“I like on the table, when we're speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine.”   Pablo Neruda

Already here, leaves are beginning to turn color. In the vineyards, harvesting has been underway for some time. And soon enough, others of us will have restless sleep with nightmares of snow shovels and blowers. But south of the equator, thoughts are different. Those in the vineyard will have their sleep interrupted by thoughts of all the work ahead. Budburst (September-October), Shoot and leaf growth (September-March). Flowering and fruit set (November–December).  Veraison, when grapes begin to ripen (January-March). And finally, harvest (March-April). In the Southern Hemisphere, July and on is winter dormancy. 

So while September to October is our season of harvest in the Northern hemisphere, March to April is the harvest at 20-50 degrees latitude south.  As the day’s heat moderates here and cools into evening, I find myself enjoying more reds again.  And what better way to look ahead to spring than enjoying reds from south of the equator where spring is ripening now?

Malbec is my red of choice at these times.  Originally, from northern Burgundy and once a popular blending grape in Bordeaux (it became less so after the 1956 frost killed off 75% of the plantings), it is still popular in Cahors (SW France) where it is known as Auxerrois),  Requiring more sun and heat than either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot to physiologically ripen.  Malbec in northern France was not the best choice commercially.  Same cannot be said for Argentina, when cuttings from France were first brought there in the mid-19th century. In fact, ask most people today where Malbec is from and they’ll likely say Argentina. Certainly, it’s the most popular style. Just as Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are different wines from the same grape, Malbec from France and Argentina is different though same.
In fact, the grapes themselves in Argentina are different than their French relatives, having smaller berries and in tighter and smaller clusters. This suggest that the cuttings brought from France were of a clone that may have gone extinct in France due to frosts or even the phylloxera epidemic. French Malbec, particularly from Cahors will produce at its darkest color and tannic structure due to the high limestone content in the soil. Malbec from Argentina leans toward being plumier (from soil with more alluvial sand) and fruit forward and, generally, with a more silky texture.  Grown at high altitude in the foot of the Andes, vines receive sun, but the altitude insures large evening drops in temperature, delaying the ripening process. Grapes have the opportunity to develop ripe fruity characteristics but in balance with acidity - avoiding the soft drink character of otherwise fully sugared but under acidified fruit.  

Winemaker Pablo Cuneo (l) and Chef Lucas Bustos (r) of
Bodega Ruca Malen. As usual, the Mizer is in the middle of it.
Meeting with Pablo Cuneo (winemaker for Bodega Ruca Malen) in August at the “Rural Society of Chicago” restaurant, I and other reviewers tasted several of the estate’s wines, including an estate Ruca Malen Sparkling Brut, but I’m all about reds today (with one exception).  We began with the entry label Yauquen Malbec. Aged six months in 20% French oak (80% stainless) this is a young, fruity and fresh wine meant to be enjoyed every day. Bright clean notes of cherry, plum and violet with a whispered hint of vanilla. But with an ARP of about $14, I’m happy to invest an additional $4 and appreciate the Ruca Malbec Reserva (2014). Deeper, richer, this wine is everything that made Argentina synonymous with Malbec. Elegant and complex, with a plummy texture, it layers blackberry, plum, black cherry, licorice and notes of violet. This is a soft, but not flabby wine, less tannic than its French relatives, more fruity but balanced elegantly and with enough tannin in the finish to give it structure and ageability of seven years under good conditions.  12 months aging in oak (80% French, 20% American) add some caramel.

We moved on to Ruca Malen’s 2013 Petit Verdot Reserva. Grown in Agrelo within the Lujan de Cuyo region on rocky soil with deep silt and at altitude of 1000 meters (3281 feet) above sea level, this terroir is regarded as some of the best within all Mendoza. Juice is aged 12 months (80% French, 20% American) with malolactic being conducted in stainless after 28 days of maceration in stainless before going to wood. Petit Verdot, another French grape and another vulnerable to early frost, does beautifully under the Argentinian sun. Though traditionally a grape used in blending Bordeaux wine, this stand-alone varietal of Ruca Malen’s struck me as being Bordeaux like despite it being unblended. Iron, clove, allspice in the nose. Deep ruby red with aromas also of red fruit. Blackberry and plum in a rich and deep textured wine with earthy notes and spicy intrigue, this wine, at an ARP of $19, is a super value and begs to be paired with grilled steak, lamb and sausage.

We “finished” with a Ruca Malen 2011 Kinien de Don Raul, the only wine, at $75, anyone could consider being special occasion priced, at least before tasting it. A blend of 64% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot and 10% Syrah, it spends 18 months in 90% French oak (expensive) and 10% American. An example of the art and craft of master blending, it is made from selected grapes and as a very limited edition. The name “Kinien” is from the Mapuche language meaning “unique” and it truly is. Yes to all the cassis, plum, blackberry, sweet baking spices and notes of vanilla and caramel. Yes to the balance. But one taste of this wine alerts the senses with clove and white pepper that this dry wine which opens so majestically with air in the glass is something different.
As I said earlier, this is all about the reds, with one exception. Argentina is renowned for Torrontes and I’ve enjoyed supporting the economy of Argentina by consuming many bottles of this refreshing white wine. The best wines come from grapes grown at high elevation in the Salta region where Ruca Malen grows vines at an altitude of 1700 meters (5577 feet) above sea level. The origin of this grape is not yet fully understood, but it’s accepted that it originated from a cross of Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica. Pablo referred to the Muscat while tasting, but he didn’t have to. My taste buds knew it already. With more body than most, this Torrontes was so easy drinking, it could be dangerous (14.1 Alc.).  Grapes are whole bunch pressed and never see wood.  The acidity is refreshing yet without bite. Jasmine, orange blossom and citrus dominate but in wondrous harmony. Fresh, soft and fruity with floral notes, this wine is romance and more graceful than most. At $13, this one is not to be missed.

