Old vines, Red wine, Russian River, Sonoma, Zinfandel

Mara Reserve Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch 2005

Winemaker: Charles Mara
Grape: 100% Zinfandel
Region: Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California

One of my favorite people to work with, Charles Mara, has a huge personality when it comes to wine. Well, that’s not completely true – when it comes to anything. He is funny and entertaining when it comes to wine judging, production or personal presentation of his wines. This Professor of Oenology is striving to make the best possible Zinfandel out of his Napa vineyards.And the results of his “healthy obsession with big wines” are showing great year by year. Never heard of him? Perhaps because the production of his wine is extremely low so his Zinfandels are not found in every wine store.Talking about boutique winery… This small, five-acre vineyard is owned and farmed by Jim Dolinsek and the production averages 350 or so cases of wine. Very low yields (less than 1/2 ton per acre) produces fruit with huge concentration and intensity. Dolinsek vineyard, more than 100 years old, produces variety of wonderful wines, not just zinfandel.Both Charles’ vineyards Dolinsek and Luvisi Ranch are located in the valley that produces some of the world’s best wines. His dream is to produce Zinfandel that “will drink and keep like Brunello” . The intensity and deep flavors are already there. His personal attention to the winemaking process and selection of intense grapes makes it possible.

Robert Parker said about this vintage:
Proprietor Charles Mara’s performance with these two 100% Zinfandels is exemplary. My favorite is the 2005 Zinfandel Dolinsek from Russian River. One of the vintage’s most complete and flavorful Zins, it offers up aromas of red and black fruits, underbrush, pepper, earth, and spice. This rich, full-bodied wine is an amazing achievement in this difficult vintage. Drink it over the next 3-4 years. Rated 91

Tasting notes:
As always, Mara’s Dolinsek Ranch Zinfandel has a deep ruby, almost purple color that you don’t want to spill on your white shirt. Lovely aroma of ripe dark fruit, raspberry and black cherry, even ripe plum on the nose. On the palate it’s a rich, full body flavor with spicy notes like tarragon and a lot of fruit expression.

Dusty cacao or chocolate flavors on the finish, combined with a fine vanilla touch of American oak. This is a huge, masculine wine that needs to be decanted to fully enjoy. Just like Charles Mara always says: decant your wine so that the first glass taste like the last one.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 35.00

Ideal food pairing:
grilled beef, barbecue meats, goulash, Flank steak with shitakee sauce, Beef Chorizo, My best Chili recipe and many more

Carmenere, Chile, Great wines under $10, Red wine

Oops Carmenère 2008

Winemaker: Alvaro Espinozaand
Head winemaker Hernan Amenabar
Grape: 100% Carmenère
Region: Chile

As the family owned Viña Undurraga winery claims, there’s a good reason the Merlot of Chile doesn’t taste like other Merlot. It wasn’t long ago (in 1994) when viticulturist Jean-Michel Boursiquit discovered that parts of some vineyards, mistaken for Merlot, were in fact planted with Carmenère and Merlot.

Yes, the same noble grape variety, originally planted in the Médoc region of Bordeaux and used in Bordeaux blends for its deep structure and flavor. Therefore Carmenère is sometimes referred to as “Lost grape of Bordeaux”.

Carmenère root stock had been transplanted to Chile from France over a century ago and were soon forgotten. So it grew wildly with Merlot grapes and pretty soon, nobody noticed the difference. Oops!

I have to admit, when I was first approached by these wines made by Viña Undurraga, my prejudice sense immediately kicked in – oh boy, one of “those names” for wine! But as soon as I tasted them, the wine proved me wrong. I was invited to present Oops wines at the large town tasting, learned the story and got the opportunity to taste all of Oops wines side by side.

Considering its price – under $ 10.00 a bottle, the wines were spectacular! Even the “white Carmenère” that I expected to taste like White Zinfandel. Absolutely not the case! More like a pretty good, crisp and dry rose, to be precise. I felt easily in love with these wines and so did majority of people, visiting that tasting.

Viña Undurraga is one of the oldest wineries in Chile, farming on 1,800 hectares of estate grown vineyards. Today, the most innovated winery in all of Chile is producing consistent high quality of all their wines – Oops Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, 100% Carmenère and than two Carmenère blends: Cabernet Frank/Carmenère and Carmenère/Merlot.

All of them are rich, flavorful, unique and an excellent wines that will not brake the bank.

The grapes for this wine were gently crushed and destemmed, macerated for 15 days, then fermented in stainless steel tanks. After a cold pre-fermentation maceration for 5 days, and fermentation, the grapes were soaked again for 10 days to get a concentrated flavors. More than half of the wine was aged in American and French oak for 4 months.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby, almost purple color and strong aroma of dark ripe fruit, dried plums with green pepper notes. The wine is a very typical Carmenère with pronounced peppery taste (that I like) – but some of you might be surprised with that unexpected flavor.

