Tuscany


For these brief notes on 12 wines appropriate for accompanying pizzas and burgers, we look, first, for reasonable prices and, second, for robust, full-bodied wines with lots of flavors and good acid structures. Prices range from $12 to $25. I avoided the obvious candidates like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, except perhaps as part of a blend, mainly to give a chance to other equally worthy grape varieties. And speaking of variety, we touch down today in Tuscany and southeastern Italy, in France’s Rhone Valley, in Chile and Spain and Portugal, and a couple areas of California. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I do not include much in the way of technical information, except for grapes, or historical and geographical data. The intent is to pique your interest and whet your palate quickly. Actually, I just realized what a great case of mixed red wines this group would make as a gift, to yourself or someone else, to consume through this Summer and into Fall. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Vino dei Fratelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% montepulciano grapes. Dark ruby color with a violet rim; young, intense, grapey; raspberries, plums, mulberries, hint of spice and brambles; goes down smoothly and easily but quite tasty; bright acidity with light tannins for structure. A decent quaffer with pizza or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good. About $12, for buying by the case.
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Le Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% negroamaro grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; black and red cherries and raspberries with a wild note of mulberry, hints of cloves and sandalwood; quenching acidity keeps you coming back for another sip, while barely perceivable tannins keep the wine upright; dry but delicious with deep black and red fruit flavors, fleshed out with spice and a hint of briers and graphite. A terrific pizza quaffer, now through 2015. Very Good+. About $12, a Can’t Miss bargain.
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Adobe Red 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.7% alc. From the Clayhouse division of Middleton Family Wines. Zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 22%, cabernet sauvignon 21%, malbec 17%, petit verdot 10%, tempranillo 4%, syrah 3%. Dark ruby color; black cherries, plums, blueberries, undercurrents of briers, brambles and graphite; rollicking spicy element and bright acidity; very dry, moderate tannins, even-tempered and fun to drink. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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Cachette 2012, Cötes du Rhöne. 13.5% alc. 70% grenache, 10% each syrah, carignan and cinsault. Dark ruby color with a magenta tinge; ripe, meaty and fleshy; blackberries, blueberries, plums with a hint of wild berry; notes of leather, lavender and white pepper, loam and graphite; spicy black and blue fruit flavors, a vein of potpourri and bitter chocolate, hints of cedar and dried thyme; very dry, lively, spicy finish. Good job! Would make a respectable house wine for drinking into 2016. Very Good+. About $15.
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Coltibuono “RS” 2011, Chianti Classico, Italy. 14% alc. 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; potpourri and pomander; oolong tea; red and black currants and plums; amenable and amiable but does not lack an acidic backbone and deftly shaped slightly leathery tannins with a touch of dried porcini about them; very dry spice-and-mineral-laced finish. Now through 2015 or ’16. Particularly appropriate with sausage pizza. Very Good+. About $15.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Dark ruby color; bay leaf, sage and cedar; a lift of spiced and slightly roasted currants, plums and raspberries with a wild, exotic note; background of graphite and bitter chocolate; serious structure, very dry with relentless yet soft and chewy tannins and a foundation of polished wood and granitic minerality; but delicious with a blend of fresh and dried raspberries and plums with a hint of fruitcake. You might want to forgo a burger for a medium rare ribeye steak in this case. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $16, Great Quality for the Price.
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Viña Maquis Carménère 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. 100% carménère. Dark ruby-purple color with violet tones; ripe and fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums; briers and brambles, graphite, notes of lavender, bay leaf, thyme and black olive; very dry in the bitter chocolate, walnut-shell, dried porcini range of polished tannic density; arrow-straight acidity cuts a swath; black fruit flavors open with hints of exotic spice. Lots going on here; you’ll want that burger with bacon, grilled onions and jalapeño. Now through 2016 to ’17. Very Good+. About $19.
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Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County. 14% alc. 77% grenache, 18% syrah, 5% mourvèdre. Dark ruby-magenta color; grapey, plummy, notes of black currants and raspberries; cloves and pomegranate, bright acidity, undertone of loam and graphite but mainly tasty and delightful. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Garzon Tannat 2012, Uruguay. 13.8% alc. Dark ruby; robust and rustic, quite lively and spicy; deep and intense blackberry and currant scents and flavors, a bit roasted and fleshy; loam and mocha, a crisp pencil line of lavender and graphite minerality; gritty tannins make it dense and chewy; dry fairly austere finish. You’ll want that burger nicely charred, with a side of brimstone frites. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vizcarra Senda del Oro 2012, Ribero del Duero, Spain. NA% alc. 100% tempranillo. Intensely dark ruby-purple; plums and mulberries, dried red currants, hints of iodine and iron; the whole shelf of exotic dried spices; potpourri and lavender; very tasty, deep flavors of black and blue fruit, with an acid backbone and mild tannins. Straightforward and hard-working. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Bechthold Vineyard Ancient Vine Cinsault 2011, Lodi. 13.5% alc. How “ancient”? These vines were planted in 1885; it’s the oldest producing vineyard in Lodi. 100% cinsault. Dark cherry color; cloves and sandalwood, red and black cherries and currants, hints of fruitcake, pomander and loamy graphite, but clean, bright and appealing; lithe and supple texture, black and red fruit flavors with touches of dried fruit and flowers, lively acidity and moderately dense tannins with a faint undertone of granitic minerality. As tasty as it sounds with a slight serious edge. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $24.
