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Warm Cabernets for Cold Winter Nights

Date: Mon, Feb 8, 2010 Wine Tasting

It's snowing on the east coast, raining on the west coast, and wintery everywhere in between. Nothing suits this kind of weather better than Cabernet Sauvignon, and I've been tasting my way through a nice selection of Cabernets and Cabernet blends in pursuit of the perfect wines to complement soups, stews, and braises.

If you're looking for a red wine to warm up your winter evenings, look for one of these in a store near you, and try out some of these great recipes while you're at it!

2008 Bodegas Osborne Cabernet-Tempranillo Tempra Tantrum. ($11.99) Tempra Tantrum is a new line of Tempranillo-based from the people at one of Spain's oldest and most venerable wineries. This blend is hip, young, and cheerful (just like its maker!) Made in a modern style, the cherry and leather aromas are a nice prelude to a bright, cherry core with some blackberry depth in the midpalate. Made from 60% Tempranillo and 40% Cabernet, this juicy, fruit-forward wine would be great with grilled lamb dishes or paella--or with a zesty chicken chili. Very good QPR.

2007 Luigi Bosca Cabernet Sauvignon Finca La Linda. ($11) I liked this distinctive Cab from Argentina, with its blackberry and plum blossom aromas. There was a decided note of cigar box in the flavors, along with cherry and plum. The wine's smooth, satiny mouthfeel was accompanied by a mocha-inflected finish. Excellent QPR for those who like traditional, earthy Cabernets.

2007 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County. ($17) This juicy, fruit-forward wine has lots of spice and pepper, which helps it to stay focused. There are abundant, cherry, licorice, and smoky aromas and flavors which makes for an approachable Cab, especially for those who like traditional flavor profiles. Try it with this excellent slow-cooked beef minestrone soup my dad introduced us to. Very Good QPR.

2007 Blackstone Winery Sonoma Reserve Rubric Sonoma County. ($22.99) A wine blended from Cabernet, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Tannat, Merlot, and Petite Sirah it had smoky cherry aromas and a deeper, plummy flavor spectrum. The wine was made brighter with crisp white pepper notes that continued into the aftertaste. Very good QPR, even though the suggested retail is a tad over $20.

2007 Robert Mondavi Winery Meritage Private Selection. ($11) This Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Cab Franc has classic notes of tar, currant, and leather in the aromas. All these lead in to a red currant flavor, which opens up to richer plum and pepper. Give this bottle some time in the decanter, and you'll be very pleasantly surprised. Buy two bottles and make some braised short ribs. Excellent QPR.

2006 Rancho Zabaco Cabernet Sauvignon Dancing Bull. ($12) I'd already tasted this wine last February when it was at an earlier stage of its life cycle. A year on, this tasted quite different. Meaty, cherry aromas led to flavors of cherry, oak, blackberry, and a bit of baker's chocolate in the aftertaste. There is nice grip in the end, although the wine tastes quite smooth when it first hits your tongue. Very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received all these wines as samples. All prices given are the suggested retail prices. You may find them for less in your market. Clicking on the name of the wine will take you to various wine search engines, in case you are looking to buy a bottle near you.

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Blog, Interrupted

Date: Sat, Feb 6, 2010 Wine Tasting

Well, it was bound to happen. After blogging 4-7 days a week for nearly three years without a hiccup or a hitch, something called LIFE intervened in early December and it's been almost two months since my last post. ("Interrupted" by Sebastiano Pitruzzello aka gorillaradio)

Since that time I've heard from some of you who asked if I was ok (I am--just inconceivably busy), and others who wanted to know what's up (a lot, actually, but nothing that I wish to disclose here and now!). While I was away, the comments sections for various posts were filled by interesting contributions from people selling all nature of things (I deleted the ones I found). All over the 'net, other wine bloggers wrote thought-provoking posts that I never managed to comment upon, though I did read them. And I was gratified and amazed that people actually bought the Pinot Noir I recommended in my last post and took the time to actually tell me that they were pleased with the purchase.

