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Corison Kronos Vineyard Vertical Tasting

One of my favorite classes in college was an intensive study of Plato’s Republic. All we did, all semester, was read The Republic. Delving deep into one work was incredibly satisfying, and a great antidote to all those broad-but-shallow survey classes I had to take. (Alas, aside from the Allegory of the Cave, I remember nothing.)

Attending a vertical wine tasting, at least a good one, always reminds me of this class. A tasting of the same wine from multiple vintages, a vertical gives you the chance to focus on subtlety, meaning and nuance the way a “hey, let’s compare 40 Italian whites” tasting never can. When the wine in question comes from a single vineyard, and is made from a single variety, the experience is that much more enlightening. And, of course, when you really enjoy the wine, well, that’s what makes it fun.

Which is all to say I had a lot of fun last week at a vertical tasting of Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange. Kronos Vineyard is one of the oldest vineyards planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley, and producer Cathy Corison has been making wine in Napa for nearly 4 decades. I’ve had her “regular” Cabernet Sauvignon before, made from grapes sourced from vineyards around Rutherford and St. Helena. But this was my first shot at tasting wines from Kronos Vineyard, which she owns.

We ran through six vintages, with the refreshingly low-key Corison giving us the chance to taste and make observations on our own before sharing her insights. She says she’s looking to make wines that are “powerful and elegant,” an intention that comes through loud and clear. Not surprisingly, the younger vintages (2004 and 2006) show off their power more readily, with prominent (but not overwhelming) tannins that indicate these wines are ready to go the distance. They would be lovely to drink now, but if the 2000 and 2002 are any indication, why not wait? The 2000 was my favorite of the night, with mellow fruit aromas (think plum and blackberry), spice and herbal notes, and excellent structure. “Balance” is a word bandied around quite a bit in wine circles, and it’s a concept frequently discussed but rarely encountered. Corison’s wines, the 2000 in particular, exemplify the word: there’s no oak jutting out obtrusively, or alcohol or tannins to overwhelm the palate. Everything works together as one cohesive whole.

Corison loves her wines with lamb. If I were a)drinking more and b)able to spend $138 on something non-baby related, I would definitely pick up a bottle of the 2000 from Brooklyn Wine Exchange to accompany a nice leg of lamb for Easter dinner. Alas I am neither a) nor b) these days, so I leave it to you all to snag one of their few remaining bottles in stock.

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STBNY Favorites from Natural Wine Week

Happy NYC Natural Wine Week! Brought to you by natural wine importers/specialists Jenny & Francois, this event is now in its 7th year. NWW showcases wines made with minimal intervention at various wine retailers and restaurants across New York City. While I have some quibbles with the natural wine movement — particularly the fuzzy definition of what natural wine actually is — it’s undeniable that there are some terrific, thought-provoking natural wines out there. (There are also some natural wines out there that smell like my husband’s softball uniform after an extra-inning mid-August playoff game in Central Park, but I digress.)

Here are two of my favorite producers showcased this week:

La Grange Tiphaine

Adorable couple Coralie & Damien Delecheneau make still and sparkling wines in Touraine and Montlouis,  in the heart of the Loire Valley. I liked all of their wines, but my favorites were the sparkling white and rosé, both of which had me dreaming of summer. Not just the weather, mind you, but my post-pregnancy life when I will actually be able to drink immodest quantities of insanely refreshing wines such as these. The white, Le Nouveau Nez, is made from Chenin Blanc. It’s softly fizzy, with some subtle citrus notes, and would be great to drink all on its own. (As in, without food — not by oneself.  This is a highly sociable wine.)

If you have a keen eye and a little French, you’ll also note the cute play on words here:

“Nouveau Nez” means “new nose” but is also a homonym for “Nouveau Né” — that is, “newborn.” And that purple splotch on the label’s upper right hand corner is actually the profile of Coralie & Damien’s first baby. Coralie and I had a nice little chat about babies. (Note: being very visibly pregnant is a great conversation starter at a wine tasting.)