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Vina Valoria Crianza 2010, Rioja, Spain. 70% tempranillo, 20% graciano, 10% mazuelo. Dark ruby color; a combination of fresh and dried fruit, plums, lavender, hints of sandalwood and coriander, touch of bay and black tea; leather, mulberries; slightly dusty graphite-flecked tannins with elements of walnut shell and dried porcini add depth and some austerity to the finish. Delicious, well-made, some seriousness to the structure. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
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XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
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Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
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Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
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Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
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Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
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d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
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Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
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Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
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Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
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Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
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Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
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Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
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Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
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Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
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Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
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Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
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Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
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Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Because that’s what we want during these chilly weeks, isn’t it? Red wines that we don’t so much have to cogitate about as enjoy, red wines that pair nicely with the hearty, stick-to-the ribs food we’re craving now: red meat pasta dishes, braised short ribs, veal and lamb shanks, chili and beef stew and lentil soup. Oh, sure, it’s easy for collectors to trod the dusty stairs down to their dim wine cellars and snatch a bottle of deep dark Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Cornas or muscular Australia cult shiraz from the shelf, but most of us don’t have the luxury or the fiduciary prowess for that. Instead, I offer today a trio of reds, not huge block-buster reds with high alcohol and powerful extraction, , just attractive, full-flavored reds with fairly gentle tariffs that should do the trick right now for your palates and pocketbooks. And they’re from three different countries; you’re so cosmopolitan!
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First, the Meli Carignan 2012, Maule Valley, Chile, a wine that includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and aged a few months in 10 percent used oak barrels and 90 percent in stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine with a dark purple-violet color and immediately appealing freshness of black cherry-black currant-and-plum scents and flavors permeated by notes of lavender, potpourri, dark chocolate and graphite. Moderate tannins gently assert themselves, to remind you that there’s some heft and backbone, while acidity keeps its end of the bargain by provided a lively aspect. 14 percent alcohol. Clean, lively and tasty. Drink now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Global Vineyards, Berkeley, Calif.
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All right, we turn to Spain and the wine region of Utiel-Requena, named for two towns in the province of Valencia, for the Pasión de Bobal 2010, produced by the Sierra Norte estate. Utiel-Requena undergoes the harshest conditions of any wine region in Spain, with poor soil, extreme heat in the summer and frigid temperatures in winter, but the indigenous bobal grape, which makes up about 75 percent of vine cultivation in the region, is hardy enough to withstand the rigor. I loved the Pasión de Bobal 2010 for its deeply mineral and tarry individuality, its dark panoply of ripe, spicy black and blue fruit effects; its acute and roiling acidity for freshness and vibrancy and its structure that deftly yet powerfully melds litheness and sinew with a dense, dusty almost cushiony texture; undertones of briers and brambles lend earthiness. The wine was made from 25- to 60-year-old vines and aged six to eight months in French barriques. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $15, a Bargain That Sends The Mind Reeling.

