Wine of the Week


Here’s a quite beautiful blended white wine from France’s Coteaux du Languedoc region. Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette 2013 combines 40 percent vermentino grapes — known by that name in Italy but usually called rolle in the South of France — 30 percent roussanne, 20 percent grenache blanc and 10 percent viognier. The wine is barrel-fermented, half of it goes through malolactic fermentation and it all aged for four months in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak barrels. The color is moderate gold with a pale green shimmer; enticing aromas of honeysuckle and camellia are twined with notes of peaches and roasted lemons, quince and ginger, undercurrents of cloves, pineapple and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Give the wine a few moments in the glass and it unfurls touches of cantaloupe, lychee and almond skin. Pretty heady stuff, n’est-ce pas? On the palate, the wine is dense and silky but enlivened by bright acidity and an element of scintillating limestone minerality; by such means, it thankfully avoids being merely sumptuous. Ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors are nicely balanced and offer a sheen of exotic spice, while the finish, with a hint of grapefruit bitterness, adds a necessary quality of elegance and spareness. 14 percent alcohol. We happily drank this with a delicious gratin of endive and potatoes with walnuts and thyme. Consume now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $24.

Esprit du Vin/Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Florida. A sample for review.

The Zenato estate was founded in 1960 by Sergio and Carla Zenato, just east of Lake Garda, and focused from the beginning on the white trebbiano di Lugana grape. Today, the property makes a variety of wines, including the red Valpolicella Classico and Amarone. The estate is now operated by Sergio and Carla’s daughter Nadia and son Alberto, who have introduced a new wine to the Zenato roster is the Alanera Rosso Veronese, today’s Wine of the Week. Alanera means “black wing.”

So, the Zenato Alanera 2012, Rosso Veronese, is a blend of 55 percent corvina grapes, 25 percent rondinella, 10 percent corvinone and 5 percent each merlot and cabernet sauvignon. That latter percentage of grapes associated more with Bordeaux or California or indeed Tuscany instead of the Veneto is why this wine carries a Rosso Veronese designation rather than Valpolicella; merlot and cabernet sauvignon are not allowed in “official” Valpolicella at any level. Fifty percent of the grapes were dried. The wine aged 12 months in 300 to 500-liter tonneaux and 100 to 150-hectoliter tanks, meaning fairly large to quite large vessels — 100 HLs equal 2,641.7 gallons — and no new oak, these barrels all being two or three years old. The wine is a dark ruby color with a purple tinge at the rim; scents of ripe black currants, blueberries and plums are permeated by notes of licorice, lavender and violets, with a penetrating graphite element, the overall impression being spicy, roasted and a little fleshy. It’s quite dry but succulent, a bit velvety on the palate but buoyed by bright acidity and pert flint-like minerality; and boy is it tasty, with its black fruit flavors touched with fruitcake and oolong tea. Moderate and slightly chewy tannins lend heft from mid-palate back through the clean, chiseled finish. A very manageable 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

Imported by The Winebow Group, New York. A sample for review.

The red grape variety lagrein dates back at least to the 17th Century in Italy’s Alto Adige region and is generally recognized as one of the oldest varieties grown there. This is in the country’s northeastern reaches, up where speakers of Italian and speakers of German segue rather seamlessly and place names and other nomenclature are often given in both languages. For example, the producer of today’s Wine of the Week is listed on the label as Kellerei-Cantina Andrian. The cantina, founded in 1893, was the first cooperative in Alto Aldige, a cool climate mountainous area of calcareous soil also referred to as Sud — or South — Tirol. Andrian was absorbed into the cooperative Cantina Terlano in 2008, though the wines are made separately to preserve their individuality. Winemaker for Andrian is Rudi Kofler.

The Andrian Rubeno Lagrein 2013, Alto Adige, ages briefly in large, old oak casks that lend the wine some shape and dimension. The color is an intense dark ruby with a slightly lighter garnet edge. Full-fledged aromas of spicy red and black currants and plums are buoyed by notes of sour cherry and brambles and a hint of mocha-like richness. These elements slip easily to the palate, where the wine feels robust and vibrant in character but displays soft tannins and appealing dusty graphite minerality. This is, in other words, a pleasurable and easy-drinking red wine that you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about and just enjoy with grilled sausages, simple pasta dishes and pizzas, a burger; you get the idea. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $12 to $14.

Imported by Banville Wine Merchants, North Bergen, N.J. A sample for review.

