Wine of the Week


CVNE — Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana — was founded in Rioja in 1879 by brothers Eusebio and Raimundo Real de Asúa and is still family-owned and operated by the brothers’ direct descendants, Victor and Maria Urrutia. Today’s entry in the Wine of the Week series is the company’s Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, made from 100 percent viura grapes. The color is very pale straw-gold, as I imagine Rapunzel’s hair, and the bouquet offers tempting notes of lemons and yellow plums, lime peel and grapefruit, bay leaf and sage. The whole package is savory and saline, crisp, lively and spicy. The wine is quite dry, packed with limestone and seashell elements, delivers tremendous body and presence for the price — hell, for any price — and wraps its virtues in a texture of almost talc-like vibrancy; lovely balance all around. 13 percent alcohol. This will be perfect during the Summer with grilled shrimp, mussels, deviled eggs, paella, watercress sandwiches, you name it. I’ll call it Very Good+ edging close to Excellent. About $15, a Bargain of the Ages.

Imported by Europvin USA, Van Nuys, Calif. A sample for review.

Last night we made the classic Sicilian dish of spaghetti with sardines, raisins, pine nuts and fennel, and behold it was a good thing that we did, and we drank almost the whole bottle of the pert and tart Aia Vecchio Vermentino 2013, Toscana. The color is pale pale gold, a ghost of gold. Made all in stainless steel tanks (and with five percent viognier grapes), the wine is crisp and refreshing, savory and saline, bursting with notes of roasted lemon, ginger and quince and hints of peach and yellow plum. Very dry almost does not describe how dry this vermentino is; it’s packed with limestone, flint and seashell elements, and the whole package is sleek, lithe and supple, buoyed by crystalline acidity and a touch of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. It was perfect with the sardine pasta and would be great with all sorts of Summer fare, grilled shrimp, say, or chicken salad. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About — gasp! — $12, a Freaking Bargain.

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

In many parts of the United States of America, the season of Summer is not just gearing up but has arrived on our thresholds, hot and heavy. No better time, then, to unlimber a delicious rosé wine like Las Rocas de San Alejandro Rosé 2013, from the Calatayud appellation of the Zaragoza province in Aragon, northeastern Spain. Made from 100 percent garnacha grapes — known as grenache on the east side of the Pyrenees — this crowd-pleaser features a lovely topaz-salmon hue and enticing aromas of strawberries and red currants with a touch of spiced peaches, cloves and orange rind. It’s a little earthy on the palate, hinting at thyme and sage, limestone and flint, while expanding the influence of fresh and dried red fruit flavors and a note of stone-fruit, pomegranate and rose petal. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of this year with patio, pool-side and picnic fare. E.&J. Gallo acquired the San Alejandro cooperative in 2009. Very Good+. About $14, often discounted.

A sample for review. Image (one vintage behind) from thewinecountry.com.

Looking for a robust and rustic red wine to accompany your next hearty sausage pizza or cheeseburger heaped with bacon and grilled onions? Or perhaps you’re leaning toward grilled leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary. Well, My Readers, search no more. The Garofoli Piancara 2010, Rosso Conero, from the Italian region of Le Marche (“mar-kay”), fills the bill, fits the shoe, punches the ticket. The company dates back to 1871, when Antonio Garofoli, budding entrepreneur, began making wine for pilgrims trekking to the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto, which protects the house that is purportedly where the Blessed Mother lived with Joseph and raised her son. Because the house was flown by angels first to Croatia and then to Loreto, in 1920 Pope Benedict XV declared the Madonna of Loreto to be the patron saint of air travelers and pilots; this was a pope who definitely saw the potential of the airline industry. Interestingly, the principal image of veneration in the basilica is a black Madonna and Child, made of Lebanon cedar. Anyway, Antonio’s son, Gioacchino, founded the actual winery in 1901, and the 128-acre estate is now operated by the family’s fifth generation. While Garofoli primarily focuses on the white verdicchio grape (see yesterday’s Weekend Wine Notes), this red wine should not be neglected. Made completely from montepulciano grapes and aged a year in large Slavonian oak casks, the Garofoli Piancara 2010, Rosso Conero, offers a dark ruby color and pungent aromas of black plums and cherries with undertones of mulberries and blueberries, all quite ripe and spicy and slightly dusty with elements of graphite and briers. The wine is full-bodied and a little bumptious, a country boy with a good heart whose generosity is tempered by smacky slightly shaggy tannins and the sort of vibrant acidity that keeps you coming back for another sip. The structure is firm and supple, the finish dense with spice, minerals and tannin, yet the whole package goes down easily. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $16, representing Fine Value.

