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

  • One Year of the Poor Man's Guide!
  • Producer Profile: Leon Barral in Faugères
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

One Year of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine!

Hard to believe but it has officially been a year that I've been putting out this guide! In February of last year I sent out my first issue to a whopping 4 readers. A year later I am sending this issue out to over 200! I do this for fun because I am passionate about wine and love to find great wine values, truly great wines that don't break the bank. Its easy to find great wines if price is no object, but finding a gem under $50 (or under $15!) is even more satisfying.

I hope you all enjoy the newsletter and my wine reviews. If you do and think anyone you know would like it too, please forward these emails to anyone you wish or tell them to go to subscribe for free at The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine!

If you have any suggestions about how I can improve the guide or wines you'd like to see reviewed, don't be shy, contact me and let me know what's on your mind!

Thanks for reading! Cheers!


Producer Profile: Leon Barral in Faugères

It's always exciting to stumble onto a new love. You know how thrilling it is to find a new band you love and then spending weeks immersing yourself in their albums, getting to know each nuance? Well I feel that way about wine too. When I find a producer I love, I search out their wines and learn as much as I can about each one, the winemakers style and all the nuances that make the wines unique. You'd think that after being passionate about wine for so long that this rarely happens. Although it is less common, it still does! As long as you stay open minded and try new things, not just sticking to your old tried and true favorites.

I had heard of Leon Barral's wines from the south of France for some time now, seeing mention of them in Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant's great newsletters. But somehow I had never tried one. Just passed them by. There are many excellent wines produced from the Languedoc in the south of France so I guess this one just got lost in the milieu. However, just recently the wines were recommended to me at one of my favorite local wine shops. The recommendation went something like this..."Oh, you like Domaine Tempier's Bandols? Then you'll love this!" That got my attention. Tempier's Bandols are rich, complex, age-worthy and passionate wines that I adore. If another sun drenched southern red is mentioned in the same breath as Tempier, I'm gonna check it out! So I grabbed a bottle to try. I came back immediately the next day to pick up some of the other cuvées! They were that good!

Faugères is an appellation in France's Languedoc region in the south, sandwiched between the Coteaux du Languedoc to the east and Saint-Chinian to the west. The sunny Mediterranean sun beats down on the schistic soils bringing great ripeness and vibrancy to the various grapes that grow there. There is no big surprise which grapes are grown here, they are all the classic southern France varieties you see in the Rhône, Bandol and throughout the Languedoc including Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. One of the cool things about the Barral wines is that his different cuvées highlight different grapes, making them each unique. They are not just cookie cutter copies of each other just with different amounts of oak or ripeness. They are each singular wines with their own personality.

Leon Barral is apparently a fanatically hard worker in the vineyard, ensuring the best raw ingredients from his excellent terroirs. The grapes are grown biodynamically and his philosophy in the cellar is to let the vineyards speak for themselves, creating pure and vibrant wines with personality and passion. The wines certainly speak more of their raw materials than any manipulation in the cellars.

There are three primary red wines Barral produces each year. The first is their basic Faugères Rouge. This wine is a blend of Carignan and Grenache, although I think it sometimes has some Cinsault as well. While Carignan is usually just a blending grape in many southern reds, the blend here with Grenache is lovely. While Carignan can be high yielding with high acidity and astringent tannins, the balance with the ripe Grenache fruit is outstanding here. This is the "lightest" wine in the lineup but by no means is it light. This is a dark and flavorful wine, yet there is a striking vibrancy and elegance to it. If I were to give a description, I have to point out that this wine seems almost Burgundian in some respects. The bright red fruit with vibrant acid and suave tannins make this almost Pinot-like. Yet there is also some of that southern French Mediterranean personality with a meatiness and some of that Provençal garrigue with herby scents of sun-roasted rosemary and thyme. A hypothetical blend of a great Nuits-St.-Georges and a southern Rhône wine perhaps?

Barral also produces two named cuvées which differ in their grape variety makeup. The Faugères Jadis is still about 50% Carignan but has a high percentage of Syrah (about 40%), with a bit of Grenache thrown in as well. This is a darker wine. The Syrah makes itself known with spicy, smokey black fruit scents and flavors. This is also more velvety with a denser core of dark fruit. If the regular Faugères was Burgundy-like, the Jadis is decidedly more Rhône, almost like a Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie blended with a bit of Mediterranean ripeness and sun drenched herbes de Provence. By comparing it to the Rhône I'm not implying these don't have their own personality, they do. The south of France is clearly evident in all these wines.

