Monday, February 28, 2011

Top Ten Value-Packed New Zealand Wines

When I say Down Under, most people think Australia. But just across the Tasmania Sea lies a land filled with organic farms, fresh vegetables, and sheep. Lots of sheep. Oh yeah, and plenty of wine. Over the last 20 years, New Zealand has become a major player in the United States wine market. The Marlborough region produces some of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world, and Central Otago is Pinot Noir's home away from home. New Zealand is the mecca for fresh herbs and, let's not forget, sheep. Add their affinity for 'the barbie,' and you have yourself this week's post.

1. Forrest - 'The Doctors'' Riesling - Marlborough, New Zealand 2010 - $15
What do you get when you combine a molecular biologist, a doctor of medicine, and wine? A producer worthy of this week's top ten list. Doctors John and Brigid Forrest literally are Forrest wines of New Zealand. This artisan, hands-on, producer makes fabulous wines from the Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, and Waitaki Valley regions. Their Riesling comes from the Marlborough region, located on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

While grapes were first planted in Marlborough in the late 1800's, it wasn't until the late 1900's that the region really took off. Much of the credit goes to the Sauvignon Blanc variety, which accounts for over 50% of the region's area under vine. Along with Sauv Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir show incredible potential in Marlborough, benefiting from the moderately warm days, cool nights, low rainfall, and bountiful sunshine.

'The Doctors'' Riesling is sweet, but the sugar is matched by a racy acidity. It displays citrus fruit aromas of lime and lemon, followed by stone fruit aromas of peaches and apricots. If you're looking for the perfect pairing to a spicy Asian dish, look no further. This is a great value at only $15.

2. Ra Nui - Pinot Gris - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $18
From Ra Nui, this eco-friendly, quality conscious producer of New Zealand wines believes that "the wine is in the grape," so they focus their attention on the vineyards. According to their website,"Grapes are hand picked in the vineyard and transported direct to the winery. At the winery further hand selection takes place discarding any unwanted fruit before transferring to the press. We then further ensure that we retain all purity of texture and flavour by whole bunch pressing for all white wines in order to minimise skin contact resulting in juice with fine texture and maximum flavour. We see ourselves as “guardians” of the grape and adopt a low key non interventionist approach to our winemaking."

The Ra Nui Pinot Gris is Alsatian in style displaying aromas of pear, peach, and spice. It's slightly off-dry with a weighter style, making it perfect for soft cheeses, fried fish, and grilled chicken, especially with a little added spice.

3. Nobilo - 'Regional Collection' Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand 2010 - $14
New Zealand wines have seen a spike in popularity in the new millennium, and recently they've received lots of attention from industry critics who insist their Sauvignon Blancs are the best in the world. This new popularity has resulted in a number of wines doubling, if not tripling, in price in the last decade. I agree the wines are fabulous, but I liked them better at half the price. The value may not be quite as outlandish as it once was, but you can still get some bang for your buck if you know what you're looking for. In 2005 Nobilo's Regional Selection Sauvignon Blanc was a steal at $10, today it's still a good value at $14.

Nobilo was founded in 1943, by Nikola Nobilo. The winery was sold to Australian wine group BRL Hardy in 2000, which was later acquired by Constellation Brands in 2003 and sold again in 2011 to CHAMP. Today they are the second largest producer of New Zealand wines, and their 'Regional Collection' Sauvignon Blanc is a great value. Its typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, displaying citrus characteristics of grapefruit, lemon, and lime. It has a mouthwatering high acidity that showcases quintessential New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Try this wine with vegetarian dishes (including meals made using wine's arch nemesis Asparagus), pork, and seafood salads.

4. Tablelands - 'Single Vineyard' Sauvignon Blanc - Martinborough, New Zealand 2010 - $15
With this next top tenner we head north to Martinborough to check out the refreshing whites by Tablelands. As I mentioned, in the 1990's New Zealand exploded onto the wine scene with incredible Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough. However within the last decade, new regions like Martinborough have begun crafting high-quality, distinctive Sauvignon Blancs.

Martinborough, just a stones throw across the Cook Strait from Marlborough, is the most important sub-region in the greater Wellington region, located on New Zealand's North Island. While the region is best known for producing world-class Pinot Noir, Tablelands has proven that it's capable of so much more. Their Sauvignon Blanc combines the calling card citrus and grapefruit characteristics often affiliated with New Zealand Sauv Blanc, with a wonderful Sancerre-like grassiness. Try this wine with salads, stuffed peppers, and chicken or seafood with a heavy hand of cilantro or other fresh herbs.

