Tag Archives: Merlot


The wine scene is Lucerne, Switzerland (LINK) is varied, diverse, and generally speaking, fairly expensive. We recently spent a few days visiting this postcard-worthy city and visited a number of restaurants and wine shops.

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Let’s begin with Opus (LINK), a wine-themed restaurant along the riverfront next to the huge Jesuit Church. We sat outdoors, where there were seats for a couple of hundred guests. The menu is Swiss and Italian with a fairly extensive wine list that is international in scope. We opted for a bottle of Swiss Rosé to go with our dinner selection, the antipasto bar, which had a nice selection of salads, meats, and vegetables. The wines here are priced for on and off-site consumption, and there were some good bargains on the list, like an Amarone for under 30 Swiss Francs (about par with the US dollar when we visited). Opus was very enjoyable and we sent some friends there on ensuing evenings.

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Another end of the spectrum is The Old Swiss House Restaurant (LINK), a revered tourist restaurant near the famous Lion Sculpture in Lucerne (LINK), just a couple of blocks off of the lake. Six of us tried to get a table one evening after visiting the sculpture and were told that they were full and referred to another very nice restaurant. So we made a reservation for the next night on the spot. So don’t go here for dinner without a reservation.

The building is historic and very picturesque, inside and out. The service is formal and competent. Eating here is like going back in time to a more formal era. There is a specials menu and a regular menu. Entrees run 40 to 55 Swiss Francs; appetizers from 14 to 25 Swiss francs – $$$$ level.

The wine list is deep, rich, and amazingly varied (and a bit disorganized). Along with the local wines of Switzerland, they have a wonderful selection of the finest French Burgundies and Bordeauxs (with about 15 Chateau Mouton-Rothchild First Growths on the list), plus some great Italians and even an Australian Penfold’s Grange (1996). These high-end wines are very reasonably priced, mostly at or below what I have seen them at retail, but still hundreds or thousands of Swiss francs per bottle. We opted for a Swiss Chardonnay that complimented my lobster over pasta dish perfectly – light, high in acidity, with notes of pear and grass on the nose, and almost no oak.

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Restaurant Lapin (LINK) is a French/Swiss place with excellent service and a warm atmosphere. It is family run (the same family that runs the small hotel of which the restaurant is a part). The wine list is Swiss and French, with some nice selections, but not very adventurous. We opted for an old friend, a 2010 La Haute-Smith Burgundy Red Blend (LINK). We visited the chateau in Pessac-Leognan (LINK) in 2013 and enjoyed their wines very much. This one did not disappoint – the Merlot/Cabernet blend was rich, lively, and laced with dark fruit. Very nice.

The Globus Department Store’s basement is a gourmet food and wine market that is simply amazing. The wine department has a very good selection of wines and spirits, with an emphasis on Swiss and Italian wines, but with selections from all over Europe. There were wines for tasting as well, and Dorianne and I tasted nice wines from Portugal and Spain, and bought a bottle of the excellent Spanish tinto from Ribero del Duoro for our upcoming Rhine River cruise.

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I am sure that we just scratched the surface of the wine scene in beautiful Lucerne during our three-night visit. As a wine lover, it is a good place to visit.


We arranged a visit to Chateau Guibeau (LINK) through a friend who is doing academic research on the vineyard and winery. After some pleasant email exchanges with Brigitte Destouet Bourlon and her husband, Eric, the co-owners, we visited last Thursday. Eric focuses on the vineyards, Brigitte on the marketing, and they collaborate on the wine making. The vineyard is actually the combination of properties of two families united in marriage a couple of generations ago, Chateau Guibeau and Guibot The Fourvieille. Wines are made under both labels today.

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Located in the St. Emilion (LINK), area, the property and its chateau overlook a beautiful valley and Puisseguin, the village below.

The vineyard of 41 hectares (101 acres), planted with Merlot (75%), Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon is located in the town of Puisseguin (LINK), in the Bordeaux Region.

