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

  • Thanksgiving Wines - NOT!
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Thanksgiving Wines - Er, Or Not

I kinda feel silly writing a Thanksgiving Wines article. It is like one of the 10 most common, required topics for wine writers that comes around every year and they all say the same thing. Blah blah blah, Beaujolais this, Nouveaux that.

F--k it! I won't do it. I'm rebelling.

So what to fill up this space with? Hmmm…

I was recently thinking about my days working at a wine shop in San Francisco way back when. To kill the time on slow days my wine buddies and I would stand around discussing just about any topic under the sun, from music to art to religion. But most of all it revolved around wine, of course. One of the most common topics regarding wine, and one which causes huge arguments, is in regards to what wines match with what. The perfect wine for coq au vin. The perfect wine for duck. The perfect wine with foie gras.

However, on one particular afternoon we got onto the topic of pairing wines with… movies! What was the perfect wine to drink while watching Cassablanca? The Lord of the Rings? Forrest Gump? Blade Runner?

I particularly remember discussing Æon Flux. For those of you who don't know, Æon Flux was an avant-guard science fiction animated TV series that aired on MTV's Liquid Television in the early 90's. The dystopian future depicted was most notable for the title character who was a tall, slender, but hugely buxom, latex-wearing secret agent. It was weird, dark, mysterious, sexy, sensual, slutty, elegant and more, seemingly all at the same time. Our choice… for the most perfect wine to drink while watching Æon Flux… Krug Vintage Champagne of course, preferably 1985.

As I thought fondly about this and other memories from the time, it occurred to me that this was a great wine tasting theme idea. Plan a wine tasting night with some friends who are as geeky as you. Have someone pick the theme. It could be a particular movie. It could be a particular album. Then have everyone bring a bottle that they think would best pair with that theme. Plan on watching the movie or listening to the music in the background while you discuss wine, drink and eat. To really spice it up, serve the wines blind initially, so that the judging is done solely on the wine itself and its pairing with the movie or music, not influenced by the label, name or marketing. Go around the group and have everyone cast their vote for the best pairing, of course taking time to describe what about the personality of the wine fits so well with the art.

Try to avoid movies or music with themes that are too obvious. The Godfather would have to be Italian wine, wouldn't it? Of course old Pagnol movies would be Provençal French wines and Pastis. Choose something esoteric in relation to wine… science fiction, punk music, anime, jazz, comedies even.

Do you have any great wine tasting theme ideas? Visit our wine tasting themes section and get some ideas. Or share your own at the bottom of the page, to be published on the site (you can even upload photos).

I apologize for the self-indulgent diversion. If you really came here looking for advice on Thanksgiving Wines, just get some good Burgundy (white to start and red for later) followed by a sweet Loire Chenin Blanc (Vouvray, Coteaux du Layon, etc.) for dessert. Done.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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:

Pirovano Moscato
Oltrepo Pavese 2009
Drink Now-2011 $15
The Oltrepo Pavese is a region in the north of Italy, even farther north than Piedmont. It is an earthy and meaty terroir that is not well known and which I love. In the general area there are many grapes grown including many of those grown in the more famous Piedmont to the south, such as Barbera and Nebbiolo. Here is a sparkling Moscato, made along the lines of a Moscato di Asti, yet with a unique personal touch.

This is a meaty, earthy Moscato with that Oltrepo Pavese terroir accenting the sweet melon and citrus fruits. It smells and tastes similar to a Moscato di Asti but with a richness, almost an umami-ness to it that is quite intriguing. Sweet, not a super-bright Moscato, but not cloying either. This stays refreshing and easy to drink; sweet and satisfying at the same time. A fun summer sipper and at 7% alcohol you could drink this all afternoon long! One Star Plus.

Presto Rosé Brut
Vino Spumante Rosato
Drink Now-2011 $8
This simple cheapie is available at most Whole Foods and I've had it before, but as these mass produced types of wines tend to vary over time from batch to batch, I thought I'd check in and make sure its still a decent value.

This is the epitome of a simple wine, almost to a fault. But it actually falls short of having any faults, its just simple. But that simple flavor is a good one, just simply tasty and gulpable. A refreshing mouthful of strawberry tinged Prosecco-like simplicity and goodness. Mass produced? Yes. Cheap? Yes. Worth it and refreshing? Absolutely. One Star.

White Wines:

Barat Chablis 2009 Drink Now-2015 $17
This basic Chablis has all the components of a classic Chablis. Oystershell and tart yellow fruits on the nose and crisp tangerine, melon and more oystershell minerality in the mouth. There isn't much more to say about this one, it is simple and straightforward, yet exactly as it should be for an inexpensive Chablis. One Star Plus.

