Argentina


Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
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Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
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Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
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Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
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Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
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Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
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Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
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Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
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Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
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Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.
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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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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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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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Maintaining the theme of cabernet sauvignon, instigated by last Thursday’s World Cabernet Day, I offer as the Wine of the Week an inexpensive crowd-pleaser from Argentina.

The Graffigna Centenario Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 comes from a winery founded in 1870 in what is now Argentina’s state of San Juan by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna. San Juan is the country’s second largest producer of wine, after Mendoza, which lies just to the south. The vineyards of both regions thrive in the fairly arid altitudes of the Andean foothills. The family sold the estate in 1980 to Allied Domecq, which in turn was acquired by Pernod Ricard. Winemaker for Graffigna is Gerardo Danitz. At four years old, the Graffigna Centenario Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, which aged 12 months in 85 percent French oak barrels and 15 percent America, has shed the initial hard edge of its tannins and become something altogether softer, plusher and more approachable. The first impression is a wafting of fresh wild black raspberries couched with black currants and blueberries, cloves and sandalwood, with hints of cedar and thyme and spicy wood. The wine is smooth and polished in the mouth, luscious in its battery of ripe black and blue fruit flavors but held to rigorous deportment by vibrant acidity, mildly robust tannins and a tinge of graphite and bitter chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Though the current release of this wine is 2010, the Internet reveals plenty of this eminently drinkable ’08 in the pipeline. Very Good+. If you pay more than $15, you wuz robbed; I’ve seen it as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

As I said a few days ago, it’s not as if cabernet sauvignon languishes without fans, it’s not as if cab sav doesn’t have advocates all over the place, but here it is, World Cabernet Day, and what the hell, what else do we have to do to fill our empty lives but give days and months and whole seasons to the celebration of grape varieties. I offer two examples of cabernet sauvignon today, a selection that doesn’t even begin to scratch the top layer of veneer on the massive oak cabinet that metaphorically could stand for the monumental presence that the cabernet sauvignon grape exerts in the living room, as it were, of wine producers, wine drinkers and wine collectors; I mean to say, it dwarfs every other red grape that might attend the party. Cab sav is planted in most of the world’s wine regions, whether suited to them or not, but where does it perform best? The short list: The left bank of the region of Bordeaux (remember, the Right Bank is dominated by cabernet franc and merlot); a few spots in California, principally Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley and Paso Robles; Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia; Hawkes Bay in New Zealand; a narrow range of southwestern Tuscany, by the Tyrrhenian Sea. Other vineyard areas, such as Maipo and Aconcagua in Chile and Salta in Argentina are showing improvement.

This post, however, offers two fairly directly appealing inexpensive cabernet sauvignon wines that reveal marks of individuality as well as adherence to the character of the grape. These were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, though if I didn’t, would they slap me in chains and drop me in the hoosegow?

The photograph, taken by me, is of cabernet sauvignon grapes in the Fay Vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley, August 6, 2012.
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BenMarco is a label from Susana Balbo who with all respect could be called the mistress of wine in Argentina. The BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Mendoza, contains 6 percent merlot and 4 percent cabernet franc; the wine aged a conservative 11 months in 60 percent new French oak barrels, 40 percent in second-use American oak. (The implication of “second-use” barrels is that their influence will be milder and more mellow, less spicy and woody than new oak.) The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet offers a heady amalgam of macerated and lightly roasted black currants and cherries, with an undertow of plum, bolstered by black olive, thyme and sage and a touch of lavender. In the mouth, BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is intense and concentrated, a mouthful of boldly framed, slightly grainy tannins, supple oak, vibrant acidity and ripe but slightly dusty black and blue fruit flavors. The finish is packed with spice and underbrushy earthly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $18, though around the country you find prices from $15 to $20.

