Malbec



Mount Veeder stands at the southern end of the Mayacamas range that separates Napa County from Sonoma County to the west. Though the first wine was produced on Mount Veeder in 1864, made by Captain Stelham Wing, the small, high-altitude region was not granted official AVA status (American Viticultural Area) until 1993. Mt. Veeder, named for a German Presbyterian pastor who lived in Napa during the Civil War period, had long been recognized as a source of top-quality, rigorously-structured cabernet sauvignon wines. Indeed, of the appellation’s 1,000 acres of vines, 513 are dedicated to cabernet sauvignon grapes. These vineyards, based on thin volcanic soil, vary in steepness up to a 30 percent grade, so most of the work is done by hand. The output of the 20 or so wineries that occupy the Mount Veeder appellation is not huge, averaging 40,000 cases annually, less than 2 percent of the Napa Valley production. I wrote about the wines of Mayacamas Vineyards back in August, and mentioned more recently a couple other Mount Veeder wines here and here. Today I look at cabernets and chardonnays from Fontanella, Godspeed, Robert Craig and Y. Rousseau.

These were samples for review. Map from mtveederwines.com.
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Fontanella Chardonnay 2010, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Jeff Fontanella worked for Opus One, ZD Wines and Saddleback Cellars before opening his own winery in 2008 with his wife Karen Kruse Fontanella. His chardonnay, from 2010, is bright, fresh and steely. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of spiced lemon are woven with hints of pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of lemon balm and lime peel; a multitude of citrus flavors dominate the palate in a dense, almost chewy texture enlivened by vibrant acidity and a resonant limestone-shale element. This is a large-framed chardonnay whose finish brings in more oak and woody spice, though the regimen is moderate: nine months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, and only 12 percent of the wine went through malolactic fermentation. I found this to be a chardonnay of appealing and authentic purity and intensity, though the oak influence on the finish is a little bothersome; a year in the bottle may give this more balance and integration. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $34.
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Y. Rousseau “Milady” Chardonnay 2009, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The “Y” stands for Yannick, the owner and winemaker of this small winery. His “Milady” Chardonnay 09, made from a vineyard at 1,800-feet elevation, is a radiant pale straw-gold color; in the nose, classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit carry a hint of mango, with touches of cloves, quince and ginger, these qualities replicated with depth and detail in the mouth, where the spicy element expands through a texture that’s suave, supple and elegant. Rousseau uses native yeasts; the wine was barrel-fermented in oak, 20 percent new barrels, and aged for 11 months with no malolactic. Pert ‘n’ sassy acidity keeps this chardonnay lively and vital, while the whole package is deftly balanced between the crispness of the acid and mouth-filling density. The finish is long and finely-spun. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Excellent. About $38, and Worth a Search.
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Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The winery belongs to Larry Stricker, an architect of resort hotels, who since 1990 has bottled half the harvest, selling the rest of the grapes to well-known producers. The vineyard lies at 1,500-feet altitude. This chardonnay, now three years old, exhibits lovely balance and integration; it’s taut with shimmering acidity yet generously supple, almost silky, almost talc-like. Pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors are permeated by wood-land spices that hint at smoke and pomander buoyed by the limestone and lime peel effect, and while the wine fills the mouth it also displays remarkable delicacy, as well as, from mid-palate back through the finish, an element of scintillating limestone-like minerality. The wine was barrel-fermented, aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels, and did not go through malolactic. The real deal, radiant with the purity and intensity and the hard-earned structure of high-elevation grapes. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $25, a Fine Value.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Real power and presence and impeccable tone, from Robert Craig’s vineyard, planted in 1990 at 1,800-feet elevation. Intense and concentrated notes of black currants and plums are woven with cedar and sage and hints of lead pencil and bitter chocolate; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of mulberry and smoke. The wine is a blend of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 12 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec; it aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new. The result is a cabernet that’s superbly proportioned, deep and resonant, with an oak presence that’s insistent without being aggressive. Tannins are sleek and finely-milled, and they permeate, with their infinitesimal sifting, every molecule of ripe and spicy black currants and black raspberry flavors, all chiming with the tracery of whip-lash acidity. Yeah, this is good. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 846 cases. Drink from 2012 or ’13 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $70.
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Godspeed Vineyards Trinity 2005, Napa Valley, and Godspeed Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. The Trinity 05 is a whole-hearted, two-fisted blend of 42 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent malbec and 33 percent syrah; it carries a Napa Valley designation because only 67 percent of the grapes — the cabernet and malbec — come from Mount Veeder, the syrah deriving from the Oak Knoll district on the valley floor. This is about structure now, being a tightly woven fabric of wheatmeal and walnut-shell, dried porcini, graphite and iron that allows a glimmer of intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and mulberry fruit, tinged with dried spices and mocha, to shine through. The immense tannins, dense and fine-grained, need several years to soften, so try this from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Production was 600 cases. Very Good+ with the potential for an Excellent rating. About $40.

