Amateur Hour

Make no mistake about it, Tom the Terroirble has a lot in common with Bob and Glen, whose professional reviews can be found here. Age isn’t one of those things.

Having only been able to drink legally for an estimated 1/25 of the combined time the two “senior editors” have been alive, here’s a running list of wines by the glass, solo nights at the local wine bar, and many hours of writerly meditation in chronological order. Bottle MSRP not available unless otherwise noted.

Domaine Philippe Gilbert 2010 Menetou-Salon Rouge

Winemaker Philippe Gilbert is on a mission — to prove that there is more to the border of the Loire and Burgundy than Sancerre. Menetou-Salon is located only a few kilometers down the road, and Gilbert rightfully believes he can create wines of equal quality in a less well known area. His 2010 Rouge is bright and clean, and would perhaps be judged as “light” by some American palates looking for a big, bold red wine. This wine has little in common with such bombastic behemoth bottlings, and should be appreciated for the light expressiveness that it shows. It’s a delicately delicious wine.

Rating: 88-89
MSRP: 17 Euro at Spring Wine Boutique in Paris

Domaine Philippe Gilbert 2010 Menetou-Salon Blanc

The area around Sancerre and its surrounding villages consistently produces Sauvignon Blanc of ample citrus acidity and fragrant floral notes, edged with a touch of minerality. This is again reflected in Gilbert’s entry-level white, with flavors of lemon peel and white blossoms.

Rating: 86-87
MSRP: 15 Euro at Spring Wine Boutique in Paris

Domaine Philippe Gilbert 2008 Menetou-Salon “Les Renardieres” Rouge

Gilbert’s premium line is derived from the oldest vines on his property; he insists that these wines show remarkable character and vitality, even after being open several days, because of their unique growing conditions and his biodynamic philosophy. With age his Rouge takes on secondary characteristics of new timber and earthy spices, while retaining the delicate balance that characterizes the 2010 bottling. This emphasis on “light but still savory” wine is perhaps the hallmark of Gilbert’s reds. This is still a young wine, though, and I don’t believe its full range of complexity is yet showing.

Rating: 87-88
MSRP: 26 Euro at Spring Wine Boutique in Paris

Domaine Philippe Gilbert 2009 Menetou-Salon “Les Renardieres” Blanc

The beautiful flowers of Sancerre’s rolling countryside come to the fore: Honeysuckle, rose, and apricots fill the nose, while a slight buttery-ness on the finish positions this wine as a more mature and poised version of the 2010 Blanc.

Rating: 88-89
MSRP: 26 Euro at Spring Wine Boutique in Paris

Muxagat Vinho Tinto Douro 2009, Portugal

A few years ago, Wine Enthusiast raved about the 2007 edition of this bottling, awarding it a lofty and perhaps excessive 92 points (other magazines were less generous; Wine Spectator had it at a respectable 88). I wasn’t quite that impressed, but the 2009 remains a very drinkable wine with faint, delicate notes of autumnal spices and leather rounding out berry fruit flavors. Could easily be mistaken for a French wine.

Rating: 86-87

Domaine Alexandre Bain Pouilly-Fumé 2010, Tracy-sur-Loire, France

Supple, easy on the first sip but deceptively so, with budding floral aromas and a hint of grilled pears rolled in fresh hay. Clean in the mouth with ample acidity, this wine is as refreshing initially as it is complex on the finish.

Rating: 92-93

Le Canon Primeur, 2010 Vin de Table, France

Shockingly pink sparkler is the adult apertif version of pink lemonade crossed with rosé. Thin bubbles go down easy thanks to a well-adjusted balance of sugar, acidity and gas. A second glass after dinner wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

Rating: 88

Sebastien Riffault 2006 “Auksinis,” Sury-En-Vaux, Sancerre, France

Heady scents of the French countryside and wild yeasts power this sans-sulfites amber gem, which though packing a wallop of Johnny Smith apples, honeycomb and fresh sourdough is quite quaffable.

