Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wines I'm Thankful For

This time of year, there seems to be a lot of chatter both in the wine blogger world as well as in the dead tree wine press about two topics: great wines for Thanksgiving and great gift wines. The former is a rotating crop of up and coming wines from new regions - one year Malbec from Argentina was the greatest wine ever for Thanksgiving. Rioja, Pinot Noir, Cotes du Rhone and Chianti have all also held that distinction for reds, while Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Torrontes have all had a share of the limelight for white wines for Thanksgiving. Ultimately, these reports all end by saying that people should drink what they like - and maybe get something a little nicer than usual for the occasion.

Holiday gift writing tends to explain why wines in the $30 and up are worth it for non-wine drinkers and explain why certain wines cost what they do and why, for a gift, they are worth it. These usually end with a little joke that the card should indicate that in five years, the giver would be happy to help the recipient drink the gift wine.

To do something little different, I wanted to offer up a list of the types of wines I am most thankful for this year. These are not, necessarily, good wines for Thanksgiving. Nor are any of them really good gift wines unless you are a cheapskate. Rather, these are the wines that I find myself cracking open more often than not on a regular evening, or that I have come to appreciate throughout this last year.

1. Chilean Merlot. Chile and Washington State have put Merlot back on the wine map, and Chilean Merlots - with an abundance of dark fruit, chocolate, spice and earth - almost always punch above their weight. Usually under $10, Chilean Merlots have become some of the best value, versatile, everyday drinking wines out there.

2. Virginia Cabernet Franc. I have written a lot about this wine on this blog, and with good reason. The quality and diversity of the Cabernet Franc produced in Virginia continues to grow and is helping to pave the way wider acceptance of Virginia wines in general.

3. Virginia Viognier. Viognier is doing for Virginia white wine what Cabernet Franc is doing for reds. If word gets out on how good Virginia Viognier really is, it could become a go-to white of choice for Chardonnay drinkers looking for something a bit more complex and aromatic as well as Pinot Grigio drinkers who are looking for more body. With its melon, slate and honeydew flavors, it is also a great brunch wine.

4. Cotes du Rhone. While these wines are still gaining and popularity - and increasing in cost - you can still get some very good ones under $15 that are full of clove, spice and blackberries.

5. Grenacha. Spain's second major red wine varietal is starting to gain attention. While these big, bold and smokey wines can be a little rough around the edges, there are some great values out there - especially if you are looking for bigger, more full-bodied wines that pack a punch and are a great value.

6. Argentine Sauvignon Blanc. Let's face it - California Sauvignon Blanc under $15 is rarely good, and the New Zealand stuff is good, but can be fairly acerbic. Argentina is coming into its own with this varietal. There is still the minerality and slate of the New Zealand stuff, but without the over-abundance of gooseberry that turns some people off. These are great light, crisp and refreshing wines.

7. Blends. While pretty much all wines are blends - you only need 75% of a single varietal to put the name on the label - winemakers are becoming more comfortable to put "red blend" or "white blend" on the label. Of course, Bordeaux is still making great wines which, by law, need to be blended, but the trend is catching on in the New World, too. Blends offer depth and complexity that you can't get otherwise. And as long as you stay away from the overly-sweet blends, there are some really good values available.

All of the wines are simply the ones I have developed a greater fondness and appreciation for this year, and all of them tend to have great cost-to-value ratios. During the season of holiday parties, dinners and happy hours, any of these wines would make great gifts or things to order off the menu that won't break the bank, but will leave you satisfied.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Virginia Wine Month has Come and Gone

Every year, it seems as though Virginia Wine Month gains a little more attention and does a little bit more promotion. It's year, they even had a slick advertisement that ran on Hulu praising Virginia wine during the month.

It stands to reason that Virginia Wine Month continues to improve its outreach because the quality of Virginia wine continues to improve and more and more people see wine produced in Virginia as a viable option. True, there are still plenty of challenges in making Virginia a wine-producing region on par with stalwarts like France, California or Italy or Argentina, it is developing its niche among those who are willing to pay a little more for local as well as those eager to try wines from new and unique wine regions. And while Virginia wine will never compete with the likes of Australia or Chile when it comes to price, there are now some Virginia wines that can more than hold their own when it comes to quality.

Virginia Wine Month is also a great time to gauge the state's winemakers on how the harvest went and what the upcoming vintage will be like. Now that another Virginia Wine Month is behind us, this is the perfect time to get out to some of the wineries and start tasting Virginia wines that may be good options for Thanksgiving. The state is producing some very nice light-to-medium drinking Chambourcins with cranberry accents that would be the perfect addition to any Thanksgiving.