I’ll admit that choosing the Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, for Wine of the Week is a pretty obvious move. After all, it’s widely-known and available, and it’s fairly priced. Sometimes obvious choices, however, are the only ones to make, at least when they involve quality and consistency. The Belleruche Côtes-du-Rhône wines — there are also a red and a white — emerge from the M. Chapoutier stable, where their humble presence does nothing to tarnish the reputation of the company’s thoroughbreds; these are all exceedingly well-made wines, at whatever level. Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, is composed of grenache, syrah and cinsault grapes purchased from throughout this region of France’s southern Rhône Valley. The wine is made completely in stainless steel vats to ensure freshness and immediate appeal. The color is light but radiant salmon-peach; aromas of slightly spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries are wedded to notes of pomegranate and pomander, with a delicate structure of lavender and limestone in the background. This is a rose that melds its delicate nature to a moderately lush texture supported by bright acidity for a thirst-quenching character; on the palate, it adds a touch of peach and tart cranberry to the red berry flavors. It’s an attractive and tasty wine in every aspect. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2015. If your household goes the route of baked ham for Easter luncheon, Belleruche 2014, Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé, would be perfect. Also good for such picnic fare as fried chicken, deviled eggs and (for the Anglophiles) cucumber or watercress sandwiches, crusts trimmed, if you please. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. I borrowed this image from my wine-blogger pal Benito.

One of the most reliable red wines in California is the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel, which for 2013 lives up to its reputation for delicious dependability. “Heritage Vines” doesn’t mean that the vines in question are old themselves but that they were grafted onto rootstock from “historic pre-Prohibition vineyards,” thus, in a way, preserving a connection to Sonoma County’s tradition of old zinfandel vines. At 76 percent zinfandel, this wine barely qualifies as varietal, the federal government requiring 75 percent of a grape variety in order for it to be declared on the label. (The ratio rises to 85 percent for estate wines.) The rest of the Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013, Sonoma County, consists of 21 percent petite sirah, two percent primitivo and one percent carignane. The sharp-eyed among My Readers will immediately exclaim, “But primitivo and zinfandel are the same grape, n’est-ce pas? DNA has spoken.” Actually, DNA testing revealed that the Italian primitivo grape and the zinfandel grape, originating in Europe but grown primarily in California, are clones of the rare Croatian grape named Crljenak. Hence they are very similar — some references assert that zinfandel is closer to the parent grape — but not exactly identical, though they tend to be regarded as synonymous. American labeling laws, however, do not allow the names to be used interchangeably, so grapes from primitivo vines grown from Italian cuttings must be cited separately. Got that?

Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2013 aged 15 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels. The color is a radiant dark ruby with a violet-purple edge; aromas of blackberries and blueberries are infused with notes of graphite, mint, lavender and burgeoning elements of iodine and sandalwood; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of tapenade and fruitcake. Over a lithe and supple texture, just hinting at muscularity and moderately dusty tannins, the wine offers faceted, spiced and peppery flavors of blackberries and blueberries with undertones of black raspberry and plum; from mid-palate through the finish the wine takes on effects of briers and brambles and slightly chiseled mineral qualities. This is about as classic as zinfandel gets. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2017 with pizza — which we did — burgers and steaks, braised meat dishes, hearty pastas, fajitas. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

Boy, the weather certainly has improved down in my neck o’ the woods. The temperature is reaching 75 this afternoon, and the sky is blue and clear as a bell. I see on the weather map that it’s going up into the mid 80s in southern Florida and California. Time, then, to break out a winsome, uncomplicated little white wine to sip while you’re out soaking up rays or relaxing on the porch or patio or perhaps while you’re in the kitchen rustling some dinner together. The wine is The Beach House Sauvignon Blanc 2014, from South Africa’s Western Cape region, and yeah, it’ll remind you of lying around on a beach or make you wish you were basking on one. It’s a blend of 75 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon, made all in stainless steel for freshness and crisp immediacy. The color is very pale straw-gold, with a shimmer of light green; penetrating aromas of lemongrass, lime peel, grapefruit and mango are suffused with notes of figs and a kind of sunny-leafy quality. The brisk acidity and scintillating limestone elements start right at entry and continue to bring liveliness to the wine all through its passage of pineapple, peach, roasted lemon and hint of thyme through your happy mouth; an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness brings pizazz to the finish. The alcohol content is a nicely manageable 12.5 percent. Drink up and don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing, just nibble on some shrimp or chicken salad, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $10, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Petaluma, Calif. A sample for review.

The idea behind Rotation Wines is to produce drinkable cross-vintage blends and sell them at reasonable prices. No sneakiness enters into the concept. It is acceptable to the TTB — widely recognized abbreviation for Federal agency, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — that if a vintage wine carries a general “California” designation, it must contain at least 85 percent of wine from stated vintage, or only 85 percent — see the TTB code: §4.27(a)(2). A vintage wine that displays a specific American Viticultural Area (AVA), like Russian River Valley or Paso Robles, must contain at least 95 wine from the stated vintage. So, the Rotation Red Blend 2012, California, is a blend of 60 percent merlot and 30 percent zinfandel from 2012 and 10 percent ruby cabernet from 2010; the zinfandel was briefly aged in oak barrels. The grapes derived from Napa Valley and “nearby areas.” One does not often see ruby cabernet mentioned as a grape on a label, and indeed its use even as a blending grape in California is diminishing. It’s a cross between carignan and cabernet sauvignon produced at the University of California, Davis, in 1936. And what about the wine under consideration today? The Rotation Red Blend 2012 offers an intense, dark ruby color and fleshy, meaty aromas of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants; the spice notes involved lean toward the woodsy side of cloves and sandalwood; there’s also a touch of lavender and graphite. On the palate, the wine is simple and direct, very tasty with black fruit edged with red (both ripe and slightly baked) and bolstered by moderate tannins and lively acidity. Drink through the end of this year or into 2016 with burgers and pizzas, with hearty pasta dishes and fajitas. Very Good. About — and here’s the great part — $9 to $10.

