October 2012


The holiday Champagne and sparkling wine season will be upon us soon, so I’ll give you a head-start on the proceedings with a very attractive bottle of bubbles from France’s Loire Valley. Crémant de Loire was approved as an appellation in 1975. It’s not merely a type of wine but implies a geographical area, being restricted to the regions of Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, in the central Loire. According to the regulations, grapes for Crémant de Loire must be hand-harvested, and the wine must be aged in the bottle for at least a year. The process must be the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle or as it is called in the Loire (and other places in France outside of Champagne) methode traditionelle. Many grape varieties are allowed, but the dominate grates are chenin blanc and cabernet franc.

The non-vintage Gaudrelle Crémant de Loire Brut is made from equal parts chenin blanc and chardonnay grapes. The color is pale gold enlivened by a constant upward stream of tiny glinting bubbles. This lovely sparkler is clean and fresh and effervescent, prolific with scents of lightly spiced apples and pears with back-notes of ginger and quince and a hint of chenin blanc’s slightly earthy straw-like character. The wine is quite dry, almost delicate, deeply imbued with limestone and flint qualities married to juicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors and devolving to a stones-’n'-bones finish that exhibits taut acidity and high-toned mineral-laced austerity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Really charming. Very Good+. About $19 or $20, but prices around the country range from $17 to $25.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. Tasted at a trade event.

In the deep backward and absym of time, I used to receive samples from Robert Mondavi Winery, usually twice a year in the form of a case of new releases. After Constellation bought Robert Mondavi at the end of 2004, though, for whatever reason, I stopped receiving samples from the winery; was it something I said, or perhaps it had to do with my switching from a weekly newspaper column to my own website (the old KoeppelOnWine.com, which operated from December 2004 to April 2008). In any case, I was happy to open a two-bottle box recently delivered to my threshold and find the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010 and Pinot Noir 2010. Even more happily, the wines are terrific models of their kind, and while the products featured in “Pairs of Great Wines” are often rare and expensive, these represent high quality for not exorbitant prices and are widely available. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.
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I found the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, entrancing, and of course it didn’t hurt that the wine is an example of precisely what I want chardonnay to be: stony and steely but with plenty of tasty fruit and chiming acidity and a texture that balances lushness with litheness. So, there’s the review right there, but I’ll expand on the theme a bit so you’re familiar with the technical thinking behind it. Seventy-seven percent of the juice was fermented in French oak barrels, 15 percent new, with the remaining 23 percent fermented in stainless steel tanks; these lots aged for 10 months on the lees, that is, the residue of used-up yeast cells, a process that can add depth and character to a wine. The color is radiant pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit open to notes of baked pear, ginger and quince and hints of jasmine and limestone; a hint of mango adds complexity. In the mouth, this chardonnay at first is spare, almost lean with its dominant limestone and steel qualities and vibrant acid nature, but the citrus and stone fruit flavors offer burgeoning spice and smoke over a mounting oak presence (from mid-palate back) that contributes firmness and a pleasing, almost powdery finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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My first note on the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is “absolutely beautiful.” The wine spent only seven months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, yet it’s there, shapely and suavely spicy. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry-magenta cast. Aromas of smoky black and red cherries are infused with cola and cloves, pomegranate and rhubarb, all singing over bass-notes of slightly earthy briers and brambles. In the mouth, ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors (and a touch of dried fruit) exist in complete harmony with the wine’s super-satiny texture, but this is no kissy-face pushover; instead, the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, avoids plushness or opulence through the agency of bright acidity and the presence of finely-knit tannins. Above all, the impression is of a lovely marriage of spareness and elegance in the service of delicious pinot noir authenticity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Generally when we think of a wine to drink with pizza, we conjure a fairly simple, light-hearted but flavorful red wine with the sort of bright acidity that will stand up to the acid in tomatoes or tomato-based sauce, not that all pizzas involve some form of tomatoes, but many do. That’s why Chianti is a pretty natural choice for pizza (and pasta dishes) or non-blockbuster zinfandel or some of the inexpensive reds blends produced all over California, wines that aren’t too tannic or oaky. On the other hand, I receive many samples of wine every week, and sometimes, on a whim, I’ll open a bottle of an Important Impressive Red Wine for Pizza-and-Movie Night, a gesture I made recently in conjunction with a fairly unusual pizza topped with fresh figs, bacon, basil, green onions and a little mozzarella. This was wonderful.

