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

  • An Introduction to The Poor Man's Guide and My Wine Reviews
  • What's New at the Wine Tastings Guide? - New Articles
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

An Introduction to The Poor Man's Guide
and My Wine Reviews

Here it is, the first issue of The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine! I am a lover of fine wine at every level. As long as a wine is natural, pure and has personality, it has worth. While some of these great wines are quite expensive, they don't all have to be. It is possible to find great wine that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Finding a great bottle of wine for $1000 is easy. Finding a great bottle of wine under $20 may seem impossible, but it is not! Part of the fun is searching out these little-known wine bargains. But the best part is enjoying the wine, whatever you paid for it.

The goal of this newsletter is to introduce you to wines, producers and even regions that you may not have thought about. You can drink well on a budget. Each month I will bring you a variety of wine reviews from around the world, focusing on inexpensive wines that pack a lot of punch for their meager price tag. In addition to a review of the wine, I will try to teach you a bit about the grape, region and/or producer from which it came. Also, in each issue I will try to include a discussion of some current topic in the world of wine to open your eyes and your mind to the world of wine as a whole.

Each issue will include a brief description of what my ratings mean (see below), but for a more in depth explanation so that you can understand my taste and put the tasting notes into context, see both the newsletter sign-up page as well as My Philosophy on Fine Wine.

Enjoy the newsletter and wine reviews! I hope they are entertaining and helpful in your quest for affordable fine wine. If you have questions about wines, regions, producers or other wine topics you don't see addressed here or on the website, please Contact Us and let us know! We will make very effort to personally address these questions.

What's New at the Wine Tastings Guide

The Wine Tastings Guide has been growing by leaps and bounds! Since starting just months ago we have built up quite a significant source of information for those interested in learning more about wine and wine tasting. From the basics of how wine is made to flaws you can find in wine such as a corked wine, we have ample information to get you comfortable with wine. In addition to tips on How to Host a Wine Tasting, we have new sections devoted to Food and Wine Pairing and Cheese and Wine Pairing. Be sure to check out our website and all it has to offer! If you notice any topics we haven't covered, be sure to let us know!

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.
A wine with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up. 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:

Caves de Bailly
Brut de Charvis NV
Drink Now
Given that I love sparkling wine and real Champagne has become more and more expensive and hard to find good values, I make an effort to search out great sparkling wine values from other regions. Crémant de Bourgogne, as they are called, can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. Since some of the same grapes are grown in Champagne and Burgundy, notably Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are definitely some similarities between the wines. This one has a bit of Aligoté thrown in as well. This wine is made by the Methode Champenoise, meaning that it is the same basic method by which Champagne is made, and the actual percentages are 60% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay and 20% Aligoté.

Bright apricot and citrus notes with hints of yeast and dough are ample in the nose of this wine. It is somewhat simple, but pretty. The flavors are crisp and intense with white fruits (think peach) and stones. Lively and flavorful, this doesn't have the depth and complexity of a great Champagne, but it is a very nice sparkling wine, particularly as an aperitif or with food. At its low price, this is also a very good value. One star.

Gosset Champagne Excellence Brut NV Drink Now
It can be quite hard to find even decent Champange for under $30 these days. Even the big houses' basic non-vintage brut Champagnes are not well over that range. Therefore, true value Champagne is hard to come by but this fits the bill. This grower makes big, rich Champagne, a la Krug. But while the later is so expensive now that most of us cannot afford to drink it often, the wines from Gosset, located in the village of Ay, are still reasonable.

This wine has a great nose of rich, yeasty, doughy, buttery goodness. The mouth is also rich with a thick mousse but also has bright, vibrant, almost citrus-like, fruit flavors. Very tasty and a great value for Champagne! After tasting, we enjoyed this with some spicy Vietnamese seafood pho and it was delicious! Two stars. Imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, FL.

Jules Bertier Caves de Grenelle Premier Cuvee Blanc de Blancs NV Drink Now
This is an inexpensive sparkler made by the Methode Traditionnele from white grapes in the Loire Valley. It has simple, bright fruit aromas and bright flavors. Light to medium-bodied with somewhat clunky bubbles, this is a simple, unoffensive, fruity easy quaffer. Nice value bubbly for an aperitif. Overall, I prefer the Brut de Charvis above. One Star.

