Dry red wines of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) range from great-value quaffers to highly prized boutique wines favored by collectors.

(Sure, that was vague, but I don't really know anything about Spanish or Portuguese wines, so that's the best I could do.)

Aalto Ribera del Duero 2000 (Age-Related Drunkenness): Whoah. I don't know this wine, but it positively screams BOUTIQUE WINERY in three languages. Honestly, it's one of the most strikingly woody wines I've ever tasted. Just smoke, toast, smoke, toast, smoke, toast. I have no clear notion of the dark, possibly blackberried wine underneath, it needs must remain a mystery, Claude Rains behind oaken bandages. It's not unpleasant, really, not bad or weird or freaky: it just tastes almost entirely of high-toast wood. (9/17/03)

Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada 1996 (Shanks): Bit of funk right up front, some dark toastiness, cranberry-raspberry hints, touch of pine needles. Tastes dark and smoky, medium acidity, fairly classical in style; medium weight and well put together. (4/24/04)

Abadia Retuerta Sardon de Duero Selección Especial 2001 (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): We examine the neck tag, which does indeed confirm that this is the BEST RED WINE IN THE WORLD. An eager sniff gives my long-suffering nasal passages a jolt of buttered popcorn dipped in scorched plum-berry jam. Somewhat less eagerly, I sip at the thing. Yow. Boringly ripe and flabby, shrilly and disjointedly acidic, abrasively tannic and just generally horrible. Jay, a model of restraint, just manages to avoid spitting his mouthful back onto the tablecloth, then moans and twitches as if his tonsils had been extracted with a pair of rusty pliers. "Very interesting," I observe, "I do believe that absolutely everything is wrong with this wine. It's a veritable Cirque du Soleil of ickiness!" (7/06)

Quinta dos Aciprestes Tinto Douro 2001 ($9) (Boatloads IX): Medium garnet color. Quiet barky-redfruit aromatics, raspberry-black cherry laced with tree bark. Tastes dense, simple, pleasantly rough edged. Medium acidity, good balance, some rough sandy tannins on the finish. The wine comes across as pleasantly rustic and loose, but straightforward and honest. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja 1994 ($14): Medium ruby; slightly candied cherry aromas & a bit of bretty/barny scent. Light cherry & smoky oak notes, medium to medium-light bodied, smooth & light, with fairly low acidity. There is a hint of bitterness on the attack that fades a bit with air--as a matter of fact the whole wine has a slightly astringent quality off the bat which quickly fades as it opens up. Not too much in the way of tannins. Eh. (4/24/99)

Bodegas Alion Ribera Del Duero 1994 ($35)(I Get the Shakes): Dark garnet. Very ripe, lush nose--slightly candied black and red fruit limned with cedar and black olive. A dense, rich wine, mouthfilling and well structured, with good high and low notes, a meaty middle and a baking-chocolate finish. A great package, seamless and balanced and complex, a rich and flavorful young wine, probably my favorite red so far. (6/6/00)

Almira Grenache-Syrah Campo de Borja Old Vines 'Los Dos' 2004 (Never Do What We Have Done): Oh, so it's "grenache" now? Sure, why not. I guess that means it's not one of those local grapes we've heard about. Soft, ripe, simple and loose-tasting redfruit. Squishily inoffensive, if not terribly interesting. (8/05)

Almira Grenache-Syrah Campo de Borja Old Vines 'Los Dos' 2006 ($6) (Boatloads XI): The 2004 version of this wine was one of the standouts of Kane's 'Cheap Spaniards' tasting catastrophe a few years back. My review at the time read Soft, ripe, simple and loose-tasting redfruit. Squishily inoffensive, if not terribly interesting. This year's release is maybe a notch up from that, or perhaps I'm just in a better mood because I haven't tasted a score of borderline-undrinkable potions beforehand. Anyway, it's a calm pool of black-raspberry-scented redfruit, with some quiet tartness at the core and grabby tannins on the finish. There's even a little licoricey streak that emerges in the middle and lingers for a moment or two on the finish. Simple, nicely flavorish, a bit squishy, pleasant enough. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/07)

Altos de la Hoya Monastrell Jumilla 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): Mmmm, raspberry sauce mixed with vanilla-infused coconut husk. Corpulent and clumsily overwooded, with a disjointed middle and an astringent finish. One for the chaps who think 'portlike' is a positive attribute in a table wine. [Buy again? No, and no.] (10/05)

Artazuri Navarra 2001 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark garnet. Red cherry-raspberry, more red cherry-raspberry, touch of cinnamon (Big Red chewing gum), maybe a touch of, oh I don't know, maybe cherry-raspberry? Blowsy and ripe in the style of all the Spanish fruitbombs that seem to be flooding the market these days, but with decent composure and a bit of restraint. The acidity is medium-low instead of low low, there's a pleasant tart black-cherry tang to the midpalate fruit, some fine tannins on the brief finish. Rather generic, but pleasant enough for the style, and probably a better buy than most at nine bucks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, why not.] (11/04)

Artazuri Navarra 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): Ripe cinnamon-laced black cherry, hints of saddle leather, with a quiet graphite streak down deep, interesting if slightly offbeat aromatics. In the piehole it's loose and plump, with feeble acidity and some aggressive dry tannins taking over after the watery-ripe midpalate. The '01 version wasn't bad, this seems to be yet another victim of the '03 heat. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Nope.] (10/05)

Bodega Balcona Bullas Crianza 'Partal' 1998 ($13)(VS Eats at Joe's): A hush falls over the room as Victor uncorks an extremely exclusive cult wine, a deep red blend of 60% monastrell (mourvedre), 20% cab sauv and 20% tempranillo... Typical culty dark, saturated purply-red color; rich tarry, berryfruity cult nose, leathery-earthy, upfront and slightly funky aromas. Nice berry-syrup hints, with a backbone of dark tarriness. A rich mouthful of cultiness that finishes a bit short and gritty, but has a lot to give in the meantime. Not terribly complex, but very rich and friendly. (11/7/99)

Bodega Balcona Bullas Crianza 'Partal' 1999 ($23) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Monastrell mostly, if I recall correctly, with some cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Dark ripe black cherry/red plum/toast with a hint of... what? Mint? Thyme? Something herbal up high. Tastes composed and firm but with a plushness about it, with a gentle sour-raspberry tartness arising in the middle to tickle the tonsils. Very nice wine, not terribly elegant or complex, but well structured and quietly ripe, with a patina of rusticity. Good stuff, I like it. Wait a minute, did I really just say "patina of rusticity"? Gadzooks, that's the kind of thing I always said 'Shoot me dead if I ever start sounding tritely wine-writery....' about. It may be time to retire. (11/06)

Rene Barbier Catalunya 'Mediterranean Red' NV ($5) (Boatloads VI): Smells gently brickberried, touch of leather, hint of eucalyptus and tea. Tastes soft, light and juicy, with a pleasant earthiness. Loose but fleshy, low acid but light-bodied, muted redfruit and earth. Low key quaffing wine that's straightforward and decent. [Buy again? Yassir.] (12/05)

Bodegas Bleda Monastrell-Tempranillo Jumilla 'Roblemar' 2002 ($9) (Boatloads III): Big, ripe black-cherry/raspberry/tar aromatics, this also smells rather zinnish. Jammy-red, loosely wrapped and amiable. Blowsy and low in acidity--loosey-goosey, candied in the middle and tarry on the finish. Pretty forgettable wine aimed at at goblovers everywhere. I actually would buy it again, but I'm going to say I wouldn't because it costs nine bucks instead of five or six like the identically-styled Protocolo. [Buy again? *cough* Nope. ] (2/05)

Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Campo de Borja 'Tres Picos' 2003 ($8) (Boatloads V): Big leather-laced raspberry syrup nose, vanilla bean hints. A sip, and holy cats, it's like raspberry liqueur--huge and bloppy, low-acid and rounded. First there's a rush of creamy-dark candyfruitiness, then more creamy-dark candyfruitiness in the middle, then finishes candyfruity and creamy-dark, with a slightly toasty-bitter note amidst some candyfruity creamy-darkness. Imposing and strangely fascinating, an overpowering little brute that grubs around in my mouth with the subtlety of a hog rooting for truffles. As the last flash of alcoholic heat flares up to cauterize my gums, I can't decide whether to continue to sip at the thing like a dry port or try to light it on fire. [Buy again? No. NO.] (10/05)

Bodegas Borsao Campo de Borja 'Borsao' 2006 (garnacha 75%, tempranillo 25%) ($5) (Boatloads XI): I recall disliking the prestigey version of this wine a few years ago, but this basic model is far more agreeable. Smells grapey and black-raspberried, froot-salady and simple. Tastes pretty much like it smells, ripe red-black fruit with some gently tangy supporting acidity that carries the plushness along rather nimbly, avoiding the impression of heaviness (a lack of concentration also helps with that). Simple and amiable, a grape Slurpee™ of a wine that is very easy to drink if you don't find ripeness a flaw. [Buy again? Yeah, for a fin you could do much worse.] (11/07)

