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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Syrah/Shiraz

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine

One of the things I'm always on the hunt for are wines suitable for everyday drinking that over deliver quality and drink ability based on their price point. While there are certainly quite a few American standbys in this category but there are simply more wines at $20 and under made outside the U.S. that fit the bill. It's also not as often that a new offering of substance in that category with U.S. origins is released. But Nine Hats from Columbia Valley in Washington has crafted such a wine. The brand was started in 2007 and the name refers to the fact that nine internationally regarded winemakers are involved with producing the Nine Hats wines. 

Nine Hats 2015 Columbia Valley Red Wine ($20)

This offering is a blend of Syrah (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (41%), Merlot (7%), and Malbec (2%). The fruit was sourced from 4 sub AVA’s within greater Columbia Valley. A bit more than 5,000 cases were produced. From the first whiff to the last sip it’s obvious this is a wine of substance and structure. Red fruit, spices and gentle wisps of toast emerge from the nose. Cherry and red raspberry flavors dominate the palate along with hints of cinnamon and allspice. Earth, chicory and dark chocolate nibs are evident on the above average finish. Firm acid and gripping tannins provide structure. There’s sophistication to this wine that belies its modest price point. Most important is the fact that it’s delicious, food friendly and well-priced for everyday consumption.

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

The myriad of wines hitting store shelves on a daily basis can be dizzying. Among them are wines at nearly every possible level of quality and intent. Most important of course is whether the wine is any good. Assuming it is good, does it fit your budget and needs.  I just tasted through just more than 4 dozen wines looking for a few good bottles to stand out.

Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz

Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz

Have you been drinking your allotment of Shiraz lately? If not summer is a great time to get back to it. The typical flavors of Shiraz pair well with just about anything you pull off your grill. Not that many years ago most of the Aussie wines on our shelves were largely of the in your face, super fruity, high alcohol, critter label, no finish to speak of variety. However the tide has turned and U.S. shelves now feature a wider breadth of Australian wines than before. And while some of the aforementioned wines still exist, we’re also seeing diverse examples of Shiraz, not to mention cooler climate region expressions of things like Pinot Noir, Semillon and more. So if you haven’t dipped your toe in the Aussie wine pool in a while, come on in the water’s fine. Here’s a terrific Shiraz from Two Hands to welcome you back to the fold.

Two Hands 2016 Gnarly Dudes Shiraz Barossa Valley ($35)

This offering is entirely Shiraz, all from the Barossa Valley. After fermentation it was aged in French oak over a period of 12 months. 15% of the barrels utilized were new, the remainder between once and six times used. Alcohol is a modest 13.5%. Violet and plum aromas emerge with conviction. Hints of earth are in play as well. The palate is strewn with black fruit flavors such as blackberry, dark plum, and black raspberry. Hints of bacon fat, toast and oodles of spice are evident as well. Black pepper, a dusting of cocoa and wisps of savory herbs mark the lengthy finish. This is an excellent example of a full flavored Shiraz that’s loaded with typicity. It’s also fresh, balanced and incredibly food friendly. Bring it to a summer BBQ and win the day.

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

In South Africa Female Winemakers Help Lead the Charge

It’s been roughly 20 years’ time since South Africa became part of the Global Wine Community once again. In those two decades the quality of wines has increased and there have been great strides in the South African Wine Industry. Among the many other things that have changed, the number of Women winemakers has increased. And while the increase in diversity alone is cause for celebration that’s just a sliver of what’s happening.

Two New Releases from Sonoma County's Anaba Wines

Two New Releases from Sonoma County's Anaba Wines

Anaba Wines is a small Sonoma County producer that you should get to know if you don’t already. Their portfolio includes a host of really cool wines...

