SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

Under $20 Wines: Suggestions from K&L

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Local wine depot K&L Wine Merchants recently sent around an email extolling some under $20 wines.  The write ups were so go, they made me want to go out and snatch a couple bottles of each (especially the Edmunds St. John [which recently was named one of the Top 10 California Syrah Producers by the NYT] and the Banshee).  Here’s an excerpt from K&L’s Top Picks for June 2010:

In addition to being the perfect time to find everyday “value” bottlings, as wineries and wholesalers continue to look to K&L with massive discounts, June 2010 also presents the collector with a chance of grabbing pre-arrivals/futures from the 2009 Bordeaux vintage. There’s no debating that the ’09 Bordeaux vintage is spectacular. And if you choose to spend your cash wisely, you’ll be pleased to find a ton of bargains within the available selection. See for yourself.

We’ve posted the latest electronic copy of our printed newsletter in PDF format online at http://www.klwines.com/pdf-news.asp — here are some of our highlighted recommendations this month:

2008 Tabali Chardonnay Reserva Especial Limari Valley

2008 Tabali Chardonnay Reserva Especial Limari Valley ($12.99)

91 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: “The 2008 Chardonnay Reserva Especial shows off the potential for Chardonnay in Limari. It delivers Côte de Beaune like aromatics of mineral, toast, white fruits, and hazelnut. Elegant, intense, with lively natural acidity, this lengthy effort may well evolve for 1-2 years and can be enjoyed through 2014. Tabali is producing high quality wines from the newly developing cool-climate region of Limari.” Looking for Chile’s next big thing? Then allow us to introduce you to the region of Limari, an arid viticultural area that is far north of Santiago, but kept cool by its proximity to the Pacific and the influence of the cool Humboldt current, which originates at the southernmost tip of Chile. The wine leads with clean apple and sweet citrus aromas, tangerines in particular. On the palate, the wine is surprisingly restrained and the oak very well-integrated, no surprise as a combination of second, third and fourth use French oak barrels are used for a discreet nine months of aging. It is this skillful winemaking, the cool climate location, and the high limestone content that likely make this as interesting a bottle of Chardonnay as it is. This is hands down the tastiest Chardonnay I have had from South America in a long while, possibly ever.

Fans of this product include: Chiara Shannon, Ralph Sands

2006 Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah

2006 Zaca Mesa Santa Ynez Valley Syrah ($16.99)

93 points and a “Smart Buy” designation from Wine Spectator: “Offering wonderful floral, grapey plum and wild berry aromas, this is rich, smooth and supple on the palate, with tiers of dark berry, mocha, mineral and spice flavors that glide along. Drink now through 2015.” (02/10) Zaca Mesa has been on a serious roll over the last few vintages with their Santa Ynez Valley Syrah bottling. The 2005 was wonderful with its mix of ripe fruit and intense spice, the 2006 is more of the same except that it is even bigger and has a little more of everything packed into the same $16.99 package. The nose is perfect varietal Syrah, full of roast fennel, hot tar, muffuletta, and sweet black berry jam. Back that with deep, perfectly ripe flavors of white pepper, cassis, fried sage and violet and this is one intense, full throttle Syrah. For well under $20 this is one of the biggest steals we currently have in the Domestic section. (Bryan Brick, K&L)

2007 Edmunds St. John “That Old Black Magic” Rhône Blend ($18.99)

92 points from Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar: “(71% syrah and 29% grenache from the Wylie-Fenaughty vineyard; 100% whole-cluster fermented) Bright ruby-red. An exotic, powerful bouquet of red and dark berry compote, olive tapenade, bitter chocolate and intense florality. Juicy, precise and lithe, with sweet black raspberry and candied violet flavors nicely supported by supple tannins. The spice and floral notes carry through the finish, which is precise, sweet and impressively long. Lots going on already but this is built to age.” (May/June ’10)

