Merlot



Pay attention, Readers. These are wines to buy by the case for drinking anywhere from the next year to three or four years from now. At these prices, you can afford them. Four of these are French, one Spanish and one Argentine; in the grape categories, they are completely various and diverse. Three are white, three red. What they share is attractiveness, appeal and accessibility. They are widely available. No technical data or historical or geographical information; the Friday Wine Sips are designed to give you quick insight into a wine’s character. These wines are imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, in Winchester, Va., at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
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Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux de Languedoc, France. 12.5% alc. 100% picpoul grapes, aka folle blanche. A perennial fave on BTYH. Savory and spicy, bursting with sunlight and sea-breeze and scintillating limestone and shale elements; roasted lemon and lime peel, touches of thyme, fennel and lilac; dry, delicate, evanescent yet with real substance. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $12.
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D. Coussergues Chardonnay Viognier 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. 60% chardonnay/40% viognier. Very pretty wine; pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh and floral (honeysuckle, camellia); lemon-lime and hint of grapefruit; touch of viognier’s inherent waxiness and honeyed richness; but very dry, vibrant with crisp acidity, a stones-and-bones finish. Delightful. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Nuna Torrontes Reserve 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 100% torrontes grapes. Lovely white with a touch of austerity for balance; hints of almonds, jasmine and honeysuckle; roasted lemon and pear, very shapely, round yet breached by taut acidity and limestone minerality; quite dry, gets more spare, almost elegant through the finish. Through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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El Cortijillo Tempranillo 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 12.5% alcohol. 100% tempranillo grapes. All freshness, brightness and immediate appeal; red cherries and currants and touch of blueberries, hint of dried spices; undertow of briers and brambles, dry grainy tannins slip-slidy with velvety texture and clean acidity. Have a spare rib lying around? A lamb chop? Simple, direct, tasty. Very Good+. About $12.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents 2010, Corbieres, France. 13.5% alc. 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Another BTYH fave. Bright, clean, very appealing; scents and flavors of spiced and roasted black currants and blueberries infused with smoke and minerals; wild, pungent and peppery, dusty briers, brambles and underbrush, great for everyday drinking. Through 2013, with pork chops, meatball sandwiches and the ilk. Very Good +. About $12.
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Chateau Bellevue 2009, Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 65% merlot, 35% cabernet franc. You feel both the balance and the slight tug of each grape; dark ruby color; black currants and cherries, touch of mulberries; thyme and black olive, graphite and cedar; plush texture leavened by the seriousness of oak and fairly dense tannins with brisk acidity keeping the package fresh and lively. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17.
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How often does one get to try what is commonly regarded as New Zealand’s greatest wine? Not often, I would say, and certainly not in my case. What is that wine? Hint: It ain’t sauvignon blanc.

I was at a meeting last week of a new board for the glossy year-old local wine magazine Cork It! Memphis, and of course people on the board of a wine magazine would bring wine to the meeting, n’est-ce pas? I took a bottle of the Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2007, a wine transcending to a state of beautiful pure minerality. Enough of that though, because another member of the board brought the Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. That’s right, 1998. Where do people get these wines?

The Hawkes Bay wine region (without an apostrophe) occupies a semi-circle of geography around Hawke’s Bay in the southeast area of New Zealand’s North Island. Muddying the waters, however, the Hawkes Bay wine region is sometimes also written with an apostrophe, so if you are the kind of person who gets Stag’s Leap, Stags’ Leap and Stags Leap mixed up, you’ll be right at home here. Though the region is the oldest wine-producing area of New Zealand — the first winery was established there in 1851 — and home now to about 75 wineries, that’s a recent development, in vinous terms; even in the early 1970s, there were fewer than 10.

The winery dates back to 1896 and was acquired by present owner John Buck in 1974. Launched in 1982, Coleraine was made from a single vineyard until 1988; since that vintage, it has been made from parcels of vines in other Te Mata estate vineyards but with the preponderance of the cabernet sauvignon coming from the original Coleraine Vineyard.

Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent merlot. The wine aged 20 months in French oak barriques. The estate’s website touts Coleraine as a 10 to 15-year wine, and I would say that at the age of 14 it’s definitely fully mature and will remain on this plateau for another four to six years. The wine — this bottle, anyway — was as smooth and mellow as you could ask a cabernet/merlot blend to be, with richness and succulence defining the spicy, slightly macerated black currant and plum aromas and flavors, while structure was founded on depths of well-honed tannins and polished oak which, like the Holy Spirit, were everywhere present but nowhere visible. Beyond those factors was a permeation of earthy, graphite-like minerality and still vital (and essential) acidity that tied the wine together, both lively and grounded. Wines like Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998 exist on a plane of integrity, confidence and completeness all their own; when the opportunity to taste one comes along, take it and thank the people who can afford it and offered you a glass. I don’t mind being humble. Current vintage is 2010. Excellent. About $110.

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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After a career in the publishing business, John Shafer moved his family to the Napa Valley in 1972, purchasing a 210-acre estate — with 50 acres of vines — in what is now the Stags Leap District AVA, officially designated without an apostrophe. The first crush occurred in 1978. The winery’s vineyard property gradually increased to 205 acres, with 79 acres in Stags Leap, 60 acres just south of SLD in Napa Valley and 66 acres in Carneros. By variety, the breakdown is 97 acres devoted to caberet sauvignon (Napa’s great hero grape), 66 of chardonnay, 24 of syrah, 12 of merlot and 6 of petite sirah. John Shafer’s son Doug became winemaker in 1983; when he was elevated to company president in 1994, assistant winemaker Elias Fernandez became winemaker, a position he still fills today.

Shafer is one of Napa Valley’s elite wineries, and if California possessed a system similar to the classification of Bordeaux — don’t worry, that will never happen, at least not “officially” — it would certainly be listed among the First Growths. The commitment is to cabernet sauvignon, though forays into chardonnay and syrah have proved highly successful. The wines tend to see a boodle of new French oak, 100 percent new oak for some of the wines, but they seem to absorb that wood and make it an integral part of the package; I have never tasted a wine from Shafer tainted by the blatant, smoky vanilla qualities of new barrels. The winery is making an effort to enumerate more accurately the alcohol content of its wines, once listed as a blanket 14.8 percent. Since federal regulations allow a one-degree leeway, an indication of 14.8 percent could mean anywhere from 13.8 to 15.8. The degrees indicated now represent an attempt to tell consumers what they’re actually getting.

