Over two thousand wine reviews! While most of our reviews focus on great wines under $20, we also offer reviews of luxury and collectible wines. As we are located in Philadelphia, most wines reviewed here are available via PLCB Wine & Spirits Shops in Pennsylvania. Our main reviewer is Keith Wallace, the executive director and founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia.
If I could figure out a way to turn the Wine School into a religious institution (think of it: best communion ever!), Rioja would be one of our holy lands. It’s a place where the modern and classical worlds of wine collide and fold into each other like some sort of temporal abnormality. In other words, heaven on earth.
Longtime readers will know that I seek out Rioja for them to enjoy. Montecillo is a rather large winery, and their wines are typically in the middle of the pack, quality-wise. Not a ringing endorsement, but their Reserva was my first Rioja, the 1992 vintage, I believe. Decades later, their ornate label brings a smile to my face whenever I see it. I will always love them.
On of the best qualities of this wine is it’s consistency. The Reserva has maintained it’s classical balance of flavors and textures for the past two decades. I am very happy to see this in the Philadelphia area again, and at a price that is much more reasonable than it used to be.
A few salient facts about the winery. They are one of the oldest wineries in Rioja, dating back to 1874. The founder’s son, Alejandro Navajas, studied wine in France and was one of the first to start supplying Paris with wine when most of Bordeaux’s vineyards collapsed at the beginning of the 20th century.
The winery was bought by Osborne in the early 70′s. Ever see those bottles of Osborne Port? Same folks. Winemaking hasn’t changed much since then. The only real difference is that Montecillo’s winemaker is a woman: Maria Martinez Sierra. This is a growing trend in Rioja, where woman winemakers were nonexistent not too long ago.
On to the wine itself: a very pretty bottle of Rioja with some classical aromas of tobacco and jasmine. On the palate there is a ping of cherry freshness supported by long lean tannins that open into game and pain grille along with way towards a clean finish of herbs, pencil shavings, and cranberries.
Orvieto used to be huge. I still am surprised when younger sommeliers and students don’t recognize the name. In the 80′s, it was one of those bottles that white zin lovers could relate to: innocuous, cheap and vaguely sweet. On second thought, maybe it’s good they don’t know about it’s sorted past.
Well, it’s history goes way further back than that. The wines come from the borderland of Umbria and Lazio in Italy, and they date back to pre-Roman times. The Etruscans would harvest the grapes into amphora and store them in caves they dug under the volcanic hills, where the grapes would ferment and age through the winter. From the ancient world to the medieval one, it was a famous dessert wine.
These days, though, it’s a dry white wine. The decent bottles are based on the ever-popular Trebbiano grape. The best ones, though, use Trebbiano’s local variant called Procanico along with a healthy dose of Grechetto. The really good ones use mostly Grechetto in the blends.
This bottling blends equal parts Grechetto and Procanico along with a bit of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. In the under $15 category, Salviano is one of the best producers. Their property is part of the larger Titignano estate, all of which is owned by Marchesa Nerina Corsini Incisa della Rocchetta. Her family is a famous one in the wine trade: her family is also responsible for the Super Tuscan Sassicaia.
This wine starts off with scents of wild flowers and hibiscus and a hint of gunflint. On the palate, it is light and fresh with lovely bit of fat in the middle. The classic almond note of trebbiano is in the mix, but it’s subdued. Flavors of peaches and cream take center stage, with a bit of exotic spice and fresh squeezed citrus on the finish.
This is a wine for a summer day. It would be wonderful with a simple salad of grilled zucchini tossed with olive oil and sea salt.
For a hot moment in the late 90′s, France’s Mediterranean vineyards were trendy, in particular the Languedoc-Roussillon. The good folks at Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate couldn’t rate the wines high enough, new wineries were popping up every day, and prices were going through the roof. For a wine region that was principally known for jug wines previously, this was a remarkable turn around.
The hype has cooled down since then. The big-ticket luxury wines have all but disappeared from the shelves in America. Despite a sizable drop in prices, quality has remained high. Domaine Forca Real is an example of a winery that began during those heady days, made headway into the US markets, and still manages to produce world-class wines at less than luxury prices.
Jean-Paul Henriquès and his son Cyril have created something special with Domaine Forca Real. Their vineyards are mostly old head pruned vines of Grenache and Carignan. Some newer plots of Syrah were planted in the 90′s, as well. All are terraced on hillsides of schist and loess.
The Mas de la Garrigue gets little to no oak, which is something I prefer when it comes to Grenache-based wines. For those craving sticks with their stones, I suggest seeking out their Les Hauts de Força Réal.
Enough chit-chat, let’s talk about this wine. This is a crowd pleaser, as long as your friends aren’t too trashy or too timid. This is a round and fleshy wine, medium bodied and very ripe. Aromas of sage and marjoram are followed by burnt toast and white pepper. On the palate, there is a spoonful of blackberry and melted chocolate that is followed up by a puff of tobacco smoke.
