Cheap Wine



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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Seven white wines and one rosé; seven Californians and one Spanish wine (not the rosé). Several chardonnays and a viognier made exactly in the fashion I like best. And some irresistible bargains. I do it all for you. No technical data, no paeans to place, no exploring the byways of personnel and personality; just brief reviews designed to perk up your interest and whet your thirst. Enjoy. These were samples for review.
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Pepi Chenin Blanc Viognier 2011, California. 13% alc. 66% chenin blanc, 34% viognier. Pleasant enough and drinkable but the grape varieties get lost in each other; a little citrusy, a little spicy, pleasing texture; no great shakes, but you can’t beat the price. Good to sip when you don’t want to hurt your brain too much. Good+. About $10.
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Sumarroca Temps de Flors 2011, Penedes, Spain. 12% alc. 48% xarel-lo, 40 % muscat, 12% gewurztraminer. Pale straw-gold color; very attractive but with some spareness and slight astringent factor, like little white mountain flowers that don’t take any crap from you, thank you v. much; pear, yellow plum, hint of white peach; acacia with a touch of honey and bees’-wax; lovely, lively, lithe and totally charming. Now into Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $14, offering Great Value.
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St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Pale straw-gold color; just lovely; slightly smoky and steely pineapple- grapefruit scents and flavors, clove and limestone-flecked and with a beguiling trace of honeysuckle; spiced apples and pears, hint of citrus, sleek, smooth, supple and tingling with brisk acidity, superb balance between tense and teasing nervous energy and lightly honed richness, the finish laved with damp limestone and flint. My style. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $19, a Terrific Value.
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Ventana Dry Rosato 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 13.5% alc. 500 cases. 90% grenache, 10% syrah. Pale melon color; strawberry, dried cranberries and mulberries, hint of dusty limestone; supple texture with crisp acidity; a delightfully delicate and well-knit rosé with pleasing heft for drinking through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Ventana Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; notably clean and fresh; lemon and pear, dried thyme and tarragon, hints of honeysuckle, lemongrass and gooseberry; vibrant, lively, spicy, engaging, but dry, spare, almost elegant. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Ventana Chardonnay 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple and grapefruit, a bit of mango, a few minutes bring up notes of greengage and quince and cloves; crisp and lively, texture moderately lush but tempered by acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; very nicely balanced, holds the richness of fruit in check for the essential structure. Through 2013. Excellent. About $22.
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Chamisal Estate Bottled Chardonnay 2010, Edna Valley. 13.9% alc. Very pale gold color; fresh clean aromas of candied quince and ginger, grapefruit and pineapple with a backnote of mango and delicately smoky oak; flavors of green apple and pineapple are boldly framed by baking spice, slightly woody dried spices (and a trace of dried flowers) and a hint of baked lemon; all held in check by bright acidity and a scintillating limestone element. This qualifies as radiant. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $28.
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Stags’ Leap Winery Viognier 2011, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Pale gold color; vibrantly clean, fresh, lissom, elegant; a wine of stones and bones with a hint of jasmine and tarragon laid over tart lemon and pear flavors bolstered by taut acidity and a bracing sea-salt and grapefruit finish; paradoxically, the texture is seductive and enveloping. For people weary of the overwhelming floral style of viognier. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $30.
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Sorry that I produced no “Friday Wine Sips” last week, but here we are again and on a Friday as it should be. Eclecticism reigns, with three versions of pinot gris/grigio, a sauvignon blanc from Washington and an albariño from California’s Central Coast. For reds, there a blend dominated by syrah from Paso Robles, an “international” blend from Tuscany and a pure and intense pinot noir from Anderson Valley. No geeky technical information here, just blitzkrieg reviews designed to take no prisoners on the way to your hearts and minds and palates. There’s a quibble here and there but mainly these are all attractive wines. These were samples for review.
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Bivio Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2001, Italy. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; almond, sea-salt, roasted lemon and thyme; clean, vibrant acidity, heaps of limestone-like minerality; spiced pear, citrus, touch of jasmine; very dry, fairly stony finish, which falls a tad short. Still, quite enjoyable. Very Good. About $14.
