Spain


Yes, another title change, from “Weekend Wine Sips” to “Weekend Wine Notes,” because I think that nomenclature more accurately described what I do in these posts. “Sips” implies that all the wines are recommended, and that’s not always the case. So, today, a dozen wines that derive from many grapes varieties and combinations thereof and from many countries and regions. Prices range from about $14 to $53, and if you were hoping to buy some wines by the case, they would be the Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley (about $15), and the Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles (about $14). There are also some hearty red wines to accompany steaks and burgers, pork chops, leg of lamb and other items from the grill. As usual, I eschew technical matters and concerns of history, geography and biography for quick, incisive reviews, sometimes transcribed directly from my notes. The purpose is to pique your interest and whet your palate. With one exception, these were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________
Hendry Ranch Rosé 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, primitivo (which is really zinfandel, right?). Pale copper-salmon color; very charming bouquet of strawberries and raspberries with undertones of peach and orange zest; loads of juicy berry and stone fruit flavors but dry, spare, mildly spicy; limestone and flint minerality and zippy acidity provide structure. Hugely enjoyable quaffer and substantial enough to accompany all manner of picnic and pool-side fare. Very Good+. I paid $15.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.3% alc. Very pale straw color; hints of guava and lime peel, grass and grapefruit, a bit of fig and celery seed; dry, vibrant, lively; lovely texture poised between crispness and an almost talc-like silkiness; citrus and stone fruit flavors imbued with notes of grass and dried herbs; the limestone minerality burgeons from mid-palate through the finish. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Frei Brothers Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale straw-gold color; very fresh, clean and zesty; pear and grapefruit, lime peel, thyme and tarragon, celery seed and freshly mown grass; a nicely chiseled sauvignon blanc, faceted with brisk acidity and scintillating lime and chalk elements; a touch of oak lends spice and suppleness to a texture that seethes with leafy notes of pear, honeydew melon and hay; finish is dry and austere. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $17, representing Good Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________
The Whip 2012, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. (Murrieta’s Well) 13% alc. 43% chardonnay, 15% gewurztraminer, 13% sauvignon blanc, 9% orange muscat, 8% viognier, 5% pinot blanc, 3% muscat canelli. Pale gold color; boldly floral, with notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and orange blossom; peach and pear, touches of roasted lemon, mango and greengage, apple peel and almond skin; quite dry, spare, savory and saline with an austere permeation of limestone and flint on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $21.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Lapostolle Canto de Apalta 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14/1% alc. 36% carmenere, 31% merlot, 18% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah. Very dark ruby-purple; strikingly fresh, clean and fruity, with cassis, blackberry and blueberry, plums and blueberry tart, hint of fruitcake dried fruit and spices; velvety, cushiony tannins; very dry, dusty graphite; intense and concentrated black fruit flavors; finish packed with tannin and minerals. Fairly rustic for a wine from Lapostolle. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $20.
___________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Selección de Ricardo Santos Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.4% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; dusty tannins and granitic minerality; dense and chewy yet supple; cassis, ripe black raspberry, cherry and blueberry; hints of cloves and sandalwood, graphite and underbrush; lippsmacking acidity and velvety tannins; slightly astringent finish packed with spice and minerals. Now through 2015 or ’26. Very Good+. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
El Malbec de Ricardo Santos La Madras Vineyard 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; cassis, black cherries and plums, lavender, violets and a tight line of bitter chocolate and allspice; a real graphite-granitic edge, intense and concentrated but a deeply flavorful wine, with roots, earth and forest floor elements. Perfect for steak, burgers and rack of lamb. Now through 2015 to ’16. Very Good+. About $19.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Toad Hollow Goldie’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.4% alc. Lovely medium ruby-mulberry color; spiced and macerated red cherries and currants, highlighted by notes of cloves and sassafras; opens to hints of black cherry and rhubarb; very attractive tone and heft, pretty juicy but dry, with swath-cutting acidity and mild-mannered and supple tannins for structure, oak staying firmly in the background; the finish brings up slightly funky elements of clean earth, underbrush and more spice. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
Penalolen Cabernet Franc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 14.3% alc. Dark ruby color; heady yet slightly brooding notes of blueberries and black currants, bacon fat, black olives and cedar; big finely-honed, plush tannins; well-honed and polished, lots of personality but plenty of grit and grip; intense flavors of black and blue fruit, very spicy and with hints of dried herbs and flowers; long, dense mineral-packed finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Well-made rendition of the grape that’s beggin’ you for a medium-rare ribeye steak or a rack of ribs. Excellent. About $19, Good Value.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Yangarra Estate Vineyard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple color with a magenta rim that practically glows in the dark; lots of depth and layers, intense and concentrated; bitter chocolate, lavender and leather, earth and graphite; very ripe, spicy and pure blackberry and blueberry scents and flavors with a wild strain of ebony juicy delicious restrained by stalwart tannins and vibrant acidity; wheatmeal and walnut shell austerity characterize a finish crowded with oak, tannin and graphite. Try 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+ to Excellent Potential. About $25.
______________________________________________________________________________________
Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordòn Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, garnacha 15%, mazuela 5%. Dark ruby color, slightly lighter rim; ripe and spicy, fleshy and meaty; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; white pepper, sandalwood, cloves, hint of lavender; silken and mellow but with plenty of dry grainy tannins and mineral-based power. Now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted quail or duck or grilled pork tenderloin. Very Good+. About $17. Rioja Reservas tend to be excellent value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.7% alc. Consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California. Dark ruby-purple color; amazing dimension, detail and delineation; intense and concentrated yet generous and expansive; meaty, roasted and fleshy fruit scents and flavors, with macerated wild berries and plums infused with leather, briers and brambles, touch of damp moss and wet dog; squinching tannins are round and plush, while acidity plows a furrow on the palate; huge graphite and granitic mineral character solid through the finish. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $53.
______________________________________________________________________________________________

