Rayun CarmenereBeen awhile since my last post! A lot has happened – my longtime girlfriend Lyndsey and I finally got engaged, we traveled to Guatemala and Belize, and my cat learned how to jump through hoops. So many excellent reasons to party have accumulated that I’ve been too busy partying to post! But the time for delaying is over, and today’s critique concerns an affordable wine that suits just about any dinner party or similar occasion, particularly if you have something to celebrate. Like my life in general, this bottle is full of surprising enjoyments.

If you’re looking for a wine to pour with loved ones during Sunday dinner, you’re probably looking for a red that has exactly that right balance of friendly fruit, depth and body. If you’re me, and it’s tonight, you’re having lamb. The ideal wine partner for lamb will generally exhibit a couple of characteristics: dark fruit, earthy or peppery undertones, and nice balance. In other words, you’re looking for Carmenère.

I have described Carmenère’s intriguing history in Chile before, wherein growers often thought they were dealing with Merlot for over a century; it was only formally recognized as a grape variety in 1998. Fortunately for wine drinkers everywhere, production was not discontinued after they discovered otherwise; rather, Chile remains the world’s primary producer of this ancient French relative of Cabernet Sauvignon. Carmenère now grows chiefly in the Colchagua Valley, Rapel Valley, and Maipo Province. In fact, the name ‘Carmenère’ is derived from the French word carmin, meaning crimson. It is indeed a beautiful deep crimson in the glass, and can often be difficult to distinguish from Cabernet or Merlot in blind tastings.

Tonight’s wine, the 2010 Geo Wines Rayun Carmenère, hails from the Rapel Valley. It’s a classic example of what this grape can do in a drier, warmer microclimate. A lovely crimson in color, with aromas of blackcurrants, plum, green bell pepper, and earth. Medium-bodied, lush, with more dark fruit on the mouth tending towards cocoa and earthiness towards the long finish. Really a spectacular value at $11. Pair with any kind of red meat that you’re roasting, and bring friends, family, or loved ones.

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Domaine Rollin VergelessesFrom time to time, even bargain-hunters need to splurge. When I do, it’s generally French: Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Sancerre dominate my list of mid-range to expensive buys, although I’ll toss in the occasional Barolo or high-end Riesling. The most recent mid-range find fit a rare profile for superior value in its price point: a really superior Burgundy for under $50. We’re talking Pinot Noir, people, something I love but don’t give enough attention. This bottle really grabbed my attention.

A little background on the appellation of origin, Pernand-Vergelesses. Located at the top of the Cote de Beaune, the L’Ile des Vergelesses is, as the winemaker puts it, “the jewel of the village of Pernand-Vergelesses.” It is famous for its elegance when young, with serious aging potential that allows for cellaring if you so desire. The soil in this area is similar to that of esteemed Corton, and harbors numerous vineyard plots of premier cru quality.

And what does such quality look like? Well, it looks really nice. In the glass, the 2006 Domaine Rollin Pernand Vergelesses 1er Cru Ile des Vergelesses is a pale cherry red, with great clarity. A truly Burgundian nose: aromas of red raspberry fruit, loamy earth, and a slight gamy hint of cured meats coalesce into that quintessential hallmark of Pinot Noir. More round red berries in the mouth, with exquisite balance; this is acidity and fruit as a subtle matrix, covered gently in a cloak of flowers. Or something. The final sip leaves your palate as bedazzled and full of longing as the first. This is a perfect answer to the question: “why Burgundy?” $45.

Poggeto La Casaccia GrignolinoFrom time to time I like to go back to wines I’ve tried previously, especially house favorites. This Grignolino was absolutely a house favorite in 2009. It merits another write-up, especially for this fine vintage hitting my table three years after the initial encounter. And yeah, it’s still delicious. So here we have the 2011 La Casaccia “Poggeto” Grignolino. Grignolino is a grape varietal grown in Piedmont, Italy. Not always well-regarded in the past, considering its noble company in the region (Nebbiolo comes to mind), Grignolino has started to reach its potential as a cheery but surprisingly interesting table wine.

