The New York Times' Best Wines Under $20 From the beginning, our philosophy has been simple: buy wines made by small producers, families and artisans that honestly reflect the world’s great terroirs and traditions. The New York Times' latest list of the 20 best wines under $20 has just been released, and we couldn't be more pleased to see which bottles made the cut. The theme of this list aligns decisively with the type of wine we love to drink and sell—those bottles that speak of where they come from and the individuals who crafted them. When a vigneron spends each day amongst the vines or in the cellar, he or she has no choice but to focus on the quality of the wine. Even with a full cellar, it can be difficult to open a special bottle on an otherwise nondescript day—and this is where a wine from the list below comes into play. While good wines can be found in any price range, there are so many wines in the $15-20 range that meet all of our needs. They are delicious, they are complex, and perhaps most importantly, they are affordable. Once again, Eric Asimov presents us with a diverse and compelling list of wines, most of which we were able to obtain for you. It is with great pleasure that we offer a selection of the Times' picks with special discounting available: buy any 6-11 bottles and get 10% off or buy any 12 or more bottles and get 15% of We hope this special pricing will encourage many of you to make yourself acquainted with some of Eric's choices. To order, please just reply to this e-mail with your selections and quantity of each wine requested. As soon as this article is published, the wines will almost immediately disappear from the marketplace. This is your chance to beat the rush and get the wines at a nice discount. This offer expires the evening of Monday, 2/18. Please allow 24-48 hours for confirmation, as we typically receive a large response. Wines will be available for pick up or delivery any time after Thursday, 2/21. Cheers, Valerie ________________________________ Oddero, Barbera d’Alba Superiore, 2015 $16.99 Classic, but lifted, Barbera from a family winery in Barolo, dating back to the 18th century. There is ample cherry and blackberry fruit, enlivened by a hit of pepper and fine tannins. For pizza, pasta or antipasti, this is a no-brainer. Happs, Margaret River Sémillon, 2014 $16.99 Hailing from one of the most remote wine regions in the world, this Sémillon is both fresh and rich, with a golden hue and a luxurious texture. There are notes of citrus, especially mandarin, and dry wildflower honey. A gorgeous wine on its own or with lighter food. Lambert de Seyssel, Petit Royal de Seyssel Methode Traditionelle, NV $19.99 A remarkably complex sparkling wine from the Savoie, this is made up of two obscure, indigenous grapes: Molette and Altesse. Molette brings acidity and citrusy notes, while Altesse brings complexity and a lovely floral bouquet. Two years aging sur latte ensures toastiness and a long, lingering finish. You don't need an excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly when it's this delicious and this affordable. Raul Perez, Bierzo Ultreia Saint Jacques Mencía, 2017 $19.99 Mencía is perennially one of our favorite grapes, and Raúl Perez's, bolstered with a bit of Bastardo (also known as Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (alias Alicante Bouschet) packs a lot of power into one bottle. Perez is one of the finest winemakers working today in Spain, and his entry-level bottlings show true finesse. Bright red berries and cacao dominate here. Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz Wachenheimer Dry Riesling, 2017 $18.99 Riesling grown in the Pfalz, Germany's warmest region, can yield remarkably aromatic and elegant dry wines. Bürklin-Wolf's Estate Riesling is dry, yet juicy and redolent with stone fruit and lime leaves. All of their farming is biodynamic, and 2017's long, warm summer makes for a delicious wine that expertly combines power and grace. Empire Estate, Finger Lakes Riesling Dry, 2017 $17.99 This little dazzler starts with blossom, peach, and pear on the nose, and the palate is dry as a bone full of minerality, lemon pith, and a cool limeade finish. It's reminiscent of Rieslings from Australia's Clare Valley, but with an assertive, kaleidoscopic verve than reminds us of Keller. La Palazzetta di Flavio, Rosso di Montalcino, 2017 $19.99 This is a gorgeous example of young Sangiovese, grown organically and intended to be drunk young. Its fresh acidity and luminous red fruit make for an all-around delectable wine. It has a lovely floral aroma, with a touch of violets, and buoyant, cheerful fruit. Sidonio de Sousa, Bairrada Reserva Tinto, 2015 $18.99 Baga is one of a myriad of characterful grapes indigenous to Portugal, and this wine is 100% Baga and tastes sort of like Cabernet Franc meets Trousseau. Spicy, herbaceous, fruity, and fresh. Truly one of the best wines under $20 we’ve ever