Tag Archives: red wine

Wine of the week: Douro Altano 2008

The first time I tasted this wine, a Portuguese red blend, it was from the 2003 vintage and it was an outstanding $7 wine — almost $10 Hall of Fame worthy. The next vintage, the 2005, was less than impressive, overripe and flabby. The 2006 was better than the 2005, but not as good as the 2003.

This inconsistency has driven the Wine Curmudgeon crazy, since I really want to like the wine. As noted, there just aren’t that many nifty $10 reds out there these says. So when the 2008 was up to the 2003’s standards, I was ecstatic. This version of the Altano ($10, sample) manages to combine an Old World sturdiness with bright, dark fruit (prune-like, if that’s possible). It’s not especially tannic or acidic, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Pair it with any weeknight red wine dish, like meatloaf or stuffed bell peppers.

So why was this vintage so much better than the others? I checked with the producer’s Dallas representative, and he didn’t mince words. There were a variety of problems with the way the wine was made, like hiring port winemakers to make table wine. These problems, he says, have been fixed by the label’s new owners, and the ’08 was made by winemakers who specialize in table wine. Which is good news, and I’m looking forward to the next vintage.

Expensive wine 22: Columbia Crest Walter Clore Private Reserve 2007

Columbia Crest is known, if it’s known at all, as a grocery store wine producer. As such, there are probably more than a few people looking at the headline and wondering what the Wine Curmudgeon is babbling about.

In fact, many mass market wineries make super-premium wines. Beringer does a well-regarded $100 cabernet sauvignon as well as $7 white zinfandel, and another Columbia Crest wine, a reserve cabernet, was the Wine Spectator’s top label in 2009. And Columbia Crest is owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle of $8 riesling fame.

So you shouldn’t be surprised that the Walter Clore ($30, sample) is a top-notch red blend (cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc). Look for red berry New World fruit, but tastefully done, with the requisite acids and tannins to complement the fruit. It is far from one-dimensional, as too many red wines at this price can be that have either too much fruit or too much alcohol. All in all, very impressive and another example of how well-made Washington state red wine can be.

Pair this with traditional red wine meals — prime rib, steak, and the like. I had it with pot roast and spaetzle, and it actually worked better than a much more expensive Sonoma cabernet. It would also make a fine gift for red wine devotees, what with the Holiday That Must Not be Named coming up.

Wine of the week: Kanonkop Kadette 2008

South African red wine has always baffled the Wine Curmudgeon. Its shiraz is often little more than an Australian knockoff, and its signature grape, pinotage, is, to be polite, an acquired taste. There is also the infamous burnt rubber aroma, which shows up in many of the red wines.

So I did not have high hopes for the Kadette ($15, sample), a blend of pinotage, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc. Nevertheless, it was easily the best pinotage I have ever had — and this is not damning with faint praise.

There is juicy New World berry fruit, but not overdone or too sweet as is the case with many California red wines at this price. Plus, moderate alcohol and soft tannins make it that much more interesting. The pinotage adds to the wine and doesn't overwhelm it; if I had tasted the Kadette blind, I'd have said it was a California Bordeaux-style blend. And no burnt rubber anywhere at all.

Serve the wine with pot roast and mashed potatoes, a rich, wintery and saucy meat lasagna, or even eggplant parmesan. The Kadette is a tremendous value.

Wine review: Castello Monaci Piluna Primitivo 2008

Yet another wine that the Wine Curmdugeon judged before tasting — and was, as usual, completely wrong about.

Though I had my reasons. Really. The PR materials that came with the Piluna ($13, sample) were, to be kind, a bit overwrought. They included a line that said, "Here spreads the sun which floods the land with light. …" I've been writing professionally for too long to take that well. Plus, I'm wary of Italian primitivo, which was one of the varietals of the moment before the wine business crashed in 2008. I wonder how much primitivo is sitting in distributor warehouses, gathering dust, never to be heard from again.

