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

  • Rant: Why Are Retailers Trying to Kill My Wine?
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Why Are Retailers Trying to Kill My Wine?

I have to rant a bit this month and vent a bit of frustration. How is it that every scummy little market anywhere in the US can guarantee the freshness and safe handling of raw meat and dairy products from the source to distributors, to markets and, finally, to your grocery cart, day in and day out without fail and yet heat damaged wine runs rampant? I mean, I know that meat, produce and dairy are gigantic industries but we are talking about items costing only a few dollars or so. Yet each carton, each steak that makes it to our tables, is meticulously kept in refrigerated, tightly temperature controlled trucks and storage containers all the way down the line. But wine, even wines that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a bottle, have no guarantee, no "best if used by" date? Who knows how many millions of dollars of fine wine is destroyed by poor handling each year.

Now let me step back. Yes, I know that spoiled meat can kill people and spoiled wine cannot. This at least partially explains why so much attention is paid, and no expense is spared, to ensure safe distribution and storage of foodstuffs. But it is quite insulting that these same easy steps to ensure a quality product are often overlooked in the wine distribution and retail chain. Now, I must admit that things have changed for the better over the years. Decades ago it was much more rare for wine to be shipped in refrigerated containers. Can you imagine paying hundreds of dollars for a bottle knowing that the wine you ordered spent the summer passing through the Panama Canal in a toasty container aboard a giant ship? Forget about cellaring conditions, your bottles would be shot before they even make it to your cellar!

Importers like Kermit Lynch and others since the 70's have pushed for better shipping practices, demanding all refrigerated shipping containers and trucks throughout the supply chain so that the wine that leaves the cellar in Europe is the same wine that you open on your dinner table (for both inexpensive and expensive wines). Most, but not necessarily all, do this now. But the shipment across the Atlantic isn't the only place heat damage can strike. Wine sitting in poorly refrigerated warehouses, sitting on unrefrigerated delivery trucks for hours in the hot sun, even your retailer's shelves. Yes, even sitting on the shelves in a fine wine shop, where they should be nurtured and cared for by people who understand their beauty and their vulnerability! Many wine shops have some storage areas in back which are not completely temperature controlled. Not to mention the sales floor. Most shops you walk into aren't chilly. But they should be! No, 75 degrees won't cook your wine right away and if you buy only young wines that have been in house only days or weeks, you are probably fine. But a lot of people don't realize the subtle damage these temperatures can do in the long term. Some wines do sit on the shelf for weeks, months or even years, never exposed to super high temperatures but consistently exposed to moderate temperatures. While this treatment won't lead to blatantly "cooked" wines, over time it does affect them, slowly stripping them of livelihood, making them less vibrant, dull.

Do an experiment, buy two bottles of wine young (right after release). Leave one in your temperature controlled cellar for a year or two. Sit the other in your living room or other part of your house which mimics the conditions of a wine shop. Not hot, but comfortable room temperature (some people love a chilly home and this experiment won't work as well with them!). Wait a year or two. Open the two side by side, blind. You might be surprised. The wine from your cellar will be fresh, still young and exuberant, the one sitting at room temperature, exposed to slight fluctuations throughout the year, will be muted in comparison, lacking some of the nuance and detail of the properly stored wine. At best, its passable, at worst, flat, dull and blah.

So what should you do? Well for one, if you can help it, buy wines young, soon after release, and cellar them yourself. Stock up on these, don't fill your cellar with older wines that have been sitting on retailers shelves. A few years down the road when you open one you very well could be disappointed. Second, demand better care of your wine from your wine retailers! Ask them to see their storage space in the back; ask them why the sales floor isn't cooler; demand that wines are shipped only during cold weather; ask about the provenance and storage of all wines older than a few months. If in doubt, try a bottle or two of wines that have been sitting on their shelves for a year or more and see if they seem correct, fresh. If not, tell them so and don't buy older vintages from them again. Be proactive and demand change or the industry will continue to be complacent about the care of your bottles and you may find yourself with a cellar full of prematurely old wines.