A bit more accessible is the Godspeed Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Mount Veeder, a 100 percent cabernet wine. Classic touches of cedar and black olive, bay leaf and sage are etched with traces of spicy black currants, black cherries and plums. This is a real mouthful of wine, characterized by scintillating acidity and shale-like minerality and by layers of leather and moss, dried porcini and fruitcake, iron and iodine. You could happily and, I hope, thoughtfully, drink this wine with a steak tonight or cellar it to try from 2014 to 2020. Alcohol content is 14.1. Production was 250 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Fontanelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. The blend is 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 9 percent merlot; the wine aged 21 months in French oak, 80 percent new, and it soaked up that oak like a sponge and turned it into a thing of sleekness, suavity and inherent suppleness. The color is deep purple-black; aromas of very intense and concentrated cassis, black cherry, plums, lavender and potpourri, cedar, fennel and black olives circle a packed core of briers and brambles, iron and iodine, all accumulating in an extraordinary bouquet. For a cabernet that’s drenched in dry, foresty, granite-tinged tannins, this displays amazing succulence and richness of ripe and spicy black currants and plums with, deep down, like some dark bell-tone, a note of blueberry tart. Mainly, however, the Fontanelle Cabernet 08 is for now a wine for tremendous structural integrity and gravity, and while it could doubtless be served tonight with a veal chop grilled with rosemary and garlic, it also doubtlessly would benefit from a few years in the cellar, for drinking perhaps from 2013 or ’14 through 2020 to ’24. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. 750 cases were made. Exceptional. About $52. If you are a collector or at least a devotee of Napa cabernets, this remarkable quality at such a price represents a bargain compared to the $150 to $300 that the Big Name Cult Cabernets command, so in that sense, it’s Worth a Search.
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Y. Rousseau “Le Roi Soleil” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Rousseau’s “Le Roi Soleil” 08 is a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged 18 months in French oak, 70 percent new barrels. The vineyard, at 1,800 feet elevation, is sustainably farmed. The color is dark ruby with a magenta rim; aromas of cassis drenched with graphite, blueberries, smoke, cedar and dried thyme are intense and concentrated yet totally seductive. Black and blue fruit flavors tinged with mulberry, bitter chocolate and lavender are cushioned by dry, dusty, finely-milled tannins and burnished oak for an impression that’s suave and sleek yet powerful and resonant, even a little unyielding. Some foresty, brushy austerity on the finish dictates a year or two in the cellar — or that box in your coat closet — for trying from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. 109 cases were made. Excellent. About $65.
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Hélène and David Barrault bought Chateau Tire Pé, in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region, in 1997. The couple had no experience growing grapes or making wine, and their families were not involved in those trades either, so by what means except trial and error and hard work and luck did David Barrault manage to produce that rarity in Bordeaux — Bordeaux the encompassing idea and Bordeaux the specific A.O.C. — a 100 percent malbec wine which to describe I am now overdrawn at the bank of the word “beautiful.” It sells in the United States for $25 to $28.

The central part of the house was built in the 1750s; identical perpendicular wings were added soon after. It’s a large but simple two-story edifice, plain and dignified, a sort of glorified farmstead; its rosy salmon colored plaster reflects the early morning and late afternoon sun with a confidential glow. The view from the long wide knoll upon which it stands, 80 meters above the Garonne river, provides a spectacular panorama of the countryside.

The couple converted one wing of the chateau to bed and breakfast accommodations in 2007, a practice that many of the old properties in Bordeaux are taking up, for the same reason that the grand manor houses of England nowadays often include petting zoos and miniature railroads; bills must be paid, banks must be satisfied. The artistic Hélène Barrault designed the labels for Tire Pe’s wine bottles, she makes and glazes pottery, and she decorated, if her elegant intuition allows that word, the three B&B rooms and the downstairs kitchen-parlor in a spare, timeless manner that evokes an ideal of childhood country life, a kind of austere yet inevitable Eden, well, if the WiFi connection were more reliable and if towels were delivered in a more timely fashion. Still, if the proximity of ancient beamed ceilings and the soft luminosity of ambient light in wooden cupboards send you into a nostalgic dither — guilty as charged! — this is the place for you.