I also tried the Susana Balbo Signature Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 and — another Balbo label — the Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, both from Mendoza, and found them oddly stiff with oak and unpalatable.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
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The Jacob’s Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia, spent 18 months in French oak hogshead barrels, and while “hogshead” is a rather amorphous measurement of liquid volume I’m sure you get the point that it’s a large barrel, the point being that such a barrel will not have the intensity of influence exercised by the standard 59-gallaon barrel or barrique. This wine has its eccentricities, and they’re lively and attractive ones. The color, first, is dark ruby with a slightly lighter violet rim; aromas of mint, eucalyptus, celery seed and black olives burst from the glass, with notes of cocoa powder, licorice and potpourri, oh yes, and scents of crushed black currants, raspberries and mulberries. I have seen a few reviews of this wine that scored it down because of the herbaceous bouquet, but I think that aspect is part of the wine’s charm and individuality. Flavors of black currants and plums are cushioned by a texture that’s paradoxically a bit lush and velvety while being invigorated by taut acidity and moderately dense, slightly leathery tannins. The finish is rift with sandalwood and cloves and a hint of iodine-and-iron minerality. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $13, a Distinct Bargain.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.
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Torrontés is not one of the world’s great and noble grapes, but all grapes don’t have to be Olympian, do they? (I was thinking Olympian in terms of “god-like,” but the metaphor holds true for superb competitive athleticism too, and speaking of such matters I returned to the gym yesterday for the first time in more than a year.) Sometimes all we demand of a grape is that it produce pleasant, attractive tasty wines that can be enjoyed in a variety of circumstances; not a damned thing wrong with that. Torrontés has become the white grape for which Argentina is best known, whether grown in the south, in Patagonia, or in the north, in La Rioja and Salta. The grape tends to produce highly floral, spicy and crisp wines that at their best are delicate, genial and charming and at their worse are insipid and flabby. Not much movement to artificially pump up the qualities of the grape with oak barrel aging has occurred, for which we can be thankful. The way to bring out the choicest qualities of the grape is not through manipulation in the winery but through the selection of the most appropriate sites and through the most efficacious vineyard practices.

That said, I’ll assert that the Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, is the best version of the grape that I have encountered, and I’ll add that contributing elements to its virtues are the altitude of the vineyard, which stands at 5,900 feet above sea-level on the slopes of the Andes mountains, stressing those vines– think of it as grapes going to the gym — and the fact that it sees no oak. The wine offers remarkable tone, presence and character, with lovely purity and intensity, though never losing sight of its innate delicacy. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet is more spicy than floral, though hints of jasmine and camellia are woven through aromas of green apples, roasted lemons and yellow plums highlighted by cloves and a touch of white pepper. In the mouth, there’s more emphasis on citrus, especially in the realm of lemon and lime peel and tart grapefruit, though there’s a sense of sunny leafiness about the wine, along with scintillating acidity and a clean, fresh mineral element. The texture is exquisitely balanced between moderate lushness and bright pertness, while the finish is trim, elegant and smooth. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $15, an Incredible Bargain.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York. A sample for review.

I occasionally grow disenchanted with malbecs from Argentina. Though highly touted as primary red grape of that country, malbec can turn out to be as bland as the most anonymous $16 merlot from Sonoma County. On the other hand, when the grape is grown in the right places, particularly at Andean foothill heights under fairly arid conditions, it can make enjoyable, even memorable wines of interesting character. One such is the Ñandú (“nyahn-doo”) Malbec 2010, from the well-known Mendoza region. The grapes for this wine — 98 percent malbec, two percent cabernet sauvignon — derive from vineyards in the Maipu area, at 2,624-feet elevation, and Lujan de Cuyo, at 3,116 feet. The wine aged nine months, half in a combination of stainless steel and concrete, half in French oak barrels. Ñandú Malbec 2010 — named for a large flightless bird indigenous to Argentina — offers a medium ruby-purple color and a purposeful bouquet of black and red currants, black cherries and plums and cherries imbued with cloves and sandalwood, cedar and black olive and intriguing notes of spiced fig and fruitcake. Tannins are smooth and mellow, displaying just an edge of smoke and graphite-like minerality to lend verve to the full-bodied structure, while black and blue fruit flavors are touched with something slightly sweet and untamed, like ripe Rainier cherries; vibrant acidity keeps the whole savory package lively and appealing. Opening from a core of exotic spice and bittersweet chocolate, the finish is a bit brambly and briery and a tad austere. 13.9 percent alcohol. Eminently drinkable, almost elegant, but with marks of seriousness; it’s no pushover. We drank this one night with pizza, the next with seared skirt steak. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

Winemaker was Bernard Portet, who retired in 2010 after nearly 40 years at Napa Valley’s Clos du Val winery, which he co-founded in 1972.