Rating: 89-90

Sebastien Riffault 2009 “Akmenine,” Sury-En-Vaux, Sancerre, France

Yellow pour is perhaps lighter than expected on the palate, with pears, golden raisins, herbs and hay. A hint of residual sugar fills the mouth. Serve at lunch with a crusty baguette, French seaweed butter, and fresh salt. Braised endives and a roast chicken won’t hurt, either!

Rating: 89

Sebastien Riffault 2009 “Skeveldra,” Sury-En-Vaux, Sancerre, France

The soil of Sancerre produces a range of distinct and delightful sauvignon blancs, and this is one of my favorites. Clean and refreshing due to the flinty soil (“Skeveldra” means stone in Lithuanian), with secondary aromatic characteristics that elevate this wine’s complexity (without entering into “cat pee” territory). Tastes of freshly picked wildflowers and toasted baguette, with a dash of gooseberries for acidity and balance. A pairing with caramelized onions (in the style of Noma’s “onion dish,” but with local Sancerre ingredients, including those freshly picked wildflowers) was a revelation.

Rating: 91

Sebastien Riffault 2003 “Skeveldra,” Sury-En-Vaux, Sancerre, France

Those that believe you can’t age natural wine are sorely mistaken. Sebastien is a “zero sulfur” producer, and yet his wines – with care and attention – can become even more complex and noble over time. Aging intensifies both the aromatic characteristics of his younger vintages as well as their floral/toast/grass flavors; what fades is the taste of gooseberry. That is not to say, however, that this wine lacks acidity – it has simply become a different, but still harmoniously balanced, wine. Pairing wise, the concentrated flavors are thicker on the palate and more suited to main courses (or savoring alone).

Rating: 92-93

Sebastien Riffault 2010 “Raudonas” Pinot Noir, Sury-En-Vaux, Sancerre, France

“Raudonas” means “red” in Lithuanian, and what more could you want out of a shockingly easy to drink pinot noir? Vibrantly expressive in the mouth with hints of cherry, exotic spice, and baked fruit. Elegant structure coupled with judicious country terroir in the nose. Savor every sip – red wines aren’t common in Sancerre, though this one makes you question why. It’s hardly a “textbook” wine from the region or its surrounding constituencies, but does that really matter if it reflects time and place?

Rating: 91-92

Phillipe Pacalet Gevrey Chambertin 2008 Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France

Rustic aromas mingle with ripe berry fruit in this natural Burgundy. Though interesting in the nose, if a bit funky around the edges, it hardly holds any “gamey” characteristics. Slightly short, direct finish may become multifaceted and elongated with additional aging.

Rating: 88

L’Anglore 2010 “Pierre Chaude” Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France

Extremely drinkable Pinot Noir from Burgundy made using biodynamic principles. Light and elegant, with graceful finesse. Round, finished flavors of blackberries, vanilla and cardamom readily complement a wide array of local products on the dinner table.

Rating: 88

Gérard Boulay 2010 Chavignol, Sancerre, France

Boulay’s entry-level wine is no slouch. It lacks the graceful poise and maturity of his other offerings, but that’s a given. What isn’t always a given with wines at this price point is boundless expression and an open aromatic complexity to stand up to young, vibrant fruit.

Rating: 89

Gérard Boulay 2009 Clos de Beaujeu Sancerre, France

During our stay with Boulay, we had the chance to taste his full range of wines, including the 2010 Clos de Beaujeu and another white, the “Comtesse.” I must admit to apparently getting sidetracked at some point and running short on notes for the 2010 bottling and the Comtesse, which I remember as a slightly more earthy (but not yet fully ready to drink) version of the same year’s Clos de Beaujeu.

The 2009 Close de Beaujeu is a youthful sauvignon blanc that hits all the right notes, technically speaking. It doesn’t have the slight funk of its aged brethren, but its acidity and fresh grapefruit, lemon peel and grass flavors are a suitable foil to grilled fish. A good char over a wood fire might prove a good foil for the aromas in this wine.