Australia’s First Families of Wine Deliver a Powerful Message

IMG_20150715_001052A few weeks back I attended an Australian wine event in Manhattan. This particular tasting was an interesting one indeed. Some of the country’s leading family-owned and multi-generational producers selected wines from their libraries to showcase to American trade and media. The main portion of the tasting was a sit-down seminar led by Mark Davidson, Australia’s worldwide wine educator. Alongside him, family members from each winery whose offerings were being poured that day were on hand to speak about their wine and Australia in general. There are a couple of general misconceptions floating around about Australian wine. One is that the country’s producers make big, blustery wines that are long on upfront fruit and flash and short on finish and substance. The other is that that Australian wines don’t age. The problem is neither point is really valid; certainly not as wholesale statements. Every wine-producing country has great, good, and bad producers. Certainly, Australia still has some who make boatloads of overripe shiraz. However, there are many more making proportionate shiraz as well as a very wide range of other offerings. It’s time to realize that there are as many diverse styles coming out of Australia as any other wine-making country. Not to mention much, much more than just shiraz, no matter how tasty it can be. Head Over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Well-Priced, Tasty Wines From Washington State’s Maryhill Winery

11525-1_Red_Wine_12Founded in 1999, Maryhill Winery produces more than 80,000 cases of wine annually. To produce those wines, they source fruit from eight different growing regions and work closely with a dozen growers. That allows them to have a portfolio of offerings that are diverse both in style, intent, and price point. Craig and Vicki Leuthold founded and still own this family business. Their wines are available throughout the country. Maryhill Winery itself is located on the Columbia River in Goldendale and has become a go-to destination, drawing more than 75,000 visitors per year. I just sat down and tasted through a handful of their wines and found a lot to like. Maryhill Winery 2012 Winemaker’s Red ($15)

This offering is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, and cabernet franc. Fruit was sourced across numerous Washington state regions. Aging took place in tank, using oak staves over a period of 11 months. Booming cherry aromas burst from the nose of this red; a bit of leather provides a lovely aromatic counterpoint. The extremely appealing palate is loaded with a plethora of sweet but proportionate red and...Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest. 

Australia and California meet with Jacob’s Creek new Two Lands line

Jacob's Creek Two Lands logoAustralia’s Jacob’s Creek has just launched a new line of wines that represents a collaboration with California winemaker Ehren Jordan. For 18 years, Ehren made the wines at Turley, and he has a Napa-based label (Failla) where he produces his own portfolio. He’s worked with numerous others over the years as well. The team at Jacob’s Creek, including chief winemaker Bernard Hickin, reached out and recruited Ehren to work with them on a range of wines made from Australian fruit but with a California sensibility. I recently sat down with both winemakers over lunch in New York City at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse to taste these new releases. All four wines below have a few things in common. The fruit for all of them came from vineyards in South Australia. Every one of them is a single varietal wine. They’re available widely throughout the United States. Head over to Bullz-Eye.com to read the rest.

Acorn Winery: A Russian River Valley Treasure

Acorn_2011_Medley_300dpi_BtlAcorn Winery is a labor of love for owners Betsy and Bill Nachbaur. They’ve been farming their property, Alegría Vineyards, sustainably since 1990. On their 32 acres in Russian River Valley, they grow 60 grape varieties. From that they bottle approximately 3,000 cases of wine each year; every one of them field blends. Their commitment to environmentally sound practices even includes doing away with foil capsules on the bottle. I’ve been a fan of what they do for years now and try to visit them whenever I can. I was out in Sonoma County recently and I spent some time with them, chatting and of course tasting through their latest releases. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Gabe's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

GiftGuideCover_AmandaJeanBlackIf you’re not sure what to get someone as a gift this year, consider a good bottle of wine or spirits —‚ always in season. Anyone who drinks alcohol will certainly appreciate a well-chosen bottle to enjoy, be it alone or with friends (my hope is that it’s with you). Throughout the year, I’ve tasted a number of the best bottles in both the wine and spirit categories and compiled a list of my 24 favorites — any of which would make excellent gifts for a variety of budgets. A few of the bottles are particularly great values, while others are luxury beverages that will really impress the lucky person who receives them; no matter the price, every selection in this guide is delicious and well made. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

6 Budget Friendly Wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is less than a week away! That means we all need some wine to serve our guests or ourselves, preferably both. Spending top dollar to get good wines is fairly simple. Finding value driven offerings that get the job done is a bit more challenging. Here are some delicious selections that will work well for your Thanksgiving meal. With one exception they all clock in under $25. Even at lower price points it’s nice to have one splurge wine to consider. Espirit du Rhone 2013 Cotes du Rhone AOC ($11.99)

This wine blends together Grenache (60%), Syrah 30%), Carignan (5%), and Cinsault (5%). 1,000 cases of this wine have been imported to the US. Hints of anise and rhubarb aromas present on the nose here. The palate is studded with purple fruits, dry currants and Montmorency cherry. Bits of finely ground espresso join nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. Medium tannins soften with a little bit of air. This acid rich, food friendly wine will pair with everything on your Thanksgiving table.