5. The Crossings - 'Unoaked' Chardonnay - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $16
The Crossings was founded in the late 1990's by a group of wine lovers who realized the remarkable characteristics of the Marlborough region on New Zealand's South Island. Their first release was in 2001, and today their state-of-the-art winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in the region. The wine that made this top ten list was their 'Unoaked' Chardonnay.

Today many producers are marketing their wines as unoaked or “tree free” as the bulk wine producer Yellowtail puts it. Trends are shifting to this clean style over the splinter-in-the-mouth sensation you may get from wines that see a long time in new wood. Oak, however, shouldn't be written off as it is a key component in many quality wines. The flavors and textures imparted by it are often mellowed as a wine ages, making it essential for drink-later wines. This fresh, clean white produced by The Crossings Chardonnay is loaded with tree fruit aromas of green apple, stone fruit aromas of white peach, and citrus aromas of lime and lemon, and its racy acidity reminds the palate more of a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay. This wine makes for a great seafood partner. Think crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, trout, or halibut.

6. Craggy Range - 'Kidnapper's Vineyard' Chardonnay - Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2009 - $20
This next value-packed Kiwi wine comes from the coastal Te Awanga sub-region, in the greater Hawkes Bay zone of New Zealand's North Island. Funny thing about Hawkes bay: it's as commonly spelled with an apostrophe as without. The name Craggy Range comes from a vineyard site discovered by co-founder Steve Smith. Overlooking the Craggy Mountain Range, Smith found a parcel of stony clay soils ideally suited for growing Chardonnay. Upon this discovery Smith approached international businessman and Craggy Range co-founder, Terry Peabody with the idea of producing wine from the site. The first Craggy Range wines were made in 1999 and came from small vineyards in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. Over a decade later Craggy Range is considered one of New Zealand's finest producers.

The Craggy Range 'Kidnappers Vineyard' Chardonnay, named for the nearby Kidnappers Cape, is one of the finest Chards produced in the southern hemisphere. This wine displays tree fruit aromas and flavors of pear followed by citrus fruit characteristics of lemon and lime, along with a wonderful floral aroma. Pair this wine with lemon chicken dishes, seafood, and goose.

7. Goldschmidt - 'Goldschmidt Boulder Bank' Pinot Noir - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $18
Moving into reds, this next one is a steal at $18. Goldschmidt is owned and operated by twenty-five-year veteran winemaker and New Zealand native, Nick Goldschmidt. Owner of Goldschmidt Vineyards in California, Nick returns to his New Zealand roots each year to showcase two of New Zealand's preeminent varietals: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

While Pinot Noir is better known in Martinborough and Central Otago, the Boulder Bank Pinot Noir by Goldschmidt shows Marlborough is so much more than just Sauvignon Blanc. The Boulder Bank Pinot Noir is spicy with red fruit aromas and flavors of red currant, raspberries, and cranberries, followed by stone fruit aromas of plum. Pair this wine with mushroom dishes and sauces, red sauce pasta dishes, and roasted game.

8. Martinborough - 'Russian Jack' Pinot Noir - Martinborough, New Zealand 2009 - $20
Across the Cook Strait in the Martinborough sub-region of Wellington on the North Island, this producer makes things a little confusing for the consumer because Martinborough is both the region and the winery. Martinborough Vineyard was founded in the 1980's by a group of six wine enthusiasts. It has a track record of consistent excellence, which most marvel at. At a national level, Martinborough Vineyard has won gold medals or better for every Pinot Noir they've produced since 1986.

The 2009 'Russian Jack' Pinot Noir received an 88-point rating from Wine Spectator, a remarkable feat for a $20 wine. With aromas and flavors of red fruit along with blueberries and spice, this one's a great partner for lean beef, pork loin, and lamb, especially when prepared on the grill.

9. Wild Rock - 'Cupid's Arrow' Pinot Noir - Central Otago, New Zealand 2007 - $20
Central Otago, located on New Zealand's South Island, is home to the highest elevation vineyards in the country, and is one of the southern most wine producing regions in the world. Wild Rock winery is a unique group of innovative, eco-friendly producers who just want to make really good wine at an affordable price. Their carefree attitude and extracurricular activities extend into their marketing efforts as they are the main wine sponsor for the surf company Billabong. The winery is distributed by Kobrand, a large wine and spirits group which represents producers like Louis Jadot, Cakebread, Taylor Fladgate, and Craggy Range. Wild Rock benefits from the resources of Craggy Range, including their winemaking team, vineyards, and marketing support.

