Events

Annual Champagne Tasting

Our amazing Champagne Event is back again for another year! Once again, we will open some truly remarkable Champagnes from France and allow you to taste a wide range of high-end options. Begin your holiday celebrations early, with us, at each of our locations! We are spreading the events out over different days to provide many options for your busy holiday schedules…or for those lucky few who can attend multiple!

Date: 12/12/2019 Location: Vienna

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Wine and Cheese Pairings for National Cheese Day

There are several national days that involve cheese in some form or another. There’s National Grilled Cheese Day, National Cheesecake Day, and National Macaroni and Cheese Day; however, there is only one day devoted just to cheese itself: National Cheese Day! On June 4th, cheese lovers will celebrate the coagulation of milk proteins, which we call cheese. As a neighborhood wine shop that sells premium cheese from around the globe, we can’t help but address the somewhat polarizing, sometimes confusing, and somehow amazing topic of wine and cheese pairing. Below we will include links for mild, medium, and bold cheeses with wine pairings, so grab our collections and snack and sip along with us!

A great general rule of thumb for pairing wine and cheese is intensity. How mild, medium, or bold is the cheese, and matching that with a mild, medium, or bold wine can often be a great starting point. It may be helpful to think of this like a duet. If one singer is too loud or expressive it will overshadow the other, thus losing the original intent of the duet.

 

For mild cheeses such as the Delin Brillat-Savarin Triple Cream out of Burgundy, France, wines that are not overpowering are great choices. This cheese is a brie that is extremely soft, buttery, and delicious with mild flavors. With this texture, we may not want to select a wine that is full-bodied and sweet because your mouth may feel full of syrupy cheese. Also, acid in wine makes your mouth water, so with a low-acid wine, the creaminess of the cheese may be overpowering, leaving you feeling like you have dry mouth while trying to eat peanut butter. This is also why tannic wines (which dry out your mouth) tend to not be paired with creamier cheeses. With regard to flavor, this might be a bit more subjective, but when pairing wines and cheese sommeliers and cheese mongers try to make selections that bring out flavor without overshadowing the other component of the pairing. For example, in the Brillat-Savarin brie, there is a hint of sweeter honey that could work extremely well with wines that express mild fruit flavors. Here, think red apples and honey or slightly sugar-coated strawberries. The components on their own are great, but together they can bring out something new and exciting. For these reasons, we hope you can try some crisp Rosé such as Renegade’s Columbia Valley Rosé. This wine has notes of citrus and fresh strawberries that match the intensity of the cheese, add another subtle dimension to the pairing, and the acid of the wine will leave your mouth feeling similar to what it was like before you even ate the cheese. Another great option is a bright sparkling wine like Cava! The apples, pears, and brioche quality of the wine may make the pairing feel a bit like an apple tart with some honey drizzle on top. Like the acid in the Rosé, Cava is relatively high and its bubbles will allow some of the more creamy/chewy nature of the cheese to be more easily broken up and swallowed without that peanut butter effect. As is the case with any of these pairings, experimentation is always encouraged, and you may find something unexpected that arises out of creative combinations!

 

As the intensity of the cheese flavor increases, we recommend that the intensity of the wine increases as well, and Louis Guffanti’s Maremma Pecorino is a great example of cheese with a bit bolder flavors that can be matched by a bit of a bolder wine. Have you heard the phrase ‘what grows together goes together?’ Many sommeliers will approach this idea from the perspective of climate, soil types, topographical features, etc., but an additional way to view this is from a more cultural lens. In certain areas of the wine world, such as parts of Italy, grapes are tied to a specific location or region. For example, if you take a trip to the more rural areas of Piedmont, you will not be drinking Cabernet Sauvignon or even other Italian varieties like Corvina or Aglianico. Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto (among a few other red varieties) have established themselves as rooted in the Piedmont countryside. These are expressive and rich grapes that are then matched by expressive and rich foods and cheeses. So, in a sense, they do grow with each other as the wine and food plays off of each other. This is absolutely the case in Tuscany where Sangiovese (the main grape in Chianti) is king. Guffanti’s Maremma is more silky in texture allowing a more tannic wine (like Chianti) to match the structure of the cheese without drying out your mouth. There is also a freshness and tangy component to the cheese that meshes excellently with the crisp red cherry notes of Chiantis such as those produced by Dievole or Darno. Additionally, if you want to accentuate this dynamic between the tangy and the tart, Nebbiolo is another great pairing option for this cheese. Massimo Rivetti and Rocche Costamagna produce Nebbiolos from Piedmont that are not overly structured (meaning very high levels of tannin and acid) and those cherry notes become a bit more sour and even more cranberry-like. We recommend trying both combinations and seeing which your palate prefers!

 

Moving to France for another cheese with medium intensity, we have Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre. This cheese has some mellow nutty flavor that works well with its other tangy and particularly citric components of the cheese. The cheese is from Southwestern France and one could certainly pair this with red wines like Madiran or white wines from Juracon, but, here, we want to capitalize on some of those citric qualities of the cheese and amplify those. The Loire Valley is home to Sauvignon Blanc that has these lemon and lime characteristics along with being some of the most mouthwateringly pleasant high acid white wines in the world. While not as creamy as the Brillat-Savarin, the texture of the cheese lends itself to a high acid companion like Sancerres from André Neveu or Jean-Christophe Mandard’s Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine, to the west of the Sancerre region. These wines will add that lemon zest, gooseberries, and passion fruit that carry citric notes and will expand the tasting sensations of Jean Faup’s Bethmale Chevre in a way that almost demands another bite.