There is enough body and structure to this wine to pair it with steak or barbecue. This Carmenère gave me a lot of ripe fruit, maybe even some cacao, well balanced with acidity and soft tannins. Lovely long finish usually reserved for wines of much higher price. Oops Carmenère is an excellent value for every day drinking.

Also, if you enjoy white wines, you must try their Sauvignon Blanc. It taste differently than New Zealands Sauvignon Blancs, I would say more delicate. (Their 2008 vintage received 89 points from Wine Enthusiast and made it to Top 100 Best Buy of 2008). Very enjoyable and again, easy on the valet.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 10.00

Ideal food pairing:
Flank steak with Shitakee mushrooms, Lamb burgers, stews, Homemade meatloaf, Beef Chorizo, spiced sausages, ribs etc.

Red wine, Spain, Tempranillo, Toro

Almirez 2007

Winemaker: Marcos Eguren
Grape: 100% Tinta de Toro
Region: D.O.Toro, Spain

Recently reviewed: Wine Enthusiast 92 points
Wine Advocate 91 points

See other wines from this winemaker:
Bodegas Teso la Monja Victorino, Toro
Bodegas Teso la Monja Alabaster, Toro
Senorio San Vicente, Rioja

When one of my most admired Rioja’s winemakers Marcos Eguren sold his successful project Numanthia-Termes S.L. in Toro (some of the highest rated Spanish wine in history), I knew he wasn’t done with Toro just yet. It had way too much potential and so unique terroir, perfect for growing Tinta de Toro (a local clone of Tempranillo) not to challenge somebody like Marcos.And sure enough, just a few years later, he releases his first 2007 vintage of his new Toro project – Bodegas Teso la Monja. I was honored to taste their wines (Almirez, Victorino and Alabaster) for the first time with Marcos’s son, Eduardo.

The vineyards that family Eguren purchased for Teso la Monja project are located at average altitude of 2,296ft above the sea level, in the small village of Valdefinjas, in Zamora province. So close to his previous Numanthia – Termes vineyards, that it must make new owners of Numanthia very nervous.

Thanks to sandy soils of Toro, the growth of phylloxera that devastated so many wine-growing regions throughout the world, didn’t stand much chance here. Therefore Marcos is able to cultivate 30 year old, ungrafted Tinta de Toro vines with yields about 200 gallons per acre.

The grapes for Almirez were harvested by hand (only perfectly mature clusters are picked), brought to the winery to sorting tables where an additional selection was made. Wine was than fermented for 8 days (temperature controlled) and underwent malolactic fermentation in barrel.

Almirez aged 12 months in new Bordelaise barrels of French oak. 2007 is the first vintage of this wine. Eduardo Eguren told me that this is a first wine project that he is personally committed to (obviously, with Marcos’s hands on approach and TLC). So, Eguren family could be proud of yet another generation of passionate ‘vino entusiasta’. Very proud!

Tasting notes:
A great aroma of black berries, cocoa, even espresso and dark ruby color. When you take a first sniff, it promises a big, rich, muscular red. And it is exactly that! Rich and spicy dark fruit, dried plum with a slight cocoa dust so typical for Toro. Generous, silky tannins will cover your glass, but the wine is perfectly balanced.

Almirez is a modern, macho wine that is approachable right now, but it will improve with a few years in the bottle. The new oak on the long finish is pleasant and not overpowering the beauty and richness of the Tinta de Toro from this vineyard. Superb quality that definitely over delivers at this price.

– Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 29.00

Ideal food pairing:
Steak, grilled meats, beef stew, aged cheeses

Rioja, Rose wines, Spain

Bodegas Muga – Rose 2009

Owned by the Muga family
Grapes: Garnacha, Viura and Tempranillo
Region: Haro, Rioja Alta, Spain

See other wines from this producer:
Muga Blanco
Muga Reserva
Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva
Muga Torre Muga

There is still a confusion regarding Rose wines on the American market. Many wine consumers believe that pink wine is going to be sweet (yeah, years of White Zinfandel made a huge impact). When talking about Rose, it can’t be further from the truth. In fact, well made Rose wines from all over the world are a real treat for wine lovers. Clean, crisp, refreshing, yet just a tiny bit richer then a typical white wine – or maybe more exciting because of the layers of flavors.
To me personally, Muga Rose from Bodegas Muga in Rioja is the best Rose I had, vintage by vintage. That’s the only Rose I buy by case (and it doesn’t last very long). That’s if I am lucky enough to get it. When this wine comes to the market, it’s usually gone within a week or so.

