Monday, January 31, 2011

Top Ten Super Bowl Wine Picks

This Sunday over 100 million people will tune in to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers compete for the championship title at Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, TX. It's estimated that over $55 million and 10 million man-hours are spent purchasing and preparing all of the food for the big game. In fact, the amount of food consumed on Super Bowl Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving. The best part: we are expected to consume the majority of the estimated 30 million pounds of snacks within 15 minutes of kick-off. With all of that in mind, I thought it only appropriate to highlight a few wines to pair with some Super Bowl food favorites.

1. Nine Stones - Shiraz - Barossa Valley, Australia 2008 - $14
One of my favorite game day foods is chili. And whether you prefer the hearty stew-like chili or a lighter soup-like rendition, a spicy, juicy Shiraz makes for a great pairing. Personally I like my chili to have a little kick, and nothing will enhance the spice in the bowl like a spicy Shiraz from Australia. I like the Nine Stones because it's loaded with fruit and spice, and all for a good price. When you think chili, think Aussie Shiraz.

2. Artezin - Zinfandel - Mendocino County, California 2009 - $18
It's estimated that over 1 billion chicken wings will be consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. And when it comes to chicken wings I love barbecue sauce. So for this I selected a juicy, fruity Zin with a little spice to complement my game day selection. Try a little onion, garlic, and chili powder in your BBQ sauce, maybe even sriracha, and this Zin will draw it out perfectly.

3. Coppo - 'Camp du Rouss' Barbera d'Asti - Piedmont, Italy 2007 - $22
Super Bowl Sunday is the busiest pizza delivery day of the year. This year Domino's alone is expecting to sell between 1.1 and 1.2 million pies, and fans around the country will consume about 30 million slices on game day. When pairing wine with a frozen or delivery pizza I reach for a spicy red with some acid. The tomatoes in the sauce will bring a touch of acidity to the dish, and Barbera's natural acidity will ensure that this component is mirrored while its full body holds up without overpowering. Overall, a great game day pairing.

4. Crios by Susana Balbo - Torrontes - Salta, Argentina 2010 - $15
Like guacamole? You're not alone. It's estimated that over 50 million pounds of Avocados are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday. That's enough to cover the entire football field with a blanket of guacamole nearly 12 feet deep. And when it comes to guac, I look for a clean, crisp white with a little weight. Crios by Susana Balbo makes a great Torrontes, a varietal that has quickly become Argentina's calling card white. This wine has the weight to stand up to this pasty side with the flavors to enhance it. Add a little extra lemon juice to your guacamole this year; the Crios' refreshing acidity can withstand the citrus.

5. Cristalino by Juame Serra - 'Rosé Brut' Cava - Spain - $10
This Sunday experts say we will consume 8.5 million pounds of tortilla chips. Do you know what I hear? Nachos! Load on the beans, meat, chicken, tomatoes, black olives, shredded lettuce, sour cream, and cheese, and prepare for a night of antacids! A hearty nacho plate is complex, and believe it or not, the best pairing is a sparkling wine. I like Cava because it's made using the traditional method, but is available at a fraction of the price when compared to sparkling wines from Champagne. The Rosé Cava by Juame Serra Cristalino is incredibly food friendly and at a great value. It has the texture to compliment a busy nacho plate.

6. Dr. Loosen Brothers - 'Dr. L.' Riesling - Mosel, Germany 2009 - $12
The week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, super markets see a 118% sales increase in lit'l smokies, or cocktail franks. For this delicious little weenie smothered in barbecue sauce you want something that has a touch of sugar. This clean, refreshing white has the acidity and sugar to compliment the sauce with a light weight to ensure we don't overpower this game day treat. The Dr. L is a great value-packed go-to for a variety of Super Bowl snacks.

7. Crossings - 'Unoaked' Chardonnay - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $16
This week your neighborhood super market will see a 50% increase in the sale of Velveeta "cheese". It's this, coupled with the chip factor, that require me to offer a pairing for Velveeta Cheese Dip. Whether you doctor it up with refried beans and diced tomatoes or not, this processed brick of cheese turned creamy and labeled "queso" is a must have at most Super Bowl parties. And while I don't really consider it food, this dish begs for a delicious Chardonnay, hold the oak. The Crossings' 'Unoaked' Chardonnay has the weight to hold up to this creamy dish with a fresh acidity to hydrate the palate. Like I always say, there's a pairing for every dish, even a non-food dish!

8. Villa Maria - 'Cellar Selection' Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $22
Whether or not you believe the claim that salsa outsells ketchup in the US, one thing is for sure: we eat a lot of salsa on Super Bowl Sunday. In fact, $5.3 million dollars worth to be specific. Couple that with the 8.5 million pounds of tortilla chips and you find yourself in need of a chips and salsa pairing. With salsa I look for a wine with some acidity to match the acid imparted by the tomatoes. The Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc has the perfect weight and acidity to compliment your favorite salsa, whatever the style.

9. Bogle - Chardonnay - California 2009 - $10
This Sunday Americans will consume over 4000 tons of popcorn. If we were to string all of that together it would be enough to go around the earth five and a half times. And to pair with this buttery, salty snack, I look for a buttery, rich California Chardonnay. I'm a big fan of Bogle wines as a general rule. Dollar for dollar they're a great value, and the winery is still family owned and operated, which I like. With this pairing the buttery richness of the Bogle Chardonnay enhances the buttery popcorn, while the mediumish acidity hydrates the palate after each sip.