tasted. Really a knock-out at this price. Domaine Bru-Baché, Jurançon Sec, 2015 $16.99 Bone dry, with waxy yellow fruit and hints of ginger, this is an elegant and versatile sipper. Gros Manseng produces crisp and complex wines, and thanks to the limestone and clay on which they are grown, wines of intense minerality. Jurançon is perhaps an unknown quantity to many, but one which we all should be acquainted with. Bonny Doon Vineyard, Clos de Gilroy Monterey County Grenache, 2017 $16.99 Mostly Grenache, enlivened by a little Mourvèdre, this is all dazzling red fruit—raspberries and sour cherry—but there's plenty of earth and graphite to keep it all grounded and balanced. It is easy-drinking and charming, makes a perfect accompaniment to lighter fare, and is best served with a slight chill, for ultimate refreshment. Broadside, Paso Robles Margarita Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016 $19.99 This is Classic California Cabernet, with a lighter touch. Grown at 1,000 feet above sea level, with cool winds whipping off of the Pacific Ocean, this wine captures all of the blackcurrant, plum and blackberry notes we expect in Cabernet Sauvignon, with notes of fresh herbs (mint, rosemary) and earth that boost its Guillaume Clusel, Coteaux du Lyonnais "Traboules", 2017 $16.99 Unusually for the Northern Rhone, this delightful wine is made from 100% Gamay, and it encapsulates what we love about both the Rhone and Beaujolais—lithe, energetic red fruit, crushed Provençal herbs and just enough structure to make things interesting. This is an all-purpose wine, to drink with food or with nothing at all. Serve slightly below room temperature. Domaine Filliatreau, Saumur-Champigny, 2017 $18.99 Classic Saumur-Champigny (perhaps the most under-valued AOC of the Loire, even with the influence of Clos Rougeard—baffling!), with ripe cherries, dried herbs and electric minerality. Supple and elegant, this is a wonderful example of vibrant Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from a producer dedicated to biodiversity and sustainability. Grifalco, Aglianico del Vulture "Gricos", 2016 $18.99 100% estate-grown fruit from younger vines, this is Aglianico for drinking young. It has all of the spice and grip of Southern Italy's favorite red grape, made in a fresh and forward style. This is smoky, peppery and plummy, all at once, thanks to the unique volcanic terroir of Vulture. Château Massereau, Bordeaux Superieur, 2016 $19.99 Massereau is simply one of the best values in the entire Bordeaux region. The viticulture is so diligent and the winemaking so unobtrusive, that you could consider this a natural wine. But the well-delineated flavors, redolent of of dark forest fruits and wild herbs, are as classic as it gets. L’Umami, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 2017 $19.99 Truffles and mushrooms galore in this little Willamette bottling. There is some a splash of red cherry, a kiss of oak, and a dash of baking spices in what is a killer value for Pinot Noir from Oregon. Foxglove (Varner), Zinfandel Paso Robles, 2015 $16.99 Classic Cali Zin from Paso Robles, which is known for big, rich reds with hints of chocolate and spice. Although it's quite brambly, it's not jammy or cloying. No, this wine is fresh and dark-fruited, full of plums, blackberries and dark cherry, and it is a fantastic value for a great example of California winemaking heritage.
Now that I’ve actually tasted some 2017s from Burgundy; it’s time to follow up my earlier post on the 2017s with some actual impressions, based on tasting. This blog follows a single event: the barrel tasting of Burgundies imported by Frederic Wildman for the trade, held February of every year. I tasted a lot of wines at the event and I also talked extensively with producers and other tasters. Here were my five main take-aways: 1. 2017 is a really good vintage, perhaps just short of being one of the legends like 2005 or 2010. The 2017s I tasted were delicious. They were balanced and fully ripe. They were transparent, accurately reflecting their respective terroirs. I really, really liked them. Did I have quite the same feeling I got when I tasted wines from 2005 or 2010? No. This may not be the vintage to buy with bequeathing to your grandkids in mind, but it is a great vintage to buy for drinking now, in ten years or, for top wines, in 20 years. To give it some more context, I thought these were a little better than the 2014s — a vintage that I really adored — as they had just a little more substance and ripeness, but also 2014’s freshness and transparency. 2. This is not a problem vintage. This may seem kind of obvious, given point #1. But, it’s a point worth making in a different way here. One of the most useful things I’ve learned at these Wildman barrel tastings is whether a vintage has any real problems. The very first tasting I attended was the 2004 vintage. My tasting book from that event was filled with comments like “what is that green note?”