 

Finally, we come to bold cheese, and what better bold cheese to focus on than Blue! Defendi Baffalo Blue from Lombardy, Italy uses the same milk as Buffalo Mozzarella, (which refers to water buffalo, not the American bison), and it’s soft, rich, and creamy with a distinctive bite from its blue veins. This cheese carries relatively intense flavor, so a wine like a Valpolicella Ripasso from Northeast Italy will have the concentrated fruit flavors and rustic appeal that can bring out almost a sweetness to a cheese that is considered to be on the more funky side. The wine is relatively acidic and not too tannic, so it will not cause your mouth to dry out, allowing you to move onto the next bite with ease. Another category of wine that is often paired with more aggressively flavored cheeses is sweet wine. Think of this as a bit like putting honey on a piece of stinky cheese. It softens the funk, while not overpowering the original flavor of the cheese. Wine such as Lodali’s Moscato d’Asti have lower alcohol content but higher sugar content. The wine is highly aromatic, floral, fruit-forward, and its flavors add another dimension to the cheese in a way that does not amplify the cheese’s funk. Another fantastic option for a wine that stands up to this Baffalo Blue is Port! Like Moscato d’Asti, Port has a high sugar content, but its flavors can be more red fruit focused with raspberries and cherries. There can also be a nutty component to Port (particularly Tawney Port), and one can think of the combination of this Baffalo Blue and Port to be similar to having a bite of salad with blue cheese and candied walnuts. The sweetness and nutty component balances out the funk of the blue cheese while adding an added layer of complexity to the whole bite. This combination will be bursting with flavor, and we hope you can give it a try and let us know what you think!

 

There is so much more to say on wine and cheese pairing, and that is what we are going to do! Be on the lookout for more posts, wine and cheese recommendations, and other great combinations that can take your snack, appetizer, or even entire meal to another level. As noted above our pairing recommendations are linked below, and let us know what you think!

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Last May Weekend: Vienna Exclusive Content

Venture to Veneto, a northeastern Italian wine region rich in history and storied wines. Once known as a major contributor to the “wine lake”, when nondescript bulk wines flooded the market, the Veneto has now upped its game, perfecting winemaking practices, controlling yields and turning out exceptional wines like high-alcohol Amarones and the sparkling wine Prosecco. Prosecco is made with the Glera grape which was formerly known as Prosecco. The name “Prosecco” was restricted to protect the regional place where it is produced, and the grape name was changed.

 

Learning a little label lingo will help you spot wines of quality and style that you’ll soon love!

  • Classico – indicates the wine is from the original historic zone
  • Superiore – wine typically of a higher alcohol percentage and longer aging time
  • Ripasso – a type of wine made with partially dried grape skins that have been leftover from fermentation of Amarone or recioto

 

NV Villa Jolanda Prosecco 187 ML (single serving size)

Villa Jolanda’s Prosecco charms everyone who raises a glass with its delicate fizz and gossamer puffs of pink grapefruit and white peach. Served throughout the Veneto as an elegant aperitivo. The single-serving size is perfect for thank you gift baskets and when you’re on-the-go. 

Retail: $4.99, Our Price: $3.99

 

NV Clara C Fiori di Prosecco

The name Fiori di Prosecco (or Prosecco Flowers) signifies only the best grapes of Glera from the heart of the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore region of Veneto, Italy. With a natural richness and signature aromas of acacia flowers and rose petals, it’s a premier sparkling wine. 

Retail: $16.99, Our Price: $12.99

 

2018 Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay

Aromas of white acacia flowers and jasmine, with a citrus bouquet of pineapple, grapefruit, orange, apple, pear, and mango accompanied by a light note of almonds. Fresh and pleasant thanks to its sustained acidity. Well balanced softness and tanginess, making it an inviting and intriguing Soave wine. 

Retail: $14.99, Our Price: $10.99

 

2017 Scaia Corvina 

Floral aromas of red roses and pansies with fruity aromas of sour cherries, plums, blackberries, and raspberries. Well balanced, tangy and fresh and intense with flavor. A tribute to the soils of Veneto, “Scaia” means a chip of stone from limestone or chalk.

Retail: $16.99, Our Price: $10.99

 

2016 Cantine di Ora Amicone

Amicone is made from Corvina grapes, but are dried on the vine for a shorter period and not on mats like Amarone. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak for 8 months. The result is an easy-drinking full-bodied red that has lots of rich soft, smooth texture.

Retail: $19.99, Our Price $13.99

 

2017 Begali “La Cengia” Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 

Amicone is made from Corvina grapes, but are dried on the vine for a shorter period and not on mats like Amarone. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak for 8 months. The result is an easy-drinking full-bodied red that has lots of rich soft, smooth texture.

Retail: $21.99, Our Price: $14.99

 

2015 Begali Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico

A luxurious Amarone made with dried grapes of Corvina, Corvinone, and Rondinella. Great body, intense and vigorous, aged in oak 36 months. The bouquet is broad, with notes of dried flowers, plums, and oriental spices. The taste is savory, warm, balanced, with aggressive tannins and a lingering finish.

Retail: $45.99, Our Price $41.99

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Last May Weekend: McLean Exclusive Content

For the Thrill of the Grill (Pop the bottle & fire up the grill)

Celebrate Spring with some of these great wines, specially selected for whatever you decide to cook this weekend. Enjoy, have fun with the family, and drink good wine!

 

2019 Domaine de La Navarre Cotes de Provence “Sacrifice” Rose, FR

A modern style blended from Grenache, Tibouren, Mourvèdre, ripe with notes of rose petals, fresh citrus zest, and a crisp minerally finish. A great choice for sharing with friends while waiting for the grill to heat up. 

