Topic: TN: My Vote for Values, Pt. 1: Reinventing QPR
Author: Manuel Camblor/NYC
Date: 20050419191414

I owe the rediscovery of my interest in great QPR wines to the conjunction of a mirror and an old magazine. Or something like that...

I was in Santo Domingo a few months ago. When down there, I always stay at my parents’ house, a place where bits and pieces of my youth—saved from the trashcan by my ever-diligent mother—always surprise me, jumping out of nooks and crannies. In this case, my curiosity was piqued by a small box inside the closet of the bedroom assigned as “mine.” Inside the box were and old Walkman, a baseball cap embroidered with the word “Zero”, a coffee tin full of old keys, a dozen cassettes and an issue of The Wine Spectator dating back to 1992 (I was still a subscriber back then, when Jancis Robinson was a regular columnist).

Leafing through the magazine, I came to the “Buying Guide” section and my eyes immediately alighted on the heading “Best Values” (or whatever it was called). It listed a number of wines retailing for $8 or less and providing exceptional quality at that price point. $8 or less. Those were the days... I still get to look at the Spectator from time to time, mostly at the office of one of my doctors, who happens recently to have found an interest in wine. Just the other day I saw that the price point under which a wine is considered an “extraordinary value’ by the Spectator has risen to $20.

Money just isn’t what it used to be.

But the mirror...

I was standing in front of it, getting ready to trim my beard. I remarked on the amount of gray hairs I had sprouted recently. It’s a natural thing. I’m 37. But in front of the bathroom mirror my mind made one of those startling, freaky connections that are its wont, between my aging process and that issue of the Spectator from the days of Mrs. Robinson. All of a sudden, gray hairs led to memories of bottles of wine well under $8 I had drunk so happily during my years as a student.

Back then, $10 was a veritable fortune. A $10 bottle of wine hd to drink famously, go well with food and, if the stars aligned correctly, put my date in an especially romantic mood... If I spent $10, I expected fireworks. $8 was up there, too. As a youn wine geek, I was well aware of what I could afford. And I, unlike most of my firends in college and graduate school, liked to drink wine every day. My quotidian pleasure had to be delivered for anywhere between $2 and $5. If a win was tasty and stimulating at that price point, that was really great QPR. Countless $3 or $4 bottles of Gallo North Coast Zinfandel, of Borsao, of any number of Beaujolais, even of simple young Riojas provided just that, great QPR.

Lest you think I’m talking about some ancient time when one could buy Château Lafite at a five bucks a bottle, remember what I jut said. I’m 37. So I’m talking about ten or fifteen years ago. Which is not that big an expanse of time to be thinking of it the way I am, as if never again could I get so much for so little.

I know one has to “adjust for inflation,” but when I consider that these days, if one goes to the local plonk peddler and looks at the offerings from a former value leader such as Spain, one encounters a nasty surprise: The average price of a bottle is no longer $6, $8, or even $15. The shelves are groaning with bottles priced at $25, $30, $40, $50, $100... The same goes for Italy. And California. Shelf-talkers bearing the logos of various wine publications proclaim that a wine may have gotten 2X + 6YZ points and describe the wine’s virtues in lavish detail. And then, verschnockered with points and words, you look at the price, only to be sticker-shocked.

Inevitably, I come to a crucial question. If I were a student today, living on a student budget, could I even afford to drink decent wine on a daily basis? Are there enough tasty, fun and interesting wines out there retailing for, say, under $10?

I realized I have been pampered for too long. For a few months, I would cut my wine budget dramatically. I would limit the amount spent for an everyday bottle to $10, which for the average graduate student is still an extravagance, and seek great QPR on that basis. Would the exercise prove too tough? How much would Josie hate me if the wines were miserable? What if I found nothing worth drinking for—gasp!—less than $20? Could I look such a horrible reality in the face?

The concerns were too many. I had read the brilliant “Boatloads of Cheap Crap” postings by my friend Chris Coad on various wine boards. I was aware of how he had fared on a similar-but-only-just-so mission. I had to be storng.

I told Josie nothing when I served her the first bottle. I only made her aware of the mission about a week into it. Here are notes for the first fifty bottles we tried, in the order we tried them...

