Solagi 2011Spring has finally sprung, so I’m celebrating the warm weather with something weird, something different… something that screams for attention, like AC/DC. Well, it’s a little less heavy than AC/DC.

That something is from a region called Calabria in the south of Italy, a region of arid beaches, olive trees, and gently rolling hills dotted with vineyards. Calabria hosts a  D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) that is also a town, Cirò, which is the site of an ancient winemaking tradition featuring an ancient Italian grape: Gaglioppo. Sometimes referred to as the “Nebbiolo of the coast,” and once thought to be a product of Greek colonization, Gaglioppo flourishes in this area, with its calcareous marl soil and sandy embankments. It is a pretty obscure grape that produces pretty delicious wines well worth exploring, making it a perfect accompaniment to the freshness and optimistic tone of spring.

Which brings me to the 2012 Caparra & Siciliani Solagi Cirò. Made from 100% Gaglioppo and aged and fermented in stainless steel vats, this wine is ruby red in the glass, and exudes superb floral and fruit aromas: juicy cherries, lavender, roses, and hints of loam and herbs. In the mouth, the wine is balanced and harmonious, the soft fruit nicely balanced against acidity and firm tannins. Some decent minerality, as well. With structure and finesse this pronounced, one would assume this wine is expensive, but it is most definitely not: it can be found for usually under $20 a bottle. This would pair beautifully with aged cheese and salumi platters, or can serve as a high-end pizza wine. Go get some.

De Forville Dolcetto 2012Quite often, I really do not want a serious wine. Not every occasion calls for a Grand Cru; not every event merits Screaming Eagle. I cannot count the weeknights where my friends and their respective significant others piled into my Brooklyn apartment with armloads of fresh ingredients and a culinary vision for the evening. Those nights, we swap jokes that made the rounds before, and jokes that haven’t. Dinner, drinks, and laughter until late. Those nights – which end up being most nights – I really do not want a serious wine.

Enter Dolcetto, one of my favorite casual Italian wines. Dolcetto is a grape primarily grown in the Piedmont region in northeast Italy. The best wines made with Dolcetto are generally found in Alba (as is the case with the one featured). Generally, Dolcetto is known for producing soft, fruity wines meant to be consumed when young; quite the opposite of one of the region’s more prominent grapes, Nebbiolo, which arguably produces some of the most structured wines on earth. Tidbit: the Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one,” but generally Dolcetto is dry. Its exuberance lies chiefly in its expressive fruit, which tends towards cherries.

Tonight’s wine, the 2012 De Forville Dolcetto d’Alba, is produced specifically in the municipality of Barbaresco, a source of red wines of much renown. This particular example, while humble in comparison to the greats from its region, is still delicious all the same, and for good reason: the De Forville family has made wine in Barbaresco for 150 years. Bright ruby red in color, the wine bursts in the glass with dark cherry and licorice aromas, and is soft and juicy in the mouth, with dark fruit and just enough acidity to match. Finishes soft and fresh. $15 a bottle; try some the next time you order a pizza, preferably with friends.

Senorio de PecinaSometimes, you just need a glass of finest nectar: aged red wine, the drink par excellence. Sometimes you need a wine of utter harmoniousness, depth, sheer complexity; warmth at work against the cold of winter.

Just say it, slowly – let the syllables drip from your lips:


For those frigid nights when your friends have gathered, when the roast is in the oven, when only such a wine will do, perhaps you would be tempted towards a younger vintage, to savor lively cherry fruit and (if produced traditionally) that delicious vanilla and spice flavor. But on those coldest of nights, when one wants to swoon into the happiness of kinship, as Galway Kinnell would say… an aged Rioja can best capture the essence, the brilliance of what a great wine can be.

So, for tonight’s post, just such a thing: the 2001 Señorío de P. Peciña Reserva Rioja Reserva. It has much to offer. For one, it spends 36 months in used American oak barrels, and then is bottle-aged for another eight years. This surpasses Gran Reserva aging requirements, making the Señorío de P. Peciña a very unusual wine, to say the least. It is 95% Tempranillo, with the rest a blend of Graciano and Garnacha. At this point, with 13 years behind it, this is a wine that is ready to be enjoyed.

And what enjoyment! In glass, the classic brick red color, with its age beginning to show a little paleness at the rim. Still bursting with sour cherry, plum, and cranberry fruit on the nose, along with oaky vanilla, hints of toffee, black pepper, and leather… just a fantastic set of aromas. Velvety and round in the mouth, delicious and juicy as well, balanced in all its parts, quenching, beautiful. A lovely hint of candied orange peel whispers in the finish, which is long and silky. At $26, you must.