Here are a dozen wines that will put a keen edge of enticing Summery flavors and welcome minerality in your week. Today’s Weekend Wine Sips consist of five rosés and seven sauvignon blanc wines, the latter mainly from California (one from Chile) and the former from all over the place. Prices are pretty low for most of these wines, and availability is wide. Little in the way of technical talk here or discussions about entertaining and educational matters history, geography and climate, much as I dote upon them; the Weekend Wine Sips reviews are intended to be concise, incisive and inspiring. These wines were samples for review or tasted at trade events.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Marc Roman Rosé 2012, Vin de France. 13% alc. 100% syrah. Very pale pink with a tinge of peach; strawberries, raspberries, red currants, hint of orange rind; all subdued, unemphatic; quite dry, attractive texture and stony finish, just a little lacking in snappy acidity. A decent picnic quaffer. Good. About $10.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________

El Coto Rosado 2012, Rioja, Spain. 13% alc. Garnacha & tempranillo, 50/50. Light peach salmon color; fairly spicy, slightly macerated strawberries and raspberries, notes of rose petals and lavender; very dry, crisp acid structure, a bit thin through the finish. Very Good. About $11.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Castello Monaci Kreos 2012, Salenta I.G.T. 13% alc. 90% negroamaro, 10% malvasia nera. Pale salmon-peach color; tasty, juicy but very dry; spiced and macerated peaches, watermelon and strawberries, lots of limestone and chalk; mid-palate moderately lush, yielding to a stony, austere finish. Very Good+. About $16.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Finca La Linda Rosé Malbec 2012, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. (From Luigi Bosca) 13.5% alc. More in the fashion of a Bordeaux clairette, that is, lighter and less substantial than regular red table wine, a bit darker and weightier than a true rose; medium pink-bright cherry color with a tinge of pale copper, LL, who knows gemstones, said, “Fire opal”; very spicy, lively, lots of personality, macerated red currants and raspberries with a hint of plum; plush texture modulated by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; backnote of dried herbs. Excellent. About $13, Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
Gustave Lorentz Le Rosé 2012, Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale copper-onion skin color; strawberries, raspberries and rose petals, touch of orange rind; very stony with elements of limestone and flint but completely delightful; crisp and vibrant acidity, perfectly balanced, dry, elegant. Excellent. About $24.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Pepi Sauvignon Blanc 2012, California. 13% alc.Very pale gold color; no real flaws, just innocuous and generic; hints of grass and straw, lime peel and grapefruit; pert acidity; nothing stands out as distinctive, but you wouldn’t mind too much knocking this back sitting out on the porch with a bowl of chips. Good. About $10.
___________________________________________________________________________________________