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Barrymore Pinot Grigio delle Venezia 2011, Italy. 12% alc. Barrymore as in Drew. Very crisp and lively, powerful limestone and flint elements, very stony and austere; pushes the elegance and spareness at the expense of fruit, spice and floral aspects that would soften acidity and minerality. Very Good. About $17.
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Domaine Paul Blanck Pinot Gris 2010, Alsace, France. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; very attractive tone and presence, smells good, feels good, tastes good; spiced pears, cloves and clover, quince and a hint of crystallized ginger; a golden wine, almost honeyed but quite dry, loaded with limestone and flint, but nothing bleak or austere. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $22.
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Cadaretta SBS 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 13.1% alc. Sauvignon blanc 76%, semillon 24%. Graceful, balanced, restrained; both scintillating and elegant, almost spare; spiced lemon and pear, thyme and tarragon, hint of leafy fig, notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; very attractive texture, lushness modulated by crisp acidity and an urgent limestone element; long, drawn-out, spicy finish, wrapped up by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $23, and Worth a Search.
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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011, Central Coast, California. 13.2% alc. Gosh, what a treat. Pale straw color, faint green highlights; so deftly polished, balanced and harmonious; roasted lemon and lemon balm, hints of verbena, jasmine, yellow plums and an invigorating breeze-borne sea-salt element; practically shimmers with resonant acidity and a clean limestone-shale element. Now through 2013 or ’14. 527 cases and one wishes there were more. Excellent. About $18, a Definite Bargain.
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Clayhouse Syrah 2010, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. 77% syrah, 23% petite sirah. Medium to dark ruby color with a tinge of blue; black and red currants and plums, pepper, black olives, lavender and a hint of black licorice; heaps of earthy briers and brambles, dry, dusty and slightly leathery tannins but tasty red and black fruit flavors wrapped around tar and potpourri; medium-length finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
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Tenuta di Biserno Insoglio del cinghiale 2010, Toscana, Italy. 14% alc. Cabernet franc 33%, syrah 32%, merlot 30%, petit verdot 5%. Smooth, burnished and polished, suave and elegant but plenty of earthy, loamy structure; plums, black currants and cherries, graphite, lavender, potpourri; touch of what the French call garrigue, implying the scent of warm, dusty, slightly resinous wild herbs; a bit velvety but buttressed by vibrant acidity and agreeable tannins. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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Champ de Rêves Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, California. 14.5% alc. Entrancing medium ruby-violet color; cranberry, black cherry, hints of rhubarb and pomegranate, cloves and sassafras; lovely satiny texture, almost lush but with the essential acidity to lend cut to the palate; smoky black cherry and red currant flavors; supple, spicy oak in the background. Very seductive. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $40.
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Food and wine pairing — and was there ever a culture more concerned and nervous about that issue than ours? — doesn’t have to be about temples of cuisine and fine old wines. The perfect wine with a cheeseburger qualifies as a great match. Today’s entry in the “Damn, This Was Good!” series is a sterling example of the “It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated” principle. The dish was a simple bowl of spaghetti with an intense tomato sauce; the wine was the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, an inexpensive blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 15 percent each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and five percent syrah, aged for 12 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. (And we won’t get into the issue here about “North Coast” being an appellation so ludicrously huge as to be meaningless as a “place.”)

Billed as “$4 Spaghetti That’s Almost as Good as $24 Spaghetti,” the dish is chef Roy Choi’s take on a pasta from Scott Conant’s restaurant Scarpetta in New York. Choi runs the Kogi group of food trucks in Los Angeles; Conant was chef and owner at L’Impero in Manhattan’s Tutor City what now seems an eon ago. I hope they’re friends. I’ll append a link to the recipe online at the end of this post, but a brief description will give My Readers an idea of how the sauce gets its powerful flavor. The recipe calls for simmering sliced white mushrooms in water for an hour, reducing the liquid to make a mushroom broth. Simultaneously, you’re simmering about a truck-load of peeled garlic cloves in olive oil, until the garlic gets toasty golden brown and platonically tender. Then you empty two large cans of tomatoes into a Dutch oven or something of similar size and shape, add the olive oil and garlic, bring to a boil, add the mushroom broth, turn the heat off (v. important), stick an immersion blender down in there and blast that stuff into a smooth puree. (You could use a potato masher, but the sauce won’t be as smooth.) Turn the heat back on and let the sauce simmer for about an hour until it thickens a bit. Yowsir, it’s fine stuff, intensely garlicky and deeply flavorful. Here’s a link to Cho’si recipe: here.

