Wine of the Week


Italian Wine Week continues into its second week — The Week So Big One Week Can’t Hold It! — with the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2009, Veronese, a wine for which the Allegrini family takes a general designation (“Veronese”) rather than the more specific Valpolicella or Valpolicella Superiore. This is a ripasso, that is, a wine made from a majority of normally fermented grapes (70 percent here) combined with a portion of grapes that were left to dry (in this vintage until January after harvest) and then added to the “regular” wine to referment. The result is a wine — deep, dark and spicy — that feels both robust and sleek, powerful yet elegant. The blend of grapes is 70 percent corvina Veronese, 25 percent rondinella and the surprise of 5 percent sangiovese, not a typical grape in the Veneto. Aromas of black cherries, raspberries and currants are permeated by notes of plums and fruitcake, cloves and cardamom (just a trace), and winsome hints of violets and lavender. It’s a very dry wine, rigorously yet seamlessly structured and balanced by ripe and delicious black and blue fruit flavors; the background is polished grainy tannins and vibrant acidity with a slightly earthy funky character highlighted by touches of bittersweet chocolate, dried orange peel and oolong tea. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with hearty pasta dishes and roasted or grilled red meat. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Winebow, Inc. New York. A sample for review.

Lambrusco, the slightly fizzy red wine made in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, tends to be dismissed as soda-pop by most wine consumers in the USA, especially if they remember and were burned by all those television commercials in the 1970s, back before most of you bright youngsters were born. Lambrusco, however, is the classic wine of Emilia-Romagna, and if you happened to dine in a restaurant in Bologna or Modena (the center of Lambrusco production) chances are that you would be sipping a delightful and darkly fruity Lambrusco to cut the richness of the food. Our Wine of the Week is the Cleto Chiarli “Vigneto Enrico Cialdini” 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, made by a estate launched in 1860, when Cleto Chiarli decided to close his inn, the Trattoria dell’Artigliere (“the gunners’ restaurant”) and go into full-time production of the Lambrusco he had been making for his patrons. This selection from the firm’s roster is named for Enrico Cialdini, Duca di Gaeta (1811-1892), soldier, politician, diplomat and foe of Garibaldi; in some circles Cialdini is regarded — still! — as a war criminal, so it’s interesting, I think, and by “interesting” I mean “strange,” that this single vineyard Lambrusco comes from a property named for such a controversial figure (who was born near Castelvetro, so maybe he’s a grandfathered-in local hero of sorts). Anyway, he said, actually knowing very little about 19th Century Italian politics, and by “very little” I mean “doodly-squat” (except for that movie with Burt Lancaster), the Cleto Chiarli “Vigneto Enrico Cialdini” 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, is more than just charming and delightful. The color is dark purple-magenta with an intense violet rim; the wine is grapy and teasingly effervescent, bursting with deep notes of ripe blackberries, raspberries and black cherries imbued with hints of violets and rose petals; it’s very dry, spicy and savory, incredibly refreshing with swingeing acidity, yet with surprising depth of earthiness and smoke and a sense of burgeoning graphite minerality. All this and only 11 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot. In moderation, of course. And versatile. I had a glass of this for lunch one day with spaghetti with roasted cherry tomatoes and yellow peppers, salami, green olives and Parmesan and that night with a grilled veal chop; it was perfect with both dishes. Drink up. Excellent. About — gasp! — $15, representing Insane Value.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review. I will be looking at a variety of Italian wines this week.

I don’t typically use a wine at this price as the Wine of the Week, but the Reata Pinot Noir 2011, Napa and Sonoma counties, is so well-made and authentically pinot noirish that I couldn’t resist. I will not ask forgiveness and indeed would welcome expressions of gratitude from fans of the grape in its mode of utmost purity and intensity. The blend of this two-county wine is 64 percent of the rarely-seen Napa County designation (an AVA slightly larger than and encompassing Napa Valley) and 36 percent Sonoma County. The grapes ferment in stainless steel tanks, and the wine matures for 14 months in French oak barrels, 70 percent neutral, 30 percent new. The color is medium ruby with lovely transparency and limpidness; aromas of plums, red currants and cranberries are permeated with notes of cloves, sassafras and rhubarb and a hint of earthy briers and brambles. The wine is just so fresh and clean and pure, yet it displays beautiful depths of graphite and — a paradox — delicately granitic minerality and an almost lacy network of minutely dusty and elegantly plush, supple tannins with bright and vibrant acidity for structure and quenching liveliness. Red and blue fruit flavors are imbued with fruitcake-type spice and dried fruit, all these elements leading to a tea-like lithe, limber. lithic finish. Yeah, I really liked this pinot noir. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30, though often found around the country for $20 to $25.

