By Rick Riozza

Alright folks—all aboard for the last train to Clarksburg; and, we’ll meet you at the red wine station for yet another last moment take on some red quaffs for the table before this desert pursues their vino varieties with rosé colored glasses.

(By the way, Clarksburg wine country, 20 minutes south of Sacramento, known as “the Gem of the Delta”, is the uncrowded and unspoiled beautiful country landscape with over 12 quaint wineries & tasting rooms—and home to the big Bogle Vineyards!  So—we’ll wait for the next train to cover this area in another article.)

Back to our red wine roundup, where I’d like to alert you to a couple new and/or different red wines to consider.   And as we’re wont to do, we look around the world.

The Red Wines of Lirac: As your friendly neighborhood wine team member at Total Wine, I’ve met a bunch of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (New castle of the Pope) fans who simply love that famed and classic vino produced in the south of France.  However many of these enthusiasts have yet to recognize its neighbor right across the Rhône River.

Actually, the city and area of Lirac, as a wine producer, goes back two thousand years.  That’s why when the pope got kicked out of Rome in 1308, he headed up to Avignon and the wine country of Lirac to set-up “camp” anew across the river.  That area had already been vetted to provide the best red vino in town utilizing such stellar grapes as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Carignan, and Mourvèdre .

Pope Clement was a big Burgundy buff back then, but realized he could not satisfactorily grow Pinot Noir—the south of France was too hot.  Desiring to “surpass” the Lirac wines, the pope took those classic five wine varieties, above, and found eight other successful varietals in the area that could take the heat, to blend all together, and to make the “mother of all wines”!

No question that the historic 13 varietal blend was and is delicious.  The thing is though, currently, most modern CDP producers do not include all the original varietals, but are indeed back to utilizing those original “five” grapes of Lirac.

(To my knowledge, Château de Beaucastel & Clos des Papes may be the only CDP producers using all 13 varieties—which may explain their high pricings, and, the fact that they consistently score phenomenally high in ratings.)

The cost of a nice Châteauneuf-du-Pape these days range from around $40 on up; the best stuff sells for $80 and over.  So here’s the deal with Lirac: The average prices for a nice bottle start at around $15 and some of the best can be found for under $40.  And we’re talking about classic southern Rhône red with the characteristic flavor profile of cooked blackberries & cherries, black pepper, blueberries, coffee, earth, game, herbs de Provence/garrigue, meat, plums, smoke, and spices.

One could easily claim that a Lirac red is surely the bang-for-the-buck.  An example of such a claim is the Chateau de Segries Lirac Cuvée Réservée 2012.  This is a wonderful wine from the wonderful 2012 vintage; it’s one of my favorite reds this year.  Notice the deep blueberry and forest aromas with very long flavors of black cherry, bramble and black pepper. It’s muscular and packed with complexities that bloom every twenty minutes of aeration that one would expect from a CDP, and, it finishes with drying tannins. A great buy at $23 at Total Wine & More.

Another red wine that I’m currently enjoying is the Viña Cumbrero 2010 Crianza Rioja at the incredible price of $10 at the Desert Wine Shop.  And it’s the perfect time to either think or re-think the great values of a Rioja [ree-OH-hah] wine.  When you first taste a red Rioja, aka, the Spanish Tempranillo (grape), you’ll get hit with the flavor of leather along with cherries, plums, tobacco, vanilla and clove. The finish is mild, smooth and lingers with light tannins throughout.

It’s medium-bodied like a balanced Pinot Noir—which means it’s really food friendly. Another way of describing the flavor is to imagine Chianti mixing it up with a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Hey—there’s got to be something here for your red wine lovers with all these comparisons!

This 2010 Viña Cumbrero owns aromas of bright raspberry, plum and cherries which merge into its medium-bodied flavor profile.  A dash of oaky cocoa blends with leftover red fruit flavors on a nice finish.  For you tapas lovers, this is the quintessential food wine that can pair with the likes of fresh shrimp & scallop cerviche, garlic shrimp, spicy chorizo, serrano ham, tangine chicken, albóndigas, quesadillas, mixes of olives, almonds, cheeses, and anchovies.

Further the 2010 vintage was stellar in Spain, providing such full flavored wines that are as dark in color as can be.  But as mentioned above, the Cumbrero Crianza is a medium-bodied wine at only 13.5% alcohol.  It’s definitely one of the sexiest wines you can serve at your parties.

Old style Rioja designations are still used by many producers, and, a Crianza means that the wine requires 2 years of aging, with 6 months in oak. Once you readers realize the quality of Rioja wine, you may wish to appreciate even more aged wine with their reserva and gran reserva. The one thing, historically, with Spanish wine, is that the producers age the wine for you in the barrel or in the bottle. The wine is ready to appreciate upon its purchase. Cheers to that!

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