VILLA SANDI PINOT GRIGIO

Nestled in the northeast corner of Italy is the picturesque region of Veneto which is one of the premier wine producing regions in the country, if not the world. It is also the modern day home of Prosecco, Italy’s answer to French champagne. The climate, the soil and the tradition all lend themselves to a wine producing mentality which produces such varied types as Valpolicella (which translates as “valley of cellars”), the already mentioned Prosecco, Soave and Pinot Grigio. Although it is known mostly for the Valpolicella, this multifaceted region now proudly produces superior wines of all types.

Boasting two very distinct climatic zones, Veneto can be enjoyed at any time of year no matter your preference. It is generally classified as a sub-continental zone with ample rainfall and the protection of the Alps and the sea shielding it from icy north winds. This contributes to favorable grape growing conditions as mother nature blesses the vines, feeding them with love, warm sunny days and cooler nights. All this also makes the region pleasurable to visit any time of year.

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Can you get more romantic?
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Mountains to the north

As an aside, Soave became very popular in the 1970’s when it was produced in mass quantities, sometimes affecting the quality. That is no longer the case though, as Soave has now graduated and although it is somewhat less popular today, the quality has come a long way and is now at least on a par with other wines from the region.

Headed by Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, the family has devoted itself to tradition while incorporating modern methods with special attention to research and innovation. Melding these two worlds is never an easy task, but under his guidance the winery has achieved many successful results. Another family that has been able to pay homage to its roots and make its ancestors very proud. Today, the winery is headquartered in a 1622 Villa in the Prosecco Region. The family also owns the Borgo Conventi label which I reviewed earlier.

Now, Pinot Grigio wine is normally made with the Grauburgunder grape which can be kind of a gray-blue in color. It is, though, a white wine grape that is thought to be a mutant clone of the Pinot Noir variety. Wines produced from this grape can vary in color from a deep golden yellow to a slightly copper and even a lighter shade of pink. Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio leans to the former color, being a light, pale yellow. On the nose, one gets the sense of some notes of pear and green apple, while on the palate, there are definite hints of citrus, pretty much a staple with Pinot Grigio, most notably lemon, lime and grapefruit, but there is also a nice, earthiness to it, a bow to the richness of the soil. We did allow the wine to aerate a bit in both the bottle and in the glass which I think added more to its allure than to the taste. While not a rich tasting beverage, it does have a very satisfying quality as it is very dry, no sweetness here at all, and only mildly acidic. This would actually be a very good choice for the average or the novice wine drinker because it is really a good lesson on what Pinot Grigio is all about. It is drinking very well now and should sustain its drinkability and quality.

This is a perfect accompaniment to a meal of maybe flounder with a stuffing of crabmeat, or a fresh green or caprese salad. A softer cheese such as fresh mozzarella drizzled with some EVOO and basil, or fresh linguini alfredo would also be perfect. It can easily stand up to lighter fare but would be lost with heavier fish dishes like a lobster or even salmon, both of which demand a more robust wine. As I look outside today, it is kind of miserable, cold, dreary and we have had some snow, not typical in this part of the country, and a nice glass of Villa Sandi would brighten it up and make you think of maybe the coming spring. What I am saying here is that it is perfect on its own, before dinner to welcome guests.
Alcohol – 12% (making it light enough to enjoy)
Price – about $12, and a bargain at that price as it compares to more expensive wines.

In all, I would rate this wine as a solid 8.75 out of an unattainable 10 grapes. It has value, flavor, appearance and tradition. As I said, it is drinking very well now and should last. A compliment to any table with an attractive label that delivers an appealing taste.

NO. 3 VINUM ITALICUM OPERA 2018

“Carpe vinum!” ( from the Latin, “Seize the wine!”)

The history of the Tinazzi Winery begins in 1968 with the vision of Eugenio Tinazzi whose desire to establish a high quality family business dedicated to not only the production of fine wines, but also introducing an entire wine-making experience. Built on the shores of Lake Garda in the Veneto region of Italy, the winery was founded in 1968 making it a relative newcomer in the production of wines, especially in this region which is home to several other purveyors of wines. Eugenio’s son, Gian Andrea, currently runs the business. Interestingly he was only 18 when he began his career here, and his children, Giorgio and Francesca now help to supervise all areas of production. This is a true family business driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and the love of a very ambitious project.

