2010 Los Vascos Sauvignon Blanc

I’ve had a few vintages of this one and it has always been a good choice for the money. Long a fan of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (and given the broad distribution reach this one has) I was hoping it would once again highlight why Chile is an area to be exploring further. Did it? Read on my friends…

Price: $10.99 via Pasternak Wines (pdf)*

What They Said:

2010 Los Vascos Sauvignon BlancPer International Wine Cellar “Bright straw. Spice and herb-accented aromas of citrus zest and green apple, enriched by a deeper honeysuckle nuance. Dry, taut and linear, offering dusty lemon and grapefruit flavors, along with a suggestion of melon. Shows good clarity and closes with fine cut and lingering spiciness. I like this wine’s uncompromising character. ” 88pts – International Wine Cellar

What I Think:

(13%) Pale greenish yellow in the glass. Big grassy, lemon nose. Big and tropical on the palate with bright flavors of pineapple, grapefruit and peach. This one is lively and fresh with an herbed, spiced mineral acidity that keeps it bright and refreshing throughout. This all leads to a zesty citrus finish that is clean, focused and persistent. Available for as little as $8 retail. Given its broad availability this one is worth grabbing if you don’t mind your wines aggressive or should you ever find yourself in a pinch…

Wine Geek Notes: 20,000 cases made

Rating: Buy It

*This wine was received as a press sample.

2010 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc

Much like the Bonny Doon Vin Gris this Veramonte has long been a favorite of mine. The 2008 vintage was the first to be a staple in my summer drinking lineup and the 2010 has once again insured that it will stay as such moving forward. Need to hear more?

Price: $8.99 @ K&L Wines2010 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Located alongside a creek that runs from high in the hills of El Mauco, Sauvignon Blanc vineyards at Veramonte are managed with air tunnels through the canopy, to preserve airflow and with specific canopy adjustments to manage sunlight all to retain freshness and aromatics. Carefully controlled fermentations in the winery also maintain the wine’s vibrant fruit and aromas. The wine is entirely fermented in stainless steel, never touching oak, so that its freshness and lively aromas and flavors.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) Pale to clear straw in color. Citrus and stone fruit on the nose. Grapefruit and racy acidity greet you on the palate with lemon and lime joining in. This one is clean, fresh and juicy with a stony, mineral quality emerging on the mid-palate. It remains vibrant and refreshing through a lasting, dry, crisp finish. A long time favorite in my household this one disappears in mass quantities come summer time. I appreciate its dependability from vintage to vintage as it has yet to disappoint which is rare for a wine that retails for <$10. Worth seeking out.

Rating: Buy It

*I paid for this wine with my very own wallet and will happily do so again…

Tasting the wines of Montes Alpha

Now I said Montes Alpha like that was the name of the winery. It is not. Vina Montes makes wine under a variety of “Montes” labels including the Classic Series, Limited Selection, Folly, Cherub and more. The Alpha, as the name implies, is their top rated offering and certainly it’s most well known. Now I’ve been lucky enough to try many quality offerings from Chile and given that when these samples arrived I was anxious to give them a try. How did they stack up?

