What’s Hot and Where to Buy
HI-TIME WINE CELLARS
Hi-Time Wine Cellars
250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa, CA
hings are good. No, actually things are really good if you are a wine lover. There has never been a time like this. A happy confluence of know-how, abundance and variety offer the consumer a dazzling array of fantastic wine choices from around the world.
Improvements in vineyard management, winemaking and identifying which grapes grow best in particular soils and regions has led to exciting offerings from the New World. Some of these areas are relative newcomers, having burst onto the scene over the past 20-30 years. Many of these winemakers have learned their craft through formal education and/or gaining valuable experience while apprenticing in different parts of the world. Upon returning home, these newly minted vignerons established their style. Less bound by the rigid norms of the past and open to new techniques, they bring creativity and innovation to an industry bound by tradition. Established wine regions have honed their skills through trial and error over the centuries. A prime example would be the Burgundian monks who carefully studied individual plots of land, establishing a hierarchy and final classification of those vineyards according to quality. In Europe, many Old World producers have upped their game and quite literally cleaned up their act. By investing in their vineyards and cellars, they are crafting wines to exacting standards which is especially apparent in difficult vintages.
Less bound by the rigid norms of the past and open to new techniques, [winemakers are] bringing creativity and innovation to an industry bound by tradition
Another positive development has been the movement away from herbicides and pesticides, instead using cover crops, animals for weed control and employing composting instead of chemical fertilizers. Sustainable, organic or even biodynamic winemaking are terms used with increasing frequency. Th ere has also been a focus on a stricter selection of grapes at the sorting table with lesser berries making it into second wines or discarded altogether. Finally, many are fermenting with indigenous, naturally occurring yeasts and bottling wines with little to no filtration and fining.
All these developments result in a purer expression of the fermented grape and move us closer to the real potential and range of flavors available in a glass of wine. And isn’t that what well-made means? Not every glass of wine will be transformative — and that’s ok! Sometimes, we just want a simple Tuesday night drinker to go with our pizza or pasta. Other times, the beginning of a romantic evening or special occasion is enhanced with a particular bottle. And on occasion, a dinner featuring food and wine pairings shared with friends or family may help create that perfect synergy which is truly memorable. Those are times we cherish, times we look forward to and times which become a part of our life’s experience.
With a nod to these factors and the realization that grapes are an agricultural product subject to the variability of weather and vintage variation, I have compiled a list of suggested wines to buy in 2017. While certainly not exhaustive, these offerings showcase wines which will provide pleasure across a range of price points. Wines at entry level prices are ready to drink now while those with higher price tags can be cellared and will improve with age.
Napa and Sonoma Valley
In an area blessed with abundance and quality in most vintages, California’s renowned vineyards in Sonoma and Napa consistently produce a bevy of highly regarded wines. With three excellent vintages in a row (and more to follow), consumers can choose wines from 2012, 2013 and 2014 with confidence. Th e consistency of quality, depth, texture and freshness of these vintages is remarkable. Of particular note, the world’s best-known wine critic, Robert Parker stated, “2013 may turn out to be the finest vintage I have experienced in tasting north coast varietals over the last 37 years.” Th at being said, consumers should not shy away from the excellent 2012’s or 2014’s, but would be well-served to stock up on the superlative 2013’s while available.
2013 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $35
Shockingly good for the price, this wine is a true steal. Juicy, balanced and well-integrated flavors of blackberry, black cherry and currants are framed by oak resulting in a wine which over delivers.
2014 Kistler Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain $65
Rich yet balanced by brilliant acidity, Kistler is a California Chardonnay which is highly sought after and regarded as one of the finest. Citrus, stone fruit, spice and light toast are enticing and refreshing.
2013 Patria Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville $90
Patria is a hot new project showcasing perfectly ripened fruit in the hands of an excellent winemaker. Anthony (Tony) Biagi, former Winemaker of Plumpjack wines and still a consultant at Cade Winery, is the mastermind behind Patria. Bringing years of experience to the table, Tony crafts this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in a rich style that we love. Th is is one which can be enjoyed now or cellared for years to come.
2012 Levy & McClellan Proprietary Red “Ampersand” $250
A brilliant wine from Bob Levy and Martha McClellan, two Napa Valley veterans who first gained exposure at Harlan Estate where Levy is the Director of Wine Making. While not inexpensive, this offers entry into the winemaking pedigree and style of Levy and at a fraction of the price for Harlan. Th is wine is dark, voluptuous and concentrated with amazingly supple, filigree tannins which are a hallmark of Levy’s style.
Th e ancestral home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is renowned for its quality, but unfortunately also for the high prices many of the wines garner. Th e reality is worldwide demand continues to outstrip supplies. Th is has especially been the case over the past few years with hail and other weather-related issues reducing production in the vineyards. Th e good news is the quality of the remaining fruit has been excellent. 2014 brought ideal conditions to most of the region. As of this writing, an abundance of wines from the 2014 whites are readily available. Th ey are compelling, with a combination of perfectly ripened fruit, richness and purity with sufficient acidity to keep the wines fresh and bright.
2014 Thevenet St Veran “Clos de L’Ermitage Sainte Claude” V.V. $20
A superb white Burgundy, full of wonderful flavor and available at a surprisingly affordable price. Th is Chardonnay is deep lemon-gold in the glass with exotic aromas of acacia and linden along with warm pears, peaches, and apricots. Rich and full-bodied on the palate, the wine reveals ripe impressions of fleshy Bartlett pears, Golden Delicious apples, white peaches and light citrus. Satisfying and savory, an undertow of limestone minerality keeps the wine fresh.
2014 Domaine William Fevre Vaulorent Premier Cru $65
Deep and pure with citrus and stone fruits augmented by chalky minerality. Th is approaches the quality of wine produced from Grand Cru vineyards at a Premier Cru price. Fevre’s offerings are getting harder and harder to get as those in the know increasingly reach for these high-quality wines. A tremendous example of what can be accomplished with the Chardonnay grape in Chablis.
2014 Louis Jadot Vosne Romanee Les Beaux Monts 1er Cru $150
A classic rendition of Pinot Noir; there is excellent freshness and vibrancy to the pure, red berry fruits. Nuances of spice and earth are enveloped within a dense, concentrated framework which will begin to really strut its stuff at 5-10 years of age.
Loire Valley Whites
These wines are famously food friendly and surprisingly aff ordable. Look for wines from Sancerre or Pouilly Fume which off er a version of Sauvignon Blanc which is clean, crisp and dry with less of the stridency than its New Zealand siblings. Th ink of them as an acoustic version versus the heavy metal notes of the Kiwis. Chenin Blanc based wines from the Loire are also undervalued. Off ered in a range of styles from dry to dessert, these can be strikingly complex wines to explore and enjoy as they evolve in the glass.
2014 Lucien Crochet Chet Sancerre $25
Clean, crisp and dry with floral and citrus notes. Th is is the most widely available of the three core Sancerres offered by Crochet and offers everything one could want in an affordable Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire.
2014 Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Clos de la Bretonniere $30
Maverick winemaker Jackie Blot uses indigenous yeasts to ferment this brilliant Chenin Blanc to dryness. Ripe orchard fruits including pears and yellow apple are followed by chamomile and brilliant acidity. A fantastic wine and terrific bargain.
2013 Nicolas Joly Savennieres Coulee de Serrant $100
Coulée de Serrant is a small vineyard of such quality that it is also its own appellation located within Savennières. Th is 17 acre organically farmed parcel is renowned as one of the greatest pieces of land in the Loire Valley. Originally planted by Cistercian monks in 1130, the average vine age is between 35-40 years of age with the oldest being 80 years old. Th e dense red schist soils give this wine its renowned concentration and structure. Th is is one of the most powerful and incredibly complex white wines in the world.
Move past the mass-produced, heavily marketed sparkling wines and experience the fine Champagne being produced by grower-producers. Th e wines are fantastic, offering greater value than the ubiquitous labels found in every supermarket. With these, you are avoiding the markup used to establish and maintain international marketing campaigns.
J. Lassalle Brut NV Cachet D’Or $35
Th is Doppelgänger for Veuve Clicquot offers terrific Champagne at a price which belies the quality in your glass. J. Lassalle farms 11 hectares of Premier Cru vineyards in Champagne and composed of 60% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. Th is open-knit, vibrant Champagne shows flavors of ripe pear, apricot and raspberry fruits with a toasty, racy finish.
Pierre Peters Brut Reserve Grand Cru BDB NV $55
This brilliant wine from respected vigneron Pierre Peters is a non-vintage blend of Grand Cru Chardonnay which offers delicious pear and apple along with chalky minerality. The toasty brioche notes, brilliant acidity and fine bubbles offer a compelling sparkler with great length at a price that is more than reasonable.
2006 Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne $125
Th is fantastic 2006 offers stunning energy, focus and precision. Ripe yet fresh, this may be the best value in a tête de cuvée Champagne on the market at this time. Delicious now, this wine will age for many years, gaining complexity and rewarding those with patience.
Spain battles South America for the best values in the world. Young, easy drinking wines are priced in the common drinker price points while many producers also offer wines with extended aging until deemed ready for release. It is simply amazing that one can find well-made wines which have been stored in the producers caves for 5-10 years or more which sell for $20-$40 per bottle. Look for fruity Grenache-based wines from Priorat or Crianzas from Rioja or Ribera del Duero. For wines with extended aging and complexity, wines from Rioja labeled Reserva or Gran Reserva bottled in 2004, 2005 or 2010 are compelling.
2014 Gotes Priorat $20
Th is crowd-pleasing wine is a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Carignan with a full body of red fruit and spice. Juicy and lush with palate-staining goodness, this is one to enjoy on its own or with robust dishes.
2012 Abadia Retuerta Seleccion Especial $25
Th is wonderful Tempranillo-based wine from Sardon de Duero, Spain has landed in Wine Spectator’s Top 20 picks for two years running. Th is speaks to the ongoing quality and value of this offering. Round and pleasing on the palate, this is made in a modern style with generous, ripe fruits yet with sufficient freshness to have you reaching for another glass.
2005 La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva $45
Rioja Alta has been making wine in Spain’s most famous wine region since the 1800’s. From the great 2005 vintage, this stunner has been stored in Rioja Alta’s cellar until ready to drink. Th is is a seamless wine with complex, savory notes due to extending aging in oak barrels. It boasts perfect balance with great purity of fruit matched by wonderful non-fruit flavors and is great with lamb and many other foods.
2011 Vega Sicilia Valbuena $145
From the most famous and iconic producer in Spain, Vega Sicilia produces this remarkable Tempranillo-based wine which competes with the world’s greatest wines. Tremendous purity, complexity and ageability make this one to hold onto — if you can keep your hands off of it! With an exacting dedication to quality, Vega Sicilia embraces the Burgundian notion of terroir, blending many plots into a quilt of flavors that caress and warm the soul. Red and dark fruits, earth, leather and spice beguile in this beauty.
Italy is a prolific producer with a seemingly infinite number of varietals and wines, yet several categories have vaulted to the top and become international staples. Th e wines of Chianti have had to overcome the poor reputation of the cheap plonk introduced in the ubiquitous straw adorned bottles (ironically named the fiasco). Fortunately, today’s wines from the region boast very good quality and are food friendly with good acidity to match tomato-based dishes. These are reliable picks which are usually quite affordable. Brunello’s di Montalcino are one of those wines which boast tremendous quality while remaining remarkably affordable versus wines of comparable quality throughout the world. Th ere are still some 2010’s available in what has been called the “vintage of a generation.” These wines have been widely sought after for a good reason. Dazzling aromatics with abundant fruit, structure and complexity are Sangiovese’s hallmark from the hilltop town of Montalcino. Grab some of the remaining 2010’s while you can. Super Tuscan’s have also become a very popular category of wine since their introduction in the ‘70’s. These wines broke the mold as well as the regulations of the Italian authorities by using grapes which were not authorized for use under appellation law. Often comprised at least in part with international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, these wines are full-bodied and often built to age. Pioneers and well-respected wines include Ornellaia, Tignanello and Sassicaia.
2012 Felsina Chianti Classico Riserva $25
From fifty-year-old vineyards, this pleaser displays Sangiovese’s varietal typicity with cherry, tobacco and earth in a fuller-bodied version of Chianti. A no brainer.
2010 La Fiorita Brunello di Montalcino $55
Expressive aromatics of strawberry, dusty cherry, tobacco and earth beckon. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied with ample structure and built to age.
2014 Tenuta San Guido “Guidalberto” $40
A great way to taste the expertise of Sassicaia without spending $180 to sample their flagship wine is to enjoy their second wine, “Guidalberto.” This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot offers an approachable and affordable introduction to the house style of Sassicaia.
2013 Antinori Tignanello $90
Th e great Tignanello Super Tuscan is comprised of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This icon is crafted by the Antinori family and offers a complex bouquet of cherries, currants, spice and herbs. Boasting power and richness, this will age effortlessly for years.
These truly are great times to be a wine lover. Th ere is a whole world of satisfying and exciting wines to choose from, and this list is only a starting point. For further guidance, seek assistance from your local fine wine retailer whose staff will be happy to offer additional suggestions. In Southern California, family owned Hi-Time Wine Cellars offers an incredible selection of wines from around the world with an experienced and knowledgeable staff. You can also follow me on social media at @gary.faust