10. Riondo - Prosecco - Veneto, Italy NV - $12
Last but not least we have Doritos - thank you Ali Landry. This salty, processed cheese snack makes for a great pairing to Riondo Prosecco. The refreshing characteristics of the wine hydrate the palate, while its bubbly texture compliments this crunchy triangular treat adored by football fans across the country.

America, enjoy your 51.7 million cases of beer and 1,300 calories per person this Super Bowl, but don't forget to pick up a few bottles of wine too. Now it's your turn. What favorite wines and snacks are going to be in your hand this Sunday? Send me an email, check me out on facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog to let me know!

For more information about me, more interesting wine information, and for delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. You'll find daily Wine and Recipe pairings just for our members. We pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life's too short not to enjoy every sip, so drink it up. Entertain your senses with Cru Wine Online's monthly membership. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to! Thanks again for reading.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Biodynamic Wine Producers

With the increasing awareness, and thus sales, of organic food and wine, I thought it only appropriate to use this week's post to highlight biodynamic winemaking and some of the producers who are doing it well.

For those unfamiliar with the term, biodynamic winemaking is often described as a "step beyond" organic. While organic producers are protecting the earth from harmful chemicals, some argue they don't go far enough. Enter biodynamic producers, who take a holistic approach to winemaking. They see the vineyard and winery as a living organism, and use eco-friendly winemaking practices, along with a cosmic twist, to promote positive growth in their vineyards, leaving the earth better than they found it. There are plenty of skeptics, and while I admit I still have some reservations, it's a theory that sparks my curiosity. If the moon can effect the ebbs and flows of the ocean, maybe it's not so far fetched to think it could contribute something to grape growth. On to the top ten...

1. Clos de la Coulee de Serrant - Loire, France
Owned and operated by biodynamic wine legend Nicolas Joly, Coulee de Serrant is a 17 acre (7ha) monopole located in the Savennieres AOC of the greater Anjou sub-region in France's Loire region. Not only are they commonly viewed as the finest biodynamic producer in the world, but many consider their wines to be the best of the Loire. Coulee de Serrant consistently produces stunning, bone-dry whites made exclusively from Chenin Blanc. Austere in their youth, these wines are regarded as some of the longest-living dry, white wines in the world. It's the winemakers commitment to quality, coupled with the fact that Joly has literally written the book on biodynamic winemaking practices, that solidified Coulee de Serrant a spot on this week's top ten list.

2. Bonny Doon - Santa Cruz County, California
Bonny Doon, considered one of the most influential US biodynamic wine producers, is owned and operated by wacky winemaker Randall
Grahm, who, up until about a month ago, owned the Pacific Rim winery in Washington state. This rouge winemaker is known for pulling shenanigans, like naming his flagship red after an obscure ordinance passed in 1954 prohibiting UFOs from flying over vineyards in Chateaufuef du Pape and publishing a 30-page newsletter entitled The Vinferno, which ends with the eyes of two well-known wine magazine publishers getting eaten by the devil. While there are certainly other outstanding California producers using biodynamic winemaking practices (Quivira, Quintessa, Grgich Hills, Frog's Leap), it's Bonny Doon that takes the cake as California's finest biodynamic producer.

3. Cooper Mountain Vineyards- Willamette Valley, Oregon
Cooper Mountain Vineyards is owned by Dr. Robert Gross, who along with tending to the vineyards and winery is also a psychiatrist, a homeopath, and an acupuncturist. Cooper Mountain was the first U.S. winery of any kind to gain label approval for a no-sulfite-added wine under the new National Organic Program standards. And as an attestation of how seriously they take biodynamic practices, the winery completed Oregon's Carbon Neutral Challenge. Oregon is like the domestic breeding grounds for US biodynamic wineries, which include Sokol Blosser, Bergstrom (estate wines), and Rex Hill (converting) to name only a few. Beyond their delicious juice, it's their extended commitment to produce unadulterated wine that landed Cooper Mountain on the list.

4. Zind-Humbrecht - Alsace, France
Like Oregon in the US, the Alsace region of France is home to a number of biodynamic producers including Weinbach, Jean Becker, Albert Mann, and Josmayer. But it's Alsatian producer Zind-Humbrecht that, in this writer's opinion, showcases quality and consistency year after year. The Humbrecht family has a history of winegrowing in Europe dating back to the mid 17th century. The domaine was founded in the mid 1950's, and is currently managed by Olivier Humbrecht, son of the founder. Olivier was the first Frenchman to qualify as Master of Wine. Quality-conscious winemaking practices and an outstanding product ensure this Alsatian producer isn't budging from the list.

5. Chateau Beaucastel - Chateauneuf du Pape, France
Number five on this top ten list is a personal favorite, when cash flow allows. Some would argue that M. Chapoutier should be regarded as the Rhone region's finest biodynamic producer, but while I agree Michel is making some outstanding juice, I still go with Chateau Beaucastel for the win.

