VinePair wine enthusiasts, we hear you! Readers have told us how hard it has been to discover new wines during the pandemic. Somms are in short supply, as many restaurants are still closed. Online wine platforms have algorithms that prioritize the same big brands, and many customers are still picking up their wine shop orders curbside. So we reached out to wine professionals we admire to ask for their help. With the challenge to build a 12-bottle case for under $250, these wine pros sifted through hundreds of bottles to find the best case possible — so you don’t have to. (And for wine pros who work with a brand, we also let them choose one of their own wines to highlight.) Then, we choose a retailer that ships nationally, and the pros only learn which retailer they’ll be choosing from after they accept the challenge. Their only guidance? Find wines that will wow wine enthusiasts.
In this $250 Case Challenge, Washington, D.C. beverage professional Vincent Moten was tasked with selecting 12 bottles from Gary’s Wine, a wine retailer and marketplace with locations in New Jersey and Napa, Calif., that ship to 38 states.
Moten, a wine pro with WSET level 2 certifications and wine sales representative, is the CEO of Elevate Your Tastes, a wine-tasting platform currently conducting online events. When he’s not working with wine, Moten explores his other passion: cars. Moten originally planned on working in the automotive world, “then life happened and I ended up selling wine,” he says.
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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way that Moten discovers new wine. Before, Moten says, “I never purchased wine online for fear of the unknown.” Now, as delivery laws have loosened during the pandemic, Moten has been surfing the web regularly to find new and exciting bottles. “I’ve also been paying closer attention to the Black wine professionals on social media to see what they’re consuming, as that has helped guide me to certain producers,” he says.
When picking his $250 case, Moten focused on terroir, celebrating the locations where each of his picks are from. “I think it is important to highlight that wine is extremely expressive of the place that it comes from, and the people that are behind it,” Moten says. “In this Case Challenge, I wanted to ensure that you could see how fun it is to experiment with aromatic whites and luscious reds, because there’s a wine for everyone.”
Moten also made sure that the 12 bottles below showcase “solid QPR” — quality-to-price ratio. Along with still whites and reds, he made sure to include some bubbly “because why not? Bubbles are not just for celebrations,” he says, “but they are certainly enjoyed extensively during times to warrant it.”
“To kick things off, we are starting with one of my favorite grapes from my favorite regions! Sancerre grows some of the world’s most iconic and highly sought-after Sauvignon Blanc grapes in the Loire Valley. This is a classic example of what a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc should taste like,” Moten says.
Domaine des Grandes Perrières, established by Jérôme and Frédérique Gueneau in 1993, aged this 2019 Sancerre on lees. “The winery is located in a small village on the northern side of Sancerre by the name of ‘Sury-en-Vaux,’ and Jérôme and Frédérique really believe in allowing the purity of the fruit to resonate in the glass. The minerality that is normally more prominent from this region is actually more subtle in this particular wine. I suggest enjoying this with some fresh seafood or really just on its own, because it’s stellar!”
“I’m a firm believer that we need to introduce more Viognier to consumers, and lucky for me, I stumbled across this excellently valued wine from a higher-quality producer in South Australia!”
Located in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, Yalumba wines are made using low-intervention winemaking methods. This vegan Viognier was fermented in stainless-steel tanks, allowing its floral, fruity notes to shine. “I’ve found it quite interesting that I don’t hear many people discussing Viognier in much regard outside of the Rhône Valley or Paso Robles, Calif., where a lot of Rhône blends are now thriving,” says Moten. “This is one of those wines that’s aromatic and floral with notes of honeysuckle, ginger, and oranges. I would suggest pairing this with baked or roasted chicken — just don’t load up with a lot of dressing, as there isn’t enough acidity to cut through creamy sauces.”
Vietti is an Italian winery run by fourth-generation winemaker Luca Vietti and his wife, Elena Vietti. The grapes used for this bottle, Arneis, were harvested from vineyards located in Santo Stefano Roero. “I was introduced to this grape by a friend of mine, and [although] I’ve tried Arneis from only a couple of producers, Vietti seems to nail it every time,” Moten says.
“Grown in the northwestern region of Italy in Piedmont, this grape is difficult to produce consistent yields of, so it is not as common to come by. But when you do, you should definitely try it! Such a beautiful balance in floral and fruit aromas that meet the palate with as much intensity and joy. This is just such a great wine, and I’d suggest you pair this with a simple meal, like seasoned grilled chicken, freshly steamed green beans, and mashed potatoes.”
4: Reyneke Chenin Blanc “Biodynamic,” 2017 ($25.99)
This Chenin Blanc was made using biodynamic methods at Reyneke, a South African winery dedicated to organic winemaking. “South African Chenin should never be overlooked! Chenin Blanc is one of the most recognized grape varieties coming out of South Africa, and Reyneke is also committed to sustainable farming, which is super awesome. They really believe in minimal intervention in the process, so that the wine speaks louder than the winemaker,” Moten says.