El Bully Monatrell-Merlot Jumilla 'Enciro' 2004 ($7) (Boatloads VII): Squishy blueberry-raspberry-tar flavors, at least there's some tanginess for structure, bit of heat on the finish. Again, inoffensiveness is the chief virtue here. Gentle fleshy plumminess comes out in the middle, medium bodied and ripe but not ponderous or blowsy. Characterless, but you could do worse for seven bucks. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.] (4/06)

Bodegas Campos Reales Tempranillo La Mancha 2003 ($9) (Boatloads IV): Smells of raspberries and rocks, fruit-ripe aromatics at first, then the smell of hot stones sneaks up on you. Velvety-smooth mouthfeel, ripe and supple, with just a bit of spikiness to the acidity. Pleasant, simple and quaffable wine--medium-bodied with bit of pillowiness around the middle, finishes with a snappy tang of licorice. Not entirely of a piece, but friendly enough and eminently drinkable. [Buy again? Yup.] (6/05)

Bodegas Campos Reales Tempranillo la Mancha 2004 ($6) (Boatloads IX): Medium purply-garnet color, more purple at the rim. Smells ripe and plummy-raspberried, with tarry undertones. Fleshy-fruity and pillowy tasting, medium low acidity, amiable well-flavored wine, simple and just a bit too dark to be fruit-punchy, with some rather aggressive tannins on the finish. Undemanding ripe pizza wine, decent and flavorful. [Buy again? Yep.] (11/06)

Campo Viejo Tempranillo Rioja Reserva 1999 ($12) (Boatloads V): Very quiet aromatics, light smoky-cherry, balsamic hints, touch of cedar. Not much going on in the piehole, either, medium-light bodied and vague, a perfectly correct little wine, but watery and wan. Nothing here, no grab, no guts. [Buy again? Nope.] (10/05)

Bodegas Antonio Candela e Hijos Yecla 'Bellum Providencia' 2003 ($13). Yikes, it's a brute. Full bore Turleyesque chocoberry-peanut-licorice aromatics, ripe and aggressively in-your-face brawny. Well oaked and with the feel of a reduction sauce, this is an impressive but rather exhausting wine. Actually, with a bit of sipping it reminds me of a dry Banyuls more than anything, boisterously black raspberried, medium-low acidity, here there be gobs gobs gobs. [Buy again? Sure.] (12/05)

Celler de Cantonella Costers del Segre Cerroles 1997 (VS Eats at Joe's): I believe this is mostly grenache. Tangy cranberry/raspberry/smoky fruit--tart and upfront fruity. Again, not complex, but some nice smoky tart berry-style fruit makes for a decent drop. (11/7/99)

Capcanes Peraj Ha'abib Flor de Primavera Montsant 2000 (MartyParty): One sip makes me want to yell like Howard Dean: YeeEEAUURRGH! A blast of ripe, candied raspberry and black-cherry jam, underlain with a dark smokiness. Boisterous and whooping in my mouth, a big, rich thing that has the subtlety of a linebacker. Still, there's an amiable quality to the goofy-ripeness, kind of a Turley zin crossed with a Châteauneuf, big and silly and jammy-ripe. Plus, it's kosher! The anti-Miller wine, it wins the Thunderbird Prize in a landslide. (2/28/04)

Castell del Remei Costers del Segre 'Gotim Bru' 2002 ($11) (Boatloads V): Smells darkly black cherry-raspberryish, laced with vanilla and smoky-toasty notes. With air a light barky-brown herbal streak emerges, then submerges again, overthrown by the toastiness. Has a certain lean and hungry zinnishness to it, as well as a good whacking dose of woody flavors. Nice balance, on the medium-crisp side, with some rather aggressive tannins. I don't know, there's no real reason not to like it, but it's saying nothing to me, just kind of droning on in a monotone. I actually want to like it, but every time I put the glass to my lips it's just "blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah" and so forth. I dunno. Not my thing, even though it seems like it should be my thing. [Buy again? No?] (10/05)

Celler F. Capafons-Ossó 'Mas de Masos' Priorat 1998 (Rioja Redux): Medium-dark garnet color. Robust aromatics, rich black cherry/blackberry, earth and baking chocolate. Dark and glossy-candied, a big ripe red bruiser with a bit of complexity amidst the warm, velvety-ripe fruit. Finishes with a flicker of licorice and a flurry of aggressive tannins. A bit overly steroidal after the Riojas, but nice enough, if utterly unsubtle. (10/04)

Caracol Serrano Monastrell Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon Jumilla Tinto 2005 ($7) (Boatloads XI): Smells ripe and dark, sort of generic but there's a smoky-mezcal hint to the blackberry-raspberry aromatics that lends a bit of interest. There's some slightly spiky acidity, a bit of a SweeTart feel to the structure. Slightly gritty tannins on the finish and no finish to speak of, but it's a friendly little ripe pizza-style wine with a decent amount of focus and some structure. Yeah it's uncomplicated and probably not for the ripe-averse, but not bad at all. [Buy again? Sure.] (11/07)

Bodegas Francisco Casas Tempranillo-Garnacha Vinos de Madrid 'Los Caminillos' 2003 ($6) (30% tempranillo) (Boatloads II): They grow grapes in Madrid? Wow. Medium to medium-light garnet color. Quiet, wan aromatics, dull red berry, tree bark and a hint of smoke. Ripe but watery and vague, there's fruit here, and almost enough acidity to get by, but the wine is decidedly hollow, utterly lacking in mouthgrab. Wan red berry-black cherry fruit just fades quietly away in my mouth. A nebbish of a wine, without interest. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Bodegas Castaño Monastrell Yecla 2003 ($7) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark purply-garnet. Smells ripe, dark and shoe-polishey, darkly raspberry-grapey. Just crisp enough, fleshy-poofy dark redfruit, loose and plush, another simple fruitcracker, but decent enough. Actually, a hint of minerality develops with air, but only just a hint. No finish, all forward blowsy jammy fruitiness, but there's some restraint. Unsubtle, dopeyfriendly wine, simple and just fine for late-night sloshing. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Maybe in a pinch.] (11/04)

Bodegas Castaño Yecla 'Hécula' 2000 ($10) (Winterfest '03): Much better cohesion here than the Solanera--this is actually rather amiable in a low-acid Côte du Rhône kind of way. Not nearly as overtly oaky, smoothly roasty-blackberry tasting, not much finish but it's not as overripe and has more acidity than its ugly American cousin, holds together better, not as woody. Decent, undemanding stuff, whose main amusement comes from Mr. Santiago repeatedly correcting everyone's pronunciation: "The goddamn 'H' is SILENT!" he keeps bellowing at one bewildered drunk after another, "AYY-KOO-LA! AYY-KOO-LA!" (1/22/03)

Bodegas Castaño Yecla 'Hécula' 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): Smells of dark plum, raspberry and tar, ripe and thick-smelling. A sip, and there's medium-low acidity, a wash of smoky-dark ripeness, and an abrasive black cherry/charcoal finish. Broadly ripe and suffused with toastiness, it's a bit much for me, probably a buy for the goblover crowd. [Buy again? Nah, wait for the '04.] (10/05)

Bodegas Castaño Monastrell Yecla 'Solanera' 2000 ($12) (Winterfest '03): Slightly wacky overripe nose, markedly smoky-oaky notes over blackberry and raspberry jam suffused with hot gravel. A sip, and there's a puppyish burst of candied black and red fruit right up front that lingers meatily for a moment, then races away as fast as it came, leaving a wan, glyceriney midpalate without any noticeable acidity. From there it goes downhill, turning tarry and charred on the finish, with fine aggressive tannins coming in to mop up. No cohesion, all over the place. A weird experience. I'm told this is known in trade circles as the 'Ugly American Cuvée,' only exported to the U.S. to fit our supposed taste for blowsy low-acid oaky fruitbombs. I think I've been insulted. (1/22/03)

Bodegas Castaño Monastrell Yecla 'Solanera' 2001 ($12) (Winterfest '03): Sniff, sniff, more cohesive aromatics, less wackiness than the 2000, dark raspberry-blackberry, the oak shows more as toasty-shoe polish notes than as woodshop, still the gravelly underpinnings. Much firmer acidity, almost seems an entirely different wine. Tastes dark and ripe and dense, gobby black and red fruit wrapped around a firm acidic core. A big improvement over the 2000: perhaps it just hasn't had time to fall apart yet? There are some gritty-stern tannins, but they don't detract much, as there's plenty of cool dark fruit to cushion them. Pretty nice, a big, rich monastarvédro that is fairly simple but is also well behaved and possessed of good composure, Neanderthal wine in a blue blazer. (1/22/03)

Castas de Santar Dão 2000 ($7) (Boatloads III): Medium ruby color. Aromatically rather shy, but what's there is decent enough--muted black cherry and cassis laced with tree bark, touch of laurel. Tastes soft and fleshy and watery, but despite the dilution there's an interesting rough quality to the midpalate, it kind of gooses you with earthy rusticity as it heads into the finish. Has a kind of backyard-wine feel to it, flawed but with some interesting qualities. [Buy again? No, probably not.] (2/05)