Chateau Beaucastel, producing award-winning wines in the southern Rhone Chateauneuf du Pape region of France, is owned by the Perrin family. And according to Vineyard Brands, importer for Beaucastel, "In 1903, a young chemical engineer and mathematics professor named Pierre Perrin, together with his father-in-law, began to restore the domaine following the ravages of phylloxera...Today, the third and fourth generations of Perrins, continue in the tradition of their father and grandfather. The vineyards of Beaucastel are treated as a garden: no chemical fertilizer, no chemical week killers or sprays are permitted. Organic fertilizer comes from compost and only a minimum of traditional sulphur-copper spr ay is used in the vineyards."

France is home to a number of quality biodynamic producers, from Huet in the Loire to Chateau Pontent-Canet in Bordeaux, but none bested Beaucastle. Family-owned with biodynamic practices and award-winning juice come together to form this week's number five, and the last of the Frenchy's.

6. Tenuta e Lageder by Alois Lageder - Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
For number six we head to Italy, where biodynamic winemaking is finally beginning to get some attention. The Tenutae Lageder label by Alois Lageder comes from the northern Trentino-Alto Adige sub-region of Italy. Alois Lageder began the conversion to biodynamic winemaking in 2004, and the first certified-biodynamic wine Lageder released was the Chardonnay-Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti Beta Delta 2008. It scored 90 points on Wine Spectator's 100 point scale. Today the estate produces dynamite wines, but look out. More and more Italian producers are looking to biodynamic winemaking as an alternative to conventional methods, so this top tenner may not hold his spot for long.

7. Nikolaihof - Wachau, Austria
Owned by the Saahs family Nikolaihof is committed whole-heartedly to biodynamic winemaking. The estate is certified by Demeter, the organization that regulates biodynamic methods around the world. Their entire estate embraces the holistic approach, and from delicious Gruner Veltliner to world-class Riesling, Nikolaihof makes phenomenal juice.

8. Weingut Wittmann - Rheinhessen, Germany
Weingut Wittmann, one of my new favorite German producers, is owned and operated by Philip Wittmann. The estate was certified organic in 1989, and in 2003 they converted their vineyards to biodynamic. They claim: "Slow fermentation and lengthy aging in the cellar’s constant temperatures preserve aromas. This is how Wittmann wines achieve their unmistable expression, which nevertheless varies from year to year." Recently the producer has launched a new '100 Hills' line. The line was created to showcase world-class, unpretentious wine made using biodynamic winemaking practices. The 100 Hills Dry Riesling by Wittmann retails for about $22. If you get a chance, pick up a bottle and see for yourself what this producer is able to do with biodynamic winemaking.

9. Alvaro Palacios - Priorat, Spain
From the Priorat DOCa of Spain, Alvaro Palacios has been regarded as the country's premier winemaker. With an emphasis on international varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, blended with Spanish natives, like Grenache and Cariñena, Alvaro Palacios is producing big-bodied wines in an eco-friendly way. The wines from this producer range from $23 (Camins del Priorat) to $700 (L'Ermita). If you are looking for a full-bodied biodynamic red, look no further.

10. Emiliana - Chile
On to South America where, to be quite honest, many producers are practicing eco-friendly winemaking techniques, some by default. Water is abundant and free, labor is inexpensive, and the climate is ideal for growing grapes, which means biodynamic isn't all that much of a stretch. Emiliana is a Chilean producer practicing positive winemaking techniques, with an emphasis on biodynamics. They began converting their estate over to biodynamic in 1998, and while today they are not yet fully converted, they do have two dynamite BioD wines in their portfolio, Gê and Coyam. Look for more biodynamic wines coming from Chile in the next decade.

With over 450 producers using biodynamic techniques, it's difficult to highlight only ten. So what are your favorites? Send me an email, check me out on facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog telling me which biodynamic lables make your list and why.

For more information about me, more interesting wine information, and for delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. You'll find daily Wine and Recipe pairings just for our members. We pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life's too short not to enjoy every sip, so drink it up. Entertain your senses with Cru Wine Online's monthly membership. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to! Thanks again for reading.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, January 17, 2011

Top Ten Breathtaking Wine Regions

The only thing better than a glass of wine, is a glass of wine that comes with a view. And what better way to have it all than to travel to the most beautiful wine regions around the world. From magnificent sunrises to awe-inspiring sunsets, just about anything would taste good paired with the beautiful scenery of these regions. So here's a list of the best regions to visit for a breathtaking view, although not necessarily a breathtaking wine:

1. Sardinia, Italy
As a general rule, Italy is home to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful landscapes in the world. From the Valle d'Aoste sub-region in the northwest, to Cinque Terre in Liguria and most of Tuscany, Piedmont, and the Veneto, it's hard to find a region that could make this list. I chose Sardinia, spelled locally as Sardegna, not only because of its mind-blowing scenery, but also its climate, and health benefits of the local lifestyle.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily. The region is heavily influenced by Spain, France, and of course Italy. Its Mediterranean climate makes the region ideal for growing the Grenache variety, known locally as Cannonau, which is the most widely planted grape on the island. Giro and Carignan, known on the island as Carignano, are other widely-planted red varietals. Most of the whites are made from the Vermentino grape and are commonly found in the northern regions of the island. Some producers are experimenting with international varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, both in blends and on their own.

