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Five things that make a winery accessible

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I try to cook an array of world cuisines at home, and often enough, I have dependable wines and wineries in my head. But that all depends on if I know I can find an adventurous bottle on that particular day.

There’s an interesting class of winery that isn’t commonly found on most wine shelves. The ideal winery should:

A: Generally, not be difficult to get in Lansing.

B: Come in bottles for sale from the winery less than $30 retail (while more expensive bottles may exist).

C: Sell bottles that are worth far more than what they are priced for, or than what its competitors give in value comparison — given that the bottles are not unnecessarily old.

D: Give great representations of the style of wine of its region.

E: Not be conjured up from the marketing teams of enormous corporations.
When you can hit those five factors, that’s an extremely rewarding sweet spot. These are wineries that I have full confidence to grab off the shelf, and know that no matter what specific wine it is, that it will show better than nearly all of its competition for the price. 

With the change in weather, this seems about a good a time as any to show a few of those who make some delicious red wines.

Hoopes Vineyard’s 2015 bottling of The Mutt from their “Hoopla” line is generous in its richness. Retailing for about $23 (some of their wines get down into the $17-20 range), it’s mostly merlot with about 20% cabernet sauvignon blended in. It smells and drinks like some Napa wines I’ve had at the $50 level. There are evident layers of fruit to this wine, but not overstuffed like a poorly made jam.

The Mutt is a very fun mix of plum-like flavors, raspberries, currants and an oak presence that corral the tannins of this wine — rather than jump the line to make you feel like you’re chewing on wood. This is the product of the wine aging 18 months in old French oak barrels. Caveat emptor: There are probably more than 100 wines with dogs on labels. It’s a thing. So, if this sounds up your alley, remember the name of the wine when talking with your preferred independent retailer.

As the crow flies about 6,000 miles southeast from Napa (and that would be one impressive crow), Achaval-Ferrer is a true leader of Argentina’s wine quality at an affordable cost. The 2016 Malbec is perennially one of the best Malbec’s for the money in the world. Expect to pay about $25. It’s a fantastically versatile wine for all meats.

Malbecs tend to look somewhat purple and opaque in the glass, and this tasty wine is no different. I don’t often call Malbecs graceful, because they’re not, but this comes close. Most importantly, like The Mutt from California hints at, this is a seriously jammy wine that has enough backbone (acid and tannins) to support it. I would kill for a burger when drinking this wine, but it’s fruity enough to be enjoyed in so many other ways.
This wine is much less about oak than the pure velvety fruit of top-level Mendoza production. Time and time again, Achaval-Ferrer comes through as a no-doubt recommendation.
Bodegas Emilio Moro’s 2017 Finca Resalso is a steal at $15. If you don’t see it on a local shelf, it’s very easy to order, as it’s made in larger quantities. It’s from the dry region of Ribera del Duero about 75 miles north of Madrid. This style of big fruited and peppery tempranillo is a natural extension for California zinfandel lovers.

Having tasted somewhere around 25,000 or so wines in my life, there are few wineries that have always been dependable at a lower price, while likely offering other impeccable wines. Below is that shortlist of wineries who should at least have some presence in the Lansing market.

California

Hoopes Vineyard (Napa Valley)

Morgan Winery (Central Coast)

Oregon

Brooks Wines (Willamette Valley)

Washington

L’Ecole No. 41 (Columbia Valley)

France

Saint-Cosme (Rhone)

Zind-Humbrecht (Alsace)

William Fevre (Chablis)

Germany

Karthauserhof (Mosel)

Dr. Loosen (Mosel)

Spain

Bodegas Muga (Rioja)

Bodegas Emilio Moro

(Ribera del Duero)

Italy

Produttori del Barbaresco

(Piedmont)

Vietti (Piedmont)

Australia

d’Arenberg (Southeast Australia)

Brokenwood (Hunter Valley)

Argentina

Achaval-Ferrer (Mendoza)

Bodegas Catena Zapata (Mendoza)

Susana Balbo Wines (Mendoza)

Austria

Domane Wachau (Wachau)

Justin King is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine-and-cocktails focused restaurant in DeWitt, and Bar Mitena, a Spanish winebar opening this year on Lansing’s Eastside. He can be reached at justingking@gmail.com.

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