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We walked around the beautiful grounds, toured the barrel room and the wine making areas, with the vast fermentation vats, did some tasting, then got a tour of the vineyard with Eric. They have been converting to a fully-organic vineyard over the past five years, and have their first vintages under that regimen produced. This required quite a bit more work for them in the vineyards, but they feel that it is worth it for environmental and health reasons.

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A special barrel design to aid in-barrel fermentation. This one is Merlot.

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The wines that they produce at the Chateau are all reds – mostly Merlot, as it the case with most Right Bank producers in Bordeaux. The blends vary from year to year, but normally have at least 70% Merlot with lesser amounts of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their 2012 Chateau Guibeau (LINK) blend is 80-10-10.

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The Chateau Gibeau that we tasted, the 2012, shows great promise – it has a good balance, moderate tannins, a nice sense of dark fruit and a hint of minerality. It should improve with age. The 2008 Chateau Guibot La Fourvielle Puisseguin Saint-Emilion (LINK) was a revelation. This 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc beauty is rich with dark fruit, moderate tannins and acidity, and an underlying minerality that strikes both the nose and the palate in a very nice way. This wine should age well, but is ready to drink now. We bought several bottles to bring to the states, but two have disappeared so far on our journey home.

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Jim and Brigitte Destouet Bourlon in the Chateau Guilbeau tasting room.

There is also a guest house to rent on the Chateau property – here is the (LINK).

This is a very good house, doing very good things – look for their wines and visit when you are in Bordeaux.


Le Wine Bar in Bordeaux, is always at or near the rankings of best wine bars in Bordeaux. There are a number of reasons for this, but Giancarlo is the main one – the co-owner and host is a raconteur about all things wine.

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Giancarlo and Dorianne on a previous visit to Le Wine Bar.

I visited Le Wine Bar tonight to talk about bringing some tour groups in for a special evening during the next year. I met with Ginacarlo Savini and Emmanuel Cadei, the owners to discuss our options. Ginacarlo handles the wine and the front of the house duties and Emmanuel handles the kitchen and all things food. We came to an agreement and our entire Bordeaux and Paris Tour Packages will be announced soon.

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Le Wine Bar – Interior.

After our meeting, I stayed around to spend some time talking with Giancarlo and sampling some wines and some of the food. I started with a glass of 2011 Chateau Beauregard, a Pomerol red blend. Very nice, smooth and excellent with the Charcuterie and Fromage Plate served up by Emmanuel. Now, the food at Le Wine Bar, basically, appetizers and platters of meats and cheeses, lean heavily to the Italian, as that is Giancarlo’s heritage.

Le Wine Bar is not a high-end fancy place. It is very down-to-earth, and features less expensive wines for the most part. But, when you look at the bottle list, it is a different story. A wide range of wines from both the Old Word and the New World are available, and at good prices.

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Le Wine Bar – Exterior.

So for my second glass (and for the third) of wine, I asked Giancarlo to give me something that he enjoys. He opened a bottle of 2012 Bevilo Toscano, a Tuscan Bordeaux-style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. An amazing wine (apparently not available in the US) with very up-front fruit and medium tannins. Very velvety on the mouth with a long finish. The wine was noticeably better with the Italian Charcuterie and Cheese than the Bordeaux was. Coincidence?

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If you are coming to Bordeaux, put Le Wine Bar on your list. Or, you can join us on our upcoming wine tours and visit Giancarlo and Emmanuel with us. More information coming in June!


Last night, another dinner with Mary Stec and Richard Clark. Mary made 40 Clove Chicken – AMAZING. Now all that garlic needs a big red wine, in my opinion, to make it work. It was also Dorianne‘s Birthday! So there was a rich, chocolate dessert. Quite a culinary evening.

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Mary Stec’s Amazing 40 Clove Chicken in the Pot

The wines were, first, a 2009 Ampelos Pinot Noir Rho (LINK to the 2010) Ampelos uses Greek letters for each of their wines. The Rho is a fairly big Pinot Noir by Santa Rita Hills AVA standards, inky color, spicy with a nice sense of terroir both on the nose and in the mouth. Hints of pepper and dark fruit bring a fullness to the flavor of this wine.  It is a wine that holds up to red meat well, and the 40 clove chicken was a good pairing.

