ITALIAN / SPANISH
Ruffino 1997 Chianti, Riserva Ducale Classico
A deep ruby hue, big nose of fruit and wet leather. Tannic bite throughout the mouth. Very dry, a hint of dry wood, strong tea. Modest fruit of date, currant and prune, almost sour. The swallow is long, if not especially flavorful. A puckering sensation left on the throat and palate. A different view of wine than the Californians that I am accustomed to.
Casa la Luna 2000 Tempranillo
Time for a Spanish wine. Ruby tone, nose of black cherry. Not much tannic, a bit thin although not without flavor. Not especially fruity on the palate, more of a tea and tobacco flavor. Not lush but not terribly dry either, although the swallow and finish move towards parched leather and dry straw. Not memorable, but not bad either.
Vitiano 2000 Umbria Falesco
A purple-red hue, an interesting astringent nose like witchhazel. On the tongue, the red plum fruit asserts itself, with vanilla waiting in the wings for the finish. Low tannic, not overly complex but nicely balanced. Easy to drink but rewarding, a truly developed red wine. With food, a buttery flavor akin to a cabernet.
Mister Franco 2000 Homemade
Robert Parker is probably going to miss this wine experience, so I'm the reviewer charged with the duty to memorialize it. This one is a gift from Mister Franco, my landlord. Mister F. and his family came over from Italy, and they respond every summer to deeply embedded cultural urges to make wine. Who knows what the grapes are or where they come from. All I have is the product, which is pinkish-red and rose-hued. Once you filter out the various junk floating around, the wine presents you with a subtle, brandy-like nose of vanilla and caramel. You take it to the lips and at first it seems demure, although a substantial body soon becomes apparant. There is but a hint of tannin and acid, although the wine is quite dry. The fruit is very recessed, something like apricot. The swallow brings a sense of toast, with a brief hint of aromatic herbal brightness, say of oregano and sage. The finish is very clean, no lasting flavor, although something of the wine's sensual body remains for a spell. For a homemade wine, this is not unsophisticated. It has a bit too much alcohol (but that only contributes to the charm of a homemade, just like the junk floating around on the bottom of the bottle -- and the top). However, there is a balance to it, and even some complexity. Hey Franco, not bad!
Casa Castillo 2001 Monastrell, Jumilla
A dense purple hue, big nose with lots of vanilla. Starts out soft and plummy, but then moves into a complex balance between lush fruit and a dry, tobacco-like presence. Some tannic but generally rounded and well mannered. The swallow is dry with a tobacco-smoke feeling. Interesting -- starts out fruity but finishes very dry, although some hints of plum linger on the tongue.
Dehesa Gago 2001 Toro
Dense purple hue, floral nose with a slightly sour edge to it. On the tongue, lush at first, a dry and sour backdrop then moves to fore. Blackberry, polished leather, a hint of nutmeg, but soon transmutes to tea and tobacco. The swallow is somewhat lengthy, but also dry, tannic and sour. A complex and substantial Spanish wine, an interesting experience. The label talks of stony soil and dry, hot climates; this indeed is the fruit of vines that have a hard life.
Sequiot 2003 Tempranillo
The nose is just a bit vinegary, but mostly demure. The wine itself is also demure at first, but the mouth is soon coated with tannins which add some depth. The tannins aren't the puckery kind found in overbrewed tea and overpowered zinfandel; they serve to bring forth what little richness this wine possesses. The flavor parade includes tobacco, dry leather, tea, cellar must (why do all European wines taste of cellar mold?), blackberry and raspberry (which leaves a note of brightness amidst the gloomier tones). The tannins also help lengthen the swallow. This is a small, gravely wine, but one that makes the most of its limited resources through balance and finesse.
Navarro Correas 2004 Cab - Merlot - Malbec
Presents itself with a nice ruby hue. Has a woody nose of fresh-cut pine. Easy enough on the mouth, not much of an event. Subtle, a bit light. Mellow tannins leave a tea flavor after a brief note of currant and date. An easy finish with a bit of leg, although a few sour-bitter streaks to it. A drinkable dinner wine, not special, but not bad either.
