Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rich, Rustic and Very Italian - Malacari Rosso Conero 2008

I love Italian wines - red, white or rose. It matters not. There's a lot to love in so many wines from this country and the diversity is incredible. From the cool climate whites of the Alto Adige to the big, bold reds of Sicily and everything in between, there's no end to the choices available to consumers. And let's face it, everyone loves Italian food. There's more Italian cook books on my shelves than there are from any other country. The wonderful combinations of 5 or 6 ingredients will usually make something magical and there is always a perfect wine match for what your cooking up.

Montepulciano is the second most widely planted grape in Italy, grown just about everywhere, from Emilia-Romagna in the north all the way to the heel of the country in Puglia. But for me, it's the east coast of Italy that the best Montepulcianos come from, in Abruzzo and the Marche. It's a late ripening varietal that needs plenty of warmth and hang time to really show it's best. The rocky, sandy soils along the coast in this part of Italy lend the wines a distinct mineral component, adding complexity to the bold fruit that is typical of this grape. Rosso Conero is the DOC in this case, where Montepulciano must make up at least 85% of the bottling and Malacari is the producer of this 100% Montepulciano cuvee. Fermented in stainless steel but aged in oak for 12 months prior to an unfiltered bottling, this lovely wine strikes a wonderful balance between fruit and subtle wood flavors.

Dark purple in color, you're greeted with typical smokey cherry and plum aromas with complicating notes of oak spice, coffee and minerals. In the mouth it's rustic but hearty, with large scaled dark fruit flavors and a long spicy, moderately tannic finish. Try this everyday winner with a beef or lamb stew, or a bolognese pasta. Imported by one of my favorites, Polaner Selections, this quaffer set me back a middling $14.99. Cheers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Flavors of the French Countryside - Pont de Nyons Cotes du Rhone 2010

There are certain kinds of wine that really resonate with consumers. Some folks might be Zinfandel fans. Others might only drink Cabernet Sauvignon - a phenomenon I have witnessed many times in the store I moonlight in. Still others have to have their Malbec and only Malbec. As someone who is equal opportunity and likes to try wines of many different types, varietals and origins, I sometimes find this obsessive loyalty almost comical. I mean really, are you actually going to drink a cab with pasta and clam sauce? The evening's dinner dish should have at least some influence on your wine choice and though I am no food and wine pairing dictator, you should give a modicum of thought to your choices.

That being said, I always have 2 or 3 Cotes du Rhones in my kitchen rack. There's no other wine I'd rather drink on an everyday basis. They're good with just about any meat dish and I've had them on numerous occasions with shrimp dishes, grilled or pan fried salmon and grilled tuna as well. The best ones are blends based mostly on the Grenache grape with other Rhone Valley varietals playing smaller but important supporting roles. For me, the common thread that links good Cotes du Rhones from different producers, is the black pepper element in the aromas. As soon as I smell that, I know I have what I like - as long as the fruit is there as well.

The 2010 Pont de Nyons Cotes du Rhone is a private label project of HB Wine Imports and R. Shack Selections, bottled by a friend of theirs in the village of Cairanne. 2009 and '10 were wonderful vintages in this part of the wine world, and this bottling gave me all I could want. The blend in this case consists of 70% Grenache, and 10% each Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault. Forthcoming aromas of black cherry, black pepper and what the French call "garrigues", a blend of local spice elements that may or may not suggest lavender, rosemary or thyme etc., are supported by mineral elements from the old vines that produced this fruit in very stony soils. In the mouth, there's lovely texture to the dark berry flavors, excellent supporting acidity and pepper and mineral elements repeating on the long, lightly tannic finish. This everyday winner cost me a mere $9.99. Cheers.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rioja on the Brain - Vina Bujanda Crianza 2009

I have to admit that I've been somewhat obsessed with Rioja lately. Not in my posts necessarily, but certainly in my thinking...and drinking. Spain is the country of the big three of Europe (the other being France and Italy) that I am the weakest on in terms of wine geography. I have stated many times that Spain is my go to country for value with more excellent under $10 wines available here than from any other country. There's more fruit and complexity and thus interest for me in the everyday wines of Spain. Jumilla, Navarra, Manchuela, Calatayud, Campo de Borja and Monstant are just a handful of the Spanish DOs that produce great everyday wines.

But you can't really learn about the essence of Spanish wine without eventually delving into Rioja. Wine production in Spain is centuries old, as it is in the rest of Europe, and Rioja is one of the most important Spanish viticultural areas. Tempranillo is the most important grape of the region and can be blended with Garnacha Tinta, Mazuelo, and Graciano. Cabernet Sauvignon is also sometimes used in the blend. World class wines with decades of aging potential have been produced here for a long time. On these pages however, we deal with the wallet friendly versions of the wines we taste.

The Rioja DO is a long valley in north central Spain that is surrounded on three sides by mountains that protect the vines from the wind. There are three sub-regions running northwest to southeast in the valley: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja. The highest altitude vines lie in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa and produce more wines with more "terroir", or flavor elements that come form the soil. They will in general be less extracted and more complex. The Rioja Baja on the other hand, with it's lower altitude and warmer Mediterranean influenced climate, will generally produce fruitier, larger-scaled but somewhat more monolithic wines.

Last night's Rioja was a Crianza from Vina Bujanda and imported by Winebow, a national company with a great portfolio. The Crianza designation calls for at least two years of aging with at least six months in barrel. This cuvee is a 100% Tempranillo example that saw 70% American oak and 30% French oak, the American oak in general imparting more vanilla and the French oak more subtle spice flavors. With the source of these grapes being the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, this is a good example of balanced and elegant everyday Rioja. It's translucent ruby in color with red cherry and blueberry fruit supported by oak spice and tobacco notes. In the mouth, it's not too ripe, but juicy and energetic with a wonderful mid-palate of berry fruit with earthy notes and a reprise of the oak spice. It finishes long and soft and is a delicious example of good Rioja for an affordable $11.99. Bottoms up!