Authentic Red, Gnarly Head

Gnarly Head is kind of one of our standards at the house. It’s reliable, nicely priced, and tends to be gentle on the non-aficionado palate. It’s a favorite for my book club ladies, or a random dinner party. I usually grab an Old Vine Zin, or Merlot. Even a Pinot Noir.

We picked up a few bottles of wine last time we were mooching around Ward’s, including two different Gnarly Heads. At my most recent book club gathering, I accidentally pulled out the Authentic Red instead of the Merlot because I was in a hurry. But when we opened it and poured it around, I actually had a “Whoa, what is this?” moment in the madness of female discussion. (The Man often comments about how we all seem to talk at the same time, at the top of our voices, and he can’t understand how we call it a conversation.)

The Man was quite put out that we drank the Red before he got to it, so when we were at Ward’s today he grabbed two bottles. Just to be safe. While we waited for his tomatoes to roast down for a red sauce, we opened the Authentic Red. Which, can I say–if you are making red sauce that takes several hours, have something to eat in the mean time to offset the alcohol intake.

Anyhow, we opened the Authentic Red with some high expectations because of my “hold the phone” experience in the midst of female insanity. Honestly, we were not disappointed. Initially there’s this low, mellow rolling flavor that bursts out into this high, grassy sensation. There are lovely earthy notes of raisins and dates rooting it deeply in the caramel zone, but then you get these big, loopy, rolling spirals of flavor that open up delicious fruit and sunshine flavors.

The high alcohol content (14.5% ABV) gives it some phenomenally long legs (and again, not something for an empty stomach while cooking). It’s mostly a zinfandel, with some merlot and cabernet sauvignon blended in. Even on the bottle, Gnarly Head recommends the wine is paired with big flavor dishes. They’re not kidding. Big flavors. You know when you’re listening to a Maria Callas aria and she just opens up and lays into you with that voice. Huge rolling loops of intensity.

The nice thing was that as we drank this bottle (waiting for the red sauce to cook), the wine breathed out the sharp grassy flavors, leaving a rich, lush velvety flavor curve. Like a true redhead, it was big and bold and loud. Now I’m kind of glad we have a second bottle. I definitely want another taste of the Authentic Red.

Gnarly Head
Authentic Red
Vintage 2010
Lodi, California
About $6-8

[Girl21]

Pacific Redwood, Organic Red Wine

Pacific Redwood Wine

September 5, 1965. Michael Fallon, a San Francisco journalist, uses the term ‘hippie‘ in an article about the new generation of beatniks gathering in the Haight-Ashbury area. A lot of people point to this as the first recognizable use of the term that brands a generation, culture, and way of life.

California is still home to a significant population of hippies–the original version and the new vintages of them. I myself was born in California and come from authentic hippie stock. This is why I am making an effort to get over my temporary fixation with Spanish wine and try more California wines. This is also why I lean towards organic anything. (And why when my doctor disapproved of my not having had many of my shots as a child, I had to explain that I felt lucky to at least have a real birth certificate.)

Over the years, the hippies that lived and thrived in northern California grew weary of covertly growing their lucrative crop of the Devil’s Weed, and a few turned to the newest cash crop—grapes. Wine grapes to be specific. They slowly became farmers, then vintners, then they became famous. And rich. And it was all legal. They got thanked by the state of California’s tourism captains. The French hated them. It changed the face of the countryside, now littered with B&Bs and tasting rooms among the grapes.

Now when people think about wine in the US, they think about Northern California. And Paul Giamatti. Because most people saw the movie Sideways after all of the hoo-ha about it. (I prefer Bottle Shock because you learn more about wine, and there’s less whining. No pun intended.) The people that like to draw lines and make categories out of things say there’s three major wine regions in California. Or possibly four. Depending on who you talk to. They also use words like viticulture, appellation, and riparian zones. These people crack me up.

The three, or four, regions are Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and possibly Lake County. Each of these regions are broken down into sub-regions, and of course there are all kind of outlying regions that aren’t as cool or famous. Wine country is about wine the same way that Comic-Con is about comic books. There’s so much more. And the extreme tourism brought on by the fame is further distorting the earthy traditions of the region’s wineries.