Tasted at a trade event.
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The Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, is an absolutely exquisite and classic representation of the grape. The wine aged 14 months in 75 percent new French oak barrels and 25 percent stainless steel tanks. Since it does not go through what’s called malolactic fermentation, the wine delivers a sense of grace, purity and intensity that does not involve the extraneous and often cloying creamy, dessert-like aspects that the process can produce (and which some wine publications unaccountably dote upon), while the oak influence is subtly revealed only in the wine’s sleekness and suppleness and its spicy nature. The color is pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit are tinged with quince and ginger and hints of cloves and limestone. In the mouth, ripe and spicy stone-fruit flavors are ensconced in a texture that’s almost lush and powdery, though balanced, indeed cut, by powerful limestone and flint minerality and the scintillating effect of crystalline acidity; tremendous presence, heft and tone, yet exquisitely drawn and finely detailed, right through the spare, elegant finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17, well-stored. Excellent. About $48.
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Sometimes I think that I would rather drink hot grease than another merlot from California, but then an example like the Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley, comes along to gladden my heart and make the world seem fit to live in. This is a merlot of jewel-like transparency, detail and definition; I mean, it feels effortless, though there’s nothing delicate or evanescent about it. (There’s 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec in the blend.) The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 75 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple; aromas of ripe and macerated mulberries, black raspberries and blueberries are highlighted by notes of rose petals and brambles, white pepper, bittersweet chocolate and penetrating graphite-like minerality. The heft and balance, the absolute confidence and insouciance of this merlot are truly lovely, though the wine does not neglect the important aspects of a rigorous tannin and acid structure that lends a sense of tension and grip. It you love merlot and sometimes despair of its fate, don’t fail to get a few bottles of this quite beautiful model. 15.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $48.
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You could call the Shafer Relentless 2008, Napa Valley, a blend of 75 percent syrah and 25 percent petite sirah, a blockbuster — I kept using the word tremendous in my notes — except that it displays so much finesse; its, um, tremendousness feels like an inextricable weaving of infinite strands of subtlety and nuance bound by, er, tremendously huge tannins and tautly wrought acidity. (The wine aged an astonishing 30 months in 100 percent French oak barrels.) The color is deep, dark ruby-purple; the bouquet bursts from the glass in a dynamic welter of black and blue plums, black currants and blueberries, mocha and black pepper, violets and lavender and the classic Northern Rhone notes of wet fur, tar and hot stones; if ever a bouquet could be called muscular, it’s this one. Still, for all its tannic and oaken power and its iron-like minerality (and shall we mention 15.6 percent alcohol content and the bravado ripeness of its black and blue fruit flavors?), the wine does not feel ponderous or overbearing; it takes a lot of skill and experience to assemble these components into a balanced, coherent wine that feels utterly faithful to its constituent grapes. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $60.
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The Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Stags Leap District — 98 percent cabernet with 2 percent petit verdot — offers a deep almost opaque purple color and burgeoning aromas of cassis and black raspberry, smoke, bittersweet chocolate, underbrush, iodine and iron. (This aged 20 months in 100 percent new French oak.) There’s a great deal of depth and grip and forceful tautness here, an energetic element that makes the wine lively and resonant — the tannins, at least, are finely milled, seeming well-oiled and seamless — yet of the five wines under review here, this is the one that feels the least integrated. Perhaps it’s simply the earthiest (I wouldn’t say rustic) and just needs a couple of years to come together, say 2014 to ’15 and then drinking until 2020 or so. 15.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $70.
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Shafer’s flagship wine is the Hillside Select, Stags Leap District, which for 2007, the 25th Anniversary vintage, brings together all the virtues of place and grape for a virtuoso performance. This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon; the wine aged 32 months in all new French oak barrels. Real weight, heft and substance here, stupendous earthy-granitic minerality, roiling acidity and deeply-rooted grainy tannins; this is not about elegance or finesse, but it is about power, balance and total integration of all elements into dynamic, resonant completion, the whole package feeling as if it had been lightly sanded and burnished. There’s some toughness here, too, dense, tense, a little truculent for the next few years, yet, paradoxically, the wine is almost voluptuous in texture, a fitting cushion for heady and penetrating qualities of ripe, bright cassis, black cherry and dark plum flavors. 15.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2025. Exceptional. About $225 (a bottle).
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Here’s a merlot wine that actually tastes like something distinctive and not a cadet version of cabernet sauvignon. (I realize that today is Wednesday, but we had internet problems after a storm Monday and I’m just back to the keyboard. I mean, Wednesday is a day of the week. And now LL and I are on vacation.)

The Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2009, Sonoma Valley, is a blend of 80 percent merlot, 14 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent each petit verdot and malbec; it aged 17 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent new. The upshot? A deep but radiant ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants and plums, with touches of blueberries and mulberries and back-notes of thyme and black olive, oolong tea and licorice and an even more exotic hint of sandalwood. The wine is smooth and mellow, packed with ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors with a hint of something deep and unfettered that lends a sense of exhilaration. Dense and polished tannins provide well-mannered support, as do vibrant acidity and an element of graphite-like minerality. The finish is long, lively and flavorful. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.


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 know, you’re thinking, “F.K., why don’t you just call this weekly series Saturday Wine Sips, since you seem to have so much trouble getting the thing written and posted on Friday?” Well, because Friday is the lead-in to the weekend, and I think of this series as brief reviews of wines My Readers would like to find for their weekend (moderate) drinking enjoyment. So I miss by a day here and there! So what!