Fevre Chablis
Bougros Grand Cru 2007
Drink Now-2030 $50
Fevre has emerged as one of the leaders of the pack in Chablis, just behind Raveneau and Dauvisat. This is one of their Grand Crus, from the vineyard of Bougros.

Classic Chablis oystershell, gravelly rocks and tart white fruits grace the nose of this Grand Cru Chablis. It is a bit hesitant but already you can see that complexity. Crisp, dry and intense with a silky, fine etching of ground oystershell minerality. Quite powerful flavors with ripe fruit flavors within, showing its depth. It is rather tight and not showing all the complexity that it likely will with time. I'd hold off on the rest of these for a while ideally, giving it a chance to unwind a bit. I'd wait 5 years and then drink this over the following 20 years (assuming no oxidation sets in). Two Stars Plus.

Marquès de Càceres
Rioja Bianco 2009
Drink Now-2012 $8
This Spanish white has a very similar nose to a white Bordeaux with a stoney, grassy gooseberry Sauvignon blanc-like character. A crisp refreshing feel to it. A simple, cheap pleasant wine. Nothing special but right up the middle, pure and refreshing. One Star.

Gerard Metz
Pinot Gris 2006
Drink Now-2013 $14
These two inexpensive wines from Alsace are from a producer with whom I was not that familiar. Yet both turned out to be nice values and good, basic examples of their respective grape varieties.

This one is clearly Pinot Gris. A waxy honeydew melon and lychee fruit nose, accented by chalk and white stones. Not as minerally as the Riesling below, more tropical and sweet, as Pinot Gris usually is. Rounder in the mouth with lower acid. A waxy, oily melon sweetness to it. One Star.

Gerard Metz
Riesling 2005
Drink Now-2015 $14
From the same producer as the Pinot Gris above, this is clearly Riesling and, while simple, it has good varietal character. Petrol and mineral white stones in the nose accent the peach fruit. Very nice, simple dry, crisp. There is a very succulent and pleasing finish of citrus and tangy minerality. Another good value. One Star.

Montbourgeau l"Etoile
Savagnin 2002
Drink Now-2025 $35
Montbourgeau is one of the better producers in the Jura region of France. This Savagnin is made in a classic oxidative style but is not a Vin Jaune, having spent less time in barrel than is required for that appellation.

This has that classic umami, chicken bouillon thing going on in the nose that the oxidized Savagnin wines of the Jura often posses and I love so much. It isn't as intense as a Vin Jaune but it is really pretty and mouthwatering nonetheless. Celery seed, aromatic root vegetable aromas also come out which is really amazing to think they came from grapes. I love the complexity of these wines. Like it should, on the palate there is a crisp acidity but with that creamy, meaty richness. No, this doesn't have the depth and complexity of a Vin Jaune, but it is definitely in that realm and should continue to get better with age. Two Stars.

Pépière Muscadet
Clos des Briords VV 2009
Drink Now-2025 $15
I've reviewed the last several vintages of this wine and it tends to be a stunningly good value. I truly believe Marc Olivier is making the finest Muscadet produced from this humble appellation in the Loire Valley of France. The 05, 06 and 07 Briords (his flagship bottling made from very old vines) were all glorious. The 08 was a bit weaker, but still nice.

This 09 is back on track and is stunning. A beautiful wine, very much like the earlier vintages with that piercing granite minerality. However, the fruit is riper in this great vintage. But not in a California Chardonnay kind of a way. It is like a hint of ripe pineapple to the stony fruit but with plenty of zesty, crisp mineral flavors that are piercing and intense. In fact the mineral component is quite pronounced with a filigreed texture to it. This is really the best of both worlds with ripe beautiful fruit as well as that stunning minerality. A great Muscadet. Two Plus Stars.

Jean-Pierre et Jean-Francois Quénard
Les Damoiselles 2008
Vin de Savoie
Drink Now-2014 $14
The wines of the Savoie in France are not well known here in the states. The appellation Chignin-Bergeron uses a grape variety, Roussanne, better known for its role in some of the white wines of the Rhone Valley, particularly important in some blends from the southern Rhone such as white Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But whereas those wines tend to be riper, full-bodied and tending toward the heavy, fat end of the spectrum, this has a classic briny minerality to the nose almost like a Muscadet. Its got fruit going on too, a sweet ripe fruit like white peaches and gooseberries. If there is any kind of similarity to Roussanne from the Rhone is a slight round nuttiness to the fruit. Very crisp and refreshing, this is really fresh, like mountain spring water filtered through bedrock but with a grainy texture, like a relief of chalky minerality. Brisk and tangy on the finish. Really quite good. This vintage is as good as any I've had from Quénard. Quite impressive value, this is a wine to enjoy over the next few years. Two Stars.