The estate’s vineyards slope in well-tended rows down the hills from the focal point of the chateau. Cultivation is along sustainable practices, with no chemical fertilizers or herbicides. The production varies from 40,000 to 50,000 bottles a year — about 3,300 to 4,160 cases annually — of which more than half is sent to the U.S., imported principally by Jenny & François Selections in New York. Barrault, seen in this photograph, allows natural yeasts to start fermentation and limits the use of new oak to 10 to 12 percent, “depending on the vintage, never more.” He employs a few Bordelaise barrels (the standard 225-liter or 59-gallon size) but also 400-, 500-, and 600-liter French barrels “with little toast,” he said, “or between medium and low.” Chateau Tire Pé’s wines carry a Bordeaux designation (and, yes, I promise that I’m preparing a post about the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur A.O.C.s. Soon, maybe not tomorrow, but soon …)

Here are quick evaluations of the wines:

*) Chateau Tire Pé Diem 2010. The estate’s basic wine, 100 percent merlot from young vines; no oak, aging six months in concrete vats. Bright, ripe and vibrant; black currants, blueberries and mulberries; lively, dense and chewy, touches of briers and walnut shell; great presence, personality and length for the price. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $8 in the U.S., said Barrault, so let’s say under $10, and even if it were a few dollars more it would represent Great Value.

*) Chateau Tire Pé 2009. This is also merlot, made from older vines with lower yields; it spent one and a half years in concrete vats. There’s more acidity here, more structure, more grip, grit and give, more sense of earthy, graphite-like minerality and briers and brambles; this is quite dry, yet very ripe, wild almost, bursting with notes of blueberry and mulberry lashed with dense, chewy yet supple tannins. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the coals. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, perhaps $14 depending on the state. Another Terrific Bargain.

*) Chateau Tire Pé La Côte 2007 is a blend of 60 percent merlot and 40 percent cabernet franc; it was fermented in concrete vats and aged in barrels. The year was not an easy one, but Barrault liked it; “it made me pay attention,” he said, “and make progress in my job.” As winemakers say, you delight in the easy vintages and learn from the hard ones. The most rustic of the Tire Pé wines, La Côte 07 is very earthy, loamy and mossy, with tremendous tannic grip and almost fierce acidity bolstering intense and concentrated flavors of deeply spicy black currants and blueberries. A wine to chew on with braised short ribs or venison and best from 2012 to 2015 or ’16. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

*) Barrault is justly proud of his 100 percent malbec wine. Chateau Tire Pé Les Malbecs 2009 is frankly riveting in its seductive mulberry-magenta color; its beguiling aromas of blueberries, briery black currants, crushed violets and gravel; its combination of dusty-mossy-graphite tinged depth (there’s a touch of intense bitter chocolate and lavender there) and paradoxically balletic, elevating acidity and spice. A warm, stylish and immensely appealing expression of the malbec grape that doesn’t sacrifice structure for accessibility. Best from 2012 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25 to $28.


When you’re on a wine tour, you never know what the next visit is going to bring. On our schedule for the last day of this trip to Entre-Deux-Mers, the entry said merely: “9h30 – 11h00 — Visit Chateau L’Escart in Saint-Loubés with Damien Laurent.” Sounds pretty low-key, but we had a terrific time at Chateau L’Escart and encountered the two wines mentioned in the title of this post, which are available in the U.S. but with geographical limitations.

The chateau, built in 1752, sits in the middle of the village of Saint-Loubés. It’s not a true mansion — we saw some of those — being more of a large and refined stone farmhouse whose center block holds the family quarters — strewn when we visited with children’s toys and scooters — and whose wings encompass barrel-aging rooms and other winemaking necessities. As you can see from the aerial photograph, the estate includes various other outbuildings and sheds, a small park and then the vineyards beyond. Proprietor and seventh generation winemaker Damien Laurent is personable and articulate and clearly loves his work. “Wine is human,” he said, as we sat outside tasting through the wines of Chateau L’Escart, “vineyards, soil, what goes on around here. You cannot sit down for an hour and get the whole picture. It’s more complicated. We don’t have the same tools as the big chateaux. We are small. I am on the tractor. I’m in the tank room, on the phone, I sell the wines. We do it all alone.” And then — because the day feels perfect and the harvest is almost complete — “September is the tender month. I love September. It’s beautiful.”

Chateau L’Escart produces about 220,000 bottles annually — French winemakers always speak in terms of bottles — which means about 18,330 cases. A whopping 80 percent of that wine is exported, to Canada, Australia, the United States, Belgian and, inevitably, China, a huge wine-thirsty country of increasing importance to French producers of any size because there are too many people making wine in the country and more wine than French (or European) consumers can absorb. The output at L’Escart is overwhelmingly red, based on merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; a mere 5,000 bottles of white are made, “a warm-up,” Laurent said, “for the reds.” The appellations are Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur (about which more soon).

The estate is run on organic principles, with explorations into biodynamic methods, though Laurent insisted that he is skeptical of some of the biodynamic movements more esoteric practices.