Against all odds, I did manage to carve out several hours to write blog posts this morning so you will be seeing some new content. Fingers crossed, this will be possible to do for the foreseeable future.

If I drop out of sight again, please be patient and hang in there. I'll be back. And stay tuned for posts on Monday and Wednesday.

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Another Simple Solution--and It Involves Pinot Noir

Date: Wed, Dec 9, 2009 Wine Tasting

I've found another simple solution to the "what's for dinner?" crisis many of us face at the end of a busy day.

I was intrigued by Mark Bittman's recent recipe in the New York Times for "risotto-style" chicken pasta. What I most liked about it was that it involved one pan, one cutting board, one knife, and a lot of things we always have in the house (chicken in the freezer, mushrooms in the fridge, pasta and chicken broth in the cupboard). Who has time to wash dishes this time of year? And it seemed as though it would be finished--from prep to plate--in around 30 minutes. What's not to like?

As I threw this recipe together, I scanned the wine racks looking for a good bottle of wine to go with it. Rather than recommend a hard-to-find wine, I drew out the 2007 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Regular readers know this is my favorite appellation for US Pinot Noir. Sometimes the wine can be a bit pricey, however. I'm delighted to report that this wine is both affordable ($18!) and easy to find in most markets for $12-$24. This excellent QPR Pinot Noir delivers characteristic Sonoma Coast aromas of cherry, chalk, and a lick of smoke. These lead into a juicy, well-integrated palate of berries, cherries, and chalky minerality and that nice smokiness turns spicy in the aftertaste. This is another excellent food wine, that's versatile and affordable enough to feature on your holiday table, as well as satisfying your everyday wine needs.

(And yes, the risotto-style pasta was excellent--and a perfect partner for this wine, with the earthy mushrooms.)

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

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In Pursuit of Simplicity: Sauvignon Blanc

Date: Mon, Dec 7, 2009 Wine Tasting

The holidays can be a crazy, stressful time. Every now and again, it's good to take a deep breath and simplify where and when you can.

In our house, this means selecting meals that aren't fussy, are built around kitchen staples so they require no last-minute shopping, and that taste comforting.

What's true of the food goes for the wine, as well. And for my money Sauvignon Blanc wins in the simple, elegant, affordable, and tasty sweepstakes.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, plan on making a delicious pot of tomato soup like this excellent version from Michael Chiarello, grilling some cheese sandwiches in a fry pan (we used Fontina cheese to continue the Italian vibe), and then popping the cork on a great Sauvignon Blanc. We had our soup and sandwich feast with the excellent QPR 2008 Frei Brothers Sauvignon Blanc Reserve. ($20; available widely for $14-$20, just hit the "where to buy" button and plug in your zip code!) Made from fruit grown in the Russian River Valley, this tasty, widely-available wine displayed round melon, floral, and orchard fruit notes along with some distinctly zippy grass and herbaceous components. Stylistically, it hit the sweet spot between New Zealand and California bottlings, which only made it more versatile and food friendly.

Full Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

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World Turned Upside Down? Time to Catch Up

Date: Mon, Nov 30, 2009 Wine Tasting

Where did last month go? I don't know about you, but I'm totally upside down with work, work, family, and more work. (photo by Capture Queen)

Hope you are all fully recovered from the festivities of the Thanksgiving season. Lots of you were anxious about wine right up to the day before the Big Dinner, and I hope that you enjoyed whatever you picked. If you want to spy on what others popped and poured, it's always fun to stop by CellarTracker and see what the members there drank on the day. Looks like Pinot Noir was once again the winner among red wines, and Chardonnay was on top among whites.

Over the past few weeks I've been doing a bit of this and a bit of that, wine wise. Some of what I've done doesn't lend itself too well to GWU$20--I've been drinking bottles I've purchased in wine clubs or stores that cost more than $20. I've had some great wine--like the NV Cedric Bouchard Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut Inflorescence Val Vilaine (domaineLA, $61.99) which was a stunning example of Champagne. I loved its beautiful balance, the fine bead, and the delicate, clean flavors of pear and brioche. I also popped the cork on my 2006 Eric Kent Wine Cellars Pinot Noir Stiling Vineyard ($32.75 from the wine club; available online for $29-$50)I tasted it from a barrel sample in summer of 2007, and it was still a bit young to drink even now. It deserves a few more years in the bottle to further integrate its blackberry, clove, black tea, and vanilla flavors and aromas.

