Affordable Luxury: Trade Up to Premium Wine this Holiday Season

As much as we may preach the merits of frugality and value, it does feel nice to indulge a little from time to time. There’s a reason why people pay big bucks for a personal massage, or a great pair of shoes: The difference only becomes evident once you experience it for yourself. There’s no forgetting, once you’ve tried the best.

Such is the case for wine, too. There are just some, that are clearly a notch above. You don’t have to be a trained Sommelier, a collector, or even have visited Napa Valley to recognize this when you taste it. You feel it at a visceral level. You catch yourself smiling, without really knowing why!

This subject is a timely one, as the holidays are upon us; so often we find ourselves searching for a quick, easy gift that manages to still feel, really special. Need something for your boss? Or maybe something to take to a holiday dinner party? Perhaps you’re planning a quiet night in with your loved ones. You can almost never go wrong with a bottle of premium wine.

And before you assume these wines are out of your price range, they’re actually quite reasonable for what they deliver. Everything listed below is under $50, in some cases, below $30.

Great wine starts in the vineyard - Image from Washington Wine Institute

First. What makes a great wine, great?

Grapes, just harvested at Baer Winery

There are many aspects to making a wine, but any wine maker will tell you, it always starts in the vineyards. Some locations just produce better fruit than others: They benefit from better sun exposure, better water drainage, or maybe the grapevines themselves are just naturally superior.

How the wine maker makes his or her wine, is the second-most important factor in the process. Their handling of the wine, from harvesting to bottling, will determine the character and quality of a wine. This includes hand-picking, slow fermenting, oak aging, careful blending of wines, and bottle-aging too. This type of labor doesn’t typically happen in the production of value-oriented wines.

The winemaking process is quite complicated. But to put it more simply, think of wine, as a luxury car. You can feel the quality from top to bottom. From the stitching on the leather seats, to the real-wood trim, you get a sense that a lot of care and time went into making this. It’s all about better quality materials, more care, and more labor.

Featured Winery #1: Baer Cellars

Located in Woodinville, Washington, Baer was founded in 2000 by Lance Baer. After working for some of the area’s best wineries, Lance decided to create his own line of fine wines. The winery gets its grapes from 16 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Valley, some of the best in the region (Stillwater Vineyard) and produces only 40K bottles of wine a year (that’s small for a winery). There’s a definite emphasis on quality over quantity here. The aim is to make French Bordeaux-style and Burgundy-style wines, often with lots of barrel aging (almost 2 years). The wines consistently collect awards from top experts and magazines (see below).

Baer Winery's Erica Orr, Lisa Baer and Les Baer
Guardian Cellars' Jennifer and Jerry Riener

Featured Winery #2: Guardian Cellars

Another Woodinville-based family operation, Guardian gets its name from owner and winemaker, Jerry Riener, who also happens to be a Seattle cop. While studying at the police academy, he did side jobs at local wineries and fell in love with the craft. Together Jerry and his wife, Jennifer run the operation. Like Baer winery, Guardian sources its grapes from the best growers around Washington state to create big, bold French-style reds with lots of oak aging. Jerry has a personal policy of aging all of his reds in barrel for at least one year, but up to two, before bottling. You can imagine how much power and structure these wines must have! With tongue-in-cheek names like Gun Metal, Alibi and the Informant, the wines are pretty serious stuff, while not taking themselves too seriously: Much like Jerry himself!

The Wines

Baer Arctos Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – $39.99
90 points, Wine Enthusiast

Locate/Buy Arctos at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

Predominantly made from the “King” of all grapes, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, with a touch of Petit Verdot (for color and aroma) and Merlot (for smoothness). This is a big wine, with 22 months in French Oak barrels and a whopping 15% alcohol by volume.

Why it’s amazing
From the first sip, the main vibe here is “dark” – black plum, black currant, black olive tapenade, all very classic Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon descriptors. A depth of rich black plum and cherry, lifted by pretty violet. It is punctuated with herbaceous licorice, bay leaf, and savory cigar box. Seamless and silky on the palate, with fine tannins.

