Doing what California can’t do for under $20


Chasing down a good red.

Chasing down a good red.

Cue Etta James. At Last!

Finally someone gets it. Gets how to make an all-out true Bordeaux blend for under $20 and it actually not be from Bordeaux. After years of California vintners plugging away at prestigious and often OVER-priced attempts at that five varietal Bordeaux blend, a South African winery shows them how it’s done.

Any wine lover's best friend.

Any wine lover’s best friend.

The 2011 Mulderbosch Faithful Hound Red combines the classic Bordeaux grapes (Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot) to make a solid southern hemisphere rendition of the iconic French wine and does it all for around $18. So consider this your new best friend.

A slightly cedar note and some Merlot-sponsored green bell pepper shine on the nose. Full bodied, the Faithful Hound begs for a nice chunk of red meat to tear into, so throw a slab of your favorite cut of steak on the grill and fetch a bottle or two of the Mulderbosch.  Your “lonely days are over.”

Italian wine influence extends to Argentina

* A version of this column was first published in the on-line edition of Saturday’s Knoxville News Sentinel.

The modern Italian impact on the world of wine can be felt from the peninsula’s contemporary iconic families like Gaja, Frescobaldi, Antinori, and date all the way back to the Italian diaspora of the late 19th century, which would give the New World a sense of its own vintner legacy. North America and more specially California would see the influence of that fine Italian hand through the likes of families with now legendary names; Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani, Martini, Seghesio and dozens more.

Pesce del giorno at Nashville's Sardinia Enoteca!

Pesce del giorno at Nashville’s Sardinia Enoteca!

Perhaps not as dramatic or as forceful as it’s northern neighbors, South America and particularly Argentina would make way for the rise of it’s own celebrated equivalent in another Italian immigrant family, the house of Catena. With several quality-demanding vineyards that make up their Catena Zapata line and span some 56 acres, the Catena family has established their wines, their name and indeed their legacy as Argentina’s vintner kings.

A day trip to Nashville for a seminar on Catena’s collectible and celebrated wines presented the opportunity to taste just how amazing their wines have become. Over a remarkable lunch at Nashville’s new Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, we were welcomed with two well-structured South American Chardonnays, the 2009 Catena White Stones and 2008 Catena White Bones.

Both of these Chardonnays are extremely allocated (with a price to reflect it) but offer a rare combination of California approachability with Burgundian style, nuance, and sophistication. The integration of the wine’s wood-influence teeters on perfection without being club-like, while the fruit of the wine is flawlessly consistent and enjoyable. Think Paul Hobbs meets Olivier Leflaive.

Catena’s ambassador, Jorge Liloy, also presented us with half a dozen of the winery’s marque Malbecs including multiple vintages of their flagship wine, the Nicolas Catena Zapata. And although you can’t find a bad one among their Adrianna, Nicolas and Argentino bottlings of Malbec, it was the very beautiful 2009 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec that stole the show.

The Nicasia is what Malbec should always be, approachable and alluring, with a sleek tannic structure, a violet bouquet and gorgeous rolling layers of decadent dark berry fruit. Forget about all those wannabe kitschy Malbecs with their hands in the air, begging to be picked. In the end they are almost always the same, brashly single minded, and over the top.

Perhaps it’s the style of that fine Italian hand, now generations removed that still distinguishes the wines of Catena. Or maybe it’s about something as simple as getting what you pay for. Regardless, the Catena collection will be available here this fall and it’s a must for wine fanatics to seek out, to share, and to enjoy.

Malbec meets Tempranillo – Urban style

 Picture this

Picture this

The 2011 Urban Uco is a fifty-fifty combination of Malbec and Tempranillo from Mendoza, Argentina. Here you have an old world Bordeaux varietal in Malbec (that has become Argentina’s flagship wine) blended with Tempranillo (that the Rioja region of Spain popularized). Together they make this ultra-modern, new world style exemplified by its “everyman” flavor profile and immediate gratification. There’s no need to wait, to age, to breathe… just pop and pour. A rare South American treat from famed Spanish importer Jorge Ordonez, Urban Uco retails for a very reasonable $13.

Offer a salute for Father’s Day

* A version of this column was originally published in Saturday’s on-line edition of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Wines fit for a king

Wines fit for a king

This Father’s Day you may not be able to send dad on that much needed vacation touring the vineyards of the Tuscan countryside or to be pampered by any of the countless numbers of wineries in California’s Napa Valley. But you can bring the vineyard to him, at least the best part of it. On his day of appreciation, give dad a beautiful and distinctive bottle of wine that he may enjoy at his leisure. Who knows he might even open it the next time you’re around.

Some dad’s are all about comfort. They like to know or be familiar with something before they dive into it. These are the old school, map in hand Pops whom plan almost everything in advance and are going to want to at least be able to pronounce the wine gift you chose for them. Chances are they’re quite aware of Napa Valley and their award-winning litany of sturdy, reliable Cabernets.

With that in mind, the preferred Napa Valley Cabs that I recommend for Father’s Day come from Cliff Lede Vineyards and Bell Wine Cellars. The 2009 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, represents the tannic, bold style Cabernet with its firm structure and dark berry fruit. The Cliff Lede (pronounced lady) is a steak lovers Cab that will need to be opened well in advance of firing up the grill. Look to pay around $60.