Steve Miles Selections, Denver, Co.
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Composed of sangiovese grapes with dollops of alicante and malvasia nera, the Fattoria Le Pupille 2011, Morellino di Scansano, from the estate of Elisabetta Geppetti in southwest Tuscany, offers a medium ruby color with a hint of violet hue and beguiling aromas of black and red cherries, currants and plums, highlighted by notes of fruitcake, lavender, oolong tea and dried orange rind. This pleasing array segues seamlessly into the mouth, where mildly dense tannins and vibrant acidity provide support for spicy black and red fruit flavors and intriguing depths of graphite minerality and a core of dried flowers and dark chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Highly drinkable and tasty, through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $16.

Importer N/A.
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Looking for a nifty red to go with burgers, steaks, hearty pizzas and pasta dishes? What Dr. FK orders is the deeply flavorful Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011, from Il Poliziano, an estate established in 1961 in the Montepulciano commune of southeast Tuscany. A blend of 80 precent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot, the wine matures for eight months, about 20 to 40 percent (depending on the vintage) in two-year-old American 59-gallon barriques and the rest in large vats. The color is rich dark ruby; aromas of mulberries, black raspberries and black currants are permeated by notes of dried rose petals, violets, orange rind and Earl Grey tea. The flavor profile is consistent with the bouquet, perhaps a bit fleshier, though wrapped around a spine of firm slightly dusty tannins, lively acidity that makes you crave another sip and a touch of graphite-like minerality for depth. The finish is dominated by spicy oak that takes on some austerity as the minutes pass. 14.5 percent alcohol, which seems to be the universal standard now. Drink through 2015. Winemaker was Federico Carletti. I’m not saying that the Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2011 wouldn’t be appropriate with the ever-nearing Thanksgiving feast, but I’m just sort of finished with that topic, O.K.? Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image from cellartracker.com.

What, you say, you’re making a wine from 2007 the Wine of the Week? Are you mad? Neither mad nor angry, Readers, and if you follow my advice, you will be not only neither mad nor angry but gratified and wise. Colognole, in the area east of Florence dubbed Chianti Rufina — not the producer Ruffino — is one of my favorite estates in the region. Rufina, which, unusually, is not contiguous with the rest of the vast Chianti DOCG, was singled out for mention by Cosimo III Grand Duke of Florence in his edict of 1716 as one of the zones of superior production for the wine; as is the case of the Chianti Classico terrain that Cosimo also commended, the Grand Duke was correct. There’s nothing flashy or flamboyant about the wines of this traditional estate, acquired by the Spalletti family in 1890 and owned now by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante; you just don’t find names like that in the USA. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 offers a lovely, limpid medium ruby-garnet color; the complete balance, harmony and integration of this wine are not awe-inspiring — remember, there’s nothing showy here — but rather intensely satisfying and, well, humane, in the sense that one really wants to share the wine with family and friends around a table set with a simple, delicious meal. Aromas of red and black currants and red cherries are woven with hints of sour cherry, dried cranberries, lilac and rose petal; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and notes of graphite, moss, black tea and loam enter the picture. Colognole typically ages 12 months in 660-gallon Slavonian and French oak casks, far larger than the standard 59-gallon French barrique beloved by many producers at the various levels of Chianti, and then ages additionally in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007 is enlivened by fine-edged acidity that cuts a swath on the palate but doesn’t disrupt the wine’s enticing suppleness and lithe character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. This is the first release from a vineyard replanted in 1995; one has to appreciate the 12-year wait to allow the vines to mature. The blend is about 95 percent sangiovese, 5 percent canaiolo. Excellent. I paid $19, the average of prices around the country.

