Grenache


Here’s another rosé wine on another gloomy day in Memphis, Tennessee, where the water’s still high as an elephant’s eye. Last week we had the air conditioner on; today I had to turn on the heat. Nothing like a great rosé, then, to lift the spirits. Oops, wait, a bulletin from the Great Outdoors; the sun is shining, rather fitfully, it’s true, but that’s something anyway.

Tavel in the southern Rhone Valley has a centuries-old reputation for rosé wines, a reputation too often merely rested upon than reasonably proved. Fine models exist, however, and some of the finest are produced by the Prieuré de Montèzargues, pictured here. The original priory was established in 1119; grapes have been grown on the property and wine made since sometime shortly after 1300. Winemaker in the present manifestation of the estate — it long-since ceased its function as a religious house, the Revolution looking unkindly on monastic sinecures — is Guillaume Dugas. Grapes grown at Prieuré de Montèzargues are grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan for red and clairette, picpoul and bourboulenc for white, all the typical southern Rhône or Provençal varieties. The intriguing blend for the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010, Tavel, is 55 percent red and white grenache; 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette and 2 percent of mere dollops of syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and bourboulenc. I don’t know about you, but I picture Monsieur Dugas poised over the vats with an eye-dropper, administering impossibly minute quantities of wine.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in concrete vats. The entrancing color is radiant light melon with a slightly tawny topaz cast, as if lit from within; aromas of lightly macerated strawberries, raspberries and red currants are grounded in earthy elements that reminded me of sun-warmed rocks and damp, dusty roof tiles, yeah, all quite Provençal, and boy, do I wish I had a little plate with some rabbit terrine and a basket of crusty bread. Flavors tend toward melon and peach permeated by touches of dried thyme and lavender and a distinct slatey quality that runs like a taut thread through the finish. Bright acidity and a moderately lush texture offer gratifying balance in a way that seems sweetly competitive and cooperative; all great wines are about tension and resolution. The Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010 is ultimately spare and bone-dry, even a bit austere in the finish, as we expect from well-made rosé from the southern Rhône Valley, though the hauteur doesn’t detract one whit from the delightful fruity/floral character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Excellent. About $24.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

Wouldn’t you know it! No sooner do I review two wines from France’s Côtes du Roussillon Villages appellation, up in the valley of the Agly river, than two more show up at my threshold. These are produced by the venerable M. Chapoutier, one of the most highly respected estates in the Northern Rhone Valley; Roussillon is pretty far to the west, almost to Spain. The label is Vignes de Bila-Haut and the wines are charming, tasty and versatile. Both are blends of syrah, grenache and carignan grapes. As is the case with all wines from M. Chapoutier, the label includes Braille script for the sight-impaired.

