La Paulée Burgundy Week Tasting

Since I got into, as I call it, “the wine thing” about 10 years ago, I’ve sought out and tasted wines from the world’s major (and a few not so major) wine regions – France, Italy, Spain, California, Oregon, Washington, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Portugal, Greece, and even Croatia. All to varying degrees of course. But by way of wine, I’ve virtually traveled pretty much everywhere I’ve wanted to go in the wine world.

Except for the heart of Burgundy.

My only experience with Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) was a dinner with my wife at RN74 in San Francisco for my birthday last summer.

And you know how it is when you consider purchasing a bottle of wine in a restaurant.  You figure you’ll get (maybe) a good bottle of wine for what you could have purchased a much better bottle of wine at retail.  So we ordered by the glass.  The wines were good

And that was the extent of my Burgundy experience – my wife and I shared glasses of one white and one red Burgundy.

When I saw that my favorite wine store K&L Wine Merchants was doing a tasting In conjunction with La Paulée Burgundy Week in San Francisco (click here to learn more and review participating restaurants) from March 2-15,  I seized the opportunity. 

Hey?! Wait a minute isn’t that about two weeks? I guess that’s just how Burgundy rolls!

La Paulée de San Francisco 2014 will continue the tradition of serving guests the world’s greatest wines with cuisine from the world’s finest chefs.

The tasting featured fourteen (7 each) white and red Burgundies, including some Grand Crus.

The cost? – $20…which is less than those two glasses of wine at RN74 cost us…

photo (58)

 Here’s a quick sip on Burgundy:

  • Fairly small region in central eastern France that make some of the world’s most sought after and expensive wines
  • The two main grapes in Burgundy are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
  • Made up of six regions (from north to south) – Chablis, the Côte d’Or (considered the heart of Burgundy and comprised of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune) , the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnaise, and Beaujolais to the south.
  • The system of land ownership is complex – Burgundy has thousands of tiny vineyards, and the classification of the quality of land in Burgundy is the most elaborate on earth
  • Wines are classified into four levels (starting with the most basic and moving up) Burgundy Red and White; Village Wine, Premier Cru (“1er”), and Grand Cru.

Of the wines tasted – for the whites, there were 2 Burgundy whites, 3 Village and 1 each of Premier Cru and Grand Cru. For the reds, there was one Burgundy red, 3 Village, 2 Premier Cru, and 1 Grand Cru.

My tasting notes follow:

photo (56)

  • 2011 Domaine Matrot Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc – France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc
    Pale lemon yellow color with pear, citrus and a hint of white flower aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and fresh with a wonderful mouth feel and apple, pear and citrus flavors. Medium+ finish. 100% Chardonnay. From vineyards averaging 30 years of age located next to the vaunted village of Mersault. Fantastic price quality ratio. Retail-$18! (89 pts.)
  • 2012 Paul Pernot et ses Fils Bourgogne Blanc – France, Burgundy, Bourgogne Blanc
    Aromas of apple, guava, citrus and a kiss of melon. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with vibrant acidity, and a great mouth feel. It shows apple, lime, melon, mineral and a bit of spiced lemon flavors. Long finish. Declassified Puligny Montrachet from younger vines. Definitely over-delivers for the price.  Retail- $22. (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Marius Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses
    Restrained pear, tropical and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and fresh with pear, mineral and a bit of spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Retail-$32 (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Maison Jacques Bavard Auxey-Duresses Les Clous – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Auxey-Duresses
    Appealing pear, citrus, almond, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied, elegant, focused, and persistent with pear, apple, citrus and mineral flavors. Long finish. Terrific wine from just over the hill from Meursault! Retail-$32 (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Marius Delarche Corton-Charlemagne – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru
    Generous, beautiful peach, lemon cream, spice, white flower and mineral aromas. On the palate it’s medium/full bodied, and well-structured with a silky texture, vibrant acidity, and peach, fuji apple, mineral and spice flavors. Long finish Retail -$90 (93 pts.)

photo (59)

  • 2011 Château de la Charrière Bourgogne – France, Burgundy, Bourgogne
    Subtle red fruit, earth, and hint of floral aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, with good acidity, supple tannins, and bright cherry, strawberry, and mineral flavors. Very good value especially for Burgundy! Retail-$16 (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Château de la Charrière Beaune Cuvée Vieilles Vignes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Beaune
    Appealing cherry, raspberry, and faint floral aromas. On the palate, it’s lean, fresh, with good structure and cherry, raspberry, and mineral flavors. Long finish. Great price quality ratio! Retail-$20! (89 pts.)
  • 2011 Château de la Charrière Santenay 1er Cru Clos Rousseau – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Santenay 1er Cru
    Black cherry, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with fine grained tannins and cherry, raspberry and mineral flavors. Medium-long finish. Retail-$25 (88 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Marius Delarche Pernand-Vergelesses – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Pernand-Vergelesses
    Red fruit, spice and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s between light and medium-bodied with lively acidity and cherry, raspberry, spice and mineral flavors. Medium finish. Retail-$25 (87 pts.)
  • 2011 Faiveley Monthélie Les Champs-Fulliot – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Monthélie
    Aromatic cherry, earth, and mineral flavors. On the palate it’s medium-bodied, and well-structured with a silky texture, dusty tannins, and cherry, and mineral flavors. Long finish. Retail-$39 (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Domaine Marius Delarche Corton-Renardes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Corton Grand Cru
    Exuberant red fruit aromas. On the palate it’s between medium and full-bodied, harmonious, and persistent with a silky texture. It shows beautiful red fruit, spice, and mineral flavors. Long finish. Retail-$70 (92 pts.)

