Wines Picks February 6, 2006

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Spanish Red Wine

MIGUEL TORRES 'SAN VALENTÍN' GARNACHA 2004 DO Catalunya Product code = 673541 (XD = extra dry) 750 mL $13.95 VC: Terrific value for this rich, full-bodied red. Score: 88/100. Best Value Red Wine

French Red Wine

(Bonny Doon) VC: Don't let the joker on the label fool you, this is a serious Syrah at an excellent price. Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm may have a reputation for being irreverent, but for him making wine is almost a religion (or at least a philosophy). He may 'take the mickey' out of a wine region but his wines are a superb reflection of their terroir. Here he adds a touch of Viognier to the blend to give it a hint of the northern Rhône (Côte-Rôtie), but also a bit of the Midi (the aromatic punch that Viognier can bring). 951848 (XD) 750 mL $15.95. My note: Lovely red, medium- to full-bodied. Aromas of cedar and cherries. The screwcap is a bonus: no corkscrew necessary and no risk of cork taint on your wine. Score: 89/100.

DOMAINES DES AIRES HAUTES 'LES COMBOLLES' 2003 AC Minervois VC: Medium ruby/violet color with a fine array of aromas of plum, blueberry, spice, root/earth note. Dry with very good structure and a very solid finish. Enjoy with stews, braised beef ribs or veal roast. 701706 (D) 750 mL $10.95. My note: A simple, one-note, tasty wine. Great for large parties. Score: 85/100.

CHÂTEAU LA VIELLE CURE 2001 AC Fronsac: 947127 (XD = extra dry) 750 mL $45.95. My note: One of the best producers in its region. This wine has stunning aromas of red fruit, leather and smoke. It's full-bodied but plush and ready to drink when you are. Score: 91/100. Favorite Red Wine

Italian Red Wine

RUFFINO 'LODOLA NUOVA' VINO NOBILO DI MONTEPULCIANO 2000 DOCG: 332411 (XD) 750 mL $24.95: Mouth-watering acidity makes this an excellent companion to tomato-sauce pasta. Juicy ripe goodness of cherries and red fruit. Score: 89/100.

Canadian Red Wine

PALATINE HILLS MERITAGE 2002 VQA Niagara Peninsula VC: This easy drinking blend features ripe fruit aromas and flavors of black cherry, rhubarb and berries with a hint of sweet herbs. Medium-bodied and well-balanced, it would make a fine match for lightly herbed lamb chops or old cheddar. 675058 (XD) 750 mL $14.95. My note: Juicy red, medium-bodied. Score: 87/100.

Californian White Wine

GEYSER PEAK CHARDONNAY 2004 Alexander Valley VC: Founded in 1890, Geyser Peak Winery is one of the pioneers of the Alexander Valley appellation. This Chardonnay is made in a crisp, crowd-pleasing style with terrific balance between sweet fruit aromas and hints of oak. Enjoy with vegetable stir-fry or grilled chicken in a cream sauce. 343475 (D) 750 mL $19.95. My note: Crisp, oaky, good all-round chard. Score: 89/100.

California Red Wine

MONTPELLIER SYRAH 2003 California VC: This popular Rhone-styled Syrah is an incredible overachiever. Expect delicious dark fruit aromas with flavors of prunes, plum jam and a spicy finish. 672436 (XD) 750 mL $12.95. My note: Fantastic value! Rich, dark aromas of mocha. Full-bodied. Score: 88/100.

RAVENSWOOD OLD VINE ZINFANDEL 2003 Sonoma County VC: Ravenswood is well known as one of California's foremost Zin producers. In this deep and dense wine from Sonoma, look for aromas of blackberry, licorice and cedar along with intense dark fruit flavors, hints of chocolate and gripping tannins. Enjoy it over the next 3-7 years with smoky spareribs or grilled steaks. 673798 (XD) 750 mL $27.95. My note: One of the best zin producers by far. Aromas of bright, happy berries. Score: 90/100.

TOASTED HEAD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2002 Dunnigan Hills (RH Phillips) VC: Silver-Medal winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2005. 969873 (XD) 750 mL $19.95. My note: Nicely balanced red, with rich layers of red fruit. Score: 89.5/100.

Australian Red Wine

D'ARENBERG 'THE LAUGHING MAGPIE' SHIRAZ/VIOGNIER 2004 McLaren Vale, South Australia: Comprised of 94% Shiraz and 6% Viognier. 936971 (XD) 750 mL $26.95. Deep and dark but not too heavy. The viognier (a white grape) lifts the red aromas and gives them resonance. Fantastic value. Score: 91/100.

TWO HANDS 'GNARLY DUDES' SHIRAZ 2004 Barossa Valley, South Australia VC: This finely crafted Shiraz is from Two Hands 'Picture Series'. The 'gnarly dudes' in question are the rather fierce and twisted looking old vines from which the wine's fruit is sourced. Winemaker Matt Wenk has a well-deserved reputation for creating a tightly focused Shiraz that emphasizes the fruit while perfectly integrating the oak and tannins. This dude is ready to be enjoyed anytime over the next five years. 660043 (XD) 750 mL $29.95. My note: Huge, palate-whacking shiraz. Score: 90/100.

South African Red Wine

CATHEDRAL CELLAR MERLOT 2001 W.O. Coastal Region: This wine spent 26 months in French barrels. 522219 (XD) 750 mL $16.95. My note: Chewy, lovely red. One of my favorite producers from South Africa. Score: 89.5/100.

German White Wine

AYLER KUPP RIESLING SPÄTLESE 2004 QmP, Geschwister Simon VC: A return to classic Mosel Riesling after the extra heat of the 2003 vintage, this '04 Spätlese shows aromas of lime flower, mineral, ripe pear and peach preserve. Medium in sweetness with a lovely combination of fruit and acidity. Light-bodied with a medium long finish. Enjoy as an aperitif or with fish dishes such as turbot in a beurre blanc sauce. 674051 (M = medium) 750 mL $17.95. My note: Lovely thread of silver acidity that makes this a perfect partner for seafood, shellfish, Asian dishes. Score: 89/100. Favorite White Wine

LINGENFELDER 'BIRD LABEL' RIESLING 2004 QmP, Estate Btld. VC: This popular Riesling, part of Rainer Lingenfelder's 'Vineyard Creatures' collection, is an excellent sipper. It will also complement lightly spiced Asian foods. 568634 (MD = medium dry) 750 mL $13.95. My note: Soft and light as an early spring day. Barely a trace of acidity. Score: 88/100.

Portuguese Red Wine

QUINTA DA LAGOALVA CATELAO/TOURIGA 2002 Vinho Regional Ribatejano: 938449 (XD) 750 mL $12.95. My note: A good, simple, rustic wine. Full-bodied. Score: 86/100.

QUINTA DE VENTOZELO TINTA RORIZ 2001 DOC Douro VC: Made exclusively with Tinta Roriz (a.k.a., Tempranillo), Ventozelo matures the wines for eight months in new American oak. The resulting wine is beautifully structured, suggesting ageing potential of 3-7+ years. 677898 (XD) 750 mL $19.95. My note: Lovely balance. Spicy red fruit. Full-bodied for meaty dishes. Score: 90/100.

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Copyright © 2006 by Natalie MacLean. All rights reserved. Please ask permission of the author before copying or using this material.