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Affordable Chairman's Selection Wines

Updated: May 1

Dear friends,

Let me offer you this new post with my reviews from wines presently on the shelves at the Pennsylvania Premium Liquor Stores. We are reviewing 29 wines this time: 8 from France, 7 from Italy, 6 from the US, 4 from Spain, 2 from New Zealand, and 1 each from Portugal and Chile. Of special interest are the two Malbecs (none from Argentina) and the discussions about Amarone, Cariñena, Bordeaux and Malborough Sauvignon Blanc.

If you see on the shelves Chairman's wines not covered here, you may find their reviews in my prior two posts from January and July 2023.

I have included a few not so affordable wines as an exception but most are in the $9.99 and lower 2-digit range, as usual.

Enjoy and do not hesitate to send me your comments. Wine tasting is a mix of practice, method, science, art and personal preference.


Ricardo Llovet

Massi Costasera Riserva 2016, Corvina 70% % Rondinella 25%, Molinara 5%, Amarone, Italy

I bought this bottle in honor of a dear friend who gave me a gift card for the wine store to celebrate my retirement (THANK YOU!). Since he lives far away I could not taste it with him but it was such a luxury that I wanted to share it with another refined palate. I then took it to Maryland for our visit to Jerry’s and Kim’s. Here are Jerry’s and my combined tasting notes:

Thick, slow legs with some color, advancing hints on our experience to come.

Lots of ripe blackberry and prune but also things like tomato plant, geranium, bonfire, basil or pine needles, mocha and, a pity, bit of sulfur. Jerry added luxardo cherry, camphor and wet China.

Mouth filling and saturating with some sweetness in the background. Extremely long and intense finish. Basically, it did not ask for a second sip for a long time. It was still there after 5 minutes!

It would stand up to a rich goulash or a duck in raspberry jam, such as the ones they serve at U Barssa in Warsaw’s old square. I’d also have it with a Mexican mole of the strongest kind.

In summary, a “monster” crafted with raisins through the appassimento method. See below a picture of the trays where the grapes are dried to perfection.

96 pts JS and 95 pts WE.

$79.99 15% Alcohol My Rating: 94 pts.


Paniza 2018, Garnacha (Grenache), Cariñena, Spain

I bought this one as a low-cost Spanish wine for the Annual Tapas Contest that the Spanish community has been organizing in Pittsburgh for about 15 years. I did not expect much from a Garnacha from Cariñena as, when I lived in Spain, these wines had a reputation of rustic and old-fashioned. There was so much wine in the event that this bottle was not opened so that I had to do away with it tonight at home. Well, from the act of uncorking, I began to smell a very enticing aroma of ripe, really ripe red berry, grape and fig jelly, grapefruit peel and chocolate showing the effects of the punishing sun. Lots of complexity in the aroma. And in mouth it was even better with the right acidity to keep it fresh without hurting. Wow! Full body with abundant tannins (see pictures below) but no roughness in a bold structure with alcoholic envelope this wine presented itself as ready for a T-bone steak. The chocolate became succulent. The bouquet was not very deep but the aroma remained stuck to my tongue and palate for a long time. To the prevailing berry flavors, I would add dry Mediterranean herbs. Impressive.

Cariñena is off the beaten path. It was the birthplace of the Carignan varietal and is located very close to the birthplace of the Grenache (Garnacha) varietal. This wine claims to come from slate soils. See above a picture of the vines in the slate soil from their Web site.

My rating is influenced 1 point upward by the price. This wine clearly overdelivers. I have tasted $50 wines that do not stand up to it. I have stocked up!

93 pts JS

$9.99 14.5% Alcohol My Rating: 93 pts.


Murrieta's Well 2018, Malbec, Livermore Valley, CA

Jose and I were impressed by this one in the free wine tasting at the Centre Ave. liquor store in Pittsburgh. We were impressed and could not hide it. Jose also liked the wine’s basque name indeed.

I bought a bottle and tasted it at home. The aromas just escaped the bottle as I opened it, as a genie. Lots of blackberry and dark chocolate with reminiscence of fruit filled chocolate bars. Blackberry for sure but possibly orange rind too.

Full body with well-integrated dusty tannins, perfect acidity level coalescing into a plush structure.The oak revealed itself with intense evaporation towards the upper palate.Long aftertaste with intense and deep bouquet. Beware of the sediment when you serve the last glass.