Pale cherry red in the glass, with bright, aromas of red berry fruit (particularly raspberry in this bottling) and a hint of white pepper. Seriously zingy after the first zip, with quenching acidity, perfectly balanced to flavors of mouth-watering fresh red berries. Notes of mineral just crackle through the fruit, and the finish is quenching and invites you to sip again. And again. $13, and still one of the best values in light-bodied reds. I just love Grignolino; if you haven’t tried it, get going! This wine is appetizer fair, and pairs well with olives and feta cheese, or some cured meats such as salami. It’s unusually low on tannin, so won’t compromise foods with a degree of tartness. Enjoy.

Cape Mentelle Margaret River Cabernet Merlot, 2005We’re fast approaching the end of 2012, and yet another crappy day! The sky was leaden throughout, with nothing on the horizon but drizzle or worse. A weekend to forget, or at least slog through to better times. But there is one quick solution to conditions outside: go inside! Retreat to the (hopefully) toasty interior of your apartment/house and pop some corks while eating lasagna/pork loin/another family oriented comfort food. And this is just what I did, all weekend. With January being Diet Month, there’s no better time than right now to indulge in favorite foods… and wines.

I like to keep my anti-social bad weather wines varied; keeps it interesting. So for this most recent departure from rainy reality, and in acknowledgment that New Year’s is right around the corner, I resolved to try something I would not normally try: a completely unfamiliar Australian red blend. Risky? Absolutely. Without good knowledge of vintages across regions, you can easily pick an Aussie red that falls flat on its face; these wines are very much at the mercy of the weather. But as with all good resolutions, this one paid off.

A little background on Australia’s Margaret River region: easily one of Australia’s premiere winemaking locales, this region is both extremely isolated and extremely good for grape vines. It is also very young. The first vines were planted in the mid-to-late 1960’s after Dr. John Gladstones wrote a book titled Viticulture and Environment outlining how ideal Margaret River’s climate and soils are for vineyards. Wines produced here tend to balance their typical Aussie big character and round, fleshy fruit with nice definition and poise. Unlike the Barossa Valley, which is renowned for its Shiraz, Margaret River produces especially fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc / Semillon blends. Cape Mentelle is one of the pioneer wineries in the region, and has vineyard blocks dating back to 1970.

With none of this in mind, I opened the 2005 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Merlot to pair with a variety of grilled sausages. And DANG. Deep purple in the glass, inky and slinky: liquefied desert flowers. The aromas were striking, too, with jammy blackcurrant fruit and touches of spice. Great silky mouthfeel, fine soft tannins throughout, round but not flabby; just enough acidity. More dark berry fruit and spices in the mouth, with notes of black pepper and cocoa. Great finish; my only complaint here is that the finish is shorter than I would like, considering the fruit. Well-balanced overall, and a steal at $15. Pair with spice-rubbed lamb rack, grilled sausages, or any other meaty comfort food.

Clos de los Siete Red BlendDecember has so far been a cold, bleak, windy affair. No snow as of yet, and very little to recommend in terms of scenery. In fact, I would much rather go somewhere else entirely at this time of year. Some far country where I could forget about the artificial urgency of the holidays, truly kick back, and relax. New York winter weather makes me crave wines with opposing qualities: warm, lush, and full of cheer. Big, hearty numbers that shout “it’s time for STEAK, b****!” – or perhaps they’d shout something more mature, yet equally bold. Wines with hot bluster and tannin to match. And because I’m feeling the wallet crunch of the coming Christmas, I also want to enjoy wines that I know cost the makers many millions of dollars. Wine is a form of wealth redistribution I can get behind.

So let’s combine these elements: wine from a far country that has been really, really expensive to realize, but reaches we happy consumers with minimal pocket pinch. “Clos de los Siete” is of the more expensive wine projects in recent history, fitting all of my winter-and-I’m-depressed-tell-me-a-wine-story criteria. Headed by the star oenologist Michel Rolland, this effort focuses on expressing Argentinian terroir while sparing no expense in sourcing and vinifying high-quality grapes. We’re talking over 2000 acres of vines at 1,200 meters above sea level, right at the doorstep of the Andes mountains, turned into wine at seven wineries designed with extravagant attention to detail by master architects. Truly the kind of place where you’d expect fine wine to be made.

