A friend recently asked Tom to assemble a case of wine that he wanted to offer for auction at an upcoming fundraiser for a charitable organization. His only stipulation was that the wines be rated at least 90 points by wine journals, like the Robert Parker Jr.’s Wine Advocate. The friend was buying, so the challenge had little consequences but loads of fun.

Parker and his associates rate a lot of wine and many of them score more than 90 points, so it is impossible to commit them all to memory. However, there are several producers who the Wine Advocate favors year to year.

One thing we have discovered over the years is that a 90-point wine is no guarantee of drinking pleasure. Everyone has different thresholds for elements like acid and alcohol, so Parker’s thrill for big, busty wines may not be your cup of tea, so to speak.

Not long ago we recommended a highly rated Italian pinot noir to our readers and got an angry retort. The woman bought a case and was so disappointed that she used the rest of the wine for cooking. How could we be so wrong, she asked in a letter. Everyone’s palate is different, so don’t expect that 90-point wine to suit your particular palate. Always taste a wine before committing to a case of it. Look at the wine’s description before deciding if you will like it. Don’t buy “buttery” chardonnays if you prefer those with good acidity. Don’t buy “tannic monsters” if you want a cabernet sauvignon for immediate consumption.

Since we were spending someone else’s money, we didn’t gravitate to the obvious wines that command prices of $80 and more. Our choices ranged from $15 to $45, thus proving you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to find quality wine. Mixed in the box were wines, like Frei Brothers Sauvignon Blanc, that will come as a surprise to some people, and a discovery from southern France made by the well-respected Michel Chapoutier.

We thought we would share our choices in case you want to repeat the exercise.

Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($15). Frei makes outstanding merlot and sauvignon blanc. This wine has classic fig and grapefruit flavors with an intriguing mineral thread.

Vino Cobos El Felino Malbec 2008 ($20). Usually reasonable in price, malbecs offer generous black cherry and blueberry flavors. Moderate in tannins, they can stand up to grilled meats but also do well with poultry and pasta. This winery is associated with Paul Hobbs, a well-respected Napa Valley producer.

Vina Cobos El Felino Chardonnay 2008 ($20). Like the malbec, this aromatic chardonnay is a hedonistic wine that coats the tongue with soft, luscious tropical fruit flavors. It is hard to stop at one glass, so don’t. It would do well with mild white fish or sipped by itself.

Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Ridge Shiraz 2008 ($24). One of the best values on the market, this Australian wine is an iron fist in a velvet glove. Lots of ripe blueberry, blackberry and spice.

Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2008 ($22). Sparky Marquis’ engaging personality makes him one of the most popular winemakers in Australia. Not everyone likes the jammy, intense fruit of these wines, but there is no denying their hedonistic pleasure. Lots of ripe plum and blueberry flavors.

Bodegas Borsao Tres Picos 2007 ($18). This is another producer we have followed over the years because of its consistent quality. A great value, this Spanish value is made from garnacha grapes known for their generous strawberry flavors. Parker says this is the best Tres Picos to date.

Marquis Philips Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($15). Sparky Marquis actually worked at this Australian wine house for several years before launching Mollydooker. The Marquis Philips has a track record of making great wines on several price levels, although their high alcohol levels have made them controversial among collectors. If you like this wine, splurge for some of the upper-tier wines produced by Marquis Philips.

St. Innocent Winery Pinot Gris 2008 ($20). Winemaker Mark Viossak is known primarily for his single-vineyard pinot noirs, but this pinot gris gets good reviews year-to-year. You’ll find abundant peach and tangerine flavors.

St. Innocent Winery Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2007 ($35). This is a beautiful, elegant pinot noir from Oregon’s top wine-growing district. It is medium-bodied with elegant cherry and cola notes and a lush mouthfeel.

Tardieu-Laurent Chateauneuf du Pape Vielles Vignes 2007. This is one of the wines to put down in your cellar this year, but it shows well now if you don’t want to wait. It is made from grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes grown on old vines. Ripe dark berry fruit, dense and spice flavors with a touch of chocolate.

Domaine de Bila Haut Vignes de Bila Haut 2007 ($15). This is a little-known wine produced by Rhone Valley’s esteemed Michel Chapoutier. Made in the Roussillon region of southern France, the Bila Hut has the same heft and serious body Chapoutier is known for. But the forward, black berry fruit make it a wine for current drinking.

Juslyn Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($50). A well-respected producer in California, Juslyn may not have the fame of other producers — but collectors are well aware of it. This has layers of tantalizing flavors and would marry well with most meats. Great balance and concentration.


Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have visited vineyards all over the world and have been writing a newspaper wine column for more than 20 years. Contact them at: [email protected]

– Relishmag.com