Rating: 89-90

Gérard Boulay 2006 Clos de Beaujeu Sancerre, France

Much like a raw French cheese, this wine is likely to find both fans and detractors, with an extremely defined persona due to readily identifiable impressions of unripe banana, sourdough and wildflower. This unique wine is a nouveau chef’s dream, offering up a wide range of exciting haute cuisine pairing possibilities.

Rating: 91-92

Gérard Boulay 2001 Clos de Beaujeu Sancerre, France

A decade of aging offers up mature, earthy aromas and layer upon layer of taste, much like the ground from which these grapes came. A lingering impression of youthful floral and fruit notes slowly gives way to Chinese five-spice and freshly hewn rocks.

Rating: 93

Domaine Didier Montchovet 2010 Aligoté, Bouze-lès-Beaune, France

Aligoté isn’t typically held in the same regard as the Burgundy region’s great blended whites and pinot noirs, but there isn’t a rule that says you can’t produce a good wine using the grape. Didier’s version is an affordable, expressive and easily consumed wine with welcome acidity and fruitiness. It will delight equally easy-going guests in your home.

Rating: 86

Domaine Didier Montchovet 2009 Hautes Côtes de Beaune, France

Didier Montchovet’s wines are made using biodynamic growing principles, but his vinification and aging philosophies are still somewhat conservative in that he looks to produce what the French think of (when searching for English words) as “straight” wines. Tasting this pinot noir, you would never think it is a biodynamic wine – and that’s pretty much the point. This is what you expect from Burgundy, a whiff of prunes and blueberry pancakes mixed with spices and the forest floor.

Rating: 88

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Bourgogne Hautes Cote de Nuits, France

This wine isn’t nearly as refined and delicate as the Nuits Saint Georges or the very impressive “Clos de Reas,” but it retains the characteristic Michel Gros profile: a smart balance between fruit, acid, and Burgundian earthiness. At this price point, really hard to beat, especially at an outdoor feast in the early fall.

Rating: 87-88

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Vosne Romanee, France

Building off the generic Bourgogne, the Vosne Romanee adds a bit of spice and age-worthiness to the overall package. Michel Gros’ wines remain similar in that they reflect his personality and philosophy as a vintner, but the estate is also careful to allow the land’s terroir guide the final product. This wine should age well for four to six years.

Rating: 88

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Nuits Saint Georges, France

It’s why you drive away from larger towns like Beaune and Dijon and head toward small villages like Nuits Saint Georges: to find the purest expression of pinot noir as it was originally intended. A far cry from the New World, this is a carefully calculated and well-executed wine that cranks out flavors and aromas in neat succession: plum, cherry, unripe blueberry, mint, anise, leather. And then it disappears, a momentary glimpse of a beautiful girl.

Rating: 90

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Nuits Saint Georges “Les Chaliots,” France

If the standard Nuits Saint Georges is a Burgundy begging you to ignore the fact that it could – and probably should – be aged, its companion “Les Chaliots” readily identifies itself as a wine in need of more time. Tannin levels are a bit out of balance, and the fruit seems less forward, or perhaps hidden behind a veil of other flavors. In a few years, this may be the more complex (and thus potentially better) wine – but only time will tell.

Rating: 87 (now), 89-90 (with aging?)

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Vosne 1er Cru “Clos de Reas – Monopole,” France

During my tour of Michel Gros, my guide Juliette complained that she fears the vast majority of the estate’s wines are drunk before they reach their full maturity. That thankfully hasn’t had any impact on the domaine’s winemaking philosophy, which remains strictly focused on producing age-worthy, wonderfully balanced Old World pinot noirs.

That being said, upon tasting the 2009 “Clos de Reas,” I don’t think I would object to drinking it this young. Juliette said the “Clos de Reas” vineyard, a small parcel owned entirely by Michel Gros in the center of the village Vosne, produces grapes that lend themselves “to a wine that’s always open,” and I would have to agree. Granted, the 2009 vintage was almost universally acclaimed by wine journalists, but there’s more to this wine than a good year. At this young age, it’s full of luscious plums and plump Danish blackberries (which are as good as they come, trust me!). A spicy finish with moderate acidity leaves you wanting more. No wonder it’s so hard to wait!

