Value Valentines Day Rosé Sparking Wine Reviews: Coming Soon!

12 02 2012

I am about to sample some popular and widely available Rosé bubbles for Valentine’s Day. Check back in the next days! By the way, I also have sampled what I now considered the best value sparking wine from California I have ever tried. It is Scharffenberger Brut and I am blown away. It has toppled my current value favorite, Roederer Estate (around $20 USD). See http://www.scharffenbergercellars.com and I will be preparing notes for you all. But it is so much more complex, deep, full of dark flavor than any Cali Sparkler I have ever had. It is bold enough to go with dinner (light like roast chicken, fish). Complex, deep yet light on its feet. A must have at around $16.00 USD. Please try and let me know your thoughts. This is a must try. By the way, it remind me of Veuve Clicquot vintage champagne 1998 vintage in its complexity and depth – yet without the heaviness. It also beats, in my estimation, the Gosset Brut Excellence Champagne from Ay, France – for about half the price. People, trust me on this and look for it.

Steve from the Trellis

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2011 Top Value Priced Wines Under $15 USD and Best Sparkling Wines for New Years Eve

31 12 2011

The countdown has begun as we await the annual dropping of the ball here in the US. Many are scurrying around at the last-minute to find the best wine for our hard-earned money and wondering the aisles in search of the perfect wine for tonight – many are looking for something sparkling that won’t break the bank.

This year I am going to combine my “Best of the Year” value-priced wine list with my “Best Sparkling” choices because there are a few sparking wines within my top 10. What criteria did I use for this list? To keep it simple, the wines had to be around or under $15 USD and not only have the best value/price ratio, but also be good enough to have me either reaching for it again, or buying a large quantity as my house wine of the month or for large parties. Some of these selections are highly-rated by professional wine critics while others are not. I am not a slave to the scores from others and march to the beat of my own palette (as should you). Rating wine is clearly based own our own preferences for style, cost and overall enjoyment so some of you may purchase some of these on my list and not feel they are worthy.  What I am trying to do is find some wines that are inexpensive yet taste like you would be paying much more based on not only their taste but quality for price paid.

I am breaking it down in category to help you search for varietals you prefer and will give a final overall list at the bottom of this article.

Best Value Priced Sparkling Wine of 2011:

    • 1: Charles de Fere Reserve Blanc de Blanc Brut Though made from grapes sources outside of Champagne, this Blanc de Blanc (meaning white from white grapes) continues to be the best value prices sparking wine in my list year after year. It is extremely easy drinking (love this alone or with light appetizers) and a perfect sparking wine for drinking throughout your New Year’s Eve celebration. Great dough on the nose and toasty apple and ripe stone fruit on the tongue – extremely light on its feet yet off-dry, this wine has incredible finesse (fine bubbles too) and structure for the price, especially from France and so close to Champagne. I purchased a case of this for the holidays and did not break the bank at under $10 USD. Grab some!ee
    • 2: Riondo Prosecco – Best in class true Italian Prosecco for the price. Amazing tropical fruits, mango, apricot, peach with a great apple/ floral nose and extremely “pure/clean” tasting. A bit more off dry than the above, and a real crowd pleaser. This has been highly rated in the past and always what I reach for in a Prosecco. Light in style so it will keep your mouth refreshed without weighing you down all night. Great aperitif.
    • 3: Bitch Bubbly: This one is sweeter than the other 2 above, and is made from Chardonnay, Shiraz and Grenache from the Riverland, Barossa and McLaren Vale districts of Australia. Created by Chris Ringland – the winemaker that also created Bitch Grenache and 3 Rings Shiraz (I like those as well). This made the list to represent a good buy on a rosé sparkling wine.  Nose of strawberries, cranberries and dark berries, and taste of the same, with a bit of a creamy yet medicinal finish – though fairly long and interesting. Women do like it more than men, perhaps based on color and the candy-like aspects of this sparkling blush. It is not for everyone, but represents a good value at around $10 USD. Hurry, R Wines produced this wine and is now bankrupt! Click here for my previous sparkling wine reviews and previous New Years Eve Prosecco reviews.