Navarro Correas 2004 Malbec
THUMBS UP! Dense, rich purple hue, with a light although spicy nose. Presents itself in a woody fashion, a bit like pine. But then it passes into brandy, blackberry, and raspberry. Just enough richness, with balanced tannins. A bit of tobacco follows, but the balance remains. A nice Spanish wine, where the dry nature is nicely countered with caramely richness. This is Spain in just the right proportions!
Codice 2002 Castilla Table Wine
Has a pleasantly fruity nose, but . . . not a big wine, a tad watery. At its peak you get some currant, blackberry, blueberry, and tobacco smoke. But it fades too quickly into a dry and puckery ending. There is a slightly flowery essence above it all, but the tannins ultimately overpower everything.
Marques de Caceres 2001 Rioja
Big nose and a ruby hue, perfume braced with oak. But in the mouth, a dry, demure performance. More woody than fruity, with some tobacco and cocoa. The tannins are well balanced, but the finish is short. This is a dry experience all the way.
Borsao 2003 Campo de Borja
Cheap Spanish wine time again. The hue is dark purple / brown / red. The nose is big but delicate, of roses and alcohol. Makes a nice entrance, with dry tannins in the background and dry flavors up front. A bouquet of flowers, a bit of fruit, a bit of tea, a dab of cocoa. But no caramel and no richness behind it, and thus a small finish. It's all quite interesting, but not a big experience.
Joan D'Anguera 2002 La Planella Montsant
THUMBS UP! The glass shows a dense purple-brown hue, and the nost is big, plenty of alcohol and fruit (but with a distracting note of cardboard). The wine stays big on the tongue; it's bold, it makes a statement. Its caramel richness carries a mix of cherry and tannins, with the usual Spanish tea and tobacco notes following. But enough caramel remains for a long and smooth swallow. Very well balanced.
Juan Gil 2003 Monastrell
Has a dark purple-red hue with a lush, fruity nose, just a hint of brandy to it. Rolls over the lips, but soon thins out in the mouth. There's a peak of sweetness before the tannins kick in. Then comes the dry, astringent finish. Shows a bit of blackberry and black plum, until overcome by a strong black tea flavor. Just a bit of dry wood behind it all. Not an easy wine to drink on its own, but there is a general balance between the sweet and the bitter. It provides some complexity and body, but ultimately seems gravely. This wine really sinks in with food, however; it was obviously designed as a big dinner wine.
Borsao 2002 Campo de Borja
A mix of grenache, temparillo and cabernet, one that pours with a dense brown-purple hue. Has a big nose mixing musty wood with bright spirits. Makes an interesting introduction to the mouth with a grassy note like wet, green lumber. Brandy spirits hover as blackberry and dark plum settle in. The tannins are assertive but well timed, and the swallow is long enough with just a slightly bitter and puckery ending. This wine has a light body but a good balance, and the flavors are certainly interesting. A different but not unpleasant experience!
Rosso di Montalcino 2004 Sangiovese, Castello Banfi
Pours with a deep opaque garnet hue and a very demure nose, hardly more than water, just a bit of floral essence. Makes a light entry into the mouth, not an intense wine. Has a nice smooth balance though, sweet fruit up front (blackberry and dark ripe plum). The tannins build up leaving a tobacco-smoke ending, with a notion of cedar in the transition. Not much more than that, although the finish is relatively clean. Not what they would call a "jammy" wine.
Tres Picos 2005 Garnacha, Borsao
Here we have a ruby red wine, with a nose something of powdered sugar and brandy. Makes a nice rich entry on the lips, with tastes of blueberry, currant and anise. There's a tannin / tobacco-smoke backdrop, but this makes for a nice balance between the bitter and the sweet. There is just enough caramel body to round it all out. This makes for a good swallow and finish, a bit puckery but mellowed by the caramel. Yes, a well balanced Spaniard here. A wine you could spend time with, you don't need to slam it down. But it will also stand up well to food, with its firm tannins.
