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Our enthusiasm for the wines we taste (and as our readers know, we taste a lot of them) shows by what we choose to put on our shelf, in our wine club and in our weekly wine specials — the Friday Night Flights. Additionally, the ones that we really find compelling we write about in our regular review columns. Over time though, we have the chance to try wines in a social setting outside our regular tasting with distributors and other wine professionals. Here are the objective reviews of some of these recent tries.

We attended a dinner party with several friends and one of our customers was tasked with bringing the wine to pair with the starter course of grilled corn and pepper soup. The soup was delicious, and our customer came in to find a wine to go with the spice and smoke character of the soup. We recommended the 2017 Marcel Dubois Vouvray ($15, Wine Club Price $13.50). The Vouvray appellation in France grows Chenin Blanc and the wine from there is always left with a bit of residual sugar — perfect with lightly spicy foods. The Vouvray from Marcel Dubois balances the light sweetness with high acid to keep the wine from being overly sweet or cloying. The flavors are apple noted and the wine is lovely as an aperitif too.

In anticipation of Ricardo Cugini of Antinori Wine Estates traveling to Coeur d’Alene for an upcoming wine dinner, I had the chance to try the 2016 Castello della Sala Bramito Chardonnay ($30, Wine Club Price $27). What a delightful white wine! We decided to feature it in the tasting with Ricardo, so you too will have the chance to try it soon. The wine is so different from what we are used to here in the states. There is minimal oak influence on the wine, although it is there. The wine has great depth with flavors of ripe, crisp apple and subtle creaminess on the finish. It is a different and delicious take on the most popular of white varietals.

Also, at a recent dinner party, we tasted the 2016 Justin Cabernet ($35, Wine Club Price $31.50). Justin made a name for themselves over recent decades as they were one of the pioneers of the wine industry in Paso Robles, Calif. Their wines are well crafted, albeit in a style. No shortage of oak influence with their wines, and especially the ’16 “Cab.” On its own the wine seems a bit unbalanced to me, with oak flavors from the barrel program overwhelming most every other character in the wine, at least when you have it on its own. Best bet with this massive wine is to drink it with a hardy beef dish, which we did. It calmed both oak and tannin flavors a lot, allowing some of the fruit character to emerge.

We have been familiar with the wines from Ehlers Winery, located just north of St. Helena in the heart of Napa Valley, for a long time. The distributor recently brought by their 2014 Merlot ($45, Wine Club Price $40.50) for us to try. They have dropped the price in preparation for the arrival of the 2015 vintage. The wine normally retails for $60, and while either price is spendy, the wine delivers on every penny invested. Dense, rich fruit, perfect palate weight, and firm but balanced oak and tannin make this a wine worth having for a special occasion.

Another wine we rediscovered when tasting recently with Charlie Gilbert of Gilbert Cellars in Yakima is the 2013 Gilbert Allobroges ($30, Wine Club Price $27). Some years back we featured the 2008 in our wine club and at the time it was the most popular wine we had ever placed in our club. This classic Cotes du Rhone blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvédre did not disappoint all these vintages later. It is the perfect balance of fruit and savory, earthy character and flavor. Sadly, the case we brought into the shop is the last of 2013. We found the wine to be very consistent with our recollection of the 2008, so look forward to subsequent years.

We don’t see much wine from Greece in this market, but we recently tried the 2016 Macedon Pinot Noir ($20, Wine Club Price $18) and were really impressed. Our experience with wines from Greece has been less than impressive, but this Pinot was more reminiscent of the best from Carneros or the Russian River Valley, showing lovely stone fruit flavors and mild earthiness, all framed by the perfect amount of acid. It is quite remarkable given our previous experiences.

There are always more wines to taste and we will bring the reviews to you here as we work through the big world of wine.

• • •

George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at!/dinnerpartyshop.

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