Tomorrow's Premium Edition features Australia
Quality Australian reds can be a minefield for the careful wine consumer because high ratings points, critical acclaim and limited supply have pushed the prices for many sought-after labels out of competitive reach. While bargains abound in the lower-price realms, it can be more difficult to sort value from hype when you're spending a little more.
That's where The 30 Second Wine Advisor's Premium Edition comes in. This biweekly, subscription-only E-letter offers trustworthy advice that makes it easy to shop with confidence when you're considering a more pricey bottle for a special occasion.
Tomorrow's edition features a detailed tasting report on a Shiraz that I found exceptionally appealing, comfortably priced in the middle $30s but competitive with more "cultish" items that sell in much of the world for twice that price. We'll also offer a shopping list of other Australian items that offer exceptional value in that chancy above-everyday but below-cult price tier.
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WT101: Barbera revisited
Last autumn, you may recall, I suggested the Italian red-wine grape Barbera ("Bar-BARE-ah") as an intriguing if non-traditional alternative to accompany roast turkey on the holiday table.
Now let's take a closer look at this workhorse grape from Northern Italy as this month's featured variety in our interactive online wine-education project, Wine Tasting 101.
Although it's grown in much of Northern Italy, Barbera is surely best known in the Northwestern Italian region called Piemonte (literally, "the foothills" of the Alps), where it - along with Dolcetto - is used primarily to make the quaffable everyday wines that people enjoy daily while waiting for the region's more sought-after (and costly) Barolo and Barbaresco to mature.
It's such a hearty "comfort wine" that Italian immigrants took it with them around the world. It's widely grown in Argentina, where Italian heritage is almost as strong as the Spanish; and there's a surprising amount of it in California, although much of the fruit it produces there ends up anonymously in modest "jug" wines, although a few old Italian-American family producers still make delicious single-varietal Barberas.
As I reported at Thanksgiving time, Barbera shares a happy characteristic with Chianti, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and many other simple but amiable Italian reds: It is blessed with a sharp, snappy acidity that both brings balance to the wine while it cleanses the palate. By nature it is low in puckery tannins, although some producers compensate for this by aging the wine in oak, so it's difficult to predict the style of a specific Barbera unless barrel treatment is mentioned on the back label. It's almost always food-friendly and generally affordable, and these are, after all, good things for a wine to be.
STUDY BARBERA IN WINE TASTING 101
Bera 2002 Barbera d'Alba ($12.99)
Cantine Sant'Agata 2001 "Baby Barb" Barbera d'Asti ($11.99)
Castelvero 2001 Piemonte Barbera ($9.99)
Wine Tasting 101 makes it easy for everyone - even novice wine enthusiasts - to learn how to record and share wine-tasting notes. Wine Tasting 101 uses the same user-friendly software as our other interactive forums, but it is dedicated to a single purpose: Learning more about wine by tasting a specific featured wine each month, recording your impressions and sharing them with others in a civil, friendly online community where peer support is encouraged and abuse is banned.
There's no admission charge: All our forums are free and open to wine lovers everywhere. To get started, click to Wine Tasting 101,
If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
I'll report on a Barbera or two during coming weeks. Today, though, we take advantage of a spring cool snap as an excuse to open one more warming Port, a (relatively) affordable Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) bottling from Taylor Fladgate. LBV Port, you'll recall, is an "in-between" wine that offers some of the character of true Vintage Port without the expense or the need for long-term cellaring. It's ready to drink when purchased and requires no decanting.Taylor Fladgate 1999 Late Bottled Vintage Porto ($19.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, with typical young Port aromas of ripe stone fruits and anise. It's very sweet on the palate, with appropriately "grippy" acidity to keep it from cloying. Soft tannins are present but unobtrusive, and there's a distinct brown-sugar flavor in the lingering finish. No real complexity here, but it's well-balanced and accessible, just as a LBV should be. U.S. importer: Kobrand Corp., NYC. (May 2, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: I like to enjoy Port as dessert, not with dessert, so usually serve it alone for enjoyment on its own. It goes beautifully, though, with blue and ripe cheeses, and is also often served with nuts or dried fruit for snacking.
VALUE: With Vintage Port in recent years commanding $50 or more, a LBV of quality makes excellent sense at $20 or less. It pays to shop around, as several vendors on Wine-Searcher.com offer it for a few dollars less than I paid at lcoal retail.
WHEN TO DRINK: In contrast with true Vintage Port, LBV is meant to be consumed in the short term and does not really improve with age; but it certainly will keep for years under good storage conditions.
WEB LINK: Here's a link to the Taylor Fladgate Website, available in Portuguese, English and French:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Taylor Fladgate LBV on Wine-Searcher.com,
California Wine Club launches its Online Wine Cellar!
The California Wine Club now offers its website visitors the opportunity to view - and order from - a large selection of award-winning wines! All of the club's recently featured selections are now listed on The California Wine Club Website.
Half, full and mixed cases are okay! Choose from nearly 100 different wines. Every wine is discounted from normal retail prices and every wine is 100 percent guaranteed. Visit The California Wine Club's Online Wine Cellar at
Not sure what you want? Call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 and one of their Personal Wine Consultants will help you with your selections!
Need a unique gift? Try The California Wine Club! Send as many months as you wish! Your gift recipients will receive two bottles of hand-selected, award-winning wine and an informative 8-page newsletter. Just $32.95 per month plus shipping. Call 1-800-777-4443 or visit
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Randy's World of Wine: Oh Lord, Lodi!
Wood on Wine: Zin is in!
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Snapshot of your last 3 wines
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:
To your health! (April 30, 2004)
Two '02 whites from Northeast Italy (April 28, 2004)
Lemonade from lemons (April 26, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pancakes for dinner! (April 29, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, May 3, 2004