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Posts Tagged ‘Wine Reviews’

Wine Review Snapshot

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Wine Tasting Review

Sipping for Wine Reviews

Sipping for Wine Reviews & Education

As a wine educator, I am tasked with tasting wines on a frequent basis. Yes, break out the guitar and play a blues song for me. So, since I drink wine almost daily, I thought it was time again to share some tasting notes. For another wine review snapshot, check out my post on Warm Weather Wines ideal for fall.

What follows is a wine review snapshot of wines I’ve enjoyed recently.

 

My Wine Tastings Highlights

Domaine Peiriere by Paul Sapin

Chardonnay/Viognier

Pays d’Oc

Salad with orange slices

Salad with orange slices

I love blends. The Viognier in this blend gives it a bit of freshness and lemon zest, while the Chardonnay brings a great golden color that hints of oak. I wish more American Chardonnay producers would blend their white wines instead of making pure single variety wines.

This wine would be a nice accompaniment to a salad with mandarin orange slices or one with pieces of avocado. The acidity would compliment the citrus while matching nicely with the creaminess of the avocado.

It’s not a complicated wine but I’d drink it again as one of my simple, everyday wines. I believe it is priced under $10.

 

2011 Robert Craig Affinity

Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley

This wine has great legs and a beautiful deep, purple color. On the nose, I got plum and blackberry fruit. Although the wine was young, I tasted masculine dark, plum and jam-like fruits. It also had surprisingly tamed tannins.

For a Napa Cab, the Robert Craig Affinity at $39.95 is priced quite reasonable. If you can buy two bottles, you should. Then, you can drink one now and lay one down for another 3 to 4 years. This is a wine that will taste even better in a few years.

 

2012 Ramey

Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley

This Cabernet will set you back around $50, but it is worth every penny. It tastes like a Cab that cost twice as much. And that certainly is not a bad thing given the hefty prices most Napa Cabernets.

Its appearance is an intense dark red but the nose was a bit trickier. I smelled cherry and Thanksgiving spices, which only hastened my desire to taste it. So I gave into temptation and was rewarded with beautiful black cherry and raisin flavors. The tannins were as beautiful as the wine.

After drinking this wine, I was so intrigued that I went to the website to find out more about the winemaker. Dave Ramey developed an impressive resume working in the industry prior to opening his winery  with his wife Carla, in 1996. They have a tasting room in Healdsburg, which I will surely have to visit on my next trip to the region.

To learn more about their vineyards, click http://www.rameywine.com/vineyards/

 

Mumm Napa

Sparkling Wine Brut Prestige

Napa Valley

Champagne Classy Enough for a Wedding

A Sparking Wine Classy Enough for a Wedding

I could drink champagne and sparkling wine every single day of my life. I love it that much.  And this sparkling is a staple in my wine captain. A Napa stalwart, it is refreshing and has a creamy brioche finish typically only found in expensive French champagnes. It is medium bodied, with a citrus flavor and the perfect amount of acidity.

Mumm’s sparkling wine is classy enough to serve at a special occasion such as a wedding; yet it won’t break the bank. The complexity will have your guests thinking you spent far more. It’s a perfect food wine that typically retails for around $17.

 

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Cayuga Lake Rieslings

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Cayuga Lake Rieslings

Swedish Hill & Hosmer Wines

Swedish Hill & Hosmer Wines

The vineyards of the Cayuga Lake region benefit from a micro-climate created by the 40-mile-long lake and its neighboring hillsides. Granted AVA status in 1988, currently 17 wineries are region members. Established in 1983, Cayuga Lake is credited as being America’s first organized wine trail.

There are some winemakers who produce wines using native grape varieties such as Niagara, Catwaba and Cayuga.  However, it’s the region’s cool-climate vinifera grape varieties that have brought it the most accolades. Two of the more popular stops along the trail are quality wine producers Swedish Hill Winery and Hosmer Winery.

