Sassarini Sciacchetra 2017 – Cinque Terre, Italy

A refreshing nose, with light autumn fruits and a hint of vanilla.  Caramel, pears, and apples hit immediately, with a clean light feel.  Clear, tawny coloring.  Zero tannin, but nice acid.  Fresh clean acid on the nose throughout.  Finishes clean and light with a nice lingering flavor of cider and that caramel warmth.  This is the 50th anniversary bottling from Sassarini and was the last bottle they had at Il Borgo di Campi’s restaurant, near Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre.  This Italian traditional dessert wine is rarely found outside of Cinque Terre because it’s made to be drunk soon after production – a laborious process that includes drying white grapes like bosco and vermentino before fermentation.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Sassarini Sciaccehtra 2017
  • Winery: Cantina Sassarini
  • Region: Cinque Terre
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Unlabeled
  • Price: $50
  • Where to Buy: Il Borgo di Campi Restaurant

ArmAs – Aragatsotn, Armenia

So, anyone heard of Armenian wines? If not, you will soon. I was in Yerevan for a recent work trip and happened to be visiting a bunch of agricultural sites, many of which were growing grapes. This country’s soils are so well-suited for orchards, particularly grapes, because of their volcanic or bouldery geology. All are very well-drained and the climate affords them enough sunlight and water stress to push them to the max. The grapes have traditionally been used to make exceptional cognac, but now the farmers are waking up to the fact that they have excellent conditions to grow world class table wines. This is not unlike the Spanish epiphany of the late 1990s or the Portuguese awakening of the early-mid 200os.

Now to the wine: it is ripe, tight, and spicy. Its native grapes reminded me of the Norton varietal here in the mid-Atlantic USA; very bold and very unique. I reckon that this will be drinking well for years to come. Sheridan, be thankful that I got a bottle for you too…

·         Rating: Impressive

·         Name: Karmrahyut Dry Red Wine

·         Winery: ArmAs

·         Region: Aragatsotn Province

·         Country: Armenia

·         Varietals: Karmrahyut, Areni, Kakhet, Meghrabuyr

·         Price: $12

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

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

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

L’assemblage de Coeur Rouge 2016 – Vaude, Switzerland

A fresh and mellow expression of these varietals popular in Switzerland.  The nose has fresh white pepper and a spacious red fruit.  Not dense, but enveloping.  More red fruit on the palate with a green wood freshness, rather than mustiness.  Gentle, but not non-existent, tannin give just the right structure on the back end.  A lovely red wine, really surprising to those accustomed to American-style pinots.  This was a gift from a friend in Switzerland and really hit the spot.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: L’assemblage de Coeur Rouge 2016
  • Winery: Cave de Jolimont, Mont-sur-Rolle
  • Region: Vaude
  • Country: Switzerland
  • Varietals: Gamaret, Garanoir, Pinot Noir
  • Price: ?
  • Where to Buy: ?

Vermentino i Fiori 2013 – Sardegna, Italy

The nose of this one hits you with a mossy, salty note reminiscent of craggy rocks splashed clean by ocean surf.  The front of the palate echoes the same notes, smoothed with an almost creamy mouthfeel.  This is a minerally, slate and clay, white with a body that is at the same time fresh and summery, but not as light and forgettable as a languid Summer afternoon.  She plays well with all manner of seafood and well into the crushed leaves of autumn.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: i Fiori Vermentino 2013
  • Winery: Azienda Agricola PALA di Mario Pala & C.
  • Region: Sardegna
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: 100% Vermentino
  • Price: $17
  • Where to Buy: Whole Foods et al.

La Suerte de Arrayan 2011 – Méntrida, Spain

Fresher than expected on the nose:  notes of grass, strawberries, and wood.  Front palate of red fruit, blueberries, and faint vanilla notes.  Chewy and rich with tobacco, cocoa, and more vanilla rounding into a wall of warm tannins red fruit.  A soft, berry-laden finish that melts away quickly.  Lovely.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: La Suerte de Arrayan 2011
  • Winery: La Verdosa, S.L.
  • Region: Méntrida
  • Country: Spain
  • Varietals: Garnacha
  • Price: 25
  • Where to Buy: S&R Liquors

Champs Pentus – Faugères, France

This one starts with a ripe, bright explosion of cherries and blackberries on the nose, rounding out with some grassy notes.  The fruit fades into tree bark, woody/mossy scents and flavors, with just the right amount of tannin to back it up.  This is how I imagine the wet woods tasting when you wake early from your tent on a camping trip.  The finish is short, but clean, with a faint saltiness and a whisper of the original cherry bomb.  Stylistically, the bright and medium-to-light body isn’t really my favorite, but if it were I would consider this more than worth the price-tag.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Champs Pentus 2013
  • Winery: Frédérico Brouca
  • Region: Faugères
  • Country: France
  • Varietals: 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Carignan
  • Price: $23
  • Where to Buy: S&R Liquors