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Explore good red wines at various price levels

December 4, 2017

Here’s the first Christmas gift from me to you. Winesearcher.com has just come out with a special app. It is a free download to members. It has the ability to look up most of the wine you find on store shelves. The information, price and reviews are immediately available. If you are sitting around preparing to go shopping, first open the app, then query. You can be provided with which stores are selling a wine you may enjoy, and if it isn’t available, a similar choice opens in another window at your beck and call. Honestly speaking, just the availability of winesearcher is worth the candle, but this free download ices the triple chocolate cake with a 70 percent ganache.

Following are four levels of good red buys. Each goes well with venison or aged beef. In the $10 range, start with Les Dauphins Cotes du Rhone Reserve Rouge 2016, 87 points under $12. It’s a fruit-forward blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre with medium body and smooth tannins. A fair-value, everyday wine from Southern Rhone Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, often served by the glass in working-class Parisian cafes due to its QPR. The ‘16 Rosé was so-so. Chateau La Haye sampled me with a 2012. It was 87 points and a decent St. Estephe at $20. That said, the better buy is the 2015; it reminds of the 2009. Deep garnet with purple rim. Slightly closed nose, but coaxing shows black currant, cherry and oak aromas. Firm tannins, fresh acidity and fruit flavors on the nicely balanced palate. Finishes long and cleanly, both rated vintages 90 McD. If you bought the 2009, it is drinking perfectly now. Going upscale into the $30 range, try Le Volte dell’Ornellaia IGT 2015, a Super Tuscan blend of Merlot 67 percent, Cabernet Sauvignon 20 percent, and Sangiovese, McD 88 points under $28. Regulars know I am a longtime fan. If the opportunity presents, the 2013 is a better buy at 90 points. The 2015 is a bit soft and fruity. Mid palate shows better with good tannin/acidity balance, cherries, raspberries and dark cocoa nuance.

Finally, Castello d’Albola Acciaiolo Toscana IGT, a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, is produced only in the best vintages. It is deep, clear, ruby-colored with dark red fruits, herbal and earthy aromas, and a smoky incense nuance. Plum and barrel spice on the palate. Slightly tannic due to youth, but plenty of fruit and acidity to provide maturing and longevity, McD 91 under $65. Best recent vintages are 2013, 2011, 2007.

Tis the season for Regis Camus! Those who love sparklers and don’t know this name should look into his wine. M. Camus has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times since 2004. Camus is winemaker at Piper Heidsieck. Piper produces many levels of Champagne.

Recently they’ve been forcing the critics to place them with Dom ($240), Cristal (300+), Krug Clos du Mesnil (750) and other Tete de Cuvee from powerhouse producers.

The good news is, they are far less expensive and the really great news is careful shoppers can find Piper Heidsieck Cuvee Rare 2002 for $150. This 2002 earned scores of 97 points from WS. Cuvee Rare has only been produced in eight of the past 38 years. It was described as, “A powerhouse, with verve to the finely cut, racy acidity, showing a sense of finesse and seamless integration of the firm frame. The silky texture carries layer upon layer of toasted brioche, currant and pear pâte de fruit flavors, with notes of grated ginger and coconut, cappuccino foam and spun honey. Mineral accents of smoke, ground spice and fleur de sel build on the long, echoing finish.” I can’t entirely support this quote. In addition to those items mentioned, I detected blackberry, lemon preserve, toast, plus nut aromas and flavors. I have no idea what cappucino foam or pear pâte de fruit taste or smell like, and although fleur de sel is indeed mineral and even possibly smoke, I don’t consider ground spice to be.

That said, this is one darn good sparkler and a fitting way to toast the new year. Most are aware I prefer 3 or 4 bottles of very good sparkler to an expensive killer. However, this big-buck buckaroo will add more to festive occasions.