of Velvety Reds
Fantasy Becomes Reality with
have this recurring daydream. It's almost mid-day, we’ve woken
up late and haven't yet eaten. So after stopping at a tiny charcuterie
for some sausages, marinated olives, a round of local bread—crusty,
golden brown on the outside, silky white on the inside—and
a bottle of wine, we follow a winding brook outside the village
in search of a restaurant in the sky.
winery in Chile is among the producers making great value red
a tingling chill in the air as our shoes crunch over some loose,
crusty rocks, but we quickly begin to warm up as we head up a steep
slope. The landscape is a primeval mix—half natural, half
induced—of twisted scrub, which give off resiny, herby smells
as we brush against them, and gigantic sized agave shooting up their
30 foot spikes.
the brook leads us to a small pool. We feel like jumping in, but
when we dip our hands into it we're almost shocked by the stinging
cold. So tucking our pack behind a rock and weighting our bottle
beneath the water, we head off around a bend to catch a fuller view
of the town below. The afternoon sun has started to bathe its red
roofs and cobbled streets in golden shades, and beyond it the earth
appears to rise and dip with squares of scattered homesteads rimmed
by taupe-toned rock walls, like a Navajo blanket. Imbued by the
fantasy, we look at each other and say those three magic words.
"Shall we eat?"
Syrah vines at Delicato Family Vineyards
if I have not yet snapped back to reality by a ring of the phone
or knock at the door, this is when my fantasy really starts to cook.
The garlicky sausage jolts the palate and the bread cracks and flakes;
but it's the steely cold wine—which is red (isn't all real
wine red?)— that really gets me. Since we're shooting it directly
from the bottle, we're not exactly savoring the "bouquet."
However, the taste is like pure, undulating velvet—smooth,
seamless flavors of some kind of sweet, purple stone fruit, mingling
with cracked peppercorn and brown spices—and the aromas rush
into the head from behind the palate; in fact, long after the wine
is swallowed. Better yet is the knowledge— this is my dream,
mind you— that the wine was cheap, and there's a lot more
where it comes from.
is why, when you think of it, I've probably remained in the wine
business virtually all of my adult life. While fantasies are fantasies,
the reality is that there are such wines to be found, in spite of
the often overwhelming display of bottles and brands, at increasingly
painful prices, that greet you every time you walk into a store.
none of the following "finds" may ever rate an 18 or a
19 in this wine publication, they all taste the way a good red wine
is supposed to taste— flowing free and easy like the stuff
of dreams, far from the moiling mobs of pretentious, overspending
BENMARCO: Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina;$19
Malbec may also be one of the lesser known red wine grapes that
originated in Bordeaux, but in the high elevation vineyards of Argentina
it is considered the “king”; and like any good king,
it truly shakes, rattles and rolls across the palate with amazingly
thick, juicy, massively muscled yet satin smooth qualities, suggesting
smoke, scrubby herbs, and sweet, wild raspberry. The BenMarco is
a solid, exceptionally well priced introduction to Argentina’s
Malbec; and if you haven’t experienced the thrill and value
of it… well, what are you waiting for?
AGAPITO RICO: Carchelo - Jumilla, Spain; $10
“Carchelo” is what you see on the label of this unusual
blend of the Mourvedre (called “Monastrell” in Spain),
Merlot, Syrah and Tempranillo grape varieties. The best way to describe
it is that it gives $20 worth of flavor for a $10 price. Also think
of being fed meltingly rich, chocolate-covered raspberries by soft,
black leather-gloved hands. Any questions?
DOON: Domaine des Blagueurs "Syrah-Sirrah” –
Like Laely Heron, Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm is a California vintner
who goes to France’s Languedoc region each year to source
amazingly well-priced wine. This one is spiked with sandalwood,
roasting meat and black pepper fragrances; and on the palate, no
shrinking violet with firm, muscular, yet round, supple, almost
gushingly sweet (although the wine is completely dry) flavors that
make you want to laugh, cry, sing, or all of this at once.
FAMILY VINEYARDS: Shiraz – California; $7
“Shiraz” is usually the Australian moniker for the Syrah
grape. Syrah, Shiraz, tomato, tomahto, it doesn’t matter:
This could very well be the best wine sold for under $8 in the world
as we know it. It positively exudes the best qualities of the grape—sweet,
violet perfumes, touches of ginger and cracked peppercorn, and black
and blue berries in the nose. Once you’re hooked, it proceeds
to slap you across the palate—full, yet amazingly soft and
sensuous flavors suggesting the ripest black cherries, plums steeped
in pepper, and even an exotic touch of pomegranate.
GUELBENZU: Tinto Azul - Navarra, Spain; $11
This is another unique, Spanish-style blend of the native Tempranillo
grape with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. You would be hard pressed
to find something from elsewhere in the world that tucks as much
raw, gutsy intensity into decidedly smooth elegance. Sweet berry,
vanilla and new leather characteristics in the nose are layered
between round, juicy, refined textures on the palate.