Wild Rock claims that "Pinot Noir is the most feminine and romantic of all the grape varieties," so with that came the Cupid’s Arrow name. The 2007 Cupid's Arrow Pinot Noir displays aromas and flavors of Red currants, cherries, roses, mushrooms, and spice, and begs to be served with grilled meats (especially veal chops), mushroom dishes, and salmon.

10. Mills Reef - 'Reserve' Merlot/Malbec - Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2008 - $20
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Mills Reef Merlot/Malbec from Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay is New Zealand's oldest wine region. When people think Hawkes Bay, they think rich, creamy, and complex Chardonnays and racy Sauvignon Blancs. And the last thing they think when they hear New Zealand is Malbec. Nevertheless, the varietal grows in a variety of places in the country, including Hawkes Bay.

The Mills Reef Winery was founded in 1989 by Paddy Preston. The "Mills" name is a reference to Paddy's great grandfather, Charles Mills, a sea captain who arrived in New Zealand from the U.K. in 1864. The "Reef" refers not only to the captain's keen eye at sea but also to Charles' efforts in the underground mines of New Zealand. The Mills Reef 'Reserve' Merlot/Malbec is a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Malbec. This floral red displays dark fruit flavors and aromas of blackcurrant and blackberry, followed by stone fruit characteristics of plum. Pair this wine with steak (especially Filet Mignon), full-flavored cheeses, and roast duck.

New Zealand has no shortage of value-packed wine. This list gave insight into the country's wine industry as well as highlighted a few of my favorites. If there's a value-packed Kiwi wine you think should've made the list, 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.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life is short, 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!

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, February 21, 2011

Top Ten California Cabs for Under $20

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the most widely planted red gape varieties around the world. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the grape accounts for over 25% of the land planted to red wine grapes in California, more than Pinot Noir but a lot less than Chardonnay. With this kind of coverage the Cab spectrum is wide, from $10 to $1000 and from generic, commercially-produced to artisan boutique style. Taking into consideration the current economy, I think it's fitting to dedicate this week's post to California's value-packed Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

1. Line 39 - Cabernet Sauvignon - Lake County, California 2007 - $10
Line 39 benefits from the lack of a mortgage payment, and not because of a foreclosure. They don't own vineyards or a brick and mortar winery. Instead they purchase fruit and rent resources to create mind blowing wine for the price. Founder Roy Cecchetti has over 20 years of wine industry experience, building brands that include the Pepperwood Grove line. The label sources fruit from Lake County, a region that Bob Browman, Line 39 winemaker, describes as the "new frontier." This area is often seen playing a role in North Coast AVA wines, which also includes Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano counties. The Line 39 name refers to latitude 39, where many of the great wine growing regions of the world are found, including Lake County of course. With a full body and dark fruit aromas and flavors, this Cali Cab is a steal at only $10!

2. Cycles Gladiator - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $10
Cycles Gladiator is value-packed brand produced by California wine icon Hahn Family Wines. This wine's label, a replica of an 1895 French bicycle advertisement featuring the image of a nude woman flying alongside a bike amid a star-filled sky, created quite an uproar in Alabama. In 2009 the state banned the label from appearing on retail shelves or wine lists. President of Hahn Family Wines Bill Leigon explains, "The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control did, in fact, approve the label when the wine came into the market in 2006, but suddenly changed its mind late last year. We were unaware of the new ruling until now when it was deemed pornographic." Personally I say good! More Cycles Gladiator for me. However the "negative publicity" has proven positive for the company helping them reach sales of over 600,000 cases since the wines inception in 2006. This $10 red is full-bodied with juicy red fruit flavors and aromas. Fight the man! Drink Cycles Gladiator.

3. Bogle - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $11
This next producer often finds its way into my wine tastings. I always tell people to take the Bogle challenge. It's kind of like the Old Spice challenge, but you don't have to take off your shirt and you get to drink. Bogle was founded in the 1970's and today is still family owned and operated. Their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fruit was sourced from Clarksburg, Lodi and Lake County, and the wine was aged for 14 months in American oak barrels. The flavors are big and bold, and this wine has aging potential, all for the low price of $11. Pick up a bottle and take the Bogle challenge.