. A few months later, the wine chat boards on the internet were filled with discussions about the “greeny meanies” that have plagued 2004s ever since. I similarly noticed the phenolic under-ripeness of the 2011s, wondered about the high acidity in 2008, and so on. This is all to say, when a vintage has a problem, you can tell at this barrel tasting. The 2017s are problem-free. There is simply no reason to avoid or be wary of this vintage. 3. Some people have been under-estimating this vintage...sort of. Although the most widely-followed Burgundy critics have had very high praise for the 2017s, we’ve heard lots of people referring to this vintage as a “restaurant” vintage, often comparing the 2017s to the 2000s and the 2007s. To be fair, they do not mean this to be insulting. It is great to have “restaurant” vintages (vintages that you can drink young), and both the 2000s and the 2007s have ended up aging much better than expected (I mean, wow, the top wines from 2000 are so good today!). To the extent that the 2017s follow this pattern, nobody should be disappointed. But my own impression tasting the 2017s last week -- and this was a view shared by virtually all the other tasters that I spoke with — is that these wines are considerably more serious than either the 2007s or 2000s. My guess is that the wines have gained a little weight since those early impressions were first formed. It is true that the tannins are not at all aggressive, making the wines far more approachable in their youth. But the wines otherwise seem far more structured than either earlier vintage and they really seem like wines that will age very well, if not for as long as, say, the 2015s. 4. This is not a vintage that obviously favors red wines or white wines. Some of the earlier reports I read or heard about suggested that white was stronger than red. My impression form this event was that the reds were slightly better (and more serious!) than expected — as noted in #3, above — and that while I loved most of the whites I tasted I did find some of them to be just a touch too creamy and lacking the slightest bit of definition. They did not seem as crispy and crystalline as, say, the 2014s — though many of them really were excellent. My impressions may change over time, but for now, having slightly upgraded the reds and slightly downgraded the whites I’m now pretty much equally bullish on both colors of Burgundy from 2017. 5. Chablis is a sweet spot. As I mentioned in my first post, there seemed to be a wide range of opinion on Chablis from 2017. I tasted only from two producers — Christian Moreau and Billaud-Simon — but I loved them both! The Moreaus, in particular, were stronger than every vintage I have tasted since 2010, except maybe the 2014s. The difference between these 2017s and the 2014s is that the 2014s had a touch of austerity to them while the 2017s already give lots of pleasure. This might suggest that the 2014s will out-perform in the long run, and they probably will, but I did sense that there was plenty of power and stuffing lurking beneath the pretty 2017 fruit and I’m very confident that they will keep nicely as well. This was, of course, just a small sampling of producers. There is plenty more to taste, and very few of the wines have even been bottled yet. Impressions will surely evolve, but with few exceptions over the years, my general vintage assessments, based on the Wildman tasting, have held up pretty well. Another little observation not directly related to the wine: When I first started going to these tastings, only buyers from the top restaurants and retailers would come. Over the years, things have become more democratic, and I was really surprised at how well and how broadly attended this year's event was. I've long expected trickle-down effects in the Burgundy market, and maybe that's finally happening. By that I mean that all the immense hype at the very top level of Burgundy -- DRC, Roumier and all that -- is now spreading out across Burgundy and across the market, so now even smaller retailers are getting in the game by carrying wines from lesser-known corners of Burgundy. This is probably a great thing for Burgundy, though it does mean that we're inevitably going to see even second-tier producers becoming far more tightly allocated. Oh well. As I post this we are now in the midst of our Wildman pre-sale campaign, offering a lot of what they import had the best prices you’re likely to find in the U.S. Please be sure to email us if you’re not already on our list getting our pre-sale offers.