The wine in question was no “fairly simple, light-hearted” quaff. Instead, the Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, is an ambitious, profoundly structured limited edition cabernet sauvignon (with 12 percent cabernet franc) that would seem to exist in a world apart from a Saturday night pizza, but, you know, it was there, and surprisingly and happily the wine and the pizza turned out to be perfect for each other.

The Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 aged 20 months in French oak, 52 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a hint of radiant violet at the rim. Aromas of lavender, violets and graphite are etched with charcoal and bittersweet chocolate, amid notes of intense and concentrated black currants, black raspberries and plums that after a few moments in the glass take on a spicy, macerated and slightly fleshy aspect; yes, it’s a tremendously attractive and seductive bouquet from which I found it difficult to tear myself away, but one must taste the wine too. Dense, dusty, velvety tannins coat the mouth and support precisely delineated black and blue fruit flavors that unfold in layers of sandalwood and mocha, cedar and loam, all enlivened by bright acidity and a distant mineral edge. The sense of proportion and balance, the character of detail and dimension in this cabernet reflect the quality of the grapes from which it was made as well as thoughtful and careful winemaking. Even as an hour or so passed, and the wine took on some austerity and more earthiness in the finish, we continued to enjoy it with the fig and bacon pizza. 14.7 percent alcohol. Drink through 2020 to ’24. Production was 381 cases. Excellent. About $75.

How did a wine of such scope and intensity manage a blissful marriage with a fig, bacon and basil pizza? Somehow the sweetness and earthiness of the roasted figs elicited a hint of sweetness and ripeness from the wine, while the currant and plum flavors added shades of succulence to the already sweet and savory figs. The savory, smoky meatiness of the bacon reflected similar nuances in the wine. Or perhaps I’m over-thinking the whole scheme; the wine and the pizza were terrific together; we can leave it at that.

A sample for review. The label image is one year off; the wine under review is the 2009.

Words like nervous, nervy and nervosity derive from the Latin nervosus, which means “sinewy.” “Nervous,” in English, once meant “vigorous” or “spirited,” but those denotations are considered archaic, and our sense of the terms now centers on excitability, unease and apprehension. I would vote for reviving the original or archaic meanings of nervy and nervosity — sinewy, vigorous, spirited — because they acutely summarize the qualities in some wines, particularly white wines, that feel unusually lively, immediately appealing and crystalline in their litheness and crisp vibrancy. Such a wine is the Domaine Mittnacht Freres Les Petits Grains Pinot Gris 2011, from Alsace. Man, this has nervosity in spades, as well as reservoirs 0f scintillating and resonant limestone and flint qualities and that irresistible tension between the tautness of bright acid and the lushness of ripe and spicy pear, yellow plum and peach skin flavors. The note of peach skin brings in a hint of spareness and slight bitterness, and there’s a touch of almond skin here that contributes a similar attribute. The bouquet offers notes of jasmine and honeysuckle and lemongrass, but mainly this is cool, elegant and — did I mention sinewy nervosity? 14 percent alcohol. We drank this with seared swordfish dressed with nothing but olive oil, lemon juice and Urfa pepper. Now through 2015 or (well-stored) ’16. Excellent. About $22.

I mentioned the Mittnacht Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011 Here.

A Daniel Johnnes Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.