I also enjoyed their sparkling rosé, Rosa Rosé Rosam. One’s interest in this wine, I’d argue, would be directly proportional to one’s love of strawberries, as this is the vinuous equivalent of that fruit. Not in a sickly sweet, fruit wine way — just that this wine has the same appealing sweet/tart balance and subtle, slightly flowery scent as a great strawberry. Astor Wines has some of last year’s offering in stock, but as this wine is all about freshness, I’d recommend waiting for the next version, set to arrive soon. A little patience required — the wine has yet to be disgorged (that is, taken off its lees), hence the cloudiness:

I also loved the wines from Els Jelipins, a microscopically small producer working in the hills of Catalonia. Gloria Garriga (below — again, adorable) and her husband Oriol Illa may be running a tiny operation, but they have big ambitions.

Their reds are made from the ultra-obscure (and entirely new to me) Sumoll grape, have brilliant purity of fruit, and are somehow intense and subtle at the same time. The 2005 had sold out the day of the tasting, but look for the 2006 to hit the U.S. sometime in the next few months. For all those wine peeps who like to deride American taste in wine, take note: when I asked her if they sold a lot of their wines locally, she shook her head vigorously. Spainiards, she said, preferred to stick to the tried and true varieties and regions. “You Americans,” she said, “are much more open.” Cheers to that.

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An Evening with Ruinart (Or, Thoughts on Texture and the Competitiveness of Wine Bloggers)

As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a pregnancy-induced blogging sabbatical. It’s been harder to keep up with STBNY during pregnancy than I would have hoped. (In fact, it’s been harder to do everything during pregnancy than I would have hoped, but that’s another matter.) I have made a few exceptions. Late last year I went to a tasting of Tom Seaver’s wines, where I got to meet the great man himself. (Yes, that Tom Seaver. More on him soon, I promise.) And last week I went to a dinner/”sensory experience” for Ruinart champagne. Given that most of my sensory experiences lately have involved discomfort, heart palpitations, back pain, and nausea, a night of champagne tasting seemed like an excellent alternative.

The experience went something like this: following a very pleasant half-hour of chatting with fellow invitees/bloggers and the supremely charming Jean-Marc Gallot, president of Ruinart, we took our places, which were set thusly:

Each of the 8 vials in the box contained a different scent, which, according to the brain trust (nose trust?) over at International Flavors + Fragrances, was present in Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc champagne. It was our job to identify each of the smells and match them to the correct answer on a pre-printed list of 16 different aromas. Of course, we each had a glass of the Blanc de Blanc to help us along.

With Gallot teasing/encouraging us, we sniffed and scribbled away. Was #2 lemon…or grapefruit? The table arrangements held clues — like this little pot of pink peppercorns:

You’ve heard of blind tastings? This was more of a “blind smelling,” which put our collective olfactory skills to the test.

1. The folks over at LVMH are some damn fine marketers. Ruinart is the oldest continuous champagne house, and one with a slightly below-the-radar profile here in the U.S. This event was the perfect way to position Ruinart as a “boutique” brand, less mainstream than Moët or Veuve-Clicquot, but more accessible than Dom Pérignon or Krug. Gallot is the perfect guy to lead the charge. He has that all-too-rare combination (at least in the wine business) of American openness and French, well, Frenchiness. When I asked him what he liked to drink when he wasn’t drinking champagne he said he loved Bordeaux but…was beginning to really enjoy Burgundy. In New York, where obscurity is often touted as a virtue, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up with whatever the wine hipsters are drinking (“What you mean you’ve never had Grolleau? That was so 2010!”) it’s refreshing to remember that one can very happily stick to the classics. (If one has the budget for it, that is.)

2. Delicacy and simplicity are not the same thing. The chief virtue of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blanc is its finesse. Made from 100% Chardonnay — that’s what “Blanc de Blanc” means — this champagne is definitely on the lighter, crisper, end of the spectrum, which is the style I prefer. I think of champagnes like this as “lacy,” although I’m not sure how helpful that comparison is for anyone else. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that most of the smells they gave us were somehow present in the wine itself. I might take issue with the white peach, and I definitely wasn’t buying the pineapple (not coincidentally, the only one I got wrong), but ginger, jasmine, cardamom? Why not? Just because a wine is delicate or subtle, that doesn’t mean it can’t have a lot going on. I think it’s particularly difficult to detect this complexity in champagne, where texture (i.e., those bubbles) rather than aroma/flavor, makes the strongest first impression. Hence my classification of this wine as “lacy.” If that word doesn’t make intuitive sense to you, so be it: but I’d encourage you to pay as much attention to a wine’s texture as to its flavor. This is easiest to do with the extremes — say, sparkling at one end of the continuum and port at the other — but it’s not too hard to detect the silkiness of a good Pinot Noir or the roughness of a too-young Barolo or Bordeaux.