4. McManis - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2008 - $11
McManis Family Vineyards was founded in 1990 by Ron and Jamie McManis. Often compared to Bogle and competing for a similar market, McManis is still family owned and operated. The winery produces 300,000 cases of wine annually, over 100,000 of which are Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is likely sourced from their 2500+ acres of wine grapes, equally divided between Ripon and Lodi. The McManis Cab is ripe and spicy, with dark fruit flavors and aromas. Wine Spectator awarded the 2008 McManis Cab 85 points, a pretty amazing feat for an $11 wine. Pick up a bottle and you'll taste value.

5. The Crusher -'Wilson Vineyard' Cabernet Sauvignon - Clarksburg, California 2007 - $13
The Crusher is produced by Don Sebastiani and Sons. Don Sebastiani, of the famous Sebastiani wines, has over 30 years of industry experience. Don Sebastiani & Sons' portfolio currently consists of everyday labels like Smoking Loon, Flock, B Side, and Pepperwood Grove to name a few. The Crusher line was designed to focus on everyday, good-quality wines. The Crusher Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Clarksburg, a large area south of Sacramento. This big-boned red shows depth, complexity, and structure. It's safe to say you get a lot of wine for only $13 with The Crusher.

6. Bota Box - Cabernet Sauvignon - California 2007 - $19 (3L)
Yes, that's right. This one comes in a box. But before you break out in sweats and having flashbacks of your Franzia White Zin days, hear me out. Bota Box has a lot of advantages. It holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine, and its design allows you to drink wine by the glass without worrying about waste or spoilage. This system keeps wine fresh for up to 45 days after opening. Consider me converted. Not that spoilage or waste are a real problem in my house, but for those of you who pace yourselves, here's your solution. They claim their practice is "state of the art," but it's still a bag and tap system. I don't know about all of the "innovative" talk, but it's good juice and it's always on tap. Try to get past the embarrassment of heading to the register with boxed wine in hand and see for yourself. The proof is in the bag.

7. Louis M. Martini - Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma County, California 2007 - $17
Louis M Martini was founded in Napa Valley in 1933, and sold to the Gallo family in 2002. Today all they do is Cabernet Sauvignon, and with their '07 Sonoma Cab, it's safe to say they do it well. Sonoma County encompasses six valleys and 13 American Viticulture Areas (AVA). This particular wine comes from a number of appellations in the county. The 2007 Martini Cab is robust, with dark fruit and spice. If you are looking for a fat Cab to pair with your steak, look no further than this monster.

8. 4 Bears - 'Sean Minor' Cabernet Sauvignon - Napa Valley, California 2007 - $17
Four Bears Winery and Sean Minor Wines were founded in 2005 By Sean and Nicole Minor. After realizing their largest monthly expense was wine, the Minors decided to throw their hat into the ring and make money off their vice. The Minor winery is all about family; in fact, they named their business for their four children. With the help of family friend and colleague, Will Bucklin, 4 Bears' initial production featured a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast Chardonnay, and Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc. They have since added a Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Merlot, and a Napa Valley Carneros Pinot Noir. Today the winery produces good quality wines at an everyday price. This Cab is well-balanced, with lots of character. You won't be disappointed.

9. Kunde Estate - Cabernet Sauvignon - Sonoma Valley, California 2007 - $18
Kunde Family Estate has been family owned and operated since 1904 when Louis Kunde, a German immigrant, acquired the Wildwood Vineyards ranch in Sonoma. Today the fourth and fifth generation oversee an operation comprised of state-of-the-art winemaking resources and 1,850 contiguous acres of sustainably farmed vineyards of which 700 acres are planted to more than twenty different varieties of wine grapes. This wine comes from Sonoma Valley, an area where reds fend well and where vines have been planted for almost two centuries. Kunde's Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is big and tight, and has the components to age for the better part of a decade. If you pick up a bottle, forget about it for a few years.

10. B. R. Cohn - 'Silver Label' Cabernet Sauvignon - North Coast, California 2007 - $20
B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company was founded in 1984 by Bruce Cohn. A well connected grape grower since 1974, Bruce began his career by selling fruit to producers like Sebastiani, Caymus, Ravenswood, and Gundlach-Bundschu from his now-acclaimed Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. Along the way Cohn has employed a number of of iconic California winemakers including Helen Turley, Merry Edwards, and Steve MacRostie. Today the winery produces about 75,000 cases annually. Their 2007 'Silver Label' Cabernet Sauvignon received a well-deserved 88-point rating from Wine Spectator for its depth and complexity. If you're looking for ultra-premium wine at a reasonable price, check out the B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon; it's a great bang for the buck.

