Malbec


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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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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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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And that brings up the question: Why don’t more states, counties and municipalities allow package stores to be open on Sunday? Are they afraid that Christians will go straight from church to purchase a half-pint of Old Thunderbolt? I mean, come on, if you can buy a shirt or a lawn mower or a six-pack of brew on Sunday, you ought to be able to buy a fifth of booze or a bottle of wine to drink with lunch or dinner. Anyway, here are brief looks at five wines — a rosé, two whites and two reds — that will get you through the week in terms of just about anything you’re eating, generally sans technical, historical, geographical and personnel-type information in favor of incisiveness and immediacy.

These wines were samples for review.
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Charles & Charles Rosé 2011, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 12.7% alc. 100% syrah. Pale copper-onion skin color; lovely aromas of strawberry, red currants and watermelon with hints of briers and limestone; very dry and spare but tasty strawberry and raspberry flavors, just a touch of pomegranate; crisp acidity, finish drenched in limestone and flint. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, often discounted to $9. Great Value.
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Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 13.6% alc. Very pale straw color; grapefruit, melon, thyme and celery seed, hints of lychee and tarragon, back-notes of tangerine; really attractive balance between vibrant acidity and a supple texture (a touch of old French oak is involved); flavors of roasted lemon, lime peel and celery, calls in some spice; sleek finish imbued with limestone and grapefruit. Excellent. About $20.
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Ad Lib Tree Hugger Chardonnay 2010, Western Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; fresh, vital, clean as a whistle; pineapple-grapefruit with hints of lemon zest and lime peel, heaps of limestone-like minerality; the briskness of grapefruit acidity and some of the dry spareness of the pith, with lemon and pineapple; soft, round texture, a suave flowing over river rocks. Drink up this summer. Very Good+. About $17.
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Echelon Red Blend 2010, California. 13% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, merlot “& other reds.” This won’t compel you to fire off a telegram to your broker — “Buy the company!” — but it’s a decent, nicely proportioned quaff that features ripe and spicy cassis, black cherry and plum scents and flavors etched with hints of bittersweet chocolate, cedar and tobacco, black pepper, lavender and potpourri; a modicum of smooth chewy tannins and sufficient acidity keep it honest. Drink with steaks, burgers, pizzas. Very Good. About $14.
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Clayhouse Malbec 2010, Paso Robles. 13.6% alc. Malbec 85%, petite sirah 11%, tempranillo 4%. Dark ruby-purple color; vibrant in every sense, spicy and robust; deep black currant and black cherry scents and flavors, with a touch of something reddish like red plums and currants; hints of cedar, thyme, black olive and a touch exotic in sandalwood and licorice; solid, firm, supple, with moderately dense tannins; black and red fruit flavors; an earthy, mineral-flecked finish. Very Good+. About $15, a Real Bargain.
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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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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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Today we look at seven wines chosen to satisfy the sense of freshness and renewal that comes — or should come — with Spring. In fact, it’s gently raining in my neck o’ the woods at this moment, and all the shades of green in the backyard are pulsing with color. These are mainly delicate wines made for sipping or matching with food more refined that we consumed in Winter, what we had of that season, anyway. There’s a delightful Moscato d’Asti, two wines made in different fashions from the torrontés grape — and I deplore that fact that almost all importers have dropped the accent from torrontés — a robust little Côtes du Rhône red for when you decide to grill burgers, and so on. (I also deplore the fact that WordPress will not allow me to post Macon with a circumflex.) As usual with Friday Wine Sips, I include no technical or historical or geographical data; the idea is incisive notices designed to get at the heart of the wine quickly. The order is by ascending price. With one exception, these were samples for review.
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Callia Alta Torrontes 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Not as shamelessly floral as many torrontés wines are, a little more restrained, even slightly astringent; but refreshing, cleansing, chaste, also quite spicy and savory; hints of lemon and lemongrass, zinging acidity and flint-like mineral elements. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $9, a Raving Great Bargain.
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Trumpeter Torrontes 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. (Rutini Wines) 13.5% alc. Heady jasmine and honeysuckle, orange rind and lemon zest, mango and hints of tarragon and leafy fig; very spicy, very lively, lush texture balanced by crisp acidity; the finish dry, spare, focused. Very Good+. About $13, a Real Value.
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Michel Torino Malbec Rosé 2011, Calchaque Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alc. A beguiling rosy-light ruby color; strawberry and red cherry with touches of peach and rose petal; a darker note of mulberry; bright acidity with a crystalline mineral background; delightful and a little robust for a rosé, try with charcuterie or fried chicken. Very Good+. About $13, representing Good Value.