3. Wine bloggers are a competitive bunch. I’ve been to some fancy schools over the years and live in a city filled with Type A personalities, but nothing compares to a roomful of wine writers trying to out-smell and out-taste each other. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps the subjectivity of wine-tasting makes it all the more important that we state our opinions with authority? Or because an evening of sipping champagne in each other’s pleasant company doesn’t feel enough like work, so we have to be extra-serious in our wine analysis? Whatever the reason, I’ll cop to it as much as the next wine blogger. God knows, I’m still annoyed I only got 7 out of 8 right. Do you think I can turn in an extra-credit assignment?

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Chile, Part I: Viña Casa Silva – A Gangster’s Paradise

Hi there. My name is Bryan and I’m not a wine expert, but I am a really committed alcohol enthusiast. I went on a tour (cough-wine binge-cough) of three of Chile’s central wine regions—Colcahgua, Curico and Maule Valley—and visited eight wineries.  I’m going to write about them. Here’s the first.

Thomas Wilkins was sleeping when the stainless steel tanks ruptured.  It was almost four in the morning on a Sunday in late February. By the time he arrived at Viña Casa Silva, a million liters of bulk red wine gushed like a river of blood down the street. Locals gathered at the banks and made the best of a bad situation.

“Everyone was drunk by the time I arrived,” Thomas told me.

This is about as lighthearted story you’ll be able to pull from a natural disaster, in this case the monstrous 8.8 earthquake that struck just 5,000 or so meters off the coast of the Maule region of Chile. Yet, the Chileans are an indefatigable bunch, in case you haven’t noticed. As the Silva family and their staff rebuilt the winery (and moved the restaurant to a much better location), a minor, barely noticed human-interest story about some trapped miners took place due north.

“Next time, we’re going to be put sixty of them down there.”

Mr. Wilkins was not only the Casa Silva marketing and hospitality manager; he appeared to be their Chief Humorist.  And why not, spirits were high when I was Chile as it was just days after the last miner was safely pulled from the earth. The first glass of wine I sampled at this sprawling estate, overlooking Casa Silva’s rodeo arena (here’s a little known fact outside of the equestrian gossip set—Chilean horses are the only ungulate on earth that can run sideways) was supposedly a rosé. So here I am at this rodeo arena, tucked in the middle of a eucalyptus grove, watching the cabelleros chase a bull while drinking what I could have sworn was the lightest, freshest red wine of my lifetime.

The Reserva Rosé 2010 was a Carmenere-Syrah blend that made me want to smack the goodly percentage of rosé’s I’ve had up to that point.  I still can’t shake the first rosé I ever tried, at V. Sattui in Napa Valley.  It tasted like bubblegum someone else had chewed first.  What I was quaffing while watching the cabellero and his side-galloping steed tasted both bright and smooth. I’ve never had a rosé that wanted to be a red more.  I fell pretty hard for that wine.

Here’s the thing about Chilean wineries; they’re architecturally discordant.  One winery may look like a colonial castle while the next will be a cutting edge modern affair set on a reservoir.  You won’t believe what I have to tell you about Lapostolle, a winery that belongs in a James Bond flick as the villain’s lair, but that’s for another post.

Casa Silva had the feel of a 20th century gangster’s estate. There was the mythic polo field, which appeared to be roughly four thousand yards long, lined with a row of poplars like tall green spectators and the massive forested grandstands that were the Andes foothills behind them. The winery had underground tunnels with, I kid you not, a small jail cell in the midst of one winding passage. I can’t remember what reason Thomas gave for its existence, and I’d rather not.  I choose to think it’s where they locked up bad grapes. Then of course there’s the rodeo arena with the cowboys, none of whom appeared to be chewing tobacco, which kind of disappointed me. If all this weren’t enough, the Silva family owns a collection of outrageous, beautiful gleaming vintage cars that belong to the era of Tommy Guns and moonshine.  A vibrantly cherry red Buick and an inky black Hudson 47 were practically begging me to hot wire and take on a booze run.  That is if I could hot wire a car.