And so it is. The 2008 “Clos de los Siete,” the signature wine from this project, is blended personally by Michel Rolland every year, from painstakingly handpicked Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. It’s a big wine, to be sure: a dark ruby red in the glass, with ripe aromas of plum, cassis, and saddle leather. In the mouth, more dark cherry and cassis fruit rage around like Lindsay Lohan on a road trip in the countryside, stomping all over hints of cedar and loam. In a good way. Finishes long, with definite grainy tannins that cloak your tongue; it could well benefit from a year or two more of bottle aging. While expensive to produce, “Clos de los Siete” will cost you only $20: good for breaking winter doldrums without breaking the bank. Begs for roast meats of any kind or caliber.

To balance my previous post about Thanksgiving Pinot Noir, I want to review this holiday’s other most commonly enjoyed wine. Riesling, whether fully trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (off-dry, having between 1% and 2% residual sugar), is the perfect foil to turkey and its dinner companions. It has the added advantage of being the shimmering queen of white wine, but that is, of course, just my opinion. Let’s see what I can do to sway you to my side.

Weingut Robert Weil is one of the Rheingau’s younger wine estates, located in Kiedrich, a village that was first recorded in 950 AD. It is, however, also one of the finest, producing a range of wines along the whole spectrum of sweetness as categorized by German winemakers. Michael Broadbent considered Robert Weil “the most consistently brilliant winemaker in the Rheingau.” Thanks to the fabulous terroir of the vineyards in the Rheingau, with their rich mineral content and exceptional drainage, the wines exhibit remarkably distinct elegance, complexity, and nuance. Generally fruit-driven, but not overly forward, Weingut Robert Weil Rieslings exhibit a dancing whirl of acidity around their lush fruit cores, showing extract and poise far beyond what most white wines are capable of reaching. Weil wines are truly wonderful examples of Riesling’s potential.

This example, the entry-level 2011 Weingut Robert Weil Rheingau Trocken Riesling, shows a pale gold in the glass. Once poured, I find typical vibrant fruity aromas of lemon zest, stony peach, with a hint of sandalwood and wet stone. More bright citrus fruit in the mouth, with a tingling acidity that makes this wine seem electric, the texture rounded out by chalky mineral elements. The quenching finish leaves you ready for more, and pairs beautifully with Thanksgiving trimmings – although it could just as easily be enjoyed on its own. A pure steal at $17.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone, this one featuring many changes. New locations, new faces, and of course (my favorite), new wines at the table. For this post-turkey post, I thought it would be fun to do a brief write-up of the Pinot Noir wines we chose for our family dinner. Some serious contenders here, in terms of both raw deliciousness and good value. These included:

  • Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004
  • Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009
  • Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

So! Let’s cover each in turn, and see what we can say about why any of these three Pinots should have graced your table this Thanksgiving…

Galante Vineyards Carmel Valley Pinot Noir, 2004

Galante Vineyards is a small family-owned estate producing varietal wines in the upper Carmel Valley, in California. Their winemaking emphasizes the expression of terroir; they prefer to let the vine speak through the grapes, and the land through the vine. While they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, other varietals are produced in minute quantities, such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir. This Thanksgiving, I happened to have a bottle of the 2004 Estate Pinot Noir, bought directly in their tasting room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Glorious ruby color in the glass. After the first pour, soft notes of dark cherry and earth drift heavenwards. More fresh-tilled loam and spice form the backdrop, and red fruit gushes around a silky mouthfeel. A little hot, however, at 14.6% alcohol. Delicious overall at $24.

 

Domaine Prieur-Brunet “Cuvee Saint-Jean de Naross, 2009

Nothing too much to say here except: beautifully typical entry-range Burgundy. And entry-range Burgundy is not normally this affordable, not by any means. This is a Pinot Noir with grace, finesse and just enough tannic texture to mesh with the easygoing red berry fruit and snappy acidity. Light-bodied, flowery and a bit funky, this is a steal at $20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luminous Hills Yamhill-Carlton District Pinot Noir, 2010

For a seriously delicate wine in this line-up, however, we must turn to the 2009 Luminous Hills Pinot Noir, from their Yamhill-Carlton estate in Oregon. A long growing season with a cool stretch led to even ripening, but low yields. Blended from grapes based on four distinct clones of Pinot Noir, this is a lovely wine, rosy, pale and shimmering with elegant fruit, minerality, and harmony in all its parts. I’d almost drink this on its own, before food arrives to puncture the experience. $35. Lovely.