And here’s an F.K. Kitchen Hint, from the School of “Experience Is a Dear Teacher But Fools Will Learn No Other Way” (as my seventh grade teacher Mrs. Simpson told our class every fucking day!): When that immersion blender is running, don’t lift it out of the tomato sauce. Took me about an hour to clean the stove and the counter and the stainless steel backsplash and the tea kettle and the Vent-a-Hood and the floor, though the dogs cheerfully volunteered for the latter duty.

Anyway, the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, embraces the lighter, brighter, immediately attractive side of the zinfandel grape, while allowing the other varieties in the final cut to add some darkness and oomph to a very tasty, blithely vibrant package. The color is deep ruby purple; this is clean and fresh, with black and red currants and blueberries galore — “Your Galleria of Berriness”! — hints of smoky graphite, lavender and potpourri and high notes of spiced cherry. Deftly balanced tannins, well-honed and slightly grainy, support black and blue fruit flavors that take on an edge of briers and brambles and touches of macerated plums, with a nimble pass-off to a dry, slightly sanded finish. Beside the fact that the wine was delicious, what cemented its sacred kinship with this assertive spaghetti sauce and made LL and I look at each other and say, “Yep, this is it,” was acidity of authoritative dimension and lively degree, a quality that clasped the acidity of the sauce with the fervor of a soul-mate and cut through the richness like a flame-thrower through a stack of telephone books. It made you want to laugh with happiness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Consulting winemaker was Hugh Chappelle. Very Good+. About $15, a Notable Value.

A sample for review. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Steelhead wines funds Trout Unlimited and other conservation projects.


Buy the Cusumano Insolia 2011, a Sicilian white wine, by the case. Made completely from indigenous insolia grapes by Alberto Cusumano and all in stainless steel, this deliriously attractive wine sports a pale but radiant straw-gold color and seductive aromas of orange rind and orange blossom, apples and pears, hints of lemon balm and lilac and a touch of breeze-borne sea-salt; what more could you ask for in sensual delight? (I mean in a wine at this price, not from life generally.) Matters turn a tad more serious in the mouth, where elements of limestone and flint-like minerality along with taut and tart acidity bring a deft note of rigor and austerity to what otherwise is a wine of almost talc-like lushness. This is quite dry, despite the ripe juiciness of its pineapple and roasted lemon flavors, and all devolves to a spice-packed finish that brings in some of the pithiness and bracing character of grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2013 as a fine aperitif or with grilled shrimp or seafood risotto. Very Good+. About $12, certainly a Bargain of the Highest Order.

The closing device is a glass stopper under a metal screw-cap; don’t stick a corkscrew down there.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago, Ill. A sample for review.

An interesting line-up of wines today, mostly white, but with one rosé and also including a sparkling wine from Limoux in France, made for the Toad Hollow label and imported by the winery. We’re start with the latter, move to the rosé and then do the rest of the wines according to price, as is my wont in these brief Friday Wine Sips. Three sauvignon blanc wines here, made in different styles; the knock-out and super-inexpensive rosé from the fairly obscure (at least to me) Bulles region in southeastern Spain; a so-so Soave, but cheap; one of Joe Bastianich’s sophisticated wines from northeastern Italy, and so on. Very little technical or geographical information, because I want the Friday Wine Sips to be immediate and spontaneous, and indeed they are transcribed pretty directly from my notes, though cleaned up a bit. Enjoy.

All these wines were samples for review.
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Toad Hollow Risqué nv, Blanquette de Limoux, France. 6% alc. 100% mauzac grapes. Pale gold color; mildly but delightfully effervescent; very clean and fresh; apple, stone fruit, Poire William, mango and cloves; quite sweet but with the tingle of acidity to dry it on the palate and produce a bit of an austere, slightly stony finish. Delicate and charming. Very Good+. About $16.