This list was actually fairly easy to put together. The grape's popularity and the lack of good quality Cabs for under $20 left me searching for ten rather than sifting for ten. Don't get me wrong, there were plenty that didn't make the list, but to find accessible California Cabs with this kind of quality for under $20 is becoming more and more difficult. If there's a value-packed Cali Cab you think should make the list, 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.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life is short, 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!

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, February 14, 2011

Top Ten Value Packed Wines From Down Under

The Australian wine industry seems to be a hot topic as of recent. From the country's strong dollar, to flooding, to a lack of demand that has resulted in an ocean of left over juice, the Aussie wine industry has gotten a bad rap. So I wanted to clarify precisely what's up Down Under. Australia today is making as-good if not better-than-ever wine, and the prices haven't really changed. Part Australia's problem derives from the fact that "critter label" wines dominate retail end caps. Producers like Yellowtail and Lindemans have become the calling card of the country's wine industry, but they have so much more than that to offer. There are some outstanding artisan producers as well as some really value-packed wines being produced. If you're looking to stretch your buck and try some good quality juice, look no further than Australia.

1. Pewsey Vale - 'Dry' Riesling - Eden Valley, Australia 2010 - $17
When most people think Riesling, they automatically think sweet. However this delicious treat by Pewsey Vale is dry. It's clean, crisp and refreshing, and teeters more on the style of new world Sauvignon Blanc than it does lush, sweet Columbia Valley Riesling. Operated by the award winning Yalumba winery, Pewsey Vale benefits from the skillful hand of winemaker Louisa Rose. Today the estate is viewed as one of the finest producers of Riesling in the Southern Hemisphere. This particular gem by Pewsey Vale comes from the Eden Valley sub-region located in the Barossa Zone of the state of South Australia. An area that benefits from a higher elevation than the neighboring Barossa Valley region. Higher elevation provides a cooler climate, ideal for growing and producing wines with a higher acidity, especially dry whites using the Riesling variety.

2. Yalumba - 'Y-Series' - South Australia, Australia 2009 - $10
Viognier is a variety native to the south of France but today we are seeing plantings all over the world. The grape's emerging popularity stems from the fact that it showcases the elegance of Riesling with the weight of Chardonnay. The Yalumba winery was founded in the mid 1800's. It's Australia's oldest family-owned winery. An innovative producer, Yalumba practices eco-friendly winemaking techniques, and are one of the finest New World producers of Viognier. If you are looking to explore new varieties but don't want to break the bank, start with Yalumba. Their Y-Series is a great bang for the buck.

3. Two Hands - 'Brilliant Disguise' Moscato - Barossa, Australia 2009 - $19 (500ml)
Brilliant Disguise is a delicious, sweet, slightly sparkling white wine produced by Two Hands. The 'two hands' are Michael Twelftree, a former construction worker, and Richard Mintz, an accountant. Sounds like a bang up wine team right? The two started the company in 1999 with the idea of creating world-class Shiraz. Their wines are critically acclaimed, rarely receiving ratings under 90 points from the Wine Spectator. The Two Hands Brilliant Disguise comes from the Barossa Valley sub-region of South Australia, and the grape used to make this wine is Moscato. In Australia alone the grape goes by three different names: Muscat à petits grains, Brown Muscat or Frontignac. Two Hands refers to this grape as Frontignac, which again is simply a synonym for Muscat. Looking for that perfect pairing for stinky cheeses or fruit desserts? Look no further than this delectable Moscato.

4. Wishing Tree - 'Unoaked' Chardonnay - Western Australia, Australia 2008 - $13
The Wishing Tree Chardonnay comes from Western Australia, specifically the area around Margret River, which is quickly becoming the country's finest region. There is a sticker above the label on the bottle that indicates this wine is imported by the World Wine Headquarters, which is owned by John Larchet. Larchet has some super cool wines in his portfolio. In fact, he has been described as the Kermit Lynch of Aussie wines. That's quite a compliment when you consider Lynch is a well respected importer who brings us a bunch of really cool French wines. While many Chardonnays see a heavy hand of oak, this particular white is unoaked, resulting in a refreshing, clean style.

