All wine reviews, Great wines under $10, Jumilla, Monastrell, Red blends, Red wine, Spain, Syrah/Shiraz

Finca Luzon 2009

Producer: Finca Luzon
Grape: 70% Monastrell, 30% Syrah
Region: Jumilla, Spain

I don’t honestly know why it took me so long to review wines of Finca Luzon. I was impressed with their wines from the first time I tasted them (and every vintage since).

There is another reason why I have a special feeling about this wine. During my stay in Spain (2007), our visit started in Jumilla, and we spent the very first 2 nights at the beautiful hotel Finca Luzon. We later learned it was built from the old winery, Bodega Luzon.

Bodegas Luzon was founded by the Gil family in 1916, located about 60 miles from the Medirerranean at 2,100ft elevation. Today, it is an estate of 216 acres of vineyards with some very challenging conditions that happens to be perfect for Monastrell wines.

It makes it one of the best conditions for growing Monastrell  (Mourvèdre) in the world.Sand, with combination of chalk with large chalky gravels and stones, is the tough soil there, with almost no nutrition. Wine has to struggle with very little rainfall, windy climate high in the hills and huge drops of temperature between days and nights.

The winery works with Monastrell that is about 55 years old and for this particular wine, they blend it with Syrah that came from Aragona vineyard at 2.296 ft above the sea level.Finca Luzon also produces an organic wine called Luzon Verde which showcase 100% Monastrell. Altos de Luzon (which is a blend of Monastrell, Cabernet and Tempranillo), Castillo de Luzon (Monastrell, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet).

This is a winemaker of Finca Luzon, whose name, embarrassingly enough, I can’t remember. (I couldn’t even find it anywhere on-line, I tried).He also showed us a historic ruin, a beautiful property, the Finca Luzon were reconstructing to later move their business into.

Seemed like a huge job, surely took a lot of effort, time and money. I wonder if they are finished by now.

Later at night we had a wine tasting with him and very late superb dinner – that started about 11 pm. Hard to imagine, especially when we had to leave from the lobby the next day at 7 am and got to our hotel at about 2:30 am.
I know, tough life, right?

Tasting notes:
This is a deep purple red with rich aromas of fresh fruit, such as black cherries, red plums with a tiny bit of herbs. On the palate, this wine is super smooth, very fruity (which doesn’t mean sweet), velvety tannins.

As it opens up even more, you can taste rich tones of dark berries with notes of dark chocolate and spices. This wine is big enough to stand to your steak, it’s lovely on its own and for its price, it is a steal!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak– Aged in oak

Retail price: $ 8.99

Ideal food pairing:
Summer barbeque, Not so Greeg Musaka, Bison burgers with Cabernet Onions and Wisconsin CheddarPistachio crusted rack of lamb, Shish kebab with eggplant hash and Tzaziki sauce, Lamb burgers with Relish Mayo,

Cotes du Rhone, France, Red blends, Red wine

Domaine de la Solitude Côtes du Rhône 2005

Grapes: Syrah, Grenache noir, Cinsault, Carignan
Region: Côtes du Rhône, France

Living in U.S.A., with a relatively short history, I am always fascinated to find stories behind some of the oldest vineyards, kept in the family for generations. This estate is one of them.
The Domain de la Solitude is owned by one of the oldest  families originating from Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Traces of the MARTIN family are found as far back as the 15th century. Their family tree in Italy is traced even farther back, to the very old and illustrious BARBERINI family.

François BARBERINI, born in Tuscany in 1264, lived in Provence for several years. The most well known member of the family, Maffeo BARBERINI, apostolic nuncio to Paris (1604-1606), was voted Pope under the name of Urbain VIII. Two of his nephews became cardinals and part of his family came to live in Avignon.

In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the family history records start in 1604 with Jean BARBERINI (his name was Frenchified to BARBERIN). His granddaughter, Hélène BARBERIN, married Claude MARTIN, the owner of scattered vineyards. He was also an apostolic notary and clerk for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape community.

Their grandson’s wife, Françoise DELOUME, brought in her dowry “La Solitude”, which had been in her family’s possession for some time. Remains found on the property testify to the long history of occupation of the site.