Rating: 91-92

Domaine Michel Gros 2004 Vosne 1er Cru “Clos de Reas – Monopole,” France

Seven years of aging elongates already complex, well-developed flavors of black fruit and dried cherry, and the wine’s pronounced aroma takes on characteristics of nutmeg and nutty soil. A savory, meaty quality akin to fine roast canard ties everything together. Its time has come – drink now!

Rating: 94

Domaine Michel Gros 2009 Grand Gru “Clos Vougeot,” France

This is going to be a good wine – you can feel it.

But it’s not there yet. In the words of Juliette, who shared that she personally agrees with my opinion, “it’s a little boy. It has expression, but it is just a little boy. It’s not a teenager.”

Spicier and more earthy on the palate than the “Clos de Reas,” with an added touch of leather and mahogany in the nose. This is undoubtedly a fine wine, but when will it fully open? That’s the ultimate question of the day.

Rating: 89-90 (now)

Inama Soave Classico, Garganega, Italy, 2009

Fruity, New World-stylings position this Soave way ahead of its shoddy predecessors in the American market. Aromas of citrus (primarily orange and lime) mingle with delicate hints of pineapple, grapefruit, apple, and a tease of buttery smoothness on the finish. An excellent value.

Rating: 88
MSRP: $10.99

Dom. Monpertuis Vin de Pays, Cuvee Counoise, France, 2007

Smoky, complex wine from a lesser known French varietal, this is surprising stuff that struts out black plums flavors layered under oak chips, forest floor, and darkly-roasted vegetables. Full, long finish that sustains interest long after the first sip.

Rating: 89

Vajra Langhe Rosso, Red Blend / Nebbiolo, Italy, 2008

Piedmontese blend of 5 percent Pinot Noir, 30 percent Barbera, 30 percent Dolcetto, 20 percent Nebbiolo, 10 percent Albarossa. Nebbiolo definitely shines through, and the wine was listed as such on the menu during a recent dinner. Strong and full-finishing red with riveting notes of ash, charred meat, and jammed blackberries under a literally intoxicating nose of motor oil-soaked plums.

Rating: 89

Duca Carlo Guarini Pìutri Negroamaro Salento, Italy, 2007

I clearly was on a smoke-filled kick at Cork during my most recent visit, and that shines through in the wines reviewed. But it also was a good thing, as all three of the above wines score superbly in my book. In comparison to the aforementioned Nebbiolo red blend, this Negroamaro is slightly rounder, with a bit more ripe fruit, a hint of black olive, and not nearly the same bracing whiff of petrol. Bright red-purple pour has cherry notes; if the Nebbiolo is the intimidating rockstar of Italian wine, this wine is his lithe, shy, but still pretty dark sister.

Rating: 88-89

La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2007

Clean in the mouth with dark, wild raspberries, toasted nuts, and black fruit. Time has mellowed what were likely more rigid tannins; drink now.

Rating: 87

Meinklang Burgenlend Red, 2009

This blend of 65 percent Zweigelt, 20 percent Blaufränkisch and 15 percent St. Laurent is an affordable starting point in the market for biodynamic wines. With a pointed, Old World nose of cherry and terroir, fine-grained tannins, and a lush mouthfeel with slightly apparent alcohol, it is a surprisingly earthy table wine. A bit of funk, in a very European way.

Rating: 85
MSRP: $12.99

D.O. Bullas Estratos, Spain, 2009

This ruby value-priced gem of a blend is 80 percent Monastrell and 20 percent Syrah. Plum and berry jam in the nose with a surprisingly earthy and peppery finish. For $9 at Whole Foods, an easy replacement for generic red table wine.