These are R. Shack — Radio Shack??? — Selections for HB Wine Merchants, New York. Samples for review.
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The Bila Haut 2009, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which we drank with a dinner of ham and cheese strata — a casserole that’s sort of like eating breakfast at night because it has bread and eggs — is a creature of dusty graphite-like minerality, dusty herbs, dusty red and black currants and plums imbued with spice, potpourri and leather and undertones of briers and brambles. It’s robust, a little rustic and countrified, and it brings up earthy elements with black olives and smoky oolong tea that permeate the black fruit flavors. The wine sees no oak, maturing, instead, in concrete vats. Drink now through 2013. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $13.50.
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For three and a half dollars more, you get, in the Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerda, a far more sleek and polished wine that features full-blown scents and flavors of roasted, meaty and fleshy, spiced and macerated red and black currants with high notes of blueberries and mulberries and heaps of smoky, dried thyme and other dusty wild herbs and flowers. A few minutes in the glass unfurl notes of graphite and mineral-laced tannins and deeper tones of potpourri and violets. The wine bears little oak influence; 80 percent rests in cement vats, with 20 percent in 600-liter barrels. Not quite sophisticated or elegant, Bila-Haut L’esquera 2008 is lively with vibrant acidity and firm with a fairly dense chewy, slightly velvety texture. Boy, did this wine ever put me in mind of lamb chops grilled with garlic and rosemary! Drink now through 2014. Very Good+, and Great Value at about $18. A no-brainer for bistro-style restaurants.
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As is the case with many European countries, modern France is composed of disparate regions that for centuries retained their independence and social and historic identity. Just as Bordeaux, for example, was once part of England –because of the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II — so the southwest part of France, now called Roussillon, was ruled from Majorca and Aragon, and even now the population identifies itself more closely with the Catalan culture of Spain than with the dominant “French” culture. (Though bull-fighting is officially banned in France, the sport is allowing where it is considered an essential part of local tradition; usually bloodless for the animal as practiced here, bull-fighting can be found from Nimes and Arles west to the Spanish border and across to the Atlantic.) Winemaking has flourished in the sunny (the sunniest vineyard region in France), dry and windy eastern foothills of the Pyrenees mountains since ancient times, when the Greeks introduced vines and then the Romans began cultivating extensive vineyards. Côtes du Roussillon received AOC designation in 1977. A slightly more limited designation, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, is theoretically superior, as in the model of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. The permitted grapes, for red wines, are the Rhone Valley varieties: syrah, grenache, mourvèdre and carignan, with the stipulation that syrah or mourvèdre (or a combination of the two) makes up at least 20 percent of the blend. The area is in the extreme southwest of France, where the coast finishes a great curve in a head-long run at the Spanish border; the Mediterranean is actually east of Roussillon. As you can see in the accompanying image (cavepartdesanges.com), the inland regions can be picturesque and forbidding.
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Chateau de Jau, built in 1792, lies smack in the middle of the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages region, on the river Agly. Owned now by the Daure family, which extensively rebuilt the vineyards, the property also produces the well-known Le Jaja de Jau brand. Winemaker is Estelle Daure. The blend for the Chateau de Jau Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is syrah, 45 percent; mourvèdre, 30 percent, carignan, 15 percent; and grenache, 10 percent, so the proportion of syrah and mourvèdre is much higher than is required by law. The wine receives no oak-aging, retaining an attractive sense of freshness and immediate appeal. The effect is pungently grapy, with full-blown scents of black currants and plums infused with lavender and rose petal, touches of dried spices and flowers and darker, spicier underpinnings. The plum aspect, with shadings of black and blue, intensifies in the mouth, with a richer, deeper aspect, while tannins are moderately grainy and chewy; the wine is supported by vibrant acidity and a hint of graphite-like minerality in the background. A really enjoyable pasta, pizza and burger wine — or to be French about it, try with a rabbit terrine, whole-grain mustard and crusty bread — to drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.
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Gregory Hecht and François Bannier founded their negociant house in 2002 to seek out appropriate vineyards and then “elevate” — the process of treating wine in a winery by a negociant is called elevage — the wine to produce authentic renditions of the wines of Roussillon. The H & B Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008 is composed of 55 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent mourvèdre and 5 percent carignan; the wine ages in a combination of old demi-muids of 600 liters, neutral concrete vats and 20 percent new oak. The first impression is of roses and violets woven with meaty and fleshy red and black currants that quickly develop a sense of being spiced and macerated. This wine is vividly lively, imbued with acidity of almost poignant vivacity and wrapped in granite-laced tannins that feel broad and generous on the palate; it’s deeply flavorful, earthy and minerally, bringing into the finish notes of smoke, briers and brambles. Charming, yes, but with real stuffing and character. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $28 in my neck o’ the woods; starts at about $20 and goes up nationally.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from lifesambrosia.com; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

Had to, had to start April — oh cruelest month! — with a rosé wine. I chose the Mas de la Dame Rosé du Mas 2010, from Les Baux de Provence appellation down in the South of France, tasting, sipping, guzzling! — just kidding! — with a slice of really good crusty bread doused in olive oil and a few nibbles of Comté cheese. The ancient village of Baux, often called one of the most beautiful villages in La Belle France, perches atop a promontory in the far west of the Provence region and dominates a wine area upon which was bestowed AOC status in 1995. Very unusually, later amendments to the AOC rules stipulated that all estates within the Baux de Provence region must operate on biodynamic principles, an intriguing and perplexing and perhaps disturbing example of government control. This property dates back to the 16th Century and is owned and operated by sisters Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe, with the aid of ubiquitous Rhone-and-points-east-and-south consultant Jean-Luc Colombo.