William Cole Columbine Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13% alc. Very pale gold color; thyme, tarragon, pea shoot; lilac, roasted lemon and pear; very dry, crisp, austere, heaps of limestone and flint influence, pretty demanding finish, though the whole package is not without charm. Very Good. About $16.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Tower 15 Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.2% alc. 300 cases. Pale straw-gold color; very lively, crisp, sassy; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass and limestone, hint of grass and fig, tarragon and tangerine; quite dry, stony, vibrant; deft balance, exuberant yet refined. Very Good+. About $18.50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; lime peel, grapefruit, gunflint and celery seed, scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm; bit of leafy fig; very fresh, clean, lively and engaging. Always a hit in our house. Very Good+. About $15 .
___________________________________________________________________________________________

Waterstone Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 18% semillon. 834 cases. Very pale gold color; keen limestone edge, smoke and flint; dry, fresh, crisp, taut; lemon, lime peel and tangerine with hint of pear; mildly grassy, bit of thyme and tarragon; a tad of oak in the background, making for a subtle, supple texture enlivened by a touch of cloves and brisk acidity. Super attractive. Excellent. About $18.
____________________________________________________________________________________________
Atalon Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. With 3% semillon. (Jackson Family Wines) Very pale straw-gold; suave, sophisticated; lime peel, grapefruit, lemongrass, cloves, gooseberry and peach; exquisite balance among crisp snappy acidity, a soft almost powdery texture and fleet scintillating limestone and flint minerality; lots of appeal and personality. Excellent. About $20.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2011, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Sauvignon blanc with 9% semillon. An elegant sheen of oak keeps this sleek sauvignon blanc nicely rounded and moderately spicy; pale straw-gold color; lemongrass and lime peel, thyme and cloves, spiced pear, ginger and quince; limestone, gunflint and talc; lively, vibrant and resonant, very appealing presence and tone; lovely texture balances crispness with well-moderated lushness; burnished oak and glittering limestone dominate the finish. Great character. Excellent. About $32.
________________________________________________________________________________________________

The whole Anything But Chardonnay trope can be justified because the poor grape is often treated so barbarically in the winery that the results are hideous to drink. On the other hand, there are scads of lovely chardonnays out there to choose from. On the other hand, again, if you’re looking for an alternative to chardonnay — one that’s not, say, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio — look for wines made from the albariño grape, a mainstay of Rias Baixas, the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline above Portugal. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. (These wines were samples for review.)

The first examples we look at today were made by Bodegas Terras Gauda, which produces just these two wines, one that’s all albariño, the other a blend. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel to retain freshness and immediate appeal. First is the Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012, Rias Baixas, sporting a bright gold color and enticing aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel and cloves; this is very spicy, lively with bracing acidity and saline qualities and unfurling notes of orange blossom, fig, limestone and dried thyme. Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012 is a sleek, tasty, moderately complex and highly drinkable wine that we happily tried over several nights with different fish entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. This wine’s stablemate is the Terras Gauda 2012, Rias Baixas, a blend of 70 percent albariño, 20 percent loureira and 10 percent caiño blanco. The addition of the loureiro and caiño blanco grapes lends the albariño here both heft and suavity, as well as touches of lemongrass, quince and ginger, a bit of leafy fig. This too is bracing and saline, offering a hint of brisk salt-marsh austerity to a tone and texture that come close to elegance, while a slightly chiseled limestone finish edges up the spice quotient. 12 percent alcohol. Fabulous with seared swordfish and held its own with tomatillo-braised pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $24, representing Real Value.

