Saturday, April 30, 2016

Vintage Pick: 2013 Sonoma

For my latest contribution to Snooth’s Wine Writers’ Round-Up series, we offer some suggestions on exciting vintages to check out. I chose 2013 in Sonoma, a vintage that I’m fully in love with.

I love the Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Syrahs (and plenty of other wines) from the 2013 vintage in Sonoma. The wines from different sites and different winemakers show a similar aesthetic — vibrant aromatics, bright fruit, fresh acidity and accessible structure. In 2013, a cold winter was followed by a warm spring, that triggered early bud break in many vineyards. But the year was relatively calm and uneventful, spare a heat spike in late June and early July, the weather was consistent. On the Sonoma Coast, the days were warm and the nights chilled by cold Pacific breeze.Bibiana Gonzalez-Rave, winemaker for Pahlmeyer’s Sonoma Coast wines, called the vintage ideal, a “perfect 10.” And I’ve heard similar praise from winemakers from all over the North Coast.

Click here to read the full article, along with 15 other picks from some great wine writers.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rosé Season is in Full Spring

It’s that time of year again! The trees have blossomed, my email inbox is filling up with “Rosé sale!” offers, and all my favorite wine shops have scooted the pink stuff toward the front of the store.

I drink the pink all year round, but with longer days, more sunshine and warmer weather here in the mid-Atlantic, I crave rosé more than ever. And during spring and summer, I love exploring the new releases from all over the world, made from all kinds of grape varieties and blends. Add in the generally modest price tags, and I arrive at the conclusion: we should all open some rosé right now.

Odds are you, like me, have your go-to favorites. I dig pinks from Bandol, Marsannay, and a bunch of California Rhone-style interpretations. But good rosé increasingly comes from pretty much everywhere people make good wine. If a lot of winemakers and working in a region, odds are someone is producing a kick-ass dry rosé. This has been one of the most encouraging developments in the worldwide wine trade since I began seriously exploring wine about 12 years ago. And I hope the pink parade continues for years to come, because these wines deserve a spot on any table or wine list.

Here are a few examples of some crisp new rosé.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Hentley Farm Rosé Barossa Valley - Australia, South Australia, Barossa, Barossa Valley
SRP: $20
Gorgeous strawberry/watermelon color. Bright and fresh but tons of fruit (strawberry, watermelon, red apple peel) along with a lovely spiced tea and rose hip essence. Medium+ bodied, this is ripe and velvety but the acidity stays tart and fresh. More watermelon and tart strawberry, with some candied apple peel. I also get some white peppery spice, crushed shells and floral perfume. A fuller style but still so bright and refreshing. Grenache and Syrah. (88 points)

2015 M. Chapoutier Vin de Pays d’Oc Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Rosé - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
SRP: $15
Juicy peach/light salmon color. Such freshness on the nose, I get dandelion and clean laundry on white cherries and wild strawberries. Smooth and moderately creamy on the palate, but the vibrant acidity carries the wine forward and keeps the lips smacking. White cherries and tart strawberry fruit, some richer peach elements in there, too, backed up by notes of nettle, floral perfume, lemon zinger tea. Bright and crisp, simply pleasant but not simple. A blend 55% Grenache and 45% Syrah. (87 points)

2015 Dark Horse Wines Limited Release Rose - California
SRP: $10
Light salmon color. Smells of red apples, wild strawberries, some nettle, and a fresh but sweet herbal/vegetal note that reminds me of cucumber water. On the palate, this wine shows zesty acid, a crisp and dry style, but some fresh fruit (red apple, white cherry). I get some strawberry greens, nettle, white pepper. Not super complex, but this is awesome stuff for the price. I’d pay $10 for this any day of the week – an infinitely better gateway drug for any leftover white Zin drinkers. A blend of 40% Grenache, 20% Barbera, 20% Pinot Gris and 20% Tempranillo. (85 points)

2015 Chronic Cellars Pink Pedals - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles
SRP: $15
Vibrant watermelon color. A lighter aromatic profile, with white cherries, red apple peel and some rose hips. Light and crisp structure but there’s a chalky texture to the wine, and the fruit is juicy and ripe, strawberries and watermelon, with some crunchy white cherries, rose hips, white pepper and dandelions. Tasty, refreshing, a bit short but I like the flavor profile. Grenache with 11% Syrah. (85 points)