Decopas 2013 Malbec ($12)

All of the fruit for this wine comes from the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s comprised entirely of estate bottled Malbec. This deeply colored hue of this wine is striking in the glass. Plum, violet, and a little hint of vanilla bean wafts from the appealing nose. The palate is loaded with sumptuous and juicy black fruit flavors such as blackberry and raspberry. Bay leaf characteristics, sour black cherry and a hint of dark chocolate mark the lip smacking finish. Decopas Malbec will pair well hard cheeses, meat based stuffing, ham and the bird itself. Decant this one for an hour and it’ll really pop.

Esporão Verdelho ($12.99)

The fruit for this wine was sourced from vines with an average age of 10 years on them. It’s composed entirely of Verdelho. It was fermented in a temperature controlled environment, stabilized, filtered and bottled without any oak influence. Hints of lemon and lots of fleshy yellow melon jump from the nose here. The palate has loads of green apple flavors, more citrus and lemon characteristics, as well as a dollop of white pepper. Grapefruit and lemon zest light up the crisp and refreshing finish. Hand your guests a glass of this when they walk through the door on Thanksgiving, they may drink it all day and never switch to red.

Georges Dubeouf Chateau les Capitans Julienas 2011 ($18.99)

All of the fruit for this wine was picked by hand. It’s composed entirely of Gamay. It was fermented in a temperature controlled environment using native yeast. Red cherry and cranberry fill the nose along with hints of toast. A cornucopia of dried red fruits and savory spices fill the flavorful, medium bodied palate. The finish lingers with continued red fruits, black tea, minerals and warming spices. This wine is tasty on it’s own but really shines with food.

Esporão Reserva Red ($24.99)

This offering blends together Aragonês, Trincaeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. Each grape was harvested and vinified separately. Barrel aging occurred over 12 months in American (70%), and French (30%) oak; 12 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. This red blend has a beautiful deep, dark purple color. Red and black fruits mix with copious spices on the welcoming and heady nose. There’s an inherent earthiness that leads the palate. Red and black fruits join in along with lots of spices. Cherry, strawberry, and black pepper are all joined by bits of roasted coffee bean on the above average finish. This wine has medium tannins and terrific acidity. Esporão Reserva Red is just begging to be paired with food. It’ll excel with just about anything you throw at it, making it a natural for the day of the bird.

Flora Springs 2012 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40)

All of the fruit for this wine came from Napa Valley. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (95%), small amounts of Malbec (3%), and Petit Verdot (2%) were also blended in. It was aged over 22 months in a combination of French (71%), and American oak (29%). Black Currant, cherry and Mexican Vanilla bean aromas are omnipresent on the nose. Black cherry with a splash of a liqueur dominates the palate which is plush and lush in its easy drinking, smooth nature. Crushed velvet, continued black and red cherry, earth, espresso and chicory are all present on the finish along with a hint of bitter chocolate. This is a fine example of Napa Valley Cabernet that drinks impeccably right out of the bottle. It does down easy and also has good depth and complexity.

Eleven Wines You Should Be Drinking Now

Wine shelves all over the country are jammed with countless selections and choices are so varied it can be dizzying. With that in mind, I’m here to help you work your way through the haze of bottles. I tasted through more than three dozen wines across all price ranges and stylistic tiers, and here are my 11 favorites from the bunch. Hugel et Fils 2012 Gentil ($15)

This vintage of “Gentil” blends together pinot gris (23 percent), pinot blanc (21 percent), riesling (20 percent), sylvaner (20 percent), gewurztraminer (14 percent), and muscat (2 percent). Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled vats. It was gently fined and filtered prior to bottling. Lychee fruit aromas dominate the inviting nose of this French blend. “Gentil” has a palate stuffed with white and yellow melon, peach, and apricot flavors. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

A Delightfully Diverse Six-Pack from San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo is almost exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s close to the ocean and near another Central Coast region, Paso Robles. I recently sat down and tasted through a diverse package of wines that hail from there, and in addition to the excellent quality, what really stood out was the diversity. Not only are they making some terrific wines in San Luis Obispo, they’re also utilizing varietals that you don’t see very much of in California that fit in perfectly alongside excellent bottles of California’s usual suspects. To read the rest, head over to The Daily Meal.

