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2010 Cantina del Taburno FIANO "Beneventano" (Southern Italy)

Date: Fri, Mar 1, 2013

This was a large-scale, flavorful if slightly inelegant white that reminded me of a highly-extracted, unoaked Maconnais wine like a St. Veran.

Sparkling dark gold color with a slight greenish tinge. Intense nose of ripe apples and a hint of peach, along with bags of crushed stone. Loads of flavor, mostly of slightly bitter apple skin and waves of clingy minerality. Very full-bodied with acidity correspondingly a tad on the low side. Very pleasant, slightly viscous texture. Bone dry. Long, bitterish finish. B+. It's not going to get any better, and should be drunk over the next 6 months. Was $14.99 from Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by Marco deGrazia Selections.

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2011 Domaine du Carrou SANCERRE ROSÉ (Loire Valley, France)

Date: Thu, Feb 21, 2013

A terrific rosé. It's got fragrance, flavor, texture, and great vibrancy. No rosé I've ever had comes close to a good Sancerre rosé.

Light salmon/copper color. Great cherry/grapey/strawberry fruit aromas shot through with limestoney minerals. Soft, instantly flavorful and mouthwatering upon entry. Loads of crisp fruit flavors are balanced by saliva-inducing acids and great, clean, high-toned stony minerals. Hard to stop drinking this one. A. Was $21 from WineAccess.com Imported by Fleet Street Wine Merchants.

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2006 Bodegas Olarra RIOJA "Añares Reserva" (Spain)

Date: Thu, Feb 14, 2013

A very nicely-balanced, nicely-composed, and fairly complex Rioja. Elegant, flavorful, and ready to drink. But it should also keep and improve for at least 3-5 years. It's not really traditional style, but neither is it in the stereotypical modern style. Most important, a great value.

Vivid, deep ruby color. Somewhat shy but very nice nose of ripe blackberries and cassis, along with warm, sweet sandstone scents, and an unusually deft and subtle note of sweet vanillin from the oak-ageing. In the mouth, it's flavorful and ripe, with full body and lots of soft, fine-grained tannin. Medium-pitched berry and cassis flavors with a clean streak of minerality running through it. There's a little sweet toastiness from the oak, but it's joining the chorus of flavors rather than trying to take the lead. Very nice acidity keeps it lively and keeps inviting another sip. A-. Was a remarkable $12.99 from WTSO.com. Imported by Classic Wines, Stamford, CT.

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2011 "Honoro Vera" GARNACHA (Calatayud, Spain)

Date: Mon, Feb 11, 2013

A nice, very soft, fruity, weighty, varietally-true Grenache. The only complaint I have -- and it's a minor one for a $9.99 bottle -- is a just barely perceptible bit of residual sweetness.

Inky ruby-violet color. Open and inviting nose of oozing raspberries, plum jam, and some clean, stony minerality. Mouthfilling, richly fruity, and full-bodied, this offers loads of ripe plummy, raspberry fruity, leaving behind a vaguely bitter-tinged liquid rock taste at the very end. Low acidity. As I said, it's got a barely perceptible bit of residual sugar, and it's pretty simple, so this gets a little tiring to sip on its own, but it's a nice accompaniment with casual weeknight fare (it went well with a simple roast chicken). B. Was $9.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by The Country Vintner, Ashland, VA.

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2011 Tarima Monastrell (Alicante, Spain)

Date: Sat, Feb 9, 2013

Dirt cheap and very good. A great weeknight dinner choice. Simple but varietally true and satisfying.

Fully saturated black ruby/violet. Straightforward scents of ripe, sweet, perfumey blackberry and a nice classic Mourvedre (Monastrell) scent of tree bark. Lots of oomph entering the mouth, with loads of smoky blackberries, full body, some nicely integrated if not super-soft tannin, and surprisingly good acidity. A bit of heat, but not intrusively so, on the finish (which is long and fruity). B/B+. Was only $7.99 from B-21 Wines in Florida, but it's pretty widely available (including being available at Total Wine in Fairfax at the same price). Imported by Jorge Ordonez Selections.