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

Before we get into the qualities that made me like the quite beautiful Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley — well, that sort of gives it away, doesn’t it? — let’s look at the interesting technical data, because for a wine that radiates purity and intensity of varietal purpose, it took considerable thought to make it that way. Cade Estate Winery was founded on Howell Mountain in 2005 by partners Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty — names with which to conjure, fiduciary-wise — and general manager John Conover. The most visible of the trio is Newsom, who was elected mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and 2007 and lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and whose business successes make me think that I just got off to the wrong start in life. First came the PlumpJack wine store in 1992, followed by PlumbJack Winery in Napa Valley and then a host of cafes, restaurants, resorts and retail outlets. Sheesh. And the guy is good-looking too.

Let’s turn, however, to Cade winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whose work I much admired when she was at St. Clement, and the regimen for this sauvignon blanc. In terms of grape origin, 39 percent of the grapes for this wine derived from Cade’s vineyard in Oakville; the rest came from growers in Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Calistoga and the Napa Valley AVA. Fermentation occurred in a combination of stainless steel tanks (71 percent), stainless steel drums (11 percent), French oak barrels (61. percent new and 11.8 percent used) and the remaining .1 percent in concrete eggs. That is, I will say, the most complicated fermentation process I have ever heard of. Oh, wait, of the portion that fermented in barrels, 80 percent of that was inoculated with yeast and 20 percent fermented on naturally-occurring yeasts. No malolactic (or secondary) fermentation occurred, leaving the wine with crisp acidity. The wine aged in tanks and barrels for five months. There’s a bit of a blend: 2.5 percent each semillon and viognier.

Did it actually require that much calibration to creative this wholly attractive sauvignon blanc? Whatever the case, this is a damned fine wine. The color is pale gold that almost shimmers in the glass; fresh, enticing yet spare aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, pert gooseberry and earthy celery seed, peaches, tangerines and notes of lilac and lemon balm characterize the bouquet. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc elegantly balances vibrant, finely honed acidity with cloud-like lushness and a scintillating crystalline limestone element, all supporting citrus flavors etched with a slight sunny, leafy, herbal quality. 14.5 percent alcohol. We drank the Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013 one night with chicken breasts first seared and then poached in white wine and the next night with a roasted tuna Nicoise. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $28, the upper limit of what I would recommend in these Wine of the Week posts.

A sample for review. The label image on the winery website has not caught up with the change to the 2013 vintage of this wine.

The immediately appealing factor about the Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Rutherford, Napa Valley, is that it bears no burden of exaggeration. Made completely in stainless steel and seemingly equal parts savory, saline and spicy, this pale-gold wine offers notable balance and integration of all elements. Don’t mistake it, though, for being mild-mannered or wimpy; plenty of crisp acidity and citrus fruit keeps this wine refreshing, lively and energetic. Hints of lemongrass, cloves, lime peel, quince and ginger permeate a background of roasted lemon and tangerine; crystalline limestone minerality lends shimmer and litheness to the structure, which supports bracing lemon and peach flavors that open to an intriguing edge of sunny leafiness and a ping of currant. The finish brings in more spice and a faint line of grapefruit bitterness. 14.5 percent alcohol. The Round Pond Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013 will be terrific this Summer as aperitif or with grilled shrimp, chicken salad, cold fried chicken, watercress and cucumber sandwiches (crusts sliced off, please) and other patio and picnic fare. Founded in the early 1980s, the winery is now operated by the second generation of the MacDonnell family, brothers Ryan and Miles MacDonnell. Excellent. About $24.

A sample for review.

There are rosés, and then there is the Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. The wine’s nickname commemorates the long relationship between winery owner and winemaker Kathleen Inman and her husband, Simon. At first, she made the wine only for them and the family, but you can’t keep a great wine hidden endlessly. This rosé derives from Inman’s Olivet Grange Vineyard, from pinot noir vines dedicated to that purpose. It is fashioned, of course, completely in stainless steel. The color is the true Provençal rosé hue of light salmon-copper, more gris than pink; delightful and enticing aromas of dried currants and strawberries are buoyed by thyme, damp gravel and a tinge of ripe tropical fruit. This is a zesty rosé, layered with notes of peaches, watermelon and cloves riven by crisp acidity and a lacy limestone element that seems to lend tensile strength to what might be ephemeral and evanescent. The total effect is dry, spare, elegant, lively, irresistible. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 1,350 cases. Drink now through the Summer of 2015 with such picnic fare as cold fried or roasted chicken, deviled eggs, watercress and cucumber sandwiches, rabbit terrine. I don’t often rate rosé wines Exceptional, but this one is an exception. About $25.