The wine offers the classic rosé color dubbed either onion skin or “eye of the partridge,” which is to say very very pale copper with a tinge of pale melon and faint salmon. Mas de la Dame Rosé du Mas 2010 — in the parlance of south-eastern France a mas is more than a farm but less than a grand plantation — made, of course, all in stainless steel, is a blend of grenache (50%), syrah (30%) and cinsault (20%). Aromas of orange zest, jasmine, dried red currants and melon with hints of spiced peaches and pears distinguish the seductive yet spare and elegant bouquet. In the mouth, the wine is very dry, quite crisp with pert acidity and water-etched limestone, delicately imbued with flavors of dried currants, a touch of rhubarb, a hint of dried Provencal herbs, and a pass at lavender-permeated potpourri, strawberry and tarragon. Completely delightful, and a Platonic ideal of a rosé wine. Now through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent (and I don’t give out many Excellent rating for rosé wines). About $15, representing Great Value.

Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

Some friends came over a few nights ago for a meeting of a committee that LL and I are chairing for an animal-related fund-raising event, and of course I pulled out a few wines to slake their thirst and accompany a selection of cheeses and grilled vegetables. These friends are not “wine-people”; they just like to drink wine, though when they taste something good they can tell the difference between the good stuff and some bland, innocuous fluff. The temperature was a bit chilly for late March — the month came in like a lion and seems to be going out like one too — so I made it a red wine occasion, to which no one objected. I thought diversity in country and grape variety would be interesting, so here’s what I opened: Gainey Vineyard Merlot 2007, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County; Inurrieta Sur 2007, Navarra, Spain, a blend of garnacha and graciano grapes (maybe; see review below); and La Valentina Spelt 2006, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. These wines were samples for review.
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When I poured a few glasses of the Gainey Merlot 2007, Santa Ynez Valley, someone said, “Ymmmmm, so glad you chose this one!” The wine is a blend of 95 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent cabernet sauvignon; it aged 19 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. Boy, this is deep, rich, glittery yet impeccably balanced merlot, permeated by black currant and black raspberry scents and flavors thoroughly imbued with notes of mint and cedar, smoke, graphite-like minerality and polished oak that takes on a bit of toast. The smoky quality, which unfurls to reveal hints of bitter chocolate, black tea and lavender, intensifies as the moments pass, as does the more profound depth of dusty tannins, earthy loaminess and shale. Not that the wine is forbidding; oh, no, these serious qualities, along with vibrant acidity, are necessary to temper, if not tame, the wine’s profuse sensual attractions. Quite a performance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, Great Quality for the Price.
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There’s a bit of confusion about exactly what grapes go into the Inurrieta Sur 2007, from Spain’s Navarra region. The back label tells us that the wine is a blend of garnacha (grenache) and graciano; the printed matter I was sent with the wine says 60 percent garnacha and 40 percent syrah; the winery’s website asserts that the wine contains garnacha, syrah and graciano grapes. O.K., people, let’s get the story straight! The point is, when I poured our friends a glass of the wine, a chorus of “whoa” and “wow” filled the air. The wine is a dark ruby color, while the bouquet is deeply spicy, sooty, smoky, ripe and funky in the fleshy, meaty sense. This is a delectable quaff whose residence in American oak barrels for six months lends a combination of suppleness and sinewy power to the flavors of black currants, black raspberries and mulberries, all slightly macerated and roasted. The whole effect is sleek, burnished, highly drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13. I almost wish I had saved it for pizza, but I’ll find something else, don’t worry. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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The Wine of the Week on Feb 18 was La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008; now it’s the turn of that wine’s slightly older cousin, La Valentina Spelt 2006. Also made from 100 percent montepulciano grapes, Spelt 06 — the wine is named for the region’s dominant grain crop — ages 18 months, partly in stainless steel; partly in French barriques, new and one- and two-years old; and partly in 25 hectoliter barrels. Nothing rustic here; this is a lovely, balanced, eminently drinkable red wine notable for a beguiling bouquet of mint and eucalyptus, slightly spiced and macerated black currant, black raspberry and plum fruit; and a deep dark woody/spicy/chewy/dusty/tannic/graphite/minerally texture and structure etched with delicate tracings of licorice, lavender and potpourri. Alcohol is a sensible 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $22.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.
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Why don’t people drink more Chateauuneuf-du-Pape? Unfamiliarity with the grapes and the geography perhaps? A strange sort of name, maybe? Limited availability? Bad marketing?