The tasting was a wonderful introduction to Côte d’Or (really Côte de Beaune since only one wine was from Côte de Nuits).  My takeaways were as follows:

  • I was pleasantly surprised to know that there are some very good options available for less than $25.
  • I very much enjoyed the white Burgundies. In fact, more than I enjoy most California Chardonnay I’ve tried.  Will buy more!
  • On the other hand, only the last two red Burgundies, which were $65-$70 would make me think about giving up the California and Oregon Pinot Noir I enjoy.  In general, I found them to be a bit too lean for my palate (granted they may be better with food than on their own as tasted).
  • It can be a challenge to make an informed buying decision due to the complexities of Burgundy associated with the fragmentation of vineyards, and the tremendous diversity of styles and quality from vintage to vintage (which is why I love tastings such as this one).

Bottom line?  I’d buy the whites in a heart beat! The reds? – I have my doubts about the Burgundy value proposition.  While I’m sure I could find some red Burgundy that I enjoy as much, if not more than those of  California, Oregon, or even perhaps New Zealand, I’m afraid I’d have to spend way more to do so. 

Related post you might enjoy:


Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Drink Pink! – Wine Of The Week; 2012 Skouras Zoë Rosé

It’s that time of year… Yes, it’s rosé season!. With that in mind, I’ve embarked upon a   series of weekly “Drink Pink!” rosé tastings.  This week’s rosé is the 2012 Skouras Zoë Rosé.

I picked up this wine on a whim from my favorite wine store K&L Wine Merchants. The wine is produced by Domaine Skouras in Greece. Skouras Winery was established in 1986 in Greece by Dijon-trained oenologist George Skouras. In 1988 Skouras was the first winemaker to blend Saint George, a Greek grape (aka Aghiorghitiko), with Cabernet Sauvignon and with illustrious results. Today, Domaine Skouras is on the forefront of the burgeoning Greek wine movement.

The wine is a blend of 70% Agiorgitiko (pronounced eye-your-YEE-tih-koh), a black-skinned grape native to Southern Greece, and 30% Moscofilero, a pink skinned grape native to Peloponnese, Greece.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel vats.

Drink PInk! Rose of the Week; Skouras Zoe Rose

Drink PInk! Rose of the Week; 2012 Skouras Zoe Rose

My tasting notes follow:

Strawberry red with a pink tinge color with lively wild strawberry, rose petal and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium/full-bodied, fresh and dry with strawberry, cherry, spice and mineral flavors. Medium finish.  12.5 % alcohol. 

Rating:  B+

I really enjoyed this wine, and at $10 is offers great value for the money.  I especially liked that it shows more body that most rosés.  It’s a rosé that one would enjoy with a wide variety of foods including more substantial fare.  This wine will be a repeat purchase for me!

Wine purchased for review

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff!  Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.


Wines of Spain Smackdown – 8 Spanish Reds under $20 Blind-tasted!

The theme for the most recent gathering of the Pacific Point Wine Club (“PPWTC” was “Wines of Spain”.  The PPWTC is entering its third year, and going strong.  Initially we met every couple of months, but based on popular demand, we now meet every 6 weeks or so. It’s been so gratifying to see folks grow in their knowledge of wine while having fun, and making new friends.  We’ve even had  a “field trip” last year  when we got together at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company for a day full of food, fun and wine!  We’re planning a  Bocce ball night next month.

We changed things up a bit for the “Wines of Spain” theme.  It was our first time geographic rather than varietal theme, and we also changed how the wines for our blind-tasting were acquired.  Rather than folks bringing bottles, I purchased all the bottles for the tasting. That way we could ensure a more consistent quality in the wines tasted, there would be no duplicates, and we could capitalize on the opportunity for regional diversity that Spain is all about.

The Food

We always get the night started with food and fellowship.  Everyone is asked  to bring an appetizer or dish that will pair with the wines we’ll be blind-tasting.  Since our theme was ” Wines of Spain”, the two main entrees were of Spanish origin.

We enjoyed Seafood Fideuà (pronounced FID-a-wah, but a.k.a “Fideo” and pronounced FI-day-o), a dish that originated in the Valencia region of Spain.  It’s similar to Paella except it’s made with toasted noodles instead of rice.Wines of Spain - Fideua

The other main dish was this fabulous Paella…

Wine of Spain - Paella

Other culinary delights were homemade lentil salad, homemade sweet tamales, and a plethora of other appetizers.  And what’s food without wine? We always have few bottles of “starter” wines on before the main event.  For this gathering all the wines Spanish including:

Spanish Wine Overview

Spain has about 2.8 million acres under vine, making it the most widely planted wine-producing nation in the world.  It’s in perennial third place among wine-producing countries behind Italy and France, and ahead of the U.S.

The main grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache) (reds); Airén, Viura/Macabéo, Verdejo,  and Albariño (white). But there are over 200 different varieties of grapes grown in Spain! Aside from still red, white and rose wines, Spain also produces sparkling wine called “Cava” and one of the world’s most underrated wines, and miraculous wines- Sherry. 

Spain is in the midst of a wine revolution which has seen an explosion in the styles of wines, modernization of wine-making techniques, brands, and regions. As a result, Spanish wine are enjoying an worldwide surge in popularity. Eric Asimov of the N.Y.T. says

The wine universe has been expanding at an accelerated rate over the last decade or so, and no place illustrates it better than Spain.  New appellations have joined historic names.  Forgotten regions have reinvented themselves.

As you can see from the map below, Spain has wine growing regions pretty much everywhere.  But that is part of Spain’s advantage – a winning combination of altitude and latitude.