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A Really Wonderful Pinot Noir

Next, we opened a 2003 O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon (LINK) that had been in the cellar for a while. Here is what Robert Parker had to say about it: “The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain has a big, sweet nose of chocolate, blueberry, black raspberry, and currants with some crushed rock and a hint of toasty oak. The wine is long, rich, pure, and impressively endowed, but strikingly elegant and complex. It is already drinking well and should age nicely for 10-15 or more years. The final blend on this was 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot and Malbec. (2006)” I agree with the master in this case, and would add that the wine has aged well.

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A Big Bold Cabernet.

The O’Shaughnessy was a good match for both the chicken laced with garlic, and the rich chocolate confection that followed. A very happy evening.


Lat night at dinner, Mary Stec (Link to her cooking school Facebook Page) made an amazing pork roast with roasted potatoes and green beans.

Dorianne and I took a bottle of 2004 Shaffer Napa Valley Merlot (Link) to have with the meal.

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The wine had a very refined nose – dark fruit and a touch of minerality. The flavor was well-crafted and smooth, with cherry, tobacco, and some earthiness on the edges. A very nice wine. This wine retails in the $50 range, so you would expect it to be good – it does not disappoint and I think that it can still age for a few more years and hold up.

Before dinner, with some chevre and hummus, we had a 2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay – Barrel Fermented (Link)Richard Clark and I had gotten a couple of half bottles on a trip to the Clos Pepe Estate a couple of years ago. The four of us shared the half bottle of this amazing wine – very, very nice, but it’s all gone!

But back to the Shafer Merlot. The wine paired very well with the roasted pork, it had enough structure and tannin to hold up to the dish. I noted some heat, and guessed accurately that it had 14.9% alcohol – which is getting fairly normal for California Merlots. Here is the link to Shafer Wines – (Link).


The For Sale sign is up in front of the house. Dozens of folks are streaming through our completely staged home – meaning that it looks pretty much like we don’t live here. Every morning, we hide all of the evidence of our occupancy and we depart whenever the realtor notifies us that a showing is happening. Fortunately, that has been happening very regularly of late.

We will be heading to Europe for a while, no fixed address, probably for most of 2015 and maybe beyond. I am looking forward to sampling more of the wines of Spain, France, Germany, and Austria (at a minimum), but what to do about our wines in our home cellar?

Now, when I say “cellar,” I should note that we live in a suburban tract house. No basement. Our “cellar” consists of a number of stashes around the house, where lighting is minimal and temperature is fairly steady. The really good stuff is in a wine refrigerator in the garage, but there are bottles on a rack in our utility closet, another rack in a hallway, another on the cabinet in our dining room (French only!), and more on a small rack built into our kitchen breakfast nook.

When the move was being planned, we had about 350 bottles in total. We rented a locker at CELLAR MASTERS in Newbury Park, CA, where we put a dozen cases right away and where the remainder will go when we leave.

The focus now is on drinking wines that will not age well, or that are at or near their peak now. We are also supplementing with some purchases of whites, which we do not tend to keep over time for the most part. Our wines are mostly from California, with the Central Coast and Napa and Sonoma well-represented; plus a couple of cases of French wines, and a few Australians and one or two from British Columbia’s Okanagan Region.

So, our case of ARTISTE wines, our CLENDENDEN FAMILY WINES and the AU BON CLIMAT are being consumed, as are our STOLPMAN and some CABERNETS. Our French wines, mostly Bordeaux, will age well, as will the Burgundies. We will keep some of the newer CLOS PEPE Pinots, which should last a few years, and we will have a lot of assorted CABERNETS and MERLOTS from California to keep.