Imported by Aveniu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I mentioned up top that the albariño grape doesn’t take kindly to oak, unless the regimen is carefully applied. That’s the case with the Lee Family Farm Albariño 2012, Monterey, a 100 percent albariño that aged a brief four months in neutral French oak barrels, meaning barrels that have been used several times previously, so their influence is not only subtle but almost subliminal. That’s the case here, any wood effect being in a super supple structure that feels as if it has a bit of give to it and a below-the-radar permeation of cloves and ginger. There’s fresh green apple here, the roasted lemon and lemongrass that we expect, a hint of pears and a backnote of grapefruit, with just a smidgeon of grapefruit bitterness on the finish and a slightly leafy quality. This mainly features tremendous character and polish, beautiful tone and balance, and a texture that flatters the palate without being opulent or obvious. Lee Family Farm is the side-project of Dan Lee, proprietor of Morgan Winery; the knowledge and experience show. 13.5 percent alcohol. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18, a Phenomenal Bargain.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Though Prosecco and Moscato earned a place in the hearts of American sparkling wine consumers over the past decade — Moscato more recently accounting for a surge in sales of sweet wines, its popularity spreading from hip-hop culture — we mustn’t forget that of readily accessible non-French sparking wines, the Spanish Cava has been around these shores for 40 years or more. While the field is dominated by brands such as Freixenet and Codorniu, other labels offer alternatives in the way of style and quality. One of these is Vilarnau, founded in 1949 in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the capital of the Cava zone in Catalonia, and acquired by Gonzalez Byass in 1982. By regulation, Cava must be produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

The Vilarnau Brut Nature Reserva 2009 is a blend of 55 percent macabeo grapes, 30 percent parellada and 15 percent chardonnay. After second fermentation — that’s when the bubbles are made without which sparkling wines would not sparkle — the wine aged in bottle for a minimum of two years. The color is pale gold, and the upward rush of bubbles is a foam of glinting gold. “Brut nature” implies a dry wine, and the Vilarnau Brut Nature Reserva 2009 is indeed dry, though loaded with lemony notes and hints of grapefruit and lime, with undertones of limestone and lime peel. It’s quite crisp with bright acidity and offers a texture nicely balanced between fleet-footed effervescence and pleasing density. 11.5 percent alcohol. We drank this over several nights with a variety of appetizers. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange. A sample for review.