Mr. Isaac Muga opened his first cellar in 1932. Through his hard work and devotion for a traditional winemaking, he was soon well accepted in the market. After his death in 1969, his sons Manuel and Isaac took over the management and winemaking of the winery.
Today, Bodegas Muga is the only winery left in Spain that uses only oak throughout the process of elaboration. Having their own cooperage and importing American and French oak directly, makes it possible. The family Muga owns estate of 96 acres (40 hectares) and purchases grapes from 50 different small growers. The Bodegas Muga receives consistently high rates internationally for both their white and red wines.
Their most famous labels: Muga Reserva, Muga Reserva Seleccion Especial, Prado Enea Gran Reserva, Torre Muga and Muga Blanco. Muga Rose is released in late spring and makes it to American market usually around July. As I said before, the wine is sought for and doesn’t sit on the shelf for long.
Muga Rose is peculiar wine, made in a style known in Rioja as “clarete”. Wine is blended from white and red grapes, using Garnacha from cooler areas of Rioja. 20% of wine undergoes malolactic fermentation.

Tasting notes:
The wine holds great even a year after its release. The color didn’t get any darker, rich aroma of fresh cherries is there. On the palate Rose gets its freshness and crisp minerality that belongs to young wines or great quality Rieslings.

Elegantly displays the fruit on the palate, but doesn’t overpower. Balanced with great acidity and a long finish. I am excited to realize that Muga Rose, unlike many Rose wines, holds on to its quality even a year after its original release.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: under $ 12.00

Ideal food pairing:
Seafood, rotisserie chicken, Spanish canoes (barquito de anchoa), Party tomatoes with marinated feta, My happy tilapia, Seafood Party Salad, Shrimp in Mustard Sauce, Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood, Crispy Tilapia with Mexican risotto, Delicate Cod with Quinoa Pilaf

Argentina, Great wines under $10, Torrontes, White wines

Alta Vista Premium Torrontes 2008

Winemaker: Ruben Sfragara
Grape: Torrontes
Region: Salta (Cafayate), Argentina

During their stay in Argentina in the 1980’s, Patrick d’Aulan with his beautiful wife Kristen created a high quality sparkling wine. Bubbles were nothing new to this talented pair – the worldwide known champagne Piper Heidsieck also carried their name.

But when d’Aulan family discovered the beauty and potential of Argentinian varieties as Malbec and Torrontes, they decided to invest in the land and founded Bodega Alta Vista. Their new mission was to produce top quality Argentinian wines and introduce their local varieties, then not widely known, to the rest of the world.

I believe that it was also Patrick and Kristen, who originally brought famous winemaker Michel Rolland to Argentina. It started a whole new era of foreigner winemaking and investment in local vineyards. Argentina became a showcase for many talented winemakers. Besides the Alta Vista wines, d’Aulan family later became a part of Michel Rolland’s 7 winemaker’s circle, involved in a very successful Clos de Los Siete project.

Bodega Alta Vista in Argentina is only a small percentage of d’Aulan’s wine mission – they are also part of Edonia group, a French family owned company engaged in the production of high quality wines in France (Champagne, Calvados, and Saint Estephe + Saint Emilion in Bordeaux), Argentina (Cafayate and Mendoza) and Hungary (Tokaj).

The family wine experience of several generations, their passion for different styles of wines and the fact that they purchased some of the world’s highest vineyards in the northern Argentine region of Salta – all of these ingredients were a recipe for d’Aulan family’s business success.

Alta Vista was one of the first wineries to invest in this region and today they own 20 acres of 60 year old Malbec vineyards in Lujan de Cuyo, 195 acres of mixed vineyards at the same region (all 1,050 m above the sea level) and almost 370 acres of land in Valle de Uco (about 180 acres planted with vine).

The Torrontes that comes from these vineyards is considered some of the best in the world. After a brief maceration on the skins, the Premium Torrontes is fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. There is no malolactic fermentation or oak aging. That allows the wine to develop rich and concentrated flavors with a very clean fruit expression.

Tasting notes:
Straw yellow wine with delicate floral, lime and honey aromas. Not that it’s sweet. This really is a white wine unlike anything you had before – fruity with perfect balance of crispy acidity. On the palate you can taste notes of peaches, lemon and honey. This is a lot of complex flavor for around 10 dollars. Nicely done! Beautiful for sipping on its own or paired with a seafood.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 10.00

Ideal food pairing:
Seafood salad, Shrimp in mustard sauce, chicken, fresh salad with balsamic vinaigrette and apples, all kinds of tapas, Chinese food, Indian food, My happy tilapia, Light quinoa salad, or our crisp pork medallions with creamy caper sauce, Grilled trout, Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood