Hello from the Wine Tastings Guide!

This is The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine™, a monthly newsletter on all things wine and your guide to finding great wine at affordable prices! Each issue brings you articles about goings-ons in the world of wine as well as reviews of inexpensive wines.

If you like this newsletter and our website, please forward this email to someone you know who enjoys wine or wants to learn more about wine and wine tastings. If this was forwarded to you and you like what you read, you can subscribe to The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine for free now.

If you have suggestions, questions, article requests or comments, please contact me -- I love to hear from my readers!

Contents of this issue of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine

  • For Wine Geeks: Terry Theise Interview on Grape Radio
  • Article: Winter Season Wines
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Terry Theise Interview on GrapeRadio.com

OK, so graperadio.com has nothing to do with me, but they often have great podcasts of various wine related topics and interviews. The most recent is one of my favorites. For those of you who don't know, Terry Theise is a icon. He selects and imports, through Skurnik Wines primarily, a wide range of hand-picked wines from Champagne, Germany and Austria. His focus is on small growers who grow their own grapes and then make and bottle their own wine. Beyond that, his focus is on unique, characterful wines which speak of their unique terroir. Beyond even that, Terry is a great writer and speaker. His witty and insightful prose is fun, educational, inspiring and simply fun to read or listen to if you have even a bit of interest in wine. The folks at graperadio.com recently interviewed Terry. The podcast is available through iTunes if you subscribe to the graperadio.com podcast or on their website (Terry Theise Interview).


Winter Season Wines: Hearty Reds, Fortified Wines and Sparklers for New Years

It's the winter season and these cool nights make me reach for certain types of wine. Most people tend to prefer more hearty, warming foods during the icy times of year, like stews, soups and roasted meats. So why should wine be any different? Who wants a cool, bright white wine when it is chilly out? (Well, ok, maybe sometimes). But no, the cold air makes me want to reach for hearty and warming wines to cozy up by the fire with or to accompany that rich beef stew or roasted leg of lamb. Below are a couple comments on some excellent winter wine options to look for this holiday season.

Hearty Reds: To match the rustic, rich foods we associate with winter (stews, chunky soups and roast beast) there is nothing better than a rich, earthy and meaty red wine. Immediately, some that come to mind are those from the south of France. Provençal wines like Bandol and Chateauneuf-du-Pape are just what the winter doctor ordered with their complex, heady aromatics straight from the French hillsides and their meaty, full-bodied personality. These are the first wines I think of when reaching for a winter red. A less expensive option are the lesser known appellations in the southern Rhone valley near Chateauneuf such as Gigondas, Vaceyras and Lirac. There are many other options out there. Rich rustic reds from France's Languedoc, like Collioure, St. Chinian, Corbières, and Faugères are often very reasonably priced and pack a lot of power. Italian reds like Montepulcianos and Aglianicos, to name a couple, can also do the job wonderfully. This is just the tip of the iceberg, Chinon in the Loire Valley, some Spanish Garnacha and Monastrell, even Bordeaux and California Cabernets, amongst others, can make excellent hearty winter reds.

Fortified Wines: Fortified wines are wines made by a special technique. During fermentation a neutral grape spirit is added to the wine, which halts the fermentation where it is. This can result in a dry or sweet wine depending on at what point in the fermentation the alcohol is added. The most famous wines made by this technique are Port (traditionally from Portugal's Douro river valley), Sherry and Madeira. While the specific characteristics of each is different, these wines tend to be rich and heady, with an alcohol level quite a bit above most table wines, generally in the 16 - 20% range. These powerful wines are absolute naturals in the winter. While they can seem heavy and oppressive in the heat of summer, their enveloping alcoholic warmth and depth is just what I want to dive into on a cool winter night. Sitting around the fire sipping a great glass of Madeira or Port is one of the highlights of the season! While most Port is quite sweet and considered a dessert or after-dinner wine, Sherry (from the South of Spain) is mostly on the drier side (although there are sweet Sherries made as well). The lighter dry styles are great as an apéritif or to accompany many types of food whereas the richer, aged styles like Oloroso and Amontillado are complex, contemplative wines for sipping alone or with cheese and nuts and other hearty fare. Madeira is made in several styles, varying from just off-dry to quite sweet. While the oldest, most famous examples of Port and Madeira can be quite expensive, there are many outstanding examples of all three of these wines for relatively inexpensive.

Sparkling Wine For New Years: OK, somehow the "hearty and rich rule" for winter is broken for New Years. As we all know, Champagne is the consummate celebratory wine. So even though cool, crisp white wines like Champagne don't usually get as much attention during the cold winter, for one night they reign supreme. However, as we also all know, real Champagne can be very expensive! If you can't afford that special bottle of bubbly this year but really want to celebrate like a rock star, don't fret! There are many, many sparkling wine alternatives you can choose from! First of all, try to avoid the big name, big house Champagnes. If you want a real Champagne but don't want the pricetag, focus on smaller growers who grow their own grapes and bottle their own wine (see the Terry Theise interview discussed above if you want to be convinced). Wines like the Milan and Pierre Peters reviewed below are absolutely outstanding but a fraction of the price of the "luxury cuvées" from the big boys. Besides Champagne, check out sparkling wines from other regions of France. The Loire Valley is a great source, particularly for sparkling Vouvray made from Chenin Blanc, called either Crémant de Loire or Crémant de Vouvray or Vouvray Pétillant. From Burgundy, look for Crémant de Bourgogne. In Spain, there are many excellent Cavas on the market, many downright cheap. From Italy, one of my favorite apéritif and appetizer wines, is Prosecco, also generally very affordable. Even many of California's sparkling wines have come a long way and make excellent Champagne alternatives. So don't worry that you have to spend a ton to have fun and impress your guests this New Years. Stock up on some other interesting options!

The Poor Man's Guide's
Wine Reviews

Wine Ratings Explained:
Zero Stars A wine I don't particularly recommend.

One Star
Well made, simple and tasty wines that I recommend.

Two Stars
Excellent quality. Worth an extra effort to search out and enjoy.

Three Stars
Outstanding wine of the highest caliber.
Either a wine that is close to deserving a higher score or a wine that may not be showing that much but with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up or shows potential for significant improvement. Assuming it opens and improves with additional age, it may merit a higher rating.
??? Flawed bottles or wines that are difficult to assess for any number of reasons. Judgement reserved.

Sparkling Wines:

Terres de Nöel 2002
Drink Now-2025 $80
This is a true "grower Champagne", imported by Terry Theise and Skurnik wines this is a small producer who makes their own wines by hand. From Oger, this Blanc de Blancs, meaning it is all Chardonnay, is a gem. Yes, its more than the Poor Man's Guide's typical limit of $50. But in this case it is definitively worth it! I'd rather drink this than most "luxury cuvées" from the big Champagne houses and yet its much less expensive than those.

OK, so this isn't the big, lush, sweet Champagne you'd expect from those big boring Champagne producers. No, this is a wine all about terroir. You taste the soil in this. You feel like you are in the vineyard feeling the gritty, mineral-filled soiled between your hands. First, pristine aromas of precise chalk and granite minerality and citrus fruit. Then a mouthful that I can only describe as vibrant. A breath of fresh air. Singing and reverberating. Stony minerality and on the dry side but just enough fruity sweetness to keep it delicious and fresh. I just love this. Two Stars Plus. Terry Theise Selections. Importer: Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY.

Parigot & Richard
Crémant de Bourgogne
Blanc de Blancs Brut
Drink Now-2012 $22
This is a Crémant de Bourgogne, meaning it is a sparkling wine made in Burgundy. Before you exclaim "A sparkling wine from Burgundy?!!?!?!" realize that Burgundy isn't that far from Champagne. Also, the grapes grown in Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are two of the most important grapes in Champagne as well. So they aren't that different! This one is a Blanc de Blancs meaning it is 100% Chardonnay.

Fruity grapefruit aromas dominate and lead the way to a mouth with hints of yeastiness overlying high toned grapefruit, orange and pear fruit. Dry and acidic, this is a lively wine. Not the most complex thing around but this is a great food wine, its bright, lively acidity and fruity standing up to just about anything you can throw at it. One Star. Becky Wasserman Selections. Importer: Garber & Co, Topanga, CA.

Pierre Peters
Cuvée de Reserve
Brut Blanc de Blancs
Drink Now-2020 $40
Yet another Terry Theise import, Pierre Peters is a shining star of Chardonnay in Champagne. This 100% Chardonnay non-vintage wine is a definite winner and compares very favorably to other non-vintage, and even vintage, Champagnes on the market.

Vibrant, lime butter, salt and Oger granite fills the nose of this pristine wine. Thrilling dry Chardonnay fruit fills the mouth with stones up the wazoo! This has power and depth. Really a great Champange from grand cru farmer fruit. A really, really good non-vintage! Two Stars. Terry Theise Estate Selections. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY.

White Wines:

San Vincenzo
Veneto Bianco 2007
Drink Now-2010 $10
From the Veneto region of Italy surrounding Venice, this bianco is a simple, inexpensive delight. Made from a blend of approximately 80% Garganega, 15% Chardonnay and 5% Soave Trebbiano.

Bright, grassy white grapefruit aromas not unlike a Pinot Grigio lead to intense and salty granite and grapefruit flavors. Like a hypothetical blend of Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Grigio. Simple, well balanced and refreshing, this makes a nice apéritif or accompaniment to appetizers. One Star. Importer: Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, FL.

Domaine des Baumard
Coteaux du Layon
Carte d'Or 2005
Drink Now-2016 $25
Baumard, as I've pointed out before, is one of the glorious producers of the Loire Valley in France. An absolute wizard with Chenin Blanc. The dry wines from Savennières are vibrant and stunning and the sweeter wines from Coteaux du Layon and nearby are enticing and seductive. Both are long lived. This is a Coteaux du Layon made in a moderately sweet style. It is their "entry level" Coteaux, not as sweet or deep as their most famous ones.

Pungent aromas of dried rambutan, rose petal and a hint of botrytis fill the aroma. The mouth, as seem typical for Baumard, is pure...bright and crackly, even confectionary tropical fruits with a glycerine voluptuousness. Yet it does this without feeling overly sweet. Powdered sugar dusted chalk and minerals give just enough tactile sense and complexity for balance. Quite nice and quite a bargain. One Star Plus. Importer: Premier Cru, Oakland, CA.

La Cosecha
Oloroso Seco
Bodega S. Francisco
Drink Now-Whenever $18
On our site we have a good overview of Sherry and its various styles. Oloroso is one which as seen quite a bit of time in barrel, exposed to air. It gets a nice rich dark color and complex aromatics as it ages.

This is floral with a bit of aged cheese. Not as roasted and nutty as the Sangre y Trabajadero below. More mellow but still complex and calming. The flavors are quite astounding. Aged Asiago cheese, buttered nuts and creme brulée. Less intense than the Sangre below, but more mellow and suave. Very nice Oloroso! Two Stars. Importer: MHW Ltd, Manhasset, NY.

Dönnhoff Riesling
Schloßböckelheimer Felsenberg Auslese 2007
Drink Now-2030 $40/375mL
I've already told you how profound a producer Dönnhoff is in Germany and the world. Arguably one of the top couple producers in Germany, certainly the best in the Nahe, and also one of the best in the world, these are remarkably cheap wines considering the quality. No, they aren't inexpensive. But for the quality, you can find few other wines in the world in this price range.

My tasting notes said "Wow!" right off the bat! Pure, beautiful peach, white granite and white flower aromas lead to simply beautiful flavors. More of an herby, citrus structure than the mineral base of many Dönnhoffs but this is simply flawless, silky and pure. Super young and will only get better from here. Two Stars Plus. Terry Theise Selections. Importer: Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY.

R. Lopez de Heredia
Viña Tondonia Reserva
Blanco 1989
Drink Now-2015 $40
As I've pointed out before, Lopez de Heredia is one of the true stars of Spain, making traditional and classic wines from the Rioja appellation. They often hold on to wines for many years, even decades, to be released. This is a Reserva Blanco, a current release, and it is almost 20 years old! Both the reds and whites from this address can be great. They can also be a bit hit and miss.

This particular Blanco is not the best I've had from LdH, yet it is still quite a value and quite alive for a 20 year old wine. The aromas are quite compelling with beautiful smokey coffee, earth, caramel and powdered flowers. The mouth is a bit harder to get to know. Smokey and floral, yet quite subtle and hesitant. This seems like a classic old Spanish white but is not in your face. This makes you come to it, rather than jumping out at you. Pretty, subtle and distinctive, yet I feel like it could have a bit more personality and depth. Excellent, but not the best I've had from this estate. One Star Plus. Importer: WineWise, Oakland, CA.

l'Etoile Cuvée Speciale 2000
Drink Now-2020 $22
OK, so I've blabbered on too much in the past about Jura wines. Maybe I'm due for an article highlighting the wines. But there is something so intriguing and unique about these wines that keeps me coming back. This is the Cuvée Speciale from Montbourgeau, several vintages old now.

This has an almost Vin Jaune nose of roasted nuts, chicken bouillon and curry spice. For lovers of umami, this tickles all the right nerves. Almost like a mini-Vin Jaune. Definitely Savagnin. Intense grip and flavor on the palate with that telltale Jura bright acidity on the finish. This already shows signs of positive development with its age but could certainly continue to improve. Velvety, long, smokey and introspective on the finish, making you want to just sit and sip and think and fantasize. Two Stars. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York, NY.

Sangre y Trabajadero
Gutierrez Colosia
Drink Now-Whenever $14/375mL
Another Oloroso. Be sure to check out the page on Sherry to get an overview of the various styles and production methods of Sherry.

Complex smokey creme brulée, butterscotch and honey roasted peanuts dominate the nose. Rich and really quite smokey, the old nutty flavors fill the palate. Toasted bread, cashews, hazelnuts and roasted coffee. Quite nice contemplative old Oloroso. One Star Plus. Importer: De Maison Selections Inc, Chapel Hill, NC.

von Schubert Riesling
Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg Kabinett 2007
Drink Now-2017 $21
This producer is one of the old guard of the Model-Saar-Ruwer river valleys. This famous estate can trace its origins back to the 10th century or before! While there was a slight down period for these wines a few years ago, these are definitely back on track and make some of the most intricate and fascinating wines on the planet! Grünhaus estate is a monopole of three adjacent vineyards. This one, Abtsberg (meaning Abbot's Hill), is arguably their greatest, showing intense minerality and exquisite detail. This is the Kabinett. Check back in next month's issue for their awesome Spätlese.

Telltale Abtsberg aromas of intense gunflint are smoky and dark yet at the same time bright and honeyed. Quite deep and complex for a Kabinett, a flowery whiff of honeysuckle is quite enticing. Vibrant and fresh flavors of great purity and detail. This is quite young and primary in flavor but as it sat in the glass a salty mineral thing came out to give even more detail to the delicious young fruit. Two Stars. Importer: Valckenberg International Inc., Tulsa, OK.

Red Wines:

Bernard Baudry Chinon
"Les Grézeaux" 2005
Drink 2012-2025 $16
I've introduced you to this producer, arguably one of the best few in Chinon, in Issue 6. Several cuvées are produced here, ranging from things to drink young to serious vin de garde which will improve for years. The "Grézeaux" is one of Baudry's top two sites, along with "Le Clos Guillot" which was previously reviewed. Of note, 2005 is an outstanding vintage for Loire Valley reds like this in general.

The aromatic profile here is a bit more reserved than the seductive Clos Guillot reviewed in Issue 6, but it shows promising hints of smoked meats, black olive, and black pepper. There is a solid core of deep, dark, peppery and brambly fruits. However, at this stage it is quite young, even austere. This is more brooding, rustic and crunchy than the Clos Guillot which seems much more approachable and flattering at this stage. This certainly has the stuffing though and while the Clos Guillot can be drunk now and will improve with age, this one really needs some years in bottle to strut its stuff. I'd hold it for at least another few years but this will last a couple decades in a cool cellar at least. Two Stars (for later). Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Henri Boillot
"Les Lavières" 2006
Stars Drink Now-2020 $25
Henri Boillot is an excellent producer in Burgundy best known for his white wines. In general I haven't liked his reds as much, feeling they lean towards the modern, oaky end of the spectrum. However, without splitting hairs, they are well made and taste good. This one is a premier cru from the Les Lavieres vineyard in the village of Savigny. Of note, Savigny is still a source of some excellent values for red Burgundy. For some reason its prices have remained reasonable while other more popular sites have skyrocketed. Great producers' premier cru wines, from the likes of Pavelot, Guillemot (see below) and Bize, can still be had for under $50.

This young Burg first shows its toasty oak and vanillin in the nose but with coaxing you can definitely find the pure, ripe red raspberry liquor-like fruit. Rather forward and candied in both aroma and flavor, but the texture is silky yet with some rusticity in its bite and power. Again, this is on the modern side of things but the oak, while prominent, is not completely obtrusive and is obviously of high quality. There are no coarse, woody tannins. All in all, this is very good with excellent raw material but leans toward the modern side. Got better with time in the glass but this will never be as transparent as some. If you like flashier, riper fruit, you'll like this. If you prefer a more traditional, terroir-driven Savigny, check out Guillemot (below). One Star Plus. Importer: Premier Cru, Oakland, CA.

