Five Wines That'll Blow Your Mind

Sean Beck can recommend an alternative to overpriced Pinot Noir.
Daniel Kramer

Why drink wine this time of year anyway? Why not just stick with beer? We asked Backstreet Café and Hugo's wine guy, certified sommelier Sean Beck, for his take on the subject.

Sean Beck: Wine is capable of leaving an impression so distinct that, years later, you still remember where you were and who you were with when you drank it. No other beverage makes food as delicious and conversation as memorable. It blows my mind how winemakers can grow such powerful juice.

Here's Sean's five mind-blowing wines:




$15 or less

'05 Castano “Hecula” Red Table Wine

Yecla — Spain

When I want a great, everyday drinking wine, I look to Spain. The “Hecula” is made from Monastrell grapes, which are known as Mourvèdre in the Rhène. The wine is bursting with sumptuous raspberry, plum and cherry flavors, with enough spice and floral notes to keep it enticing.


$30 or less

'04 Rusden “Driftsand” Grenache Blend

Barossa, Australia

Christian Canute is a 26-year-old wine genius. Affectionately known as the “enfant terrible of the Barossa,” he makes the perfect alternative to overpriced Pinot Noir. “Driftsand” is a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataró. Its luscious, red raspberry fruit makes licorice seem bland. The jammy style, light spice and supple, soft texture rocks with grilled pork, lamb or quail.


$60 or less

'04 Donnhoff “Schlossbockelheimer Kupfergrube” Spätlese Riesling

Nahe, Germany

If most Riesling is a quartet, then Donnhoff is an orchestra. Grown on the most celebrated vineyard in the Nahe, only 120 cases of this epic '04 Spätlese were exported. The aromas of green apples, quince, Anjou pear, lemon, white peach and berry are endless. The amazing fruit is refined by the subtle, diverse mineral notes — you will never tire of this symphony.


$120 or less

'02 Nicolas Catena Zapata Cabernet Sauvignon

Mendoza, Argentina

The Zapata is my personal favorite for big reds. Aged 24 months in French oak, this blend of handpicked Cabernet and Malbec is brilliant. Think of it as California cult cab at a third of the price. The rich nose of cassis, dark cherry, vanilla, cedar and pepper is mouthwatering, and the fine tannins, intense color and lengthy finish more than justify the price.


Fortified Wine

1920 Favilla Vieira Malvasia Madeira

Madeira, Portugal

Tough choice, but you can't beat older vintage Madeira. I tracked down a bottle of the 1920 Favilla to serve at a special dinner celebrating my 30th birthday. At $300 a bottle, it wasn't exactly cheap, but how often can you drink a wine three times your age? It was brilliant, with flavors of roasted fig, maple, Marcona almond and baked orange. While it still felt youthful, it had a sense of magnitude. We paired it with sweetbreads — a combination so good, I got the shakes.

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