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Numero 3 Rosado de Monestrall 2011, Bulles, Murcia, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dusky watermelon color with a tinge of pale copper; pure strawberry, raspberry and red currant with a touch of peach skin and licorice; ripe, round and fleshy, satiny and almost viscous but tempered by brisk acidity and a muscular flexing of the limestone element. Not just alluring but sort of remarkable. Excellent. About $12, a Fantastic Bargain.
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ReMidas 2011, Soave, Italy. 12% alc. 100% garganega grapes. A simple, direct and pleasant Soave. Pale straw color; pears and tangerines, almond and almond blossom and a hint of camellia; a little spicy and earthy, crisp, pert and minerally; gets a bit diffuse from mid-palate back. Good+. About $10.
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Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2011, North Coast, California. 13.5% acl. Very pale, almost colorless; crisp, snappy, sassy, bags o’ limestone and flint with scintillating acidity; quite grassy and herbal, bursting with grapefruit and gooseberry, thyme and tarragon, celery seed, a hint of leafiness, a little fig; very dry, with a chilly, mineral-laden finish. A great summer aperitif. Very Good. About $11; you can’t beat the price.
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Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.8% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Ubiquitous on restaurant wine lists. Pale straw color; restrained, elegant, very dry; lots of grapefruit, particularly in the slightly bracing finish; lemon and lemongrass, a tang of celery seed and tarragon; you feel the partial barrel-fermentation in the spice and suppleness and a touch of wood from mid-palate back; a very pleasing combination of earthiness and bright, sunny leafy qualities; taut, measured, balanced and slightly yielding, it persuades me to a rating of Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. 13% alc. 100% friulano grapes. Medium straw-gold color; very apparent, very bright; roasted lemon, baked pear, high tone of green apple; amazing texture and substance for an all stainless steel wine; quite earthy, bristles with spice and vibrant acidity; notes of candied grapefruit and lime peel, quince and ginger; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lanolin and camellia; suave, sleek, loads of personality. Now through 2013, maybe into summer of ’14. Excellent. About $16, a Wonderful Price.
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Peter Lehmann Dry Riesling 2011, Eden Valley, Australia. 11% alcohol. Pale straw-gold; clean, fresh, light; apples and pears, lemon balm, grapefruit and lime peel; steel scaffolding on a limestone foundation; a tad dusty, with underlying earthiness; just a hint of petrol and lychee; nicely balanced among shimmering acidity, sheer minerality and juicy stone fruit flavors. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14% alc. Pale straw color, tinge of green; it does feel a tad unfettered, exuberant; mango and tangerine, smoky lemon and lemongrass; very clean, crisp and earthy; acidity and flinty mineral qualities practically shimmer with energy; notes of thyme and fig, a snap of celery and fennel seed; part used oak, part stainless steel, that hint of wood exerts itself in the finish, giving some gravity to a buoyant character. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $29.
