Enjoy good wine minus fancy prices

Marco Porto
  • Washington wines are a really great value and are amazing right now%3B plus%2C there are plenty of international wines at great prices

One of the great bottom line advantages of having so many wine choices out there is price. So you really don't have to break the bank to enjoy good quality.

Off the bat, let's look at the good old USA Washington valley.

One of my favorites from this region is the 2011 Desert Wind cabernet from Wahluke Slope, Washington. Washington wines are a really great value and are amazing right now. Dessert Wind is a bold, robust cabernet sauvignon with aromas and flavors of blackberry, tobacco, earth, cherries, vanilla, chocolate, and toasted almonds with a dry finish.

On this estate, the Fries family has grown the brand into one of the leading producers of Oregon pinot noir and pinot gris as well.

The family has always been passionate about full-bodied red wines such as their cabernet sauvignon, merlot and Syrah. This love prompted their 1992 acquisition of a 540-acre parcel of land on eastern Washington's Wahluke Slope, an area particularly suited to growing hot climate varietals.

The family dubbed the site Desert Wind Vineyard and spent three years planting chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Syrah and a handful of other varieties. In 2001, they launched the Desert Wind brand to showcase their hand-crafted wines from these vineyard sites.

Several other Northwest wineries purchase fruit from Desert Wind vineyard for their own winemaking; they often refer to this site as "Fries vineyard" on their labels.

Now, we take our boarding passes and head for France and the E. Guigal winery for one of my favorite cotes du Rhone reds - a tremendous value for the quality.

Cotes du Rhone is where Syrah is the dominant red grape in this area which can have blends of Grenache, Mourvedre in it. All reds grown south of Montelimar must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, and may contain up to 5 percent of white grapes.

The wine offers a roasted feel, with dark bramble, plum and tobacco notes accented by hints of apple wood, leading to a granache- and charcoal-infused finish.

Distinctive in feel, it reveals a prominent, yet integrated woodsy element.

The Guigal estate was founded in 1946 by Etienne Guigal in Ampuis, a small ancient village and cradle of the Cote-Rotie appellation. It shelters a unique vineyard where the vines and the wines have been famous for 2,400 years.

Today Marcel Guigal he is the estate's winemaker, representing the third generation.

In the summer of 2003, the Guigal estate, always determined to improve collective knowledge of wine and everything related, launched into a completely new adventure: barrel-making. This artisan craft of their ancestors allows the estate to master and additional skill in the charm of an historical setting.

A cooper works full time in the cooperage of the Chateau d'Ampuis and makes 18 barrels a week on average in order to fulfill a yearly requirement of around 800 new barrels.

Never dominant, oak reveals the true authenticity of a wine with profound respect for its balance, origins and vintage. Day after day the wine becomes more refined, expressive and full-bodied in the barrel. The estate's top wines can be aged for up to four years in oak before bottling.

These wines are on the chop239 menu at around $11 a glass and $44 a bottle, and for the Desert Wind look no further than filet mignon as an accompaniment. For the Cotes du Rhone red, lamb chops are perfect.

Marco Porto is owner of chop239 at the Esplanade, and is a wine connoisseur. Along with Laura Owen of CJ's on the Bay and Adamo Serravalle of DaVinci's and Marco Prime, he is a regular contributor to this column.