Retail: $19.99, Our Price: $15.99

 

2019 Mokoroa Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ

The certified sustainable vines are planted on glacial river terraces in the Awatere Valley that are cooler and windier than the rest of Marlborough. Reduced yields lead to more intensely flavored fruit of bright nectarine and gooseberry on the nose. On the first sip, you notice the fresh acidity before being hit by loads of luscious fruit – passion fruit, gooseberry, nectarine, grapefruit. 

Retail: $21.99, Our Price: $17.99

The quintessential NZ style that goes with pretty much anything that swam in the ocean.

 

2017 Romain Duvernay Domaine du Cabane Cotes du Rhone, FR

An exceptional value, made from 40-year-old vines, it boasts medium-bodied black fruits and underlying spice with a silky finish.

Retail: $15.99, Our Price: $12.99

There’s just something about a good spicy Rhone that makes pork chops and bbq chicken even better.

 

2016 Chateau Fleur Haut Gaussens Bordeaux Superieur, FR

“What an exuberant blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon filling in the blanks. This wine brought a smile to my face at first sniff and carried the feeling through dinner. The 2016 Chateau Fleur Haut Gaussens is a blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Malbec. There is initially a soupçon of small reduction on the nose, although this soon blows away to reveal attractive blackberry, cedar, and woodland scents. The palate is medium-bodied with grippy tannins on the entry that lacquer the mouth. But there is also plenty of freshness here, very focused with impressive body and density on the finish. What a superb Bordeaux Supérieur! This is worth hunting down.” 90 pts, Wine Advocate 

Retail: $18.99, Our Price: $12.99

We know vegetarians like a good cookout! We suggest a roasted vegetables flatbread or  Portobello burger, but we’d also suggest some of our delicious pheasant or elk sausage (sorry, we just can’t help ourselves)

 

2017 Desparada “Suitor” Petite Verdot Blend, Santa Maria Valley, CA

A blend of 60% Petite Verdot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Cabernet Franc from four Central Coast vineyards, this bottling shows intense fruit and hearty spice on the nose, including black cherry, mace and mocha aromas. Juicy black-currant flavors are spiced by cocoa and tart black raspberry freshness on the high-acid palate. 368 cases produced.

Retail: $43.99, Our Price: $37.99

Of course, you could enjoy this on its own, but then what would that beautiful lonely ribeye do?

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Happy National Wine Day!

Since 2009, wine lovers gather with friends and family around glasses, bottles, and decanters to celebrate National Wine Day every May 25th! The United States has an incredibly rich and surprisingly long history when it comes to grapes in the States, and to even scratch the surface is difficult in a limited blog post; however, we want to highlight a few vines that have taken root in our country and have changed some of the landscape of the wine world. Links are provided below to check out the wines mentioned in the post, and we hope you enjoy!

 

For the past few thousand years, it’s been a general trend that wherever people went they brought grapevines. This is the case for civilizations dating back to the oldest known winery in Armenia to the Phoenicians, to the Egyptians, and, of course, to the Greeks and Romans. Though separated by thousands of years, this is also true of those who came to what is now the United States. The Spaniards were likely the first to bring wine to the U.S. with the British following closely behind. Unless you’re really into Muscadine, international, and primarily French, grapes were the vines of choice even for early Americans.

Early Roman wine amphora, from Ancient History Encyclopedia: https://www.ancient.eu/image/5531/amphorae/

There are hundreds of different grape varieties grown in the United States, but some truly have impacted the international wine market in profound and enduring ways. Here, let’s focus on three grapes: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.

Zinfandel

What’s the first place you think of when you think Zinfandel? Maybe California? Maybe Napa, Lodi, or the Sierra Foothills? In many people’s views, these areas are producing the best Zinfandel in the world, but it wasn’t always this way. Until recently, people thought of Zinfandel as being native to the United States until Carole Meredith PhD, a world-renowned vine geneticist, traced the grape’s origins to Croatia. Under the name Tribidrag, Zinfandel was extremely popular as far back as the Middle-Ages. This grape that does very well in hot climates eventually found a new home in California during the 19th Century. When conditions are right and when these grapes can retain their acid and balance in the resulting wine, what happens with well-crafted Zinfandel is a fresh fruit experience that also carries a powerful elegance into the glass. In honor of National Wine Day and Zinfandel’s accent to California wine greatness, why not try some wine from some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the country? The Original Grandpére Vineyard in Amador County is still producing grapes for Andis Wines from vines planted in 1869. These wines are incredibly complex, aromatic, and rich without succumbing to the oak-filled jam-bombs that some younger and less-traditionally made Zinfandel can become. We can’t wait for you to try this wine!

Carole Meredith, from Decanter: https://www.decanter.com/premium/decanter-interview-carole-meredith-406792/

Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay

Next, let’s turn to some Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and see how these grapes have captivated the American wine market. Carol Meredith is back at it again in proving the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon to be Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, thus the name Cabernet Sauvignon.  Bordeaux has been the epicenter of Cabernet Sauvignon ever since the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. To essentially show off for a world exhibition in Paris, Emperor Napoleon III had Bordeaux’s wines classified into five tiers or ‘growths.’ The first growth Bordeaux wines were all Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends and carry names with them that still resonate to this day: Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafitte, and Chateau Haut-Brion with Chateau Mouton moving up in ranks in the 1970s. These were considered the best producers of Cabernet on the planet (with some political motivations involved as well), but as we will see shortly, they were eventually met by American challengers.

Wine map of Bordeaux, from Wine Folly: https://shop.winefolly.com/products/bordeaux-wine-region-map-poster

Chardonnay has a similar relationship with prestige and French origin before making an impact on the United States. The area of Eastern France known as Burgundy is where Chardonnay first grew and continues to grow. The most expensive white wines in the world come from this area that is rooted in winemaking tradition. Montrachet, Meursault, Chablis, and Corton-Charlemagne may be familiar names due to their quality, limited availability, and high price tags, but Chardonnay has spread throughout the world developing a variety of flavors, winemaking techniques, and blends that make it one of the most planted grapevine in the world. Just like Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, however, Chardonnay from Burgundy would be challenged by American winemakers.