5. Angove's - 'Nine Vines' Grenache/Shiraz Rosé - South Australia, Australia 2010 - $12
When it comes to the spring and summer, this writer reaches for rosé. Because real men drink pink. This Aussie rosé comes from the South Australia state of Australia. While this is a big delimitation, it's also the area that consistently produces the highest quality juice in the country. Angove Family Winemakers has been making wine for almost one hundred years. They are still family owned and operated, and while they started out in the early 1900's as a small operation, today their high tech winery can make over one million cases each year. Their Nine Vines Rose is a blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Shiraz.

6. Robert Oatley - Sauvignon Blanc - Pemberton, Australia 2010 - $16
When I think clean, crisp white wines from the southern hemisphere, I rarely think Australian Sauvignon Blanc. This is because the Kiwi's do it better. It is their flagship varietal after all. But the Aussies have jumped on the Sauvignon Blanc bandwagon, and this particular example by Robert Oatley is easily the best I've ever had from Australia. The label indicates this wine comes from Pemberton, a fairly young but up and coming sub-region of Western Australia.

Robert 'Bob' Oatley is a native Australian often credited as the pioneer of Aussie exports. Oatley owned the infamous Rosemount Estate for several decades, the most recognized and successful family-owned Australian winery. His achievements with Chardonnay put Rosemount on the world wine map. His success with Shiraz, especially in the US, was instrumental in establishing the grape as a permanent feature on wine lists and retail shelves here. Today his smaller operation makes great artisan examples of Aussie wines. Case in point: this racy white.

7. Innocent Bystander - Pinot Noir - Victora, Australia 2008 - $20
This next "top tenner" comes from Yarra Valley sub-region in the greater Victoria state of Australia. Yarra Valley is considered by many the Burgundy of Australia. Innocent Bystander is owned by Phil Sexton, a brilliant veteran winemaker who also own the Giant Steps label in the Yarra Valley. The Innocent Bystander wines are distinctly regional, varietally expressive, and definitely not your run of the mill blends. Their Pinot Noir regularly receives high accolades from food and wine trade magazines around the world. All of the grapes used in the production of this beautiful red are hand picked.

8. St. Hallett - Shiraz/Grenache 'Gamekeeper's Reserve' - Australia 2008 - $13
Established in 1944, the St. Hallett winery is a value-packed producer making wine in and around the Barossa region of South Australia. Their wines have been produced under the skillful hand of winemaker Stuart Blackwell since 1973. Blackwell won Barossa Winemaker of the Year in 2003, and in 2004 the winery was named Winery of the Year by Wine and Spirits Magazine. What first interested me about their Gamekeepers Reserve was the unusual makeup of the blend. It's comprised of Shiraz, Grenache, and Touriga Nacional. Shiraz and Grenache don't surprise me at all; these grapes are commonly used together in blends, especially in Australia. It was the Touriga that caught my eye. This is a varietal native to Portugal, used in the production of Port wines from the country. The dash of Touriga adds a wonderful floral component to this spicy red.

9. d'Arenberg - 'The Stump Jump Red' - Adelaide, Australia 2009 - $10
Founded in 1943 by Francis d’Arenberg Osborn, d'Arenberg is often viewed as the pioneer winery of the McLaren Vale sub-region of South Australia. According to the website, "The name ‘Stump Jump’ pays homage to a significant South Australian invention – the Stump Jump plough. As well as clearing the land around McLaren Vale, it was adopted worldwide in the late 19th century because of its ability to ride over stumps and gnarled roots, saving valuable time and energy." The red is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz, and Mourvedre. All three of the varietals are native to the south of France but have become increasingly popular in Australia. If you're looking for an easy drinking red at a great price, pick up the Stump Jump Red by d'Arenberg.

10. Nine Stones - Shiraz - Barossa, Australia 2008 - $14
According to Vineyard Brands, the importer of Nine Stones, "Nine Stones began as a collaboration be­tween Denis Power and Len Evans, a well-known wine educator and raconteur. Since Len’s death in 2006, Denis has continued the work of the Evans Wine Company, which also houses Bulletin Place and Kingsvale Ridge. Both Len Evans and Denis Power are of Celtic origin, and the name Nine Stones derives from the ancient Celtic custom of creating circular patterns of standing stones. The initial release wines were three wines of the Shiraz variety, selected to display the characteristics of the region from which they emanate." The three regions are Barossa, McLaren Vale, and Hilltops Region. For this top ten list I selected the Barossa Shiraz because, dollar for dollar, it's one of the best. If you thought Aussie Shiraz was one dimensional - high in alcohol and a fruity mess - think again.