Rating: 87
MSRP: $8.99

Colutta Sauvignon Blanc, Italy, 2010

Balanced flavors of gooseberry and summer stone fruits with a hint of grass and orange rind in the nose. Slight acidity nicely complements tempura-fried calamari and grilled vegetables.

Rating: 87

Dom. Gouron “Terroir” Cabernet Franc, France, 2006

Pleasant, well-balanced opening red with high notes of plum and dark fruit. Lasting impressions of tobacco, spice, and plump berries.

Rating: 87-88

Royal Tokaji Wine Company “Aszu 5 Puttonyos,” Furmint, Hungary, 2006

Complex dessert wine with loads of residual sugar. It’s more than honey, though — this is serious stuff, a pour of which utters forth equal amounts pear, rosemary, pine, and fresh flowers. Lively acidity keeps things fresh, never cloying or syrupy.

Rating: 88-89

Dufeu Bourgueil Grand Mont, Cabernet Franc, France, 2008

Fruity pour shines with inky layers of berry, cedar, clove, anise under an undulating nose of ripe plum and delicate mint. Finish is abbreviated, however.

Rating: 86-87

Orin Swift “The Prisoner” Red Blend, Napa Valley, 2009

Since its debut several years ago, much has been written about “The Prisoner” and its ascendancy to cult-wine status. This transition from virtual unknown to annual member of the Top 100 club is well deserved. Haunting flavors of umami-rich braised goat shank, campfire smoke, damp lichen, baked plums, and plump blackberries unfold across the palate, even at a young age. Its layers and length, which open with decanting, should only become more complex and tasty with several years’ aging. With very little noticeable alcohol in the nose and a certain Bordeaux-esque balance, this is a wine to savor on its own with a close friend.

Rating: 90-91
MSRP: $34.99

Domaine Robert Perroud Brouilly “L’Enfer des Balloquets” Beaujolais, France, 2008

Juicy red plums and pluots with a lip-smacking fruitiness on the finish. A young, pre-pubescent wine with charm for her age, and a decidedly nice accompanient to a wide range of dishes. Light on the palate and versatile enough even for more savory fish dishes, like saffron-infused fish stew with chickpeas.

Rating: 87-88

Domaine des Roches Neuves (Thierry Germain) Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, Saumur-Champigny La Marginale, 2005

Subtle with breathtaking, slowly unfolding layers of butter, curry, leather, spice, brambleberry, and smoked piquillo pepper. Do I even detect some new car smell? A luscious, savory, and evocative way to begin a meal of small plates. Dry, clean finish.

Rating: 90

Opalia Pinot Noir, France, 2010

Young pinot with noticeable alcohol. Blue-red pour of muddled wild red berries, tobacco, and grilled meat. Tannic structure is medium-strong.

Rating: 86
MSRP: $10.99

Pighin Sauvignon Blanc, Italy, 2009

Clean and refreshing on the palate with subdued notes of lemon-lime, grapefruit, and hay in the nose. Plenty drinkable on the long first days of summer.

Rating: 87
MSRP: $11.99

Brooklyn Oenology Social Club Red, New York, 2006

Grapes come in bunches: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, AND Syrah. Whew! That’s a tiring list to write, but this isn’t a tiring blend to drink. Easy on the palate with notes of sweet berries, port-ish figs, currants and cinnamon. A well-mannered table wine that will travel with you from hearty French fare to spice-inflected southeast Asian.

Rating: 87
MSRP: $14.99

Becky Wasserman & Fils, Bourgogne Rouge “Jardin de Charlotte” Pinot Noir, France, 2007

Summer cherries strike a chord with pie spices, leather and mahogany wood. Rich, earthy aromas but a bit less defined on the tongue.

Rating: 86

Réserve de Gassac Selection Guibert, Vin de Pays d’Herault, 2009

Red table blend is full in the nose with forest mushrooms, game, smoke, and cranberry juice. Short finish is of mixed berries and dark fruits.

Rating: 86

Barrique Cellars Chardonnay, California, 2009

Beachwood and butter round out herbaceous notes of celery, melon, grass, and open savannah. Doesn’t stray too far from the definition of California Chardonnay, but doesn’t have to, either.