The Sardinian diet has recently received quite a bit of attention. This is because National Geographic writer and Emmy award-winning documentarian Dan Buettner explains in his book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest, that the Sardinian diet coupled with the regions "feel good" reds are like a fountain of youth. Supposedly they can add about six years to the average life expectancy. Not that I ever need a reason to drink, but hey, a little extra motivation doesn't hurt.

2. Stellenbosch, South Africa
Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, in their fifth edition of The World Wine Atlas, stated, "The most dramatically beautiful wine country in the world is surely South Africa." I chose Stellenbosch both for its gorgeous scenery and for the fact that the region is regarded as the finest in South Africa. This is due to the growing conditions and the University of Stellenbosch, which is incredibly influential in South Africa's wine advancement.

Virtually all of South Africa's vineyards are found within 100 miles of Cape Town. And while vines first were planted in South Africa in the mid 17th century, it wasn't until apartheid ended in the early 90's that the country really began producing quality juice. Today some great values can be found from the country.

3. Okanagan Valley, Canada
The Okanagan Valley is the oldest and most important wine region in British Columbia. It's also one of the world's most northerly wine growing areas. Over 90% of British Columbia's vines are located in the Okanagan Valey. The region is Canada's best chance at producing world-class varietal wines from grapes like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Starting at the Washington state border, the Okanagan Valley Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA) stretches north 155 miles. It's home to the glacial Okanagan Lake which provides a moderating effect. The area is almost desert-like, receiving an annual rainfall of only six inches. While the region produces wines of good quality, you have to pay for them. Not the most value-packed, but certainly breathtaking scenery around the lake.

4. Mosel, Germany
George M. Taber explains in his book In Search of Bacchus: Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism, that "The Rhine and Mosel rivers and valleys are the birthplace of Germany's romantic heritage." The Mosel region, formerly the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, is Germany's third largest region in terms of production, but is the leading region in terms of international recognition.

The Mosel is often regarded as Riesling's spiritual home. Cool temperatures, the Mosel river, and slate soil come together to create a perfect environment for producing world-class Riesling. The steep river banks are where most of the grapes are grown, with vineyards being planted on inclines of up to 60 degrees. The banks of the river are both breathtaking and practical as they provide good drainage and allow the river to act as a mirror, reflecting the suns rays up under the leaves to the berries to help warm and ripen them. It's the beautiful Mosel river and its steep banks that solidify this region's place on this top ten list.

5. Douro Valley, Portugal
The Douro Valley, home to the Douro River, is best appreciated from atop the nearby mountains. Vines are planted to the sun-baked soil hillsides, which are very steep in some areas. While the Douro region is famous for its fortified dessert wines called Port, what many don't realize is the region makes as much still table wine as they do Port.

Ten years ago visitors to the country would choke down the table wines from the region to hurry up and get to the world famous Ports. Over the last decade however, the region has been producing not only palatable juice, but good-quality wines. Quality table wines from this region are beginning to show depth, structure and age-ability. The reds from the region, when done well, can prove to be remarkable values. It is this factor, along with the beautiful view, that lands the Douro on this week's top ten list.

6. Provence, France
Provence is this writer's all-time favorite wine region. It's not just the wine or the scenery, but the cuisine and the culture that entice me. Situated between the French Alps and the Mediterranean sea, this breathtakingly beautiful region has the best of both worlds - skiing in the mountains and swimming in the sea. Its perfect Mediterranean climate ensure a mild winter and spring while supplying locals and visitors with a warm summer and fall. A perfect recipe for enjoying the region's most notable wine style, rosé.

Provence has been producing wine for over 2500 years. While the region makes delicious red and white wines, it's best known for its pink wines. In fact, over half of the region's wine production is rosé, which pairs perfectly with the local fare. Cuisine includes olives, garlic, seafood (think sardines), rockfish, sea-urchin and octopus, lamb and goat, and chickpeas. Local fruits include grapes, peaches, apricots, strawberries, cherries, and the famous melons of Cavaillon. Who could resist?

7. Napa Valley, California
The view in Napa Valley is admired by over five million people each year. With more than 450 wineries, the Napa Valley is often regarded as the finest American Viticulture Area (AVA) in the United States. The valley floor is surrounded by mountains, with the Mayacamas Range on the western and northern sides and the Vaca Mountains on the eastern side. The floor of the valley gradually rises from sea level at the southern end to just over 350 feet above sea level at the northern end in Calistoga at the foot of Mount Saint Helena.

While commercial wine production began in the mid 1800's, it wasn't until the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, now called the Judgement of Paris, that this region was viewed world-wide as a quality wine producing region. As the acclaimed Chateau Montelena was stealing the first place spot from French Chardonnays of premier Burgundy producers, Warren Winiarski's 1973 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was also besting the Frenchies, taking the first place title from first growths like Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Mouton Rothschild. While it was a crying shame that the film Bottleshock completely skipped over this feat, it was this accomplishment that put Napa on the map. The region's stunning view and world-class wine production helped it make this week's top ten list.

8. Finger Lakes, New York
This one has a soft spot in my heart. With over 9,000 square miles of gorgeous rolling hills and 117 wineries, the Finger Lakes region is New York's largest AVA. Tom Stevenson, in the fifth edition of his book The Sotherby's Wine Encyclopedia, explains "The (Finger Lakes) name is derived from the 11 finger-shaped lakes in west-central New York. These inland water masses temper the climate, and the topography of the surrounding land creates "air temperature" in the winter and summer."