Terra de Lobos 2004 Castelao and Cabernet
Has a clear ruby-purple hue with a big nose of roses and powdered sugar. It seems a bit thin and subtle at first, but treats the mouth well. It's a comfortable wine, with interesting complexity but little tannin. There's a bit of earthy, wet wood in the background, some berry and black cherry fruit, a note of tobacco, and that buttery taste of cheap cabernet grapes. It's easy to swallow and maintains some after-glow. Overall, not bad, if somewhat on the lighter side.
Vitiano 2005 Cab - Merlot - Sangiovese
This Italian starts with a red-purple hue and a watery - mineral nose. It's sweet on the tip of the tongue, but also gravely, some moldy wood and just a slight tannic bite for structure. The fruit is dark, notes of currant, blackberry and prune. Leaves a sour- bitter note on the finish, not much caramel body here. It's definitely an old-world wine: complex, thin bodied, earthy, not lush.
Santa Rita Reserva 2006 Carmenere
This one is from Chile. It's dark and inky, a brownish purple; but the nose is faint. Makes a light entry into the mouth, you need to draw this one out. The fruit is charry, but there are some hints of blueberry and cherry. The backdrop is flowery, a bit of powdered sugar. The tannins are prominant, but well balanced. But there is little body, making for a slighly bitter finish, though not uninteresting. That's about it; but an interesting experience, nonetheless.
Monte Velho 2006 Alentejano "Red Wine"
Here's a wine from Portugal. The pour is a deep, dark ruby purple, with a light nose. Then a quiet mouth entry that's just a bit sour, but framed by firm tannins. Next up, a hint of spearmint and some rounded fruit, currant and dates. There's just enough caramel body for structure, so the tannins don't overwhelm the finish; it goes down fairly smooth with a bit of length. So, not a big wine, maybe just a bit sour, but not all that bad. It's certainly drinkable.
Trivento 2005 Malbec, Select Mendoza
VERY INTERESTING ARGENTINIAN: This selection has an earthy nose and a very dark purple hue. It starts out musty and charry, with bits of unripe blueberry and raspberry, with a smoky, earthy, mineraly backdrop. The tannins are quite recessed. There's a gravely, medium-firm body without much endurance. During the quick finish, whatever sweetness there was gets flushed by a quick bitter tinge as it fades. So, complex and very interesting, if not big or rich.
Luzon 2006 Jumilla
A DISCOVERY! It starts with a dark purple tone and a woody, earthy nose. Makes a nice entry over the tongue, very rounded. The body is nice and has very little tannins to attack. It's smooth but not sweet. There is some bright fruit up front, strawberry and raspberry. And also some butter and wood in the backdrop. The finish is also good with some length. So yeah, this one is nice. A real sleeper. You could spend time with this one. It's just a touch smokey and gravely, it's still a European wine. But the sun shines thru almost like a Californian. This wine needs to be remembered!
Cartuxa Evora 2004 Portugal
In the glass, the hue is purple-brown and opaque. Has a light nose that's very sweet and flowery. Over the lips, it starts out with sweet notes of blueberry and cooked apple. There are some woody, cardboard tastes in the backdrop. The tannins are demure, not very assertive. The sweetness soon subsides to a quick, astringent finish, a fairly clean finish. The body thins out (attenuates), with not much to remember it by; there's not much caramel-tannin structure to it. So, this wine is interesting, but not particularly fulfilling.
Luzon Verde Jumilla 2006 Monastrell
The hue is a nice ruby red, and the nose is fragrant, something of cherry and black pepper. But in the mouth this wine is thin, and it doesn't stay long. The tastes include dry wood, smoke, bitters, a hint of mint, and a bit of tea. The tannins are substantial, but not rowdy. There's not much fruit, just a touch of that cherry that was promised up front. So the finish is dry and clean, with just a note of powdered cocoa. Overall this is interesting, but on the bitter side.

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