Anyhow, being from good hippie stock, and being born in California, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I should drink more California wines. Fortunately the wine buyer at Ward’s seems to think the same thing and has been stocking some interesting options lately. I picked up this Pacific Redwood organic red along with a Chilean and a Spanish.

I’m a bit wary of the organic wines, especially when they advertise they are not just organically grown, but have no added sulfides. They can sometimes be quite rough and need a bit of time to breathe after opening. But this Pacific Redwood from Mendocino County was bright from the opening and didn’t oxidize until it had been open for about an hour. The dark purple-red wine had a very wet and juicy mouth feel, but a mildly woody nose. It initially tasted sweet and young, with lots of berry flavors throughout. There were lovely undertones of honey, and then it finished with a dry peppery flavor before disappearing cleanly.

Overall it was a light, young wine that I would drink again. A little sweeter than I prefer, but quite enjoyable with some snacks or a light meal. I want to try it against a little honey-barbecue baked tofu. Mmmmmm.

So my exploration of California wine continues. With the rise of somewhat legal medical marijuana in the state, one has to wonder if the hippies-turned-vintners feel the urge to return to their original crops, or if they like the more robust success of the less edgy wine culture. I hope they stick with it. At least until California gets that next big earth quake and falls into the Pacific.

Pacific Redwood
Organic Red
About $6-8

[Girl21]

Carménère, Cremaschi Vineyards, 2010

One of the perks of going to Fresh Market is the ladies at their wine tasting tables. If you go in the evening, they’ve been at it a while and are quite, um, cheerful from handing out samples. I’m absolutely positive these girls don’t have a little sip of the wine here and there throughout the day. They must be just naturally cheerful and talkative at the end of a day-long shift on their feet.

Dinner guests stopped at Fresh Market on the way over, and the lady giving out samples of wine actually talked so profusely, they were late to arrive at our place. Which is fine because in my opinion, the stated time of a dinner party or gathering is merely a suggestion. They eventually arrived bearing a bottle of carménère by Cremaschi Vineyards, a Chilean wine.

Carménère is a dark red varietal that originated in France but is now virtually extinct in its homeland. It was one of the original ‘six red grapes of Bordeaux‘, which sounds like the name of a good children’s song. A tremendous (vineyard) plague in the mid 1800s pretty much wiped the carménère vines out of existence. Once the growers had recovered from the loss, they couldn’t find many healthy vines, and were hesitant to commit to such a temperamental plant.

It was purely by accident that the carménère vines were preserved, having been taken to Chile and confused with the merlot varietal. Once they got it sorted out, they found that the carménère grapes thrived in Chile, and produced a remarkable wine. And because Chile isn’t wall-to-wall vineyards, the chance of another plague devastating this fragile grape is minimized. (There is also a small presence of this grape in California, Australia, and New Zealand, and a growing interest in France again.)

Carménère wine tends to have noticeably softer tanins, which gives it a lovely velvet mouth-feel and a creaminess that is remarkable. We sure remarked upon it a few times while quickly draining the bottle and smacking out lips appreciatively. This wine also had smoky, dry grass, peppery notes typical of a Chilean wine, but on top of this was a very distinct honey flavor that supported the creamy texture well. There were a few hints of dark fruits, and a touch of a dark chocolate, but major notes of honey and earth remind me of what I wish mead tasted like.

It is on the sweet side, so it makes a delicious after dinner wine. It’s best served with foods that have distinct but subdued flavors like many traditional Chilean ingredients: corn, beans, peppers, potatoes, rice, and chocolate. Although it is a typical trick at wine tastings to have people eat chocolate while drinking to improve the taste of a mediocre wine, the carménère wine actually makes a wonderful pairing with a dark chocolate.

As for Cremaschi Vineyards, I couldn’t find a whole lot of info about them. With the globe riddled with vineyards, Google can only help me so much. And buying at a big box store further muddies the origin once a big import/export company gets their mittens on it (usually a small vineyard will focus on landing a big exporter rather than creating their own website to draw interest). Cremaschi Vineyards exports seven varieties of wine, and has been growing grapes for over a century. Apparently Cremaschi is a common name in Chile, and there are several other vineyards that use the name in some way, so it can probably get confusing.

We’re quite interested in trying another bottle of carménère. I’ve not been particularly interested in Chilean wine in general because they tend to be overly peppery and earthy for my taste, but this was nice for a once-in-a-while treat. And I’d love to get my hands on an Australian and a Californian bottle. Purely for research purposes of course. It’s amazing how a grape can make its way to a different part of the world and take on a new life.