Cannonau di Sardegna RiservaAnd now for a brief post about one of my new favorite values in Italian red wine. More posts to come soon, fast and furious. Winter is coming – for those of you who read or watch Game of Thrones – and for me, that means red wine: red wine in rivers, in torrents… and in glasses on the table by my couch. If you’re in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs or some similar comfort food… and honestly, who isn’t… where better than Italy to find the perfect pairing?

The subject of this post is the 2009 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, a totally delicious Cannonau wine from the northwest corner of Sardinia. Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, and is home to roughly 4 million sheep, making this island one of the areas of the world with the highest density of sheep per capita; right up there with New Zealand, a truly exceptional wine region in its own right. But I digress.

Cannonau, otherwise known as Grenache, is also one of the most widely planted grape varietals in the world. It favors hot, dry climates, and generally creates wines with soft berry fruit, nice spicy notes, and a high alcohol content, making it good for blending – see Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône valley. Our wine of the hour, the 2009 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, seems like pure Grenache.

In the glass, a nice brick red color. Aromas of hung game, violets, and a touch of almost Burgundian funkiness hang above notes of dark red fruit. Very solid structure in the mouth, with a round feel, smooth tannins and delicious plummy fruit backed by earth and spice. $15 says you have a new favorite dinner wine for the cold months. Buy it by the case.

Michael PozzanAnother long hiatus! So much has been going on that updates are proving difficult. But I will persevere and continue to post the fine wine bargains until circumstances allow this blog to return to a normal schedule. With marriage imminent, and excitement growing beyond my ability to readily process or contain it, I thought it would be nice to get grounded with my steadfast favorite wine in the whole repertoire: Cabernet Sauvignon. Yep, once again, I’m goin’ Cab.

So many reasons to keep coming back to this noble grape. First off, it’s one of the primary blending grapes in Bordeaux, that most prestigious appellation, and has what I consider an ideal blend of structural potential in its tannins and delicious, dark fruit character. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of red grapes; all others are mere barons or dukes. And California makes wines from Cabernet that are generally my unabashed favorites; probably something to do with my background.

So today’s wine, the 2008 Michael Pozzan Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, is exactly and ideally typical of Cabernet from the Sonoma region. Knights Valley is one of the original five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Sonoma, and has the warmest climate in the county. All of the fruit sourced for this wine is Knights Valley fruit, and while I wouldn’t say this is a wine of terroir, expressing a unique sense of place, it definitely does show great varietal character with Californian exuberance. 18 months of aging in French oak helps, too. A rich plum color with red brick edges, this bursts with aromas of plum, black cherry, and mocha in the glass. Smooth as silk on the palate, with great tannins buttressing juicy cherry, raspberry, cassis, vanilla and caramel flavors. Long finish; again, smooth as silk. Not flabby at all, this wine has enough acid to pair with food (think T-bone steak, or Beef Wellington), and could age for 3-5 years if you’re of a mind to cellar a bottle or twelve. $15.

Il PiaggioniBack from wedding planning with a vengeance; back with a fresh post about a fresh red wine that’s begging to go down with some steak before the nights get even more hot! Because it has been hot. Summer is finally here, after weeks of rain. And it’s still raining, on and off. Hot, humid… despite how oppressive the mugginess can get, red wine is still my preferred nighttime beverage – the steaks, like the show, must go on, and they must be paired with something, after all.

Most people turn to their established favorites for steaks; Bordeaux or some mid-range California Cabernet would be usual offerings. But when the t-bones hit the grill, I tend to turn to Sangiovese. The perfect balance between acid and fruit makes these wines exceptional complements to grilled meat, if you can bear to briefly abandon the safety of California’s red offerings. Remember, we’re talking about the grape that goes into Chianti, into Brunello di Montalcino. We’re talking about one of the prime grapes of Super Tuscans. More than enough “wine cred” to match anything you’re cooking.

For those adventurous enough to brave the Sangiovese front, this wine, the 2011 Mocali “I Piaggioni” Rosso Toscano, is a 100% pure and fine example of the breed. Mocali is a noted producer of Brunello di Montalcino; this is their “value” wine. The “I Piaggioni” is not aged for as long in oak as Brunello, and the Sangiovese grapes in this Rosso are not from the very best sites (although they are the same clonal selections as those used in Brunello). The flavors do not quite have the depth and concentration you would find in a Brunello, due to shorter aging in oak. However, in the end, what you get is a delicious Rosso with aromas of licorice and cedar, bright cherry fruit, a smooth mouthfeel, excellent acidity and balance, and a nice lingering finish. At $15, it’s hard to ask for more.

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.

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.