Last but not least, the Faugères Valinière is Barrals most expensive wine. For something completely different, this wine is a blend of a majority of Mourvedre (about 80%) with the balance made up of Syrah. For those of you who don't know, Mourvedre is the classic grape of Bandol, making up 50 to 100% of those wines. It makes a powerful, tannic wine with a meaty complexity. It is capable of very long aging and the aromas can be quite enticing with age. The Valinière is definitely the most serious of these wines. More dark and brooding with a grander core of minerality and more meaty and gamey aromas. It is more austere and structured, more masculine if you will, but at the same time all wrapped up in velvet. Yet this is a seriously deep and complex wine that appears to need years to unfold and reveal all it has to offer. This gives a sense of almost regal breed. If I had to compare it, this is something like what you'd expect from Tempier's la Tourtine vineyard.

Across the board I am thrilled by the quality of these wines and want to buy more and more, some to drink and some to hide away in my cellar for many years to come. Is the comparison to Tempier's Bandols justified? Yes, I think it is. Are they as good? Well it is too soon to tell. I haven't tasted many vintages of Barral or aged examples. But the wines I have had give every indication that there are certainly at that level. These wines are certainly different in many respects, but they have a lot of the same passion and depth that I love in great Bandol. They are genuinely great wines in any respect. And one of the things I love about them is the great variety in personality from one to the next!

Below are some representative reviews of recent vintages of Barral wines tasted in the last month. The 2004's seem to be an excellent vintage but more classically styled with firm structure and more austere, mineral personalities. The 2005's on the other hand are quite ripe and powerful, a bit more flashy. Both are very good, just different.

The US importer for Leon Barral's wines is Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, CA.

Leon Barral Faugères
Rouge 2004
Drink Now-2019 $20
This has a passionate aroma of Provençal herbs and ripe, lovely red fruits. Elegant and pretty, this is almost like a Volnay with its bright precision but with some Mediterranean herbs thrown in. The flavors are bright and almost Burgundian with silky red fruits, again accented by southern sun and herbs. Not as dark and dense as the higher level wines but equally fine and pure. The flavors and mouthfeel reminds me of a Nuits-St.-George with some sauvage southern personality. Two Stars.

Leon Barral Faugères
Rouge 2005
Drink 2011-2023 $20
This is a bit darker and riper than the 2004 but displays similar vibrant red and black fruits, almost Pinot-like but a bit darker and more meaty. Like a Gevrey but spicier. The nose is not yet as effusive as the 04 and seems young and hesitant. The mouth is bigger with bold and spicy, vibrant spiced red and black fruit. There is definitely a vigorous, herby acidic structure and dusty tannins. Much more structured and backward than the 04 but with a sweeter core of fruit. The finish is a bit clamped down and austere with mineral and iron notes. This is delicious but seems like it could use a few years to open up more. Two Stars.

Leon Barral Faugères
Jadis 2005
Drink 2010-2025 $30
This is decidedly different with dense, exuberant, spicy and smoky Syrah fruit making its presence felt. Like a hypothetical blend of a great northern Rhône with some Mediterranean ripeness and roasted herbs thrown in. This is a powerful wine with dense, palate-staining black fruit, suave, velvety tannins and stunning length! This is very young but flat out fantastic quality. Great breed for a "lowly" southern French red, this could probably show up many Bandols and Rhône wines twice its price. There is oily, old vine density and depth and despite the ripeness in 05 there is great complexity and the balance is great, cleaning up beautifully on the lively finish. Yum! Two Stars Plus (but may warrant three stars with a bit of time in bottle).

Leon Barral Faugères
Valinière 2004
Drink 2015-2035 $50
Initially this was the most closed and tight aromatically but with a couple hours in a decanter it opened to reveal dark, brooding, even foreboding, depths of meaty dark fruit. Similar to the Jadis in some respects but with more iron minerality as well as more animal, meaty scents. Almost Barolo and Bandol like in its leathery, earthy and meaty complexity. This drinks pretty young as well, tight and austere but also more serious with a dense core of solid rocks, meat and iron. Powerful and masculine. The middle of this wine is stunning with nervous energy reverberating in its dark depths. Probably needs 15 years at least to be at its best but a few hours in the decanter now do it well, revealing more aroma and denser, riper fruit. Great stuff! Two Stars Plus (but very well could warrant three stars in several years).

Leon Barral Faugères
Valinière 2005
Drink 2015-2040 $60
This is so dark in the glass! It is an opaque black/purple, a lovely color if you hold it up to the light. Dense, impenetrable black fruits and powerful rocks grace the aromas of this wine along with meaty, peppered beef jerky. Tight and young but there is obviously tons there lurking underneath the surface. It slowly unwinds as it sits in a decanter over many hours. The flavors are also decidedly dense, black and meaty with massive structure, yet the tannins are so sophisticated and suave, giving the wine an incredible velvety texture. Still has an austere, mineral and iron core of power that reverberates throughout it. I know it is cliché but this is the proverbial "Iron fist in a velvet glove." It is quite incredible how pure and fine this seems despite its meaty power and richness. Riper and more plush than the 04 making it a bit more flattering to drink at present. This is stunning stuff. If you are going to even try to touch this stuff soon, give it a good few hours or more to let it reveal some of what it has to offer. Three Stars!

