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A Note on Ratings

Forget the 100-point system, and the stars/cups system along with it.  I find these things useless.  For starters, what is the criterion?  Is it always simply about subjective notions of what is good?  What about value – I’ve had countless wines that were pretty delicious, but would never buy them again at that price point.  And what exactly is the difference between an 89-point wine and a 91-point wine, again?  Why have five stars when you keep adding halves and quarters?

What we have opted for instead is a system of adjectives that actually tell you something useful about the wine.  Each category is explained below.

Everyday Red/White

This is the most price sensitive category.  The thinking here on splitting it out between reds and whites is that you generally know which you are in the mood for with respect to day-to-day drinking.  This is the wine you choose on a random Tuesday night to go with a nondescript dinner at home.  The category concentrates in the $12-15 price range and is dominated by trusty, buy-it-by-the-case selections.

Impressive

This is the wine that you take to dinner at the boss’s house or a dinner party with friends.  It’s less price sensitive than the Everyday category, but unlikely to top $25.  These wines are for when you’re feeling special or wanting to make a good impression.

Stunning

This is the wine that you save for when you’re trying to impress that special date, or simply want to treat yourself.  This is the least price sensitive category, though could easily run only $20.  It’s home to wines you’ll want to horde for yourself and maybe that friend that really knows wine.  Pare these with cheese and let them shine!

Meh

Initially we did not intend to include a negative category, but realized quickly that not doing so could easily lead to re-purchasing disappointing bottles.  Something got you to buy that first bottle, so why take the risk of making the same mistake twice?  Most of these will be a question of value:  here is where you will find that $50 bottle that just didn’t live up to the hype.  You won’t find $10 bottles here.

Prazo de Roriz – Douro, Portugal

This young beauty starts with a refreshing blueberry and blackberry bouquet.  Violets and crushed flowers lead into a fast, berry-heavy start with tinges of vanilla.  Very nice.  The fruit rolls in with some slatey tannins – not too much – to bring it to a tight, luscious finish.  A very pleasant wine, medium bodied and delicious.  I expected less and got a lot.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Prazo de Roriz
  • Winery: Prats and Symington
  • Region: Douro
  • Country: Portugal
  • Varietals:
  • Price: $17
  • Where to Buy: wine.com

Quimera 2011 – Mendoza, Argentina

A deep, rich beauty that will make you fall in love with Argentina all over again, from one of her finest wine houses.  A blend of Bordeaux grapes that really shows off all the classic flavors:  dense vanilla and tobacco notes, red fruit and white pepper.  Well-structured with nice tannins that will hold her for years to come, but she’s ready to drink today if you’d like.  The French oak, in a mix of new and one year old, keeps the oak nice and mellow – not overpowering like many California and Washington wines.  I always trust Achaval Ferrer, but was nonetheless impressed by this offering.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Quimera 2011
  • Winery: Achaval Ferrer
  • Region: Mendoza
  • Country: Argentina
  • Varietals: 38% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot
  • Price: ~$32
  • Where to Buy: Connecticut Ave. Wine & Liquor

Pepe Hillo – Sevilla, Spain

If you find yourself wandering around the Arenal district of Sevilla, near the legendary Plaza de Toros, and are in need of refreshment, there’s only one place to go:  Pepe Hillo.  This traditional tapas tavern has a mid-twentieth century inspired-décor with tons of old bric-a-brac, newspapers, and – yep – mounted noggins of famous fighting bulls that make you feel like Joselito himself is going to tap you on the shoulder any minute.  This is the kind of establishment that Spain’s meteoric rise in the period immediately after joining the Eurozone, and its population’s rush to embrace a future whose glaringly bright promise never quite arrived, placed on the endangered list.  Old men are serving you and old men are sitting nearby nursing their late afternoon or lunch drinks, though quick with that wit topped with feigned arrogance that the Spaniards of Andalucia are so famous for.

If your Spanish is up to the task, you can get a decent amount of banter out of the comically cranky barkeeps.  If not, you’ll still manage to lay your hands on fine examples of Andalucian tapas.  Pulpo (exquisite octopus, grilled or fried), anchoas (anchovies like nothing you’ve tasted), various tortillas (a type of omelet, primarily of egg and potato), gazpacho, cola de toro (succulent stewed bull’s tail), and all manner of lovely jamóns

Salmorejo Pepe
Salmorejooo Cordobeeeees!!

famously cured in the nearby mountains.  But the real star of the show, their virtuoso performance that you can scarcely find anywhere else, and, for my money, one of the most refreshing Summer treats around, is the amazing Salmorejo Cordobés.