“There is a delicate balance in the intensity of floral aromas. On the palate, the very subtle sweetness that is more gracious without an over-saturation of sugar. Green apples, pear, and honeysuckle sing in the glass. A very unique wine that should pair wonderfully with green curry chicken.”
Willamette Valley Vineyards is a sustainable winery that was established in 1983 by Oregon native Jim Bernau. Its Riesling is one to look out for. “Riesling is always able to express the terroir in where it is grown. Most of the world’s best examples are held in Germany, but I have to say, Oregon’s Willamette Valley region is definitely a ‘must try’ to keep your eyes open for when you want quality Riesling outside of Germany or New York State.” This wine has “notes of white peach, lemon zest, [and] stones.”
As Moten says, “Champagne is always a must.” That’s why he chose this affordable bottle from Labruyère. “Most people enjoy bubbles, and if they are wanting to get something on the premium side, Champagne is always the right call. Most grand Cru Champagnes are not $40, and to get quality grapes that represent the distinctive practices of Champagne for this price point is a welcome surprise. Dominated by Pinot Noir, which gives this wine a great structure with a superb mouthfeel, and rounded off by Chardonnay that carries the richness and freshness from start to finish. You can pair Champagne with everything! From a night with a small and select group of friends (safely), to potato chips and fried chicken!”
Gobelsburg is an Austrian winery that’s not afraid to challenge the status quo. This rosé is made from St. Laurent and Pinot Noir grapes. “The nice and cooler climate of Austria produces some [of my] favorite white, red, and sparkling wines! I believe the mass majority of people think rosé is specifically a spring-and-summer-only type of wine, when that is so not the case. Rosé is extremely dynamic, and can match the weight of various foods. If you want to explore areas outside of Provence, I’d suggest trying this one from the Niederösterreich region of Austria.”
“Portugal doesn’t get enough credit for the incredible quality of their wines, at a fraction of the price as other regions. Casa Ferreirinha ‘Papa Figos’ is [made] in tribute to one of the local’s rarest birds in the Douro region. This blend consists of four grapes: Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional. There is minimal oak influence on this wine, so that all of the red and black fruit get to showcase themselves in the aromas and on the palate. This is a food wine, for sure. Think of your base as something with beef, chicken, or pork.”
Carpe Diem wines are produced in both Napa Valley and Anderson Valley. This Pinot Noir was produced in the latter appellation, and was fermented for 10 months in French oak barrels. “Anderson Valley is the home to some spectacular Pinot Noirs that I’ve been fortunate enough to taste, and where additionally some of the best sparkling wines come from. Today, we’re just focused on the still wines. The tannins are silky, giving this wine overall a wonderful texture wrapped behind great acidity. This is one of those wines that can stand up to some creamy dishes because of the acidity, like turkey Alfredo with penne noodles.”
10: Domaine de Lises Equis Crozes-Hermitage, 2017 ($27.99)
Domaine de Lises is a small winery based in the northern Rhône valley in France. This wine was grown in gravel soils and aged in Burgundy barrels. “Hands-down my favorite region thus far to get Syrah. Albeit a large area, Crozes-Hermitage has some of the most classic styles of Syrah for the everyday consumer,” Moten says.
“This does tip up just a little bit close to the $30 range, but I promise it will not disappoint. Beautiful integration of acidity and tannins with prominent black fruits of blackberry, black plum, and black cherry. Notes of licorice and chocolate, with fine notes of black pepper, earth, and leather. This is certainly a fine wine to pair with lamb.”
Musto Carmelitano is a third-generation, family-owned winery in southern Italy’s Basilicata region, where vines are planted on the slopes of an extinct volcano. “Volcanic soils and grapevines make a great combination! I remember the first time I was exposed to Aglianico, and it took me by total surprise. The plantings are on volcanic soils on the slopes of Mount Vulture, so that adds incredible complexity that is unique to this terroir, for certain. Definitely an underdog. Structure, intensity, balance; it is all there, and this is a great price for a wine with such firm tannins and acidity, that can age for years to come, if stored correctly. Great value and perfect for barbecue ribs, smoked, shredded pork, and anything with a dense meat profile.”
Teso La Monja was founded in 2007 by Marcos and Miguel Angel Eguren, fourth-generation winemakers in Spain. This wine was grown in sandy clay soils, and fermented for 14 months in French oak barrels. “Beautifully intense, balanced, and great structured wines come from this region, Toro, Spain. It is hot and dry here. Like, very hot and very dry. Being in an arid land that forces grapevines to dig further into the soil to extract the nutrients they need to survive, the fruit flavors extracted are very intense and just pleasantly received on the palate. The backbone is strong and firm. I love this wine because it represents that no matter how much adversity it (or we) endure, there is much that can be overcome.”