The Finger Lakes is the oldest and most prominent region in the Northeast. It's prized for soil with good drainage and extreme cold. Because of the cool growing season Riesling tends to do best, but international's like Pinot Noir and Cab are popping up in some vineyards. Also because of cold climate and harsh winters, they produce some exceptional Ice Wines. While it's difficult to find any wines from the Northeast outside of the area, this region is producing some delicious juice. Definitely worth hunting down. But like the wines of Okanagan Valley in Canada, you have to pay for them. The region's lack of Hollywood hype, as compared to the glitz and glamor of Napa, as well as its delicious wines and breathtaking view solidify its spot on this top ten list.

9. Mendoza, Argentina
Mendoza is considered by many to be Argentina's most important wine region. At over 350,000 acres of land planted to vines, the region accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country's entire wine production. Located in the eastern foothills of the Andes, the elevation at which the grapes are planted is one of the only reasons the region is so successful. These vineyards are some of the highest in the world, with the average site located between 1,900 and 3,600 feet above sea level. It's this elevation that provides ideal conditions to slowly ripen thick-skinned grapes, because with elevation comes a decrease in temperature - one degree Fahrenheit for every 300 feet of elevation.

The mountains in Mendoza provide this region with the perfect climate, soil, and location. The diurnal variation, or range, is ideal for growing hearty varietals like Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. It has an alluvial soil type, which is great for growing grapes, and the region receives the perfect amount of rainfall. And in dry years, the water from melting snow-capped moutnains makes up for any lack of rain. Very few vineyards need to irrigate, so water is virtually free - a major bonus when considering it's one of the largest costs at a winery. It is this region's delicious, value-packed wines and proximity to Mount Aconcagua that makes it one of the most breathtaking wine regions in the world.

10. Central Otago, New Zealand
Last but not least is one of the most southern wine producing regions in the world. With grapes growing at elevations up to 1,300 feet, Central Otago is home to New Zealand's highest vineyards. Its southern latitude and high vineyard elevation make this region prime for growing cool climate varietals. It's one of the fastest growing regions in New Zealand, producing what some are calling world-class Pinot Noir. Critics have gone as far as to say the style of Pinot Noir produced is "Burgundian". However, the region, in my opinion, grew a tad too fast, resulting in a number of mediocre to below average wines being produced.

The reason this region is on this week's top ten is the view, oh what a view. Want to experience it in full but can't afford the ticket? Get the blu-ray version of Lord of the Rings, the film was shot in New Zealand. Central Otago is covered in mountains and beautiful green hills. Take this along with the fact that it's capable of producing world-class wine, and you have yourself a beautiful wine region worthy of a visit.

These ten regions showcase a variety of terrains with stunning views and delicious wines. There are so many gorgeous regions around the world, many producing quality juice, that it was tough to nail it down to ten; there are many more that could have made the list.
I hope you have a chance to visit a few of these or any of the other fantastic wine destinations. In fact, if you have, I'd love to hear about it. Drop me a line via email, facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog.

For more information about me, more interesting wine information, and delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. You'll find daily Wine and Recipe pairings just for our users. We pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life's too short not to enjoy every sip, so drink it up. Entertain your senses with Cru Wine Online's monthly membership. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to! Thanks again for reading.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, January 10, 2011

Top Ten $10 Wines

Over the weekend I received a letter in the mail from my bank. They were writing to inform me that I had $10 in an old savings account I had opened when I was a kid. To be quite honest I had forgotten about the $10, so I kind of feel like a kid playing Life or Monopoly who just got handed a card that says "Bank error in your favor. Collect $10." I know I'm rambling over an Alexander Hamilton here, but in today's wine market, that can get me a lot. All of this led to a list of the top ten wines for $10. And since I'm feeling a tad indecisive, I'm employing my readers to help me. Peruse the list and leave a comment telling me which one I should purchase with my ten spot.

1. Cristalino by Jaume Serra - 'Cava' Brut Rose - Spain NV - $10
After a ridiculous legal battle between French luxury brand Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) and value-packed sparkling Spanish wine producer Cristalino, this wine is now Jaume Serra Cristalino, as opposed to simply Cristalino. LVMH owns Louis Roederer, the Champagne house that produces the Cristal Cuvée De Prestige, and their claim is that "An appreciable number of consumers falsely believe because of the name CRISTALINO that an inexpensive sparkling wine is the low-priced offering of the makers of the premier champagne, CRISTAL." While that's absolutely ridiculous, in August of 2010 a federal court in Minneapolis ruled that Cristalino infringed on the coveted name and therefore must change the name of their product. Enter Jaume Serra Cristalino.

This value-packed Cava is a great alternative to traditional Champagne. Cava, like Champagne, is produced using the traditional method. It's made from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Trepat, a grape native to the northeast of Spain. This wine is dry, as Brut on the label indicates. It's fresh and clean, with flavors and aromas of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, and the traditional production method imparts aromas of fresh bread dough. The Cristalino by Jaume Serra makes a great seafood pairing.