Pay attention, Readers. These are wines to buy by the case for drinking anywhere from the next year to three or four years from now. At these prices, you can afford them. Four of these are French, one Spanish and one Argentine; in the grape categories, they are completely various and diverse. Three are white, three red. What they share is attractiveness, appeal and accessibility. They are widely available. No technical data or historical or geographical information; the Friday Wine Sips are designed to give you quick insight into a wine’s character. These wines are imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, in Winchester, Va., at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
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Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux de Languedoc, France. 12.5% alc. 100% picpoul grapes, aka folle blanche. A perennial fave on BTYH. Savory and spicy, bursting with sunlight and sea-breeze and scintillating limestone and shale elements; roasted lemon and lime peel, touches of thyme, fennel and lilac; dry, delicate, evanescent yet with real substance. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $12.
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D. Coussergues Chardonnay Viognier 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. 60% chardonnay/40% viognier. Very pretty wine; pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh and floral (honeysuckle, camellia); lemon-lime and hint of grapefruit; touch of viognier’s inherent waxiness and honeyed richness; but very dry, vibrant with crisp acidity, a stones-and-bones finish. Delightful. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Nuna Torrontes Reserve 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 100% torrontes grapes. Lovely white with a touch of austerity for balance; hints of almonds, jasmine and honeysuckle; roasted lemon and pear, very shapely, round yet breached by taut acidity and limestone minerality; quite dry, gets more spare, almost elegant through the finish. Through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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El Cortijillo Tempranillo 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 12.5% alcohol. 100% tempranillo grapes. All freshness, brightness and immediate appeal; red cherries and currants and touch of blueberries, hint of dried spices; undertow of briers and brambles, dry grainy tannins slip-slidy with velvety texture and clean acidity. Have a spare rib lying around? A lamb chop? Simple, direct, tasty. Very Good+. About $12.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents 2010, Corbieres, France. 13.5% alc. 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Another BTYH fave. Bright, clean, very appealing; scents and flavors of spiced and roasted black currants and blueberries infused with smoke and minerals; wild, pungent and peppery, dusty briers, brambles and underbrush, great for everyday drinking. Through 2013, with pork chops, meatball sandwiches and the ilk. Very Good +. About $12.
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Chateau Bellevue 2009, Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 65% merlot, 35% cabernet franc. You feel both the balance and the slight tug of each grape; dark ruby color; black currants and cherries, touch of mulberries; thyme and black olive, graphite and cedar; plush texture leavened by the seriousness of oak and fairly dense tannins with brisk acidity keeping the package fresh and lively. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17.
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Michael McCay started as many other winemakers in California did; he grew grapes and sold them to other people. Only since 2007 has he produced wine from his Lodi grapes, concentrating on zinfandels that do not carry the big stick of over-ripe jammy fruit and high alcohol, and by high I mean the 15 percent and more that we often see. McCay is not shy with French oak, but his grapes and the wines he makes from them possess the character to soak up and absorb that oak — I mean 26 to 28 months — and come out blossomy fresh and spicy and supple as velvet. These are limited edition wines, so mark them Worth a Search.

Samples for review.
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The McCay Cellars Paisley Red Wine 2009, Lodi, is a blend of zinfandel and petite sirah that aged 28 months in French oak, 24 percent new barrels, 37 percent second and third fill (that is, used for the second and third times) and the rest neutral. The wine is deep and dark, rich and spicy and bursting with notes of red and black cherries, red and black currants, cloves and bittersweet chocolate, black olives and caramelized fennel; it’s a terrific bouquet, invigorating and seductive. That promise is not quite fulfilled in the mouth, not that the wine is not attractive and drinkable — it was completely appropriate for last week’s Pizza and Movie Night — but that in terms of the layering of flavors and structure it feels several shades of complexity less exciting than the aromas. Still, it’s a marvel that winemaker Michael McCay can pull off the feat of aging a wine in oak for two years and four months and having it come out with the wood influence almost subliminal. 14.8 percent alcohol. 123 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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The point of the McCay Truluck’s Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, it seems to me, is to prove that a zinfandel does not need to be highly extracted or crushing with alcohol; the color here is not motor oil opaque but a lovely medium ruby hue, nor does the wine exhibit super-ripe or jammy fruit but fresh, clean and bright subtly spiced and macerated notes of black currants. blueberries and plums with a high tone of wild cherry, this panoply opening to touches of mulberry, lavender and potpourri; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of fig paste, fruit cake, black olives and thyme. Plenty of dense dusty tannins, yes, but finely milled and velvety over a burgeoning layer of graphite-like minerality and woody spice — sandalwood, allspice — and juicy black and blue fruit flavors that display an intriguing fillip of pomegranate. The oak regimen was 26 months French barrels, 21 percent new, 33 percent second and third year, the rest neutral. Again, 26 months seems like a long time in oak, but the wine came from that process with balance, poise and a sort of dense suppleness. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’16. Production was 179 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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The difference between the previous zinfandel and the McCay Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, lies in degrees of dryness and some austerity on the finish. The oak treatment is almost identical: French oak, 26 months, 22 percent new barrels, 33 percent second and third fill, the rest neutral. The color is a similar medium ruby, with a tinge of magenta at the rim; red and black cherries feel steeped in black tea, cloves and sandalwood with notes of some roasted element, but, again, the whole effect is of vibrant freshness and clarity. There is no trace of the fruit cake quality mentioned for the Truluck’s Zinfandel. Tannins seem permeated by dusty, granitic minerality, with overlays of smoke and loamy earth, yet fruit flavors remain blithe and juicy. After a few minutes in the glass the finish takes on a powerful strain of dry rigor and asperity that requires hearty, meaty fare to match its dimension. Still, a well-balanced, well-wrought zinfandel that avoids over-ripeness and alcoholic heat. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 449 cases. Now through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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… Give it a try.

