Monday, November 28, 2011

Top Ten Holiday Wine Gifts

'Tis the season to drink too much eggnog, stumble around the Christmas tree, and tell your family what you really think of them. And since you'll be forced to face them again, you might want to consider offering a cool wine gift as an olive branch to smooth things over after your outburst. I compiled my own list in advance, because let's face it, this isn't hypothetical in my house. So here's a sneak peek at what my family will be getting this Christmas.

1. Cru Wine Aerator
I realize that ranking the Cru Wine Aerator as number one may seem like a shameless plug, but I honestly do believe that it's the perfect holiday wine gift. And this is also a shameless plug. When Cru decided to offer accessories, I set out on a mission to find functional, affordable, and practical wine necessities. And the first item I selected for the Cru Wine Shop was this aerator.

What drew me to this particular design for the signature Cru Wine Aerator was it's ability to act as a drip stop (so you no longer have to worry about staining your table cloth) and the in-bottle style that aerates as you pour rather than requiring an extra hand. It fit the criteria for a Cru product, and at just under $15 it's one of the most practical and affordable wine accessories on the market. You can't go wrong stuffing a stocking with a Cru Wine Aerator.

Watch this video to learn more about the Cru Wine Aerator.

2. Vinturi Wine Aerator
To prove I'm not biased, number two on this list is an aerator from a competitor. The Vinturi wine aerator comes with all sorts of bells and whistles, and is a staple in tasting rooms across the country. To be honest, I like this device, and I think it does a great job of infusing your favorite wine with air. I'm just not in love with the fact that you have to hold it over the glass and aim the wine through it as you pour. It can get messy, and you still have the problem of rivulets dripping down the bottle to create stains. Vinturi did come out with a stand that holds the aerator so you don't have to - a nice feature, but another expense.

Vinturi also offers a new aerator for white wine lovers. I don't know if I'm sold on the idea of needing a separate aerator for your whites and your reds, but it's another gadget to collect. Those of you with big families to offend might need extra peace offering options, so I figured it was worth mentioning.

3. Rabbit Lever Pull Corkscrew
There are a number of lever pull corkscrews available, but the best-selling design by Rabbit seems to grace the largest number of wine-loving counter tops across America. This easy-to-use, stylish opener allows you to remove corks effortlessly.

The Rabbit Kit -
a covered storage case containing a foil cutter, drip-stop ring, bottle sealer, wax remover, and extra worm - makes this an even more appealing gift option, perfect for smoothing things over with your mother after insulting her Christmas sweater collection.

4. Electric Push Button Corkscrew
The electric push button corkscrew is a great holiday gift for the gadget-loving wino that has everything. This sleek and simple extractor literally removes just about any cork with the push of a button. Simply cover the top of the bottle, push the button and voila, you're ready to pour. It even has a reverse button to remove the cork from the worm. While I still enjoy the romance of the old butler's friend, I have to admit this is a pretty cool holiday gift. There are a number of brands available, and they're all comparable, so don't spend more than $35. Unless of course you happened to reveal your cousin's extramarital affair...with another dude. That might warrant a splurge. I wonder if I can get one bejeweled with diamonds?

5. Wine Refrigerator
Okay, this is a broad category. But I couldn't choose just one. Wine refrigerators range from capacity of 2 bottles to 200, and from simple counter top models to top of the line appliances with a dual wine zone option. The only necessary feature is temperature and humidity control, all the other extras are really about what the recipient would want. Heavy drinkers, connoisseurs might enjoy larger storage capacity and a refrigerator with front exhaust for under-counter installation, while the occasional sipper would be satisfied with a small counter top style.

If you're really looking to splurge - say, during your rant, the truth about your aunt's not-so-natural looking hairpiece slipped out - pick up a model that offers dual temperature control, like the one produced by EdgeStar. These store reds and whites at optimal service temperature for each. As a heads up, a decent wine refrigerator will run from $100-$800. Don't waste your money on a cheap one, it won't hold its temperature well.

6. Temperature Controlled Wine Chiller
This is the ultimate wine gadget. So if you want to distract someone from the slurred put-down you delivered mere days ago, this is just the shiny object to dangle in front of them. This counter top device ensures your wine reaches and holds perfect service temperature. I really like the one available at Sharper Image. As they explain: "the chiller's expansive menu incorporates more than 70 preset wine varieties, with temperatures selectable by country or wine type, or you can program in your own custom temperature to suit your preference." What more could you want?

7. Instant Wine Chiller
This cool gadget by Ravi will bring your wine from room temperature to service temperature in just seconds as you pour. The best part: it's easy to use. Simply place the device in your freezer about an hour before you need it. When you're ready to use it, remove it from the freezer, insert it into your bottle, and pour. The wine passes through a frozen steel chamber and right into your glass, chilled to perfection. A fingertip-controlled air inlet helps you adjust the temperature and prevent dripping. These will cost you around $40 this holiday season, but make for a very unique gift idea.

8. Cru Wine Online Gift Membership
This may seem like another shameless plug, and that's because it is. But then again, it's my top ten, and I wouldn't want to disappoint myself by not making the cut. For those of you unfamiliar with Cru Wine Online, our revolutionary web-based wine entertainment service provides users with wine picks, useful information, original recipes, and lots of laughter...or at least a few giggles. Cru Members can access hundreds of recipes and a pairing for each, to prepare delicious duos for any meal, any course, any occasion. Our users can even create personalized online wine tastings, viewable whenever, wherever, and with whomever you like. With these unique features, we’re revolutionizing food and wine. Who doesn't want to be a part of that!

