We are fortunate, here in Utah, to have wine stores that rival some of the best in other big U.S. cities. When friends visit from the coasts, they’re often amazed at the wine selection available here and the fair prices, particularly for small-production wines, which are given a break by the state. It makes you wonder why—aside from cultural politics—anyone would want to close any of the DABC stores, particularly since there isn’t a single one that isn’t profitable? And, especially considering that much of that profit goes directly to fund education in Utah. What the hell are they thinking?
Here’s a small example of the breadth and depth of the wines readily available here—a quartet of very good red wines in an economical range of prices and styles. They are wines I’ve recently discovered, and so should you. As the weather warms up, I’ll turn to drinking more white wines. But lately, I’ve been enjoying the last of these appealing winter reds.
New to the state is an interesting Cotes du Rhone Villages called LePlan-Vermeersch GT-G 2007 ($22.76). The winemakers for LePlan describe their wines as “sexy, full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal wines.” They all carry “GT” on the label; this one is GT-G, which indicates Grand Terroir-Grenache. But, the GT connotes a double meaning, since LePlan’s owner is Dirk Vermeersch, a Belgian race car driver turned winemaker. This is a racy but well-rounded wine, brimming with cherry flavors and hints of vanilla from French and American oak—definitely a checkered-flag winner.
Far from France, in Mendoza, Argentina, is where Viña San Esteban Malbec Reserve 2010 (on sale this month for $4.99) is made. This Malbec is a steal at its normal $7.99 price and even better with $3 knocked off. Composed of 95 percent Malbec and 5 percent Bonarda, this is an easy-drinking red with soft tannins, dark fruit flavors (currant and black cherry) and aged in stainless steel so there’s no oak to clutter things up. Viña San Esteban was spot-on with a slow-cooked, German-style pot roast simmered in inexpensive Malbec.
The next two reds come from California. Up first is another wine that’s new to Utah: Predator Zinfandel Old Vine 2008 ($12.99). There’s a ladybug on the label, a subtle reminder that Predator winery, located in Lodi, practices “natural predation”—an eco-friendly strategy to control harmful bugs and other critters without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Ladybugs are natural predators. I loved this wine with a rich ragu of spicy Italian sausage and San Marzanos over rigatoni. Its bright blackberry and white pepper flavors played off nicely against the tangy tomato sauce.
Head up next to the North Coast of California, where Sherman & Hooker’s Shebang ($13.99) is produced. Packaged in a whiskey-style 1-liter bottle with a screw top, you might be tempted to compare this “jug” wine with Gallo Burgundy or Carlo Rossi. Don’t. This is a serious wine made by a serious winemaker—Morgan Peterson, who is the son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson. His Bedrock Wine Company produces wines mostly way out of my price range, except for Shebang, a blend of declassified North Coast fruit: old vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, aged in new French oak. There is pepper and blueberry on the nose from the Syrah and very deep flavors, although this is an easy-drinking wine. Pour Shebang into Riedel stemware, hide the bottle and let your guests think they’re sipping something expensive.