First on the roster of wines we tasted was the basic-level Chateau Bergey 2009, Bordeaux, a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and
40 percent merlot that sees no oak. (Estates in Bordeaux often bottle their various grades of wine under different chateau labels.) The color is a lovely cerise-magenta, and the aromas are an exquisite weaving of potpourri, lavender, graphite, black currants and blueberries, with touches of wild raspberries, cedar and tobacco. This displays real grip and presence, with vivid acidity, a penetrating mineral quality, plenty of earthy tannins and round, spicy black fruit flavors. Why do wineries in California so rarely deliver such quality for the price? Very Good and perhaps even very Good+. “The price is the U.S. is about $8,” said Laurent, “certainly under $10.” If you live in New York, North Carolina or Texas, run, do not walk, to the nearest retail store and browbeat your friendly wine merchant into procuring this for your house red. Great Value.

But — always a “but” — even better at not much more cost is the Chateau L’Escart Cuvée Eden 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, a blend of 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent malbec from 35 to 45-year-old vines. This is the wine, frankly, that made my colleagues and I cast sidelong glances at each other, giving the nod with raised eyebrows and mouthing the syllable “Whoa!” Here, at an irresistible price range, is a wine of lovely balance and integration, with all elements working in harmony. There’s plenty of tannin, of course, plenty of the gritty briery-minerally-earthy elements we expect from the clay-and-limestone soil that nurtured these grapes — and don’t forget that 2009 was a superb year in Bordeaux — and yet there’s also a surprising sense of delicacy and refinement, along with a factor of resonance that has to be called confidence; the wine is packed with ripe, slightly macerated black currant and black cherry flavors bolstered by taut acidity and permeated by dense spice and chewy tannins. It will drink nicely through 2014 or ’15. Definitely Very Good+ and another Great Value at $13 to $15.

The next step up for Chateau L’Escart is the Omar Khayam label, introduced with the 1998 vintage. The connection is that the great Persian poet, Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), was a mathematician as well as a poet and astronomer, and Damien Laurant’s father was also a mathematician; each vintage of the wine, a beverage about which the poet was fond of writing, features a different verse. The grapes for the Omar Khayam label, as it’s spelled, derive from 50 to 60-year-old vines; the wines age in all new oak barrels from 16 to 18 months. About 830 cases are made, depending on what the year allows. The blend changes but is dominated by cabernet sauvignon. The appellation is Bordeaux Supérieur. We tried the 2009, the 2004 and 2003. The 2009 version is well-balanced and integrated for being so young and being influenced by new oak; it would be best from 2013 through 2020 or ’22. The ’04 was smoother and riper, more fleshy and meaty, with spiced and macerated black fruit scents and flavors supported by sufficiently lively acidity and dense tannins; it’s a warm, spicy, earthy wine for drinking through 2015 or ’16. From the extremely hot year of 2003, Omar Khayam offers fleshy and roasted black and red fruit, heaps of graphite and gritty tannins but feels a bit hollow in the middle and finish, lacking the balance of the ’09 and ’04, which I would rate Excellent, while the ’03 would rate Very Good. The price is about $35.

The last wine was the estate’s top-of-the-line Agape 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur, a 100 percent cabernet sauvignon that aged 15 months in new Burgundy barrels (which are slightly larger than the standard 225-liter or 59-gallon Bordeaux barrel.) Not marketed in the U.S., the wine is certainly well-made for the type but at $50 a bottle seems no more interesting or compelling than hundreds of similar wines made all over the world.

Today’s a twofer in this 900th post on BTYH, a rosé wine and a red that will serve you well throughout this week.