A group of Italian wines today, whites and reds from Tuscany and Piedmont, including one of the best wines made from vermentino grapes that I have encountered; there’s also an excellent Dolcetto and Nebbiolo. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, even when I post on Saturday, I deliberately keep matters brief and decisive by striking to the heart of the thing and eliminating the usual data about history, specific geographical matters, winery personnel and so on. What you read is what you get. The Poggiotondo wines were samples for review; the others were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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La Scolca White Label Gavi 2010, Piedmont. 13% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale straw-gold color, faint green highlights; spiced lemon with a touch of lemon balm, hints of almond and almond blossom, peach and pear; crisp, lively, alert; pleasing texture infused with limestone-and-shale-like minerality; spicy finish. Very attractive for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poggiotondo Vermentino 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 100% vermentino grapes. Radiant pale gold; fresh and floral as a spring garden; yellow plums and thyme, roasted lemon and pear; clean, bracing sea breeze and salt marsh astringency; quite spicy, very dry, scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality supporting ripe stone-fruit flavors; long spice-thronged finish. Now through 2013 or ’14. One of the best vermentino wines I have encountered. Excellent. About $20, a Notable Value.
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Poggiotondo Rosso 2010, Toscana. 12.5% alc. 40% sangiovese, 30% merlot, 30% syrah. I was not as impressed by the Poggiotondo red wines as by the Vermentino, but I definitely liked the Rosso better than the Chianti. Simple and direct and tasty; gushes with spicy red and black fruit scents and flavors balanced by bright acidity and sleek, moderately chewy tannins; the finish adds leather, briers and brambles. A decent quaffer for red sauce pasta dishes, pizzas and burgers. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good. About $11.
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Poggiotondo Chianti Cerro del Masso 2009, Toscano DOCG. 13% alc. 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, 5% each syrah and colorino. A curious marriage of bland and harsh; takes rusticity to the edge of roughshod. Sangiovese deserves better. Not recommended. About $15.
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Marziano Abbona Dolcetto Dogliani “Papa Celso” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% dolcetto grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet-magenta cast; warm, fleshy, meaty floral bouquet, spiced and macerated red and black currants and plums, undertones of lavender and leather; quite earthy, with touches of moss and underbrush, a little spare and austere yet almost succulent in texture, almost velvety; a graphite-like strain of minerality through the finish keeps it in line. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba “Rinaldi” 2009, Piedmont. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby-purple; leather, plums and mulberries, briers and brambles, a little fleshy and floral; very dry, packed with dried spices and dried red and black fruit flavors; fairly foresty, burgeoning underbrush, austere from mid-palate back through the finish where it picks up some granite-like minerality and a bit of heat. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $30.
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Marziano Abbona Nebbiolo d’Alba “Bricco Barone” 2009, Piedmont. 14% alc. 100% nebbiolo grapes. Classic. Deep ruby-purple; tar, earth, violets and truffles, rosemary and its bit of resiny astringency, black currants and plums; full-bodied, dense, very dry, jammed with finely milled and sifted tannins, graphite elements and woody spices; touches of fruitcake, potpourri and bitter chocolate; long, spun-out finish. Demands rabbit fricassee, game birds, venison. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Oops, not exactly Friday, is it? I must have fallen into the sinkhole of the space-time continuum. Anyway, no theme today, just a group of wines that I tasted recently, some of which I liked and a few that I didn’t. That’s the breaks, n’est-ce pas? As usual in the erstwhile Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of incisive reviews of blitzkrieg intensity. Included today are a delightful pinot noir rosé from Sonoma County, two excellent chardonnays (one from Carneros, one from New Zealand) and an inexpensive red wine blend from the “South of France” that’s worth a search for devotees of organic products.