A sample for review.

Of the chardonnays from California that I tasted and reviewed recently — most in my Weekend Wine Notes yesterday — the Crossbarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is the one I recommend buying by the case. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is a delicate weaving of lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, quince and ginger, with hints of tangerine, chalk and talc. The Crossbarn Chardonnay ’12, Sonoma Coast, offers gratifying measures of resonance and vibrancy, with lip-smacking acidity whose crispness and liveliness support a lovely, moderately lush texture. The wine is quite lemony in flavor, highlighted by notes of cloves, pineapple and grapefruit and permeated by limestone and flint minerality. The wine was made 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, 20 percent in neutral French oak barrels, so the oak influence is subtle and supple. Lots of personality and presence for the price. Winemaker was Molly Bohlman. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.


The sparkling wines of Mirabelle, second label of Schramsberg, have shown steady improvement and seriousness of intent over the years. The Mirabelle sparklers are always non-vintage, whereas the products under the Schramsberg label always have a vintage date. Today’s particular wine is the Mirabelle Brut Rosé, North Coast, a blend of 55 percent chardonnay grapes and 45 percent pinot noir. Eighty-six percent of the wine is from the 2010 vintage, the rest made up of aged reserve lots. The designation is North Coast because the grapes derive from multiple counties north of San Francisco, mainly Napa and Sonoma but also Mendocino and Marin. Made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, Mirabelle Brut Rosé offers a beautiful light copper-salmon color and a teeming upward stream of tiny bubbles; aromas of fresh and dried strawberries and raspberries, lime peel and guava open to notes of limestone and chalk and hints of quince and ginger. This sparkling wine is quite dry, very crisp and lively, not only with effervescent but crystalline acidity, though the texture is almost creamy; spicy yet subdued red berry and stone-fruit flavors are heightened by the burgeoning limestone and flint minerality, while the finish is long, elegant and steely. 12.8 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Lison Classico is a D.O.C.G. — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in Italy’s Veneto region, on the plains formed by the Piave river as it flows southeast from the Alps to empty into the Adriatic north of Venice. Lison is the grape formerly known as tocai. Vine-growing and wine-making in the region go back to ancient times, though the estate in question today, Tenuta Polvaro, is relatively young on those terms, having been founded in 1681. Its recent manifestation is under the Candoni De Zan family, which has owned Tenuta Polvaro for 150 years. A true family operation, the winery is run by Armando De Zan, his wife Elviana Candoni, and their daughters Barbara and Caterina.

The Tenuta Polvara Lison Classico 2011 is made 100 percent from the former tocai grape. The wine was fermented 90 percent in stainless steel tanks and 10 percent in new French oak barrels. One hears many complaints — and I have been one of the complainers — that inexpensive Italian white wines have no character, but I’m here to tell you to clear the fog from your little pointy head and cool your fevered brow, because this wine is moderately priced and terrific. The color is very pale gold; the beguiling bouquet features a delicate weaving of roasted lemon and spiced pear with notes of peach, almond blossom, dried thyme and lime peel. The sort of texture you want in a wine like this combines an airy, almost cloud-like effect with sleek and pert acidity, so you’re constantly feeling the slight tension and sense of balance between those qualities; the Tenuta Polvara Lison Classico 2011 delivers on that basis and also in the area of juicy lemon and peach flavors tempered by a burgeoning element of limestone and flint minerality and hints of ginger, cloves and quince. The limestone-packed finish is spare, saline and savory. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. Look for prices between $15 and $17.

Imported by Arel Group Wine & Spirits Inc., Atlanta, Georgia. A sample for review.

There really are towering sequoias — I guess that’s redundant — at Sequoia Grove Winery; one feels rather dwarfish in their company. (I was there a week ago today.) The winery, founded in 1979, occupies salubrious geography in the Rutherford appellation, in the heart of Napa Valley. President and director of winemaking Mike Trujillo has been at Sequoia Grove since the early 1980s, was appointed assistant winemaker in 1998 and in 2001 took the position he has now. Winemaker is Molly Hill. Sequoia Grove, while making a variety of wines, focuses on chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and it’s to the former that we turn today.

The Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley, derived 84 percent of its grapes from Carneros and 16 percent from Napa Valley. The wine aged about 10 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels; it did not go through the malolactic process in barrel to retain freshness and delicacy. The wine is a frankly beautiful expression of the grape. The color is mild straw-gold; enticing aromas of roasted lemon and slightly caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are infused with notes of quince and ginger, jasmine and cloves and hints of limestone and flint. The character here is revealed in the wine’s impeccable balance among the richness of its juicy, spicy citrus flavors (with a nod toward lime peel), its bell-tone acidity and the limestone and shale minerality that from mid-palate back through the finish places emphasis on the wine’s stones-and-bones structure, its seamless amalgamation of crisp litheness with a seductive texture of almost talc-like suppleness and intensity; the finish concludes with a touch of grapefruit astringency. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.

Tasted at home as a sample for review and at the winery with consistent results. Label image from garyswine.com.

Summer’s high temperatures don’t seem to keep dedicated grill-meisters from the heat of their grills. Steaks, pork chops, leg of lamb, pork ribs, chickens, skewers of shrimp are still there, waiting to be doused in marinates or rubbed with dry spice mixtures and set over white-hot coals. This week’s featured wine is a sure bet with all sorts of grilled food, especially beef and pork, and it would be perfect with slow-cooked or smoked ribs. It’s the Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County. The winery traces its origins to 1895, when Italian immigrant Edouardo Seghesio planted zinfandel vines in Alexander Valley. Through four generations, the Seghesio family tended their vineyards, grew grapes, made wine and sold grapes to other wineries before starting to bottle under its own label in 1983. In 2011, the family sold the winery and the brand to Crimson Wine Group, a Napa-based company that owns Pine Ridge in Napa Valley, Chamisal in Edna Valley and Archery Summit in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Seghesio Zinfandel 2011, Sonoma County, offers a medium ruby color and an exuberant bouquet and flavors drenched in wild berries, blueberries and currants and notes of cloves, briers and brambles with undertones of graphite, lavender and licorice. You’re thinking, “How could a zinfandel so attractive deliver anything serious?” Good question, but fear not, because this wine bolsters its seductive qualities with vibrant acidity for resonance and liveliness and highly-planed and polished tannins for structure, as well as, deep as a well, a gradually burgeoning granitic mineral element. In a sense, you could say that it successfully has something for everyone. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $24.

Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.

Rush out immediately and buy a case of this charming bargain-priced quaffer. Côté Est 2011 hails from Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, which nestles right up against the border of France and Spain where Catalonia (Cataluña) begins, the similar names testifying to an ancient unity of culture that national boundaries and modern times have not entirely erased. Made completely in stainless steel by Jean-Marc Lafage, Côté Est 2011 is an agreeable blend of 50 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent chardonnay and 20 percent marsanne. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of jasmine, pear and pea shoot are woven with lemon and lime peel and the bracing triumvirate of gunflint, limestone and grapefruit. The wine is delicate but not fragile and imbued with flavors of lightly spiced lemon, lemon balm and orange zest wrapped in bright acidity, the whole package being somewhat spare, slightly grassy and a little astringent; nothing showy here, just immensely tasty and appealing. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $12, a Ridiculously Attractive Value.

We served this wine as the white selection at a party Friday night, and people kept coming back for another glass.

An Eric Solomon European Cellars Selection, Charlotte, N.C.

Let’s have another rosé wine for Wine of the Week. This one’s a beauty, and it’s delicious too. Clos LaChance is a family winery, owned and operated by Bill and Brenda Murphy — her maiden name was LaChance — and their two daughters. Director of winemaking is Stephen Tebb. The Clos LaChance Dry Rosé 2012, Central Coast, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 16 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent each zinfandel and pinot noir and 5 percent syrah; it’s like a Rhone-style blend with a touch of California. The color is a riveting blue-tinged cerise-melon hue, not the traditional pale copper but not extracted either. The association with the color is sympathetic, because the aromas surge from the glass in a welter of pure cherry and watermelon with hints of strawberry and raspberry and undertones of orange rind, dried thyme and limestone. This is juicy and tasty, brisk with zesty acidity that balances slightly macerated strawberry and melon flavors, all wrapped in a deftly poised, even lightly tense package that delicately combines elegance and savory powers. The final word is “lovely.” 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Production was 2,000 cases. Excellent. About $15.

A sample for review.

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