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Daily Archives: 04/08/2009


Why does the word “Rioja” always send me scrambling for a glass? Perhaps it’s the supple, earthy, delicate nature of the wine, which generally sees more oak aging than any other. Maybe it’s the bright berry fruit in young crianza Rioja, redolent with cherry, spice, and vanilla flavors; or perhaps it’s the earthy lushness of reserva Rioja, with intense notes of leather and dried leaves resulting from the mininum three years spent aging – generally in American oak barrels, but sometimes French oak. Especially fine, and probably the real reason Rioja is so compelling, are the gran reserva wines, made in only truly fantastic years, showing a silkiness and elegance normally only seen in great Burgundies. These wines, world-reknowned, see a legal minimum of five years of aging in oak barrels, although the average is eight and a half years. Aging wine is the most important part of making Rioja, and it is this science I respect about it most.

But moving on to the offering at hand: the 2006 Ramon Bilbao Crianza is a dark violet-red in the glass. The nose reveals concentrated aromas of plum and berries, with hints of leather. Juicy and lush on the palate, the wine is rich with jammy black cherry flavor, along with chocolate and tobacco notes. Also provided a nice earthy finish showing well-integrated tannins. $12.

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I believe that the Loire Valley has, year to year, some of the most exciting potential for value finds in all of France. This offering, the 2007 Chateau des Cleons Muscadet, is made entirely from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, and proved a solid example of a typical dry white Loire wine. The term Muscadet Sèvre et Maine refers to the fact that this wine is produced in the hilly area of the Muscadet region along the banks of the Sèvres and Maine rivers, two tributaries of the Loire. Most of the best Muscadet wines come from this subzone. Within Muscadet, about 32,000 acres of vines spread out in a rolling arc of tenderly cultivated vineyards, the best of which are planted in soil composed of a mix of granite, gneiss and schist.

Muscadet tends to be dry, and is known for being versatile as a companion to seafood dishes. The 2007 Chateau des Cleons Muscadet has also been produced sur lie, meaning that the wine was left in contact with the yeast lees for a period of time before bottling, adding extra flavor, richness, and some effervescence that would otherwise be missing. In the glass it shows a pale yellow with hints of green. The nose features complex citrus fruit aromas leading to a crisp, bright mouthfeel showing more tart lemon and lime fruits with hints of mineral. The finish is surprisingly balanced, considering the acidity of this wine. As noted before, this would pair especially well with shellfish, but could accompany many seafood dishes, or just drink it alone.

Why did I go on and on about this wine? Perhaps the price: $6!