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Originally published Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Wine Adviser

Red, white & sparklers: 3 cases of great wine

It's wine columnist Paul Gregutt's annual offering of three cases of tested-and-tasty wines. Just in time for the holidays!

Special to the Seattle Times

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THROUGHOUT THE year, this Wine Adviser column puts a focus primarily on wines that are made on the West Coast, especially those from Washington. As the number of wineries in Washington has climbed past 700, with comparable growth in Oregon (now past 400), the time I have to taste wines from outside the region has diminished. So it was with particular pleasure that I sat down to design the three featured cases of wines for this year's special wine issue. Bearing in mind that prices for almost all wines have continued to decline while quality has been sustained, it remains a sort of golden age for wine buyers adventurous enough to range beyond the trophy wines and Parker picks.

Though I firmly believe that vintage ratings are not particularly helpful guides to quality — someone makes good, even great wine in every vintage — it is still worth mentioning that in Washington the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages, though at times challenging, have all produced excellent wines.

In order to evaluate our Northwest wines in a global context, it's important to see what other parts of the world are up to, and what other grapes beyond the big four (chardonnay, riesling, cabernet and merlot) have to offer consumers. So I've pulled together recommended cases of sparkling wines, unusual white wines and Rhone-style red blends — all perfect for the upcoming holidays, and most priced for everyday enjoyment. Where possible, I've listed the importer or distributor.

DELIGHTFUL, AFFORDABLE SPARKLERS

Real Champagne, from the officially certified region in France, is a little spendier than some budgets allow. So here are some sparkling wines from Italy, Spain and France, in a range from dry to slightly sweet. (Remember that wines labeled Brut Extra Dry are actually sweeter than Brut; go figure.) Prices quoted are full retail, but during the holiday season, special deals are often in play.

Dibon Brut Reserve Cava ($10). A great discovery, this rich-tasting Spanish cava has tiny bubbles and the elegance and finesse of real Champagne. Amazing length at this price. (Grape Expectations)

Segura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir Brut Rosé ($10). Pale and pretty, with strawberry fruit and a clean finish. The Aria Estate Brut is also recommended. (Odom)

Marques Gelida 2005 Brut Exclusive Reserva Cava ($15). A vintage-dated (hence, nicely aged) sparkler, this has earthy, exotic aromas of truffle and porcini mushrooms. Good grip, weight and overall presence in the mouth. (Elliott Bay)

Freixenet Elyssia Gran Cuvée ($19). At first a bit on the beery side, this bone dry, reserve-style cava is lightly scented with pine needles, sharp and focused in the mouth, with fine, tiny bubbles. (Odom)

Bisol 2009 Crede Prosecco Superiore Brut ($20). Classy stuff, from the heart of Prosecco country, with the depth and detail that only the finest convey. (Unique)

Rive della Chiesa Brut Prosecco ($14). Grapefruit and citrus, a great mixer, with just a hint of bitterness. (Vinum)

Valdo Prosecco ($11). This is pleasantly soft and nutty, with a distinctive flavor of truffle and vanilla. (Unique)

Riondo Spago Nero Prosecco ($13). You will taste some sweetness here, nicely matched to a lovely lemon-drop flavor. (Odom)

Tre Donne 2010 La Perlina Moscato d'Asti ($14). Love at first sniff. A spring bouquet of orange blossoms, alcohol at just over 5 percent, and sensational flavors of orange liqueur — the perfect aperitif or dessert wine. (Noble)

Maison Ambroise Crémant de Bourgogne ($23). This is Champagne in everything but name. It's made from pinot noir and chardonnay by the traditional method, with rich and toasty flavors that extend indefinitely. (Noble)

Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut ($21). Complex, herbal and peppery, this elegant sparkling wine showcases tart melon and citrus fruit. (Noble)

Ampelidae Armance B ($16). Labeled a "Vin Mousseux de Qualité" (basically, this translates as good bubbly) this Loire Valley sparkler is delicate and textural, with tiny bubbles. (Vinum)

UNUSUAL WHITES

Most imported, varietal white wines beyond the standards (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio) come from regional grapes that are less well-known here in the U.S. The wines in this mixed case will introduce you to a wide range of appealing flavors, but don't look for heavy oak, flabby fruit or high alcohol. These are sleek, balanced, spicy wines with plenty of natural acidity.

I look for vivid flavors of citrus, melon, apple and stone fruits. A bonus is that most of the Euro whites check in at modest alcohol levels, generally around 13 percent.

Heartland 2010 Stickleback White ($13). Verdelho, viognier and sémillon are blended to make this spicy, full-bodied, lush and focused white wine. Big and juicy, with a strong herbal component. (Epicurean Wines)

Domaines Astruc 2010 Picpoul de Pinet ($9). From the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, this crisply fruity and lively white wine is versatile and appealing. (Grape Expectations)

Domaine Jean Vullien et Fils 2010 Montmélian ($14). The Savoie region, in the French Alps, specializes in white wines from the jacquere grape. Here's a fine example, clear as ice, scented with cucumber and apple, just 12 percent alcohol. (Unique)

Arndorfer 2010 Vorgeschmack ($18). Don't you want to walk into your favorite wine shop and ask for a bottle of the Arndorfer Vorgeschmack, just to see the expression on the clerk's face? I'm told that vorgeschmack means appetizer in German; and this appetizing, melony wine is mostly grüner veltliner with some riesling blended in. (Vinum)