Castelinho Douro Vinho Tinto 2001 ($7) (Boatloads III): Medium garnet color Quiet black cherry-bakers chocolate nose, fairly simple-smelling but straightforward and pleasant. Tastes loosely-wrapped, there's a decent tartness keeping the midpalate fruit buoyant, but the acidity is on the shy side and there's a pervasive vagueness. Still, it's straightforward and has the ring of honesty about it, seems unmanipulated and decent, a wine to slug back on a patio somewhere with sausages while arguing with your friends about whether anyone is hotter than Hugh Jackman. [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.] (2/05)

Cêrvoles Costers del Segre 2000 ($7) (Boatloads VI): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells cassis-toasty, but there's also some weird sour-milk thing going on here. Very strange, and kind of unpleasant to smell. Tastes tart, crisp, lots of toasty wood, then more of the funky lactic thing. Just too funked up, I don't know if this particular bottle has some kind of bacterial thing or what, it's just unpleasant. [Buy again? Judgment withheld. (In other words, no.)] (12/05)

Quinta de Cidró Touriga Nacional Vinho Regional Terras Durienses 1999 ($9) (Boatloads III): Dark red- and blackfruit, hints of shoyu, leather, meaty mushroom. Crisp and rather hard, a medium-large scaled wine that's rough-edged, tarry, slightly abrasive and chunky, but oddly appealing. "Rustic" might fit. The flavors are cassis-raspberried, a cocky little thing with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. For nine bucks, I'll take it. [Buy again? Sure.] (2/05)

Cims de Porrera Priorat 'Classic' 1996 ($75) (Adlers): Rich, layered nose that gives much away but keeps much in reserve. Dark blackberry-plum fruit laced with shoyu, humidor and tar. A sip, and it's dense and coiled and hard, rough around the edges, like drinking a freshly-tarred road. A dark, brooding brute of a wine, rich and concentrated, with a weighty mouthfeel and enough structure to get by. After about four hours of air it reaches an estimated 6% openness. I first tasted this three or four years ago at the Llivus Español when Jamie Goode was in town: it was closed and tight then and in subsequent samples it's done nothing but close down tighter and harder. Either it will implode into a vinous singularity or it will need a long, deep sleep to come around. Give it a few years, reinvestigate. (9/2/02)

Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Viña Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 1970 (Rioja Redux): Medium-light ruby color, just a hint of amber at the rim. Wow, smells beautiful, a fine melange of spiciness and quiet fruit, tea and old wood and crushed brick and clove. Supple, pure, complete and lovely, a wine that is poised langorously between youth and age, with the best elements of both, Isabella Rossellini in a glass. Striking: intellectually stimulating and sensually delightful, the whole package, a transcendent match with the heirloom pig parts and roasted potatoes. (10/04)

Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1976 (Rioja Redux): Medium ruby-brick color, ambering at the rim. More spicy old-banister aromatics, preserved cherry laced with sandalwood and yam. Tastes lean and bricky, lovely layers of tea, leather, a zippy hint of iodine, and underneath it all light muted redfruit. Crisp, lovely and oh so long, pure at the core and feathering out substantially at the edges, a charmingly complex little wine that just tickles and tickles my senses until it fades whisperingly away. Very nice. (10/04)

Compañía Vinicola del Norte de España Viña Real Rioja Gran Reserva 1988 (Island Jeeb): by way of a peace offering. Light leather and barnyard hints over muted shoyu-laced redfruit; cedar, preserved cherry and crushed brick all intertwine, soothing and earthy to smell and turning truffley on the finish. Silky and smooth, it's got a light, mouthcoating feel, supple as a well-worn silk scarf. It's a cunning little vixen, shy and alluring, not showing itself all at once, making you pay attention and come back to it again and again to unfold its layers. Beautiful stuff. Kane makes squinchy faces, a sure sign of quality. (3/23/03)

Conde de Vimioso Vinho Regional Ribatejano 2002 ($10) (Boatloads IV): Medium garnet color. Dark cinnamon-laced black raspberry aromatics, dark tarry smokiness underneath, maybe just a hint of high-toned volatility. Ripe and rough-edged, but rather lithe and light on its feet at the same time. There's a pleasant sort of zinny quality (remember, to me that's a compliment), a robust fruitiness that comes at you right up front, then calms considably and fades to a quiet smoky-barky redfruitiness in the midpalate. Amiably loose, not terribly well-honed, but a very interesting wine, pretty darn good for the money and I'll buy more. [Buy again? Yes.] (6/05)

Oliver Conti Empordá-Costa Brava 1997 (Return of the Jeebi): A Bordeaux-style blend. Medium-dark. Slightly funky nose--cassis, smoke and a bit of plumskin and barnyard. Tastes light, clean, inoffensive--quite ripe, but a bit disjointed and all over the place. Seems a bit small and dilute at first, but some ripe plumminess wells up in the midpalate and turns towards smokiness on the finish. Not terrible, but not of one mind, a bit addled. (10/7/00)

Contino Rioja Gran Reserva 1996 (Rioja Redux): Medium-dark garnet, smells ripe, plenty of dark blackberry-cassis laced with a generous smoky-toastiness. It's fairly juicy but also has a pleasantly compact frame, well-toned and very smooth, the oak present but not intrusive, the ripeness probably enough to please the new-wavers, but far from jammy or overdone. It's actually quite nice, although it has that could-be-from-anywhere feel to it. A generic ripe red wine, but a very nice one that I wouldn't kick out of my glass for eating crackers. (10/04)

Contino Rioja Reserva 1983 (MartyParty): Medium ruby. Wow, here's the nose: delicate leathery-cherry hints, cedar and coconut husk and red clay. A sip, and it's supple, layered and charming, with the freshness of late youth and the complexity of early middle age. A well-mannered wine that whispers quotes from Baudelaire in your ear while it strokes your inner thigh with a velvet-glove-clad hand. Warm and respectable up front, when it gets in close you see there are impure thoughts in its heart, and the combination of courtliness and sensuality is compelling. This impels me to find Lisa, wrap my arm around her waist and let her sip from my glass. Oh man, nice wine, nice wine. (2/28/04)

Contino Rioja Reserva Viña del Oliva 1996 (Rioja Redux): Medium-dark garnet color. This ratchets the ripeness and woodiness up a notch, sweet smelling blackberry-raspberry fruit, generous veins of dark smoky-toastiness, a bit softer, plump around the middle, with a fleshy-meaty mouthfeel. I find it has some of the pleasant over-the-top qualities of, say, a Turley Duarte zin, and point this out. Gerry doesn't seem to agree with my assessment, as he turns a vague shade of purply-garnet and emits small strangled noises. Everyone else is complaining about the heavy-handed oakiness and I seem to be the only one defending the wine. I decide to make a stand: "You can't spell 'Oaky' without 'O.K.'!" I announce, then sit and giggle girlishly to myself for a few minutes, eminently pleased to be so damn clever. (10/04)

Contino Varieded Graciano Rioja 1998 (Age-Related Drunkenness): What the...? Dark purply-black color. Touch of varnishy volatility at first whiffage, smells very quiet but kind of interesting, dark blackberry, shoe polish, cocoa powder, gravel, more blackberry, hinting towards redfruit but quickly fading back to black. Tastes a little leaner than it smells, tight and dark and not giving much. I don't know what to make of it, it seems shut down but maybe it just doesn't have much to give. A curiosity. (9/17/03)

Bodega Coop. NTRA. SRA. Del Rosario SCCL Tempranillo Ribera del Duero 'Torremoron' 2003 ($8) (Boatloads IV): Smells of black raspberry and balsamic vinegar, light background gravelly stoniness. Dark and balsamic-tasting, plum-blackberry and tobacco. Loosely wrapped, showing a vague blowsiness and tendencey towards aimlessness in the midpalate, but also a pleasant striation of flavors and borderline complex aromatics. Medium-length, slightly medicinal finish is a bit of a distraction, but overall a rather pleasant puppyish wine; it has a way of disarming my critical circuits and just swirling around in my mouth saying "Relax, man, life isn't so bad..." [Buy again? Yah, I think so.] (6/05)

Celler Cooperatiu de Vilalba dels Arcs Terra Alta 'Arcs' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads III): Medium garnet color. Smells lightly volatile, bit of acetone over blackcherry-candy aromatics, touch of strawberry, shoe polish. Soft and fleshy but also spikily acidic, a poky little nouveau-style wine with unintegrated acidity trying in vain to give it some heft. Medium bodied, black cherry-watermelon pit hints emerge in the watery middle and bounce around aimlessly until they stop just short of what would normally be a finish. Juicy and light, a decent little café wine without a hint of complication to it and a peculiar sense of being bent out of shape. Okay, that's my take on the wine, but strangely enough I find myself drinking the stuff down with a relative amount of pleasure, like eating Cheese Nips or some other processed food that you know is crap but still keep reaching for until the box is empty. The palate has its reasons that the heart knows not of. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Only if no one is watching.] (2/05)

Costers del Siurano Priorat Clos de l'Obac 1996 ($42) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Smells dark and minerally, berry-cassis laced with hot gravel, hints of spiced vanilla and tree bark. Tastes taut and hardbodied, an initial wave of stony red-black fruit turns compact and coiled in the middle, hard acidity keeping it in line. There's a generous level of spicy wood, but it seems well contained, infused nicely into the rockberry midpalate. Lots of good material here, closed down now, give it time. (11/05)