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Throughout the years the family has established wineries in Puglia and headquartered itself in Lazise, Veneto with the family estate still located on Lake Garda. Tours and cooking classes are available at the wineries and are very well attended by both novices and connoisseurs alike. But winemaking is the true family business and it is here, in the hilly hinterland that the vineyards grow, well exposed to the sun and nurtured by the breezes and temperatures moderated by lake Garda. These are excellent conditions for the grapes.

No. 3 Vinum Italicum (translated from Latin as “Italian wine.” Simple enough) is a blend of grapes, Corvina Veronese, Primitivo di Manduria, and Nero d’Avola, so you are really getting a diverse wine that represents the best of the “boot,” from Verona to Sicily. The wine is full-bodied and elegant beginning with aromas of black fruits, leather and oak. It will benefit, as most reds do, from about an hour or so in a good decanter to give it time to truly blend in the atmosphere of your home. One thing to note here is the weight of the bottle. Some winemakers feel that a heavier bottle will house a wine better and store better. This is about the heaviest bottle I have ever felt and while I am not sure that this theory holds, the product is excellent. In the glass it is a deep purple with tannins second to none. Slightly spicy with additions of vanilla and chocolate, oak and coffee make it complex enough but not overbearing. On the palate, this wine has a lasting quality that at the same time is inviting. Like all good reds, this is a sipping wine that goes best with a hearty meal like a good, well grilled tenderloin or with an appetizer like a good, sharp cheese like a Locatelli. We had it on Christmas Day with a tenderloin and it went very well. The spice of the wine paired perfectly with the meat and roasted vegetables, and we had just enough left over to enjoy another glass after dinner, which was a perfect lead-in to a cup of espresso.

As I have said so often in the past, if you can have a product of which your ancestors would be proud, you have something. I can say that Gian Andrea and his children have made Eugenio very proud with this wine. This dedication to quality can only be fed by a true love of the entire process and a respect and admiration for the history established here.
Alcohol – 15%
Price – about $34

As I said previously, the winery is open for tastings, weddings and events. But, if you prefer to remain here in The States, the experience is very rewarding. For myself, I would rate this wine a 9.8 out of an unattainable 10 grapes. Personally, I just feel that no one thing is so perfect as to rate a 10. Also, this wine was a gift from a friend. Maybe they get a 10.

LA CELIA PINOT GRIGIO 2019

Mendoza, Argentina has grown to a stature of a premier region for winemaking in South America. While the dominant variety produced here is Malbec, the (UN) official wine of Argentina, there are other varieties produced, and produced very well. This particular Pinot Grigio is a true standout in a very competitive field. Buoyed by history and a family commitment, the La Celia Winery has grown to become one of the more dominant wineries in the southern part of this hemisphere producing high quality wines in four distinct ranges: Heritage, Elite, Pioneer and Reserva.

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The story here is very interesting. Founded in 1890 by Eugenio Bustos, it was the first winery to plant the Malbec grape in the Uco Valley, originally from France and now the signature grape grown here. The grapes were obtained by Eugenio in exchange for a horse. But in this case, not just any horse, but his finest horse. As a result, Finca La Celia winery was born and named in honor of his daughter. Today, La Celia consists of over 400 planted vineyards where it strives to grow and maintain crops where, together with the climate and soil, yields a product which is consistently high quality.

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Now the Uco Valley is blessed with a combination of cool weather, high elevation and good grape-growing soil. With an average temperature of 57 degrees and better than 250 days of sun each year, the light average rainfall and wide temperature swings between night and day, this area is about perfect for wine grapes. The Valley is less of a wine tourism attraction, yet more of a destination for outdoor lovers, and basically a laid back area for viticulture.