Likewise, Anthony Bell’s 2009 Claret will amaze any wine enthusiast. Its local popularity was made possible by Mr. Bell’s continued presence in the market and by the long time listing on the wine menu at the Northshore Brasserie. A mostly Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, the Bell Claret is excellence defined. For the ready-to-drink wine man, only the layers of supple, luscious fruit surpass the Claret’s polished tannins and elegant mouthfeel. And it’s a very reasonable gift for under $40.

Father & Son

For the jet setter, aspiring world traveler or even the modern day “foodie” father, one needs to look no further than the vineyards of Tuscany for an impeccable bottle of wine and exceptional gift idea. Aged for three years in oak, the 2008 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino is a delectable mouthful of 100% Sangiovese Grosso grapes. With dense black cherry flavors, a hint of anise and a finish reminiscent of wild berry reduction, the Castelgiocondo Brunello just begs to be paired with some braised lamb shank. Leather notes and holiday spices combine for an aromatic tour de force, so Dad will know his $70 gift was special the moment he leans in for his first sip.

Keep in mind that buying an expensive bottle is a commitment and not an investment. Always ask your local shop for a discount to defer some of the cost of your purchase. They should be more than glad to help you with such a special gift.

Wine and beer pair with whatever you’re grilling

The first holiday of the grilling season is upon us, and if you master anything this weekend let it be that salty, savory grilled meats and tasty beverage treats go hand in hand. Whether you’re a burger traditionalist, a health-conscious outdoorsy type that’s refined the art of preparing your favorite saltwater catch or a beef-mastering, brisket-loving devotee, there is a beverage to pair with your barbecue of choice.

I’ve teamed up with the beer king of Knoxville, Chris Morton of Bearden Beer Market, to present appropriate parings of both beer and wine.

With all the innovative ingredients we Americans put on our hamburgers these days, it might seem tricky to find the right wine to match. The simple key to a good selection is versatility. Two red blends have recently arrived in local stores that will have your burger screaming for a little more wine and a little less of anything that takes away from the true flavors of the beef.

Easy-drinking reds perfect for cookouts

Warm weather usually means the proverbial switch to white wine. However, all those spring and summertime cookouts with lots of burgers and barbecue usually correlate to serving some easy-drinking reds. These four red wine selections are relatively new editions that are affordable, tasty and good all-around pairings.

n 2007 Coppola Celestial Blue Malbec ($14.99): The Godfather has done it again. Writer and director Francis Ford Coppola has once again extended his famous Diamond Collection of wines to include the very hot Malbec grape. Embellished with aromas of clove, pepper and allspice, the 2007 Coppola Malbec offers up black cherry flavors, a hint of cinnamon and a dash of oak influenced black fruit. Leave it to the movie maestro to work his magic on yet another wine. This one is classic Malbec with more fruit-forward enjoyment than the deluge of South American juice flooding the market.

n 2008 Darby & Joan Cabernet ($9.55): The latest roll out by one of Australia’s premier wine groups, the Grateful Palate Imports is the 2008 Darby & Joan Cabernet, an un-oaked red with loads of luscious fruit. Its bouquet opens up with a combination of plum berries and green bell pepper. Although it’s a huge 15 percent in alcohol, Darby & Joan doesn’t hog the glass like it was lugging around a lot of heat. A very gracious dose of watermelon Jolly Rancher does fade toward the end, but for under $10, this one shouldn’t disappoint.

Continue reading at

Give the gift of vino for the holidays

There are a few things that go without saying this year. The holidays are busy and the stock market will make you dizzy. The mall is packed full. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the definitive moments with family and friends are what make this time of year special. So, the quicker you can finish that holiday gift shopping and get home, then the quicker you can enjoy being around your favorite people.

Wine, like food, is terrific for bringing people together. So for all those hard-to-shop-for people on your holiday gift list, there’s a wine that can equal their style and preference.

Continue reading at

Malbec becomes a popular choice

Malbec erupted onto the American wine scene about five years ago and, in that short time, has established itself as a Merlot substitute with a popularity on par with that of Pinot Noir. Although the Malbec grape traces its roots back to the European continent, in particularly to Bordeaux, its growth over the past half-decade has taken place in South America. There’s plenty of Malbec out there to choose from, but more and more, they seem to offer little variation. Nonetheless, whether you are a new red wine drinker, a rating’s follower or a cult wine seeker, Malbec offers a little something for everyone.

When customers are ready to make the leap from white wine to red, they are often steered toward a light California Pinot Noir. The softer tannins and low alcohol of domestic Pinot Noir make it a natural selection for breaking through to the other side. Likewise, there are a handful of inexpensive Argentine Malbecs that have a fruity profile and tamer acidity level. Some of the original leaders in that category were Alamos and Trapiche. Today, they act as ringleaders for introducing consumers to the Malbec circus and to newer brands like Cigar Box.

Cigar Box Malbec is probably the newest and hottest Malbec to come out this year. It may look like a knock-off brand, but what it lacks in original marketing it makes up for with a better price. Fruit driven and juicy, the Cigar Box covers all the flavor bases with plum, cherry and blackberry notes. It may be a little too punchy for every new red wine drinker, but it will be a good indicator as to whether those that are new to Malbec will want to stick with it. A great buy for under $10, Cigar Box is an ideal way to keep your wine selections fresh and trendy.

Continue reading at