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2010 Tommasi "Vigneto Rafael" VALPOLICELLA (Veneto, Italy)

Date: Tue, Jun 25, 2013

This wine has been consistently very good, year-after-year, since I can remember first trying it (in the early 80s). It usually walks a line somewhere between the lighter, fresher regular Valpos many wineries offer as their entry level wine and their somewhat denser, riper, earthier Ripassos. The 2010 is really nice.

Vibrant ruby with a purply tinge. Gobs of ripe, dark, crunchy berry fruit on the nose. The first night, the fruit obscured all else. Then I left it under a Vacu-Vin for 48 hours, and it had developed some of the almondy characteristics frequently associated with Valpos. Wonderful concentration and vibrancy in the mouth; a wine that just begets sip after sip, and would pair with all sorts of meals.Nice length and wonderful purity. A-. Was $16.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax, VA. Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, NY.

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2009 Jean-Paul Brun CÔTE DE BROUILLY "Terres Dorées" (Beaujolais, France)

Date: Tue, Jun 18, 2013

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A mature, smooth, flavorful, old-school Beaujolais. A little bottle age really smooths out some of the better, tightly-constructed Beaujolais, and that's what's happened here. Me likee.

Dark ruby color. Really rich nose of dark mixed berries and lots of clean stony and vaguely foresty notes. Soft, lithe, and intensely fruity in the mouth initially, showing lots of pure berry fruit, then the mineraliness kicks in quickly and clings tenaciously to the tongue and the insides of your cheeks. Pretty full bodied for a Beaujolais (probably due to the warm '09 growing season), but with good purity and liveliness, despite low-ish acids for a Beaujolais. A-. Drink over the next 8-12 months. Was $18.99 from Wine Exchange, Los Angeles, Cal. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

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2010 Buti Nages COSTIERES DE NIMES (Rhone Valley, France)

Date: Mon, Jun 10, 2013

This excellent value red is fruity, deep, balanced, and soft. A fantastic choice for summer cook-outs. 45% Grenache, 45% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre.

Deep ruby with purply highlights. Lively, straightforward nose of crunchy, ripe dark berries and clean stony mineraliness. Lovely, tight, ripe berry fruit in the mouth. Very soft. Decent acids, and some very fine tannins for a bit of structure on the finish. Not complex, but fun to drink and flavorful. Calls out for mesquite-grilled grilled burgers. B/B+. Was $9.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by Saranty Imports, White Plains, NY.

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2008 Santbru MONTSANT "Carinyenes Velles" (Catalunya, Spain)

Date: Sun, Jun 9, 2013

A deep, full-bodied, minerally, fully-mature and smooth red. Think of this as a Spanish Gigondas from a very warm vintage.

Almost jet black, fully saturated color . . . ruby adds the highlights to the black, rather than the other way around. Striking, low-toned nose of a squished carton of uber-ripe blackberries, whisked together with crushed stones and a hint of dark baking spices. Massively rich in the mouth, with dark, brooding flavors of dark stones and blackberry syrup/skin extract. Great intensity yet not overblown. Dry and full-bodied, sporting a texture akin to hot chocolate due to loads of medium-fine-grained tannins. It went well with a braised brisket. This is a wine that will overpower anything less than a stew or pot roast type dinner, although it may pair well with after dinner cheese too. Drinking very well now, this wine will soften further over the next 2 years. B+. Was $14.99 from WTSO.com. Imported by Classic Wines, Stamford, CT.

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2008 Castello di Bibbione CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA (Tuscany, Italy)

Date: Wed, Jun 5, 2013

A very large-framed, delicious Sangiovese. Color, body, tannins, acids. This is a wine that hits the gym.

Luxurious-looking saturated dark ruby. Rich nose of tangy but ripe black raspberries and black cherries, with sweet-scented smoky-gravelly notes. Mouthfilling dark cherry fruit, quickly molting into loads of chalky, stony minerals. Bone dry, with lots of fine-grained tannin and lots acidity, giving it a lean, muscular, very vigorous mouthfeel. Lots of crushed stones as the finish resolves. A-. Youthful but starting to drink very well now, this wine will improve over the next three years in a cool cellar. Was $18.99 from WTSO.com, which is cheap for a CC Riserva. Imported by Castelli del Gevepesa, Manhasset, NY.

