Due Regazze Vineyards (JPB's Vines in Cameron Park, CA)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheers to Momma Lee!

My relationship with my mother-in-law is unusual; we actually like each other. While we share a mutual love for her daughter and my kids, we both really enjoy a nice glass or bottle of wine. Recently, she gave me a book for my birthday that truly touches on what this blog is all about; finding value.

The Wine Trials 2011 published by Fearless Critic Media lists over 175 wines under $15 dollars that beat out higher end wines in blind tastings. In addition to offering commentary on each wine, the book goes into detail (in some cases too much detail) on how the wines were selected and how the judging takes place. The book pulls no punches in describing the pressure wine makers are under to satisfy the palates of the wine media and effectively illustrates how much money goes into marketing and branding a wine. Right in the beginning of the book, they share the results of a blind tasting between a $150 dollar a bottle of Dom Perignon and a $12 dollar a bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle Cuvee Brut from the state of Washington. While over two thirds of the tasters preferred the cheaper wine, the author offers up the question; why are consumers willing to pay 12 times as much for a bottle of champagne that clearly is not 12 times better tasting?

As a winemaker, I know for a fact that there are certain processes that simply make a wine more expensive. It may be the labor in individually selecting each grape bunch that goes into a wine or the type of barrel one uses to age a wine. I will also be the first to admit there is nothing like a big bold Cab from the Howell Mountain AVA of Napa. This nectar from the wine gods is truly special, but unless you are rolling with the Bill Gates crowd, it’s not an everyday drinking wine.

I know I’ve strayed from my traditional wine review and offered up a book critique but don’t worry, for those that would rather spend their money on wine than buying this book, I’ve tasted a few wines from the book and the notes are below. If you find yourself actually going out and buying them, remember to raise your glass and offer a toast to Momma Lee.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut- Slight hint of green apples on the nose with plenty of acidity and bubbles to balance the flavor. Since I’m not a Champagne drinker, I bought it for some guests who drink it more than I do and they loved it. They said it will be their go to bottle from now on. As an aside, Chateau Ste. Michelle had multiple wines in this book and was chosen as the 2011 Winery of the Year.

Mark West 2008 Pinot Noir- Just like their Chardonnay I wrote about a few months ago, this Pinot is a terrific value (found it at a local supermarket for $12) . The wine offers loads of fruit flavor and is very traditional of California Coastal Pinot Noir. As their website claims, this wine is a Pinot for the people.

Norton Barrel Select 2009 Malbec- This Argentine stunner was my favorite by far. I loved the boldness but it still had elegance and balance. It is a typical Malbec that offers deep dark color with a long finish. Do not get confused with other Norton labels (Norton is a large producer and has several labels) and should cost ~$12 dollars. I would strongly suggest buying a big piece of red meat to go with it.

Hayman & Hill 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet- It’s very rare these days to discover a Napa Valley Cabernet that tastes this good for under $15 dollars. Full bodied with hint of cocoa and currants. For what it’s worth, it was hard not to get a good Napa Cab from the 2007 vintage and given the early notes for 2008 and 2009, I would grab as much as you can.

Concannon 2007 Petite Sirah- While this varietal is used more for blending red wines than standing alone; more winemakers are giving Petite Sirah a chance to shine. Its low acidity tends to give the wines a more jammy fruit forward characteristic but the Concannon seems to offer enough tannins and richness to justify taking a risk and buying. I’ve tried other Concannon varietals before and they are a decent value for their price but the PS is clearly the best I've had.