I was surprised to find a Malbec from California but it tasted as if it had some Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend. Great raw material from a small plot within the estate - one of the original California wineries dating from 1800. It was acquired by the Wente Family, the big Livermore Valley player. They produce wines from many different varietals. The original price of this Malbec, one of their most affordable wines, was $55.

$19.99 14.4% Alcohol My Rating: 92 pts.


Freelander 2021, Cabernet Sauvignon, District One, CA

Aromas of ripe blackberry, prune, oak, dark chocolate, nutmeg and chili pepper. Sort of pungent. It presented itself in my mouth as very acidic. However, after the second sip I got used to it and enjoyed the freshness. Medium body with felt-like tannins. aftertaste and, above all, significant evaporation to my larynx. I had not looked at the price and was convinced that I was drinking a more expensive wine. Complex and enjoyable.

92 pts and Best Buy WE.

$11.99 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 91+ pts.


Século 2021, Godello, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain

Powerful immediate aroma of green apple candy and mint with undertones of chamomile, lemon flower and anise. Complex and appealing. The taste is also intense adding to the aromas some custard and cooking herbs, perhaps oregano and thyme. Fresh with medium body and clean and long aftertaste.

Godello varietal has opened a place for itself in the Spanish bars. Typically, when you ordered a white the automatic question was Albariño or Rueda? But now in a growing number they add Godello to the question. I am glad they are offering thee choices!

Availability: It has flown out from several Southwestern PA stores. Still available in the Pittsburgh area at Edgewood, Westmoreland Mall and The Waterworks. Consult Website to find store availability.

92 pts. WE.

$8.99 12.5% Alcohol My Rating: 91 pts.


Chasing Venus 2021, Sauvignon Blanc, Malborough, New Zealand

Very intense and expressive aromas of green apple, pineapple, fennel and several cooking herbs such as dill, bay leave and …

In mouth it had medium body with the perfect acidity and the aromas expressing themselves generously and elegantly. Clean, fresh and delicious. The Sauvignon Blanc at that price level I have enjoyed the most in quite some time!

I laughed when I saw the review of this wine start as: “The 2022 Chasing Venus is not a shy Sauvignon Blanc, this comes at you like a freight train …”. I could not have expressed it better! My enthusiastic rating is well above any other but it reflects this exact impression. I remain in love with Malborough Sauvignon Blanc. A special place on Earth. But you need to be selective since there are many brands out there of varying quality levels.

89 pts. WS

$11.99 12.5% Alcohol My Rating: 91 pts.


Château Lamartine 2019, Malbec, Cahors, France

Intense aroma of blackberry puree with notes of nectarine and flowers. Full body with live tannins that have stood the oak aging remarkably well. Supple and delicious. Chairman’s brings once in a while Cahors wines that are worth trying.

One of the original wineries that worked for the creation of the Cahors appellation. Their Web site is well crafted and informative:

Cahors is the original crib of Malbec. Located at almost sea level in wet Southwestern France the terroir could not be more different from the high elevations superdry Mendoza in Argentina. Maria, let me challenge Joen to taste this wine in parallel with an Argentinean one like Piedras Negras (reviewed in the prior post and still available at Chairman’s) and tell me what he thinks.

92 pts WE.

$14.99 13% Alcohol My Rating: 91 pts.


Tagaro Sei Caselle 2021, Negroamaro, Salice Salentino, Italy

Aroma of pomegranate. In mouth also pomegranate juice. Although I did not find much complexity the taste was so unique delicious! Medium to light body with silky tannins, the right acidity and slight sweetness.

Very very pleasant. Only problem: so drinkable that you may drink too much without noticing. And I am going to take some risk with the following comments: Believe it or not, although from different varietal and terroir, it had some resemblance of the Etna wines but more affordable.

92 pts. JS.

$9.99 14% Alcohol My Rating: 90-91 pts.


Poggio Landi 2018, Sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy

Aromas of candied cherry, roses, ash, black pepper, red pepper. and a lot, each sip more, of tomato plant.

I was very happy to see that a professional review had also detected tomato!

Lively acidity and silky tannins in a medium body with translucid pomegranate color with a slight indication of color warming in the rim from the aging that did not taste overripe whatsoever. Long bouquet but not very complex.

Pretty good but I was expecting more of a Brunello and the price.

94 pts. WS and 93 pts. WA. Their 2016 was #12 in 2021 Wine Spectator’s Top 100 List.

$34.99 14% Alcohol My Rating: 90-91 pts.