There are over 60 different wine growing regions known as “DO’s” or Denominaciones de Origen (with two exceptions – DOC Rioja, and DOQ Priorat – considered to be the flagships of Spanish wine making).  Such diversity certainly presents a challenge in terms of getting to know the regions, and the types of wines produced there.

I like the way the Wines of Spain USA simplifies the process, by classifying Spain’s wine regions into six climatic categories on the mainland – Green Spain, North Central Spain, Ebro River Valley, The Meseta, the Mediterranean Coast, and Andalucía.  Each  of the climatic regions contains specific DOs . 


Image courtesy of

We ended up with wines from 4 of the 6 climatic regions identified above.  From those 4 climatic regions we had wine representing 7 different DO’s.  Four of those 7 DOs are considered “major”. Here’s what says about the 4 major DOs.

“DOC Rioja – Old and traditional one on hand, and modernistic on the other.  Suave reds based mainly on Tempranillo but also Graciano and Garnacha blends.  Heavy use of oak for long ageing, which is a signature Rioja style.

DO Ribera del Duero – More modern, full-bodied and slightly more rustic wines than Rioja, though the regions are close in proximity.  Ribera wines are mostly all Tempranillo, darker and purpler, able to appreciate with age.

DO Toro – near Ribera del Duero, similar landscape, similar grapes, but Toro claims its own clone of Tempranillo the Tinta de Toro variety.  Toro reds are chewy, inky reds, massive with oak, or unoaked, with a signature spicy Toro note. Home of very old vines, some of the oldest in Spain.

DO Yecla – an area further South, on the Mediterranean coast and also home of the Monastrell, or aka in French Mourvèdre.  The variety thrives in this hot, arrid climate, most often in bunch vines.  Monastrell wines are distinctive, often young, with a spicy, peppery character and affordable price. ”

The Wine Tasting

All wines were purchased from K&L Wine Merchantswhich has a fantastic selection of Spanish wine.  Five of the eight wines were denoted as “Top Pick” on the K&L website.  The wine purchased ranged in price from $7.99 to $17.99.

Five of the eight wines were from the most well-known wine-producing regions identified  above.  There were two wines from Rioja, and one each from Ribera del DueroToro, and Yecla.  The other wines were from Campo de Borja D.O.,Valdeorras, and Alicante.  One of the wines was a “Reserva” level wine ( for red wines –  aged for at least 3 years with at least 1 year in oak).

The Wines of Spain theme brought out a crowd.  There were 20 tasters.  The wines were rated based four criteria – aroma, body, taste, and finish – each scored on a scale of 1-5.  All tasters were required to evaluate and score all the wines.  The winner was based on the wine receiving the highest median score.

It’s a pretty diverse group wine experience-wise, though I would say the majority are pretty casual wine drinkers, rather than serious “wine enthusiasts”.

wineup for wines of spain

Wines of Spain Night- The Blind Tasting Lineup including laptops at the ready!

The eight wines we blind-tasted (listed in the order tasted) and my tasting notes follow (click on the links for details about each wine from the K&L Wine Merchant website) :

  • 2010 Montebuena Rioja Cuvée KPF – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Garnet color with moderately aromatic red fruit, oak and a hint of spice aromas. On the palate, it light-bodied with ripe spiced cherry flavors and powdery tannins. Medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2010 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Campo de Borja Tres Picos – Spain, Aragón, Campo de Borja Violet color with aromatic smoky dried herb, spice and red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and intense with cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors. Medium long finish. Made from 100% Garnacha aged in equal parts stainless steel and French oak.  (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Viña Eguía Rioja Reserva – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja Ruby color with moderately aromatic spiced leather, red fruit, and a hint of tobacco aromas On the palate, it’s between light and medium bodied, and elegant with layers of cherry, spice, mocha, clove flavors nicely balanced with supple tannins, and good acidity. Long finish. (91 pts.)
  • 2011 Bodegas Torremoron Ribera del Duero Tinto – Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero Dark almost opaque violet color with candied cherry, raspberry, and hints of anise, and pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, and dusty tannins,and ripe slightly tart cherry, raspberry, and mineral flavors. Long finish. Made with 100% Tempranillo (80-100-year old vines); aged completely in stainless steel. (90 pts.)
  • 2010 Señorio de Barahonda Barahonda Barrica – Spain, Murcia, Yecla Garnet color with mixed black and red fruit, earth and spice aromas. On the palate, it s medium-full-bodied with cherry, plum, dark chocolate, and spice flavors, and good acidity. Long finish. Blend is composed of 75% Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvedre)and 25% Syrah aged in a combination of French and American oak for six months. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Telmo Rodríguez Mencía Valdeorras Gaba do Xil – Spain, Galicia, Valdeorras Dark garnet color creamy fresh cherry, floral, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with red cherry, blueberry, spice and a bit of mineral flavors. Medium-long finish. 100% Mencia from Galicia region of Spain (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Bodegas Volver Monastrell Tarima – Spain, Valencia, Alicante Dark violet color with tight nose showing aromas of mixed berry,and leather aromas. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, and focused with a creamy mouthfeel, and black raspberry, and black cherry flavors supported by good acidity. Medium-long finish. Fruit is from 40-75 year old Monastrell (Mourvedre) vineyards (89 pts.)
  • 2010 Teso La Monja Toro Romanico – Spain, Castilla y León, Toro Nearly opaque purple color with black and red fruit, coffee, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s full-bodied focused, and round with black cherry, raspberry, and spice flavors. Long finish. Very good QPR at $15! 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) aged in 100% new French oak for six months (91 pts.)

As the party…er gathering continued unabated,  I tabulated the results…

Sure y'all keep the party going...I'll just be over here figuring out the winner!

Sure you guys keep the party going…I’ll just be over here figuring out the winner!