Though, of course, neither of those had anything to do with what the wine tasted like. Maybe that should be my New Year's wine resolution: Drink the wine before you write about it, stupid. So, needless to say, the Piluna was a pleasant surprise. Though it had more oak than it needed, there was lots of very impressive black fruit, and the necessary amount of acid to balance it. I drank it with roast chicken, and it paired well. It would also work with beefy winter braises and stews.

One other thought: The wine comes from Puglia, in the Italian boot heel. This should have been a clue the wine was worthwhile; the blog's favorite wine, Tormaresca Neprica, comes from Puglia (as does its sister chardonnay). Like I said, stupid.

Mini-reviews 20: Stone Hill, Souverain, Spy Valley, Vertus

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month (Thursday this month because of the holiday).

? Stone Hill Vignoles 2009 ($16, sample): Lots of pineapple, but not all that sweet with a long peach pit finish. An excellent example of what can be done with this hybrid grape from one of Missouri’s top producers.

? Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14, sample): This wine is one of the reasons why I love wine, and it has nothing to do with whether I “liked” it or not. The Souverain is done in a style I don’t usually care for, oaked sauvignon blanc, but it’s so well done that I can appreciate what it offers and recommend it.

? Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18, purchased): More wonderfullness from what may be the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Look for even less citrus and more tropical fruit than usual, which is saying something since Spy Valley is among the least citrus-y of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

? Bodegas Iranzo Vertus 2003 ($15, sample): Tempranillo from a less well-known part of Spain, and well worth the effort. More fresh cherry fruit than a Rijoa, lots of bright Spanish acidity and even a bit of herb tucked in. Highly recommended.

Wine of the week: Peirano Estate The Other 2008

It's the holidays. You want wine. You don't want to have to think about it. That's what The Other is for.

It's a red blend from Lodi (mostly cabernet sauvignon and merlot with a splash of syrah) and yes, I can see the wine snobs shuddering. That's their problem. The Other ($14, purchased) is a fine value, it's well made, and it has never let me down. Look for black fruit, but in a sensible, this tastes good sort of way. Serve this wine with red meat, as an aperitif for people who want a glass of red wine when they come to visit, or in front of the fire when you're worn out from holiday fun.

It's true that most people who pick up The Other for the first time do so because of the label, which is the back of a naked woman. But the wine is consistent, and that doesn't happen often enough with less expensive labels. And, sadly, it's not $10 any more, which it was when I started drinking it. But that doesn't mean I still don't enjoy it.

More about holiday wine:
? Holiday wine guide 2010
? Holiday wines 2009
? Holiday wine in a hurry
? Expensive wine 12: Twomey Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2008

Wine review: Bolla Valpolicella 2009

This is the first wine I ever drank. It is, in fact, the first wine I have any memory of. In the 1970s, if you were a “serious” wine drinker in the United States, you drank French Beaujolais, California burgundy or chablis (which were not necessarily pinot noir or chardonnay), German liebfraumilch, Lancers and Mateus rose, or the Italian Bolla. My father, an Italophile, drank the Bolla.

Which meant I did, too. I brought it with me with when I went to someone’s house for dinner. I bought it to impress girls (one of my first big dates, actually). I had no idea whether the wine was any good. I knew very little about wine 30 years ago; the Bolla was wine, and that was good enough.

Bolla, as a brand, mostly disappeared in the 1990s. It was bought and sold several times, and I had not seen it in years. And then, at the grocery store this week, there it was. I checked with my Italian wine expert, who told me, yes, the current owners dusted the brand off, changed the label, and are bringing it back.

Memory is part of wine, as much as the grapes or the soil. This is one of Alfonso Cevola’s favorite themes, that it’s not just what the wine tastes like now, but what we remember of the tasting — who we were with, where we were, what we were doing when we tasted it. So when I opened the Bolla ($6, purchased), I was thinking about my dad and Chicago in the 1970s and the girls I bought it for. The Wine Curmudgeon was sipping and analyzing, but Jeff Siegel was remembering.

So maybe this is memory talking. Maybe the Bolla isn’t what I tasted the other day — young and disjointed, yes, but fresh and clean, with a funky Italian nose and lots of sour cherry fruit. It’s an incredible value at this price, a wine for winter stews and red meat and tomato sauce. And, of course, for memory.