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WINE

Costco Christmas Wines
updated: Dec 11, 2010, 9:45 AM

By Marc Liberts

My last few wine tasting articles have generated some comments about the excessive pricing of the wines I've been reporting about. In the last few years, I've made wine my hobby and my passion, and I've tried to seek out high quality wines without consideration to price. I realize that $50.00 for a bottle of wine is considered excessive by some. I hope that by sharing my observations, those of you who might want to splurge one day might remember the name of a special wine I've tried and written about.

So, with austerity and the economy in mind, I decided to venture back to Costco in Goleta to pick out a bunch of wines in the $10.00 range that had received ratings from the critics in the 90-point range. I shop regularly at Costco, and I enjoy browsing their wine aisles. Consistently over the years, Costco has carried some great wines at really good prices. I'm currently eyeing the 2008 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon (the one in the locked glass case). It is a highly rated wine at one of the best prices I've seen anywhere. I just have to decide if I'm willing to take the plunge and treat myself to a $100.00 bottle. We'll see.

I've found lots of gems at Costco over the years from all over the world in the $10.00 - $20.00 price range. I've slipped many of them into some fancy wine-tastings I've gone to, and many of them have shown quite nicely. In order to meet my current $10.00/90 point requirement, I had to pick all Sauvignon Blancs for my white wines. Most of the Chardonnays were over $15.00. The good Chardonnays were generally over $20.00. So, I focused on Sauvignon Blanc. I found one from Santa Barbara, two from Napa, and one from Mendocino. Finding red wines in my $10.00/90 point ratings was a bit tougher. Ultimately, I found myself picking one Australian Shiraz, one Spanish GSM blend, one French Rhone blend, and one Italian blend. All the wines were tasted blind. Also, all the wines were opened within 30 minutes of tasting to simulate the average wine drinking experience at home or eating out. Here is my report.

1. PATIANNA - Sauvignon Blanc - Mendocino - 2008: I was looking forward to this wine because the wine is made from Biodynamic grapes. Biodynamic is basically organic farming with a holistic approach. Beckmen Vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley is currently doing Biodynamic farming, and I like their wines very much. The Patianna was very light in color, has a grassy and tropical nose, and has nice minerality and fruit on the palate. It isn't terribly interesting, but is a decent wine overall. I rated it 86 points. A good value for $10.00.

2. GIRARD - Sauvignon Blanc - Napa Valley - 2009: Girard is a famous Napa Valley producer. This wine is very light in color with a pretty floral nose. It is somewhat bland on the palate, and I found it to be boring and lacking complexity. Others in the tasting panel liked it more than I did, and I rated it 82 points. A decent value for $10.00, and rated 91 points by Wine Enthusiast.

3. SANTA BARBARA WINERY - Sauvignon Blanc - Santa Ynez Valley - 2008: Santa Barbara Winery is a favorite in Santa Barbara amongst many locals and tourists. This wine is produced from local grapes and has some oak fermentation. It has a darker golden color than the previous 2, and has a nose that features sweet flowers and melon. On the palate it is a bit soapy, shows some oak, and has some sweet characteristics. I bet most people would like this wine because it has a roundness that is easy to enjoy. I rated it 85 points. It is a good local value wine for around $10.00.

4. ROBERT MONDAVI WINERY - Fume Blanc - Napa Valley - 2008: Everyone knows Robert Mondavi. Not everyone knows that Robert Mondavi put his Sauvignon Blanc in oak and then re-named it 'Fume Blanc' to make it more appealing from a marketing perspective, pulling from the reputation of Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fume in France. This wine is pale in color with a quiet nose. It is plusher and more balanced than the other 3, and has good mouth-feel, featuring tropical fruit, acid and some oak. The panel was split on this wine, but I rated it 87 points. Another good value for $10.00.

One glaring truth about these $10.00 Sauvignon Blancs is that none of them really jumped out and let you know they were Sauvignon Blanc. My tasting panel was made up of wine professionals, and they weren't sure these were all Sauvignon Blancs until I took the bags off the bottles. I've tried dozens of good and great Sauvignon Blancs in 2010, and these four were the least indicative of what a Sauvignon Blanc should be. That being said, they are decent wines. All were rated 89-90 points by the professional wine critics, and all are good values. You can bring and or serve any of these wines at Christmas dinner and not be disappointed.

Finding four red wines in the $10.00 range and rated 89-90 points by the wine critics was a bit harder. In order to achieve this, I had to go international, and luckily Costco has a good selection of international wines in the $10.00 - $15.00 range.

5. MONTE ANTICO - Toscana - Italy - 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon & 5% Merlot - 2006 - This wine has tinges of orange and brown around a body of light red. It has a nice nose featuring black cherry and spice. Even for a 2006, the wine is heavily tannic. It is a bit thin, but well balanced with nice fruit and spice on the palate. The panel agreed that this was an 87-point wine. A decent value, but due to the high tannins, this wine might not be appropriate to serve to people who aren't wine drinkers. I think it could easily overwhelm the average wine drinker. It is possible that this wine might mellow if decanted and or opened a few hours before drinking.

6. PAPA LUNA - Calatayud - 2007 - Spain - 75% Grenache - 20% Shiraz - 5% Monastrell: This wine starts with a fruity, fresh, chalky nose. On the palate, it is pleasant, fruity, has nice minerality, and is a bit simple with an abrupt finish. The panel generally agreed that this was a decent wine, and I rated it 86 points. A good value for $13.00 that should please most people.

7. PERRIN & FILS - Cotes Du Rhone Village - 2007 - 50% Grenache - 50% Syrah: A classic Rhone blend from the Rhone Valley in France, this wine is pale red in color. On the nose, I got light fruit and some simple spice. On the palate, I got dark berry flavors with mild pepper and mild spice, and a short finish. Overall, we all liked it and I rated it 88 points. A really good value for $9.99, and a classic French Rhone blend that is sure to appeal to the average wine drinker.

8. MARQUIS PHILIPS - McLaren Vale - Shiraz - Australia - 2008: For those of you who don't know, Shiraz is usually the Australian marketing name for the same grapes that we had in the French and Spanish wines tasted previously - Syrah. This wine is very dark in color, with heavy prunes and red, pitted fruit on the nose. On the palate, this wine is very extracted and the prunes continue from the nose to the palate. It is big in every sense, with a heavy and long finish. One taster immediately identified it as Australian, and another thought it was a Paso Robles wine. We agreed that this wine is fun to drink, but might not pair well with food, and gets a bit overwhelming after one glass. That being said - this is an excellent example of very good Australian Shiraz, and it displays all of the characteristics that are expected from this type of wine from down under. I rated it 91 points, and this wine was the overall winner of the tasting.

In my opinion, wine is best when paired with food. That being said, most of these wines would be great choices for Christmas dinner. The whites would all be appropriate wines to serve with salads, light appetizers, and poultry. The reds would be appropriate to pair with meat, prime rib, roasts, and game birds. Luckily, really good wine can be found at our Goleta Costco for around $10.00 per bottle. Almost all of the wines I've tried from Costco have been good or better. Look at the ratings carefully and make sure that the wine you are buying has been well reviewed by the critics. Sometimes, Costco will report ratings from other vintages of a wine than the vintage they are selling, so check carefully. Most of all - enjoy!

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