During dinner, Pablo mentioned that his objective in making finished wines was to deliver a clear expression of the fruit with an intensity and sufficient acidity to make Ruca Malen wine that is meant to be enjoyed with food.  No question: every wine I tasted was food friendly. Tasting them, in fact, just brought to mind meals planned ahead that ccould show off the wines. Still, these wines, and with the Petit Verdot in particular, – rich and plump, yet fresh and with structure – are fulfilling enough to be enjoyed by themselves in the cool of a fall’s evening.  Old world grapes, made by a winemaker whose objective includes respecting the European tradition of making wines meant to be enjoyed with food, but with vines grown in the new world (albeit in unique and excellent terroir), Ruca Malen offers wine at prices that put the words quality to value in bold type.

……………… Jim

Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it   is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

Carob dough stuffed with Malbec
braised rabbit sith nut and potato emulsion paired
with Yaquen Malbec

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Foie Gras Mousesse, Amarena
Cherry and Yaquen Torrontes

Cured olive oil marinated
Angus beef with a bean
sauce & Malbec sauce paired with Ruca
Malen Reserva Malbec 2014

The Rural Society of Chicago is attached to
Loews Madison Hotel Chicago and delights
with Argentinian cuisine. Chef Lucas Bustos
came in for the event from Bodega Ruca Malen
in Argentina and indeed delighted us all.
Grilled filet mignon with smoked
carrot puree, quinoa and sweet corn.
Paired with Kinien de Don Raul

Started with (I can't control the placement of this program)
with seasonal squash marinated in lemon chilis and fresh
herbs. Paired with Yauqun Torrontes.


“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei
Indeed, there is so much more involved in making wine, even back to Galileo’s time, but so what? It’s a pretty thought and suits me. “Wine is bottled poetry” as was said later (in 1883) by Robert Lewis Stevenson, so I’m inclined to agree and I will gladly accept Galileo’s viticultural description because it’s romantic.  Wine is, after all, romance. And September 3 this year, was Cabernet Sauvignon Day. It reminded me of the first time I enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon of Don Melchor; the most euphorically romantic Cab I enjoyed.  

The winery hosted a luncheon at “The Grill on the Alley” in Chicago in September of 2014 and winemaker Enrique Tirado Santelices was present to discuss the 2010 release (24th vintage) of Don Melchor. The blend is 3% Cabernet Franc, 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, all estate grown from seven selected parcels of their estate in Chile’s Puente Alto appellation.  Enrique brought along bottles of finished wine from each of the parcels and we tasted each separately. I remember thinking parcel #1 was classic Cab, with ripe red fruit, and somewhat high in alcohol (it was actually 14.5%). Parcel 2 was reserved aromatically, a little thin, but with rounder tannin than Parcel 1; more black fruit and a note of chocolate.  Parcel 3 also had a light nose but with hint of blackberry, had exceptional balance though with a slightly tannic but enjoyable and long finish. Parcel 4, much improved with air in the glass, was initially too concentrated with taste of forest floor and leaf compote. Parcel 5 offered aromas of subtle cherry and blackberry. And so on went my notes.

Getting Ready To Taste
The true artistry of wine making was revealed in the blend. Enrique produced a measuring beaker, mixing 4% from here and 13% from parcel there and so on until the blend was completed for the 2010 release of Don Melchor. Long before this review, Wine Spectator awarded the wine 95 points, and from my own recent re-tasting, it has only gotten better with time in the bottle.  We enjoyed the blend freshly created by Enrique and then the bottle itself of the 2010 release of Don Melchor.  Creamy. Cherry and plum. Hints of paprika and hoisin sauce. All the cassis you expect in Cabernet Sauvignon. Cocoa powder. The fruit was lively, but working seamlessly, incorporating plum, blackberry, and blueberry. Notes of black pepper, sandalwood and cedar, 

Since then, and while pouring a different wine at a retail outlet, I noticed the store had in stock a 2005 Don Melchor. Not being assured of their storage conditions, I purchased a bottle as a sample. After tasting it, I went back and bought the four remaining, then tasted another 2005 against the 2010.  While the 2005 was more savory and with more earth and black pepper in the nose and the 2010’s fruit more lively, both wines were exceptionally polished, with smooth tannins and a long finish. The 2005 offered deep notes of dark fruit and cedar; the 2010 more blackberry, the 2005 had more texture.   If I had to choose, however, I would still chose both. Ends up that Don Melchor has had six vintages, ranked by Wine Spectator, as among their “Top 100” Wines of the Year.  2009 was awarded 94 points. 2010 was given 95.
The Wine Mizer with Enrique Tirado Santelices (R)

Blending is the art and the craft that follows Galileo's sun and water. And Enrique Tirado explains this old world approach perfectly: "For me, Don Melchor is an ongoing quest to get the truest possible expression from every plant in the vineyard to attain beauty in the equilibrium from each Puente Salto terroir harvest. Though I use technology as a tool to improve my knowledge, perhaps more importantly it is by observing and sensing what is happening with each plant and every wine that gives me that perfect balance year after year.” (Emphasis mine). 

At My Own Re-taste, I Paired
These Wines
With A Grilled Fillet.
Each parcel growing vines on alluvial soil, will yield different juice: some producing wines more expressive in fruit characteristics; others lending more tannin, and others more elegance.  Tasting the finished wine of Enrique Tirado demonstrated (to me) that while I may never stop learning about wine, I will never be a wine maker. Don Melchor is polished. Elegant. A masterful blend of many elements resulting in a natural composition that surpasses the contribution of its individual parcels.

…………… Jim

Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

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Incidental Info:
The Puente Alto Vineyard is in the Alto Maipo Valley at the foot of the Andes Mountains. It is located in the Maipo River Basin on the northern bank of the river and at 2100 feet above sea level.  Vine stock comes from pre-phylloxrera masal selection, dating back to the first vines brought to Chile from Bordeaux in 1883 by Don Melchor Concha y Toro and his wife Emiliana Subercaseaux.  Vines average 30+ years.