Rating: 88

Tr Elliot “Three Plumes” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2007

Youthful pinot bursting with elegant, well-balanced fruit flavors. Delicate berries extend to a dry, sweet finish with citrus undertones and soft spice. Very good.

Rating: 90
MSRP: $40

Groth Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2009

Lemony, easy-drinking sauvignon blanc with very little “barnyard-ness.” Citrus flavors couple with those of pineapple. Pairs nicely with simple seared fish preparations or salty, soy-based Asian foods desiring a refreshing spirit.

Rating: 87

Dom. Billard Pere Et Fils Pinot Noir, Auxey-Duresses, 2009

Vibrant pour glistening with pronounced, long-lasting fruit flavors. Surprisingly light on the tongue, dancing to a melody of jammy berries and plump black fruits, rounded out with white pepper and roses. Easy-sipping pinot noir goes well with French-inspired Italian cuisine and even firm fish. A complex belle of the ball that still knows how to have fun.

Rating: 90

Ridge Vineyards “Three Valleys” Zinfandel, 2009, California

True to California Zin, with bold, in-your face raisins, portly plums, and a hedonistic whiff of alcohol. Full-bodied wine perhaps best stands on its own, unless you’re firing some steaks on the grill.

Rating: 87

Vint Hill Cellars Cabernet Franc, Broad Run, Virginia, 2008

Wow — that’s unexpected. Inky purple pour with surprising acidity and tart plums. Clean flavors coupled with well-defined tannins lend themselves to similarly surprising drinkability even on a scorching summer day. A bit bracing perhaps, a bit unusual, and definitely different.

Rating: 86

Snake Charmer Syrah, McLaren Vale, Australia, 2008

Medium-bodied syrah/shiraz with prototypical flavor profile of red berries, a hint of spice, and a show of salty minerality. Not as earthy as the Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz reviewed below, but doesn’t stand out as much, either.

Rating: 84

Condesa de Leganza Tempranillo, Spain, 2003

Lots of flavor for the price, like an affordable California Cabernet Sauvignon with a Spanish twist. That twist is a musty, “Old Worldness” that mutes fruit-forward flavors of mixed berries and concentrated tomato paste. A pleasing complement to earthy, garlic-infused morels or meaty spreads, good with small plates.

Rating: 85

Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz, 2009, Australia

This wine has gotten some press as of late, taking home medals in its native land, San Francisco, and elsewhere around the world. Giving it a generous rating of 90, Robert Parker of Wine Advocate says the 2009 vintage “reveals a judicious touch of oak that provides an attractive spicy component that complements the blackberry and black currant fruit in the aromas and flavors.”

Glen points out that Jip Jip Rocks is in the Limestone Coast region, “full of wind-swept salt lagoons,” and after tasting, I’d agree that that upbringing shows in the final product. Ripe dark fruits and dried plums with an ever-present salty, mineral-tinged bite. If tannins mellow with time, this wine will improve.

Rating: 87
MSRP: $9.99

Valdrinal de Santamaria, Rueda Verdejo, Spain, 2008

A Spanish wine reminiscent of mild French Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic of open fields and tasting of unripe honeydew, hay, and woodsy salad greens, enlivened with decent acidity.

Rating: 86
MSRP: $10.99

Bricco Dei Tati Barbera, 2009, Piemonte, Italy

Simply a superb value, this is a sure-thing, textbook Barbera begging you to buy a case for whenever you entertain guests (or shock wine snobs everywhere). Even inexperienced palates will recognize firm but round flavors of blackberries edged with light tannins. Why would you ever drink American bulk wine when you could drink this at the same cost — or even less?

