Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuscan Reds: $15-$35 Selections

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on Tuscan reds. On the other hand, it’s equally easy to be disappointed by moderately priced blends. But there are a lot of solid bottles out there in the $15-$35 range. Many of them are ready to drink on release and tend to have a food friendly profile. Although, if you’re sensitive to new oak, shop carefully because many Tuscan reds can have a hefty dose of wood.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2012 Aia Vecchia Lagone Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $15
Deep ruby colored. Tart red fruits on the nose, some green herbal kicks, earthy-charcoal notes. Moderately firm tannins, a bit harsh and astringent at first, medium acid. Tart, crunchy red berry fruit mixed with notes of dark roasted coffee, charcoal, mocha and baking spices. It could benefit from a decent decant or a few years sideways. 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. (85 points)
2011 Aia Vecchia Bolgheri Superiore Sor Ugo - Italy, Tuscany, Bolgheri, Bolgheri Superiore
SRP: $35
Deep ruby colored. Nose of violets, cedar, fallen leaves and lots of crushed red and black berries. Firm yet dusty tannins, solid structure, moderate acid. Full of cedar and smoke, the red and black currant fruit is firm and crunchy. The new oak bravado is tempered by layers of roses, anise, clove and pepper. Medium-long finish, this is a bold wine that needs time, but has a lot to show. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Aged in all new French oak for 18 months. (88 points)

2013 Brancaia Tre Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $23
Medium ruby colored. Dusty and earthy notes on the nose add to the red currants and cherries, some notes of bell pepper and roasted coffee. Medium-light bodied with moderate acid and silky-smooth tannins. Tart currant and cherry fruit bounces off sweet cola, cedar and dark chocolate shavings. Hints of rosemary and sweet on a tangy, fresh finish. Fun, easy-drinking, food-friendly blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet and 10% Merlot. For early consumption, but a good value, as is usually the case with this wine. (87 points)

2013 Monteverro Verruzzo Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $29
Medium ruby color. Nose of juicy black cherries, summer plums, hints of tobacco and basil mxi with coffee and cedar. A fleshy, medium-bodied wine with rounded tannins and moderate acid. The black cherry and currant fruit is chewy yet velvety, backed up by notes of charcoal, tobacco, cedar shavings and light roast coffee. Moderately long finish with notes of clove and green herbs. Approachable now or enjoy after a year or two. 40% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Sangiovese. (87 points)

With an easily recognizable label, wide distribution &
decent value, Ruffino's Modus is usually a solid bet. 
2012 Ruffino Modus Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $28
Medium ruby color. Smells of tart red and black currants, summer plums with crunchy skins, some violets, cedar and sweet basil. Medium-bodied, framed with dusty tannins and a nice tang from the acid. Bold black cherry, blackberry and plum fruit but the fruit has a tangy edge. Lots of light roast coffee, cedar shavings but some nice spice and earth elements as well. Ready to drink or age over the next few years. 50% Sangiovese, 25% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. (87 points)

2012 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino - Italy, Tuscany, Montalcino, Rosso di Montalcino
SRP: $19
Dull ruby color. On the nose, tangy cherries, red currants, mixed in with rose potpourri, rhubarb and cedar. Moderate tannic structure (they’re fined down around the edges), moderate-low acid, tangy fruit (red cherries, red currants), backed up by notes of anise, cedar and clove. A finish of loam and cedar. Not too complicated or thought-provoking, but it has a simple, easy-drinking appeal. (84 points)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Spanish Garnacha: Reliable, Tasty, Inexpensive

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

For wine newbs and nerds alike, Spanish Garnacha offers a lot of fun options, many of them for a moderate price. This grape (the same grape as Grenache) has historically been used in blends, but it's common as a varietal wine. "Garnacha" is featured frequently and prominently on many Spanish wine labels. A juicy red grape (and the base for the Southern Rhone wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape), Garnacha is becoming more widely known among consumers looking for something smooth yet bold and fruity.

Apparently every grape now has to have it's own "day," so on September 18 I tasted some Spanish Garnacha on Garnacha/Grenache Day. In an online video tasting sponsored by Snooth, Guillermo Cruz, sommelier at the award-winning Mugaritz in San Sebastian, said customers frequently ask for a bottle of Garnacha by name, which was an uncommon request just a few years ago.

Like any wine from any region, the $10 bottles with screwcaps and kitschy labels are most likely going to be sweet, candied wines without much depth. But perhaps unlike many regions, Spanish Garnacha quality rises quickly with only slight cost increases. There are lots of real, terroir-driven wines out there for $15-$25, which isn't as easy to find with some popular red varieties.