Just what is this salmorejo, you might ask?  A shorthand might be gazpacho’s rich cousin.  Whereas a gazpacho might be made primarily of tomatoes and present almost like a refreshing vegetable drink, a salmorejo should be a rich, creamy, emulsified cold soup only capable of being taken via a bowl and spoon.  Boiled egg, Serrano or Ibérico jamón, and only the finest olive oil forms the holy trinity of delicious garnishes on the top.  I’ve had it with olive oil preserved tuna in place of the jamón, but only once.  I will go so far as to suggest that you not only order this rare and delicious beauty, but that you have it before ordering anything else just in case your taste buds drive you to order a second helping before moving to other portions of the menu.

As with many places in Spain, if you’re squeamish about bullfighting or a strict vegetarian, this may not be the place for you.  As with many of my most favorite spots, a friendly local told me about this place and I’m damn glad I engaged the chap.  You don’t have to be a fan of  tauromaquia to enjoy a stop in Pepe Hillo, but a sense of joie de vivre and an adventurous appetite will serve you well.

Pepe Hillo, Calle Adriano 24, 41001 Sevilla, Spain

Peloro – Faro, Italy

Fresh flowers and moss on the nose.  Yep.  Fresh and mossy.  A light bodied red fruit explosion sneaks up on the front end, with a hint of vanilla.  Some pleasant green tannins bring this one to an abrupt close, and a lingering hit of that same freshness as it fades out to warm tannins.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Peloro Terre Siciliane Rosso 2014
  • Winery: Le Casematte SRL
  • Region: Faro (Sicily)
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: 70% Nerella Mascalese, 30% Nocera
  • Price: $21
  • Where to Buy: S&R Liquors

Shardana 2010 – Sardinia, Italy

Dank, dark, and rusty on the front end, like some old shipwreck pulled up out of the sea.  Nice tannins, leather, and some hints of vanilla.  This is a tough beauty.  Prunes and dark, black fruit.  A tight finish from not inconsequential tannins.  Excellent with seafood and fennel.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Shardana 2010
  • Winery: Neil Empson and Santadi
  • Region: Valle de Porto Pino, Sardinia
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: 85% Carignano, 15% Shiraz
  • Price: $28
  • Where to Buy:   Litteri

Brasserie Georges – Lyon, France

If you’ve ever imagined yourself sitting in a sprawling French café next to the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, and Edith Piaf in a scene torn from the pages of A Moveable Feast, this is your spot.  Originally opened in 1836 by Alsatian transplant Georges Holfherr, this Georges Dininggrande dame sits alongside Lyon’s old train station Perrache and features exquisite décor from the last two centuries.  I found it because it’s a mere five minute stroll from the law faculty of the Catholic University of Lyon, where I teach as a guest professor in an executive course once a year.  It’s a gorgeous space with substantial history, not all of which is readily discussed in polite company.

Unfortunately, I’ve only ever visited for one of the expansive lunches that the French are so well known for.  The daily menu is exquisite and changes regularly.  As to be expected, service is achieved with the crisp efficiency of a thoroughly professional staff who whisk away plates and crumbs, sliding into place the next course with the Georges Stewelegance of a well conducted orchestra.  The food – all courses – are tip-top brasserie fare, with less reliance on the typical local delicacies of organ meat and offal that one encounters in the city’s legendary bouchons.  That is, typically French, but not specifically Lyonnaise.  Regardless, you can’t go wrong by following the chef’s daily suggestions in this bustling open space – perhaps the largest restaurant of its kind in Europe.

Now to the bit of history that Georges doesn’t advertise, with the caveat that this is all still under investigation.  I was first told about this by a local who may or may not have been correct in pointing it out.  With that disclaimer, one cannot help but notice the flooring tiles featuring one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable symbols:  the swastika.  As it was related to me, during the World War II the Germans first took the southern portion of Lyon, with the northern portion continuing to fight on for some time before falling.  During that time, Georges Floorthe German army favored Georges, using it as a beer house and social center.  As with some parts of Europe, some evidence of the occupation survived the death of the “Butcher of Lyon.”  Hence, what you might notice today if you have the misfortune, as I did, of dropping your salad fork.

