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'Sweet spot' wines hit the spot

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Our Occasional Wine Council, which meets in the Temecula Valley Wine Country, recently reviewed some wines on the more expensive side of the wine purchasing spectrum. Those wines ranged from about $40 to $90. While not in the super extravagant range, those wines probably cost more than the average person would spend for a nice wine to have around the house. So a few days ago, we reviewed what might be termed “Sweet Spot” wines. These wines are generally in the $15 to $25 range, although some hovered closer to $10 or even less a bottle. We were hoping to find some really good wines for the value—wines that would match well with a variety of foods. And we were definitely successful.

We tasted eight different wines from a variety of regions that ranged in price from an astounding $9 to a still reasonable $28. We felt that most of these wines could easily be enjoyed and matched with many different dishes. As always, each participant prepared dishes chosen to match a pre-assigned wine. Here are our assessments, in order of price:

Masi Midello Rosso Delle Venezie, $9: This was an excellent wine for the price. We liked its bright, ruby red color with its deep fruity flavors and hint of spice. While this wine was a good accompaniment for several dishes, it went well with the appetizer prepared to match it—rich cheddar cheese balls filled with olives.

Marques de Riscal Rioja Proximo, $10. This is another really good buy. We first appreciated the dark cherry color and fruity aroma and then enjoyed tastes of chocolate, pepper and oak, along with a tinge of smoke. A platter of various cheeses and peppery sausages with olives and an olive spread worked well with this wine.

Hess Select Treo Winemakers Blend, $19. This blend of Merlot, Syrah and Petite Sirah had strong aromas of cherries, berries and even vanilla with tastes of black cherry and cranberry and a nice smooth finish. We tasted this wine with flavorful flank steak that had been marinated with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar.

These three wines are all available online from Wine Chateau.

Francis Coppola Director’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, $21. This wine was much better after we let it breathe a bit. With its tangy aromas and heavy fruit flavors of blackberries, currants and cherries with hints of vanilla, it went well with a spicy Southern Coast Chili.

Francis Coppola Director’s Cut 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, $21. This wine had nice flavors of tropical fruit and peaches. It enhanced its paired dish of smoked salmon, goat cheese and crackers.

Three Laguna Canyon wines we tasted, priced in the mid-twenties, were still reasonable buys for the quality. We felt the 2012 Sonoma Coast Gewurztraminer at $22 and full of ripe citrus flavors would go well with Asian foods, such as the wontons and lettuce wraps we tried. The newly released 2012 North Coast Pinot Gris at $24 had lots of mineral on the palate but was still crisp with apple, lemon and pear flavors that paired well with kale and butternut squash quiche and chicken Caesar salad. The 2012 Napa Chardonnay at $28 had lots of different fruit and smoke flavors and a touch of spice, all intensified by oak aging, but it seemed to be more a sipping wine rather than a good pairing wine.

We left this evening’s very pleasant tasting assured that we could enjoy some really nice wines at reasonable prices that would generally go well with a wide variety of foods. Wine does not have to cost a fortune to be very good and nicely accompany a range of dishes.

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