El Coto de Riojo Rioja Crianza 2001 ($11) (Boatloads IV): Smells of light cherry, sandalwood and vanilla. Rather soft but with enough acidity to get by, a medium-light bodied tempranillo that is decently drinkable but quite nondescript. Loosely wrapped, understuffed and vaguely fleshy. Too woody, too, as the finish has more to do with oak than fruit. I don't know, it's a foursquare crianza that's hard to dislike for any reason other than its complete lack of distinction. I'm trying to listen to what it's saying, but it's just reading aloud the minutes of the most recent meeting of the Madrid Association of Certified Public Accountants. [Buy again? No.] (6/05)

Quinta do Côtto Vinho Tinto Grande Escolha Douro 1995 (Pigfest): and it's a big ripe earthy thing, smells smokily cassisberried, leathery hints emerging with air. There's a candied edge to the middle, but the texture is matte overall, so the overall effect is of a slightly slick rusticity. Medium acidity surrounded by gently plush red ripeness, there's a generic quality to the wine, it could be from Paso Robles, but the 'rustic wine with a new coat of paint' is a genre I like, so it's okay with me. (1/06)

Quinto do Crasto Douro Vinho Tinto 1995 ($14), a Portuguese wine made from the grapes used to make Port: Cherry-brick red, with distinct brown rim. Rich nose of robitussin, black cherry, almost zinlike in character, with a whiff of oak barrel. Lighter on the palate, forward & fruity, fairly light at first, then fruit rushes to the fore with canned tomato & cherry notes. Very light tannins fill in a bit on the long finish that rises & falls. Interesting, hard-to-place tang in the midpalate. An interesting, different wine with a nice rough, rustic character.

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional Douro 1996 ($30)(Jason Takes Manhattan): Medium-dark purply-garnet color. Smoky cherry-berry nose with a hint of black olives. Full-flavored, big and roughish, this wine just elbows its way into your mouth and sets up camp where it pleases. Plenty of smoky tart cran-raspberry fruit over a dark base of earth and tarriness. A great match for my rack of veal, and a wine that is drinking rough and friendly now but has plenty of potential for development. Yummy, fun rough & rustic stuff that is also serious cellarworthy wine. (5/00)

M. Bulas Cruz Gouvyas Douro Reserva 1996 (touriga nacional, tinto roriz, touriga francesa)(Loirenatics): Deep rich purply-red; meaty aromas drift around the glass, smoky plum and toasty baked bread; tastes rough and rich and slightly hot, lots of smoky dark fruit, plenty of acidity and some gritty tannins. A big, rough, rustic wine, easy to like and friendly. (11/99)

M. Bulas Cruz Gouvyas Douro Colheita 1997 (Joao/Kansas): (A dry table wine.) Medium garnet; cherry, cassis, cola on the nose. Medium bodied, unremarkable, finishes abruptly. (3/2/00)

Bodegas Tomàs Cusiné Costers del Segre 'El Vilosell' 2003 (Never Do What We Have Done): Stripey wine, the label is all stripes! Alarm bells go off in my head and I try to recall the pertinent law... what was it? Something about heavy bottles and design concept labels being a sure tipoff to bad wine, but I can't call the specifics to mind. Geez, this is a woody little thing, black cherry and toast, smoke, toast, coconut husk, smoke, toast. Blowsy-ripe, hollow in the middle, abrasive and jarringly tannic. Ugh, a caricature. Awful Horrific. (8/05)

Descendientes de J. Palacios Bierzo 1999 (Sleeping Cats): Sweet-smelling dark purply-red fruit, smoky high-toast oak. Tastes fleshy and ripe, not bad but tiresomely generic. Four linoleum Prongs set on faux-brick bases and dipped in Velveeta™ pasteurized processed cheese food product. (9/17/02)

Dominio de Eguren Vino de la Tierra de Castilla 'Protocolo' 2002 ($5) (Boatloads III): Whee, ripe black cherry/licorice/grape juice nose. Dark and grapey flavors, slightly confected but crisp and grabby. Simple but not bad, a bit of happy rusticity takes the edge off the simple ripeness. Loose and lacking in focus, but dark and ripe and the plumskin-tinged fruit has a good puckery-tart tang. Lots of fuzzy-rough tannins on the finish. Zin-styled tempranillo, but you can't get much zin for five bucks these days, can you? [Buy again? Yes and yes.] (2/05)

Casa de las Especias Yecla 'Forte del Valle' 2004 (Never Do What We Have Done): Scorched sour milk and toasty blackberry jam, yes that's what it smells like. In the piehole it's only marginally better, low acid, purple and reduced-tasting, like wine sauce, then a swarm of tongue-scraping tannins. At first sippage I think 'Well, it's a dumb jam-on-toast kind of wine, but it's okay,' but I quickly come to dislike it with a rather unhealthy passion--the tannins just won't stop trying to commit genocide on my epithelial cells, and the damn thing has a jarringly bitter-n-boozy aftertaste once the blackberry sauce flavor falls away. Blech. If it continues downhill from here I'm spitting the bit and switching to soda. "The soils of ancient seabeds rich in minerals are responsible for these unique wines" says the label, so at least we know who to blame. Where the hell's the TCA when you need it? (8/05)

Agricola de Falset-Marca Garnacha Montsant Old Vines 'Etim' 2002 (Never Do What We Have Done): Decent, blowsy-ripe and simply berrrybombish. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it remains ripe, decent and simple straight through. Not as interesting as the Scala Dei, but amiable in a juicy-fruity sort of way. Not bad. (8/05)

Bodegas Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva 1985 ($27)(Viva Mexico!): The bottle is spray-painted with white flecks, which gives it an aura of class. Muted red cherry-berry fruit mingles with leather, smoke and tomato sauce notes. The wine comes at you quietly, with a brick-dusty swelling of quiet fruitiness mingling with dark smoky tones underneath, then blooming crisply into a small-scale flower, layered and balanced, with seamlessness and integration its most striking feature. A pretty earthy-smoky hum hangs around and resonates lightly after the wine is gone. Quite delightful, soft around the edges but with firm acidic structure at its heart. Almost immediately put into nomination as the wine of the evening, although the white spray paint may certainly be behind much of its appeal.

Bodegas Faustino 'Faustino VII' Rioja 1996 ($9): Usual medium garnet. Lots of dark oak over light cherry aromas; interesting light/dark contrast. Medium- to light-bodied, crisp & lightly fruity; cherry, almost light zin-like flavors, with a kind of briny tang--light, crisp, nice little wine in a light style; fine, dry tannins & dark finish with a hint of tar.

Bodegas Fuentespina Ribera del Duero Reserva 1999 (Never Do What We Have Done): Uh, oh. One sniff and I know we're heading for the rocks--sawdust-laced cough syrup infused with black raspberry jam. Abrasively tannic, fat and limp. (8/05)

Daphne Glorian Priorat Clos Erasmus 1996 ($45): Deep purple color. Syrahish-Rhoney on the nose, spice and pepper. A wowser; velvety, smooth, big and well-integrated; round and firm on the midpalate, with lots of smooth flavors flowing through. Bit of hearty oak, but as a spice, not a sauce, notes of espresso and pepper and dark berryfruit creep in. Very yummy and somewhat elegant and restrained in spite of the layers of flavor--not a big monster, but very hearty and complex.

Daphne Glorian Priorat Clos Erasmus 1997 ($45) (Threesomes): The Clos Erasmus is in the giving vein, aromatically warm and lush, black cherries and red clay with a barky, dried pinecone streak and a dollop of shoe polish, interesting to smell. Here there be gobs, plenty of fleshy and curvaceous fruit held in by a strainingly skimpy corset of structure. The only edge to the wine is the zippy tartness of the fruit and some light tannins, which serve (just barely) to keep the wine from bursting out at the seams. This has a trashy Mariah Carey appeal that and I feel a little pang of Judeo-Christian guilt for enjoying it, but we are all creatures of our desires, and it rubs me the right way tonight. (2/02)

Daphne Glorian Priorat Clos Erasmus 1997 ($45) (Shanks): Medium garnet color. Lightly layered aromatics, quiet cassis, crushed brick, graphite, pinecone, calm and warm-smelling. Medium-bodied and earthy-red, with a rather easygoing, loose quality, an amiable wine that rolls straight down the middle of the road--medium ripe, medium acidity, medium weight. The structure is sufficient, there's enough acidity and some quiet tannins. Almost elegant in its mediumness, darkly redfruity at first, turning towards graphite minerality in the middle, then finishing with a barky-earthy hum. (4/24/04)

Grupo Yllera Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León 'Selección Hand Picked" 2000 ($10) (Boatloads VII): This is pretty good, smells markedly woody but there's some smooth gravelly-cassis redness to couch it, and the overall aromatic profile is broad but cooly restrained. Tastes firm and rather compact, medium-plus acidity, there's not a lot of individuality, but it's a solid, workmanlike wine that goes about its business without comment or complaint. [Buy again? Yeah, I think so.] (4/06)

Hacienda Monasterio Crianza 1995 ($25)(2nd wine of Clos Erasmus) (Heat): A darkly berry-plummish wine, ripe and smoky-oaky to smell with hints of curry powder in the black fruit, maybe cumin or coriander. Anyway, it's a decent but quite obvious wine, routinely robust, generously oaked and a bit hard, with a tarry finish. (6/16/01)