 

For those of you who saw the late, great Alan Rickman in Bottle Shock, you may be familiar with ‘The Judgement of Paris.’ In 1976, Wine industry innovator, Steven Spurrier, set out on a quest to pit some of the best Cabernet and Chardonnay from California against some of the best wine from Bordeaux and Burgundy. With all French judges, all blind-tasting, the American wines came out on top. Ever since, Napa Valley and Northern California have produced some of the most sought-after Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. We want to highlight two fantastic wines that exude a sense of place in California. The first, Brassfield Estate Winery’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that is concentrated, full of plum and blackberry flavors, and smooth tannins from its aging in partially new French oak barrels. This new vintage is absolutely delicious. For Chardonnay, the 2016 Jax Y3 Chardonnay retains that more restrained Burgundian style and is not overly oaked or overly buttery. This is a profoundly balanced wine that represents Napa Valley Chardonnays extremely well. If you are interested in the aforementioned wines, please check out the links to our selections below, or give us a call!

Tasting at the Judgement of Paris, from Time: https://time.com/4342433/judgment-of-paris-time-magazine-anniversary/

Lastly, we want to honor this year’s Memorial Day. We hope you have the opportunity to toast those who are serving, those who have served, and those who we have lost through their service. Happy National Wine Day, happy Memorial Day, and Cheers!

Selections from McLean

Selections from Vienna

Selections from Great Falls

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A Chameleon Grape: Chardonnay

Quick Shop of Chardonnays at a Wine Outlet closest to you:

Chardonnays in Great Falls

Chardonnays in McLean

Chardonnays in Vienna

 

Showing Chardonnay so Love

A.B.C. can stand for a lot of things. For TV, it’s the American Broadcasting Company. For gum, it’s Already Been Chewed. From our parents, it could be Always Be Careful. For wine drinkers, A.B.C. most often stands for Anything But Chardonnay. Undoubtedly, Chardonnay can be a polarizing grape for wine consumers around the world, but here we want to show that this grape has a lot to offer for people who enjoy a variety of different white wines.

Often referred to as a ‘chameleon grape,’ Chardonnay can take on many different textures and flavor profiles depending on where it’s grown and how it’s made. We often associate California Chardonnays with big, round, oaky, and buttery descriptions, as if you were drinking the ambient smell of a movie theater: buttered popcorn! Many of us at the Wine Outlet love these round delicious Chardonnays, but, because this style is generally popular with certain wine drinkers in the United States, many consumers come to associate Chardonnay with solely this profile. Below we’re going to look at a few different styles of Chardonnays, and, if you are an ABC wine drinker, we hope you’ll give this ‘chameleon grape’ another try! Please see the end of the post for links to all of our featured wines!

 

Leaner Chardonnays

While there are dozens of ways to describe Chardonnay, here, let’s focus on the body of the wine and fruit profile, as these can lend themselves to thinking about both winemaking techniques as well as climate. First, we have the ‘leaner’ style of Chardonnay. So, what do I mean by this? In general, this refers to the wine’s body, or, if it’s more helpful, the wine’s weight. How mouth-filling is it? Does the wine feel full, almost like whole milk, or does it seem angular and slim and a bit more like skim milk? Great examples of these more-lean styles can be found in Burgundy. Chablis is famous for making mostly un-oaked, crisp, and high acid Chardonnays that almost naturally want to be immediately swallowed. Chablis is one of the most northern areas for growing wine in France, and this has a direct effect on the fruit profiles of the wines. With regard to the fruit, apples are a common descriptor for Chardonnay, and in Chablis, the apple notes are a bit more tart, like green apples. While there are exceptions to many rules in wine, usually the cooler the climate, the higher the acid, and thus the tarter the fruit. These wines tend to be literally mouthwatering as their higher acid causes us to salivate, which makes these wines pair excellently with food or even just consumed as an aperitif.

To discuss the various other areas of Burgundy and the nuances of the wines that come out of certain appellations should definitely be saved for another post; however, let’s take a look at another great example of White Burgundy. Aside from the most northern parts of Burgundy (excluding Chablis), Chardonnay tends to thrive in the southern part of the Cote de Beaune and all throughout a region of Burgundy called the Maconnais. Within the Maconnais and slightly west of the city of Macon is the wine appellation Pouilly-Fuissé. The wines from Pouilly-Fuissé are 100% Chardonnay, and can vary in style, as the wine growing area is relatively large for Burgundy. While wines from this area usually see some noticeable oak influences, oak usage here tends to be much lower than in some areas of California, for example. The green apples notes shine through in Pouilly-Fuissé, and relative to other areas of the world, these wines can have a lean and crisp style. One example of this crisp style of Chardonnay from this area is Domaine Thierry Drouin’s 2018 “Plaisance” Pouilly-Fiussé. This Chardonnay is bright and refreshing, and the winemaker refers to this as an excellent aperitif. This wine would serve as a great start to your next meal or a great pairing with fresh seafood.

From Wine Folly: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/guide-to-burgundy-wine-with-maps/

 

Medium Chardonnays

Moving across the pond and flying over the states that don’t like that reference, we end up in California where many medium-bodied Chardonnays reside. As described with wines from Burgundy, climate is extremely important in terms of how the fruit of the wines expresses itself in the glass. In warmer parts of California such as the Central Coast and even parts of Napa Valley, the apple characteristic of the wine begins to move from more tart green apples to more yellow apples and pear notes. This relationship between more tart fruits and those that are riper in flavor is one that is very dependent on acid levels in the wine, and malic acid is largely responsible for this tart green apple flavor. Actually, the word ‘malic’ is derived from the Latin ‘malum’ meaning apple, so I guess there’s one reason taking Latin in high school wasn’t a total waste of time!

