Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cheap reds for summer grillin'!

Let’s talk imports. I love domestic wines as much as the next gal, especially the killer stuff coming out of Washington State. But sometimes the best values come from imports. Both the wines in this entry are great values at $8 per bottle, though they each appeal to a different palate.

First, the MAN Vintners’ Shiraz from South Africa. Shiraz is a grape ordinarily associated with Australia these days, though it is native to France, where it is called Syrah. Australian Shiraz runs the gamut – from bold, structured, highly tannic wines to jammy, high-alcohol fruit-bombs. What makes the MAN Vintners’ 2008 Shiraz so unique is how it manages to be so fruit forward, with rich, berry flavors WITHOUT coming across as jammy or sweet. The acidity lifts the wine in the palate, giving it a light, pleasant texture. Soft hints of pipe tobacco and vanilla linger on the finish. The nose is delightful. This wine smells for all the world like blueberries and cream. It’s light, lovely flavors and easy-drinking texture makes MAN Vintners’ 2008 South African Shiraz a great choice for any occasion – to bring to a party or potluck, to serve with pasta, pizza, or barbecue. And if you’ve never tasted a shiraz before, this is a perfect place to start.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: MAN Vintners’ Shiraz
Grapes: Shiraz (final blend unknown)
Vintage: 2008
ABV: 14%
Origin: Coastal Region, South Africa
Color: ruby with faint violet highlights
Nose: soft vanilla-accented blueberries
Palate: smooth, rich, jammy forest berry with a touch of spice on finish

The next wine is as affordable as the MAN, but is at the opposite end of the wine spectrum. It’s the Tarima Monastrell. Where the MAN is light, Tarima is robust. Where MAN is vanilla-accented berry, Tarima is a pepper-punched plum. I don’t want to frighten you into thinking that Tarima Monastrell is inaccessible – far from it. But a bit of warning is necessary, because wines this big just aren’t for everyone.

Monastrell (called mourvedre everywhere but Spain) is not a grape known for pulling its punches. Varietal (100% pure) bottlings of this grape are uncommon outside of Spain, and even when you find ‘em … well, no one does it quite like the Spanish. Certainly not for $8.
Tarima’s 2009 Monastrell comes from Jumilla, a region of Spain where vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera root louse as recently as 1989. However, the devastation ended up being a catalyst for the region to reinvent itself from one known for cheap, low-quality wine into one capable of producing artisan-quality bottles from native varietals – such as Monastrell. Ideally suited to the climate and terrain, many wine-makers replanted with this grape, and now, as the vines are becoming mature, the wines from Jumilla are getting better and better.
The Tarima is a fantastic example of what this grape is all about. The amount of flavor packed into this $8 bottle is almost criminal. Upon first sip, the palate is blanketed in mouth-coating tannins – the kind that are pleasantly rich and chewy, not bitter and overpowering. These strong tannins are simultaneously mellowed by two factors – the wine’s high acidty, giving it a clean finish, and its high alcohol content, giving it a silky smooth mouthfeel. In fact, for how big and bold this wine is, it’s amazing just HOW light it comes across on the palate. As for the flavor? Think of brandy-braised plums spiced liberally with rosemary and black pepper. A monstrous monastrell if ever there was one. With ribs, with steak, with bacon burgers … I am begging you to put this one in your face.

Date: 6/18/2010
Wine: Tarima Monastrell
Grapes: 100% Monastrell
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 15%
Origin: Jumilla, Spain
Color: bright ruby-violet
Nose: Spicy blackberry, clove, vanilla, tobacco. Heavy oak, hooray for Spain!
Palate: Fantastic mouth-coating tannins and great acid. Lots of red fruit. Bold, yet light. Pepper and brandy on the finish.

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