A sample for review.

Most of us, including people in the wine industry, can have no idea what it feels like to own an estate where grapes have been grown since 1273. That privilege belongs to the establishment Marco Felluga — now run by fifth generation Roberto Falluga — which purchased the 250-acre Russiz Superiore property — half planted to vines — in 1967. The part of the world of which I write here is Collio, in the Friuli region of Italy, far in the northeast, an area influenced by the warmth of the Adriatic Sea, 12 miles away, and the coolness of the nearby Alps. Friuli and the northeast generally are white wine territory, but red wine is also produced, and our Wine of the Week is one of those. The Marco Felluga Russiz Superiore Cabernet Franc 2012, Collio, offers a deep black-ruby hue with a vibrant violet rim; it’s all a bit thermonuclear. The wine is 100 percent cabernet franc, and it aged 12 months in small oak casks, a device that lends it lovely suppleness and a subtle spicy background, but nothing obtrusive. This feels, in fact, like classic Loire Valley cab franc, with its seamless amalgam of cedar and tobacco, plums, blueberries and raspberries permeated by notes of black olives, loam and oolong tea; hints of cloves and sandalwood emerge after a few moments in the glass. The wine is robust, dense, almost chewy yet never heavy or overbearing, being, rather, sleek and chiseled in texture. Black fruit flavors are supported by clean acidity, mildly dusty tannins and an undercurrent of earthy graphite minerality. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with hearty braised meat dishes, full-flavored pastas, grilled pork chops or steaks. Excellent. About $28.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

If your weather week is anything like ours, you’ll require a robust red wine to accompany the hearty meals you’re preparing to shore against the chill, the wind, the ice and snow. Here’s an example that will do very nicely indeed. The Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008, produced by Agricole Vallone in the Brindisi region of the Salento Peninsula — otherwise known as the heel of the Italian boot — adds 20 percent montepulciano grapes to the balance of negroamaro; the wine spends its infancy in stainless steel tanks, then ages six to eight months in 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels, finishing with a year in concrete and five or six months in bottle before release. (Fifty hectoliters equals 1,320.86 gallons.) At six years old, the single-vineyard Vigna Flaminio Riserva 2008 is notably fresh and appealing; the color is a rich ruby-purple with a magenta rim, and deep aromas of black currants, cherries and plums smell ripe, spicy and dusty, with hints of violets and lavender, graphite and loam and in the background dried spices and potpourri. Flavors of black fruit offer touches of blueberries and red cherries in a welter of oolong tea, dried porcini, orange rind and clean earth; bright acidity lends verve to a settling darkness of mineral-laced tannins and a wash of woodsy effects on the finish. All in all — finally – this is a completely satisfying, full-bodied, tasty wine for that roast pork loin, pasta Bolognese or sausage pizza. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. This bottle was a sample for review.

Michel Chapoutier’s venture from the Rhone Valley west to Roussillon produced the Domaine de Bila-Haut label. The basic reds are rustic, wholesome and tasty, while the upper-tier wines reveal more complexity and refinement. One of the latter, in the current vintage, is the Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France. Occultum Lapidem means “hidden stone,” and the words occur in the Medieval Latin alchemical motto: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicina, which translates to “Visit the interior of the earth and by purifying (what you find there) you will discover the hidden stone, which is the true medicine.” That’s a heady requirement for a wine to fulfill, but this one does so handily. The vines average 60 years old and are farmed biodynamically. The wines see no new oak or small barriques but ferment using natural yeasts in cement vats and age half in cement and half in 600-liter demi-muid barrels. This is a blend of 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache and 10 percent carignan.

Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2013 offers a dark ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Every element — to be alchemical — you expect from this combination of grapes is present but both intensified and made elegant; the herbal-floral-woodsy qualities are here in notes of sage and rosemary, violets and lavender, sandalwood, allspice and underbrush; fruit falls into the plum, blackberry and blueberry range, with touches ripe and succulent as well as dried and spare, and punctuated by a hint of slightly raspy raspberry; a foundation of leather and loam rounds out the profile, along with hints of iodine, graphite, buoyant but not sharp acidity and mildly dense tannins. All of these factors are melded with a hand so deft that it amounts to artistry. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.

An R. Stack Selection, HB Wine Merchants, New York. This wine was a sample for review.

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