In the minds of many thoughtful and fun-loving Americans, Memorial Day represents the unofficial (or perhaps really official) opening of the outdoor cooking or grilling season. In honor of the day and of the entire concept of charring meat and vegetables over hot coals, I offer nine red wines of varying degrees of robustness, heartiness, rusticity and whack-’em-upside-the-head flavorishiness. We touch many bases here in terms of grape varieties, countries and regions, but you will see no merlot, pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, just because that’s the way I feel today. Let’s shine a little light on bonarda, barbera and petite sirah! (I slightly modify what I said about cabernet; there’s a touch in a blend of one of these wines. As usual with the Weekend Wine Sips, the focus, the intensity, the concentration is on the wines themselves, characterized in brief but pithy and, I hope, provocative reviews. So light that fire, throw on a haunch of goat and enjoy the beginning of summer. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah 2009, Livermore Valley. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby-purple with an opaque center; dark in every sense but quite drinkable; black olive, leather, fruitcake; black currants, black raspberries and plums; graphite and grainy tannins permeate luscious black fruit flavors; lively and dynamic. A heavy-lifter but light on its feet. Needs a steak or a burger, preferably with bleu cheese and grilled onions. Very Good+. About $15.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bocelli Sangiovese 2011, Rosso Toscana, Italy. 13% alc. 100% sangiovese. Produced by the family of the well-known performer Andrea Bocelli; though he is a tenor, this wine devolves to bass-notes; starts with a medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and appealing; then robust, dense and chewy, lots of weight for the plum, black and red currant fruit; fairly tannic and earthy; demands hearty fare, like sausages grilled to a turn or barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $15.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color with a magenta rim; deep, warm, spicy; large-framed, intense and concentrated, yet deftly balanced and well-knit; very ripe and spicy black fruit scents and flavors imbued with hints of leather, tobacco, mint, bitter chocolate and graphite; pretty damned sleek, highly appealing and drinkable but with a foundation of dusty tannins. Excellent. About $15, representing Good Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Luca Bosio Barbera d’Asti 2011, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Lovely medium ruby color; very charming, made all in stainless steel for freshness and brightness; red and black currants with a touch of plums; moderately spicy and herbal in the cloves and dried thyme ranges; manageable tannins lend support, keen acidity keeps it honest. Grilled chicken with a coffee-cumin rub perhaps? Very Good+. About $16.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Borsao Berola 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. 14.5% alc. 70% garnacha, 20% syrah, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tightly focused and intense, dusty tannins and grippy iron-iodine mineral elements; still, there are ripe, dark, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, hints in the bouquet of dried currants and baking spices; foresty, with touches of moss underbrush; savory, rolls on the palate. Begs for a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $16 in my neck of the woods; priced from $12 to $17 around the country..
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Artezin Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; blackberries, black currants and plums, backnotes of rhubarb and boysenberry, but nothing sweet or over-ripe; richness tempered by bright acidity, sleek tannins and graphite-like minerality; bracing freshness, full-bodied, spicy with touches of lavender and violets. An attractive zinfandel to drink with steaks and burgers and grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Paolo Manzone “Ardi” Rosso 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. 13% alc. 60% dolcetto, 40% barbera. Brilliant medium ruby color, darker in the center; complex bouquet of red and black cherries and currants with touches of plum, cloves and orange zest and undertones of graphite and leather; medium body but rollicking tannins and acidity for liveliness; tasty cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of tar and lavender, sour cherry and violets. Super attractive. Very Good+. About $23.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Mairena Bonarda 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.7% alc. Deep opaque purple-black; dense, chewy, robust and rustic, a little chunky and cheeky and somehow irresistible for its punk-like bravado; very dark black and blue fruit flavors, smoldering with leather and licorice, lavender and smoke and hint of cloves and black olives. I’m thinking grilled pork chops with a spicy Southwestern rub. Very Good+, perhaps edging closer to Excellent. About $25.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2010, Central Coast. 12.8% alc. Always reliable and filled with character. Very dark ruby-purple color; balances a polished, honed exterior with intensity and concentration and deep focus on black currant, blackberry and plum scents and flavors and a scintillating granitic mineral element; robust, furry tannins and vibrant acidity bolster details of black olives and oolong tea, leather and lavender and a touch of the grape’s trademark wet dog. Excellent. About $26.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Red wines today, from Rioja and La Mancha in Spain and then several from Portugal. Robust, full-bodied, exotic, different, and perfectly fitted to accompany food prepared on the outdoor grill once you get that thing fired up: Steaks and burgers, leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, sausages, pork chops, ribs. A minimum of technical information, as is usual in these Weekend Wine Sips, which are designed to whet you palate and stir your appetite. And most of these wines, all samples for review, are pretty easy on the pocket-book. Enjoy!