Our wine fridge tends to be filled with chardonnays, because we drink the sauvignon blancs, rieslings, chenin blancs, Rhone-style whites and such before chardonnay, because unless you know the producer and have had the wines before, you never know what you’re going to get. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s having to open three or four chardonnays to find one that’s drinkable while dinner gets cold. So, searching for a wine to accompany the soup that I’ll describe in a moment, I was rummaging through the wine refrigerator and happened upon a bottle of Höpler Riesling 2007, from Austria’s Burgenland region. “Hmmm,” I thought, “could this possibly be OK?”

Reader, it was better than OK. Of course you could be thinking, “But, FK, rieslings have the capacity to age well.” True enough in many cases, especially of the grander reserve-type rieslings from Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz, or from Alsace. This riesling, however, was an just a regular inexpensive riesling designed, it seems, for immediate gratification.

This Höpler Riesling 2007 offered a sort of dusky medium straw-gold color and exquisite aromas of lightly spiced peaches, pears and lychees with back-notes of jasmine, quince and ginger. Above, below and beyond all that, the wine felt like a shattering expression of pure and intense limestone and flint minerality borne by taut, throbbing acidity and a texture like galvanized talcum powder, all packed into a lithe, sinewy stones-and-bones finish. A slight trace of delicately over-ripe stone fruit and a touch of funky earthiness reveal the wine’s maturing state, but if well-stored — had you a bottle in the fridge — this could go another year or two. Excellent. Originally $16.

Not faring quite so well was the Höpler Guttenberg Gruner Veltliner 2006, which opened nicely, with notes of apple skin, peach and slightly honeyed and roasted apricot and sporting a silky smooth texture, but acidity flagged in the home-stretch, leaving the wine a bit saggy and loose from mid-palate back. Very Good. Originally about $18.

We drank the Höpler Riesling 2007 with a Pork, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup with Sizzling Rice, taken from the recipe in the October issue of Food and Wine magazine. This is a terrific Fall weather concoction, rich and savory and flavorful; it looks great too. A link to the recipe is here.

USA Wine Imports, New York. These wines were samples from a local wholesale house.

Often white wines that aren’t chardonnay or sauvignon blanc nonetheless come across as quite sauvignon blanc-like, as if there were no alternative to those two deeply inculcated tastes, so why bother being something with which people are not familiar and everybody loves sauvignon blanc, right? Today, however, I offer a white wine that’s an individual as all get-out and bears no resemblance to anything else. It’s the Prelius Vermentino 2011, Maremma Toscano, from down near the coast in southwestern Tuscany. The owners of Castello di Volpaia, well-known producers of Chianti Classico and other red wines, launched this organic venture in 2008. Prelius Vermentino 2011 was made completely from vermentino grapes and came all from stainless steel tanks, where the wine aged on the lees — the residue of dead yeast cells — to gain a little character. So, the wine begins in fresh, clean, breezy fashion, presenting whiffs of thyme and roasted lemon, almond and almond blossom, but a few minutes in the glass bring out notes that are distinctly spicy, savory and saline, with the fleshiness and pungency of macerated pears, some earthy-limestone-loamy quality and high-notes of tarragon and lilac. Brisk acidity keeps the balance between a lean texture and moderately rich, ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors, leading to a finish that’s packed with cloves and bracing elements of salt-marsh and sea-shell. A white wine — not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc — appropriate for the risotto and pasta dishes of Autumn or grilled fish and seafood. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