A sample for review.

Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-operated wine operation in California; winemaker is the fifth-generation Karl D. Wente. I say “operation” rather than “winery,” because Wente owns vast tracts of vineyards not only in Livermore Valley, where German immigrant Carl H. Wente (1851-1934) was a pioneer, but in Monterey County, where in the 1960s the family also was an early developer. Wente was the first winery to bottle varietally-labeled chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and for several decades both before and after Repeal sustained a reputation as the finest producer of white wines in California. Naturally, in a company with a 130-year history there have been ups and downs, and for Wente Bros. — the name was changed to Wente Vineyards in 1996 — the down occurred during the expansion and acquisitions of the 1980s, when quality slipped. More rigorous standards apply today, though, and Wente offers a range of attractive and fairly serious red and white wines from all its properties.

Today’s Wine of the Week hails from the red side of the roster. This is the Wente Vineyards “Southern Hills” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay*, and if you don’t find the aromas entrancing, you just don’t have a heart. The color is dark ruby with a medium ruby rim; notes of star anise, lavender and graphite, black olive, cedar and a hint of caramelized fennel leap from the glass, amid a welter of ripe, spicy black cherries and currants. The wine aged 14 months in a combination of neutral** French, American and Eastern European*** oak barrels, a tactic that lends supple and mildly spicy support to tasty blue and black fruit flavors nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, lightly dusted tannins and some slightly ashy iron/iodine minerality on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Loads of personality and just gets down on its knees and begs to be drunk with a fat juicy bacon-cheeseburger. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

*The ridiculously far-ranging San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, largely due to the efforts of Wente Vineyards. It gathers under one region not only the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda and parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz but the city of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. You can leave your heart in San Francisco and sell your wine everywhere else.

**Meaning already used, as many as two or three times, so the wood influence is very subtle.

***”Eastern European” oak generally refers to Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian or Hungarian oak barrels.

With last night’s pizza, which combined the basil/radicchio/red onion food group with the roasted eggplant/caramelized tomato/bacon food group, I opened a bottle of the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012, from Argentina’s San Juan region, abutting Mendoza to the south and similarly located in the Andean foothills, though San Juan tends to be hotter and drier than Mendoza. The winery was founded in 1870 by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna and remained in the family until 1980, when it was sold to Allied Domecq, in turn acquired in 2005 by Pernod Ricard. The term “Elevation” isn’t used trivially; these vineyards average 4,600 feet about sea-level. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012 is an equal five-part blend of bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah and tannat grapes. You would not be surprised, then, that it’s a robust and rustic red wine, offering a dark ruby color and aromas of ripe, fleshy black currants, blackberries and plums thoroughly imbued with graphite, lavender, bitter chocolate and cloves. The wine is sleek and supple, though full-bodied, borne by healthy, slightly shaggy tannins and bright acidity under tasty blue and black fruit flavors, all devolving to a cast of moderately astringent dried porcini, underbrush and brambly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with such hearty fare as burgers, grilled pork chops, braised shanks or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is $15, but I have seen it marked down as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

Just when you think that you’ll scream if you have to drink another cabernet sauvignon or merlot, along comes the refosco grape to renew your faith in individual red wine. The grape is native to the vineyard regions of northeast Italy and is also cultivated in neighboring Slovenia and Croatia and a bit in Greece. Its use was recorded as long ago as the late 14th Century, and its wine was a favorite of the libertine and memoirist Casanova. Of a group of related refosco grapes, the most prominent and widely cultivated is refosco dal peduncolo rosso, referring to the reddish color of its stem. These tend to be forthright and robust red wines, high in acid because of the late ripening of the grapes and deeply tannic; they do not take well to aging in small oak barrels. Today, then, I recommend the Ronco dei Moreri Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011, Venezia Giulia, from the estate of Marco Felluga. The name of the vineyard, Ronco dei Moreri, means a hillside surrounded by mulberries. The grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine aged 12 months in a combination of large and small oak casks. The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this bottle with homemade pizza dominated by mushrooms, green olives and bacon; its robust and packed character would be appropriate with roasted veal chops, game such as venison and boar or braised beef or bison short ribs. Excellent. About $20.

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

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