The wine itself is technically a blend of mostly pinot grigio and a very slight hint of sauvignon blanc. Boasting an aroma of citrus and white flowers and a slight copper-like color, one gets the feel of a different type of Pinot Grigio as they more often tend to be almost clear. There are also notes of pear and green apple but ever so slight. On the palate it is fresh tasting and refreshing with a mild lingering effect that is quite pleasant. I can’t quite say though that the taste is citrusy. Somehow, that just doesn’t apply here. It kind of moves to the back seat. It is more mild but with a flavor that can almost be called airy, which somehow doesn’t go along with its appearance. There are some notes of lime and a very slight effervescent finish. One would expect a stronger taste from the appearance. Pinot grapes are sometimes used to make “orange wines,” because they tend to be slightly pink in color and are fermented with skins, all producing slightly deeper hues, but deceptively short lived aromas.

In all I found this wine to be very refreshing and delightful with just enough of a flavor to last from one sip to the next. It is best paired with light tasting foods like a flakey white fish or mild vegetable dishes. I think it would be overpowered even by some traditional white wine pairings like roasted chicken or turkey. In fact, it would be best used either before or after dinner. Given a very respectable 92 rating by James Suckling.
Alcohol – 12.5%
Price – about $12

In all, this is a pleasant wine that is kind of a distraction if you will. It is a true Pinot because of the grapes and the overall experience. There are some better ones out there and even a different vintage could be rated differently. But this is not one to be overlooked. I personally would rate this a 7.75 out of an unattainable 10 grapes.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIES OF ALL TIME

For this installment of my blog we need to have a frank discussion. It’s Christmas, a season of love, happiness and joy for most and I just got to thinking about what makes it so. Oh sure there are memories, family, food (of course) and seasonal cheer but there is so much more. And that leads me to my point. Even though I am not a fan of modern day Hollywood and all of its satellites, the film industry has contributed so much to the holiday spirit in years past and that just adds to the mood. How many people can watch a movie like “Miracle on 34th Street” and not see the magic, the miracle transformation of cynicism to wonder. Classic. Watch the great James Stewart in the last scene of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and I dare you not to shed a tear or watch Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” and I dare you not to laugh out loud. I double dog dare you! But I just read a list of what was supposed to be the greatest Christmas movies of all time and I nearly got sick. Please! “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is kind of (?) offbeat and an imaginative take, but a GREAT Christmas movie it is totally not. Only my opinion of course but it leads me to my topic which is THE GREATEST CHRISTMAS MOVIES OF ALL TIME which only the most astute of you will figure. And so, here they are, in no particular order except for my preference with apologies to any and all I may have left out, but deserve an honorable mention.

5 – The Shop Around the Corner

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This classic from 1940 has it all when you think about the holiday season, and it stars James Stewart to boot! Set in Budapest, two lonely employees working in a small gift shop become pen pals while not realizing that they work in the same store and personally can’t stand each other. Great acting by Frank Morgan as the store owner, Hugo Matuschek, who becomes ill right at the start of the season and becomes hospitalized, Margaret Sullivan as Klara Novak, Stewart’s love interest, Joseph Schildkraut as a sleazy store clerk, eventually fired by Stewart, and the rest of the cast gives this film its classic rating. In the end, Stewart and Sullivan find their heart’s romance and the rest of the cast goes home to a very happy Christmas dinner. Aaah, but the catch here is Frank Morgan’s character who may have to spend Christmas alone. His solution, well, watch the movie and see how he gives someone the merriest Christmas ever had. Later remade as “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

4 – White Christmas

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From 1954, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, two army buddies, team up as a song and dance act and travel to Vermont with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Allen and try to save an Inn run by their former commander played by Dean Jagger. A series of romantic mix-ups follow along with great music by Irving Berlin with songs like “Sisters” and “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” add to the charm of the movie. As an interesting aside though, the song “White Christmas” was introduced in a different movie also starring Der Bingle, “Holiday Inn” with Fred Astaire. The reason I picked this movie is for the spirit it gets across. Nothing, not even their love of women, gets in the way of Crosby and Kaye’s determination to bail out their old Commander. Love, honor, and commitment highlight this great movie.