2. Snoqualmie Vineyards - 'Winemaker's Select' Riesling - Columbia Valley, Washington 2009 - $10
The next ten spot wine is a wonderful white from the Pacific Northwest. Snoqualmie is an Eco-friendly producer owned by Washington wine group Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, whose portfolio includes Chateau Ste. Michelle, Erath, Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, along with several others. The 'Winemaker's Select' Riesling by Snoqualmie comes from the Columbia Valley in Washington, one of the largest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in the US. What I like about this wine is that it's bright and crisp. Many Pacific Northwest Riesling's tend to be fatter, with lush fruit flavors and aromas that equate to presumably higher sugar levels. Instead, this wine is off-dry and refreshing, with characteristics of peach, pear, and apricot. It pairs well with shellfish, soft cheeses, and spicy dishes.

3. Pomelo - Sauvignon Blanc - California 2009 - $10
This next "top tenner" takes its name from the fruit that it showcases. Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc tastes and smells like the Pomelo, a citrus fruit native to southeast Asia. Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc was conceived in 2004 by Randy Mason, owner of Mason Cellars in California who has been producing world-class Sauvignon Blanc since the mid 1990's. This wine is dry, displaying fresh citrus aromas of grapefruit, lemon, lime and of course, Pomelo. It's a great pairing for white meat and fish as well as vegetable dishes, especially salads with a vinaigrette dressing.

4. Fairview - 'Darling' Chenin Blanc - Coastal Region, South Africa 2010 - $10
This next value-packed white comes from South Africa. Fairview, creator of the Goats do Roam wine line, is owned by the mischievous Charles Back II. The winery is home not only to grape vines, but also a goat farm. These goats produce award winning cheese, and provided Back with inspiration when naming his "goat" wines. Chenin Blanc, sometimes called Steen in South Africa, is a staple varietal in the South African wine industry. The 2010 Darling Chenin Blanc by Fairview comes from vineyards just outside of Darling on the west coast of the country. This slightly off-dry white is lush, with flavors and aromas of citrus fruit coupled with green apples and peaches. It makes a great partner to chicken and seafood as well as Chinese dishes.

5. Yalumba - 'Y-Series' Viognier - South Australia, Australia 2010 - $10
Number five on this top ten list is one of this writer's favorite Viogniers in almost any price point. Yalumba, which is aboriginal for "all the land around," is a fifth generation, self-proclaimed oldest family-owned-and-operated winery in Australia. Like Snoqualmie, Yalumba is a good steward of the earth, practicing Eco-friendly winemaking techniques. Under the guidance of winemaker Louisa Rose, Yalumba makes stunning wines at a remarkable price. The 2010 Y-Series Viognier by Yalumba is full of peaches, pears, and honeysuckle. It makes a great pairing to vegetarian dishes as well as cream-based pasta dishes.

6. Vina Cono Sur - Pinot Noir - Central Valley, Chile 2009 - $10
This next Hamilton-friendly wine is owned by the incredibly young and innovative Cono Sur winery. As I highlighted in Top Ten "New" Wines To Ring In The New Year, Cono Sur is owned by Chilean wine giant Concha Y Toro. They are producing some absolutely stunning wines for the price, and this particular bottle is a great example of that, especially since it's rare to see a good-quality Pinot Noir for under $20. This delicious red comes from the Central Valley, a large region in Chile that stretches 120 miles from Santiago in the north to Concepcion in the south. The Pinot Noir by Cono Sur displays red fruit flavors and aromas of raspberry, cherry, and strawberry, pairing well with grilled white meat and fish.

7. MandraRossa - Nero d'Avola - Sicily, Italy 2008 - $10
As I noted in Top Ten Value Packed Wine Regions, southern Italy is home to an ocean of value-packed wines. In Sicily the Nero d'Avola grape in particular is making some approachable, well-priced wines. Many describe the wines of this grape as a juicy, Syrah-like red. MandraRossa bottles carry the "Traceability of Production Line" sticker which indicates that each wine carries information relating to each step of production and distribution. The MadraRossa Nero d'Avola displays bright red fruit flavors and aromas of cherry and raspberry, with just a hint of vanilla courtesy of the six months it spent in oak barrels. It's a great partner to red meat and pasta dishes with red sauce.

8. La Vieille Ferme - Ventoux - Rhone, France 2009 - $10
Number eight on this top ten list is an old favorite of mine. La Vieille Ferme, translated "The Old Farm", is owned by French wine giant Perrin & Fils, whose portfolio includes the world-famous Chateau de Beaucastel of Chateauneuf du Pape in France. According to importer Vineyard Brands, "Jean Pierre Perrin established La Vieille Ferme over 35 years ago, when he chose to produce an inexpensive, straightfor­ward Rhône wine to sell by direct mail to French wine lov­ers. He used the same grape varieties in similar proportions to those planted at the family’s Château de Beaucastel, in a similar vinification process. The result was an immediate success in France, a wine of character and style in keeping with its Beaucastel heritage." The La Vieille Ferm Ventoux is loaded with rich red fruit and spice. It pairs well with a variety of red meat dishes, along with lamb and duck.

