Juan Carlos Sancha Ad Libitum Monastel 2012

Part of a mixed bag of wines recently purchased from Eurocentric. This wine is made from Monastel de Rioja which, as far as I can make out, is a native variety of Rioja planted in relatively small quantities and allowed as part of the region’s red wines only as of 2007 (according to this press release, anyway). Juan Carlos Sancha has grown these Riojan bundles of joy organically which, as we know, must mean the wine is good. Promisingly, it’s sealed under Diam; of late, anything not sealed under cork instantly lowers my level of anxiety.

Colour is quite striking – deep red, dense, serious. Aromatically, the wine is fairly challenging, as it expresses a particular note that reads to me as slightly swampy. I must admit, it’s not an appealing aroma to me; for the purpose of description, it’s similar to the faux-bretty smell that Mataro sometimes gives off; that is, savoury, meaty and altogether angular. With air, I’m making more sense of this note in the context of the aroma as a whole, which is richly fruited and dark, with a hint of coffee grounds bringing up the rear.

The palate is satisfyingly flavoursome, and one could never accuse this wine of lacking intensity. At the same time, there’s an ease to its expression that belies its dark, serious flavour profile, and I rather like the tension between these two things. Black cherries, dark chocolate and mulch collide with a net of tannin that descends through the mid-palate. This is firmly structured, to be sure, yet it’s not without balance. It’s simply a big wine. Fresh fruit drives through the after palate even as tannin constricts its expression somewhat and keeps it in line. A decent finish rounds things off, as does a lick of vanilla.

There’s a lot to like here and the wine is nothing if not characterful. Might go down well with lovers of “big red wines” who are open to some different flavour profiles.

Bodegas Juan Carlos Sancha
Price: $A39.95
Closure: Diam
Source: Retail

Tesco Finest Viña Mara Rioja Gran Reserva 2004

By far the best of my UK supermarket selections over the past couple of weeks. Marketed under the Tesco Finest label, this is in fact made by Baron de Ley.

Immediately complex aroma, with dark, meaty fruit meshing well with an array of oak- and bottle age-derived notes. I find the integration of aromas especially exciting, and I do think styles like these, with more extensive age built into their élevage in barrel and bottle, present a different view of old red wine. There’s a mellowness here, combined with still-robust fruit, that is so attractive.

In the mouth, rich and full bodied, placing liquerous red and black fruits on the tongue along with leather and spice. Flavours are intense and generous, perhaps a little blurry too, but quite delicious. The middle palate shows a good deal of freshness, thanks in part to good acid, although it’s at this point the wine’s flavours come apart a bit, oak especially feeling a bit obvious. The after palate and finish are more about old red wine flavours, delicious if you like them (I do). Mouthfeel is a highlight, being firm yet sensual at the same time.

Good wine, great value.

Tesco Finest (but really Baron de Ley)
Price: £14.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Baron Amarillo Rioja Reserva 2006

I was underwhelmed by two recently tasted, fairly pricey Costco-procured wines, so thought for my next adventure into supermarketland I’d try Aldi, another import into the UK. At £5.99, this Rioja Reserva was the most expensive wine on offer at the Chester-le-Street branch of this brutally efficient supermarket chain.

While not a £50 wine in disguise, this drinks very well and in most respects was more enjoyable than either Costco wine. The aroma is settled and integrated, with calm notes of spice, strawberry, vanilla oak, savoury fruits and some bacon fat. It is expressive and well balanced, showing enough complexity to satisfy without being overtly challenging.

More of the same on the palate, showing a very clean flavour profile and firm acid. The interplay of sweet and savoury is especially enjoyable here, with fruit pulling in both directions, playing out primarily on the middle palate. Despite the interest in its fruit, it’s not a fruit-forward wine, and there’s pleasing restraint in all respects here. The downside of this is an intensity of flavour that could be greater. Other flavours, including a nice snapped twig note, continue on to a finish that is lightly touched by fine tannins.

For the price, this is quite excellent and a wine I’d be happy to buy again.

