Sipping and Spitting 

Must-haves and havenots for spring sampling.

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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.

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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.

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