How to enjoy Arctos
A wine this dark and brooding would be great with duck confit and blueberry balsamic. All of those dark berry flavors are a perfect parallel to the blueberry, and of course, the oak smokiness partners with the crispy duck skin. Balsamic and rich umami flavors abound in both the wine and the duck confit. Pure heaven!

Baer Star Merlot Columbia Valley 2014 – $34.99
91 Points Wine Spectator

Locate/Buy Star at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

Merlot is known for its rich, smooth and silky feel, and this wine doesn’t disappoint. There’s a touch of Cabernet Franc in here to add some complexity and a characteristic herbal quality.

Why it’s amazing
The word “savory” comes to mind with the first sip of Star. Fresh cherry and raspberry are tempered with notes of cocoa, cola, and a bite of clove. This wine is medium bodied with plush tannins. Delicate, fresh and firm red fruit character from the Merlot blends nicely with the floral and savory herb notes from the more structured Cabernet Franc.

How to enjoy Star
A wine like this has many layers of flavor, from fruity to savory, to herbal: All of which would go nicely with roasted meat or vegetable dishes. Anything that marries well with herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme, would partner well with this wine. First thought would be a pot roast, but an oven-roasted chicken or turkey wouldn’t be too shabby either.

Baer Ursa 2014 – $42.99
91 points Wine Enthusiast
90 points Wine Spectator

Locate/Buy Ursa at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

Ursa is the flagship of the winery – Lance Baer founded Baer winery with the Ursa blend, back in 2000. It is equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. And, another big hitter, at 14.5% alcohol.

Why it’s amazing
The aromas of Ursa are brooding, with notes of oak-barrel spice, coffee, blackberry, green pepper and dried herb. The flavors are bright and fresh, light on their feet, showing a fine sense of elegance and detail. (from wine reviewer, Sean Sullivan)

How to enjoy Ursa
Bold reds are typically tannic, and tannic wines are best matched with strong proteins. All of the flavors mentioned above would be a perfect complement to a grilled Angus steak with tangy rosemary butter, but of course, if you’re not into meats, a grilled Portobello with shaved Grana Padana and thyme could do the trick.

Guardian Chalk Line 2016 – $26.99

Locate/Buy Chalk Line at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

This red blend is 42% Cabernet, 28% Syrah, 28% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. 14.5% alcohol makes this a big, rich and age-worthy wine. Although good now, this vintage can stay in the cellar for years and only get better. 

Why it’s amazing:
Right from the beginning this wine screams out wild blackberry and plum jam. These dark fruit notes are soon joined by the sweet notes of vanilla latte and roasted coffee along with some black pepper spice. The mouth-feel is dense, lengthy and generous.

How to best enjoy Chalk Line:
Because there are so many different layers of complexity in this wine, from berries to vanilla to pepper… you’d want a dish that is also layered in a similar way. The first thing that comes to mind for me, is Greek Moussaka, a lasagna-like casserole that has exotic spices like allspice and cinnamon, often made with a game meat like lamb. A sweet and savory dish like that, would take this wine to another level altogether.

Guardian Gun Metal 2015 – $39.99

Locate/Buy Gun Metal at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

A blend of 48% Cabernet, 48% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot from Columbia Valley, Gun Metal was aged 20 months on 65% new French oak. With that much time in barrel, you can expect lots of oak, spice and earthy notes in the glass. 14.5% alcohol makes for a heavy wine.

Why it’s amazing:
This wine features notes of black cherry, vanilla bean, cedar, black olive, licorice and a hint of leather. A very unique stack of fruit and spice flavors and sensations in one glass.

How to best enjoy Gun Metal:
With a wine this funky, I’d focus in on the interesting secondary notes of olives, licorice and leather. I’m thinking umami/savory deliciousness, with a dish that features sausages and black olives. I’d make a simple pasta ragu using tomato, sweet Italian sausage and olives, and top with Parmagiano/Reggiano.