2002 Martin Zahn, Riesling, Alsace: “Eeeeeeek!!! What is this???!!!” asks Josie, rather alarmed at what she’s just smelled... An oxidative, harsh, garden-hosey mess. There are aromas and flavors of green apple and lemon here, but the rubber pong and the acidity are shrill enough to make it almost undrinkable. Really rough stuff. $8.99

2003 Bodegas Juan Gil, ‘Wrongo Dongo,’ Jumilla: Prune and blackcurrant laced with licorice and cinnamon on nose and mouth. A simple and clean wine that goes “wrongo dongo” when the finish turns rather hot and clunky. $6.99

2004 Luigi Bosca, ‘Finca La Linda’ Viognier, Mendoza, Argentina: I was rather nice about a glass of the 2003 version of this I had during my trip to Buenos Aires last year. I was eating a meal somewhere unexpectedly nice. The wine was anonymous, but okay. But this 2004, served in my Manhattan apartment is not only not particularly discernible as Viognier; it is herbaceous in a rather nasty way—as in a just-fumigated lawn... Banana and lemon beyond the chemically-treated grass. Flat and painfully simplistic. On the finish, an uncomfortable banana candy thing. $7.49

2002 Ochoa Viñedos y Bodegas, Graciano-Garnacha, Navarra: Plum, raspberry and cranberry on the nose, with a pleasant brambly touch. Medium-bodied, fresh, clan and simple on the palate. Decent length and nice structure. A very nice, fruit-driven quaffer. At the very end of the aftertaste there is a slight reedy element, but nothing particularly disturbing. $8.49

2003 Arret, ‘Selecciò Vi Negre,’ Terra Alta, Spain: Prunes, dried cranberries, licorice and a whack of alcohol on the nose. Medium-bodied on the palate, raisiny and very rustic. Short finish with grainy tannins and an unexpected sweaty-beast vibe. $9.99

2002 Château Bonnet, Blanc, Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux : Clean and crisp, but also rather watery. The inconsequence of citrus... It doesn’t flesh out over two nights in the fridge. $8.49

2004 Cairnbrae, ‘The Stones’ Sauvignon Blanc,” Marlborough, New Zealand: At first, a sharp tropical blast of guava and green pineapple on the nose. This is followed by a dash of turmeric and cilantro. Juicy and citrusy in the mouth, with the same guava and green pineapple action as on the nose. Good acidic bite. Simple and fresh. Remarkably drinkable in a Fresca™ sort of way. After 24 hours in the refrigerator it develops a rather unwelcome green-pea aspect on the nose and flattens out on the palate. $9.99

2001 Castell del Remei, ‘Gotim Bru,’ Costers del Segre, Spain: Nesquik, rosemary ham, plum, cherry and a vague element of menthol on the nose. This all makes for an attractive aromatic combination. Medium-bodied and simple in the mouth. Cherry juice laced with cocoa and some loamy accents. Very soft tannins. The finish tapers off nicely, with a light touch of refreshing acidity lingering alone at th very end. Truly easy to drink and a good companion for roast chicken. $9.99

2003 Naia, Verdejo, Rueda, Spain: I always laugh at the label of this wine. The name “Naia” is printed in a typeface that makes it look very much like “noia,” the Italian word for “boredom.” Musky golden grapes on the nose, hay, green banana, rhubarb, grapefruit and some sandy mineral thing. Fleshy in the mouth and quite citrusy, with a rhubarb aspect to the first grapefruit hit. But in spite of obvious acidity, I find this wine somehow lacking brightness. It feels more than a bit flat and clunky. It reminds me of turning the treble all the way down on the equalizer while a record is playing, leaving only the bass and midrange. Good length, even if it’s not a particularly satisfying wine. $9.49

2003 Borsao, ‘Tres Picos’ Garnacha, Campo de Borja: A heavy bottle, which means, almost invariably, a pretentious Parker wine. The nose is that of an XL concoction indeed: Incense, a mild baseball glove vibe that for a moment makes me think of bacon, vanilla beans, framboise liqueur... In the mouth it’s annoyingly blowsy and very smooth—too smooth. A big blob of fruit that has all the charm of a kiss from a sweaty fat man. No detail. No real backbone. Just an amorphous overboozed-fruit-syrup thing that leaves you feeling spent, gullet burning, after only one glass. It’s 14.5% alcohol and it shows. $9.49