Château Jérémie 2021, Grenache, 30% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre 15%, Corbières, France

Aromas of red and black fruits with some peach and certainly Mediterranean herbs, including thyme, black pepper and Moroccan dry cured black olives.

Medium body with the right acidity and pleasant tannins showing some but not overly oak aging. Very Mediterranean, I would say.

This wine comes from one of Paul Mas’ properties in the Languedoc region and has an interesting label that does not showcase Paul Mas’ name as many of their other creations. An honest wine and good value.

By the way, another wine with a significant percentage of Carignan. This varietal became synonymous of cheap jug wine and was replaced in many places. However, it is now screaming for attention following the success of Priorat.

92 pts WS

$9.99 14% Alcohol My Rating: 90 pts.


Château Liversan 2019, Merlot 55%, Cabernet Sauvignon 39%, Cabernet Franc 4%, Petit Verdot 2%, Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux, France

Aromas of cherries and pomegranate and perhaps some hints of geranium and red pepper. Plentiful dusty tannins that will coat your entire mouth. Medium to big body and live acidity. It was clear that I should have kept this wine for a few years before drinking. The next day the tannins had become milder and the aromas were more evolved.

This winery is part of a joint venture with the Chinese group Changyu and from the information in their Website it looks like this may be a wine to watch in the future. Their Website shows a very beautiful and informative dynamic map of Bordeaux’s left bank. Don’t skip this opportunity and watch it!

Haut-Médoc is located in the left bank of the Gironde river and tend to have higher Cabernet Sauvignon content while the other three Bordeaux in this review are from Fronsac, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux and Lussac St. Émilion which are located in the right bank and tend to favor Merlot. However, this is not a strict rule and each winery has its blend. Moreover, blends can change year to year. Some winemakers say figuratively that they have a “palette” and each vintage they make use it as they see fit to obtain the desired result.

90 pts. JS and WE.

$17.99 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 90 pts.


Château les Violettes 2020, Merlot 80%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20%, Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux, France

Aromas of red berries with hints of violets (maybe self-suggestion from its name) very typical of the right bank Merlot-based wines. In mouth it showed big body with dusty but not unpleasant tannins and acidity. It was an easy to drink wine well crafted, no complain, I could repeat.

I have learned, by the way, that Bordeaux is experiencing some trouble. First, they have excess production compared to the demand and some wineries are resorting to distill their wine to produce Ethyl Alcohol. Second, there have been several cases of counterfeiting discovered recently, one of them massive, where tankers of cheap Spanish wine were used in the blend. Wine is a very serious thing in France and the regulators are acting to punish the infractors and prevent this from happening in the future.

90 pts. Decanter.

$11.99 14% Alcohol My Rating: 89-90 pts.


Reino de Altuzarra 2021, Graciano, Navarra, Spain

This wine is a steal. This young wine offers a lot for its price. Budget wise wine lovers, you should not miss this one.

Intense and complex aromas including a first shot of fresh vanilla followed by ripe cherry, prune, leather and glue. Sally said it gave her a flash of her nonnuzzo’s shoemaker’s shop.

Big body with thick structure while the tannins were dense but soft.

Bodegas Manzanos, the winery, is located close to Navarra’s border with La Rioja.Graciano is a varietal typical of La Rioja that gave way in the middle of the 20th century to Tempranillo because it was less productive. It remained present as a minor component in the blend of some Riojas. Not too long ago, a movement was launched to replant this varietal given its distinctive personality and elegance. I am very happy about it!

Javier loved it and went to the store for more. Jose, let’s taste this wine together in my front porch while you tell me about your birthplace imaging the agricultural fields all around you expanding into a long and clean horizon.

92 pts. WE.

$8.95 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 89 pts.


Montechiara N/V, Glera, Prosecco, Italy

Aromas of lemon and ripe yellow apple with some white flowers. In mouth it was surprisingly dry for a Prosecco. The label said Extra Dry and it stood to the promise. Also, in mouth there was some challah taste in there probably from the yeast. A good opportunity to have a pretty decent sparkling wine for such a low cost. And the relatively low alcohol content of 11% may allow us to enjoy a couple more sips

$9.99 11% Alcohol My Rating: 89 pts.


Shannon Ridge 2019, Petite Syrah, Lake County, CA

Chairman’s has been bringing every vintage of this wine for a long time. As soon as I tasted it I recognized it. Aromas of ripe blackberry puree and chocolate resulting from the high sun exposure of those vineyards in Lake County. In mouth more chocolate but some bitterness. The chocolate was dark for sure. Just enough acidity, full body with a pasty texture but the tannings, though abundant, were not aggressive. Sally loved it (she likes ripe low acidity Mediterranean style wines). Our friend Year after year, Tara, from King of Prussia, has been a loyal consumer of this wine.