 

Swedish Hill Winery

This pale, straw-colored wine has beautiful apricot and pear aromas that are mirrored in the flavor. On the first sip, there was a perception of sweetness, which was not present when I drank it later with food.  I love drinking wine with food, as both play off the other. I had this wine with Thai curry, grilled chicken and chicken spring rolls. Although the wine was a great accompaniment to each of these foods, its lush fruit flavors really paired exceptionally well with a cheese and fruit plate.  It’s a wine that has you wanting to take sip after sip.

Tropical Mango Flvaors

Tropical Mango Flvaors

This Riesling is the real deal. It’s a perfect wine for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. You can open a bottle when your guests arrive and continue drinking into dinner service. Then, as you are sitting around enjoying each other’s company, the wine remains pleasing on its own. This Swedish Hill is a dry wine; but because it has that hint of sweetness, it should satisfy a wide range of palates. As it warmed, I got more tropical flavors like mango.

The tasting room,  located in Romulus is open daily through December from 9 AM to 6 PM.

 

Hosmer Winery
Hosmer Winery Riesling

Hosmer Winery Riesling

There is a saying that old vines make great wines.  If that is true, then the 25-year-old-plus vines at Hosmer Winery should provide wine lovers with a special treat. The Riesling vines are more than 30 years old, thriving in high-lime Cavenovia loamy soil.

Winemaker Aaron Roisen should have plenty of frequent flyer miles. He hails from Minnesota but worked harvest in New Zealand on two separate occasions, prior to leading the wine-making efforts at Hosmer.

 

 

Grapefruit Flavor Profile

Grapefruit Flavor Profile

The Hosmer Riesling presented as the most dry Riesling of the four I tasted from the Finger Lakes region.  There was citrus, as well as pear aroma. Pear and acidity that came through as grapefruit on the taste.  The beautiful grapefruit flavors paired nicely with my cheese board. As the wine opened up, it became more lovely and smooth, with an almost honey like finish.

Through October, the tasting room is open Mon-Sat from 10:50 – 5:50, then closes at 5:00 in Nov. On Sundays, it’s open from Noon – 5:00.

 

Finger Lakes Riesling

I was pleasantly surprised these Finger Lake Rieslings were start-to-finish wines.  I only wish I had discovered them this summer because they would have been my afternoon go-to wines.  Until next then, I’ll just have to enjoy them with my fall and winter meals.

Note: The wines reviewed here were provided by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance as part of a Virtual Tasting. No promises were made regarding what I was to write only that I should post my reviews.

 

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Wines for Fall

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Warm Weather Wines

Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Wild Horse Pinot Noir

Last week, I opened a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to drink with grilled chicken. I never thought it was possible but I was too hot to drink a glass of wine. I know. Me!  I knew something was terribly wrong.  The brutal southern California heat wave was definitely getting the best of me.

So after recovering from my shock, I decided I would chill this white wine to a temperature of about 45°. I tried another sip after it was chilled and did manage to finish the glass.  But this got me thinking.

Checking the calendar, I saw that fall was arriving and hoped it would bring fall-like temperatures.  The warm weather may return given the shift in climate change, but I envision weather, during the next few months that will have me reaching for more red wines.

Over the past week, I have been on a mission to uncover red wines light enough to enjoy in the early evening as the day’s heat dissipates.  But I also want something elegant that can be enjoyed with a great dinner.  And Cabernet Sauvignon was not an option for two reasons.  First, it’s an obvious choice and kind of a cop out.  Second, it’s still too freaking hot to drink Cab! These three wines for fall were my top choices of the bottles I sampled. And yes, it was arduous!

 

Distinctive Topography

As you probably know, Santa Barbara County vintners make some outstanding wines.  Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards is one of a stars of this region. Their Unbridled Pinot Noir has grapes that were grown in the northernmost part of the appellation, Santa Maria Valley. This part of the Central Coast has a cool climate that sweeps in from an unusual east-west running traverse that brings in ocean breezes. These winds are followed by afternoon coastal fog that lingers throughout the night. This distinctive characteristic helps make for a long growing season, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, in addition to increasing the hang time on the vine.

This 2012 drinks nicely. The tannins have softened already and the fruit isn’t too jammy given the high 14.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). There were slight floral notes on the nose, as well as black cherry. I tasted ripe cherry and baked plum tart. This wine is worthy as a dinner companion.