2015 Cenyth Cabernet Franc Rosé - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $25
A gorgeous pale salmon color. Bright and boisterous on the nose with red apple peel, wild strawberry and white cherries, along with roses, baby’s breath and hints of white pepper. The palate shows vivacity and tang from start to finish, the acidity is so refreshing but there’s plenty of texture and bright fruit (white cherry, strawberry, tart red apple peel). So much floral and spice elements, roses, dandelions, white tea, sea salt, grapefruit. Gorgeous stuff. Bring on summer. (90 points)

2015 Matchbook Rosé of Tempranillo - California, Central Valley, Dunnigan Hills
SRP: $12
Pale salmon color. Smells of grapefruit, red apple peel, strawberry greens and white pepper. Crisp acidity on the palate with some moderate creaminess. I get tart strawberries, white cherries and red apple peels, along with some fresh basil and white pepper, which adds a lovely spicy kick to the wine. Some chalk and potpourri elements linger on the finish. For $12, this is a whole lot of rosé! This estate wine includes 14% Syrah, 7% Tannat and 2% Graciano. (87 points)

2015 Early Mountain Vineyards Rosé - Virginia, Central Virginia, Madison County
SRP: $19
Medium copper color. Smells of red apple, strawberries, roses, baby’s breath, cucumber slices, some white pepper and a hint of chalk, which is quite a cool combination of scents. Creamy body, bright crispness throughout. Red apple peel, some tart strawberries, I like the mix of floral, white pepper, some crunchy, chalky aspects. Rich mouthfeel but stays lively and crisp. 77% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah and 3% Malbec. One of my favorite Virginia roses. (88 points)

2015 Dolan & Weiss Pinot Grigio Julia’s Dazzle Rosé Benches Vineyard - Washington, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills
SRP: $17
Pale copper color. Smells like a giant bowl of peaches, all kinds, topped with honey and nettles. On the palate, I love the mouthfeel, which combines mouth-tingling acidity with creamy, honeyed presence. Flavors of white peaches, tart white cherries and nectarines, along with a nice mix of white pepper, nettle and clover. Some chalky, crusty sea salt elements as well. Lots going on here. A unique rose made from a single vineyard of Pinot Gris. (87 points)

<85 points
2015 Mouton Cadet le Rosé de Mouton Cadet - France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Rosé
SRP: $11
Light salmon color. Smells of tart strawberries, white cherries, blossoms and white pepper. Light and tart with crunchy red apple and strawberry greens. Spicy, tart, a bit lean and off-balance but decent. Mostly Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prime Time to Wade Into Portuguese Wines

How do you gather 50 of the best wines from a single country? It’s an impossible task, and the final selections will, in some sense, always be arbitrary. But several Master Sommeliers recently tasted through 600 samples from Portugal and whittled them down to the top 50. Wines of Portugal, a trade group promoting the country’s wines, then promotes a tasting event celebrating the top wines.

After blind-tasting some 600 Portuguese wines, Master Sommeliers Peter Granoff, Dennis Kelly, and Madeline Triffon chose a
list of the best. Master Somm Peter Granoff writes, “It is not the 50 Great wines, after all, but just 50 Great from a fascinating, dynamic wine-producing country.” And these wines represent a drop in the bucket considering Portugal boasts more than 200 native grape varieties and an expansive amount of soil types and terrain. But this list isn’t composed of prohibitively expensive bottles — some cost about $10-$15. 

Lauren Mowery, a fantastic NYC-based writer,
recapped the tasting in New York in this Village Voice article. I couldn’t attend the tasting, which was surely a master class in the diversity of Portuguese wines, but I did receive a few samples for review, which I’ve pasted below.

2011 Adega Cooperativa de Borba Borba Grande Reserva - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo, Borba
SRP: $32
Saucy purple color. Smells smoky and toasty, with vanilla coffee on top of black cherries and currant jam, some scorched earth and tobacco. Full-bodied, some refreshing acidity frames the medium-strength tannins, it all comes together quite nicely. Noticeable oak for sure (dark roast coffee, vanilla, campfire smoke) the fruit is juicy but stays fresh and crunchy (black currant, blueberry, black cherry). There’s a good amount of herbal tea, wet leaves, chewing tobacco and charcoal elements, which really come out on the finish, especially once this wine gets air. A split blend between Trincadeira and Alicante Bouschet. (88 points)