These wines were all received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Grandes Vinos y Viñedos Cariñena Beso de Vino Old Vine - Spain, Aragón, Cariñena
Juicy ruby color. Nose of candied red berries, red licorice, caramelized sugar, coffee and vanilla. Medium-bodied, soft drinking tannins, moderate-low acid. The red berry fruit is sweet and chewy, mixed in with notes of Brazil nut, campfire logs, vanilla and coffee. Fun, simple, easy-drinking Garnacha for near-term consumption. (81 points)

2013 Bodegas San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud Las Rocas - Spain, Aragón, Calatayud
Bright ruby colored. Smells like raspberry and currant jam, some earthy, sweet violets and black pepper as well. Soft tannins, medium acid for freshness on the palate. The raspberries and red and black cherries are tangy but sweet. Notes of cedar, loamy soil and coffee mix with peppery spice and tobacco. Ready to drink, a crowd-pleasing, food-friendly wine that offers some subtle complexity. (86 points)

2013 Bodegas Aragonesas Garnacha Campo de Borja Coto de Hayas Centenaria - Spain, Aragón, Campo de Borja
Medium ruby color. Bright and juicy with red and black plums, lots of rose petals, some dusty earth, cocoa powder and charcoal. Full-bodied with dusty tannins and chewy fruit. Black and red cherries and plums, the fruit is juicy and ripe and laced with notes of vanilla bean, coconut shavings, charcoal, dusty soil and pipe tobacco. A big wine but accessible and stays relatively fresh. Pair with grilled everything and guests who love oaky Napa Cabernet. (87 points)

2010 Viñas del Vero Somontano Secastilla - Spain, Aragón, Somontano
Medium ruby colored. A bit musty on the nose, with wet leaves and old library books, but also a lot of black cherries and blackberries, Full-bodied, bold tannic structure, but some nicely tart acid to keep it balanced. Black cherries, blackberries, roasted fig, a darker wine with deep notes of loam, iron, charcoal and black licorice. Tobacco, black pepper, add in some mocha and wood shavings, but not too much. Some decaying leaves and mushrooms, too. A bit tight at first but gets all sorts of open and exuberant with an hour or two. Settles down on day two and gets smooth and earthy. Would like to revisit in three years. (88 points)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Acinum — Good Intro to Wines of the Veneto

Vias Imports — a big player in the U.S. when it comes to Italian imports — has just launched its own label, Acinum. Hitting the nationwide market this month, these wines are solid, value-driven examples of the classic Veneto wines: Prosecco, Soave Classico, Valpolicella and Amarone.

The wines are a result of collaboration between the chairman of Vias Imports, Fabrizio Pedrolli, grower and oenologist Enrico Paternoster. For those looking for an introduction to the wines of the Veneto, these widely-available bottles would be a good and inexpensive place to start.

These bottles were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

N.V. Acinum Prosecco - Italy, Veneto, Prosecco
SRP: $11
Pale straw color. Bright and floral nose with a nice mix of lemon-lime and richer peach and guava aromas. Refreshingly crisp and quite dry but plenty of fresh fruit: peaches, lime, kiwi, yellow apple. Add in some hints of honeysuckle, lilies and a slight saline and seashell aspect. A brighter and crisper wine than a lot of Proseccos at this price point that can take the sweet flower and canned peach approach. Impressive for the price. (86 points)

2014 Acinum Soave Classico - Italy, Veneto, Soave Classico
SRP: $11
Light yellow color. Bright nose of clean laundry, floral perfume and a mix of kiwi and yellow and green apples. Juicy kiwi, peach and apples on a medium-bodied frame. Moderate acid keeps it all clean, some creaminess adds texture. I get some notes of white tea and floral perfume, hints of saline as well. Bright, clean, refreshing, well-balanced. Great for the price. (85 points)

2014 Acinum Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella
SRP: $16
Pale ruby color. Smells of tart red apples, wild strawberries, some darker cherry notes, rose petals and green coffee. Medium-bodied with some refreshing acidity, medium tannin but a tiny bit astringent. Tart red apples, strawberries and cherries mixed in with notes of cedar, clove and coffee. Ready to drink but has some fun flavors and structure to offer. (85 points)

2013 Acinum Ripasso della Valpolicella - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Ripasso della Valpolicella
SRP: $23
Medium ruby color. Rich red and black fruits on the nose, cherries, plums and currants, mixed in with richer, darker elements of prunes and fig paste, roses, violets and potting soil. Full-bodied, tannins have plenty of structure but a velvety presence on the palate. Medium-low acid, the plum fruit is dark and rich yet crunchy around the edges, plenty of coffee, pipe tobacco, clove, anise cookie and cedar shavings. Not super complex but quite solid stuff. Best with plenty of air or a year or two in the cellar. (87 points)

2012 Acinum Amarone della Valpolicella Classico - Italy, Veneto, Valpolicella, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
SRP: $55

Dark ruby color. Saucy and rich on the nose, with dense black cherries and plum fruit, a couple waves of sweet mocha, clove, dark chocolate shavings and rich dark soil. Rich and full but maintains a juicy, chewy approach. Dark plums and cherries, the fruit is rich but laced with savory elements. I get pine sap, espresso, charcoal pit, dark chocolate, clove, spearmint chewing tobacco, lots of complex flavors underneath waiting to come out. (89 points)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pahalniuk's Horror Novel "Haunted" is Terrible

I’ve never read a back cover like the one on ChuckPahalniuk’s novel “Haunted.” 