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.

Rich Man's Wine

Every once in a while I like to throw in a tasting note for a great wine that no one would consider a "poor man's wine". Some wines are just so great that any price seems reasonable to a wine lover!

Domaine Dujac
Clos de la Roche 2005
Drink Now
Domaine Dujac is one of the most sought after producers in Burgundy, producing a wide range of wines known for their finesse and aromatic complexity. The wines are not cheap, particular the grand crus. The Clos de la Roche is one of their most famous sites and consistently produces one of their top wines. While this wine from the outstanding 2005 vintage can cost upwards of a thousand dollars a bottle, I was lucky enough to taste this at a wine tasting dinner recently. This is a pretty straightforward tasting note...mostly because it is hard to put something this good into words. I basically just sat there in awe.

Quite simply, this was a stunning wine. Beautiful fine herbs and spicy, rocky red fruits in the nose. Nothing is out of place. Pure, fine, pristine, crystalline, transparent and beautiful. This is almost a perfect young Burg nose to me, just hinting at its long evolution ahead of it. Take a sip…Wow! Perfect. So silky. Dense yet not over extracted at all. Super. Nobility up the kings ass! Young and primary yet so delicious, silky and flawless. Wow again! This is a baby but is so suave and balanced that it drinks beautifully young. If you can wait, it will get even better, but it would be hard to keep my hands off if I had any. Three Stars without question.

Sparkling Wines:

Scharffenberger Brut Drink Now-2013 $20
This inexpensive California sparkler has subtle notes of butter and yeast accenting high-toned fruit, crisp apple and citrus. The flavors are smooth and creamy yet with bright flavors, good balance and no obtrusive residual sugar. An excellent Champagne alternative and a good value at this price. One Star Plus.

Schloss Biebrich Sekt
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $5
Sekt is a type of sparkling German wine. While there are now some excellent examples, many are insipid and uninspiring.

This one is nothing to write home about but there is nothing wrong with it. Subtle, simple Silvaner-like aromas with a light mouth with a bit of sweetness. No off flavors or flaws. This is uninspiring but drinkable. I gave this Zero Stars but if you are looking for something really cheap, you can do worse than this.

White Wines:

Bret Brothers
Climat "La Verchère" 2006
Drink Now-2016 $30
The Bret Brothers made several outstanding wines from the southern appellations of Burgundy in 2006. As with most white Burgundies, this is Chardonnay. Because it comes from lesser known appellations south of the Côte d'Or the price is reasonable compared to many of its more northernly cousins.

A breath of fresh air. Fresh mineral-laced Chardonnay fruit is impossible not to like. Crisp lemon, Mandarin orange and mellon fruit is beautifully intertwined and solidified by a dense core of fine minerals. Quite outstanding value for white Burgundy. Two Stars. Becky Wasserman Selection. Importer: Cellar Door Imports, Woodland Hills, CA.

Juan Sebastián
Elcano Fino
J.C. Gutiérrez Colosia
Drink Now-2011 $11/375mL
This is a good month for Sherry. This Fino displays aromas of lightly roasted nuts, red apple and chalk. Round and oily with quite rich, deep flavors for a Fino. While it is still light on its feet and refreshing, it gives the sense of great depth and richness. Almost Amontillado-like yet lighter on its feel. I like how this walks the tightrope between those seemingly contradictory characteristics. Two Stars. Importer: De Maison Selections Inc., Chapel Hill, SC.

La Cigarrera Manzanilla Drink Now-2011 $9/375mL
I love me a good Sherry. They can be incredible values. And I particularly like sightly chilled Manzanilla from the southern Spanish coast. So refreshing and so good with food!

This Manzanilla, made from the Palomino grape, is a great one. Fresh, thrilling Granny Smith and Fuji apples jump from the glass. While the oxidized Sherry notes are there, it is buried beneath scrumptious fruit. This is almost like a fermented apple cider, dry and refreshing, lip smacking yet with a caressing velvet texture. A tiny hint of apple skin tannin gives it grip and a textural relief. Excellent Manzanilla! Two Stars. Importer: De Maison Selections, Inc., Chapel Hill, NC.

Domaine de la Louvetrie (Landron)
Muscadet Sèvre et Maine
Le Fief du Breil 2005
Drink Now-2012 $10
This is an excellent producer of Muscadet in general and this is generally one of his better cuvées.

