While there’s a lot to like about elegant, traditional wines, California winemakers are breaking with the past by creating a growing number of innovative blends. Recently, I had a chance to sample one such mass-market wine that was so good, one of my guests immediately texted a friend and told her to buy a case of it. At less than $15 a bottle, Apothic Inferno
is a wine to look for – especially now, since it’s limited release and supply is already dwindling since its launch earlier in the Fall.
Tasted blind, this wine stands out because of its unusual nose. My tasters could not identify it at first. “Baking spice, cinnamon?” No, that wasn’t quite right. “Chocolate and leather?” Maybe. “Could it be bourbon?” asked one taster, hesitating.
Indeed, that was close. Apothic Inferno is a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and petite syrah – aged in whiskey barrels. It brings new meaning to the notion of a “big, bold California red.” This would be an excellent party wine, or perhaps paired with a heavy meat dinner. I also would caution against pouring it side by side other wines: it would overpower just about any wine other than perhaps an inky petite sirah.
And if you are a wine lover who also likes the sensation of a dram of whiskey in your glass, you really luck out with this wine. The winery describes it as a “wine with a whiskey soul.”
This is the latest in the series of Apothic wines, one of the Gallo brands. Winemaker Debbie Juergenson makes unique blends each year. Its standard Apothic Red, a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon has long been one of the good value wines that I point friends to. Apothic Inferno is another worth buying while you can.
The winemakers of Bordeaux, France, want Americans to know that not all of their wines could be a down-payment on a car. Sure, you can spend $1,200 on a bottle of 1981 Chateau Lafite, but what about a wine to drink right now? You say your budget is under $20? No problem. Really.
I just attended a media tasting featuring 12 Bordeaux wines ranging in price from $10 to $25. Every one of these wines was good, and a couple of them were terrific. No offense to the winemakers of the New World, but it’s hard to steer anyone towards a merlot from California, Australia, or South America when wines like this are available and in the same price range. What’s impressive is that these are the normal prices for these wines. We are not talking about bargain bin remainder stock.
Although you will not find “Haut Medoc,” the best-of-the-best Bordeaux in this price range, a couple of these wines would be right at home on any dinner table (but maybe not a White House dinner.) Besides, not everyone likes the complexity of the Cabernet-rich high-end Bordeaux.
Of the wines sampled, here are a couple that I recommend:
White: Chateau Lamothe de Haux 2014 Bordeaux Blanc: This $10 wine is a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle, giving it a sturdier texture and complexity of flavors unexpected in a “value wine.” Slightly off-dry, flavor notes of lemon zest and sweet citrus and aroma of honeysuckle.
Rose: Chateau de Lardiley 2015 Bordeaux Rose: The light hue stems from this wine’s limited time — just two hours — on the red grape skins before fermentation. It is a rare rose of cabernet sauvignon, which explains the robust, dry flavor, with notes of tobacco and dark red fruit. Surprising in many ways, including the $15 price tag.
Red: Three of the four wines sampled were very good. Choosing just one of them to recommend is not easy. My pick is Chateau Lafont-Fourcat 2014, Bordeaux Rouge. This is a rich, round wine with density and a long finish. Ripe plum, tobacco and berries, soft tannin, medium acidity. This 75% merlot/20% cabernet sauvignon/5% malbec blend sells for $15.
While nearly all of the Lake County wineries in the fire-affected area have been able to resume operations or should be able to process fruit in this vintage, thanks to the enormous efforts of firefighters. Now, the hard work of restoring damaged lives is underway.
Peter Molnar from Poseidon Vineyard & Obsidian Ridge Winery talking about the #ValleyFire and the 2015 harvest: “We feel very grateful for this vintage. It will be one we will not forget for a long time.”
As the wine industry has become truly global, the need for experts to guide consumers has grown, too. There are many certification and college degree programs, many of which are very good. One program, the Masters of Wine is unquestionably demanding — much like an advanced college degree, right up to a dissertation-like research paper. Now, 19 new wine professionals have achieved the “MW” certification, bringing the total number of Masters of Wine to 340 worldwide.
Only one of the 19 is from the United States: New Yorker Mollie Battenhouse, who earned fame as head sommelier at Tribeca Grill and has become one of the best known wine educators in the region. In addition to frequent teaching, judging and guest sommelier engagements, Battenhouse is a sales executive for VOS Selections, a wine importer. Her dissertation topic for the MW was “Attitudes of the NYC Wine Trade Towards Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc.”
The others are from around the world, including two from Canada, one from Japan, one from Singapore, and three from Germany. MWs now hail from 24 countries.
“The general standard of the research papers was considerably higher than equivalent papers submitted in previous years,” said John Hoskins MW, Chief Examiner of the Institute of the Masters of Wine, in a news release. “We now have a strong pool of MWs with the experience to give students the guidance they need to tackle this last part of the exam, which for many had in the past proved to be the most frustrating.”
The marketers of New Zealand wine took an idea started by St. Supery winery in California six years ago and helped turn Sauvignon Blanc Day into a global event, with tastings around the world on Friday, April 24, so that the day stretches into two on social media. Fair enough: Many New Zealand wines are worthy of such attention. Although some of my favorite NZ wines are pinot noir, more than two-thirds of all wine produced in New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc.
Many people may recognize New Zealand wines among some of the lowest price wines sold in the United States — it’s not hard to find respectable bottles for around $10. Some of this results from efficient bottling and transport (some wines are bulk shipped to California for bottling and distribution.) And, New Zealand benefits from the relatively recent development of its wine industry — mostly within the past 30 years or so.
This week, I tasted two sample bottles from Nobilo. Both were good; one I look forward to enjoying again. Other enjoyable NZ Sauvignon Blancs I’ve had include ones by Ata Rangi (the 2011 was velvety soft); Wairau River and Cloudy Bay.
The better of the two bottles was 2014 Nobilo Regional Sauvignon Blanc. Pale straw hues, pronounced grapefruit flavor, and a long, mineral finish, this dry wine worked well with spicy foods and strong cheese, and it would match many seafood dishes perfectly. At around $14 a bottle, this represents a very good wine for the price.
The other sample was 2014 Nobilo Icon Sauvignon Blanc. Definitely more complex, this wine’s high acidity and light body belies the expected silky balance. The nose had notes of gasoline (petrol if I follow the standard wine flavor glossaries,) flowers, apricot and bell pepper. Grapefruit dominates the flavor, with some white and black pepper. Still a good value for around $17, the balance of the $14 Nobilo Regional still wins for me.
These are only two of hundreds of good New. Zealand wines available in the United States. One advantage of the Global Economy is greater opportunity to enjoy products from around the world. New Zealand wines fit that category quite nicely.
This post was based in part on sample wines provided by the producers.