In Dining Commentary

Astoria's Primo Rosso is a satisfying wine at an extremely affordable price.

Cooler temps revive passion for red wine

For the 10th straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2016.

Maybe it's a Milwaukee thing – or maybe it's just me – but I lean more toward beer in summer and wine as the weather cools a bit. Because I tend to choose reds over whites, I like the warming feeling of holding a glass of red wine and of the wine as I swallow it.

Despite the fact that it's practically like summer out there these past few days, I'm still spending more time perusing the wine bottles in my basement than the IPA bottles in my fridge. So here are a few of the things I've been tasting:

B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

If you read my wine reviews and recommendations, you might be surprised to see me lead off with a Cabernet, since my tastes tend to take me to other varietals. But this blend of Cabs (each fermented and aged on its own) from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and Cohn's Olive Hill Estate Vineyard is quite alluring with dark red fruit flavors and rich vanilla overtones. There's a lot of oak here, and that's OK. Great body, long finish. Perfect in front of the fireplace. Retails for about $20.

Viansa 2013 Sonoma Valley Heritage Red Blend

I raved about this wine on social media when I uncorked it a couple weeks ago. It retails around $40, but it's worth every penny as a splurge wine – or if, lucky you, $40 works for an everyday quaff. Two-thirds Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, there are also dashes of Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot here, and they meld together beautifully. Blackberries, raspberries, black cherries and hints of spice and chocolate on the tongue, with a nice balance of acidity and tannins. Full of flavor and smooth going down, this was a really, really nice red to pair with pizza and I bet it'd work nicely with heartier meat dishes, too.

Viansa 2013 Carneros Pinot Noir Reserve Series

This 100% Pinot Noir, which retails at about $45, is also a gem, with a dark and sweet spiciness – with hints of coffee, dark chocolate and licorice. It's got big body, and the clove and pepper flavors are beautifully balanced by a caramel and vanilla sweetness. If I had to choose, I'd take the Heritage Red above, but please don't make me decide.

Astoria Primo Rosso

This ruby red blend from a region (Venice, Italy) and winemaker that you might be more likely to associate with the bubbly white Prosecco is extremely affordable – you can get it for about $10 (or less) – and extremely drinkable. It's packed full of flavor (50% Cab Sauvignon, 30% Pinot Noir and 20% Merlot) and smooth. It won't challenge sophisticated palates, perhaps, but most everyone who uncorks it will love it. If you pull the grill out again before winter comes, slow cook some ribs, let this wine rest a bit and enjoy a beautiful combo.

Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2013

A blend, from Umbria, of 70% Sangiovese and 15% each of Merlot and Sagrantino (the varietal that is the key to Montefalco zone wines), this rich, brilliantly ruby wine hits you the moment you uncork it, with its strong, floral bouquet. You can sit on it for five or more years, but why wait? Dry and full-bodied and graced with a thrillingly long finish, this wine – which has that spicy peppery undertone that I adore in a red – is full of character and will hold its own against a delicious grilled steak or any chicken dish. It retails for around $20 and feels a bit like a steal at that price.

Amalaya Malbec 2015

Bodega Colome Malbec 2013 Estate Salta Argentina

A pair of Malbecs from Argentina at two different price points. The Amalaya, which sells for $15 or less, has gotten nice reviews for a wine at this price (low 90s) is round and soft with a fruitiness and an oakiness that makes it something that most everyone will enjoy. But luckily, it has a bit of tang and a mellow, but long, finish. It's 85% Malbec, 10% Tannat and 5% Syrah. Really satisfying and won't break your budget.

The Bodega Colome 100% Malbec clocks in about $10 a bottle more than the Amalaya, but it comes with a boost in elegance and complexity. Rich red berry flavor is interwoven on the tongue with a brilliant earthiness that creates an intensity that is thoroughly satisfying. This is another one that might reward those willing to cellar it for a while. But I admit I have little patience for that. I want it now.


"Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon's Willamette Valley" &
"I Taste Red: The Science of Tasting Wine"

If you like a good book with your drink, here are two – both from University of California Press – on the subject that open up interesting worlds within the universes of wine and beer. U.K. wine columnist Jamie Goode does a bang-up job of explaining the science of how we taste wine and why we all taste it a bit differently that is written in an approachable style and illustrated with colorful graphics to help make the science easily understandable to laymen like myself.

Meanwhile, assistant history professor Peter Kopp digs into the history and agriculture of growing hops for beer. He begins with the ancient development of the vine, explores how it came to be used to preserve beer and how it has grown into the craft beer flavor factor to the nth degree. Two really fascinating books.


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