Can you feel the cool on the underside of the breeze? It’s a’comin, folks. Real fall weather. Red wine season. I personally go through a lot more white wine in the spring and summer, but when the leaves start to change – I load up on the rouge.
Recently, my wine-pal Danny and I led a wine tasting. Since autumn is descending, and many stores are already hanging their seasonal decorations, we thought we’d get a jump on the holiday season and do a full spread of red. We wanted to provide a few suggestions for the upcoming dinner party (and party in general) season. Whether you’re stocking the cellar or stuffing the stockings, snagging a case of most of the wines we poured wouldn’t set you back too far. All of them fall squarely into the “flexible food wine” or “slurpable party wine” categories. (Well, there was one deliciously notable exception…)
Have at ‘em:
Vina Borgia 2008 Garnacha – I’ve long been a big fan of this wine. It’s one of my go-to inexpensive bottles. It’s 100% Garnacha (or Grenache, if you prefer) from the Aragon region of Spain. You won’t find anything overly complicated here. You’ll pay six or seven dollars for a bottle and be rewarded with a nice nose of blackberries and spice, a body that’s medium weight with a good balance of dark fruit and pepper, and a nice firm finish. For the price, it’s one of the best balanced reds out there. It’s perfectly drinkable on its own or a good accompaniment with flavors from chicken to grilled meat. I think it’s great wine choice for a holiday table when you’re buying in bulk. The Vina Borgia is also available in a 1.5 liter bottle for around $12 or a 3 liter box for $18. Can’t beat it.
Vinterra 2010 Pinot Noir – One of the things I love about pinot noir is that the grape has a real sense of “place.” If you pour a California pinot, you’ll usually get bigger fruit flavors and higher levels of alcohol. Burgundies will be lighter and earthier tasting. New Zealand pinots, like this Vinterra, tend to be light, delicate critters. It’s a very pretty smelling wine – flowers, cherries, and strawberries are prominent. The body is extremely light for a pinot. By way of comparison, I’d put it at the same weight as a Beaujolais. This is another wine with very nice balance, giving you flavors of strawberry and cherry cola. The finish is gentle, drifting away on a mist of cherries. Like most pinot noirs, this wine basically goes with any food, and it’s a great wine to pull out if you have someone around who “doesn’t like red wine.” It’s almost impossible to find pinot noir this good at $15, but here you have it.
Ocaso 2008 Malbec – I wouldn’t want to write a column that extended through football season and the requisite manly grilling without throwing a masculine malbec in there. As I always say about malbec, anything you can drag across fire –veggie burgers to grilled mushrooms to a big ol’ ribeye – will snuggle right up to a tasty malbec. Argentinean wines remain some of the best values out there. As Danny said, “Take most wine from Argentina and double the price. That’s what you’ll pay for a comparable red from France or California.” Blackberries and coffee were my first thought when I got a slug of this one. It’s tannic, but not overly so, and it’s nice and muscular if you’re in the mood for something along those lines. I’ve read that it actually goes well with vegetables, too – but that wouldn’t be my first choice. You can find this for around $10-12. Ocaso also makes a malbec rosé that I poured next to the aforementioned Vinterra. The rosé ($8) is actually heavier, believe it or not.
Elvio Cogno 2007 Dolcetto D’Alba – If you’re looking to step outside the Chianti world for a relatively light Italian red, Dolcetto is a very nice alternative. Dolcetto translates as “little sweet one,” although this is hardly a sweet wine.. I thought this was a wine that was basically built to be passed around a dinner table – like most good Italian wines are. It’s got a fair amount of acidity, which allows the flavor to cut through almost anything with a red sauce, be it pasta, chicken parmesan, or brasciole. I recently poured this next to a roasted eggplant-and-red-pepper soup and it was simply divine. If you don’t like the “chalky” flavor that Chianti sometimes have, but you like the acidity and the full fruit flavors, this is a great choice. It’s around $15 and worth every penny if you’re cobbling together a little feast for friends.
Chateau de Bel 2009 Bordeaux – Bordeaux is one of the more vintage-dependent wines out there. Bordeaux from an “off year” can be overpriced and uninteresting. The 2009 vintage, however, apparently has the potential to be one of the great vintages in Bordeaux (and in much of the rest of France, as well). The quality even trickles down to the more inexpensive bottles, like this one from Chateau de Bel. This 90/10 merlot/cabernet blend is an impressive bottle, especially for $15. Intense fruits and a nice dose of the “old world funk” that I like so much in Bordeaux. A little tannic, a little oaky – it’s just a very solid all-around wine. For the Francophiles out there, consider squirreling away a few bottles of for five years or so. I’m very interested to see how this one develops over time. Or just lay out some rich cheeses, grilled pork chops, or some good stew. You’ll thank me later.
Domaine La Roquete 2007 Chateauneuf-de-Pape – Danny couldn’t resist being a showoff. He pulled this little gem to put the rest of our selections to shame. He said that if he were forced to only drink one kind of wine for the rest of his life, he’d choose Chateauneuf-de-Pape – which is a predominantly Grenache/Syrah blend from the town of the same name in the Rhone valley. This is one damned delicious wine. You may have heard wines described as “elegant.” This one falls squarely into that category. It’s a deeply layered wine. As you take successive sips, you’ll find different flavors emerging: currants, cherry, nutmeg, blackberry, and a backbone of nice earthiness. Chateauneuf-de-Pape is an expensive wine. You’ll often see this wine start at around $50-60 and go up from there. This one was under $40, and for my money – if you want to impress – this is a nice selection to have in your arsenal. Or have this one the day after your dinner party as you’re relaxing the next evening. Be selfish. You deserve it.