“… the author goes to work on you, pounding you until there is nothing left but a big bag of bones and blood and pain.”

“There are paragraphs here – entire pages, in fact – that are as disgusting as anything I’ve ever read.”

“bloodied by the profound horror of narcissism.”

The collection of blurbs reads like a critique of Cannibal Corpse lyrics.  As a lover of most things horrifying and gruesome (and a fan of some of Chuck P.’s other novels), I’m the target audience here. I fell for it, too — I snagged this book up at some second-hand store a few months back. But, unfortunately, this book is fucking garbage.

Look, I’m no prude. I despise taboo and I enjoy plenty of transgressive fiction. I love fucked up horror movies and I’m a big fan of some of the most gruesome and extreme examples of death metal and grindcore.  But, while Devourment’s album “Conceived in Sewage” is vile, it’s also fun, intense, meticulously constructed and artistic. “Haunted” is none of these. This novel is vile but it’s also lame and sophomoric.

Here’s the plot summary from the back jacket: “Haunted is a novel of twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writers’ retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight.”

Basically, Pahalniuk’s novel is a series of tired riffs on the “Saw” movies. It’s a long, drawn-out masturbation session of overindulgent violence and a childish fascination with depravity and voyeurism. Any literary aspirations are drowned out by repetitive and stale storytelling.  Pahalniuk is crass for the sake of crassness, and the result is a hollow novel that lacks anything resembling literary value. Some may search for cultural critiques in this loose assemblage of stories, but the commentary on reality TV, sadism, violence and consumer culture sounds half-assed, and it’s overshadowed by shock-and-awe exuberance.

As far as the plot goes, a reclusive Mr. Whittier lures a bunch of depressed and aspiring writers to his mansion for a three-month retreat from the outside world. Mr. Whittier (a stand-in for the “Saw” dude), keeps the writers captive and forces them into a pit of self-mutilation and gore. “To create a race of masters from a race of slaves,” that’s Mr. Whittier’s supposed goal.

But, in order to make a captive torture story work, the writer have to lay out the physical aspects of the cage. The “Haunted” reader, though, gets no real information about the mansion or how exactly the writers are stuck there. Why can’t the captives jump out of windows or sneak through the fucking basement exit? Or break down the front door? Chuck P. can’t be bothered with these details, because there are descriptions of anuses and amputations to deal with.

I was hoping to find this book clever for its somewhat unique structure. Nope. The novel unfolds in groups of three. We get quick snippets of narration describing what’s happening in Mr. Whittier’s mansion. Then we get a poem from each of the captive writers. Then we get a story they wrote (some are decent, most are shitty). Some of these poems and stories tie together, loosely, some seem irrelevant and tacked on.

Amid the blood and guts, Chuck P. squeezes in some commentary on the lure of horror stories and the need to create demons in order to distance ourselves from them.

“That’s how a scary story works. It echoes some ancient fear. It recreates some forgotten terror. Something we’d like to think we’ve grown beyond. But it can still scare us to tears. It’s something you’d hope was healed.”

“When we die, these are the stories still on our lips. The stories we’ll only tell strangers, someplace private in the padded cell of midnight. These important stories, we rehearse them for years in our head but never tell. Those stories are ghosts, bringing people back from the dead. Just for a moment. For a visit. Every story is a ghost.”

I find some of these ideas interesting, but I wish he would’ve written an essay on horror stories instead. In an afterword, Chuck P. offers up a few thoughts about the purpose of gross and transgressive fiction. He writes: “There are places only books can go.” But mostly he spends the afterword bragging about how reading a short story contained in this novel has caused dozens of people to faint. Cool story, bro.
Oh well, at least the glow-in-the-dark cover looks spooky.   

After reading this book, I feel the need to pick up some H.P. Lovecraft to clear my mind with some quality horror.

Friday, September 18, 2015

North Gate Vineyard - Tasty Wines from Loudon County, Virginia

If you enjoy Virginia wine, and you’re social media savvy, there’s only one online place to gather: #VAWineChat. Frank Morgan, a friend and fellow blogger who tweets @DrinkWhatULike, has been bringing wine lovers and Virginia vintners together since 2013.

I recently popped some corks and tuned in as Frank met with Mark Fedor of North Gate Vineyard of Loudon County. I’d tasted and enjoyed a few North Gate wines before, including the
2015 Governor’s Cup Award-winning 2012 Meritage, so I was expecting good things. The wines delivered.

North Gate planted its first vines in 2002 and kicked off the winery in 2007. For a relative newcomer, proprietor Mark Fedor says he feels like a veteran in Loudon County. There were just 18 wineries in the county when North Gate opened, Mark says, but that number has more than doubled to 42 now.  

Mark was proud to point out
the winery’s environmental certifications. A lot of these certifications are not easy for the average consumer to understand, but it seems clear North Gate Vineyard has ingrained environmentally sound methods into many of its practices. This is something I think should always be pointed out and celebrated.

As part of the Twitter-based tasting, participants sipped through three North Gate wines, a Viognier, a Merlot and a Meritage.

Viognier is Virginia’s official state grape, and consumers have a ton of options to choose from. Mark says it’s hard to define Virginia Viognier as a category because the wines are so diverse. “As an industry we haven’t come down to one style of Viognier,” Mark says. “We have so much diversity that people are somewhat confused as to what it should be.” A lot of growers let the fruit hang long on the vine, which drives up the alcohol content and allows the grape to reach the heights of honeyed creaminess. But more and more producers are picking earlier, refraining from too much new oak, and releasing Viogniers with a bright and steely posture. I found Mark’s wine to be somewhere in the middle of the Virginia Viognier spectrum. It’s creamy, tropical and floral but stays fresh and balanced.

2014 North Gate Vineyard Viognier - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Pale gold color with a tinge of copper. Smells of pineapple juice, guava, kiwi and some dried honey and spicy white wildflowers as well. Very creamy and smooth on the palate, the acid is a bit low as the wine runs like honey, but not too full. (The label says 13.8% alcohol but supposedly the wine is somewhere north of 14%.) Super tropical, with pineapple, papaya, guava, the fruit is doused with whipped honey butter, lilies, baby’s breath and nougat. Fun stuff, very ripe and forward but stays steely and bright. (87 points)

Merlot has found a sweet spot in Virginia. It seems every time we talk about Merlot, the movie Sideways comes up, and the conversation turns to the ensuing popular dissatisfaction with this noble grape. Look, there have always been shitty Merlots and there always will be. But I’m glad Virginia growers have stuck with this grape and taken it so seriously. Lots of high quality Merlot is coming out of Virginia, and many of them carry modest price tags. A number of the
2015 Governor’s Cup winners had Merlot in them, usually blended with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. North Gate’s Merlot is a solid buy at $19, and their Merlot-based Meritage is no joke.

2013 North Gate Vineyard Merlot - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Vibrant but deep ruby color. Juicy black and red plum fruit on the nose, mixed in with cedar shavings, light roast coffee, loamy soil. Tangy acid meets fine-grained tannins, making this an easy-drinking wine with a delightfully fresh appeal. The fruit is juicy and tart (black cherry, red and black plums, wild blueberry). Lots of mocha, cedar, roasted coffee and cinnamon sticks… hints of loam and dried violets. I love the freshness and vibrancy of this wine. Probably not one to store for more than a few years, but a delightful Virginia Merlot. Another example of how Merlot kills it in Virginia. The wine is aged for 17 months in 25% new French oak and includes 10% Petit Verdot. (87 points)

2013 North Gate Vineyard Meritage - Virginia, Northern Virginia, Loudoun County
Deep ruby color. Tart red and black cherries and plums on the nose. I get some coffee, dark chocolate, smoky toasted oak. Tart and crunchy on the palate, dusty tannins of medium strength give this structure. The black cherry and plum fruit is tangy and fresh, laced with notes of smoke, cherry wood, anise and dark chocolate. Forward with the oak but the wine still maintains and fresh presence on the palate. Accessible now or good for near-term aging. Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. (88 points)

I just found out North Gate also produces a
non-vintage Rkatsiteli, which I now have to try. There aren’t too many American vintners who try their hand at this ancient white grape from the Republic of Georgia. 

If you’re a fan of Virginia wine, or just touring the beautiful winelands of Loudon County, Virginia, North Gate is a good bet. I’ll definitely be stopping by the next time I plan a Loudon County wine trek. 


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Summer - Fall Transitional Wines <$20

In the mid-Atlantic the humidity is finally fading, so fall is an amazing time to be outdoors. I’m constantly grilling, reading a book on the patio, sneaking away to the beach when the waves kick up and the crowds die down. In my glass, I move away from my standard summer selections (bright pinks and crisp whites like Muscadet and Chablis), and I look to medium-bodied reds, wines that pack freshness and ripe fruit but also offer more savory and spicy aspects. I look for bottles to pair with late-ripening vegetable dishes and my own conception of autumn.

Click here to read the full article on Snooth.

Credit: Luca Zanon/Unsplash.