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Summer highlights: under $9 (rose) wine

It seems like summertime is also a time when you're more likely to escape to the beach, or go camping. Or maybe you have the great opportunity to be the 'destination location' of your friends. Either way, it seems like your more likely to be going through a few bottles on a given night, rather than just the one - or more likely to be drinking more in general, night after night on your vacation, for example. So having a few delicious but affordable wines in your repertoire is kind of a necessity. Note: Cheap wine does not necessarily mean BAD wine. On the contrary, savvy wine shop's have a collection of wines they work even harder to find in the affordable price range. Because they won't compromise quality for price.

This summer there were two wines, roses no less, that came with me on vacation pretty regularly. Both were late-comers to Ball Square Fine Wine's rose collection. The first of the two, Les Trois Chenes, is a project of Chateau Moutete and is a crazy blend of Cinsault, Ugni blanc, Syrah, Merlot, Mourvèdre and even Rolle, for good measure. The result? A wine with surprising levity, authenticity (great minerality) and under-handed (in a good way) fruit. Possibly a perfect example of Provincial rose. For $8.99 especially, this was a no-brainer.

The second of the two is a curious wine from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal. No joke. And no surprise, it has a little bit of spritz. A regular cork screw will do it. But those little bubbles go a long way to delight your taste buds on a hot day. (I mean, come on, why else do people put tonic water or club soda in their cocktails? Subtle bubbles rock.) This wine, Adegas de Moncao Murhalas rose, is made from Porguese varietals Alvarelhao, Pedral, and Vinhao, the last of which is a fleshy red grape. Almost sweet red berries and watermelon flavors are lifted by brisk acidity and that little bit of spritz I keep going on about. It's fruit-forward sweetness made it great with spicy foods, too - or as desert itself after a big meal.

Suffice to say: happiness! I'm drinking them still while supplies last.

Which under $9 bottles captured your enthusiasm last summer?



Minervois, a god-like wine

Chateau Coupe Roses Bastide MinervoisI was channeling Disney and Belle a couple of weeks ago. Today I envision a Greek god named Minervois. Except the name  "Minervois", a small sub-region of the Languedoc in France,  actually comes from the village of Minerve. Who knew? Because when I re-tasted an old favorite from this area, I wasn't just pleased with the result, it was a near-spiritual experience - for just $13 (retail). Backing up a touch, Minervois offers the world reasonably priced reds typically comprised of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre, perhaps with some Carignan or Cinsault mixed in for good measure. It depends. It's an experimental part of the world down there. Some wines are purely easy quaffing selections. But others are quite memorable. Typically the latter come from low-yield vines (remember, this means concentrated fruit flavors) in the rocky hills above the plateau.

The 2006 vintage of Chateau Coupes Roses Minervois La Bastide was a wine I first tasted nearly two years ago. I remember it having very floral notes and a tannic structure. It was very good, but it needed either food or a few breaths of fresh air to come alive and loosen up a bit. Perhaps both. Several weeks ago I happened to retaste this same vintage. Holy canolies. The extra bottle time served this wine well! If you can get your hand on a bottle (or several) I highly recommend it because it is tasting out beautifully right now. I saw the imaginary god Minervois, I'm not kidding.

To paint you a clearer picture, the Bastide is comprised of Grenache and Carignan with a touch of sultry Syrah. Today I find those same enticing floral aromatics from two years ago, with violets and juniper coming through most clearly. Tasting it is also like taking a dip in my spice rack! Sage and marjoram flow on the palate, with accents of resin and other earthy notes chiming in. It's the lush, fleshy- smooth, velvety blanket of black raspberry, plum and strawberry fruit that leaves you breathless, however.  The wine finishes with mouthwatering acidity, like a little wave washing onto the shore.

aquitaine-beet-salad-and-beet-soupImagine my delight when I popped over to Aquitaine in the South End last week and discovered this wine is available by the glass. It really is a savory wonder, absolutely delightful on its own and, of course, a good match for their beet salad, steak, lamb or chicken dishes. If you think you'll have more than one glass (and I suspect any wine-sipping citizen might), just treat yourself to the bottle!

Do you enjoy Minervois? What selections are in your "cellar"?



Red wine when summer comes early

Vacqueras loveWe've had a lovely bender of 80 degree temps here in Beantown. Love it. My soul is being nourished with Vitamin D, my grill is getting some much needed TLC, and I have an "excuse" to drink red wines even when it is warm out. This week I brought home a bottle of one of my all time favorite wines: 2006 Mas du Bouquet Vacqueras by Vignerons de Caractere.  Yes, I love a good Cote du Rhone. But the Vacqueras is my true happy place in that region. Almost 20 years ago Vacqueras got a little extra "credit" for the wines it produces, largely red wines made of the famous "GSM" trifecta: Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre; Vacqueras became one of (now) five AOCs in the Cote du Rhone. (By way of reference, there are over 100 villages within the CDR that do not have a special designation, or AOC status.)