Bodegas y Vinedos Herederos de Martinez Fuente Bierzo 'Pucho' 2003 (Never Do What We Have Done): Smells of raspberry sorbet, scalded milk and coffee grounds. Tastes overextracted, gritty and clumsy, with sandpapery tannins on the bitter, angry finish. Jeff takes a sip and recoils as if bitten. I briefly consider a note that reads merely "Argh! Blech! Pfui!" but don't have the restraint. Drinking this is like trying to swallow Kane's chainmail glove. (8/05)

Herencia Antica Tempranillo Utiel-Requena Reserva 1999 ($9) (Boatloads III): Smooth, dark aromatics, raspberry-cherry fruit laced with bay leaf and a touch of tobacco, light vanilla-oak overlay. The sharp acidity is at a bit of a remove from the velvety-smooth flesh, but I can deal, there's balance here. Smooth, moderately complex and almost cohesive, the midpalate is vague, but the overall impression is of a small, flavorful wine with a calm juiciness and enough complexity to keep me interested. Quite nice, really. [Buy again? Sure.] (2/05)

Viña Herminia Tempranillo Rioja 2003 (Never Do What We Have Done): Smells a bit cheesy-lactic, dark cassisberry 'n toast underneath. Loosely wrapped and surprisingly nonponderous, given the aromatics. Touch of astringency on the finish, a plump little thing with a bit of weird funk, quite forgettable. (8/05)

Bodegas y Vinedos del Jalon 'Viña Alarba' Calatayud 2002 ($5) (Boatloads I): Very little in the way of aromatics, shy generic redfruit, touch of shoe polish. Tastes generic, ripe cherry juiciness, has a strange flabby quality along with some unintegrated spiky acidity. Round, ripe, loosely-wrapped and simple, okay in a pinch but vague and characterless. (8/04)

Hans Kristian Jorgensen Cortes de Cima Vinho Regional Alentejano 2002 (Lou Turns the Worm): I've been a big fan of this producer's folk tales since I was a wee lad, so I'm eager to try the wine. Blackcurrants and sandalwood on the nose, tastes softish and velvety-plump, fleshy and gently spineless. Actually tastes pretty good, gentle earthy redfruit, but could use a bit more mouthgrab. Still, I go back for another pour. (10/05)

Castillo Labastida Rioja Crianza 2001 (Never Do What We Have Done): Smells gently cherry-spicy. Here's a bit more complexity, a bit more mouthgrab, a bit more balance. An unassuming little medium-lightbodied wine with some interesting earthy-spicy hints and a nice flickery-licorice note on the finish. Pretty decent. (8/05)

Laurel Priorat 2001 (15 Fox Place): Whiff of acetone volatility, rich ripe fruit, more cassis than blackberry, hint of graphite, subtle undertone of toastiness, more restrained oaking than the first two. Tastes leaner as well, less pumped-up but still not exactly light of foot, a light heavyweight. A few sandy tannins on the finish. A big red international-style wine (not that there's anything wrong with that), but not an uninteresting one. (3/22/04)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Crianza 1964 (Doghead All Grown Up): This second bottle has no reserva designation on the label at all, so 'tis widely assumed to be a Crianza. It's more advanced, balsamic and cedar hints, a touch of scorched shoyu, muted cherry fruit laced with crushed brick earthiness. It seems a little more tired, flatter in the middle, leafier; impaired but still rather charming in a somewhat broken-down fashion. Kane is whining and groaning theatrically, rolling his eyes and making gagging sounds, but you know how he is. Sure, it's not as fresh as a daisy, but I'd drink it any day of the week and twice on Sunday. (11/04)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva 1964 (Doghead All Grown Up): Medium to medium-pale ruby, bricking at the rim. Quiet, expressive aromatics, beguiling to smell, evocative of old houses, storage closets, attics--cedar and balsamic hints, traces of espresso grounds and old saddle leather, dried cherries in mud. Tastes muted and pretty, vibrant at the core, feathering out to soothingly loose edges. A sip, and it's a placid little wine, light and calm everywhere but at the core, where the acidity is bright enough to keep the mouthfeel lively. But the muted bricky redfruit that wraps around the center settles on my tongue like an early snowfall, quiet and calming. Lovely, not vivid or knock-you-down complex, just charming. (11/04)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1968 ($70) (Lisa's Birthday): Light garnet color, quite translucent. Smells complex, delicate; layered earthy-muted cherry & berry fruit mingles with sweet coconut, tobacco and baked carrot/yam rooty dark orange hints. Not as leathery as the '78 we had a few times a while back, no zhopa or sraka to speak of, and we are uniformly astonished to see Kane going for a second pour and not yowl anything about the legendary graveyard of the sitcom horses. Light in the mouth, delicate but quite flavorful, with a soft earthy-cherry finish. Can hold its head up well in the august company of the DRC. (6/13/00)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1978 ($60) (NYers Go Italian): Pale & translucent, but only slightly browning at the rim; earthy, complex, leafy aromas--a sip, and it settles quietly and softly on the palate. Some good acidity, but light in body, with the feel of new-turned earth, very muted soft red fruit and a slight but beguiling lemon-zest hint. Pale and faded, but there's some real life here, and I enjoy this very much. (11/10/99)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1978 ($60) (Manuel and Josie): Another soft, earthy showing for this pale ruby flower; leathery aromas, roasted yam hints, spicy and beguiling to smell, although one wag (Andrew?) shouts out "Smells like .sasha's bag!" which is true enough, as .sasha has once again been passing his leathery-smelling German rock around. The Tondonia turns ethereal when it hits your mouth, melting and feathering with baked-brick flavors & hints of tea, earth, and lemon rind, mutedly earthyfruity, with crisp acidity to hang your hat on. A very nice Rioja, despite Bradley's appalled squeals of "Mr. Ed! Mr. Ed!" (4/23/00)

Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Gran Reserva 1981 ($35) (Impostors): This is a pale ruby colored wine, turning towards amber at the rim. Pale, muted hints of cherryfruit, crushed brick and earth, traces of.sasha's leather bag and old coconut husks. Not as young and fruity as the 1968 we had at Lisa's birthday, nor as barnyard-horsey as the 1978, this is a quieter, softer wine, faded and bricking but fine by me, happily complex and layered. Very light in the mouth, with firm but not aggressive acidity, a light, ethereal wine that whispers notions of earth and dried fruit in your ear. (11/4/00)

Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Orango 1993 ($18) (Rioja Redux): Others insist on referring to this as 'Rosado,' but I'm a color guy and I know what I see. Medium-pale orange with light salmon-pink highlights. Honestly, I find this wine to be stranger every time I taste it. This is a good bottle, fresh and lively, there's the same muted bricky-strawberry/pomander spice aromatics, all underpinned with a whitestoney minerality and drizzled with an an old stairway-banister spiciness, all very muted and yet buoyed by vivid acidity. I really can't put my finger on this any better than I could the last several times I've had it, I'm taking shots in the dark. Strange stuff, but very pleasant, a good match with Manuel's savory shroom-stabbing pot. (10/04)

Lopez de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Orango 1995 (Sedate Evening): Yes, we've got orange wine. I find this less tricksy than the '93 version, more open and friendlier. Pale coppery-orange color. Quietly complex aromatics, preserved cherry, orange juice, leather, a series of descriptors that don't make much sense but somehow work together rather beguilingly. There's a hint of CreamSicle to the midpalate, but also a pleasant rainwatery minerality. Smooth, supple and expressive rosé, still an odd duck but happily letting its freak flag fly. Better than the '93, but also something like six bucks more pricey, so caweat emptor. (6/05)

Lost Vineyards Tempranillo Calatayud NV ($2) (Boatloads XI): Bland aromatics, muted redfruit laced with cinnamon. Tastes thin, lean, medicinal and fairly unpleasant. Medium low acidity, bland and wan. Not very good. [Buy again? Nope, not even for two bucks.] (11/07)

Bodegas Luzon Jumilla 'Luzon Verde' 2005 ($6) (Boatloads XI): The 'green' (organic) version of the same winery's 'Luzon.' Ripe red raspberry jam, saddle leather, smoke. Big ripe blowsy stuff, much along the lines of their non-organic version, maybe a bit shyer in the vanilla candle department. There's a certain spiky quality to the midpalate structure, but all else is a gentle fleshiness, just shy of flab, a wash of soft redness. Yes, it's rather berry-soupy, but if you're looking for a big red ripe blowsy thing, it's a lot of wine for six bucks, although I prefer the regular bottling. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/07)

'Mano A Mano' La Mancha 2003 (Never Do What We Have Done): I can't figure out the producer, it's some cooperative; between that and the overdesigned cartoony label I should've known what awaited. Namely, cherry cough syrup mixed with warm butter. Ugly wine, ick. (8/05)

Marques de Griñon Dominio de Valdepusa Petit Verdot 1998 (Return of the Jeebi): Deep purply-red. Smells smoky and plummy, hints of baking chocolate and bread. Tastes round, richly and forwardly fruity, a bit unstructured. There's a lot of rich fruiternization here, but not much complexity or structure--a simple, dense wine that turns distractingly bitter on the finish--maybe it's the 'p' word, but its size, density and relative simplicity remind me of a several petite sirahs made in the fruitbuster style. I don't find it too bad at first, but coming back to it after tasting the other reds I am struck by the flaccidity and lack of structure. Still, at the very least it's the best varietal petit verdot I've had this year. (10/7/00)