As I mentioned earlier the country has no shortage of stunning wines for the price, so narrowing the list to ten was tough. Australia simply needs to get past the stigma wrapped so tightly around it, and hopefully posts like this will help by giving insight into smaller producers crafting higher quality wines at a great price. If there's a value-packed Aussie wine you think should make the list, 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.

Sign up today for a 6 Month Membership and receive a FREE wine glass set, a $19.95 value. Life is short, 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!

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Ten Sweet Wines For Your Sweetie

Ah, Valentine's Day. A wonderful Hallmark holiday; the chance to show someone how much you care by the offering of material goods. Personally, I find it's an opportunity to purchase half-priced heart-shaped candy on the 15th. Although I have to say, my sweetie wasn't impressed when I showed up a day late to hand her a half-eaten box of chocolates with a clearance sticker on it. This year I'll remember to take off the price tag. For those of you looking for something a little more daring than chocolates, I've put together a list of the top ten sweet wines for your sweetie, along with a few pairing suggestions.

1. Michele Chiarlo - 'Nivole' Moscato d'Asti - Piedmont, Italy 2009 - $15 (375ml)
When it comes to sweet wine, Moscato is a fan favorite here in the United States. People love the fresh flavors and bubbly sweetness of this wine. The best Moscato's from Italy come from the Moscato d'Asti DOCG (quality Italian wine region) in Piedmont. What I like about Michele Chiarlo's 'Nivole' Moscato d'Asti is that the fruit is fresh, rather than syrupy like you sometimes experience in other sweet bubblies from the region. This refreshing Moscato paired with a heavenly slice of Tiramisu is proof that God wants us to be happy.

2. Rosa Regale by Banfi - Brachetto d'Acqui - Piedmont, Italy 2009 - $24
Brachetto: the grape. Acqui: the region. Love: the word I use to describe this wine paired with chocolate covered strawberries. The Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG is a region of Piedmont not far from Asti. I feel like Vigne Regale by Banfi just waits each year for February 14th. All of their marketing for their delicious sweet, red, frizzante (semi-sparkling) is designed to persuade consumers to pair their Rosa Regale with a romantic evening. If you're looking to fall in love this Valentine's Day, pick up a glass of this wine and smell the fresh berries on the nose. With just one sip you'll realize you didn't really know love until you met Brachetto d'Aqcui.

3. Poet's Leap by Long Shadows Vineyards - Riesling - Columbia Valley, Washington 2009 - $20
This German-influenced Riesling from Washington's Columbia Valley is a perfect balance of fruit, acid, and sugar. Pair this poetic white with an apple dessert, and you'll find yourself finally understanding the word utopia. Long Shadows was founded by former Stimson Lane (Chateau Ste. Michelle) executive Allen Shoup. According to the company's website this wine is "inspired by the greatest wines of Germany and crafted by one of Germany's most highly acclaimed Riesling producers, Armin Diel, proprietor of the renowned Schlossgut Diel." Truly a wonderfully balanced Riesling at a great price.

4. Pacific Rim - Gewurztraminer - Columbia Valley, Washington 2009 - $11
While my heart was literally broken after legendary winemaker Randall Grahm (owner of Bonny Doon Wines) sold Pacific Rim winery to Banfi, this is, never the less, a great little wine for the price. The Pacific Rim Gewurztraminer is loaded with fresh fruit aromas of grapefruit and lychee nut, along with a wonderful floral component. Gewurztraminer is continuing to see sales growth in the US. If you thought this grape was one-dimensional, keep exploring with dryer styles from Alsace, France. Enjoy the Pacific Rim Gewurz with a lychee-topped dessert and a dimly lit room.

