Budget Wines (Now That You’re Broke!)

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, January 14, 2016…

Holiday bills are coming in; winter’s finally here and heating costs are on the rise.  Staying warm is tough, but the hectic has died down.  It’s a good time for a nice glass of wine, something that won’t hurt the wallet.  Our ninth tasting of value wines reflects Red Feet’s belief that wine can offer “correctness” (reflecting grape varieties and place of origin), personality, and a low price.  These wines are made by folks who know what they’re doing.

The price of a wine is driven by tangible production costs—land, vines, labor, equipment, water and power, transport, and marketing.  Some of these are one-time or infrequent expenditures, while some occur regularly.  Other costs are less tangible—risks associated with weather, international currency fluctuations, and changes in taste.

The last 30 years have seen a real globalization of the wine industry.  New regions—Australia, Argentina, Chile, southern France, Portugal, South Africa—have entered the market with both every-day and fine wines, expanding the possibilities.  Agricultural advances have spread, affecting variety, clone, and root stock selection, as well as growing methods.  Winemaking technology and practices have improved, resulting in better wines, especially at the entry level.  A new generation of world winemakers, often school-trained, has combined new and traditional approaches to produce high quality wines at low prices.  Of course, there are lakes of cheap, mass-produced wines, but there are also many inexpensive wines that are true expressions of both their grape variety and region.  Here are five, one blend and four single-variety bargains.

Two of our wines are white.  The south of France provides Domaine de la Ferrandiére Chardonnay 2014, one of a line of “fighting varietals” from this estate.  Located on a former brackish lagoon, its vineyards are flooded every winter to reduce the soil’s salinity.  The grapes are fermented in steel at very low temperature and aged on the fine lees in concrete—no oak here.  Alfin Sauvignon Blanc Moscato 2013 is a 50-50 blend of these two fragrant grapes from two sites in Chile.  The must is fermented and aged on the lees in tank before the blend is made, adding roundness while preserving freshness.

Our three reds come from three countries.  Montefresco Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2014 is an easy-going pizza and pasta wine from Italy’s east coast.  Steel fermentation keeps the flavors vibrant, with red fruit on top of mineral and earth notes.  Sustainably produced, Domaine des Deux Puits Carignan 2014 is a surprisingly complex expression of this southern French grape.  Carignan is usually blended, but this stand-alone tank-fermented version lets the grape show its tea, tobacco, licorice, bramble, and dark fruits to good advantage.  Red Feet has a number of value-priced Garnachas from Spain.  Today we’re tasting Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton 2014 from the windy, rocky hillsides of the extinct volcano Moncayo.  Made by a co-op of 620 members, this is a tank-fermented, big, ripe expression of the grape, offering dark fruit, candied flowers, licorice, and bitter chocolate leading to a long finish.  These are a few of Red Feet’s low-cost, high-pleasure offerings.  The staff will be happy to point out more!

–M.P. Rouse


Top Selling Wines of 2015

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, January 7, 2016…

Our first tasting of the New Year features the top selling wines of the previous year.  Some years the list is all red, but white wines are increasing their presence.  Some wines have been part of Demi-Sacs or served as Wine of the Moment (value wines that are featured for about a month).  Four are new to the short list, and all changed vintage over the year from 2013 to 2014

In first place again this year is Honoro Vera Garnacha 2014 from the Gil family of Spain.  Made from low-yielding 30 to 40 year-old vines, this bold, succulent red offers ripe fruit and mineral notes; two months in French oak soften the tannins.  It’s a great partner for meat or lentil stews, spicy chili, rich pasta, and cold nights.

Second place goes to a zingy New Zealand white, Haymaker Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (the only New World wine to make the cut).  Bright green fruits (gooseberry, lime, melon) and refreshing acidity make this a touch of summer in the heart of winter, a pleasure on its own as well as an inviting pairing with stir-fry, goat cheese, and seafood.