On a side note, I have to wonder about the secret lives of the wine tasting women. How do you get that job? And why? Is it a great dating tool? How many people try to give you their phone numbers? How many other propositions do you get? Just how drunk do you get? And do you do this every day? Do you have giant bottles of aspirin and cases of coconut water at home to combat the perpetual hangovers? How do you manage this on a daily basis without seeming to know all that much about wine?

Cremaschi Vineyards
Carménère, 2010

[Girl21]

San Sebastian Winery, St. Augustine

San Sebastian Winery, St. AugustineLet’s face it. Most Florida wines are not good. Before you get your fur all fluffed up, I do drink Florida wines. I’m not a snob. But the simple truth is that Florida is not ideal for growing good grapes, which is kind of essential for wine. Florida is hot, soggy, wet, flat, swampy, … you get where I’m going. Good grapes need, well, the opposite.

So Florida growers have relied heavily on the good old favorite, the muscadine. Which is not high on the list of designer grapes. If the muscadine were shoes, you would find them at Target next to the Isaac Mizrahi clearance rack. These would not be the shoes that make women purr and groan when they try them on in the store.

On the other hand (you heard that coming, didn’t you), if you live in the area and are having a little road trip into St. Augustine to slum with the tourists and eat good food, your first stop on the way into town should be at the San Sebastian Winery. The people that run the wine tasting are usually fun (free wine tasting!). Weekdays and slow days, they have tastings in the main room, but Saturdays or other busy days, they open up the walk-through tour which is a slightly different experience.

San Sebastian is partnered with Lakeridge, which is further south outside of Orlando. Most of the grapes they use are grown in the area, a mix of muscadine and specially bred varietals meant to thrive in the South. The wine produced tends to be overly sweet and heavily flavored. Not something you would likely serve with dinner or to wine snob friends. With a few exceptions, they both produce basically the same wines just with different labels. You can get both locally. I’ve seen them in Ward’s and Publix, so it can’t be difficult to find a bottle.

I wouldn’t buy it locally but we have fun doing the tasting whenever we drive out to St. Auggie. And we usually buy a few bottles while we’re there. They offer a port, a cream sherry, and a few dryer whites that aren’t bad chilled and mixed in spritzers or mimosas. One of our friends enjoys the muscadine wine and there’s nothing wrong with that. Really. You drink what you like. That’s the whole point.

In fact, if you’re planning a wedding or other event that requires an affordable wine that’s not going to intimidate your guests, Lakeridge has festivals a few times a year where they offer huge deals on cases of wine. Yes, we’re guilty of getting a few cases after an afternoon of drinking sweet wine and washing it down with kettle corn and pretzels.

So on your next road trip to St. Augustine, stop by San Sebastian and acquaint yourself with Florida wine. They’re easy to find. Right next to the police station. I am not making this up.

San Sebastian Winery
157 King Street
St. Augustine, Florida 32084
1-888-352-9463
www.sansebastianwinery.com
Tours run every day, check for info.

Also:
Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
19239 U.S. 27 North
Clermont, Florida 34715
1-800-768-WINE
Check their site for wine tastings and festivals.

[Girl21]

La Cantina Pizzolato Prosecco, 2007

La Cantina Pizzolato Prosecco

This bottle of wine almost inspired bloodshed and mayhem. I am not kidding.

You may notice the cute string-wrapped top on it here. Something a little different from the crowd. Well, I could not open the damn thing. The Man was about to burst a vein in his neck from trying to be civilized while wrestling the wine-screw and the bottle. I almost ran to the utility room for a screw driver and a hammer to open it. (It’s not glamorous, but it works. I promise.) Finally with a primal grunt, The Man ripped the cork out, threw up his hands like a bull fighter, and exited stage right.

It was a lot of hoopla for a timid bottle of organic prosecco. La Cantina Pizzolato is from the Veneto region of Italy (hint: Venice), a once highly agricultural area that is slowly turning to tourism and small industry, as well as guys in boats singing as they steer through canals. This region has sea-level lowlands, but also some high alpine peaks, so there’s plenty of ideal farmland to grow the prosecco grapes for this traditional sparkling wine.