White Wines:

Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières "Les Rosiers" 2004 Drink Now
This wine comes from a tiny appellation in the northern-most part of the Loire valley called Jasnières. It has been much celebrated in the distant past, but for some reason is not well known today. The best producers, of which Bellivière is definitely one, still make great wines here from 100% Chenin Blanc. This particular wine is from their younger vines. Their "Calligramme" is their older vine, and more expensive, version. Yes, this is a bit more expensive than some of the other wines I am reviewing, but it is still a relative value considering how good it is.

This already has a complex nose of marzipan, apricot, peach, hay and wool. Young, but already showing nuance and complexity. The mouth is quite lush! Rich honeyed chenin fruit, ripe peach, chalk and marzipan are all on parade. Full bodied, velvety and quite long. This is not as linear and nervous as I'd expect from the appellation, particularly from young vines. This is actually quite ripe and almost has a touch of sweetness, although well balanced by sappy fruit and acid. Delicious. A bit more like a Vouvray Demi-Sec or even Alsatian Pinot Gris than a Savennières, for example. I don't know how this will age, but I suspect it can improve for many years and hold on longer if well stored. Two Stars Plus. Importer: LDM Wines Inc., New York, NY. Louis/Dressner Selections.

Bénédicte de Rycke Coteaux du Loir
"Cuvée Tradition" 2005
Drink Now
The Loire Valley in general is an under-explored area for most US wine drinkers. Even more under-explored are the small sub-regions like Savennières and Chinon. Even more unknown is the tiny appellation of Jasnières and the surrounding Coteaux du Loir. It is the region surrounding a tributary of the Loire, the Loir river, and is the northernmost part area of the Loire. This wine is 100% Chenin Blanc. The domaine is owned and run by a woman by the same name and her husband

A bright floral nose of honeysuckle, peach and granite is followed by intense grapefruit, lemon seeds and stones in the mouth. Light and ethereal, yet steely and vibrant. This is definitely not for those seeking big, buttery, and oaky California Chardonnays. This is the antithesis of that, a vibrant, natural wine of the Earth. Wonderful. Two Stars. Importer: USA Wine Import, New York, NY. Jon-David Headrick Selections.

Château d'Epiré
Savennières Sec 2005
Drink Now
This wine from Savennières in the Loire Valley of France is made with 100% Chenin Blanc. This ancient domaine produces two wines that are imported to the US. This one is the basic sec. The other is the Cuvée Spéciale mentioned below.

The nose of this one is more primary with pure, bright pink grapefruit and honeyed chalk and stones. The flavors are quite bright and intense with a mineral imbued acidity. Linear and intense, this is very young but promising and should just get better, as any good young Sav should do. Outstanding potential in this vintage and the quality to price ratio for this wine is about as good as it gets! Savennières tends to shut down after a few years but this pretty ripe. I think it will be approachable young but get better with age. Two stars plus. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Château d'Epiré Savennières
Cuvée Spéciale 2004
Drink Now
This wine from Savennières in the Loire Valley of France is made with 100% Chenin Blanc. The Cuvée Spéciale comprises the oldest vines from the best section of vineyards owned by this domaine which is one of the oldest in the region.

It has a heady nose of ripe fruit, earth, truffles and minerals. Layers of complexity you can wallow in and which keep changing. Powerful and long, this is the real deal! The mouth is still very young but shows both great breed as well as great potential for the future. While it is less austere and linear than some Savennieres at this age and is approachable now, this will only get better with time. Two stars plus. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Schloss Lieser Riesling
Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett 2006
Drink Now
This was my first experience with wines from this domaine, located in the Middle Mosel river valley, and they were certainly promising. Kabinett refers to the ripeness level of the grapes in the german Pradikat system. Kabinett is the lowest level, meaning that these wines tend to be less sweet and have a more bracing, ethereal character.

This Riesling, from the Juffer vineyard in Brauneberg, had quite a honeyed nose with some stoney minerality. The mouth was bright, pure and sweet with apricot and white peach flavors. Linear, young and primary but excellent bright, pure and clean flavors. Already approachable but should get better. One star plus. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections, San Marcos, CA.

Schloss Lieser Riesling
Niederberg Helden Spätlese 2006
Drink Now
This is a Riesling Spätlese from the same producer as above but from a different vineyard. Spälese is the next level up the ripeness scale above Kabinett.
This one was a bit more hesitant, closed up and only showing a bit of darker minerals and a hint of petrol. While this is clearly riper, with a fatter mouthfeel, it is not necessarily much sweeter. Just rounder and more palate texture and glycerine. Quite nice but not showing as much yet. One Star Plus and will certainly deserve a higher score if it opens up some with age. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections, San Marcos, CA.