A Tiny Peek at Australia’s Wine Diversity

Australia is a huge wine producing country whose depth is apparent in both the assortment of varietals they can grow well as well as the styles they’re made in. For years our shores were inundated with mostly lower end Australian wines, often in the form of overripe Shiraz. As a result, the bounty from Australia is significantly broader than a lot of wine lovers realize. All across the Unites States a larger and larger swath of terrific Australian wines are filling our shelves. It’s a great time to try some interesting Australian wines; here are six recent releases that I recommend. To read all about them, head over to The Daily Meal.

Fifty Shades of Grey - 2011 Red Satin

I've had a long-standing penchant for Petite Sirah. It’s a grape that fascinates me and I can’t recall every turning down an opportunity to taste one in any setting. Whether I’m in a tasting room, a wine event, or at someone’s home when I hear the words Petite Sirah, I say “yes.” So when the opportunity presented itself to sample a wine composed mostly of Petite Sirah named after a famous series of books, I had to say yes. Here’s what I thought of it. Fifty Shades of Grey 2011 Red Satin – This wine blends together primarily Petite Sirah and Syrah. It was aged in a combination of new and previously used French oak barrels. The author of the Fifty Shades of Grey books had a hand in creating this wine as well as an accompanying white blend. Red Satin has a suggested retail price of $17.99. Violet, blueberry and white pepper aromas are all part of the dense and somewhat brooding nose of this wine. The palate is loaded with appealing, dark fruit flavors. Black plum, cherry and raspberry are joined by oodles of plum pudding spice characteristics. Hints of brown sugar, dusty baker’s chocolate and continued spices are all part of the above average finish. This is a softer, somewhat gentler Petite Sirah dominant wine. It shows off medium tannins, that yield easily with air, and firm acidity.

The Syrah in this wine helps soften things up. It also helps make this a wine that can be enjoyed on it’s own as well as paired with somewhat lighter foods than the average Petite Sirah dominant wine. In any case it’s a tasty offering, produced from an underappreciated grape. Considering the tie in with the popular books of the same name, it might be a great bottle to pop open for a date.

Trione Vineyards & Winery - 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah / 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine / 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21”

One of my favorite things about covering wine is the opportunity to hang out with winemakers. It’s a lot of fun and also a relief when there’s someone in the room who’s more of a geek about fermented grape juice than I am. The last few years I’ve been really impressed with the offerings being put out by Trione Vineyards & Winery. And while I’ve loved the wines, it was only recently that I visited their tasting room and met their winemaker Scot Covington. I spent most of an afternoon with him and we tasted wines in barrel, tank and of course out of bottle. Trione has vineyards in Alexander Valley and the Russian River; hundreds of acres in fact. Most of the grapes are sold; Scot gets to make wine with the best of the best that their property offers. It’s clear that he loves what he does and the opportunity to select fruit from such a large playground is an inspiration to him.  I tasted lots of wine with Scot and I eagerly anticipate re-tasting some of the offerings that aren’t even in bottle yes once they’re released, there’s a ton of promise and upside there. For the moment though here’s a look at three current Trione Wines you can get your hands on. Trione 2009 Russian River Valley Syrah – The fruit for this wine came from a single block in Russian River Valley that’s planted to clone 470 and 877. The methodology Scot used to make this Syrah is similar to the one he employs with Pinot Noir. 809 cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $32. Black and red plum aromas fill the heady nose of this Syrah. Dried black fruit flavors are in strong evidence throughout the palate; blackberry and blueberry characteristics are joined by plum pudding spices.  Bits of espresso and smoked meat emerge on the lengthy finish. Firm gripping tannins yield with some air. This Syrah is two-faced in nature, the fruit says new world, the style and methodology say old world. Bottom line, it makes for a delicious and food friendly wine.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Red Wine - This wine is a blend of all 5 classic Bordeaux grapes. The majority is Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), with Merlot (12%), Petit Verdot 7%), Cabernet Franc (6%), and Malbec (6%) making contributions too. The wine was aged in French oak for 18 months; 45% of the barrels utilized were new. 2,292 6 bottle cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $48. Sweet, dark berry fruit aromas fill the nose of this Red blend. Plum and blueberry flavors dominate the palate which brings to mind a bowl of fresh berry fruits. Black fruit flavors lead the charge, but bits of red slip in and out making their presence known. Tobacco, leather and chocolate notes are all in evidence on the finish which has solid length. Tannins are firm and gripping, they yield with some air. Along those lines, if you’re going to drink this now, decant it for an hour or so, otherwise lay it down for 5 or 6 years and enjoy it in the 5 or so years after that.