I’ve had a rant or two about prosecco before, so I won’t get back into that again except to say that prosecco is pretty similar to Champagne. Because of its regionally protected status, all Champagne originates from the Champagne region of France. So we call it sparkling wine. In this region of Italy, it’s made with prosecco grapes, and varies greatly in quality and characteristics from bottle to bottle.

If you’re on a budget like me and 95% of the rest of the humans, you might consider finding a prosecco you like rather than splashing out on an expensive Champagne for an event. Most people can’t tell anyway. You can hunt around and find some absolutely wonderful prosecco, in whatever price range you feel comfortable with, and in general it tends to cost less than its Champagne cousin.

Pizzolato is a smallish vintner with a range of wines, including spumante and dessert wines. They do put an emphasis on natural and organic processes and ingredients, which is emerging with the growing demand.

This bottle of prosecco gave us a good fight to get open, and proved to be fairly shy but sweet. There wasn’t a developed flavor curve or any distinct notes throughout the course of drinking it. It was bubbly though, with persistent, fine bubbles that would lend itself well to spritzers, mixed drinks and punches. And at this price, you wouldn’t hesitate at a few chilled bottles for an afternoon at the beach or mimosas for Sunday brunch.

It wouldn’t hurt to have a screw driver and hammer ready though, for when you pull the wine out of the fridge.

La Cantina Pizzolato
Prosecco, IGT Veneto, 2007
$5-7

[Girl21]

Ménage à Trois Wines

Menage a Trois wineDespite its kitchy, catchy branding, the Ménage à Trois line of wine is worth checking out. This has been a standard at book club here since some smart ass brought the first bottle for a laugh.

The premise is that for each of the four styles of wine, there is a blend of three varietals, hence the wink at the naughty threesome concept. Folie à Deux has several vineyards in Napa Valley, and has been producing wine for a few decades. You can tell from their branding and website that they invested a chunk of change into marketing, but it was a sound investment to support a decent wine offering.

Our usual at book club is the California Red, a blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. It is a young wine with a great, wet mouth feel and lots of berry flavor notes. It’s lovely for those non-wine people who like a glass once in a while but don’t know more than “red, white, pink, or bubbles” when it comes to choosing wine. We like to have a bottle of this in the rack at home as a standard.

I’m just not even going to talk about the California Rosé because I’ve not knowingly had rosé wine before, and don’t know if I plan on changing that ever. I just can’t get out of my head that it’s the zenith of girly-girl sugar syrup, and I would feel too self-conscious holding a glass of that in public. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not very butch. I love pink. I ONLY own high heels. I have a Hello Kitty toaster (and I use it!). But pink wine? Hm.

The California White blend is high on my list of options in the summer when I’m looking for something to chill down and drink outside. Especially if I’m going to a friend’s event and need to bring a bottle with a lot of curb appeal. Because really, how fun is it to bring something with a naughty label to a party? Chilled down, this blend still has a sweetness that can get tiring if you don’t like white wine. On the other hand, it’s still that kind of wine that will satisfy wine novices without offending people who know a little bit about wine. The low papaya flavor supports the high lime notes, and the crisp mouth feel is tasty on a hot day. It’s a blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc, and moscato, so the sassy bite saves it from the sweetness.

The Chardonnay blends grapes from three counties in the region, each offering their own characteristics to this balanced bottle. It has a mild flavor curve from start to finish, with just a leaning towards the middle citrus notes. The mouth feel hints at the classic buttery, round sensations, but it is saved by the light floral fragrance and clean finish. I’m picky about my chards, having fallen head over heels for some fun wine on our trip the NY Finger Lakes region. Ménage à Trois’ Chardonnay is nice to have on hand and bring to events because it’s affordable and quite drinkable though. I favor it over their White blend if I’m faced with a friend who doesn’t do red wine. (*cough*Freak!*cough*)

Folie à Deux does offer a selection aside from these four blends, but these are the easiest to get and can be found at reasonable prices. I’d be interested to try some of their single varietal bottles someday since I’ve not actively explored the Napa wines yet.

The Ménage à Trois blends can usually be found for $8 to $10 each, and they come in mixed cases so you’re bound to find all four wherever you see one. We usually have the 2007 and 2008 bottles, but I’ve just seen a 2009 on the shelf recently. Might have to pick up one.