All of this acid discussion must lead us to a brief description of what winemakers refer to as ‘malolactic fermentation’ or ‘malolactic conversion.’ Yes, I know you aren’t in chemistry class, but stick with me because this is crucial to understanding what Chardonnay might be right for you! The process of malolactic conversion is always a factor in crafting Chardonnay, and this process occurs in nearly all red wines. In short, the malic acid that is present in all wines is converted to lactic acid via a bacterial process that’s too long too explain. This is a naturally occurring process, and it is up to the winemakers to either halt the process or let fully play out. You can use the term ‘full malo’ for buttery Chardonnays that have gone through full malolactic conversion. As you might image, as more malic acid turns to lactic acid, some of the more tart green apple notes will give way to notes of butter, cream, or yogurt. This also increases the viscosity of the wine giving it a slight fuller mouthfeel. This doesn’t mean that all Chardonnays that have gone through full malolactic conversion are big round balls of wine butter, but it will add some fullness and weight to the wine. A perfect example of wine that has gone through full malolactic conversion but is also not too heavy is the 2015 “Opening Act” Timbre Chardonnay. This wine has only seen neutral oak aging (meaning the oak will not impart flavor into the wine), and it retains much of that Burgundian ‘slickness’ while have a slightly fuller body. As this wine has five years of bottle age on it, you may also find notes of honey and nuts that become present through time in bottle. This is a fantastic wine with layers of flavor, and I highly recommend it as a nice middle-weight Chardonnay from Santa Barbara.

Chardonnay vines near the Timbre winery. From: https://www.timbrewinery.com/

 

Round Chardonnays

As we’ve seen, climate and winemaking choices directly impact both the flavors and the weight of Chardonnay, but we must discuss two more elements that can turn a lean Chardonnay into a round, buttery, and oaky one: lees and oak. So, what are lees? Without going into too much detail and hopefully without grossing anyone out, lees are essentially the dead yeast cells that died because they ran out of sugar to eat. When yeast eats sugar, you get CO2, heat, and, you guessed it, alcohol. Without yeast you have no fermentation, but what should winemakers do with this dead yeast that remains in fermentation vessels after that process is over? Many winemakers will choose to let their wine age on the lees. This is called sur lie aging, if you want to feel French and fancy. These yeast cells will not only impart more bread-like flavors, but they will also thicken the wine itself. These Chardonnays then can become plump and almost chewy, and they pair beautifully with a variety of fish, chicken, and cheeses.

Lees stirring and lees aging from Wine Folly: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/what-are-wine-lees-sur-lie-explained/

The final component to a rounder and more full-bodied Chardonnay is oak aging. Unlike neutral oak, new oak is used when a winemaker wants to impart flavor into the wine. For white wines, like Chardonnay, this usually means that flavors of vanilla, baking spices, nutmeg, and allspice may become detectable in the wine. Some winemakers also choose to heavily char their barrels, which imparts more of a literal oak or charcoal flavor into the wine. Oak aging also allows for more oxygen to slowly get into the wine, creating nutty and honeyed flavors, all while furthering the process of making a Chardonnay that’s more full bodied. A wine that represents this more round style through a combination of oak aging, sur lie aging, and full malolactic conversion is the 2015 “Parr Vineyard” Maldonado Chardonnay from Sonoma County. What we love about this wine is that it does not take this buttery-oaky idea to the extreme, but it just hints at it. It gives you a sense of the layers of flavors that come from the oak, the lees, the lactic acid, and the place of Sonoma County. While full-bodied, it is refined and all of its components are very nicely integrated into some truly delicious grape juice.

 

A Quick Word on Champagne

If you are an A.B.C. wine drinker and you never want to touch Chardonnay, then you may need to extend the acronym to Anything But Champagne. Most traditional Champagne blends consist of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier (an expressive red grape), and Chardonnay. In fact, you likely will have Chardonnay in your Champagne unless the label reads “Blanc de Noirs” or “White from black grapes.” You may even have Champagne that’s labeled “Blanc de Blancs,” which means it’s white from white grape, or 100% Chardonnay. Chardonnay out of Champagne is a bit closer in profile to the wines of Chablis due to their similar climates. There also tends to be less malolactic conversion as Champagne is tart and can be full of green apple notes. For a crisp Champagne that is made from 100% Chardonnay, we recommend Laherte Freres’s Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature. There is no added sugar (dosage) to the Champagne, so here you are truly getting a pure expression of Chardonnay from Champagne – and the bubbles are a nice bonus as well. See our Sparkling Wines 101 post for more information on Champagne as well as a number of other fun sparklers.

Chardonnay vines in Champagne. From Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomhyland/2018/10/18/blanc-de-blancs-the-soul-of-champagne/#457507741617

So we’ve gone from light and crisp with green apples to full and round like burnt movie theater popcorn. Not many other grapes have this versatility, so when thinking about Chardonnay, I like to think of it not only as a ‘chameleon grape,’ but a ‘canvass grape.’ Chardonnay can, in many ways, become what a climate and a winemaker demand. It is mailable to the extent that these factors will show themselves in the glass, and with tasting a number of Chardonnays like those mentioned above, one can start to see how Chardonnay can express the sense of place from which it came as well as the sense of style from which it’s made.

