I want to start off by apologizing for the long delay in any updates – I fell into a rut. And by pointing out that there is virtue in falling into a rut now and again. Favorite things, be they songs, cuisines, or wines, provide reliable pleasure when life seems full of unpredictability. For me, that rut has taken the form of a Rioja, Spain’s most prestigious wine.

Rioja, just to review, is made with the Tempranillo grape, traditionally sees long aging in oak, and is considered by many (myself included) to fall just beneath the Nobles (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc etc.) in terms of depth, complexity, and sheer potential. People are still accustomed to thinking of Rioja as a “leg-o’-lamb” wine, but it’s far more flexible than that, as demonstrated by the subject of this review.

The 2010 Bodega Las Orcas “Decenio,” a young Rioja from the Alevesa region that lies somewhere between a Crianza and a Joven, displays many things I always look for in wine: natural yeasts, aging in oak barriques, no fining or filtration. It’s a young, juicy wine popping with aromas – cherry, raspberry, and baking spices. Ripe and plush, without being too full-bodied for lighter fair, this also has great balance with its food-friendly acidity and  medium finish. I’d pair “Decenio” with barbecue and grilled vegetables with a side of potato salad. $12. Buy a case!


O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

– Robert Frost

Since this forum’s template is still “under construction,” I will just take a moment to reveal the wines we paired with our two massive Christmas dinners – mustard-crusted prime rib on Christmas Eve, and proper beef Wellington on Christmas Day.

2006 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
2004 Beaulieu Vineyard “Georges de Latour” Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange Châteauneuf-du-Pape
2005 Chateau Greysac Cru Bourgeois

Astor Center hosted a truly phenomenal tasting yesterday, seemingly tailored to my forum: every single wine at the tasting was under $30! Almost all of them were delicious; or, at the very least, presented solid value at their respective price points. Having occupied myself for four solid hours at this event, assiduously trying (and sometimes retrying) the wines from every table, I will now list what I felt were the winning showings, the wines to buy right away:

Sparkling Wine:

Mia Prosecco, NV, Veneto – Very pretty and tight, showing delicate citrus fruit and refreshing acidity that makes for a clean finish; perfect for casual parties. $7.

Scu Prosecco, NV, Veneto – This one has a bit more weight than the Mia, with dry citrus aromas on the nose and delightful fizz; bright and rich, with balance and poise. Incredibly, $9.

Esprit du Sud Blanquette de Limoux Brut, NV, LanguedocRoussillon – Tremendous, primarily made from the Mauzac grape, a pale straw color in the glass, Champagne’s obscure antecedent shows smoky, yeasty and floral aromas on the nose, with rich white fruits and perfect perlage, leading to a dry finish. $18.

White Wine:

l’Étoile de Rachelle, Sauvignon Blanc, VdP, 2008 – An easy Sauvignon Blanc that is comfortable in a variety of situations. Sun-bleached green-flecked straw in the glass. Features citrus fruit with hints of grassy aromas on the nose, with good acidity and slight minerality in the mouth. Enjoy either alone as an aperitif, or with mussels or light fish dishes. $7.

Cline Viognier, Sonoma, 2008 – A wine I’ve never written about before, showing strong. The nose is crisp and aromatic with citrus and tropical fruit, along with hints of spice, while the mouthfeel is at once fresh and zingy but also softly opulent due to the fruit. Long dry finish, a delightful aperitif. $9.

Silver Thread Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2007 – This was, disappointingly, the only New York State winery present at the tasting, but the quality of their wines made up for that and then some. Not a German Riesling, not an Alsatian Riesling, although it is reminiscent of some Mosel wines. A pale white gold in the glass. Stone fruit aromas on the nose, with vibrant acidity in the mouth, some great minerality and floral notes, and a long finish. Off-dry, with the residual sugar providing just enough complexity. Thai, anyone? $15.

Silver Thread Gewürztraminer, Finger Lakes, 2007 – By far one of the top wines at this tasting. Light straw in the glass, good clarity. Brilliant floral and fruit aromas on the nose, focused on roses and peaches, with great lychee and peach fruit in the mouth, this wine seems sweet or off-dry from the bouquet, but is dry as a bone. Lean, trembling with acidity, hinting at spices. Absolutely delicious right through the lingering finish. $15.

