I love Spanish wines. I love them for the simple reason that they are perfect accompaniments to Spanish food: tapas, roast lamb, or paella. Especially lamb. Just thinking about sipping a glass of the 2005 Marqués de Cáceres Crianza with a huge hunk of roast lamb makes my mouth water.
Here’s why: stainless steel fermentation has preserved the wine’s naturally lively fruit aromas – it is made from hand-picked Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano grapes, while aging in French and American oak lends it a nice touch of vanilla to balance the fruit. Showing bright ruby in the glass, the wine has decent clarity. The nose is dominated by blackberries and dark cherries, with a hint of spice. A lush mouthfeel, with silky tannins balanced to more red berry fruit and cinnamon, leads to a succulent finish. I found that this bottle benefits from an hour of decanting. Good value; good dinner wine. $11.
First among Rosé wines I have tried, the 2008 Domaine Gérard Millet Rosé is a vibrant companion at any picnic. This bottle came back with us from France, where we tried it on site at the winery in Bue. The Gérard Millet family has been making wine for five generations, at an estate covering 20 hectares of vineyards – only three of which are planted with the Pinot Noir grapes used to make this rosé! There are three ways to make rosé. In this case, the grape were left in contact with the juice for a brief period after being crushed, and then the skins were pressed and removed so only some tannins and pigmentation enter the final product.
Showing crystalline clarity in the glass, the wine practically bursts with bright aromas of raspberry and cherry fruit and hints of floral notes. More red fruits in the mouth are paired to bright acidity, with sensual earthy notes and remarkable depth and complexity. This fruity, dry, classy rosé, peerless in its intensity, is also possessed of a restraint unmatched in other wines at its level. Perfect for olive bread, hummus, or salads with salmon. $20.
For a simple, straightforward wine that will please almost anybody you bring to dinner, try this 2005 Réserve des Vignerons Saumur Rouge, from the Cave des Vignerons in the Saumur region in the Loire Valley. It is made entirely with Cabernet Franc, the principle red grape of the Loire, although some Pinot Noir is grown here too.
The Cave des Vignerons was established in 1957 by a group of winemakers who wanted to band together to share knowledge and meet future challenges. Placed atop the Saint Cyr en Bourg hill at the center of a sprawling plot of vineyards, the site features two vertical shafts dug out of the local limestone, allowing the winemakers to take advantage of gravity flow in the winemaking process between the receiving area and the vats, located 25 meters below ground level.
Light to medium-bodied, the wine itself is red violet in the glass, showing strong dark berries on the nose; I found it highly aromatic. In the mouth, supple tannins back a fruity core of blueberries and cherries, with hints of iron mineral, green olive, and pepper. Strident acidity completes the package, with a medium finish. Pairs well with roast meats. $7.
It is summer. You and some friends are playing Ultimate in the park at midday. Trees, paths and grass are all damp from yesterday’s rain, but it’s hot now, naturally. All around, the smell of cooking meat, barbecue sauce, and perfectly roasted fennel, onions and tomatoes wafts from multiple grills. Someone calls a stop to the game of frisbee, maybe you, and opens a bottle of… what? Many things will do, but what for this occasion?
Enter the 2008 Terra Sparkling Malbec, produced in Mendoza in Argentina, a deep liquid ruby swirl in the glass. Loaded with blueberries and blackberries on the nose, leading to more rich black fruit and currants in the mouth with hints of black pepper and earth. The delicate perlage is reminiscent of a fine Champagne, backed by silky tannins culminating in a clean finish. Terra makes a great aperitif, and pairs with hors d’oeuvres, roast pork, or roast chicken, but I would bring out bigger guns (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah) for heavier meats or real barbecue. $10.
Spaghetti and meatballs: the quintessential Italian-American red sauce pasta. Chianti is this dish’s playmate, its eternal companion in our cinema, contemporary literature, and public perception. Those ridiculous straw bottles… better candle holders than wine, to be certain. Squeaking violins, bad accents, mustaches you want to remove with a weed whacker – all of these belong in the Chianti section of popular imagination.
However, it is a wine with a rich heritage, like the land from which it comes, and can have serious heft in terms of quality and value. Produced in Tuscany primarily from the Sangiovese grape variety, Chianti is an appellation comprised of seven sub-regions, including Classico, Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano and Rùfina. Chianti covers a significant portion of the Tuscany region, and its sub-regions are full of Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) appellations with varying legal restrictions governing grape yields, blends, and production. All Chianti and Chianti Classico must feature at least 75% Sangiovese in the blend.
No exception to the general rule of thumb for Chianti, the 2006 Banfi Chianti Classico is a dark garnet in the glass, with decent clarity, and a nose chock-full of black fruit and floral notes, mostly violet. The mouth has a vibrant cherry and plum fruit core, with hints of leather. This is backed by supple tannins and good acidity, leading to a medium finish. As previously noted, this would be great with any red sauce pasta dish, particularly spaghetti and meatballs, but also pairs well with others roasts or grilled meats. Drink now. $16.
Ok, so here are the best wines I found at this marvelous tasting. No pictures, and notes must be brief; try them yourselves to find out why I chose them! This is also one of the few times I’ll exceed my $30 retail limit on wines posted, simply because this event featured some truly remarkable wine:
Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2008
Domaine Faiveley Montagny, 2007
Schug Carneros Pinot Noir, 2007
WillaKenzie Estate Willamette Pinot Noir, 2007
Cristom Willamette Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir, 2006
Dow’s Vintage Port, 1985
Warre’s Porto 10 Year Old Tawny Otima
E. Guigal Crozes-Hermitage, 2005
Joseph Carr Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006
Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook, 2005
Ramey Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2006
Domaine Serene Willamette Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, 2006
Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba Fides, 2006
It is also worth noting that many of these wineries were pouring earlier vintages of certain brands or appellations for perspective; at times I was comparing 2005-2006 Pinot Noir or Merlot (or Cabernet or whatever) to a much older rendition: 1982, 1985, 1993, 1995, 1996, and so on. Unbelievable. All of these wines showed gripping intensity, complexity, balance and integration, demonstrating the potentials of the varietals and terroir. Find them. Drink them.