Guardian The Informant 2015 – $29.99

Locate/Buy The Informant at PA Fine Wine, Good Spirits Stores >>

This is classic Syrah wine, with a little oomph. It’s a blend of 97% Syrah with 3% Viognier, a white grape often added in for a little floral fragrance. This velvety and lush wine was aged 18 months on French oak. With only 350 cases (4,200 bottles) this is a very limited production wine and worth seeking out.

Why it’s awesome:
This is one serious wine with tons of weight in the mouth. It’s thick and unctuous. Chock full of notes of blueberry, white pepper and tar (yes, tar). Given enough time in the bottle, that tar character will mellow out and start to take shape as wet earth and meaty notes (think lamb or goat meat). That’s one FUNKY wine.

How to best enjoy the Informant:
Another funky wine calls for a funky partner at the table. Think grilled game meats, with a bit more of a powerful flavor: Goat, lamb, venison, duck, organ meats, liver, etc. I’d personally pair this up with some grilled Lamb chops and mint. The mint may seem counterintuitive, but strangely it’s a great flavor with red wines, particularly, Syrah.

Some Luxuries are Within Reach!

Now that you’ve spent some time learning about these premium wines, they’re not so intimidating, now are they? Nor are they as expensive, or out of reach as one would assume. At Deschere’s we try as best as possible to make it easy and fun to everyone to embrace wine. We hope you’ll reach out to us with any questions, and of course, give some of these great wines a try now. 

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Wine Pairing Can Be Cool!

No, like, really cool. Just as much as I love watching the seasons change, I also enjoy the range of moods and flavors that seem to go along with seasonal wine choices, too. Wine doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be expensive, and you certainly don’t have to follow anyone’s rules. Just chill up a bottle or two and follow your instincts.

That being said, I hope these suggestions will bring you tons of pleasure this season, and feel free to reach out to me to share your thoughts and ideas, too!

– Marc Supsic, DWS
The Rebel Sommelier / Wine Living
More great wine & food tips on Marc’s YouTube channel

Champagne Tastes, Prosecco Prices: Award-Winning Bubbly from Washington’s Treveri Cellars

Here in the US, the term “Champagne” is often used loosely to describe a wine that has bubbles in it. “Are you bringing Champagne to brunch?” More than likely it’s Prosecco, or maybe Spanish Cava, but who cares, right? It’s all Champagne to most of us.

Not All Bubbles Are Created Equal

Champagne only comes from one place: Champagne, France. And it ain’t cheap. The specific production technique, known as Methode Champenoise, is done with painstaking care; manually and slowly. Only the highest standards are allowed here. This is why you’ll pay big bucks (hundreds, for a famous brand) for a bottle of Champagne.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were sparkling wines made to Champagne standards, but at more affordable prices? Well, great news! There are… and they’re made right here in America!

Presenting Washington State’s Treveri Cellars

Located in Wapato, Yakima Valley, Treveri Cellars is a family-owned sparkling wine house that now produces some of the finest handcrafted sparkling wines in the United States. Their wines have been served at White House State Department receptions and the James Beard Foundation in New York, and have scored many awards and high ratings over the years.

 

Winemaker Juergen Grieb was born in the town of Trier, Germany and has a degree in both winemaking and sparkling winemaking. While attending wine school in the early 1980s, Juergen learned his craft with some of the best German Sekt (pronounced, “ZEKT”) producers of the day. After graduating, he scored a job with a German-based winery in Washington, where he worked for decades before setting out on his own.

Juergen opened Treveri (During the times of the Roman Empire, Trier was known as, “Treveris,”) in 2010 with a mission to put Washington sparkling wine on the US map. As one of the State’s first dedicated sparkling wine houses, that meant, figuring out exactly what makes a Washington bubbly unique. He decided, it was about letting the purity of the grapes – more crisp, acidic and bright, in this region of the country – shine through without interference. Each wine is handcrafted in the French Methode Champenoise, using great care and attention, which produces some of the best sparkling wines you’ve ever tasted: All fresh, complex, yeasty and each one, characteristic of their respective grape.