And to you importers, distributors and retailers… take care of my wines! Not just on the shipping container but in every warehouse, truck and sales floor each wine sits in! Treat them like they are perishable food products and you could kill your customers if you sell them spoiled products. Do everything you can to guarantee that every wine, from the $5 bottle of Umbrian red to the $500 Burgundy, arrives in my house exactly the same as it was when it left the producer's cellars. That is all I ask. Thank you.



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:

Paul Berthelot à Dizy
Blason d'Or
Champagne Brut NV
Drink Now-2025 $50
Paul Berthelot is a small grower Champagne producer in the village of Dizy. His basic non-vintage brut has been on the market in the US for some time now and is a great, go-to bubbly at a very fair price. This is one of his more "luxury" cuvées, the Blason d'Or. It too is a non-vintage Champagne.

Yeasty, rich and ripe Chardonnay fruit, truffles and stones all great you as you dip your nose in the glass. In the mouth, this is more intellectual and refined than the fatter, plusher non-vintage brut. It seems more Krug-like with its minerality and inner core of verve and punch, while being full bodied and rich. This is quite good stuff and a bargain for good Champagne at $50. Two Stars.

White Wines:

Selección de la Cosecha
Bodegas Valdivia
Bodega Sacromonte
Amontillado Superior
15 Years
Drink Now-Whenever $24/500mL
This Sherry is quite something. Coming in a 500 mL bottle, this may be the best $24 you spend on a Sherry. It has been aged an average of 15 years and its super smokey, raisiny, caramel and roasted nuts aromas show for it. It is a broad shouldered Amontillado with a crisp, stupendous finish that gives it authority and grace. This is Sherry! Complex and seductive, yet elusive, elegant and refined. All that and its perfectly balanced by that lip smacking acidity that never lets it feel heavy or cloying. This is just a joy to sit and sip by the fire. Two Stars Plus.

Blanchots-Dessus 2006
Drink Now-2027? $60
Blanchots-Dessus is a premier cru vineyard in Chassagne-Montrachet which is very close to the hallowed ground of Montrachet itself. Good Montrachet (often crazy expensive) somehow is able to express all the intense minerality and acid intensity of the best white Burgundy while exhibiting rich, ripe, seductive fruit. This hints at that with a yummy Montrachet-like sweetness yet with a super steely, flinty finish and a reverberating energy. A very interesting wine that comes close to grand cru level. Two Stars.

Dönnhoff Riesling
Nerheimer Dellchen
Gross Gewachs 2008
Drink Now-2038 $50
Can Dönnhoff do any wrong? I don't think so. Gross Gewachs is a relatively new thing to German wines. They are trocken (dry) wines from a producers best vineyards, this one from the Dellchen vineyard. This is just breathtaking and I'm beginning to think my score will be conservative. Ripe papaya, stoney slate and chalk all jump out at you at the first whiff. This attacks the palate with a vibrant, mineral, shimmering mouthful of crumbly, slatey rocks. Just delicious, long and pure. This is very young and should just get better with time. Two Stars Plus.

Dönnhoff Riesling
Oberhauser Brücke
Spätlese 2008
Drink Now-2038 $40
Another brilliant wine from Dönnhoff, this is a serious Spat. Brücke is one of his most famous vineyards and arguably produces one of his best wines each year. My nod usually goes to the Hermannshöhle for its filigreed relief and finely etched elegant minerals. But the Brucke is not far behind, a bit burlier, crumbled red rocks showcasing the dense and complex fruit and stones. This is German Riesling at its best with its own unique personality and life. Open it alongside another vineyard to see the distinct character of each! This is definitely approachable and delicious now but will have a very long life ahead of it. Two Stars Plus.

Luneau-Papin Muscadet
Le L d'Or 2008
Cuvée Médaillée
Drink Now-2015 $22
This is one of the top Muscadet bottlings in most years. However, I haven't been all that impressed with the Muscadets from 2008 yet. The Pepiere Clos du Briords (usually one of my favorites) was a bit weaker than usual. I might actually prefer this one a hair as it does have a nice backbone of oystershel, chalk and minerals, making it quite steely, vibrant and laser-like with good precision and lift. Where this lacks a bit is in depth and complexity. Its definitely super refreshing and lip smacking, but it just doesn't have the core of power and depth that I look for in the very best Muscadet. One Star Plus.