2013 Quinta da Sequeira Douro Ecos - Portugal, Douro
SRP: $12
Light purple color. Smells rustic (but in a good way) with campfire smoke and cigars to match the black red currant and black cherries. Medium bodied, smooth but moderately structured tannins, some refreshing acidity. The red and black cherries and currants and tart and crunchy but plenty of juicy ripeness. Elements of sweet tobacco, coffee and clove mix with a sense of dusty/earthy minerality. Really tasty and versatile stuff. A classic Douro blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, 25% Susao, 15% Tinta Roriz, 15% Tinta Barroca. For $12, are you kidding me? (87 points)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Capture Wines - Denis Malbec Project Will Live On

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Capture Wines is a California North Coast project aimed at producing Bordeaux variety wines from high elevation sites in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties. It was founded by Denis Malbec (what a last name!), who was born and raise at a little shack you may have heard of, Chateau Latour. His father was Latour’s cellar master, and Denis took over in 1994. But he moved to California, founded Capture, and began seeking Napa and Sonoma sites for high-end Bordeaux varietal wines. Unfortunately, just a few weeks after I tasted these wines, Denis tied in a tragic car accident at the age of 46.

The Jackson Family purchased Capture Wines in 2014, and they seem to be sticking to this relatively narrow focus with their range of wines. Graham Weerts now oversees winemaking for Capture, with the help of Sam Teakle, who has worked in South Australia and France.

The label’s two Sauvignon Blancs are blended from Sonoma County and Lake County fruit. They’re not cheap, but they definitely deliver for the price. I found the Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to be very impressive and worthy of a long sleep in the cellar.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Captûre Wines Sauvignon Blanc Tradition – California, Lake County/Sonoma County
SRP: $30
Bright and zesty aromas, an enticing mix of lemon/lime peel, baby’s breath, honeysuckle along with a kick of spicy green herbs and ginger. Rich texture on the palate, nice and creamy but stays bright with crisp acidity. I like the mix of lime, green apple with richer notes of papaya and white peach. Clean, bright, a hint of creaminess bounces off notes of white flowers, white pepper and ginger. Long finish, clean as a whistle. Mostly Lake County fruit with 35% from Sonoma, mostly fermented in stainless steel with a bit of old oak. (90 points)

2014 Captûre Wines Sauvignon Blanc Les Pionniers – California, Lake County/Sonoma County
SRP: $45
Richer, deeper aromatics than the tradition, I get more tangerine and guava here, but it’s still refreshing with lime, honeysuckle and sea spray. Full-bodied, a bit creamier on the palate, a lovely smooth texture but kept in balance with fresh acid. Nectarine, white peach, yellow and green apples, the fruit is pure and complex, and laced with notes of ginger and honeyed green tea. Beautiful stuff here. About even split between Lake County and Sonoma County fruit, and about even split between fermentation in stainless steel and old oak. (91 points)

2012 Captûre Wines Alliance – California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
SRP: $90
Deep purple color. Rich and intoxicating on the nose, with bold black currant, blackberries, the fruit is pure and vibrant and mixed with notes of sage, eucalyptus, cedar and loamy soil. Full-bodied and punchy on the palate with velvety but firm tannins and moderate acid that keeps it moving forward. The black currant, blueberry and blackberry fruit is rich but shows verve. Complex elements of loam, cedar, eucalyptus, sage, mint, dark chocolate shavings. A whole lot going on here. Serious structure for the cellar but it’s vibrant and alive now. Beautiful, opulent stuff. 87% Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Cab Franc. Aged 18 months in 60% new French oak. (93 points)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet & Merlot

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

This crew of wines included some real beauties. As is usually the case, I find that the best wines aren’t cheap. However, I also find the most expensive aren’t always the ones I like the most.
Of course, it all comes down to personal preference and — when talking about California Bordeaux varietal wines — a lot of it comes down to your tolerance for oak. The Shafer is a massive and oaky steel-toed boot to the palate, but I love it because, somehow, it all comes together. However, I found some other wines with far less new oak tasted overdone and charred.
This report includes wines from four recently available vintages (2010-2013), which reflects tremendous variation in style and aging ability.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.
2010 Fields Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Dr. Konrad’s Vineyard - California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder
SRP: $59
Light purple color. The aromas are bright and vibrant, although there’s plenty of dark currant and plum fruit. The wine smells fresh, with elements of potting soil, violets, eucalyptus, sweet pipe tobacco, cherry wood and slight vanilla — I can’t stop smelling this wine. Medium-to-full-bodied, this wine has a firm but dusty tannic structure, refreshing acidity and bright but dark fruit (black cherry, blueberry, blackberry). The fruit is pure and vibrant and laced with elements of soil, graphite, violets, coffee and cola. I get an underlying sense of minerality that lingers long on the finish. Aged about two years in barrel and two in bottle before release. This is showing very well right out of the bottle, but it could use two more years in the cellar and will improve for long after that. (91 points)