Trione 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon “Block 21” – The single block this Cabernet was sourced from is planted to clone 337. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), bits of merlot (9%), Cabernet Franc (2%), Malbec (2%), and Petit Verdot (2%) were also blended in. Each lot was barrel aged separately for 12 months and then blended, an additional 12 months in barrel followed blending. French oak barrels were uses, 45% of them were new. 981 6 packs were bottled and this wine has a suggested retail price of $64. A potpourri of spice leads the nose of this Cabernet. They’re joined by violets and blueberry aromas. Plum, black raspberry and blackberry flavors are present on the full-bodied but easy-going palate. The finish shows off chocolate covered blueberry and a wisp of chicory. This is an exceptionally smooth and engaging Cabernet Sauvignon that’s as easy to drink all by itself as it is to pair with a wide array of food. Alexander Valley is one of the best areas in California for growing excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. This offering from Trione proves how good Cabernet from Alexander Valley can be. It’s wonderful now, but don’t hesitate to lay it down for 8-12 years.

Trione Vineyards & Winery is releasing some terrific wines that speak to their origins in two distinct Sonoma County Appellations. Winemaker Scot Covington is pushing the envelope one vintage after another. He does this not only by enhancing the portfolio with occasional new releases but more importantly by constantly tinkering and striving to make the best wines he can with the bounty that Trione’s Vineyards offer. If you’re in Alexander Valley, stop off at their tasting room and sample the wonderful Sonoma County Wines they’re offering. And if you’re not going to be in Sonoma County soon, go to your favorite local wine shop and look for some Trione wines; I guarantee a delicious experience.

Hardys - 2012 William Hardy Chardonnay / 2012 Nottage Hill Shiraz

A few months back I had dinner with the chief winemaker for the entire Hardys brand. They’re one of the largest producers in not only Australia but the world. The Hardys umbrella contains a number of labels under the flagship brand. Nottage Hill and William Hardy are two of them. Here’s a look at a wine from each of those that I just tasted and really enjoyed. Hardys 2012 William Hardy Chardonnay was produced from fruit sourced from 7 different regions, however just less than 60% came from the Padthaway region. Fermentation and aging took place in stainless steel tanks. This Chardonnay has a suggested retail price of $17. The nose here is loaded with a glorious amount of appealing apple aromas that are underscored by bits of stone fruit. Lemon curd is prominent on the palate along with pineapple and a bevy of pear flavors that include both Bartlett and Anjou. Apple pie spices lead the finish along with plenty of minerals and a tiny wisp of crème fraiche. This Chardonnay is crisp, clean and refreshing. It’s as enjoyable all by itself as it will be paired soft cheeses or light appetizers.

Hardys 2012 Nottage Hill Shiraz was produced from fruit sourced in South Eastern Australia. This offering is entirely Shiraz. Nottage Hill wines have been around since the 1967 vintage. It has a suggested retail price of $13. Red and black plum aromas are joined by black currant and cassis on the dark and somewhat brooding nose of this Shiraz. Dark fruit flavors dominate the palate with blackberry, black raspberry and plum leading the charge. The finish shows off kirsch liqueur and bits of chocolate sauce as well as a touch of earth. This is a proportionate and balanced Shiraz that will pair well with both medium and full flavored foods.