The alcohol level of 13.5% seamed a reduction relative to some prior vintages. Not sure whether it was the climate or deliberate by harvesting earlier.

By the way. I loved the prior label. Why did you change it? Shannon Ridge had a beautiful, simple and elegant visual brand image. Why giving it away?

$9.99 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 89 pts.


Firriato Chiaramonte 2020, Nero D’Avola, Sicilia, Italy

Aroma of fig, dark fruits and spice. In mouth it has the right acidity, soft tannins, medium body and some depth.

The sulfur smell from the prior vintage has disappeared here. Good! Who knows, they may have read my prior review and taken action 😊. However, they have also lost the hint of chocolate that made it enticing. In any case, this is an improvement and the fruit is in there, so that I will be looking forward to further vintages.

$11.99 My Rating: 89 pts.


Château Tour de Segur , Merlot 65% Cabernet Franc 30%, Cabernet Sauvignon 5%, Lussac St. Émilion, Bordeaux, France

Beautiful and straight forward but not complex aromas of large blackberries, dry cranberry and notes of Mediterranean cooking herbs. In mouth it had the right acidity with dusty tannins and an overripe evaporation to the upper palate. That ripeness carried on to the retro-nasal aroma and invaded the entire experience. It was a Bordeaux with somehow Mediterranean characteristics.

I thought it offered similar quality level than other two lower cost Bordeaux in this review.

$23.99 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 89 pts.

Morandé Vitis Única 2021, Pinot Noir, Casablanca Valley, Chile

As in many Chilean wines, the first aroma I got was of sulfide. Disappointed, I let it aerate. Then, I could perceive overripe strawberry and cherry in a wet clay envelope with some hints of must and spice (nutmeg and mustard seed?).

Lively and pleasant acidity and a little bit of silky tannins which gave this Pinot Noir some structure and grip. Pleasant medium length aftertaste.

92 JS pts.

$12.99 13% Alcohol My Rating: 88 pts.


Quinta do Crasto Superior 2016, Touriga Nacional 50%, Touriga Franca 25%, Tinta Roriz 20%, Sousáo 5%, Douro, Portugal

Red fruits including very black cherry, pomegranate and prickly pear, roses, tobacco and spice (pepper and either clove or nutmeg).

In mouth it shows a substantial body with dense powdery tannins and some bitterness, probably from some over-pressing to get all the extract out.

I have tried this wine two years in a row. I think it is a good wine but the expert’s ratings seem slightly high to me.

Most Portuguese wines are blends. The Tourigas are indigenous from Portugal while Tinta Roriz is their Tempranillo.

92 pts. WS, 91 pts. WA

$14.99 13.5% Alcohol My Rating: 88 pts.

Borgogno 2020, Barbera, Barbera D’Alba, Italy

Initially shy aroma that opened up after one hour. Cherries, geranium and pepper. Medium to full body with plenty of tannic load that was not astringent and the right acidity. It was the Barbera more similar to a Côtes du Rhone I have ever had.

Sally and I were introduced to Barbera d’Alba by an old and knowledgeable wine shop owner in 1994 in an even older wood cladded wine shop with very high shelves in Santa Margherita. He had a long stick with a hook and was able to reach any bottle, it did not matter how high above it was. The wine we tried was Marchesi di Barolo. This wine today did not reach those heights.

Every time I have a wine from Piedmont I remember my father’s saying: “The 3 Bs, Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo and the 3 As, Asti, Alessandria and Alba”. Look for them in the following map from Seven Fifty Daily:

$16.99 14.5% Alcohol My Rating: 88 pts.

Château Carlmagnus 2019, Merlot 90%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Fronsac, Bordeaux

Very shy aromas of red plum, blueberry and bell pepper with lots of black pepper and some camphor. In mouth it was overly acidic with medium body and soft tannins with a slightly vinegary and long aftertaste. The more I drank the black pepper became dominant. I was not able to kill the acidity after several sips.

I usually like Fronsac, an affordable way of tasting St. Émilion-style wines, but either I did not understand this wine or I should have decanted it hours before tasting, or it was overpriced and overrated. 92 pts. RP.

The label commemorates the first moon walk. Interesting!