Montes Alpha Wines

  • 2008 Montes Alpha Syrah ($18) – (14.5%) Bit of green on the nose with dark fruit (black cherry) notes and briar spice. Initially creamy and juicy, and a bit sweet, with loads of blueberries on the palate but quickly met with nice acidity and tight, tart tannins. Barrel oak and spice lead the finish followed by tart cranberry flavors and tingly tannins that linger on. As it is drinking today I can’t quite get to the 90 points this one garnered from the Wine Spectator. That said with a few more years to integrate this one has the potential to punch well behind its weight…
  • 2008 Montes Alpha Carménère ($18) – (14.5%) 90% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon – Nice deep purple fruits, floral notes and spice on the nose. On the palate a superb structure is readily apparent on entry to the palate and lasts throughout. Warm, plush blueberry and plum flavors greet you on the palate. This one is a fruit forward but balanced offering as some acidity emerges before creamy barrel spices take over and lead to a smooth, effortless finish with black pepper and gentle tannins that lingers nicely. Certainly not your typical Carmenere (lacking the green pepper and smoky components I am so used to) but an enjoyable wine to say the least. Drinking very well right now and will certainly last for quite a few more years should you have the patience.
  • 2008 Montes Alpha Chardonnay ($18) – (14%) 100% Chardonnay – Pale gold in the glass the nose here started muted which is always a sign that the wine is too cold to move forward. Returning after giving it ten minutes to warm I found buttery notes with fruit; predominantly banana with muted lemon notes. The palate starts creamy from the get go and the white fruit flavors (pear and apple) are hard pressed to emerge through. A decent acidic structure does manage to maintain balance here until late in the mid-palate when it briefly spirals before subsiding to a creamy, vanilla finish that lingers with lemon notes and a tinge of floral spiciness. This is certainly made with a new world chardonnay palate in mind. If that is you (it’s not me) I would trust in the 88 points this one got from both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast rather than this review…
  • 2008 Kaiken Corte ($12) – (14.8%) 80% Malbec, 12% Bonarda, 8% Petite Verdot – Kaiken is the Argentine off shoot of the Montes Alpha team from Chile and this one in particular is a relatively new offering. Super dark purple in the glass with cherries and floral notes on the nose. The initial weight and mouth feel are quite nice. This one starts juicy then turns earthy and dry on the palate. The edges are hot and slightly harsh with some mineral, graphite notes emerging before a barrel driven finish of cedar and spice emerges. While a unique blend and drinkable there are many better offerings out there for the money.

These stacked up quite well! Even better they seem to be broadly available so your chances of finding these should be pretty good. You can start at your local Costco where these seem to be regularly stocked. I know I’ll be looking for the Carmenere next time I am there! How about you? Have you tried any of the Montes Alpha wines? Any other Chilean favorites to share?

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as press samples

Summer Stash: A load of Sauvignon Blanc…

The summer brings warm temperatures (okay well maybe not so warm this year) which tend to solar power my appetite for crisp, refreshing white wines and Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites. As you’ll see below I had a chance to drink quite a few (all samples) over the last six months. What was my overall take? There is a lot of very good Sauvignon Blanc available for less than $12 and for a man like me on a strict budget that is good news. All of the prices below are suggested retail and you can expect to find these cheaper at your local wine outlet. So what have I been drinking?

a few from Chile...

The Veramonte is one of my favorites and is a bottle I buy regularly (last reviewed the ’08). This ’09 vintage once again offered solid value with nice lemon, vibrant minerality and great acidity. An easy wine to like. The Cono Sur was quite nice as well and was a bit fuller and rounder than the Veramonte. Definitely a more food friendly wine which again offers very good QPR. The Los Vascos (the Rothschild joint venture in Chile) is likely the most widely available and makes a fine choice for the $8 or so it will be going for.

a few more from Chile...

Here we see the price points start to jump a bit. Is it justified? The Casa Silva was certainly unique starting with a slight spritz and showing some lingering (talc like) spice on the finish but I found it more tight and biting than crisp. The Valdivieso while dramatically different from your traditional Sauvignon Blanc. Yet it was more a fun, challenging and enjoyable experience than it was a pleasure to drink. The Haras showed tight acidity with stony minerality and layers of lemon flavors. While nice it came across as a bit closed. The Undarraga was enjoyable with beautiful honeydew notes and a flinty finish. The Ventisquero was the most memorable of this lot. A nice mouth feel and a rotisserie of flavors on the mid-palate (predominately cantaloupe) leading to a lingering finish with white pepper notes. If I were to buy one of these the Ventisquero would likely be my pick.

and some potential values...

The Dashwood (’08 review) is another ultra popular value choice. I found the Morro Bay to be a bit uninspired. That said the Jaja de Jau was a pleasant surprise. Super light (11.5%) but bright, clean and crisp. Given you can pick this one up for around $7 it is a winner; simple and enjoyable.

There you have it. Did you have a favorite Sauvignon Blanc this summer? (PSA: my favorite has yet to be revealed) Have you had any of these? Either way would love to hear your thoughts via the comments below.