Pépière Muscadet
Granite de Clisson 2007
Drink Now-2024 $20
Like the 2005 before it, the last vintage of this wine, this is a serious Muscadet. Made only in the best years by Marc Ollivier, this showcases just how great Muscadet can be. Mineral and granite intensity, as the name amply predicts, act as the backbone to this serious wine. It is very hesitant at first at this young age, maybe even more so than the 05. It takes an hour or two or more to really start to show its stuff. Is it the qualitative equal of the 05? Maybe not. At this stage it seems just a hair behind in terms of overall depth and complexity, but that may just be the stage its in. This could very well be its equal and certainly deserves your attention. Particularly considering its price, this is a remarkable value in todays fine wine market for a mineral-laden, intense young white capable of many years aging in the cellar. Who says Muscadet only makes insipid, vapid wines? Two Stars.

Prager 2007
Grüner Veltliner
Drink Now-2020 $40
I liked the nose more than the mouth of this GruVee from Prager in Austria. The nose displays a sharp, intense and steely personality chock full of minerals, flint and even some herbiness. It gives the impression of a distinctive wine with great personality. Yet the mouth is much more tame. Some people may prefer that but I was hoping for something a bit more vibrant. There is a touch of gunflint but the fruit is somewhat soft and simple. It is pretty and pure but just doesn't have the intensity of flavor that I was hoping would hit my palate. Pretty nonetheless. One Star Plus.

Rosé Wines:

Txakoli Gurrutxaga
Bizkaiko Txakolina
Rosé 2008
Drink Now-2012 $20
You can tell from the name that this is from the Basque. This is a meaty and mineral rosé with interesting cherry popsicle and tamarind fruit. Bold and mineral, like crumbly Basque rocks on the initial attack but becomes a bit faded and lacking on the back end. One Star.

Red Wines:

Chateau Cantemerle
Haut-Medoc 2006
Drink Now-2026 $30
Cantemerle is an old producer in Bordeaux that is in the Haut-Medoc region, not one of the more famous villages nearby. Therefore, they tend to fly under the radar a bit and their prices have remained fair. They can make good, traditional red Bordeaux in many vintages.

The 06 is smokey with notes of tobacco, cedar and black fruits. Medium bodied, this is almost Burgundy like in its bright red fruits and vibrant brambly wild berries. But the other flavors, like the classic Bordeaux mushroom, earth, pencil lead and creosote, let you know where its from. This is a nice Bordeaux, not a great one. It doesn't have the complexity and depth of the big boys, but it also doesn't have the price tag. One Star Plus.

Cave de Rasteau
Les Peyrières 2006
Côtes du Rhone Villages
Drink Now-2013 $15
This southern Rhone wine, made from 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, definitely tastes like the south of France with its smokey, volcanic soil, pepper and brambly berries. The flavors are rich and peppery with a zesty cleansing finish. A nice simple and easy Côtes du Rhone. One Star.

Martilde "Nina" 2006
Pinot Nero
Oltrepo Pavese
Drink 2012-2020 $20
Martilde is an Italian couple in the Oltrepo Pavese making some very honest, terroir-driven wines from several different grapes. This is a Pinot Nero, the Italian name for Pinot Noir. The interesting thing with this wine is that it tastes Italian first, not Pinot first. You can definitely see the influence of the soil as this is an earthy, rustic wine which does have some Burgundian notes and is silky and subtle but it has an animal sauvage quality to it as well. The dried cherry and cranberry fruit is dark and rich but there is some high toned acid going on as well to hold it together and give it focus. This is pretty young and the dusty tannins do clamp down on the finish a bit, but it is very pretty and quite interesting. Two Stars.

Domaine de Nerleux (Regis Neau)
Les Loups Noirs 2004
Drink 2014-2024 $20
This red from the Loire village of Saumur-Champigny is made mostly from Cabernet Franc, with some Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab franc can make rich, complex wines if physiologically ripe fruit is harvested and there is a deft hand in the cellar. However, when either is lacking, it can be a bit astringent, even green and vegetal.

