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

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.


… 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.

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