Gift membership options include a 6 month ($47.95) or 1 year ($95.88) subscription, which starts when the recipient logs in for the first time. Upon account activation, they have access to: hundreds of Cru Wine & Recipe pairings; Cru Wine Podcasts, which include interviews with the industries top winemakers; discounts in the Cru Wine Shop; and access to the Cru Wine Forum. This really is the gift that keeps on giving. Save it for the family member who holds a grudge, because after this, he won't be able to.

9. Wine Club Subscription
I'm not a huge fan of wine clubs, because with the $25 or $50 dollars of my monthly wine budget, I would rather just go purchase what I like best. But that said, wine clubs provide you with an opportunity to taste wines you wouldn't normally buy, and usually at a discounted price. There are hundreds to join, from winery-specific clubs to the Wall Street Journal to international clubs, and even one by the NRA (hopefully you didn't piss off the gun-toting family member who would want to receive that one!)

Personally I think the Wall Street Journal's Wine Club is one of the best available. They pick cool bottles, and at just under $6 a bottle, it won't break the bank . You can also check out the Wine Of The Month Club, where each month you receive two wines for around $20 - you can even choose whether you get two reds, two whites, or one white and one red. Even if they're not for me (or you), wine clubs can make a great gift.

10. Wine Basket
When all else fails revert to the good old fashioned wine basket. Make your own, buy one online, check the shelves at your local wine retailer, you can't go wrong. has a great selection that fits into just about every price point, and you can have it delivered right to the recipient's know, in case you can't face your grandma after ridiculing her for her porcelain cat figurines.

Love what you read or hate it, I wanna know what you think! Leave a comment here or harass me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ (handle And don't forget to "like" Cru Wine Online on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more wine-related fun. And of course, for spectacular food and wine pairing entertainment, please visit us at You didn't think I'd miss out on an opportunity to throw in one last plug, did you?

Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, September 26, 2011

Top Ten United States Craft Distilleries

For this post we're switching gears a bit. As a Certified Sommlier I'm classically trained in all things wine, but most don't realize this education also includes beer, spirits, cigars, and come no one ever asks me about tea? After a monster couple of weeks of tasting domestic craft distillates, I just had to highlight some of my favorites. Even the most avid wine drinker needs a change of pace now and then, right?

1. Hangar One - Alameda, CA

Let's start off with a bang: Hangar One. Until two weeks ago I had only read about it, but with just one sip of their Straight vodka I already knew it would be one of the best I would taste all year. Hangar One vodka is made by St. George Spirits in Alameda, California, a brand owned and distributed by Proximo Spirits of New Jersey City in New Jersey. The Straight label is produced from a blend of pot distilled Viognier grapes and column distilled wheat. The name pays tribute to the distilleries history. When founder Jorg Ropf founded St. George Spirits as an eau de vie style distillery in 1982, he new he needed a large facility to house the operation, so the company set up in an old airplane hangar on the Alameda Naval Air Station. Although founded in the early 1980's, it wasn't until 2001 that St. George Spirits began producing Hangar One vodka.

After tasting Hangar One's clean, smooth Straight vodka, I moved on to their infused vodka line, which includes Spiced Pear, Fraser River Raspberry, Kaffir Lime, Mandarin Blossom, and Buddha's Hand Citron. What I like about this line is that, rather than syrups or artificial ingredients, they use real fruit sourced from all over the US to flavor their vodkas. With just enough fruit influence in smooth-as-silk vodka, these tasty treats are a symphony for your palate. Since it was out of stock, I didn't get a chance to try their Chipotle-infused vodka, but I am told it is equally delicious. Really though, the best part about this product is the price, Hangar One hits the shelves at about $30 retail. Two GIANT thumbs up Hangar One!

2. Death's Door Spirits - Madison, WI

For number two on this top ten list we head to my homeland, the Midwest. And while the football rivalry between Wisconsin and Minnesota is fierce, there's none when it comes to spirits. According to the producer's website Death's Door takes its name from the body of water between Door County peninsula and Washington Island, the 22 square mile island from which the producer sources organic hard red winter wheat to make their vodka, gin and white whisky.

I first discovered Death's Door vodka, about year ago when I visited Bradstreet Craftshouse Restaurant in Minneapolis. The moment it hit my lips I knew it had to be on the spirit's list at the Veranda Lounge, one of our accounts in Central MN. Then about two weeks ago I tasted through the rest of the line. Let me begin by admitting that I'm not not the biggest fan of gin; but the Death's Door gin is outstanding. Line priced with the vodka at about $30 retail, this gin wasn't too "pine needle-y." Some of the juniper berries in the blend are even sourced from prestigious Washington Island. The final product in the line, the white whisky, isn't my favorite, but then again I'm not big on white whisky. I'm more of a barrel aged whisky kind of guy. And speaking of...keep your eyes open for a barrel aged whisky from Death's Door. I have it on good authority that something may be brewing, or should I say distilling.

3. Great Lakes Distillery - Milwaukee, WI

A little further east in Wisconsin, Great Lakes Distillery is a small-batch facility located in Milwaukee. They are credited as being the first Wisconsin distillery to open up shop since prohibition. According to their site they "hand-craft award winning distilled spirits in limited quantities using old world methods and traditions which [they] believe results in a superior product." Amen.

