Affordable champagnes, ciders, and wines for the season that will help you raise your glass -- without lowering your standards
Landmark 2009 Grand Detour Pinot Noir, Sonoma — At $40, this is Landmark winery's lower-priced Pinot which I actually prefer to its $65 Kanzler Pinot. It's robust for a Pinot with earthy cherry and minimal oak, but offers enough acidity to be food friendly, unfolding as it sits. This casual, comfortable winery (with bocce ball and small lake) offers tastings and bottles to purchase or online at www.landmarkwine.com.
Mapema Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec, Argentina — Mapema's 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($14) and 2009 Malbec ($19) are both affordable winners. The Sauv Blanc claims 90 percent stainless steel fermentation (10 percent aged in new French oak), allowing the grape's zesty, acidic properties to dominate. Lemongrass hints and a well-rounded finish go nicely with seafood. The Malbec offers hints of cherry and cocoa, with solid tannins from 50 percent new and 50 percent one-year French oak, pairing well with pork, lamb, or hearty grains.
Huge Bear Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma — The name Huge Bear might not be poetic (though I dig the old world, Wild West California label), but the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) offers floral melon and citrus notes, soothing with Asian take-out. The 2009 Chardonnay ($40) is pricey but showcases crisp apple, pear and mineral notes, followed by a butter cream finish. These are small production at merely 150 cases each, fine local retailers at www.hugebearwines.com
Kracher's Cuvee Beernauslese (pronounced bear-en-ow-SCHLAY-zuh) — I adore Austrian wines and this $27 blend of Chardonnay and Welschriesling grapes is much more than a sweet finish to a meal. It's a layered, acidic dessert wine, dripping with vanilla honey balanced by mineral pineapple and lemon zest.
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