Review: 2011 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $65
Dark ruby/earthy purple color. Aromas of black currant, roasted fig, plum cake, topped with cocoa powder, tobacco pipe and potting soil notes. Full-bodied but not too chewy or opulent – fine-grained tannins provide structure and some vibrant acidity keeps things smooth and precise. Dark currant, blueberry, roasted fig, the fruit is rich but showing nuance. Elements of tobacco, fallen leaves, and coffee grounds add play off of mocha and toast elements, which are woven in well and don’t dominate the other flavors. Not the deepest, most complex or age-worthy wine, but it is put together well and offers a lot of deliciousness and is ready to drink. (87 points)

2012 Kendall-Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $55
Juicy purple color. Smells of dark currants, some roasted plums and figs, and a blend of sweet eucalyptus and mint, dark chocolate and charred toast. Full, dark and bold but the tannins have a smooth edge, medium acidity helps keep it moving forward. Blueberry, black currant, roasted fig, the fruit’s topped in vanilla coffee, dark chocolate, toasted coconut and loamy soil. A bit tight at first, this could use some time to open up but very tasty, quite well-structured and a lot of fun. Aged 18 months in mostly French oak, about 1/3 new. (88 points)

2013 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $69
Rich purple color. Deep aromas, a bit tight at first, this takes quite a bit of time to open up, but it eventually shows black currant and blackberry jam with iron, charcoal, tobacco and eucalyptus. Full-bodied and quite tannic, this is a seriously structured wine but the acidity is refreshing, and the balance is impressive. Blackberry and tart currant fruit, bold but it maintains a crunchy mystique. Lots of complex flavors packed in here: lavender, cedar, dark roast coffee, clove and a deep sense of minerality. Finishes long and balanced. A beautiful wine that will improve drastically as it ages over the next five to eight years. Aged 21 months in 60% new French oak. (93 points)

2012 Jordan Vineyard & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon - California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley
SRP: $55
Dark ruby color. Deep but vibrant black cherry, black currant and roasted fig aromas, I also get wet earth, charcoal, violets and eucalyptus, all of which combine to make the nose incredibly inviting. A velvety feel on the palate, solid structure to the tannins but fresness from the moderate-plus acidity. Saucy, smooth black fruit, plenty ripe but it maintains a nuanced appeal. Complex elements of loam, eucalyptus, gravelly soil, potted flowers. Hints of sweet cola and vanilla round out the finish. Open for business but stuffing to improve in the cellar. Includes 16% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec, aged in new and used French and American oak. (91 points)

2013 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five - California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
SRP: $85
Such a dark purple color. On the nose, I get dense blackberry and cassis, along with chocolate, coffee, a hint of mint and this unique element of concrete, paved road and graphite, which I really like. Rich and chewy, this has serious tannic structure but it’s suave. Some medium-low acidity helps tame the wine just a bit. Deep black currant and blackberry fruit topped with dark chocolate, charred earth, graphite, pencil shavings, dark roast coffee. Big and bold but undeniably delicious and quite complex. A bit toasty, but the other elements show through. Dense now, opens up significantly, but this is one to bury and forget about until at least the next Presidential election cycle. 15.3% alcohol, this is aged 20 months in all new French oak. (93 points)

2013 Purple Heart Wines - California, Napa Valley, St. Helena
SRP: $20
Vibrant ruby color. Smells candied and sweet with strawberry jam and black cherries topped with cinnamon, licorice and milk chocolate. Smooth tannins, low acidity, juicy and slightly candied fruit. I get raspberry, strawberry and blackberry jams with flavors of coffee, chocolate and vanilla. Simple but pleasant. 84% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. (85 points)

2013 KITÁ Kalas Camp 4 Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
SRP: $50
Vibrant ruby color. Smells wonderfully smoky and earthy, with savory spices, mushroom, fallen leaves and campfire on top of a rich blend of tart black and red berry fruit. Full-bodied with a solid and dry tannic structure, some moderate acid for freshness. Tart red currants, black cherries, dark plums, all of the fruit is crunchy but full of ripe juice. If you enjoy savory aspects, seek this out because they are firing: pepper, rich earth, mushroom, wet leaves, pencil shavings, just hints of toast but well-integrated. Needs time or at least a lot of air, but this stuff is enjoyable and leaves a lot to contemplate as well. 54% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 18% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (92 points)

