The Best Wines on Planet Earth


The Salut! Wine Club

John Platter writes the foremost guide annually about South African wines.  It’s in the Platter’s Guide where you’ll find the glowing, multiple-year reviews of one of South Africa’s most noteworthy, almost cult-worthy wines — the Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc.

It hasn’t been an easy road for either South African wines nor the Mulderbosch estate.  The Dutch originally colonized the area as a provisions stop at the Cape of Good Hope and established some vineyards.  But centuries later the South African country was still embroiled in political turmoil and the international wine market had not yet developed substantially.

So when Larry Jacobs bought his vineyard land that had laid fallow for a century, and hired winemaker Mike Dubrovic to build some great wines, they had no idea that 20 years later they would both be known as the creators of South Africa’s best white wine.

This racy bottling single-handedly put South Africa on the map as a source of world class Sauvignon Blanc. One of the Cape’s most heralded and sought-after wines, it garners 90+ scores vintage after vintage. Vivid tropical fruit aromas give way to succulent, mouth-filling flavors of guava, lychee, gooseberry, lime, and fresh cut grass, supported by a bracing jolt of acidity. — 90 Points, Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar

This wine has a strength not present in the mineral-laden Loire Valley examples.  It has a broad and dynamic personality not found in the more sedate California Sauv Blancs.  The fruit is more tempered and mature than the Northwest entries.  It compares closely with the intensity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines, but you’ll discover a vein of spice hiding out.  It all combines into a wine that will dance with seafood and shellfish dishes.

This wine is regularly sold for $21.99

 

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The Salut! Wine Club

Many wineries in Walla Walla lay claim to award-winning and microsopically brief histories, including Spring Valley Vineyards.  Their first marketed vintage was in 1999, and they’ve already carved a wide swath of 90+ point scores for their six estate-only wines.  After the loss of the owners’ son and original winemaker Devin Derby in 2004, winemaker Serge Laville took the reigns and honorably maintained the top quality of this assortment. 

Spring Valley Frederick Label

Named after the son of Uriah and father of owner Shari

This year the blend is 54% Cab Sauv, 27% Merlot, 10% Cab Franc, 7% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec, a traditional Bordeaux-style blend.  The winery says:

 “The nose is seductive and fresh with scents of licorice, cassis, and rose petal. The mouth is an explosion of summer fruit: plum, dry cherry, blackberry, and cassis. The tannins are fine grained, concentrated and soft. The acidity keeps the wine in perfect balance and showcases the terrior of Spring Valley Vineyard. Notes of roasted coffee and vanilla linger on the long finish.”

While the Uriah blend often holds the spotlight and earns favor from publications (the Uriah blend will probably age longer and exhibits a more elegant flow), it’s the Frederick that, to me, represents the more vibrant and full character that gives Washington wines a more youthful vigor and ability to be enjoyed (without quilt) a lot earlier than cellar-able California and Bordeaux examples.

Rich and chewy, with a brightness to the cherry and mulberry fruit that balances well against hints of wet earth and cedar as the finish persists expressively. There’s nice balance and length. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and others. Best from 2010 through 2016. 3,000 cases made. – Wine Spectator 92 Points

This is a well rounded and beautifully structured red, and a great represenation of the style Washington has to offer.  The more youthful and full fruit will pair with spice rubs over hearty meat cuts or roasted fowl.

This wine is regularly sold for $49.99′

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It was a “magical” yacht voyage and a beneficial relationship with Oregon’s David O’Rielly that allowed ZanZibar Cellars to burst onto the Willamette Valley winemaking scene a few years ago.  Winemaker Ziad Keirouz’s young-adult voyage to exotic locales ended with the realization that a life of engineering was not for him.  Meeting David while researching the benefits of a winemaker’s life afterward provided a firm sense of placement for a new career.  Thus, the ZanZibar’s Northwest wines are created with Washington State grapes in the equipment at David O’Rielly’s Owen Roe facilities.

I first encountered the wine a few years ago from several customers.  After sampling this new wine at an event, restaurant or winery, they would come to Salut! and gush praise for the “massive and exuberant” Sandra they had tasted.  When I finally had the chance to taste it for myself, I had to agree.  The flavors were bold, extraction was complete, and the lush, sexy appeal comes from a full and velvety experience.