$24.49 15% Alcohol My Rating: 88 pts.

Pacific Crest Wine Co. 2022, Pinot Blanc, Wahluke Slope, WA

Aromas of lemon rind and dill.

Medium acidity and medium body.Slight bitterness hint that disappeared with the second sip. Sally said musty and mineral.

$9.99 13% Alcohol My Rating: 86 pts.

Vinum Cellars 2021, Chardonnay, Monterrey, CA

Buttery appearance with lots of thick, sticky slow legs. Aromas of green apple, cactus, subtle oregano and pine needle followed by croissant. Very enticing. However, in mouth it was a bit too sweet and dense for me. Just too ripe. 14.5% alcohol.

91 pts. WE but my palate is not so California-biased to assign it that rating. Sally loved it though. I let her finish the bottle. Kim, this may be one of yours!

$12.99 14.5% Alcohol My Rating: 85 pts.

A by Acacia 2021, Chardonnay, CA

Typical aromas of backed pear and lemon in a medium body fresher than usual version of what they do in California with this varietal and veering towards sweetness.I’d guess it only had partial oak aging.Interesting price.It would do well in white sangría.

$7.99 13.8% Alcohol My Rating: 84 pts.

Domaine Courtois La Grange 2020, Grenache 55%, Syrah 45%, Vinsobres, France

Aromas of red cherry, red licorice, pepper and Mediterranean garrigue. In mouth it was acidic, bitter and rough. It will improve with aging.

This is the first wine I have tried from Vinsobres, an appellation in the Côtes du Rhone North-east from Chateauneuf du Pape but far away from it in level of quality.

$14.99 14% Alcohol My Rating: 84 pts.

J. Wilkes 2020, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, CA

Aroma of Zarbees. Ripe, honey, oak, vanilla, just a typical California Chardonnay.

Let me be daring here and guess that the WE expert and I tasted a different bottling or different batch. Not every bottle tastes the same. I have made correlations of batch numbers from the same wine in several ocasions and I can assure you that this happens. Otherwise, I’d say that we have very different palate. Please, if you try it, let me know what you think.

91 pts. and Editor’s Choice WE.

$12.99 15% Alcohol My Rating: 83 pts.

Tres Buhis Nocturna 2021, Monastrell-based blend, Yecla, Spain

Very ripe cherry and black fruit aromas and chocolate. In mouth it was immediately oversweet. Soft tannins in a medium to big body. Just too sweet for me but Sally enjoyed it.

The relatively low alcoholic grade for that dry-sunny region makes me think that the winemaker decided to stop the fermentation before finished, resulting in some sweetness.

$9.99 13% Alcohol My Rating: 82 pts.

Hunter's , Sauvignon Blanc, Malborough Co. New Zealand

Really a lot of sulfites, overwhelming and masking other aromas. After a while, the typical appellation characteristics including green apple, hey, grass and, I’d say kiwi, opened their way out of that cloud. Medium acidity and body. If you are trying it open it hours before or decant it.

The back label said: Extended lees contact after fermentation to increase texture and weight. This can be noticed in both the aroma and taste.

$11.99 12% Alcohol My Rating: 82 pts.

Firriato 2021, Inzolia, Terre Siciliane IGP, Italy

Shy and very different aromas of green olive, green tea, bitter lemon zest and Mediterranean garrigue.

Medium to dense body with itchy acidity and the bitter greenness that was presented by the aromas. I did not detect any fruit in there, no flowers, just herbs.

A wine based on an uncommon varietal original from Sicily that did not seem like any other I have tried.It’s possible that Sally and I did not understand this wine and others might differ from our rating.

Notice that this wine is an Indicazione Geografica Tipica with lower regulatory requirements than the other wine from this brand in this post that was a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC).

$10.99 12.5% Alcohol My Rating: 80 pts.

Domaine de Fabrègues La Villa 2020, Syrah 60%, Grenache 30%, Mourvèdre 10%, Pézenas, France

Very shy vinous aroma. In mouth it was medium to light body with dusty tannins and acidic.

There is so much excess of wine production in the Languedoc nowadays that some wines are being distilled into alcohol. Some grape growers are trying to fight it assaulting trucks with cava in their road to European markets. I would like to see a more civilized and sustainable strategy that would be to improve the price/quality ratio of their own wines. Look for instance at the very nice Jérémie from Corbières reviewed in this post.

90 pts. WS.

$12.99 14.1% Alcohol My Rating: 80 pts.

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