Select wines in this post

Like Linus, the Peanuts character, we all have the equivalent of a blue security blanket that gives us comfort. For some of us, that’s a familiar wine. Unknowingly at first, we attach ourselves to specific varieties such as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, merlot or malbec. Then, we consciously choose specific regions or wineries, such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Argentine malbec. And after that, we lock up our palates.

When I owned Sonoma Grill, there was a patron who always ordered California chardonnay with her Friday night dinner. But not just any California chardonnay; she drank only Sonoma-Cutrer. One Friday, I left the kitchen and brought the wine book to her table. I told her it included more than 500 selections and she could have any one of the 499 that were not Sonoma-Cutrer. Panic ensued. I told her we would open one bottle at a time until she found a wine that she liked. And she would be charged for only that bottle. After five or six bottles, she found one that she liked. Then, she repeated that choice for another year or so, before I reinstated the John Foy No Drinking the Same Wine Policy.

So, consider this article your Friday night lecture—without the 500-bottle list. And I’ll make it even easier for you by noting some wines you should explore. (After all, we are on this odyssey together, right?).

Albarino is a grape that thrives in Riax Baixas (Ree-ahs Buy-shuss), the appellation in Spain’s northwest corner where the Atlantic Ocean’s damp, rainy climate gives way to warm, drier summers. Vines are trained on wires about six feet above the ground (pergolas), providing ventilation after the rains, and helping thwart mildew, rot and other humidity-loving diseases.

A few weeks ago, I was delighted by the sea salt and seashell scent of the 2015 Pazo Senorans Rias Baixas Albarino.  Its medium body delivers tasty, white fruit with mild acidity. Try this pleasing wine with your favorite shrimp dish. 88 points. Prices range from a good value $17 to a not-so-advantageous $24.

2014 Chateau de Parenchere Bordeaux Blanc

Most people see red when thinking of Bordeaux, but you’ll be charmed with a white counterpoint: the 2014 Chateau de Parenchere Bordeaux Blanc. It’s made from a blend of 70 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent each of semillon, and the little-known muscadelle. Sauvignon blanc’s grassy and thyme aromas burst from the glass. Bright lemon-lime flavors are balanced with a mild, white-peach taste from the muscadelle, and semillon contributes its soft, pear personality. Excellent balance and length, and its price, make this a must-have everyday white wine. 92 points. Great value at $15.

In October, representatives of the Lugana Consorzio, president Luca Formentini, and director Carlo Veronese, presented a selection of white wines at Manhattan’s outstanding Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria restaurant. The Lugana appellation is at the southern end of beautiful Lake Garda in northern Italy—just northwest of Verona–and is exclusively for white wine.

The wines are made from turbiana, which was thought to be a variety of trebbiano di soave, and called trebbiano di Lugana, but recent DNA testing has shown it to be a variety of verdicchio.

The 2015 Ca Lojera Lugana is pure turbiana. The wine displays pungent floral and lime aroma; rich apple and citrus fruit flavors are underlined by a mild vanilla taste. Its minerality gives length and balance. It was pleasant with an appetizer of raw Hamachi, capers and trout roe. 89 points.  Retail is a good-value $16 to $19.

Second-label Bordeaux wines are not familiar territory to a lot of wine drinkers, but they should be. Nearly all chateaus produce at least two wines: the chateau-labeled bottle and a second wine, usually made from grapes of younger vines and barrels of quality wine, but not at the level the winemaker wants for the estate wine. In good-to-great vintages, the second wine offers excellent value as it is priced two-thirds to three-quarters below the first label.

2012 Les Cadrans

The 2012 Les Cadrans de Lassegue, St. Emilion Grand Cru is a case in point. Winemaker and co-owner Pierre Seillan selects specific blocks of the vineyard to harvest and vinify for the second-label Les Cadrans de Lassegue. The 2012 vintage was wet in the spring, drought-dry in August, and the autumn harvest mixed days of sunshine and rain. Such years are referred to as a “winemaker’s vintage.”

It was also a year where merlot–the primary grape in St. Emilion and Pomerol– did better than cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Seillan blended 90 percent merlot with seven percent cabernet sauvignon and three percent cabernet franc, producing a pleasantly blackberry, earthy, and mild toasted-scented wine. Plum and pomegranate flavors, wrapped in soft tannins, makes the 2012 Les Cadrans de Lassegue eminently drinkable and immediately enjoyable. Just what second-label wines are meant to be. 88 points. Retail pricing is $22 to $36, about one-third the cost of Chateau Lassegue.

Ribera del Duero is one of the Spanish appellations that pushed Rioja to the sidelines for some wine consumers. But for others, it is unknown. Located on a northern plateau, it has the highest altitude (and some attitude) in Spain.

One of the leading wineries in Ribera del Duero is Bodegas Emilio Moro established in 1989 and now led by its third-generation winemaker Jose Moro. Bodegas Cepa 21, a new project of the Moro family, opened its doors in 2007. The wine it produces is made only of tinto fino, a local variety of tempranillo grown in the winery’s highest vineyards. Knowing the heavier style of Ribera del Duero and Moro’s legacy wines, I poured the Cepa 21 into a decanter.

In its first hour of aeration, the 2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duero Tempranillo offered a black-cherry hue, with cinnamon, and blackberry aromas, and ripe, blackberry fruit flavor. Then the expected transformation occurred as elegant blackberry, cedar and black-pepper aromas appeared and delicious blackberry, peppery fruit flavors with integrated tannins emerged. Even though the wine contains 15 percent alcohol, there was not the slightest hint of it as I enjoyed it with lamb chops and sautéed mushrooms. 91 points.  Prices range from a remarkable good value $15 to a reasonable $22.

About 70 percent of Italy’s northern Alto Adige wine region’s production is red. Two abundant indigenous grapes are schiava (SKI-ah-vah) and lagrine (la-GRINE as in rhine).


Schiava is Vernatsch in German

The translucent cranberry-colored 2015 Alois Lageder Schiava is from purchased grapes. Lageder captures its traditional cherry aroma, and cranberry and cherry flavors are stitched to a lightweight body. This schiava has an unusually long fruit-flavor with a mineral backbone. 87 points. Retail is approximately $15.

Lagrine is not easy to love. It can have brilliant acidity or bracing minerality, sometime with tangy, red-fruit like gamay, or deeper, richer, chocolate and black-cherry with an edgy, tannic side.

The 2013 Tenutae Lageder Conus Lagrine Riserva is from estate grapes in the biodynamic Magre vineyards. The wine’s dark-red complexion foretells the mix of fruit aromas running from blackberry to red plum to blueberry with a briary undertone. Its medium body carries the mix of fruit flavors exposed in the aromas girded with a mineral, limestone backbone and finish. This is not your plush wine-by-the-glass while waiting at the bar for your table. But after you’re seated, you’ll want the 2013 Tenutae Lageder Conus Lagrine Riserva with lamb shanks. 89 points.  Not yet in our market; it will retail for about $29.

There! Six new wines you didn’t know you wanted to drink! Now, put away that chardonnay and get exploring!