Monthly Archives: April 2011

What can do a great wine justice? What words, what anecdotes? How can I summon the verbiage to explain the greatness of a perfect bottle? Or, as the greatest poet who ever lived, Stanley Kunitz, once put it: “Some things I do not profess/to understand, perhaps/not wanting to…” In the end, when wine is so good it becomes something I scarcely understand, what remains? What can I, a humble listener, say about the finest things in life?

I only know that if I did not try, I would regret it. And so here goes, a description of a bottle that defies easy definition: the 2001 Viña Ardanza “Reserva Especial.” First, something about the maker… La Rioja Alta was formed in 1890 by five quality-minded growers eager to exploit the vacuum left by the phylloxera epidemic, with French vineyards being ravaged by the deadly louse. Taking advantage of the newly built railway to Bilbao, the new bodega flourished, then incorporated Bodegas Ardanza into its holdings in 1904. Although Rioja has seen its ups and downs, La Rioja Alta has always been a source of top-notch Rioja wine. Even considering this, the 2001 bottling of their Viña Ardanza is something special indeed. I’ll let them say it in their own words, straight from the bottle:

En toda nuestra historia, solamente tres añadas de Viña Ardanza han merecido la calificación Especial: 1964, 1973 y 2001. La lluvia, el sol, el frío y el calor se alternaron de la mejor manera posible para hacer de Viña Ardanza 2001 un vino único.

But what makes this wine so remarkable? Besides long aging in new American oak casks, and the top-quality fruit (80% Tempranillo grapes, 20% Garnacha, both varietals which I often overlook for no good reason), this wine is an example of the benefits behind tradition. Because no French oak is used, the wines have a more pronounced vanilla note, which deepens into complex spice aromas after five or more years in bottle. Because these wines are unfiltered, they have a far more robust flavor and greater structure. But beyond that, the terroir itself, the perfect location that is Rioja Alta, is what allows Tempranillo to reach its fullest expression in Viña Ardanza, to the point where this bottle is one of only three vintages in over a century to receive the title “Reserva Especial.”

And let’s not forget to discuss why it’s so special: a nice ruby red in the glass, fading to brown at the rim, this wine just bursts with aromas. Leather, vanilla, baking spices, and a bright cherry which rings through like a bell. Some nice fig notes in there, as well. These aromas continued to deepen and grow more complex for over 30 minutes; I could have decanted this wine for an hour and still had time to let it sit. Brilliant. Then the mouthfeel: soft, supple, yet firm with a nice silky texture, and enough acidity to carry the day. Impeccably balanced, with the fruit riding the backbone of tannin just so. Long finish, tending towards dried fruit and spice, and just goes on and on. Pair with roast lamb. Yes, you could enjoy this wine with pancetta and Brussels sprouts pizza (which I did), or a nice herb-encrusted pork loin with roasted vegetables, but trust me… lamb. I managed to grab a few bottles for $28, but it normally sells for $35. Pray you find some.


Say you’re feeling like having a glass of red wine so earthy it makes you pick at your teeth for leaves. You want a wine with minerals. Today’s post is about a wine that walks up to you, punches your jaw, and says “Have you been outside lately?” If you’re not an outdoors kind of person, don’t touch this beverage. You will feel strangely ashamed of yourself.

This wine hails from Troia, a village in Puglia, Italy, which is normally known for producing Primitivo wines. Made entirely from grapes of the same name, Troia, it exists to remind us that it’s good to go off the beaten path, with wine or otherwise. The producer, Cantina Diomede, takes its name from the Greek hero Diomedes who, according to legend, destroyed Troy in the Trojan War. An emphasis on reviving local oenological traditions is definitely reflected in the wines that make it here to the United States. On the company site, Diomede describes their wines as “megaphones of traditions.” Tasting their Troia, I would agree with this statement, and in fact strongly encourage wineries everywhere to employ similarly awesome metaphors.

So what do we get when we drink of the earth? We get some good dirty wine. Ruby red in the glass, with aromas of loam, almonds, dried leaves, violets, and some nice fresh berry notes. Definitely some oak showing here too; this makes sense, since the wine gets aged six or more months in French barrels before release. Great, round, mouthfilling stuff, with an attractive mineral component, an acidic edge to round out that lush fruit, and rustic tannins. Medium finish, lingers on that earthy quality. A fine bottle to pair with pot roast, mashed potatoes and sautéed broccoli rabe. Especially for $12. Now there’s a price for people of the earth, if I do say so. And I do.

For the new few months, we’re living in precious balance between warmth and chill weather. We’re starting to wake up. And we want to celebrate this new energy with the best bubbly we can find. Those of us like me, anyway.

Mia provides an extremely affordable means to this end. Their NV Prosecco, produced in the Valdobbiadene appellation within the Veneto region, is a delightful foray into springtime spritz. For those of you who need to know (and that’s everyone), Prosecco is the name for the wine and the grape from which it is made. Pretty much the standard in Italian bubbly. This showing is good for parties as an aperitif; nothing too complicated going on here. The nose shows lively citrus and peach notes, and it follows with a light body, fine mousse and a good bead.

Don’t bother pairing this with anything. Just buy a case and invite your friends. Celebrate the changing weather. Crisp, fun. $7.