Tech Specs: (Vintage 2010)
Variety:                                97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc
Climate:                               Semi-arid Mediterranean
Soil:                                     Alluvial (clay, silt, sand & gravel with mineral deposits)
Vineyard:                             Puente Alto, Alto Maipo Valley, Chile
Aging:                                 15 Months in French oak
                                            76% new, 24% second use
ALC:                                   14.6%
Ph:                                       3.60
TA:                                      3.66 g/L
ARP:                                   About $100 U.S.
Est. Drink Through:           2020-2010 with good storage.



COL d’ORCIA WINES, Brunello (Sangiovese) and Others

“Friends and wine improve with age.”…. an Italian proverb: Amici e vini sono meglio vecchi.

Wines, like people, develop through their youth; some showing exceptional promise and those developing into a period of earned assuredness. As years pass, they acquire grace but then, eventually, frailty too.  Even with the best of care, all wines expire. To be able to taste a wine along its life’s journey is like sharing the experience of a wine’s lifetime in one afternoon.  So being invited, along with other reviewers, to participate in a tasting of (mostly) the Sangiovese wines of Col d’Orcia… well it was not something I needed to think about.
Getting Ready For The Tasting

Literally, Col d’Orcia means: “The hill overlooking the Orcia River.”  It is in Tuscany, where grapes were grown by the Etruscans before the Greeks and the Romans.  The main grape in Tuscany is Sangiovese, or as the locals call it, “Sangioveto”.  It’s the grape you’re familiar with; the dominant grape in Chianti wine.  But the Sangiovese of Brunello di Montalcino is never blended, (it is in purezza”) and that is the issue; the passion and the love of this challenging grape. Vines must be managed to limit yield. Left on their own, they will be over productive producing grapes with a poor sugar to acid balance, light color, high acidity and less alcohol likely to result in wine that will oxidize prematurely due to lower concentrations of tannins and anthrocyanins. Sangiovese is a thin skinned grape prone to rot on the vine. And the juice must be skillfully vinfied for it is fraught with issue. Chianti, for example, may be blended with Canaiolo and a percentage also of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. Previous to 2006, white wine grapes Malvasia and Trebbiano were allowed. Blending allows for better color and easier creation of body in the finished product. Some winemakers in Brunello deal with these issues by extending the maceration period from 7-12 days to 3-4 weeks to give the Sangiovese must more time to leech phenols out of the grape skins. They employ malolactic fermentation, providing a more rounded mouthfeel.  Whatever the choice, or combination of them, when you taste a well-made Brunello di Montalcino, you can be certain the wine maker is highly skilled.

So you’re not reading Wine Mizer to become an oenologist. Suffice to say then that three things will happen when you allow yourself to taste a Col D’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino. (1) You will be tasting pure 100% Sangiovese.  (2) You will physically experience what this grape does by itself; on its own. You can’t claim to know grapes’ characteristics without tasting them unblended. Then, after the experience, go about your preferences, wiser as you will be.  (3) You will be tasting Sangiovese from the Brunello di Montalcino awarded DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status in 1980 in recognition of the region’s unique terroir. It is recognized by most as the best area anywhere to grow Sangiovese.

Meeting at Eataly in Chicago, Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of the Col d’Orcia, arranged for us to taste several of his wines paired against the excellent preparations of Eataly’s chefs. We began with a salad of roasted beets, seedling farm plums, Ricotta Salata, aged Balsamic and Pistachio. This was paired against a Col d’Orcia Spezieri (2014) and a Col d’Orcia Rosso Di Montalcino (2013).  
I would not reflexively think to pair a salad against a red. But Spezieri is a young, fruity wine and picked up the essence of the plum so well it seemed a natural.  The Rosso di Montalcino was a natural progression.  Tuscany is well known for its olive oil and grain production but the philosophy of Italy in general is that wine is a natural accompaniment to food. And the acidity of Sangiovese makes it a perfect meal partner.  It is, as they say, food friendly. I would say, symbiotic: the wine making the food better and the food returning the favor.

Spezieri is unaged and a blend of Sangiovese and its relative grape Ciliegiolo.  Ciliegiolo is a natural blending companion to unaged Sangiovese. The aromatic, low-acid grape adds color and softness to the blend.  In fact, the name itself comes from an Italian word meaning cherry and the wines produced from this grape impart both that aroma and taste.  Slightly chilled, Spezieri is excellent for everyday meal pairing: light, fruity and easy drinking. With an ARP of $9, it’s also affordable as such. Rosso di Montalcino is pure Sangiovese, but still young. From Col d’Orcia’s estates it is produced from vines that deliver fresher and fruitier grapes. Released one year after harvest, it shows the typical structure of Sangiovese while still retaining a freshness and fruitiness of young wine. I was impressed, especially by these young wines of Col d’Orcia, because young Sangiovese can easily yield a glass laced with tannin, even astringently so. But I found each of these wines smooth; tannins detectable, but managed and controlled. (ARP $17).

We then moved on to the Col d’Orcia Brunello D’Montalcino (a vertical tasting of 2011 and 1997). These are wines of pure Sangiovese joy (for me) offering expressions of cherry, earth, violet, plum, ripe berry, rosemary, fig, licorice and notes of leather. Brunello has the longest aging requirements in Italy and these wines are meant for aging. They need it, but they also reward patience as do few other wines.  Darker in color than Barolo, tannins are high, but not quite as high as in Barolo.  Nonetheless, drunk early, the wines can be powerfully tannic. With time in the bottle, the mico-elements blend together and tannins smooth. Delayed gratification rewards you in the glass with complex, deep wine offering additional notes of fig, carob, aged balsamic and expresso, black tea and cedar with a hint of dried oregano. Considering the required aging of these wines before release and their structure and complexity, with ARPs of $43 and $77 respectively, I consider them bargains.