A beautiful aspect of the study of wine is exploring the expression of one grape in multiple landscapes—the idea of terroir. In his latest Wine School, Eric Asimov returns to the world of classically styled wines, introducing us to the wines of Valtellina, made with the Nebbiolo grape. While most of us are probably familiar with Barolo, Barbaresco or Langhe Nebbiolo, Valtellina wines offer an altogether entirely different experience. We've been guilty of proliferating the idea that Nebbiolo will fail to thrive if planted outside of its home base of Piedmont—of course, we're thinking only of the occasional attempt out of California to create New World Barolo or Barbaresco, not the elegant and earthy wines from the steep hills of Valtellina, in Lombardy. Although it's located just northeast of Piedmont, Valtellina seems a world away. Here, the Nebbiolo grape is known as Chiavennasca, the language is markedly not Italian, and the terrain is precipitously terraced. It is only thanks to the vineyards' Southern exposure that the grapes ripen at all, in such a cool and mountainous region. While wines from Valtellina have all of the crunchy red fruit and distinct tannins of Nebbiolo from Piedmont, the acidity and finesse are amplified, thanks to the cool air coming off of the nearby Alps, Pò River and the region's many lakes. The silky texture and clear, singing fruit is very nearly reminiscent of great red Burgundy; perhaps it's the the intermix of power and grace that leads to such conclusions. Like Nebbiolo from Piedmont or Alto Piemonte, these wines provide an excellent foil to a diverse selection of dishes: classic Italian fare, from pizza to osso buco, is a no-brainer, but don't stop there. Mushroom-centric dishes bring earthiness to match the herbaceousness and acidity of the wine; something decadent, like a risotto Milanese would make an excellent tablemate. Check out the New York Times' selections: Ar. Pe. Pe., Valtellina Rosso, 2015 $36.99 Ar.Pe.Pe. can be considered the Bartolo Mascarello of Valtellina, with its rigorously traditional approach to wine and it excellent quality. The Rosso is a great juicy and fresh introduction to their exquisite Nebbiolo. Licorice, bright red cherry and mountain air make for a spectacularly elegant bottle of wine. Sandro Fay, Valtellina Superiore Valgella “Ca Morei", 2015 $37.99 This shares many of the classic characteristics of great Barolo—anise, fresh and dried cherry, dusty rose petals, leather—with fine tannins and just a hint of spice. Whether you're drinking now or a decade from now, you'll find great pleasure here. Aldo Rainoldi, Valtellina Superiore Grumello, 2015 $38.99 From some of the finest vines in Valtellina, this is wine meant for aging. This wine shows some of the earthier, darker nuances of Nebbiolo: smoke, dark cherry and dusky herbs. The hillsides are so steep that the grapes have to be taken back to the winery via helicopter! Aldo Rainoldi, Rosso di Valtellina, 2017 $23.99 Delicious and approachable in its youth, this combines freshness with gorgeous, supple fruit. It is aromatic and lifted, with notes of bright red cherry and berries.
Back in November, as a part of Flatiron Wines’ educational series, I hosted a class entitled ‘Burgundy: On The Level’. In it we discussed the levels of complexity and detail to Burgundy and its Crus. To help illustrate the how’s and why’s and the lay of the land, we first discussed a brief history of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or (Golden Slope), comprised by Côte de Nuits to the north and Côte de Beaune to the south, along one long hill. This all boils down to Burgundy and its classifications. This is one of the most important considerations when understanding the region. Many of the finest vineyards of Burgundy were mapped out hundreds of years ago, by the abbots and monks of the Catholic Church—in Gevrey-Chambertin, there is documentation from as early as 640 C.E. In the ensuing centuries, vineyards were further mapped and tended by the nobility of France, until the Revolution and the influence of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleonic inheritance law fractured any prior organization, in effect splitting estates and vineyards into ever-tinier parcels owned by siblings and cousins. Burgundians often joke and disagree when discussing amendments to current classifications. To change a vineyard classification could mean a lifetime (or more) of patience. With this in mind, we explored these classifications and what to look for on a wine label. Now, you can taste--and explore--along with us (from the comfort of your couch)! Are we looking at Bourgogne, a villages, Premier Cru, or Grand Cru? How can we tell a where the wine is from by the label? Bourgogne wines are either from designated areas that don't have a village, Premier Cru or Grand Cru classification OR they are declassified grapes from a classified vineyard. Grapes can be from anywhere in Burgundy. Village wines are from a designated list of vineyards that are meant to producer higher quality wines than their generic counterparts. The wines do not include the words 1er Cru or Premier Cru. They can occasionally contain the name of a named vineyard. All of the grapes come from that village (or name vineyard). Premier