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A Challenge to Amateur Sommeliers

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Getting married this fall in New England and having an outdoor wedding. We're buying our own wine and beer, and while we don't have trouble coming up with beer ideas, we'd love to hear wine suggestions. Our food will be buffet and likely consist of simple local ingredients, with chicken and fish as the main courses. We are looking to get a variety (buying just a couple bottles of several kinds) of reds and whites.

My challenge to you:
- pick four reds and three whites
- no riesling (we already found that one)
- price - nothing higher than $20/bottle (seriously)
- nothing so obscure that my local wine merchant is going to say "can't get it"
- preference from California, Washington State or Oregon

Would be excited and appreciative to hear any suggestions (if you can just recommend one or two, we'd love to hear those too!).

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  1. With the reds, I'd look for easy going wines that can pair well with chicken and fish, i.e. medium to light bodied. Given your price range, finding a wine without heavy oak influence won't be a problem, though finding them from the U.S. may be. Here's a list of wines that are food friendly from all over the world at your price point. Note that these are skewed to my taste buds and what I might want to have at a wedding, with just enough character to make things interesting.

    Reds:
    Benton Lane Pinot Noir, Willamette Oregon
    Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel (Grenache Blend) California
    Valle dell'Acate Frappato, Sicily
    Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo, Piedmont
    Querciabella Mongrana, Maremma Tuscany (Sangiovese)
    Erste e Neue Pinot Nero, Alto Adige
    Lapierre Morgon, Beaujolais
    Can Blau Montsant, Spain
    Any host of Côtes-du-Rhône from 2005-2007

    Whites:
    Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Blanc, Terres Dorées
    William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux
    Elena Walch Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige
    King Estate Pinot Gris, Oregon
    Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ
    Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs, New Mexico

    1. Fisrt of all, congratulations!

      Second of all, I have to say most of my thoughts are not domestic. I simply don't think that the U.S. is producing many inexpensive wines in nearly the same quality category as Spain, Italy, and lesser-known regions of France...

      My strongest possible red reccomendation satisfies your price requirement, but is not domestic nor easy to come by. But:

      2006 Anton Bauer Zweigelt (Imported by Prescott Wines, inc. in New York, NY) If you contact these people: http://kwselection.com/wineries/anton... you should be able to get it. Retail should be about $17 or $18 dollars. The wine is lighter bodied with some strawberry and black cherry components, an uncanny blood orange component, great minerality, and is, quite simply, the most complete red wine I've had uner $20 in many many years.

      Reds that are easier t find that I also strongly reccomend are:
      Firriato Chiaramonte Nero d'Avola, Sicily
      Mattie Barbera, Piedmont, Italy
      Borsao Tres Picos, Spain
      Giacomo Mori Chianti, Tuscany, Italy

      And a couple of wines I'll check on their names and get back to you

      And I second mengathon's reccomendation of:
      Valle dell'Acate Frappato, Sicily

      mengathon's domestic red reccomendations are as good as any I could give, though, again, I just don't think domestic reds in this price range are up to thier international competition.

      Whites:
      Cesconi Traminer, Trentino Alto Adige, Italy (STRONG Reccomendation
      )Torti Pino Nero Vinificato in Bianco, Oltrepo Pavese, Italy
      Sori Paitin Arneis, Piedmont, Italy
      Pra Soave, Veneto, Italy

      Mason Sauvignon Blanc, CA
      Navarro Gewurztraminer, CA (http://www.navarrowine.com/shop/produ...
      )Chehalem Pinot Gris, OR

      Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, NZ (not my favorite, but it seems to be a crowd pleaser)

      A couple more whose names I have to check on...

      4 Replies
      1. re: whiner

        For sure include the Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot. It is one of the better wines under $20 and even the snobs will drink it as it is made in the same way the $50 Cali wines are produced.

        Another solid red is the Fontanafredda Barbera from Piedmont. Good fruit that will please those who hate tannic wines.

        A nice everyday Pinot that is light is the 2007 A to Z Pinot.

        One thing you have to remember is that most people are not serious wine drinkers and if it is good and light most will like it. The Columbia Crest will be too tannic for many.

        1. re: whiner

          I wasn't aware that Paitin made an arneis. I recently tried both the '01 and '04 Barbarescos. The '01 was off the charts for value.

          1. re: mengathon

            The basic '04 Barbaresco is very expressive, but not my cup of tea. Too much Eucalyptase. I tasted through their entire current release last Wednesday and the standouts were actually the Arneis and the Dolcetto for value. The single vineyard Barbaresco was nice, too, but not worth the tariff when comparing it to other $70 Barbarescos. The '07 Arneis stole the show. Really special for $17, imo.

          2. re: whiner

            I just bought a bottle of that Pra Soave...what do you think of it? What would you pair it with?

          3. This should be all about crowd pleasers, and with these wines, I don't think that you can go wrong:

            4 reds:
            Cabernet sauvignon: 2006 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - This is a great deal, and depending on where you look, you can find it for $10-$15.

            Pinot Noir: 2006 Iris Vineyards Pinot Noir - for $20, this is so much better than then Benton Lane and Arglye regular bottlings!

            Merlot: Columbia Crest Grand Estates. Like someone mentioned, you cannot go wrong! This is a great QPR, and we pick up a few every year. Think we still have some '03's laying around actually.

            Rose: Fiddlehead Cellars Pinot Noir Pink Fiddle Fiddlestix - This is our go to summer rose that we buy by the barrel. This is great juice for around $15. This will help appease your "white zin" drinkers, but since it's in the fall, you might consider scrapping the rose, and going with a zinfandel. If that is the case:

            Zinfandel: 2007 Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Sonoma County - greatw for the money, and made Wine Spectators Top 10 list. But screw the scores, this is great juice, and we have buried many bottles so far.

            3 Whites - for whites, I wouldn't be afraid to shy away from the American stuff, as I think there are some better values out there.

            Sauvignon Blanc: for the money, anything from Marlborough should work. As other mentioned, we like the Kim Crawford, as well as New Haven, New Harbor, Silver Beach, and Whitehaven. All tasty.

            Chardonnay: want an absolute crowd pleaser, go to Tobin James website and order their Radiance. This is a great buy in my opinion, and if ordering a bunch, you will save money. Sign up for their wine club and get an additional 20% off per case I think. Only wine club we belong to, granted, we're on too many other mailing lists. Great deal and fun wines though! Note that they also make a sauvignon blanc called Sundance that you could subsitute for the above. I think it's around $12 a bottle.

            Viognier: why not! Love these wines, and love the Fess Parker for the money! Others will disagree, but this is a solid viognier for $18. Another good substitute would be Conundrum! Fun juice as well!

            Those are my recs as far as domestics go! Hope that helps! -mJ

            1 Reply
            1. re: njfoodies

              ^
              I like these picks very much, mine are similar
              given your challenge, I would list these:
              RED
              Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot
              Louis Martini Cab Sauvignon, Sonoma County 2006
              Seghesio 2007 Zinfandel, Sonoma County
              and consider something Spanish (great values) like Juan Gil, Jumilla Red
              WHITE
              Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is a good value and a great white
              Four Vines "Naked" Chardonnay, Santa Barbara (can be <$10!)
              and consider something Italian (my fave white under 20): Cavallotto Pinot Nero Blanc 2006 Langhe

              all easy to find and some way under 20, so buy more!

              Congrads!