Under their son’s care, (Paul-Clair-Agapet MARTIN) the estate experienced a blossoming expansion. he left behind a very precious journal with a wealth of information regarding vine cultivation, its cost and results.  He was capable to sell his winem, named “La Solitude” all the way to England at times, when the name of Châteauneuf-du-Pape didn’t even exist. The family owns labels dating from this period as well as bills of lading from the port of Marseilles.

Isn’t it fascinating? What a rich family history. The current generation, Paule Jacob who married Pierre Lancon are now taking care of the property.  The family owns close to 50 ha of vineyards, situated predominantly in the Gard region. The most of their vineyards are planted with red varieties, mostly Grenache and Syrah, but they also grow Cinsault, Mouvèdre  and about 5ha are planted with white varieties.

Although the family’s flag ship wine is their outstanding Châteauneuf-du-Pape, when I first tasted this Côtes du Rhône, it took my breath away. And I wasn’t the only one. This unbelievable gem, that at the time cost about $ 8.00 a bottle, was superb, rich, full of character, spicy and almost as good as their collectible Châteauneuf-du-Pape!

I remember the noises in the tasting room. The owner of the company, I worked for at that time, (who discovered this property and imported it directly to U.S.A.), had a very satisfied smile on his face.

“So you think you can sell this?” – he asked us.

“How many do we have?” one of the most experienced sales guys answered with another question.

“We got in about 80 cases to start with,” our owner replied.

“Let me make few phone calls and it’s going to be gone at the end of the day!”

Why do I tell you all this? Because there weren’t too many wines that would get this kind of attention among professionals, throughout my wine career. We have tasted some of the best wines of the world and one’s palate gets easily spoiled. When you come across something as good as this wine, for under 10 bucks, that’s a bottle you can’t miss!

Even today, when this Côtes du Rhône costs about $ 13.00- $ 15.00, it’s an incredible steal for the money. I was lucky to discover this wine at one of the wine shops in CT for about $ 13.99 and was anxious to re-taste it after a long time.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color, beautiful aroma of dark cherries, ripe plums or blackberries.
On the palate this medium body red offers notes of ripe dark fruit with spice notes of cloves, black pepper and cinnamon. Bright fruit and freshness, pleasantly balanced with acidity made it age well and pair great with variety of foods.

It is also delicious on its own, with just aged cheeses and crackers. This red offers you a long finish with silky tannins and lovely dark fruit flavors. Big but not opulent, still my favorite from many Côtes du Rhône reds I tried. Great wine to drink with your summer barbeque and grilling!

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 14.00

Ideal food pairing:
Bison burgers with Cabernet Onions, Shortcut drunken Chili, Flank steak fajitas, Shish kebab with eggplant hash, Lamb burgers with relish mayo, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Chorizo

Merlot, Napa, Red blends, Red wine

Newton Merlot Unfiltered 2005

Winemaker: Chris Millard
Grape: 83% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc
Region: Napa Valley, California

See other wines from this producer:
Newton Claret, Red Label

Robert Parker: 91 points

I always think of this outstanding Merlot, when somebody come up with that silly statement “I don’t drink Merlot,” followed by rolling their eyes. I wish I could pour them Newton and they will never, ever repeat that statement again.

Yes, I know, Merlot got a bad name lately, thanks to Paul Giamatti’s character Miles, who consistently trashed it down throughout the iconic wine movie Sideways. Who would ever think that one movie can change the wine industry for years to come!?

But the noble grape of Merlot is one of the most important elements in some of the best wines of the world. Merlot wines can be simple, good or outstanding. The best wines made from Merlot (for example in Bordeaux) are collectibles for its capacity to age for decades.

It is definitely not a simple wine when it comes to Newton Unfiltered Merlot. This wine is a special treat. To me, it is the best in Napa, especially at that price point. The credit for its uniqueness and success will forever belong to Dr. Su Hua Newton, who first set up the tone on Spring Mountain.