I had a chance to taste this line at Rare Steak and Sushi in Minneapolis last week where I met Guy Rehorst, the founder and distiller. After tasting the Rehorst Vodka I asked a really dumb question: "How many times do you distill your vodka?" Guy quickly replied, "Until it's good." With that I was hooked. He went on to explain that their goal is to produce the best spirit with each batch. Their line includes Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Vodka, Kinnickinnic: [KIN-I-KUH-NIK] Whiskey, Roaring Dan's Rum, Pumpkin Seasonal Spirit, Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin, Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Citrus & Honey Vodka, a line of Artisan Brandies, and Absinthe, all hovering around $30. Great Lakes Distillery boasts some value packed craft spirits as well as a few medals from the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, including a double gold for gin and a silver for vodka, the highlights of the portfolio. Again, I'm not a huge fan of gin but the Rehorst is stunning.

4. 45th Parallel - New Richmond, WI

For this last Wisconsin distillery we head to a little town just 50 miles east of downtown Minneapolis, MN called New Richmond. 45th Parallel Spirits is a small, family owned distillery founded by Paul Werni. The name, as you may have guessed, pays tribute to the 45th parallel, a geographic line half-way between the equator and the North Pole on which the distillery sits.

Paul, a Wisconsin native who now lives in Minneapolis, MN chose the site almost by default. Werni had envisioned putting his distillery in an abandoned warehouse in downtown Minneapolis, but after researching Minnesota's policy and fee structure, he quickly realized that Wisconsin was a better fit for the operation. Paul, along with Toast Wine Bar and Cafe co-owner Scott Davis and a few others, have embarked on a quest to produce premium, no additive, corn-based vodka from the Midwest. In fact, all of their corn comes from a local Wisconsin farm. In addition to award-winning vodka, the distillery has recently released a gin and they are said to be working on a number of whiskeys to include rye, bourbon, and wheat styles. Keep your eyes out for these guys. They produce great stuff and have one helluva passion and hand for distilling.

5. Dry Fly Distillery - Spokane, WA

On to the Pacific Northwest for inspiration. Dry Fly Distillery was founded by two avid fly fishermen, Don Poffenroth and Ken Fleischmann. One day, knee deep in the Gallatin River, the two realized how lucky they were to be able enjoy the the beauty of Washington State everyday. So on a mission to bottle the mystical allure and purity of the Pacific Northwest, the two set up a small-batch distillery in Spokane and became Washington State's first licensed micro-distiller.

Today Dry Fly Distilling produces craft-distilled wheat vodka, a London Dry style gin and their newly released single malt whiskey, all using only locally grown grains and botanicals. I'm a big fan of their wheat vodka, and, again, for a guy who doesn't like the stuff much, they sure make a tasty gin. All hovering around the $30 retail price I think the clear liquids are the best in the portfolio.

6. North Shore Distillery - Lake Bluff, IL

Founded in 2004 and located in Lake Bluff, North Shore Distillery was Illinois' first boutique distillery. Today the still produces a range of products from vodka and gin to absinthe and aquavit.

The two best products in their portfolio in my humble opinion are their distinctly differnt gins. They offer two styles: Distiller's Gin No. 6 and Distiller's Gin No. 11. While they are both tasty, and for completely different reasons, I personally prefer the Distiller's Gin No. 6 which is a modern dry gin. They use botanicals from all over the world to create a complex, layered gin. They also offer a grain based North Shore Vodka and a citrus infused North Shore Sol vodka. Both are pretty good, but edged out by Death's Door and Hangar One. Their portfolio also rocks an absinthe they call Sirène Absinthe Verte and a US made Aquavit. The Aquavit was good...for Aquavit. I'm not crazy about this Scandinavia spirit, but cheers for attempting to produce a domestic version.

7. RoughStock Distillery - Bozeman, MT

Onward and upward to Bozeman Montana and the RoughStock Distillery, where fine American single malt whiskeys are being produced using local ingredients. The distillery offers a line of five whiskeys to include a barley mash Montana Whiskey, wheat-based Spring Wheat Whiskey, their cask strength barley Black Label, a white whiskey they call Sweet Corn Whiskey, and Straight Rye, you guessed it, a rye whisky.

The Spring Wheat was good...for a spring wheat. The rye won't be available until this winter, but I am anxiously awaiting it. And I've already expressed that I'm not overly interested in white whiskeys. That leaves the Montana and Black Label Whiskeys. The Montana Whiskey is RoughStock's flagship brand, made from barley mash, distilled twice, aged in virgin American oak barrels and released as small batch. It has great complexity and flavor, but if you really want complexity and flavor, check out the Black Label. It's a single barrel, non-chill filtered, cask strength version of the Montana Whiskey. Because they don't cut it with water, it's higher in alcohol (62.8% ABV versus the Montana Whiskey's 45%) and higher in intensity, but you'll pay for it. This is truly an artisan American whiskey to enjoy with good conversation and great friends. But only whisky-loving friends. Don't waste it on the rest.

8. Prichard's Distillery - Kelso, TN

The Prichard family has a deep history of distilling, both legal and...well...not. Today Prichard's Distillery is most famous for their line of American Rums, their award winning whiskey called Benjamin Prichard’s Double Barrel Bourbon, and their bourbon-based liqueur, Sweet Lucy.