Count Francesco Marone Cinzano (r) Holding What
He Knew Was My Favorite Wine. Is It
Possible to Have More Than One Favorite?
The reservas of Brunello di Montalcino are required to undergo aging of six years before release. Aging benefits these wines but comes with tradeoffs of price too. We tasted a 2001, 2004 and 2006 Cold’Orcia Poggio Al Vento Riserva Brunello Di Montalcino. ARPs for these wines average $95, a sum I should point out is considerably less than (to my palate) several less worthy Cabernet Sauvignons.  Grapes for these wines are from a select vineyard of sandy, limestone soil (such limestone content and drainage is essential to producing top quality Sangiovese grapes).  48 months aging in large French and Slovenian oak barrels and 2 more years in bottle before release, it is produced only in the best vintage years and in limited quantity.  These wines are the ultimate expression of the grape’s potential and from the best terroir. Many professional tasters recommend enjoying these wines 10 years after harvest, and they often retain quality for 25 years.

Panna Cotta, Salted Caramel &
Almond Crumble with Pascena
We finished with a Col D’Orcia 2011 Pascena Moscadello, the one wine not of Sangiovese.  As the name implies, it is made from the Muscat grape. Too bad this grape has a poor reputation with some because of its inexpensive renderings by wineries having made bulk wine.  Yes, it’s sweet (it’s a dessert wine). But with the balance of fruit to acid so expertly done, it’s on par with the famous dessert wines of France.  A perfect wine to enjoy with blue cheese or Foie Gras, it is made using Muscat a Petits Grains. Forgive me “Big Bird”, but with 200 varieties of Muscat, using “one is not like the other.  This wine made from the Petits Grains Muscat offers sweet peach and refreshing tangerine. Aged one year before bottling, it finishes cleaner than most dessert wines I’ve tasted. ARP about $46.

All the wines of Col D’Orcia have been certified as organic since 2010. Whether DOGC or DOC (the Pascena Moscadello), the common thread throughout is graceful. These are wines that entice, that suggest, that seduce. To experience what Col D’Orcia does with Sangiovese is to understand what Michelangelo did with marble: a difficult material to work with that yields results  sublime and unique and can only be experienced by meeting the difficulty with skill and a commitment to grace.

………………….. Jim

Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

Like Wine Mizer on facebook for mini wine reviews, industry news, fun facts, occasional puzzles, food and wine pairing suggestions and more.

Incidental Info:
Sangiovese is not just one grape. It’s understandable you would think so. But in fact, it’s a highly adaptive little creature. Until 1879, it was even believed that Sangiovese from Brunello was a separate variety. This is because Sangiovese has somewhat of a chameleon-like character. It grows in both warm and somewhat cooler environments, but too much warmth and its flavors can become diluted. Too cool and the grapes will have high levels of acidity and harsh, unriped tannins. What makes Sangiovese particularly interesting is its ability to morph – actually altering its genetics to fit the environment.* But the various adaptations to terroir will have a substantial impact on the finished product’s aromatic and flavor profile. Throughout Italy (and the new world) there are many different mutants of this Sangiovese (at least 14 different clones exist) and they produce different tasting wines.  Sangiovese from Brunello (the DOCG within Chianti) is considered the epitome of the grape’s expression. Limestone, in particular, seems to enhance the wine’s unique and earthy quality. As far back (pre-genetic testing) as 1906 Girolamo Molon discovered that the Italian grape Sangiovese could be broadly classified as Grosso and Piccolo, the Grosso variety being grown in Brunello and producing the highest quality wine. 

A great (non-wine) book to read about how plants do this is The Botany of Desire, a Plant’s Eye View of the World  by Michael Pollan 

One of two wines tasted before the tasting. Notice the place of origin (Chile). Like many winemakers from around the globe, Col d'Orcia has vineyards in the Maule Valley and produces wine under the Erasmo label. Click this link for more information.  


"Compromises are for relationships, not wine." --- Sir Robert Scott Caywood

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a live tasting of wine from the Carinena D.O.P. (DenominaciĆ³n de Origen Protegida) of Spain (like AVA, AOC, DOGC QVA).  Wine was sent for evaluation to participants and I eagerly agreed, having tasted wines from this region before. Less well known than Rioja or Ribera del Duero, or perhaps even Rias Baixas or Jumilla, Carinena is a coming region and grabbing the attention of trendy Somms. Romans established the villa of Carae (later called Carinena) in 50 B.C., so it’s amusing to think of this region as the “coming thing.” The D.O.P. of Carinena is located in the heart of the Ebro Valley in N.E. Spain, bordered by the Pyrenees and France to the north and Catalunya to the east. By 1415, King Ferdinand I of Aragon declared a preference for the wines from Carinena referring to them as “above all others.” Flash forward to 1932 and Carinena is recognized by Spain for its unique terroir and awarded “Denomination of Origen” status (the second such in all Spain).

Soil is extremely stony, with deep layers of fractured
rock and pebbles, beneath which is a bed of limestone and clay. In fact, wine from Carinena is known in Spain as “El Vino de las Piedras” (wine of the rocks). Nutrients wash down from the landscape’s sloping hills at elevations of 400-800 meters (1312-2624 feet) into the windswept valley. Despite the proximity of the area’s three rivers, the wind currents from the “Cierzo” contribute to the vines’ disease resistance. Temperatures drop significantly at night. Winters are harshly cold.  Garnacha (Grenache) has long been grown here and thrives, producing wines with a true sense of place.  Carinena’s 29 wineries produce everything from Joven reds to Crianza and Gran Reservas from vines that may average 80 years. Within this Denomination of Origen are obviously several microclimates making site selection for viniculture a challenge but capable of bringing forth wines of distinction.  