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah from Columbia valley vineyards. Grapes are hand harvested and undergo small batch whole berry fermentation and extended maceration to ensure the development of remarkable and supple structure and body. Malolactic fermentation is completed in 100% new French oak barrels, where the wine continues to age and mature for 12 months until it is bottled. It will then be cellared for the next 12 months before it is released.

You’re going to want to drink a glass of this wine before dinner, with hearty appetizers, to appreciate its full depth.  Then, let the wine carry you into a big meal with the second glass.  Beware, however…there won’t be too many wines that can follow it willingly.  Perhaps just have a second bottle ready to go.

If you want to experience more from ZanZibar, there’s a unique “Sandra Solera” created from multiple vintages of  the Sandra blends.  Each year, a limited 2 barrels are blended with past vintages to form a unique expression of Ziad’s work.  It sells out quickly, but let me know if you want me to seek out this wine for you.

This wine is regularly sold for $48.99

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Mike Januik, winemaker at Novelty Hill, is a well-recognized talent in the Washington wine industry.  His namesake Januik label has long been a favorite of mine (his Chardonnay was placed in our wine club earlier).  Actually, his wines have been a favorite of many.  At least 12 wines from his hand have been included on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 lists. 

The value “Novelty Hill” label started just a few years ago and the releases have been an excellent and affordable way to enjoy Washington’s best on a daily basis.  Much of the fruit for this wine comes from the estate-owned Stillwater Creek Vineyards.  The 2006 red is a cacophony of varietals including 33% Syrah, 18% each of Cab Franc and Mourvedre, 13% Merlot, 11% Cabernet and 7% Petit Verdot. 

Generous and round offering delicious, ripe red plum, blueberry and currant aromas and flavors, with a lip-smacking, spicy finish.

What I most like about the Novelty Hill wines (and other Januik releases) is the restraint away from overextraction.  These wines aren’t fruit bombs, where blasts of fruit cover up the flaws found in many value and “second label” wines.  Instead, Novelty Hill wines give you the fruit you want while allowing the character of Washington to come forward.  Spice, wood, tea, tannin, herbs and other delicate notes can enhance the complexity and create a perfect match with any meal, whether dramatically flavored or elegantly sublime.

This wine is regularly sold for $14.99, but is available to wine club members for only $13.99!

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Just two weeks ago we invited Portland to sample through a grand array of 100 different wines at our first-ever Squatters Tasting Event in Portland.  Over 100 people came to taste, and one wine stole the show.  Nearly every taster immediately took home bottles and we sold out of this wine first.

This wine is a creation from Lodi, California, with 85% Grenache and 15% Tempranillo.  Both varieties are best known on the Iberian Peninsula as ingredients in the best wines of Spain, and as grapes used in the production of Port wines.  Grenache is also famed as one of the main grapes of France’s Rhone Valley.

grapes are now taking hold here on the West Coast as producers test fun new varietals in the more arid growing regions most resembling the weather patterns in the traditional countries.

Displays a bright, vibrant ruby color with aromas of fresh cherries, raspberries and pomegranate fruit intermingled with sweet oak and savory spice. The flavors match the aromas with the pure, lively fruit washing over the palate with hints of cola, vanilla and fresh herbs. The velvety texture is highlighted by the bright acidity that carries the fruit through the smooth, supple and sensuous finish where the well integrated, powdery tannins complete the wine.

The spicy fruit flavors will pair perfectly with bold BBQ, game meats, hearty burgers and even Asian or East Indian dishes, but certainly can just be enjoyed as is, for years to come!  But act fast.  Only 146 cases of this wine were produced.

This wine is now regularly sold for $18.99Tech Sheet 


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Mount Eden is very well known as one of the original modern-day wine producers of the Santa Cruz mountains, and their Chardonnay represents both a luscious example of what California Chardonnay is known for, plus an outstanding value on top of that.  Hailed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in several vintages, the Wolff Chardonnay from grapes sourced in the Edna Valley, it demonstrates exactly what people mean when they ask for a “buttery” wine.