Vintners Estates Direct Importing, Healdsburg, Cailf.

The Chianti region of Tuscany, as was the case with many vineyard and wine-making areas of Italy, was assailed by the vagaries of reputation in the second half of the 20th Century, mainly of its own doing. Chianti was marketed as a cheap wine for college students and cheap restaurants; the straw “basket” covering didn’t help. Growers overplanted their vineyards and extended acreage into inappropriate terrain, resulting in wines that were diluted and bland, when they weren’t shrieking with acidity. Fortunately, the regulations of 1984, when Chianti became a DOCG wine, lowered yields and the amount of white grapes allowed in the blend and instituted more stringent vineyard and winery practices. Chianti Classico was granted its own DOCG in 1996.

The history of Chianti, as a wine and a region, is long and storied, though the story, as I have indicated, is not always a great one. The earliest written record of Chianti wines dates to the mid-13th century, referring to some villages around Florence; at that time, the wine was white. Cosimo III de’Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, laid out the official area of Chianti in 1716, an act that seems to be the earliest effort to regulate wine production and delineate a vineyard territory. The region was expanded in 1932 and 1967, the latter edict encompassing most of central Tuscany, from the hills of Pisa in the northwest to the hills of Pomino in the northeast and far south to Siena. The first “formula” for Chianti was elucidated in 1871 by Baron Bettino Ricasoli, who recommended a blend of 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent canaiolo, 10 percent malvasia (later amended to include trebbiano) and 5 percent other local red varieties. That is not the Chianti we see nowadays, when the wine may be 100 percent sangiovese — the minimum is 80 percent sangiovese — or with dollops of “international” grapes like merlot, cabernet sauvignon or syrah. Only the most traditional estates include indigenous red varieties like canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino.

The other innovation in Chianti — particularly in Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva — is the use of 59-gallon (225-liter) French oak barriques for aging instead of the traditional large Slovenian oak casks; you will notice at least one of the wines under consideration today aged in 100 percent new French oak barrels, and when that process occurs I think we’re leaning more toward Pauillac and Napa Valley than Tuscany. In fact, if a Chianti Classico Riserva is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes and ages, say, two years in barriques, how different is it from Brunello di Montalcino also produced completely from sangiovese and aged in barriques? If you smell vanilla, you smell French oak, no matter where the wine was made.

Today we look at a dozen wines, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva, some fairly traditional, some more progressive or modern in spirit. Though I tend to like the traditional manner better, not a one of these wines is flawed or overplayed; most of the ratings are Excellent. Chianti Classico, by the way, derives from the heart of Chianti, the area south of Florence that still conforms largely to the geographical outlines laid down by Cosimo III in 1716. The implication is that the Grand Duke’s foresight was prescient and that Chianti Classico and Riserva remain the best that the region can offer, though the producers of Chianti Rufina, northeast of Italy might beg to differ.

Map from viottolowines.com.
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Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2010 consists of 90 percent sangiovese and a 10 percent blend of merlot and syrah; yes, syrah is allowed in Chianti Classico. The great majority of the wine aged nine months in 55 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks, the rest in American oak barriques; 55 hectoliters equals 1,453 gallons, so those are large casks. This is a beguiling old-style Chianti Classico (despite the merlot and syrah) that displays a dried fruit/dried spice/dried floral character still fresh, ripe and appealing and singing in notes of red and black currants flecked with sour cherry, dusty plums and graphite. The color is medium ruby with a mulberry cast; the wine is quite dry, spare without being severe, elegant without being delicate. Vibrant acidity and a long mineral and woody-spice finish reveal the fine structure that underlies this enterprise. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.