Find our featured wines from this article at each of stores:

Great Falls

Vienna

McLean

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Memorial Day Weekend Exclusive Content for Great Falls Wine Outlet

2017 Clos des Lunes Bordeaux Blanc “Lune Blanche” – Bordeaux, France
Plump and forward, with a brioche frame around notes of apricot, nectarine, glazed peach and warm almond. Shows a hint of piecrust on the finish. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. – 92 Points Wine Spectator
Retail: $23.99, Our Price: $19.99

 

2016 Jax Y3 Chardonnay – Napa Valley, California
This is a light, delicate white, with aromas of honeysuckle and Meyer lemon zest. High in acidity, it invites green apple and pear flavors on the palate, bolstered by seasonings of lemongrass and ginger. It’ll please a crowd or excel at starting off a meal. – 91 Points The Wine Advocate
Retail: $25.99, Our Price: $19.99

 

2019 Renegade Wine Company Rose – Columbia Valley, Washington
A project from Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars, blending Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Syrah pressed directly after harvesting. It is light pink in color and full of incredible aromas and flavors of fresh strawberries and cherries, white flowers, and wet stone, with terrific acidity that keeps this wine lively and fresh.
Retail: $14.99, Our Price: $11.99

 

2015 Andis Old Vine Zinfandel “Original Grandpére Vineyard” – Amador County, CA
“Big and balanced, this full-bodied wine from possibly the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in California blends tasty berry aromas with rich and spicy fruit flavors, moderate tannins and a good mouthfilling texture. It was fermented in a concrete egg-shaped container and aged in 10% new French oak.” – 91 Points Wine Enthusiast
Retail: $39.99, Our Price: $28.99

 

2017 Brassfield Cabernet Sauvignon “Volcano Ridge Vineyard” – High Valley, California
“Rich and soft, this wine is loaded with black cherry, plum, anise, and blackberry flavors. Sizable but approachable tannins frame the wine’s outstanding texture. The long finish is accented with a buzzing essence of volcanic terroir. Perfect with a classic filet mignon.” – winery
Retail: $29.99, Our Price: $19.99

 

2015 Wines of Substance BX “Klein Vineyard” – Walla Walla, Washington
Lastly, the 2015 Klein BX Vineyard Collection checks in as a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, and the balance Cabernet Franc, brought up in a mix of new and used barrels. Deep purple-colored, with a thrilling bouquet of crème de cassis, toasted spice, graphite, and dried tobacco, this beauty hits the palate with medium to full-bodied richness, building yet sweet tannins, flawless balance, and a finish that goes on for over a minute. This is a tour de force in Bordeaux blends from Washington State that I wish every reader could taste. It’s already accessible, with a sexy, flamboyant personality, yet it’s going to keep for two decades given its balance and purity. – 98 Points Jeb Dunnuck
Retail: $72.99, Our Price: $53.99

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Memorial Day Weekend Exclusive Content for McLean Wine Outlet

Some Wines Worth Remembering

Celebrate the weekend with some of these great wines, specially selected for whatever you decide to do this weekend. Enjoy the sunshine with fresh, juicy yet crisp Washington Rosé or elegant and rich Alsace inspired Pinot Gris from the famed Dr. Revana wine team. How about some Old Vine Zinfandel from one of California’s oldest vineyards dating back to 1869, or the newest vintage of a bold and powerful Cabernet Franc from a Napa legend? These are perfect wines for a holiday barbecue.

2019 Renegade Wine Company Columbia Valley Rosé, WA

A project from Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars, blending Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Syrah pressed directly after harvesting. It is light pink in color and full of incredible aromas and flavors of fresh strawberries and cherries, white flowers, and wet stone, with terrific acidity that keeps this wine lively and fresh.

Retail: $14.99, Our Price: $11.99

2017 Alexana Terroir Series Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, OR

“This is part of the winery’s Terroir Series, but oddly, no specific terroir other than the generic Willamette Valley AVA is indicated. The flavors are leesy and balanced among fruit highlights of citrus, lime and papaya, with a strong minerality.” –91 Pts, Wine Enthusiast

Retail: $31.99, Our Price: $21.99

2015 Andis “Original Grandpére Vineyard” Old Vine Zinfandel, Amador County, CA

“Big and balanced, this full-bodied wine from possibly the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in California blends tasty berry aromas with rich and spicy fruit flavors, moderate tannins and a good mouthfilling texture. It was fermented in a concrete egg-shaped container and aged in 10% new French oak.” – 91 pts, Wine Enthusiast 

Retail: $39.99, Our Price: $28.99

2017 Jax Calistoga Cabernet Franc, Napa, CA

“Richly layered and concentrated in dark cherry and mocha flavors, this impressive red offers pillowy tannins around an herbaceous kick on the lengthy palate.” – 94 pts, Wine Enthusiast (Cellar Choice)

Retail: $67.99, Our Price: $55.99

 

Recently “Post”ed Wines

2019 Cantina Fratelli DOC Spoletino, Umbria, IT

“Trebbiano often is one of those innocuous Italian white wines, in the pinot grigio vein, the sort that makes me suspect the winemaker said, “Well, I guess we should make a white to drink before dinner.” This wine from Cantina Fratelli Pardi is mineral to the core, with firm structure and texture that grabbed my attention throughout dinner. I liked it more with each sip.” – 2 stars, Washington Post (05/08/20)

Retail:$21.99, Our Price: $17.99

2017 Cantina Fratelli Pardi DOC Montefalco Rosso, Umbria, IT

“What an exuberant blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon filling in the blanks. This wine brought a smile to my face at first sniff and carried the feeling through dinner.” – 3 stars, Washington Post (05/08/20)