I’ve tasted many Gran Reservas, Reservas and some Crianzas. What excited me about this label was its “entry label” pricing and that it was a Joven.  As with all wineries, Bodegas San Valero (a cooperative) produces many wines at different price points.  Joven (meaning young) wines see little or no oak aging and vines used for this label average only 20 years of age (youngsters by Carinena D.O. definition). The blend is 60% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I was happy to see Garnacha dominant in the blend, but concerned that the unaged Cabernet Sauvignon might produce green notes.

I was concerned needlessly.  In the glass, this garnet colored wine with fast moving tears offered aromas of mashed blackberry, new leather and brandied cherries with notes of white pepper.  A faint hint of green pepper (but not unpleasant) was in the taste, accompanied by forest berries. Fruit was definitely “old world” in style and there was some heat on the finish. But the magic of this young wine became evident as it does so often in Garnacha based blends from this region when given air.  Tannins were rounded even opened and poured. But with air, the wine’s fruit developed. The nose was more concentrated with black fruit. Blackberry became more evident in the taste and some spice and cassis developed as well.  For such a young wine, made to be enjoyed as such, its development impressed me. So did its price: under $10 U.S.

Bodegas San Valero was founded in 1944 by 60 winegrowers in the Carinena region and benefits from having access to the most prominent vineyards in the region.  Garnacha accounts for 31% of the D.O’s. production. On a quality to price ratio, this Castillo Ducay, as did other wines I’ve tasted from the Carinena D.O., offers extreme value.  Carinena delivers a clear expression and sense of place in bottled Garnacha.  It’s affordable and a crowd pleaser, amazingly food friendly and a perfect accompaniment to barbeque with its fruit to acid balance. Pair it with roasts, stews and red sauced or grilled chicken or tapas (no surprise). referred to wines from the Carinena D.O. in Spain as being “crowd pleasing” with “Carinena being the next big thing.” Wine & Spirits said “Carinena is a place for discovery.” The SOMM Journal stated, “Fruit forward Garnacha at a value price point, these are wines for every day.” Personally, I find them a bargain and with a profile sharing the medium tannin, medium acidity and fruitiness of Merlot, but with an old world style of fruit, less forward, more refined - particularly as they evolve with air. In another sense, Garnacha from Carinena falls between Nebbiolo and Merlot in style, with Merlot becoming more evident as the wine airs. When a Joven can do all this, it speaks well of the grape’s roots.

…………….. Jim

Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

Like Wine Mizer on facebook for mini wine reviews, industry news, fun facts, occasional puzzles, food and wine pairing suggestions and more.

Incidental Info
Vines for this bottling are grown at an elevation of 2,100 feet, sourced specifically from the Monte Ducay vineyard, one of the most characteristic terroirs in Carinena . Maceration is 14 days at 76-82 degrees F followed by fermentation for 7 days. Juice is unoaked. ALC 13.5%.


MIRAVAL ROSE (Cotes De Provence)

“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful …..” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Reading Goethe as a high school student decades ago wasn’t exactly a beautiful experience. But fast-forward to the 21st century and I think he was on to something. This wine is a sense of the beautiful.  Just its color shimmering through the glass on the store shelf was seductive. Rose water. Petals with their essence extracted. Pure essence. If you cook Indian dishes and use rose water, you have an understanding of this color.  So I bought it, years ago, albeit reluctantly. I don’t like “celebrity” wines.  Wines with photos of long dead movie stars on the label; stars that had never worked a vineyard and whose only association with wine was that they could afford to drank too much of it. There is a chasm between marketing and winemaking, though I understand the need to bridge it if the business is to continue. But when a company indifferently relies more upon the skill of its marketing than upon its winemaking, they fail to attract me.  Labels with offensive double entendres, labels with photos of sports stars whose light has long diminished and never shined upon a vine anyway, singers…. oh, just spare me. Count me out.

But I bought Miraval years ago and have been buying it every year since my first taste.  Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought the estate in 2012 for an estimated cost of $60 million. Learning that actually discouraged me from buying the wine. Would this become just another wine whose appeal was its connection to movie stars?  I don’t follow their lives in fan magazines; don’t care about whom they marry or what they do off-screen.  And the bottle is oddly shaped making storage difficult and the label contains no information about the wine.  Was this another example of more attention being paid to marketing at the expense of making a good wine? Miraval was launched on Valentine’s Day in 2013 and the first 6000 bottles were sold out in five hours.  Oh, oh: the heard was being moved, it seemed, by stardom not quality. Even worse: the wine had previously been released (pre Pitt-Jolie) under the name “Pink Floyd” after the rock band that recorded “The Wall” in Miraval’s recording studio.  This had the markings of stardom fancying itself for an encore. 

But then I learned that the Perrin family was involved. Perrin on wine is like the words “Gold Note” on older paper currency.  It adds value. Wine Spectator ranked the first vintage of Miraval at 84 out of the year’s Top 100 wines of 2013. It was the only rose wine included. Decanter described its elegance and its mouthwatering finish. Turns out grapes for Miraval are selected from the best parcels: Muriers, Longue, Romarin and selected also from the best terroirs of Provence with clay and limestone soil and from elevation of about 1,247 feet: cool temperature vineyards with large diurnal swings. Turns out too that grapes are harvested in the early morning to preserve the fruit’s fresh character, and they’re sorted twice.

Grapes used are Cinsault, Grenache, Rolle and Syrah, the
Took a while to get the color right
taking the photo. It's all about
the lighting. Note: this is not a 750ml
bottle (also oddly shaped) but 1.5 liters.

latter being partially vinified using the “saignee” method. Similar to “drawing off,” “saignee” involves removing only a portion of the juice from its skin contact, the remainder being retained for use in red wine production. Rose made in this method will have higher acid, though it’s important to remember that in Miraval, only the Syrah is vinified this way and only a portion of it is  so used. Rolle may be better known as Vermentino, a light skinned wine grape made famous from Italy.  As in so many things of beauty, the composition is greater than its individual parts.  Call it teamwork. In the case of Miraval, call it experienced expert winemaking.