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Devotees of adding grape varieties to their Century Club roster may find a few candidates among the wines reviewed in this edition of Friday Wine Sips, posted for you actually on Friday! The theme today — not that we always have a theme — is blended red wines, and not the usual cab/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot or syrah/mourvèdre/grenache agenda but some blends that draw perhaps on those grapes but even more on eclectic notions of what grapes are right, fit and proper together. The inclusion of a couple of wines from Portugal that feature indigenous varieties guarantees a couple of grapes that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with, while for the first time in the epic history of this Higgs boson-haunted cosmos I feature a wine from Turkey and a pair of grapes that will tip the mercury in your thermometer of exoticism. Once a producer blends four or five or six red grapes from a broad area or from several regions, the point obviously is not to pay homage to the purity of a grape variety or the integrity of a vineyard but to assemble a wine that’s appealing and tasty or, perhaps more important, that structurally and philosophically makes sense on its own terms. Several of the wines considered today accomplish this task handily, a few range from decent and acceptable to a little iffy, and one employs five grape varieties from three counties in California and succeeds only in manufacturing something generic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I avoid most technical, historical, specifically geographical and personal information for the sake of quick, incisive notices designed to make you say “Hot damn, gimme some o’ that!” (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Esporão Alandra Red Table Wine nv, Portugal. 13% alc. A blend of moreto, castelão and trincadeira grapes. Dark mulberry-plum color; very smoky and spicy, ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; deep, dense, chewy, sapid and savory, heaps of robust grainy tannins; finish packed with slate, forest, thyme and dried porcini; sort of amazing presence and personality for the price. Begs for grilled sausages (though it’s not a wine to beg, really, more like demand). Very Good. About $7, an Outrageous Bargain.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2010, California. 13.7% alcohol. 69% carignane, 31% syrah. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; pungent, ripe, fleshy, black cherry and black currant with hints of plums, blueberries, smoke, graphite; intense core of potpourri and bittersweet chocolate; very spicy, quite dense and chewy with grainy tannins, vibrant acidity, lots of structure; an old-fashioned, rather rustic, juicy, briery California quaffer for burgers, steaks, pizzas. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Peter Lehmann Layers 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. 55% shiraz, 18% tempranillo, 17% mourvèdre, 10% grenache. Dark ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums with touches of black pepper, iodine, cloves and foresty elements; dense and chewy yet smooth and mellow, drinks like a charm; deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, delicious and unfettered; a satisfying, moderately long finish packed with spice and earthy notes. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza. Very Good+. About $17.
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Ghost Pines Red Blend “Winemaker’s Blend” 2009, Napa County 46%, Sonoma County 36%, San Joaquin County 18%. (A Gallo label.) Cabernet sauvignon 33%, petite sirah 29%, zinfandel 22%, merlot 10%, syrah 6%. Solid, well-made, symmetrical and unexciting; good acidity and smooth tannins, tasty black fruit flavors, but lacks personality and delineation. Maybe it would be O.K. at five dollars less. Very Good. About $20.
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Highflyer Centerline 2008, California. 14.8% alc. 81% syrah, 12% petite sirah, 4% tempranillo, 3% zinfandel. Deep purple-black with a motor oil-like sheen; very intense, very concentrated; black currants, black raspberries and plums with some plum-skin bitterness and underbrush on the finish; iron and iodine, exotic, wild, coats the mouth with brooding tannins and yet elevating touches of sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake; still, needs a year or two or a huge medium-rare steak hot and crusty from the grill. Try 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20.
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Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2009, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 42% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 6% zinfandel, 3% syrah, 3% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color; packed with spice, earth, shale-and-slate-like minerality; very intense and concentrated, pretty damned densely tannic and oaky; robust, almost exuberant, but needs a couple of years to ease the reins of its furled nature (furl its reins? rain on its fur?). Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $24.
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Kayra Imperial 2008, Elazig, Denizli, Turkey. 14% alc. Okuzgozü 80%, bogazkere 6%, syrah, 7%, petit verdot 7%. Very dark ruby-purple; bright, vivid, very spicy; blueberries and mulberries, smoke and graphite-like minerality; very appealing, furry tannins and a velvety texture, but oak and tannin also give it some structural rigor, all being nicely composed and well-knit; a bit of austerity on the finish. A fascinating wine. Very Good+. About $25.
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Esporão Reserva 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14.5% alcohol. A blend of aragonez (that is, tempranillo), trincadeira, alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Color is inky-purple; first impression: oak and tannins pretty blatant; smoky, fleshy and meaty, lots of spice, touch of mint, slightly herbal, dark and succulent black fruit flavors; there’s a personality here waiting to unfold but give it a year or two or three. Very Good+. About $25.
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Spelletich 3 Spells Blend GHK Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 57% merlot, 28% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple; rates an initial “wow”; ink, iodine and iron, graphite, lavender and licorice, violets and bittersweet chocolate; black and red cherries, raspberries and plums; smooth and mellow but something born free about it, almost feral; plush and voluptuous but held in check by resonant acidity, substantial tannins and granite-like minerality; definitely Californian and all the better for it. 300 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 and Worth a Search.