2003 Domaine Octavie, Sauvignon, Touraine : There’s a bit of a fish tank smell to this, initially, which then works itself out as oyster shells, moss and chalk. Also a herbaceous note. What is notable is an absence of citrus elements on the nose. Grape and pear in the mouth. Fleshy to the point of flabbiness. There is some acidity, but overall, this wine lacks the freshness and bite of previous vintages. And what’s this? A bit of heat at the end? Still, it’s drinkable enough as an apéritif. $7.99

2001 Domaine de Figuières, ‘Cuvée Louis,’ Coteaux de Languedoc A rustic little thing with mild volatility, followed by underbrush, anise, old leather, green olives, plums and dried cranberries on the nose. Medium-bodied and forward in the mouth, with nice sweet, plummy fruit and some floral touches, as well as an element of dried rosemary on the shortish finish finish. An honest little country red that would feel a lot more comfortable in the $5-7 range. $9.99

2002 Fox Creek, Verdelho, South Australia: The back label states that Verdelho is a grape variety grown in the Atlantic island of “Madiera”. I think it it a typo, but when the second paragraph on the label spells Madeira “Madiera” again, I realize it isn’t. Maybe there is an island in the Atlantic by the name of “Madiera” where Verdelho grows and I just don’t know about it. A clean, herbal, citrusy nose with a wee pineapple lilt. Simple. Totally unremarkable, aromawise. Same in the mouth. It’s a fresh little nondescript white quaffer that could be made from any number of grape varieties. Unfortunately, it turns watery and sad at midpalate. Josie asks: “How cheap is this stuff?” I’m embarrassed to say that it’s not cheap at all. Had it cost me a good five bucks less, I’d be more forgiving. But no such luck... $9.99

2002 Château Roche-Longue, ‘Cuvée Vieilles Vignes,’ Bordeaux Not that I give a damn about the whole « Vieilles Vignes » designation. These days that sort of thing is so dubious it’s not even funy; a marketing ploy in most cases... Hints of sweaty horse, caramel, licorice, underbrush and raisin add dimension to this simple cherry-cranberry drop of rustic Bordeaux. Chewy, rustic tannins and pert acidity. Refreshingly unpretentious. Very easy to drink. I will buy this again, for sure. $7.99

2002 Tedeschi, ‘Vigneto Monte Tenda,’ Soave Classico:A very pleasant aroma of wild flowers, grapes, golden apples and smoke. Clean and juicy, with decent acidity and pretty floral, grapefruit and quenepa notes on a medium finish. A nice and easy white at a lovey price. $6.99

2001 Gladiator, Nero d’Avola, Sicily: At 13.5% alcohol, this is proof that Mediterranean wine can be something other than overblown, mega-booze rubbish. It also shos some transparency to its ruby-tinged deep garnet color, which is proof that Mediterranean wine can be something other than black, gobby and impenetrable. And it shows no signs of a new oak, which is proof that Mediterranean wine can... Well, you get the picture. Aromas of leather, dried thyme, anise, tobacco, raisins and blackberries. Chewy and rustic in the mouth, but balanced nad quite drinkable. Plum and raspberry flavors with lively tannins on a medium finish. $9.49, which is prood that Mediterranean wine can be something other than preposterously expensive...

2004 Pascual Toso, Sauvignon Blanc “Maipu Vineyards,” Mendoza, Argentina: I keep being severely underwhelmed by a vast proportion of the Argentine whites I try, regardless of price. This Toso Sauvignon is yet another bit of objectionable fluff, a spineless “Eau de Froot Loops™” sort of affair... The nose has some herbaceous notes, followed by mild apple and green pea aspects and then by a most unwelcome coconut-husk, powdered-sugar and peanut-brittle thing. Apparently, this has seen some oak and is not particularly thankful for it. In the mouth it’s dilute, and generic-tasting. Citrus, Goya™ pineapple nectar and grass with a touch of vanilla cream. But something weird happens at midpalate. Apart from hollowness, there’s a saccharin sweet note that is almost as if someone had emptied a packet of Sweet & Low™ into my glass. I, to say the least, don’t like... $7.75