 

Two Oceans Converge

 

South African Pinot Noir

2012 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir

The quality of South African wines has improved dramatically. The Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir is an excellent example of the pride and investment that is leading the charge for quality wines throughout the country. Their 2012 Pinot Noir is produced in the Hermel-en-Aarde area, which is part of the Hermanus wine routeClick to see the map of the Hermanus Wine Route  Along the southern tip of Africa, the cold Atlantic Ocean waters converge with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.  The ocean breezes help to create a perfect environment for growing Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay.

The garnet color along with the raspberry and red cherry aromas signal classic Pinot Noir. This bottle is an excellent choice to bring to a dinner party, especially if the hosts are red wine snobs. The reason? It is no typical New World Pinot Noir.

Upon tasting, I got a wonderful earthiness typically found in an aged, red Burgundian. I also tasted dark cherry and raspberry, the usual New World flavors; but there was also cranberry and a hint of spice. Given its youth, this Pinot had unexpected mellowed tannins. It is an age worthy wine with an elegant structure, retailing for $38.  (The price at Vintage Wines in San Diego.)

I was surprised to see the alcohol by volume  (ABV) was a whopping 14% given its production area, along the cool-climate Walker Bay region.  However, the wine did not present any pronounced alcohol heat.

 

Who Wants Italian?
Italian Wines

Indigenous Italian Wines

When you think about wines for fall you have to give a nod to Italian wines, as the two go hand-in-hand.  I am not a huge Italian wine fan but I enjoyed the 2011 Valpolicella Ripasso Monte Vozo.  Located in the Veneto wine region, a ripasso wine is a blend of indigenous grapes Corvina (70%), Rondinella (20%) and Molinara (10%).

The ripasso wine-making process reuses the partially dried grape skins and sediment of Amarone wine.  It then undergoes a secondary fermentation that brings in more flavor, body and structure.

The reason I don’t care for a lot of Italian wines is I find many of them to be ordinary, especially in the lower-end price point. These inexpensive wines usually lack structure and taste like watered down grape juice.  (Of course, I’m not referring to the outstanding Barolo, Montepulciano or Sangiovese wines.) I firmly believe time in the bottle has helped this wine to develop more concentration in flavor.  A bit of age has improved its fruit flavor by adding a bit of depth.

You should treat this wine as you would a rosé, meaning serve it chilled.  Doing so will help bring out more of the almond and dried cherry fruit flavors.

This is a backyard wine to serve as an icebreaker when entertaining friends in the afternoon. It coss around $19. I drank it with various hard and soft cheeses, salamis, dried fruit, and nuts.

 

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The New California Chardonnay

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2011 Raymond Chardonnay

2011 Raymond Chardonnay

2011 Raymond Chardonnay Reserve Selection Napa Valley

For years I’ve been a die-hard ABC wine drinker.  If you don’t know what that means, I’ll explain.  The trend through the 2000’s was for California winemakers to produce oak-forward Chardonnay wines that flew off the shelves, being gobbled up by young wine drinkers and women’s book clubs.  It got to the point where you just couldn’t taste anything but oak and butter.  I absolutely hated California Chardonnay. And I was in good company because someone in my same flavor-profile camp, coined the term, “ABC”, Anything But Chardonnay”.  So whenever I’d go out to happy hour, I’d order Anything But Chardonnay.

 

I Saw the Light

But then, a most wonderful thing happened.  And I’m not even sure when the voice of reason returned but winemakers started showing some restraint and stopped using a heavy hand with the oak aging.  The result was Chardonnay with actual fruit flavors.

I feel like the Grinch on Christmas morning after he realizes the Who’s are still happy.  My heart, well make that my love, for Cali Chardonnay has grown three sizes. So I’m on my literary sleigh riding downhill to spread the word and pass the bottle.