We tucked into salads and vegetables and soups and steaks at their newly moved restaurant, overlooking the polo field, and I took down two glasses of the Cool Coast Sauvignon Blanc, which according to the old notebook was “mineral-y” and “fresh”.  I was beginning to get drunk. The meat in Chile was as good for me as the meat in Argentina. Yes, you read that correctly.  The steak was made irreproachable by the bottle of Altura Thomas paired with it.  Depending on the harvest, the Altura is a blend, often Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. You can get a bottle for about $100 here in the U.S.  I suggest if you’re going to spend that kind of money also splurge on some really quality meat and go nuts.  I won’t even tell you what my notebook said about the pairing.

In sum, this was a seriously positive start to my Chilean jaunt.  I left Vina Casa Silva sated, tipsy, and sure that if I ever came upon a river of wine, I would have reacted the same way as the locals.

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Roman Holiday Finale

The exciting conclusion of Bene’s Roman adventure…
My final night in Rome, I treated myself to a blowout dinner. Not that I’d been restricting myself previously. But that day at lunch, I managed to only eat 2 pieces of pizza and a trapizzino, a pizza bianca sandwich stuffed with Roman fare like tripe, from a very cool slice joint in Testaccio called 00100. Before dinner, I took a walk through the old Jewish Ghetto to burn off a few calories and regain my appetite. The main thing my stroll accomplished was to remind me I hadn’t eaten fried artichokes alla Giudia this trip.

My final destination, the fish restaurant il Sanlorenzo, was another of my friend Giampaolo’s recommendations. I’d noticed it on a previous trip, all glass doors and stark decor smack dab in the middle of the historic center. Their fish arrives daily from Ponza, an island closer to Naples than Rome but part of Lazio, and Civitavecchia, a coastal town about an hour northwest of Rome. For fresher fish, you’d need to catch it yourself.

I’ve traveled a lot by myself, and I’ve noticed that solo diners often get the short end of the stick. Servers forget about you, and you’re restricted to a selection of wines by the glass unless you’re up for either drinking an entire bottle or paying for an entire bottle without finishing it. In Buenos Aires, a waiter actually whisked away the second chair at my table midway through the meal because another table needed it, leaving me feeling rather unloved and dejected. At il Sanlorenzo, instead, I was treated like a queen by co-owner Enrico Pierri, who runs the place with his wife Elena. The menu offered a tasting option that didn’t quite speak to me, a ton of other dishes that did, a substantial raw bar, and several specials. Indecision! The other problem of dining alone is that you have less to order and no one else’s dishes to taste; your decisions feel weightier. Enrico, who sent out a glass of Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs with the kitchen’s amuse bouche of fried anchovies and pancetta-cheese fritters, recognized my paralysis and offered to create a tasting menu just for me. And I said, yes, I want to go to there!

I began with a 2007 Luigi Maffini Pietraincatenata, a barrel-aged Fiano from Paestum that showed a lot more complexity than the usual Fianos from Avellino, and a trio of glistening crudi: cod, tuna, and amberjack, seasoned simply with a sprinkling of chives here, a chiffonade of basil there. My second course was a carpaccio of red shrimp, dressed with olive oil and lemon, which tasted like sweet butter of the sea. I made a mental note to get my cholesterol checked back home. My one request for my personalized tasting menu was sea urchin, and next arrived 6 perfect specimens on a bed of ice. Briny, sweet, with a bracing tinge of seaside metallic, they disappeared quickly.

