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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Mini-reviews 68: La Scolca, Vina Decana, Santi, picpoul

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wine reviews picpoulReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

La Scolca Gavi Black Label 2012 ($45, sample, 12%): Some producers still make wine that needs to age, and this Italian white is a prime example. Drink it now, it’s a well-made wine, but nothing special, and certainly not for the price. Let it sit for a couple of years, and based on past experience, it will blossom with white flowers and spice.

Vina Decana Reserva 2009 ($7, purchased, 13%): Not the legendary $5 Decana that has all but disappeared from Aldi , but its more expensive sibling ($2 being more expensive for an Aldi wine). This Spanish red is a reserva, which means oak aging and more complexity. But not appreciably better than the $5 version, thanks to too much cabernet sauvignon and merlot in the blend. But it’s hard to beat the price.

Santi Valpolicella Classico Superiore Solane 2011 ($16, sample, 13.5%): Delicious Italian red with every note in the right place — red fruit, richness, and acidity. The catch? That $16 is a lot to pay for Valpolicella, no matter how tasty.

Moulin de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet ($10, sample, 13%): French white made with the picpoul grape is mostly on target, and price is fair, but it’s not quite it could be. This won’t stop you from enjoying its tart lemon fruit and touch of minerality, though.

Wine of the week: Zestos Old Vine Garnacha 2013

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Zestos garnachaOne of the Wine Curmudgeon’s battle cries is varietally correct — that is, does the wine taste like the grapes it came from, or has winemaking been used to make it taste a certain way? The latter approach, though useful in making certain kinds of cheap wine, is ultimately not very satisfying. The best wines, of whatever price, should be varietally correct.

Which is why the Zestos garnacha ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is so stunning. I rarely quote from producer websites, but this says it all, including the exclamation point: “This tremendous quality wine is made from old vine Garnacha and it sells for a song!” No less than Robert Parker — yes, that Robert Parker — calls the Zestos “a staggering value.” If Parker and I agree on quality and value, it’s time to buy a case and reserve a spot in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame.

So what makes the Zestos so impressive? It combines the best parts of garnacha, its fresh and juicy red fruit, with the qualities added by using grapes from old vines, most 40 to 50 years old. That means rich, concentrated fruitiness (dark cherries?), an almost oak-like depth, though there is no oak, and layers of flavor rarely found in $10 wines. The tannins are soft, as they should be, and the finish is chalky, befitting the terroir.

All this is impressive enough. But the Zestos does it with normal alcohol; other wines with these attributes need to be 15 percent or more to taste this way. Hence, you can drink a bottle with dinner and not pass out. That Parker likes a wine that hasn’t been Parkerized is the Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday gift to his readers.

Expensive wine 70: Hess Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2008

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Hess Cabernet Sauvignon The wine world, and especially the red wine world, is as class conscious as Victorian Britain. It’s not enough that serious wine drinkers aren’t supposed to drink cheap wine. They’re also not supposed to drink certain brands, not if they want to hang with the cool kids.

Fortunately for the blog’s visitors, the Wine Curmudgeon could care less about the cool kids. Quality and value are way cooler than the cool kids’ idea of wine, which too often revolves around write-ups like this one, about a $5,400 bottle.

Which brings us to the Hess ($45, sample, 14.6%), which is about as quality and value driven as a red wine from Napa Valley can be at this price:

• Terroir. Napa Valley is not a monolith, but made up of smaller appellations. Wines from these sub-regions should reflect that, and the Hess, from Mount Veeder, does. There’s an almost earthiness you don’t see in wine from other places, and it has aged remarkably well.

• Balance. This is more than concentrated sweet fruit, which the cool kids love. You can drink a glass and not wonder if the wine is as dry as it is supposed to be.

• Varietally correct. Cabernet should have grip, and the Hess does. But it still offers the deep black fruit that is typical of Napa Valley.

Highly recommended, both for holiday dinners and as a gift for cabernet drinkers. And particularly for anyone who wants to understand what Napa cabernet sauvignon can taste like when the wine is made without worrying about what the cool kids think.

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