Best Value Priced Chardonnay of 2011:

    • 1: 4 Vines “Naked” Chardonnay – This Naked (meaning no oak) Chardonnay from Santa Barbara, California is amazing for the price (around $11 USD or under).  This remains my house white wine until someone can knock it off its pedestal. Has amazing acidity (crisp not flabby) and great with raw seafood or just sipping. Toast and apple and pear on the nose. Peach, pear and apple with some acidic lemon/citrus on the tongue. Simple but clean and fresh. 4 Vines also make an amazing Zinfandel “The Biker”, which is around $25 USD and highly recommend that as well.
    • 2: Cupcake Vineyard Chardonnay Yes, I know, I know. I will be getting some flame for this from some more “serious” wine drinkers, but I have to say that if you want a heavy, buttery, and extremely over-oaked chardonnay – this is the best one for your money. This Central Coast, California Chardonnay is a steal at under $10 USD and at times, $7.99 at the A&P liquors in the tri-state area. In fact, Cupcake has really been the best value priced producer overall in the past few years. They source grapes from their proper designations to make their global wines. I also recommend the Sauvignon Blanc.
    • 3: Wily Jack Chardonnay:  I reviewed this wine earlier in the year, click here for the full review. For $5 USD, this HAD to make this list.

Best Value Priced Cabernet or Cabernet Blend of 2011:

    • 1: 2009 Columbia Crest, 3H (Horse Haven Hills) Les Chevaux Red –  After trying this new wine from what I consider the very best value priced (as well as higher end) producer in the country, I wanted to run out to get a case! This blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Malbec (which all but the Syrah would be in the typical French Bordeaux blend) aged 18 months in oak (French and American) make this a smooth and silky red to enjoy. Dark fruit and vanilla on the nose with deep rich body and flavor – dark plum, dark berry and vanilla/dark chocolate on the tongue with a smooth, long silky finish. Blockbuster deal at around $11.
    • 2: 2009 Falesco Vitiano Umbria IGT – This Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet blend is a perennial favorite of mine and seems to always receive high marks. It comes from Umbria and is a rich, smooth (though still sometimes a bit rustic) with dark fruit, Cassis, and a touch of cherry and spice. Great everyday with pizza, red sauce dishes, etc. Consistent.
    • 3: Columbia Crest Two Vines Cabernet Sauvignon – Yes, again! The Two Vines line is a fantastic deal. Medium body, blackberry, raspberry, chocolate, oaky. Smooth and simple, but quality for the price of under $8 USD. Also recommend the other Columbia Crest wines : H3 Cabernet, Merlot, Indian Hills Cabernet and Merlot, as well as their higher end Reserve line (over $24 USD).

Best Value Priced Pinot Noir of 2011:

    • 1: 2007 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot Noir Every year there is one wine that just blows me away for the price. Though each wine on this list is something I feel strongly about and buy/drink/recommend, this one is what I talk mostly about when people ask me what to buy. Blackberry, cherry, fruity and earthy all at once, vanilla tones, rich but light on its feet. I can not say enough about this wine. It has sold out almost everywhere when it was under $13 USD, and extremely hard to find at even $16. It taste like double that if not more. If you find it, buy it all (before I do). It was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast – so of course people went running and wiped out supply!
    • 2: 2009 Leyda Pinot Noir Reserve – This selection from  the Leyda Valley in Chile has a lot of flavor and style for the price ($10 USD). Great nose of dark fruit and strawberry with tons of dark fruit and strawberry/cherry, with earthiness and herbs make this an interesting choice. Smooth but not flabby – nice acidity. Try it and let me know what you think.
    • 3: 2010 Matua Valley Pinot Noir – While making quality priced Sauvignon Blanc, they also have an incredible value in this Pinot Noir. Soft and smooth, with great cherry and plum, pepper and spice, berry and oakiness. I love this with pork dumplings and of course lamb. Light bodied but structured and balanced.

