Argentina


I like the bonarda grape. Left pretty much to itself in the winery, given a minimum of oak exposure, it makes decent, direct and full-bodied wines suited to, you know, decent, direct and full-bodied food. As is the case with even the most unpretentious grapes, Argento Bonarda 2012 Blends USA front_0bonarda, grown principally now in Argentina, possesses a rather nebulous or even confusing history and sports a range of synonyms. It shares DNA with the douce noir grape that originated in France’s Savoie region and is the same as the charbono, once a cult grape in California and now much diminished in plantings, meaning down to about 88 acres. (I tasted charbono wines made by Inglenook from the 1970s and ’80s, years ago, and they were superb.) Anyway, this Wine of the Day is the Argento Bonarda 2013, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. It spent four months in American oak barrels, just enough time to firm up the structure and lend the wine a spicy, cedary background. The color is opaque black-purple with a faint ruby-red rim; the wine is ripe, fleshy and meaty, both dense and elevated by black currant and cherry and blueberry scents and flavors permeated by notes of bell pepper, dried thyme and lavender. Robust, certainly, dry and dusty with tannins but overall sleek and chiseled in structure. A few moments in the glass bring up a distinctly graphite and granitic mineral element. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Silvia Corti. Drink now through 2017 with burgers, steaks, braised shanks and short ribs, or, what the hell, cheese toast. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.

Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif. A sample for review.

Here’s a robust Argentine red wine that will shiver the timbers of just about any big, rich, meaty braised dish you set before it, Vistalba_CorteC_NV_Label1particularly, I think, short ribs. Beef stew would be a good match too. The Vistalba Corte C Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, contains 61 percent of the first named grape and 39 percent of the latter. It aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Winemaker was Alejandro Canovas. The color is deep, unfathomable ruby-purple; exuberant whiffs of black currants, blueberries and black plums offer notes of sage, cedar, black olive, black pepper and bell pepper, all encompassed by elements of graphite and loam. Pretty damned heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? It’s a warm, spicy and savory wine, with just a hint of mint, cloves and bitter chocolate about its black and blue fruit flavors and a bit of black raspberry tart; dense and chewy, the tannins are fairly dusty and rustic, leading to a spice and mineral-packed finish. 14.6% percent alcohol. Drink through 2017. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif. A sample for review.

The word “interesting,” of course, is a double-edged sword, as when one says that someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend is interesting, meaning “What a dork!” No, I don’t mean that! I mean interesting as “of real interest to My Readers” and white wines to look out for as alternatives to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with those grapes — well, chardonnay is too often over-made and fiddled with — and I’m distinctly fond of sauvignon blanc and especially reisling. Many more types of white wine exist, however, and it’s in that less-traveled direction that I send My Readers today. We touch many countries and regions and a variety of grapes, both single and in fascinating and somewhat exotic blends. Look particularly at the wines priced between $11 and $17; real bargains abound there. As usual, I avoid lengthy mentions of technical, historical and geographical information in this Weekend Wine Notes — though I dote on that sort of material — for the sake of quick, incisive reviews deigned to pique your, ahem, interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were either samples for review or encountered at wholesaler trade events.
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scaia-garganega
Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Bianca 2014, Delle Venezia IGT, Italy. 12% alc. 55% garganega, 45% chardonnay, according to the label; website and printed material say 50% garganega, 30% chardonnay, 20% trebbiano Soave. Medium straw-gold color; ripe, lively, crisp, bristly; brimming with notes of green apple and melon, lemon and peach; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and gardenia, lime peel and grapefruit; very dry, zings and sings across the palate with bright acidity and tantalizing limestone elements; heaps of personality. Excellent. About $11, a Raving Amazing Bargain.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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villa-wolf-2012-pinot-grigio-gris-gris-pfalz
Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2012, Pfalz, Germany. 13% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Medium burnished gold hue; straw, melon and orange rind; lemongrass and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle; saline and savory, a touch exotic in its ripe, spicy yellow fruit and yellow flower elements; quite dry, with clean acidity and a sense of fading limestone and flint minerality; quite attractive, but drink up. Very Good +. About $12, representing Real Value.
Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.
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Alamos Torrontés 2014, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. 100% torrontés grapes. Pale straw color; jasmine and gardenia, very lemony, hints of lemongrass and figs, honeydew and greengage; a little musky; saline briskness and crisp acidity; lovely, lively silken texture. Very Good+. About $13.
Alamos USA, Haywood, Calif.
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Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2014, Côtes du Roussillon, France (Michael Chapoutier). 13% alc. Grenache gris, grenache blanc, macabeu (or sometimes maccabeu). Pale straw-gold color; ripe and fleshy, apple peel and peach skin; lemon, lime peel, tangerine and yellow plum; cloves and a wisp of dried thyme; crisp and sassy, very spicy and quite dry but with spare and tasty stone-fruit flavors. Very Good+. About $13.
An R. Shack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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pecorino
La Valentina Pecorino 2014, Bianco Colline Piscarese, Italy. NA% alc. 100% pecorino grapes. Pale gold hue; very fresh, clean and appealing; lemon balm, lime peel, almond skin and almond blossom; limestone and oyster shell, savory with a salt marsh-sea breeze edge of vitality; pert and lively, a burgeoning of stone-fruit and meadowy herbs; extremely charming but with a thread of seriousness. Very Good+. About $16.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Calif.
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Vina Robles “White 4” 2014, Paso Robles, California. 14.9% alc. 54% viognier, 22% vermentino, 15% verdelho, 9% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; delicate, lightly spicy, a slight sense of sunny, leafy figs and briers; all citrus with a flush of stone-fruit; a few minutes in the glass bring in heady notes of lilac and Evening in Paris; very appealing, with a beautiful texture and structure that fill the mouth with almost powdery talc-like elements cut by bright acidity. Drink now through 2017. Excellent. About $16.
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alleme
Bodega de Txakoli Tadai Berri Alleme Txakolina 2014, Getariako Txakolina. NA% alc. 100% hondarribi zuri grapes. The wine is pronounced chakoli; txakolina means “the txakoli.” The hondarribi zuri grape is primarily grown, where it is cultivated at all, in Spain’s Basque country. Very pale straw color; just faintly effervescent, as a sort of quiet, persistent tickle; white flowers and yellow fruit, let’s say, gardenia, peach and yellow plums, all quite gently expressed, with hints of almond blossom and lychee; lively, crisp, clean, caressing. Drink up as a very pleasant and unusual aperitif; these wines are not meant to last. Very Good+. About $17.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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ponzi pb
Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. 1,000 cases. 100% pinot blanc grapes. Very pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and spiced pears, notes of quince, nectarine and ginger; subtly floral, like some tiny white slightly astringent flower; mountainy and meadowy; incisive acidity with elements of steel and limestone and a haze of smoke and talc; quite dry but immensely appealing and satisfying. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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amity-vineyards-pinot-blanc-2013-bottle
Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc 2013, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13% alc. 181 cases. 100% pinot blanc. Medium straw-gold hue; lemon balm, lime peel, slightly caramelized grapefruit; intriguing notes of cedar and hay; a fresh, breezy and bracing wine, lovely purity and intensity; hints of quince, peach skin and ginger; lithe and supple on the palate with crystalline acidity and vibrant limestone minerality. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $22.
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mccay viognier
McCay Cellars Viognier 2014, Lodi, California. 14.1% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Very pale gold color; peach, roasted lemon and lavender; slightly honeyed, with notes of beeswax, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s hint of resiny quality; very clean, pure and intense, lovely presence and weight; more on the graceful, spare and elegant side of the grape, though a hint of caramelized fennel lends something exotic; a lingering finish that turns a bit austere with limestone and flint minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $24.