Marques de Riscal Rioja Gran Reserva 1996 (Rioja Redux): Another young wine, but one with a lot going on aromatically, hints of tea and bark amidst quiet redfruit, mushroom and earth underneath. Tastes smooth, ripe and pleasant, not nearly as complex in the piehole as it is up the nose. There's a soft, fleshy quality that seems appealing at first but leaves me a little dissatisfied after the medium-short finish closes up shop. There's promise here, but I'm not entirely convinced, seems unfocused, needs decay. (10/04)

Bodegas Martinez Bujanda Syrah Vino de la Tierra de Castilla 'Infinitus' 2004 ($7) (Boatloads V): Grapey blackberry and linoleum aromatics, grapey blackberry flavors. Simple, seems to have a touch of sugar, slightly candied edge, hollow and short, with a bitter note on what passes for a finish. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (10/05)

Bodegas Pedro Martínez Alesanco Rioja Crianza 2001 ($8) (Boatloads XI): Wow, very woodsoaked, coconut/suntan lotion/vanilla candle over dark cherry-berry fruit. It's medium bodied, ripe and cassisberried, but also just really tastes like a vanilla candle. A bit blowsy, a bit loose, a bit bland, but plush and ripe and soft, for those who like that. Even as a diehard Mets fan, I can't in good conscience recommend Pedro's wine. Good luck with the shoulder surgery, stick to the mound. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Celler Mas Doix Salanques Priorat 2001 (15 Fox Place): Similar aromatic profile, blackberry/cassis sauce and toast. Not quite as big, or perhaps the lowish acidity lends a feeling of flabbiness in contrast with the Venus's muscularity. The fruit also has a reduced fruit-concentrate quality that would need some more structure to pass. I don't like this one very much. (3/22/04)

Mas Donis Capcanes Tarragona Zona Falset 'Barrica' 2000 ($10) (Winterfest '03): Hints of mucilage volatility over round lush simple black cherry-prune fruit, sawdusty too at first but that fades a bit with air. Upfront fat red-black berryness, soft and low acid, hollow middle, hot and woody on the finish. Ripe, blowsy and disjointed. Maybe with barbeque? No, probably not. Uncohesive stuff. Serve well chilled. To enemies. (1/22/03)

Bodegas Mauro Vino de Mesa de Castilla y León 2001) (Rioja Redux): "Hey, it's purple! Purply-black! It's Spanish petite sirah!" I say this in jest, but further sensory input only confirms my initial assessment. Bright touch of VA, dark blueberry-plum purplefruit, a good whack of toasty oak, seems glossy and candied, almost reduced, is there a Lava Cap in Spain? Callahan, rest his soul, would make amusing choking sounds and gasp for air rather fetchingly after tasting this. (10/04)

Miguel Merino Rioja Reserva 1995 (Island Life): is medium garnet colored, smells like suntan lotion, coconut oil and vanilla candle over dark cherry-berry. Could be interesting without the lavish amounts of simple woodiness overlaid on it; as it is it's just clumsily anonymous, though nicely rich and robust. (5/06)

Bodegas Montecillo Viña Monty Gran Reserva 1982 (Adlers): Another light, easygoing wine, this obviously has more secondary development than the El Niño, but resembles it in many ways. Smells of light stewed tomato/baked beans/baked beans/red berry/cherry/dust/baked beans/dust/tempranillo/tempranillo/tempranillo. There's a good fresh spine of acidity but the dusty fruit is very feathered at the edges; it spreads out langorously in the piehole, a half-dozing Persian cat, and the happily faded midsection flows into a baked-brick finish. Very nice, and the early consensus favorite. "And it cost about ten bucks when I bought it!" pipes Greg happily. We congratulate him on his econovinous savvy and sing a quick round of "For he's a QPR fellow," splitting right down the middle on the "which nobody can deny/and so say all of us" dilemma. (9/2/02)

Quinta do Mouro Estremoz 1997 ($35)(Joao/Kansas): Nice velvety-smooth nose, almost zinlike choco-black cherry/berry. Forward and rich and silky in the mouth, friendly and appealing, richer and riper than the 96, which I was ambivalent about. Now I'm sold--this is good stuff. Portuguese zin? Works for me. (3/2/00)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Gran Reserva Prado Enea 1970 (Adlers): Medium ruby color, browning lightly at the core and turning towards amber at the rim. Prettily aromatic, a slightly threadbare noseblanket of yam-tinged red fruit laced with hints of fruitcake, beef broth and the spines of nineteenth century reference books. A little lean in the piehole, crisp and rather ethereal--the hushed red fruit seems on the verge of fading, but is still present for now. The finish is quiet and lovely, the last few notes leaving the impression of an old burnished stairway banister. (9/2/02)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Gran Reserva Prado Enea 1982 (Trilateral Offline): Medium to medium-light ruby color, with some amber at the rim. Carrot-cakey clove and cedar notes flit around over a base of very soft muted red fruit, layered and interesting to smell, with some leather and tobacco hints peeping out with a little encouragement. It's a little less interesting in the mouth, the acidity is slightly shrill and dominates some slightly tired tart sour-cherry fruit. (3/14/00)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Gran Reserva Prado Enea 1989 (Scheduling): Good funk here, leathery red fruit suffused with espresso hints, subtle but expressive aromatics. Tastes rather elegant and restrained, even-tempered plum-cherry-coffee fruit, a middleweight wine that wins me over with a quiet sense of self rather than an attempt to please. Then again, I'm a cat person, so take that for what it's worth. (12/8/02)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Gran Reserva Prado Enea 1995 (Buster Has a Little Lamb): Quiet, velvety aromatics, balsamic hints, cherry and sandalwood, just a hint of high-note volatility. Medium bodied, tastes quiet and elegant, but rather closed and shy as well, a bright wine with an elusive vagueness at the core. The structure is good, firm acidity, fine tannins, lean and composed. Dressner calls it "pedestrian Rioja"; I wonder if it's just closed for business. Hold 'em if you got 'em. (8/04)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserva Prado Enea 1978 (Rioja Redux): Medium-light ruby color, ambering lightly at the rim. Smells quietly spicy, bookspine and leaves, mushroom and a touch of saddle leather, all in a base of muted crushed-brick/dried cherry redfruit. This is much more my speed--light, bright wine, crisp and silky, layering out expressively in the middle and finishing with a spicy-leafy flutter. Small, easy to drink and very pretty, pleasantly decayed in the way a good older Rioja ought to be. (10/04)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserva Prado Enea 1981 (Rioja Redux): Medium ruby color, bricking out from the core. The aromatics are less in the dried-brown-things vein and more cherry-leathery. It's a fairly lightweight wine as well, softer and rounder than the '78, riper but more diffuse, lacking in focus. Nice enough, though. (10/04)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserva 1995 (Return to Kane Manor): Medium garnet color. Light nose, smoky red fruit tinged with light green herbs. With swirling the red fruit focuses a bit into berry-cassis aromas, with hints of funky barnyness and vanilla above and hints of tar beneath. Smells a bit young and coltish, not as integrated as the Pesquera. Tastes a bit leaner than the Pesquera as well, not quite as fleshed-out and meaty--seems a bit underfed at times. Still, very nicely balanced and, though young, not inaccessible or unfriendly. (6/10/00)

Bodegas Muga Rioja Reserva 'Torre Muga' 1994 (Young Turk Meets Old Guard): brings me thudding back to the here and now. Bleh. Wood soaked cassis-cranberry jam juice. Did I say bleh? Smells like the stuff you scrape off burnt toast, except this time you scraped it off onto a pile of two-by-fours that was in the act of being processed into toothpicks using saws that are made entirely of scorched barrel staves. There's middling structure, and there may be some kind of blackfruit underneath the heaps of carpentry, but what finish exists dies aborning under a blizzard of astringency and wood tannins. When they need a poster child for 'New Wave Winemaking Fiasco,' I'll gladly nominate this one. (12/05)

Bodegas y Viñedos de Murcia Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon/Monastrell Jumilla 'Mad Dogs & Englishmen' 2003 (Never Do What We Have Done): The label claims that the combination of 'two noble grapes and a local grape' are what make for vinous magic. Who knew that 'shiraz' was a local grape in Spain? Apparently a tribute to the spirit of Noel Coward, this wine has none of the master's grace or piquance. Nor, at least as far as I am aware, did he smell like "new carpet" (Jeff's term). Yes, there's a plastic or chemical aroma (I might've called it 'bugspray') in among the lightly jammy plum and smoke aromatics. There's also some oddly spiky acidity trying to hold up fleshy blackfruit and failing, plus a hollow center, and finally a general sense of disjointedness. (8/05)

Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva 1970 (Lou Turns the Worm): There's a whiff of sherry on the nose, tea and bark over leathery preserved cherry fruit. Tastes lean, tart and slightly decayed, quiet hard brickfruit in the middle segues into a tarry-licorice finish. Decent, in a shrill-and-over-the-hill kind of way. (10/05)

