Last Wednesday, March 31, I did a tasting at Parish Foods & Goods on Alternative Red Wines. It was a good event (prevented from greatness because some people didn’t make it due to ATL traffic, oh joy!) and we tasted five great wines, all which elicited strong reactions from the crowd.
Here’s the rundown and my take on the wines…(which I didn’t offer at the tasting since I TRY to be objective when teaching!)…
Wine I: Sierra Cantabria Rioja Crianza, Spain, 2005
Hopefully you’re already drinking copious amounts of Rioja. It’s a great wine when made well, although I’d advise against the $10 ones – they kind of suck because the wine needs oak aging to be any good and that costs $$, so the producers pass on those costs to us. Well worth the extra dough though -- it’s warm fruity, spicy goodness when its good.
Rioja is made mainly from the native-to-Spain Tempranillo grape, with Garnacha (Grenache in France), and two other native grapes Graciano and Mazuelo. Tempranillo gets its name from “temprano,” which means early in Spanish. Why? The grape ripens early (not really rocket science). It’s full bodied, low in acid, and tastes like plums and blackberries.
The wine is named after the Rioja region, in north-central Spain, where it’s usually grown at high altitude in both warmer and cooler vineyard sites to get a range of ripeness/flavors in the grapes. With an assortment of flavors to choose from, the winemakers make wine that has depth and complexity in the fruit. Rioja drinkers will concur that the fruit plays a supporting role to the real star of the wine, the spicy, sweet-vanilla character from the oak. The wines can be a little rustic and robust, and they make great pairings with strong flavored dishes.
Sierra Cantabria is made in a modern style, and is fruitier than traditional Rioja. 2005 was a solid vintage for Rioja, but this wine was really tight. It’s a Crianza, which means it is required by Spanish law (yup, the government controls winemaking) to spend at least one year in an oak barrel, and can be released to the market after two years of maturing. This one had four years in the bottle, so it should have been mellow. Maybe I should have decanted this, but I didn’t and I found this wine to be really astringent – the tannins overpowered the fruit, but jealously held on to the warm vanilla-oakiness I’d expect from a Rioja. I think you could do better than this one, which is around $16.
Food Pairings: I like pairing things with foods from the place their made. I think Rioja is awesome with tapas (tortilla Español is awesome), jamón, and other rich food.
Wine II: Damilano Nebbiolo d’Alba, Alba, Italy, 2006
Nebbiolo is a grape native to the Piedmont in Northwest Italy. There are competing theories on where it gets its name, but the most viable one is that it’s from “la nebbia” or the fog that settles on the area during harvest. This grape makes BIG A** wines that can’t be consumed for years because they are way too tannic, acidic, bitter, and nasty until they’ve had some time in bottle penitentiary to calm themselves and transform into truly rich and beautiful wine. It’s the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco and can produce wines with powerful aromas, big tannins, and complex flavors of spice, smoke, tar, and tobacco.
Not all Nebbiolo is destined to a life of an expensive, giant wine. Given the economics of the wine biz, the producers needed to figure out how to tame the beast and sell something in the short term to pay for cellaring all the expensive stuff. Enter Nebbiolo d’Alba, made with modern techniques (colder, shorter fermentations, taking the stems off before crush) to create less complex wines that still have the calling card of a true Nebbiolo -- a bold, firm structure that tastes a little like roses and tar. The best part of these wines: Nebbiolo d’Alba is right next to Barolo and the soil and vineyards are similar – this is an enormous value if you can find a great producer.
Like from Damilano, which has aromas and flavors reminiscent of roses, violets, and plums this wine was a delicious Nebbiolo. Floral, lightly fruity, with great but not-too-harsh tannins, this wine was simply gorgeous. Delicate and powerful at the same time, with a little of the petrichor scent that I just love so much! 2006 was a rough vintage for Nebbiolo, but Damilano still managed to churn out an awesome wine. For $18, this is a steal. Love it. My fave of the night, for certain.
Food Pairings: To continue the theme, I'd pair these with Northern Italian fare. I think roasted and grilled vegetables and meats, tomato-based dishes, or hard cheeses would be ideal!
Wine III: Finca La Linda Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2008
I’ve waxed poetic on Malbec before so I’ll give just a short overview here and say that the grape although originally from Bordeaux and Southwest France, the best is now rich, silky, fruity Malbec from Argentina.
Malbec grapes, grown in the northwestern Mendoza region near the Andes Mountains, are from vines with small berries that make dark colored wines with velvety, intense plumy fruit and they are an awesome value.
The Finca La Linda Malbec was not anywhere close to the quality of the Kaiken I reviewed, but it was half the price ($12) and a great wine. The wine was full of bold cherry, plum, spice, and vanilla-oak aromas and flavors. I liked it and thought it was a great weeknight wine.
Food pairings: With grilled meats and vegetables and hard cheeses this would be an great pairing.
Wine IV Rosenblum North Coast Zinfandel, California, 2007
Like the Malbec, I’ve talked about Zin before too so this is the short recap. Zinfandel is California’s workhorse grape, and grows in 10% of all the state’s vineyards. It’s originally from Croatia and related to Primativo from Italy, but its best expression is really in California. Not to be confused with the powder-puff, sweet, pink, White Zinfandel, red Zin grapes produce rich, robust wines that taste like a raspberry briar patch and are jammy, minty, spicy and complex.
I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed Rosenblum’s North Coast Zinfandel, since it is such a great Zin. It’s a blend of grapes from Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Mendocino is an up-and-coming but little known area by most. It's mainly hotter than Hades but there are a few spots with very cool climates that are great for high quality vines and these are the valleys from which Rosenblum sources.
The areas in Sonoma where the vines are cultivated are steep, cool, and are known for old vines. This wine was a great Zin – it smelled like brambly blackberry and cherry with vanilla and baking spices and tasted like juicy berries and warm spices. For $14, this is killer.
Food pairings: I’d put it with something like ribs, blackened fish, lamb chops, and eggplant dishes
Wine V: Mettler Petite Sirah, Lodi, California, 2005
This is a grape I’ve written little about, but I’ve got a few in the queue to review (excuse the rhyme) so I’ll do a summary here and get poetic elsewhere. To give a super short summary, Petit Sirah is a dark, acidic, full, and tannic grape that is very fruit forward. It’s related to true Syrah from the Rhône Valley of Southern France, and is a hybrid of this grape and another more obscure variety (Peloursin for you wine dorks).
It really has found a home in Cali, where it smells and tastes like fresh herbs, black pepper, plum, and blueberry. Compared to Syrah, it is less complex, and fruitier.
The Mettler Petite Sirah is from Lodi, an area outside of Sacramento. This is a BIG A** wine -- inky with aromas of dark berries, coffee, and chocolate. By far this was the heaviest wine and was great, but almost like drinking liqueur -- the blueberry, blackberry and spice flavors and the jammy, floral notes were strong and the alcohol was high. It’s a great wine for people who like huge wines and at $20, it packs a lot for the money.
Food Pairings: Heavy stuff -- beef, duck, and barbeque – everything else it will overwhelm.
I wish you were at the tasting to experience the wines! Come see me on April 28th for my next tasting if you're in town!