Red Wine

Silver Thread Pinot Noir, Finger Lakes, 2007 – What I loved most about this wine was its intense aromatics, which were both deep and complex, nearly Burgundian. Rich aromas of dark cherries, truffles, and earth on the nose, with a soft mouthfeel blending more red fruits to earth and herbal notes, balanced by good acidity. Medium-bodied, with some tannins, as this wine is meant for aging a few years, probably five at the most. $22.

Tinto de Anfora, Herdade das Anforas, Alentejo, 2007 – A classic Portugeuese still red wine, dark purple edged with red in the glass, with a nose full of black fruits like plum, along with cocoa beans, brambles and dried leaves. This wine is by no means elegant in the mouth, but rather has fine tannins, making it almost rustic, but not overly so. More juicy cassis and herbal notes in the mouth, with a long tannic finish. Big wine for the money at $10.

Amala Merlot, Sonoma, 2007 – Wow. Simply wow. This is what California Merlot is supposed to be all about – the nose on this wine is textbook Merlot; just a hint of that confectioner’s fruitcake adding a fun springiness to the other aromas. In the mouth it is soft, smooth as velvet, with supple tannins cloaking gloriously rich and juicy plum and blackberry fruit. Balanced acidity, round; medium finish. Surprising, especially considering it has one of the most boring labels I have ever seen. $10.

Bourgogne Rouge “Le Chapitre,” René Bouvier, 2006 – Among the light-bodied wines of the evening, this had the best aromas. A lovely pale garnet in the glass, great clarity, with brilliant and focused cherry and raspberry notes supported by an earthy sense not unlike a forest floor, and hung cured meats. Something floral happening here too, maybe violets. Bright acidity dancing in the mouth, long finish. I just wanted to smell this wine all day. $22.

Tai Rosso,” Rezzadore, 2007 – One of the more unusual wines at the tasting, this was both lively and exceedingly complex for its price. It was the color of raw tuna steak in the glass, that delicious looking red-orange flesh color, succulent. Aromas of cherries and cranberries fairly leap from the glass, but are backed by just a touch of barnyard weirdness. Some spicy notes too. Good structure in the mouth; this wine has the kind of acidity that begs for food. Delicately balanced, with some slight tannins at the end. $15.

Le Formiche Nebbiolo d’Alba, Piedmont, 2008 – Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, here shows as a delicious young-drinking wine full of power and grace. A pale ruby in the glass; this wine is much bigger than it looks. The nose is blackberry and plums with definite tarry notes, while the mouthfeel is ripe and unctuous in fruit while also steel-trap tight with tannins. Huge and delicious, with a spicy tannic finish tending to coffee notes. A powerhouse. $20.

Chatom Cabernet Sauvignon, CA, 2004 – What needs to be said about this? A classic California Cabernet Sauvignon with five years’ aging in bottle. Big and beautiful. Ripe, juicy dark fruits on the nose, with more black fruit enrobed by supple tannins in the mouth, slightly over-extracted and heavy, but not ponderous. Good balance for domestic Cabernet, really; very tasty and not a fruit bomb. $25.

Chateau Moulin de Tricot, Haut Médoc, 2005 – A classic expression of Left Bank Bordeaux, made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Highly concentrated, dark ruby in the glass, with aromas of cassis, blackberries, cinnamon and cloves. Majestic. The mouthfeel is well-structured, the tannins keeping a tight leash on the fruit but also letting it run around a bit in the glass; more plums and blackberries in the mouth, with a good long finish. $29.

Just another photo taken on the beach with a fine bottle of 2007 Annabella Pinot Noir from Carneros. Rest assured, this is posed; there were glasses on a towel in the sand. This was the same trip where we visited Truro Vineyards for the second time, and discovered how fine those wines may someday be… good times.

No tasting notes here, just an extremely goofy picture of me at the Mauritson Wines Dry Creek Vallery vineyard, Faloni.

Wineries visited during that trip: Seghesio, Simi, Mauritson, Rutherglen, and Dry Creek Vineyards. What good times those were…