JP & JF Quénard Vin de Savoie Chignin 2006 Drink Now
The Savoie region of France is at the foothills of the French Alps, near the Swiss border. It produces several types of wine, mostly white. This wine, called Chignin, is made with 100% Jacquèrre grapes from old vines.

A fresh nose of almost waxy melon and flowers. Simple but pretty. In the mouth, this is a bright attack followed by a round, full-bodied, almost nutty fruit flavors. Complete and balanced. Not terribly complex, but this is excellent for the price. A great chilled, warm weather wine. One Star. Importer: Charles Neal Selections, Richmond, CA.

Trewa Sauvignon Blanc Maule Valley Chile 2006 Zero Stars Drink Now
This is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Maule Valley in Chile. It has a hesitant nose of simple gooseberries, as is typical for Sauv Blanc. The mouth has ripe grapefruit and gooseberry as well. This is very simple and also a bit disjointed. Didn't hold my interest. Mediocre. Not bad, just not memorable. Zero Stars.

Red Wines:

Castello d'Albola
Chianti Classico 2004
??? ??? $13
Chianti Classico is in the Tuscany region in Italy. The primary grape used here is Sangiovese although other grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and others can be blended into the wine.
Unfortunately, this bottle had a very slight hint of corkiness and I did not have a replacement available. A "corked" wine refers to an all to common flaw in wines which is caused by contamination by a chemical called TCA which is a product of certain molds. It is generally considered to be a contamination of the cork which then affects the wine in bottle. You can read more about this and other wine flaws and how to spot them on my Wine Aroma and Corked Wine pages. While the flavors seemed to have a dusty and leathery medium to full-bodied feel to it, with the corkiness present, it was hard to judge accurately. Judgement reserved. Importer: Zonin USA Inc., Charlottesville, VA.

Gnarly Head Cellars
Old Vine Zinfandel
Lodi 2006
Drink Now
This inexpensive wine from California is a nice value! This is a Zinfandel, grown in Lodi, south of Sacramento and east of the Bay Area. Aromas of freshly crushed, brambly wild berries are complimented by a bit of dusty earth, plum and licorice. The mouth is medium bodied with crunchy berry flavors with a decent acid balance. The fruit is forward, a bit jammy and sweet, but very drinkable and fresh. The only criticism I'd give is that it is a bit short on the finish with only a bit of alcoholic heat lingering. Otherwise, this is a nice, New World value for everyday drinking. One star.

Mas Carlot
Costières de Nîmes
"Les Enfants Terribles" 2004
Drink Now
This wine is from an appellation, the Costières de Nîmes, which is technically part of the Southern Rhône Valley, although it is sometimes considered part of the adjacent Languedoc region. This wine, named for the winemaker's children, is a 50/50 blend of Mourvedre and Syrah and about half of it is aged in new oak.

This has an enticing nose with smokey, toasty earth, coffee, vanilla and ripe black fruits reminiscent of blackberry and bing cherry jam. A bit modern for my taste with an almost Bordeaux-like character from the oak treatment, this speaks more of oaked Syrah than Mourvedre or the south of France. However, it has rich, dark black fruits with a firm, chewy tannic structure. Someone simple and monolithic but rich and flavorful nonetheless. Cherry, blackberry and licorice are spiced with coffee from the toasty oak. The finish is quite nice, with a gentle, fruity aspect that lingers. All in all a very tasty wine, if a bit modern in style. The wife, who tends to like a bit more fruit and oak than myself, was quite impressed by this wine, saying that she would not be disappointed had this cost three times as much! Definitely a lot of wine for the price tag! One star. Importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, DC.

Domaine de Nerleux (Régis Neau)
Clos des Châtains
Vieilles Vignes 2004
Drink Now
Saumur-Champigny is an appellation in the Loire Valley which grows Cabernet Franc. The nose of this wine is quite herb-tinged with black fruits and a bit of earthy, meaty elements. The mouth is quite rich with blackberry and cassis flavors followed by earthy but ripe tannins. This wine has good heft and depth but is relatively simple at this point. Very tasty but I'd like to see it gain a bit of complexity with age. If it does, my score will seem conservative. One Star Plus. Importer: Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York, NY.

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