More varietals to come, but quickly want to mention runners-up:

    • 1. Chandon Brut Sparkling wine (as well as the rosé) at $14.99
    • 2. Gloria Ferrer Sparkling (around or a bit over $15)
    • 3. Three Wishes Wine Merlot (does taste more like Pinot Noir and HAVE to mention the price is $2.50 at Whole Foods Market. Beats 2 Buck Chuck.
    • 4. H3, Horse Haven Hills entire line! Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay – you will not go wrong. Always excellent and around $12 USD
    • 5. Evolution by Sokol Blosser – an excellent white blend with tropical fruit, herbs and extremely smooth. A cheaper alternative to Caymus Conundrum (thanks Wolfie)
    • 6. Santa Emma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A real bargain from Chile. Great dark fruit and smooth, but has a long finish and though it is under $11 USD, it tastes much more complex! They make quality wine year after year. The merlot is also a fantastic bargain.

My Selection for the 2011 Tales From the Trellis Best Value Priced Wine of the Year is:

2007 Gloria Ferrer Carneros Pinot Noir. The value in this wine is really unbeatable, this year!

Have a Happy and healthy holiday and wishing you all the best for the new year. Cheers!

Steve from the Trellis





TFTT 2011 Top 10 wines Under $15 USD – watch this space

26 12 2011
Snow day means Red Day!

Winter © Tales from the Trellis, 2010

As 2011 is coming to a close, I am reflecting back on all the great (and not so great) wines I have sipped this year. In the next few days I will be revealing my personal choices for “Best Under $15” as well as some to avoid. Hope you all had great holidays and continue to be safe throughout this year and always.

Watch this space.

Best,

Steve@talesfromthetrellis.com





Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Suggestions Under $15 USD

23 11 2011

Here in the US, we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving and many of us are scurrying around in preparation for the big day. While many are cooking away and in advance, some have still not completed their wine shopping. So, for those that are still searching for the right pairing, I have a short list of suggestions for you.

Pairing wine with the traditional bird is fairly easy and I always reach for two varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, sometimes Riesling. That being said, below are the best values for your money and from all over the globe.

Pinot Noir:

1) Gloria Ferrer, 2007 Carneros – California. This is light on its feet but has plenty of flavor (raspberry, plum, cherry) and a long smooth finish. Also, if you love bubbles – go for their sparkling wine, you won’t go wrong at under $20 for that at Thanksgiving! Check out my previous post on value priced sparkling wines that are excellent values and also perfect with whatever you are serving!

2) Leyda, Leyda Valley – Chile. Packed with dark fruit flavor and a touch of herb and earthy, fantastic value at around $11 USD.

3) Matua, Marlborough – New Zealand. Strawberry, plum and nice body on this excellent value wine. Light in style and simple with clean flavors and floral.

Chardonnay:

1) 4 Vines Naked, Central Coast – California. This has become my go-to house white wine. It is packed with flavor (apple, lemon) and has great acidity at the end that allows for better food pairing than buttery Chardonnay. Nose of peach, pear and apple. My favorite for the money.

2) Cupcake Vineyards, Central Coast – California. Though much more buttery, Cupcake is a good value and this is simple, easy drinking – though extremely buttery and less likely to go with the rest of the meal. Tropical fruit, vanilla, apple, BUTTER!

Riesling:

1) Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley – Washington. Great concentrated flavors of citrus (orange and grapefruit), pear and spices with some mineral. Nice acidity at the end, not sweet and low in alcohol (12.5%) that make this a great food wine overall. If you can not find this, try Chateau St. Michelle, also from Washington, though a bit less dry, still a solid alternate.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for your support of Tales From the Trellis!

Best,

Steve From the Trellis





2011 Summer Rosé Recommendations – a quick short list of highly available summer sippers

3 07 2011

Since July 4th is upon us here in the states, I always want to make sure I have a supply of value priced Rosé on hand. Many that see the color immediately think of that “other” blush wine that is sweet like candy. I refuse to slam White Zin, as it actually works to bring people into the wine fold from other alcohol based choices. My wish is that those White Zin sippers move on to try other things beyond that door. But enough about White Zin.

For US-based Rosé, a value priced  standby is always the Bontera (had some last night) and The Bony Doon Vin Gris de Cigare. Muga from spain is usually fantastic and highly rated as well. But…if you can find it, the Domaine Le Galantin Bandol Rose 2010 is a classic Provençal rose. All under $20 and most of these under $15!