3 – A Christmas Carol

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Alistair Sim as Scrooge

Here we have a lot to pick from. In 1938 it starred Reginald Owen as Scrooge whose story has been told over and over again. Later, in 1951 Alistair Sim played the role in my personally favorite version. But to introduce young children to this Dickens Classic, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol” with Jim Backus as the voice of Scrooge is a masterful version. As the story opens, we meet Mr Scrooge, a detestable, sad and lonely old curmudgeon who has alienated himself from everyone and anyone who ever cared about him. Only his nephew, who Scrooge resents because his birth caused the death of his sister, has any use for him and tries in vain to bring him around. But Scrooge, consumed by his quest for money, shuns him, treats his clerk Bob Cratchett like dirt and chases carolers from his path, goes on his miserable way. But the story is told in a masterful way as he is made to see the error of his ways and just in time, he repents and in another Christmas miracle, becomes the man he actually hated at the beginning of the movie, a beneficent, kind and loving person who cares for all others above himself. Sounds like someone the season is really about, doesn’t it?

2 – Love Actually

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From 2003, this is actually about eight stories rolled into one with the basic premise of each character finding, sometimes very surprisingly, their one true love. Each person in the film has some kind of baggage from the death of Liam Neeson’s wife, lonely Laura Linney’s mentally ill brother and Hugh Grant’s new role as the British Prime Minister with no social life just to mention a few. The movie has some very funny scenes as well as some which may bring you close to a lumped throat, but in the end, love is found by each, even a very young man’s acute case of puppy love. And at Christmas time no less!

1 – It’s a Wonderful Life

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From 1946 James Stewart and the highly overlooked but very beautiful Donna Reed headline this movie with support from Lionel Barrymore as the most evil Scrooge-like character next to Scrooge himself. The underlying messages here really hit home at Christmas time, ranging from what would the world be without me to whenever a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. So many wishes and hopes are fulfilled in this movie and that is what makes it so perfect. This is a staple at Christmas time, as it should be as Stewart’s character sees just how much he means to people and how he has contributed to their lives. His portrayal of the tortured George Bailey is so perfect, so on point and in the final scene so uplifting, and that is where you just may well up, as he realizes not only his worth, but the worth of Christmas, life and family. As an aside though, you have to note the characters played by Ward Bond, a cop and Frank Faylen, a cab driver, as the original Bert and Ernie!

Okay. There you have it. I only picked five movies so feel free to add others as you wish. My apologies to other films like “Home Alone,” and millions of Hallmark Classic Movies, but these are really in a class by themselves. And so, Merry Christmas to all. And to all, a good night! Anne Marie. Do we have any egg nog?

CALIGIORE GRAZIOSO TORRONTES RIOJANO

“The soul of the land turns into wine.” Words the Caligiore Family live by.

For so long now Argentina has been producing many indigenous wines. By that I mean that the characteristics of wines produced here are typical of the region, of the tastes of the people. This wine is no exception and is a very fine addition to the Argentinian family.

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Winery in Mendoza, Argentina. Note the mountains and the clear sky

Torrontes is a white grape variety grown throughout Argentina. Coming in three distinct varieties, it is part of the “Triplets,” which are so popular in that country but have also found a following in the United Kingdom and here in the States. Of the three varieties, Torrontes Riojano and Sanjuanino grow in loose bunches of tender grapes, while their cousin, Mendocino tends to grow in tighter bunches with a more of a yellow color. The history of this grape is kind of a mystery because it was sparsely planted until the late twentieth century when its popularity began to rise, and now it is the most widely planted white variety. According to most wine experts, the grape is pretty fickle and a challenge. It can produce a very high quality wine if, and this is a big ‘IF’ during the winemaking process adequate levels of acidity are maintained so the wine can be balanced. A less scrupulous process can, unfortunately produce a bitter tasting wine influenced more by alcohol than by the grape.

I purchased this wine from a small local merchant because, as is so often the case, the bottle looked like something I would buy. A simple, clean and neat label with an almost clear, see through product that just called out to me with a come hither look. Glad I took the chance on it.

