Pineau des Charentes AOC, France; 17% ABV
imported by Halby Marketing, Sonoma, CA
$5 for 375ml at the Richmond, CA, store
When I ordered this, I thought it was just some French white wine I’d never heard of. When it arrived, I was completely baffled, so I looked up Pineau des Charentes in Wikipedia: It is “a regional French aperitif … a fortified wine (mistelle or vin de liqueur), made from either fresh, unfermented grape juice or a blend of lightly fermented grape must, to which a Cognac eau-de-vie [twice-distilled spirits] is added and then matured.” So, of course, I had to try one.
I think this is delicious! It’s sweet from the fresh grapes, but a little less sweet than a dessert wine. I’m not satisfied with my description here, but what comes to mind is honeysuckle / honey and yellow-grapey canned oranges, peaches, and pears. The flavor of purified alcohol is also prominent. I prefer it chilled. For me, at least, this aperitif, with its delicious sweetness and high alcohol content, is a bit dangerous. 🙂
Bordeaux AOC, France
imported by Aquitane Wine USA, LLC
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon; 12.5% ABV
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store on around 24 Feb
I believe I bought this after a couple customers recommended it. I thought it was good but not especially remarkable.
I decanted the wine and left it alone for a couple hours. The fruit became more accessible, showing earthy red cherry / redcurrant, darkening over time to include a little blackcurrant / blackberry. It struck me as tasty Bordeaux, but nothing exceptional.
A number of days later, the saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle showed its fruit a little more soft and sweet, and was much more immediately pleasant, but was otherwise much the same.
The gold-colored sticker says “Concours des Grands Vins de France a Macon, Medaille D’Or, 2015.”
Qualitatswein Halbtrocken, Mosel, Germany; 11.5% ABV
$4 at the Richmond, CA, store on 3 March; gone now
Usually, I avoid gimmicky bottles, but this one got me. Plus, it’s a Dornfelder, of which we’ve had only one previous example. “Halbtrocken,” translated literally, means “half dry,” so I was expecting it to be kind of sweet, and chilled it. It turns out it’s not that sweet, and I don’t recommend chilling it. 🙂
Rather than a “sweet red,” the wine really is more of a “soft red.” It has tasty enough flavors of grapey red-purple berry-cherry, perhaps a little plum, not all that complicated, smooth and easy to drink, with a reasonable amount of acid to balance the sweetness.
The next day it’s very much the same, maybe a little more supple.
More on the gimmicky bottle. The base is pretty much one third of a circle, with the front rounded and the back having two edges that would be radii of the circle, coming to a corner at the center of the circle. The top is of course completely round with a normal cork, and a sealing wax-type thing just on top of the cork itself. Unlike many apparently colored bottles that are actually clear glass with a colored plastic wrapping, this appears to be red glass, the color of which you can see at the very top. This photo was taken before the bottle was opened.
Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal
35% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 35% Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela), 30% Castelão; 14% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 27 Feb
So… I bought and opened this expecting it to be like the previous Portuguese reds I’ve tasted: very dry, tannic, ripe but rather acid, and needing 1.5 – 2 hours in a decanter for me to really find it palatable. Instead, I probably would have believed you if you had told me this was a Tempranillo – Cabernet blend from the Central Coast of California. I tasted sweet, ripe, red cherry fruit on first pour. With more time in a decanter, the red fruit darkened and became purplish, much like Cabernet flavors. The wine seems fully aired after about 90 minutes, with softly textured flavors of sweetly ripe purplish red cherry, dark red / black raspberry / almost blackberry, dusty cinnamon / dried orange peel, with a drying, but not unpleasant, tannic finish. Although not at all what I had expected, this seems like a pretty good wine for the price, a European wine that I would not recommend to people who prefer European wines, but to those who prefer Californian wines.
The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle of this wine was less sweet and fuzzy, more acid (not saying that much in this case), but still with sweetly ripe Cabernet- and somewhat Tempranillo-tasting fruit, and still entertainingly Drinkable.
Paso Robles, CA; ABV probably about 14.5% (recycled before I wrote it down)
$6 at the Richmond, CA, store on 23 Feb
This wine shows typical Paso Robles ripe fruit of dark purple / red cherry, grape, and blackberry, slightly herbal / earthy, balanced by strongish acid of blackberry / raspberry, with a slight tinge of spoiledness / not quite vinegar that makes me think this is past its prime. It’s reasonably Drinkable, but drink it up ASAP.