As I mentioned, Prichard's produces a range of rums from Key Lime and Cranberry to Private Stock and Fine Rum. While I didn't much care for the flavored rums, I found the Fine Rum to be very interesting. The good kind of interesting. It's a cool domestic example of an aged rum. In addition to the Double Barrel Bourbon they also make a single malt whiskey, a Tennessee whiskey, and a white whiskey they call Lincoln City White Lightning. But what really interests me from their portfolio is their Sweet Lucy, a Duck's Unlimited-endorsed, bourbon-based liqueur. According to the producer: "Born in a duck blind and a frequent companion on duck hunts, variations of Sweet Lucy were generally homemade elixirs of peaches, oranges and apricots with lots of sugar and whiskey." I could never bring it hunting, because every time that sweet love hits my lips I scream out "Swwweeeeet Lucy!"

9. Noah's Mill - Bardstown, KY

Here we are in Bourbon country with the winner of a Double Gold Medal at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Noah's Mill Small Batch Bourbon is bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers in Bardstown Kentucky. To keep this list from consisting of ten bourbons, I had to make some cuts. It was like picking favorites with my children (which, let's be honest, is more tempting some days than others). But when the smoke cleared I ultimately kept the Noah's Mill by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers for its quality and character.

Like many bourbon producers, the story of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers is rich. The company was founded in the mid 1930's as the Willett Distilling Company, which it remained until the mid 1980's when Even G. Kulsveen (pronounced Evan), a native of Hamar, Norway and son-in-law to Thompson Willett, purchased the property from the Willett’s and formed Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. It's said that, to this day, Even continues to operate the facility, making a range of award-winning bourbons, including Rowan's Creek. Noah's Mill is the quintessential small batch bourbon, aged in wooden barrels, bottled by hand at 57.15% ABV, and bottle aged for a minimum of 10 years. Grab a glass and pour yourself a sniff, you'll see.

10. Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery - Frankfort, KY

Last, but certainly not least, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery at the Buffalo Trace Distillery facility, traces its history back four generations to pre-Prohibition whiskey distilled by family patriarch Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle, Senior. Today thanks to Pappy's grandson, Julian III, and his son Preston, the family owned and operated business continues to craft premium quality small-batch Bourbon in the classic Van Winkle style.

Ranging from straight bourbon to rye whiskies, all Van Winkle bourbons are aged a minimum of 10 years in charred mountain oak barrels. A double gold medalist in the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits competition, the Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old bourbon could be one of the finest mash whiskeys made. But at $250 a bottle, it better be! Check out the whole line. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Like what you read or hate it, leave a comment or harass me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ (handle if you want to tell me about your favorite craft distillery that didn't make the list. And like Cru Wine Online on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for more wine-related fun. Also, for spectacular food and wine pairing entertainment, please visit us at

Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Top Ten Vintages of the New Millennium

With the the fall season comes cooler weather, beautiful colors, and of course grape harvest. This wonderful seasonal change inspired me to focus this post on the great harvests of the new millennium.

1. Bordeaux, France: 2009
We start out this top ten list with a bullet, Bordeaux. Arguably the most controversial region in the world when it comes to the subject of great vintages, Bordeaux often blurs the line between great marketing and great wine. Take the turn of the 21st century for example. The 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2009 vintages were all touted as the best vintage of the decade. In the words of J.D. from Saving Silverman, "Isn't one-and-only supposed to be, like, one? And only? "

The reason I selected 2009 over the others of the decade was for its success on both sides of the river, or should I say estuary. A wet spring season, followed by hail in some places (reducing yields) and a dry summer resulted in rich, powerful wine with balance, structure, and great aging potential. Even a shitty winemaker couldn't messed up the 2009 vintage. Although believe me, plenty tried. Other great vintages of note in Bordeaux are the infamous 1945 and 1989, and the legendary 1900.

2. Burgundy, France: 2005
East of Bordeaux is Burgundy, a region with huge vintage variations due to its climate and its affinity for the finicky Pinot Noir grape. This region was a tough one, with 2002 producing such fresh wines. But my decision to highlight 2005 came from its success in both Burgundy and France as a whole.

2005 touted a dry summer in Burgundy, and September gave way to beautiful conditions for the final ripening process. The end result was ripe, dense wine showcasing great aging potential. There are so many great vintages of note in Burgundy (that don't even include sleeper vintages like 2008), so I'm just going to mention the most recent: 1985, 1990, and 1996.

3. Piedmont, Italy: 2000
Leaving France, which was hard to do, and heading to Italy, 2000 marked a great vintage in Piedmont for all wines from Barbera to Barolo. Vintages of note from the decade include 2001 and 2006, but it was 2000 that produced high-quality wines all over the region.

The year 2000 in Piedmont was loaded with extremes. It began with a warm spring that lead into a well-distributed rainy summer. July was damp and August was just downright weird, with hail coming at the end of the month (reducing yields in places like Alba). Most producers increased their grey hair count by 200% this vintage, but when the smoke cleared, 2000 became the iconic vintage for the region. Amazing, powerful Nebbiolo based wines, racy reds from Barbera, and so much more. Other vintages of note are 1996 and 1997.

4. Tuscany, Italy: 2001
South of Piedmont to Tuscany, where it takes a little more consideration and justification because there were four really good vintages at the turn of the century. The year 2004 produced great wines in Brunello di Montalcino, but fell short in Chianti. And while 2006 and 2007 are both looking outstanding and may best the 2001 vintage highlighted here, it was hot, so alcohol levels are a bit high, especially in 2007. Overall 2001 showed more balance in the wines produced (the few that were) and yielded great wines from Bolgheri to Brunello.