The kitchen’s subsequent gift: a glass jar of squid, octopus, clams, mussels, and shrimp, which my server shook, gracefully emptied onto a plate with some basil, and dressed with a fruity olive oil. By this point I was drinking a 2009 Baroncino Chardonnay, a special mention winner at this year’s Vinitaly. Sea urchin returned with spaghetti, the sea creatures’ richness matching the nutty Chardonnay. Finally, out came a perfect fillet of spigola (that’s sea bass to you) served with lemon-scented potatoes topped with caviar, paired with a Bianco della Castellada, a “super-white” blend from one of Friuli’s most outstanding producers.
My two-course dessert consisted of cold strawberry soup surrounding an island of citrus panna cotta and a very grownup version of a kid’s Nutella sandwich: bread gelato (bizarrely delicious) and Gianduia gelato, served with a mini Nutella sandwich on a bread plate to the side. I wanted a dessert wine but instead wisely opted for a digestion aid in the form of Tre Soli Tre, a single-vineyard Nebbiolo grappa from Lombardy producer Berta. Sated, smiling, and even a little giddy from all that amazing food and wine, I was already planning where to eat on my next trip to Rome.

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STBNY Programming Announcement

Big news here at STBNY HQ, folks: I’m pregnant! With twins, no less! While this is amazing news for STBNY the person, it’s been tricky for STBNY the blog. As you may have noticed, my posts have tapered off recently. Partially because I haven’t been drinking wine since late August — but also because my usual after-work blogging time has now become “lying on the couch exhausted and trying not to throw up” time.

I’m hoping to ramp up here as I enter my second trimester and the  fog of nausea and fatigue begins to lift. The content mix will obviously change. You’ll see some more guest posts — including what should be a fun series from Chile — plus more food, and fewer wine write ups.

At some point, I will likely have the occasional glass of wine. Right now though even thinking about wine turns my stomach (talk about words I never thought I’d write), so not sure when occasional glass might happen.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and thanks for bearing with me over the next six months!

Roman Holiday #2: A Visit with the Archangel

Bene’s next installment finds her visiting Ristorante L’Arcangelo. I’ll spare you puns about the food being heavenly, but I couldn’t resist thisFra Angelico fresco of The Annunciation. (The Archangel Gabriel — get it?)

When I moved to Rome in the mid-90s, I witnessed initial sparks of a food revolution. The Slow Food movement, which began in Italy’s Piedmont region, was making inroads, and a handful of restaurateurs were trying to wake the Eternal City up from its eternal reliance on tired trattorie. Fifteen years later, I found a really exciting culinary energy in the city, with more and more chefs successfully putting their own spin on Roman cuisine without ever abandoning old favorites completely. A great example of this was Ristorante L’Arcangelo, where chef Arcangelo Dandini breathes new life into the classic dishes, techniques, and ingredients of Rome and the surrounding area.

My companion, John, and I started with a glass of St. Paul’s Gewurztraminer and Casale Certosa Convenio Malvasia di Puntinata (again sticking to my “drink local” adage), respectively, as we admired our amuse bouche of lentils from the Lazio town of Onano, cooked simply in a dark, rich, tomato-based sauce. We split an incredible potato-cheese torte, smoky with mackerel and grilled rosemary, with marinated beets providing acidity and color, and also shared fried nuggets of rabbit with raisins, pine nuts, ramoracce, wild greens found in the Roman countryside, and croutons made from sweet fette biscottate, packaged crisp toasts that are a staple of the Italian breakfast table, such as it exists. During our starters, we moved into the bottle we’d selected, a 2006 Montevertine, a Sangiovese-Canaiolo blend I had way higher hopes for. It should have been complex with a long finish, but it never seemed to open up; it was just, well, okay. Maybe in a few years.

John and I shared one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten: thick spaghetti with aglio rosso (“red garlic”), grape must, and extra-aged Parmigiano. I have no idea what they did or how they did it, only that these three ingredients came together in an astoundingly delicious way. We went our separate ways with course #3, John choosing the pigeon special (evidently the mascot of the week), and me going with what was billed on the menu as an “aromatic torment,” which turned out to be small tasting portions of anchovies with butter, a brioche-like sweet bread, and a dusting of ground coffee; roast quail with lavender and cicerchie, a legume related to the chickpea; porchetta; and unctuous oxtail, another staple of Roman cooking. Our dark chocolate, turmeric-infused dessert was nicely paired with a highly-spiced, herbaceous Barolo Chinato from Teobaldo Cappellano, whose ancestor apparently invented the stuff.