The saved, single-glass, screw-cap bottle reinforces this conclusion. It’s much redder and a bit more lean than on the first night, although still softly fruity, and tasting of an unusual herbaceous flavor which strikes me as cilantro. So, I guess this wine is okay, maybe even good, if it’s consumed in one night, but I wouldn’t get it to consume over more than one night.
McLauren Vale, South Australia; 14.0% ABV
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 24 Feb
This wine was one whose label seemed a bit odd, but it was from a good area, so I thought it might be a good wine in hiding. I did decide that’s the case, although not on the first night.
The wine seemed promising, with ripe dark fruit, rather dry, but with a good bit of acid that I hoped would resolve as more fruit came out. However, even over about 2.5 hours, it never really did. The fruit, of blackberry / plum / blueberry, never really filled out and balanced the acid of boysenberry / plum, although the wine did soften a little and add possible complexities of light prune and mint. I suspect this wine is still a bit young.
The next day, the saved single-glass, screw-cap bottle was much better, still needing a bit of air for the fruit to become accessible and, to my surprise, elegant, with the complexities of mint and earthy prune more definite. This wine should probably be given another year or two of age, but is pretty good for the price. I got another bottle that I’m plotting to blend with the Pioneer Red. 🙂
Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux, France; 13.5% ABV
imported by Halby Marketing, Inc., Sonoma, CA
$7 for 375ml at the Richmond, CA, store on 27 Feb
On the nose and then on the palate, the wine shows full-flavored but delicately delineated honeysuckle, yellow pear / apple, pineapple, ripe Asian pear, very slight (if any?) botrytis, and ripe apricot. This is not the most amazing Sauternes, but it is an outstanding bargain. Like most such sweet wines, this could probably develop well for at least another ten years in good storage.
The next day, the flavors were much the same, with the flavors more delicate and “liquidy.”
Beneventano Indicazione Geographica Protetta, Campania, Italy; 12.5% ABV
imported by 8 Vini, San Leandro, CA
$5 at the Richmond, CA, store on 16 Feb
I’ve enjoyed previous Aglianicos from the GO, so I thought this might also be interesting. Turns out, not particularly on the first night.
The wine is a bit thin and tart, with flavors of ripe and tart red cherries, red / slightly purple plum, red table grape, and perhaps a hint of black olive. It developed only a little more fruit with some time in a decanter, with maybe a little something floral. So far, it’s neither interesting nor tasty.
A couple days later, however, the saved single-glass, screw-cap bottle was much better. I guess at vintage 2015 it’s still a pretty young wine. It was still on the acid side, but the fruit, of a zesty red raspberry and cherry, was more prominent, more full, and more complex. It went well with cheese toasts with a layer of left-over red pasta sauce. 🙂
Prosecco DOCG, Italy; 11% ABV
$10 at the Richmond, CA, store just before New Year’s Eve, 2016
I bought this bottle because I’ve previously liked some Giormani offerings, and I wanted something to bring to a NYE party. It turned out that my hosts were already quite well supplied, so I just brought this home, and opened it only this evening. I find myself thinking it’s only okay.
On the palate, the wine is immediately pleasantly light-lemony, with perhaps some crisp white pear, but it then drifts into a sort of Sprite / 7-Up aspect of which I’m not that fond, finishing with some green grape skin..
I haven’t seen this DOCG offering since around the holidays, but a Giormani DOC Prosecco, $7 IIRC, is still around.
The next day, the wine was much the same, and I’m still not that excited about it as a way to spend $10.
Rias Baixas DO, Spain; 12.5% ABV
$3 at the Richmond, CA, store on 19 Feb
I’ve quite enjoyed Albariño from Rias Baixas before, and this wine, with its pretty label, screw cap, and low price, was an obvious buy. It is indeed a good buy, with somewhat delicate flavors of gentle lemon, yellow apple / pear, and honeyed wood, with crisp acid and a drying minerality.
The next day, the flavors are less delicate, the apple becoming more pineapple, and overall still quite tasty for the low price. It’s not as good as the previous Albariños, but it is only $3.