9. Quinta da Garrida by Caves Aliança - Red - Dão, Portugal 2007 - $10
According to Portuguese wine group Aliança's website, "Aliança was founded in 1927, over 80 years ago, by 11 associates leaded by Domingos Silva e Ângelo Neves, in Sangalhos (Anadia’s county), Bairrada region. Present in the main wine regions of the country, Aliança believes in quality, and to accomplish the goal, the company purchased several Estates, in regions as Alentejo, Douro, Dão, Bairradas and Beiras, exploring around 600 ha of winery." The investment group's portfolio includes labels like the Quinta da Garrida from the Dão region of Portugal. Garrida's 2007 red blend was given an 88-point rating by the Wine Spectator. The Quinta da Garrida Dão red is a blend of Jaen, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Nacional, three red varietals native to Spain. The wine is loaded with dark fruit flavors and aromas of blackberry, black cherry, and plum. Its smoky characteristics make it a great partner for grilled meat.

10. Paringa - Shiraz - South Australia 2008 - $10
Paringa Vineyards is owned and operated by Australian wine god David Hickinbotham, whose family has been instrumental in the progress of Australian wine. The Paringa line was designed to provide the world with good-quality, value-packed wines. According to the about us page on their website, "Wine from the Paringa vineyard under the Paringa label was first produced in 1999. The 2000 Paringa Cabernet was one of the first $10 retail per bottle wines to receive 90 points from the Wine Spectator magazine. The 2001 Pariga Shiraz also received 90 points and the wine also appeared on the front cover of Wine Spectator and was a Top 100 wine. The latest vintage, the 2008 Paringa Shiraz recently received a score of 89 points from Wine Spectator magazine and was a best value as well as the best buy of the week on the Wine Spectator website." This wine is big, with dark fruit aromas of blackberry and black cherry. It's loaded with Shiraz's stereotypical spice. This wine will pair wonderfully hamburgers, mushrooms...maybe hamburgers with mushrooms.

Now I ask for your feedback. How should I spend my new-found wealth? Read the list and make a suggestion by leaving a comment, a message on facebook, or by emailing me directly.

For more information about me, more incredible wine picks and delicious food and wine pairings, check us out online at Cru Wine Online. You'll find daily Wine and Recipe pairings just for our users. We pair our chefs' recipes with delicious wines, and bring them to you in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing.

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Nicholas Barth
Wine Director
Certified Sommelier

Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 "New" Wines To Look For In The New Year

Ahh...the new year. It signifies rebirth, a clean slate. A chance to get it right and avoid the mistakes you made the year prior. Oh, who are we kidding. We all know history repeats itself. But I will say, the new year is the perfect opportunity to try some amazing new wines. As I think about the year ahead, I begin to envision the "new" wines 2011 will bring with it. So I put together a list of 10 must-try wines for the new year. If you're feeling adventerous, this year's resolution could be to try all 10 before the ball drops in 2012.

1. Vina Cono Sur - Brut Sparkling - Bio Bio Valley, Chile NV - $20
We start this top ten list with a relatively new wine produced by the young, innovative Cono Sur winery of Chile. Cono Sur is the offspring of Chilean industry giant Concha Y Toro. The winery was founded as recently as 1993, but they have quickly become a staple in the Chilean wine market. They are the second largest exporter of bottled wine in Chile in terms of value, and they are one of the most progressive wineries in the country in terms of eco-friendly winemaking practices. Cono Sur was the first winery in South America to receive a double ISO certification, one for their quality assurance procedures, and one for their environmental policies.

What makes this wine worthy of my "new" top ten list is the fact that Vina Cono Sur is one of the few Chilean wineries to make wines with grapes grown in the Bio-Bio Valley, located in southern Chile. Bio Bio is one of the most southern wine producing regions in the world, boasting a climate that is sunny yet cool. These factors create ideal conditions for growing high acid grapes, which are perfect for producing sparkling wines. In addition this bubbly is a unique blend, consisting of 90% Chadonnay, 6% Pinot Noir, and 4% Riesling. It is dry - as the term 'Brut' on the label signifies - fresh, and clean, and makes for a great pairing for your backyard deck...or seafood.

2. Koutsoyiannopoulos - Assyrtiko - Santorini, Greece 2009 - $19
This next one comes from a region that has been making wine for over 6500 years. But only recently have we started to see a surge of good quality wines. The country is focusing on native varietals and modern production methods. The result is a boom in Greece's wine quality and quantity. This particular refreshing white by Koutsoyiannopoulos is made from the Assyrtiko (aka Asyrtiko) grape, a varietal indigenous to the island of Santorini. Santorini is regarded as one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in the world. I myself would enjoy basking in the sun and enjoying this beauty with a friend, but it also pairs well with shellfish and white sauce dishes.

3. Lorca - 'Fantasia' Torrontes - La Rioja, Argentina 2010 - $15
Torrontes is the most-planted white wine producing varietal in Argentina. The grape could be considered the yin to Malbec's yang. Three varieties of Torrontes exist: Torrontes Sanjuanino, Torrontes Mendocino (aka Mendozino), and Torrontes Riojana. Torrontes Riojana is by and large the most widely planted of the three, accounting for over 20,000 acres of vineyard land in the country. When not properly cared for the grape can produce wines lack acid and are way too high in alcohol. Fortunately Lorca's Fantasia series Torrontes is well crafted, and the wine is clean, crisp, and bright, not flabby and hot. This wine is great with seafood, chicken, and ceviche.

