Every year the folks at Winebow put on a two-day show at Soho at the Skylight. Winebow, headquartered up the Garden State Parkway in Montvale, NJ is a major importer of fine Italian wines – among others – and also enjoys distribution rights in many parts of the US. In wine terms it’s a very large company with about 400 employees and a national sales force, and its Winebow Brands International brings in great stuff from Spain, Chile, Argentina and Portugal. Winebow also owns Click Wine Group based in Seattle, which handles 17 labels, the best-known among them Fat Bastard, whose Chardonnay seems to be increasingly popular.
Normally I don’t talk much about importers and distributors, but from a consumer standpoint it might be helpful to turn the bottle around and look on the back label. For imported wines, you’ll see who brings it into the US, and when you see the Winebow name (or Kermit Lynch, Banfi, or Palm Bay too) it should give you some comfort that these are well-vetted selections.
Now, a tasting of this size is a bit overwhelming, even for someone who enjoys tasting 100 wines before breakfast, as I’ve done on a couple occasions. Far as I can tell, about 300 wineries were represented and I’m certainly not going to go through the whole book to count the number of individual wines. Every year this is the biggest tasting I attend, and in three hours – which is about my limit – I only get to a fraction. But I do focus on labels I don’t know so that I can bring to light some lesser-known brands and wines that I liked and can recommend.
I’m not going to put in detailed tasting notes and since I don’t “rate” wines per se I’m just going to list those that struck a chord.
Let’s start with close to home at New York State’s Millbrook Winery. Producing for 25 years, Millbrook is under-appreciated or perhaps totally unappreciated for the quality of its wines. And for us New Jerseyites and New Yorkers, it’s just a 90 minute drive north of the city.
MILLBROOK WINERY (Hudson Valley, New York State)
- Cabernet Franc Proprietor’s Special Reserve 2007 – one of the best domestic Cab Francs I’ve tasted
- Pinot Noir 2008 – Nice and bright cherry flavors
- Chardonnay Unoaked 2009 – Just the way I like it
CHATEAU JULIEN WINE ESTATE (Carmel Valley, California)
- Chardonnay 2008 – Nice with lots of lemon notes
- Merlot 2008 – A Merlot of substance with a few percent Malbec for backbone
- Black Nova 2006 – 60% Zin and 40% Syrah – Unusual blend, spicy and peppery
CHAMISAL VINEYARDS (Napa Valley, California)
Chamisal is the second label of Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge, which produces one of my favorite whites, a mix of Viognier and Chenin Blanc.
- Stainless Chardonnay 2009 – Superb. This wine has an eye problem – it can’t ever see any oak, even with glasses. Lots of lemon and apple; best of all, no caramel-y sweetness.
- Estate Pinot Noir 2007
DECOY by DUCKHORN (Napa Valley, California)
Decoy used to bottle just one proprietary red wine and I think you could get it only at the winery. Today they’ve got a range of mostly reds, and a style that’s distinctive and different (and generally less expensive) from Duckhorn.
- Napa Valley Merlot 2008 – Lush and juicy fruit
- Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2008 – Nice, smoky (never mind why)
- Napa Valley Zinfandel 2008 – Full bodied but not over the top peppery
- Napa Valley Red Wine 2008 – Very restrained like a Bordeaux
GUNDLACH BUNDSCHU (Sonoma, California…sort of)
Gundlach sits at the intersection of Sonoma, Napa and their southern neighbor Carneros, which gets that nice cooling fog off San Pablo Bay. I’ve never been a fan but this year I tried two whites that I really enjoyed.
- Estate Chardonnay 2008
- Gewurztraminer 2009 – A lovely nose, nice and fresh
ROMBAUER VINEYARDS (Napa Valley, California)
Rombauer’s got about 300 acres – which is a lot – and is family owned and operated, which used to be the standard in Napa but has sadly changed a lot over the last decade.
- Chardonnay Carneros 2009 – Nice body but not too oaky, and showing the cooler-climate crispness of Carneros
- Merlot Carneros 2006 – This grape is growing on me, if not on Miles.
- Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – A very nice wine from a mediocre year
- Zinfandel 2008 – Wonderful
BODEGA PIRINEOS (Aragon, Spain)
These are wonderful wines, many of which include juice from indigenous grapes that most of us have never heard of, such as Parraleta, a thin-skinned red. The winery’s only 17 years old but you’d never tell it.
- Mesache Blanco – 60% Macabeo and 40% Gewurztraminer. Crisp and refreshing but has body
- Mesache Rosado 2009 – Very cool Rose mix of Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), and Moristel
- Parraleta 2006 – One of those unknown grapes. A great price for a juicy, easy-drinking red
- Marbore 2004 – One of the most delicious and unusual blends I’ve ever tasted – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Moristel and Parraleta. All five are fermented and aged seperately and then blended to the winemaker’s whim. He done good.
LIBRANDI (Calabira, Italy)
- Ciro Bianco DOC 2009 – 100% Greco Bianco. Crisp and Mineral
- Critone IGT 2009 – 90% Greco Bianco and 10% Chard. Unusual and delicious mix.
- Efeso Bianco IGT 2008 – 100% Greco Mantonico, a new grape for me. Lotsa almond and vanilla.
- Ciro Duca Sanfelice Riserva 2007 – Easy-drinking red from the Gaglioppo grape
- Magno Megonio IGT 2008 – Lot of licorice and pepper, from the Maglioppo grape
TASCA d’ALMERITA (Sicily)
I tried this label only because I’ve become fond of Nero d’Avola, a grape and a wine of the same name that is atypically delicious and very affordable – albeit hard to find – on the list in fine dining restaurants.
- Regaleali Rosso Nero d’Avola IGT 2007 – Lovely wine especially at this price point
- Lamuri Nero d’Avola IGT 2007 – More lush with blackberries and a little cinnamon
TENUTA la MARCHESA (Piedmont, Italy)
Here’s another case of my going just for the grape. In this case it’s Gavi, an underappreciated grape sometimes given “garbage” status by wine snobs. It’s anything but.
- Gavi DOCG White Label the Marquise – Nice and crisp but not Old Spice cold-slap-in-the-face
- Gavi la Marquise DOCG Gold Label – More complex and full-bodied
CHATEAU DE MONTFAUCON (Rhone, France)
- Viognier Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009 – A nice wine, especially at this price point. Most French Vionigers come from Condrieu and start at $60 retail. I imagine this one will go for under $15, and although it’s an unclassified “Vin de Pays” (and therefore labelled by the grape variety) it’s still a pretty nice expression of this wonderful, full-bodied and unctuous white.
- Comtesse Madeleine Cote du Rhone White 2009 – Another very affordable wine that mimics to some extent the white version of Chateauneuf du Pape (minus the white Grenache) that goes for many multiples more. 40% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, some Clairette and Picpoul blanc. And maybe some other stuff. I don’t know, I was too busy enjoying it.
- Baron Louis Cote de Rhone Red Vielle Vignes 2007 – Made from sixty to 94 year old vines of Grenache, Syrah, cinsault, Carignan, Counoise and Mourvedre. Rich and complex but not overpowering.
- Le Holdup Rhone Gang 2008 – This wine’s right out of Randy Graham’s playbook – clever name, more clever wine. Stange but delicious mix of Pinot Noir and Grenache. I recommend highly.
HARLAFTIS (Peloponnese, Greece)
I’ve not had much experience with Greek wines, and I wished I’d saved a little more time during the tasting for some of them. This particular winery produces wines from indigenous and international grapes. One thing I would say is that they need to use a little more imagination in naming their wines!
- Argilos 2007 – Deep ruby, earth and spice.
- Nemea 2008 – 100% Agiorgitiko, another first in grapes for me. A pleasant if unremarkable red that would be a good food wine.
- White 2009 – Yes, it is. A blend of Savatiano and Roditis (unfortunately named, sounds like an affliction). Fermented in stainless. A great aperitif wine.
- Chardonnay 2007 – Nice medium-bodied Chard that hits a nice midpoint between austere and oaky.