The envelope please…

The winner was the 2010 Teso La Monja “Romanico” Toro ($14.99)…a 100%Tinta de Toro (a local strain of Tempranillo) from the Toro region of Spain.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about blind tastings is there is always a surprise or two. The surprise for me was that the 2007 Viña Eguía Rioja Reserva, the only “Reseva”, and one of K&L’s best sellers, finished last.  I believe it would have done better had I aerated before hand.  In hindsight I should have…

Wine of Spain Romanico

2010 Teso La Monja Toro Romanico

The results were close. The top 5 wines we separated by a mere point!

The order of finish for the runners-up were as follows:

  1. 2010 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Campo de Borja Tres Picos
  2. 2011 Bodegas Volver Monastrell Tarima
  3. 2011 Bodegas Torremoron Ribera del Duero Tinto
  4. 2010 Señorio de Barahonda Barahonda Barrica
  5. 2009 Telmo Rodríguez Mencía Valdeorras Gaba do Xil
  6. 2010 Montebuena Rioja Cuvée KPF
  7. 2007 Viña Eguía Rioja Reserva


Our Wines of Spain night was a great success with great food, fun, fellowship and of course wine!

It’s been my experience is that Spanish wines are well made, and you won’t find better value anywhere else in the world (there were at least 4 wines from this tasting that will be repeat purchases for me)! That’s why one of my wine resolutions for 2013 is to buy more Spanish wine.  If you haven’t yet discovered the wines of Spain. What are you waiting for? If you have discovered Spanish wine…drop me a comment and let know our favorite(s)!

Related posts  you might also enjoy:

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff!  . Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Value Alert…2011 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Old Vines

From time to time I come across a wine with a surprisingly good quality/price ratio (‘QPR”).  The 2011 Zestos Vinos de Madrid Old Vines, a Spanish wine from the DO Madrid is such a wine.  I purchased this bottle from my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants.

Not familiar with the DO Madrid?  Join the club! Even many Spaniards are unaware that wine is being produced in Madrid.

DO Madrid is located south of the capital.  It is divided into 3 sub-zones – Arganda, San Martin, and Navalcarnero.  The area earned the coveted DO (Denominación de Origen) status in 1990, so it’s relatively new.

The fruit for this wine comes from the high-elevation district of San Martin de Valdeiglesisas at 2,850 elevation.

Here’s what K&L says about the wine…

Given the fresh, raspy mixed berry fruit, the name “Zestos” is indeed apt (though it actually is Spanish for “basket.”) Typical of garnacha from around the higher elevation vineyards of San Martín de Valdeiglesias (just outside of Madrid), there is a subtle yet undoubtedly present tannic backbone and firm minerality adding punch to this everyday red. It should stand up nicely to any range of dishes in your winter repertoire, even braised meats. Another example of the great potential of wines being made in the villages just outside of Madrid.

vinos de madrid old vine garnacha

My tasting notes follow:

Inky violet color with cherry liqueur, raspberry, black currant, and mineral aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with surprisingly good acidity, present but well behave tannins, and black cherry, black currant, raspberry, spice, and mineral flavors. Medium finish. 

Rating: 87pts – Recommended. This wine is a great value at $10.  I’ll be buying more!

Here’s the wine geek stuff:

Where it’s from: SpainMadridVinos de Madrid

The grapes: 100% Grenache (Garnacha) 40+ years old

Aging: Stainless steel and concrete tanks of 10,000-liter capacity

Age of vineyards:40-50 year-old vines

Cost: $9.99

Alcohol: 14%

Production: 30,000 cases made, 10,000 imported to the USA

Closure: Cork

>>Find This Wine<<

Top 20 Sparkling Wines Under $20!

Over the past couple of years I’ve made it a point to blog about sparkling wines. For a time I blogged about a different sparkling wine on a weekly basis (At one point I tried 30 different sparkling wines over a 30 week period!).  Though I’ve gotten away from it in recent months, it’s not because I stopped drinking sparkling wines (I still drink bubbly pretty much on a weekly basis; I don’t wait for a special occasion and neither should you!), rather it’s because after a year and a half of trying more than my fair share of sparkling wines from around the world, I’ve found many I enjoy that have become repeat purchases.

While I love Champagne, it’s more expensive (entry-level examples start at around $30) than its sparkling wine brethren (I did find one for under $19.99, but didn’t care for it enough to purchase it again).  There are just too many other sparkling wines i enjoy more (especially since I’m footing the bill;-)…

Please allow me a moment on the Sparkling Wine soapbox..

  • Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne, the real stuff only comes from the Champagne region of France
  • Sparking wines are great wines – drink as you would other wines (i.e. don’t limit your consumption to special occasions), including trying different styles (White, Rosé, Red, Blanc-de-blancs, Blanc-de-noirs, Brut, Extra-Dry, etc.)
  • Sparkling wines are under-appreciated food friendly wines – If I’m not sure about a food a wine pairing, you can bet I’ll reach for a bottle of bubbly!  Besides being the only wine that’s socially acceptable to have with any meal, sparkling wine is one of the few wines that can take you from appetizers to dessert!

Ok…now that that’s off my chest…

Champagne Glasses

Image couresy of Grape Sense – Glass Half Full

Your best bets for finding quality for the price sparkling wines under $20 are to:

  • Here in the U.S. – look for sales on most major California labels, Chandon, Gloria Ferrer, Mumm, and Roederer are in wide distribution and frequently significantly discounted. At least one of those brands is on sale at my local grocery store every week for less than $20 ( and often less than $15…)
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with as Champagne-like character, look for Cava from Spain, or  Crémant from France (Crémant de Bourgogne, Limoux, Alsace, and Loire). They’re produced using the same method as Champagne, so you’ll get a more yeasty character,and save some coin.
  • If you prefer sparkling wine with fruitier aromas and flavors, and you’re not hung up on the method of production, look for Prosecco from Italy.
  • Sparkling wine is made the world over, so you can find good value in sparkling wines from South Africa, Australia and even South America.