These were samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the FCC.
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First is the versatile Clayhouse Adobe Pink 2010, Central Coast, a blend of 38 percent mourvèdre grapes, 32 percent syrah and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes derive from the Red Cedar Vineyard, an estate property of Middleton Family Wines outside Paso Robles. This rosé is not made in the saignée method of bleeding off lightly colored juice from the vat of red grapes after crush but before fermentation; it is, instead, produced as if it were a white wine, the grapes gently pressed and taken off the skins after just enough contact, in this case, to lend the wine a lovely, glowing coppery-melon color. Twenty-three percent of the wine aged two months in what are called neutral oak barrels, that is, barrels previously used for aging wine so that they no longer impart a dominating woody, spicy element. Enough with the technicalities! The Clayhouse Adobe Pink 2010 offers a delightful bouquet of strawberries and watermelon, with dried red currants and pomegranate in the background. A touch of rhubarb comes into play among the strawberry and melon flavors, with a slight briery element and hints of dried herbs and damp limestone. The finish, buoyed by crisp acidity and that limestone element, offers a bit of silky sweetness. This one goes down all too easily, and I mean that in the best sense. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this as aperitif and with a vegetarian pasta dish; it would also be appropriate with omelets, seafood salads and fried chicken. 450 cases. Very Good+. About $15.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The red is the Colomé Estate Malbec 2009, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Argentina, a blend that to 85 percent malbec grapes adds 8 percent tannat, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent each syrah and petit verdot; that’s what you call fine tuning. One-fifth of the grapes came from vineyards that at 50 to — are you ready? — 150 years old truly qualify for the status of Old Vines. The vineyards of Bodega Colomé lie at elevations from 5,500 to 8,500 feet, qualifying for among the highest, if not the highest, vineyards in the world. As for aging, the wine matured 15 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I’ll come right out and say that this is a pretty darned special malbec. It’s deep and rich and full-bodied, though its power is nicely muted by a welcome sense of spareness and reticence, so it’s juicy, but not jammy. The color is dark ruby, fairly opaque at the center, and with a violet rim. Aromas of black currants and blackberries and a touch of mulberry are woven with lavender and licorice, sandalwood and cloves and a whiff of mocha. Plums enter the equation amongst a flavor range of blackberry, blueberry and fruitcake, threaded with brambles, underbrush and slightly earthy graphite-like minerality. Tannins feel well-honed and knit, almost obligingly holding themselves back from full-throttle power, while the finish brings in elements of dried spice a bit of austerity. Director of winemaking for Colomé is Randle Johnson. We drank this with pork chops dusted with ground cumin and chili powder, seared with garlic and lime juice, and then roasted for 10 minutes, sprinkled with chopped cilantro and served with roasted sweet potato “fries.” All good, all the time. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $25
Imported by The Hess Collection, Napa, Ca.
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I like the straightforward presentation: The Malbec 2009 of Ricardo Santos. No flim-flam, no artsy-craftsy coyness, no high-falutin’ folderol. Just the facts, ma’am. And at a time when malbec is becoming a little meh in its effectiveness as the so-called great red grape of Argentina and the phrase “the grape they do best in Argentina” is justly disappearing from the Arsenal of Formulaic Wine Terms, this one comes as a treat; it’s a malbec that actually tastes like something in itself and not as an imitation cabernet sauvignon or merlot, whatever the hell merlot might be at the moment. El Malbec 2009 de Ricardo Santos, La Madras Vineyard, Mendoza — the vineyard is at 2,800 feet elevation — aged six months in French and American oak barrels, just enough time to lend the wine some shape and resonance without tainting it with woody notions. The color is vivid dark ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; aromas of black currants, mulberries and blueberries beguile the nose even as they take on muscular strains of cedar, tobacco and tar. The wine is a little sappy, mossy and smoky, both in nose and mouth, robust without being rustic, vibrant with clean acidity that enlivens ripe, spicy black and blue fruit flavors. Earthy and slightly leathery tannins are nicely round and chewy and a little dusty, while the texture is vibrant, lithe, sinuous; a touch of violets and graphite animates the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13 with grilled pork chops with a spicy dry-rub, barbecue brisket, carne asada or just a good old medium-rare steak. Very Good+. About $19

Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Ca. A sample for review.