*as indicated above these wines were indeed received as a press sample. That said I have purchased many bottles of the Veramonte using my very own wallet.

2008 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc

2008 Veramonte Sauvignon BlancPrice: $8.99 @ K&L Wines imported by Huneeus Vinters LLC

What They Said:

Per wine.com “Captures the pungent, alert character inherent to Sauvignon Blanc. This is a peppy wine with spiky tropical and green-fruit aromas and flavors. It’s a mash up of citrus and nettles, with a controlled, fairly long grapefruit-driven finish. Modest in price, but the real thing.” 89 Points, Best Buy, Wine Enthusiast, March 2009

From Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar: “Pale straw. Lively aromas of grapefruit, lime, white pepper and herbs. Fresh on the palate too, displaying vibrant citrus and orchard fruit qualities and good mineral snap. Finishes dry and delineated, with the lime element repeating.” (Mar/Apr ’09)

What I Think:

After sampling the Veramonte Primus as part of the Wines of Chile Online Tasting, and with higher temperatures on the horizon, I was reminded of my love for this one which I have often referred to as the most refreshing wine I have ever had. The color is of pale straw. On the nose you get citrus aromas on top of a mineral base and some floral notes. On the palate you are greeted with loads of fruit on a nice stony backbone that give way to a long, dry, crisp grapefruit and lime finish. This wine is fresh (but not in a mowed grass way like you get from New Zealand) and vibrant throughout. I already grabbed a case, my only warning is this may be too much tang for some so you might want to try a bottle first before you invest further. For those of you who can’t find it or prefer shopping via the internet this one is available via wine.com.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/Viognier

2008 Panilonco Chardonnay/ViognierPrice: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per the bottle “This complex, elegant white combines the crisp, fresh citrus flavours of Chardonnay with the rich apricot and honeysuckle character of Viogier to produce a smooth, ripe, vibrantly fruity wine. Delicious on its own, this wine is the perfect partner to seafood, fish, chicken, pasta dishes and salads.”

What I Think:

Had a few tips on this wine, that is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Viognier, from readers and wanted to give it a try. This one reminded me of a boxing match. In the first round the underdog, viognier, coated the mouth with full bodied yellow fruit flavors. Round 2, in the mid-palate , was taken by the Chardonnay showing some a lighter frame and some more vibrant fruit. The finish was a slugfest with each wine competing to rise above the other. Overall these two grapes more clashed than integrated but in a pleasant way. The result is a draw. At $4 you get what you pay for. I’m drinking these bottles to find those that I think are worth double that so I’ll pass on grabbing another bottle. That said, you should feel free to do so if it sounds of interest.

Rating: Skip It

2006 Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Palm Bay Imports

What They Said:

Per wine.com on the 2006 Santa Rita 120 Cabernet Sauvignon: “Surprisingly powerful and rich in fruit for its price, this offers black currant and cassis over youthfully rustic tannins. Give it some pork.” -Wines & Spirits “Value Picks”

What I Think:

The Wine & Spirits write up perked my hopes on this one. That said quaffability didn’t say much about this but one word can be pretty powerful!

With my expectations significantly lower I popped the cork. The nose is full of nice medium fruit with a bit of dust and spice. Not unlike the Carmenere without the smokiness. On the palate plums prevail before fading to a finish that is attempting to be velvet like with just a hint of tannin. All in all, a perfect quaffer. At this price point I prefer it to the Chalk Creek, you may not. If you prefer fruit this Chalk Creek should be your choice but if you prefer something a bit more diverse give this one a go.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2006 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo CarmenerePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “Notes of dark plums and spice, generously framed by toasty American oak with a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture. Excellent with fresh light dishes based in meats, vegetables and fresh herbs. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheeses such as Gouda, Gruyere or a dry goat cheese.”

What I Think:

Quaffability has a nice write up here and I likewise enjoyed the 2005 version and considered it a work of perfection at the price point. So as you can expect with a new vintage in stores I approached a new bottle with a healthy dose of skepticism.