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Agnus de Valdelana Rioja Crianza 2009, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% mazuelo. I keep technical info to a minimum in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews, but I have to mention that this wine ages 12 months half in French oak barrels and half in Russian; in all my years writing about wine, I have never seen a reference to Russian oak. Medium ruby-magenta color with a slight garnet rim; rich, ripe and fleshy, deep, dark spicy black fruit scents and flavors tinged with blue; stalwart tannins, dense, chewy, a little gritty; austere, fairly astringent finish packed with briers, underbrush and graphite; still, something appealing about its sophomoric truculence. Now through 2016 to ’19 with a medium rare steak or grilled leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Alente Premier 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14% alc. 60% trincadeira grapes, 40% aragonez. Boy, that’s fruity, spicy, savory and tasty! Black and red currants and cherries, smoke, oolong tea, fruitcake; nicely shaped tannins and graphite-like mineral elements supported by a modicum of oak and vibrant acidity; moderately chewy texture, slightly dense and spicy finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at about $14.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bodegas de la Marques Valserrano Finca Monteviejo 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 95% tempranillo, 5% graciano & garnacha. A rich, warm “robe” of medium ruby-cherry color; a real mouthful of woody spice, oak and tannin; dried fruit and flowers, dried spice; violets and lavender; cloves, allspice and sandalwood; black currants, plums and blueberries; graphite, bitter chocolate, black licorice and leather; a well-made old-fashioned Rioja, built to last through 2025 to 2030, though you could drink it tonight with roasted wild beast. Excellent.
About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Estela de Arrayan 2008, Mentrida, La Mancha. 14% alc. Grape blend not available, but the estate grows only syrah, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot. Dark ruby-mulberry color; warm, spicy, ripe and fleshy, dark edge of smoke, leather, briers and brambles; black raspberry and cherry scents and flavors infused with graphite and tar, lavender and bitter chocolate; powerful dry tannins but overall sleek and velvety. Quite a performance; drink through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. Price NA.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Herdade da Comporta 2007, Peninsula de Setubal, Portugal. 13.5% alc. 40% aragonez, 40% alicante bouschet, 10% touriga franca, 10% trincadeira. Dark ruby-mulberry color; a sturdy, robust wine, packed with dried baking spice, iodine and iron; ripe, warm and fleshy; black black fruit, deep and intense; violets and lilac , quite dry, stoutly tannic. Don’t take a sip without a bite of steak. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Seleccion 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha. 13% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 40%, merlot 20%, tempranillo 40%. Dark ruby color with a mulberry cranberry edge; black currants and cherries, plums and more plums and plum dust, fruitcake and leather, touch of dill, thyme and black olives; fleshy and smoky, hint of bacon fat; smack-up tannins and lip-smacking acidity; very concentrated core of exotic spice, bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; finish a bit woody and austere but altogether a highly individual wine that demands roasted lamb or grilled pork tenderloin. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent, and a Don’t Miss It Value at about $16.50.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ruiz de Vinaspre 2007, Rioja. 14.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. (Back label offers the “contains sulfites” warning in 15 languages. You know, just in case.) Dark ruby-purple; spicy, roasted and fleshy, ripe and warm; intense blackberry, raspberry and plum aromas and flavors, touched with lavender, violets and sandalwood; penetrating graphite-like minerality; bright, vibrant acidity and resolute but velvety tannins; loads of personality. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+, and a Bargain at about $15.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Torre de Gazate 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. This you have to buy by the case. Clean, brave medium ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy, a little earthy and funky; tempranillo as Beaujolais-Villages; but with smoke and dust, leather, slightly roasted and macerated black cherries, raspberries and plums; very dry with notable tannins after a few minutes but easily drinkable. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $9.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Veedha 2009, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta roriz, touriga franca, touriga nacional. Dark ruby-mulberry color; very spicy, very juicy, spanking acidity; black currants and blueberries, plummy and slightly jammy; roses, ashes of roses, graphite, smoke, leather, frisky tannins. Lots of strange appeal and not like anything made in the New World. Very Good. About $14.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In our era of globalization, instant access and general impatience, the notion that the best food and wine matches are those that pair the traditional food and wine of a region seems naive. The planet’s great cultural, geographical and electronic melting pot has opened vast opportunities in terms of the availability of food and wines and culinary ideas from other countries. Who’s to say now that coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon must have only red Burgundy in the dish and on the table or that rixi e bixi (risotto with pancetta and peas) must be accompanied only by a white wine from the Veneto?

