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2008 Saddleback Cellars ZINFANDEL "Old Vines" (Napa Valley, Cal.)

Date: Mon, Oct 8, 2012

A big, dark low-toned, intensely-flavored, and significantly-oaked Zinfandel. Not my favorite style, but still, very well done.

Fully-saturated, plasma-like, black ruby-crimson. Low-toned nose of smoky sandstone and earth, minerals, dark blackberry skins, and espresso roast coffee. Dense flavors immediately coat the mouth, with chocolatey-dark berry flavors and a lot of graphite-inflected minerals. Dense and large-boned. Loads of soft tannin and very full body. Drink this one in mid-winter with a winey stew and it will shine. B+. Was $27 from WineAccess.com.

(Sorry, 2007 shown.)

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2010 Beckman Vineyards GRENACHE "Estate" (Santa Ynez Valley, Cal.)

Date: Sun, Oct 7, 2012

A zesty, herb-tinged and very quaffable style of Grenache. Not as big and earthy as Chateauneufs, or as powerful, weighty, and densely-fruity as the best old vine Spanish Garnachas. This is a wine that doesn't necessarily shine on its own, but fits in beautifully with a meal.

Dark, magenta-shot ruby. Bright, slightly tartish raspberry fruit coupled with mixed green herbs on the shy nose. Much more animated in the mouth than the as yet undeveloped nose suggests, it fills the mouth with earthy, iodine-tinged, herby black raspberry fruit. Lots of youthful but soft tannin, and very good acids provide nice framework. Medium-full-bodied, with pretty good concentration. As the finish wears on (it's a long one), the fruit lingers and comes more into focus. This wine will age nicely for 2-3 years, but if you like them young, it works nicely now too (but run it through a Vinturi or decant it to allow it to develop. B(+). Was $22.99 from WineAccess.com. Neither a good nor bad value at that price.

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2007 Col d'Orcia ROSSO DI MONTALCINO "Banditella" (Tuscany, Italy)

Date: Fri, Oct 5, 2012

One of the best, and best value Rosso di Montalcinos I've had. Fragrant, deep, ripe, complex, and textured.

Very saturated black ruby/garnet with brick edges. Deep, very ripe blackberry and plummy fruit together with loads of fragrant gravel and minerals on the nose. Intense, deep-toned flavors of pungent graphite-laced earth and bone-dry essence of blackberry extract. Lots of medium fine-grained tannins and full body give lots of oomph, and the finish is long and chewy. I can't imagine this improving much, so drink over the next 18 months. A-. Was $14.99 from WTSO.com. Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, FL.

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2010 Mas de Gourgonnier LES BAUX DE PROVENCE (Southern France)

Date: Sun, Sep 30, 2012

This wine is consistently a very good wine and very good value. It's always organically made from 50-60 year-old vines, and tastes like a traditional Provencal red. The 2010 is definitely up to past quality standards.

Very dark blackish ruby with a violet tinge. Dark rich, ripe berry fruit, equaled measure-for-measure by scents of graphite and sandstone. Low-toned minerally fruit coats the mouth, with lots of youthful tannin. Full-bodied, with good concentration, but no alcohol peeking through. It actually seems a bit tight. Very long finish, and nice balance. Will keep and improve for 2-4 years, but drinking well now for those who, like me, like 'em young (we're talking wines here, of course). B+. Was $15.99 at Whole Foods in Alexandria (Old Town). Imported by Dionysos Imports, Manassas, VA.

(Sorry, 2005 depicted)

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2010 Birichino GRENACHE "Vieilles Vignes Besson Vineyards" (Central Coast, Cal.)

Date: Sat, Sep 29, 2012

Grown in the Santa Cruz Mountain area, this Grenache (from 101 year-old vines, grown on its original roots), shows off intense cherry fruit with a bit of black raspberry, along with a pungently stony minerality. It's very good, balanced, and focused, and not at all the fruit bomb one would expect from such old Grenache vines in California. In fact, it's a little on the lean side. This wine would do very well with pasta in a good meat sauce or grilled burgers.

Deep violet-tinged ruby. Dry cherry extract coats the mouth, along with stony minerals. Lots of soft tannin, as well as acids and alcohol. Not very complex, but satisfying and athletic in a linear way. B+. Was $17.99 from Winex.com.

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2007 la Maia Lina CHIANTI CLASSICO RISERVA (Tuscany, Italy)

Date: Thu, Sep 27, 2012

A solid Chianti with good depth of flavor and balance but a little shy on the nose.

Deep, youthful, vibrant dark ruby color. Fantastic nose that I wish was a bit more animated, but as it is it shows rich, ripe, sweet cherry extract, warm gravel, and a bit of lemon juice. Rich and mouthfilling, with deep cherry fruit and a nice, clean, minerally earthiness. Lots of soft tannin and good acidity add structure and balance, and the finish is long. Not a classically-built, old-school Chianti, but a very good example of the modern style. A-/B+. Was $13.99 from winex.com, making it a very good value. Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, NYC.

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2008 Domaine La Bastide "les Genets" SYRAH "Vieilles Vignes" (VDP, Languedoc,Southern France)

Date: Thu, Sep 16, 2010

This Syrah -- from a dry, hot region in the south of France, and unoaked, I think -- is an excellent value. I would put this up against Crozes-Hermitages and oaky U.S. Syrahs costing 2-3 times as much.