These were all samples for review.
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Toad Hollow Eye of the Toad Rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. Pure strawberry and raspberry with undertones of pear, melon and peach skin; a hints of orange rind, almond blossom and limestone; quite dry but soft and juicy; more stones and bones on the finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13% alc. A lovely, delicate, elegant chardonnay, yet very spicy, slightly resinous (as in a hint of rosemary), touched of roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit with a tinge of mango; underlying richness and complexity, quite dry, always mindful of balance and poise. More than charming, attractively individual. Excellent. About $21.
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Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Rich but beautifully balanced, bold but not brassy; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors deeply infused with cloves and allspice, hints of lemon and honeysuckle; a golden and sunny chardonnay with a sheen of deft oak, ripe and slightly creamy yet with a prominent limestone edge. Pure, intense, sophisticated. Excellent. About $50.
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Naked Earth 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc (though the front label says “South of France”). 12.5% alc. Merlot 50%, cabernet sauvignon 25%, grenache 20%, carignan 5%. Certified organic. Surprising character for the price and geographic anonymity; dark ruby color; cedar, tobacco, black olives; black currants and plums; lavender and violets, touch of new leather; dry, dusty tannins, almost velvety texture, spicy black fruit flavors, lipsmacking acidity. Worth seeking out. Very Good. About $12, representing Real Value.
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Green Truck Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. A generic red wine with wild berries and brambles, very dusty tannins and heaps of graphite-like minerality. People searching for organic wine deserve better. Good. About $14.
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Murphy-Goode Merlot 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; toasty oak, caraway and celery seed; cherries, plums and raspberries; very dry, disjointed plus a vanilla backnote. Not recommended. About $14.
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Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Better than the merlot but still fairly ordinary; attractive heft and texture, ripe and spicy black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors, nice balance among fruit, acidity and mildly dusty chewy tannins. Very Good. About $14.
Note that both of these Murphy-Goode products carry a California appellation instead of Sonoma County and are “vinted” rather than “produced,” which means that consumers have no idea whence within the state the grapes came or where the wine was made. Jackson Family Wines acquired Murphy-Goode in 2006.
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Mark West Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a paler ruby edge; black cherry and leather, cola and cloves; hits all the necessary points without being compelling; dense, chewy tannins, swingeing acidity, very dry with a dusty, earthy, mineral-flecked finish. Very Good. About $14. (Sorry, the price is actually about $19.)
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Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. You gotta like wood to like this one. At first, subtly woven black cherry, mulberry, smoke, cola and woody spice (cloves, sandalwood), then you feel the oak sneak up, as it were, from the back to front, smothering everything in its path. Not my cuppa tea. Good. About $35.
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Today’s “Friday Wine Sips” offers four whites and four reds and that adds up to eight wines if what my high school math teacher Miss Bridger said still holds true. The geographical range includes California, Washington state, New Zealand, Sicily and Austria; the price range is $14 to $20, with a couple of products representing real value. No technical or historical data or philosophical ruminations; just snappy comments taken directly from my notes to give you the essence. These were all samples for review.
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Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc “The Fume” 2010, North Coast, California. 13.5% alc. Clean, fresh, buoyant; roasted lemon, tangerine, lime peel; bright and leafy; dried thyme and tarragon; a crisp arrow of grapefruit through the limestone bullseye. Quite tasty. Very Good. About $14, a Bargain.
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Airfield Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.6% alc. Apple blossom and grapefruit skin; burgeoning and penetrating limestone and flint-like minerality; pungent, resonant, scintillating with crystalline acidity and high-toned touches of quince and ginger, ripe stone-fruit permeated by smoke and cloves; deftly balances a soft, almost talc-like effect with crisp bone and sinew and river rocks. Lovely and delicious. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Martinborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Suave and savory, with an air of blitheness and frank appeal; lemon, lime peel and gooseberry with notes of cloves and ginger, fresh-mown hay and lemongrass; crisp, very dry, a long, sprightly limestone-flint-and-grapefruit laden finish. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Owned by Jackson Family Wines) Pale straw color; very fresh, clean, exhilarating; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass, touches of caraway, tarragon and thyme, hint of honeysuckle; the old hay-foot, straw-foot motif in its deft earthiness; sleek and polished; pear, melon and citrus flavors, slightly herbal, crisp acidity and a touch of flint in the background. Excellent. About $20.