Enjoy a Glass of Chardonnay

Enjoy a Glass of Chardonnay

Now I am on a tear trying California Chardonnay whenever I get a chance.  I’m in search of sensibly oak aged Chard with fruit flavor. That’s exactly what I discovered in this Raymond Chardonnay. Stephanie, the other half of Fine Living Enthusiast is a huge Chardonnay fan.  When I do the wine shopping, (Hey, somebody has to do it.), I try to find her interesting Chardonnays to drink that mainly will be perfect for casual drinking, but also move seamlessly into dinner wine.  I totally scored with this one.  This is a lovely wine.

Pear-tasting Chardonnay
Pear-tasting California Chardonnay
The New California Chardonnay

It has the right amount of oak which gives it a bit of vanilla and nutmeg but totally pleases my palette with delicious fruit. I tasted pear and lemon, reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, but with far more structure and body.  This Raymond Reserve Selection Chardonnay label reads, “Barrels produced 720, Five generations of family winemaking”. Maybe it’s slick marketing but it makes me feel as though this winery takes a lot of pride in their craft. It sure tastes as though they do.

We are talking about a Napa Valley wine that I was able to purchase for $17. I caught a great sale because normally it retails for closer to $22.

“Welcome Back”into my life California Chardonnay.  I missed you and I’m so glad we have renewed our friendship.

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Torbreck Semillon

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2010 Torbreck Woodcutter’s Semillon Barossa Valley

Kangaroo Sign Barossa Valley

Australia’s Barossa Valley

We had a party and one of our friends reached for a bottle of wine to refill her glass.  The chilled bucket had several bottles.  As she picked out a bottle of white with a screw cap, I overheard her say, “No thanks.  I know that’s going to be a cheap wine.”  She returned the wine to the bucket and choose another one with a cork.

Unfortunately, there still are people who have the perception that screw-cap wines are cheap and inferior quality.  Wow. If only she knew the truth.

Australian Semillon producer Torbreck is an excellent example of a screw-cap wine that sells for around $16 and is a quality wine from a well-regarded winery.  Good luck finding an “old school” screw-cap wine where the grapes were hand-harvested, followed by a gentle whole-bunch press.  That’s the type of care Torbreck uses with their wines.

Hand Harvesting White Grapes

Hand Harvesting White Grapes

Torbreck’s Semillon would be easy to identify in a blind tasting due to the oily taste and texture, which is a classic characteristic of a Semillon.  Next, I got some lovely peach followed with citrus and limestone minerality.  But then I was lured in with a huge slug of acidity.  I think this wine would benefit from another year of aging but it was a welcome dinner companion with our red fish.

 

 

 

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Gainey Vineyard

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2007 Gainey Riesling Limited Selection Santa Ynez Valley

Gainey Vineyards Riesling

Gainey Vineyards Riesling

I love Thai food and eat it more often of late since I developed a gluten intolerance. Riesling and Thai , as well as other Asian cuisines pair admirably with one another. Although, I was curious about this pairing, an off-dry Riesling eaten with spicy Asian food.

Riesling are wonderful wines and a favorite of many a sommelier. However, I do not enjoy drinking sweet Rieslings without food. As soon as I take my last bite, I’m done with the bottle, regardless if it’s empty or not. But an off-dry is another situation altogether. That’s what made this bottle so alluring.

 

Gainey's Vineyards

Gainey’s Vineyards

Gainey Vineyards, one of my favorite Santa Barbara County wineries makes an awesome expression of a Riesling. The wine was very aromatic, giving off citrus and honeysuckle scents. It had a lovely honey color a rich, buttery taste. The taste was the kind that lingers on your palette long after the sip is finished. I also got grapefruit and a slight perception of sweetness that presented as honey.

Riesling on the VineI purchased this wine in July of 2009 on my annual Santa Barbara glamping trip. I’ve visited the Gainey winery on three separate occasions. The tasting room is well adorned and there are ample opportunities to purchase wine-related souvenirs. The tasting room staff were friendly, knowledgeable and even offered a free bottle water to our Designated Driver, which of course wasn’t me.

I’m impressed this Riesling aged as nicely as it did. I think that speaks to the care Gainey takes the vineyard, as well as  to the stellar wine-making techniques.

Gainey Vineyard is located near the intersection of highways 246 & 154 so it can be your first or second stop on a tour of the Santa Ynez Valley. The tasting fee is very reasonable at $10, which includes a free souvenir glass.

