I had the good fortune last week to co-lead a tasting with my pal Danny Gold from Party Source. The theme of the tasting changed quite a bit during our planning stages. We thought about doing wines from every continent or just sticking to cabernet blends from all over – but neither of those really rang true.
We each ended up picking three wines that were relatively inexpensive and we “just liked.” To our sold-out crowd, this seemed to work just fine. Only after everything was over and done did I realize that we’d unknowingly cobbled together a pretty decent slate of beginning-of-summer bottles: two easy drinking and interesting whites, a couple of light and flexible reds, and a couple of bigger red wines suitable for grilling. So, Since Memorial Day and the “official start of summer” are upon us, without further ado:
Cucao 2009 Pedro Ximenez – This light white caught my eye because of the grape. “Pedro Ximenez” (or “PX”) is the name of a Spanish grape used largely in the production of Sherry. (If you recall, I haven’t had the greatest experiences with that particular tipple.) Certain grapes do interesting things when planted outside their native home. I’m a huge fan of Malbec, which was largely a minor French blending grape until it was planted in Argentina. I thought I’d take a chance and see what the soils of Chile might have contributed here.
Turns out that the Chilean terroir is very kind to PX. The nose is quite lovely, full of flowers and spice. It’s light bodied and quite acidic like a citrusy pinot grigio, but with an interesting melony flavor and a slight “briny” taste that echoed the not-unpleasant parts of Sherry. The finish is light and crisp. This would be a perfect summer porch day wine and the high acid content makes it a match with many summer cuisines – fish or shellfish, chicken, salads, light pastas. At around nine bucks, it’s a pretty complex, intriguing wine. Certainly worth a try. Vote for Pedro!
Terra di Briganti 2009 Sannio Falanghina – Danny’s selection was another “unfamiliar” grape – this time from Italy. I admitted being somewhat skeptical. My first experience with Falanghina was the wine sent by Savannah Samson a few years ago. It wasn’t, shall we say, the tastiest of whites. Danny knows his stuff, though. This one won me over. Another light bodied white, although with a somewhat creamier feel. The flavor brought more tropical fruits – peaches and pineapples – to the table. The finish was soft and pleasant with a nice little acidic zing. Goat cheeses would go nicely, as would richer fishes like trout or salmon. Lobster would be divine here. I also found it very drinkable on its own. If you’re a fan of Italian whites, give this a run at around $15.
Domaine Dupeuble 2009 Beaujolais – I make no secret of my love of Beaujolais in the summer. I ask you, what’s more perfect for a warm weather bottle than a light, easy-drinking red wines that pair with almost anything foodwise and taste best with a slight chill? Sign me up! The 2009 vintage in Beaujolais was, by all accounts, a year for the ages. Some of the best Beaujolais are being compared favorably to higher end Burgundy. The 2009’s are now readily available and you should snap them up if you’re into this sort of thing.
Off the bat, lovely waves of rich cherry flavor and a bit of smokiness greet you here. Most straight Beaujolais are nowhere near this “full” tasting. Great fruit, nice acid, and just an overall sense of well-balanced yumminess follows. There’s a lot to pull apart in this wine, but don’t work too hard on it. I think it’s best enjoyed as a whole, non-thinking “experience.”
French wine can be confusing, as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions. One thing you can do is to check the bottle of a French (or Italian or anywhere, really) wine that you liked and check the name of the importer. This particular Beaujolais is a Kermit Lynch selection. I’ve had very good luck with almost anything that has his name on it. Around $13.
Tenuta delle Terre Nere 2009 Etna Rosso – Danny was stoked about pouring this. The Rosso is from vineyards on the side of Mount Etna in Sicily which were left fallow for decades. Winemaker Mark DeGrazia opened these vineyards and made this red from the indigenous Nerello grape. The grapes are grown at the highest elevation in Europe for growing red grapes in soil that’s basically volcanic ash. The method of production is almost identical to that used in Burgundy. The result is a light-bodied, fragrant, exceptionally tasty wine that strongly echoes the flavors of French pinot noir. It’s very well balanced, has a light earthiness to the flavor that I really enjoyed, along with layers of raspberry and minerals. I’d nestle it up nicely next to light red-sauced pastas, grilled fish, or something like a chicken/veal picatta. $15-18.
Charles Smith “The Velvet Devil” 2009 Washington State Merlot – I like throwing Charles Smith’s wines in tastings when I can, since they’re just fun wines. Smith, self-taught winemaker and former manager of Scandinavian death metal bands, has a number of wines in his “Modernist Project” set of offerings. Modernist Project wines (easily locatable in your store by the black and white labels and interesting names) are designed to be wines you can crack, pour, and drink – but that aren’t one-note, unbalanced wines. I think that this merlot is absolutely killer. Blackberry, cinnamon, dark chocolate – all blended and balanced. For a wine this sumptuous, it’s very easy to drink. Grill some meat. Pour this wine. Eat. Drink. You’ll be happy. You’ll also be happy if you want something with a chocolate-based dessert later on and you have a bottle of this on hand. And at around $10, you can afford a couple of bottles.
Thorn-Clarke 2009 “Shotfire” Shiraz – Danny wanted to finish up with a bang, so he dug into the Australian aisle and pulled out this monster of a red. The Shotfire is a jammy, high-alcohol shiraz. It checks in at around 16% alcohol, so make sure you give it a few minutes to catch its breath after you open it before you dip your nose in. You’re hit with big, plummy shiraz flavor backed with a white peppery finish. While you get some enormous flavors, I didn’t find them overwhelming. You just have to know what you’re in for and plan accordingly. If you’ve got yourself a slab of barbecue ribs or almost anything else with a rub or a sauce that you want outside, this is your wine. Like many Aussie Shiraz, it’s also a winner with chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Right around $15.
Drink up and enjoy!