Massena 2010 Surly Muse Viognier ($22). This Australian viognier is super rich and bursting with melon and stone fruits. Yummy, but not at all heavy or hot. (Epicurean Wines)

Moss Wood 2010 Ribbon Vale Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc ($27). From the Margaret River region in Western Australia, this elegant blend is scented with white flowers, light herb and fresh-cut apples. (Epicurean Wines)

Altadonna 2010 Grillo ($12). From Sicily, this is my new favorite oyster and/or calamari wine. Crisp and salty — yes, salty as the sea — it's the sort of wine that can kick-start a slurp-fest. (Elliott Bay)

Tasca d'Almerita 2010 Regaleali Bianco ($12). Sicily scores again with this blend of inzolia, catarratto and grecanico (don't worry, this won't be on the exam). Just remember delicate, refined and lightly peppery. (Noble)

Zenato 2010 Lugana ($12). Back to the Veneto for this bracing northern Italian white, based on trebbiano grapes from the Lake Garda region. Clean and cool. (Noble)

Licia 2010 Albariño ($16). From Rias Baixas in northwest Spain, this excellent albariño is scented with sea breeze, clamshell and minerals. Salty, complex and deep. (Noble)

Martina Prieto 2010 Verdejo ($16). Among a flight of Spanish verdejos, this was the standout. In terms of flavor it's a cross between a sauv blanc from Touraine and a light Austrian grüner veltliner. Toss in a hint of pineapple and you're there. (Noble)

Grinalda Colheita Seleccionada 2010 Vinho Verde ($14). How do you make a totally dry wine this perfumed, textural, rich with melon/apple fruit and a pleasing minerality — and keep the alcohol at 11.5 percent? Magic! (Noble)

RHÔNE-STYLE RED BLENDS

These blends, many with a syrah base, are one of the emerging strengths here in Washington. Grenache, one of the original vinifera grapes to be planted in the Columbia Valley, is making a comeback.

Blends often include percentages of mourvèdre, occasionally carignan and a splash of viognier — a white grape that is co-fermented with the reds. In southern France, similar blends go into the widely available Côtes du Rhônes and Côtes du Rhône Villages (a slightly higher-quality grade).

For big, lusty versions from the southern hemisphere, look to Australia. These are great holiday wines, loaded with young, sappy fruit. Most listed are 2009s, but if the market has transitioned into the 2010s, the odds are very good that the new vintage is just as good.

Selection Laurence Féraud 2009 Côtes du Rhône ($13). Good texture and weight, lively spice, black-cherry fruit and a dusting of clean earth. (Elliott Bay)

Tardieu-Laurent 2009 Les Becs Fins Côtes du Rhône Villages ($21). This Wilson-Daniels import is based on a vivid mix of tart red fruits, sharp acids, a hint of gamy terroir and a whiff (not unpleasant) of chicken yard.

André Brunel 2009 Cuvée Sabrine Côtes du Rhône Villages ($14). A Robert Kacher selection, it's chewy and tannic, loaded with spicy plums and cherries, and a suggestion of new oak. (Noble)

Domaine Sainte-Eugénie 2009 Le Clos Millésime ($10). This is the odd man in the group, a seemingly simple country wine (Vin de Pays de Hauterive) that rides the flavor border between Bordeaux and the Rhône with a mix of merlot, cabernet, carignan and grenache. Smoky, earthy and dark. (Noble)

Chateau de Ségriès 2009 Cuvée Réservée Lirac ($20). Substantial, with alcohol at 14 percent, this smooth, supple, roundly fruity wine has immediate appeal. The ample fruit is swathed in baking spices and a hint of molasses.

Domaine la Rocalière 2009 Lirac ($20). Even bigger than the Ségriès, this ripe and spicy Lirac has Washingtonian fruit and power. Aromatic, tart and complex, with a tasty, chocolaty finish. (Noble)

Domaine Grosset 2009 Cairanne Côtes du Rhône Villages ($20). Briary berry flavors are somewhat zin-like, with hints of earth, mushroom, coffee and chocolate. (Elliott Bay)

Peter Lehmann 2009 Layers Red ($15). This Barossa blend adds tempranillo to the standard four Rhône grapes and has the ebullient fruit flavors common to Australian wines. Scrumptious is the word that comes to mind. (Noble)

Castillo de Daroca 2009 Garnacha Syrah ($8). From Calatayud, in Spain, comes this lively bottle of spicy cranberry/raspberry flavors, juicy and palate refreshing. (Grape Expectations)

Oxford Landing Estates 2008 GSM ($8). "This wine is full of characters" reads the back label of this Aussie blend, and indeed it is. And character: citrus, berries, plums, saffron and smoke. (Unique)

Kaesler 2008 Stonehorse Shiraz ($22). For extra bucks you get extra depth. Smooth and savory, with refined berry and plum flavors, threads of licorice and roasted coffee, and a long, chocolate-infused finish. (Epicurean Wines)

Domaine La Garrigue 2010 Cuvée Romaine Côtes du Rhône ($16). Young, ripe and bursting with gamy notes and wild herbs. (Eric Solomon Selections)

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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