Wine column no. 35: Fill your glass without emptying your wallet

They say you get what you pay for. That's why it's a shocker to pay less than you should for something that's better than you expect.
What we mean by this is that Winetree's got two 2009 red blends that are downright steals for under $15.
The first is a Californian from LangeTwins Winery in Lodi. The 2009 Gen 5, recommended by Tim Wilkins, has Cabernet Sauvignon written on the label, but it's actually more than that. This affordable work of
art is actually a fusion of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Merlot, 4 percent Petit Verdot and 3 percent Malbec.
If that combination of varietals sets your head a-spinning, don't worry, because your head will be nodding "Yes!" once you taste this in your glass. We got red fruit, with some minimal sweetness, and some earth, in a way that's very distinctive for such an inexpensive wine.
Those who like Apothic Red would likely be a fan of this wine, which is both fun to drink and great with a steak.
So what makes this wine with 13.9 percent alcohol so good? "Agriculture is the core of who we are," according to the company run by actual twins, Randall and Brad Lange, on their website at
"For five generations, our family has been growing sustainable winegrapes in the Lodi Appellation, and in 2006 we opened a winery to showcase our passion for growing winegrapes – because great wine starts in the vineyard."
The 2009 vintage is also a wonderful creation by a relatively young winery whose owners made a career of managing vineyards. LangeTwins Family Winery and Vineyards is the company's first step into crafting
wines made solely from its estate vineyards. But the Lange twins have technology and expertise on their side, too. This wine was made by David Akiyoshi, a 25-year veteran of winemaking from Robert Mondavi, and Karen Birmingham, a former winemaker at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi. We couldn't find much information about Birmingham. But lots could be said about Akiyoshi, a restaurateur in Lodi who also graduated from the University of California, Davis. But what we liked the most was this: Akiyoshi believes that wine and food are made for each other.
So take that, $100 bottles that overpower the meal, or that, worse, are a complete flop. Here's a red wine that you can pair with beef or chicken, and that's so good the bottle insisted it last three days.
As for the other steal, the one that we hesitate to talk about lest it disappear completely, that's the 2009 Sicoris made by Castell del Remei. Castell del Remei's origins date back to 1780, which is the first year there is documentary evidence of vines planted on the estate.
This Spaniard from the Costers del Segre designation of origin is a blend of 37 percent Garnacha, 28 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 23 percent Tempranillo, 7 percent Merlot and 5 percent Syrah. Like the Gen 5, the grapes used to make this wine were sustainably grown, and you can tell: It mingles red fruit with an ending spice, some tannins and an overall fun feel. This is wine that makes you smile, and not just because it's loaded with 14.5 percent alcohol.
"Sicoris embodies what Costers del Segre and Castell del Remei hold dear: Our diversity leads to complexity," according to www.smswine.com. "We aren't held captive by a sole source of personality in the vineyard, village, elevation or soil."
That means, the website went on to say, that this is a wine that's equally at home with food or just alone in your glass.
As complex as this wine is, don't think it has to be matched with something you've spent hours toiling over in the kitchen. All we did was pop this open alongside a vegetable pizza, and it worked fine.
Meanwhile, the curious may wonder what the "sms" is in that website we mentioned above. It stands for Steve Miles Selections. Miles has more than 30 years of experience in wholesale management and wine imports, and when he formed his wine importing company in 2006, he did it with three ideas in mind.
First, the wine has to be a good representation of the variety of grape used to produce it. Second, it has to be a true representation of the place where it was made. And third, it must be an overachiever in the price to value category.
"Our ultimate goal is to provide a high quality, unique selection of wines with excellent value regardless of price point," Miles said on his site, and we'd say the Sicoris is exactly that.
So throw away that old adage -- and all the cynicism it implies -- that you get what you pay for. Sometimes you get more than you pay for. And thankfully for all of us, Gen 5 and Sicoris are ready to give it to you.


Wine column no. 34: Wine through the centuries

It can feel like a solitary endeavor, there in your backyard, here in the 21st century. But we promise you: You're not the only one who's brought a cup full of wine to your lips.
Back during the Chinese Bronze Age — think 1700 B.C. — members of the royal court drank wine with their meat, according to Columbia University.
In ancient Greece, the substance was such a key part of life that Greeks said the god Dionysus, a son of Zeus, roamed the land, teaching men how to grow grapes to make wine, the Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition, 2011, said.
And ancient Roman scholars took pains to describe wine production and what they felt constituted a quality quaff, according to a website hosted by the University of Chicago.
Yet despite all this research, despite all the years men (and women) have put into studying wine, this substance still manages to confuse many us — and that's even before the cork's been popped.
But here's one way to approach the study of wine: Think of it as something that is about geography, too.
In the past several months, we've had three wines that are made from grapes that are typically grown in the Rhone Valley of France. This wasn't by design, but it worked out that we've tried a red wine made with Grenache and Syrah grapes; a white wine made with Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino grapes; and a wine that looks like a rose but is actually still considered a white wine, made with Roussanne grapes.
We'll start with the last one since it was new to us and we were pleased to find it at Newt's Liquor Mart in Henderson, Ky., for about $22. The 2004 Zaca Mesa Roussanne from Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., tasted to us like figs and nuts — just as the label promised. Greg and I disagreed on the texture, since he thought it was acidic and I thought it was smooth. But it had a good, full body. This late-ripening, difficult-to-grow grape gave us a 14.5 percent alcohol punch in the mouth, too, so keep that in mind if you're thinking of a summer bottle to pair with chicken.
Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, by the way, is a member of the Rhone Rangers, a nonprofit made up of wineries from California, Washington State, Oregon and Idaho.
The group seeks to promote the 22 grape varieties that are grown in the Rhone Valley.
Vineyards have to pay to be a member, but with that membership comes a consumer's confidence that they are drinking wines that contain at least 75 percent of the 22 Rhone Valley varieties.
For white wines, these include the better-known Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne and the lesser-known Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc, among others.
For reds, they include the better-known Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre and the lesser-known Carignan and Picpoul Noir, among others.
To learn more about which American wineries are members of the Rhone Rangers, visit www.rhonerangers.org.
As for a Rhone Valley wine that's actually grown in France, we tried the 2010 Andezon, which is a Cotes-du-Rhone red blend of 90 percent Syrah and 10 percent Grenache coming in at 14.5 percent alcohol. I bought this at Winetree for about $12 and found it to have a good body, with cedar and red fruit notes and an earthy, intense quality.
It's masculine, almost, and it was well matched against grilled chicken breasts seasoned with garlic pepper.
Esteemed wine critic Robert Parker gave this wine a 91 out of 100 rating, noting that the grapes used to make it were plucked from Syrah vines that are more than 40 years old and Grenache vines that are more than 60 years old.
Finally, we tried the 2010 La Vielle Ferme (which translates to "the old farm") white wine from the Luberon hills of France. This is a blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Vermentino grapes.
"It's known for the chicken, and a lot of people, a lot of my friends (are) calling it the chicken wine,' Pierre Perrin, whose family owns La Vielle Ferme, said, referring to the chicken on the wine's label.
This particular wine was made in an unusually elevated portion of the Rhone Valley, in the Cotes du Luberon, which allows the Perrin family to produce its own distinctive style of this particular blend.
But the 2010 vintage, which Greg bought at Vecchio's Italian Market and Delicatessen in Newburgh, Ind., for $9.99, was made differently than previous vintages, Perrin said.
Instead of using 100 percent Ugni Blanc, the Perrin family blended four wines together: Along with Bourboulenc, a white wine variety typically grown in southern France, and Ugni Blanc, "White Grenache is giving the body to the wine, and Vermentino is very nice to give the flavor," Perrin said. "So this wine is always fresh, very aromatic, with a lot of passion fruits — kiwis, lychees, sometimes we have some honey (and cinnamon)."
Vermentino, it should be noted, is not considered a Rhone Valley variety. It's actually an Italian grape that also is cultivated in Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy, according to The New Frank Schoonmaker Encyclopedia of Wine. But while some Rhone Valley purists might be bothered by this fact, we're not.
Why? Because we now have one more reason to expand our horizons, and to learn more about this complicated substance that is clearly entwined in the history of civilization.
And that means that drinking a glass of wine in your backyard is no longer solitary. Given the long history of others who've done the same, it's in fact quite ordinary.


2010 La Vieille Ferme: Muddled, chalky but still flavorful

june 3, 2012: greg picked this up at vecchio's italian market for about $10. we paired it with grilled pork chops and yellow squash with onions. the meal was very tasty. this 13 percent alcohol wine is a blend of grenache, ugni blanc and vermentino varietals -- the last two of which we've never had before. this is a decent wine for the price, though i wouldn't choose to get it again. it's got some fruitiness. maybe i'd say there's a bit of peach. but beyond that, it's kind of cloudy ... muddled and chalky. but not chalky like a smooth sancerre. just chalky like it's unable to be further defined. it's a luberon appellation. france.