For food pairings, think pork. Smoked pork chops with rosemary potatoes will work well. You could also grill up some sweet fennel sausages and have a great time. Even some tuscan-style bean dishes will work great with this wine.
I discovered the wine company Gironde et Gascogne at a trade tasting a few years back. This is a boutique operation with two chateaux on their roster, both in Bordeaux: Château Ramage La Batisse in the Haut Medoc and Château de Belcier in Castillion.
I was impressed wit Ramage La Batisse, which is a very nice Cru Bourgeois. I strongly considered purchasing it for Bacchus Selections, but I couldn’t get the vintage I really wanted. However, it was the Château de Belcier that tickled my fancy, though. Sadly, it wasn’t being imported into the states at that point.
This wine has just entered the PLCB system at a very attractive price, so I am happy to review it.
I have always been a fan of this little known satellite region on the FAR right bank of Bordeaux. This castle-like chateau rises above the quaint town of Salles de Castillon, with about 50 acres of Merlot, with some Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and a small plot of Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils are typical for area, having a generous mixture of limestone and sandy loess, a great wine growing combination.
The wine shows burnt cedar and cassis on the nose, followed by flavors of ripe strawberry and black cherry compote. A savory note of basil is balanced with an iron core that opens up in the finish with quince and pomegranate. A pretty wine with nice delicate features, but not without gravitas. A very good purchase.
This wine is something of a mystery. There is no winery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape with the name Paul Jourdan. There was a man by that name who owned Domaine Chante Cigale from 1920 t0 1950. He even gave the winery it’s name. My guess is that this wine is a export-only wine label for Chante Cigale. This wouldn’t be the first time they have created a new brand in this way. For instance, the Favier Reserve Des Oliviers Chateauneuf du Pape came into the PLCB system a few years ago. The wine was named after the current owner of Chante Cigale, Christian Favier.
If that is the case, this may very well be sourced from the same inventory that Chante Cigale uses for their fantastic (but unavailable in the US) Extrait Rouge bottling. In any case, this wine has been in the states since the 2007 vintage with very limited distribution, mostly in upstate New York and Long Island. Each vintage gets great reviews from wine critics like myself, but no one but a very few folks can get this wine.
For food pairings, Robert Parker has been quoted as saying it pairs well with nearly any type of meat. I get his love of the wine, he singlehandedly made the region famous in America, but I am not so sure it is the perfect pairing for every meat. Older bottles are amazing with braised leg of lamb, especially if it’s finished with a touch of olive oil. A side of Provencal vegetables work very well, too. For younger bottles, though, the best pairing is red meat. And by red, I mean RARE steaks. A fillet of venison is fantastic, so is buffalo. A good old dry aged t-bone is a great option, too.
Let’s talk about the wine: It begins with layers of lush velvet. Flavors of savory fig and blackberry coulis are balanced by a quiver of tobacco and spice cutting through the wine’s ample fat. A more elegant leveling of licorice, salted chocolate, and cassis comes in the finish with a firm grip of tannins. A serious wine collector would be advised to pick up a case of this wine to enjoy over the next eight years.
This is not my first rodeo with Villa Cafaggio. When I was the national sommelier for Bacchus Selections, I was a huge fan of their Chianti Classico. It was a great balance of old world style and modern winemaking. Oh, and the label was awesome, too. It’s one of the great values for Tuscan wines under $20. I bought up all I could. I even let our customers buy some of it. I know, I am a saint.
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cortaccio is the winery’s Super Tuscan. Most of the vines were planted in their Panzano (Chianti) vineyards in 1986, replacing old vine Canaiolo. Additional planting happened in ’91 and ’95. With the average age of the vines are now over 25 years, harvests are only a few tons per acre, even in warm years. Ripeness is pushed to the limit, with the grapes harvested just before the Autumn rains. It’s aged in new French oak for at least a year and a half.
You want a steak with this wine. A simple meat and potatoes dinner is the best option here. Maybe some creamed spinach on the side. Maybe. For our vegetarian readers, I don’t know what to suggest other than a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio. Not exactly a balanced meal, but it’s an awesome pairing.
This starts out like a classic Pauillac: brooding aroma rife with burnt cedar and black tar. In the glass, it turns into a syrupy bruiser. On the palate, the wine is full bodied with tightly structured tannins over a super-ripe body. Deep concentration of fruit flavor and dark chocolate that has a deep mineral backbone to hold it up. The tannins remain soft but increasingly powerful. The age of the wine has allowed it to express some more complex flavors, with hazelnut and orange zest taking hold in the finish.
A unique style of Sauvignon Blanc that typically is referred to as “Fume Blanc” that saw it’s popularity peak in the nineties. You know, last century.
That said, this is a fantastic example of this style, offering a much more modern spring of juicy acidity and zero creaminess. We are using it at the school to show the difference between malolactic fermentation and oak aging.
Outside of education, it’s a surprising food-friendly wine. It works very well with roasted chicken with lardon and brussel sprouts. Another great pairing is a pan-seared pork chop with shiitake mushrooms. This wine loves white meat and savory sauces, especially if they are a bit salty.
Enough about the food, let’s talk about the wine.
The aroma is a bucket of spice, with green vanilla, toasted coriander, and fresh ginger taking prominent positions. On the palate, fresh key lime and mango meld into a hoppy grapefruit and apple skin profile. The herbs and spices come back in the finish, with just enouch racy acid to create a overall sensation of minerality that fades away into a wild flower finish. Very nice.
This wine was fermented and aged in older French oak casks. The Sauvignon Blanc is blended with two lesser known of the varietal’s kin: sauvignon gris and sauvignon musque. The grapes are sourced from Oak Hill Vineyard in Chalk Hill, a small AVA in the Russian River Valley. Oh, and did I mention this is yet another winery owned by Bill Foley? When will that guy slow down?
Moscato has been a popular bubbly for centuries, but the last few years has seen it’s fame skyrocket in America. It’s one of the best gateway wines: it’s bubbles and grapey sweetness is an easy entry point for new wine drinkers. This shouldn’t be surprising. Once a generation, wine finds a new audience, and that audience always demands a bit of sweetness. The last time was in 1984, when the most popular wine (with over 11 million bottles sold) was Riunite Lambrusco. It was the first Italian wine most Americans had ever drunk.
Moscato has a place on every table, not just the grape rookies. It’s a fantastic wine for authentic Thai specialties like Massaman Curry. It works wonders with Korean food, too. A personal favorite is Korean Soft Tofu with Kimchi. Vietnamese Pho is another great option. Good ole Texas BBQ is great, too, as long as you bring the heat. Moscato loves the chili pepper.
The wine is honey and acacia flower with a bit of frothy jasmine on the attack. It moves toward a creamy jackfruit and mango punch and fresh citrus in the finish. Sweet and bubbly, for sure, with just enough complexity to keep it interesting.
The Coppo winery was founded in 1892 and has always been a major producer of Moscato d’Asti. Piero Coppo was the first winemaker, and his four grandsons are now running the business. A member of the fourth generation, Max Coppo, is now the head winemaker. Max makes fantastic Moscato, but also has branched out into making very good Barbera d’Asti and Gavi La Rocca.
This is a delicious wine styled to be both plush and pretty. First is the rich ruby color with glass-staining extraction. Then the aromas of red berries and tarragon traced by a whiff of black pepper. The fruit keeps up the action on the palate, with plum and raspberry the most predominate flavors. A savory note of wet clay and rusted farm equipment keeps the wine from going simple. An element of lemon oil and spice moves into the finish. The fruit keeps on coming.
There is just enough varietal character in this wine to be put into rotation at the Wine School. It’s high quality and good price point makes it a perfect candidate for our Wine 1o1 classes. At the price the PLCB are selling it for right now (under $15) you’ll start seeing it on Philly wine lists, too. That price will shoot up in a few months, but even at $20/bottle, the wine is a great choice.
This wine is farmed fully biodynamically and fermented only with wild yeast in large oak vats. The Merlot is aged in mostly new French oak barrels and blended with small amounts of Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
One key point of information is not mentioned on the label: this wine is sourced from Casa Lapostolle’s Apalta Vineyard in the Apalta sub-region of Colchagua Valley. It is a beautiful forested region in the foothills of the Andes, just a few hours south of Santiago. Only six wineries are permitted to have vineyards in the region; the vast majority of the hills are protected from all further development.
The winery is the passion project of Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle, a member of the family which owns Grand Marnier. Since 1994, she has had international wine consultant Michel Rolland under contact. Which is why you don’t see any other Michel Rolland wines being made in Chile: she has him under a non compete contract (and why he has worked on so many Argentina winery projects recently).
An enduring mystery in the American wine market is why Paso Robles is still undiscovered wine country. After all, it’s one of the best spots in Cali for both both good value and luxury wines. Any place that supplies me with good $8 bottles and awesome $80 bottles is my kind of wine region.
Still, very few consumers are in on the secret. Wineries are reacting to this lack of exposure by trying something new. Instead of branding their winery as a single entity with multiple offerings, somies are doing the reverse.
For instance, Hope Family Wines names most of their wines as separate and unique entities: Treana Winery, Candor, Austin Hope and Troublemaker. Each label offers only two wines, mostly just a white and a red. It’s an interesting gambit in which their wine can become well-known while the Hope Family brand remains obscure to all but a handful of wine geeks.
The tactic is working, especially since many of their wines are interesting blends that don’t fit into any per-determined niche. For instance, Treana Red has earned itself a well-deserved following, despite it’s atypical blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
The wine is an inky black with an aroma of liquorice and blackberries. It’s a big wine with broad but delicious flavors. Smoked vanilla and lush tannins roll over sweet oak notes; rich textures evolve into a distinct scent of roasting game over a fire pit. The finish turns from sweet cherry into spice.