Look for my Sparkling Rosé recommendations soon.

Let the sun shine and keep pouring me Rosé. Guys, don’t be afraid of the pink…trust me, it’s summer in a glass.

Please drink responsibly during the holiday and always. Be safe. Enjoy.

Steve From the Trellis

steve@talesfromthetrellis.com

©2011, TalesfromtheTrellis

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Eating Local in Mt. Olive, NJ: Gabby’s II – the Review

10 03 2011

We heard about Gabby’s II  in Hackettstown from good friends Tara and Dan,  and I am pleased to welcome this new Italian restaurant to the area. Sure, we are flooded with so many pizza “joints” you can throw a rock and hit one in any direction on RT 46, mountain Ave, or RT 57 – but you won’t find this care of ingredients, preparation and quality of food in any of the rest.

Hector & Josh, Owners of Gabby's II

Gabby’s II resides were Carlena’s was – 190 Mountain Ave. in Hackettstown (to the right of the IHOP). It opened in December, 2010 and the owners are warm and gracious hosts Tricia and Hector Salazar (locals from Mount Olive) and partner Josh Harris (of Flemington). They come with a wealth of experience – this is their second restaurant (Gabby’s I is in Flemington, NJ).

By the way, Gabby is the name of Hector and Tricia’s little girl, which makes sense as this does feel like a family place.

We came in and sat at a one of the available tables early on a Tuesday night. A few people were already sitting and it was just after 5 p.m. We were given menus (nice selection) quickly and decided to order a few things to share – so we can see how they prepare some of our favorite Italian-American dishes (no Osso Bucco tonight).  We decided on Chicken Francaise, Eggplant Parmesan hero, and Penne in Vodka Sauce. Dinners come with the usual salad and pasta choices.

Gabby's II Dining Room

Tricia took our orders and returned quickly with bread and soon followed up with the salads. Nice crisp fresh greens, onion, tomato and olives, with a good balsamic dressing (not to heavy).

We were given both garlic and regular bread in a basket and I had a good feeling after taking a bite. Hot, crunchy, amazing. No bits of raw or overcooked garlic or over oiled. The bread itself is actually seeded French bread (as Hector explained) to give it the right texture. This was not the soft spongy bread that are the norm in these parts, it was crunchy outside with a great bite and taste, and just enough garlic and butter.

The food came out and the Eggplant Parmesan hero had the perfect combination of eggplant, tasty sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese and of course – served on that excellent bread.

The Shrimp Parmesan dinner was equally good – with large shrimp breaded perfectly and topped with that delicious Marinara sauce and fresh cheese. Generous portions!

The Penne was cooked perfectly al denté and the vodka sauce was rich and thick – extremely creamy! Plenty to share all around.

The Chicken Francaise was the best dish so far, with a perfect blend of lemon, butter and lightly breaded, fork-tender, thin chicken. The ziti that accompanied it was also cooked perfectly al denté and served alongside (perfect in the lemon sauce too). This is my favorite dish and something I learned to cook from a chef many years ago and has become my “signature dish”. This was even better than my own – I love this dish.

We were too full order dessert, but they have a nice selection! The pizzas looked great too and we will certainly be back to try those!

Hector came around to the table and introduced himself, and asked how everything was. We  explained were really here to try his food and see if we liked it (which we did) and see about catering for an upcoming party. He was very accommodating and sent us home with a sample of the Sausage, Onion and Peppers to try  since we were interested in having it on our menu for the party. It was cooked and seasoned perfectly –with tender sausage (sweet not hot). It was so delicious that I ate the peppers and onions as ravenously as the sausage!

Hector’s care about ingredients is evident, as he told me they do not buy that frozen pre-breaded stuff that typically helps cut corners (time, money but most of all, quality). You can taste care in everything they do.

It is a BYO so don’t forget to bring something to pair with your meal. I had a Cupcake Vinyards Sauvignon Blanc that had nice lemon, lime and grapefruit flavors and paired well with the Chicken dish. I have recommended it in earlier posts. For $8 on sale, it is a great value. I wish I had also brought the Falesco Vitiano from Umbria (under $10 and always an easy drinking Italian Red Blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Sangiovese) that would pair well with the red sauce dishes).

I welcome Gabby’s II with open arms. I know we all get set in our ways and remain loyal to our tried and true dinning establishments we frequent with family and friends. I too understand how easy it is to fall into that, but quality and taste are what we are after right? Everyone in the area should give Gabby’s II a try one night – instead of the usual Frank’s, Branda’s, Mamma’s or Pietro’s. I think you will taste the difference, I know I did. Their tagline is “Love at First Bite”, and they deliver on that promise.

Oh, and speaking of deliver – did I mention they will DELIVER! Hard to find a great Italian place that will drive your food to you around here anymore!

Gabby’s II: 908 850 1803 • 190 Mountain Ave., Hackettstown, NJ

Gabby’s in Flemington: 908 237 9990 • 203 Main Street, Historic Flemington, NJ

More information on their websitehttp://www.gabbyspizzapasta.com and there is a coupon when you click “Specials”.

Buon Appetito!

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromTheTrellis, 2011

Note: My reviews are always uncompensated and honest – based upon my palette. Your taste/opinions may differ. I base my opinions not only on taste – but always a baseline of quality that is factual. I have no affiliation with any restaurants or wineries. Full disclosure: I am known to be extremely picky, critical and often brutally honest about food and wine, taste and preparation. I welcome any and all comments on this blog.





Value Wine Alert: Wily Jack Wine for $5 – The Review!

5 03 2011

 

 

 

 

As I hinted at the end of my last post about the Three Wishes wines for $2.50, I had recently purchased 2 bottles of Wily Jack (pronounced Why-lee) wine in a local Bottle King (a large retail chain in New Jersey) for a sale price of $5 each. The label captured my attention first, as it was a bold and well branded wine – with Michael Schwab illustrated label (his name was right on the bottom of the label, interesting).

Though this bottle was purchased on sale for $5, it typically sells for anywhere between $7 – $10. These wines are non vintage, like Three Wishes, meaning they can blend different years together. The grapes were sourced from vineyards all over California, so a blend of many areas as well. They offer a Chardonnay, Cabernet, and a Zinfandel (was not available at Bottle King at my time of purchase). They have been around since 2009, and owned by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines. The brand is meant to be fun and approachable. These wines should be enjoyed now, not aged.

They had a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, so I took both and walked away for less than the price of a typical everyday drinking bottle. I thought this would be a good – post as it was twice the price of the last Three Wishes bottles – but was it twice the value?

I decided to bring the two bottles, along with some others, to a gathering at friends Chris and Karen’s home last night. Great cheeses and Karen’s homemade desserts like cheesecake, apple crisp, brownies and mixed fruit salad. All delicious, thanks Karen!

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

Wily Jack Wines ©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011

The Chardonnay:

Nice notes of apple and pear on the nose. Medium body,  with great pineapple and tropical fruit taste. Then, surprisingly, the citrus (acidity) kicks in on the dry finish– which is fairly cleansing and refreshing. Worked especially well with the softer goat milk cheese, and would recommend brie with this as well.  I was really happy about this wine for the price. It was not just worth double the price of Three Wishes, but the quality was substantially better. Again, I like this at $9 but love it at $5! This may be my new house white wine!

The Cabernet:

This was the second bottle that I opened, after the Chard disappeared quickly! It had cherry and dark fruit with violet on the nose. Plum, cherry and vanilla (oak) on the tongue. Smooth sailing from the first sip through the mid-palette, then the finish goes a bit tannic, but in a god way. It had some guts to it and more power than I expected. After some time in the glass swirling, it calmed down a bit and really smoothed out the edges. I enjoyed this with the brownies! Yum! Was this really $5? This wine also seemed to be a success, and it looks like this was a winner.

I’m shocked that I haven’t seen this wine in stores, or even heard about it until now. The web site is simple but well-organized and designed. Have a look.

I am excited to recommend these wines to you, an excellent value with great quality for this low price. Please go try these and let me know what you think!

Santé,

Steve from the Trellis

©TalesFromtheTrellis, 2011