Selection Age of Riesling (Kerpen)
Riesling Blauschiefer Trocken
Mosel 2008
Drink Now-2015 $12
This German Riesling (12.5% alcohol) is a Bill Mayer Selection of wine from Kerpen, a well respected producer in the Mosel river valley. It has an interesting nose that has an almost umami, like a fried chicken crust, aroma going on over the sweet fruit. That may sound weird but its actually really savory and attractive. In the mouth this is crisp and dry with a granite minerality. Delicious and gulpable. One Star Plus.

Domaine Tempier
Bandol Blanc 2009
Drink Now-2019 $40
White Bandol is a rarity you only see occasionally in the US, and it is usually Tempier. I've made attempt to veil my adoration for the red wines of Tempier in the past. Although the price is getting a bit silly for this, it is worth a peek as it is the epitome of a Southern French white, just what you need to wash down those Moule et Frites (mussels and fries)! It is made from a blend of white grapes that most of you have probably seldom heard of like Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc and such.

Similar to a white Cassis, if you know that wine. If not, its got some Sancerre-like aspects as well, with apple, grass and hay with an underbelly of flinty minerality. Crisp and dry with lively tart fruit, hay and wool. This is just lovely and yummy, for lack of a better word. A perfect foil for Moule et Frites or a creamy Loire-like goat's milk cheese. Two Stars.

Valentin Zusslin
Gewurztraminer Bollenberg
Drink Now-2015 $13
Cheap Gewurz can be all over the map but this one is classic. A great, typical Gewurz nose of lychee and rose petals in spades. Not terribly complex but has that classic nose you'd hope for in any Gewurz and at this price range is therefore in the top echelon. Intense flavors and rich fruit coat the palate, this has that piney and sneaky acid on the back end that you don't expect as the attack is quite round and almost sweet. It probably has a tad of residual sugar but this is amply buffered by that bite on the end. Clean, rich and spicy, this is quite good for the price. I haven't had the wines of Valentin Zusslin before but this makes we want to search some others out. Two Stars.

Red Wines:

Leon Barral Faugères 2007 Drink Now-2010 $20
I've gushed over Barral's Faugeres in the past, particularly the fancier bottlings. But this humble, basic AC wine is shockingly good in this vintage! It reminds me of the 05 Jadis in its complexity, ripeness and depth. Cinsault and Grenache nose of brambly but ripe fruit, lots of spice like clove and cinnamon. Earthiness makes you know its French despite its spicy ripeness. Dense and rich flavors, meaty black fruits. There is a sweet, sappy quality to the fruit which is eyeopening yet not cloying. Just delicious! Some may find that this is too fruit forward for their tastes, almost new world, but I think its ripeness is very balanced and natural in character and has plenty of other complexity and texture. Despite its richness, this isn't a hugely structured wine so it is approachable now. The tannin that is there is silky and ripe. While it will certainly last a while, I wouldn't think this needs a long time. I'd drink it over the next decade. Two Stars Plus.

Castello di Bossi
Chianti Classico 2006
Drink Now-2015 $13
Classic Chianti nose, that dusty, earthy nose overlying a tangy red fruit and some graphite-like minerality that is almost like a left bank Bordeaux. Very silky and smooth, nothing out of place. This isn't complex but balanced and very drinkable, great with food. While some inexpensive Chianti can be quite thin and overly acidic, the ample acidity here is balanced by plush fruit and not overtly noticeable. One Plus Stars.

JL Chave 2007
St. Joseph "Offerus"
Drink Now-2020 $24
Chave is a superstar of the northern Rhone in France. His Hermitage rouge and blanc both fetch hundreds of dollars a bottle. But, as I've attested to in the past, his inexpensive St. Joseph and Cotes du Rhone are outstanding values in their own right.

This St. Joseph, from a village in the northern Rhone not far from Hermitage and Cote Rotie, is 100% Syrah and it shows. Dark, smokey aromas of earth, meat and pepper introduce you to dense, dark fruit flavors with excellent mineral intensity and acid. This is a complete wine and a great, peppery foil to a host of rich foods from steak to lamb to stews. As usual, a great value and an excellent introduction to Syrah and the wines of the northern Rhône Valley. Two Stars.

Di Majo Norante 2008
Terra Degli Osci
Drink Now-2011 $7
This is an Italian Sangiovese. Simple, pretty, fruity and brambly, with hints of spice and earthiness. Just an easy, fun, fruity drink that is easy to gulp down with pizza. While simple, it retains a sense of "Italian-ness". And best of all its cheap and widely available. I got mine at CostCo! One Star.