The winery building in the middle of the vineyards where Caligiore makes their organic wines in Mendoza, Argentina.
Caligiore Winery

Caligiore is a family owned winery dedicated to the production of organically grown and sustainable wines, grown 3000 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. Migrating to Argentina from Italy to escape the poverty of post WWI Italy, the founder, Gustavo Caligiore’s grandfather, began his career working in the vineyards around Mendoza. The family eventually purchased the land and farmed it with grapes being their primary crop which were then sold to wineries. In 2002, the family decided to produce their own wines to highlight the care they showed in their own viticulture. This is a very rare simple process. The family uses only indigenous yeasts with no stabilizing agents. All of the wines are unfiltered.

As it looked in the bottle, upon opening the wine gave way to a very pleasant aroma of peach and apricot. I do have to say though that I was expecting a far sweeter taste based on that, but gladly that was not the case. We did let it sit for about 20 minutes before pouring, another good decision because the aroma was strong enough to leave the bottle, yet light enough to be pleasing. Upon pouring the wine stayed clear and crisp with none of the cloudiness which sometimes accompanies such light wines. On the palate the wine delivers a clean, fresh taste as its appearance implies. Although it does appear to lean toward a pale greenish tinge. It is medium bodied, not as citrusy as one may expect but there are some very light notes of lemon. The taste leans more to fresh fruits with a nice infusion of grape, the basic ingredient.

A nice medium bodied wine like this deserves some imaginative pairing. So, we enjoyed it with grilled baby eggplant, marinated in some balsamic vinegar and spices. Have to admit, it worked out perfectly! It can also go well with some spicier dishes like paella, vegetarian meals or as an aperitif. It seems that as a white wine fish or poultry are a more natural pairing, but with this wine you can step outside the box a little and go bold. Whites can sometimes get lost with spice, but in this case it can go very well while expanding your own tastes.

Price – about $12
Alcohol – 13.5%
My own personal rating would be a strong 8 grapes out of an unattainable 10 which is very respectable. Remember, this is an organic wine, suitable for vegans. But as an organic it has to overcome any previous ideas or biases some may have. Most organic wines do not enjoy a higher rating, perhaps only because of the organic label. This one merits a try.

EMPORIUM APPASSIMENTO ROSSO SALENTO

I ran this article last year. What with the pandemic being such an influence then, I think it kind of tainted the Holiday Spirit. So, here it is again, in case you missed it. Please enjoy it, as I did.

Lifesvoyager

Sometimes, as you well know, just the look, the appearance of something really catches your eye, makes you take notice. Now this can be anything from a color, to a label or even just the direction your head turns. I don’t know. Maybe there is some deep seated psychological thing involved here, but let’s remember, we are talking about wine here.

Such was the case with this bottle. The label is nothing to speak of. Plain, kind of stark even. But the neck of the bottle was what did it, what made me notice it. As you can see from the picture the neck is clothed in a wrapper of white wax, which I first thought was paper. This, plus the fact that this wine hails from Puglia piqued my interest.

Emporium Appassimento comes, as I said from Puglia, a region in southern Italy rich in history and culture. This…

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Consider this a preview…

Oh yeah. ‘Tis almost the season. Christmas is a really great time of year for so many different reasons. Food, friends, family, the whole Christmas Spirit thing all makes it a magical time of the year. And the memories. It all adds up.

Christmas music is a whole different ballgame though. Everything from rock to classic. From sweet to melancholy to funny. Everybody joined in. And that brings me to this…

Back in 1989, a little group called Vince Vance and the Valiants recorded a song which has since become a classic, though not in its original form. Recorded later by Mariah Carey, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” rocketed to the top of the charts and has stayed there ever since and deservedly so. Unfortunately, the original has been pretty much forgotten. That is a wrong which I am now going to attempt to right here. An so, with no further ado, I give you Vince Vance and the Valiants, with a medley of their hit, sung by the inimitable Lisa Layne…

More to come on this later

CHATEAU de MACARD BORDEAUX SUPERIOR 2015

(This is a re-post from January of last year. But, with the cold weather starting to come in, even in the Carolinas, it was just worth another look. Please enjoy this blast from the past.)

Lifesvoyager

Bordeaux wines refer to any wines produced in the Bordeaux region of southwestern France. Most Bordeaux are reds, but also produced in the region are some whites and a small smattering of rose. Winemaking in this region was originally introduced by the Romans for local consumption, mostly Roman soldiers, and production has been continuous since then. Climate plays a major role in this continuity, as well as a solid limestone soil base supplies needed minerals to the vines, while the moist, warm air feeds the grapes a steady diet of humidity so they mature plump and flavorful.