Like many great vintages across the globe, 2001 was full of extremes for Tuscany. A wet winter led straight into an even damper spring that was brought to a halt in April with a late, dangerously detrimental frost. June and July were mostly dry but August and September brought the region a roller coaster of weather, filled with conditions that ranged from hot to cold and humid to dry . These extremes thinned crops and created concentrated, complex fruit worthy of this top ten list. Other recent vintages of note are 1990, 1997, and 1999. Like every other region on this list there are plenty of sleeper vintages, like 2005, which is a great wine for early drinking.

5. Douro Valley, Portugal: 2007
To Portugal and the Douro Valley, home of the country's infamous port wine production. Like any "great" vintage it is our job as the consumer to decide whether a certain year yielded better wine or better marketing. While 2007 has been touted by many as possibly the greatest vintage of all time, producing 100-point wines from certain trade magazines, 2003 has had more time to develop. This was a tricky pick for me, but ultimately 2007 shows so much greatness I had to go with my gut, or should I say palate.

Most vintage-declared years in the Douro are pretty predictable: hot and arid. But 2007 brought about strange weather with plenty of rain in the spring and a cool summer that delayed harvest by up to two weeks in some places. Yields were lower, quality was higher, and the vintage prevailed as one of the best since 2003 - the last declared vintage before 2007. Other vintages of note include 1948, 1963, 1994, 1997, 2000, and 2003. Oh, and the legendary wines of 1927. If you get your hands on a bottle call me, I'd love to join you for a taste.

6. Spain: 2005
I'm not going to sugarcoat this, Spain has had some great vintages, including some really good ones in the last decade, and I LOVE Spanish wines. But this was the hardest pill for me to swallow on this list due to a lack of consistency across the country and even within regions. With that said it was a toss up between 2001 and 2005, with 2004 getting a brief thought. And since my heart wasn't really in this one, I pretty much flipped a coin and came up with some bullshit to defend the winner (tails). So here goes.

The year 2005 in Spain yielded quality wines in the country's major regions: Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero (which also produced great wines in 2004). The vintage was very dry, but not too hot. Still, yields were down as much as 40% in some areas. This resulted in a small crop full of concentrated fruit that produced balance, yet power. Other vintages of note region.

7. Germany: 2001
For our last Old Worlder on the list, we head to Germany, where there have been a string of really good vintages since the mid 1980's (excluding 2000). Germany was a toss up between 2001, 2005, and 2009, but in the end 2001 prevailed with its countrywide balance and finesse that came out of exceptionally ripe grapes at harvest.

A wet winter and spring in 2001 was followed by a heat spike in May. June was unusually cool, and July and August bounced back and forth between hot and humid and hot and dry. August, September and October were cool, but provided plenty of sunshine and very little rain, which resulted in ripe grapes that became balanced wines. Let me be clear, this one was very close. And I encourage you to keep your eye on 2009. It's going to be a doozy, especially for dry Rieslings.

8. California, United States: 2007
California has produced a number of quality vintages over the last 20 years. For this top ten spot I considered most of the decade, excluding 2003. But in the end, the textbook conditions the 2007 vintage allowed for great-quality wine to come from across the state. This progressive season yielded some of the finest wines ever produced in the US. And like 2009 in Bordeaux, the 2007 vintage in California allowed even novice winemakers to bottle quality wine. Other vintages of note include the mid 1980's and 90's, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon.

9. Willamette Valley: 2008
Like Burgundy France, the Willamette Valley prides itself on producing reds from the finicky Pinot Noir grape. And while I think there are plenty of great wines produced in off vintages, it just so happened that in 2008 the heavens opened up and blessed the Willamette Valley with perfect fruit.

I absolutely love this quote from the Wine Spectator as it sums up the vintage perfectly: "Sam Tannahill, partner and winemaker at Rex Hill Vineyards in Newberg, employed a baseball analogy to express the nail-biting atmosphere of the 2008 vintage in Oregon. 'We were down five runs in the bottom of the ninth and pulled it out,' he said. 'Then we looked up and realized it was the seventh game of the World Series, and we had won. At least that's how it felt.'"

2008 yielded the best fruit ever in Oregon, which isn't saying a whole lot because the industry is really quite young by even American, let alone international, standards. However, mark my words, great wines were produced even in vintages that were deemed "terrible" by trade magazines, to include the whites of 2007 and 2009. Other vintages of note are 2002 and 2004.

10. Australia: 2005
Last, and to be honest, least, is Australia. Now I thought and thought and thought about how I could include the 1998 vintage into this top ten list, specifically thinking about the Penfold's Grange. But to be fair I had to select a millennial vintage that was good and helped build a quality wine reputation in Australia. Ergo I will highlight the 2005 vintage.

Not much justifying here, this wasn't a hard choice. Clearly the best vintage of the decade, 2005 produced balanced wines in South Australia. Unlike any other vintage on this list, this was a year that yielded bumper crops. What separated 2005 from say 2004 or 2006 was the natural acidity and low pH levels in the grapes. The best wines from this vintage come from Coonawarra and Barossa. Other vintages to look out for are...well...let's be honest, just go find some '98 Grange.

Like all of my posts and any wine rank or rating, these selections are debatable. But that's why I write, to keep you talking. Leave a comment or harass me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ (handle if you want to tell me about a region or vintage that didn't make the list. Or write me a letter, I feel like nobody writes letters anymore.

Like Cru Wine Online on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for more wine-related fun. And for spectacular food and wine pairing entertainment, please visit us at

Until next time I'm Nick Barth with Cru Wine Online saying: It's your glass, fill it with what you like.


Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Top Ten Summer Wines

Nothing says summer like sunshine, sand, With the summer in full swing I thought it only fitting to post this week on some of my favorite summer wines.

1. Pacific Rim - Riesling - Columbia Valley, Washington 2009 - $11

Pacific Rim winery was founded in 1992 by wacky winemaker Randall Grahm of the famed Bonny Doon Vineyards in California. In 2011 Grahm sold Pacific Rim to the Mariani family, proprietors of Italian wine giant Banfi. Today the winery is managed by Nicolas Quille, a self-proclaimed Riesling zealot who has been with the organization since day one.

Pacific Rim is an eco-friendly producer making more than ten styles of Riesling. From sparkling and still to dry and sweet, the winery prides themselves in showcasing the versatility of the grape. I'd classify this particular Riesling as off-dry. It displays characteristics of peaches, pears, green apples, and apricots, and makes for a great partner to spicy dishes, especially Mexican cuisine.

2. Adelsheim
- Pinot Gris - Willamette Valley, Oregon 2010 - $19

Adelsheim Vineyard was founded in 1971 by David and Ginny Adelsheim. They produced their first vintage in 1978, a mere 1300 cases. Today the winery produces over 40,000 cases annually from their 190 acres on 11 different vineyard sites in the Willamette Valley. The winery focuses on varieties that ripen perfectly in the region's climate. This particular wine is loaded with fresh tree fruit aromas of pear and green apple. It has a fresh acidity and is more full-bodied than the lighter Italian Pinot Grigio's on the market. A great pairing for fish and moderately spicy foods.

3. St. Innocent - Pinot Blanc - Willamette Valley, Oregon 2009 -$20

According to St. Innocent: "St. Innocent Winery was founded in 1988 by Mark Vlossak who continues to be our winemaker and President. We produce small lots of handmade, vineyard-designated wine from some of the best sites in the Willamette Valley. Since our founding, we have grown from 600 cases that first year to our current production of 8-10,000 cases, yet each wine is still handcrafted in the very same manner. Year after year, St. Innocent Winery has received recognition from throughout the country and around the world for its outstanding Pinot noir, beautifully crafted white wines, and fair pricing."

This Pinot Blanc comes from the Willamette Valley's Freedom Hill Vineyard. It's lush and round, displaying aromas and flavors of pear and peach. A great partner for fish and fowl.

4. Sho
oting Star - Aligote - Washington 2009 - $12

This wine is produced by former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele. While the winery may seem like a large estate, it's actually an artisan producer of quality California and Washington State wines. This particular wine is made from the Aligote grape. According to the producer, " a variety, which is little known but widely planted. It is in fact the fourth most planted wine grape variety in the world, with huge plantings dominating Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Moldavia. In France it is the other white grape in Burgundy, but has always played second fiddle to the noble Chardonnay grape. Generally, Aligoté is planted in either hilltop or cooler valley locations because it is more cold-tolerant. It has never been planted in any commercial quantity in California, but in Washington State, where cold winters are a fact of life, Aligoté has found a happy home."

This fatter white has stone and tree fruit flavors and aromas, followed by a wonderful floral component. Pick up a bottle of this to enjoy with your favorite shellfish dish.

. Lobster Reef - Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand 2010 - $13

Lobster Reef was founded by the Brown family of New Zealand. According Lobster Reef importer World Wine HeadQuarters, "The Brown family join the Marlborough wine industry in 1980, initially growing for other companies before starting the own wine company in 1992. In 2002 an opportunity arose to purchase 120 ha of land in the Blind River in the Awatere Valley and the Cape Campbell brand was born. Lobster Reef is the latest release from Cape Campbell and celebrates the unique and rugged coastline just a stones throw from our vineyards."

While the Lobster Reef wines come from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, it's not too "Marlobourghy" if you would. What I mean by that is that while it has a nice, crisp, refreshing acidity, it's not too powerful. All too often New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc is overly acidic, with too much citrus fruit on the nose and palate. Lobster Reef has a great balance but still displays the wonderful citrus fruit typical of New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is a great pairing for fried foods and fresh summer vegetables.

6. William Fevre - Chablis - Burgundy, France 2009 - $23

This wine comes from France's Burgundy region, specifically Chablis, a name that got a bad rap when it was plastered on large jug wines produced anywhere but Chablis in the 1980's and 90's. Chablis is the northernmost region of Burgundy and is actually closer to Champagne than its Burgundian neighbor, the Cote d'Or. Its northern proximity gives Chablis a cool climate that, coupled with the region's chalky soils, creates ideal conditions for growing clean, crisp Chardonnay.

The Fevre family has been in Chablis for more than two and a half centuries. Present owner, William, founded the Domaine de la Maladière and announced his first harvest in 1959. In 1998, the Henriot family from Champagne took over the reins from Fevre. The crisp, clean Chard from Chablis is lean and mean. It displays tree and citrus fruit aromas coupled with a wonderful wet stone-like minerality on the palate. A great partner for a variety of foods, try this wine with oysters, vegetarian dishes or grilled chicken.

7. Mulderbosch
- Rosé - Coastal Region, South Africa 2010 - $12

Founded in 1989, Mulderbosch is often regarded as a value-packed producer of high-quality, accessible wines. The winery is located in South Africa's Stellenbosch region, a picturesque area that is often considered the country's finest. This particular rosé by Mulderbosch is made from the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. Its pink color is derived from a limited amount of skin contact with the juice. In the instance of this wine the winemaker soaked the juice with the red grapes skins for a day or two and then bled off, or removed, the pink juice. This wine is loaded with aromas and flavors of fresh red fruits and spice. Try this tasty rosé with summer fruit salads or even grilled meats.