The Wines

Treveri largely focuses on 100% varietal (single-grape) sparkling wines, including non-traditional varieties such as Riesling and Mueller-Thurgau. Deschere’s is proud to offer six top-sellers to PA consumers through the Fine Wine Good Spirits stores. Here’s the topline:

 

#46309 Blanc de Blanc Brut – $13.99

Rated 91 Points Wine Spectator Magazine
Rated 90 Points, Wine Enthusiast Magazine
Best Buy, Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Made of 100% Chardonnay from the Yakima Valley this Blanc de Blanc (white wine, made from white grapes) features green apple flavor with a hint of brioche, balanced by bright acid and a touch of yeast on the palate for a cool, crisp finish. Pair this one up with oysters on the half-shell, grilled chicken breast with citrus glaze and white fish, like cod!

Buy it here…

 

#38581 Sparkling Rose Sec – $18.99

Rated 91 Points, Wine Spectator Magazine

A blend of Syrah and Chardonnay with a delightful color and a fruit-forward profile, this rosé is all strawberry, rhubarb, watermelons and spice with a hit of yeast on the nose. It would be great with a Prosciutto panini, salmon cakes with cilantro-ginger aioli and Salade Niçoise. An award-winning Sparkling Rosé that’s been served at the US State Department for 4th of July celebrations in 2012 as well as the Spring Diplomatic Receptions in 2014.

Buy it here…

#20282 Sparkling Syrah – $18.99

Rated 88 Points, Wine Spectator Magazine

A one-of-a-kind red sparkling wine made from 100% Syrah, combining rich flavors of blackberry, pepper, cherries, and a hint of tobacco for a dark and delicious treat that is all its own. This beautiful sparkling wine has not only caught the eye of Treveri’s customers, but it has also garnered national attention as it was served at the US State Department Holiday Receptions. Pair it up with a sweet and tangy smoked brisket, pork chops and grilled lamb chops.

Buy it here…

#73614 Sparkling Blanc de Noirs – $17.99

Rated 88 Points, Wine Spectator Magazine
2016 Top 100 Value, Wine Spectator

“Blanc de Noir” means, “white from black.” 100% Pinot noir adds a subtle touch of color and complexity, with a hint of strawberries and brioche on the nose. The rich acidity and creamy finish are great for pairing with fatty foods like smoked salmon, lamb chops with mint aioli and sea scallops topped with a raspberry compote.

Buy it here…

#47412 Sparkling Riesling Demi Sec (Slightly Sweet) – $18.99

One of the world’s most aromatic varietals, Treveri Cellars’ sparkling Riesling boasts a delightful bouquet of apricot, peach, and a bit of honey, balanced by high acidity and a rich creaminess on the palate. Riesling grapes are on the rise in Washington state, and Treveri Cellars is the only facility to produce a sparkling Riesling, adding another dimension to a full line-up of award-winning sparkling wines.

This wine is refined and semi-dry, rich in minerality and is accompanied by peach, apricot, and yeast on the nose. It would be tasty with a bitter greens salad, Tandoori chicken or poultry, and sweet & sour chicken.

Buy it here…

#47411 Sparkling Gewürz Demi-Sec (Slightly Sweet) – $18.99

Rated 89 Points, Wine Spectator Magazine

Pronounced GUH-VERZ-TRA-MINER, this wine has a storied tradition of a fragrant nose and tropical fruit on the palate. With our winemaker’s German heritage, a sparkling Gewürztraminer makes so much sense! Treveri Gewürztraminer was recently served at the James Beard Foundation in New York City.

Notes of lychee, combined with rich tropical fruit, allspice, nutmeg, and clove are balanced with an underlying acidity for a true expression of the grape. Pairs great with Asian-style flavors, like balsalmic-glazed poultry, Thai curry mussels and Seafood stew with coconut.

Buy it here…

Additional Accolades:

Wine Business Monthly “Hot Brands of 2014”

“Best Value Sparkling Wine, 2 years in a row”
“Four 90+ wines in Four Years”
“New Winery to Watch For in WA”
– Wine Spectator Magazine

Want to Have Some Fun? Watch Our Video about Treveri’s Sparkling Syrah