Bordeaux is actually a blend of what is known as “permitted” grapes. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Each brings a distinct flavor and aroma to the wine, giving it a hearty, full-bodied taste. Generally I have found French wines to be lighter than their Italian brethren, but a good…

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EYZAGUIRRE CABERNET SAUVIGNON

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Couldn’t be more true!
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Colchagua Valley
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Chile

Today I am going to venture into a relatively unknown country, both in general and also as a wine producing nation. The South American country of Chile, (“Chee-lay”) is a relative mystery to most people here in the States. Settled by the Spanish after conquering the native tribes, the country has undergone changes in government and leadership throughout the years. This narrow strip of land along the western coast of South America shares its borders with Peru, Colombia and Argentina. It is very mountainous with several types of climate and is actually home to the driest non-polar desert, the Atacama Desert, in the world. But as you move south, the climate becomes more temperate, and at its southernmost a tundra.

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The Colchagua Valley, Chile

It was in the mid seventeenth century that the Eyzaguirre family left their home in Vizcaya, Spain to seek its fortune in the New World. They settled in Chile and became a well known and distinguished family, and in 1768, Domingo Eyzaguirre was appointed mayor of the capital city of Santiago. So as you can see, their social ascent was very rapid. His son, also named Domingo, planted the first vines there from French roots near a village which was built by Franciscan monks from a nearby monastery. At first, the wine was bottled in a “chuico” a 15 liter earthenware jug, and transported to the monastery. Later it was put into glass bottles. But the long trip by horse drawn carts caused a lot of breakage and so, the tradition of wrapping the bottles in burlap was begun by the monks to protect this precious cargo. This tradition is carried on today. In fact, it is the job of five women to hand wrap each bottle of wine produced. This winery was the first of its kind to employ women in this role. It was done, oddly enough, because men proved to be too clumsy, not delicate enough to handle such a task. Today, these five women wrap and sew each bottle by hand in the tradition of the founders.

The Eyzaguirre winery is very unique, totally sustainable, organic as well as vegan. No pesticides are used. Indigenous falcons and owls control any rodents, weeding is done only mechanically. Even the dirt roads are covered with grape stems to control dust and erosion. The combination of these and other efforts have earned the winery the distinction of being named “Certified Sustainable,” the highest designation in Chile.

Grapes grown in this region, the Colchagua Valley, produce exceptionally high quality red wines. The warm, dry growing season matures the grapes quickly to produce a very robust wine made from a variety of Cabernet, Syrah, Malbec and Carmenere. All are excellent wines, but to my mind, the Cabernet really stands out in a very tough crowd. In the glass it is a deep burgundy with an aroma leaning to apples and raspberries. After about a two hour decanting, the aroma gives way to a very rich tasting drink, dry with a slight hint of pepper and a clean tasting of the grape. On the palate there is a hint of pepper, plum and red cherry. Slightly acidic with smooth tannins this wine is a perfect complement to beef ribs or a nice filet. It can also stand up very well to a porterhouse as well as some wild game and of course, chorizo and other Chilean dishes. In sampling this wine you have to remember from where it comes. Chileans are a very hearty people. The country is mountains and rocks on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. So life here is not for the faint of heart. Well, neither is the wine.

This wine was a find for me as I don’t think I have ever sampled a wine from here. All in all I found it to be excellent from appearance to flavor. I guess it just goes to show that wine, like life, is an adventure and you should never be afraid to sample either. The world of wine has so much to offer from so many corners of the globe and it would be a shame to miss something. Be daring and go for the gold! While appearance does matter and does factor into a decision, the appearance of this bottle, wrapped in burlap make it unique, different. But it is no gimmick. It is tradition.

Alcohol – 13%
Price – (amazingly) about $11
This wine compares favorably to some at twice the price.
James Suckling rates this 90 points
As for me, I would give this wine an exceptional rating of 8.5 grapes out of an unattainable 10.