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I've been tasting wines somewhat at random over the past couple of weeks, as we try and whack our February issue into shape (whack! whack! get in shape, you!). Many were unremarkable, as always, yet a couple were remarkable. The standout was a 1981 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia that I had last night at Suba, whose odd downstairs dining room—a moat full of water surrounds the dining area—is a lot more inviting now that the walls are painted white. Formerly it felt like a dungeon for hipsters; now it's kind of cool and, if not quite Spanish, at least sort of ultra-moderne South American. And chef Seamus Mullen's food is terrific, especially the arroz al horno our table shared—perfectly cooked bomba rice with that ideal crisp, caramelized layer around the bottom and edges (soccarat, if you want the Spanish—or is it Catalan?—term), flavorful chunks of pork shank, enough morcilla (blood sausage) to give it earthy depth...man. Need more. Now.
I also need more of the other thing our table shared, which was that '81 Viña Tondonia. The first bottle we ordered was corked, but the second was glorious, an affirmation of the amazing ageability of traditionally-styled Rioja. It had intense, bright acidity, dried cherry notes that somehow managed to be fresh at the same time, deep earthy layers of flavor underneath, an aroma so complex I'm just not even going to try and dissect it, and that luscious liquid velvet mouthfeel that good, old Rioja gets. Not cheap, but neither is gold.
However, for those who aren't into blowing their paychecks on aged Spanish wine, here are a couple of good Thanksgiving pours from my recent tastings:
2006 Planeta Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($21) A Sicilian blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato, vinified and aged in steel tanks, this is loaded with classic Cerasuolo notes: bing cherry, licorice, strawberry, lots of freshness. And if $21 is still too pricey, you could do worse than to buy Planeta's black raspberryish, juicy 2006 La Segreta Rosso ($15) instead.
2005 Capezzana Barco Reale ($15) I'm intending to write more about Capezzana soon, since I just had lunch with Beatrice Contini Bonacossi, whose family owns the property, and was impressed by the whole line of Capezzana wines. But, in the meantime, this bright, flavorful, berry-driven Sangiovese blend would be a dandy match for turkey with cranberry sauce.
2006 Henschke Tilly's Vineyard ($21) A floral blend of Semillon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc from the producer of one of Australia's greatest Shirazes (that'd be Hill of Grace, and it ain't cheap—$550 for the current vintage. Ouch.) This may not be as profound as HoG, but it's an impressive white for a fair price—sweet green apple and lemon notes, ending on a faint nuttiness. NB, Henschke's wines can be hard to find. Try wine-searcher.com.
2006 Terre Rouge Enigma ($24) A mention of this wine is upcoming in our January issue, but I like it enough that I'm just going to throw caution to the wind, set the controls for the heart of the sun, go ape-bat-you know what-crazy, and mention it early. Fine. Bring on the consequences. It's a terrific little blend of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne, packed with pear and tangerine notes, ending on stony minerality.