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Short, sharp wine recommendations


Memorial Day Weekend? Think pink.

If you know me at all, you probably know damn well that I view warm weather and lazy days as just another good excuse to drink pink. Even before it became trendy, I was proud to say that I loves me some Rosé. 

And really, let's get real here, when I think pink, my go-to country is most definitely France. Provence? Delicious. Bandol? C'mon - ridiculously good. And today, my friends, I'm hitting the Pyrenees and heading straight into the Languedoc.

I just popped (er, screwed) a bottle of 2011 Domaine Begude Vin de Pays d'Oc Rosé. For $13, this is a screaming deal of a wine, and it's made from 100% Pinot Noir. The nose is brilliant for a hot, sunny day in the backyard. Fresh strawberries and, dare I say, watermelon Jolly Ranchers on the nose (and I mean that in a good way), a bright, palate cleansing acidity on the palate with tart strawberry and a generous minerality (hey, it's from the Pyrenees for crying out loud), and a long pomelo-esque finish really make this wine wonderful for food. It'll easily stand up to salad dressing, but give it to me with fried calamari, thank-you very much. Or just goddamn quaff it down during your bocce game.

If you can't find Domaine Begude - don't fret. Find a good wine store and ask them to point you to their favorite French Rosés. You really can't go wrong. Or, hey VinoRadio is here to help. And also here, for that matter.

Did I mention I loves me some Rosé? Have a great weekend.


An Opulent Rhone for a Great Price


Many of us agree that Paso Robles has been producing some stunning wines, especially n the realm of Rhone blends. The hot weather of Paso, and it's rich, calcareous soils bring beautiful ripe fruit and, in the right hands, luscious wines. 

But this week, I'm telling my Paso loving friends to go back to the source, the Southern Rhone, and maybe even save a few bucks.

The 2009 Domaine de la Ferme Saint Martin "Saint Martin"  Rouge is a plush Rhone wine from the not-too-well-know AOC "Beaumes de Venise." For $20, I found this wine to be a great value, especially for those who love the intense, fruit driven style of wine produced by many of the great Paso houses. Rich, fruit-driven, but still earthy and aromatic, and a nice dose of black pepper, no doubt from the 10% Syrah that rounds out the this 90% Grenache driven blend. It may not have the same level complexity of of some pricier wines, but beleive me, it's got plenty there to keep it interesting.

This wine, like many grenache focused blends, leans on the sweet side of dry, and is powerful enough to serve with just about any meat, strong cheese, and even along with your summer barbeque on a beautiful evening. I bought mine at K&L. Cheers.


Calera and the art of the $20 Pinot

I was having a discussion the other day about how the Holy Grail of wine just might be the $20 bottle of California Pinot Noir (well, one that doesn't suck.)

Some of you might know Calera as a producer of several single single vineyard Pinots that are both affordable and delicious. And while some may argue that Calera's wines don't meet the strict (but nebulous) criteria that would define it as 'Natural Wine,' they certainly win some points with me due to their their minimal intervention, low sulphur, preference for organic fruit, and indigenous yeast philosophy of winemaking. This is about as close to 'Natural Wine' as we get here in California, and Calera keeps these standards even for their value-priced cuvée, the Central Coast Pinot Noir.

Each year, Calera vinifies the 'Central Coast' Pinot using fruit sourced from up to 9 different vineyards (and for the record, these are generally highly respected vineyards.) For my money, this is the best $20 bottle of US made Pinot out there, in part because although it is a blend, it feels to me like a terroir driven wine. This lovely stuff is floral, bursting with wild berries, loamy earth, mint, and flowers. There is a hint of oak, but it lurks pleasantly in the background, and, in fact, only 10% of the oak used here is new, thank god. Beyond this kind of description, the true reason I like the Calera Central Coast Pinot is that it's just one of those wines that makes you feel unexpectedly giddy -- and really, what more need one ask from a bottle of wine?  

I like this wine so much that I was really disappointed to see that Robert Parker gave it a 92 score -- I don't want to see a run on this wine, or see the price go up. (Wait, I thought he was getting out of California?!? Leave already, dude.) But I digress.