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Clos le Vigneau 2013, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France. (Alexandre Monmousseau). NA%alc. 100% chenin blanc grapes. Bright straw-gold hue; vouvrayhay, damp stones, jasmine; hazelnuts and almond skin; notes of peach, apricot and yellow plums; lean and lithe, chiseled limestone minerality and chiming acidity yet a soft approachable texture; a hint of sweetness on the entry but very dry from mid-palate back through the spice and mineral freighted finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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anaba white
Anaba Wines Turbine White 2013, Sonoma Valley, California. 14% alc. 42% roussanne, 20% grenache blanc, 20% picpoul blanc, 18% marsanne. 354 cases. Shimmering pale gold hue; roasted lemon, dried thyme, beeswax, lanolin, lilac; notes of heather and peach and a hint of some exotic floral and pressed nut oil; bountifully presents a full-bodied, seductive texture packed with spiced and roasted peach and apricot flavors but balanced by riveting acidity and an element of damp-stone minerality. Super appealing, practically glitters in the glass. Excellent. About $28, and Worth a Search.
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The Achaval Ferrer estate in the Mendoza region produces a handful of Argentina’s finest red wines, especially focused on malbec, the single-vineyard versions of which retail at $120 to $140. Today, however, we look at the more accessible and far less expensive Achaval Ferrer Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, a 100 percent varietal wine made from vineyards at 2,297 and 3,608 feet above sea-level. Notice that no new oak is involved; the grapes fermented in cement tanks and the wine aged nine months in two-year-old French oak barrels. Though an “entry-level” wine for this producer, it reveals its pedigree and character in its intensity and concentration, its unassailable tone and presence. The color is dark ruby-magenta; the bouquet seethes with notes of red and black cherries and plums permeated by mineral dust, lavender and bitter chocolate, with undertones of allspice (with the attendant woodsy austerity) and graphite. As often occurs with high-altitude red wines, tannins feel slightly chiseled, and the profound acidity runs deep and faceted. Yes, you could say that the emphasis is on the wine’s structure, but it’s also quite approachable for its dark spicy and alluring black fruit flavors; the dynamic finish is packed with graphite, potpourri and some rooty smoky black tea. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’23. The question as to whether this wine would serve as superb accompaniment to a medium rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill, need not be broached. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Stoli Wine Group, New York. A sample for review.

Marketers and trade groups, of course! Do you think that notions like “National Riesling Month” and “Grenache Day” are carved in stone on the lintels of the Sanctuary of Holy Days? You know better than that. And I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts, as my late mother used to say, that Argentina is behind “World Malbec Day” like white on rice and ducks on June bugs. Usually I ignore these marketing and PR feints because life is too short and I have plenty of other matters to attend to, but I decided, oh what the hell, I’ll mention “World Malbec Day” on the 17th and that will allow me to taste the dozens of malbec wines that doubtless litter my shelves and racks. Surprisingly, I only had a few examples on hand, though a couple came in the mail, all these, of course, from Mendoza, Argentina.

For many years, malbec played a minor role in Bordeaux as one of the five “classic” red grapes, along with petit verdot, cabernet franc and the more important merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Malbec, however, suffers from a susceptibility to various forms of disease and rot, and particularly after the historic frost of 1956 it began to disappear from the vineyards of Bordeaux. The grape is widely grown, under a number of pseudonyms, all over Southwest France and is especially useful in Cahors, where it is called Cot and must make up 70 percent of the blend. Malbec was first planted in Argentina in 1852, and despite vicissitudes — thousands of acres of old vines were stupidly pulled out in the 1980s — it became synonymous with red wine in that country. Now let’s be honest. Argentina turns out oceans of mediocre malbec wines and sells them cheaply in North America. On the other hand, the grape also receives its apotheosis there, especially when grown in the dry, mile-high vineyards of Mendoza, backed up against the Andes. If you ever get a chance to try the Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec, throw caution and credit card to the winds and see how transcendent malbec can be when it is carefully cultivated and thoughtfully made in precisely the right location.