I've also been pulling wines out of the cellar that I purchased some time ago, like the bottle of Cameron Hughes Lot 38 Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. I got it from the winery in the summer of 2007 for $20, and it's still drinking beautifully, exhibiting aromas and flavors of cherry and baker's chocolate. There is less cedar now than when I opened my first bottle in March 2008, but additional fruit notes (blackberry, mostly) have emerged. Another summer of 2007 purchase that I opened this month was the 2005 Handley Gianoli Ranch Zinfandel ($21.40, winery; 2007 vintage now available for $25). It was even better now than it was when I tasted and purchased the wine, with delicious layers of black raspberry and boysenberry notes in the aromas and flavors. There was a peppery spice that played counterpoint to a candied apple note in the midpalate, both of which kept the wine lively and fresh tasting, as did the cool, menthol notes in the finish. Both bottles were nice reminders that cellaring wine--even relatively inexpensive wine--can be a sound investment in terms of taste.

A few exciting new bottles have made an impression on me, too. Chief among them was the 2008 Ludwig Winery Dry Gewürztraminer Dry Single Vineyard Selection from Monterey County (domaineLA, $14) It's been a while since I've been truly excited by a Gewurztraminer, so I'm thrilled with the excellent QPR on this bottle. Layered aromas and flavors of mango, peach, white flowers, and a bit of vanilla bean gift a lift of clementine and apple in the midpalate. It was excellent with spicy Asian food. And I was delighted by the 2008 Mustilli Piedirosso Sannio (sample from Domenico Selections; contact importer for more information)--and reminded how much I love this grape from Campania. The pure, clear Bing cherry notes in the aromas and palate had herbal and floral notes flitting around the edges. Relatively light in body, it's sure to appeal to fans of Gamay and Sangiovese--and it's perfect with spaghetti and meatballs!

Full Disclosure: with the exception of the Mustilli bottle, which was a sample, I purchased all of the bottles described here.

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Thanksgiving Wine Under $20: My Picks for 2009

Date: Wed, Nov 4, 2009 Wine Tasting

It's that time of year again, when people take to their computers in search of Thanksgiving wine recommendations. (vintage Thanksgiving image from an 1894 cover of Harper's Bazaar)

This is my fourth roundup of wines on GWU$20 that I think will pair beautifully with your turkey dinner--and they're all under $20. Whether you prefer sparkling, rosé , white, or red wine, I'm sure there's something here that will suit your palate and your budget. And I made sure that you could still get the wine I've listed below. We're all too busy to hunt out wine that's no longer available in the market!

If you are looking for general advice on Thanksgiving wine and hospitality, I'd encourage you to check out this article I wrote a few years ago on issues facing the host/hostess and the guests.

In the recommendations below, clicking on the wine's name and range of prices will take you to a list of retailers who stock the wine.

Sparkling Wines: I'm a big fan of sparkling wine, and they're good for more than just toasting to your family's good health before dinner. Given the wide range of flavors and the rich dishes on most holiday tables, sparkling wine is an excellent choice if you're looking for a wine that will take you from the first course of butternut squash soup to the apple pie you're having for dessert. And sparkling wine need not break the bank, as these suggestions show.

2006 Raventós i Blanc Cava L'Hereu Reserva Brut ($14-$25) This vintage Cava from Spain tasted very traditional, and had lots of complexity. Expect aromas and flavors of toasted bread, apple, and citrus.

N.V. Domaine des Roches Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé ($15-$20) A full-bodied, sophisticated sparkling rosé with aromas of mineral, dough, and strawberries. The dry flavors have underlying strawberry fruit and toast notes.