Baron Amarillo
Price: £5.99
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Marqués de Murrieta Reserva 2006

I attended a satisfying dinner on Friday evening where the wines were wide ranging and the table’s reactions diverse. I was interested to note the styles that appealed in such a setting. They were invariably forward and aromatic, with fruit flavours that were clearer and more readily identifiable. No surprise there, but I was left wondering about quieter wines that don’t offer such immediate gratification but which can, when contemplated solo, provide tremendous pleasure.

This is one such wine. Not an exalted label by any means, but it’s a whole lot of good things — expressively aromatic, well fruited, evenly structured. Yet it lacks a hook, something immediate and excitable, which would make me fear for its fate in a large line-up of wines. No matter; tonight, it’s the only wine on my table and I’m pleased to consider it at length.

The aroma shows definite tertiary characters which gives a mellow gloss to underlying fruit aromas. Dark berries and some snapped twig swirl at its base, while a range of other smells build on each other. It shares a gene with the sort of exotically spiced blend that might be encountered in a tea house. Here, spice is a link between fruit, oak and bottle age.

In the mouth, a sensuous wine; its structure caresses the tongue as dense fruit coasts above. The weight of its flavours edges on ponderous but detail and definition are sufficient to keep the wine from cloying. I especially like the integration of flavours, from dark berry to aromatic orange peel to leather; this ultimately tastes like a single, complex note. Structure is present, with acid in particular carrying the wine’s movement. The after palate is relaxed and the finish decent.

$30 is a bit extravagant for regular drinking, but if I had the means, my quaffing wines would be like this: humble, quiet and perfectly formed.

Marqués de Murrieta
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

El Coto Crianza 2004

I haven’t taken the time to explore much Spanish wine, but it’s fair to say the Iberian peninsula is so hot right now. This, incidentally, is typical of my (in)ability to be ahead of the curve. No matter, if you are like me and are a novice in this area, I can highly recommend Dave Worthington’s excellent site Tinto y Blanco.

This evening, I was at my local First Murphy on an emergency wine run (triggered by those moments where nothing in the cellar looks remotely appealing) and decided to buy a few cheap Spanish bottles. Here’s the first, an inexpensive Tempranillo-based wine from a vintage officially rated “excellent” by the Rioja Control Board. 
A fun, moderately expressive nose of savoury red fruits, brown spices and a a nice thread of funky undergrowth. Some sweet oak too. I find it attractive, if straightforward.  It’s not an aroma that grabs you by the scruff of the neck; rather, it persuasively suggests you start thinking about what food to have with what you’re about to taste. The palate is sweeter than expected, with fresh red fruit and sweet oak the dominant characters. There are also some complexities; aniseed-like spice, for example, along with a general undercurrent of savouriness that keeps the fruit and oak in check. A really appealing, easy flow through the mouth, with acid and tannin balanced to create the sort of breezy sophistication you don’t quite recognise until it’s over. A dip through the spicy after palate never quite redeems itself on the finish, mostly because it doesn’t have enough time. 
There’s a lot to like here and all I can think about while drinking it are the various foods that might go with. Spicy sausage, I reckon. 