We book club ladies have (mostly) stopped making threesome jokes whenever someone brings a bottle. But it’s fun to bring it out and serve it to someone who hasn’t had it yet. It’s amazing the variety of jokes that pop out of even the most conservative mouth.

Ménage à Trois
by Folie à Deux
California Blends
About $8-10 bottle
• California Red
• California White
• Chardonnay
• Rosé

[Girl21]

Dom Bertiol Prosecco

Dom Bertiol Prosecco

“Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”

This is a famous [mis]quote attributed to Dom Pérignon, the godfather of champagne. If anyone had hung around long enough, they would have heard another famous quote echoed through the ages as well. “Hold my hair, I’m barfing stars!”

One hard lesson seems to be that champagne is delicious but not a good thing to mix with any other adult beverages in the course of a festive evening. A second hard lesson that the French are hammering home, is that champagne only can be made in the Champagne region of France. It is one of the most waspishly defended PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) foods in Europe. Everything else is merely “sparkling wine”, as far as they’re concerned.

Which is fine by me. Champagne is nice, but there have been a few occasions where I promised god that I would never drink it again. If you’ve ever been on the bad side of champagne, you know what I’m talking about. On the other hand, some events call for a nip of the bubbly. Enter the Italian cousin of champagne–prosecco.

Prosecco is a sparkling, dry Italian white wine made from glera/prosecco grapes. This varietal of grape is thought to have been grown as far back as the Roman times, and is now grown specifically for prosecco wine. Spumante (fully sparkling) has gone through a secondary fermentation, which gives it the bubbles. Frizzante, gentile, calmo, or tranquillo are also prosecco wines but do not have the same bubble as the sparkling spumante. Prosecco is aged in stainless steel vats these days, and can originate outside of Italy now, so flavors vary tremendously from maker to maker. (You can even buy it in a can if you are certifiably insane.) One more thing to know when buying prosecco is that it does not age in the bottle, so you should drink it within three years of its vintage.

A friend brought over this bottle of Dom Bertiol to celebrate a milestone in her college career, and as a bribe so we would break out some of our recent cheese and crusty bread binge at Uppercrust. Just the sight of the glass of bubbly sent me back to a previous New Year’s Eve with ‘house’ champagne at a pub we were celebrating at. Fortunately, my love for most things Italian prevailed and I joined in the prosecco toast.

This was a lovely combination of the fine bubble of real champagne and the subtle flavors of a very dry white wine. The floral notes and fragrances were of the Victorian flowers (tea rose, violet, wisteria) rather than the blaring vulgar scents Bath & Body Works. You laugh, but some of these wines smell like they were poured over a suburban MILF book club before being bottled.

The flavors were clean and crisp, running towards almonds and pears, with a sweet clover high note. I can’t help compare it to my favorite other bubbly drink, Cidre Bouché. I love a wine (or anything) that you can practically taste the soil and the sunlight where it came from. ‘Of the earth’ is the only way I can describe that feeling of standing in the vineyard among the sun-dapple leaves. Prosecco tends to be significantly sweeter than real champagne, but it’s nothing like your average white wine.

As this was a gift, I couldn’t tell you were it came from or what the price was, but it seems to range from $12 to $17 a bottle, depending on where you find it. Worth it, in that price range. When you need a bottle of the bubbly, keep your eye out for this, or any decent prosecco if you can’t bring yourself to choose an authentic champagne.

I did note a complete absence of champagne regret the next day–the sensation of your eyeballs trying to crawl into the back of your eye sockets to escape daylight. And the prosecco played well with others in my stomach, where champagne tends to throw a bit of a temper tantrum if not given undivided attention. Over all we were quite happy with this Dom Bertiol, and were sad to finally stow the empty bottle in the recycle bin as if laying to rest the body of a Viking warrior in a Skuldelev before pushing it out to sea and setting it on fire.

Well, perhaps a bit less melodramatically than that. But it was a decent bottle of sparling Italian wine.

Dom Bertiol Prosecco
Spumante
Italy
(Talking and drinking, so did not note the year, origin, or varietal.)

[Girl21]

Terra Summa, Red Blend

Terra Summa, Red BlendThanks to all of our nouveau hippie friends, I’ve been keeping my eye out for organic wine that’s actually good to drink. Like regular wine, there’s a vast array of organic wine, and it’s growing. So when I find an organic wine that’s actually good, I pounce like a cat on a lizard sitting in the sun.