N.V. Mumm Napa Cuvée M ($12-$25) This Napa Valley sparkler is one of the most impressive under $20 bottlings I've had lately. Made in the sec style from Pinot Noir and late harvest Muscat, this wine has aromas of white chocolate, toasted bread, and strawberry. On the palate, there were layered flavors of white chocolate, rose petal, Meyer lemon, strawberry, and toast.

White Wines: If I'm not serving a sparkling wine I enjoy white wines with my turkey dinners. I find that the acidity of a white wine brings some much-needed refreshment to dinner, and they go well with the stuffing, creamed onions, and vegetables side dishes so common on Thanksgiving tables.

2008 I Stefanini Soave Il Selese ($9-$11) A beautiful, distinctive Italian wine with musk-melon aromas and some white floral and saline notes. On the tongue, there are flavors of white peach, lemon, and bitter almond with a juicy aftertaste

2007 Helfrich Pinot Gris (available for $9-$17) This Pinot Gris has oodles of personality and class with its aromas and flavors of smoke, grass, and apple with a mineral note in the aftertaste. If I was having duck, goose, or a smoked turkey this would be my choice in wine--and it will be a knockout with traditional oyster stuffing, too.

2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($13-$20) If you've been looking for a domestic Sauvignon Blanc that can hold its head up among New Zealand bottlings, but has a bit more softness and is less assertive, you've found your wine--and a wine that will go beautifully with Thanksgiving dinner, too. Aromas of grass, hay, melon, and citrus, all of which are echoed in the flavors.

2008 Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery Chardonnay Unoaked Russian River Valley ($17-$20) with all that's already on your holiday table, who needs oak? This lovely bottle of wine is very restrained in style, with faint aromas of pear, mineral, and salt. The palate has light and fresh lemon and pear flavors, and the aftertaste is juicy and clean. An elegant choice for your Thanksgiving dinner.

2008 Weingut Gritsch Grüner Veltliner Mauritiushof Axpont Federspiel (around $18) A complicated, delicious wine that starts out with faint citrus aromas, followed up by honeyed lemon peel and lemon curd flavors, with notes of grass and pollen. Terrific with turkey!

Rosé Wines: Regular readers have heard me go on about this before but nothing--and I do mean nothing--is as good with a leftover turkey sandwich as a rosé wine. And, if you have some guests who prefer red and some who prefer white, you can probably please them all with these robust, dry and flavorful rosé wines at the big dinner, too.

2008 Robert Oatley Sangiovese Rosé ($12-$18)
A lovely rose, with fresh wild strawberry aromas and a hint of leafy greenness that keeps it from turning sappy in the flavors department. Excellent value, and excellent style that will please red wine drinkers.

2008 Domaine Sainte-Eugénie Corbières ($9-$12) Made from a robust blend of Cinsault and Syrah, this wine's lush cranberry and strawberry aromatics will have you thinking Thanksgiving no matter what time of year it is. The flavors are refreshing, with mineral notes and a fruity core that runs the spectrum from currants to cranberries.

2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé Oregon ($9-$17) Another beautiful wine made with Sangiovese, here the emphasis is on crisp and refreshing with the dry aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry, parsley, and cucumber.

Red Wines: Many people prefer red wines with special dinners, but it is very easy to overwhelm a turkey dinner (and your guests!) with a heavy, high-alcohol wine. If I'm serving a red I tend to go with Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, or a traditional Zinfandel that is not too high in the alcohol department.

2005 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Crianza ($7-$15) This is becoming an annual recommendation for me, as the consistent quality and friendly price-point of the Montecillo wines make it a reliable go-to bottle. Delectable aromas of leather, earth, herbs, and black cherry turn into juicy flavors that linger in the mouth. Will stand up to the most robust turkey and duck dishes, and will be particularly good with spicier side dishes.

2007 Sean Minor Pinot Noir Four Bears ($14-$16) Pinot Noir fans rejoice! This affordable example of a Carneros Pinot Noir has aromas of berry and sour cherry, and flavors of earth, clerry, and chalk held together by a silky texture. This will be a brilliant pairing with traditional Thanksgiving fare.