I expect that we will be down to about 200 bottles when we depart sometime in mid to late February. At some point, we will likely have the wines shipped from the storage facility to wherever we land, or sell it off. It is both fun and a bit sad to be consuming some of the bottles that we obtained from the wineries or through friends. But, there are worse things that one has to do, right?


NOTE- Links are in BLUE.

Dorianne and I had dinner at NAPA TAVERN  in Westlake Village, CA, last night. It is a good restaurant with mostly Italian food, but no pastas – lots of grilled meats, fish, tapas, pizza, etc., in a fairly upscale setting.

The wine list is good, but not extensive. I would say it is well-chosen, although with the name NAPA TAVERN, one might expect a larger list.

We were each ordering a pizza – Margarita for me and Veggies and Goat Cheese for her – so we thought a lighter red would do the trick. We ordered the 2012 TOAD HOLLOW MERLOT, a single vineyard wine from the Russian River Valley the second least-expensive Merlot on the list at $43.

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The wine was fruit-forward with a very nice nose and a very pleasant feel on the palate. Dorianne, of the amazing palate, liked the wine very much and declared that it was 14.5% alcohol, which was verified on the bottle.

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By the way, you can get this wine via AMAZON.COM (LINK)!

So a nice wine with some very good pizza in a restaurant with a very good atmosphere – I’ll call that a good evening!


This past weekend, Dorianne and I visited Manhattan to see our daughter, Heather. During our short visit, we had three dinners with wine and went to a rooftop bar atop our hotel – The Indigo Hotel on W. 28th Street in Chelsea.

Friday, Heather made reservations at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, known as Rana, located in the Chelsea Market (a must visit in NYC). Known for their fresh pasta and other Italian fare, the restaurant is bustling and noisy – in a good way. We had reservations for three and they put us at a table for six, which was fine because it was in a corner and allowed for our conversation to be heard without too much trouble.

We ordered a 2012 Guado al Tasso Vermentino from Tuscany – a white wine to go with seafood pasta. It was the second Vermentino I have had – oddly enough the first was the night before at a friend’s home where we had a Vermentino from Tablas Creek in California’s Central Coast to begin the evening. I did not take a photo of the Sicilian bottle – both wines were light and crisp with a hint of spice. The Tablas Creek was perhaps a bit spicier, and the Guado al Tasso had more of a green apple taste, but they were very similar. I recommend both the restaurant and the wine.

Saturday we went to the RoofBar at the top of our hotel (17th Floor) and watched the sun set and the lights of the city come on. Our wonderful bartender, Costa from Greece, showed us around the fairly spacious rooftop area, some covered and some open. The wine list is short, and features a number of Greek wines (the owner is Greek, we were told). We ordered the French Sauvignon Blanc – a “Lulu” 2013 from Touraine. It was everything you would want in a Sauv Blanc – crisp and fruity, with hints of citrus and lemongrass, but very well contained, unlike the wines from New Zealand, for example that tend to be heavily citrus based. We returned to the Roof Bar on Sunday evening for a repeat performance of the sunset and some more Sauv Blanc.

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Costa behind the bar at RoofBar in Chelsea.
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Manhattan sunset.
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Night Falls on the City.

Saturday dinner was at the Petit Poulet on 33rd Street off of Avenue of the Americas. The food was classic French (I had steak frites) and we chose a 2012 Les Jamelles Pays d’Oc Merlot, which was recommended by our waiter, a classic New York waiter who treated you grandly if you looked like you knew what you were doing and were also appropriately subservient to his opinion. The wine and the food were both wonderful.

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The French Merlot at Petit Poulet.
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Steak Frites at Petit Poulet.

Sunday afternoon, we had lunch at BoludSud, a Daniel Bolud restaurant across from Lincoln Center, next to Bar Bolud. As you would expect, food, wine and service were impeccable. It was warm enough to dine alfresco, which was a bonus. I had a glass of 2012 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay while Dorianne opted for tea. Jim Clendennon would have been half-happy.

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Dorianne making her selection at BoludSud – my Au Bon Climat in the foreground.