Marqués de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva 1994 (Shanks): Joe sniffs at it dubiously: "Smells like it wants to be a Piña Colada when it grows up...." Indeed, there is a good whiff of coconut hovering above the high-toned blackcurranty base. Taut, vivid, woody and tightly wrapped, it's a very young wine, albeit one that has good focus and balance. Yes, there's a bit of acetone, but not enough to put me off. Hard to judge now, give it time. Clashes horribly with Brad's lobster-mango salad with avocado dressing. (4/24/04)

Niepoort 'Redoma' Douro 1996 (Joao/Kansas): This is a Niepoort wine? Can't tell from the label. Deep medium garnet. Rich, tight nose, blackberry tinged with red raspberry, smoke and dark earthiness. A big wine but a tight one, a bit rough around the edges, smoky, not giving much, but good weight, backbone & balance. Time? (2/25/00)

Ochoa Navarra Gran Reserva 1987(Fridge): Light stewed tomato and muted berry at first, with air the nose gets wondefully spicy, a mélange of tree bark, baked yam, dried flowers and fruitcake. Redder and livelier than the Torres. Light, elegant and layered, turns barky on the finish. Very nice. (5/12/02)

Alvaro Palacios Priorat Les Terrasses 2001 (15 Fox Place): A hint of volatility. Medium-dark garnet, purpling at the rim. More blackberry-cassis, dark earth and smoke. Tastes smooth, dark and ripe, with medium acidity and decent balance for its bigness. Turns plummy and licorice-dark on the finish. Another generic new-wave big dark wine, it hasn't got a lot of individual character, but it's decent and drinkable if, like the others, somewhat tiring. (3/22/04)

Quinta de Parrotes Alenquer Vinho Tinto 2000 ($6) (Rejeebus): Hm. The label claims this is 85% perquita and 15% cabernet sauvignon, but I'd swear it tastes more like 90% perquita. Simple and ripe nose, blackberry and plum. Tastes pretty much like it smells, simple and straightforward red-black fruit flavors, nice mouthgrab, an undemanding quaffer without pretensions and without a finish. I would drink this with pizza or a burger, I would. (7/21/02)

Quinta do Penassais Garrafeira Dão 1995 ($10) (Boatloads I): Interesting nose, blackberry-cherry with mushroom and tea hints, as well as a dark tarry-licorice streak down deep. Tastes very straightforward, medium crisp but rather loosely knit, a light wine with a pleasant rusticity, nicely coarse around the edges, it has the feel of something meant to drink round the campfire. I like this very much. [Buy again? Oh, yes, yes.] (8/04)

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 1991 (Return to Kane Manor): Medium-dark garnet color. Smells rich and meaty, cherry-earth with some darker shoe-polish hints. Smooth and balanced, this seems to be in a good place now; the meatiness of the nose comes through in the mouth as well, with rich earthy cherry-smoky fruit, nicely balanced and crisp, flowing somewhat smugly into an earthy long red finish. Nice, self-satisfied wine that doesn't try to do too much but does what it does very smoothly and well. (6/10/00)

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 1991 (Misplaced Weekend II): at me. I sense some kind of agenda. Is this a test? Damn woman, always testing. Turns out she's not crazy about the woodiness, but it's okay by me. Smells dark and smoky, shoe polish and muted redfruit. Decent balance, quietly rich flavors, a bit wan in the middle but pleasant enough in a slightly vague way. (5/9/04)

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 1992 (Manuel and Josie): Medium-dark garnet; a sniff... oh my... This wine smells like shrimp cocktail; horseradish and seafood and spicy tomato sauce, shrimp cocktail to a tee. Crisp red fruit on the palate, good acidity, some stern glassy-fine tannins, but the very peculiar nose just carries away all other impressions. Just when you think you've smelled it all, along comes something like this to serve your nose a plate of humble nosepie. (4/23/00)

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 1994 (Lucid Jeebusing): Immediately outed as the wine that Kane brought so that he could drink something, this isn't holding up so well. Smells of A-1 Steak Sauce and shoe polish over a base of stewed tomato/baked berry fruit. The acidity is spiky; the wine, which has some ripe and reasonably easygoing elements, seems to be coming unglued in my glass. There's smoky-tarry oakiness, a rocky-bricky streak, that poke of acidity, weird spicy flavors, all banging and jostling each other. Drink up quickly or use for cooking. (2/02)

Tinto Pesquera Ribera del Duero Crianza 1995 (Farid Fete): Plumskin and shoe polish are the first nosalities that I encounter, quickly followed by warm grilled cherry fruit with a charcoalish edge. Tastes warm and fleshy, good meatiness to the texture, but soon dissolves into astringency and wood tannins. Seems promising at first, veers into disjointedness. (7/28/01)

Bodegas Piqueras Castillo de Almansa Garnacha Tintorera Almansa 2004 (Never Do What We Have Done): Spanish alicante bouchet?! Ripe, loose, cherry-bloppy and candyfruity. Watery in the middle and bitter on the finish. Awful Ugly. (8/05)

Bodega Protos Ribera del Duero 'Ribera Duero Roble' 2002 ($10) (Boatloads III): Smooth dark aromatics, blackberry-black raspberry fruit, coconut-husk oakiness, hints of barnyard and licorice. Tastes smooth and tart, fleshy-fruity but decently spined too. Not terribly complex, but rough-edged and pleasant, an unfinished chair of a wine, some clumsy wooding over some happily coarse fruit, all rather juicy and amiable. Pretty decent, really, and manages a sense of bumptious balance and a bit of focus. The label says "Ribera Duero from Protos is the famous Spanish wine after which the prestigious region 'Ribera del Duero' has been named." Wow! Given that this is the wine with an entire region as its namesake, it's quite a bargain! [Buy again? Yes.] (2/05)

Ramos-Pinto 'Duas Quintas' Douro 1999 ($9) (Boatloads II): Blackberry and grapey-plum purplefruit, hints of pinecone and dustiness. Interestingly earthy-purple aromatics, but the wine tastes hollow and short and abrasive on the finish. Seems to have potential, folds up under pressure. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Real Companhia Vinicola do Norte de Portugal Vinho Tinto Douro 'Evel' 1999 ($7) (Boatloads IV): Muted leatherberry aromatics; touch of barnyard, touch of freshly-turned sod. Loose, amiable, a bit of licorice surfaces in the midpalate. Pleasantly earthy and unassuming, quiet redfruit and a good dose of dirt. Medium-low acidity, but the wine is rather quiet and small so it seems almost sufficient. I like it more than it sounds, no pretensions to be anything other than a vague little slurping wine, and as that it succeeds. [Buy again? Yes.] (6/05)

La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 1981 (VS Eats at Joe's): Slightly faded orange-red. Leathery faded redfruit on the nose, light hints of stewed tomato, quiet but rich. A crisp, fairly light-bodied, somewhat thin wine, with fruit and wood that have faded to a warm pleasing earthy brick-red hum. (11/7/99)

La Rioja Alta Rioja Reserva 'Viña Alberdi' 1999 (Never Do What We Have Done): Vanilla, toast and sandalwood hints overpower the earthy leatherberry wine that lies beneath. Wood-infused, like wine sucked furiously through a knothole in a pine fence. Underneath the carpentry there's a firm, balanced middleweight wine wriggling uncomfortably. Maybe it needs time, I dunno, but a disappointing showing for what I thought would be a reliable wine. I guess Devlon thought the same thing, because he brought it too, more fool both of us. (8/05)

Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Gran Reserva 'Monte Real' 1973 (Rioja Redux): Ah, that's more like it: wine is much better when the whole 'romance of TCA' factor is eliminated. Anyway, the wine is medium-light ruby, ambering well out from the center. A brightly aromatic wine, faded herby-spicy redfruit laced with coconutty highlights, hints of tea. There's a vagueness at the center, but the wine is pleasant, small and happily decayed, perhaps past its peak but going out in elegant style. (10/04)

Bodegas Riojanas Rioja Reserva 'Monte Real' 1998 ($18) (Never Do What We Have Done): Thin red fruit, generous wooding; a taut wine that turns mouth-dryingly tannic. More complexity here, there's some tobacco and dark liquorice-spicy notes, but I'm not having an easy time of it, no pleasure here for me. Plus, I'm angry at wine now for what it's been putting me through over the last few hours and I don't feel like cutting it any slack. Awful Displeasing. (8/05)

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud 2002 ($8) (15 Fox Place): Quiet aromatics, strawberry, shoe polish, grape candy and Play-Doh. Simple strawberry-grape flavors, like Kool-Aid with alcohol instead of sugar. Ripe, but spineless and distinctly unfocused. Its only good qualities are ripeness and smoothness, after that there's nothing to recommend. My notes say "loose, pallid and vague," and that pretty much sums it up. Might be decent cooking wine, if you're not too finicky about what you cook with. Someone mentions that this is actually a cheapie, which inclines me to cut it more slack, but not that much more. A waste of alcohol intake on this night, anyway. (3/22/04)