Consider this a lovely, reliable spot to haul a group for a delicious and lively meal with an exuberant atmosphere – Lyon’s true specialty.

Brasserie Georges, 30 Cours de Verdun Perrache, 69002 Lyon, France

 

 

Sheridan Vineyard Boss Block – Yakima Valley, Washington

A very American wine – too much oak that obscures the grape and the terroir.  Tastes like cherry vanilla ice cream.  Yes, that’s crazy talk.  Drops off at the end with cola flavors and a dark cocoa, chewy tobacco finish.  Pleasant, but not my cup of tea.  At this price point I probably won’t be buying this again – or anything from this group, but have a hard time waiving people off it.  If you like this style of wine – heavily oaked obsessive single-grape varietal wine, you’ll enjoy this wine.  I bought this for reasons that should be obvious and it reminds me of something Georges dos Santos of Antic Wines said to me the first time I met him regarding Washington wine:  “it’s good that they like it.”  Again, it’s a question of style and this just isn’t mine, regardless of the name.

  • Rating: Meh, for stylistic reasons
  • Name: Boss Block 2014
  • Winery: Sheridan Vineyard
  • Region: Yakima Valley
  • Country: Washington, USA
  • Varietals: Cabernet Franc
  • Price: $35-50
  • Where to Buy: Total Wine

Domus Pensi – Terra Alta, Spain

Somehow both fresh and leathery on the nose.  Ripe red and black fruits on the front end, flowing quickly into tannin-laden leather notes and a faint hint of violets.  This is a young one, but a beauty.  All those powerful notes, but still somehow manages to hold a medium body, feeling fresh and clean in the mouth.  It went equally well with heavy Italian sausage as it did with lighter Portuguese seafood paté.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Domus Pensi 2013
  • Winery: Altavins Viticultors SL
  • Region: Terra Alta
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: 45% Cabernet, 30% Garnacha, 15% Syrah, 10% Merlot
  • Price: ~$25
  • Where to Buy: Total Wine

Casa Guedes, Porto, Portugal

With apologies to my Jewish and Muslim friends, I did not make this rule:  the name of the game in Porto is Pork-o.  Like, for real.  While true for most of the Iberian peninsula, this little rule seems to be magnified in Portugal’s second city . . . much to the disappointment of my travel companion who was excited to break his Yom Kippur fast Casa Guedes outdoorsoon after landing.  Our gracious AirBNB host gave us more great recommendations than we were ever able to hit, but his stories so frequently included roast pork and the local favorite francesinha sandwich (think Portuguese Hot Brown with ham, sausage, roast beef, coated in a cheese and tomato sauce) that we had to do a bit of our own searching.  Casa Guedes, however, had enough options on offer that we made it work.

This little family run spot sits at the corner of the pleasant park Jardim de São Lázaro.  As with most of Porto, the locals that have been going there for years seem fascinated by the trickle of foreigners that seem to be coming in ever growing waves.  (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor.)  Still, it’s a mostly locals spot and the counter service staff gets a kick out of foreigners who can actually manage to order in proper Portuguese.  While the bolinhos de bacalhau (classic Portuguese codfish balls) and fresh country

Casa Guedes Sande de Pernil
The Star of the Show – pernil sande!

cheese are worthy companions to the Super Bock on tap, the real star of the show here is the pernil sande – slow roasted pork sandwich.  I chose the version with fresh cheese and it was to die for.  I say this, mind you, with many years of consuming Cuban lechón straight off the Caja China and 12-hour Kentucky-smoked pork under my belt.  But beware:  you will most likely end up getting two or more and having your friends roll you out of here in a wheelbarrow.  If you’re lucky enough to visit on a warm day, have an espresso or two on the terrace to recover.  Bom apetito!

 

 

Casa Guedes, Praça dos Poveiros 130, 4000-098, Porto, Portugal

 

 

Bruno Giacosa 2015 – Dolcetto d’Alba, Italy

A pretty little medium bodied red with no surprises.  Luscious, with red fruit and faint leather and grass notes.  This one is easy-drinking and plays well with a variety of foods and moods.  Don’t think, just drink.

  • Rating: Everyday Red
  • Name: Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’Alba 2015
  • Winery: Bruno Giacosa
  • Region: Dolcetto d’Alba
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Dolcetto
  • Price: ~$25
  • Where to Buy: com