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Mini-reviews 66: Les Griottes, Ecco Domani, Rios de Chile, Rauzan Despagne

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wine reviews ecco domaniReviews 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.

• Pierre-Marie Chermette Les Griottes 2013 ($19, purchased, 12%): Very pretty rose form Beaujolais made with gamay that has cranberry fruit and a hint of gamay’s grapiness. The catch, of course, is that it’s twice the price of a quality $10 rose without being anywhere close to twice as good. Hence, almost no reason to buy it.

Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio 2013 ($12, sample, 12.5%): This Italian white, one of the leading grocery store pinot grigios, is neither good nor bad. It just is — traditional tonic water flavor blended with a sweet pear middle. Which is why it sells millions of cases. It’s overpriced at $12, but you’ll probably be able to find it for as little as $8 if you really want to.

Rios de Chile Pinot Noir Reserva 2011 ($12, sample, 13.5%): Another competent, well-priced Chilean pinot noir that doesn’t have much to do with red Burgundy, but tastes more like pinot noir than its American cousins, the Mark Wests of the world. Simple but enjoyable, with some spice and berry fruit.

Château Rauzan Despagne Grand Réserve 2011 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Professional, French red blend from Bordeaux that is mostly merlot, with berry fruit and some earthiness. It’s a little thin through the middle, but that may be the wine getting old.

Wine of the week: Moulin de Gassac Guilhem 2013

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Moulin de Gassia GuilhemThe Wine Curmudgeon is a sucker for wines made with less known grapes from less known parts of the world. That’s because the revolution in winemaking and grape growing technology over the past 20 years has allowed these regions to improve quality with grapes that aren’t in great demand. Hence, a much better chance of quality wine for less money.

The Guilhem ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is a case in point. It’s a white blend from a little known part of the Languedoc in southern France, and the Languedoc remains little known itself. The wine is made with grenache blanc, terret blanc, and sauvignon blanc. Those first two grapes are obscure even for wine geeks, and it’s not like this part of France is famous for sauvignon blanc, either.

The result is a Hall of Fame quality wine that is just €5 in France, and yet another example why so much of what we find on the Great Wall of Wine in the grocery store makes me crazy. The Guilhem bears some resemblance to a white Rhone blend, with white fruit aromas and some spiciness. But it’s not oily or heavy, instead featuring red apple crispness — almost juiciness — and just enough minerality to be noticeable. The bottle, chilled, was empty in a half hour, and I was irritated I hadn’t bought two of them.

In this, it’s the kind of wine that demonstrates the advantages of a quality, independent retailer. I bought it from Cody Upton, a long-time pal and one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know. Cody, who is working at Pogo’s in Dallas, asked me how much I wanted to spend — tongue firmly in cheek — and then walked right to this. Does customer service get any better than that?

Wine of the week: Milagro Vina Fuerte 2011

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Vina fuerteAldi’s Vina Decana, one of the great cheap wines in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this, has apparently gone, leaving us almost as quickly as it appeared on the grocer’s store shelves. This is not unusual in wine, though I’ve never quite grown used to it. Wine can’t be made like a car, with a new model every year; there are too many vagaries of production, the supply chain, and the three-tier system.

The Decana’s replacement as Aldi’s private label Spanish tempranillo appears to be the Vina Fuerte ($5, purchased, 13%), though it’s from a different part of Spain. The first thing to know about the Fuerte is that it’s a perfectly competent red wine, and maybe even a little more than that, and certainly a value for $5. The problem is that it’s not the Decana, and it suffers by comparison.

Of course, almost any wine — and especially at this price — would. The Fuerte doesn’t have the Decana’s Spanish-style flair, and it’s not the kind of wine that makes you go, “Wow,” after the first sip. Rather, it’s more international in style, softer and with more oak showing, and cherry fruit instead of the Decana’s sour cherry. One plus, though: It does have the hint of orange peel that’s supposed to be there. This is red meat wine, though gentle enough for roast and grilled chicken.

Will I buy this again? Of course. The Fuerte is much better made than most of the boring — and even awful wine — for sale at this price. But I’ll always think of the Decana when I drink it.

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