The first time I had a bottle of the Terra Summa (red label, I think it was a merlot), the price was somewhere above $10. And I thought it was just about worth that. Not striking, but drinkable and consistent in flavor. And then I saw it on sale 2-for-1 at our local Publix. What the heck. Two extra bottles of a decent wine for the rack would be nice. I noticed the price had dropped other places as well. It seemed like over night, the average price went from about $11 to $6.

Not to be dramatic, but this is a very nice bottle of wine for that price range. Especially if it’s organic.

Not that price determines how good it is. I’d put this on our wine rack next to Our Daily Red as a good weekday dinner wine because it’s tasty, affordable, and fairly mellow. And it’s consistently good. As opposed to some of the wines you buy knowing that every few bottles, you’re going to get one that’s a bit funky.

Another measure for a weekday dinner wine is how long it stays drinkable. The simple truth is that The Man and I are not the roaring young drinkers we once were. Age and responsibility have crept up (oh don’t get me started!). It’s no longer an option to drink a bottle of wine with dinner and another one after dinner. Don’t even try to broach the subject of liquor on a “school night”. Not that I personally ever tried to get as drunk as humanly possible. But there were times in my youth that I had a drink too many and was still able to get up the next day for class or work, and function. Not so much anymore.

So it’s nice to open a bottle of wine while we’re starting to cook dinner, and sip on it through the night until we start falling asleep in front of the TV… oh, I mean, until we decide it’s time for bed. We never fall asleep in front of the TV. Never.

A good bottle of wine for this kind of slow sipping is one that will be drinkable right away instead of requiring decanting to breathe first. And it will tolerate being open for a while without oxidizing badly (that taste it gets that’s like licking a rusty tin can). Terra Summa seems to hold up well to these expectations.

I’ve googled this wine in an attempt to learn more about its origin, but can’t find much about it beyond other people blogging about it and their own suggestions about where it’s from. These tend to conflict. The Terra Summa website is a single page that just lists the red and blue label varieties. Some people say Tree of Life brought this line to the market. The label says it’s imported by Natural Merchants LLC, who admit to Trantas and Air but not Terra Summa. That, combined with the price drop are suspicious to me.

It’s still a good wine at a very comfortable price. The one we had the other night was the Classic Spanish Red Blend, 2008. And I have a merlot on the rack. In the Classic red label line, there is also a chard, a white blend, and a cab. The blue label Premium line has an Italian red blend, a pinot, and a tempranillo. There’s a rumor on the wind about a third line that is “no sulfites added”.

This 2008 Red Blend was nice and mellow, with an even balance of fruit and chocolate notes. There is more complexity to the finish of the wine than the rest of the flavor curve. The chocolate ends as a nice coffee flavor, and the fruity notes fade out to a low, dark berry blend. It goes very well with Mediterranean cooking as well as some of the more mild Mexican dishes, but it probably wouldn’t hold up well against something too spicy. It’s definitely not the most talkative person at the table, but it’s intriguing enough that people would stop to listen when it had something to say.

Terra Summa
Classic Spanish Red Blend, 2008
Organic, 75% Spanish Tempranillo / 25% Cabernet Savingon
$5-7 per bottle (red label varieties)

[Girl21]

Almagre Crianza Rioja 2001

Almagre Crianza Rioja 2001It’s clear that this wine was aged for a significant time in oak barrels. It is not shy about that. There is an undeniably masculine forwardness to the strength and depth of this flavor throughout this wine.

Alamgre produces this tempranillo in the infamous La Rioja region of Spain. It is a red crianza, meaning it is aged at least two years, one of them in oak barrels. This one tastes like it was born into the primordial soup in oak barrels and left to age since. Considering they’ve been making wine in this region since at least 873 A.D., it’s quite possible.

There’s a lot of emotion and effort being put into world foods these days, preserving a region’s food heritage by legally protecting the name. ‘Protected Geographical Status‘ means you can only buy Stilton in that name if it was made in one of three counties in England, and ouzo has to have been made in Greece or Cyprus. Rioja wine has to come from the La Rioja region of Spain. There’s a fancy label and authentication sticker on this bottle to verify this.