EdnaFor the 2007 vintage, Wine Spectator awarded another great score, with 91 points and a “Smart Buy” designation:

Ripe and floral, with fleshy peach, nectarine, melon and spice.  Full-bodied, focused and elegant, with a long, persistent finish that emphasizes the ripe fruitiness.  Drink now through 2012.

In recent years, the overabundance of poorly made and over-hyped buttery styles of Chardonnay created a backlash.  Now, the propensity of many wineries is toward producing un-oaked, crisp and clean versions.  As wineries scramble to prove themselves as non-conformist as every other winery by stopping their buttery/oaky production of Chardonnay, it’s the remaining neo-traditionalists that show just why this style became popular in the first place.   My recommendation is to remove the attitude.  There are plenty of unoaked wines throughout the world to choose from.  Sometimes the table begs for something rich, full, smooth and creamy.

The processes

The spectrum of styles comes from two winemaking methods working in tandem.  First, oak aging of the Chardonnay adds flavors including not just oak/cedar notes, but also butter and vanilla.  The newer the oak, the stronger the impressions.  This oak aging is a hallmark of France’s Burgundy region.  Unoaked versions are more in line with France’s Chablis style.  Secondly, the winemaking process known as Malolactic Fermentation is the use of a second strain of bacteria put to work transforming crisper Malic acids into the softer, creamier Lactic acids (like the acids in cream).

mounteden_2007_wolff_chardThis Wolff Chardonnay is both 100% oak aged and has gone through 100% malolactic fermentation.  But rather than overdone, the rich and creamy appeal is in the full-bodied fruit in abundance, layed across a backbone of balanced oak flavors.  Thankfully, there are still enough great producers of this California style that we can craft savory and creamy chicken dishes, cedar-plank salmon or a sprawling holiday meal to enjoy alongside a great glass of Chardonnay.  This is one of the best anywhere near this price.

2007 was a classic year from this mature, thirty-year-old vineyard. The grapes were harvested in October because of the cool, maritime climate in Edna Valley, and the long growing season gave the wine firm structure and beautiful acidity with buoyant aromas of citrus zest, gardenia flower and toasty nuance. Aged for nine months in French and American oak, this chardonnay is full and rich on the palate reflecting its old-vine, barrel fermented, sur-lie approach. The finish is long and complete.

This wine is regularly sold for $19.99, but is available to wine club members for only $17.99!

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Perfect wine doesn’t have a single definition.  There will never be a machine that can turn out ‘perfect’ wines.  There are too many variables and it is the uniqueness of each artful release that brings forth a worthy story rather than a homogenous, measurable string of proper qualities. 

That being said, it is possible to hedge bets toward fantastic releases.  It requires attention to a number of variables:

  • Buy the best grapes available from the areas most skilled grape growers (a step that requires longstanding relationships as well)
  • Buy the most technologically advanced equipment and finest traditional barrels
  • Enlist the help of the finest and most experienced oenologists, practiced using the grapes found in your final release

saggi_90This is the basis for Long Shadows Vintners. 

Founder Allen Shoup has earned an influential placement at the pinnacle of Washington’s wine industry.   He began with humble beginnings at Gallo in California and rose through vast achievement to CEO of Stimson Lane (owner of Chateau Ste. Michelle & Columbia Crest), Washington’s largest wine company.  With his broad assets of professional relationships, prime properties and ample finances, he’s been able to pair Washington’s best grapes with the world’s finest talent to create tremendously well-made expressions of our Northwest’s best.

Through these efforts come the 2006 rendition of Saggi, the Long Shadows “Super Tuscan” style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Shoup has invited the talents of the Tuscan winemaking father and son team of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari to craft the wine using grapes grown in the Horse Heaven Hills and Alder Ridge vineyards.

The added bonus of this wine is an additional year of age in the bottle.  The 2007 has been released, but the silky smoothness of the 2006 is showing through with increasing balance and contemplative layers.

Dark cherry aromas and flavors combine with a hint of nutmeg in this Super Tuscan style blend. An elegant entry in the front of the mouth reveals refined tannins with focused concentration, enhanced by the wine’s silky mouth feel and lengthy finish.

This wine is regularly sold for $36.99, but is available to wine club members for only $31.99!

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