The $20 Sweet Spot in Great Wine
I just read an article by New York Times wine reviewer Eric Asimov called "Wine's Sweet Spot is a $20 Bill." The criteria he expresses for a bottle of wine that can be had in the $15-$25 range might be a manifesto for what I've been trying to do with our store's wine list for years - "I want wine that excites me, that feels so good to drink that one sip urges on the next and the next after that. I want a wine that tells a story of a place and a people and a culture, that is not the predictable equivalent of a franchise restaurant but more like a little mom-and-pop’s, where you’re not always sure what you’ll find but you know it can have the capacity to inspire." I couldn't have said it better myself...and I'm always glad when the experts agree with me.
As for the "sweet spot" price, I looked at our list and found that we have 130 wines in the $15-$25 range, with 86 of those being under $20. And we have an additional 40 wines in our "$12 and Under" section. The point is that you don't have to pay the proverbial body appendages to get really interesting wine that will serve you well at your table or as a gift for a friend. And here at Wine & Words...& Gourmet you can even "try before you buy." You know we're your "sweet spot" for great food, wine and books...and the air conditioning is working, so come on in and see us!
James the Wine Guy
This week's Featured Wines
After several weeks of introducing new wines to you, it’s time to review some of the gems we may have forgotten about. One of the sometimes forgotten regions is South Africa...tucked onto the bottom shelf in the rear section of our store. That location is not because the wines aren’t good... au contraire! There just aren’t as many of them as those from the larger wine regions like France or California. South African winemaking has come a long way since the days of apartheid. Whether you’re trying these wines for the first time or becoming reacquainted, you should really take this opportunity to taste them...and purchase them at our special Feature price. Tasting will be Friday from 3:00 until 7:00 and all day Saturday (with what's left) - 10:00 until 5:00.
South Africa Review
Ken Forrester Petit Chenin (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Regular Price $14.60/ Feature Price $12.41
Though it originated in France’s Loire Valley, the Chenin Blanc grape has become a staple of Stellenbosch, where it is often called by its South African name “Steen.” The South African version keeps the luscious tropical fruit flavors and soft mouthfeel typical of Chenin Blanc, while adding a long, palate-cleansing finish that makes this a real thirst-quencher in the middle of this heat wave.
Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $20.70/Feature $17.60
We've had some stunning Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa before, but this one is right there at the top of the list. It's very different from the New Zealand Sauv Blancs we've become used to. The wine gets some of its rich lusciousness from the fact that the grapes grow in sandstone and clay soils. Sandstone provides the mineral and citrus fruit characteristics, while the clay gives texture, depth and passionfruit flavors. They've also added 7% Semillon and fermented the wine in oak barrels. Rich and complex, the wine has a bright, clean finish. This is truly a great wine!
Newton Johnson Felicité No Oak Chardonnay (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $14.50/ Feature $12.33
Neal Martin wrote an extensive review of the state of the South African wine industry in the August 31, 2011 issue of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. He might have been talking about this Felicité Chard when he said:
A blind tasting of nearly 100 South African Chardonnay proved that this is South Africa’s most consistent white grape variety and like Chenin Blanc, its greatest exponents produce world-class wines, I would suggest more Burgundy in style than Napa Valley. The biggest change here is patently less reliance upon new oak. The big, buttery, creamy styles of a decade ago are being replaced by crisp, terroir-driven, mineral-rich Chardonnays that are both more intellectual and delicious. Bring it on!
That’s exactly what we’re doing, Neal, bringing it on. Don’t miss it.
Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé 2010 (Coastal Region, South Africa) Regular $15.75/ Feature $13.39
This lighter weight rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon has become a customer favorite as the one to drink while your outside grilling the steaks. It is bone dry and has a moderate 12.5% alcohol that makes it just right for late summer drinking. And the bottle label says “delicious with crab cakes.” Take advantage of this great Feature while those blue-shelled critters are still swimming in our estuary. Wine Enthusiast 87 Pts - Best Buy
Newton Johnson Felicité Pinot Noir (Upper Hemel en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular $16.45/ Feature $13.98
John Platter’s South African Wine Guide has awarded the Newton Johnson 2011 Pinot Noir 5 Stars...the only Pinot Noir in South Africa to receive that top rating for 3 consecutive years. That didn’t surprise me at all! I’m often asked for a good “reasonably priced” Pinot Noir. This one more than fits the bill. The wine is 100% matured in 3- to 4-year-old oak barriques (large barrels) for 6 months. It is light in body, almost like a full-bodied rosé, with that note of acidity that makes a good Pinot Noir a great companion for all kinds of food...or cool it slightly for a great summer refresher on the deck.
Indaba Shiraz (Western Cape, South Africa) Everyday Low Price $11.95
“Indaba” is the Zulu word for “a meeting of the minds,” or a traditional gathering of tribal leaders for a sharing of ideas. The brand was created as a celebration of the democratization process in South Africa, and Indaba is known for its commitment to social responsibility. A portion of the proceeds from all global sales is used to support a scholarship program for South African students to study in the wine industry. Mzokhona Mvemve is currently the head winemaker at Indaba. He was the first ever black South African winemaker to graduate from Stellenbosch University (in 2002) and he was the first recipient of the Indaba Scholarship. The wine is rich and full bodied with the lusciousness you usually associate with premium Australian Shiraz. And at this extraordinary everyday low price, you can drink great South African wine, support the development of young South African winemakers…and save a few Rand for next time.
The Wolftrap (Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa) Regular $14.50/ $12.33
This smooth, easy-drinking blend of 65% Syrah, 32% Mourvedre and 3% Viognier is a good indication of how much sophistication you can get at a very reasonable price from the winemakers of South Africa. The French style is due to the fact that the Franschhoek (“French corner”) region was settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees. Of course, they brought their winemaking with them, as well as their use of wolftraps...unneeded in this wolf-less area, but it makes a nice label.
Kanonkop Kadette 2010 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Regular $18.25/ Feature $15.51
This mix of 44% Pinotage, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc is known in South Africa as a “Cape Blend,” but if you’ve been sampling here recently you might think of it as a Bordeaux with a Pinotage accent. Pinotage is the signature red grape of South Africa, and it has earned a bad rap because when done badly it tastes really foul. Here, in the hands of very capable winemakers who aim for the French Grand Cru style, you get an elegant, well-structured wine that will go with whatever’s for dinner.
This week's Great Taste
In honor of our South African wine tasting, Chef Yvonne will be making Peppadew Peppers stuffed with Idiazabal cheese.
Peppadews & Idiazabal
We first discovered Peppadews at a big food show in New York City. Down in the lower level of the Javits Convention Center was an area dedicated to food pavilions of various nations that were trying to export their delicacies to the U.S. The South African pavilion was among the most colorful, and the samples of pickled Peppadew peppers makes my mouth water even now, when I think of it. Peppadews are Capsicum baccatum, related to the Aji peppers of South America, but they've got a very low heat rating. When they're pickled this way, they're wildly addictive. We've got customers who eat them right out of the jar. Chef Yvonne sometimes puts them in quiches, adds them to her scrumptious pimiento cheese or...(drumroll) stuffs them with one of our great cheeses.
She usually uses Manchego, the sheep's milk cheese from La Mancha, Spain. But this week, she's highlighting Manchego's smoky northern cousin, Idiazabal (iddy-ah-ZAH-ball). This is sheep's milk cheese made in the Basque Country and Navvarra, up in the foothills of the Pyrenees. After it is made, it is lightly smoked using wood from beech, birch, cherry or white pine trees. You cut little pieces of the cheese, pop them into the Peppadew cavity (left from removing the seeds), then arrange them on a plate and lightly dribble them with one of our superior Spanish olive oils. You'll be back for more.