El Coto
Price: $A21.85
Closure: Cork

Campo Viejo Reserva 2004

Finally, here’s the second part of my tasting notes for tonight. It took me a few minutes to decide what to do with the Campo Viejo Crianza 2006 – at first, I thought I could merely cork the bottle, sit it outside on the sidewalk, and – to paraphrase Mao – let a thousand unintended pregnancies bloom, but that would of course have been grossly irresponsible of me. Down the sink it went; yes, I did recycle.Now, on to this wine. My first thought on opening the bottle was simple “Oh, wait, this is a real wine.” I know, how haughty of me, but really: this didn’t smell of simple berries and fruit. This wine smells of, well, wine. There’s almost a hazelnut or roasted-coffee-biscotti note around the edge of it; it seems clear to me that this wine has seen a fair whack of oak. There’s also a lingering hint of some of the same vanilla berry notes from the regular version of the wine, but in a very tastefully restrained manner: it’s the difference between Versailles before and after Jeff Koons. What it really smells like, though, is proper Rioja: this reminds me of random bottles of Spanish wines happily drunk on holiday in Madrid with friends a few years back. What fruit there is is fastidiously framed by a hint of sourness, appetizing woody-coffee notes, and a sense of place. In short, whatever went missing from the crianza is here in the reserva.Taste-wise, there’s a brief, soft opening of gentle fruit that fairly rapidly fans out into an elegant, lacy interplay between reasonable, appetizing acidity, something like gentle earth, restrained berry fruits, soft vanillic effects, and then it all rides out quietly on somber, toasty oak. It’s the acidity that really ties the glass together, though; without it, this would be too soft, too easy. The overall effect is of eating delicious cake with a short espresso, I reckon; you get both the vanilla cherry pie and the upright tannins – but not too much, because then this wine wouldn’t really be Spanish.The most impressive thing here is to me the remarkable lightness of this wine. Compare to New World wines, this just doesn’t go as far down the tonal register, which makes it a refreshing change from the usual. This also means (I think) that this is another one to pair with sausages or grilled meats: it would work wonders. For me, it’s doing just fine with simple spaghetti bolognese, but it could have been so much more.Finally, I feel compelled to publicly wonder about something that utterly baffles me: this wine is selling for just $10 at The Wine Exchange in Orange, California. How can this be? If the cheap version of this is $9, why is this only a buck more and – more interestingly – why is it so much better?Disclaimer: I didn’t spend my own money on this bottle, but I also didn’t agree to anything.Campo Viejo
Price: $10
Closure: Cork

Campo Viejo Crianza 2006

Much to my surprise, I found myself accepting free samples of wine from a certain publicly traded French drinks behemoth. Why? Simple: I figured what the heck; if the wine sucked, I’d have fun complaining in a really boring, Adbusters-esque way about corporate wine blah blah blah. But if it was good… then what? In a world filled with small, struggling producers that produce original, interesting wines in this price range, do we really need one more review saying anything good about wines that are presumably produced in unspeakable quantities and then drunk in cruise ships and indifferent hotel restaurants the world over?The short answer is yes. Not everyone has the access to a wide range of indie wine shops that we have here in California; not everyone lives in a state that allows direct shipping. In many places in North America, you either get it from the liquor board shop or you don’t get it at all. And in places that really don’t drink “fine wine” (leaving aside the discussion of what exactly that is for now), then all you’re going to get is “industrial wine” – so why shouldn’t you be aware of the good stuff?First off: a disclaimer. Full Pour’s review policy is simple: you can send us free wine, but we don’t promise we’ll review it. And if we do review it, we don’t promise we’ll publish the review. And if we do publish our review, we don’t promise it’s going to be a good one.OK, that’s out of the way. How is this $9 wine courtesy of Behemoth French Industrial Producer?The nose offers up super friendly, inviting, warm red berry aromas. It smells better than any strawberry rhubarb pie I’ve ever baked, at any rate. There’s also a kind of woodsy perfume there as well, just a hint of something like candied oak. Not too bad.Sadly, however, once you get some of this in your mouth, it all falls apart. Dang it, I was hoping to like this wine so that I could say yes, sometimes the big guys get it right… just not this time. Everything here seems loose, unstructured, out of focus: it’s a bit flabby, perhaps even just a tiny bit sweet, with an unpleasant raw acidity sneaking in to bust up the party the second it wobbles to a start. The overall effect is frankly unpleasant: it tastes cheap, unfinished. The one good thing I will say, though, is that the tannic structure of the wine is just fine, keeping some kind of firm hold on the whole endeavor.So what to do with this wine? The tannins suggest it needs meat; the rest of it suggests it needs to be obscured by something else; I’m thinking heavy barbecue smoke would do the job just fine. If you’re somewhere where you can get funky, indie bottles of unknown French reds, then go for it. If, however, your choice is between this and [yellow tail], then I’d say go with the Campo Viejo – it’s in the same price range but has a little bit more interest. Otherwise, though, can you remember the last time you drank a Coors? No? Well, it might be time to start over again…Campo Viejo
Price: $9
Closure: Cork