Typically people gravitate toward American, French, Italian and Spanish wines when selecting their grape of choice. Those wines are everywhere and of course, there is so much to love about them. Portuguese wine, on the other hand, is not a natural “go-to” wine for most. Some would guess it is because the grapes are difficult to pronounce or identify and there is not that much of a selection at your local retail wine shop. There is, however, a huge value found in Portugal wines. What makes them unique is that although you can get value with wines from other countries, it’s usually because those bottles are from select areas within those countries verses Portugal wines where the value is fairly consistent throughout the country. I’ve opened a couple of bottles recently that really reminded me of this fact.

Aveleda Follies, 2013 from D.O. Bairrada (SRP $11): This is a blend of 70% Touriga Nacional and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon -  aged in French oak for 12 months then another year in the bottle. What an easy drinker! This has notes of mushrooms, berry, oak and vanilla. This has some really nice and easy red fruits; it’s soft on the palate, and overall fun to drink!

Dona Ermelinda Reserva, 2013 from D.O. Palmela (SRP $18): This interesting blend is of 70% Castelao, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - aged in French oak for 12 months then another 8 months in the bottle. This has aromas of dark fruits, spiced fruit cake, and smoke. The palate follows through with more dark fruits, structure and noticeable but soft tannins. It has a long lasting almost mouth smacking finish. It’s delicious, but needs air to really open up. This is a bottle that would be even better over time, save it to drink sometime before 2023. 

Sláinte! TCW  

In the Windy City, weather is generally part of everyday discussion. How does it change so drastically in a day? How is it that 55 degrees can warrant shorts in the winter but a snowsuit in the summer? Dean Martin wasn’t kidding when he sang Baby, It’s Cold Outside during this time of year! When I’m this cold, I need a big bold red to warm up my bones and in this case some premium Malbec from Argentina will fit the bill.

Salentein Reserve Malbec, 2014: This was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels then another 6 months in the bottle before they release it. I loved the aromas of dark fruits, dark chocolate, spice cake, clove and dried fruit. The flavors were incredibly soft and balanced with prune, leather, vanilla and tobacco. SRP of $19

Salentine Primum Malbec, 2013: This sexy wine was aged a total of 19 months in French oak barrels then another 12 months in the bottle before being released. Wow! This has aromas of super robust and bursting dark fruits – juicy blackberries, plums and vanilla. Upon tasting, I noted ripe and balanced sweet black fruits that carried though a certain power and elegance that I’ve not had in a while. Honestly speaking, this was one of the best wines I’ve had in quite some time. I could not get enough of this and yes, it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. SRP of $65 – don’t let that scare you, sometimes you just need to treat yo’ self!
Sláinte! TCW

Annnnd the holidays are here. Daylight is diminishing, temperatures are falling, and holiday music can be heard everywhere. Despite the hectic rush of the season I’ll admit, I do enjoy getting together for all of those holiday parties! It’s a fun opportunity to share some unique wines -- challenging palates, and possibly turning folks on to a wine they’d normally not drink or purchase.

This year I am all about Rebula (Ribolla) which is certainly one of the lesser known grape varietals. Rebula is a Western European grape varietal that originated in Greece and came to Slovenia through Italy, where it thrived in the hilly landscape. The bottle I recently tasted is by a French winemaker who moved to Italy and met a Slovenian woman who wooed him back to the underrated vines of Slovenia.

This Rebula happens to be an “Orange Wine”. Orange wines get their color from skin contact and are generally paired with more robust meals (similarly to red). Orange wine emerged in the New York wine scene in 2009/2010, as a funky yet sophisticated pairing for food that NY Sommeliers fell head over Italian leather shoes for. The related “newness” of orange wine to the American palate was a success however like a lot of other varieties, the trendiness died down to an obscurity.

Trust me on this…add a little orange to the silver and gold of the holidays! Pop open a bottle, put on a little Bing Crosby, and enjoy the season! The 2012 Kabaj (Ka-bye) Rebula with orange peel, lemon/lime on the nose, and white peach/herbal dry finish retails for a holiday-budget friendly $21. Pair it with a spicy pizza, sausage and peppers, or a rosemary roasted chicken.
Sláinte! TCW

I’m sure most of you remember the movie, Sideways. That’s the movie that literally devastated Merlot sales with one quote, “If anybody orders any Merlot I am leaving. I am not drinking any _____ Merlot!” Paul Giamatti’s character was a huge fan of Pinot Noir and as a result of the movie’s cult following, Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed. Look, I’m as much of a fan of Pinot Noir as the next guy but Merlot has always been one of my favorite go-to grapes – blended or straight up it’s a beautiful wine!

