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UnCorked | 2008 Wine Review

Throughout the year, I make recommendations in my UnCorked column to help readers choose great wines at every price. Then, at the end of the year, I compile those recommendations into this – a detailed list of the year’s standout choices.

My annual Wine Review will help you select the perfect wine for every budget and occasion, and hopefully save you a little trial-and- error in the process. So here’s to another great year. Cheers!

UnCorked | 2008 Wine Review

Chile’s wine industry spread like a vine

A hot topic in wine media is the expanding wine world.

In the past, many wine lovers were limited to drinking wines produced in their home regions, unless they traveled the world or were wealthy enough to have wine imported.

But ever so slowly, wines from other markets crept onto our wine-store shelves. Today, it’s more like a fast-paced jog.

Chilean wines are a good example. Ten years ago few had tasted a Chilean wine; today they are available at almost every retail shop in the U.S.

Chile’s successful journey started with a word-of-mouth buzz about its exceptional wines, and soon greats in the wine world – the Rothschilds and Lafittes of France, Spain’s Miguel Torres and California’s Robert Mondavi – took notice. They bought land, planted vines and soon their passion and expertise blossomed on Chilean soil.

In the early 1980s, about 10 Chilean wineries exported their products. Today, more than 100 wineries have joined in making the country’s wines a buzz-worthy, quality competitor in the global marketplace.


  • 2008 Conde de Velazquez Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $8 retail)
  • 2007 Yali Winemaker Selection, Chile (about $9 retail)
  • 2007 Concho y Toro Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $12 retail)
  • 2007 Terra Andina Carmenere, Chile (about $11 retail)
  • 2006 La Playa Block Selection Merlot, Chile (about $11 retail)


  • 2006 Casa Lapostolle Merlot, Chile (about $14 retail)
  • 2006 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Los Vascos Reserve, Chile (about $20 retail)
  • 2006 Veramonte Primus Red Wine, Chile (about $23 retail)
  • 2006 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo, Chile (about $16 retail)

Bottle, like book, can be judged by cover

It seems simple, look at the wine label to get an idea of what to expect after opening the bottle. After all, most of us have become well-versed in label deciphering — calories, fat grams, organic content and so forth. But sometimes with wine, labels can be intimidating.

European wines have a reputation for difficult-to-interpret labels. Unless you lived in the region or were an expert, you’d often need to grab a copy of Oxford Companion just to understand the label.

But this is changing. Many export-minded European wineries are now making labels easier to decode. I recently bought a French wine listing the grape variety, food pairing ideas and even sweetness level — quite refreshing to those of us simply seeking a pleasant bottle of wine for dinner.

To make decoding wine labels easier, I like to think of the bottle as a book. The front label is similar to a book’s edition page: it tells the wine’s name (title), the producer (author), what grapes are used to make the wine (fiction, nonfiction category) and year it was bottled (published). If you look closer, it also offers specifics as to who bottled the wine (publisher), alcohol content (not recommended for children) and even who was the importer (translator). The label offers straightforward information, mainly because it is governed by strict regulations (even the font size of the alcohol percentage).

The back label is like reading the inside flap or back of a book. This is typically a sales pitch to get you to try the wine (or read the book). It may describe what the wine tastes like, recommend food pairings or contain whimsical information about UFOs, a vineyard dog or poetry.

The following are just a few straightforward and easy reads in your local wine shops.


  • 2006 Concha Y Toro Xplorador Chardonnay, Chile (about $10 retail)
  • 2007 Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay, Australia (about $10 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2006 Greg Norman Estates Shiraz, Australia (about $22 retail)
  • 2007 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $28 retail)

Feedback is like bubbles in champagne

This week marks Uncorked’s fourth anniversary, and I’m feeling that time certainly flies when you’re having fun.

During the past year, this column has touched on a wide range of topics — food and wine pairing, the synthetic versus natural cork debate and which wines are best for cellaring. My aim has been to offer honest recommendations of wines available in Arkansas. But possibly more than the specific recommendations, I hope this column makes wine — an often pretentious and confusing subject — more relaxed and easier to understand.

There has been an overwhelming amount of feedback, questions and ideas this past year — keep the suggestions coming!

In appreciation of dedicated readers, I am offering, as I did last year, a list of the past year’s Value and Splurge wines. It’s easy to keep on your personal computer or print for quick and easy reference. UnCorked | 2008 Wine Review

A few favorites:

THE VALUES (About $10)

  • 2006 Mirassou Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, California
  • 2006 Oroya White Wine, Spain
  • 2006 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany
  • 2006 Mark West Vineyards Pinot Noir, California
  • 2006 Ravenswood Winery Vintner’s Blend Zinfandel, California
  • 2006 Concannon Vineyard Syrah, California

THE SPLURGES (About $20)

  • 2006 Honig Sauvignon Blanc, California
  • 2006 Santa Margherita Chianti, Italy
  • 2006 Banfi Rosa Regale, Italy
  • 2006 Casa Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay, Chile
  • 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir, Oregon
  • 2006 Nine North Parcel 41, California

Wine’s a fruitful topic for books, photos

After spending a week in Napa Valley, Calif., for the Professional Wine Writers Symposium, my reading and writing juices are in overdrive. Guests at the annual event included many of my favorite wine writers – Frank Prial and Eric Asimov of The New York Times, Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, and Bottle Shock screenwriter Ross Schwartz – to name a few.

The theme of this year’s symposium was “Telling the Authentic Story,” which reiterates the unspoken pledge of journalists.

The following, instead of wine suggestions, are some of the stories from those attending the symposium. These are books I have read several times and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Wine Across AmericaWine Across America: A Photographic Road Trip with photographs by Charles O’Rear and text by Daphne Larkin (Ten Speed Press). For the first time in history, America has wineries in all 50 states. Husband and wife authors O’Rear and Larkin traveled 80,000 miles during their two-year journey visiting wineries across the country, from state-of-the-art wineries to back-road producers. This book features amazing photography, including spectacular photographs of Cowie Wine Cellars in Paris, Ark. A must-have for any wine lover’s coffee table.

DecantationsDecantations: Reflections on Wine by Frank J. Prial (St. Martin’s Press). This collection of Prial’s wine columns from the Times spanning 25 years is accessible reading for all of us looking for that book to read over and over again.

Emperor of WineThe Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste by Elin McCoy (Harper Perennial). McCoy is the wine and spirits columnist for Bloomberg Markets, and her voice gives this book a fascinating and authoritativeinsider’s look at Parker, the influential wine critic who founded The Wine Advocate.


Taste A Life in WineTaste: A Life in Wine by Anthony Terlato (Agate Surrey)

Hugh Johnson A Life UncorkedHugh Johnson: A Life Uncorked by Hugh Johnson (University of California Press)

Anything But ChardonnayAnything But Chardonnay: A Guide to the Other Grapes by Laura Holmes Haddad (Harry N. Abrams, Inc./Stewart, Tabori and Chang)

What comes first? Chicken, then the wine

A friend called last week wanting to know my recommendations for the best wine to serve with chicken.

When it comes to chicken, there is no easy one-wine-fitsall answer.

Chicken can be prepared using a wide variety of techniques and flavors and can be as complex or simple as the cook chooses.

We grill, roast, bake and fry it — all while adding an array of flavors ranging from delicate herbs, such as rosemary, to robust sauces, like hearty barbecue.

That’s a lot to ask of just one wine.

The only cautious advice: Consider chicken a light meat and therefore easily overwhelmed by full-bodied wines. But, as always when it comes to food and wine, there are many opportunities for the perfect match. The easiest place to start is with the cooking method and dominant flavors.

Smoky, barbecued or grilled: malbec, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon


  • 2006 Cline Cellars Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2006 Ravenswood Amador County Zinfandel, California (about $22 retail)

Plain roasted or grilled: chardonnay or pinot noir


  • 2007 Yalumba Oxford Landing Chardonnay, Australia (about $9 retail)


  • 2006 Martin Ray Angeline Pinot Noir, California (about $20 retail)

Sweet-and-sour flavors: semillon, Riesling, chardonnay, merlot


  • 2007 Montes Classic Merlot, Chile (about $11 retail)


  • 2003 San Simeon Monterey Chardonnay, California (about $25 retail)

Asian stir–fries or with coriander, cilantro and lime: Riesling, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc


  • 2007 Penfolds Rawson’s Retreat Chardonnay, Australia (about $10 retail)


  • 2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $22 retail)

Fried chicken: sauvignon blanc, merlot, gamay or Valpolicella


  • 2007 Lindeman’s Bin 40 Merlot, Australia (about $8 retail)


  • 2006 Beringer Founders’ Estate Merlot, California (about $11 retail)

Mediterranean dishes with tomatoes and garlic: French blends, syrah/shiraz


  • 2006 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz, Australia (about $12 retail)


  • 2006 Greg Norman Shiraz, Australia (about $22 retail)