Here are my Top 20 sparkling wines under $20 (click on the bold italicized links for my more detailed blog posts from my T.G.I.F. series of weekly sparkling wine tastings) It’s a diverse list geographically, and stylistically. There is with bubbly from Argentina, Australia, California, Spain, Italy, and South Africa. And there is Brut, Rose, Blanc de Noir, and even a dessert sparkling wine. Many can be found at grocery stores, or large beverage retailers like BevMo, and Costco. Others may be more challenging to find, but are definitely worth seeking out.

  1. Taltarni Brut Tache – (Australia)  Lovely pale salmon color with floral, stone fruit (peaches/apricots), and fresh-baked scone aromas. On the palate, approaching medium-bodied, with a creamy mousse with watermelon, red berry, and a bit of hazelnut flavors. Dry with a light fruitiness, good acidity, and a clean medium long finish. >>Find this wine<<
  2. Schramsberg Mirabelle North Coast Brut Rosé – (California) Delicate pink color with strawberry and bread dough aromas.  On the palate, moderately creamy mousse, good acidity, focused, fruity, yet dry, and lively, with strawberries, raspberries and a touch of citrus, and spice flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  3. 2011 Raventos i Blanc L’Heure Blanc Brut Reserva – (Spain)  Very light straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles, white flower, yeast, apple aromas. On the palate, a wonderful creamy mousse uncommon at this price point, dry, and approaching medium-bodied with apple, and a hint on citrus flavors. Medium finish >>Find this wine<<
  4. Törley Doux Tokaji – (Hungary) The only dessert bubbly in the bunch – Pale straw yellow color with lots of pin prick sized bubbles and brioche, apricot, mineral and vanilla aromas. On the palate, it shows a creamy mousse, and is sweet but nicely balanced very good acidity with apricot, peach, and vanilla flavors. Made from Furmint grapes. 11% alcohol >>Find this wine<<
  5. Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley – (California) – Light golden straw color with plentiful, persistent stream of tiny bubbles, and sweet yeast, fresh-cut green apples aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with soft texture, zippy acidity, between dry and off-dry with sweet green apples, a bit of pear, hazelnut and vanilla flavors.
  6. El Xamfra Cava Mercat Brut Nature – (Spain) – Pale straw yellow color with lot of bubbles, and floral, stone fruit, citrus and slight sweet yeast aromas. On the palate, it has a surprisingly explosive mousse, and approached medium-bodied with stone fruit, citrus, and toasted nut flavors. Medium finish. 11.5% alcohol. Zero dosage. A great value! >>Find this wine<<
  7. Mumm Napa Brut Prestige – (California) – Light golden tinged straw color with biscuit, sweet citrus, red fruit and subtle floral aromas. In the glass it displays lots of tiny bubbles. On the palate it is medium-bodied with fairly creamy mousse and cherry, vanilla, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  8. Vinos de Terrunos German Gilabert Penedès Brut Nature Rosat – (Spain) Cherry red color with a frothy mousse showing tiny dispersed bubbles with yeast and red fruit aromas. On the palate, it’s dry owing to zero dosage (no added sugar) with fresh cherry, raspberry, and a hint of mineral flavors. This Rosé is a blend of Trepat and Garnacha. >>Find this wine<<
  9. 2012 Antech “Cuvée Eugénie” Crémant de Limoux – (France) Light straw color with brioche, Fuji apple, and floral aromas.  On the palate, crisp with zippy acidity, a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet green apple, pear, and a bit of citrus flavors.  Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  10. François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut (France) Light straw yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles, and brioche, and apple aromas. On the palate, it has a delicate mousse, is off-dry with apple and mineral flavors. 100% Chenin Blanc >>Find this wine<<
  11. Graham Beck Brut Rosé – (South Africa) Watermelon pink color with a hint of silver with aromas of yeast, and raspberries.  On the palate, a creamy mousse, fruity, yet dry, with crisp acidity and raspberries, cherries flavors, with a slight mineral overtone, and a hint of citrus on the back palate.  Short-medium finish. Great QPR! >>Find this wine<<
  12. La Marca Prosecco – (Italy) Very pale straw yellow color with white flowers, stone fruit, and a whiff of tangerine aromas. It shows an active stream of tiny bubbles. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, and fresh with a creamy mousse and peach, and tangerine flavors. Medium finish. >>Find this wine<<
  13. Deligeroy Crémant de Loire Brut – (France) Pale yellow color with a bit of bronze tinge and brioche pear, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate it was light-bodied,and between dry, and off-dry with good acidity, and a prickly mousse with pear, raspberry, and mineral flavors. A Blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. >>Find this wine<<
  14. Scharffenberger Brut Excellence – (California) Pale yellow-bold color with tiny bead of bubbles that dissipated somewhat quickly, and bread dough, faint apple aromas. On the palate it’s light-medium bodied, with a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet fruity sweet apple, and lemon-lime flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  15. Gruet Blanc de Noirs – (New Mexico)  Salmon color with an abundance of dispersed tiny bubbles with brioche and apple aromas. On the palate approaching medium bodied with a moderately aggressive mousse, balanced with pear, sweet baking spice, vanilla, and nuanced citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  16. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut – (California) – Very light straw color with persistent bead of smallish bubbles, and fresh bread, apple, citrus,and a bit of ginger aromas.  On the palate, it shows a moderately creamy mousse, with apple, pear, and citrus flavors. >>Find this wine<<
  17. Reginato “Celestina” Rosé of Malbec – (Argentina) – Intense strawberry red color with intermittent stream of tiny bubbles with baked bread and ripe cherry aromas. On the palate, fruity, yet pleasingly more dry, than off-dry with an explosive, creamy mousse, and with delicate almost imperceptible tannins, with flavors of cherries, raspberries, and a hint of spice. >>Find this wine<<
  18. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva – (Spain) Light straw color with fine bead of bubbles with bread dough and lemon-lime citrus aromas.  On the palate, light bodied, with moderately creamy mousse with green apple, and tart citrus flavors. Short finish. This one is “everyday” sparkler for me.  It’s a great value at $9/bottle! >>Find this wine<<
  19.  Blason de Bourgogne Crémant de Bourgogne Cuvée Brut – (France) Very pale straw yellow color with toasty pear, citrus and hint of spice aromas and tiny bubbles. On the palate it’s fresh and fruity with pear, fuji apple, a vanilla, and sweet baking spice flavors.  Wonderful QPR @$10! Available at Trader Joe’s
  20. Korbel Natural – (California) Pale golden-yellow color with yeast ,red fruit, and apple aromas.  On the palate light bodied, crisp, between dry and off-dry.  Straight-forward with cherry, apple, minerals, and a touch of honey flavors.  Short-medium finish. >>Find this wine<< 