2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Heritage ($12-$19) Another annual pick, my gold standard in Zinfandel, with blackberry aromas and flavors and layers of black pepper and baking spice accenting the fruit. This Zinfandel is rich and spicy, but never heavy or overwhelming.

Full Disclosure: with the exception of the Cava, the Crémant de Bourgogne, and the A to Z Wineworks rosé, I received all these wines over the past 11 months as samples.

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Vinho Verde--Just Because

Date: Mon, Nov 2, 2009 Wine Tasting

Just because it's Monday...
Just because you got paid this weekend...
Just because you feel like fish tacos for dinner...
Just because you have some roasted cashews or almonds...
Just because you're trying to stay out of your kid's candy stash...

Vinho Verde.

It's not profound. It's not prestigious. It's not something you see on every restaurant wine list.

But it is perfect for those "just because" days when you have no plans, nothing much to celebrate, and want to drink an interesting wine anyway.

Try this one on for size: the 2008 Trajarinho Vinho Verde ($9.99, domaineLA; $8-$10 elsewhere) It's light, fun, zippy--everything Portuguese Vinho Verde is supposed to be! You'll discover citrus, mineral, and herb notes in the aromas and flavors, along with a bit of yeastiness. You may also sense a spritz on your tongue, which is normal for Vinho Verde, as is its 11% alc/vol. And for under $10 it represents excellent QPR.

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Today on Serious Grape: Wine Survival Strategy for the Holidays

Date: Sun, Nov 1, 2009 Wine Tasting

As 12:01 AM today, it is officially that festive time of year known as "the holidays." It is a time of joy, of family celebrations, gift-giving, and--hysteria.

Before you hit the panic button, go out now and get yourself a mixed case of wine so that you've got bottles on hand for emergencies that include: we have nothing in the house for dinner, two people just stopped by with pumpkin bread, and extreme mall fatigue. (photo by dumbledad)

This week on Serious Grape I've got a shopping list for a mixed case of wine that will help you cope with most holiday emergencies. Head over and check it out, and if you have any other holiday entertaining survival strategies, leave them here or over there in the comments section.

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Gemischter Satz--It's Austrian for Delicious

Date: Wed, Oct 28, 2009 Wine Tasting

If you hear "Gemischter Satz" You may be tempted to say "God Bless You!"

But the appropriate answer is "They're delicious, aren't they?"

Gemischter Satz are special wines from the region surrounding Austria's capital city of Vienna. Made from a blend of white grapes that are grown together in the field, then picked and fermented at the same time, there was a point not too long ago when the mania for "single varietal" bottlings threatened this age-old tradition of Austrian field blends. Happily, the tradition was maintained, the grapes remained planted in gloriously mixed vineyards of Gruner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and other grapes. Few Gemischter Satz bottlings specify the grapes within, and none that I've seen can give you varietal percentages. Don't worry--go for it.

I'm a relative newbie to the wines of Austria, but I can't recommend Gemischter Satz highly enough. If you enjoy crisp, food-friendly whites--and are a bit tired of the same-old same-old that you've been drinking lately seek out one of these wines and perk up your tired tastebuds.

2008 Weingut Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz Classic Nußberg ($20) This tasted very much of a Gruner Veltliner to me, with its white pepper, salt, and grapefruit aromas. The flavors of apple, grapefruit, and pepper confirmed my initial impression and the aftertaste was interesting--like sour apples. Very good QPR.

2007 Weingut Hajszan Gemischter Satz Weissleiten ($18) This stunning biodynamic wine had unmistakable aromas of freshly ground black pepper, with floral notes. The flavors turned melony, with a zing of quince, and remained dry and refreshing. The juicy, lively aftertaste kept you reaching for the bottle. This is the kind of wine that invites you to spend the evening with it, discovering the flavors that are magically contained within it. Excellent QPR.

2008 Weingut Christ Wiener Gemischter Satz ($16) This wine had piercing aromas of apple, salt, and lemon. The flavors are equally intense, with loads of minerality and stone to accompany the slightly bitter lemon at its core. A fresh and citrusy wine. Excellent QPR.