Gorgeously dark ruby with violet highlights. Deeply fruity nose of rich cassis and blackberry along with smoky, gravelly scents. Concentrated and tight, with good weight in the mouth yet with a relatively soft texture. Tightly-wound core of deep-toned dark berry fruit with a long, mineral/schist-infused finish. Soft enough to enjoy now, yet its balance, concentration, and loads of soft tannin will insure that it will keep for a couple of years. 88. Only $11 at Spec's on Smith. Imported by Weygandt-Metzler.

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2009 Guerrieri-Rizzardi BARDOLINO CHIARETTO CLASSICO (Rosé) (Veneto, Italy)

Date: Thu, Sep 16, 2010

A relatively rare rosé from Italy. And a very good one!

Light, bright pink color with a canteloupe tinge. Direct, fresh, fruity nose: lots of strawberry and tropical fruit; slight hint of earth. Round, richly-fruited, but with medium-light weight in the mouth. Very soft texture, pure fruit, and a fresh, dry, slightly minerally long finish. Very elegant and nicely-done. 89. Imported by Enotec Imports and was $16.99 at Houston Wine Merchant.

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2006 Umani Ronchi ROSSO CONERO "San Lorenzo" (Marche, Italy)

Date: Sat, Sep 11, 2010

A classically-proportioned example of the quintessential red from my ancestors' region of Italy (Le Marche -- which is mid-way up the boot on the Adriatic coast). Made from 100% Montepulciano grapes.

Very black-toned ruby. Smoky gravel scents over minerally blackberry extract. Dark, brooding flavors of fragrant charcoal embers and very low-toned dark cherry. Gives the impression of a rustic, country wine that has learned how carry itself elegantly. Good acidity and tannin for structure. Long, smoky finish. Was a great accompaniment to pork ribs braised in wine and tomatoes with garlic and rosemary (a classic Marchigiano style braise). 88. Was $17 at Spec's on Smith. Imported by Bedford International.

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2009 Domaine du Tariquet SAUVIGNON (BLANC) (VDP Cotes de Gascogne, France)

Date: Sat, Sep 4, 2010

A fleshy, fruity, grassy Sauvignon. Not elegant, but doesn't skimp on flavor.

Pale silvery gold. Fresh nose of cold grapes and gooseberries, with grassy, green pepper notes. Soft and fleshy in the mouth, with lots of pear and pear skin flavors. Full for a Sauvignon Blanc, with fairly low acidity and a broad mouthfeel. Not a shy, crisp minerally Loire style. Much more New World than French-seeming. 86. Imported by Robert Kacher. I think I got this at Whole Foods on Bellaire for $12.

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2006 Terredora di Paolo LACRYMA CHRISTI DEL VESUVIO ROSSO (Campania, Italy)

Date: Sat, Sep 4, 2010

Teetering at the edge of old age, this wine is good but needs to be drunk immediately.

Ruby color with some amber at the rim. Right out of the bottle, the wine had a fantastic nose of smoky, rich gravel, tobacco, and rich plum juice, with a hint of eucalyptus. The mouth was not quite up to the standard set by the nose. High-toned, mature flavors of dried underbrush, iodine, and macerated red fruits. Drying finish. More austere in the mouth than the nose suggests. 90 for the nose with an 80 for the mouth. 85 overall. (Not sure where this is available, or how much it costs as it was a gift).

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Two mediocre wines

Date: Sat, Sep 4, 2010

These were both disappointing.

2007 Domaine Chevreau "Or Rouge" BEAUJOLAIS-VILLAGES -- From one of my favorite importers (Neal Rosenthal), strangely enough, this wine was both bitter and tart. Sour cherry and caramelized sugar flavors, and lots of green acidity. ($16 at Spec's).

2009 Domaine Castillon COSTIERES DE NIMES ROSE -- A flat, overripe rose. Loads of fruit and body, but at the expense of the acidity needed for freshness. ($7.99 per 500 ml bottle at Whole Foods on Bellaire).

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2008 ElementOs 70% Tempranillo/30% Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain)

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010

A ridiculous bargain! A soft, well-made, flavorful red with a bit of complexity for $5.99? Pretty darn rare. I bought this to cook with and ended up drinking most of it.

Dark ruby color. Youthful nose of blueberries, cinnamon, and coffee. Mouthfilling clean blackberry fruit augmented with stony minerals. Pure-tasting, decently long finish, with good balancing acidity. 87. $5.99 at Whole Foods on Bellaire.

(Sorry -- couldn't find a photo.)

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2008 "THREE TREES" (100% Syrah) (VDP de Cotes Catalanes, southwest France)

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010

This is a very good wine for the money. Tastes like a much more expensive Cornas.

Dark black ruby with violet highlights. Closed at first, with significant air time (and pouring through a Vinturi), it develops a big, dark, meaty, smoky blackcherry extract nose. The glory here, however, is in the mouth. These grapes must have been picked the perfect time. Loads of perfectly ripe, plummy, blackberry fruit, together with loads of smoky, sandstoney earth, Fantastic acidity. Lots of chewy, ripe tannins. Excellent! 90. Was $16.99 at Houston Wine Merchant on South Shepherd. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

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