Bodegas y Viñedos Fontana Mesta Tempranillo 2014 took the third spot. This organic wine from central Spain is named for a powerful alliance of sheep ranchers in medieval Castile who controlled the rights-of-way for migrating sheep; even today these cañadas cannot be blocked or built upon.  The ripe berry fruit of this wine is touched with licorice.  Pair with sausages or tapas.

Fourth place goes to another Iberian Peninsula wine, Merino Old Vines Tinto 2014.  Producer Alexandre Relvas grows many hectares of cork oaks, and also keeps a large flock of sheep for bug/weed control and fertilizer.  This Portuguese blend of Aragonez (Tempranillo), Syrah, and Alicante Bouschet provides plum, blackberries, and currant fruit, dark chocolate notes, and a spicy finish.  It’s good with grilled foods, spaghetti carbonara, or light barbecue.

Another Old World wine takes the fifth spot. Winzer Krems Weinzierl Grüner Veltliner 2014 comes in the handy one-liter picnic size, not unusual for simple versions of Austria’s national white wine.  Peach and citrus notes soften its minerality, and the acidity is somewhat round.  This is a great wine for brunch, fondue, and bright vegetables.

Rounding out the top 10 are the Original Darkhorse Cabernet, Prima Perla Prosecco, Flaco Tempranillo, Santa Julia Malbec [+], and Laurent Miquel Rosé (the first rosé to make the top ten).  All of the 2015 best-selling wines Red Feet still carries happen to cost less than $11, making them great bargains as well as tasty treats.  We’ll continue this value oriented theme next week when we focus specifically on budget wines to help recover from holiday spending!

–M.P. Rouse

Bubbles and Other Delights

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, December 17, 2015…..

For this final tasting of 2015, Red Feet will offer three bubblies and two delights for your end-of-year festivities and beyond.

One of our delights is a still red wine, Syncline Subduction Red 2013, a blend of six grapes associated with France’s southern Rhône Valley but grown in Washington State.  A syncline is a layer of rock that bends in the middle, forming a sort of smile, and this wine will definitely bring a smile to your face.  It’s ripe and harmonious with a touch of hedonism in its fruity and savory characteristics.  It can pair with a variety of foods and occasions.

Two of our bubblies are properly called sparkling wine (Champagne must come from a particular French region).  The bubbles come from a second fermentation of still wine; yeast and sugar are added to a strong (able to tolerate 5-7 atmospheres of pressure), airtight container.  This process forms CO2, which has nowhere to go but into the wine in the form of tiny bubbles that dance “upward as if to snub their noses at gravity,” as one writer put it.  In the case of Champagne and Cava, the container is a bottle; in the case of the Martinotti/Charmat process (used for Prosecco), the container is a large pressurized tank.

   Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Extra Dry NV is made from the Glera (aka Prosecco) grape grown on a certified-organic family estate in northeast Italy.  The Bronca sisters use a high tech process that results in several bottlings a year, so the wine is always fresh, aromatic, and very tasty.  Use as an aperitif or pair with delicate dishes and fish.  Spain’s Bohigas Brut Reserva Cava NV is a typical blend of three native varieties, made by a family that has been growing grapes for 800 years and making cava for 80.  Apple, grapefruit, stone, and brioche lead to a long finish on this full-bodied sparkler.

Want something local?  Try a newer release from South Hill Cider, Bluegrass Russet.  Steve Selin has concocted another lovely blend using American and British cider apples.  Lively bubbles support melon and lemongrass notes leading to an off-dry finish.  Pair with pork or ham.

Finally, a delight for the sweet tooth (as well as the best thing that ever happened to a pancake): Finger Lakes Distilling Maplejack.  Made from brandy distilled from local apples, aged in oak, and sweetened with local maple syrup.  Maplejack mixes well with Rye whiskey, or can stand alone as an after-dinner treat.  Try pairing this liqueur with apple dishes—pie, tarts, or crêpes—for a great dessert.

–M.P. Rouse