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La Petite Fontaine 2010, Côtes du Rhône, France. 14% alc. 60% grenache, 20% syrah, 15% cinsault, 5% carignan. Dark ruby color; fleshy, spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums; smoke, briers and brambles, plush but somewhat rustic tannins, very earthy and minerally. Simple and direct, tasty; for burgers, grilled sausages and the like. Screw-cap. Very Good. About $13.
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Luca Bosio Moscato d’Asti 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Exactly what you want Moscato d’Asti to be: clean, fresh and lively, with notes of apple, orange and orange blossom and a hint of lime peel; mildly but persistently effervescent, a winsomely soft, cloud-like texture balanced by fleet acidity; initial sweetness that dissolves through a dry, limestone-laced finish. Truly charming. Very Good+. About $17
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Verget Terres de Pierres Macon-Village 2010, Maconnais, France. 13% alc. A lovely expression of the chardonnay grape; fresh and appealing, pineapple and grapefruit laced with jasmine and cloves, quince and ginger; very dry but juicy, sleek and svelte, borne on a tide of limestone and shale; makes you happy to be drinking it. A great choice for your house chardonnay. Very Good+. About $18. (Not a sample; I paid $22 in Memphis.)
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Trimbach Riesling 2009, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale straw-yellow; apple, fig and lychee, camellia, hints of pear and petrol; brings up a bit of peach and almond skin; very spicy, crisp and lively, svelte and elegant, nothing flamboyant or over-ripe; delicate flavors of roasted lemon and baked pears; long limestone-infused finish with a touch of grapefruit bitterness. Excellent. About $25.
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Friday again, so soon, time flies, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and then it’s like why didn’t I drink more wine? So, here’s your chance! Today’s Friday Wine Sips are mainly from California except for an Argentine malbec I threw in to mess with your heads this morning. As usual, I eschew technical data for the sake of brevity, punch, vim and vigor. Seven wines here, arranged by price; six recommended, one emphatically not. These were all samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission.
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Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. Bright and bold but not flashy or overdressed; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors freighted with notes of green apple and cloves, a hint of some floral aspect; very dry but juicy, lively and taut with acidity and a sinewy limestone element but a lovely, almost lush powdery texture; a zing of grapefruit and flint on the finish. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $13.50, a Raving Bargain.
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Conundrum, 2009, California. 13.5% alc. The famous mystery white blend from Caymus, though the grapes are chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, viognier and semillon. Radiant medium straw-gold color; mango and jasmine, roasted lemon and cinnamon toast; you feel the oak in the presence of a touch of toffee and spicy baked pears; quite spicy altogether, hints of lychee, lemongrass and petrol; lovely talc-like texture balanced by bright acidity and limestone. The best Conundrum in years. Current release is 2010 but the ’09 is still widely available. Excellent. About $18.
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Parley The Bookmaker 2009, California. 14.5% alc. 70% cabernet sauvignon, with zinfandel, petite sirah and petit verdot. From Ramian Estate. Pick up a cheeseburger with one hand and a glass of this robust wine with the other. Black currants, black raspberry and plums; laden with smoke and spice, potpourri, thyme and cedar, a hint of graphite minerality; rambunctious and slightly shaggy tannins wedded to svelte oak; long sleek, dusty finish. 570 cases. Very Good+. About $19.
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Morgan Syrah 2009, Monterey County. 13.8% alc. Blackberry and black raspberry with undertones of blueberry and mulberry; lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood; a deep exotic core of bittersweet chocolate, moss and smoked Russian tea; quite earthy, a little rustic and muscular but eminently drinkable, balanced and integrated. Very Good+. About $20.
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Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.5% alc. Medium gold color with green highlights; big, rich, bold, brassy; very ripe, very spicy, very toasty; mango, pineapple and grapefruit, buttered toast, toffee, brown sugar, coconut crème brûlée, bananas Foster; full-bodied, rampant ripeness and oak; a woody stridently spicy finish. Who would want to make such an exaggerated “chardonnay”? Who would want to drink it? Not recommended. About $32.
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Colomé Estate Malbec 2010, Calchaqui, Salta, Argentina. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; intense and concentrated; walnut shell and rosemary, cedar and bay leaf, black currants, black raspberry and blueberry; a combination of austere and juicy with deep, dry dusty tannins and huge reserves of oak and dry woody spices. Try from 2014 to 2018 or ’20. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $30.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. 14% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Ripe, fleshy and meaty, intense and concentrated black currants, black cherries and plums; graphite right through the core to the bottom; mint, dried thyme and bay leaf, earthy and loamy; huge power of dynamic fine-grained tannins, vibrant acidity and a great undertow of polished oak, but boy this is lithe and sleek and seductive. A tremendous achievement. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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