Vecchia Cantina Rosso di Montepulciano 2014

DOC compliant, here we are cosying up to sangiovese again. And why not? Savory rather than fruit-driven, herbaceous, dry (obvs), and yet full of hints of roses and dried fruit potpourri, the reasons to pursue this grape are manifold.

Here’s the essential beauty and impenetrability of wine; it’s exotic (in the original sense of the word) and transports the elements of the place of origin to the consumer, who might be many miles away.

Romanticism is valuable to wine. Wine is a product of the long past of romantic language countries; the surprise is just how much power the yearning for such places still exists. For new world consumers, the idea – the idea -of Italian wine automatically creates a positive disposition. Either that or the idea of Italian wine engenders utter fear. Oh well.

For those of us who are sufficiently adventurous to spend fewer than fifteen dollars on a bottle of wine, the experience is often better than we hope. As with this bottle. Savory, layered, surprisingly tannic and in the best sense of the word, she’s a kind of winegate to Italy.

Be prepared for a multi-component nose, seamless transition to the palate and those terrific tannins.

$12.49

H to H Chateauneuf du Pape 2014

At the low end of the price range, here’s a slice of the Southern Rhone. Not really a slice, although there’s certainly enough going on in the glass to rival a delicious small snack.

There’s an interesting start to this wine, with its distinct glycerine meniscus; clear, sitting happily above the medium body dark cherry blend. This is an AOC wine, so it should be at least representative, and at most a beacon of wine quality.

It lives in the middle of those two extremes, which is impressive given the (more expensive) competition. There’s a warm dark fruit nose with a dusty barnyard-y nose, which improves with air. The more the better I’d say.

In the mouth I found a lot of flavour. There’s a kind of glamping feel about this wine – loads of quality, clear structure, layers of acid and bright fruit but with a dry herb (thyme) and smoky thread. With nothing overwhelming, it’s like gradually walking through a list of primary and secondary wine qualities. There are no rough edges,  and everything works through the tasting grid in order, and yet there’s the sense of still being in the vineyard.

$29.99

Vistamar Brisa Merlot 2015

Merlot sits astride the spectrum of red wines, pretty much bang in the middle. If syrah lies on the big end of things, with big body and its evocative opaque mystery, pinot noir lies on the other, with lightness of feel and look.

Middleness does not imply mediocrity. Here I’m talking about inherent qualities of the fruit, not the wine end-product.

Cool-climate merlots tend toward the red fruit, tobacco, tar, structure and tannic end of matters. Warm-climate merlots are more in the black fruit, cherry, chocolate, juicy acids and silky tannin mould. As with any complex product, nothing is ever binary in winemaking, but these generalizations hold reasonably well.

This Chilean number fits the cool-climate model. That’s interesting because when one thinks of Chile’s Central Valley, we wouldn’t immediately connect it with, say, the Right Bank of Bordeaux. But there they are, all of the recognizable characteristics; red fruit, medium-sweet tobacco and dry vanilla on the nose. Lively fruit with an earthy thread combine with structured tannins to produce a finish that lingers just so.

Chilean red wines seem to produce an earthy peppery note that is nowhere near peppery; like a kind of seasoning, as you’d expect on a good steak. It’s not salty, but feels like the equivalent in the wine. Here it is mild and only adds a nice half-layer of complexity.

$8.99

Albrecht Riesling Tradition 2015

Nominally dry, this is so much more.

There’s a point after the first sip of this wine when you might think: ummm, okay.

Then, when she begins to warm up, her charms gradually come to light.

There’s the subtle nose which reminds me of an expensive perfume; forget the cheap junk from your drug store, think more of the exclusive French stuff.

In the beginning there’s a kind of unimposing quality to this wine. In my experience, all the impact of – especially – a white wine comes in the first sniff and taste. In this one, the start is kinda anonymous; thereafter matters improve.

That might just be the first glass syndrome. You know. Once we have some alcohol in our system, we’re inclined towards a more positive outlook. I submit this is something more. Maybe a warming of the wine. perhaps something magical about nuance revealing itself.

Outstanding. Choose your food to go with it.

$18.99

Eifel-Pfeiffer Spatlese 2015

Double-barrelled names automatically imply importance. Okay, if not importance, then surely history.  And if not history, royalty, which some mistakenly think is the same thing.

Compound names were, in times past, reserved for aristocratic family unions. Beneath a certain (well defined) social stratum, women automatically took their husband’s name. When the value of a spousal union spread beyond the immediate couple and their family, everyone profited.

I have no idea about the melding of the Eifel and the Pfeiffer families. The first wedding, the adoption of the name and any romance associated with it is a subject best left to the imagination. When power forges with lust, anything can happen.

In any case, here we have a Spatlese. Riesling. Picked at a pre-determined ripeness, the future sweetness is thusly pre-determined, which is not to discount winemaking skill. Clearly in evidence, this is a glass of exuberance guaranteed to brighten your day.

The nose is not over-the-top, but on the palate the fun begins. All-star ripe (or even over-ripe) fruits give themselves a form with zest and brilliance. Sweet and crisp, bright and juicy, this is a symphony of German summer.

The finish gives us sliced apple acids, peaches and mandarin acids, lingering long enough to tempt us for another sip.

$21.99

Mueller Bereich Bernkastel QbA 2015

Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete. This is the ground floor elevator stop for the delicious high-rise that is the Riesling Building. You know this landmark of Wine City. It stands majestic and slightly aloof, separate from all others, ancient as Rome, modern as tomorrow.