Of these Argentine models, one rates only Good, one Very Good, one Excellent and the others fall into the solid, well-made and enjoyable Very Good+ level.
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The Trapiche Oak Cast Malbec 2013, Mendoza, wears its titular oak on its sleeve and can’t seem to tear it off to reveal anything other than a warm spicy feeling and vague elements of black fruit scents and flavors. It’s the most generic and innocuous of this bunch. 14 percent alcohol. Good. About $14.

The previous wine’s stablemate, the Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2012, Mendoza, is another creature altogether. The color is inky purple with a magenta rim; quite ripe, almost jammy, with plenty of lavender, graphite and black pepper supporting brights scents and flavors of blueberries, black currants and plums; a lively and vivacious wine, it coats the palate with dusty, velvety tannins. Very Good+. About $18.
These wines are imported by Universal Wine Network, Livermore, Calif.
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The Alamos brand is the inexpensive and broadly available label from the Catena Zapata family. The label is imported and marketed not by Winebow, which deals with the estate’s more expensive, rarer and more classy wines, but by an arm of E.&J. Gallo. Medium ruby-cherry color; spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors buoyed by pert acidity and a modicum of spice; drinkable and appealing but I wish it displayed more personality. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Gallo also imports the wines of Don Miguel Gascon. I’m happy to state that for 2013, the Gascon Malbec, from Mendoza, is clearly more varietal and authentic than in the past few vintages. The color is medium ruby-cherry; a seam of spice, smoke and graphite runs through ripe plum, cherry and black currant scents and flavors, highlighted by notes of mint and iodine; structure and acidity are firm and lively, tannins are moderately dense, all making for a pleasurable experience. 13.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Gascon USA, Hayward, Calif.
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The Nieto Senetiner “Camila” Malbec 2013, Mendoza, offers a vibrant dark ruby hue and bright aromas of ripe plums and black and red cherries with undertones of cloves, black tea and leather. Though tannins are dusty, dense and chewy, the wine is nicely balanced, supple and lively and displays an attractive forthright personality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $10, a Remarkable Bargain.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma Calif.
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OK, here’s the one to look for. El Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2012, La Madras Vineyard, Mendoza, exhibits an inky purple-magenta hue and feels pretty damned “inky” in every respect; the wine is rife with streams of graphite, cloves, black pepper and espresso that bear up ripe aromas and flavors of black currants and plums wrapped around an intense core of lavender, violets and bitter chocolate. This panoply of sensations unfolds to a lithic, tarry edge and clean acidity that cut through and enliven moderately velvet-like tannins. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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El Porvenir de Cafayate is a 40-year-old estate located high in the Andean foothills of the Cafayate Valley in the province of Salta, about 520 miles north of the city of Mendoza, in northwest Argentina. Owned by the Romero family, El Porvenir is run by Lucia Romero-Marcuzzi (seen in this image), with winemaker Mariano Quiroga Adamo and consultant Paul Hobbs from California, concentrating on torrontés and tannat grapes but making wine from many other varieties as well. How high? These are some of the highest elevation vineyards in the world, ranging from 5,413 to 5,577 feet above sea-level. The semi-desert climate is very dry, with warm days and cold nights, and the poor soil demands of grapes that they send roots far down in search of water and nutrients. The vineyards at El Porvenir de Cafayate are farmed using sustainable methods, including no pesticides and spare deployment of herbicides. I thought that generally these were well-made and stylish wines that exhibited gratifying character — with one exception, the oak-fermented Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontés 2013. I’ll speak more about this wine when its turn comes.

Paul Hobbs Imports, Sebastopol, Calif. Samples for review.
