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

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

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: ?

Quinta dos Corvos, Porto, Portugal

We lucked into this place entirely.  Wine tours in Porto’s Gaia wine house district don’t tend to start until 11ish, but we don’t often let silly formalities like operating hours slow us down.  With all the big, famous name Port wineries still shuttered we stumbled into this place by chance – and an open door.

Corvos Entrance            Admittedly, the early arrival got us invited to, oddly, “relax” in the restroom while folks pulled themselves together.  An older German couple straight out of central casting joined us (i.e. rude, cranky, weird older man in ill-fitting and awkward neo-90’s techno tank top and shorts accompanied by very kind, cordial wife with spiky red hair).  Our tour guide, Isabel Santos, took just a few minutes to shake off last night’s partying cob-webs before launching into a well-rehearsed (but not tired) introduction to the history of the family wine house.  A beneficiary of one of the world’s oldest zoning charters – 1756 by Portugal’s beloved Marques de Pombal – the property in Sabrosa along the Pinhão river produces an average of 40,000 bottles a year.  The Quinta was acquired by the Queiroz Cardoso family in 1989 and has since remained in the family (with a few small enlargements) and is planted in an 80/20 red to white ratio, with the exact makeup of the varietals – like with the wines – something of a secret.

Isabel never missed a chance to needle some of the nearby “multi-national” wine houses for not being Portuguese enough, or abandoning old world artisanal methods for mechanized and sterile (perhaps too) modern methods.  A particularly excellent feature of the tour was her willingness to dive down as deeply as their secret recipes would allow into winemaking and grape-growing minutiae, on request.  I tried to not make the tour laborious for my companions, but did take the chance to ask a few advanced questions – questions which Isabel was able to answer concisely.

Corvos Stack            The tasting room at this wine house is stellar.  One could make an afternoon of it by ordering food and other goodies.  Some light snacks and a generous introductory tasting were included with the tour.  Again, Isabel knocked this out of the park, appropriately generous and thorough with both pourings and knowledge.  Unlike many other wine houses, Corvos offers up tastings of anything they make, if for a very reasonable price on several of the older, more advanced offerings.  My comment on the likely malvasia content of the white ports (airy salinity that balances out the usual cloying sweetness of white port) won a knowing squint from Isabel, before simply commenting that she couldn’t really comment.  I opted to go deep into some of the Vintages, as well as the 20 year old white port.  Ultimately, I walked with a bottle of 1996 Vintage (the year I first visited Lisbon), a bottle of the 20 year white, and a bottle of their cosecha.  If you only have time for one wine house tour while in Porto, make this the one . . . and don’t miss it if you’re piling up visits.  Oh, and in case it isn’t already obvious, ask for Isabel.

Quinta dos Corvos, Rua Guilherme Gomes Fernandes nº 63, 4400-175, Vila Nova de Gaia (Porto), Portugal

 

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

Monica i Fiori 2013 – Sardegna, Italy

Starts with a woody, mossy nose, with background notes of red fruit.  The front pallet has a fresh red fruit and grass character, though not necessarily like the thinness of a young wine.  A certain fresh, green quality closes out with light tannins and a fascinating strawberry-balsamic after taste.  We tasted this one after the Corash, so the tasting could have been impacted by the bold fruit and toughness of its Sardinian cousin.  Both were had with Osso Buco and played stunningly well with it.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Monica i Fiori 2013
  • Winery: Azienda Agricola PALA di Mario Pala & C.
  • Region: Sardegna
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Monica
  • Price: $17
  • Where to Buy: Litteri

Corash Riserva 2013 – Sardegna, Italy

This wine practically jumps out of the bottle at you.  Aggressive cherries and vanilla attack the nose, backed with scents like freshly hewn wood and green orchid.  (Yes, I know what these smell like – grew up in Kentucky, where I chopped more than I wanted to, and lived in Miami for a number of years, where you might just mow over orchids in your lawn.)  Many of these same flavors repeat on the front palate, with a burst of blackberries and chewy raisins.  A little acid and leather come as it glides across the tongue, with abrupt tannins that bring the finish up tight, with a slight floral after taste.  This one’s an adventure that was magnificent with the tender richness of home-made Osso Buco.

  • Rating: Impressive
  • Name: Corash Riserva 2013
  • Winery: Cantina Della Vernaccia Oristano
  • Region: Sardegna
  • Country: Italy
  • Varietals: Cannonau
  • Price: $20
  • Where to Buy: Litteri