4. Southern Right - Sauvignon Blanc - Walker Bay, South Africa 2010 - $19
Southern Right is a boutique South African producer that specializes in Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc. It was founded as recently as 1994 by Anthony Hamilton Russell, and the Sauvignon Blanc remains the wineries best seller. The label takes its name from the Southern Right whale that frequents the cool Walker Bay, and with every bottle sold Russell contributes a donation to the Southern Right whale conservation. Not that I need a reason to feel good about drinking, but it doesn't hurt to know I'm saving the whales every time I pour a glass. This wine is racy, with citrus fruit flavors and aromas. It pairs well with salads, garlic chicken dishes, and whale...kidding! On second thought...

5. Mollydooker - 'The Violinist' Verdelho - Adelaide, Australia 2010 - $25
Named after the Australian term for a lefty, Mollydooker is an outstanding Australian producer. The winery is owned and operated by left-handers Sarah and Sparky Marquis. Sarah and Sparky have spent the last decade or so making wine and building brands around Australia. In 2005 they decided to make wine exclusively for their own project, Mollydooker. The name the Violinist comes from the days when Sarah was forced to play the Violin right handed so she wouldn't poke her right handed neighbors in the eye with her bow. All of their wines are labeled with clever, quirky names that are linked to a story about their lives.

The Mollydooker Violinist is made from the Verdelho grape a white wine producing varietal native to Portugal, specifically the island of Madeira - not to be confused with the Verdejo grape of Spain. The Australian style is widely prized for its intense flavor and oily texture. The Violinist Verdelho is big and powerful with aromas of honeysuckle and lime. A great pairing for creamy pasta dishes, and it can even stand up to veal.

6. Inchanka - Bonarda - La Rioja, Argentina 2007 - $15
Inchanka, translated "Water of the Condor," is a relatively young producer in Argentina. This wine is imported by John Larchet of the World Wine Headquarters, a company that has an outstanding portfolio full of delicious treats. If you ever see a bottle with the WWHQ sticker on it, pick it up. In my experience, they only carry good juice.

This wine is made from the Bonarda grape native to Italy. In Argentina the grape is the second most widely planted red varietal. The Bonarda by Inchanka is loaded with concentrated red and black fruit aromas and flavors. The fruit is complimented by plenty of spice and a smoke-like characteristic. This wine is a great match for red meat, especially grilled.

7. Paringa - Cabernet Sauvignon - South Australia, Australia 2008 - $10
Paringa winery was established by the Hickinbotham family in the late 1990's. Their 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon was the first $10 bottle to get a 90 point rating from the Wine Spectator. What solidified Paringa's place on this top ten list is their outstanding commitment to quality. Year after year they produce value-packed wines with great flavor and character, which is more than I can say for almost any other $10 Australian wine. This red is loaded with black fruit flavors of currant and blackberry. Its weight, tannin structure, and acidity make it a prime candidate for a big ol' steak, especially a top sirloin.

8. Decoy by Duckhorn - Zinfandel - Napa Valley, California 2008 - $22
Duckhorn was founded in the mid 1970's by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, and while this winery is by no means "new", the 2010 release of their 2008 Decoy Zinfandel marked the first vintage of this spicy devil. Duckhorn is a large, well-respected producer in Napa. They regularly receive high accolades from various industry specialists and trade magazines. The Decoy series has allowed them to showcase their Napa Zinfandel at a "non-Napa" price. For the first run of this red they produced over 9000 cases, no small amount for a market "test" batch. This juicy red pairs well with Cajun spiced pork, turkey, and beef.

9. Bodegas Volver - Tempranillo - La Mancha, Spain 2007 - $16
Volver could be my new love affair. Imported by Spanish wine icon Jorge Ordonez, this delectable red highlights the robust flavors and aromas of Tempranillo. It comes from the very large La Mancha sub-region of Spain. I say very large because La Mancha accounts for nearly one third of all the wine produced in Spain. This wine is full-bodied, with flavors and aromas of black and red fruit smothered in spice. This, coupled with its well integrated tannins, makes it a great pairing for lamb and beef. This wine gets better with each vintage, leaving me very excited for the 08'!

10. Quinta do Vallado - Red - Douro, Portugal 2007 - $19
While the Quinta do Vallado has been in the Ferreira family for six generations, it has only been in the last 10 years that we've seen the true quality this estate is capable of. It was in the late 1980's that the red wines of Portugal took a turn for the better. Before that time, grape prices were too low and growers made only enough money to sustain their businesses - updating equipment and staying current with technology was out of the question. But a surge of quality-conscious wine producers soon paved the way for what is now an encouraging wine industry.

For years the Ferreira family produced Port wines, but in 1993 they chose to steer their family winery in a different direction. It was at this time they took a quality-focused approach to red and white still table wine production. The 2007 Quinta do Vallado basic Red scored a 93 point rating in the Wine Spectator, a 92 point score in Wine & Spirits, and a 90 point rating from Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate. The wine is a blend of 5 native Portugese varietals, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz. The wine is muscular, with concentrated red fruit characteristics. A monster like this deserves a roast, a steak, or simply a refill.

While some of these producers have been around for quite a while, it's only recently that their production has gained enough attention to be recognized on the international wine scene. Think of this list as an opportunity to try wines you've never heard of, a project, if you would, for 2011. I hate to give homework, but if it involves drinking, I figure it's not a bad assignment. I would love to hear about your "new" 2011 wines, so contact me on Facebook or via email.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director