8. Penner-Ash - Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, Oregon 2008 - $41

According to the Penner-Ash website, "Lynn (Penner-Ash) started Penner-Ash Wine Cellars with husband Ron in 1998, carefully crafting small amounts of Pinot noir and Syrah, while she was still at Rex Hill. Their early success with the label caused them to dream of what they could create and in 2001 they began building the Penner-Ash brand full time.Penner-Ash has achieved impressive growth, going from 125 cases of Pinot noir in 1998 to 9,000 cases of Pinot noir, Syrah, Viognier and Reisling in 2011."

All of their wines are beautifully crafted. This particular wine comes from the infamous 2008 vintage. It is the Penner-Ash entry level Pinot with racy acidity and displays red fruit, spice, and flower aromas and flavors. These characteristics make this wine one of the most food-friendly in the world; but wait a decade or so to test out that claim, it has the characteristics to last.

9. Bodega Renancer - Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $12

Bodegas Renacer is located in northern Mendoza in Perdrie, a sub-region of Luján de Cuyo with a great reputation for producing excellent Malbec. Bodega Renacer is a makes great examples of the high quality of the region. The wine highlighted here is their Punto Final Classico line. This wine is made from Malbec vines that are more than 50 years old. This fruit-forward, medium-plus-bodied red begins with red fruit aromas and flavors of raspberry and cherry followed by loads of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are supple, making this wine a great partner for roasted or braised meats. If you are looking for an introduction to the great quality Argentina is producing, check out the Renacer's Punto Final Malbec.

10. Pedroncelli -
'Mother Clone' Zinfandel - Sonoma, California 2009 - $15

In 1927 John Pendroncelli Senior purchased a small estate and vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma. The property came complete with Zinfandel vines planted in 1904. The winery has come a long way since since then. Today, the vineyards are planted to a variety of premium grape varietals and is filled with modern equipment. According to the producer, two elements from 80 years ago remain unchanged: the exceptional place the Pedroncelli family grows grapes, and the family's dedication to making fine wines. The grapes used in the production of this wine are cloned from the original “Mother” vines, of which one quarter of an acre remain today. Fruit from these 100-year-old vines is included in the blend. Try it with almost any meat off the grill, especially when using barbecue sauce.

An ice cold craft beer may be your go-to when a heat wave rolls in, but this season try burying your toes on the beach with a glass (or few) from this list. Your taste buds will thank you. And if you're looking for a new way to kick back this summer, don't forget to check out for hundreds of other great wine picks and pairings, all wrapped up in entertaining video shorts.

Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Cru Wine Online

Monday, March 21, 2011

Top Ten Argentine Malbecs For Under $20

As the weather heats up, most of us dust off the bag of coals in anticipation of the summer grilling season. And Malbec, with the weight and tannins to hold up to and compliment grilled meat, is one of my favorite grill wines. Since it tends to be slightly smoky by nature, it naturally enhances the same smoky characteristics that grilling imparts to a dish. The Malbec grape, native to the Bordeaux region of France where they use it for blending, quickly became Argentina's calling card red varietal, and a number of producers are making outstanding examples.

1. Bodegas Y Vinedos O. Fournier - 'Uco Urban' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $11
The O. Fournier wine group was founded as recently as 2000. While the group only has their own estate vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina and Ribera del Duero, Spain, they produce wine in Spain, Portugal, Chile, and Argentina. According to Bodegas Y Vinedos O. Fournier, "At the turn of the millennium the Spanish family Ortega Gil-Fournier founded a small 'boutique' winery, at the foot of the Andes, in La Consulta, in the Argentinean province of Mendoza."

This Malbec falls under their Uco Urban line, and is a more fruit-forward style, showcasing flavors and aromas of raspberry and redcurrant followed by stewed blackcurrant and blueberry. The wine is full-bodied with a well-balanced acidity and tannin structure. Pair this juicy red with barbecued lamb or pork and I promise you won't be disappointed.

2. Bodega Renacer - 'Punto Final Classico' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $12
Bodegas Renacer is located in northern Mendoza in Perdrie, a sub-region of Luján de Cuyo with a great reputation for producing excellent Malbec. Bodega Renacer is a makes great examples of the high quality of the region. They have three Malbecs as well as a Malbec rosé and a Sauvignon Blanc. Their high-end Malbec is the Enamore and regularly receives high accolades from respected trade magazines.

The wine highlighted here is their Punto Final Classico line. This wine is made from Malbec vines that are more than 50 years old. This fruit-forward, medium-plus-bodied red begins with red fruit aromas and flavors of raspberry and cherry followed by loads of dark chocolate and spice. The tannins are supple, making this wine a great partner for roasted or braised meats. If you are looking for an introduction to the great quality Argentina is producing, check out the Renacer's Punto Final Malbec.

3. Bodega Septima - Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $12
Bodegas Septima is owned by the famous Codorniu family of Spain, pioneers in the Spanish Cava industry. The Codorníu Group owns wineries in the Ribera del Duero, Rioja, Priorato and Sant Sadurni D’Anoia regions of Spain, Napa Valley, California in the United States, and Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco in Argentina.