In any case, Chateauneuf-du-Pape — “the pope’s new castle” — deep in the southern Rhone Valley, north of Avignon, was the first wine region in France to be subject to rules of self-regulation, proposed in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia. The wine is unusual in that the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape may officially contain the juice of 13 grapes, though the reality today is that most renditions consist of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre. Traditional producers, however, often include dollops of the other permitted varieties, which include cinsault, muscardin, vaccarèse, picpoul, terret noir and counoise, as well as the white grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc and roussanne grapes. These white grapes also make the region’s rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, about 3 to 5 percent of the production.

During the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of 1309 to 1378, the papacy moved to Avignon. Pope John XXII selected the village of Calcernier — not called Chateauneuf-du-Pape until the 19th Century when the wine began to gain renown — as the site of his summer palace, the ruins of which are seen in the accompanying image.

Today’s Wines of the Week are a red and a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Lazaret. Owned by the Quiot family, the domain is named for an ancient hospice for the poor and sick in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, once operated by the Lazarists, a silent order of monks founded in 1625 by St. Vincent de Paul.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Image of the pope’s summer palace from sablethouse.com.
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The Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2008 is a beautifully knit and bountifully spicy wine blended of 45 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent clairette, 20 percent bourboulenc and 5 percent barrel-fermented roussanne. One expects from the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc a seamless melding of roundness and lushness with lithe, spare elegance, a character this example provides in spades, along with bell-ringing acidity for crisp liveliness and a kind of vast, gradual unveiling of limestone-like minerality. Hints of peaches and pears, decked out with roasted almonds and a touch of almond blossom and some waxy floral element are supremely enticing; a few minutes in
the glass bring up notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touches of dusty dried herbs like thyme and marjoram. Well-made versions of these wines age well; drink this now with pleasure or let it develop more depth and dimension through 2015 to ’18. A lovely effort. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $25 to $35.

Definitely needing time is the Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2008, made from 67 percent grenache, 22 percent syrah, 5 percent mourvèdre and 6 percent of smidgeons of the 10 other grapes allowed in the wine by law. The wine ferments in concrete vats and then spends 18 months in large vats and foudres, meaning no new oak, no small barriques. The aromas form a seductive weaving of black and red currants, black raspberries and plums, potpourri, lavender and allspice, with fairly stark notes of briers and brambles, new leather and sandalwood. In the mouth, however, these sensual qualities fade out, and the wine leans more toward the dry, forest and underbrush nature of grainy tannins and the imposing flank of granite-like minerality; the finish is tight and austere, though the tannins are not the blunt, scorching tannins that afflict some renditions of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you’re enjoying the Vieux Lazaret Blanc 2008, allow its rouge cousin to rest until 2013 or ’14, for drinking through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $36.

Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y.
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Well, here’s a reasonably priced and winsome little red wine to drink with pizza (as we did last night) and pastas, hearty winter soups and braised meat dishes. It’s the Evohé Viñas Viejas Garnacha 2009, from Spain’s Vino de la Tierra del Bajo Aragón region, which, I have to say, is a new one on me, and as my seventh grade teacher Miss Simpson told our class almost every day, “Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn no other way.” The wine is made by Bodegas Leceranas in Zaragoza and imported by Vinum International in Napa, Ca., but in reality Evohé is one of the brands on the vast roster of Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co. (Franzia has at last conceded to the Forces of Modernity and allowed a website where you can see how vast this roster is, and I recommend that you do.) Anyway, evohé — ay-voh-hay — is an ancient Greek word of greeting and evocation, much like its Latin cognate “Ave,” used in the Bacchic rituals to hail with exuberance the return of the god of wine and disorder to his ecstatic and generally disorderly followers; remember that in The Bacchae of Euripides the mad and maddened Maenads tear King Pentheus of Thebes limb from limb. That’s a heavy burden of myth, history and lexicography for a straightforward and tasty wine to bear, but such is the case, in my crammed mind at least. Anyway, Evohé 2009, which sees no oak, is pure grenache from start to finish, and, Mama, that’s all right with me. The color is a beautiful black cherry hue with a magenta rim; the bouquet is bright, ripe and vivacious with notes of blackberries, blueberries and black plums that seethe with lavender and licorice and sleek slate-like (say that three times fast) minerals. In the mouth, much is the same, with these luscious black and blue fruit flavors taking on wild touches of mulberry, briers and violets, all plushly set into moderately dense and finely-milled tannins allied to lively acidity. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink now through 2011 or into 2012. Very Good+. About $12, a Raving, not to say Dionysian, Bargain.

Image of Maenads doing a number on King Pentheus from a fresco in Pompeii (commons.wikimedia.org)

I recently tasted through a range of wines from Owen Roe — the winery is in St. Paul, Oregon, and produces wines from Oregon and Washington — and found many of them designed for consumers with iron palates to bear the weight of immense tannins, along with towering purity and intensity; these stylish wines are clearly made for the long haul or the motorcycle gang’s picnic. One wine from Owen Roe that is more accessible is Sinister Hand 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, a blend of 70 percent grenache grapes, 26 percent syrah and 2 percent each mourvedre and counoise, according to the label; the winery’s website cites slightly different percentages. The grapes derive from the Six Prong Vineyards in the Columbia Valley’s Horse Heaven Hills region that lies along the Columbia River in south-central Washington.

Sinister Hand 2009, I’ll come right out and say, is a lovely example of how a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages-style wine can be intelligently made with grapes from the right vineyard in the correct location. The color is glowing medium ruby with a hint of darker ruby/cherry at the center. The bouquet builds slowly through layers of spice, dried flowers and fruit both ripe and dried: cloves and cinnamon, lavender and violets, dried red currants with spiced and macerated red and black cherries and a hint of wild mulberry. The wine ages 10 months in French oak barrels, only 17 percent of which are new, so the influence of wood is warm, subtle and supple. An edge of shale-like minerality penetrates this warmth and the wine’s spicy black and red fruit flavors with a cool tinge that leads downward to areas of briers, brambles and moss and a bass ground in tannic walnut shell, though all elements are so well-balanced that the tannins feel almost transparent. The essential acidity that binds these factors I have to describe as beautifully vibrant and authoritative. A deeply satisfying wine, with 14.6 percent alcohol but not a blockbuster in any sense. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $24, but I paid $30 in my neck o’ the woods.

This time the region is Calatayud, just south of the region of Campo de Borja in northern central Spain. Produced by Bodegas Agustin Cubero, the Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007 draws on vines planted between 1934 and 1960; the wine is 100 percent garnacha (grenache) and ages eight months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is a radiant medium ruby; aromas of ripe black raspberries and red currants, with many forms of plums and a touch of slightly astringent mulberry are bolstered by dry scents of briers and brambles. The wine is quite dry but bursting with lipsmacking, almost plush ripeness of black fruit flavors as well as savory tannins that become more foresty and austere as the moments pass. Layers of slate-like and granite-infused minerality form the wine’s stalwart foundations, but after an hour it mellows out nicely. An appealing yet fairly serious wine with heaps of personality to drink with hearty red meat dishes or hard, dry cheeses like an aged Piave, which, as a matter of fact, I was nibbling as I tasted. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’14. Very Good+. About — ready for this? — $10, a Raving Good Value.

Scoperta Importing, Cleveland heights, Ohio. A sample for review.

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