 Only 5% of the juice sees wood (with batonnage). The rest is vinified in temperature controlled stainless, or what I personally think qualifies as the greatest advance in winemaking since yeast was first discovered. The result is a wine that speaks freshness with delicate aromas of white flowers. Mineral notes with a sense of salinity. Lovely balance and seamless integration of raspberry, wild strawberry (I grew them, but then were they no longer wild?), cherry, pear, white tea and rose water. As with all wines of quality, for me, it’s not the individual taste notes (which can be discerned), bit how those notes play together. In Miraval, it’s a symphony of finesse.

Marc Perrin has said that Angelina and Brad have been intimately involved in the wine making process, attending “rose blending sessions” and helping to design a new shape and label for the bottle (the latter being something obviously successful but of which I’m not a fan). But as for the wine, I am a fan though I must disclose that when it comes to Rose wine, I have a preference for those of Provence.   

Decanter reports that the winery is considering making a red Provence wine in the style of Italy’s Super Tuscans (labeled as IGT because they don’t meet criteria of grapes or percentages of them used in Italy’s DOC and DOGC classification.  “We are planning to experiment with different grape varieties, from Syrah and Mourvedre to Cabernet Franc and others,” said March Perrin.  “There are no conclusions yet, but we will be happy to use the Vins de France label if need be.”

What spring-boarded California to world attention resulted from its ability to innovate and an appellation system not based on varietals but only zone.  As a lover of “old world” wine I have an appreciation of “old world” requirements: varietals must include certain percentages of particular grapes to be labeled with the appellation.  Yields must be restricted to meet established standards and there are other requirements.  So called IGT wines are not inferior to DOGC labeled wines; they just don’t meet the standard for DOGC or DOC labeling.  Wines labeled simply as “Vin de France”   (that term replaces the older “Vin de Table) allows for wines that are multi-regional and multi-varietal. Whether such a wine from Miraval will be “good” will ultimately depend upon the site decisions, the winemaker and consumers.  Personally, I look forward to Miraval’s introduction.

…………….. Jim
Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences”  . Audre Lorde

Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris. Same grape. Different white wines; so different in taste that many people don’t realize both are made from the same grape.  Consider Syrah and Shiraz as the same but different grape in the red category, though I think the Grigio/Gris style is even more pronounced. Here, in the U.S., the Grigio style has won the pocketbook vote of consumers. It is a light, crisp, citrusy-fruity but dry white wine that is easily enjoyed and easily affordable.  A good choice in the summer outdoors, it is picnic palatable, goes nicely with seafood in restaurants and if you open a bottle with visiting friends everyone will be comfortable with it.  No wonder it became so popular!

Northeastern Italy is the epicenter of Pinot Grigio viniculture
About as far northeast as you can go.
and production. Here the cool temperatures assure grapes of increased acidity to provide the mouthwatering finish that consumers love.  Since the grape itself is not naturally high in acid, grapes in Friuli, Venezia, and Guila are picked early (thankfully not so as to make for an offensive vegetative character – timing is everything) while acids are relatively high and sugar not at its peak. Fermentation and storage is traditionally done in stainless-steel tanks in order to preserve freshness, fruit and the “zing” quality of Grigio.  Seldom is oak used as it would add weight and tertiary notes not consumer associated with the style.  Pinot Gris, with grapes ripened, is rich and weightier. It is heavier in mouthfeel and (for me) makes a better match for some fish meals. 

I enjoy both styles.  Each serves its purpose. But I know from experience that success breeds imitation and over production and waves of watery thin and quaffable but overpriced Pinot Grigio have washed ashore.  I wanted something different.  Yes, there’s a PG or two out there that have become my “go-to” Pinot Grigios.  But, tasting wine as frequently as I have comes with the potential of jading the palate and I wanted something different. It was time to experiment. Pinot Grigio, yes, but not my “go to” wine.  Different, but same.  Fortunately, I found what I was looking for within the glass of a bottle of Blasson Wines’ Pinot Grigio (2015).  As for northeast Italy, Giovanni Blasson’s winery is only ten miles from Italy’s eastern border with Slovenia. About as far northeast in cool temperature Italy as you can go. His D.O.C. Pinot Grigio immediately commanded my palate’s attention as most PG wines have not for sometime. Yes, this was Pinot Grigio. The nose offered Meyer lemon, ripe-ripe pear, salinity and notes of white flower, but all so reserved. I know tasters that referred to a nose that “jumped” from the glass, but that was not my experience. This was refined, subtle, and artful. I was interested.

Then came texture. Pinot Grigio is, for me, not a palate weighted wine.  But this had body. It had texture like a Pinot Gris. Still, the fruit was there; all the traditional fruit so expected of Grigio: lime, lemon (Meyer), kiwi, and fresh cut red apple and with a whisper of melon (orange).  It finished with a bitter green apple taste. For a Pinot Grigio, this was becoming complex. The acidity was there, but – like the fruit – melded into a tapestry of elegance and reserved finesse.  Blasson juice is never oaked, but benefits from gentle lees stirring which accounts for the richness and adds elegance, while maintaining the expected fruit of the style. Found at Vin Chicago for $10 retail, it didn’t just excite my palate, it pleased my pocketbook.  It was different. It was good. It was a positive palate exciting experiment I will be repeating.

Cent' anni 
Wine Mizer is not a “dba” because it does not do any business. Truth be told, it is a not-for-profit non-corporation, money-losing sole-proprietorship venture.  Such assures you, however, that opinions are unbiased. Wine Mizer accepts no advertisements. Support this venture by “Liking” Wine Mizer on facebook.

