Oriel brand consistently hits it out of park

There’s a new team in town, and these Boys of Summer have been honing their game with a little warm-weather spring training.

Oriel wines are a hot new brand with a unique story. Unveiled in 2006 by John Hunt, the company has sought out more than 20 established and respected wine makers in more than nine countries. What they bring to the table are years of experience and a specific knowledge of the wines they are making. As a result, consumers are presented with high-quality wines that are true and indicative to the region where they are made. The Oriel brand continues to grow and offers some new arrivals this spring.

I’ve covered a few of these ringers in the past and done some play-by-play analysis, but never before have I seen a new team hit like these fence busters. You won’t find any Bush Leaguers around this diamond, and with a skipper like John Hunt, you can bet a big bag of peanuts that these players will be swinging for the fences.

Check out this new lineup:

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Cool white wines to quench that Spring fever

* The hot weather has arrived early again this year and after spending the last forty days without a cold beer, I was motivated to explore some white wines.  After trying lots of uninspired whites, I settled on a couple of Sauvignon Blancs and two whites from Austria known as Gruner Veltliner.  As we inch closer to the Lake and find ourselves more and more in the great outdoors, these wines make for great thirst quenchers.

Hofer 2005 Gruner Veltliner ($9.99)

The king of Austrian grapes, Gruner Veltliner (GROO-ner VELT-lee-ner), is slowly growing in popularity around the world.  If you’re curious to try something new this spring, then the 2005 Hofer is an affordable way to scratch that itch.  Fresh and aromatic with citrus highlights, Hofer has balanced acidity and soft apple notes that offer a simple crispness.

Adding to the value of this $10 wine is the fact that it comes in a full liter size bottle. So, although it may look like a forty-ounce malt liquor, that extra glass of wine will come in handy when that pesky neighbor floats on down for a visit. Complete with a pop-top, Hofer would even have Jimmy Buffet singing about an Austrian beauty, hopefully without the lederhosen.

2004 Oriel Ortolan Gruner Veltliner ($16.99)

Once you’ve gotten a taste for Gruner Veltliner, you’ll be anxious to explore this Austrian treat at greater depth.  The 2004 Oriel Ortolan is the next step up from the Hofer and worth the extra cash. Complex and floral, the Oriel Ortolan offers up a successful juggling act of lemon, lime, and mineral notes with a nice lingering spice to the finish that even some ragin’ Cajuns would love.

Great as an aperitif, this Gruner Veltliner demonstrates a promising future for the Oriel label.  Representing dozens of regions in nine different countries, Oriel is receiving kudos as world famous winemakers producing niche wines.  Be on the lookout as more and more of these wines enter the market. You won’t be disappointed.

2006 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc ($13.99)

Early spring is the time of year when all the new releases of wines start to arrive in the market.  One of the first 2006 vintages I’ve noticed is the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc.  One of my all-favorite Sauvignon Blancs, Ferrari-Carano is a reliable white wine year in and year out.  So after trying the last of my 2005 vintages, I was glad to see the fresh juice arrive.

If you’re looking for a dry white wine with no acidic “bite”, then I highly recommend you go for a bottle of the Ferrari-Carano.  It’s softened by minimal aging in oak barrels and has a roundness to it that many of those bone-dry California Sauvignon Blancs lack.  Over time, the 2006 vintage should develop to reveal some fantastic apple characters.  If you ever get a chance to go to Sonoma, be sure to check out this winery’s stately gardens and facilities. It’s no wonder the wine is so good.

2006 Fumaio Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay ($7.77)

Fumaio is a new wine from Banfi Vintners of Italy.  Although it’s a blend of two different grapes, it’s the Sauvignon Blanc that shines through.  Much drier than the others in the tasting, Fumaio has grassy aromas that are complimented by flavors of grapefruit, lemon and kiwi.  Clean and balanced, Fumaio is moderately herbal and as clear as H2O.  So head to the water and cast that anchor in your favorite secret slew. With a screw top in hand all you need now are a few glasses and some good friends.

* A version of this column was publishes in 2007 in the Knoxville News Sentinel

Three countries wage battle for the best rosé

There’s a battle royale brewing this year over who’s been putting out the best rose’ wines. Historically, French rosé from Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley have been the unchallenged heavyweight champions of the world. But recently, the Americans and even the Italians have done some serious training, beefed up their outputs and thrown their hats in the ring. As a result, this year’s rosé releases have been interesting enough to warrant a three-way brawl as to who’s bottling the best.

Italian rosé wines are, in a word, different. The recurring theme to keep in mind with Italian rosé is that it’s not as fruit driven. Indeed, they’re scruffy little wines that are typically bone dry and beckon for a food partner to truly maximize their potential. Both the 2006 Regaleali Le Rosé and the 2005 Valle Reale Cerasuolo Rosé shared these common traits, as well as having aromas that emanate scents of a funky old-world cheese.

The Valle Reale Rosé from Abruzzo showed a better one-two punch ability as both a food wine and a solo sipper. It found its stride late in the match.

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