (South Tyrolean regions near Austria, such as Alto Aldige), related to both Pinot Noir and Syrah. So, it’s not surprising that Lagrein wines have both characteristics – red berry fruit flavors punctuated with chocolate, coffee, and spice. There are powerful versions, as well as more feminine versions. However, the good ones are well-balanced, with enough acidity to make them extremely food-friendly. We have come across some outstanding bottles through the years, including the wonderful wines from J. Hofstatter and Cantina Terlano. For our Feast of the Fishes party, we had bottles of Colterenzio 2010 ($30) and Alois Lageder 2011 ($20). For the price, we recommend the Alois Lageder. We liked its ripe raspberry and cherry flavors that lingered along with herbal and floral notes. It is medium-bodied and well balanced, with enough savory features to match with poultry or light red meats. It was a great match with fish and fresh tomatoes.
Lugana is an area that borders between Lombardy and the Veneto on the south end of Lake Garda, part of the fertile Po Valley plain which is just a stones throw to Northern Italy’s lake country and the glacial foothills of the Alps. The major grape of this region is Trebbiano – which is not a very well regarded varietal in Italy. However, the wines from Lugana are special – crisp, light (but flavorful), and very food-friendly. With its bright acidity, the Lugana works well with fried calamari, then somehow matches with a spicy arrabiatta sauce. Lugana from San Benedetto (2012) was particularly wonderful – and at the modest price of $15, it’s a bargain buy.
The best New Zealand sauvignon blanc wines have unique characteristics: pleasant, rounded aromas, tropical fruit flavors, and crisp acidity. One of the highly awarded SBs from New Zealand is the Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Reserve, which typifies the unique NZ characteristics. It has the classic NZ SB nose, with grapefruit, fresh cut grass, and lemon. The acidity is balanced with the full, ripe tropical fruits (kiwi, star fruit, guava, and a bit of pineapple. It has a full midpalate, and a nice lasting taste with a bit of mineral at the very end. This wine pairs well with swordfish skewers off the grill, or any other meaty fish such as halibut or tuna. We hope that other NZ sauvignon blanc winemakers take note: keep to the NZ style that makes these wines unique, instead of trying to duplicate French versions.
Somehow we got away from drinking chardonnay, probably at about the same time we moved away from merlot. But just like great merlots, there is always room for a finely made chardonnay. Chateau Montelena was the king of the chardonnay hill for a long time, with quite a few California winemakers emulating their full flavored style. Tastes change, and so has most of the high-end California chardonnay producers. We went back to the Chateau Montelena chardonnay (2011; $35) based on the recommendation of one of our respected NJ tasters. We were pleasantly surprised at this fresh, crisp version, which was not overly oaked. It has a clear, pale lemon color with aromas of honeysuckle, peach, pear, apricot, and vanilla. The sharp acidity is evenly balanced with ripe, soft stone fruit flavors, with a crisp, lasting mineral finish. It is wonderfully light and food-friendly. This wine would also age well, perhaps holding for 5-7 years.
Most everyone knows the red wines of Rioja, dominated by the Tempranillo grape – but few people have tasted the Rioja white wines. Tasting one for the first time is like discovering a great wine that you didn’t know existed. They are rich and oaky, and the best examples has the oak integrated into the wine with flavors of vanilla, coconut, almond and hazelnut. Best of all, these wines are great values, with excellent examples found for less than $15. We had the opportunity to taste the 2010 Bodegas Ontanon Viura Vetiver ($14). It has a nice floral aroma, with hints of fruit, nuts, and vanilla. The palate is full of spice, peach, almonds, apple, and white pepper accent. It is not a big wine, but it’s balanced flavor and acidity makes this a fun food wine – try it with grilled fish, lightly spiced pork chops, or a summer salad (when we get to the season).