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The color of El Porvenir de Cafayate Amauta Absoluto Torrontés 2012, Cafayate, Salta, is a tranquil very pale gold; enticing aromas of jasmine and camellia, lime and grapefruit are tinged with notes of lemon balm and bees-wax. The wine is made in stainless steel tanks and undergoes malolactic fermentation, the chemical transformation of sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid into smooth lactic (“milk-like”) acid. The result is not lush or creamy but a lovely silken texture that feels spun from gossamer clouds. Stone-fruit flavors are energized by hints of grapefruit rind and limestone minerality, while the finish brings in touches of melon and almond skin bitterness. 13.1 percent alcohol. Production was 850 cases. With its gentle floral nature, winsome balance between citrus and stone-fruit and its slight tension between sprightly acidity, on the one hand, and moderate richness, on the other, I think that this is as good as the torrontés grape gets and deserves to be. Excellent. About $16, a Rare Value.
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I believe that wine from some grapes cannot be improved by putting it through an oak regimen; I started to write “by throwing oak at it,” but I’ll be more circumspect. Anyway, that process merely lays a burden of wood on the wine that interferes with its inherent nature. One such grape is torrontés, a grape and a wine whose essential delicacy and lovely simplicity can be marred by the oak experience. El Porvenir Laborum Single Vineyard Torrontés 2013, Cafayate, Salta, fermented in new French oak barrels and aged in barrels for six months. The color is pale straw-gold; the nose offers touches of green apple, lime peel, melon and jasmine and a background of woody/woodsy/spicy notes; a distracting hint of vanilla seems like nothing that should ever happen to torrontés (or any wine). The oak lends the wine a seductive supple texture that permeates slightly roasted and honeyed lemon and peach flavors. Overall, you feel the oak as a superfluous drag on the wine, a dimension that detracts from its typical delightful character. Is this example a “better” torrontés than one made without oak? I don’t think so. 13.2 percent alcohol. Production was 540 cases. Very Good. About $22.
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Now we turn to the reds.

First, El Porvenir Amauta Corte 1 — Inspiration 2013, Cafayate, Salta, a blend of 60 percent malbec grapes, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah. The grapes fermented in stainless steel, and the wine aged eight months in second-use French and American oak barrels, meaning that the wine was not exposed to new wood. The color is intense ruby-purple; intense, also, are the aromas of ripe and spicy black currants, black cherries and plums permeated by notes of tar, espresso, bitter chocolate and graphite. Intense, again, are the succulent black and red fruit flavors that reveal hints of black tea, fruitcake and violets over a tide of moderately plush, dusty tannins. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,250 cases. Man up to grilled pork chops with a coffee rub or braised veal shanks with this bottle, now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $23.
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El Porvenir Amauta Absoluto Tannat 2014, Cafayate, Salta, is the estate’s entry-level tannat offering, and it’s worth the price for pairing with burgers and chorizo quesadillas, hearty pasta dishes and sausage pizza or goat empanadas. The color is dark ruby with a purple rim; aromas of black and blue fruit meld with notes of fruitcake and tapenade, mint and coffee and leather and a whiff of potpourri. The wine is dense and chewy, enlivened by bright acidity and given some bearing by dusty tannins, all deftly melded into a sleek package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,667 cases. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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A wine like El Porvenir Laborum Tannat 2013, Cafayate, Salta, could convince me that tannat is the red grape that Argentine growers should be cultivating, rather than malbec. The color is dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; boy, it’s one ripe, fleshy, meaty wine, packed with notes of rich black currant, blueberry and black cherry fruit loaded with tar, leather, violets and roasted coffee beans. The wine spent 12 months in new French oak barrels and absorbed that wood pretty handily, in the form of a firm and lithe structure, but there’s also real tannic grip on the palate, freighted with dusty graphite and an iodine and iron finish. The intense. minty and deeply spicy black fruit flavors shine through, but this could still use a year or two to unfurl a bit. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 540 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014” and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review. This post is the seventh of 2015 on BTYH.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace, France. Variable blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay. Excellent. About $19.