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $28
Deep purple color. Tart blackberries, blueberries and richer black cherry fruit, some rich iron, potting soil, espresso and vanilla. Medium-to-full-bodied, dusty tannins, some tang from the acid, a velvety but crunchy feel to the wine. Tart blackberries and blueberries, mixed in with toasted oak, vanilla, dark roast coffee and sweet violets. Hints of earth and pencil shavings, a tart currant jam on the finish. A solid, perhaps it will get a bit more expressive with age. (86 points)

2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Jackson Park - California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley
SRP: $60
Vibrant purple color. Smells fruit-forward with a mix of blueberry, raspberry and strawberry jams, along with some sweet cedar, vanilla and coffee notes. Medium-full-bodied, a chewy texture against some sturdy tannins, medium-low acid. The blackberry and blueberry fruit is jammy and rich, slathered with oak and vanilla, throw in some sweet cola, coffee, eucalyptus, mint, some rich earthy elements as well. Good stuff now, but I’d want to cellar this for a year or two and see how it opens up. A dash of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this is aged in 40% new French and American oak. (88 points)

2012 Grgich Hills Merlot - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $43
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart black cherries, rich dark plums, mixed in with tons of smoke, tobacco, black olive, earthy complexity, wonderful aromas but they need time to open up. Full-bodied yet some zip from the acid, this has great structure with firm tannins but they’re fined down around the edges. Lovely crunchy and tart aspects to fruit (some red berries mixed in with the blackberry and dark plums). Full of earthy, floral and spicy complexity. Nice and toasty (but not too much), with notes of roasted chestnut coffee. Very well-made stuff, it’ll have a lot more to show in four or five years. (91 points)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Purple Heart Wine Pays Homage to Military Veterans & Families

Ray Coursen. Credit: Purple Heart Wines
The Purple Heart Foundation is one of the most respected charitable organizations assisting military members and their families. And now there’s a wine to pair with it.

Ray Coursen, a Vietnam Veteran and advocate for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, is the winemaker for Purple Heart Wines, and consulting winemaker David Grega is an Iraq War veteran. Ray has 30 years of winemaking experience in Napa, and he has teamed up with his neighbors at the Peter Mondavi family to create a Napa red blend with heart and purpose. 

“It’s a wine we create without sacrifice to pay tribute to those who make sacrifices for us,” Coursen says. 

Purple Heart Wines also offers up Ray’s own story and
tells more stories of guts and dedication among members of the armed services. Pour yourself a glass and read some of these humbling stories of bravery. 

The brand’s public relations spokesperson told me they plan to make an initial $10,000 donation this month. And, based on how the wine sells, the company will donate up to $50,000 per year to the Purple Heart Foundation. They also offer a link on their website to
donate directly

So, is the wine good? Well, yes. I liked it. I’m glad it doesn’t cost $60, because it’s not a wine that improve with ten years in the cellar, and an expensive bottle would make it difficult for the average consumer to participate in this endeavor. It’s not easy to make a compelling red blend from Napa (some of the most expensive vineyard land anywhere) and retail it for $20. In that context, this wine is damn good. 

2013 Purple Heart Wines - California, Napa Valley
SRP: $20
Vibrant ruby color. Smells candied and sweet with strawberry jam and black cherries topped with cinnamon, licorice and milk chocolate. Smooth tannins, low acidity, juicy and slightly candied fruit. I get raspberry, strawberry and blackberry jams with flavors of coffee, chocolate and vanilla. Simple but pleasant. 84% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. (85 points)  

To support this effort, you can
purchase the wine directly by clicking this link. To find the 2013 Purple Heart red at a store near you, click here.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Low Alcohol Wines For the Win

Damn, I love Madiera. And Port. And high-octane Cali Zinfandel. But, sometimes, I don't want to drink wine that is going to get me blitzed (at least not immediately).

I taste a lot of huge California, Australian, Chilean and Rhone wines, and so many of them are pushing 15%-plus alcohol. (Thanks climate change + candy-loving palates + delayed picking!)

But I love light-bodied wines with low alcohol and refreshing acidity.

However, I don't like to sacrifice on flavor. For me, the most refreshing, crisp, oceanic, exciting wines on the planet come from the rocky soils

As part of Snooth's Wine Writers Round-Up series, I and some other writers offered our thoughts on some low alcohol wines. Check out the piece here. Cheers!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Good, Cheap Italian Wine is an Awesome Thing

$12 Italian wines — it’s a minefield I rarely enter on my own choosing. See, as a 21-year-old, I spent way too much of my hard-earned dough searching for good Chianti and Pinot Grigio for $10 to $15.

