My approach to reviewing wine has always been to find outstanding examples of a particular variety and to share them with you. Wines that don’t move me — well, I’ll keep them to myself and maybe try them again some time. Another factor for me is whether a wine is pretty much ready to drink, meaning that, even if it will evolve over the years, as many reds and some whites will, I want you to be able to enjoy it now without thinking that you need to get out the chainsaw to cut through the tannins and the wood from oak aging before those elements settle down. With all that in mind, let’s talk about several reds that stand out for drinking right now.
When it comes to cabernet sauvignon, I want structure and depth and fruit that really shows its stuff. France’s Bordeaux and California come to mind first when I think about cabernet, which is why I was eager to try an Italian example, Villa La Selva’s 2003 “Selvamaggio” Cabernet Sauvignon from Tuscany While many so-called super Tuscans — wines produced in the region from non-traditional grapes — are blends made from both the native sangiovese as well as Bordeaux varieties like cabernet and merlot, this one is 100 percent cabernet.
It’s classic cabernet with quintessential ripe blackberry, sweet cedar and subtle chocolate notes — a beautifully balanced wine with alcohol at a lean 13 percent, reflecting the heat of the Tuscan summer and its ability to ripen cabernet early and without producing the high sugar levels that translate into higher-alcohol wines that are typical of California. Think steak and lamb for this one. The suggested price is $35. The 2001 vintage may still be around in some areas. The importer is Empson USA of Alexandria, Va.
Two less expensive wines from France were hits when I brought them to dinner at a friend’s house the other night. I’ve said here before that Beaujolais and its signature gamay grape represent some of the best values in the wine world if you choose carefully. One of the top small producers in the region, at the southern end of Burgundy, is Jean-Paul Brun, who farms 40 acres at his Domaine des Terres Dorées. Brun’s 2005 Fleurie, which takes the name of the Beaujolais village where the grapes are grown, is superb.
To get technical here for a moment, Brun believes in making “old-style” wines that, among other things, begin with fermentation from wild yeasts — yeasts that are in the air — as opposed to adding artificial, industrially made yeasts to give the wine certain aromas and flavors. He is in the minority with this practice, especially in Beaujolais.
Brun’s Fleurie, with notes of spicy cherry and earth, is youthful and a bit tannic at this point, but shows beautifully pure and expressive fruit. Relatively light, it will match well with poultry and grilled salmon. The price is about $18 and the importer is Louis/Dressner Selections of New York.
From further south in France, in the northern part of the Rhône Valley, we loved Eric Texier’s 2004 Côtes du Rhône “Brézème,” made from syrah and showing wonderful notes of ripe raspberry, pepper and spice (everyone at our dinner picked up on the pepper quality, which is characteristic of syrah). I looked at Texier’s Web site and found this description: "This untamed, brawny wine is usually a deep garnet color, with a big bouquet of ripe, but spicy fruit sitting atop an earthy base. A fleshy mouth, long finish and wonderful combination of acid to tannins makes these powerful young wines that have the potential to age for at least 10 years."
But no need to wait that long. This wine is delicious right now and is suitable for all kinds of meats and fowl. Brézème is a little-known area just 20 miles or so south of Hermitage, a name synonymous with some of the Rhône’s greatest syrahs. Texier’s wine is a bargain at about $17 and among the best you’ll find in a sea of Côtes du Rhône. It’s another Louis/Dressner import.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at