Susana Balbo, a winemaker since 1981, is often considered the diva, even the Evita, of Argentine wine producers. Her brands include the eponymous Susana Balbo and BenMarco, priced less expensively, and the labels Crios and Bodini, made by her son Jose Lovaglio, often listed among bargains and great values. I tasted the range of these wines recently at a trade event in Memphis, though I have written about and reviewed the wines for several years. As usual, these Friday Wine Sips — whatever day they’re posted! — do not include the technical, historical or geographical data that I and other like-minded readers dote upon; no, the purpose here is quick and insightful (if not soulful) reviews designed to grab the essence of the wine and hand it to you in a few pithy words and images. These wines are imported by Vine Connection, Sausalito, Ca.
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Crios Rose of Malbec 2011, Mendoza. % alc. Lovely melon-mulberry color; strawberries, raspberries and red currants; snappy acidity and limestone minerality; undertones of dried herbs and briery earthiness. Tasty and charming. Drink into 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Crios Torrontes 2011, Salta. % alc. Very pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean, crisp, jasmine and camellia floral elements; savory with roasted lemon and pear flavors, bracing with crisp acidity and a saline quality; texture neatly balanced between suppleness and leanness. Very attractive. Now into 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bodini Chardonnay 2011, Mendoza. % alc. Pale gold color; quite clean and fresh, bright and spicy; pineapple and grapefruit, back-notes of ginger and quince, very dry but juicy and tasty, vibrant acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Appealing with its pinpoint balance and exhilaration. Now into Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, marking Great Value.
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Crios Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza. % alc. More subtle than the Bodini Chardonnay 2011, sleeker and more modulated; more intensity and concentration; moderately spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, slightly macerated; very dry, spare, lots of gravel and limestone in the depths, taut acidity. Now into Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Bodini Malbec 2011, Mendoza. Dark ruby color; quite fruity and spicy, almost exotic; black and red currants, cherries and mulberries (with that mulberry tartness); touch of blueberry turnover; briers and brambles, moderately dense and dusty tannins. Tasty, drinkable and appealing personality. Now into Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, another Great Value.
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Crios Malbec 2010, Mendoza. % alc. Dark ruby color; pleasant, no great depth, pretty generic “red wine.” Good+. About $15.
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BenMarco Malbec 2010, Mendoza. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; big, gritty gutsy style, dense, smoky, velvety, intense and concentrated; black and red currants, blueberries; grainy tannins and burnished oak; ripe and slightly roasted and briery effects over graphite minerality. Bring on the rib-eye steak or the rack of lamb. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Susana Balbo Malbec 2010, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; immediately strikes a serious stance; very intense and concentrated, with real depth and dimension; plenty of dusty, gritty tannin grip but plush and velvety with deep-dyed black and blue fruit and feeling evenly-milled even to the bottom of its dusty granitic minerality; actually a beautiful structure with a long finish and fine focus. Demands grilled red meat. Now to 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Crios Syrah Bonarda 2008, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. A 50/50 blend. Medium ruby-purple color; first note: “wow, that’s good.” Red and black currants, black cherry and blackberry, very spicy, wild, exotic; smoky and tarry, bittersweet chocolate and graphite; dark and vibrant, quite dry. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 13.5% alc. A well-made and unpretentious wine, dark, robust, rustic, pretty intense and concentrated, but manageable tannins, macerated and fleshy black and blue fruit flavors. Now through 2014. Very Good. About $15.
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BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 14% alc. Big, dense, dusty, chewy; robust, concentrated, focused; very spicy and with wood all round the circumference; black and red berries, smoke, potpourri, graphite. Well-made but more correct than compelling. Now to 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $20.
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Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. More about structure at this point, you feel the oak and tannin all the way through the finish; needs to age a few years into more delineation; but pulls up intriguing exotic touches of caramelized fennel, sandalwood, cedar and thyme, traces of bittersweet chocolate and lavender; try from 2013/14 to 2016/17. Maybe Excellent for potential. About $24.
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BenMarco Expresivo 2009, Mendoza. 14.5% alc. Malbec 50%, cabernet sauvignon 20%, syrah 15%, tannat 10%, petit verdot 5%. Built for size and power, not speed and grace; big, gritty and grainy tannins; lots of dusty graphite-like minerality, all mouth-coating and tongue wrapping; vibrant, velvety, very dry with a spicy but austere finish. Needs more of the advertised expressiveness. Try through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $35.
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Susana Balbo Brioso 2007, Mendoza. 14% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 60%, malbec 15%, merlot 10%, cabernet franc 10%, petit verdot 5%. Has all the trappings of an ambitious flagship wine except the lively, dashing aspects implied by the name; very large in scope and depth, those dimensions packed with oak and tannin, though the wine does not feel woody or over-oaked, just fairly daunting at five years old. Give it five more years. Very Good+ for now. About $43.
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Susana Balbo Late Harvest Torrontes 2010, Mendoza. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; very pretty, delicate; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and pear; light, ephemeral, quite delicious peach and apricot flavors, slightly honeyed, cloves and ginger in the background; soft, graceful texture, a little flinty with acidity; dry from mid-palate through the finish. Delightful. Through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $25. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Susana Balbo Late Harvest Malbec 2008, Mendoza. 13.5% alcohol. Dark ruby with purple/violet rim; chocolate-covered raisins, spiced and macerated black currants and raspberries, hint of fruitcake; really off-dry and then the acidity and mineral qualities tame the sweetness. They’re very different wines, of course, but given my druthers I would take the Late Harvest Torrontes. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $25.
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