The cold, blustery days are giving way to that season when the blazing sun shimmers off the water and the Berkshires once again bursts with life. In honor of the coming summer, a group of intrepid wine professionals have slogged through myriad bottles in order to provide us with the very best wine the world has to offer within the confines of a reasonable price.
Earlier this month the Berkshire Tasting Panel, a group of folks with a whole lot of wine knowledge, held a blind tasting of about 75 different wines to create a list of what they feel is the very best wines that are reflective of Berkshire summers under $19.99 retail.
"When I think of summer wines I picture myself out on the porch with a bright, crisp wine," says Kollin Kozlowski, the wine director for Kelly's Package store in Dalton.
Kozlowski said he and John Kelly, the owner of the store, often "ponder different ideas" while at the shop and came up with the tasting panel, which is based on an annual wine tasting event in Boston called "Plonkapalooza."
"Why can't we do something similar with local restaurateurs?" Kozlowski recalled thinking.
And so the Berkshire Tasting Panel was born. Now in its second year, the panel is currently made up of Kozlowski; Dan Thomas, wine director/sommelier at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge; Christelle Cotar, sommeliere at Blantyre in Lenox; and Philip S. Kampe, a veteran wine journalist.
Faced with a table full of wines sheathed in paper bags to obscure their identities, the group relied on their personal tastes and experience to come up with their choices of the summer reds and whites they felt were the best of the best in that price range.
Kozlowski said while not all the judges' taste in wines were the same, they picked one summer red and one summer white by consensus, and also individually chose one of each type for a total of 10 wines.
This year's choices run the gamut from an Italian Pinot Noir to Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to a Spanish Monastrell.
The group believes these wines both epitomize the summers here in the Berkshires and have "history, artistry, purity" and "great taste."
Kozlowski said he is carrying and promoting the 10 selections all summer long, while the Red Lion Inn and Blantyre are promoting the personal choices of Thomas and Cotar, respectively.
Berkshire Tasting Panel's No. 1 Summer White Wine 2014
Sigl Gruner Veltliner Federspiel 2012 Wachauer, Austria
It was serendipitous that this was the first wine tasted and eventually ranked first in our blind tasting of more than 40 white wines. What a wine to start out tasting we all just looked at each other and didn't say a word, we just grinned and knew from the start that this was going to be a very tough wine to beat!
Ultimately, we culled out several others but, per our parameters we had to decide on a great example of the perfect summer wine, and this was it. What a perfect refreshing wine for the summer with its bright notes of slate, wet stones, lime, pear and white peach, succulently crisp acidity and mineral laden finish.
Berkshire Tasting Panel No. 1 Summer Red Wine 2014
Alto Limay Pinot Noir Select 2012 Patagonia, Argentina
Argentina's best kept secret is the cool climate growing region of the Patagonia Steppe. This unique terroir greatly influenced by the powerful Limay River, is ideally suited to the production of world class Pinot Noir. Narrowing down the field to about eight selections out of 32 red wines, our final choice is this wonderful expression of Pinot Noir, none of us guessed at this being a New World wine! This Paul Hobbs import has an Old World aromatic earthiness, delicate floral notes and the supple strawberry and raspberry flavors, reminiscent of a fine Gevrey Chambertin.
Top choices of Christelle Cotar, Blantyre's wine director
Drylands Antica Robinia Pinot Noir 2013 Malborough, New Zealand
This style is the epitome of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, ultra-zesty notes of gooseberry, grapefruit, lemon with a backbone of bracing acidity.
L'Ameillaud Cairanne 2010 Rhone Valley, France
The term that kept coming up while re-tasting this wine was structure, not structure as in high tannin, but structure as in an overall richness, balance and complexity. This could easily be place highly in a blind tasting of great Chateauneuf du Pape at one-third the price!
Top choices of Kollin Kozlowski, CSW and Kelly's wine director
Beyond Sauvignon Blanc 2013 Western Cape, South Africa
Wow what a fantastic value! A stark contrast to the Drylands New Zealand style, this Sauvignon Blanc was light, fresh, fragrant and fruity. Stylistically it could pass for a nice Chenin Blanc.
Tons Duorum Douro Red 2011 Douro DOC, Portugal
This blend of traditional Portugese varietals is ruby red in color with a dark violet color, jammy notes of raspberries, blackberries and a deep grapiness that is balanced by a touch of oak. Perfect for a summer sippin' red.
Top choices of Dan Thomas, Red Lion Inn's wine director
Perrusset Macon-Villages 2012 Burgundy, France
Of the several white Burgundies that were represented this one showed the most elegance and class and true varietal character and terroir. This Chardonnay is medium bodied with light oak nuances, flavors of crisp apple and a core of mineral that are balanced and refined.
Tarima Monastrell 2012 Alicante, Spain
This has been a hidden gem on our shelves -- what a bargain this wine is! A healthy deep purple color, notes of cinnamon and clove in the nose, attractive sweet red and black fruits abound and the finish is supple and smooth. Perfect for grillin' and chillin'!
Top choices of Phil Kampe, wine blogger
Giordano Lombardo Vigna di San Martino Gavi 2012 Piedmonte, Italy
This Gavi is Demeter certified organic and biodynamically farmed in the northern reaches of Piedmonte. This Italian white is delicate and textured with notes of sea air and ripe peach. The palate is broad with low acidity and complex with notes of white plum and pear.
Antica Robinia Pinot Noir 2012 Veneto, Italy
Pinot Noir is always a nice choice for summer because of its lighter body and food friendly character. Here is a Pinot that is all about Old World style and complexity. Notes of old wood, a bit of barnyard funk and gaminess are present in northern Italian reds. If you're tired with the "same old same old" Pinot Noir, check this one out. Match this with lighter game dishes or grilled shitake mushrooms.