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2009 Chateau L'Ermitage COSTIERES DE NIMES (Rhone Valley, France)

Date: Thu, May 30, 2013

A really good value in a tasty, mature, flavorful, balanced, soft Rhone red. 50% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache.

Dark, black-ruby. Nose full of ripe, rich blackberry essence and pungent, slightly scorchy minerally-stony scents. Very soft and mouthfilling, with nose-paralleling, bone dry blackberry and scorched gravelly flavors, along with a dry underbrush component. Full-bodied, but with good balancing acids. A bit drying as the latter half of the finish, but this is a minor quibble, particularly if, like me, you're using this wine to wash down a bowl of pasta-and-meat sauce, or some such dish. B/B+. Was $9.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by Saranty Imports.

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SPANISH BRAISED CHICKEN WITH SPINACH/ALMOND PUREE

Date: Sun, May 26, 2013

I made this up the other night, and had the Aglianico reviewed below with it. I think I read a recipe that had the spinach/almond thing a few years ago, so I can't take credit for that concept.

½ chicken, but up into 5 pieces
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly
Good handful raw almonds
¼ large red onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
¾ cup dry sherry (fino or manzanilla)
¾ cup chicken broth
Olive oil salt pepper

Toast up the almonds in a dry skillet or in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Don’t burn. Put in a bowl and set aside to cool.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then brown well in a bit of olive oil a sauté pan. When you flip them, add the garlic. Try not to let the garlic burn too much while the chicken is browning or it will get bitter. When the chicken is nicely browned, turn up the heat and add the sherry and broth, bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes, then turn down to very low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
While the chicken’s simmering, splash 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large coverable skillet or pot, and add the onions. Soften over medium-low heat until they start to color. Add the spinach with whatever water is clinging to the leaves (or, if the leaves are dry, add ¼ cup water), mix well with the sautéed onions and then cover and turn the heat down to low and stem until wilty-soft (5-6 minutes).
While the spinach is steaming, put the cooled toasted almonds in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. When the spinach/onion mixture is done, squeeze out most of the liquid into a bowl, reserving the liquid). Then add the spinach mixture to the food processor and pulse until it’s pureed with the almonds.
After the chicken has simmered for 30 minutes covered, turn the pieces and continue to simmer over low heat for 15-20 more minutes with the cover slightly askew.
When the chicken’s done, remove the pieces from the pan, and put them in a nice serving dish (the serving dish should be warm). Season the braising liquid in the pan liberally with salt and pepper. Return the pan to the heat and then mix in the pureed spinach/onion/almond mixture. If there’s not much braising liquid left add some of the reserved spinach water. When this sauce is heated through, pour over the chicken pieces. Taste to see if the sauce needs more salt and pepper, since the spinach/almond puree needs a lot of both. Serve over rice.
Serves 2-3 people, depending how big the chicken is.




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2008 Vigna Alta AGLIANICO DEL VULTURE (Southern Italy)

Date: Sat, May 25, 2013

A very good value, this wine is fragrant, soft, full-flavored, and has a bit of complexity. Hard to beat at $12.99.

Very dark black ruby. Surprisingly youthful-looking for a 5-year old wine. With air, the nosy displays lots of smoky, fragrant embers and sun-dried gravel, together with very nice blackberryish fruit. Fairly full-bodied, but with excellent acidity for a southern Italian red, it got ripe, winey, dark berry fruit, with a nice gravelly overlay. Fairly long finish, and loads of palate-refreshing acids. This will work very well with pasta and meat sauce, or Italian tomatoey braises. B+. Got this from WTSO.com. Imported by Superior Wines, Cranford, NJ.

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2011 Saladini Pilastri OFFIDA Pecorino (Marche, Italy)

Date: Thu, May 23, 2013

I have drunk some Pecorinos before, but this is the first I've heard about "Offida" being a DOC . . . "G" to boot! Pecorino is a white Italian varietal that's typically fragrant, fruity, crisp, and simple. This one is a very nice example.

Light brassy gold color. Fragrant nose of pears, citrus zest, chalky minerals, and a fleeting note that reminded me of the smell of largemouth bass slime (fishermen will know what I'm talking about). A weird note in this context, but not unpleasant. Mouthfilling, dry, gentle flavors of pear and minerals. Very clean in the mouth. I think this was about $12.99 at Total Wine in Fairfax. Imported by Saranty Imports, White PLains, NY.

