February 2013


Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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When I open a new cookbook, I’m always a little disappointed if it doesn’t include wine recommendations. I like to see what the chef or writer visualizes as the ideal wine with each dish and, of course, if I agree or not. In Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen (Broadway Books, 2005), for example, the founder of well-known Greens restaurant in San Francisco recommends with the Brussels Sprout and Mushroom Ragout with Herb Dumplings “a New World Chardonnay with rich fruit and a little oak, from Santa Barbara, such as Sanford or Au Bon Climat.” Now we make this savory, deeply flavorful and autumnal dish at least once during the Fall and Winter every year, and Madison’s recommendation brings a shiver to my very being. “No, no,” I want to shout, “this needs something crisp and incisive, a dry stony Alsace riesling or pinot blanc or maybe a sauvignon blanc that has seen no oak whatever.” It’s also good with a lean, minerally Anderson Valley pinot noir. See how much fun this is!

Anyway, there are several methods of recommending wines in cookbooks, and I’m going to use two volumes, published last year, as illustration. First is The Fire Island Cookbook by Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen (Emily Bestler Books/ Atria, $30), and the second is The Art of Cooking with Vegetables by celebrated French chef Alain Passard (Frances Lincoln Ltd., $29.95), proprietor of the restaurant L’Arpège in Paris. DeSimone and Jenssen, known as the World Wine Guys — and whom I know slightly, having been on a trip with them and other writers in 2010 — had a busy year in 2012; in addition to The Fire Island Cookbook, they published Wines of the Southern Hemisphere: The Complete Guide (Sterling Epicure, $24.95).

The Fire Island Cookbook presents 14 menus, one for each weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so the emphasis is on food for summertime, when the living is reputedly easy. Each menu includes wine recommendations, most for each separate dish on the menu; occasionally the authors offer alternative wines. The menus tend to follow themes — Rainy Day French Menu, Villa in Tuscany, A Midsummer Night’s Dinner — and so do the wines, at least in terms, generally, of their country of origin.

For example, the America the Bountiful menu consists of a corn and tomato salad, grilled romaine BLT salad, peppercorn-brined pork chops with grilled sweet peaches and salted chocolate caramel brownies. The wine recommendations are all American: for the first salad, the Hearst Ranch Three Sisters White Cuvée, a roussanne-marsanne-viognier blend from Paso Robles; for the second salad, a Boxwood Rosé, a cabernet franc-merlot-malbec blend from a winery in Middleburg, Va.; with the pork chops either the Hudson-Chatham Cabernet Franc from the Hudson River valley or the Heron Pinot Noir (Paso Robles, Monterey and Russian River Valley grapes); and for the dessert, with the combination of salt, chocolate and caramel, a tot of Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. My choice with the pork chops would be the cabenet franc, though it’s good to have an alternative here because wines from New York state are very difficult to find outside of New York and Connecticut. Of course Virginia wines aren’t easily found outside of Virginia, but one appreciates how the wealth is spread around in this selection.

And so on, with Italian wines for the Italian dinner and also for Peak Summer Produce; French wines for the “Rainy Day”; Spanish wines for the Spanish-themed meal; all California for the Fourth of July Pool Party; an eclectic range of Spanish, Italian, Rhône Valley and Greek selections for the Mediterranean Odyssey. The whole package, deliberately kept light-hearted, is thoughtful and appropriate. No vintages are given for the wines because doing that would date the book. For the majority of the wines, the most recent vintages are the best, or ask your friendly neighborhood wine merchant for advice.

We find a different approach in Alain Passard’s The Art of Cooking with Vegetables. This is a stylish book whose innovative and somewhat radical seasonal recipes are illustrated with the chef’s colorful and cute collages, though I would rather have pictures of the finished dishes; I assume that luxury, with the necessary prop person, stylists and photographer, would have added to the cost of the book.

Forty-four of the 48 recipes in the book come with recommendations for French wines; the remaining items carry endorsements for mint tea, a cocktail and a couple of Spanish wines. The wine recommendations can be maddeningly vague. A nod to “a young Riesling from Alsace” does little help since rieslings from that region range from jarringly dry to off-dry to various levels of sweetness. “A full-bodied Spanish red wine” or “a dry white Spanish wine” open daunting possibilities. Would any full-bodied Spanish red or dry white wine do?

On the other hand, the recommendations in this cookbook can sometimes be annoyingly precise (without mentioning producers or estates), as in “A dry, fruity, white wine from the Loire or from Alsace, preferably made from the Chasselas grape” or “a Chardonnay, preferably from the Jura.” The nits I am picking here don’t actually have to do with the recommendations themselves, many of which sound intriguing if not downright risky, as with the sweet gewurztraminer from Alsace matching Globe Artichokes with Bay Leaves and Lime, as with the difficulty of finding many of the wines in the United States, at least outside markets like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Wines from the Jura region or Jasnières, at 160 acres the Loire’s smallest appellation making wines sold mostly in the neighborhood, or a Floc de Gascogne or Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh are about as easy to find in American as a June bug on a duck farm. And how do you translate a chardonnay from the Jura region to, say, California? What’s the equivalent in manner and effect?

If I ever get to L’Arpège again — I dined there in March 1990, a decade before Passard took the restaurant vegetarian — I would like to try some of these unusual food and wine suggestions, but as far as making a fit with American cooks, that aspect of the book doesn’t work.

A grape we don’t see much in the United States of America is vernaccia rosso di pergola, which has numerous synonyms in its native Le Marche region in Italy and is no relation to the vernaccia di San Gimignano grape associated with the celebrated hill-town of that name in Tuscany. In fact, we don’t see a lot of wines from Marche (“MAR-kay”), a rustic and mountainous state that shares a long border to the west with Umbria and faces the Adriatic Sea on the east. Long one of the most sparsely populated of the Italian states and one of the poorest, Marche retains a large measure of its traditional rural atmosphere while undergoing, especially since the 1980s, the emergence of industries devoted to furniture, leather goods, footwear and household appliances and the attendant rise in prosperity.

The Angelini family has owned its 200-acre estate for three generations, though only a small portion of the property is planted to vines. The estate is run on organic methods, with no use chemical herbicides, pesticides or insecticides. Also not used are small oak barrels; instead, wines are matured in 1,000 to 2,000-liter casks. The French Bordeaux-style barrique has a 225-liter capacity.

The Angelini Pergola Rosso 2011, Marche, offers a medium ruby-cherry color and beguiling aromas of dried cherries, mulberries, rose petals and graphite. Despite the relative lightness of the color and a smooth, airy texture — there’s nothing extracted or ponderous here — the wine feels dense and chewy enough that our yen for a bit of substance and weight is satisfied, while we are equally gratified by its flavors of spiced and slightly macerated red and black cherries and currants and an underlying touch of briery tannins. Spanking acidity keeps the wine fresh and lively, while the finish is dry and tinged with some foresty austerity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Nothing to worry your pretty little heads about, My Readers, but a perfect pizza wine, which was how we drank it, and also appropriate with pastas and braised meat. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Angelini Wines, Centerbrook, Conn. A sample for review. Map from cellarstockerunfiltered.blogspot.com.

Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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