In a nutshell? A notch below the ’05. That said it had a lot of room to work with. You still get chocolate, mint and spice on the nose. The tongue greets you with the smokiness and fruit that you may remember well before finishing on a spicy, cocoa backbone that lives on in the mouth. It may be splitting hairs but the ’06 version seems less integrated, less fruit on the nose and throughout, a hint of green/farmyard on the nose and palate. This may sound like a downer so let me lift it back up, this is still a winner. I’ll be buying bottles at a time all year long until the ’07 arrives and we repeat this exercise.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere

2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo CarmenerePrice: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits

What They Said:

Per wine.com: “Looking for an amazing value, delicious and new wine? This wine was what Bordeaux was originally primarily made from, now its found almost exclusively in Chile. This is a delicious example of this incredible variety, which combines the best of Cabernet and Merlot – Concha y Toro makes the best examples of this unique variety in the world.

Dark and deep red. Attractive aromas of dark plums, blackcurrant and chocolate, with hints of coffee and toasted American oak. Notes of dark plums and spice, with a generous touch of toasted American oak and a soft and well structured mouthfilling texture.

Enjoy with fresh light dishes based on meat and vegetables. Also a good accompaniment to ripe cheese.”

What I Think:

Scary, where to start? I have 36 wines waiting for posting. I thought this Carmenere might be a good place to start. This bottle took a ride with me to Tahoe some months back. Given that I came straight home from the office and hopped in the car to drive 3 hours straight through I certainly needed a glass when I was on the other end. It certainly disappoint. Nor the next night when it went up a rather impressive set of palates and wines.

As always, this wine was smoky on the nose with dark fruits and a hint of chocolate. In the mouth it was bold, full bodied and spicy with a nice woody/vanilla lingering finish with. All this time and it’s still the one. It’s like being at the top of the best seller list for a year. There’s no wine at Trader Joe’s that I would rather buy. You should too…

Rating: Bulk Buy

2005 Panilonco Carmenere

Price: $3.99 @ Trader Joe’s imported by Evaki

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Carmenere is more obscure than the fifth Beatle. The sixth grape of the famed five Bordeaux varietals, usually compared to Petit Verdot for the sturdy qualities it adds to Cabernet blends, Carmenere is not even grown in Bordeaux anymore. It does have a new home in Chile, where it’s blended into Cabernet and also bottled solo on occasion and noted for its smoky/earthy flavor profiles.

Carmenere makes for some interesting wines in Chile — but this is not one of them. The Panilonco starts of with aromas of dirt and cherries. It’s not unpleasant but a little plonky… some green aromas come along with some cooked, and there’s a whiff of something vaguely chemical as well. The good news is that the off aromas mostly dissipate after a couple hours.

In the mouth the wine is more clean, with soft tannins and nice texture . The finish is short – more like a memory than real flavors.

While it’s not bad for the price, and I’ve no regrets about pulling the cork on this one, I won’t be running out for another bottle anytime soon.”

What I Think:

I grabbed a bottle of this when I was out shopping to get some more Rocking Horse. Giving the price tag on those I was focusing on some low cost alternatives to round out the case and this caught my eye. Given my infatuation with the Casillero del Diablo and my disappointing experience with the Calina I was somewhat curious to see where this one would fall in. By the way the name of this wine translated appears to be “Chief of Lions”.

The first thing I noticed is that all three were from different regions within Chile. The Casillero del Diablo had loads of fruit which I was expecting to be the norm where as the Calina didn’t show me much of anything. I could see the terroir angle in my head. Opening this one you immediately realize that it wouldn’t align perfectly with either of the other 2. On the nose this bottle was earthy, there were aromas of cherries but they were a bit muted. On the palate these were a little clearer and held before the earthiness, dust and dirt, came back into the picture. The finish seemed heavily barrel influenced. This wine is certainly worth the price of admission and if it didn’t have to go head to head with the reigning champ it may have been worthy of some accolades. Given the $4 price tag I did ponder whether the extra $3 spent on a bottle of the Casillero del Diablo was worth it. The answer was a resounding yes. Dig in the couch for loose change if you have to.

Rating: 12th Bottle