I had hopes this would be the former as well made Cab franc from the Loire (Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny, etc.) can be a gloriously good value. No such luck here.

This is certainly not bad, in fact there is much that I liked about it. There is a raisined, spicy and herby complexity to the nose and dense, dark, meaty flavors. Where it fails me is the tannins. This is very tannic and they are not suave, silky ripe tannins, they are excruciating tannins that tear your face off. They are not the most astringent tannins I've witnessed, but they are bordering on that. If you age this maybe these will soften some with time, or maybe not. If you do try some, give it some air and definitely drink it with something suitable, a big, well-marbled steak for example, to balance and absorb some of those rough tannins. One Star Plus.

Reserva Dos Amigos
Vinho Regional Estremadura
Portugal 2007
Drink Now-2014 $13
This Portugese wine has a hint of dustiness to the dark, ripe fruit. Medium bodied, this has a leathery texture, like blackberry and bing cherry fruit leather. There is definitely a fruity ripeness and sweetness at its core but its all wrapped up in leather and meaty darkness. Quite good for the price and good wine for hearty fare. But like Sangiovese up above this isn't made for extended aging. One Star Plus.

A et P de Villaine
Bourgogne "La Fortune" 2007
Côte Chalonnaise
Drink Now-2027 $28
Aubert de Villaine is the director of one of the most famous domaines in all of winedom, the Domaine de la Romanée Conti in Burgundy. Therefore, this dude KNOWS Pinot Noir and Burgundy. Besides running that legendary estate, he produces wines under his own label from the more southern parts of Burgundy, the Côte Chalonnaise. Like its more famous reds from the Cote d'Or, this is 100% Pinot Noir.

A very pretty nose of toasty young, fresh PInot fruit, cherry, spice and earth. Meaty in flavor, not texture, with earth, minerals, tangy tart cherries, raspberry and more. The texture is silky and this is delish, making me hungry! This is serious stuff for such a lowly appellation (Bourgogne) and represents a definite bargain for fine red Burgundy.

Dessert Wines:

Besombes Singla
Cuv´e Amadee
Rivesaltes 1945
Drink Now-Whenever $80
Yes! 1945! You didn't read that wrong! Rivesaltes is a region in the south of France that makes fortified wines along the lines of Port. Banyuls is its more famous cousin nearby. While the legendary Muscat-de-RIvesaltes are made from the Muscat grape, this old wine is probably mostly Grenache. Old domaines sometimes release old stocks like this that have been sitting and aging in the original cellars for decades. At this price, it isn't cheap, but it may be the cheapest way to get to sample a wine over 60 years old!
This started out hesitant, almost showing nothing, but I decanted it for many hours. After a lot of time, like an old port, it started to blossom and got better and better over 2 or more days! At first, just simple red and black fruits (yes fruits!) but with a hint of oxidative, Madeira-like notes. As it breathed in more air after its long sleep it got deeper and more complex with soy and Asian spices, meat and herbs coming out to play. Increasingly Madeira-like with herby and spicy complexity that highlight the fruit, maple sugar, and cedar. This is not the best or most complex "old" wine I've had, but it is certainly interesting and rocks the boat with loads of old school complexity and really interesting stuff you just don't find in young wines. Two Stars.

Cockburn's Porto
Special Reserve
Drink Now-Whenever $16
Cockburn's (pronounced "coe-burn" for those of you with a naughty mind) is an old Port house which makes very good vintage ports as well. This is their "vintage character" port, a blend of vintages which is meant to be ready to drink when bottled. This one shows meaty dark dried berry fruit. It is rich and on the meaty and dark side of the port spectrum with notes of leather and black berries. This is nice, but not more. It will hold in bottle unopened indefinitely but won't improve with time. One Star.

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!

Search This Site

inexpensive wine

Site Sponsors

Peter Liem's
Champagne Guide

grilling secrets
World's Best Grilling eBook!