Three distinct wines connected by individuality and value
Normally when I write this column it's based on a particular theme – a specific varietal or winery for instance. When I started tasting selections for this month's review, something else emerged. I found three wines that really only had two things that linked them together: (1) they're downright delicious, and (2) each is an excellent value. These particular wines stood out so much that I felt they needed to stand together.
First up is the Simonsig 2007 Pinotage from South Africa. Pinotage is a hybrid of Cinsault and Pinot Noir that was created on 1924. Simonsig Family Vineyards has been making numerous Pinotage selections since 1970. Fruit for this offering was sourced in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, and this wine is 100 percent Pinotage. There is no oak treatment on this offering. About 5,000 cases of this wine are made each year and the suggested retail price is $14.99.
Fleshy dark plum, clove spice and a wisp of charcoal are all present in the nose of this wine. Black fruits dominate the palate, with red fruits playing a subtler role as they weave in and out, providing a nice contrast of flavors. A boatload of spices, such as star anise and black pepper, kick in around mid-palate and lead to the finish which shows off a hint of cola, underscored by cinnamon reference points. The wine is medium-bodied and displays excellent acidity. Pair it with marinated grilled lamb skewers, Indian dishes or Turkish foods. This is a red wine that works well with a little bit of a chill on it.
Cline Cellars in Sonoma County California is probably best known by people for a range of different Zinfandels and blends they make. Their portfolio is pretty diverse and they also bottle some varietals that aren't seen on their own very often, such as Carignane and Mourvèdre. However, the recent selection that knocked my socks off was their Viognier. The Cline Cellars 2009 Viognier was produced from fruit sourced at a number of vineyards, with the lion's share (67 percent) coming from Mendocino. Fermentation occurred in temperature-controlled stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $16.
White peach, apricot and lychee fruit aromas all play a significant role in the big, welcoming nose of this Viognier. Mango, pineapple, continued peach and an absolute avalanche of additional apricot flavors are in play throughout the palate. All of these fresh, buoyant flavors are joined by hazelnut and white pepper. The finish shows off some characteristics of honey, as well as vanilla bean and continuing white pepper. This Viognier has solid acidity and an above average finish. While it will pair well with light summer fare, this wine is dynamite on its own.
Portuguese wines are starting to get additional shelf space in the United States and that's great news for wine lovers. Many of the producers there have chosen to continue working with indigenous varietals. Choosing grapes that are native to Portugal – and often exclusive to the country – well, it isn't the quickest path to success, but it's the most interesting and unique one. By doing so they're able to bring out something that no one else can really offer. The Quinta do Vallado 2007 Douro Red was made from fruit sourced at two sets of Estate Vineyards. A combination of ages play in this wine, with 75 percent of the fruit for this wine coming from younger vines (8 to 12 years old), while the balance (25 percent) is sourced from parts of the vineyards where the vines are more than 70 years old. This offering is a blend of Touriga Nacional (25 percent), Touriga Franca (20 percent), Tinta Ririz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Battoca and Sousao. Most (85 percent) of the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks for 14 months, while the remainder spent that time in 225-liter French Allier Oak Barriques. Just over 10,000 cases of this wine were produced, and the suggested retail price is $19.99.
Thyme, red cherry and pomegranate aromas are the most prominent characteristics on the nose of this 2007 Portuguese blend. An impression of crushed red cherries, joined by a velvet undertone is apparent from the very first sip. Dueling white and black pepper spice notes kick in as well. Excellent earth, chicory, and sour cherry are all part of the finish on this wine. It's marked by soft, lush tannins and rock solid acidity. The 2007 Douro Red shows off some rustic charm, in the best sense of that term. This is a wine for foodies. Pair it with grilled or roasted meats, and an antipasto dish of cured meats, cheeses and olives would be an excellent partner as well.
There are no two ways about it: these three wines are well made, delicious and good choices if you want to step away from the tired and true varietals many of us drink regularly. They also happen to represent awesome values. I heartily recommend all three of these wines, and hope they lead you to try something you've never tasted before.