Imported by Polaris Wines, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

The title of this post says it all: Some Big-Hearted, Two-Fisted Reds for That Memorial Day Cook-Out. We cover a wide geographical range: Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Napa Valley and Lake County in California. Whether you’re grilling hots dogs or sausages, burgers or steaks; pork chops or leg of lamb or ribs, there’s a robust red for you. No technical, historical or specific regional/terroir-type information; just quick, incisive, evocative reviews intending to whet the palate and create a craving. If you’re lucky enough to merit a three-day weekend, have fun, consume alcohol moderately, drive safely and remember that Memorial Day honors the men and women of the American military forces who gave their lives so that we could enjoy our rights and freedoms — whatever party and philosophy we subscribe to and however ambiguously we regard the notion, the operation and the effectiveness of our pretty darned great but surely imperfect democracy. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events. There are some truly great bargains among these reviews.
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Monte Velho 2010, Alentejano, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Grapes: trincadeira 40%, aragonez 40%, castelao 20%. Well, this is really different, beginning with the trio of indigenous grapes. Boisterously spicy, buoyantly fruity, dark and alluring; currants, plums, mulberries and more than a touch of some wild exotic thing; briers, brambles, soft slightly grainy tannins; notes of dried spice, dried flowers; fruit and spice-packed finish with a graphite-slate element. Nothing complicated, mind you, but tasty and, well, different. Very Good. About $10, an Amazing Value.
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San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barras, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. Inky-ruby color; clean and fresh yet dusty, earthy and minerally; black olive and celery seed, thyme and cedar, black currants and black cherry with a hint of blueberry; wild, untamed, close to exotic, solid structure with dusty, fine-grained tannins and spicy oak; touches of licorice and pomegranate, quince paste and macerated figs wrapped about a black tea and bittersweet chocolate core; dense, dark, almost brooding finish. Now to 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $11, a Bargain of the Century.
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Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserve Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ink, iron and iodine bouquet, mint and lavender; dusty, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of wild berry; impressive weight and substance married to a paradoxical sense of refinement, even delicacy; finely-milled tannins; subtle, supple oak; bright acidity; a moderately long finish freighted with clean earth and underbrush qualities. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz Cabernet 2008, Limestone Coast, Australia. ?% alc. Medium ruby color; intense and generous, a little fleshy and meaty, mint, eucalyptus, cherry-berry and an unusual touch of strawberry; exotic spice; earthy, smooth, honed tannins, a minerally-foresty back-note. Lots of personality, almost charming. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 85% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% carignan. Deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center; tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar; vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries, undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; then hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns; beautifully balanced and integrated, dense, slightly grainy tannins, a subtle and supple oak influence for a firm foundation and framework, a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; vibrant acidity, a sleek, spice-and-floral finish. Through 2015 or 2016. Excellent. About $19, a Great Bargain in a mature Rioja.
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Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. 94% cabernet sauvignon, 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple; sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors strictly tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, though concealing a barrow-load of coiled energy. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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Mullineux Syrah 2008, Swartland Wine of Origin, South Africa. Dark ruby color; black and red currants, plums, fruitcake, a spike of black pepper and cloves; very earthy and spicy, wild and ripe mulberries, blueberries and plums; deeply earthy, supple, sinewy, bolstered by plush, grainy tannins and dusty granite; exuberant acidity and a long, spice-packed finish. Quite a performance. now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $33.
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Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 3% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple; penetrating graphite and granite minerality, a real charcoal edge; cranberry, mulberry and black currant, very dry, dense and chewy, velvety, touch of iodine and iron, smooth integrated tannins; deeply spicy and slightly austere finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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Malbec. Carmenere. Cabernet Sauvignon. We must be talking about Chile and Argentina. These wines are priced from about $11 to about $20, and some of them around $12 to $14 represent Excellent Value. I was more impressed with the carmenère wines than the malbecs or cabernets; I assume that conclusion is just the luck of the draw as far as the wines I had on hand. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips I eschew technical, historical and specific geographical information about vineyards and such for the sake of brevity and the clean, penetrating stroke. These were all samples for review. If you’re firing up the grill, most of these wines would be great accompaniment to steaks, burgers, sausages, pork chops and so on. I know it’s Saturday, so sue me.
