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Short, sharp wine recommendations


Modest Mondays - 2009 Château Coupe Roses Minervois

Everyday opulence - the $13.50 Château Coupe Roses MinervoisFirst, let's get this out of the way: the '09 Château Coupe Roses Minervois is a screamin deal for $13.50. It's got character, opulence, and just a bit of earthy funk underneath its ripe cherry, stewed tomato, and dusty spice flavors. Like many other Minervois AOC wines, this is a blend of old-vine Carignan and Grenache. It is rich, fruit-driven, and delicious, reminiscent of a great Paso Rhone Blend but waaaaay cheaper. There's also some definite French terroir underneath the brambly stuff, which keeps it a bit more down to earth. 

While this is not a natural (or even organic) wine, the vignerons practice something called lutte raisonnée, which in English means "reasoned fight" - this basically boils down to farming in a manner somewhere between organic and conventional: they try to avoid chemicals except when absolutely necessary. Often this is a precursor to a winery going officially organic, and I hope so in this case.

This very tasty treat goes for $13.50 at Arlequin in San Francisco. I had it one night with a burger, the next with ratatouille, and it was quite nice with both. The importer's label specifies that it is "meant to be drunk young," and I can tell you with assurance that this wine will not last long in a cellar - pop it now.


Adventures in Wine: Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Godello

Looking for something wonderful to try, but sick of the same ol' varietals you see in every store? Want to impress your wine geek friend with an affordable yet very interesting bottle of white wine? Here's something well-worth seeking out: Guimaro's 2009 Ribeira Sacra Blanco (Godello), brought to America by one of my favorite importers, José Pastor Selections.

Looking down a ladder in Pérez's scary-steep vineyardThe wine region (Denominación de Origen, or simply, DO) Ribeira Sacra is tucked up in the northwest corner of Spain, right above Portugal. People are taking notice of this incredible little nook in the wine world for good reason: it's producing some high quality, interesting wines at affordable prices. The geography in Ribeira Sacra is stunning, and the vineyards gorgeous, green and steep, often fog covered, and the area looks something like the Northern Rhone meets Northern California. In fact, the steepness of the vineyards makes a hands-on approach to winemaking completely necessary for many wineries, such as the one in question, Guimaro, where winemaker and grower Pedro Rodríguez Pérez risks life and limb climbing steep ladders to tend his vines.

Some time ago at a José Pastor tasting, I got to meet Pérez and try his wonderful 2009 Ribeira Sacra Blanco, made from the fairly obscure grape, Godello. I don't speak great Spanish, and he doesn't speak great English, but I pointed at the glass and then to my heart, and got the message across just fine. You can find this excellent wine online from Solano Cellars for $26 (by the half-case) and I found it in person for ~$28 at Arlequin.

front labelback labelIf you are lucky enough to grab a bottle of this, what you'll find is a wild and wonderful nose of jasmine, melon, earthiness and ocean spray, which transforms to quince, lime, pie spice, mineral and a nice bit of saline on the palate. This is absolutely delicious, with a lingering finish and a remarkably light body considering its intense flavors: if this were a Chardonnay of the same intensity, it would be unctuous and oily (not that there's anything wrong with that), but this wine has really pleasant weight that just begs for more sips. So maybe buy two. And invite me over.


Modest Mondays - Over the Edge

A quality Pinot for less than $15? You bet. Behold "Over the Edge" Pinot Noir from Martinborough, New ZealandOne trick to find great values in wine under $15 is to drink wines from regions that offer value. Two weeks ago, we mentioned Côte du Rhône is one such region. Another trick is to seek entry level wines from great producers.

Escarpment from Martinborough, New Zealand is producing excellent single vineyard Pinot Noirs, and fortunately for our everyday drinking needs, they also make a wonderful entry level pinot as well, "Over the Edge" Pinot Noir.

Now, making a quality pinot noir for under $15 is no easy task, but the folks at Escarpment have it down. Their last several vintages have had the critics singing their praise rating "Over the Edge" between 88-90 points. The 2010 "Over the Edge" is another quality effort with red berry, cherry and spice on the nose with flavors of red berries and plums fleshing out this medium-bodied red. True to the cool climate of the region, the wine finishes with a bright acidity while hints of black tea linger as the last impression on the palate.

As usual, I found that this red showed more depth and complexity with a little time in the decanter, so if you can remember to unscrew the cap of the "Over the Edge" ahead of time and decant it for 30 minutes, you’ll enjoy all this wine has to offer. What? Yes, I said unscrew. The wine has a screw cap closure and there is no reason to think any less of it.

To unscrew and enjoy "Over the Edge" in San Francisco (or to have it shipped to you), head to K&L Wines, where you’ll find it for $14, and if you’re in the East Bay, you can find it for $12 at The Wine Mine.


1991 López de Heredia 'Viña Tondonia' Reserva Rioja Blanca

Sometimes we recommend a wine because it's clearly what you might call a "steal": its low price gives it a killer "Modest Monday"-like cost-to-quality ratio. But sometimes, my friends, we feel the need to deliver you to a transformative experience. 

If you've never had a traditionally produced Rioja Blanca, and you're willing to shell out ~$45 (well worth it), you are in for a treat. López de Heredia (fantastic website, btw) is one of the last of the old guard in Rioja (though some of the younger vignerons are bringing the old traditions back), and their wines can be absolutely sublime experiences. 

Take the 1991 'Viña Tondonia' Reserva Rioja Blanca, for example. A traditional blend of 90% Viura and 10% Malvasía, this is a bottle I'd buy even if I were not allowed to drink a drop -- seriously. For me, the nose alone was an instant ticket to a sunny day in a countryside Spanish jardín. Beeswax and flowers, complex, vibrant and refined. And the palate was no joke either: oily, lemony, floral, honeysuckle, mind-bending complexity, and a wonderful citrus-like zing made it a winner. The finish was one of the most beautiful and lengthy I've ever experienced.

The 1991 is tough to find right now, but it is out there. The current release is the 1993 (yes, the winery holds onto these a long time to ensure they are showing their full character before releasing), and based on the stellar 1991, I'm going to purchase one as soon as possible. For $45 bucks, I still think it's a steal.

I have one caveat: this is a wine-geek's wine, for sure - interesting, super complex, and gorgeous, but this is not a fruit-bomb lover's wine. If you serve it to a buttery chardonnay crowd, you're sure see a furrowed brow. Save it for the vets.


Modest Mondays - '09 Montirius Côte du Rhône

What's better than a good cheap wine? Why, one that's produced biodynamically! Something about me really likes supporting bidynamic growers, as I believe there's some inherent integrity that springs from the effort such an undertaking requires.

But I digress. The point here, really, is 'cheap wine', and although the secret has long been out that Côte du Rhône is a terrific region for value wines, I'm often still amazed at the difference in character and just sheer interestingness between a sub-$15 Rhône varietal wine from the US vs. one from the Rhône itself. I think France comes out way on top in the value contest. And this wine is a case-in-point.

Aside from being certified biodynamic, the Montirius Côte du Rhône is aged in concrete and without oak. This is a typical CdR blend of mostly Grenache bolstered with some Syrah and Mourvèdre. It's bright, has nice cherry and berry tones, and is lively and earthy. This wine is good -- certainly not great -- but for $14 I'm quite happy to recommend it.