Before you taste this wine, you deserve to know the rich and incredible life story of this lady. I have a big admiration for her uncompromising style of work  and perfectionism. But it would take too much space to explain it here – if you are interested, please read my blog An unforgettable dinner with Dr. Su Hua Newton.

Dr. Su Hua Newton was a pioneer and one of the first Napa Valley winemakers to craft unfiltered and naturally fermented wines. Thanks to her almost fanaticism that started in the vineyard: the way she crafted each block separately, following nature and sustainable techniques, when she insisted on the harvest by hand, (perfectly mature bunches only), all the way to the winery – where just natural yeast was used to ferment the wine, to the bottling the wine unfiltered to preserve all its beauty.

Thanks to all those thousands of little details, Newton Vineyard has become one of the most inspiring and fascinating wine estates in the world. Although Dr. Su is now just overseeing the operations, her spirit is still there in every step of the way. And the character of that approach can be felt, when you open any bottle of Newton Red Label wines (Chardonnay, Claret and Cabernet Sauvignon) or the Unfiltered series – Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Puzzle.

The typical pine tree, pictured on every Newton wine label, stands proudly on top of the Spring Mountain, overseeing some of the steepest and most difficult terrains in Napa. The terroire is one part of Newton wine’s success.

The other part is (and I don’t want this to sound like a cliché , but it’s truth) super hard work and respect to the nature. The adrenalin, when everybody else in Napa has already fermented their harvest, and in Newton they are still waiting for the natural yeast to kick in. Is it crazy? Maybe. Brave? Most definitely. Brilliant? For sure!

“All of these wines from their beautiful mountain vineyard are among the most natural made in the world.” said Robert Parker Jr., in his book World’s Great Wine Estates

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color and beautiful aroma of ripe blackberries, blueberries and herbs. On the palate this wine is robust yet velvety, with hints of raspberries, black cherry and plum. It leaves a trace of cocoa powder or bitter dark chocolate on your tongue.

Oak notes and tannins are delicate and will devolve even more over the time. Although the wine is silky and perfectly approachable right now, it will continue to develop for another 5-10 years, I believe.

This is one of the kind wine, complex, balanced and perfectly crafted. Highest quality, Bordeaux style wine that wouldn’t disappoint the most demanding wine enthusiast.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 50.00

Ideal food pairing:
Beef BourguignonFlank steak with shitakee sauce, Venison, any grilled meet, Filet Mignon with a crushed black pepper sauce and many more… the chef of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse once paired this wine with a rich chocolate cake. It was insanely great! It turned the wine into liquid velvet… you might want to try it for yourself!

Carinena, Garnacha, Great wines under $10, Red blends, Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo

Las Valles 2009

Produced by: Bodegas Virgen del Águila
Grape: 50% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha, 10% Syrah
Region: Cariñena

This is one of those unexpected finds that might become your next house wine. I was preparing my private wine dinner at home for the first weekend of January. When my menu was decided, I came to my favorite wine store to buy the wines. Campos Reales, an unoaked red wine from La Mancha, Spain was in my mind, when composing the third course of my menu.

I needed wine that had a lot of character, yet it wasn’t too big to overpower my smoked salmon/spinach rolls. To my disappointment, the wine manager told me that the distributor was out of stock till maybe February. Well, that didn’t help. It was obvious that I will have to improvise.

When I asked my friend, the wine manager Tryg, what he would recommend instead, a wine that would be similar style to Campos Reales (and unoaked), we walked through isles and pointed out few bottles. The last one was Las Valles. I looked at the label and it said: Tempranillo, Garnacha, Syrah. Hmm, sounds pretty big red to me.

“Are you sure it’s not a big wine?” I asked Tryg. He promised me it’s not – and that it would be probably his favorite out of those he showed me so far. I grabbed 3 bottles. The price was unbelievable and I figured – let’s open one a taste it before my guests come to wine dinner party and I embarrass myself.

Wow, that wine was fantastic! So I went on-line and looked it up. I learned that: “Las Valles” is produced by Bodegas Virgen del Águila, a modern, progressive cooperative near the town of Paniza that also produces wines under the “ia” label for Hand picked selections. The bodega offers a wealth of vines (nearly 5,500 acres!) planted in prime terroir (more than 2,500 ft above sea level!) nestled against the Iberico mountain range.