Marco Donati
Situla Rosso 2004
Vigneti delle Dolomiti
Drink Now-2010 $16
This inexpensive Italian wine has an inviting nose of old oak, lightly roasted coffee and a sweet cherry syrup. A hint of almond and something meaty too. Velvety blueberry and raspberry fruit. Gives a sense of full-body yet it is a bit diffuse on the midpalate. Tasty but lacks a bit on balance, depth and finish. A good pizza/pasta wine. One Star. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

P. Guillemot
Savigny-Serpentières 2006
Drink 2012-2026 $35
Guillemot is a very traditional producer in Burgundy, making mostly Savigny with a bit of Corton. These are wines for terroir-o-philes, not for those seeking big powerful fruit. Therefore they can be a bit polarizing. For the Burgundy purist, however, these are quite enticing.

A complex terroir driven nose of blood, iron, earth, meat and ripe cherry fruit. As the serpentine name suggests, this is a sinewy wine with an excellent mineral balance. Ripe but tart red cherry and strawberry, silky and fine texture and primary but promising sappy flavors. At first this was quite tight, but with about an hour in the decanter got sweeter and more lush. You could enjoy this now if you give it time to get some air and evolve in the glass, but ideally I'd wait a few years and then drink it over the subsequent decade or more. Two Stars. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Fratelli Urcinolo
Arbosto Rosso
Vino da Tavolo
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $11
Another cheap Italian, this red has a quite ripe, jammy red fruit profile. Almost sweet fruitcake-like jamminess on the nose. The flavors are also jammy and a bit remenicent of a Dolchetto from Piedmont with its ripe fruit and crunchy berries. Simple, not much structure and not very well balanced. Is it drinkable to gulp down between bites of pizza? Sure. Is it something I'd go out of my way to have again? No. Zero Stars.

Dessert Wines:

La Cosecha Moscatel
Bodega Ferris
Drink Now-Whenever $18
In general I've been impressed by the fine Sherries distributed by La Cosecha. While they come from different Bodegas, each has been good to excellent. This is a Moscatel, a single grape (known as Muscat) Sherry which is typically produced in a sweet style.

Sweet and nutty aromas of over-ripe apricots, sparkling Malvasia and Moscato d'Asti. Quite sweet and honeyed but nutty and smokey on the finish. This is quite unique and if I had to compare it to something I'd say its like a glass of pulverized roasted peanuts floating in rich melted honey, but even sweeter. Interesting but I'm not sure this is my favorite style of Sherry. I tend to like my sweet wines to be a bit more balanced by acidity and/or minearlity. This one leans towards the cloying side. One Star. Importer: MHW Ltd., Manhasset, NY.

Smith Woodhouse
Lodge Reserve Porto
Drink Now-Whenever $25
So called Vintage Character ports are often just simple introductions to a Port house's style. They can definitely be tasty for not much money but are generally rather simple. Other commonly found examples include Fonseca's Bin 27, Graham's Six Grapes and Warre's Warrior Port. This version by Smith Woodhouse surprised me, being quite a bit more deep and complex than most.

Varnished fine woods, pine and a bit of dustiness define the complex nose. Most simple ports are pretty one dimensional, mostly fruit driven, not so here. In the mouth, meaty and rich with quite deep flavors and also a bit of tannic spine to give it structure and power. Almost seems like a single quinta vintage port in its depth and structure, but not quite as complex as the best of those. With air it softened a bit and was quite lovely and velvety. Very nice! One Star Plus. Importer: Premium Port Wines, Inc., San Francisco, CA.

Have a Reader Tip or a Question? Contact Me!

I love to hear from my readers and visitors. If you have a handy tip to share or questions or comments on anything related to wine and wine tastings, please contact me!

Looking for Wine or Wine Tasting Related Info? Search our site!

You can now search through all of my pages by using our handy Search This Site feature. You can also browse through a site map to find the information you desire. Still can't find what you are looking for? Then contact me!

© 2008 Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine. All Rights Reserved.

Search This Site

inexpensive wine

Site Sponsors

Peter Liem's
Champagne Guide

grilling secrets
World's Best Grilling eBook!