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Azienda Agricola di Giovanni Blason
Estate Bottled
Country: Italy
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Sub Region (Appelation): Isonzo del Friuli D.O.C.
Alc: 12.5%
Imported by: Terraneo Merchants: 



“Listen, Peaches, trickery is what humans are all about," said the voice of Maurice. "They're so keen on tricking one another all the time that they elect governments to do it for them.”  -- Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents

Many restaurants will not show wines on their list that are available at retail outlets because if you know the retail price, you could lose your appetite by what you were being charged at that restaurant for the same wine.  A wine that I enjoy with oysters for example, Juan Gill (a dry Muscat) retails for $10. At my local oyster haunt, ordering it will tack $50 onto the bill except on half-price bottle night when it is $25. The restaurant’s cost for that bottle is around $7.50.  It’s a very good wine, goes nicely with oysters and other seafood, but at $50 it will sour your stomach. Let me mention – before you do – that I would prefer a Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, but none are offered. And the Juan Gil does very well.

Anyway to avoid this embarrassment, some restaurants purchase “on-premise” wines. These are wines specifically labeled for restaurants and not available in grocery stores.  Lots of wineries make “on-premise” wines. Sycamore Lane’s Pinot Grigio is an example. It’s from Trinchero Family Estates in Napa, though you won’t see the name Trinchero anywhere on the bottle.  I was able to find one big box retailer that carried this wine, but generally, you won’t see it on the shelves of liquor stores.  In fact, the website states: “Because
Sycamore Lane wines are not sold at retail, cost comparisons will never be an issue, so you can price this house wine appropriately.”  A bottle of Sycamore Lane at the restaurant I enjoyed it at recently (with a Caprese salad) cost $24.  The advertised case price to the restaurant is $68.29 bringing their cost down to $5.69 per bottle (less with large orders).  Actually, that markup (321%) is not uncommon and better than the dry Muscat at 566% (though at half price, the Muscat is a great deal (233%). 
Then, there is custom labeling as in the example of Starved Rock Merlot, made by Rutherford Wine Company of St. Helena California.  Starved Rock is a state park in Illinois and no wines are made in the park, certainly not Merlot.  The label clearly states it is from California and Rutherford is identified on the label.  It’s labeled for local sales at gift shops, hotels, retail stores and other outlets.  Many wineries offer custom labeling and you can have labels from some wineries made to occasion almost anything: birthdays, anniversaries or almost anything per whatever standards the individual winery may have.  You can order wine and have it labeled with your name as in “Bob’s Select Cabernet Sauvignon,” though if your name is Charlie you may not want to do that. Rutherford’s site states that “Exclusive Branding Private Label Programs” enhance image and build customer loyalty, and “offer customers a uniquely branded wine unavailable in retail” and, perhaps most important to sellers: “Realize increased margins over nationally branded wines.”

Rutherford’s Merlot isn’t made exclusively for Starved Rock.  It’s labeled for Starved Rock and is the same Merlot that Rutherford makes and labels for other outlets through their Private Label Program. At $17 retail for this bottle, it’s nicely priced and tasty enough not to cause indigestion.  In the lodge’s restaurant at Starved Rock, expect to pay about $30, which should not spoil your appetite.  In fact, at about 300% markup (from their cost, not retail), it was the best deal of the three examples, discounting half price bottle night in the first example. But such markups will vary from restaurant to restaurant. Before I leave this mention of Private Labeling, let’s consider that the purpose of this type of labeling is broader than simply increasing margins.  It considers the “cutesy” factor of souvenir labeling.  For many, there’s a value to that.

And there’s nothing deceptive about a restaurant charging $50 for a nationally branded wine that retails for $10.  Whether that’s smart, well that’s another matter. Caveat emptor, after all. The information is out there. Full disclosure. And the restaurant will not refuse you service if you don’t buy wine. With wages, rents, waste, equipment costs, insurance, licensing and so many other costs, restaurants whine that their margins on food are so thin that they need these markups on alcohol to remain in business.  Whether that markup should be five times the consumer’s retail cost is ultimately each consumer’s decision.  One could argue that reducing that markup would net more sales, but I have to assume the bean counters have already analyzed that potential. No matter what you may think of these markups, there’s nothing deceptive about them.

Then too, you could probably say the same about “on-premise” labeling. Many restaurants will offer diners a small taste of a wine when asked. Then it’s up to you to decide if the wine is worth the price. In “blind” wine tastings, tasters are not allowed to see the bottles lest it influence any ratings the tasters assign.  I’ve tasted wines of lower cost which I rated higher than those costing more. No surprise there.   But it’s the intention of “on-premise” labeling that instinctively bothers me.  It is centered on deception, fooling the customer. Worse: “on-premise” labeling restricts the consumer’s ability to learn about the wine. Seldom will you even know the winery. For certain, you’ll not be able to learn anything about its vinification.  For people who deeply love wine, this is the greatest affront. 

Did “on premise” labeling come about by the greed of restaurants and their scheme to keep customers in the dark?  Was it simply a business decision that was made because customers won’t acknowledge the restaurant’s cost of doing business and their need to expand profit margins in order to remain in business?  I don’t have the answer, but like you – like us all – I have the power of choice.  Personally, I find five times retail cost objectionable. But complaining to a server accomplishes nothing other than adding grief to their day. Consider sending a note to the owner or corporate headquarters.  If it’s met without sufficient explanation or a change in pricing, explain why you won’t be returning. 

One more consumer note: usually the restaurant’s cost (not price) for the bottle is met with the price they charge you for one glass.  If the price of a glass is shown as $8, you may assume that’s what they paid for the entire bottle.  Assume 4-5 glasses per bottle, look at the price of the bottle and do the math. In most cases, you’re better off buying the bottle. Then decide as an educated consumer if you want to do a wine purchase. Voting with your pocketbook does eventually get noticed.