By:Bryan Brick | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: 5/27/2010Steve Edmunds has been making some of the best Rhone Blends California has had to offer since 1985. Yet most outside of the Bay Area have never heard of his Edmunds St. John label. Why is that? Maybe it is because Steve never really has played the points game, or maybe it is because his wines are not jammy, blockbuster, winemaker wines but classy efforts that are meant for the dinner table not the cocktail hour. No matter what the reason it is a shame because Steve continues to make impressive wines for people that want a little more terroir and a little less residual sugar in their wines. The 2007 Edmunds St. John “That Old Black Magic” Rhône Blend is 2/3 Syrah from the Wylie and Fenaughty vineyards, of which he did not make a vineyard designate this year so all the best fruit has gone into this blend, and 1/3 Grenache from the Fenaughty Vineyard. The wine rested in 25+ year old barrels, how’s that for neutral oak! Possibly a touch riper and surely more complex than last years offering this is stunning wine chock full of boysenberry, currant, pastis, sage, warm clay and black peppercorn flavors. Easily drinkable, grilled meat appropriate and full of heart and soul this is hard not to love.

2008 Banshee Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

2008 Banshee Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir ($19.99)

Banshee Wines is not your normal wine company. It is a band of wine industry insiders dedicated to producing benchmark wines without the cult wine prices. These folks specialize in finding hidden gems in other wineries’ cellars and then blending those barrels to create killer wines. For every barrel they take, they pass on 15 more that don’t make the cut. The secret is that today, high-end wineries can’t sell all the wine they make and they don’t want to lower prices because they don’t want to diminish their brand. They would rather sell some of their wine to us and protect their luxury prices. Fine by Banshee and even better for you. You’ll find Banshee on some of the best restaurant lists in the world and in the cellars of the wine cognoscenti. You know, those people that tend to know these types of things. The goal is to deliver distinctive wines that beat the pants off many costing twice as much. With its nose of fresh blackberry, volcanic ash, fried sage and porcini mushroom and deep rich flavors of kirsch, Asian plum, finely cracked white pepper and a touch of tarragon, there may not be a better Pinot for $20 this year.

By:Bryan Brick | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: 5/13/2010“Banshee,” as in you will make out like one if you are sage enough to grab a few bottles of this wine. Coming from two young, but seasoned, wine professionals Steve Graf and Baron Ziegler this brand spanking new project sure excited me. Basically they went into a very popular, undisclosed winery, tasted every barrel of Pinot Noir they had and came up with three different appellation blends, Santa Lucia Highlands, Sonoma Coast and Sonoma County. While all three bottlings are delicious I thought that the Santa Lucia Highlands bottling was really the overachiever here. With its giving, forward nature, ripe fruit and long spicy finish a Pinot like this is rare at the $20 price point, especially from the skyrocketing appellation of Santa Lucia Highlands. With its nose of fresh blackberry, volcanic ash, fried sage and porcini mushroom and deep rich flavors of kirsch, Asian plum, finely cracked white pepper and a touch of tarragon I don’t know if I’ve seen a better Pinot for $20 this year. (Bryan Brick, K&L)

2006 Domaine Alain Gras St-Romain Blanc (Was $35 Elsewhere!)

2006 Domaine Alain Gras St-Romain Blanc (Was $35 Elsewhere!) ($19.99)

Alain Gras is one of the more reliable producers in the tiny village of St. Romain. His vines average 40 years of age, and he hand-harvests, uses about 20% stems, and ages in oak barrels, with less than 25% new oak to keep the wine more open and show off the minerality and delicacy that is the hallmark of St. Romain. This is a terrific value in White Burgundy. (Keith Wollenberg, K&L Burgundy Buyer) As Clive Coates writes: “Alain Gras is the leading grower in Saint-Romain. The view from his courtyard, up in Saint-Romain-le-Haut, perched above a 100-foot cliff, is breathtaking. Alain Gras’wines are pure, elegant and full of fruit. ” About the 2006, Wine Spectator writes: “Peach and melon notes show the ripe side of this white. It ends with a grapefruit peel accent and modest length” (Wine Spectator)

By:Kirk Walker | K&L Staff Member | Review Date: 3/5/2010This is one of the more esteemed producers in the St-Romaine AOC, and after trying this wine you can see why. 40 plus year old vines, hand harvested, and then aged in oak barrels, 25% new this is serious white burgundy. With fruit tones that lean more to the peach melon end of the spectrum then supported with just the right amount of oak spice and a vibrant finish with just a hint of citrus.

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