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Malbec
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Bodegas Elena de Mendoza Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.6% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; simple, straight-forward, undifferentiated fruit, a little bland. Serviceable at best if you’re not thinking too hard. Good. About $11
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Chakana Maipe Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. ??% alc. Dark ruby-violet color; simple, direct, tasty; black currant and blueberry, touch of spice, back-note of lavender; nice complement of tannin and acidity. A decent burger and pizza wine. Good+. About $13.
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Apaltagua Reserva Malbec 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Black olive, cedar, thyme; black currants, blueberries and plums; quite dense and chewy; tannins, minerals and acidity prominent, if not audacious; spicy oak dominates. Needs a year or two to settle down. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
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Trivento Amado Sur Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. With 10% bonardo & 10% syrah. Deep ruby-purple; intriguing aromas of lavender and leather, smoky currants and plums, rye toast and graphite; the wine is robust, tannins are soft and velvety yet gripping, chewy; black fruit flavors are dark and spicy; quite dry, a bit austere on the finish. Needs a steak. Very Good+. About $13, Good Value.
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Carmenère
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Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenère 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Deep dark purple; ripe, fleshy and meaty, very intense and pure, fraught with graphite, lavender and leather over concentrated black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors, touched with dried thyme and rosemary; an ink-iron-iodine-and-mint wine, dense and chewy but with high wild notes; sheathes the palate with finely-milled tannins. Give it a year – or a steak. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Value.
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Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carmenere 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. With 7% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby-purple; cedar, tobacco, lead pencil, hints of black olive and bell pepper, intense and concentrated aromas (and flavors) of spicy cassis, black cherries and plums with a plangent note of blueberry; fills the mouth with dusty tannins, dusty slate and dusty oak; needs a year or two to unfurl. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
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Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2009, Peuma, Chile. (Concha y Toro) 14% alc. Deep purple-violet; slightly roasted, slightly toasty, ripe but intense and concentrated; cedar, tobacco, thyme and black olive; black and blue fruit; plush, grainy tannins, earthy and minerally in the graphite-slate range but goes down easily; well-bred harmony and balance, though you feel the wood and forest floor qualities from mid-palate back through the finish. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $20.
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Cabernet sauvignon
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San Huberto Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Castro Barros, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. An intense and concentrated fistful of wheatmeal, walnut shell, cedar and tobacco, bitter chocolate and graphite, briers and brambles; lip-smacking tannins and acidity, very dry and austere. Will it ever soften? Good+. About $11.
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Vina Siegal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. ??% alc. With 15% syrah. Deep ruby-cherry color; red and black cherries and currants, touch of strawberry jam; hints of vanilla, lavender and licorice, rose petals and leather; very pleasing texture, dense and chewy yet smooth with nicely tamed tannins; moderate finish with spice, pepper and brambles. Well-made for the price. Very Good. About $13, a Bargain.
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Cigar Box Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. As the name indicates, cigar box and lead pencil, cedar and tobacco, black currants and plums; walnut shell, brambles, earthy and mossy forest floor; succulent fruit lasts about a nanosecond; dry, austere, astringent finish, though give the wine a few minutes and it dredges up hints of blueberry and boysenberry, potpourri and orange rind in the bouquet. More zinfandel-like than cabernet. Good+. About $13.
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Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. & Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. These are serious cabernets. The 2010: dark ruby color, almost opaque; very intense, very concentrated, iron and iodine, graphite and shale; profound core of dusty graphite, potpourri, lavender and bitter chocolate; immense but not daunting tannins. The 2009: deep ruby-purple; smoke and iron; bristles with briers and brambles and bitter chocolate; offers defining scents of cassis, lavender, licorice and lilac; deeply tannic but velvety. Try these from 2014 to 2018 or ’20. Each Very Good+ and about $20.
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Red blend
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Maquis Lien 2008, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Carmenere and syrah each 25%, cabernet franc 20%, petit verdot and malbec each 15%. Inky-purple; real character, heft, tone and presence; supported by immense reserves of dusty, slate-laden tannins and burnished oak, vibrant acidity; dense and chewy, coats the mouth with tannins and graphite-like minerals; yet beguiling, seductive, delicious, manages to balance power with some measure of grace. best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $20.
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