It’s been cold here in the northeast--daytime highs in the mid-50s and nights dipping into the 30s. And while I’d take the warmer weather of spring and summer over this given the chance, there is one advantage to the chill in the air: It provides a perfect excuse for popping the corks (or unscrewing the Stelvins) on juicy, soulful wines that seem to wrap you up in a blanket of warmth from the inside.
Over the past week, then, I’ve focused on tasting either wines that have brought warmer seasons to mind, or that were juicy and rich enough on their own to make me forget about the fact that, a month or so from now, I’ll likely need a Snuggie to keep from shivering.
Tilia Torrontes 2009, Salta
Torrontes does brilliantly in Northern Argentina, and few places are home to more exciting bottlings than Salta. This one smells just like slicing into a ripe honeydew while sitting on a honeysuckle- and orange blossom-ringed patio: If there’s a wine more evocative of springtime, I haven’t found it. In fact, that melon is so ripe that it’s edged with a sense of funkiness, which provides an unexpected depth. The white peach flavors here are less sweet than the nose implies, and kept in check by acid that comes racing up the back end with flashes of white pepper, menthol, and sun-warmed grass. Drink now, and think of warmer days to come.
Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc Reserve 2008, Napa Valley
What a wholly unique and utterly Californian expression of Sauvignon Blanc. It smells of some sort of rich, vaguely smoky, delicately peach-scented popcorn and spice, with a twist of white pepper, white grapefruit, and kaffir lime leaf. The lively palate is far brighter than the nose implies, with lots of pink and white grapefruit, mandarin orange, kumquat, and spice notes, a finish that whispers of honeydew, vanilla and nutmeg, and nervy acidity perfectly in tune with the richness of the texture. Exceptionally complex and well-crafted, and a serious Sauvignon Blanc that should continue to evolve for 2 - 4 years. But don’t hold back now--the pleasures of this wine are tremendous.
Montes Alpha Syrah 2008 “Apalta Vineyard,” Colchagua Valley
Blackberries, asphalt, and a touch of bacon define the nose here--serious Syrah aromas that are lifted by the subtle perfume of flowers and whole black peppercorns. The palate here is fresh and juicy, with a serious core of macerated black cherries limned with vanilla pod that, in a couple of years, will integrate seamlessly. This Syrah is chewy yet light on its feet, concentrated but not jammy, and beautifully expressive, with deeply steeped tea on the finish. It demonstrates exactly what I like most about Chilean Syrah: Its balance between the brambly fruit and asphalt of the Northern Rhone alongside a nicely chewy New World ripeness, all of it balanced by fresh acidity. Drink now through 2014.
Ravenswood Petite Sirah “Vintners Blend” 2008, California
A vivid purple color is an accurate advertisement for the juiciness of this easy-to-love wine. There’s plenty of grape jam and mixed-berry preserves on the nose, as well as vanilla and clove and a touch of earth. This Petite Sirah seems built for veal, pork, or leaner cuts of beef, its fruit-driven character remarkably consistent from the moment it’s poured into the glass. Gulpable, food-friendly, and a great value. Drink now. And then open another bottle of it and drink that one, too.
Candor Merlot Lot No. 2, California
A dark, glistening rich color leads to a nose of sappy black cherry, chocolate ganache, cream, and vanilla. The palate is dominated by sweet fruit and oak spice, with a remarkably consistent expression of the wine coming through the palate from the nose, but here with added notes of cooked-down blackberry and a hint of clay, as well as a bit of toastiness on the finish. Rewarding. Drink now.