Riding back to my hotel on the back of John’s moped, I reflected on the dinner, which was both totally Roman and one step removed. I felt like I’d seen an old friend who had gotten a great new haircut: same friend, just a little spruced up.

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Guest Post: Roman Holiday

Bene’s back! Here’s the next installment of her visit to Italy:

I kicked off my first day in Rome with some Caravaggios and by lunchtime I was famished. I met a friend at Roscioli, one of my favorite spots. Part general store, part enoteca and part high-end restaurant, with a top-notch bakery around the corner, Roscioli is a place you could eat at every day. [Also, I love that they quote Shake Shack on their Web site: "There are no shortcuts to quality." - Ed.] Even twice in the same day (more on that later). I ordered caponata to start, and before you say, wow, that sounds boring, even the most boring-sounding, traditional dishes come out of this kitchen like the Platonic ideals of themselves, thanks to Roscioli’s sourcing of the best ingredients from all over Italy. This caponata, sweet and tangy and graced with Sicilian sardines, was amazing, improved only by the addition of a 2008 Coroncino Verdicchio, golden in the glass and buttery on the tongue.
I had to order the carbonara, ubiquitous in Rome but rarely even nearly as good as Roscioli’s version featuring thick spaghetti from Abruzzo, guanciale from monte Conero and eggs from an obsessive Tuscan farmer. I stuck to my drink local mantra with a 2007 Casale della Ioria Cesanese del Piglio, the Lazio region’s only DOCG, whose acidity helped cut the delicious richness of the carbonara. My companion chose anchovies and butter and toast — the humblest of ingredients coming together to throw a party in your mouth — and a 2003 Frabusco from Tenuta Corini in Umbria, a full-bodied Sangiovese-Montepulciano-Merlot blend that would have been nice to linger over on a cloudy fall afternoon, but, alas, my friend had to get back to work, and I had to….take a nap.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Miss Vicky Wine — With Free Shipping No Less

I’ve been pressed for time these days, which is one reason why I’m delighted to kill two birds with one stone in this post: supporting one of my favorite wine peeps and offering all you lovely STBNY readers a nice deal. Miss Vicky Wine, who I’ve written about before, is a super-energetic young Frenchwoman who is on a mission to bring her family’s wine to the world — or, at the very least, the U.S.

The wine in question is Fleurie, one of the cru of Beaujolais. We’re not talking bubblegum fruity Beaujolais Nouveau here. Fleurie, and the other 9 crus (=subregions, more or less) of Beaujolais produce fruity, highly satisfying, and highly undervalued wines. Miss Vicky’s 2007 Fleurie fits squarely in this category. Fresh, with subtle fruit and more than a hint of earthiness, this wine practically screams fall. (Keats’ “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that.) It would be great with roast chicken or any straightforward poultry or light pork dish.

It’s priced at $18.80/bottle, and available only online. And if you email me at sasha@spinthebottleny I will send you the free shipping code. And let me know what you think!

In the meantime, check out this vid Miss Vicky (that’s Anne-Victoire to you) made of this year’s harvest, which looks to have been both exhausting and a pretty kick-ass time.

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One Great Buy: 2007 Les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse

This 2007 Les Aphillanthes Vin de Pays de Vaucluse is one of the most enjoyable wines I’ve had all summer. And I’d say that even if it weren’t $14.99, a darn good price for a wine with this much personality. (Looks like you can get it for a buck less if you buy from the importer, Weygandt Wines.) Noted Rhône producer Domaine les Aphillanthes makes a number of wines, many in the $20-$30 range, from the traditional regional varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and the like. This vin de pays is their entry level offering, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Grenache that’s a tad more sophisticated than the your basic Rhône. Sure, there’s the dark fruit and spice that make young, accessible Rhônes such fan favorites, but there’s also some leather and tobacco on the nose and finish. Especially on the finish. A wine at this price has no right to have such a long, compelling finish. But lucky for us, it does. This is a great wine to take you the fall. It’ll play nice with whatever red meat you choose to throw on the BBQ this Labor Day weekend, and will marry perfectly with stews and roasts as the weather turns cooler.

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