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Nieto Senetier Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 34 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent malbec, 33 percent merlot. Excellent. About $19.
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Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, nv, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. Excellent. About $18.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. Old vine carignane with some grenache. Production was 253 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $18.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvée George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $17.
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Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $17.
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J Pinot Gris 2013, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Excellent. About $16.
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Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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CVNE Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, Spain. 100 percent viura grapes. Very Good+ verging on Excellent. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 100% sangiovese. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Excellent. About $14.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.
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Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $14.
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Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 100 percent verdejo grapes. Excellent. About $14.
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Stemmari Dalila 2012, Bianco Terre Siciliane, Italy. 80 percent grillo grapes, 20 percent viognier, Excellent. About $14.
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Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2013, Toscana, Italy. With 5 percent viognier grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12.
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Li Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 100% negroamaro grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California. With 15 percent merlot, 3 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $11.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County. Very Good+. About $10.
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Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain. 85 percent grenache, 7 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, 1 percent syrah. Very Good+. About $10.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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It’s shaking out like this way South of the Border: Malbec and cabernet sauvignon in Argentina; cabernet sauvignon in Chile, where carmenere, once touted as the coming thing, makes a nice wine but nothing approaching greatness. The red wines from these countries, with a few exceptions, tend toward fullness and power rather than elegance and finesse, but we can accept those qualities, especially when the wines are paired with hearty fare such as animals roasted over open fires or, distilled to our own kitchens, braised and grilled red meat. I offer today 16 examples of cabernet- and malbec-based wines, among them some excellent values, also among them a couple of misfires, but those are the breaks. Nothing much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info here, because these Weekend Wine Notes are intended to be quick, incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy! (In moderation and always using common sense.) These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Red Blend 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Primarily malbec, with dollops of bonarda and tempranillo. Dark to medium ruby color; spicy, briery and brambly black and red currants and cherries with a note of blueberry; pleasant and drinkable, enough tannin and acid for support and vibrancy; quite dry with a touch of dusty, mineral-like austerity on the finish. Drink up, with burgers and pizza. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Alamos “Seleccion” Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby hue with a tinge of magenta; slightly woody spices and herbs; ripe and macerated black currants and plums with a hint of blueberry, fleshy and meaty; velvety texture set in sleek, dusty tannins and graphite minerality; fairly dense and chewy, touches of walnut shell and dried porcini; really demands a steak or braised veal shanks. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Alamos USA, Hayward, Calif.
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Apaltagua Reserva Malbec 2013, Maule Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta rim; clean, fresh and ripe, with notes of cedar, tobacco and thyme highlighting brambly and fairly intense black currant and plum scents and flavors; sleek and velvety, bolstered by dusty tannins, deep elements of spice and dried flowers, all leading to a slightly austere mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $13, a Terrific Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Chakras Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a garnet rim; black currants and raspberries permeated by notes of cloves, briers and brambles, black pepper, cedar and tobacco; with hints of thyme and black olive; lithe and supple, dense and chewy with leathery tannins and dusty graphite minerality but buoyed by vibrant acidity and tasty black fruit flavors. This could go through 2016 or ’17. Great personality for the price. very Good+. About $13, making a Terrific Value.
Imported by Winesource International, Hilton Head island, S.C.
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Cousino-Macul Antiquas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5 alc. Dark ruby with a garnet tinge at the rim; ripe and fleshy red and black currants and cherries, hints of iodine and iron, lots of high notes balanced by loamy earth tones and grainy tannins that coat the mouth; a piercing line of graphite minerality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.
