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Southern reds worth a holiday smile

By Dave Buchanan
We're getting back to the red wines tasted recently at the Southern Wine & Spirits holiday show. This was a fairly small show (35 reds were offered) but the quality was such my tasting sheet has scribbled notes up and down the edges, across the bottom and even squeezed between lines of type. Southern has a good variety of Spanish and Italian reds to go with the New World reds you'd expect. I gravitated to the Old World wines since it's there you're more likely to find some delicious wines at great values. Californian and Oregon produce lovely juice, no question there, but you'll have to jump up into the $15-$20-plus range before you start finding the really drinkable stuff. Compare that with Italy, where $10 will get you a bottle of Cantele 2005 Primitivo, a intense, fruity and smooth wine with round tannins and plenty of fruit, everything melded by spending six months in used oak. Primitivo and the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski have been discovered to be the "ancestors" of zinfandel. According to their Website, at Azienda Cantele every bottle of wine tells a story. Obviously, this story is of a family winery dedicated to preserving the rich wine-making history of Apulia. I tasted another primitivo, this one a 2006 from Colosi, a small winery located on Salina, one of the islands of the Eolies archipelago, just north of Sicily. For years, wines produced in the hot regions of Sicily and southern Italy were dismissed as good only for bulk wines and to add some backbone to weaker vintages, which is exactly what those wines were used for. But that's been changing and the Colosi 2006 Rosso is proof of the quality Sicily and the islands can produce. This wine is 100 percent primitivo, said Therese Campbell of Vias Imports, Ltd. "It's the No. 1 seller in our portfolio," Campbell said, and no wonder. The wine is ripe and dense, filled with dark cherries and plums, with soft tannins. There's enough fruit in this $11 bottle it would fit in with that Thanksgiving dinner (zinfandel is one of my favorite Turkey Day wines). Le Sughere di Frassinello (which translates roughly to The Corks of Frassinello, don't ask me why) offers a 2005 Rosso composed of 50 percent sangiovese, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon and 25 percent merlot. Le Sughere is a second label of the Roccadi Frassinello estate, a joint venture between the Castellare Estate and Domaines Barons de Rothschild. This is a stunning wine, lush with dark cherries and black fruits with a bit of spice from being aged 50 percent in new oak. As expected from a wine bearing the mark of Rothschild, this one is pricey ($40) but well worth the splurge. We jumped to this side of the pond to taste a lineup of Robert Hall wines from Paso Robles in California's Central Coast. According to the Web site, Hall became intrigued with French wines (particularly Rhone varietals) in the 1970s and found the right conditions in Paso Robles to produce his version of classic French wines. We sampled the Robert Hall 2005 Meritage (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and merlot, $18), the 2005 syrah ($17) and the surprisingly tasty Rhone de Robles (mostly grenache and syrah, $18), with lots of ripe berries, spice and herb, just what you'd expect from the Rhone Valley. All of these wines made us smile and their prices aren't so high you couldn't afford one or two for the holidays.

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