Sunday dinner, after our second stop at Roof Bar (which by the way, does not even have nibbles, which is unfortunate), we opted for the John Dory Oyster Bar at 29th and 6th Avenue. This is a beautiful restaurant with a very limited menu – shellfish based, as you might imagine. It is also the first restaurant that I have ever been to where I did not recognize a single wine on the wine list. The list is short, to be sure, but not a familiar winemaker in sight! There are four house wines that are “on tap.” The wine prices were, shall we say, sky high, so we opted for one of the on-taps and ordered a ½ carafe of Vinhos Verde (at $34). The wine was a fairly typical Vinhos Verde in my experience, young and raw – not very pleasing. It was ok with the oysters and clams that we ordered. This might be a good place to bring your own bottle.

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Where the Magic Happens at John Dory Oyster Bar.
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Waiting for our somewhat disappointing Vihno Verde at John Dory.

Oh, and we went to Eataly – which may require another post even though we did not drink any wine. So a quick trip into town, a bit hit or miss on the wine scene (we did not plan around the wine), some good food, and uniformly good service. I look forward to a more wine-centric visit to this great city in the future.


Last night, Dorianne and I had dinner at Mary Stec and Richard Clark’s (again). Mary was trying out a recipe for her upcoming Autumn in Tuscany cooking class (sold out), and was also preparing a coq au vin for the main course. Dorianne and I dug into the French area of our cellar and came out with a Burgundy and Bordeaux. Both wines were exceptional.

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Two French Beauties

The appetizer was squash ravioli with balsamic and sage; Mary used won ton instead of pasta. It was a little sweeter than expected, but very good. We began with the Bordeaux, a 2007 Chateau Millens Saint-Emilion Grand Cru that we purchased in Saint-Emilion in 2013. The wine shop where we purchased it, as part of a mixed case, purchases the entire production of this small producer (so you will not be able to find this amazing wine, except at that shop – sorry). The Bordeaux blend, Cabernet and Cabernet Franc, was very well structured, with a nice mix of cherry fruit and minerality on the nose, and hints of cherry, tobacco, and chocolate on the tongue. It finished very well. This wine was not a perfect match for the unexpectedly sweet appetizer, but it was a very good wine. We still have a couple of bottles left, and the wine could use some additional time to age. With the coq au vin, we poured the Burgundy, a 2003 Domaine de la Vougeraie, Nuits St. Georges Les Damodes Premier Cru Pinot Noir. This wine was a Christmas gift from Dorianne a few years ago. It was simply magnificent.

Coq au Vin by Mary Stec with the Domaine de al Vougeraie Burgundy.
Coq au Vin by Mary Stec with the Domaine de al Vougeraie Burgundy.

The nose was very complex, with floral notes of lavender and rose predominating. The wine had a nicely structured mouth-feel, velvety smooth, a bit softer than the Bordeaux, as you might expect. The flavors were berries, floral notes, and just a hint of minerality. This wine also had a great finish – something that I usually do not notice. I was surprised to see that some of the online scores for this wine were only in the high 80’s. I would score it higher. These were special wines pulled out for a special dinner, and not every day wines. That being said, they both delivered a superior experience that you would not find in an everyday wine. For more info on my philosophy of wine, go to the ABOUT section.


As noted in my Philosophy of Wine entry, I drink wine almost every day with dinner. Dorianne and I drink 3 or 4 reds to every white or rosé, except in summer, when that ratio tends to be reversed.

I put reds into three basic categories – everyday, special dinner, and very special occasion. Everyday wines would run about $20 and under, special dinner from $20 to $50, and very special occasion from $50 and up. A bottle with a great story or one that is hard to obtain may put it up a category or two even though the price point is lower.

Sharing some Wine with Friends.

Everyday wines are the mainstay of our consumption. These are generally wines that we buy from local retailers or online at sites like WTSO.com. Occasionally, they come from a winery. We also have our wine co-op wines that fall into the everyday category. We get about 8 cases from our co-op share each year, 6 of red and 2 of white. I will not include the co-op wines in these reviews, because you cannot obtain them. We had a 2010 Petit Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon on Monday night from the co-op.