I was living in Brooklyn and, having grown up on the Jersey Shore, random bottles of cheap Italian wine was the natural place to go. Now that I was pulling down decent cash at Kinko’s, and saving money by sleeping in an illegally-rented basement in Brighton Beach, I had some extra money for the first time in my life. So I spent a lot of it on cheap Italian wine. Surely those classy-looking bottles at the corner store would be delicious and pair well with my homemade eggplant parm — right?

For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why were these wines so lifeless?

Look, there are plenty of decent, inexpensive Italian wines. But the bottles you see on every shelf and grocery store (with the kitschy labels and castles and Renaissance sketches) these wines can be so boring you’ll wish you bought grain alcohol and grape juice.

But, like in most every wine-producing country, someone, somewhere is producing wine on the cheap worth getting excited about. These usually hail from the lesser-heralded regions, from grapes you may not be familiar with, and — damnit — Safeway may not carry them.

But if you find the good ones, it’s worth the effort. Trust me.

I was recently impressed with the overall quality of this Vento Di Mare brand of wines from Sicily. For $12 a pop, I’d gladly buy up any of these wines to open at big family gatherings.

Actually, I tested these wines out on my family. I tasted through the Vento Di Mare lineup before my Ma was passing through town on her way to a sister’s weekend in PA. After tasting and writing about these wines, I sent the bottles with her so she and my four aunts could enjoy them. They drank these wines with charcuterie, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, baked ziti, ravioli — you get the idea. The next week, I got a postcard, signed from all of my aunties. “We loved those wines! They made the food and fellowship so much better!”

See? This is what I was looking for when I was scouring shelves for cheap-o-vino. Wines that cost little money, but were delicious with food and enjoyed by everyone at the table. 

If you’re looking for something like that, you may want to seek out Vento Di Mare.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Vento Di Mare Grillo Organic Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Smells of lemon, green apple, green melon and slight grassy note. Medium bodied, moderate acid, a freshness to the wine with a bit of creaminess to go along. Sliced green apples mix with a bit of pineapple. Hints of green grass and cut floral stems as well. (85 points)

2014 Vento Di Mare Grillo Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Lime, sliced apple, a bit richer melon notes with a hint of chalk. Fresh and vibrant with a salty aspect to the lime, green apple and pineapple notes. Slight spice and grass note on a fresh finish. A bright and clean, easy-sipping wine that’s good for the price. (85 points)

2014 Vento Di Mare Pinot Grigio Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Bright, floral and peach aromatics, some honeysuckle as well. Smooth, slightly creamy but some bright acid. Tart green apples mix with creamy peaches, and the wine shows some floral spice and honeyed tea. Not super complex, but quite balanced and impressive for the price. (85 points)

SRP: $12
Slightly brighter aromatics than the regular bottling, still peachy and full of honeysuckle, but some lime and chalky elements as well. Clean and crisp with lively acid. Limes, green apples and white peaches topped with honeysuckle, lemon zinger tea and a hint of chalk. Interesting comparison to the regular bottling, this one shows a bit more zip. What a value for $12, more interesting than the vast majority of Veneto Pinog Grigios at this price point. (87 points)

2013 Vento Di Mare Nerello Mascalese Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Medium ruby colored. Smells of red plums and raspberries with a hefty dose of pepper, leather and bloody steak. Juicy texture on the palate, light tannic structure, moderate acid. A good introduction to this variety, with simple flavors of strawberry, raspberry and red plum, backed up by notes of smoke, roasted chestnut and black pepper. Drink now. (85 points)

2013 Vento Di Mare Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Deep ruby colored. Juicy red cherries raspberries, along with a fun mix of tobacco, black pepper and roses. Fleshy red fruits, medium-dusty tannins, bright acid. Juicy raspberries and strawberries mixed in with black pepper, roasted chestnut and coffee. It’s a bright and approachable wine but showing some good structure. (86 points)

SRP: $12
Deep ruby colored. Smells of tart red currants and bright raspberries, along with spiced coffee and rose hips. Medium-bodied with some moderate tannic structure and medium acid. Juicy blackberry and tart raspberry fruit, which is tossed together with some pepper, tobacco and roasted coffee. An interesting floral and earthy note lingering on the finish. Great pizza wine for the price, that’s for sure. (87 points)