This shows fresh, sweet apple notes and a round, soft texture. Ripe apple, chalk and honeydew melon all make an appearance. This is nice, but it is lacking something. The best Muscadet have a vibrant minerality which this does not posses. One Star. Importer: Latitude Wines, Inc., Danville, CA.

Palama Brontolo
Salento Bianco NV
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $5/1L
I reviewed this wine previously but reserved my judgement because the bottle I had was a little off and I wasn't sure if it was just a flawed bottle or if it was a more general problem. I have had this a few times since and each have not revealed any consistent problem. This is a fresh, stony white Italian wine which comes in a big 1 liter bottle with a screw cap. It is simple, light-bodied and refreshing. An okay basic cheap aperitif or food wine. I give this zero stars because on its own merits it is nothing special or that stands out from the crowd. However it deserves honorable mention for being so very inexpensive for a large bottle of what is a perfectly acceptable everyday or casual party wine.

Ruston Semillon 2007
Delorimier Vineyard
Zero Stars Drink Now-2009 $6
This domestic Semillon from the Alexander Valley in California has a floral, honeysuckle aroma that is almost downright sweet. Spicy and herby flavors are a bit flat and flabby. This again is not flawed or undrinkable, but it lacks interest and has no life. Not recommended. Zero Stars.

Red Wines:

Chiusa Grande Tommolo
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $5
This Italian red has some simple, peppered fruit. The flavors are mellow with soft black fruits. Not as intense, black and spicy as most good Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. I seem to be striking out on the super-cheap wines this month. Zero Stars. Importer: d'Aquino Italian Importing Co, Inc., Duarte, CA.

Domaine "la Garrigue"
Cuvée Romaine 2007
Drink Now-2018 $12
This wine is generally a great value southern Rhône in most vintages. But if you haven't heard yet, 2007 is turning out to be one of the best vintages ever for the region and therefore this wine represents an even better value than usual. Note that this note is for the Eric Solomon Selection version of this wine. I have heard that other bottlings are different and not up to the quality of the Solomon wine.

A bit of dust and earth lace ripe blackberry liquor and fresh Herbes de Provence aromas. Exuberant ripe southern sun-drenched fruit with abundant herbs and earth coat the mouth. Good acidity with a hint of stoniness ties it together and keeps it fresh and balanced despite the copious ripe fruit. This drinks well above its price point, much more like a mid-level Chateauneuf-du-Pape than most Côtes-du-Rhône. Two Stars. Eric Solomon/European Cellars Selection. Importer: European Cellars, LLC., Charlotte, NC.

Miglianico 2007
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Drink Now-2011 $11/1L
Here is a bit better, cheap Montepulciano. This comes in a big 1 liter bottle with a screw cap. While nothing that special, it hits the spot and tastes good.

Dark blackberry fruit and sublte aromas of Italian dusty earth and meat lead the way to black fruit flavors with iron and meat nuances. Just enough acid and dusty tannins to give it grip and balance. A good basic food wine and at this price and large bottle this is a good Pizza night wine to slug down with friends. One Star. Importer: Vitis Imports, Inglewood, CA.

Moira's Tinto Aveludado
Alentejano 2006
Adega das Mouras de Arraiolos
Drink Now-2014 $11
The name of this wine, Aveludado, means "Velvety", printed there in bold type on the label so there can be no mistake! Another wine from this producer is called "Fruity"! I like how they get right to the point. This is a blend of 50% Trincadeira, 30% Alicante Bouschet and 20% Syrah.

Spice and herb inflected red fruits and warm earth aromas open up to, as the name implies, a velvety and suave wine which is also fruity but balanced nicely by spice complexity. Great value, particularly for its caressing texture and mellow, lingering finish. One Star Plus. Importer: Vitis Imports, Inglewood, CA.

La Rioja Alta 1995
Rioja Gran Reserva 904
Drink Now-2023 $49
No, this isn't cheap per se. And yes, this is a current vintage. Spanish Gran Reservas are held back quite long in barrel and then bottle.

At first the spicy and nuanced nose showed mostly smoky American oak with hints of herbs and coconut which never quite faded. Very pretty, but not quite as transparent as my favorite Riojas that deserve an even higher rating. However, the underlying material here is something to behold. Velvet, lace and quite nuanced toasty Tempranillo fruit with spice and herbs lingering on the long finish. Dense yet high-toned and focused. Great balance and screams for some savory food. Very young despite its age. At this point the mouth is better than the nose but if this integrates the American oak treatment a bit more with time, it may be great. If you are averse to American oak you might want to think twice before opening one soon. Two Stars. Selected by Christopher Cannan. Importer: Europvin USA, Van Nuys, CA.

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