Still, the romantic ideal of perfect regionality is enticing, and it extends to cheese, though let’s admit that some of the world’s finest cheeses, authentic Camembert, for example, originate in regions that have no wine tradition. And, doing the devil’s advocate thing, does Comte have to be nibbled with a white wine from the Jura, either a lean elegant chardonnay or savignin? How with about a 20-year-old red Bordeaux?

Idiazabal is a cheese made from unpasturized sheep’s milk — specifically sheep of the Latxa breed, though the Carranzana breed is allowed — in what’s referred to as Basque country, in northeast Spain. The cheese is named for a town in the Goierri region in the province of Gipuzkoa. The other Basque provinces are Biscay and Alava, and it’s in Alava that the Beldui Txakolina 2011, Txakoli de Alava, is made from the indigenous white grape hondarrabi zuri, 80 percent, and the ancient Gascon grape, petit courbu, 20 percent. I received as samples the Beldui Txakolina 2011 and two versions of Idiazabal, smoked and unsmoked, produced by the Artzai Gazta cooperative, with the obvious intent of seeing how they worked together. (Image from artisanalcheese.com.)

The answer, briefly, is: Great.

The unsmoked Idiazabal is nutty, a little grassy, richly savory and a little buttery, but quite “dry,” a little salty, and even the unsmoked version tastes a little smoky. (The smoked version is treated over beechwood, hawthorn or cherry.) The texture is firm, and, if the cheese is aged a few months, capable of being grated. The smoked Idiazabal was fine, but I thought that it didn’t really require the additional smokiness added to the natural slightly smoky quality of the “regular” cheese. This is not, as you can see, an opulent or extravagant cheese, relying more on its understated character for its effect of authenticity.

I have seen recommendations to drink a “Spanish red wine” with Idiazabal, meaning, apparently and generically, tempranillo, but the white the Txakolina worked perfectly.


Beldui Txakolina 2011, Txakoli de Alava, is completely not chardonnay or sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio. The color is mild gold with a hint green. I could summarize this wine by saying that it’s savory, and yet it’s even more saline than savory, like, um, a brisk sea-breeze astir over a campfire, and I promise not to extend the metaphor to its baroque conclusion. Notes of lemon drop and roasted pear are wreathed with a floral aspect, but in a pale astringent manner; there’s a touch of sun-brightened leafiness and hints of fig and green olive. The whole package is enlivened by pointed acidity and elements of cloves and dried thyme; the finish is spare, lean and stony. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21.50.

The savory, saline character of the wine and cheese, the complex flavors cut by spareness and a slightly rustic quality, kept us going back for another sliver of cheese, another sip of wine.

Beldui Txakolina 2011 was imported by ENYE Distribution Group, Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

Let’s launch Valentine’s Week with a recommendation for a sweetheart of a dry brut rosé sparkling wine, the non-vintage Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé, composed of 85 percent trepat grapes, one of the more interesting grapes you’ve never heard of, and 15 percent pinot noir. This sparking wine, indeed the roster that comes from Paul Cheneau, is made in the “traditional method,” that is the méthode champenoise, of second fermentation in the bottle. The winery is owned by the Giró Ribot family and is located in the heartland of cava production. the Penedès region west of Barcelona in Cataluña, where the Spanish coast dips southwest from the French border.

The Paul Cheneau Cava Brut Rosé offers a pretty dying ember hue of lightly tarnished copper-salmon; bubbles are small, elegant, persistent. Pure strawberry erupts from the glass, followed by raspberry, with a touch of raspberry’s raspiness, and a scent of rose hips; after a few minutes in the glass, the bouquet develops high notes of pomegranate and spiced tea. The ripe red fruit segues seamlessly into the mouth, with hints of orange zest and cloves; the texture is crisp with acidity yet soft and appealing, while the finish brings in a note of limestone. 11.5 percent alcohol. No, My Readers, this is not a top-quality brut rosé from Champagne that could set you back $150 to $200 a bottle; it’s a simple but well-made, tasty and pleasing little Spanish cava that should impinge nicely on you and your sweetheart’s Valentine celebration. Very Good+. About $16.

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


Not really with Mark Bittman, ha-ha, but from his new publication, The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $35), which we have pledged to cook from through the month of January, starting last week. Here’s a report on what we have prepared so far and the wines we tried with the dishes. The wines were samples for review.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The first recipe we tried from this inventive and thoughtful cookbook was the Pasta with Smoky Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Bacon, to which LL added broccolini to get something green in there. This is a breeze to make, occupying about an hour, “largely unattended,” as cookbook writers say, and absolutely savory and delicious. Bittman recommends wholewheat pasta; we used penne rigate made from farro, a grain the name of which always makes me feel as if I’m standing in a field in Denmark under a sky laden with rushing gray clouds while a brisk sea-wind tosses the heads of numberless wildflowers.