 

 

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14 Hands Vineyard

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(2011) 14 Hands Vineyard Hot to Trot Red Blend – Columbia Valley

14 Hands Hot to Trot

14 Hands Hot to Trot

I can’t recall the last time I drank 14 Hands wine, but it has been years. But recently, a friend brought it to a weekend dinner we both attended.  I poured myself a glass and immediately thought that I needed to pick up a bottle or two of this to have around the house.  It’s a casual-drinking wine you can buy for around $11; but one that tastes like a bottle that costs twice as much.

For an everyday wine, it has a lot of depth.  The auburn color and the plum nose prepare your taste buds for some wonderful sipping.  The juicy, dark fruit flavor is rich without tasting like Concord grapes. The finish was as smooth and clean as a New Zealand glacier-fed lake.  The winemaker has taken a page from southern Rhone, using several grape varieties in this blend including Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and a handful of others.  The results are perfection in a glass.

 

Winery Name

Washington State Mt Rainier

Washington State Vistas

The winery’s unusual name, 14 Hands comes from the wild horses that used to run free on the present-day vineyard located in Washington state’s Columbia Valley AVA.  The horses were a mere 14 hands high, a measurement equal to 4 inches per unit.  I hate to disappoint you but the label Hot to Trot refers to these horses.  So get your get mind out of the gutter. It’s not a sexual reference.  Although, that shouldn’t stop you from pouring it at a “Do-Tell-All Girls Night”.

 

Banks of the Columbia River

Banks of the Columbia River

14 Hands Vineyard practices sustainable farming in Horse Heaven Hills (HHH). They recently opened a new facility. The HHH appellation is home to approximately 30 vineyards, but only five have tasting rooms open to the public.  The wines produced in this region benefit from south-sloping, bench-work vineyards, situated along the Columbia River.

14 Hands Winery is a solid example of a Washington-state producer making well-structured, terroir-driven wines. If you are a white wine drinker, then try the Hot to Trot White Blend.

 

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Dinastía Vivanco Rioja

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2008 Dinastía Vivanco Crianza Red Wine Rioja

The Dinastía winery takes its name from Pedro Vivanco, a third-generation enologist, wine collector and merchant.

Stained Red Wine Barrels

Crianza Rioja-Aged 24 Mos.

This lovely Rioja is made with Tempranillo 90% and Graciano 10%.  The Maraschino cherry nose was pleasing.  I could definitely taste coffee, which was probably a result of charring by the cooper.

The wine was oak aged in French and American barrels for 16 months, plus an additional six months in the bottle.  This is in line with Spanish law which requires Crianza wines to be aged a minimum of 24 months.

Rioja Vineyards

Rioja Vineyards

The vineyard is located in the high altitude of Rioja Alta, south of the Ebro River.  In my glass  the wine was garnet red with moderate acidity.  The alcohol was also in check, as there was a visible absence of burn on the finish.

This cooler-climate wine lacked the robust, in-your-face fruit I was expecting.  However, as I continued to taste, this became an asset, as it created a more beautiful expression of Tempranillo.  A fruit salad of strawberry and raspberry, dusted with tea leaves danced around my tongue.

Ebro River Rioja

Ebro River

And oh those tannins.  They were smoother than a lustful teenage boy on Prom Night.

You can log this one in your wine journal as a perfect food wine. And retailing for only $20, it’s a bonafide bargain.

 

Balsamic Grilled Lamb

Fig Balsamic Vinegar Grilled Lamb

 

I had a fabulously prepared grilled lamb chop, marinated with fig balsamic vinegar, honey and rosemary.  Sweet potato gnocchi and grilled asparagus with Parmesan cheese rounded out my plate.

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South African Sparkling Wine

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Graham Beck Wines Brut, NV, Méthode Cap Classique

 

Small Bubbles are Best for Champagne

Small Bubbles are Best for Champagne

At Graham Beck Wines in South Africa, their mission is: The eternal pursuit of the perfect bubble. Cellar Master, Pieter Ferreira philosophy’s can be summed up in this quote, “The smaller you can create that bubble, the better the chances that the wine will develop gentle flavours.” And may I add, The greater the chance you won’t wake up up with a headache. This is evident when you taste their sparkling wine.