This includes a wealth (nearly 190 acres) of old, 50+ year-old Garnacha, Tempranillo and Macabeo vines, as well as newer plantings of international varietals. ”

This red blend was stainless steel fermented and never saw an oak. Well, I can tell you, this may as well be my new house wine. Especially for the price of $ 7.99 I paid for it. That’s a serious steel!

Tasting notes:
Beautiful aroma of fresh red berries, cherries or raspberries. On the palate this is clean, medium body wine. Really nice exposure of mixed wild berries flavors spiced up with Syrah (or is it old vines Garnacha?). Either way, Las Valles is totally impressive wine, especially for that price. Complex, balanced with perfect acidity to pair easily with many foods. Loved it, and so did everybody else at my wine dinner.

We might have just found our next favorite! See, sometimes it’s good when you need to change plans. What seemed like a bad news first, let me to discover something new and exciting! Don’t miss the chance to taste it!
And yes, I still love Campos Reales, whenever it’s going to be available again.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 8.00

Ideal food pairing:
Roasted peppers and eggplant dip, Vermicelli con melanzana, Vegetable lentils, Shish kebab with eggplant hash and Tzaziki sauce, and many more… mild cheeses, Italian Antipasto, spiced cured meats etc.

Manchuela, Red blends, Red wine, Spain

Finca Sandoval 2005

Winemaker: Victor de la Serna
Grape: 76% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, and 11% Bobal
Region: Manchuela, Spain

W/A: 94 points
IWC: 93+ points

Finca Sandoval wine project was born in 1998, when respected wine critique and journalist Victor de la Serna had a dream to start a vineyard from scratch. In little known region of Manchuela in Casa Blanca, province of Cuenca (140 miles from Madrid).

Manchuela, known for local large-berried grape called Bobal, had a very poor and shallow types of soil and Mr. de la Serna believed that if he planted this rough terrain (about 2,500 ft above the sea level) with top quality Syrah, it might result in quite incredible wine.

Like many top wine terroirs in Spain, Manchuela had a huge potential but nobody from local farmers had a capital to embrace the opportunity and start a serious wine project.His vision was correct. Finca Sandoval released its first vintage in 2001 as a blend of top quality, but young Syrah, sourced from 2 vineyards (about 26 acres), combined with the best selection of local Bobal, and Monastrell, both old vines.

The uniqueness of this project is also in several different types of soil, the estate has acquired control of – different small, old vineyards planted with Bobal, Monastrell and Garnacha.Read more about this project in my blog The man behind Finca SandovalBy the way, unlike well known Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Garnacha (Grenache) – the typical Rhône varietals, Bobal is only grown in Spain and in Sardinia.

My first ever opportunity to taste it was few years back, when we tasted Finca Sandoval in Spain, all the existing vintages in the row, with Mr. de la Serna himself.


2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005

The grapes (from each variety and each soil type) are vinified and then aged separately. Harvest is done by hand with an extensive selection of the best grapes only. When they de-stem it, grapes undergo a cold soak – for about 10 days, following traditional Burgundy or Rhône practices.

Before the fermentation starts, it is launched by native yeasts. Slow, cool fermentation is performed and after gentle pressing all the wine undergo malolactic fermentation in barrel. Wine then age 11-13 months in new French (85%) and American oak. The final blend is decided after tasting the wines .

Tasting notes:
Deep purple color and aromas of ripe dark berries, blackberries and wild raspberries. On the palate this is a big, impressive wine, with fantastic layers of dark fruit flavors.

The blend is spiced up with soft tones of oak, soft tannins and perfect acidity. I can feel a gentle dust of cocoa on the back of my tong. Superb, long and generous finish.

Complexity of this wine promises a long aging potential, experts suggest that it could be at its peak around 2012-2025. I am not sure that I can wait that long with my last bottle of this vintage.

Dry – Off dry- Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: about $ 40.00

Ideal food pairing:
rack of lamb, Musaka, Beef Bourguignon, Beef Chorizo, Flank steak with shitakee sauce