Last week, delving into those mysterious wellsprings that inform our tastes by connecting adult experiences with fond memories from childhood, I postulated that a grown-up love of minerally character in wines - that delicious subtlety of slate and stone and chalk and red clay and rainwater running over rocks - must somehow harken back to youthful fun in mud puddles on rainy days.
Featured are two fruit-forward wines: a dry Portuguese red made in the Douro Valley from Port varieties, and a Spanish red from Calatayud, near Aragon, made from the notably fruity Garnacha (Grenache) grape. Although I'm a mineral-lover myself, I find the focus on fruit in these wines appealing, perhaps because they're both nicely structured wines with good, mouth-watering acidity and a framework of tannins to support the fruit ... and perhaps, just a little, because they evoke memories of a happy bowl of Trix or Froot Loops.
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Lavradores de Feitoria 2003 "Três Bagos" Douro ($16.99)
This is a very dark garnet wine, almost black in the glass. Port-like scents are appealing and forward, black plums and cherries and even a warm brandy-like note. The full-bodied flavor is fruit-forward, ripe black fruit and dried fruits shaped by grippy acidity and firm tannins. The similarity to Port ends at that point - it's dry, of course, and it's not fortified. But you can sense the shared heritage, and for that matter the shared fruit. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., Eric Solomon Selection. (March 27, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Breaking away from the obvious red meat, I fashioned a sweet'n'savory pasta dish to work and play with the wine's ripe fruit, lavishing baked penne with a "pink" sauce of ricotta and goat cheese with fresh and sun-dried tomatoes.
VALUE: Despite my skepticism about fruit-forward wines, this one's a winner, keeping all that sunny Port fruit in perspective with splendid acidic structure and balance. Well worth its mid-teens price, and probably available for less, as I bought it at a retailer known for high markup.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drinking beautifully now, but the Port varieties, almost ageless in fortified wine, should hold up nicely for five years or more in this dry and hearty table wine.
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Las Rocas de San Alejandro 2004 Calatayud Garnacha ($10)
Very dark and slightly hazy reddish-purple. The aromas are classic Grenache, a heaping bowl of fresh raspberries with "green" back notes of leaves and tree sap and a dash of white pepper. It's mostly raspberry on the palate, juicy and tart, with plenty of acidity and even a dose of scratchy tannin to save it from "fruit bomb" status. U.S. importer: European Cellars LLC, Charlotte, N.C., Eric Solomon Selection. (March 28, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with pork or poultry or even beef, it made an excellent match with chicken in a light tomato ragù over farfalle, the dish inspired by Mario Batali's oxtail gnocchi that I featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: Not a bad buy, but $10 is toward the upper end of the range of asking prices for this bottling; the Vinas Viejas (old vines) bottling goes for more.
WHEN TO DRINK: Despite the tannins, I don't see this one as an ager. It's generally best to watch for the new arrival of this Spanish bargain every year and enjoy the current vintage while it's fresh.
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Friday, March 24, 2006