Bruno Giacosa
Dolcetto d'Alba 2009
Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba
Drink Now-2019 $16
I've been on a Giacosa kick lately. Even though the Barolo and Barbarescos are in the stratosphere price-wise, the various Barberas which I've reviewed recently and this Dolcetto give me a lot to love in the more human price range. Dolcetto is, of the three Piedmontese red grapes (Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto), the most forward and fruity. For the uninitiated, think of an Italianized Beaujolais. A simple, fun, fruity red to gulp down on a warm fall afternoon, slightly chilled. But don't think Beaujolais Nouveaux, think Cru Beaujolais, the meaty, chewy, complex type.

This is quite dark, smokey and peppery for a Dolcetto. Ample spices accent the dark fruit flavors which have much more depth and "seriousness" than most Dolcetto. This is brambly and wild, almost Zinfandel-like with a wild brambly sauvage character. This is a spicy, rich and meaty mouthful of strikingly powerful and dense dark fruit. This is Dolcetto? Seems more like a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo to me! Especially compared to most of the vapid Dolcetto out there. This is the best Dolcetto I've had! Who's ever heard of Dolcetto aging? Usually this stuff is meant to be drunk up quick. But this one seems like it could hold on a while. Bravo Bruno! Two Very Enthusiastic Stars.

Perrin et Fils
Côtes du Rhône Village
Drink Now-2014 $8
Perrin is a family that makes tons of wine in the Rhone Valley. This simple, widely available blend is one of their cheaper offerings but coming from a vintage as good as 2007 in the Rhone I thought it had a chance to be an excellent value. I was right!

A dusty, reglisse-like fruit and Provençal herbs. Peppery and herby, this is very drinkable with a silky texture. Not complex, but satisfying with a crisp finish that keeps it focused and not jammy like some southern Rhone wines can get these days in warm vintages. Good value! One Star Plus.

Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue
Cuvée Reserve 2008
Drink Now-2015 $13
St. Martin makes a slew of nice, inexpensive wines from the Languedoc, both red and white. They have several reds which vary in their blend a bit.

This Cuvée Reserve has a very meaty but also fruity nose, a hint of barnyard (but not off-putting), blueberry and blackberry. A rich but suave texture. This isn't terribly complex but it is tasty and rich. This isn't the best St. Martin I've had but it is nice and worth the affordable price tag. A good alternative to southern Rhone wines. Check out their Bronzinelle too. Haven't had the 08 yet but its always one of my favorites. One Star Plus.

Dessert Wines:

Broadbent Madeira
10 Years Old Malmsey
Zero Stars Drink Now-2020 $39.95
Broadbent imports a number of different Madeiras and I've had some in the past that were pretty good. This one, I can't say I'd recommend it at all. Certainly not as a value. This wine ain't cheap and yet its worse than 95% of the stuff I review here that is cheaper.

The thing that was really weird about this one was a very strange medicinal and hot alcoholic nose that was disjointed and awkward. At first I gave it the benefit of the doubt and thought it might need a little air and rest to integrate. No such luck. I tried this over several nights and it really didn't get any better. In the mouth it was also weird and angular with an almost cloying sweetness. Yes, Malmsey is typically sweet, but good Madeira has that acid and piney brightness that helps balance it. It did mellow somewhat over several days, getting more richly smokey but still quite angular, medicinal and almost chemical. This is not a Madeira I would buy again. For less money, if you want an inexpensive 10 year Malmsey, I'd prefer the ubiquitous 10 Year Blandy's. Zero Stars.

Quinta do Noval
Non-Vintage Porto
Drink Now-Whenever $16
This is another non-vintage "vintage character" port. Quinta do Noval, well known for their vintage ports, tawny ports and colheitas, has just recently released this new wine, "Black", to the US market. The name is echoed in the stark, black packaging but the name doesn't stop there. As it implies, the wine itself has a dark, smokey black personality with spicy, concentrated black fruits. It is actually quite dry as port goes, especially for non-vintage vintage character ports. It has a dry earthy finish that is almost more like an earthy Claret (Bordeaux) with a bit of residual sugar. Not terribly concentrated (like most ports in this class) but tasty and I quite like that it is restrained in the sweetness department. One Star Plus.

Warre's Warrior Porto
Vintage Character Reserve Port
Drink Now-Whenever $13
Warre's is another big name in Port, making excellent ports for centuries. This, like the Noval Black above, is a non-vintage "vintage character" port which is widely distributed and easy to find.

The character of this example is different than the Noval. Whereas the Noval tended towards the dry side of port, this is a rich, full-bodied and certainly sweet port. Deep, smokey and earthy cassis and cherry aromas widen into quite rich cassis and frambois flavors that are quite sweet, but remain balanced. If you prefer your ports on the sweeter side, this and the Graham's Six Grapes are good vintage character choices for you. If you prefer a bit more structure and drier flavors, Dow, Taylor and Noval, among others, make ports that may be more up your alley. One Star Plus.

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