What are your favorite sparkling wines under $20? I’d love to give them a try!

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Value Alert! – Outstanding Spanish Wine For $11!

From time to time I come across a wine with a surprisingly good quality/price ratio (‘QPR”).  The 2007 Bodegas Castaño Yecla Solanera Viñas Viejas , a Spanish wine from the Yecla D.O., is such a wine.  I purchased this bottle from my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants.

Not familiar with the Yecla region of Spain?  Join the club, neither was I! What I do know about Spain is that it consistently offers great value in its wines.  Whenever I look for great QPR wine, I alway start with Spanish wine!  And whenever, I find one as good as this one, and consider what it cost, I inevitably ask myself why I’m not drinking more Spanish wine! It’s a country whose wines I intend to explore more…

Yecla is a small DO ( Denominación de Origen) near the town of Yecla in the northernmost corner of the region of Murcia, not far from Spain’s east coast.  The vast majority  of vineyards are planted to Monastrell (Mourvèdre, Mataro),  Other permitted red varieties are  Garnacha TintaGarnacha TintoreraTempranilloMerlotCabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Permitted white varieties include AirenMersegueraMacabeoMalvasia and Chardonnay.  The inclusion of grapes like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay tells me the region produces wines that are well-suited to the American palate.

The region is made up of a single district, but the local wine community divides the area into two – Yecla Campo Arriba, and  Yecla Campo Abajo.  Yecla Campo Arriba  is considered superior because  of its old vines.  Yecla was granted DO status in 1975.

Bodegas Castaño is a family run private winery that has had a winemaking presence in the region for generations.  They own about 400 hectares (approximately 10% of the DO) in four prime locations.

This wine has an excellent track record.  Previous vintages  (2001-2006) were all scored 90+ point and considered best values by the Wine Advocate and the International Wine Cellar.

2007 Bodegas Castaño Yecla Solanera Viñas Viejas

2007 Bodegas Castaño Yecla Solanera Viñas Viejas – Great QPR!

Here’s what the producer says about the wine…

“This special limited production wine is an example  of the high quality potential of the emerging Yecla region in Southern Spain.  Solanera is produced from the oldest vines of the indigenous Monastrell, along with low-yielding Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tintorera which is aged in oak for 10 months..This wine is a custom blend for Eric Solomon and is bottled unfiltered and unfined.”

My tasting notes follow:

Opaque violet color with sweet tobacco, cedarwood, sweet dark fruits, and hint of violet aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with supple tannins, and surprisingly fresh acidity with dark cherry, blackberry, blueberry, and a bit of cassis flavors. Long finish. 


Here’s the wine geek stuff:

Where it’s from: SpainMurciaYecla

The grapes: 65%  Monastrell (a.k.a. Mourvedre), 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Garnacha Tintorera (a.k.a. Alicante Bouschet),

Aging: Ten months in 10 months in oak; French (70%) and American oak (30%)

Age of vineyards: 40+ year old vineyards from Campo Arriba

Cost: $11

Alcohol: 14.5%

Closure: Cork

Recommendation: This is going to be a repeat purchase for me!  I highly recommend! To find this wine click here

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A Taste of Achaval-Ferrer

Wine is a lot like fashion.  What is considered popular for a time, can quickly fall out of favor to be replaced by something else.  It wasn’t too long ago, that Malbec was in fashion.  I’m not sure if it remains so.  I hear much more about Muscat these days.

I like Malbec for several reasons including the fact that it plays very well in the value space.  All the Malbec I’ve had has been under $20, most under $10.  So it was with great anticipation, and curiosity I jumped at the chance to taste some high-end Malbec from one of Argentina’s premier producers – Achaval Ferrer (“AF”).    The tasting was held at K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City.   Fresh off of rave reviews from Robert Parker, 4 of the 5 current releases were tasted.