2008 Zahel Gemischter Satz Schloss Schönbrunn (NA as of yet in the US) This restrained, elegant wine had faint aromas of lemon and peach. Dry flavors reminiscent of Meyer lemon dominate the palate, and there is a touch of bitter orange follows in the aftertaste. Well worth seeking out--and I hope an American retailer snaps this up.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

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The Red Wines of Calabria: Fruity, Funky, and Fabulously Affordable

Date: Mon, Oct 26, 2009 Wine Tasting

This month I've been getting to know the red wines of Calabria--and they've surprised me. When I mentioned Calabrian wine to most people--even Calabrians!--they scoffed at the quality of wine produced in this region of Italy. But I liked the rusty funkiness, the fruitiness, and the great value that I found in the wines I tasted. And though these wines came from southern Italy, they reminded me of French wines from Burgundy and the Beaujolais.

Take the 2004 Vintripodi Arghillà ($19.99, Wine Expo) This wine, a blend of Nerello Calabrese and Alicante, has the certain funky pungency that is characteristic in my (limited) experience of Nerello, and reminds me of a good Beaujolais. The wine showed some tawny edges around the dark purple juice at the center of my glass. The aromas were of sour cherry, earth, and funk and the flavors followed suit. This was certainly not a boring, same-old red and I think it would go just as brilliantly with stews as it did with our pasta dinner.

The other Calabrian wine I tried was the 2006 Ippolito Cirò Liber Pater ($17.99, Wine Expo; available elsewhere for $17). Made with a native Calabrian grape called Gaglioppo, I wasn't familiar enough with the variety to know what to expect. What I discovered was a wine that was nicely poised between a Pinot Noir and a Nebbiolo in terms of flavor and style. There were minty, brandied, and currant aromas. Following up were leather, plum, and currant flavors with a long, savory finish with notes of soy sauce. The juxtaposition of the berried, herbal aromas and the savory qualities of the flavors was intriguing and made this wine memorable.

Some may raise their eyebrows at Calabrian wine, but you won't catch me doing it. Give a Calabrian wine a try. They were a delightful surprise as I wrap up my journey through Italian wines. All that's left is Emilia-Romagna--and we'll head there in November.

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Today on Serious Grape: Autumn Whites from Austria

Date: Fri, Oct 16, 2009 Wine Tasting

I'm learning about Austrian wines, and this week on Serious Grape I have recommen-
dations for some affordable bottles (and one splurge-worthy one, too) that are just perfect for this time of year.

Austrian wines have an earthiness that makes them a great partner for squash, pumpkin, turkey, sage--so many of the foods and flavors we're all enjoying this time of year.

Autumn doesn't just mean it's time to pop open the red wines--there's still plenty of occasions that call out for a white.

I'll have more posts on Austrian wines next week. I was favorably impressed by what I sipped, and think you will be, too. Have a great weekend, and get out and do some wine exploring. Find yourself an Austrian wine to try. And if you've already found one (or two, or three...) be sure to let us know in the comments below or over on Serious Eats.

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Exploring Calabria in October

Date: Mon, Oct 12, 2009 Wine Tasting

I'm a little behind in my announcement, but this month I'll be exploring Calabria as the penultimate destination in my two-year trawl through the wine regions of Italy. (photo of Calabria by Mikuzz)

Calabria is the toe of Italy's boot--and to me it always looks like Calabria is preparing to kick Sicily straight up into Spain. As a southern Italian region, Calabria is home to rustic red wines, many of them made with the native Gaglioppo grape.