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2010 Columbia Crest CABERNET SAUVIGNON "Grand Estates" (Columbia Valley, Washington)

Date: Sun, May 19, 2013

A simple but very flavorful red that shows off a very sweet, black cherryish side of Cabernet. This wine does not skimp on flavor. My main criticism is some noticeable residual sugar.

Black black ruby. Nose dominated by sweet, very ripe black cherry syrup scents, along with some nice fruitcake notes. In the mouth, loads of very ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, but little else. Mercifully, no oakiness, but this wine, while very flavorful, is very simple. While I got this at a chain restaurant (CPK) for $24, I imagine it should be around $10 in stores and supermarkets. I'd rather drink this wine, which is true to its grapes, than some god-awful chocolatey, cab in the same price (that got its oak from chips), it's still way too simple to be recommended. C+.

(Sorry, 2007 shown).

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2010 Pithon-Paille CHINON "Vieilles Vignes" (Loire Valley, France)

Date: Sun, May 19, 2013

A really zesty wine that is both drinking well now and will age. Keeps changing as it gets exposed to more and more air.

Black ruby purple color. The first night, it showed mostly the typical mineral oil, toasted walnut oil, and brambly underbrush I associate with Cab Francs from this northerly clime. Then after two days under a Vacu-Vin, it started to display a lot more tangy, black cherry fruit. It kept evolving over that third night, hitting notes of licorice and barnyard at various times, all the while keeping the faith with the black cherry fruit. Fantastic acids, keeping this thing tangy and electric on the palate. Bone dry, fresh, medium-bodied, soft-textured, and possessing a really pure, medium long finish. Very engaging. A-. Was $25.99 from Winex.com. Imported by Aliane Wines, San Diego.

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2009 Domaine La Florane VISAN Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages (Southern France)

Date: Tue, May 14, 2013

Liquid minerals! Terroir freaks will go ga-ga over this one. Actually, I did too. It's really fine.

Very dark ruby but still with significant violet highlights. Incredibly mute upon first being poured without a Vinturi, it was a little more forthcoming when I used the Vinturi. But it still needed an hour to start showing itself. When it did, however, it was really nice. Nose completely dominated by all manner of minerals: powdered stone, liquid metallic/iodiney, and lightly scorched earth scent. Under all that tectonic stuff was some ripe, oozy, sultry blackberry fruit. In the mouth, the flavors immediately migrate, as though drawn by a powerful magnet, to the sides of the tongue and mouth, and tenaciously cling there, showing loads of melted minerals and hard blackberry jam candy fruit. Loads of soft tannin and decent acids provide the structure for the full-bodied wine. Very long finish. A. I really like this very unique style. Was $18.99 from WineAccess.com. Imported by Fleet Street Wine Merchants.

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2010 Paul Jaboulet Aine COTES DU RHONE "Parallel 45" (Rhone Valey, France)

Date: Sat, May 11, 2013

This widely available Toyota Corolla of reds is, as almost always, a flavorful, good value. Not the most fragrant wine, but delivers lots of ripe, concentrated flavors in a very soft, easygoing style. 60% Grenache/40% Syrah.

Nearly fully-saturated black ruby with still some violet glints. Reluctantly gives up subtle aromas of ripe blackberries and smoky sandstone. Concentrated rich fruit fills the mouth. Dark blackberry and scorched earth flavors. Loads of reasonably fine-grained (for a $12.99 wine) tannins. Long, clingy, if not very complex finish. This is a very good value. B/B+. Got this at Whole Foods in Arlington.

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2008 Domaine Dublere VOLNAY 1er CRU LES PITURES (Burgundy, France)

Date: Thu, May 9, 2013

This is a complex, leaner styled Burgundy. Fragrant, balanced. All it lacks is a little more oomph in the mid-palate.

Medium ruby color with garnet highlights, and some browning at the rim. With air, the nose reveals multiple scents: ripe yet slightly sour cherry, pleasantly subdued woody notes, damp, gravelly earth, maple syrup. Initially fills the mouth, then leans out quickly, but minerally, sour cherry syrup notes cling in the finish. A very nice wine to have with a roast chicken. Drink up over the next 18 months. B+. Imported by Chelsea Ventures, Chicago, this was $29.99 from Flickingerwines.com.

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