The Antinori wines are imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.They were samples for review.
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Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2010 and Marchese Antinori Chianti Classic Riserva 2008. The Villa Antinori CCR 10 is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot; the Marchese Antinori CCR 08 is 90 percent sangiovese, 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. The oak treatment reflects the slightly more serious nature of the “Marchese”; while it aged 14 months in new French oak barriques, the “Villa” aged 12 months in French and Hungarian small oak barrels. The color of “Villa” is radiant deep ruby with a hint of violet at the rim; aromas of black and red cherries and red currants are imbued with notes of lilac, cloves, sandalwood, graphite and a hint of mocha, and I’m saying that for such a young CCR, this is pretty seductive. The wine does not neglect a scrupulous structure, though, one resting on resonant acidity, sturdy yet lithe and harmonious tannins and a slightly dusty woody quality in the finish. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35. The grapes for the “Marchese” 08 derive mainly from Antinori’s Tignanello estate, with the rest coming from Badia a Passignano (see the next entry) and Peppoli. There’s heft and character here, a depth of structure that touches on modernity without going all the way into an “international” or California style, held in check by the sangiovese grape’s typical acidity and spareness. The balance between freshness and ripeness — fruit lies in the red and sour cherry range (with a hint of cranberry and black currant) — on the one hand and the panoply of dried fruit, spice and flowers on the other is deftly handled, while the fairly dense chewy tannins lend a paradoxical dynamic of velvety elegance and muscular power, and granitic minerality adds intensity in the lower registers. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $35.
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Marchese Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. Gosh, what a lovely wine, beautifully balanced and harmonious. It was made completely from sangiovese grapes and aged 14 months in new Hungarian oak barriques. The Antinori family acquired the 1,000-year-old abbey and its vineyards in 1987. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of garnet; aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, raspberries and plums are permeated by notes of coffee and tobacco, dried orange rind and violets. Tannins are both plush and rigorous, and the oak brings not only spice on the palate and suppleness to the texture but a sense of distinguished austerity. For all that, Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is delicious, tending toward mellowness, and finishes with a long swallow of graphite, brambles and lavender. Alcohol content is … percent. Now through 2017 to 2020. Excellent. About $53.
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Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico 2010 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. (Jackson Family Wines) These are modern-style wines, each aging 10 months in French oak barriques. The CC 10 is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese, 19 percent merlot and a bare 1 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is dark ruby; the wine is ripe, fleshy, spicy and oaky; notes of raspberry and black currant are permeated by cloves, orange zest, black tea and brambles; it’s really attractive initially, but you feel the sandpaper of burnished oak from mid-palate back. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. The CCR 07 is a combination of 80 percent sangiovese, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent merlot. The color is dark ruby with a touch of mulberry at the rim;aromas and flavors of dried black and blue fruit and dried baking spices admit of some fleshy and meaty elements, a little spiced and macerated, but this is primarily dry, dense and chewy, smoky, austere, packed with spice, graphite, bittersweet chocolate and dusty oak that comes up in the finish. 14.7 percent alcohol. Try 2014 to 2020 or ’22, hoping for the best. 1,430 cases. Very Good+. About $25.

Samples for review.
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Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 and Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009. Here’s a pair of well-made traditional CCR and CC. Each is based on the sangiovese grape with dollops of canaiolo, ciliegiolo and colorino — no merlot! no syrah! — and aged in French and Austrian casks of various sizes, CCR 08 for 24 months, CC 09 for 12 months; the wines were produced from organically grown grapes. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2009 offers a medium ruby color of moderate intensity and cleanly delineated black cherry and currant scents and flavors permeated by blue plums and blueberries, violets and cloves and hints of orange rind and pomegranate. A pleasing rasp of acid and slightly grainy tannins makes for an attractive texture, while the finish pulls together elements of graphite, bitter chocolate, lavender and leather. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to 2018. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva 2008 is rather a different creature, high-toned, taut, a tad imperious in the tannin and wood departments, very dry in the sense of encompassing not only a bit of austerity but the dryness associated with potpourri, woody spices such as allspice and sandalwood, the dried citron and currants of fruitcake; the oak comes up from mid-palate through the finish. Still, one gets undertones of the classic elements of sour cherry, violets, clean new leather, black tea and pomander, until they’re o’er-tower’d by the inscrutable lithic finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Best from 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to 2022. Excellent. About $35.