They begin this quest by handpicking the grapes. Then the Chardonnay (55%) and Pinot Noir (45%) clutters are whole-bunch pressed, fermented separately and finally, blended along with a bit of reserve wine. Bottles are left on the lees for 15-18 months.

Their non-vintage Brut shows that classic aroma of yeast as soon as you pick up the glass. I love the breakfast-toast taste of that first sip, followed by lemon zest. I also picked up some crisp, green apple. This is a moussey sparkling with a delicious, rich creamy finish.

Graham Beck Brut Sparkling Wine

Graham Beck Brut Sparkling Wine

Graham Beck sparkling wine is produced in the Robertson region, a district of the greater Breede River Valley appellation in South Africa. It is adjacent to Paarl, another top-producing district. The winery is located approximately 90 miles outside of Cape Town.

Robertson is not the most hospitable area for wine cultivation. The nearby Breede Valley, not surprisingly has sand deposits, which makes for fertile soils. In the higher elevations, shale and red clay are the predominant soils.

Irrigation System  for Robertson Vineyards

Irrigation System for Breede Valley Vineyards

Also, with Summer, comes a hot climate, with very little rainfall. Irrigation is a must but even that is sometimes not enough. Growers also rely on wells, in addition to stored water captured from the rains. Furthermore, vintners must contend with insects, fungi and disease. In order to protect the wines, they must attack these enemies with continual spraying.  To make wines in these conditions takes passion.

I’m not saying this wine is good luck but it does happen to be the sparkling toasted by Presidents. The first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela toasted his historic election victory in 1994 with a bottle of this carefully made sparkling wine. President Obama and First Lady Michelle also enjoyed a glass or two of this Brut on Nov. 4, 2008, to celebrate his historic election win.

In San Diego, you can purchase this lovely sparkling wine from Bine and Vine on Adams Ave.  It costs around $15. They carry a nice selection of South African wines.

 

 

 

 

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90-point Wine under $50

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90-point Wine Argentina Malbec

90-point wine from Mendoza, Argentina

Old Vine Malbec from Argentina

 

Argentina makes some great wines at bargain prices.  And no, I’m not just talking about their Malbec.  But more on those later. Good wine doesn’t have to set you back $100.  This winemaker has found a way to an offer exceptional wine but at a fraction of the cost to what many of their peers are charging.

I’m on a mission to find 90-point wines under $50 that blow away my taste buds and complement any meal.  This jewel from South America is a great steal and gives a touch of class to any wine cellar.

 

 

 

 

 

2010 Archaval Ferrer Quimera, Mendoza, Argentina, $38

This wine will blindside you.  It is a big, bold Bordeaux blend that is very fragrant, with a perception of sweetness but not like a dessert wine.  There’s a hint of terroir in its earthiness with a taste of mushrooms and dirt.  The aromatics will surprise you with lavender and thyme.  I also got a memory of rose petals like the ones we used to grow in our front yard.  I want to try this wine with lamb in the future. It is solid enough to hold up to the strong gamey flavors of lamb and has nice, soft tannins on the finish that are strong enough to combat any hearty meat dishes.

Argentina Malbec 90-point wine

90-point wine – High-altitude Malbec

This wine is a balanced Bordeaux-style blend of old vine Malbec (38%) from Medrano and from Luján de Cuyo, which are sub-appellations of Mendoza.  The Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Franc (14%) were grown in high-altitude Tupungato, whereas the old vine Cabernet Sauvignon (24%) was picked from Medrano and from Tupungato.  Winemaker Roberto Cipresso is also a partner at Achaval-Ferrer.

When I looked online for a store that sells this wine, none of them that carried it had it priced at $38, which is what I paid. So it still meets my criteria for selling for less than $50 but it just shows how good this wine.  It has appreciated in value only a few years removed from being bottled.  This retailer has it for $46 with free shipping.

91 Points –  Wine Advocate & Wine Enthusiast

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