I recently stumbled across my notes from four red wines I bought a few months ago while looking for some new deals. Some were quite good and all come from nationwide importers, so should you have a mind to do so, you can find them.
Bodegas Piqueras Castillo de Almansa 2006 - 100% Garnacha Tintorera. Huh? Okay, I'll explain. Garnacha Tintorera is the local name in the southeast of Spain for Alicante Bouschet. Huh? Okay, here's more...Alicante Bouschet is a crossing of Grenache and Petit Bouschet (itself a crossing of Aramon and Teinturier du Cher - I promise to let this stop here). The term Teinturier (French for 'dyer') is used to refer to grapes with lots of color that can add tint to sometimes over-cropped, thinner-skinned grapes. Alicante Bouschet, or Garnacha Tintorera, is the only grape I can call to mind immediately that actually has red juice if you squeeze it. Needless to say, it could add color to less intense juice. According to Appellation America, "Alicante Bouschet hit its height of popularity in the United States, during Prohibition. Alicante Bouschet's vibrant red color allowed bootleggers to stretch it with water and sugar." So, are you thirsty yet?
The Piqueras family founded the estate in 1915 and produces this label for the U.S. market. The vineyard is just short of 2,000 feet in elevation and the wine is fermented and aged (six months) in only stainless steel. Okay, okay, okay...what about the taste? Frankly, I just wasted a bit of your time. Sorry. I found the story fascinating, but not the wine. It was prickly on the tongue, even the second day. It worked all right with sausage, but was no fun to drink. The color was a spectacular ruby/purple and the texture of the wine, prickle aside, was quite nice and relatively big. Time faded the spritz, but left tannin and meat flavors, mutton in particular. It is possible this was an isolated bottle issue, but my experience tells me that when the nearly spritzy prickle sensation appears in a wine the entire batch is likely damaged. Importer - Winebow $8-$10
Almira Los Dos "Old Vines" 2007 - From the northern Spanish appellation Campo de Borja, this wine is a blend of 85% Garnacha (Grenache) and 15% Syrah. The vines are 35-50 years old and the wine is vinified and aged (one month) entirely in stainless steel. Campo de Borja is the undisputed leader in Garnacha production in Spain, both for value and quality. The color here, as expected, is brighter and more ruby than the Piqueras. I found pure, juicy fruit, some black pepper and a friendly gulpability. It is both simple and simply delicious. The alcohol seemed a bit high on the nose, but a slight chill mostly took care of that. This is the classic nearly Beaujolais style of Garnacha, lovely, easy, and very drinkable. The 2nd day brought more wild fruit, beginning to move toward earth notes, but remained easy and tasty. In comparison to one of my other current favorites, Borsao, this is juicier and less structured; ideal for summer grilling because it can stand a bit of a chill. Importer - Winebow $7-$9
Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir 2007 - From San Rafael in the southern end of Mendoza, Argentina. Although the vineyard is lower in altitude than the family vineyards in the northern portion of Mendoza (1,300-1,600 versus 2,600) there is a corridor that allows important cooling breezes to descend from the Andes. They are fourth generation winemakers and clearly they have learned a few things. The grapes are hand harvested and the wine ages in oak, I assume French, for 8 months. It is 100% Pinot Noir. The wood does show fairly strong on the nose with a subtle sweet note (i.e. not heavily toasted); in the glass it is a lovely shade of raspberry red. Vanilla from the oak and bright red cherries soar out of the glass. A bass note from the oak gives a bit of heft to this light bodied wine. I say that in a respectful Pinot Noir way, rather than a wimpy way. The palate is balanced, showing more wood, but the wine is impressively Pinot Noir for the price. Easy access Pinot Noir, not Pinot trying to be Syrah; Hallelujah! Just the right thing for the nights you decide to get a roasted chicken at the store on the way home and want something to slurp that won't overwhelm the food. I think a slight chill here on a warm day would be nice. Quite a deal. Importer - Hand Picked Selections $10-$12
Domaine Font-Mars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 - Font-Mars (soil of dinosaurs) is so named because of the fossils found in the area. The de Clock family, originally Dutch, arrived in Bordeaux in 1679. A mere seven years later, King Louis XIV made Jean officially French due to the quality of his wines. From the south of France, in the heart of Languedoc, strangely near the white wine producing area of Picpoul, comes this Cabernet Sauvignon. I usually find Cabernet from this area to be mass produced for the export market and consequently vapid. Couple this with the presence of two T-Rexes holding a coat of arms on the label and I was decidedly skeptical. The color was a pretty red, with slight earth and slight leaf and green hints on the nose. This is not an unripe bell pepper note, but a classic Cabernet trait not seen often in wines from California. Some fresh pepper on the nose leads to a palate that was a bit tight due to acid not tannin, but I found it well done. Fortunately for me, this was not made in an international style. A slight tar note appears on the back end. Great, bright red acid on the nose offers an interesting balance with the tar, which I quite like. With a bit of time in the glass (10 minutes or so) the finish fleshed out nicely. Deeper fruit, not quite plum, also came with air. I like this wine, but it is not for people who want the intensity of Napa Cab. Think chicken, pork, red sauces, especially a Bolognese. I recall raving about this as a substitute for Chianti since that wine nearly always disappoints for the same price. Importer - Weygandt-Metzler $10-$14