……………. Jim
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“The best wines are those we drink with friends.” …… unknown

A miser could be taken to mean a person who is reluctant to spend, but it can be used also to describe someone who has a proclivity to hoard or, to be nice, – collect.  So when I chose the name Wine Mizer1 for this blog, it was an acknowledgement that my actions can at times fit either definition.  I have a reasonable collection, but included within it are many value wines.  If you’re a longtime reader, you already know that most reviews here have been for wines with retail prices below $30. Today it is not, though I still consider the wine (priced at $60 - $120) a good value. 

Now for the shocker. Remember, the French label their wine by region, not by the grape.  So “Blanc Fume de Pouilly” in the name may not be helpful toward knowing the varietal.  Translated, it reads “White smoke of Pouiilly.” “Domaine Didier Dagueneau” is the name of the Chateau (or “Estate” in the U.S.) Again, no help perhaps.  But you may have heard of Pouilly Fume, the AOC in the Central Vineyards (which are NOT central, but at the easternmost area) of the Loire Valley.  Pouilly-Fume sits across the river from Sancerre.  O.K. Let me just get to it: This is Sauvignon Blanc!

You’re thinking, “$100+ for Sauvignon Blanc?”  After all, every country makes it. You can buy it for less than $10. Why oh why would you spend ten times that?  All I can say in my defense is that a canned product of pork shoulder and ham with salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate is meat and so is filet mignon. And while I have enjoyed many a delicious Sauvignon Blanc (both French and non), none have matched the experience. As in so many things, it’s a question of degrees.

Soils in the Pouilly-Fume (stony, chalky, well-drained and with marine fossils) are much the same as in Sancerre but with more flint. But, unlike Sancerre, no red wines are made here.  The climate is continental with severe winters and hot summers. As with Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc produced here is in a style more restrained than that of New Zealand’s. 

The Dagueneaus have long worked to finesse the best from Savignon Blanc.  Selecting sites, blending juice and working with top coopers using very low-toast barrels, uniquely shaped to nuance the benefit of lees contact and specific oxygen exchange, the end result is a wine that transcends both definition and your expectation. Best said, perhaps, by Eric Asimov of the New York Times in his obituary of Didier Dagueneau (who died Sept. 17, 2008): “Tasting a Dagueneau wine for the first time was a revelation. His Sauvignon Blancs had an unexpected purity and clarity to them. The flavors were intense but nuanced. It wasn’t the fruit that was piercing, as in so many Sauvignon Blancs, but the freshness and the focus. As powerful a personality as he was, his wines did not exalt the stature of the winemaker so much as the beauty of the terroir.”
Didier was survived by his son (Louis Benjamin) and daughter, Charlotte, who have maintained the passionate commitment of Didier in producing wines that bring out the natural minerality of the soil and are palate poems of balance and harmony made even more seductive by aroma of acacia.

I keep saying that all palates are personal, and they are. A little web-trolling in preparing for this review popped up one reference to “greenish, grassy aromas” and another of “underlying herbal/grassy notes” and one more of “green grass” on the nose.  I didn’t get any of this and I’m glad I didn’t.  In discussing why his wines never undergo malolactic fermentation, Louis-Benjamin said, “It’s no problem to wait for malic acidity to decrease when the grapes are at 12 degrees of potential alcohol. When they’re at 14 and you still feel that you have to wait for the malic, then that’s what gives you anxiety. We’d rather make a wine with a little more alcohol than we’d ideally like, rather than pick earlier and still have herbaceous flavors. There’s nothing worse than sauvignon with green flavors, like asparagus.” (emphasis mine).

Others referred to passionfruit, honeydew, guava, fresh cantaloupe. Some of these flavors are there but, for me, much subordinated to the citrus of preserved lemon, lime, quince and orange zest. Some white peach. A thread of smoky minerality weaves throughout the citrus along with a hint of salinity. Fruit, for me, was more applely than tropical, but again, all palates are personal. Along with this incredibly seamless weaving of tastes is an acidity that cleanses the palate, makes for a mouthwatering invite to another sip and is yet artfully unobtrusive. Dry, racy, complex – especially for a white – this wine is at the top of the pecking order of Loire Sauvignon. Despite all the citrus, there is a roundness and silkiness to this wine.

Another measure of quality is the cellaring potential of this wine. Most Sauvignon Blanc is meant to be enjoyed young.  But Domaine Didier Dagueneau’s sauvignons are famed for their longevity. This wine (a 2010) is drinkable (easily) through 2024 under good storage conditions. If you’re sensing I’m excited about this wine, know that I’m in good company. Robert Parker awarded it 93-94 points. Stephen Tanzer gave it 92. Jancis Robinson assigned it a score of 17.5 out of 20 potential points. Those are all grades, as I remember them, of A.

Younger people today talk about the experience. Allegedly they eschew material goods, forsaking the purchase of automobiles and relying instead upon purchased rides. It’s all about the vacation to a distant land rather than a possession.  It’s the memory of an event more than an item. Seems then that a Domaine Dagueneau Silex would be perfect, both for the experience and the memory of it. I know it was for me.  Speaking of me, let me add that I found this bottle as an “End of Bin” in a big box store.  Retail was $115. I bought it for $48. Rather Mizerly don’t you think?

……… Jim
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1. Ben Franklin was a strong proponent of phonetic spelling. I think he would approve.

Incidental Tech Info
Domaine Didier Dagueneau Silex is a blend from two parcels. One of hard, dense clay and flint on the upper part of the Saint Andelain hillside and the other of limestone. Alcohol ranges between 13–14.2%. Acidity is 6.2g/L. Wines are held in oak (elongated cigare pipes, barriques, demi-muids and foudres) for their first year, then transferred to vat for 5-7 months before bottling.  Imported by Connoisseur Wines.

Sorry about the length. The wine deserved respect.