Recap: Four Go-To Wines of the Moment

It's hard to believe that I've been writing in this space for two and a half years now. That's a long time to journal about what I've been drinking and learning. My understanding of and appreciation for wine has grown since I started, and there are quite a few Tasting Notes on this site. Because of this, I thought I'd sum up my top four go-to wine recommendations of the moment. My main goal with this list is value, so you won't necessarily see all four-bunch wines, but this way you'll be introduced (or re-introduced!) to a few of my favorites that you may have missed over the years.

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Honora Vera Garnacha

This Grenache (or Garnacha in Spanish) is food-friendly, fruit-forward, and light to medium body. I think it's a crowd pleaser! I typically purchase it at Total Wine, but I have started to see it pop up other places. This brand also makes a white that I've been curious to try. Now $8.99 a bottle, this wine is still a steal! See my full post here.

Gnarly Head Zinfandel

This wine is my #1 go-to recommendation for anyone that is looking for a good value. It can be found anywhere, which is great because not everyone has access to local wine stores, Total Wine, or even more gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods or Fresh Market. I have found it even in the smallest of towns when I was traveling for work. Full-bodied with dark fruit and pepper notes, this wine is going to please most red wine drinkers. See the full post here. Note: Gnarly Head has changed their label a bit, so the photo in the full post is not what you will find in store!

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is a great white to have around. It's crisp, refreshing, and typically works great for cooking, especially if it's a dish with lemon and herbs. I bought this at Harris Teeter, our local grocery chain, so my guess is you can find it at yours. With balanced acidity and grapefruit notes, this classic portrayal of Sauvignon Blanc will be great for the upcoming warmer weather. See the full post here.

Trader Joe's Reserve Brut

You all know I love my bubbly, and this one is a great affordable option! Available for $9.99 at Trader Joe's, this wine will bring fresh acidity with the typical notes of lemon and apple. This is perfect for brunch, festive parties, or just a regular Tuesday night! See the full post here.

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Tasting Notes: Josh Cellars Family Reserve Cabernet

It may be 2018, but I am still working through Total Wine's Top 20 of 2017, slowly but surely. I know I've mentioned this before, but I am always intrigued to try Cabernets at a more value price. Cabernet is such a popular (the most popular?) wine varietal, so I like to have a tasty, but affordable, option available for guests, and now readers!

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The Facts

  • Producer: Josh Cellars by Joseph Carr
  • Region: North Coast, California
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $16.99

First, let me share with you what the bottle description says. I always love reading these because they're usually ridiculous marketing ploys, but I also like to see if I pick up on the same notes they identify.

Wine bursts with plum and blackberry flavors, layered with vanilla, roasted hazelnuts, and a long finish supported by tannin.

I absolutely got the blackberry notes in this wine. It smelled like really dark fruits, and perhaps, a little jammy. I am usually turned off by "jammy" wines because I think it's a sign that an inexpensive wine is trying to be "bold" with over-oaking, but there's nothing to balance it. This wine, however, was actually not that way. It was easy to drink, more medium-bodied than full-bodied with balanced tannin and a nice vanilla touch to it. Not a vanilla bomb! It went very well with our pot roast, but was also nice to drink on its own. I think this may be the relatively inexpensive Cab winner for the moment! If you're headed out to a dinner party and want a more affordable wine to bring, I think this Josh Family Reserve is a great option!

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Tasting Notes: Tesoro della Regina Chianti Classico Riserva

Ever since our trip to Italy, we have loved Italian wine. Oddly enough, though, we tend to not buy it. No idea why! So the last time we did a Total Wine bulk buy, I made sure at least one Italian bottle made it into the cart. This Chianti Classico Riserva was a top-selling bottle, so why not?

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The Facts

  • Producer: Tesoro della Regina
  • Region: Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Sangiovese
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine 
  • Price: $16.99

First, I want to talk a little about what Chianti Classico Riserva means. Chianti, as you likely know, is a region within Tuscany that makes a particular type of wine per Italian law from the Sangiovese grape. The term "classico" indicates it's from an even smaller sub-region of Chianti, and it also indicates that the wine is a step above wines just labeled as Chianti due to additional restrictions and laws. Finally, "riserva" is even one more step above, and it is largely due to additonal time required to age in barrel. So theoretically, if you want the "best of the best" from Chianti, Chianti Classico Riserva is that wine. Again, theoretically.