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A collection of whites again with a couple of rosés, because who can think about big red wines when the mercury is busting out the top of the thermometer and running for its life? Geographically, we touch California, the south of France, Italy’s province of Umbria, Chile and Portugal. There are a few drops of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc in these wines, but the dominant white grapes are pinot grio/grigio and riesling, with contributions from verdiccio and vermentino, gewurztraminer and orange muscat and other varieties. The two rosés are equally eclectic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, even if posted on Saturday — ahem, cough, cough — I avoid most historical and technical data for the sake of quick reviews designed to whet your thirst and curiosity. All of these wines were samples for review, as I am required by Federal Trade Commission regulations to inform you. (The same regulations do not apply to print outlets such as magazines and newspaper.)

Lovely image of J Pinot Gris 2011 from nickonwine.com.

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Double Decker Pinot Grigio 2010, California. 13% alc. Pinot grigio with 4% riesling and 3% viognier. Double Decker is the replacement for Wente’s Tamas label. Pale straw color; touches of roasted lemon, lavender and lilac, cloves; dense texture, needs more acidity; mildly sweet entry with a very dry finish; fairly neutral from mid-palate back. Good. About $10.
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Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, France. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 30%, cabernet sauvignon 20%. A classic rosé from Provence. Pale copper-onion skin color with a flush of melon; melon in the nose, with strawberry and dried red currants, a distinct limestone edge and a flirtation of cedar and dried thyme; lovely delicate weight and texture, brisk acidity and that mineral element, hints of red currants, melon and peach skin. Delightful. Very Good+. About $11, a Terrific Bargain.
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Falesco Vitiano 2011, Umbria, Italy. 12.5% alc. Verdiccio 50%, vermentino 50%. Very pale straw color; spicy, briny, floral, stony; roasted lemon, baked pear and grapefruit with a hint of peach; very dry, crisp, touches of smoke and limestone. Tasty, charming. Very Good. About $11.
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Meli Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. 12.8% alc. Wonderful character and authenticity, especially for the price. Pale straw-gold color; peaches and pears, lychee and grapefruit, hints of petrol and honeysuckle; lithe with bright acidity and a flinty mineral quality, yet soft and ripe, super attractive; citrus flavors infused with spice and steel; quite dry but not austere; long juicy finish tempered by taut structure. Excellent. About $13, a Raving Great Value.
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Vina de Defesa Rosé 2011, Alentejo, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Syrah 50%, aragones 50%. Entrancing vivid melon-scarlet color; strawberry and watermelon, touch of dried red currants, pungently spicy, hint of damp, dusty roof-tiles; pomegranate and peach and a bit of almond skin; a little briny, a little fleshy; keen acidity and flint-like minerality. Quite a different style than the Bieler et Fils “Sabine” Rosé 2011 mentioned above. Very Good+. About $15.
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J Pinot Gris 2011, California. 13.8% alc. Very pale straw color; celery seed and lemongrass, mango and lemon balm, hints of lime peel and orange blossom; delightfully fresh and clean, laves the palate with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors enlivened by crisp acidity and a scintillating mineral element, devolving to rousing notes of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Lots of personality; consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in the Golden State. Excellent. About $15, a Freakin’ Bargain of the Decade.
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The Whip White Wine 2011, Livermore Valley, California, from Murrieta’s Well. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 39%, semillon 26%, gewurztraminer 13%, orange muscat 9%, viognier 7%, sauvignon blanc 6%. Medium straw-gold color; boldly spicy and floral, hints of leafy fig, fennel seed, lemon tart, Key limes, almonds and almond blossom, back-note of dried tarragon; very lively and spicy, tasty flavors of grapefruit, kiwi and lychee, almost lush texture but balanced by buoyant acidity and mineral elements. Very Good+. About $20.
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Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2010, Grechetto dei Colli Martani, Umbria, Italy. 13% alc. 100% grechetto grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint green sheen; sleek and suave but clean, lively and spicy; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touches of fig and thyme and camellia, all delicately woven; pert and provocative with snappy acidity and limestone minerality, fresh citrus flavors with notes of dried herbs, grassy salt marsh and yellow plum. Nice balance between seductive and reticent. Excellent. About $20.