Bodega Septima produces a wide range of wines using a number of varieties. This Malbec falls under their varietal line, and is made from 100% Malbec. Like the Punto Final and the Uco Urban, this wine is juicy. It begins with ripe red fruit aromas and flavors of raspberries and fresh cherries, which give way to blackberries, vanilla, and spice. The spice and vanilla are a byproduct of this wine's six months spent aging in American oak barrels. Pair this Argentine treat with pizza, especially with mushrooms and sausage.

4. Finca Sophenia - 'Tupungato Altosur' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $12
Finca Sophenia was founded by Roberto Luca. Like many wineries around the world, Sophenia employs French winemaker Michel Rolland as consultant. The winery produces three lines: Sophenia Synthesis, Finca Sophenia Reserve, and their Altosur. The Altosur line features quality, concentrated fruit that sees a short aging process with French and American oak barrels. The winery believes that this line is a "true representative of the New World wines."

The Finca Sophenia 'Tupungato Altosur' Malbec is full bodied, with flavors and aromas of reduced plums, blackberries, and raspberries. Behind that you will find an array of spices and flowers. It has a nice grip to it, making it a great partner for meat dishes, especially when seasoned with barbecue sauce.

5. Altos Las Hormigas - Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $13
Altos Las Hormigas was founded in 1995 by an Italian investment group headed by brilliant winemaker Alberto Antonini, a well-known Italian winemaker and former head winemaker at Antinori in Tuscany. Antonini is also a head winemaker at Bodega Renacer, along with several other wineries in Argentina, Chile, and the United States.

The Alto Las Hormigas Malbec is a real treat for the price. It begins with round red fruit characteristics of plum, raspberry, and cherry followed by a hint of vanilla, a product of this wine's three months submerged in French and American oak insertstaves. Try this vibrant red with Mexican beef, lamb, or pork dishes, as well as with spicy grilled sausage.

6. Bodegas Escorihuela - 'Don Miguel Gascon' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $14
Bodegas Escorihuela Gascon was founded in 1888 by Miguel Escorihuela Gascon, a Spanish native who emmigrated to Argentina in 1880 at only 19 years of age. For almost a century the Gascon family owned and operated the estate, but in 1993 they sold Bodegas Escorihuela to the Catena family of the widely distributed Bodegas Catena Zapata.

Like the others on this week's list, the Don Miguel Gascon Malbec is jammy, juicy, and fruity. It begins with bright red fruit aromas of raspberry and red currants followed by blackberry, blueberry, and a touch of mocha. Pair this full-bodied red with pasta tossed in a hearty red sauce or a meaty stew.

7. Kaiken - 'Reserve' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $14
Kaiken was founded in 2001 by Chilean wine producer Montes. Their 2009 'Reserve' Malbec is made primarily of Malbec, with just a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon thrown in for structure. This full-bodied red is complex, with characteristics of blackberries, black cherries, black currants, vanilla, spice, chocolate, violets, and the list goes on. The tannins are firm, yet well-balanced. Try this outstanding Argentine Malbec with a grilled steak seasoned simply with salt and pepper.

8. Familia Zuccardi - 'Serie A' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $15
Familia Zuccardi was founded in the 1960's by Alberto Zuccardi. In the 1980's Alberto's son José joined the family business with the vision of producing world-class wines in Argentina. Today the winery is considered one of the most innovative in the country. They own four different projects: Zuccardi, Saint Julia, Fuzion, and Malamado. Under the Familia Zuccardi line they produce a number of labels that range from Viognier to Tempranillo.

The wine featured here falls under the estate's Serie A line. The Familia Zuccardi Serie A Malbec is intense, with concentrated dark fruit flavors and aromas of figs and prunes followed by hints of chocolate and spice. This full-bodied red displays velvety tannins and a well-balanced acidity. Pair this monster with a thick, juicy grilled steak.

9. Argento - 'Reserva' Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $16
Argento, Latin for silver, was established in 1998. According to the producer, the term on the label "relates to the strong silver thread of tradition that runs through the veins of the country and pays homage to Argentina’s long history of crafting precious wines." The wine highlighted here comes from their reserva tier.

The Argento 'Reserva' Malbec is loaded with black fruit flavors and aromas of blackberry, black cherry, and figs, complimented by fresh flower aromas and cloves. The tannins are apparent but not overwhelming. Pair this muscular red with grilled meats or a hearty chili dish.

10. Vina Dona Paula - Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina 2009 - $17
Vina Dona Paula was founded in 1997 by The Claro Group, a Chilean based wine investment company whose portfolio includes producers like Los Vascos and Vina Santa Rita. Vina Dona Paula consists of five distinctly different lines, with Los Cardos representing the entry level. Retailing for only $10, Dona Paula's Los Cardos Malbec received an 86-point rating for their 2008 vintage, solidifying a spot on Wine Spectator's 'Best Value' list.

The Vina Dona Paula Estate Malbec showcases flavors and aromas of raspberry, boysenberry, licorice, dried herbs and spices. The palate is well-balanced, and showcases both depth and complexity. Try this wine with a grilled steak topped with a fresh berry and red wine reduction.

Between Malbec's popularity, both in Argentina and the US, and the number of high-quality producers in Argentina increasing annually, there is a good chance this list will change from vintage to vintage.

If there's a value-packed Argentine Malbec on your list that you think should've made mine, I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or shoot me an email. For more information about me, more fun and interesting wine information, and for delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. Our very own chefs from across the country have created original recipes just for you, and each day we pair them with the perfect wine and a little humor to bring you an entertaining video short.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director