5. Inniskillin - Riesling 'Ice Wine' - Niagara Peninsula, Canada 2007 - $75 (375ml)
The Canucks take Ice Wine very serious. With many great Canadian Ice Wines to choose from, usually at a hefty price, it was Inniskillin's pivotal role in the advancement of Canadian wine that made me choose this producer over another. Inniskillin was founded by Don Ziraldo, one of Canada's greatest publicists, and Karl Kaiser, a highly respected oenologist. Hugh Johnson explains in the World Wine Atlas: "Their real break has been the discovery that Ice-Wine comes naturally to them. In 1991 Inniskillin’s Vidal Icewine won a Grand Prix d’Honneur at Vinexpo in Bordeaux. Now almost every winery makes Icewine – the best of astounding luscious freshness.” Pair this golden, sweet treat with some Créme Brulée to experience lust in food and wine form.

6. Castello di Brolio by Barone Ricasoli - Vin Santo del Chianti Classico - Tuscany, Italy 2004 - $52 (375ml)
Vin Santo is a red or white passito wine that may be sweet, semisweet, or dry. This particular treat by Baron Ricasoli is sweet, and makes for a great pairing to any nutty dessert. Or, for a little less sugar, try it with an almond biscotti. Barone Ricasoli explains, "According to Family Business, the leading American magazine that deals with the world classification of family businesses, Barone Ricasoli is the fourth longest-lived company in the world and the second in the wine sector.Barone Ricasoli is therefore the oldest winery in Italy." Whatever the case, they make a delicious Vin Santo for you and your special someone to enjoy on heart day.

7. M. Chapoutier - Banyuls - Languedoc-Roussillion, France 2007 - $27 (5ooml)
When I think poached pears, I think Banyuls. Banyuls AOC (quality French wine region) is the most southerly appellation in France. It is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, which produces fortified sweet wines, locally called Vin Doux Natural. While Vin Doux Natural translates to "Naturally Sweet," it is truly anything but. These wines are produced in a fashion that resembles port - a spirit is added to arrest fermentation. What you are left with is a sweet, high-alcohol wine. M. Chapoutier uses eco-friendly winemaking techniques and produces a killer Banyuls for the price. You, a bottle of Banyuls, a poached pear dessert, and Barry White. Oh yeah, and your significant other...better get two bottles.

8. Blandy's - 5-Year-Old Alvada - Madeira, Portugal NV - $15 (500ml)
When most people think pecan pie, they think Thanksgiving. I think Blandy's Alvada Madeira. This wine, as it's name implies, comes from the Portuguese island of Madeira. What makes it so special is the way in which it's produced. The wine is deliberately heated to replicate the accidental maderization that occurred at equatorial temperature during the voyages of old. Blandy's is a fine producer for the price. The Blandy's flavor profile could be described as liquid pecan pie. No wonder the pairing is so good: I'll take a slice of pecan pie with a side of pecan pie in a glass, please!

9. Emilio Lustau - 'East India Solera' Sherry - Jerez, Spain NV - $23
I've heard it too often: "I hate Sherry." But most don't know that there are two distinctly different styles of Sherry. Dry Fino style Sherry could be equated to drinking seawater. But the sweet Oloroso style is delicious and rich, and makes for a great pairing to chocolate. Like Port, Sherry is fortified. But unlike Port, the spirit is added at the end of fermentation. Emilio Lustau is arguably one of the country's most notable producers and makes a range of products. For the price, I'm a big fan of the East India Solera, which is full of nutty toffee and caramel characteristics. So here's a V-Day plan: Open the box of chocolates, bite into each one and set the toffee ones aside to enjoy with this Sherry.

10. Fonseca - Bin No. 27 Finest Reserve Port - Douro, Portugal NV - $19
Last but not least we have a delectable bottle of Port. According to Fonseca, "The Bin No. 27 was created over a century ago for family consumption, and only released commercially in 1972. Blended from reserve wines selected for their intense fruit character and depth of color, Fonseca Bin No. 27 spends four years in large wood vats prior to bottling. Although it may improve slightly with bottle age, Bin No. 27 is ready to consume when bottled. It does not require decanting, as a cold precipitation prior to bottling prevents any 'crust' from forming." What I like about this one is value for the price. That and it's a great pairing for stinky cheeses and chocolate, especially dark chocolate. I can't promise you a night of passion with your significant other, but crack open a bottle of Fonseca, serve up a plate of dark chocolate treats, and I promise you'll be head over heels.

No matter who your sweetie is, you're sure to find a wine to make your Valentine's Day special. Skip buying one of the over eight billion cliche candy hearts that are produced each year; a bottle of wine with a beautiful bouquet are sure to impress. And if there's no sweetie for you this year, just think of it as more for you.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director