Merlot – Languedoc, France; $11
Proprietor Laely Heron is an enterprising young woman who makes
it her business to find the best sources of this smooth and succulent
varietal in the hills of France close to where it meets Spain, and
she does heck of a job putting it together. The Heron Merlot is
redolent with soft, sumptuously textured fruit; giving a wall-to-wall
feel of juiciness rarely achieved in any wine. Better yet, this
wine is not uncommon—you can find it most anywhere in the
country—and the fact is, it always makes other brands of Merlot
going for twice the price look downright silly.
COLLECTION: Pinot Noir – Mendocino, CA; $10
Among red wine grapes, Pinot Noir is the essence of soft, silken
delicacy and fragrant, come-hither spices. It also tends to be one
of the most expensive to grow and vinify, which why you usually
have to pay at least $20 a bottle to get a good one. But dear mama,
this is what makes the Jewel Pinot Noir something to write home
about: retailing for about $10 across the country, yet regaling
the senses with all the incense and peppermint you expect in the
fine Pinot Noir, wrapped in lush, lacy flavors. Sip this naked,
poolside, with sushi; or with tuna, in tux and taffeta. Either way,
you’ll find that extraordinary is not necessarily a synonym
KIONA: Lemberger - Washington State; $12
Don't let the name of the grape scare you: Lemberger is a vitis
vinifera (i.e. of the classic European family of wine grapes) widely
planted and enjoyed in Austria, where it’s known as Blaufrankisch.
The aroma is exuberantly fruity—fresh blueberry and strawberry
mixed with a twist of peppercorn—and the taste is round and
plush on the palate, unfettered by harsh tannin, with a zesty lilt
in the finish. I can think of few wines as ideally suited for extra-spicy
styles of barbecue (from vinegary red to salty soy based marinades),
bratwurst, and rough cut potato chips or salads; in other words,
the ideal wine for foods we really love to eat!
BURGE: “Barossa Vines” Shiraz - Barossa Valley,
The Aussies, evidently, play “footy” (football without
pads), and everything is bloody this and bloody that. Their first
drink of the day is a heart-starter; this plump yet sinewy, bloody
thick and red Shiraz—most definitely typical of many other
$10-$15 Aussie reds -- certainly gets your heart pumping with lush,
nostril tingling qualities that take a sporting dive onto your palate
like raspberry napalm. Nothing lost in the translation!
GLEN WINERY: “Terra Rosa” Cabernet Sauvignon
- Valle Central, Chile; $10
When you find a great tasting $10 Cabernet Sauvignon, you should
treat it with reverence. Fire up some ribs, chop up some tartare,
bring in the fatted calf, praise the lord and pass the bottle. Patrick
Campbell, who owns Laurel Glen Winery in Sonoma, has been doing
this with Chilean- and Argentinean-grown fruit for years. Few California
Cabernets, in fact, achieve as much intensity of cassis—a
sweet toned, blackcurrant liqueur-like aroma – tucked into
silken, supple textures beefed up by soft but gripping tannins.
Terrarum Carmenére – Maipo Valley, Chile; $8
Up until recently, Chilean reds made from the Carmenére grape
used to be bottled as “Merlot.” Don’t ask why—
it was an honest mistake on the Chileans’ part. The important
thing is what’s in the bottle: a blackberry aroma touched
by an intriguing, jalapeño-like spice, followed by a smooth,
balanced medium body and satisfyingly soft, leafy, sweet berry and
mildly green-peppery flavors. Imagine this with a pulled pork or
beef sandwich. A layer of frisée or arugula wouldn’t
hurt— the peppery taste of greens helps round out the red
wine tannins – and if there’s some truffle oil in the
cupboard, well, splash away!
TINTO PESQUERA: "Crianza" - Ribera del Duero,
This estate owned by Alejandro Fernandez has been doing so well
for so long, it’s easy to forget the fact that it has almost
single handedly thrust Spain’s Tempranillo— the grape
from which Tinto Pesquera is made— into the pantheon of great
red wine varieties of the world, where it indubitably belongs. To
give you a sense of what pure, unadulterated Tempranillo is all
about, think of the sensuous, silken texture of Pinot Noir combined
with the dense, leather glovey elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon, and
throw in the wild, rambunctious, uncontained character of Syrah.
The flavors are so intense that the wine comes across as soft, almost
voluptuous in feel. Sweet dreams, indeed!
Caparoso is a well-known multi-award winning wine director
and founding partner of the Roy's restaurant group. He
has recently started his own wine label project called
Caparoso Wines and has written a book called Winning
Boy, and many articles for The
Honolulu Advertiser since 1981.