Three wines, three continents 

It’s no news that the temperature has already risen to above 90 degrees in San Antonio. And though this doesn’t mean you need to yank the cover off the backyard barbie quite yet (you might want to rid the grate of the remnants of last season’s steak, however), the thermal rude awakening does suggest contemplating some reds for summer sipping. Value Vino suggests three for your consideration. They’re from three different continents, but they share a commitment to expressive fruit, sense of place, and low prices. 

The 2006 Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz comes from a little-known cool-climate region in Australia’s Southern New South Wales. Cool doesn’t equal wet, however, as the region has suffered from the same drought as the rest of the country. For the grape grower, this is potentially catastrophic; for the wine drinker it means very concentrated flavors — just what Nine Stones offers. There’s also minimal oak here to get in the way of the peppery, spicy blackberry and black-raspberry fruit this wine shows in spades. Mellow in a laid-back, Aussie way, the wine also has enough of a stiff upper lip to keep things from going flabby. Screwcapped, it should retail for around 12 bucks.

The 2007 Zolo Malbec Mendoza from Argentina may weigh in at around $14, but it earns its premium by dint of more complexity. For starters, the wine is almost dauntingly deep and purple. The fruit — blackberries, and raspberries again — is a little jammier, and there’s a slight sensation of alcoholic heat (it’s listed at 13.8 percent) that fades to reveal whiffs of coffee buttressed by smoke and leather. The finish grabs you and doesn’t want to let go. But the end result is a nicely integrated wine that’s balanced toward the earthy end of the taste spectrum — perfect for grilled lamb chops or porcini mushrooms.  

My favorite of the trio, though, comes from Spain, and I like it not only because it has a lightness of body reflective of its terroir (“place over process” claims the label), but because the 2007 Casa Castillo Monastrell Jumilla ($14) exhibits both complexity and clarity. Monastrell is the Spanish name for the grape the French call Mourvedre. On its own it can frequently be gamey, spicy, and tannic, yet with this wine from Spain’s Southeastern Mediterranean Coast, though there’s a touch of smoke, there’s also an almost pretty delicacy. In place of the expected blackberries, I detect red cherry and even wild strawberry — maybe because the wine is best tamed by a slight chilling. Or maybe because there’s some winemaking going on after all. In any case, grilled salmon, chicken grilled or roasted, and tapas of all kinds came to mind. As did notions of an overdue trip to Spain.


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