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California Wine Club
Avoid the malls and the stress! This holiday season, send a California wine adventure! Each month The California Wine Club hand-selects two bottles of award-winning wine from California's best "mom & pop" wineries.
(Click to "California Wine Club" below)

Saratoga Wine Exchange
The Saratoga Wine Exchange is your source for fine wine online! Spend less time searching web sites for that rare vintage or gift - we've done the work for you! Our online store is easy to use, flash-free and full of fine, rare and collectible wines.
(See "Saratoga Wine Exchange" below)

In This Issue
 Readers talk back
 Chateau du Donjon 2001 "Grand Tradition" Minervois ($11.99)
 Saratoga Wine Exchange
 Begali 2000 "Vigneto la Cengia" Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($16.99)
 California Wine Club
 Fuentespina 2001 Ribera del Duero Tempranillo ($8.99)
 Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Your wine time online
 New, quick and affordable: Zap your text message on The Wine Advisor
 This week on
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

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Readers talk back

First day back after the long weekend, holiday spirit is starting to jingle, and my E-mail box is full. Let's open the new week by letting you write today's column!


My pal Knut Wohnke, who works at Windsor Wine Shop, a member of the 13-store Wine Discoveries Group in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the surrounding Metro NYC region, chimes in with a report on the always simmering cork-vs-screw cap controversy.

Ever since fine wines have become available under quality screw caps, "I've made a big deal out of being proactive in the promotion and promulgation of them to any one who will listen," he said, adding that "the big break came" when he read that the Tesco chain in Britain sells wine exclusively with alternative closures (no corks) and that the giant Beaujolais producer Georges Duboeuf complies.

"I contacted Duboeuf via email asking if he would consider offering his '03 Nouveau to us [with screw caps]. His response was lukewarm expressing doubts that the U.S. market was ready for a light screwing. I, in turn, riposted his parries with my patented, 'Look, your shoelace is undone' defense."

After further negotiation, Duboeuf sent some 900 cases of screwcapped Nouveau into the New York market, giving Wine Discoveries Group the exclusive on the screw cap version. Wohnke says he is delighted.

"Whereas in the [cork] finished 2002 vintage we had about 15 bottles that were returned with clear TCA taint (who knows how many were NOT returned?)," he said, "we have, so far, not had to take back one. The most amazing thing is the way in which the screwcaps have been received almost without comment! About 1-2% percent of the time we get some corkscrew addict who just can't get over it, but that's it. Whew!


Regular readers will recall my good friends Lauriann Green-Sollin and Jean-Pierre Sollin, who operate the French Wine Explorers firm, with which I partner annually to lead a tour of a French wine region.

Lauriann, an exceptional wine educator, begins every year's tour with a quick but thorough overview of the art and science of wine tasting, a subject she knows well as a certified French sommelier-conseil. She offered this worthwhile appendix to my recent observations on the visual side of wine tasting:

"The visual exam tells you quite a bit about the wine. As you mentioned, it can give you information about the grape variety, and it can also tell you a lot about the age and concentration of the wine.

"But most importantly, the senses work in tandem, not separately. Something that does not look appealing sets up an expectation in the brain that it will also not smell or taste appealing. Something that does look appealing (brilliant, beautiful color, etc.) will make you start salivating, which prepares the mouth for the tasting, and will make the nose even more receptive to the different aromas of the wine. So it's really a very important part of tasting."

SPEAKING OF THOSE WINE TOURS: It is the holiday season, and there's no time like the present to think about gifting yourself or a loved one with a spot or two on our Spring 2004 tour of Champagne and Burgundy. I'll be joining Lauriann and Jean-Pierre to guide a select group of wine lovers through extensive tastings at top wine estates, including Premier and Grand Crus in the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits, plus first-class accommodations and sumptuous dining. For details, click direct to French Wine Explorers' page about this tour at

Finally, choosing this eclectic list and personal comments from many recommendations I've received, Dr. Michael M. tells about some of the recent bargain wines that he's enjoyed:

2000 Cheetah Valley Chardonnay - So. Africa - $8. "Perhaps the greatest chardonnay value I've ever had in my life."

2001 Liberty School Chardonnay - Calif - $11. "An extremely well-integrated chardonnay with complex flavors of butter, pear, and nut."

2001 Kim Crawford Chardonay (Unoaked) - New Zealand - $16. "One of the most interesting chardonnays I've ever had at any price. ... Why dilute the experience with food? This wine is awesome."

1999 Domaine Clavel Provence "Les Garrigues" - $15. "Intense, heady, profound and complex, this wine could easily pass for a good Chateauneuf du Pape in the $30-40 range."

2000 Anapamu Pinot Noir - Calif Central Coast - $12. "From Gallo's Central Coast project, a very Burgundian pinot at an excellent price."

As always, your comments and opinions are welcome in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group. To join in our interactive, international, round-table online discussions, click to

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at I'm sorry that the overwhelming amount of mail I receive makes it tough to respond personally every time, but I do try to get back to as many as I can.

Chateau du Donjon Chateau du Donjon 2001 "Grand Tradition" Minervois ($9.99)

Very dark ruby color, with attractive aromas of perfumed red fruit over black pepper and that delicious herbal scent of the garrigues of Southern France. Flavors follow the nose in a nice marriage of Grenache berries and Syrah pepper, firmly structured and tart. Substantial tannins are present, suggesting ageworthiness, but they're smooth and palatable. U.S. importer: Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, Va. (Nov. 28, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: This full, tannic and peppery wine meets its ideal match in a pepper-crusted, rare rib eye steak.

VALUE: Excellent value.

