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Second Tuesday with Stephen Tanzer

My brother Andy, a financial journalist and fellow wine lover, takes a sensible approach to wine buying.  He has the disposable income to afford the occasional high-end collectible, but his sweet spot for everyday drinking is in the $15 to $25 range.  His wife's a great cook, and virtually every dinner at home features a wine that takes the meal to the next level of enjoyment.

Andy has his pet wines, which in the better vintages he buys by the case at a savings - wines like the Catena chardonnay (Argentina), the Goldwater sauvignon blanc (New Zealand), Casa Lapostolle's reserve cabernet (Chile), the Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Tres Picos (Spain), Vietti's Barbera d'Asti (Italy) - but he's constantly on the hunt for new and interesting bottles at similarly reasonable prices:  albariños, Loire Valley whites, Australian shiraz, red blends from the south of France.

The bottom line is that he drinks remarkably well on a budget.  If a wine happens to disappoint, it's rarely an expensive letdown, and with that kind of discipline, he derives extra pleasure when he occasionally splurges on a special, pricier bottle.
I'd be thrilled if we all drank so well. But the fact is that although the average quality of wine available on retail shelves has probably never been higher than it is now, finding a wine with real personality, as opposed merely to an absence of obvious flaws, is not as easy as it sounds.

How do Josh Raynolds and I define the kind of wines we enjoy drinking?  Generally speaking, we look for some combination of concentration and character, power and personality - the key here is balance.  The wine must have flavor intensity while being true to its variety or varietal blend and to its geographic origin.  It's the distinctive differences among wines that make them endlessly fascinating, not the characteristics they have in common.

My own sine qua non for a satisfying wine is the quality I characterize as "energy."  Even if I'm opening a monster - say, an outsized Châteauneuf du Pape, a head-spinning Australian shiraz or a big Napa cabernet - the wine must have vitality or it quickly becomes tiring.  It needs a nervous system, not just a spine.  And it has to have the personality and complexity to make me want to pour a second glass.

Here then are some intriguing, ready-to-drink and affordable wines that meet our requirements - Andy's, Josh's and mine:

Second Tuesday Selections:

February 2011

Region: France

(Around 80% grenache, the rest syrah and carignane): Bright ruby. Spice-accented red fruit scents, along with notes of smoky minerals, licorice and black pepper. Juicy, focused and vaguely medicinal, with bitter cherry and herb flavors underscored by tangy acidity. This reminded me a bit of Campari. Fine-grained tannins give shape to an energetic and persistent finish. This puts plenty of Châteauneufs from the vintage in the shade.

89 points (JR)
Out of Stock

Region: Oregon

Bright cherry-red color. Subtle, pure aromas of black cherry, dark raspberry, licorice and mint. Juicy, brisk and dry but with sneaky intensity and energy to its dark cherry, licorice and spice flavors. This very refreshing, low-fat Oregon pinot reminded me of a wine from Burgundy's Côte Chalonnaise. Finishes with a fine dusting of tannins and modest sweetness.

90 points (ST)
Average Price: $22.00

Region: Argentina

(From vines planted between 5,500 and 8,500 feet above sea level; blended with 8% tannat and bits of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and syrah): Saturated deep ruby. Pure nose offers blackberry, licorice, violet, bitter chocolate and spices. Dense, sweet and seamless, with terrific energy giving a light touch to its ripe dark berry and chocolate flavors. Finishes seriously long, with very suave tannins and lingering black fruit perfume. More than 7,000 cases of this Argentine malbec are imported into the U.S. An outstanding value.

91 points (ST)
Average Price: $29.99

Region: Spain

Medium yellow. Very ripe, expressive aromas of orange blossom, mango, honey, wild herbs and dusty spices. Broad and lush for verdejo, with an almost glyceral richness leavened by well-integrated acidity. Showed sexy leesy nuances and a piquant note of grapefruit pith with air. Finishes silky and broad, with a touch of sweetness and a dusty mineral quality. This could stand up to a moderately rich seafood dish.

90 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: France

Good bright red-ruby. Pure, precise aromas of violet, raspberry, blackberry, smoked meat and pepper. Juicy and high-pitched, with nicely focused blackberry, violet and black peppery flavors accented by light leather and game nuances. Expanded with aeration to show growing ripeness and body, but there's nothing rustic about this bright, firmly built wine. Makes a classy introduction to northern Rhône syrah.

91 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: France

Gold-tinged yellow. Subtly complex aromas of yellow peach, orange, honey, gingery spices, white pepper and crushed stone. Rich, tactile and dry, showing more soil than easy fruit character in the mouth. A dusty mineral component and the firm acidity of the 2008 vintage give this wine a chewy, saline quality that should make it very flexible at the dinner table.

92 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: France

Gold-tinged yellow. Subtly complex aromas of yellow peach, orange, honey, gingery spices, white pepper and crushed stone. Rich, tactile and dry, showing more soil than easy fruit character in the mouth. A dusty mineral component and the firm acidity of the 2008 vintage give this wine a chewy, saline quality that should make it very flexible at the dinner table.

92 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: Washington

(90% viognier and 10% roussanne): Pale color. Aromas and flavors of apricot, quinine, ginger and honey. Musky and sweet in the mouth, with noteworthy flavor intensity and a distinctly dense, tactile palate feel suggesting strong dry extract. This very bright, dry, long wine finishes with an almost tannic impression.

92 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: Argentina

Pale bright yellow. Precise, perfumed aromas of lemon, yellow flowers and ginger. Then surprisingly ripe and rich in the mouth, with good spicy, floral lift to the lemon and grapefruit peel flavors. A tactile wine with a lovely light touch and enticing inner-mouth perfume. Lightly saline on the bracing, palate-dusting finish. Serious torrontés with character.

90 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: France

Light yellow-gold. Pungent, lees-accented aromas of pear skin, nectarine and jasmine, with a hint of iodine adding complexity. Juicy, palate-coating orchard fruit flavors are energized by notes of lime and lemongrass. Hefty but surprisingly lithe wine with impressive finishing cling, firm back-end bite and smoky persistence.

91 points (JR)
Out of Stock

Region: France

Bright red. Assertive aromas of raspberry and cherry, with deeper tobacco, violet and anise qualities and a mounting floral nuance. Juicy, pliant and expansive, displaying energetic red and dark berry flavors and notes of musky herbs and spices. Offers a compelling blend of depth and energy, finishing with very good clarity and spicy persistence.

91 points (JR)
Average Price: $17.98

Region: France

Bright purple. Fresh black raspberry and cherry on the nose, with complicating floral and spicecake qualities. Rich but energetic dark fruit flavors are given spine by dusty minerals and gain weight with aeration. Leaves sweet dark berry compote and licorice notes behind on the sappy, mineral-accented, persistent finish. This will be even better with a couple years of bottle age.

91 points (JR)
Out of Stock

About Second Tuesday

Since 1985, Stephen Tanzer and his team of renowned, widely published regional experts have spent months of every year on the wine trails of the world, having their passports punched and tasting tens of thousands of wines annually, the best of which are reviewed in the independent, critically acclaimed, bimonthly International Wine Cellar (IWC).

Many wines featured in Second Tuesday will be selected from past, current and upcoming issues of the IWC. But Stephen and associate editor Josh Raynolds will also include superb recent discoveries that would otherwise slip between the cracks of IWC coverage.

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