I’ve spent a lot of time and energy these past few months drinking, er, researching, rosé and white wines. Most of that effort comes from the fact that I’m an optimist (read: wildly delusional); even if the weather around the East Bay has been telling me, loudly, that it’s not really summer, I’m going to act like it is. And so I’ve been drinking plenty of the cool stuff out of bottles that look great as they sweat in the occasional but chilly sunlight. What I should have been digging into during those unseasonably cool nights, as my backside froze while I stood on the patio grilling, are wines like the ones below: sturdy, flavorful reds that are as easy on the wallet as they are on the palate. These wines are not overly complex or complicated, but they give you back in taste and pleasure every penny you spent, and usually more.
Of the five wines I tasted recently here at The Grape Belt’s Alameda office, there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. One or two stood out, but each one was reliable and interesting in a way that many California reds in the same price range just can’t match. So, if you’re looking to break out of your same old, same old jug cabernet or zinfandel coma, these wines are worth hunting down and getting to know.
2010 “Portuga,” Casa Santos Lima, Vinho Regional Estremadura, Portugal ($7.99, 13% abv.). A mix of native and international varieties (castelao 40%, touriga nacional 30%, cabernet sauvignon 15%, and syrah 15%), this wine is a deep garnet color, almost opaque, with a warm and powerful nose filled with red and black fruit with a hint of oak. In the mouth it offers flavors of cherry cola, with some earthiness. Well-integrated, except for a clumsy touch of oak, it has an enviable structure for a wine of this price. Great for burgers, tacos and other simple fare. Straightforward, no pretense. Bottle closure: Cork.
2009 “Bon Ventos,” Casa Santos Lima, Vinho Regional Estremadura, Portugal ($7.99, 13% abv.) Same price, same producer as the wine above, but what a different bottle of wine. This blend is composed from castelao, camarate, tinta miuda, and touriga national, and it seems as though the local grapes have it over their more famous relatives. Unlike the Portuga, the Bon Ventos is a brilliant ruby in the glass, with a more intense nose, with solid notes of raspberries and chocolate, and a fine tinge of vanilla from a more judicious use of oak. Cola, raspberry and vanilla dominate on the palate, with soft, mouth-coating tannins. A far better value than its sibling above. Unexpected complexity at this price. Bottle closure: screwtop.
2010 “Quinta das Amoras,” Casa Santos Lima, Vinho Regional Estremadura, Portugal ($8.99, 13% abv.) Comprising the same varieties as in the Bon Ventos, just in different proportions, this wine is a brilliant, deep garnet, almost purple color, with muted aromas of black cherry and vanilla, along with a pleasant smokiness. It fills your mouth with cherry and raspberry flavors, firm and dusty tannins, and finishes with length and complexity. This wine drinks way above its price point. Bottle closure: screwtop.
2010 “Guilhem” Moulin de Gassac, Pays d’Hérault, France ($9.99, 13% abv.) A classic blend of syrah, grenache, carignane, and mourvedre that is so popular across the south of France, this bottle opens with a whiff of funk that is soon dispelled, giving way to intense aromas of red and black fruit, pepper, and sweet spice. A well-built wine that integrates its fruit, alcohol and tannins effortlessly, the medium weight body carries flavors of black raspberry, cocoa powder, and sweet spice, with a hint of vanilla. Clean, light, and versatile, this is a very hard bottle to beat for the money. Bottle closure: cork.
2010 Arido Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($9.99, 15% abv.) Soft ruby to rose in the glass, this wine, helped in part by its noticeable but not entirely off-putting alcohol level, jumps out of the glass with aromas both floral and fruity and just a hint of sweetness. This is a delightful wine, smooth and full-bodied, filled with bright fruit, its tannins and acids in balance. A real quaffer and perfect for any meal focused on grilled meats, only slightly held back by that noticeable but not too hot alcohol. A solid, appealing value.
These five wines prove, and it seems that this is a point that needs to be spelled out over and over again, that you don’t have to resign yourself to plonk if you want to keep your wine costs low. Yes, there are some stellar wines available for very affordable prices if you just know where to look and what to look for. If folks would spend as much time researching their wine purchases as they do their coffeemakers or toasters, the world’s population of happy, well-informed wine drinkers would grow exponentially. And, part of their happiness would come from having more disposable income.
Hmmm……what does a wine lover do with more disposable income?
**All wines were purchased at Du Vin Fine Wines, 2526 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda, CA