In honor of tomorrow’s Mother’s Day celebration, I offer notes on a quartet of inexpensive or reasonably priced sparkling wines — not that the worth of our mothers is to be calculated in dollars but, rather, in tears and joy — that will bring a little lift to the occasion of a lunch or dinner, a party or reception. The style and tone of each of these is different and capable of creating its own mood. There’s still time to hie thyself to a wine store and pick up a bottle or two for the sake of maternal love and obligation. These were samples for review. Image from armymomhaven.com
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The Caposaldo Prosecco from Italy’s Veneto region is an exhilarating Prosecco — the name of the grape and the wine — that sports a very pale straw/gold color and a seething plethora of tiny glinting bubbles. Caposaldo Prosecco is fresh, clean and lively, with whole shoals of limestone and steel buttressing notes of almond and almond blossom, orange rind and lemon and a delicate hint of pear. Heaps of vitality and energy, currents of crisp acidity, very dry, with a pert, stony finish. Quite charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ About $14, representing Good Value.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
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The unusual blend of the Trapiche Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina, is 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent semillon and 10 percent malbec. Made in the Charmat method of second fermentation in tank, this sparkling wine offers a radiant light gold color and an entrancing bouquet of dry, dusty acacia and and sweet, honeyed jasmine, orange zest, green apple and roasted lemon. This sparkler is very dry, brightly crisp and delicate, in fact downright elegant, as if its lustrous limestone-damp shale minerality were etched to transparency with silver leaf. Notes of citrus and toasted almond reveal a hint of something spicy, wild, leafy and tropical in the background, a tiny element of unexpected and intriguing exuberance, as well as a bit of buttered toast. How could Mom not love it? 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the past six months with consistent results.)
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Made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes in the champagne method, the JJ Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne delivers a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles in a very pale straw color with a slight greenish tint. This is incredibly clean and crisp and lively, with vivid acidity and scintillating lemon-lime and limestone elements (and a hint of green apple) carried by a texture that’s paradoxically crisp yet almost creamy. Though the wine is close to austere in its resolute limestone and chalk-like minerality, it’s saved from being daunting by a suave, elegant tone, refreshing lemony fruit highlighted by touches of ginger and spice (and, I suppose, everything nice) and a trace of sweet floral nature. Delightful but with a slightly serious edge. 12 percent alcohol. So close to Excellent, but still Very Good+. About $20.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y.
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The Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé is made in the champagne method from pinot noir grapes grown in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region.
This is lovely, charming and elegant. The color is lightly tarnished copper over silver salmon scale; the foaming surge of tiny flecking bubbles is deliriously mesmerizing. First one sniffs smoke, red raspberry and dried red currants; then come orange rind, a touch of lime sherbet, melon ball and a slight yeasty, bready element. The wine is crisp, dry, lively, clean and fresh, a tissue of delicacies that add up to a supple, engaging structure — close to sassy yet almost creamy — buoyed by an increasingly prominent limestone minerality. The finish brings in hints of cloves and pomegranate and a smooth conjunction where limestone turns into damp shale, and a final winsome whiff of rose and lilac. 11.5 percent alcohol. Bound to be a crowd-pleaser. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookfield, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the last six months with consistent results.)
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Back in October, I wrote about the chardonnay wines of Catena Zapata, an estate, in Mendoza, Argentina, far better known for its red wines made primarily from malbec and cabernet sauvignon grapes. Today, finally, it’s the turn of those red wines. Every detail of production is overseen by Nicolás Catena and his daughter Laura Catena, while the chief winemaker is Alejandro Vigil.

These products of Catena Zapata are imported by Winebow Inc., New York. I tasted them at the Mayan-style winery — why Mayan in Argentina? — on Oct. 11, 2010.
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The Catena Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, offers an intense ruby red-cranberry color and vivid aromas of red and black cherries, red and black currants, lavender and licorice and a high note of wild berry. The wine aged 16 months in 85 percent French oak barrels (30 percent new) and 15 percent American oak, and you feel the tug of that oak in some austerity through the finish, but what mainly impresses is this cabernet’s sleek, polished character, its spicy juicy black fruit flavors and its dense, chewy texture that nicely balances plushness with some structural rigor. Grapes for the wine come from vineyards at elevations of 3100 feet, 3700 feet and 3870 feet. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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The Catena Malbec 2008, Mendoza, delivers a smashingly authentic expression of the grape. The color is dark ruby; black currant and plum aromas are permeated by notes of cedar and tobacco, black olive and tomato skin, a dry, earthy brier-and-bramble-like effect. To the black currant and plum flavors is added a touch of blueberry tart, while the spicy oak is almost creamy. (The regimen is slightly different from the process with the Cabernet Sauvignon 2008; here it’s 16 months in 70 percent French barrels, 20 percent new, and 30 percent American oak.) Don’t let that quiver of creaminess and tart throw you off, however; the wine is taut and vibrant, highlighted by keen acidity, and overall beautifully balanced. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $20-$22.
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The “Alta” wines represent a more rigorous grape selection from particular vineyard lots, longer maceration of the grapes and more exposure to oak, for the red wines 18 to 24 months in French barrels, 70 percent of which are new. The Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Mendoza, derives half from La Piramide, at 3100 feet, and half from Domingo, at 3700 feet. This wine just smolders in the glass; my first note is “Wow!” Imagine freshly ground Tellicherry and Szechuan pepper combined with cloves and allspice, dried ancho chiles and bitter chocolate, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants and a strain of licorice and lavender and you get some idea of the immense seductive power this wine embodies, both in nose and mouth. Yes, there’s succulence here, but the wine manages to be as graceful as it is lush, as elegant as it is dynamic, and the many dimensions of polished oak and dense chewy tannins that characterize its structure are finely-knit and well-balanced. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $50.
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I found the Catena Alta Malbec 2007, Mendoza, a little unresolved; perhaps two or three years aging will bring it more into equilibrium. I was surprised that this malbec was both more plush and voluptuous than its cabernet sauvignon cousin from 2007 but more austere, more leathery and minerally in the granite and graphite-like sense. Try from 2013 or ’14 to 2017 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Very Good+. About $50.
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The single-vineyard Catena Zapata label and the Nicolas Catena Zapata are the estate’s flagship wines. They age 24 months in 100 percent new French oak. The grapes for the Catena Zapata Malbec Nicasia 2007 derive from the Nicasia vineyard (named for Nicolas Catena’s grandmother) which lies at 3870 feet above sea level. The bouquet is a deliriously attractive amalgam of elderberry, mulberry and blueberry that segues to black currants and plums infused with cedar and tobacco, spice-box and spice-cake, hints of roses and lilacs, smoke, ash and leather. Unabashedly gorgeous, yes, and the black and blue fruit flavors are lip-smackin’ ripe and delicious, but fortunately the high sensual quotient is leavened by not just dense, not just chewy but almost thick, grainy tannins and a profound mineral quality that dictate years of aging, as in trying from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Unless, of course, you wanted to open such a wine tonight with a medium-rare ribeye steak or rosemary-and-garlic studded leg of lamb hot and crusty from the grill. Production was 350 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $120.
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Even better, to this palate, is the Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna 2007, Mendoza, a wine that subsumes any showiness or bravado to its important work of revealing the inherent structure that vineyard, grapes and oak aging impose. Adrianna is the highest of the Catena vineyards in elevation, reaching up to 5000 feet above sea-level; yep, that’s close to a mile. That high, rock-ribbed austere nature is preeminently manifest in this wine of towering ambition, confidence and power; the combination of almost giddy verve and brooding dignity satisfies in the same way that sitting in the seat of a fabulous automobile and closing the door with a self-sufficient, whispered “thunk” brings balm to the troubled spirit. And yet how deftly, even gracefully, the wine offers its myriad dimensions and details, its subtleties and nuances. I’ll venture out to the end of a limb here and say that the Catena Zapata Malbec Adrianna is the best expression of the malbec grape made in the world. 350 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Drink from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $120.
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Yet I could not cotton to the uncharacteristically over-the-top Nicolas Catena Zapata 2007, Mendoza, with 65 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 35 percent malbec the only blended wine in the Catena Zapata roster. The color is very dark purple, almost black, and the bouquet is a seething cauldron of licorice and lavender, mulberry and blackberry jam, lilac, and, I swear, a touch of super-ripe zinfandel-like boysenberry. This is an incredibly rich and succulent wine, which, thank goodness, possesses the heaps of graphite and lead pencil and shale, scintillating acidity and dense, dusty, chewy tannins to keep it from being shameless. This is the most “Californian” of these red wines. 3,000 cases. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Very Good+. About $120.

