The hunt for big reds in October shouldn’t come down to a mutiny. There are enough full-bodied red wines to satisfy us all. Many wineries age their top single-varietal wines, while their less prestigious field blends make enough dollars to keep the lights on. Those entry-level gems wet our gullets at everyday prices and are widely available. The wines of focus today are neither of those things.
Red blends are operatic and this act is for the sophisticated pleasure-seeker. I respect a winery that throws out conventionality and just goes for it. When they offer non-traditional approaches, unusual varietals or ambitious efforts where the price-quality is unmatched, I can’t help but share them. Each packs an abundance of rich fruit and oak. They are powerful and supple wines that coat your tongue and warm your core. The stuff that ancient warriors drank after battle, but better! These wines aren’t going to force you to sit there and ponder “terroir;” they will fill you with joy and have you asking for more.
I have a deep affinity for Cabernet Franc. It’s graceful elegance, quiet beauty, and vegetal edge is a thinking wino’s grape, but Puydeval captures a unique essence in their flagship Rouge. The Languedoc region of France is well known for its Syrah, Carignan, and Grenache blends. However when I heard Cabernet Franc, I was shocked that it was grown in such a hot region. Jeff Carrell, the winemaker, found cool microclimates within the region and emerged with a new breed. I first fell for this wine a few vintages ago when I was all about dry, dusty, funky wines. It was so charming and fun, rich with a touch of spice and a lingering kiss of earth. Customers were soon hooked and three years later, it’s still winning fans. Puydeval Rouge 2011 is a 58% Cabernet Franc, 28% Syrah, and 14% Merlot and is aged for 10 months; a truly original blend and one of a kind. Do yourself a favor and spend the seventeen bucks.
Columbia Valley, Washington is continuing to soar in popularity within the wine world and so are their prices. To find quality bottles under $20 is quite difficult; to have them remain consistent, impossible. Even the $25 bottles keep my attention on the more affordable big reds in California. The Apex II Syrah out of Yakima Valley and Apex Cabernet have donned the shelves of Sea Grape over the last five years. This latest release, however, knocked my chucks clear off my feet. When Tanya Raisz of The Little Wine Company told me Apex was no longer making single varietal wines and focusing their efforts on a single red blend, I was confused and slightly perturbed. “I’ve always enjoyed them and the customers are digging the swill so why change your model?”I asked. My tune changed rather quickly. Apex Cellars Red Blend “The Catalyst” 2010 is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Syrah, picked from Alder Ridge, Clifton Hill, and Riverbend Vineyards. This wine has put everyone on notice, that for $21 you can have outstanding Washington State red. Full and fleshy, like a cigar box jammed with dark cherries and fallen figs with a dash of herb woven together and finishing with brilliant length. Another find that exists solely to over-deliver.
Salvador Dali’s friend founded the Castillo Perelada bodega in Catalunya, Spain. Art and wine have a special bond, wine inspires art and great artists like to drink. The Castillo Perelada 5 Fincas 2006 from Emporda is one of the most surreal of the three wines. The region is a rarity due to its diverse soil content. For a small area, it contains slate slopes, sandy plains, fluvial sediment, clay-silt, and gravel. This of course lends a broad range of elemental nuances to the vines which naturally lead into more complex wines. The grapes harvested for this blend come from five different vineyard sites grown on five different soil types. At $22, you get a blend of Garnatxa (39%), Syrah (26%), Merlot (26%), and Cabernet Sauvignon (9%) that spent 21 months in American and French oak.
I always appreciate a wine with a few years of bottle age. The time to self-integrate allows the wine to fully know and express itself. A Mediterranean influenced wine bursting with red fruits and balsamic undertones. Toasted aromas prevail throughout its lush and creamy palate. Ample tannins provide smooth sailing and are held steady by its fresh acidity. The most serious of the picks but don’t be surprised once it starts having fun. Salud!
Cristiano Andrade is the General Manager/Wine Director of Sea Grape Wines & Spirits. A judge for the 2011 & 2013 New York International Wine Competition, Mr Andrade has also travelled the world in pursuit of wine and food knowledge.