Perhaps you feel like I do—that the new wine store on 300 West has been a very early Christmas gift for wine lovers. Not that we don’t still love the 3rd & 3rd store, but for me at least, the new wine store has been the source of many new wine discoveries.
In particular, I find myself spending a lot of time in the Spanish, Chile, Argentina and South Africa wine aisles, picking and choosing from all those economically-priced bottles from Penedés, Casablanca Valley, Mendoza, Cape of Good Hope and beyond. As always, when it comes to wine, I like to remind readers that your mileage may vary. A wine I loathe might be one you love, and vice versa. I can’t tell you what wines to buy or which ones to shun; I can only tell you which ones float my boat, and which sink it.
The Spanish grape Xarel-lo is a mainstay for that country’s sparkling cava wines, and you don’t see it all that much as still wine. But Castell Roig Xarel-lo 2005 ($7.99) from Penedés makes the case: switchblade-sharp acidity and slightly effervescent, this is a very good food wine with apricot and atypical stone-fruit aromas combined with crisp, clean tangerine, grapefruit and peach flavors. Xarel-lo is a flexible food wine but one that belongs especially with shellfish. It’s one of my favorite discoveries of 2009.
Another interesting find from Spain—this time from the mountainous Montsant region—is Afinus G2 2007 ($8.99), made by winemaker Jordi Alonso from 100 percent Garnacha, sourced from 60-year-old vines. Lots of raspberry, strawberry and cherry scents lead to ripe cranberry and cherry flavors on the palate. The wine is light-bodied, making it a good spring/summer sipper, silky in texture and reminiscent of Pinot Noir at a third the price. Afinus G2 has Margherita pizza written all over it.
Its shameful history of apartheid aside, I don’t have anything against South Africa. Really, I don’t. Yet, I have an awfully bad batting average with that nation’s wines. My latest strikeout was with Southern Right Pinotage 2007 ($22.99) from the Cape of Good Hope. I should probably just stop buying Pinotage, since to me the South African variety inevitably has a fleshy, smoky, petroleum nose and flavor that I abhor. To me, this is definitely one to spit. On the other hand, it’s a 90-pointer in Wine Spectator, so judge for yourself.
Another dreadful wine, in my opinion, is the insipid Provincia di Pavia 2006 ($5.99) rendition of Pinot Noir from Redwood Creek and Frei Brothers Vineyards. Tasting like sugar-free Kool-Aid, the best use I can think of for this wimpy Pinot is as a base for sangria.
Two Argentine wines recently grabbed my attention. I’d tasted Luigi Bosca Reserva Malbec 2005 ($17.99) from Mendoza last year and found it a bit brutish. But just a few months in the bottle seem to have softened it considerably. Still, it’s a big, muscular Malbec that begs to be sipped with a steak straight off the grill. Also worthy of your attention is La Posta 2006 Cocina Blend ($14.99) of Malbec, Bonarda and Syrah. Rich plum and cherry flavors mingle with spicy black pepper, vanilla and coffee bean to round out this velvety soft-tannin wine. It’s a bison burger’s best buddy.
It’s worth a slight splurge ($24.99) for Chile’s Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2007. This sensual, voluptuous Pinot has classic strawberry, plum and raspberry aromas and flavors along with a hint of smoke— very versatile with food.