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2010 Domaine des Fées CÔTES DU RHÔNE (Southern France)

Date: Sat, Feb 2, 2013

A really good, large-scaled, ambitious Côtes du Rhône that thinks it's something more important. Dark and extracted, but nicely-balanced at the same time. Apparently it's an unfiltered 50/50 Grenache/Syrah blend.

Completely saturated black ruby-violet. Interesting and atypical nose, with lots of smoky, iodiney minerals, and a thing that alternately reminded me of either roasted herbs or a big pan-full of sauteed spinach with garlic and olive oil. And some blackberry skin fruit in there too. Mouthcoating flavors of iodine, blackberry, and faintly bitterish minerals, with a long finish that clings and clings. Some fine-grained tannins for physical structure. Very good acids for a wine this large-framed. Basically, tastes like a very good Gigondas. B+. Got this for $12.99 from B-21 Wines in Florida. Excellent value at that price point. Imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars.

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2010 Espelt GARNACHA "Old Vines" (Emporda, Spain)

Date: Thu, Jan 31, 2013

A young wine that needs a lot of air to show its stuff. Definitely on the darker, more-extracted end of the spectrum.

Impenetrable, fully saturated black black black ruby. The first night the nose was very scorchy and burnt, showing zero fruit. I was unimpressed and put the Vacu-Vin on it. The next night was a different story. Still smoky and low-toned, but oozy-ripe raspberry syrup fruit was insinuating itself into the equation. Very full-bodied and a bit hot in the mouth, with a somewhat coarser texture than expected for a Grenache. Clearly the winemaker was going for intense extraction here. I prefer Grenaches with a more fluid, less macho feel. Still, it had a lot of low-toned berry and scorched stone flavors. Low acids. It's a B-, but only if you can appreciate this intensely ripe, ambitiously-extracted, massive style. If you don't, it's just a heavy mouthful of bricks. Imported by Eric Solomon-European Cellars. $8.99 from B-21 Wines in Florida.

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2010 Domaine du Mont VIRÉ-CLESSÉ (Southern Burgundy, France)

Date: Mon, Jan 28, 2013

This was a fantastic white. If I had tasted it blind I would have thought it was a young premier cru Chablis. Ripe, cleanly minerally, and crisply refreshing. Excellent value.

Light gold color. Enchanting nose of ripe apple, ripe pear, nose-tingling lemony acids, and crushed seashell minerality, along with a hint of that Burgundian earthiness that frequently, in the whites, reminds me of dried hay lying around a barn. Absolutely refreshing in the mouth. Concentrated flavors, yet light on its feet, with a linear, lemony streak through the apple/green apply fruit, and a bolt of chalky, seashelly minerality follows through from the nose to the mouth. Soft texture. Brilliantly clean, lengthy finish. I know it's just a Macon, but I have to give it an A. Was $14.99 from WTSO.com, making it a steal. Imported by MHW, Ltd., Manhasset, CT.

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2008 Bader-Mimeur CHASSAGNE-MONTRACHET Rouge "Chateau de Chassagne-Montrachet" (Burgundy, France)

Date: Sat, Jan 26, 2013

Tight, tight, tight! This wine is very youthful and tightly-wound, but contains all the elements to become a very good Pinot in 2-4 years.

Bright medium ruby with the beginnings of some garnet. Very shy nose (even when poured through a Vinturi). Just a few subtle scents come through: crisp, just-picked cherry and stony minerals, with a lifted floral element. Bone dry, crisp (mouthwatering acids) and lightly tannic in the mouth. Fairly full body. Lots of cherry-skin fruit and lean, stony minerals in the mouth. Clean, medium-long finish. This just needs time to shine (at least a couple of years). For now,B. In a few years, probably higher. Was $24.99 from WTSO.com. Imported by MHW, Ltd., Manhasset, NY.

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2008 Vallana SPANNA COLLINE NOVARESI (Piemonte, Italy)

Date: Sun, Jan 20, 2013

This is excellent. Shows classic Nebbiolo character, in a medium-bodied, soft, and ready-to-drink style. I'm glad to see this old-line producer (whose Spannas from the 60s and 70s are legendary) is back on line.