2009 Finca Altamira (RP-99) – $89.99 (not tasted)
2009 Finca Mirador (RP-96) – $89.99
2009 Finca Bella Vista (RP-98) – $89.99
2009 Quimera (RP-93) – $34.99
2010 Malbec Mendoza (RP-91) – $18.99

Though most Malbec consumed in the U.S. is imported from Argentina, the grape has origins in France, specifically the Cahors region.  It believed to have been introduced to Argentina in 1868.  Malbec flourishes in Argentina, where it is now the national grape.  The most highly rated Malbec comes from vineyards (most of them old-vine) in Mendoza’s high altitude wine regions of Lujan de Cuyo and the Uco Valley,  located in the foothills of the Andes mountains between  2800 to 5000 feet elevation.

My tasting notes follow:

Achaval Ferrer Current Releases

  • 2010 Achával-Ferrer Malbec – Argentina, Mendoza
    Medium garnet color with dark fruit, spice, dust and floral aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with blackberry, black currant, and spice flavors. Medium + finish. (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Achával-Ferrer Malbec Quimera – Argentina, Mendoza
    Dark garnet color with violet overtones and spicy dark fruit, pencil lead,and violet aromas. On the palate approaching full-bodied, intense, layered and young – would benefit from aging – with firm tannins, and black currant, pencil lead, and spice flavors. Medium finish. Blend of 40% Malbec, 22% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. The wine was aged in 40% new French oak.(89 pts.)
  • 2009 Achával-Ferrer Malbec Finca Mirador – Argentina, Mendoza
    Inky opaque purple color with aromatic, pretty aromas of dark fruit, violet, and dark chocolate. On the palate full-bodied , complex, refined yet intense, round, and smooth with black cherry, cassis, mineral, and spice flavors. Long finish. Would have definitely benefit from more aeration. Sourced from a single vineyard planted at 2400 ft. in 1921.(92 pts.)
  • 2009 Achával-Ferrer Malbec Finca Bella Vista – Argentina, Mendoza
    Inky opaque purple color with very aromatic violet, dark red fruit, spice and leather aromas. On the palate ample, well structured, and complex with black currant, black raspberry, and spice aromas. Long finish. Needs time. Sourced from a single vineyard planted at 3100 ft. in 1910 (93 pts.)

I was impressed by the AF wines, though I did enjoy the Malbecs more than the Bordeaux blend. I may have rated the wines more highly had they had a chance to breathe more, especially the Finca Mirador, and Bella Vista. And certainly those two wines along with the Bordeaux blend would benefit from further aging. I’d recommend laying down the Quimera Bordeaux blend for at least a couple of years and the higher end Malbecs for at least 3 years.  If you enjoy Malbec, you’ll love these wines!

Valentine’s Day Weekend Starter – A Taste of Schramsberg Sparkling Wines!

Bubbles of rose sparkling wine.

Image via Wikipedia

My wife and I decided to have bubbly each Friday night last week.  As fate and a bit of planning would have it my favorite wine store K&L Wine Merchants was hosting Schramsberg Vineyards for a Friday Night tasting (the fate) to start the V-Day weekend, and we’d planned to take do a tour of the Schramsberg caves and tasting on Valentine’s Day.

Schramsberg is Napa’s second oldest winery (Charles Krug, established in 1861 was the first winery in Napa) according to Keith Hock, the winemaker.  It was established in 1862 (click here for a complete historical time line).

Overall impression

What struck me about all the wines was the creamy lingering mouth feel of the mousse (the bubbly foam). All the wines had medium to long finishes, and we dryish, if not dry with low Residual Sugar (“RS”), yet all were  fruity on the palate. The lasting impressions were the elegance of all the wines, and the diverse aromas of the wines which seem to be dominated by wonderful yeast, bread dough notes. With the exception of the NV (non-vintage) “Mirabelle” all are vintage sparklers.  I’m a fan!

Bubbly Tasting Tip: There are two things I look for when tasting sparkling wines as opposed to still wines, the first is visual.  I look for a steady stream of tiny bubbles.  The second is how does the mousse feel in my mouth (i.e., how effervescent is it) – Does it feel course or fine?  Is it voluminous, or meager? How long does it take to dissipate?

My tasting notes are as follows:

2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine – $29.99

90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. Nose offers plenty of yeast, citrus, and bit of mustiness.  On the palate fantastic creamy mousse, with apple, and citrus flavors, very good acidity, a touch of minerality and a long finish. I’m a sucker for Blanc de Noir – My third favorite – but just barely! (1.17 g/100mL)

NV Schramsberg “Mirabelle” North Coast Rosé $19.99

53% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir. On the nose red fruit, citrus, and yeast. On the palate strawberries, cherry, and zippy acidity. Medium finish.  I’ll definitely picking up a bottle or three of this one! (1.09 g/100mL)

2007 Schramsberg Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine $32.99

68% Pinot Noir, 32% Chardonnay. On the nose, yeast, bread dough, citrus and faint rose notes.  On the palate, creamy delicate mousse with, citrus, strawberries, and peach flavors.  Well balanced with crisp acidity. My favorite! (1.06 g/100mL).

2007 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine $27.99

100% Chardonnay.  On the nose yeast with citrus, and apple notes.  On the palate citrus, and apple with touch of minerality, very good acidity.  Medium finish. (1.15 g/100mL)
2003 J Scram Brut Sparkling Wine $99.99

85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir.  Nose offers yeast,  honey, and citrus aromas.  On the palate citrus, and green apple. More full bodied than the previous 4 sparklers, with lengthy finish.  My second favorite! (1.2 g/100mL)
2006 Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec Sparkling Wine $29.99.

85% Flora, 15% Chardonnay.  Nose offers tropical fruit aromas, and banana bread dough.  On the palate orange, and peach flavors.  On the upper end of off-dry, with a pleasant clean sweetness. Rich, with a clean finish.  I really liked this one.  My mind immediately went to thoughts of what would I pair it with. The first thought that came to mind is spicy Asian food (Thai, or maybe Indian) But, it would work well on own after a meal if you want a touch of sweetness, or  paired with a not too sweet dessert like a panna cotta, it would be marvelous. (3.56 g/100mL)

Note: I wasn’t at all familiar with the Flora grape.  According to Schramsberg:

“Schramsberg made California’s first Crémant (French for “creamy”) in 1972. After rigorous study, our winemaking team chose the unique California grape named Flora (a cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis) to be the core component of this sparkling wine. Flora unites the fruit-forward character of Gewürztraminer with the strength and depth of Sémillon.”

The good news is that this is a great way to start our weekly bubbly pact! The bad news is that it’s going to be a challenge to top it;-)!

Look for more bubbly tasting notes in the coming weeks…Cheers, and Happy V-Day!

Paella fans rejoice…15 Minute Paella!

One of the true gifts that wine and food offers is the ability to transport you to the culture of another place.  Paella is one of my favorite foods, and whenever I have it, it isn’t hard to imagine myself savoring a warm, sunny day in Madrid, or Costa del Sol enjoying an evening repast of tapas, followed by paella, while enjoying a glass of wine, or sherry (or better yet, both!).  Traditional paella is a simmered rice dish that includes seafood or meat (chicken and rabbit traditionally) that typically takes an hour, or more to prepare.  I found this 15 minute version from Rachel Ray, in which couscous replaces rice.  It has the familiar flavors of a mixed (chicken, sausage, and seafood) paella.  All that is missing is the bottom crusty part of the rice, called the socarrat. That’s a trade-off I’ll take any time to enjoy the flavors of paella on a weeknight!

Besides being able to prepare this on a weeknight, the other thing I’ve come to appreciate about this recipe is its flexibility.  I usually prepare with boneless skinless thighs rather than breast meat because I prefer the tenderness, and flavor of thigh meat.  And more oft than not, I substitute, or augment the recipe depending on what’s on hand, or my mood.  For example, the last time I prepared it, I substituted a pound of Trader Joe’s seafood trio (shrimp, calamari, and scallops) for the shrimp.  Or, if I have canned clams on hand I might throw them in. You can not only substitute meats, you may also substitute clam juice, or seafood stock (1/2 to 1/3 cup) for the chicken stock if you prefer stronger seafood flavor.

15 Minute Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, Shrimp, Calamari, and Scallops


From Rachel Ray’s website:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), about 4 turns of the pan
  • 1/2 pound fresh uncooked chorizo, casings removed and cut into bite-size dice
  • 3/4 pound chicken cutlets or tenderloins, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (tip: tie them together to make it easy to retrieve later)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound medium size shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated or chopped
  • 2 Piquillo peppers or 1 roasted red pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (eyeball it in your palm)
  • 1 envelope saffron powder or a pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

Heat EVOO over medium-high heat in a deep skillet – make sure to choose a pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the chorizo, cook for one minute to render some of its fat, then add the chicken, bay leaf, thyme and onions.

Cook for two minutes to start softening the onions, then add shrimp, red pepper flakes, garlic, Piquillo or red peppers, turmeric and saffron, and cook until shrimp are just about cooked through, about three minutes.

Season with salt and pepper; then add chicken stock.

Bring stock to a boil, about one minute. Stir in couscous, peas and lemon zest. Cover and turn off heat. Let stand five minutes then fluff with fork. Remove bay and thyme stems, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Wine pairing for the evening


Of course, no meal is complete without wine.  I think a dry Rosé is a great pairing for this dish.  I’ve had it many times and always enjoy it. However, I’ve been wanting to try Sherry since I understand it’s so food friendly, and because it’s a wine made in Spain.  So, I decided to give both a try.  For the Rosé, I picked one of my favorites, the 2009 Dashe Vin Gris (click here for my review).  For the Sherry, I picked Lustau Puerto Fino Solera Reserva

Both the Rosé, and the Sherry paired very well with the paella, although I didn’t enjoy the sherry quite as much as I enjoyed Rosé. It was my first experience with sherry, and I found it to be a bit chalky and briny on the nose and the palate, as opposed to the fruity nose and palate with which I’m accustomed to with other wines.  Consequently, I enjoyed the Rosé more on a stand-alone basis, while it seemed the sherry didn’t shine until it was paired with the paella.  I look forward to trying the sherry again, but my initial impression is that it’ll be an acquired taste for me.

If you preference is white wine, try a dry Riesling, a Rhone white from Languedoc, or a Rueda if you want to stick with the Spain theme. If you prefer a red, try an inexpensive  tempranillo from Rioja, or medium bodied Garnacha(Grenache), or Garnacha blend  from Priorat.  My only caution for a red would be to avoid a “fruit bomb”, or any highly alcohol, highly tannic red.  Experimenting with wine and food pairing is half the fun!


Sweet deal on a Bordeaux Rosé

Ah yes, the first day of Spring, and for me, the unofficial opening of Rosé season!  Wineries are starting, or will soon release their 2010 Rosés, and I’m looking forward to that.  In the meantime, the 2009’s should still be drinking well, and such is the case for this $7 beauty with off the chart QPR – the 2009 Rol Valentin Rosé!

It’s a shame, really, that Rosés are primary thought of as Spring/Summer wines because they play so well with a variety of foods.  I drink them year-round.  Hope springs eternal that that perception of Rosé will change for many others as it has for me.

C hâteau Rol Valentin is located in the St. Emilion region of Bordeaux, and is one of the new breed of  garagiste wines in the region.  The estate is planted to 85% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the vines averaging over 35 years old.  This one would be excellent with as an aperitif, and also with grilled chicken, or lamb salad.

Click here for my review.

Click here to buy.