On this occasion we also tasted a barrel sample of the Nicolas Catena Zapata 2009, which will be released in the Fall of 2012. A blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent malbec, this deep, dark, truculent wine was very intense and concentrated, quite austere and even astringent in its rip-roaring tannins and spicy, woody oak element. Long life ahead here, and I suspect that once the wine is released that it will be more to my liking than its cousin from 2007.
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Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
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“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9” pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)
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“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
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Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.
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The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.
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I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.
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Looking for a hearty, sinewy red wine to sip along with this Pork Chile Verde, its spicy, savory qualities deepened with a dollop of red ancho chile sauce, I opened a bottle of the Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. Ah, yes, this worked. Actually, I was eating a bowl of the leftover chili for lunch; the night before, the first serving, we drank beer. The recipe is in the February issue of Bon Appétit, the “new” Bon Appétit relocated to New York from Los Angeles and under completely different editorial staff. Making the dish is one of those kitchen-wreckers, but it turned out great. You do, for example, have to use the processor to make the green sauce (tomatillos, green onions, cilantro, garlic and chicken broth) and then wash the container and so on to make the red sauce (which is toasted dried ancho chilies and toasted garlic with fillips of honey and cinnamon; talk about power and intensity). I’ll probably make this again when cold weather rolls around in the Fall, but I’m looking forward to lighter dishes over the next few months. There exists a great deal of controversy about the spellings of chili and chile, with national and regional variations and a plethora of stylebooks and grammar guides lending weight to their often contradictory favorites. Bon Appétit spelled the dish “chili” but the pepper “chile,” hence the name “Pork Chile Verde” refers to the sauce, not the concoction, as least by their lights. I think.

Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008 is a blend of 50 percent malbec grapes, 40 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent tannat, the latter a grape of midnight hue and rough-shod tannins primarily associated with Madiran, in southwest France, but making headway in Uruguay and showing promise in Argentina. The grapes for Septima Gran Reserva ’08 derive from vineyards ranging from 2,800 feet to 3,600 feet above sea level, and you feel the high altitude gravity of gravelly depth in the wine’s robust structure. The wine ages 12 months in used French oak barrels. This opens slowly, with a deep brooding of briers and brambles, earth, forest and walnut shell, gradually unfurling notes of mulberry and plum, red currants and cranberry and intenser hints of bitter chocolate, tar, fruit cake and (yes) dried ancho chile. In the mouth, for all its vigorously dense tannins and graphite-like minerality, the wine is remarkably fresh, clean and lively, spurred by spanking acidity and luscious red and black fruit flavors that yield, over a few minutes, beguiling undercurrents of mint, lavender and potpourri. I kept going back for another sniff, another sip, as the wine developed in the glass and added both the dimension of heft and proportion and the finely etched details of fruit, spices and flowers. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $25.

Bodega Septima is part of the international Codorníu Group; imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland. A sample for review.

Yes, you read that title correctly: WineS of the Week, as in a white and a red. I don’t promise to offer you two wines every week, but it worked out nicely for this week because of the wines and because of what we ate on succeeding nights. These wines were samples for review.
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First, the white. One of our favorite chardonnays from California is Morgan Winery’s Metallico Unoaked Chardonnay, and for 2009 the wine doesn’t disappoint. Metallico 09, Monterey Country, is utterly appealing in its freshness, its clarity and pure chardonnay presence. Scents of lemon with hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm are wreathed with touches of quince and ginger and a high note of honeysuckle; underlying this parade of delights is a scintillating layer of damp limestone. Exquisite balance among racy, tingling acidity, a texture that’s moderately lush without being too soft and juicy, spicy, mineral-laced citrus-drenched flavors imparts not just enjoyment but a sense of authenticity and craftsmanship. It’s a wine that gives a great deal of pleasure, but you don’t quaff it carelessly. Now through 2012. Production was 3,800 cases. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $20.

I had purchased two beautiful fillets of swordfish at Whole Foods, each about 10 ounces. For a dinner that came together rapidly, we marinated the swordfish in white wine, fresh sage, orange juice (and a few segments of the orange), garlic and flat-leaf parsley. Quartered some small potatoes, boiled them and then roasted them under the broiler. Chopped, blanched and sauteed broccoli rabe. LL seared the swordfish at high heat in the trusty old cast-iron skillet and used the marinade to make a reduction for a sauce. The result — delicious in every respect — is illustrated in the accompanying image. The Morgan Metallico 09 and the dish were perfect together.
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For Saturday’s Pizza and Movie Night — we watched “Wild Grass,” directed by Alain Resnais — I opened a bottle of the Amalaya 2009, a blend of 75 percent malbec grapes, 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and syrah and 5 percent tannat. The latter is a grape grown principally in the southwest wine regions of France, such as Madiran and Irouléguy, and in South America, where producers in Uruguay have a particular liking for it. Amalaya is produced in the Calchaqui Valley in Argentina’s Salta region, where the vineyards lie at Andean altitudes from 5,250 to 5,580 feet; that’s right, some of these vines are cultivated at more than a mile above sea level. Bodega y Estancia Colomé, which makes Amalaya, among other labels, was founded in 1831 and is the oldest winery in Argentina. It was owned for 170 years by the Isasmendi-Dávalos family; Hess Family Estates acquired the estate in 2001.

Amalaya 2009 offers a rich, spicy bouquet of ripe black currants and blueberries permeated by bell pepper and black olive with whiffs of cedar, tobacco and thyme. While the wine is smooth and mellow and balanced, it hints at something untamed in its dark berryish quality, its slightly exotic, peppery spice and briery-brambly elements. Eighty percent of the wine is aged in tank, which lends freshness, and the rest in French oak for 10 months, developing a sense of spaciousness in the structure. The wine is robust without being rustic and almost plush in its finely-milled tannins, though keen acidity keeps the enterprise lively and drinkable. 10,000 cases were imported by The Hess Collection Winery, Napa, Cal. Alcohol is 14 percent. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $17.

About a month ago, I started roasted tomatoes for the pizza. Depending on the variety and size of the tomatoes, I halve or quarter them, douse them with olive oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper and dried thyme, marjoram and oregano, and slide them under the broiler. I like them to wilt a little and get a touch black around the edges, so they retain juiciness and flavor. When they’re out of the oven, it’s easy to strip off the skin. I’ve also been giving the pizzas a foundation of black olive tapenade and basil pesto, each drawn in an X-shape on the rolled-out dough. Then thinly-sliced rounds of green pepper; the tomatoes (not too many); diced green onion; chopped bacon (fried while the tomatoes are roasting); a little more thyme, marjoram and oregano; mozzarella and grated Parmesan. Keep it simple is my mantra. These have been great pizzas, some of the best of my pizza-making career. Amalaya 2009 is just the kind of flavorful, spicy, well-structured wine that goes with them best.
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