Medium ruby-garnet. Fragrant nose, with textbook winey cherry/dried cherry fruit together with a nice mildly mushroomy, earthy underbrush component. Focused, vibrant, earthy-cherry fruit in a bone dry, medium-bodied format, with excellent, zingy acids and just a barely discernible bit of tannin becoming noticeable in the finish. B+. I don't know how much this cost, since my brother gave it to me, but it seems to be selling in the $14 - $18 range from various retailers I've seen on the Internet, which would make it a very good value. Imported by Michael Skurnick Wines, Syosset, NY.

PS, there's a good article in Tom Maresca's blog about the younger generation of this family working hard to bring the estate back to its former glory.

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2009 Domaine Chante Cigale COTES DU RHONE "Vieilles Vignes" (Rhone Valley, France)

Date: Fri, Jan 18, 2013

A deep, soft, sultry Cotes du Rhone from a producer much better-known for its excellent and reasonably priced Chateauneuf. It's 70% Grenache, 20% Carignane, and 10% Syrah. For those who like their Cotes du Rhone to show lots of vibrant, earthy raspberry and/or blackberry fruit, this is not your wine. It's on the lower-toned, chocolately end of the scale. But expectations aside, it's quite good.

Saturated black-black ruby color. Somewhat aloof, low-toned nose of dark chocolate, blackberry skins, loamy sandstone, and slow-roasted herbs and meat. Weighty and soft in the mouth, it's very full-bodied, low in acidity, and shows loads of chocolatey, minerally flavors. Lengthy finish. Not my cup of tea, so for me it's a B-,but those who like this style will undoubtedly rate it higher. Was $19.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by Saranty Imports, White Plains, NY.

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2009 Savignola Paolina CHIANTI CLASSICO (Tuscany, Italy)

Date: Sat, Jan 12, 2013

This is a very easy-drinking, soft, but flavorful Chianti. A pretty good value. Great for weeknight or casual Italian dinners. Atypical, but very good.

Fairly dark (for a Chianti) blackish ruby. A lower-toned nose than is usual for a Chianti, featuring dark-roasted minerally notes battling for equal attention with dark cherry fruit, and a light note of menthol in there too. Low-toned in the mouth too, with lots of dark, earthy, gravelly minerals, a dark chocolatey note (where's that coming from in a Chianti?). Medium full body, and lowish acidity. A fluid and very velvety mouthfeel is this wine's best feature. It's a B+if you're not detracting points for atypicality. Was $14.99 from WTSO.com. Imported by Superior Wines, Cranford, NJ.

(Sorry, 2008 depicted).

(One more thing: drink this before the summer of 2013.)

Update (1/20/13): A second bottle seems a little more advanced, and I'd give it a B.

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2011 Montesole LACRYMA CHRISTI DEL VESUVIO ROSSO (Campania, Italy)

Date: Mon, Jan 7, 2013

A bright, minerally, high-toned red. I got it for $36 at a restaurant in Charlottesville, so I think that would make it something that would retail for between $15 and $20. Both stylistically and price-wise, consider this wine as an alternative to a Valpolicella.

Dark black ruby with violet highlights. Vibrant nose of crunchy, ripe cherry and very clean, stony minerals. Feels very lively in the mouth, with intense cherry fruit, lots of minerality, and crisp acids. Medium-full body, and a soft texture with just enough microtannin to be discernible if you concentrate. Fun to drink, and extremely food-friendly. Will drink nicely for at least 2 more years. B+. Imported by Artisans & Vines, Richmond, VA.

(Sorry, Fiano di Avellino label shown, but the labels are somewhat similar.)

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2009 Mazzocco ZINFANDEL "Seaton" (Dry Creek Valley, Cal.)

Date: Sun, Jan 6, 2013

Superb example of a full-throttle style of Zin (a style that Mazzocco is known for). Rich, ripe, extracted, but with not noticeable oak and no heat. My brother got this direct from the winery and gave it to me, so I have no idea what it costs.

Fully-saturated black ruby with violet highlights. Deep rich exuberant nose of rich, ripe blackberries, maple syrup, and dark stones. Incredibly rich fruit slams the palate, initially making a fleeting port-like impression and then resolving into ridiculously pure, ripe fruit. Very concentrated, with a dense texture, but with very little noticeable heat despite its 16.2% alcohol. Slightly low but still OK acids, this wine successfully walks a tightrope between extraordinary ripeness and over-blownness. All it lacks is a bit more complexity. A-.

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