So how do you choose your favorite everyday wines? I would begin with trial and error then move out from there based on a certain level of awareness that develops as to what to look for – certain varietals, wine makers, and price points. The trial and error comes first – you sample some wines. This can happen by purchasing at a retailer, or you can be a bit more creative.

When you are invited to a party, if they have lower priced wines, try some. See if you find any that you like and note the brand and varietal. In a restaurant, especially some chain restaurants, they will have inexpensive wines (at a markup no doubt) that you can try. Many wines under $15 is that they will stay very constant from year to year, so you are less likely to be surprised by a new vintage.

I like a variety of wines, so when I look for everyday wines, I am looking at a broad spectrum of wines, both domestic and international. You may be a Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, which narrows the field quite a bit. I like some variety and some signs of craftsmanship, even in my everyday wines. If you look around, you can find wines under $15, and definitely under $20 that have this quality. Here, you will find some variation from vintage to vintage, but that adds to the variety!

So let me start with two red wines that have, for me, been very reliable over time. They are under $15, both are imported, and each has a bit more to offer than the standard-brand or bulk wine product. The vintage will be whatever is currently available – it is unlikely that wine merchants are holding these for aging.

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A Good One from Australia.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet: I began drinking this wine in 2003. Penfolds is the flagship wine brand of Australia, makers of the legendary Penfolds Grange (which is near the very top of my bucket list) Shiraz wine. The Koonunga Hill label is second from the bottom in the Penfolds hierarchy – above the very pedestrian Rawson’s Retreat label. I have tried the Koonunga Hill Shiraz and the Cabernet as separate varietals, and find that the blending of these two grapes creates the most satisfying experience. The 2011 vintage is the most likely on to be on your retailer’s shelf. It is a 62% Shiraz 38% Cabernet blend (this will vary from year to year) and is 13.5% alcohol, which I prefer to the heavier levels of alcohol in may California everyday wines, which are usually just hot and not very well balanced. The Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet is great with red meat and will hold up to BBQ sauces and spiced foods as well. The wine will age for 8 to 10 years, but this wine is not made to age, so drink it right from the shelf.

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From Chateau LaFite Rothschild in Chile.

Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon: I came across Los Vascos when I was living in South Florida and it came with a great story. A friend was the supervising flight attendant on a private Boeing 727 belonging to the CEO of a South American subsidy of a large US corporation. The CEO was really into wine – he would send my friend on the plane to Paris to load on first growth Bordeaux’s and Burgundies – you get the idea. At the time, the Los Vascos (from Chile) was retailing for about $7. My friend gave her boss a glass on a flight and he really liked it (probably a good thing for her career). He then began to serve it on his plane to his high-roller friends and did not tell them what it was. Pretty much everyone took it for a premium wine.

So what is this wine? Well, it is a large production wine from the Chateau Lafite Rothchild vineyards in Chile. There are a couple of reserve versions of the wine that come in at higher prices – from about $20 up to $65. Today, the basic Los Vascos Cabernet retails for $14 but can usually be had for $10 to $12 or less from a variety of retailers. The website recommends decanting for about an hour before drinking this wine, although I have never done this. You will find notes of ripe fruit, good structure, and hints of a variety of mineral notes – which most of us experience differently. This is a great wine with roasted and grilled meats.

All three of these wines are what I like in an everyday wine. A few others that I imbibe fairly regularly are Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel ($9 to $12); Norton Reserve Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($14 to $20); Luigi Pira Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy ($12 to $18); plus many more. You have probably noted that most of the wines listed here are imported. For some reason, producers around the globe seem to be able to get well-crafted wines made and shipped to the US at everyday wine prices. It’s a paradox.

There are lots of decent wines in this price range – ask your wine retailer to guide you to those undiscovered gems in the shop – everyplace has some of these wines. As always, once you find what you like, begin to branch out and explore wines like those.