2004 Casa Lapostolle, Sauvignon Blanc, Rapel Valley, Chile: A nose of cat pee, grass and citrus isn’t unexpected. What really catches me off guard is that in the mouth it’s flat and low-acid, with a fakeish sweetness. A weird, empty bit of juice. Here’s where I get I strange idea: I squeeze a bit of lime into this hollow wine and—surprise!—it improves vastly. A wedge of lime per three-ounce pour, is what I say. $7.19

2003 Weinberghof Fritsch, Grüner Veltliner ‘Classic,’ Donauland, Austria: Bright nose of white flowers, ginger and lemongrass. Broad in the mouth, with apple, lemon and a hint of breadfruit, plus another touch of ginger on the finish. Nice balance of flesh and acidity and quite discernible as Veltliner. Worked wonderfully alongside penne with sea scallops, roasted tomatoes, garlic, black olives, lime zest and feta. $9.99

2004 Marquis Phillips, ‘Holly’s Blend,’ Southeastern Australia: Apparently a Verdelho-Sémillon blend from what I gather is Joe Dressner’s favorite Aussie producer. Orange blossom, apple and lemon on the nose, with a faint accent of something not unlike Elmer’s glue™. One-dimensionally sweet and flabby on the mouth. A hit of apple-pear compote and nothing else neyond a tenuous sugar-water vibe. Whenever I think of Verdelho, I automatically think of Madeira. And when I think of Madeira, the phrase “high tone” comes to mind. Well, in this case we’re not talking “high tone,” but rather “no tone.” The label says this has 14% alcohol by volume. I guess the one redeeming feature about this drop of nothing is that it wears the alcohol quite well. $8.99

2003 Terra Burdigala, ‘La Vigne d’Argent’ Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, Bordeaux : Appleskins, gravel and lemon on the nose. A simple and direct aroma, not promising much, but not threatening much, either. Light in the mouth, vaguely lemony and with the same dilute, sugar-watery quality of many of the New World whites I’ve been trying. This musters some feeble acidic grip at the end, but what the hell for? Another throwaway. $7.99

2000 Elian Da Ros, ‘Chante Coucou,’ Côtes du Marmandais: A quick Google search reveals to me that this pretty, if backward little red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and the local Marmandais variety Abouriou. The Côtes du Marmandais, I also found out, is an appelation in Southwestern France, just north of Jurançon. One learns something new every day. This “Chante Coucou” starts off horsey, then reveals aromas of black olives, baseball glove, soy sauce, ash, ink, blackberry and black cherry. Bright fruit presence in the mouth, but the tannins are rather tough and gritty. Tight finish with a dusty, underbrushy vibe to it. Perhaps a little time in bottle would help it mellow out. My one complaint is that it could use more substance at midpalate. But overall it’s not a bad deal at all. $8.99

2003 Casa de Vila Verde, Vinho Verde, Portugal: Bright aromas of lemon and talcum with a barely perceptible metallic edge. Simple and juicy in the mouth, with a hint of fizz and good citrusy acidity carrying through a nice medium finish. Nice and refreshing, as Vinho Verde should be. And after a couple of days in the fridge, I’m glad to report that, though the refreshing fizziness vanishes, some lovely minerality emerges and the acidity becomes clearer of expression. $6.99

2002 Tour de Monestier, Bergerac Sec: The back label states that this is a blend of 50% Sémillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Muscadelle, then proceeds to scare the crap out of me by threatening “aromas of pineapple.” I’m bracing myself for yet another dismal Gallic attempt at Southern-Hemisphere vapidity, but my fears prove unwarranted. On the nose, there’s clean lemon and grapefruit, plus hints of pollen, stinging nettle tea and wet stones. In the mouth it’s bone dry and compact, with lovely grapefruit, lemon and lime flavors. Good weight and length. An excellent value white that I will certainly be meeting again. $8.99

2003 Pascual Toso, Malbec ‘Maipu Vineyards,’ Mendoza, Argentina: Another threat from a back label—this one says the wine in the bottle “finishes long, with smoky accents of vanilla and lingering oak.” The description makes me cringe and I approach this drop of purple cautiously. Should I not be reading these back labels before tasting the wine? I could come up with as many arguments for as I could against. But what makes me persist in this pattern of behavior is that the average consumer probably reads those back labels as well, right before opening the bottle. In this case, “drp of purple” covers things pretty well. Jammy raspberry and cherry with a dollop of vanilla cream on nose and mouth. Medium-bodied, fruity-sweet and direct, with zero nuance. The only defect of this wine is being thoroughly unexciting. But then again, most things in life are, too. $7.75

2001 Villadoria, ‘Bricco Magno,’ Serralunga d’Alba, Italy: The nose on this Nebbiolo-based red starts off nicely enough, with notes of rose petals, plum, dust and leather, but then a wave of Cadbury’s™ milk chocolate crashes over everything, obliterating all detail. Exactly the same happens on the palate. I have to say that the wine is medium-bodied and pretty drinkable, in the same way Yoohoo!™ is drinkable. I set my glass aside for the better part of an hour. When I return to it, caramel has been added to the milk chocolate. Some barnyard elements, too. And some plum has emerged. The wine has nice acidity and soft tannins. Drinkable, if one can get over the cloying aspect of the milk chocolate. $ 8.99

2003 Artazuri, Navarra, Spain: Pruney. Rather hot in the gullet. And that’s that. $8.99

2002 Sumarroca, Chardonnay, Penedès: A lot of Chardonnay from Spain completely misses the point of what Chardonnay can do in certain climates. And what it can’t. I’ve tasted a lot of flabby, low-acid, obscenely overoaked Spanish Chardonnay in my time. This fresh little cheapie from SUmarroca gets things just so, for a change. Very pure, grapey-floral-citrusy-mineral nose. Lively in the mouth, with flavors of green apple and lime. This manages very nice length, with vibrant acidity and compelling earthy accents on the finish. $8.49

2003 François Chidaine, ‘Collection,’ Touraine :st time in about five vintages, this wine is a real disappointment. Aromas of golden aples, wet leaves and a faint sulfur vibe. In the mouth there’s a wintergreen gum cast to the pear and lemon flavors. The wine is painfully hollow and, though there is a bit of minerality on the finish, it lacks the necessar focus to maintain my interest. Of course, the problem is of the vintage and I hope that there will be a return to form in the future, since in previous years this bottling had been a value favorite of mine. $8.99

2001 Dry Creek Vineyards, ‘Heritage Clone’ Zinfandel,” OSnoma County, California: A forward, aromatic red. A note of lavender and cinnamon, followed by some aloe, then rusty iron followed by dried cranberries and black cherries. Large-boned, boldly fruity and spicy in the mouth, with cherry and blackberry jam flavors. Shortish of finish, but it stays fresh and bright enough, without any oak or blowsiness to come and interfere with a little jammy pleasure. This is “only” 13.5% alcohol by volume, which is a miracle considering how few Zins travel below 15% these days. A nice quaffer, especially on a ocld night. $9.99

2003 Don Cristóbal 1492, Verdelho, Mendoza, Argentina: I come to this white from the unexpectedly fashionable Madeira variety with quite high expectations. Last April, Don Cristóbal provided me with two very nice experience in an otherwise horrid series of tastings of blowsy, overoaked wines from Argentina. The trick to their Malbec and Cabernet bottlings is that they are unoaked. I liked them. Anyway. Finding a cheap white from the winery made me hopeful. This is a very simple, rather generic thing of aroma and flavor. Apple candies and lemon, with a slight leafiness and nondescript mineral kick on nose and palate. What is distressing is a marked lack of acidity. The wine doesn’t feel fresh. It goes in the mouth as a dull, sweetish drop of forgettability. Medium finish. I’m not impressed. $8.99

2003 Marqués de Riscal, Blanco, Rueda, Spain: I can imagine a marketing team coming up with the “concept” for this wine... A standard herbaceous, tropically-citrusy quaffer for the masses that works pretty much like Chilean Sauvignon and takes advantage of the famous name of Rioja’s oldest house (though the wine isn’t from Rioja). If that’s what the company set out to do, they succeeded admirably here. Generic grass and lemon aromas and flavors with a faint suggestion of pineapple... As little acidity as they could keep in order for the wine to have the semblance of a backbone. Mild sweetness on a short finish that sports an unpleasant dab of heat. $6.99

2003 Domaine des Lauriers, Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux de Languedoc : A nice wine, though the dreadful heat of the 2003 vitage renders it much less nice than it could be... Smoky, earthy and mineral ose with hints of ash and cement on a bed interlaced with golden apple and lemon. On th palate, it makes a floozy-like, sweet first impression, but then allows clean apple, peach and mineral flavors to play. A very enjoyable white, even if for a moment it feels too loosely knit for its own good. Good length. $8.69

2003 Sumarroca, Muscat, Penedès, Spain: This aromatic white has been a QPR favorite of mine for at least five vintages. The 2003 comes up slightly short when I remember earlier vintages, which coupled beautifully a beautiful perfume of exotic flowers and fruits with brilliant structure and refreshing acidity. The current version trades that beautiful perfume for something very reminiscent of Apple Jacks™ cereal. In the mouth, the wine is lively enough, but rather short and drab of finish. Let’s hope they do much better in 2004... $8.99

2002 Il Bastardo, Sangiovese di Toscana, Italy: A hit of molasses on the nose, followed by earth and lots of cherry jam. Medium-bodied, friendly and juicy in the mouth, with sweet red fruit all over. An okay drop of red with as much transcendence as Diet Coke. I like the label on the bottle best of all: A dark-haired fat guy who reminds me of me. Must be his moniker... $7.99

2002 Abadía Retuerta, ‘Rívola,’ Sardón del Duero, Spain: A funny, biscuit-like nose on this one. Spicy, caramelly oak and blackberries wrapped in a not very welcome lactic element... More weirdness: As the wine airs out, I detect something of maple syrup and cream. Pancakes, anyone? Medium-bodied, oaky purple stuff in the mouth, with a blacberry-blackcurrant fruit attack that tapers down to some very chunky tannins that eventually become quite drying. Beyond the tannins, not much of a finish. $9.99

2002 Naveran, ‘Manuela’ Chardonnay, Penedès, Spain: A medium yellow-gold, this has me worried at first sight... Oxidized? Anyway, the nose is very oaky and shows some oxidative notes, but there’s also plenty of apricot, lemon and dried herbs to make things interesitng. Creamy in the mouth, with a marzipan-like spiciness. Miraculously, the lavish oak integrates well into layers of citrus, peahc and apricot. Racy acidity on a long finish. An Iberian Chardonnay that didn’t have the #%$^@* oaked out of it... But they sure did try. $8.99

2002 Viña San Pedro, ‘Castillo de Molina’ Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, San Pedro, Chile: Back in the mid-to-late ‘90s, when I was living in Puerto Rico, I discovered this bottling from Viña San Pedro. It was about seven bucks, which made it a pretty great value, given that in some vintages it could almost resemble a very nice Bordelais cru bourgeois. What is it now? Well, it’s not bad... Initially, there’s a ketchupy, stewed leement ot the nose. But that blows off quickly, to be followed by bell pepper, plum, cassi, cinnamon and coffee on the nose. Soft and fruity in the mouth, with velvety tannins and just enough acidity to keep things fresh. A faint vegetal edge on the finish. The best thing that it has going for it is that it hasn’t been manipulated to death, like so many Chilean reds are these days. You can tell this is Cabernet Sauvignon, warts and all. Which is something some of us welcome. $8.99

2000 Companhia das Quintas, ‘Tradicão,’ Palmela, Portugal: A red made from 100% Castelão. Bakery spices (clove, star anise, cinnamon), plum, red berries and lavender on the nose. A sweet, attractive aroma. Bright, juicy, plummy and with chewy tannins in the mouth. A refreshing acidic bite on the finish. Very nice to wash down filet mignon with roasted onions and potatoes. $6.99

2003 Cantina Bolzano, Müller-Thurgau, Sudtirol-Alto Adige, Italy: Very delicate aromas of lillies and gardenias with an underlay of peach nectar. Very light on the palate and a bit too shallow. Flavors of apple candy and white peach with some pleasant floral afterthoughts. Somewhat limp, very low-impact stuff, but with decent length. $9.99

2002 Selbach, Riesling ‘Piesporter Michelsberg,’ Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany: I tried this several months ago and found it quite nice, in a clean, wide-open, citrusy-sweet, Fresca™-like sort of way. The noe is shy now, only hinting at peach, lemon, dill and chalky minerality. Off-dry in the mouth, light and delicate, with a nice acidic little love bite. Very good length, with pleasant savory mineral accents on the aftertaste. A nice riesling to offer your grandma and her friends during their next canasta game. $8.49

2001 Michele Chiarlo, ‘Le Orme,’ Barbera d’Asti: Straightforward aromas of cherry and cranberry with balsamic, cocoa and earth accents. F;eshy in the mouth, with tart cherry-plum flavors and a slightly dusty, medium-length finish where the bright acidity takes on a dominant role. A simple, very drinkable red. $7.89

2002 Le Fay d’Homme, Vieilles Vignes, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie : A clean, briny and mineral nose with an underlay of apple and Meyer lemon. Bone dry and bright in the mouth. Lemon and lime with a faine mossy-stone vibe. Good length, with nice grip. A very refresing white to have with oysters or, alternatively, a lightly seasoned sea scallop tartare. $8.99

2003 Quinta da Romeira, Arinto, Bucelas, Portugal: Takes a while to give you something on the nose, but when it does it’s umistakably ripe and faintly tropical. A cross between pineapple and tangerine with a hint of stoniness. A pleasant enough little international white, full and round in the mouth, with lively citrus (grapefruit, more pineapple) providng grip and freshness. Very drinkable. Very decent. $7.99

2003 Famille Iché, ‘Les Hérétiques<’ Vin de Pays de l’Hérault, France : A very ripe, very pure raspberry-plum nose with accents of dried herbs. Same in the mouth. Juicy, easy to drink and very balanced. A consistent value, several vintages running.

2000 Bodegas Montecillo, Crianza, Rioja: The American oak attacks me on the nose with a wave of coconut cream, followed by licorice, followed by turmeric, followed by glazed donuts, in turn followed by raspberry jam. On the palate at first this offers up little by way of satisfying fruit, the impact being mostly of drying tannins. With air, some nice plummy and raspberryish aspects emerge, but not enough. It’s drinkable, but the barrel dominates in a way that stops this “traditional” Rioja far short of being enjoyable. $8.99

2001 Vino de Eyzaguirre, ‘Wine In the Sack’ Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley, Chile: A nose that wears its volatility in the kind of way that makes you want to call it “high-toned,” rather than anything negative. Earthy, with vague hints of jalapeño dancing on a fragrant blackcurant and cherry underlay. Light in the mouth, juicy and quite flavorful. Plum with a bell-peppery edge and some hints of caraway seed on the finish. Unobjectionable with pizza. $5.99

2003 Les Vignerons d’Estézargues, ‘Les Grandes Vignes,’ Côtes du Rhône : Jammy blackberry and cassis with a vague note of black pepper and a whiff of alcohol. A four-square, juicy little drop of red simplicity. Short finish. Even a wee bit of structure would have been nice. This is as well-knit as, say, Ribena. Soft-grain tannins do a little dance on the tongue and there’s a flash of heat before it all vanishes. $8.99

2000 Château Guiraud-Cheval Blanc, Côtes de Bourg, Bordeaux : A pleasant nose, slightly reedy, slightly peppery, with notes of wet earth, plum and cassis. Earthy and chewy in the mouth, with sweet plum and cassis flavors. Good length, with the finish showing subtle earth notes and tapering off gracefully. One problem: An larming amount of sediment in the bottle... A nice enough drink for a lunch of roast chicken, if you don’t mind having to decant it to avoid sludge. $8.99

2003 Château Haut-Sociondo, Premières Côtes de Blaye, Bordeaux : Cherry jam with a dash of prune juice thrown on for good (bad ?) measure. A blast of alcoholic heat, too. Fruit-syrupy, fat and nondescript in the mouth. Astringent tannins on a short finish. Thoroughly unexciting on first impression and doesn’t get better with air. A throwaway. $8.99

To Be Continued...