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Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. With 9% cabernet franc, 4% petit verdot, 2% merlot. Dark ruby hue with a slightly lighter rim; beautifully complicated and integrated bouquet, with ripe, fleshy and macerated black and red currants and cherries, permeated by notes of cloves, cedar and menthol, some wheatmeal, walnut shell and graphite, hints of lavender and violets; dense and stalwart tannins, but supple and finely-sifted, sleek and burnished oak influence; resonant acidity keeps it lively, while the whole package is supremely balance, a true marriage of power and elegance. Consistently one of the best cabernet sauvignon wines made in South America. Now through 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $60.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple hue; clean and fresh but quite intense and concentrated, with riveting notes of iodine and iron, black truffles, leather and loam; bright and spicy black currants and cherries infused with very intense elements of potpourri and bitter chocolate; lip-smacking density and acidity; dry, dusty tannins, walnut shell, wheatmeal; austerity takes over from mid-palate through the finish. A bit inchoate now, try from 2016 through 2020 to ’25. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $20.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Maquis Lien Red Wine 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.4% alc. Cabernet franc 42%, syrah 32%, carmenere 23%, petit verdot 3%. Intense ruby-purple color; an unusual and felicitous blend; briers and brambles, wheatmeal, wood smoke, walnut shell; intense and concentrated scents and flavors of black currants, cherries and plums; cedar, rosemary, black olive; robust and a little wild; dusty graphite, dense, intense tannins, rip-roaring acidity and granitic minerality; quite dry leaning toward austerity. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $30.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Puente Alto, Chile. 14% alc. Intense dark ruby with a magenta rim; black fruit with a trace of blue; fig and fruitcake, caramelized fennel, black olive, oolong tea; ripe wild berry; well-balanced structure of dense tannins and bright acidity, but the tannins grow in power, coating the palate with a dry, dusty, well-honed effect; you feel the spicy, burnished oak on the finish. Give this from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’26. Excellent. About $20, another Fine Value.
Excelsior Wine & Spirits, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Nieto Senetier Don Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 34% cabernet sauvignon, 33% malbec, 33% merlot. Opaque ruby, almost black, with a violet rim; iodine and iron, ripe and fleshy black currants, cherries and plums; very intense amalgam of graphite, lavender, licorice, potpourri and bitter chocolate, with notes of truffles and loam, all quite heady and seductive; fills the mouth with soft supple tannins and graphite minerality; tasty and deeply spicy black and blue fruit flavors riven by keen acidity; long mineral-and-spice-packed finish. Loads of personality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $19, marking Great Value.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Nieto Senetier Terroir Blend Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Elevation is the important point to this wine, so here are the details: 34% comes from a vineyard at 3,120-foot elevation; 33% from 3,450 feet; 33% from 3,780 feet. Very dark ruby-purple; mint, iodine, lavender and violets, ripe, spicy and slightly fleshy black and blue fruit scents and flavors, a little sanguinary; beautifully balanced and super attractive but with plenty of dusty tannic structure; sleek, lithe and lithic, dense all the way through, energized by coiled acidity; long powerful finish. Real personality and character. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Peñalolen Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a tinge of garnet; sleek and suave cabernet; mint, cedar and tobacco; black currants, blackberry and hints of blueberry and wild cherry; deeply savory, with notes of tapenade and fruitcake — spice, candied peel, nuts — ; dense, intense, almost chewy; very dry and formidable slightly austere tannins require some time to relax; try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 through ’26. Or have it with a steak tonight. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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El Gran Malbec de Ricardo Santos 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 500 cases. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim; mint eucalyptus, brandied cherries and raspberries; feral and woodsy, briers and brambles, a hint of wheatmeal; a touch over-ripe and jammy, like port-infused blackberry and blueberry marmalade; grippy tannins and graphite minerality; very dry, austere on the finish. Generally I’m a fan of the Ricardo Santos label, but I find this example essentially unbalanced. Good only. About $35.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Calif.
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Tomero Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. Dark ruby-purple; spiced and mentholated black cherries and plums; cedar, black tea, tobacco, all quite ripe and intense, a little plummy-jammy; well-balanced as to tannin and acidity and a mineral tang on the finish, but you feel the sweetness and heat from the alcohol. Good+. About $13.
Imported by Blends Inc, Plymouth, Calif.