Rating: 88
MSRP: $6.99 at Whole Foods

Barboursville Vineyards “Octagon,” Red Blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and other Bordeaux varietals), 2006, Virginia

Named after the Thomas Jefferson-designed building on the vineyard that burned down soon after completion, this is an arisen phoenix signaling the rebirth of Virginia wine. A red blend with remarkable complexity even in an off year — the 2005 and 2007 vintages might be more Bordeaux-esque and cleaner in the mouth, respectively — the Octagon has rightfully been compared to more expensive California and French wines. Cassis-colored gem tastes of earthiness, wood, and prunes with a strong, lasting finish.

Rating: 90 (2005 and 2007, tasted on location, earn a 91+)
MSRP: $42 on location

Agua de Piedra Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2010

Youthful wine with maturity beyond its years. Aromatic opening gives way to a silky long finish. Berries (cranberry?) and white pepper are among the stand-out flavors, with black currant emerging after an hour, but this Malbec is neither fruit-forward or spicy. It is, however, a steal at the price. Beer aficionados would use the term “sessionable” to describe this wine. Food pairing not required, but I’d suggest listening to the entirety of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire de Melody Nelson” on repeat.

Rating: 88
MSRP: $8.99 at Whole Foods

Bertrand Berge Fitou, France, Red Blend, 2008

Jammy, with an aroma befitting cherry pie and a hint of tart acidity / tannic structure to boot. Other fruit emerges with time. Good, but perhaps slightly one-dimensional.

Rating: 86-87

Bearboat Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, 2007

Textbook American pinot noir, if a grape as fickle as pinot noir can ever be described as textbook. Smooth on the tongue with delicate plums and a vivid freshness you expect from California. If your taste in pinot tends toward cultish earthy complexity, though, this wine is underwhelming.

Rating: 86
MSRP: $22 at Whole Foods

Snapdragon Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2007

From opening, nearly a fruit cocktail bomb without the restraint of more expensive versions. Unbalanced but charming enough to please drinkers looking exclusively for very ripe black fruit and berries. Would likely not receive a warm welcome overseas.

Rating: 85
MSRP: $11

Villa Pillo Borgoforte Supertuscan, Red Blend, 2007, Italy

Significantly milder than most “supertuscan” blends, perhaps disappointingly so even for a less expensive version. Lingering dryness in the mouth with a touch of cherry and too apparent alcohol. Flat? Maybe a bad bottle, but doesn’t stand out enough to keep trying.

Rating: 82

Los 800 Priorat Spain, Red Blend (Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon), 2006

Lush berries and overripe, tannic black plums meet in the middle with campfire smoke and lingering, faint notes of leather and spice. Pair with aged, fatty meats or spit-roasted lamb.

Rating: 89

Domaine de la Bouysse, Cuvee “Mazerac”, France (Languedoc), Red Blend (Grenache Noir and Carignan), 2007

Immediate impressions of black fruit and rubbing alcohol in the nose, extending to ripening (but not yet ripe!) plums and caperberries in the mouth. Alcohol partially subsides with time. Dry finishing blend of grenache noir and carignan grapes, this is a wine to cut through heady cheeses and spice-inflected charcuterie.

Rating: 86

Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, 2008, Barbera from Piedmont, Italy

True to the Barbera grape: notes of raspberry and balsamic vinegar with plenty of length and the mildest of tannic structure. Some may want a little more fruit upfront, but this wine is an excellent all-around crowd-pleaser. Whip up some spaghetti carbonara and share with the best of friends.

Rating: 88

Villagreau Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley, 2009, Coteaux du Giennois

Eye-opening whiff of white grapefruit with a slight undercurrent of freshly cut grass. Almost bubbling acidity gives way to complex notes of mandarin, sorrel, and watermelon rind. Practically made for simple grilled whole fish preparations and flash-fried shrimp. A fashionable, eccentric Frenchman on summer holiday in sunny New Zealand. Buy (and drink!) now.

Rating: 90

Leo Hillinger, Blaufrankisch, 2009, Jois, Austria

White pepper, blackberries and cream upfront. Mild, buttery, apple-tinged finish with a touch of malic acid. Stainless steel aging engenders clean, friendly, youthful flavors ready to drink now.

Rating: 86
MSRP: $13

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