Now on to this specific bottle! I got this bottle because the description on the little paper at Total Wine sounded right up my alley... "intense, spice, cherry, medium-body". I like all of those things. I got black cherry and raspberry notes with a little bit of tobacco and cooked tomato. What I mean by cooked tomato is it smells similar to the start of a homemade marinara. This is very common for Sangiovese! Fruit, however, was definitely the more prominent aroma. I did not get any spice. Maybe I missed it, but I was definitely sad about that. I got a mouthful of acid, which again, is common for Italian wines, and I thought it lacked depth. I found this wine not great on its own, but very good with our spaghetti dinner. Chianti was made for tomato sauce! I think I may give this one another whirl because it's well-liked elsewhere, but for now, I'd give it two bunches.

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Tasting Notes: Rondel Platinum Cava

Sparkling wine has far and above become my favorite wine to drink, and while I wish I could afford delicious Champagne on a regular basis, it is always important to scope out value options. This is where Cava comes in! It is made in the same manner as Champagne, is still delicious in its own right, and comes with a lower price tag. Rondel may sounds familiar to you since I have used Rondel Brut in its identifiable blue bottle many times in the past, mainly for sparkling cocktails. It is inexpensive, flavorful, and comes in the handy split bottles. However, when I came across the Rondel Platinum, their elevated version, I thought I'd give a whirl to see if it could make the cut for New Year's Eve!

Rondel Platinum Cava

The Facts

  • Producer: Rondel
  • Region: Pendes, Spain
  • Vintage: NV
  • Variety: 40% Macabeu, 40% Xarello, 20% Parellada
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $12.99

This Cava is a deeper straw yellow color and has finer bubbles. While the bottle's description boasts citrus and tropical fruits, I definitely picked up on more of a tart apple aroma. There was also some toast or bready smell, which comes from the yeast that is used to ferment in bottle. The same flavors come across on the palate, with an addition of a zing of lemon. While this Cava is definitely acidic, it is more well-balanced than the Rondel Brut and is extremely easy to drink. As my mother stated, "It is very smooth!" There is nothing complex about this Cava and don't expect it to hold up against Champagne, but at the price point, it is a good choice for an everyday or even a NYE sipper. 

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Tasting Notes: Valserrano Rioja Crianza

It has been a BUSY last couple of weeks for Kevin and me. We celebrated Thanksgiving across the pond in London, and then last weekend, I got to visit my best friend in New York City! I've been on the go, and it doesn't look like the holiday time will slow down for me much, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some good wine, right? This week, I decided to get back to the 2017 Total Wine Top 20 list with this red from Rioja.

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The Facts

  • Producer: Valserrano
  • Region: Rioja, Spain
  • Vintage: 2013
  • Variety: 90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $16.99

For those not familiar with Spanish wines, particularly those from Rioja, the region's star grapes is Tempranillo and the region has a board that controls the quality of wine. This is similar to France and Italy. You can read Wine Folly's more detailed post here, but I'll summarize some key facts. There are four levels of Rioja, starting from base to top quality: Rioja, Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva. Each level has longer aging requirements in both barrel and bottle, and each level gets more expensive. So, for a wine in the Crianza level, the Rioja board requires 1 year of aging in barrel (usually used oak) and 1 year in bottle. Why does that matter? The flavors that come from oak won't be as strong on a Crianza, and the wine will be more affordable than those with longer oak aging.

I'd say that sets up this wine pretty well. The bottle stated that it was cask aged over 16 months, and I bought the 2013 vintage, so it's been in the bottle for a couple of years. Overall, the wine smelled very nice -- like dark red fruit, pepper, and some smoke or earthiness. This all translated to the palate, too. It's very fruit-forward with black cherry and maybe even some blackberry with a hint of spice. The wine was not very tannic, which surprised me for Tempranillo, but the acid makes it very food friendly. We paired it with this wild rice casserole by Budget Bytes, and I thought the flavors went well together. I think it could stand to "open up a bit" because the flavors developed over time. So, if you can remember to do this, open the bottle about an hour in advance, or even better, decant it! Great flavor, good price point, and overall, a nice wine to have with dinner. 

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