These two wines from Hardys are indicative of everything from the portfolio I’ve tasted of late. That is they are true to varietal, well balanced and food friendly. Each of these also represents a solid value. The Shiraz in particular is a steal. For closer to $10 a bottle, if you shop around, it’ll serve as a terrific house wine.

A Couple of Thoughts About Australian Wine Today

A few weeks back I was at the Australia Today Trade Show in New York City. While there, I had the opportunity to sample a wide array of wines coming out of Australia. Most of them were current releases, in a few cases there were some older vintages being showcased during a sit down seminar. Most obvious when tasting a wide swath of Aussie releases is the diversity and breadth of the offerings. This is true both in terms of grape varietals and style of finished wines. If overripe Shiraz is your only image of Australian wine, you’re in for a stunning and pleasant surprise. There are wines of all shapes and sizes being made in Australia. Here’s a look at a couple of selections from the event that really stood out. Running With Bulls 2012 Tempranillo - This wine from the Barossa Valley and it sells for around $17. Aromas of violets and plum leap from the effusive nose of this wine. Cherry characteristics lead a grab bag of warming red fruits and spices on the plate of the Running With Bulls Tempranillo. The finish is above average in length and persistent. Red fruits continue along with bits of earth and leather. This is a well balanced wine that will excel with hard cheeses and pretty much anything that comes off of your grill. It’s a solid example of Tempranillo that shows how adaptable this varietal can be to a region like the Barossa Valley which is so different from its more native Rioja.

St Hallett Old Block 2010 Shiraz - This Barossa Valley Shiraz sells for around $80. This Shiraz shows off a deep, dark hue that is stunning in the glass. Violets and spice lead a welcoming nose. The palate is succulent and juicy. It’s layered with black plum, black raspberry, and cassis. Minerals and earth lead a dense, structured finish that has great length and depth. Black fruits continue their prominence along with pepper and bits of dusty cocoa. This is a classic example of Shiraz; it’s loaded with bold, fruity flavor. Pair it with equally bold, full flavored foods.

Peter Lehmann 1999 Stonewell Shiraz - This Shiraz is a library selection and as such isn’t widely available anymore. However it is more than worth mentioning because it showcases the ability of Australian wines in general and Shiraz in particular to age well under the right conditions. Those conditions of course include the right vintages as well as stylistic choices made when picking grapes and producing the wine. A bit of chocolate sauce leads the nose here along with Kirsch Liqueur. The palate is studded with a seemingly endless array of cherry characteristics, both red and black. At 15 years old there are still loads of fruit here and it shows itself off in a rich, powerful way. It’s muscular and shows off earth that goes alongside the fruit, but it’s also controlled in intensity. All of these elements continue through the persistent finish. It would be a brilliant match for pasta with Wild Boar Ragu, or Pot Roast to name a couple of options.

Shadow Chaser 2012 Grenache - This Grenache is from  McLaren Vale and it sells for around $15. The fruit came from two vineyards with over 40 years of age on each. After fermentation it was aged entirely in stainless steel tanks prior to bottling. Raspberry, and strawberry aromas fill the nose of this wine. These red fruits continue through the palate where they’re joined by bits of red cherry and a copious amount of spices. Cinnamon, clove and black pepper are all in evidence. Rhubarb, sour cherries and glycerin notes all emerge in the finish which has above average length for the price category. Grenache can make some of the food friendliest wines in the world. This example certainly fits that bill. It’ll pair with a wide array foods and it’s a terrific value as well.

These wines represent a tiny window into some of the great things being done in Australia today. The breadth and variety is very impressive. There are offerings at every conceivable price point coming out of Australia that represent solid or better values. If you haven’t had any Australian wines in awhile, now is a good time to dive back in, we’re seeing greater diversity on US shelves than ever before.