The wines of Badia a Coltibuono are imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. The badia (“abbey”) was founded in 1051. It has been owned by the Stucchi Prinetti family since 1846 and is home to the famous cooking school of Lorenza de’Medici. These were samples for review.
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Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico 2009. This ancient estate was purchased by Dominic Poggiali Fèlsina in 1966 and is now run by his sons. While the wine is composed of 100 percent sangiovese grapes, in the modern fashion, it aged only a year in “mid capacity” Slovenian oak barrels. The color is dark ruby at the center shading to slightly lighter ruby-garnet at the rim; beguiling aromas and flavors of dried red currants and plums, sandalwood, violets and dried orange rind are heightened by notes of oolong tea, graphite and new leather, a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of smoke, sour cherry and loam. The structure can only be called lovely; moderately dense and grainy tannins are supplemented by a gentle wash of granitic minerality and a burnished, lightly dusty wood influence; acidity is bright and supportive. 13 percent alcohol. A beautifully-made, nicely restrained Chianti Classico for drinking through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. I paid $24, but it can be found around the country as low as $18.

Imported by Delta Wholesalers, Memphis, Tenn.
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Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. The flagship of Ruffino’s “Ducale Trilogy,” the Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 is regal enough for a dukedom and indeed displays a measure of Olympian detachment and power. The wine is a blend of 80 percent sangiovese with approximately 10 percent each cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The aging is ultra-traditional: six months in vats; 24 months in oak casks of 35- or 75-hectoliter capacity; another six months in vats; six months in bottle; for a total of 3 years. (How many gallons in a hectoliter, class? That’s right, Johnny, there are 26.4 gallons in a hectoliter!) The color is vivid medium ruby with a magenta tint at the rim; you can smell how dry the wine is in its legions of potpourri, racks of dried spices, bushels of dried, crushed black and red berries, in its tomes of dusty graphite and old leather and tobacco-like old paper qualities. Same in the mouth, as the wine develops a dynamic that pitches keenly expressed acidity against supple polished yet substantial tannins, a dry, dusty rather ecclesiastical woody character and an earthy, lithic foundation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Give this breathing space, elbow room, years to grow, say, 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $40.