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Sacre bleu! Here I am, posting the “Friday Wine Sips” on Friday instead of Sunday! I am so freakin’ disciplined and organized and impressed with myself! Ten wines today, a rosé, four whites and five reds. The one product that rates Excellent is the Beni di Batasiolo “Granee” Gavi 2010, definitely Worth a Search. As usual in this series, I do not include historical, geographical or technical data in order to keep the order of business in lean, clean, incisive order. These were all samples for review.
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Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah 2011, Colchagua, Chile. 13.5% alc. Entrancing cerise-magenta color; robust, earthy, almost muscular for a rosé, yet limpid, transparently delicious; pure strawberry and raspberry with a flush of rhubarb and pomegranate; very spicy; crisp acidity with a flourish of limestone on the finish. Really attractive and food-friendly. Very Good+. About $17 but often discounted as low as $13.
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Albamar Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. (William Cole Vineyards) 12.5% alc. A cool-climate chardonnay that channels its inner sauvignon blanc; tastes nice but couldn’t it be a bit more like, you know, chardonnay. Good+. About $11.
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Plantagenet Omrah Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. A 3-year-old sauvignon blanc that tastes as fresh as the day it was bottled; pure lychee infused with pear and peach and a hint of mango; hints of dried thyme and tarragon and leafy fig; ripe and round but quite dry and crisp, silky texture; a line of chalky limestone that starts mid-palate and drives back through the finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $15.
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Les Charmes Chardonnay 2010, Mäcon-Lugny, France. 13% alc. A lean, racy, nervy style of chardonnay, built on layers of limestone, chalk and talc suffused with lime peel, roasted lemon and pear; subtly earthy, supple, sinewy but asserts its charm. Ubiquitous. Very Good. About $16.
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Beni di Batasiolo “Granée” Gavi 2010, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. A superior Gavi. Pale straw color; very spicy; almond and almond blossom, roasted lemons and pears, touch of greengage and peach, high plangent tones of lilac and licorice; scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality, lovely texture; the finish laden with flint and shale. Excellent. About $18.
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Double Decker Red Blend 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, barbera. Medium ruby color; pleasant enough, taxes neither your taste buds nor your intellect, quite dry, actually pretty darned tannic with lots of brambles and underbrush. Doesn’t exactly hang together. Good. About $10.
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Hey Mambo Sultry Red 2010, California. (The Other Guys) 13.5% alc. 29% syrah, 26% petite sirah, 13% zinfandel, 12% grenache, 10% tempranillo, 6% cabernet sauvignon, 4% merlot. Hard to know what each grape variety contributes to this kitchen-sink blend; still, sort of “sultry” in an imaginary Mediterranean style; warm, fleshy; spiced black cherries and plums; ripe sweet fruit amid the lip-smacking tannins and acidity; soft almost velvety texture over some graphite-like minerality. Quaff it down. Very Good. About $12.
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Alamos Seleccíon Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Dark, rigorous, spicy, tannic; did I say tannic already? Needs one of those Argentine grilled meat extravaganzas — beef, pig, lamb, goat — to soften the edges of the oaky, granitic, um, tannic structure. Very Good. About $20.
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Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. (Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Lafite) 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% carmenère, 10% syrah, 5% malbec. Classic; mocha, tobacco, cedar, black olive; hints of smoked bell pepper and tomato skin; black currants and plums; firm, dense, chewy; very dry, a touch austere through the finish, which is packed with woody spices, burnished oak and finely-meshed tannins. A well-crafted and powerful Bordeaux-like expression of the grape; needs a steak. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Spur Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. (Murietta’s Well) 14.5% alc. 32% cabernet sauvignon, 30% malbec, 21% petit verdot, 7% cabernet franc, 6% petite sirah, 4% merlot. A well-made but fairly typical California-ish blended red wine; dark ruby color; fragrant with ripe and spicy and slightly macerated black currants, black cherries and plum with undertones of lavender and black tea; dense, chewy texture but not ponderous; grainy (but not gritty) tannins and vibrant acidity frame juicy black fruit flavors permeated by woody spices, mocha and graphite; a long cool earthy finish. Have fun with it tonight, though you might not remember its name in the morning. Very Good+. About $25.
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