They've been making wine here since at least the days of Ancient Greece, and while we may not be familiar with the wines of the region today, they were quite popular in ancient times. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder considered Calabrian wines to be of high quality, and earlier the Greek athlete Milo of Croton--a Calabrian native--boasted that he drank over two gallons of wine from Ciró every day. The tradition of athletes and Ciró wines was not limited to Milo of Croton. Legend has it that winners at the early Olympics were offered this Calabrian wine to celebrate their victories. (another great photo by Mikuzz)

With over 90% of the wine produced in Calabria falling into the category of red wine, I wasn't able to find a white example to taste this month. However, I will be reporting my tasting notes on two under $20 red wines. I'm looking forward to getting a better sense of what Calabrian wines are all about. I have reviewed one Calabrian red--a Gaglioppo from Ciró--on GWU$20, and I enjoyed its rustic, traditional character very much. But I'll be interested so see if that wine was representative, and how the other bottlings stack up against it. (photo of Gaglioppo from VinoFamily)

Have you experienced Calabrian wine? And do you have any specific tips or recommendations to share about the wines of this region? Has anyone out there had a Calabrian white, and if so did you drink it in Italy, or find it over here in the US?

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New Grape of the Month: Falanghina

Date: Fri, Oct 9, 2009 Wine Tasting

It's time for another new variety, grapehounds.

Falanghina is ancient white wine grape that is (as near as we can tell) native to Campania. According to Jancis Robinson, there are just under 800 acres of the grape in cultivation which makes it a relative rarity.

The 2008 Mustilli Falanghina is a joyful, fresh white that was a welcome change of pace for my tastebuds. (suggested retail, $18) Aromas of lemon curd, stone, and hay suggested the last days of summer, while the intense lemony flavors had mineral notes that added a nice complexity. The wine's juicy acidity will make it a good food wine, and the bit of salt in the aftertaste gave a final, savory quality to the aftertaste that had me reaching for the glass again and again.

It's hard to imagine any fish, shellfish, vegetable, or chicken dish this wine wouldn't complement, but if you're searching for inspiration try this shrimp pasta dish from Rachael Ray. It's a riff on Puttanesca, with olives, capers, garlic, and red peppers along with shrimp and fresh cherry tomatoes. The salty notes in the wine were a brilliant accent for the olives and capers, and the lemony freshness was terrific with the shrimp and tomatoes.

(for availability, contact the importer: Domenico Selections)

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

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Mighty Good Malbecs

Date: Thu, Oct 8, 2009 Wine Tasting

I was reminded last week of why I love Malbec. It's got the richness of Syrah, with some of the tannic structure of Cabernet. While the former can sometimes be too jammy, and the latter too austere, Malbecs are just right for pairing with a wide variety of foods. And with many of us turning off our grills and heating up our ovens, it's worth pointing out that Malbecs are great with autumn stews and soups.

Here are some of the best Malbecs I've tasted recently--and they are in the market at a variety of price points under $20.

2007 Trumpeter Malbec. Made by Argentina's Familia Rutini, this is a simple, pleasant, well-priced Malbec. For under $10 you get aromas aromas of roasted coffee and plum. The flavors are dominated by black cherry, coffee, and toast, and there is a juicy, tannic finish. Expect this wine to be slightly drying in the mouth when sipped on its own, but it shines with food. Very good QPR. (available in most markets for under $10)

2008 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec. Bodegas Escorihuela Gascón has a new label for their popular wine, but there's still the same very good QPR wine inside. You'll start off smelling blackberry and blueberry, along with a strong hit of coffee. The berry fruit continues through the flavors, and there is a distinctive mocha aftertaste that makes it well worth the under $15 price tag. (available in most markets for around $14)

2007 Alamos Selección Malbec. A terrific Malbec from Bodega Catena Zapata with aromas of blackberry, violets, and spice. The flavors are nicely layered, and include black cherry, fennel, and more violets along with a pleasant leathery note. Satiny tannins and refreshing acidity round out this wine. Excellent QPR for this unusually complex bottling under $20. (available for $12-$20 in most markets)

If you think Malbecs only pair well with grilled red meat, think again. We had our Malbecs with some Asian-style drumsticks. The sticky glaze made with hoisin and chili sauces was delicious, and a perfectly robust counterpoint to the wines. The 5-Spice in the recipe accented the leathery and floral notes in these wines, and the plum and berry fruit profiles provided a juicy counterpoint to the assertive flavorings.

Full Disclosure: I received these wines as samples.

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