Ahem.

Prädikat wines – those of distinctive harvest-timed grapes – begin on the second or third floor, but let’s not dismiss the yeomen on the lowest level. Those in the basement, perhaps, but QbAs are a solid and sometimes spectacular success.

Here’s a wine that’s not spectacular, but it is a quality glass. Not a large punchy wine, all the volume knobs are set low, like a Gerry Rafferty number rather than those Led Zep rieslings. And like a Gerry Rafferty tune, the fact of lower volume means the nuances of the different instruments are more noticeable. That and the lovely harmonies, as well as the soulful sax solo.

All that translates to a muted nose and absolutely delicious fruit of lemony-lime, ginger, late harvest fruit late on the palate and a complete, short finish. It might not have the view of higher floors, but it sure has a great office.

$12.49

Dr Loosen “Dr L” Riesling 2015

How much of an art is that of the winemaker in Germany? First one must deal with the far northern challenges of sun and cold. Then there are the regulatory boundaries, followed by the more granular catacombs of each vintage’s minor chaotic difficulties; frost, rain, hail, thunderstorms, to say nothing of the steep slatey land.

But through all of that is the grape itself. Ah, riesling, that most singular and misunderstood – if not misrepresented – iteration of vitus vinifera. Such a delight in all its forms.

* daydreaming of rieslings past, from Alsace to the Clare valley *

Riesling is one grape type that rides above many others. Because it grows in such tricky places and yet still manages to find itself made into an enormous range of wines, it’s easier to avoid it or, worse, dismiss entirely. I like her because she’s so easy to enjoy completely on her own terms, a kind of purity of intent; grapes, soil, weather, harvest, winemaking, aging.

That’s enough to be going on with. Nectarines, tennis ball, acids, summer fruits, acids, mild minerals, crisp sweetish lime,  if not.

$12.99

Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Kabinett Riesling 2014

Look at that shade of gold. How wonderful.

The viscosity says medium plus (at least).

Smell the richness of the aromas.

Oh my, what a glass. I’m not certain this is a classic Kabinett, but that hardly matters. My first thought is that this glass reminds me of something from the Clare Valley or the Eden Valley, both reisling resorts in South Australia. A punchiness in in evidence here, a quality reminiscent of antipodean rieslings.

That’s all a good thing. Take Pfalz fruit and add exuberance and this is the result. A wine that hints at being on the sweet side – almost candied fruit, almost juicy apricot – and yet remains clearly on the drier side with back of palate acids that keep all that fruit corralled.  Some guava finds its way into the glass too. It’s not complex, simply active.

Kabinett rieslings are supposed to be light and elegant. This is verging on medium weight and fiesty. Hooray for that.

$13.99

Gnarled Vine Zinfandel 2015

In the same way that automobile manufacturers create models at incremental price points, so too do wine producers.

Here we have the entry level zinfandel from the Oak Ridge people. I note from Vivino that folks purchase this Honda Civic at Costco and Total Wine, so we’re clearly in the mass market.

Which is no comment at all on the quality of the glass. Here’s a straightforward Californian zinfandel that gives great mileage, is reliable, comfortable, inexpensive to operate and – with a little care – will start first time every time. It’s that kind of a wine.

No rough edges here. All of the in-demand features are present and correct, from the slightly brambly nose and palate feel, through some sweet licorice and cola to the satisfying mildly spicy finish. No loose threads or awkward clutch action with this wonder of mass production.

$9.99

Anne de K Pinot Gris Altenbourg VV 2014

Where empires collide. Civilizations rise and fall. The European Parliament resides…well I guess not everything can be great. Also: wine.

Ah-hah you might respond. Alsace. Strasbourg. Territory over which France and Germany (Gaul, Prussia, etc) have fought for ever, currently French. Let’s not even talk about the Romans.

Funny thing about conflict and chaos; it can lead to innovation working with conservatism, new influences working within tradition; crossroads are where we find renewal.

In some pursuits the layering of time and generations makes a difference. Automobiles, computers, agriculture – in fact all of civilization can be boiled down to one generation building upon the achievements of those prior.

Winemaking is – especially in the case of Alsace – a brilliant case study of this phenomenon. Hundreds of years of gradually accumulated knowledge of soil, weather, plant, biology and the effects of time build upon each other to create an industry with deep roots. Yeah, it’s a pun, but not a dopey one.

I don’t know much about this wine, other than it’s pinot gris made in the Alsation style, which is to say:

Alsace Pinot Gris wines must be made with 100% Pinot Gris grapes and they taste very complex. You’ll discover spice notes of cinnamon, honey, clove, meyer lemon and ginger paired with a looooong tingly aftertaste. Look for the words ‘Vendages Tardives’ as a late harvest (even sweeter) dessert wine option.

Quoted from here, with thanks, attribution and imprecation to go buy the book.

This glass is everything you’d expect and then some. Yes, sweeter than pinot grigio by a long measure, but you’ll be so astonished by the depth and complexity it won’t matter. We’re talking the same grape that crap supermarket junk wine is made from here. The flavour profile is more like a Sauternes than anything else; a Sauternes in (very) infancy, for sure, but the layering of fruit and the depth and the effortless complexity are all there.

Funny thing complexity, it can take a while to put into a bottle.

$19.99