News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 10, 2013

GRAPE SENSE: Fall is wine shipping — and sampling — time

Fall is wine shipping season. That means if you buy wine online or direct from a winery several states away, now is the time to get it shipped to your wine rack at home.

That also means it’s wine “sample” time for wine media. Yes, wineries and marketing firms ship wine to wine writers hoping they write about their product.

Several packages have arrived already this fall with a ‘wine for the holidays’ theme. Over the next couple of months let’s take a look at the stories and wines which seem worthy of your wine dollar.

There are plenty of celebrity wines on the market and, all too often, when you see the name of a musician, athlete or movie star, you should run. But there are exceptions. Baseball great Tom Seaver makes great cabernet, Mario Andretti’s Napa wines are reasonably priced and worth your money. It would take the entire column to run all the celebrities who own wineries but the list includes: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Mike Ditka, Francis Ford Coppola, Dan Akroyd, A.J. Foyt, Madonna, Charles Woodson, Greg Norman, Nancy Pelosi, Tommy Smothers, Dick Vermeil and Sting. And that’s just a few from a very long list.

Singer, songwriter, and musician Dave Matthews is also in on the rich-and-famous wine boom. Matthews is best known as lead vocalist for the Dave Matthews band. And for those who may not know, in the last decade he sold more tickets and earned more money than any other act in North America.

Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, Va. The 46-year-old musician got involved in 2000 helping design the winery building. More recently, he wanted a California presence to make wine from sustainably farmed grapes and sell it with environmentally friendly packaging.

Like the other smart celebrity wine owners, he went out and found a great partner. Matthews teamed with Steve Reeder in early 2011 to form Dreaming Tree Wines. Reeder is VP and winemaker at Simi Winery, and previously winemaker at Chateau St. Jean and Kendall-Jackson.

The Dreaming Tree label comes from a song title on the 1998 Mathews’ album “Before These Crowded Streets.”

But the two are serious about their affordable and easily approachable wine. They’re also serious about sustainability. The wine bottles are half the weight of most, featuring sustainable cork and recycled paper for the labels. Just for fun, there is Matthews’ song lyrics printed on each closure.

So far they’ve produced five wines. Their red blend Crush, Cabernet and two Chards — a central and north coast version — sell for $15. They also do a Central Coast reserve cabernet with a suggested retail of $35.

I tasted three of their wines. The best of the lot was the Crush red blend, which is mostly Merlot with smaller amounts of Syrah and Zinfandel. It had a rich texture with hints of spice and was a nicely balanced glass of wine. I would recommend it to a novice or serious wine drinker at that price.

I was intrigued by the Everyday white blend for its complexity. It’s a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Albarino and Viognier. I’ve never been a fan of the hugely floral Gewurztraminer nor Viognier. But the more I drank this wine the more I liked it. It’s not much of a food wine but a great sipper. I could see this as a big seller.

The Central Coast Cabernet just didn’t work for me. I didn’t like the fruit nor balance. The wines are widely available and be good value picks for the holidays at $15. The first two will please most palates and are better than many at that price point. It’s not unusual to find these wines around $12 in bigger retail outlets.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about value wine every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at: www.howardhewitt.net.

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