I bought a few bottles at Premier Cru, but I'm not curently seeing it on their site. Fortunately, K&L comes to the rescue with plenty of them in stock for $19.99.

PS - This is another bottle with that lovely glass VinoSeal enclosure (istead of cork.) Love those.


The Wild Purity of La Clarine Farm 2009 Mourvedre

Recently, I had the pleasure of trying my first La Clarine Farm wine, the 2009 Mourvedre. This is the kind of wine that makes you want to sit down, light a candle, and write a haiku by the flickering light. It makes you want to invite friends over to wax poetic with you. It puts odd thoughts in your head that will undoubtedly sound downright stoner-philosophy-silly the next day, but feel unbelievably important in the moment, like, "Man, I only want to drink authentic wine, from now on."

This is not a typo, nor is it hippy dribble: La Clarine is Natural Wine from the Sierra Foothills of California. (Btw, I'm allowed to say "hippy dribble" cuz I'm a recovering hippy.) We'll save a full discussion of Natural Wine for a future post, but for now here is a brief treatise: think of the ideal of producing a wine with only one ingredient -- grapes. That is the aspiration of most natural winemakers, and it is not as easy as it might sound. Natural winemakers grow their grapes organically, and often biodynamically, but further, they generally let the fermentation happen spontaneously, using only the indigenous yeast found naturally on the grapes; moreover, the wine is given no additives. Often, natural winemakers even shun the use of new oak (as La Clarine does) in order to truly let the grapes express themselves. Thus, natural wine afficionados find that these wines, when done well, often express a purity and sense of place much more readily than other wines. And though there are not too many American wineries embracing the natural wine ethos, there are some, and La Clarine Farm is one that happens to be doing a fantastic job of it.

The La Clarine 2009 Mourvedre is a conundrum -- it's wild and wooly, yet balanced and nuanced. I found the nose to have a really nice floral character along with red berries, a bit of cola, and minerality. On tasting this lively wine, I found it to have some hedonistic red fruit, a racing acidity, as well as orange peel, sage and lavender. And there's a little something there which actually reminds me of some of the natural Cru Beaujolais I have tried: although the varietal and character is quite different here, there's an unadulterated, earthy freshness that I find quite addicting, and there's also that lovely, floral nose. (Fun fact for your friends: Beaujoais is the birthplace of the natural wine movement.) 

Find the La Clarine 2009 Mourvedre for $22 at Arlequin in San Francisco, or online for $23. A great wine for the price, and a wonderful introduction to natural wine. And for a nice bonus, this was my first wine that uses the Vino-Seal glass enclosure instead of a cork. Aside from being quite effective (no cork taint!), it looks stunning, and will be a great conversation starter at the dinner table.



Modest Mondays - Peciña 2009 Cosecha Rioja (Joven)

Bodegas Hermanos Peciña is one of the most traditional Rioja producers out there, and it's always a pleasure to enjoy their wines. This is another great producer who is imported by José Pastor. For the record, I prefer traditional as opposed to modern Riojas primarily because I usually get a much greater sense of terroir, purity, and uniqueness with the traditionals -- plus, they are far less likely to be manipulated with all the nasty stuff a lot of the modern wines often try to get fancy with. 

All of Peciña's Rioja Altas I've tasted have been excellent, and their entire catalog's bang for the buck has been practically shocking to me. This one, the Cosecha, is the entry offering of the bodega (winery,) and it's an unoaked "joven" (literally, "young," meaning that it is meant to be consumed without much aging,) and it is fantastic, low price or not. The youth of the wine means it is fairly fruit forward with blueberry and blackberry flavors, but Peciña's old school sensibility keeps it earthy, spicy, complex, and with a healthy balance of acid. This is a blend but 97% is Tempranillo, and the fruit plays a starring role as this beautiful wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel - no oak at all - which makes it really lively and fresh.

I've rarely tasted a wine at this price point with so much character. Find ithe 2009 Peciña Cosecha at K&L for $13.99, but the real deal is it Premiere Cru, where it can be found, while it lasts, for $9.99