Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2018
Auckland, New Zealand, $36
New Zealand winemakers were one of the earliest adopters of screw caps in the late 1970s, although public resistance to the change prompted a temporary reversion back to cork. In 2001, a group of 30 wineries joined together to popularize the closures by way of the New Zealand Screwcap Wine Seal Initiative, a kiwi coalition lauding the cap’s benefits for both white and red wines. Kumeu River Winery, owned by the Brajkovich family, was one of the original coalition members.
New World winemaker Michael Brajkovich concentrates on chardonnays crafted in the Old World style of Burgundy. Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay is produced from 100 percent chardonnay grapes harvested from six of their Kumeu, Auckland, vineyards. The wine shines bright golden yellow in the glass. The first aroma to reach the nose is that of butter toffee pecans, which slowly fades to reveal hints of green apple and comice pears. Buttery notes persist on the palate, where the fruit notes transform into lemon, kiwi and apricot. The wine boasts a racy acidity, with notes of chalk and lemon peel creating a fresh and flinty finish. A versatile partner for cheese, this wine would also pair beautifully with a trout amandine dinner. However, steamed little neck clams with garlic butter and wine sauce might just be this chardonnay’s soulmate.
This is a New World wine with a measure of Old World charm for a reasonable $36 price tag.
Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage 2013
Franschhoek, South Africa, $38
Franschhoek (Afrikaans for French Corner) is a small town in South Africa’s Western Cape province established in the late 1600s by French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution. The vineyards of Chamonix Winery occupy some of the highest locations in Franschhoek. South Africa’s own initiative to promote screw caps followed closely on the heels of those of Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa remains one of the leading proponents of these closures.
Chamonix Greywacke Pinotage is produced from 100 percent pinotage grapes, a pinot noir-and-cinsault crossing created in South Africa. Some of the grapes are harvested and put through an alternative fermentation process known as carbonic maceration, while the rest are allowed to dry on the vine for an additional month before being added to the first batch, in the style of an Italian ripasso. Warm garnet in the glass, the first whiff hints at the wine’s underlying potency. The nose proffers intense notes of smoked hickory chips, black cherry, and bitter chocolate, after which an amalgam of flavors, including dried sour cherries, roasted coffee beans, and plums play on the palate. Firm tannins offer structure while refreshing acid enlivens this complex wine that culminates in an intoxicating black licorice tea taste. Oven-braised brisket, slow-cooked pulled pork, and veal stew will all make powerful pairings.
Far from a simple libation, this $38 screw-capped quaff is engagingly complex.
Milbrandt Merlot 2017
Columbia Valley, Washington, $18
More than two decades ago, fourth-generation apple and potato farmer Butch Milbrandt saw the potential for growing grapes in eastern Washington state and took a chance. Butch is now the owner (along with his children) of a well-recognized and awarded winery, and he is credited with being a pioneer of the wine industry in Columbia Valley. Although Milbrandt Vineyards uses both screw caps and cork closures, their introductory-level wines — red, white and rosé — all come with screw caps.
Milbrandt Merlot consists primarily of merlot (86 percent) from several Wahluke Slope vineyards, blended with cabernet sauvignon. A twist of the cap reveals this wine’s cherry-red robe. Aromas of plums and black Chelan cherries are the first to arrive on the nose, after which herbaceous notes ensue with a slight hint of spiciness redolent of dried basil. The palate is plummy with suggestions of blueberries and an inkling of cedar. This merlot’s tannins are the strong and silent type, present yet restrained. The body is both velvety and weighty, and the silken mouthfeel persists on an enduring finish, the vinous equivalent of one’s favorite throw blanket on a cool autumn evening. Pair with Hungarian goulash with dill, beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, or try with a roasted autumn squash salad with hazelnuts and blue cheese.
At $18, this merlot might just become your favorite “curling up on the couch” wine this season.