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Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a slightly purplish rim; sleek, lithe, supple; intense and a little fleshy black currants and cherries, hint of blueberry; a note of toasty oak; finely-meshed and slightly dusty tannins and graphite minerality; a spice-and-mineral inflected finish. Well-made and enjoyable, through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $18.
Universal Wine Network, Livermore, Calif.
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Trivento Golden Reserve Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; ripe blackberry, currant and plum permeated by notes of wheatmeal, fennel, thyme and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cloves and sandalwood, lavender and licorice, all slightly toasty; finely sifted tannins and granitic minerals and tasty black and blue fruit flavors are supported by bright acidity, every element nicely balanced and integrated. Now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $21.
Excelsior Wine & Spirits, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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We can’t drink great wine all the time. Contrary to what My Readers may think, I certainly don’t. In fact, a diet of perfection would become cloying and wearisome, n’est-ce pas? Well, perhaps not, but let’s assume that most people really just want a decent bottle of wine to accompany a simple meal. Here, then, are two white wines and four reds designed to be to consumed with, say, a tuna sandwich or seafood risotto, on the one hand, or a burger or steak, on the other. Prices range from $12 to $17, with quality fairly evenly portioned along the Very Good to Very Good+ range. Will these wines — especially the reds — lodge in the memory as some of the best wine you’ve tasted? certainly not, but they get the job done, or better, at a reasonable price. If only everything in life turned out that way. Quick reviews here, intended to pique your interest and whet the palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Stepping Stone Rocks! White Wine 2013, North Coast, California. 13.3% alc. (Stepping Stone is the second label of Cornerstone Cellars; Rocks! is, well, the second label of Stepping Stone.) “Mystery” blend of chardonnay, viognier and muscat canelli. Very pale gold color; lilac, lemon-lime and pear, slightly grassy and herbal, hint of lemongrass; quite clean, crisp, fresh and dry, with a kind of gin-like purity and snap; taut, vibrant, lean but a pleasing, cloud-like texture; crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; slightly earthy finish. Extremely attractive white blend for short-term drinking. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.
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Tomero Torrontes 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and gardenia, spiced pear and lemon balm, lime peel and a touch of grapefruit, a few minutes in the glass bring in whiffs of lavender and lilac, though this is not overwhelmingly floral, all is subtle and nuanced; pert citrus and stone fruit flavors; lovely body, crisp, lithe and lively yet imbued with an almost talc-like texture that slides across the palate like silk; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A superior torrontes for consuming over the next year. Very Good+. About $17.
Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif.
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Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Central Coast. 13.8% alc. Brilliant dark ruby with a flush of mulberry at the rim; unfolds layers of cedar,
thyme and black olive, black currants and plums, hint of wild berry; notes of iodine and graphite; trace of wood in the slightly leathery tannins, quite dry but juicy with herb-inflected black fruit flavors; sleek and supple texture, lively acidity; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Great personality for the price. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Image from brainwines.com.
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Esprit du Rhône 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% syrah, 5% carignan, 5% cinsault. 1,000 cases imported. Medium-dark ruby color shading to a transparent rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plum with notes of cloves, briers and leather; fairly dense and robust tannins and bright acidity keep the texture forthright and lively for the sake of tasty, spicy black fruit flavors. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Image from vivino.com.
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Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; briery and brambly blackberry and plum fruit deeply imbued with cloves, mocha and licorice; moderate and slightly chewy tannins for structure, an uplift of acidity; tasty black fruit flavors in a rustic, graphite-laden package. Now into 2015. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Tercos Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. (From the winery of Ricardo Santos). 13.8% alc. Dark ruby hue, almost opaque; spicy and feral, blackberries and plums with notes of wild cherry, tar, graphite and licorice; heaps of rough-hewn tannins make for a sturdy mouthful of wine, though nothing heavy or ponderous to detract from ripe, delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors; loads of personality. Now through the end of 2015. Very Good. About $14.
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