Anyway, we have been drinking quite a bit of wine made from the albariño grape recently. Though not quite as versatile as riesling, which we tend to chose over other white grapes, albariño offers plenty of charm and distinctive qualities; it’s a signature grape of Spain’s Rias Baixas region, in the extreme northwest, right above Portugal by the Atlantic Ocean. The Zios Albariño 2011, Riax Baixas, from the 6,000-case Pazos de Lusco winery, is a perfect example of what the grape delivers. Made all in stainless steel, the wine shimmers with a pale straw-gold color; it’s clean, fresh and bracing, showing blade-like acidity for intense crispness and liveliness and a combination of spicy, savory and salty that’s very appealing. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pears are highlighted by hints of dried thyme and rosemary; the wine is dry, spare, lean and lithe, yet supple in texture, and it gains subtle depth and layering as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.

Imported by Opici Wines, Glen Rock, N.J.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Next, the Miso Soup with Bok Choy, Soba Noodles and Broiled Fish, a dish so easy to prepare that you’re surprised how delicious it turns out. We used salmon for the fish, though it could just about anything that stands up to broiling.

So you’re thinking, “Ah ha, we know FK. He’ll choose a riesling to drink with this Asian-themed soup!” Yes, you know me well, but to confound expectation, even my own, I slipped a bottle of the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, from the white wine fridge, and it fit with the dish like fine silver spoons in a felt-lined drawer. As is traditional at this venerable winery, which has been run completely on biodynamic principles since 1996, winemaker Ivo Jeramaz gave the Chardonnay ’10 moderate exposure to new oak (40 percent new, 60 percent neutral; 10 months aging) and did not put it through malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine that allows its grapes to speak for themselves in terms of expressive tone, texture and presence. The color is mild straw-gold with faint green highlights; heady aromas of lemon and lemon balm, yellow plums and camellias and back-notes of lime peel and limestone waft from the glass. This chardonnay resonates with crystalline clarity, purity and intensity, yet its overall raison d’etre is balance and harmony; one marvels at how a wine of such brightness and elevation can be grounded in elements of clean earth and limestone minerality and possess a texture that’s both fleet in acidity and talc-like in density. More than just a successful chardonnay, it’s an epitome. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Finally in this trio of dishes is the most unusual we tried so far: Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Good thing for the quotation marks, because this “Milanese” has about as much to do with the classic preparation — veal escalopes pounded thin, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and sauteed in butter — as Madonna has to do with, you know, the Madonna. But never mind, this seemingly strange sauce — onion, garlic, bell pepper, sardines, tomatoes, cauliflower, raisins and pecans — is actually quite tasty, with a cannily blended panoply of flavors and sensations. Despite the sardines, which cook away to richness and depth, this is definitely a red wine item.

Something based on grenache would have been appropriate, like the vivid, spicy Chamisal Grenache 2009, Edna Valley, that I had with a cheese toast lunch recently, but instead I pulled out the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Livermore Valley. (I wrote about the complicated history of the Mirassou family and its winery and vineyards and the La Rochelle and Steven Kent labels here.) This is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels for 24 months, with an alcohol content of 14.6 percent. Expecting something like an aggressive blockbuster, right? No, friends, the Steven Kent Folkendt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ’09 is a model of how the right grapes can soak up that oak and turn it into a eature of spicy, supple resonance and understated yet persistent support. The color is dark ruby shading to magenta at the rim; the bouquet of ripe, slightly smoky black currants, black cherries and plums is permeated by notes of lavender and violets, bitter chocolate and a powerful graphite element that emerges from the background. This cabernet is characterized by superb balance, tone and bearing, though that graphite-like mineral quality intensifies as the moments pass and silky, dusty tannins burgeon into dimension from mid-palate through the finish, which delivers (after 45 minutes or an hour) a healthy dose of brambly, walnut-shell austerity. Improbably, this seemed perfect with Ma-Ma’s Pasta “Milanese.” Production was 82 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $65.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carménère 2010, Calchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Excellent. About $13.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino 2011, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. Excellent. About $19.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bodegas Carchelo “C” 2010, Jumilla, Spain. 40 percent each monastrell and syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $16.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

J Pinot Gris 2011, California. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, Alta Mesa, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Meli Dry Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $13.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Excellent. About $15.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Navarro Pinot Grigio 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Numero III Rosado de Monastrell 2011, Bulles, Spain. Excellent. About $12.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quirvira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $19.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barnas, La Rioja, Argentina. Excellent. About $11.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $18.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »