Christopher Columbus might have paid the fare for his historic voyage out of the treasury of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, but his annual holiday has a strong Italian accent, which is only fitting for this proud son of Genoa.
It was on Oct. 12, 1492, that the explorer first set foot on dry land in the New World, on a tiny island in the Bahamas that he called San Salvador. It's no longer "politically correct" to declare that Columbus "discovered" the Americas, considering that there were already quite a few million inhabitants here at the time. This is somewhat like saying, as I have often done, that I "discovered" Italian wine as a young adult. No, I wasn't the first to find it. But that in no way diminishes my affection for the stuff. It was the first wine that I learned to enjoy, and I have loved it ever since.
I chose to celebrate Columbus Day in advance by opening both an Italian wine and a Spanish wine in his memory ... and by sheer happenstance managed to pick a pair that both display their European heritage in a rather "New World" style.
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Donnafugata 2002 "Sedàra" Nero d'Avola Sicilia ($11.99)
Typical of Nero d'Avola, this is a richly colored wine, inky dark-ruby and almost blackish in the glass. Also typical is a "New World" aroma of exuberant, forward, almost over-the-top fruit, blueberries and cream with accent notes of vanilla and spice. Same on the palate, blueberry fruit so ripe that it seems almost off-dry, held barely in restraint with tart acidity; there's a warm kick in the finish that suggests high alcohol, although the label claims only a relatively modest 13.5 percent. A hearty wine that will appeal to those who like their reds in the brawny, ripe "modern" style. U.S. importer: William Grant & Sons Inc., NYC. (Oct. 9, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: This dark, tooth-staining wine requires a hearty food companion; I brought pork chops up to meet it by braising them with an extra ration of sweet caramelized onions; char-grilled steaks should also serve it well.
VALUE: Fairly priced, particularly in competition with the big Barossa Shirazes that are perhaps its closest stylistic kin.
WHEN TO DRINK: Made to enjoy now, but its size and fruit and alcohol will likely hold it for a few years in the cellar.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Find Donnafugata on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Mederaño 2000 Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Tinto ($9.99)
A Spanish variation on the popular Grenache-Syrah/Shiraz-Mourvedre (GSM) red blends, this new offering from the folks who make Freixenet (the Spanish sparkling wine in the black bottle) is a combination of equal parts Garnacha and Monastrell (Spanish for Grenache and Mourvedre) plus 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark garnet in color, it offers pleasant raspberry and leafy herbaceous scents, an aroma profile somewhat reminiscent of a Zinfandel but with attractive earthy overtones that say "Old World." It's juicy and ripe on the palate, bright berry fruit and mouth-watering acidity; balanced and surprisingly complex, it's a good food wine. U.S. importer: Victoire Imports Co., San Leandro, Calif. (Oct. 10, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with grilled meat, it made a very good match with a meatless option, a Spanish potato tortilla.
VALUE: Excellent value, destined for my annual "QPR" list.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not designed as a cellar keeper, but I see no reason it wouldn't hold up on the wine rack for a year or two, a little longer in a temperature-controlled cellar.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Mederaño is apparently too recent a release to have reached the databases on Wine-Searcher.com, but if you are in the U.S., you can look up state distributors for Victoire imports here:
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Randy's World of Wine: What wine with sushi?
Bucko's Wine Reports: 100 new wines for the season
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: How much will you pay for Sauvignon Blanc?
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Zin vs. Primitivo (Oct. 8, 2004)
Odd blend (Oct. 6, 2004)
How much is too much? (Oct. 4, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Iron Chef chili shrimp (Oct. 7, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Oct. 11, 2004