Bailey’s of Glenrowan - 2012 19 Crimes Red Wine Blend

When it comes to wines in the value category I’m looking for things that have wide appeal, easy drinkability and solid varietal character. In general I’m thinking about wines that will go over well in large gatherings, and have curb appeal. Often times I feel that blends are particularly good for these settings. Here’s an offering I just tried from Australia that hits the mark for me. Bailey’s of Glenrowan 2012 19 Crimes Red Wine Blend was produced from fruit sourced in South Eastern Australia. This wine is a blend of Shiraz (mostly) with some Durif (Petite Sirah) added in. After fermentation this offering was aged in French oak barrels for just about 6 months. This wine most often sells for $10. Red cherry aromas dominate the generous and ebullient nose of this 2012 blend. The palate is simply stuffed with a mélange of ripe, berry-pie filling notes. Red and black raspberry, cherry and blackberry are all present and accounted for. Bits of cinnamon and black pepper spice provide a nice accompaniment to all the glorious fruit flavors. The finish, which has nice length, features cranberry, hints of sweet chocolate, and a touch of a mineral component. 19 Crimes is very tasty all by itself. That said, it will also serve as a good accompaniment to a host of casual hand foods such as burgers, pizza, ribs and the like.

Whether you’re attending a party where you want to bring a couple of bottles of wine that will win over a crowd or you’re looking for a tasty house wine to purchase a case of, 19 Crimes might be just what you’re looking for. If an easygoing red with good Shiraz character and a nice dollop of darker elements from Durif sounds appealing, grab a bottle of 19 Crimes and indulge. For around $10 the risk / reward factor is high.

Banging Bubbly for New Years Eve

I’m a firm believer that most of us should be drinking sparkling wine more often. It can be versatile with food, often delicious on its own and quite frankly just plain fun. That said the one day we all seem to agree on when it comes to Sparkling Wine consumption is New Years Eve. With that in mind here are three that I tried recently and really enjoyed. One of them falls into the traditional category of classic Champagne. The other two are new world entries, one traditional in style and intent, and the other leaps and bounds in a different direction. Most importantly each of them is unique and delicious. Paringa - 2012 Sparkling Shiraz. This wine is composed entirely of Shiraz. The fruit was sourced from 14 year old vines. This sparkler saw a short window of time in French oak. 10,000 cases of this Sparkling Shiraz were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $17.99. Black raspberry aromas lead a huge nose that is fruity and floral. If the nose of a wine could be compared to an invitation, this one is welcoming you to a party that is fun and boisterous. The palate is studded with vibrant black fruit flavors; blackberry and raspberry are most prominent. Molasses, anise, black cherry and a mélange of spices are all present in the above average finish. The bottom line here is that the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz is a fun and delicious wine. Pair it with dessert, a burger or drink it by itself, each alternative will work.

Mumm Napa - Brut Prestige was made from a combination of Pinot Noir (51%), Chardonnay (46%), Pinot Meunier (2%), and Pinot Gris (1%). The first three grapes are the classic triumvirate most often associated with Sparkling Wine; The Pinot Gris is something out of the standard realm that they have added. Fermentation took place primarily in stainless steel. 18 months of aging on yeast followed. This widely available Brut style wine has a suggested retail price of $22. Bits of citrus and white stone fruits fill the nose this wine. This entry level selection in the Mumm portfolio and it’s a classic Brut. The palate is dry and loaded with fruit and spice. Yeast and biscuit characteristics emerge on the finish which has nice length. While the friendly price makes it an obvious choice for holiday celebrations this wine will go very well with food whether it’s paired with a first course during dinner or alongside brunch, you’ll be pleased with the results.

Perrier-Jouet - Grand Brut (NV). This Champagne was composed from a blend of Pinot Noir (40%), Pinot Meunier (40%), and Chardonnay (20%). After fermentation and racking, more than 300 wines are tasted to assemble this blend. In addition to the current vintage reserve wines from previous vintages amounting to between 10% and 20% are also blended in. The wine is then aged in their estate cellars. This Champagne has a suggested retail price of $50. Aromas of apple, ginger and lemon are all part of the gently expressive nose. Orchard fruit flavors are dominant on the palate along with a core of accompanying spices. Bits of brioche and biscuit are present on the lengthy finish along with lemon zest and white pepper spice. This is a classic example of Brut that shines year after year. It will be a fine accompaniment to lighter foods and also a terrific choice to pop open to celebrate the arrival of 2014.

Drinking more sparkling wine, Champagne or otherwise, is a fine resolution for the new year. Get off on the right foot and finish off 2013 with one or more from this trio, you can't really go wrong here.