Law mandates Vacqueras reds have at least 50% Grenache and at least 20% of either Syrah or Mouvedre. From there winemakers can blend in any one of the other 10 varietals permitted in the CDR, though you'll often discover Cinsault if a fourth grape is included in a particular red. Vacqueras is special because of its glacial soils as well as the hot, dry climate that is perfect for producing dense, structured, concentrated wines. And yet I find Vacqueras offerings tend to be a bit more approachable than its Gigondas or Chateneuf du Pape counterparts. (Ok, fine, you're working your way up the Wow Factor charts in "magical" qualities with those other two AOCs, but you also pay a few extra dollars accordingly.)

Vacqueras wines can certainly indulge your wild side or transport you to the great outdoors - they can offer tremendous earthy, herbaceous, rustic qualities, with trademark spice hitting a nice note on the finish. But more often I find those elements are more subtle, evolving behind the bigger fruit fiddles playing the main tune. These reds are big and bold - but soft and lush, too. The paradox enthralls my taste buds - AND more to the point, indulges my need to grill, grill, grill!

The Mas du Bouquet is a favorite of mine because of its tremendous consistency despite being the product of a co-op of winemakers. I think its consistency is actually an expression of place: the Manganelli Family has owned their vineyards for 100 years and many of the vines are quite old. That kind of history coupled with a dedication to sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices must set a certain tone and yield (no pun intended) particularly good fruit. That gives any winemaker a decent head start.

My tasting notes, you now demand? Fine, fine... When it is first opened, spices will literally tickle your nose distracting you from garnering more. But within as little as 20 minutes, its violet and lavender florals emerge, followed by aromas of black raspberries and plums. These fruits are juicy on the palate, with a touch of blackberry coming to fruition as well. A hint of leather, a hint of spice - and all is naughty and nice! The mouthfeel is what sends me to the moon, though - lush and supple with only gentle tannins becoming even softer as the wine continues to open. Lip-smacking goodness. Perfect with game, burgers, lamb - or even an earthy risotto dish, I imagine!

Which Vacqueras do you most enjoy? Or will you beginning your travels with the Mas du Bouquet?



winter wines uncorked: cinsault

Ever gone on a blind date and wondered where that person had been all your life? Ever see that person again and known they were exactly what you remembered - and somehow even better? I first stumbled upon the red grape varietal Cinsault (said: Sin - So?) in its birthday suit (that is, 100% of it in one single bottle, all on its own, not playing just one part in the production) at a grand tasting event last Fall. It's rare to see this varietal doing its own dance; more likely it's one of many blended into wines from the South of France... one of those grapes you always hear about but are never fully sure what it contributes to the bigger picture. I mean, you can always turn to the Wine Pros to get the skinny, but I like to find these things out for myself, allow my own taste buds to take a grape for a test drive.

I have to admit, I wasn't sure I'd ever (in the U.S.) have the opportunity to taste Cinsault all on its own. When I saw the '07 Dom. des Terres Falmet Cinsault* on the tasting menu last fall, well, be still my heart! It was a blind date I was willing to go on. Back then, I found the nose to be absolutely lovely, offering ripe strawberry fruit and a gently rustic and lightly spiced character I could only describe in my notes as "baking spices" (the cinnamons, nutmegs, et. al. of the world). The texture was alluring, wrapping my tounge in flavors I wanted to taste again and again to fully decipher and appreciate. We decided to bring the wine into the store, in part because it was outstanding (for a great price) and in part because they really are so rarely bottled on their own. Definitely something fun to talk about with interested wine seekers and foodies.

What with the cold weather here in Boston of late, I've been on a mission for wines that really blanket my tongue and offer layer after layer of satisfaction. I want full. I want mouthfilling. I want more than quaffable, one-note wines to intrigue me (it's too darn cold for this Phoenix girl living in New England to step outside everyday for a bit of adventure!). All the better if these wines come in a rare package. So I grabbed a bottle from the rack a couple of days ago to re-sample. After all, wines at a tasting are "work". Wines at home are more often for "fun" - and have a greater context for appreciation.

The Falmet hit it out of the park again. I bought the shop's last bottle last night (it's on back order...) just to ensure I'd have back-up what with more hazardous weather likely before I can say W-I-N-E! This is an example of the benefit of trying varietals you may never have heard of (really) before. It is also an example of a superb wine experience I - in my pre-wine industry days - would never have sought without the trustworthy help of a Sommelier (at a restaurant) or a wine shop's buyer.

In the New Year, I hope one of your resolutions is to  step outside your usual wine-drinking/buying box, and try something new. Even if you are an avid consumer and know your stuff, there is a LOT of juice on the market. Go on a blind date! Be enamored - or remember how great your other flings have been. In the coming weeks, I'll do my best to find some more intriguing winter finds and share them with you.

What blind (wine) date(s) have you been on? Was it a do-over or a never-do-again?

*The Wine Lover review is solid (and I found their food pairing entertaining given my initial notes), but describes the 2006 vintage, not the 07 currently available.