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.


… and when I say “a superior cava,” I’m not damning with faint praise. As many of My Readers know, “cava” is the term for Spanish sparkling wine produced in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, the step that produces the all-important bubbles. Just because cava in made in the method of Champagne does not mean, of course, that cava resembles Champagne, even with the bubbles, one reason being that traditionally cava was made pretty exclusively from indigenous grapes, that is, macabeu, xarel.lo and parellada, which sound like names in a science-fiction novel. Cava, in other words, could often be refreshing, charming and delightful, as well as uniquely Spanish, but seldom displayed complexity or depth. That situation changed when forward-thinking producers started adding chardonnay and pinot noir to their cava, along with the traditional grape varieties. A terrific example of such a model is the CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, made by Mont-Ferrant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Carme Ruscalleda’s restaurant in Sant Pau. (Mont-Ferrant was founded in Catalonia in 1865 by August Vilaret.)

So, the blend in CR20 Cava 2006 is 60 percent chardonnay, 20 percent xarel.lo and 10 percent each macabeu and parellada. The color is medium gold; a stream of fine bubbles seethes up through the glass. The first impression is of bread and biscuits, backed up by limestone and steel and notes of hay and acacia, roasted lemon and a hint of pear; a few moments bring in touches of ginger and green tea. This is a saline and savory sparkling wine, energized by brisk acidity and the buoyancy of a spanking sea-breeze yet given a layering of nutty yeast and toast with elements of cloves and limestone-like minerality. All aspects add up to a cava of rare presence and character. 12.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco. A sample for review. Image from

So here we are at the penultimate day of 2012, a year that will not, I venture, be remembered with great affection, either publicly or privately. December 30th is the Holy Day of two rather obscure figures, Pope Felix I, who reigned approximately from 269 to 274 and about whom very little is known, not even if he was actually a martyr, and Ecgwine (died 717), bishop of Worcester whose remains after the Norman Conquest were said to have inspired miracles. Selected birthdays include Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Bert Parks (1914-1992), Jack “Book ’em, Danno!” Lord (1920-1998), Bo Diddley (1928-2008) and Davy “Daydream Believer” Jones (1945-2012).

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2012, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Sixth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly amusing to commemorate today the previous five lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 96 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional, about $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.

Nothing thrilling today, you’re not going to get goose-bumps, but a roster of primarily well-made solid red wines that should make for an enjoyable and possibly interesting experience, especially with the robust fare we tend to partake of now that the Northern Hemisphere rolls toward winter. No tech info, no winery or estate or family histories, no geographical particulars, no humorous asides; just quick notes intended to pique your curiosity. If you want to twist my arm — ouch! — I would say that the real go-to wines today are the Zaco Tempranillo 2010 and The Spur Red Wine 2010.
Ergo Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. From Bodegas Martin Codax. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby with a magenta cast; ripe and fleshy with dried spices and dried fruit, touch of fruitcake; black cherries and plums with touches of licorice, cloves and leather; slightly resinous like pine and rosemary. Pleasant but one-dimensional. Very Good. About $12.
Buried Cane “Roughout” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alc. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 2% syrah. Deep ruby color with trace of garnet flushing the rim; bright, clean and fresh, immediately appealing with a real lift; quite dense and chewy, with black cherries and currants, hints of cedar and thyme, tobacco and lead pencil and a backnote of black olive; dusty tannins and a medium length spicy finish. Very Good+. About $15.
Clayhouse Caberbet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. 80% cabernet sauvignon, 20% petit verdot. Medium ruby color; smooth, spicy, fruity; smoke and tobacco, spiced and macerated black cherries and currants; pleasing heft and texture, moderately packed-in tannins and graphite-like minerality; burgeoning spice and lively acidity; solid finish. Very Good+. About $15.
Vina Zaco Tempranillo 2010, Rioja, Spain. 14% alc. Bright medium ruby color; wood and spice and woody spices; plums, black currants, leather; a wine to chew on in every sense; tannins coat the palate; an intense and concentrated core of graphite, bitter chocolate and lavender; a finish packed with spice and dusty, earthy minerals. Cries out for big steaming bowl of lamb stew. Very Good+. About $15.
The Spur Red Wine 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. From Murrieta’s Well. 14.5% alc. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 24% petit verdot, 23% malbec, 5% petite sirah. Very attractive, almost-Bordeaux-style red blend. Black cherries and plums, very spicy with seething graphite and bitter chocolate qualities, and a backwash of some red fruit (and hint of lavender); vibrant acidity keeps it lively, while slightly earthy, velvety tannins lend depth and texture. A great steak, meatloaf or burger wine. Excellent. About $25.
Heller Estate Cachagua Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. 81% cabernet sauvignon, 11% merlot, 8% malbec. Deep ruby color; plums, currants, mint, thyme and cedar; quite spicy, a little fleshy and macerated; quite intense earthy-dusty-graphite element with plush tannins and a hint of lightly sanded wood; dark black fruit flavors; a long spice-and-tannin-laden finish. Now through 2017 to ’19. Very Good+. About $28.
Reata Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Radiant medium ruby color; cola, cloves and rhubarb, black cherries and plums; slightly earthy and loamy, a touch of woody spices and slightly buffed tannins; brings up an intriguing note of dried herbs; smooth, supple, nicely integrated but thins out through the finish. Now to 2014. Very Good+. About $30.
Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2009, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. All organic. If you take the Jura region as the model instead of Burgundy, you’ll get the drift of this interpretation of the grape. Medium ruby-color with a slight garnet rim; mint, rhubarb and pomegranate; hints of fruitcake and tomato skin; dried cherries and melon; cloves, touch of brown sugar (though the wine is dry) with a slight graphite-charcoal edge; more delicate and elegant (and slightly eccentric) than powerful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Made for roasted game birds. Excellent. About $48.

Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.

With a nod to Thursday’s International Tempranillo Day, here are five inexpensive examples of the grape, only four of which I recommend, and those are the breaks here on Weekend Wine Sips. These are all Spanish, four are 100 percent tempranillo, one a bit of a blend. The best, I’ll come right out and say, are the Valdubon 2010, Ribera del Duero ($15) and the Torres Sangre de Toro 2010, Catalunya ($11). If you’re planning on grilling steaks or chops or braising short ribs or veal shanks this weekend, these two would be real crowd-pleasers. As usual, I eliminate technical data, historical info, personnel news and other items that might be geekily interesting for the sake of telegraphic notices designed to whet the palate and stimulate the imagination, unless, of course, I don’t recommend the wines, which is the case with one entry today. These were samples for review.
Tapeña Tempranillo 2011, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. Deep ruby magenta color; a fresh, young and initially grapy tempranillo for immediate drinking; pure blackberry and black currant with a background of bitter chocolate and lavender; very dry with soft furry tannins and a hint of a graphite edge. Now through 2013. Very Good. About $10.
Valdubon 2010, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby color; black raspberry, cherry and blueberry with hints of black olives and dried thyme, tar and fruitcake and black tea; manages to be both sleek and rustic, a surprisingly pleasing and vibrant combination; dense, barely roughened tannins, slightly woody spice; finish packed with black fruit and graphite. Lots of character for the price. Very Good+. About $15.
Vaza Crianza 2009, Rioja. 14% alc. 100% tempranillo. I generally don’t give technical information in the “Wine Sips,” but I’ll say that this wine received, according to its label, 18 months in French and American oak barrels, which, to my palate, just killed it. Very dusty, very tannin, very woody. A mistake. Not recommended. About $15.
Torres Sangre de Toro 2010, Catalunya. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Dark to medium ruby color; warm, spicy and macerated, a little fleshy, a bit exotic; ripe but spare notes of fresh black currants with dried cherries and raspberries; black and blue fruit flavors, grainy tannins and bright acidity wrapped around a core of mint and meat; a savory and sanguine wine that yearns for a full-flavored steak or grilled sausages. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving Great Value.
Familia Torres Coronas Tempranillo 2008, Catalunya. 13.5% alc. 86% tempranillo, 14% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby color with a touch of garnet; solid, well-built, sleek, like a roadster of the Old School; smoke, ash, tar, ripe and dried blackberries, blueberries and mulberries with an undertone of black plum and potpourri; lip-smacking tannins and bright acid, increasing dry, finish takes on rooty and brambly austerity. Through 2014. Very Good+. About $15.

Typically, I ignore such marketing devices as Grenache Day or Riesling Month or Tempranillo Day, which happens to be today. I mean, these “days” are dreamed up by trade groups and marketing firms and usually have no official standing. I gave in to Tempranillo Day, however, because it’s a red grape that has a long history in Spain and deserves to be better known. In tomorrow or Saturday’s edition of “Weekend Wine Sips” I’ll mention some inexpensive and accessible wines made from the tempranillo grape, not seen much outside the Iberian peninsula, not that it hasn’t been tried (especially in Argentina and Australia), but today I focus on two producers of tempranillo wines in the region of Rioja, one a venerable estate, Bodegas Faustino, that makes fairly old-fashioned Rioja, and a much younger producer of a more modern style of tempranillo — new French oak barrels! — Bodegas Muriel. Tempranillo is the primary grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero (southwest of Rioja) but it’s grown in many other parts of Spain, too, though under widely varying names; in Portugal’s Douro Valley, it contributes to Port under the name tinto roriz.
This bodega was founded in 1986 by Julian Murua Entrena, in the location of old cellars owned by his parents. The wines, all 100 percent tempranillo, are imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. These were samples for review.

The Muriel Seleccion 2009, Rioja, aged four months in new American oak barrels. The color is dark ruby; the bouquet is warm, spicy and quite attractive in its notes of macerated and slightly fleshy black cherries, currants and plums. It’s savory and flavorful, dense, chewy and almost velvety in the mouth — nothing of the grape’s spareness here — though lipsmacking tannin and acidity keep it honest. The wine is dry, robust and lively and should drink nicely through 2015 or ’16, especially with beef, lamb or veal. 13.5 percent alcohol. 2,000 cases imported. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Muriel JME 2007, Rioja, named for the owner of the winery, aged five months in new French and American Oak barrels, the standard 225-liter (59-gallon) barrique. The wine is intense in every way, from its dark ruby color to its heady aromas of smoke and figs and caramelized fennel and spiced and macerated currants, blueberries and plums to its graphite infused red and blue fruit flavors; yet JME 2007 is more spare, balanced and elegant than one would think initially, almost belying its claim to modernism. The wine is very dry, enlivened by furrowing acidity and devolving to a finish packed with cloves, sandalwood and dried violets and lavender. 14 percent alcohol. 664 cases imported. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $25.

In the Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, a crianza is a wine that has aged a least one year in oak casks. Muriel Crianza 2005, Rioja spent exactly that long in American oak. For whatever reason — that’s not a huge amount of wood exposure for wine — this Crianza ’05 feels like the woodiest of this quartet. While the wine is at first quite bright, spicy and appealing, it would probably be more palatable (and I’m speaking of my palate, of course) if its notes of dried spices, dried fruit and flowers had not received such an edge of smoky, charcoal-permeated oak and if the fine-grained tannins did not feel so strictly dry. Still, with roasted duck or grilled leg of lamb, this might be fine. 13 percent alcohol. 1,700 cases imported. Through 2015 or ’17. Very Good+. About $17.

In terms of overall price/quality ratio, the Muriel Reserva 2004, Rioja, is the bargain of this stable. The color is a beautiful limpid dark ruby that shades to medium ruby-garnet at the rim; aromas of fig, balsam, bay leaf and vanilla-tinged red and black currants and cherries are laden with cloves, sandalwood and potpourri. The wine is smooth, mellow and savory but surprisingly girt with dense but finely milled tannins and spicy oak, from two years in French and American barrels. 13 percent alcohol. A candidate for game birds or dry flavorful cheeses. 600 cases imported. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $20.
The producer traces its origins to 1861, though the Faustino label was not created until the late 1950s; the estate is still owned by the same family. Their cellars hold 9 million bottles of Reserva and Gran Reserva wines from multiple vintages. The wines of Faustino are imported by Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, which made these older vintages available. The Gran Reserva wines are very limited; in ’99, for example, only 700 bottles were made. Tasted at Wine Bloggers’ Conference 2012 in Portland, Oregon.

Faustino I Gran Reserva 1999, Rioja. This wine is a blend of 90 percent tempranillo and 10 percent mixed mazuelo and graciano grapes; it aged between two and three years in oak casks, followed by four years in the bottle before release. The color is a beguiling and radiant medium ruby; first note: “god that’s lovely.” I meant lovely as in a seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants with notes of dried cranberries and blueberries over hints of fruitcake, lavender and graphite. The wine reveals spice in the form of cloves and sandalwood, and juicy black and red fruit flavors gently supported by fine-grained tannins and vibrant acidity; the finish is dry, slightly woody and austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through — who knows? — 2030 or ’40. Excellent. About $35 to $45, an Astonishing Bargain.

Going back 17 years, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1982, Rioja, offers a color that’s more garnet-brick red than ruby and a blossoming bouquet that’s earthy and a little funky — I mean in the sense of mushrooms and damp moss — with back-notes of briers and brambles that segue through to the delicately spiced and macerated flavors of currants and plums; the wine is delicious, soft and mellow, yet for a wine that’s 30 years old, it reveals a surprisingly rigorous structure of graphite-infused tannins and keen acidity. A blend of 85 percent tempranillo and 15 percent graciano, the wine aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. It could go another 10 years. Very Good+. Average price nationally is about $78, a Great Value for a fascinating experience.

Finally, the Faustino I Gran Reserva 1964, Rioja, provides all the elements we expect from a 48-year-old wine in terms of development and drinkability (understand that I’m not talking about fine aged Bordeaux): Savory and sweetly, mildly ripe fruit; a delicate expression of maturity, just slightly earthy; tranquil and dignified in its fine-boned structure, with slightly dusty tannins and muted but still viable acidity. Tasting this wine made me long for a roasted game bird, a pheasant or woodcock; that would have been perfect. A blend of 80 percent tempranillo, 10 percent each graciano and mazuelo, aged 30 months in American oak. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $174, though found around the country much cheaper and much more expensive and definitely Worth a Search

Jumilla is a wine region in southeastern Spain in the province of Murcia, its arid hills providing a transition between the coast and the vast plateau of Castilla-La Mancha that occupies the country’s center. With its vineyards situated at heights between 2,000 and 3,500 feet elevation, Bodegas Carchelo produces some of Jumilla’s finest wines, of which the “C” 2010, a blend of 40 percent monastrell (the French mourvèdre), 40 percent syrah and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, is a terrific example, being both rustic and stylish; the package is pretty stylish, too. That combination indicates a modern vision for the wine, since it’s a melange of grapes, not necessarily in the same proportion, that could be found in the South of France, in parts of Italy, in California or Washington, in Argentina or Australia. “C” receives less oak than Carchelo’s other wines, resting only two or three months in French barrels. The color is deep dark ruby-purple; aromas of ripe, smoky and spicy black currents, blackberries and blueberries are seductively woven with graphite, lavender and violets, cloves and sandalwood and just an edge of black olive and bell pepper. The wine is robust to the point of being broad-shouldered and burly; lip-smacking acidity and dusty tannins support and temper a black and blue fruit basket of sweet ripeness. The finish is long, mineral-lashed and slightly astringent. This could wait a year or two, unless you’re drinking it with a medium rare rib-eye steak or leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary, hot and crusty from the grill. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $16, an Incredible Bargain, and discounted around the country as low as $14.

Imported by Classical Wines of Spain, Seattle. A sample from a local wholesale house.

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