Retail: $21.99, Our Price: $17.99

2017 The Paring Red, CA

“Here’s where a little knowledge can go a long way. A wine simply marked “California” might suggest an innocuous, inexpensive wine. But the Paring is a label from two highly regarded Santa Barbara County wineries, Jonata, and the Hilt, using grapes from younger vineyards or barrels that didn’t quite make the more expensive wines. The Paring’s other wines — syrah, chardonnay, and pinot noir — are all designated from Santa Barbara County and its subregions. So it is reasonable to assume that some of this delicious Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot is sourced from farther north. The winery doesn’t tell us where the grapes came from, but Napa Valley cult winery Screaming Eagle is under the same ownership, so it figures they would have access to some good fruit. Winemaker Matt Dees has crafted an elegant, energetic wine that combines power with finesse. The winery is donating $1 for each bottle sold through the end of June to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. – 3 stars, Washington Post (05/15/20)

Retail: $27.99, Our Price: $23.99

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Memorial Day Weekend Exclusive Content for Vienna Wine Outlet

White wines perfect for cool weather are richer, have more weight, and show moderate acidity. A touch of sweetness in a Chenin Blanc, the pronounced floral aromas of peach, melon, and honey from Rhone varietals such as a Viognier or Roussanne, a sleek Gruner Veltliner with grassy minerality, a bracingly fresh Riesling or an opulent white Merlot are all good choices during sweater weather season. You’ll find wines from cooler climate areas tend to have more focused flavors, finesse, and zesty fragrances, showing more depth and complexity that lean toward the savory side, perfect comfort wines.

If you think you don’t like Chardonnays, you may simply have not tried one that matches your flavor preferences. Chardonnay is a highly manipulated variety whose personality is shaped by its environment and the decisions of the winemaker. It can range from oaky and buttery with creamy peach flavors to crisp, tart apple flavors with hints of lime. This is truly a grape with a range to experience. From France, Domaine Buisson-Charles creates highly proclaimed wines with aging potential that reflect the Burgundy appellations of five renowned Crus and Grand Crus. A crisp Chablis is a treat and an eye-opener to self-proclaimed ABCers (anything but chardonnay). 

 

2018 Delea Chiar di Luna Bianca di Merlot, Ticino, Switzerland

A Merlot vinified white, by a soft pressing. It has a white paper color with greenish reflections and a fresh, fruity, intense, fine, and floral bouquet. Dry, savory, intense, and persistent flavor, with a taste of lime blossom and white peach. Excellent as a meal, also excellent for aperitifs and to accompany summer salads, breaded white fish fillets, and ratatouille.

Retail: $26.99, Our Price: $22.99

 

2018 Tegernseerhof Bergidistel Gruner Veltliner, Smaragd, Austria

A glint of ripe apricot mingles with sage-like savoriness on the nose. The palate picks up this dual theme of fruit and spice and envelops it in juicy generosity with a lovely frame of zesty and pithy citrus. Despite the undoubted ripeness and generosity, there is a lovely touch of lightness and breeziness here that gives a most elegant finish.

93 Pts Wine Enthusiast

Retail: $24.99, Our Price: $21.99

 

2019 Essay Chenin Blanc, Coastal South Africa

“Essay” refers to the popular abbreviation for South Africa (SA). This is a medium-bodied white blend made primarily from South Africa’s classic Chenin Blanc, with Viognier and Roussanne as supporting players. Full of flavor and an excellent match for Chesapeake Bay crabs.

Retail: $12.99, Our Price: $9.99

 

2019 Standing Stone Riesling, Fingerlakes, NY (Seneca)

This Riesling showcases the varietal’s uncanny ability to balance vibrant acidity with ripe, fruit flavors. Off-dry, with juicy acidity, and a textured mouthfeel, pair this with all manner of spicy dishes or enjoy on its own.

Retail: $15.99, Our Price: $11.99

 

2016 DeSante The Old Vines, Napa Valley CA

A truly unusual wine from a meandering time capsule of a vineyard where varieties include Green Hungarian, Semillon, Sauvignon Vert, Golden Chasselas, Pinot Blanc, and more. This intriguing white field blend has exotic aromas of apple tarte tatin and star anise. The palate is round, full, and bright. Roasted pear and succulent green plum arise on the finish. Bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Retail: $23.99, Our Price: $19.99 

 

2017 Buisson-Charles Bourgogne-Blanc “Hautes-Coutures”

Floral and pear aromas add a really lovely texture to the medium-weight flavors that possess fine depth and very impressive length on the succulent and balanced finish This is an excellent Bourgogne to drink now or enjoy a few years of cellaring.

88 Pts, Outstanding and Top Value, Burghound

Retail: $36.99, Our Price: $32.99

 

2017 Buisson-Charles Meursault “Vieilles Vignes” 

Notes of hazelnut, pear compote, acacia blossom, and tangerine peel introduce gorgeous textured medium-weight flavors that possess a highly seductive mouthfeel before culminating in a notably fine, complex and impeccably well-balanced finale. Refined and pure, will drink well both young and with a few years of cellaring.

90 Pts Burghound, Outstanding & Top Value

Retail: $75.99, Our Price: $64.99 

 

2016 Buisson-Charles Chablis Grand Cru “Vaudesir” 

An admirable pure nose reveals naturally exotic aromas of classic Chablis elements trimmed in a discreet application of wood. Despite not being especially concentrated the middleweight flavors possess reasonably good power and a lovely minerality on the youthful, austere finale.

91 Pts Burghound

Retail: $109.99, Our Price: $79.99 

 

2017 Buisson-Charles Meursault “Les Charmes” 1er Cru

Once again there is an exquisite purity to the cool, pure, and pretty aromas of hazelnut, white orchard, fruit compote, and lavender scents. The middle-weight flavors possess a caressing et intense mouthfeel while exuding hints of minerality and bitter lemon on the balanced finish. 

91-93 Pts Burghound

Retail: $127.99, Our Price: $99.99

 

2017 Buisson-Charles Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru

An appealingly fresh, airy and cool nose combines notes of green apple, white flowers mineral reduction and spice elements. There is an unusually refined mouthfeel to the tautly muscular and overtly mineral-driven medium weight plus flavors that possess focused power on the wonderfully long finale. Will intensify as it ages.

93 Pts Burghound 

Retail: $203.99, Our Price: $179.99

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Vienna Exclusive: Bordeaux 101 Tasting Notes

Bordeaux wines range from affordable, everyday sips to the great red wines of famed chateaux meant to collect and age for years to come. In Bordeaux, it’s all about the blend. Red blends make up the majority of the production and are typically dry. The 3 main grape varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, which can be blended with 3 minor grape varieties – Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. White blends consist of 3 varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. They may be dry or sweet. 

Location is everything. Bordeaux’s wine regions are divided geographically into 3 main areas by rivers. Climate and soil determine which grape varieties grow and thrive along the river banks and inland areas. If you’re a Cabernet Sauvignon fan, you’ll find you enjoy wines from the Left Bank where soils are gravely such as: 

 

2015 Château Plantey de Lieujean Cuvee’ Jean-Jules, Haut-Médoc

A classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with the elegance and finesse of a high-class Bordeaux. Deep red claret with dark fruit aromas, rounded with a touch of chocolate on the palate. From the Haut-Medoc, a superb accompaniment to red meat dishes.

Retail: $19.99 Our Price: $16.99

2016 Le Dauphin d’Olivier, Graves

Chateau Olivier is one of the oldest properties in Bordeaux, one of only seven in Graves who are classified for both red and white wine. A 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Deep ruby color. Fruit forward nose with aromas of blueberry, plum and blackberry. Fresh, svelte tannins and soft acidity frame the juicy fruit flavors that lead into a lively finish. 

Retail: $41.99 Our Price: $31.99

2012 Château Haut de la Becade, Pauillac 

A dark color, deep red color, a wine with a lot of structure, very tannic and dark fruit flavors. Aged in French oak barrels for long aging. Enjoy drinking with a prime, fatty steak. 70% Cabernet-Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Cabernet-Franc.

Retail: $75.99 Our Price: $46.99

 

If you’re a Merlot fan, you’ll favor wines from the Right Bank where soils are limestone and clay. Try:

2016 Château Laroche Joubert, Première Côtes de Bourg 

This fruity, juicy wine has soft caramel flavors as well as layers of tannins. Berry fruits are laced with acidity, giving a rustic wine that is ready to drink in 2020.

Retail: $17.99 Our Price: $14.99

 

2015 Cap d’Or, Saint-Georges, Saint-Emilion 

A wine of femininity reveals itself in a floral, raspberry touch and in freshness and minerality. The wine is fine and seductive, with a very delicate hint of oak that reinforces the fruit and the terroir. 86% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc

92 Pts James Suckling

Retail: $28.99 Our Price: $23.99

 

The wine region between the two rivers is Entre-Deux-Mers, you’ll find mostly Merlot blends and white blends here, such as:

2018 Château Haut Pasquet Bordeaux Blanc

Showing a crisp herbaceous nose that follows through on the palate with lime acidity and a clean finish. The Semillon gives structure, the Muscadelle gives flor.

Retail: $14.99 Our Price: $9.99

2015 Château Lafite, Côtes de Bordeaux 

Ruby ​​color with purple reflections. The nose reveals a lot of complexity and finesse marked with notes of ripe fruit, spice and roasted notes. Medium-bodied and well balanced with a good texture accompanied by a beautiful vivacity. The finish is charming and juicy. Kosher. 

92 Pts James Suckling

Retail: $37.99 Our Price: $26.99

 

Though keep in mind that each area produces single varietals of red, white, rose’ and sparkling wines in smaller quantities and are worth seeking out such as the:

2015 Château Trebiac Blanc, Graves

An aromatic white Bordeaux made from 100% Semillon grapes with flavors and aromas of citrus, peach, and exotic fruits  Refreshing acidity, prominent minerality, and a long finish. Just what you would expect from a white Graves.

Retail: $16.99 Our Price: $11.99

 

And to add to your wine-label deciphering skills, when a wine is labeled simply as “Bordeaux Superior”, it can be made from anywhere in the Bordeaux region such as:

2016 Château Fleur Haut Gaussens Bordeaux Supérieur

A beautiful purple color. The nose reveals attractive aromas of blackberry, cedar and woody scents. The attack is slightly full-bodied with catchy tannins that lacquer the mouth. A fresh and impressive density is revealed in the final. At once elegant, balanced and greedy.

Retail: $16.99 Our Price: $12.99

 

Lastly, the third thing to know is that in Bordeaux rank and position determine price points and it’s the producers that are ranked, not the vineyards. Thanks to Napoleon, Bordeaux was the first in the wine world to formally organize and rank their wines based on quality, establishing classification systems, a study in itself. Begin by knowing that quality level positions are called growths, you’ll see them identified as “crus” on the label and there are five. Don’t discount the basic levels as you’ll find great values here in what’s known as “second labels”.  

2016 M de Monbrison, Margaux 

From the historic Grand Cru Chateau Monbrison in Margaux, this wine represents their basic red Bordeaux offering made with grapes from the same vineyard plots as their 1st growths. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot

Retail: $18.99 Our Price: $12.99

2014 Château D’Arsac, Margaux 

Owned by art collector Philippe Raoux, who has filled the park of the chateau with impressive sculptures, this estate produces serious and complex wines. This latest release continues in that tradition. It is rich, structured and full of swathes of black fruit.

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Retail: $51.99 Our Price: $37.99

I hope this Bordeaux 101 Tasting Note starts you on your path to discovering the many varied wines of Bordeaux, wines for every budget.

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