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Zantho St. Laurent 2008, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoke, cigar box and tobacco leaf; the slightly resinous quality of cedar and rosemary; spiced, macerated and roasted black and red currants and plums with touches of black olive and tar; but for all this “darkness,” a clean, fresh and lively red, suited to barbecue ribs and braised short ribs. Highly individual wine from an unusual grape. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
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Buena Vista Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. A fresh, tasty, agreeable zinfandel, quite spicy, bursting with bright black and red cherry flavors infused with hints of blueberry and boysenberry; mannerly elements of tannin and oak, clean brisk acidity. Sports the new “old-timey” Buena Vista Viticultural Society label. For burgers and pizzas. Very Good. About $15.
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Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri Nero d’Avola 2009, Sicily. 14% alc. Refreshing and vibrant, this wine avoids the rusticity displayed by many nero d’Avolas; delicious red and black currant flavors, very spicy, a little briery and brambly; grows darker, more intense as the moments pass, conjuring notes of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, tar and graphite. Direct and satisfying. Very Good+. About $20.
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Craggy Range Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2010, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. 80% merlot, 8% each cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec. Very harmonious initially but with an edge of briers and brambles, forest floor and graphite and an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate; black cherry and red and black currants with a touch of blueberry; gets quite dry, packs some tannic, minerally austerity into the finish. Try with a steak or barbecue brisket. Very Good+. About $20.
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With last night’s pizza, we drank the Clos de los Siete 2009, from Mendoza’s high, dry Uco Valley in Argentina. The number “Siete” refers to master winemaker Michel Rolland, perhaps the world’s best-known consultant, and his six Bordelaise partners and their vineyards in this venture, now in its eighth release. (The version of this wine from 2008 was my Wine of the Week on May 24, 2010.) Clos de los Siete 2009 is a blend of 57 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent syrah and 3 percent petit verdot; in other words the model is a five-grape Bordeaux style blend with syrah substituting for cabernet franc, yet no wine from Bordeaux would feature a majority of malbec. The blend is consistent with the ’08 rendition, with minor adjustments in the percentages. Seventy percent of Clos de los Siete ’09 aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 1/3 new, 1/3 one year old, 1/3 two years old; the rest aged in vats, whether cement or stainless steel is not specified. I don’t mean to make your eyes glaze over by these technical details (which I always find at least interesting if not essential), but I do want you to notice the careful and thoughtful nature of the winemaking process.

A dark ruby-purple color, Clos de los Siete 2009 delivers terrific tone and presence, whether in nose or mouth. Seductive aromas of ripe black currants, blueberries and mulberries are woven with notes of cloves and sandalwood, with smoke, potpourri and violets, with graphite, shale and an intriguing fleck of iodine. The package balances sleekness with robustness; the palate is dominated by polished tannins that feel, by contrast, a touch shaggy, as if lightly roughened by fine-gauge sandpaper, and by a subtle oak structure that lends the wine beneficent suppleness and spice. Slightly macerated, fleshy and stewed blackberry and black currant flavors contain something wild — fecund, floral, fruity — while reaching deep for a core of brambles, bitter chocolate and mountain dust. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $18, One of the World’s Great Wine Values.

Imported by Dourthe USA, Manhasset, New York. A sample for review. Cropped image from strangerandstranger.com.

The pizza was inspired by a handful of lovely locally-grown shiitake mushrooms, mahogany-brown and lustrous, to which I added strips of speck (made in Georgia) and roasted red pepper, chopped green onion and thin slices of the last of the season’s tomatoes; fresh oregano and thyme; mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. The crust was about 3/4s organic white bread flour and 1/4 organic rye flour. The wine was a gratifying match.

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