WHEN TO DRINK: Drinkable now, especially with rare beef to "tame" the tannins, but I don't doubt the winery's estimate that it will be best from five to 10 years after the vintage.

WEB LINK: The winery's fact sheet on the "Grand Tradition" is online at
(This page is available only in French, but some parts of the Website are available in English.)
The importer has a fact sheet about an earlier vintage here:

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find a source for Begali Valpolicella at

Saratoga Wine Exchange

Saratoga Wine Exchange

The Saratoga Wine Exchange is your source for fine wine online!

Spend less time searching web sites for that rare vintage or gift - we've done the work for you! Our online store is easy to use, flash-free and full of fine, rare and collectible wines including Kistler, Turley, Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estates, Shafer, Plumpjack, Diamond Creek and many more. Find exactly what your cellar or gift list needs right here, 24-hours-a-day, with just a click of your mouse.

Our holiday gift sets feature 2 or 3 bottles, are tastefully boxed and include a gift card. These pairings are unique and affordable, making them perfect gifts for your loved ones, corporate clients and friends. We offer nationwide shipping and attractive case discounts on larger orders.

Shopping for wine should be easy and enjoyable, not time consuming. Just visit
and see how easy shopping for fine wine online can be! If you have a special request in mind, call us toll-free at 1-877-493-6532.

Begali Begali 2000 "Vigneto la Cengia" Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($16.99)

Dark ruby in color, this benchmark Valpolicella shows characteristic dried-fruit aromas, cherries and berries. Ripe and tart, dried-fruit flavors are consistent with the nose, adding a delicate whiff of licorice in a long finish. U.S. importer: Pellegrini Family Vineyards, South San Francisco, Calif. (Oct. 29, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: An exceptional match with a simple dish of pasta with mortadella sausage and mild provolone cheese in a light ricotta sauce.

VALUE: A very good Valpolicella, but starting to push the price limit for the genre.

WHEN TO DRINK: Best enjoyed over the next year or two.

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find a source for Begali Valpolicella at

California Wine Club

California Wine Club

Avoid the malls and the stress!

This holiday season, send a California wine adventure! Each month The California Wine Club hand-selects two bottles of award-winning wine from California's best "mom & pop" wineries.

There is never any bulk, private label or closeout wine. You can be guaranteed that your gift recipients will receive quality wine not typically found in local stores! Plus each shipment comes with a fun and informative 8-page newsletter, Uncorked. Just $32.95/month shipping. Send as many months as you wish or take advantage of special discounts on gifts of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months!

Fuentespina Fuentespina 2001 Ribera del Duero Tempranillo ($8.99)

Very dark ruby, almost black in the glass. Attractive aromas of black cherries with accents of spice and smoke. Big and ripe, luscious cherries and tart lemons; ample fruit provides a smooth, gentle mouthfeel despite a firm acidic structure that makes it a natural with food; no tannins evident. U.S. importer: T.G.I.C. Importers Inc., Woodland Hills, Calif. (Nov. 21, 2003)

FOOD MATCH: This wine disproves the notion that eggs are a difficult wine match; it worked very nicely with a simple omelet filled with sharp white Cheddar: The cheese enhanced the wine's smooth texture while the eggs brought up its fresh fruit.

VALUE: Excellent value.

WHEN TO DRINK: Fine now, not really meant for aging, but balance and structure suggest it will hold up well.

WEB LINK: For notes on Fuentespina's wines, see the importer's page:

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find a source for Begali Valpolicella at

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Your wine time online

If you're here, reading about wine on the computer, then you have all the information you'll need to participate in this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth, as we revisit a question we ask every couple of years: "How do you spend most of your wine-related time on the Internet?"

Whatever your interests, we invite you to select the three specific wine-related purposes that occupy most of your time online, in the hope that by comparing your responses with previous tallies, we can spot emerging trends and discern whether the use of the 'net for wine is changing or staying the same.

To join the fun, just point your browser to the Voting Booth,

New, quick and affordable: Zap your text message on The Wine Advisor

As I frequently point out to those of you in the wine business, there is no quicker, better or more efficient way to deliver a wine-related message to wine lovers around the world than an advertising "sponsorship" on

Now we're introducing a low-cost, high-impact alternative that makes it easy even for small wine-related businesses with limited advertising budgets to reach our international audience of wine-savvy readers with a simple, discreet and affordable text message in The 30 Second Wine Advisor. It's just about as quick as tapping out an instant text message on your mobile phone, and not a whole lot more expensive.

For more information, or to reserve space while it's available, write me today at

This week on

Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:

Schaefer on Wine: The next big red?
"Syrah, The Next Big Red?" So proclaimed the wine magazine that claims to be the world's most widely read, prompting columnist Dennis Schaefer to wonder just where these folks have been for the past 25 years. Schaefer offers a quick look at a quarter-of-a-century of California Syrah, plus tasting notes on 15 wines from two Santa Barbara wineries solely devoted to Rhone varieties, in this report.

Wood on Wine: Fire the imagination - Steele Wines
Jed Steele, owner of California's Steele Wines, came to Atlanta recently, and columnist Linwood Slayton was on hand to meet the wine maker and taste his wines during a memorable dinner at the city's Agave restaurant. Steele's "passion and love for his wines set the tone for a great dining experience," Slayton says, filing this report for your enjoyment, with tasting notes.

Last Week's Wine Advisor Index

The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:

 Thanksgiving Day wines (Nov. 28, 2003)

 What do you "see" in wine? (Nov. 26, 2003)

 Let's give thanks for Barbera (Nov. 24, 2003)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Holiday ... chicken? (Nov. 25, 2003)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, Dec. 1, 2003
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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