Alongside being of authentic origin, this Almagre is also certified organic. Not that I look for this specifically, but I like to have a bottle or two of organic wine on hand for those of my friends who feel very deeply about this topic. I would prefer to have organic food as a serious option in my life as well, but reality is much more stingy with me on time and money.

This 2001 Almagre was about $8 locally. The label looks like something designed in MS Word by someone who still uses a dial-up modem. But I don’t judge by the label, and neither should you. I take that back. I tend to shy away from the overly slick or kitschy labels for fear that money had been spent on marketing instead of wine-making.

If this wine was a cat, it would be an un-fixed male Tom cat. I find tempranillos tend to be mild, so this one threw me for a loop with its bold oak, dust, and leather flavors. A sparse but intense mood. It reminded me of when I lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas (that’s Cal-i-for-ni-ay or you Easterners). There was no rainfall in these hills through the summer, so by August everything had been dried and bleached the color of straw. Even the air. Outside at midday all you could smell was the dry grasses, the oak trees and the dusty earth. It permeated you until you felt like you were a dense, stoic, silent manzanita tree. This wine absolutely brought me back there, and this is what I imagine it would feel like to stand in the vineyard in Spain as well.

I enjoyed this wine on its own, over conversation with a friend. I did bring out some lovely green grapes that had been chilling in the fridge, and they seemed to balance out the masculinity of the wine. After a few grapes, a sip of wine tasted almost like frankincense–rich and dark and old. Next time I buy a bottle of this (yes there will be a next time), I will consider paring it with an equally bold dinner. Maybe even after dinner with a cigar.

Almagre Crianza Tempranillo
Rioja DOC 2001
12.5% ABV
About $7-8

[Girl21]

Beso de Vino, Seleccion 2007

Beso de Vino, Seleccion 2007How can you turn down a wine with a bull and his dangling testicles on the label? Antonio the Bull, to be precise.

The very-cute label and marketing of the wine makes it a great gift for non-wine-aficionados. Antonio the Bull is a cute doodle and there’s a cute story first thing you read on the front of the bottle. It’s a screw-top cap so there’s no messing about with cork screws or gadgets. And it’s very mild, so as not to shock or offend the palette of someone who likes to mix their jug-wine with a little ginger ale or carbonated water to jazz it up.

Despite the overflowing cuteness (yes, I am a cute aficionado as well but prefer to keep that separate from my wine), this is a nice little bottle of wine. We had the Selección 2007 which is a syrah. It seems like later years are mostly syrah with a 15% garnacha blend, so I’d be interested in trying one of these to see what the motivation for altering it was.

I generally lean towards Spanish wines for every-day occasions like week-day dinners, book club meetings, and parties where I know non-wine people will want to be adventurous and sniff the wine. This Beso de Vino is ideal because it’s a $6-9 bottle of decent wine that is mild with an underlying complexity of flavors. You’re not going to shock anyone with it, but you’ll probably not get bored of it quickly either.

It comes out of Aguaron, Spain, an area that is scattered with little towns of 300 people or less. This is in the province of Zaragoza, which has one of those histories where every other week someone else was conquering the place and swaggering around like they invented shoes. The locals generally went about their agricultural business, creating amazing foods and wines, and making up Jota.

The wine itself is deeply colored, almost purple, with an unremarkable fragrance. At first blush, the flavors are very subtle. You almost put the glass down and ask for something else. But like the quiet girl at work who wears glassed and hardly talks, if you give the wine a moment to relax, you start to feel these lovely hints of personality creep up. There are touches of cocoa and dried fruit, and then sweet olives, and maybe a jumble of spices. For just a moment you feel like you’ve been chewing honeysuckle blossoms. And then it’s gone and you want more.

Although the vineyard is well established, the brand is fairly new, and came to the US only a few years ago. A growing number of distributors are carrying this wine, probably because it has great eye-appeal for displays. But don’t let that put you off. The Selección is the highest rated of their offerings, but you might also find Old Vine Garnacha, Macabeo (a white varietal typically used in many Spanish blends), and Garnacha Rosé (um, Valentine’s Day hint hint).

Beso de Vino, Selección 2007
Spanish Syrah, 13.5% ABV
Usually about $6.00-$9.00
www.besodevino.com

[Girl21]