Ruffino Imports, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review. The estate was launched in 1877 by cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino, who sold it to the Folonari family in 1913. The Folonaris expanded the estate and the brand tremendously beginning in the 1970s. Constellation Brands acquired 49.9 percent of the company in 2010 and the remaining 51.1 percent in 2011.
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Tenuta Vìgnole Chianti Classico 2008 and Chianti Classico Riserva 2007. This 51-acre estate was acquired in 1970 by the Nistri family and is operated by brothers Massimo and Fabrizio Nistri. The CC 08 is comprised of 85 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent merlot; the wines are aged separately for 12 months, the sangiovese in large casks, the merlot in barriques, before blending. The color is dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; overall, the wine is seamlessly balanced and integrated, with aromas that twine the freshness of red and black currants and red cherries with cloves and sandalwood, notes of violets and dried orange rind and a light granitic, earthy, loamy quality. These elements segue smoothly on the palate, where the wine is dry and spare, and bright acidity keeps it lively, if not pert, and the earthly and mineral character asserts itself through the dry finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $37. The Vìgnole CCR 07 is a creature of different nature; medium ruby with a garnet tinge, it’s a blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, aged 20 months in a combination of 225-liter barriques and 400-liter tonneaux. The word is “tough,” as in a rigorous, leathery, stalwart tannic and woody structure that coats the palate and makes for a pretty damned demanding mouthful of wine. Traces of dried spice and a dried floral element lend a hint of piquancy, but this needs time in the bottle to soften and become more inviting, say 2015 or ’16 for consuming through 2022 through 2025. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent production was 1,200 six-pack cases. Excellent potential. About $60.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Tasted at a trade event in Chicago, May 15.
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All of these Italian wines — a rosé, a white and four reds — qualify as Excellent Value and, if not in your immediate neighborhood, Worth a Search. Prices range from about $10 to about $18. Little technical, historical or geographical information; rather, these brief reviews are intended to spark your interest and inspire your palates. All were samples for review. Enjoy, on this Labor Day weekend.
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Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2011, Piedmont. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Light straw-gold color with faint green highlights; roasted lemons, yellow plums, grapefruit; cloves, quince and ginger; brisk and saline; opens to hint of peach, almond blossom and a slightly honeyed aspect; very dry, packed with elements of limestone and shale minerality; blade-like acidity cuts a swath; lovely transparency and balance. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $14.
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Beni di Batasiolo Rosé 2011, Piedmont. 80% barbera, 15% dolcetto, 5% nebbiolo. Medmium copper color with a flush of salmon; dried red currants and plums, hints of raspberry and mulberry; cloves, dried violets and rose petals; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint minerality but complimented by notes of ripe red fruit, black tea, orange zest and cloves. Delicate, delightful, refreshing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby color; spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors, with hints of plum and pomegranate; touches of smoke, leather and underbrush; quite dry, a bit dusty, with vibrant acidity for a lively structure and mouth-feel; very tasty and drinkable, now through 2014. Perfect, simple pasta and pizza wine. Very Good. About $10.
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Li Veli Primonero 2010, Salento. 13.5% alc. 85% negroamaro, 15% primitivo. Deep, dark, rustic, robust, hearty; ruby-purple with a mulberry cast; blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a tantalizing hint of lilac; very spicy, very lively; in the depths, tar, lavender, bitter chocolate, super intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors, a sort of overripe but rigorous bruise-like character, graphite and granitic minerality, leather and licorice. Now through 2015. About $13.
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Poggio Vignoso Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 85% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 5% malvasia. An attractive old-fashioned Chianti aged in 10-year-old Slovenian oak barrels. Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty, spiced and macerated red cherries and currants with touches of melon and sour cherry; a little earthy and briery, with brisk acidity; smooth but leathery tannins and notes of supple and subtle wood; hint of violet on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15 but discounted around the country as low as $10.
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Sikelia Nero d’Avola 2011, Sicily. 13% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Seeing no barrel aging, this wine retains appealing freshness and immediacy while keeping faith with the grape’s dark, tarry, foresty and deeply spicy nature; dark ruby-purple color; earthy and funky, ripe, meaty and fleshy; smoke, blackberries and blueberries (with a hint of blueberry tart); graphite, deep dark Platonic black cherry elements; rustic, muscular, supple. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $15 but seen as low as $11. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

… but you really should buy the Tortarossa 2010, Toscana, by the case to drink over the next year. It’s a blend of 50 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent syrah, making it sound rather like one of those experiments in blending from California, though the Tortarossa 2010 — the name means “red cake” — manages to hold on to what feels like an Italian, if not Tuscan, character. The color is medium ruby with a tinge of mulberry; aromas of black currants and plums, touched by dried red currants and cherries, are warm and spicy, ripe, fleshy and a little meaty. The wine is robust without being rustic and flavorful without being over-ripe; black and red fruit flavors are permeated by notes of cloves, oolong tea, violets and tar and borne up by bright acidity and a surprising amount of grainy, briery tannins. Yes, quite the personality, and it matches the carefree, winsome contortionist on the wonderful label. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014, maybe into 2015, with hearty pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers and roasts or (ahem) cheese toast. Winemaker was Alessandro Bacci. Very Good+. About $15, marking Great Value.

Imported by Largo Wines, Seattle, Wash. 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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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..
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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