Two outstanding examples of how delicious Merlot can be are TrefethenFamily Vineyards and Duckhorn Vineyards.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, 2013 ($40): A blend of 95% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon barrel aged for 18 months. Aromas of blueberry pie, spiced-cake, dusty oak and black cherry with flavors following of juicy blackberries and dark chocolate. It’s super smooth while finishing long. This wine was even better on the second day of tasting. You could drink now with decanting or age this for several years.    

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, Napa Valley, 2013 ($55): A blend of 88% Merlot, 7% cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc barrel aged for 15 months. This has intoxicating aromas of ripe cherries, cedar, Asian spice and orange peel with delicious flavors of black raspberries and sweet plum. It’s ridiculously balanced. This is another wine you could drink now or age for several years.

Both of these wines were absolutely inspiring but you can easily find some excellent Merlot at a lower price point. So let’s contribute to the movement of #MerlotMe and drink more of it.
Sláinte! TCW   

There is just something special about a Chardonnay. I’ve written about it before, but I understand there are several people that are just not interested it in at all. If you are one of them, honestly, I’d encourage you to revisit the wine. You just never know what may happen. There are several countries making Chardonnay and doing it well. For example, I encourage you to try something other than from California, like an unoaked Chardonnay (aka White Burgundy) from France. Unoaked Chardonnays from France are generally crisp and fruity without sacrificing body as opposed to their oaked California counterparts which tend to be buttery, rich, and full-bodied.

Stoller Family Estate from Dundee Hills, Oregon did delicious job with their Reserve Chardonnay, 2014. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Chardonnay from Oregon and it only reminded me that I need to try more from that fantastic state! Barrel fermented and aged in French oak for eleven months, it delivers balanced but subtle notes of orange marmalade and lemon rind with hints of clove and vanilla. The palate comes through with slightly tart green apples, orange peel and hints of lemon/lime with a deliciously long finish. You can easily enjoy this now or cellar it for a few more years to get even more out of it.

By the way, to maximize your Chardonnay experiences serve it at around 55-58 degrees. Although depending on the region, often the general recommended serving temperature is 50-52 degrees, I find that the true character reveals itself at a slightly higher temperature. Most restaurants serve it too cold which mutes the flavors and could be a contributing factor as to why some don’t much care for it.

This particular bottle retails for $35 but Stoller has less expensive Chardonnays that are great for the value. So the next time you’re at your favorite wine retailer revisit Chardonnay, you just might be surprised!
Sláinte! TCW

There are specific moments in your life that you’ll never forget. One of my moments happened recently when I was lucky enough to meet Todd and Carrie Alexander. Todd is the winemaker for Force Majeure (from my beloved Washington) and Carrie, his wife, pretty much does everything else. Together, they are a force of extreme passion and two of the coolest people I’ve met.

My associate and I met Todd and Carrie at Sepia in the West Loop area of Chicago. I got to know them fairly well during dinner as I asked several questions while we kicked back a few bottles of wine, which were Todd’s picks and they were perfect! Todd and Carrie were incredibly laid back, quick-witted, knowledgeable, and conversational proving that wine experts aren’t always the stereotypical pretentious type!

So let’s talk about the wines…

Force Majeure Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain 2013:  This estate grown Cab had aromas of herbs, licorice, oak, black and white pepper and luxurious dark fruits for days! The dark fruits follow through on the palate with robust tannins and a velvety mouth feel. Although this will only improve for another six years it was absolutely delicious in every aspect now!

Force Majeure Syrah, Red Mountain 2013: Aromas of granite, tobacco, plum, pencil lead, ink and a hint of raspberries (with age I’d imagine the fruit will come through much more). The flavors pack a punch with layered tannins and deep fruits. Although I enjoyed this wine immensely I can only imagine how much more amazing this wine will be in another five plus years.

In fairness, the wines we enjoyed were from 2013 and Todd wasn’t hired hired until 2014. Based on what we sampled though, Force Majeure knows how to make a good juice and with my new friend Todd at the helm I cannot wait to see what the future holds for them. I am confident the wine will be as stellar and as memorable as the evening I had with them!
Sláinte! TCW
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