Cru wines have the village listed ALONG with the words "Premier Cru" or 1er Cru". The Premier Cru listed is the named vineyard and implies a higher quality wine. All of the grapes must come from the designated vineyard. Grand Cru list ONLY the name of the vineyard. This can be confused with the Villages. Luckily the list of Grand Cru's is short (32 vineyards), in short supply and high in price. These are considered the creme de la creme of Burgundy. Are the wines made the same? Winemakers make and age wine according to their own philosophy; There is not a one size fits all answer. Bourgogne wines rarely see any aging time in new oak and are often aged for much shorter periods of time than their village-named counterparts. Premier and Grand Cru wines often see more time in some new oak barrels, or even all new barrels. They also age for a longer time before being released. Often times Grand Cru wines come from vineyards located in the prime sirloin of the slope–the middle–where we tend to find an ideal balance of limestone and clay–thus providing the prime components to provide a wine with structure and succulent fruit. These are usually, but not always, vin de garde, or wine for aging. Of course, this is dependent on the individual producer. Why is one wine $25.00 and the other $130.00? Each designation is a smaller amount of land on which less wine can be produced. Centuries ago, the Benedictine monks who mapped out the vineyards designated where the very best wines could be made. The production costs at "better" sites is often higher than for those from regional sites. (New oak barrels are EXPENSIVE.) As we tasted four different wines, of the same vintage, from Côte de Nuits producer, Jerome Chézeaux (Regional, Villages, 1er Cru, Grand Cru) we discussed the differences in each. Where in the village is the vineyard located? Where on the slope might we find these vines? How do the wines differ from each other in character? Are we noticing increased length on the palate when we taste Bourgogne Rouge next to Clos Vougeot Grand Cru? What was the vinification and élévage (how long a wine is aged and in what sort of vessel, before bottling), and how these choices in the cellar impact the profile of the wine? One of the main points of discussion and an often asked question: How will this wine change as it ages? A fascinating question, as we often find that in Burgundy the answers to these questions remain fairly uniform. Bourgogne level wines are usually meant to be enjoyed young with plenty of fresh fruit and vibrancy. A perfect addition to a mid-week meal. A climb up the classification ladder offers the opportunity for longer aging, greater development and incredible complexity. The wines made from better grapes and are often more concentrated to start. The vibrant fruit starts to age into beautiful mushroom, truffle, spice, tilled earth, smoke, herbal and a slew of other interesting tertiary aromas and flavors. The structure (acid and tannin) is more prevalent in higher quality wines and sometimes even unenjoyable in their youth. As the wines age the structure and flavors integrate while the tannins settle out, leaving a silk or velvet texture. How do I know when my wine is ready to drink? Ask your friendly neighborhood retailer! We can't emphasize this enough! We are a resource at your disposal. Each vineyard, vintage and producer creates a myriad of answers to this question. Everyone enjoys wines at different ages and different styles. The best thing you can do it start drinking and exploring to find out what suits you best. There are plenty of books and online sources with lots of opinions out there. We are happy to help answer any questions you have regarding specific wines! We are happy to help you no matter where you are in your wine journey. Want to know what those 32 Grand Cru sites are? Or, what our favorite wine resource (online or in print) of the moment is? Stop by, and ask away! Our classroom was full of guests with insightful thoughts and questions. Conversations flowed and many familiar faces returned to the store the very next day to continue the discussion. Our most coveted wines were the Bourgogne and 1er Cru Boudots. For such a young wine (2015), the 1er Cru Boudots was open and fleshy, yet displayed an early glimpse into what one might expect in a gloriously aged Burgundy. The beauty of the wines of Chézeaux was clearly displayed on this chilly pre-holiday November evening. With a vast and comprehensive selection of Burgundy, we invite you to come into the shop and explore all that this fine region has to offer. Whether a satisfying Bourgogne to pair with your favorite roast chicken recipe or a special bottle of Grand Cru to enjoy alongside truffles – Flatiron has you covered. If you want to learn more about wine, or about our education series, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and check "Education" as an interest when prompted.