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud 2002 ($8) (Boatloads II): Camblor brought this to some event or other, I remember it seemed vapid, soft and Froot-Loopy. It still seems soft and Froot-Loopy, but this bottle is less wan, more aggressively generic. A slight astringency on the finish is the only real flaw apart from general characterlessness; it's friendly and juicy in a squishy-ripe kind of way. No finish, but certainly drinkable if you don't mind simple fruitcrackers. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Las Rocas de San Alejandro Garnacha Calatayud Viñas Viejas 2003 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): The upscale version of the ubiquitous froot-loopy cheapie--you can tell this is the expensive cuvée, because it's in a heavyass burgundy bottle instead of the light bordeaux-shaped cheap one. The aromatics are a little more interesting, there's a bit more complexity, some mintiness and smoky-tea hints up high and a leathery-earthy vein down deep, but in the middle there's the same raspberry bubblegum frootiness, blowsy and bland. There's middling acidity, but there's nothing of complexity here; not even tritone, this is duotone wine, jammy and simple. (3/06)

Rotllán Torrá Priorat Reserva 1999 (Pigfest): Dark sod and brickdust, richly blackberry-cassis aromatics, all laced with a kind of light sour milkiness. Tastes smooth, dark and brawny, toasty wood-spiciness thrashes around a bit in the middle, then settles down in time for a dirtberry finish. There's a lot of flesh here, and the acidity is sufficient but the wine is a bit loosely-wrapped and has a certain vagueness. Still, pretty nice. (1/06)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2001 ($24) (Summer Mishmash): Dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Velvety plum-blackberry and smoky-toast aromatics. Tastes smooth and rich, generously wooded and seemingly in what the kids like to call the 'International Style.' Well packed but not heavy, wood and fruit run alongside each other but are still a bit standoffish. Crisp and contained, very toasty finish. I like it enough to take the remains of the bottle home and stick it in my fridge, where over the course of the next three days it doesn't budge an inch. Plenty of potential, very young. Give five years, redrink. (4/03)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2001 ($24) (Chrid Coad Appreciation Week): Medium-dark to dark garnet, touch of purpling at the rim. Lots of smoky-blackberry aromas, some fresh-sawn lumber. Plush and chewy, a raspberry-blackberry blanket of warm fruit with a firm acidic core and plenty of toasty-smoky wood. Smooth, ripe and muscular new-wave syrah, possessed of two or three gobs at the very least. (11/04)

Finca Sandoval Manchuela 2002 ($27) (Steamed Steaks): Saturated purply-black color. Big black-raspberry-blackberry flavors, ripe and loose, a bit watery-vague in the middle, with a lot of toasty wood. Boisterous and roasty-ripe, a warm blanket of velour fruit. I liked the '01 more in its youth--although this hasn't quite the fetal quality that it had a year or so ago, it seems a bit smoother and more of a whole, but it's also lacking a bit of the intensity of the last one. (10/2/04)

San Gregorio SDAD. Coop. Ltda. Garnacha Calatayud 'Sipacha' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads III): Medium-light garnet color. Smells bold and ripe, deep raspberry, canned beet and shoe polish-licorice. Tastes robust and concentrated, almost abrasively so--very ripe and candied, but also sharply acidic and roughly tannic. A rough-edged glossy-candied wine, simply redberried at heart. Strange and boisterously twotone, big ripe, strangely pale thing. What? [Buy again? What? Erm... nah.] (2/05)

Bodegas San Isidro Monastrell Jumilla 'Genus' 2003 ($10) (Boatloads VII): Medium dark garnet color. Smells like black cherry soda, with an infusion of toastiness and gentle leather-earthy hints. Fleshy-textured black cherry/raspberry fruit with some SweeTart acidity achieves a peculiar kind of equilibrium: the combination of overripeness and spoofulation is a felicitous one, this tastes better as a whole than its parts would indicate. Simple ripe burgerish wine, pleasantly shammy all the way, purists and ayatollahs should avoid. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yeah, I guess.] (4/06)

Bodegas San Isidro Monastrell Jumilla 'Genus' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads XI): Crushed brick and dark berry aromatics, simple and ripe. Tastes blowsy, loosely wrapped and soft. There's a certain flavorfulness in a kind of Jell-O fashion, soft and berried. Some gently sandy tannins attempt to provide a bit of structure, but just come off as weird. Loose, soft, just a hint of almost-complexity, not much going on here. [Buy again? No.] (11/07)

Bodegas San Martin Navarra Tinto 'Isolda' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads II): Pleasantly simple cassis-blueberry aromatic, mineral undertones. Surprisingly focused entry for a 2003, it loosens somewhat in the middle, with some aggressive tannins choking off the finish. A bit abrasive and rustic, but pleasantly simple and balanced, with firm acidity and good cohesion. Short and simple, but decent upfront fruit and a sense of composure carry the day. Not bad. [Buy again? I guess.] (11/04)

Santa Sara Vinho Tinto Regional Alentejano 2005 (60% aragonez, 20% trincadeira, 20% alicante bouschet)($5) (Boatloads IX): Dark tarry plum-raspberry aromatics, touch of woodsmoke, touch of licorice, touch of VA. Tastes roughish, medium-lowish acidity, fleshy-chewy red and blackfruit, roughedged and sandily tannic on the finish. Simple and rustic, but plenty of wine for five bucks. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

San Vicente Rioja 1991 (Quiz Show I): Medium ruby-red. Plenty of creamy sweet vanilla, coconutty, reminds me of Hawaii. Some decent muted red leathery-cherry-berry fruit on the nose. Crisp in the mouth, with nice zesty acidity, but a smoky burnt-stick taste clinging to the red fruit turns me off a bit. (4/7/00)

Scala Dei Priorat 'Negre' 2002 (Never Do What We Have Done): Smells dark and ripe, earthy raspberry, a bit jammy-smelling. A sip, and here's more promising matter--it's new-styled and boisterously fruited, but there's restraint in both the muscularity and the weight. It's a relatively easygoing fruit-driven wine that gains from a deceptively matte texture and licoricey underpinnings. Plumpish, but enough acidity to get by, straightforward and decent, this is the kind of wine I'd hoped to see more of. Of which I'd hoped to see more. Whatever, no dangly-thingies. (8/05)

Señorío de Cuzcurrita Rioja 2000 (Lies, Damned Lies, and Tail Meat): I've tasted with Camblor enough to feel this wine hurting him psychically from afar, the fat cassisfruit just lashing his back bloody. Ripe, generously toasty-oaky, low acidity, cassis-raspberry flavors, plump chewy flesh, everything one could want from a traditional Rioja. Kudos! (7/06)

Quinta do Sobral Vinho Tinto Dão Reserva 1998 ($12) (Boatloads V): Pleasantly earthy-brown-herby smelling, bay leaf and sod mixed with muted redfruit. Tastes quite loosey-goosey, smooth and rustic wine that trades focus for friendliness. Earthy and brown-tasting, tastes like red dirt, in a good way. Lowish acidity, but really straightforward and honest wine with the taste of soil, like it. [Buy again? Yup.] (10/05)

Real Companhia Velha Vinho Tinto Douro 'Evel' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads XI): Smoky redfruit laced with bacon, earth, leather. Plush and softish at first, some bright structure wells up in the middle, then kind of fades away. Still, at least it put in an appearance. A bit squishy, but not too bad for an '03. Kind of seems like a cheap zin mixed 50/50 with a Côte du Rhône. Nothing too special, but for six bucks it's appealingly fruited and mouthfilling. [Buy again? Yeah, okay.] (11/07)

Vinhos Sogrape Douro 'Vila Regia' 2000 ($5) (Boatloads III): Medium garnet color. Light hints of Band-Aid brand bandage strips over muted earthy-berry fruit. Tastes watery, vague cassis-cherry hints, spot of toast, fairly bland and unimpressive. [Buy again? Nope.] (2/05)

Vinhos Sogrape Vinha do Monte Vinho Regional Alentejano 2001 ($7) (Boatloads I): Medium-dark garnet color. Dark blackberry-raspberry fruit with minerally undertones, a touch of coconut and a subtle African-violet hint. Medium bodied, ripe but fairly restrained, lightly candied fruit has just a hint of spoofulation, nothing too overt. Some surprising acidity wells up in the middle, bringing with it a hint of talc, interesting, not a great deal of complexity but smooth and dark and well built: a lot of wine for seven bucks. [Buy again? Definitely.] (8/04)

Technicas Agricolas de Vinification Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Viñas Viejas 'Equis' 2003 ($6) (Boatloads II): Medium to medium-dark garnet color. Quiet aromatics, hints of black cherry-cassis, touch of... of... nothing much else, search though I might. Fleshy and low-acid, but watery and lifeless, with no discernable spine. Ripe, boring. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Caves Dom Teodósio Touriga Nacional Dão Reserva 'Cardeal' 2001 ($9) (Boatloads IX): Medium dark muddy garnet color. Smells darkly berried, lots of earth and tobacco and a light barky streak. Tastes taut and a bit on the hard side, aggressive acidity wrapping around soddy berryfruit. Rustic wine, rich and rough-edged, with a flurry of sandy tannins to cap thing off. A little tough on the tongue, but if you're feeling like a brawl in your mouth it's a nice ride. [Buy again? Sure.] (11/06)

Teófilo Reyes Tinto Cosecha Ribera del Duero 1996 (Asylum): Fairly deep black-garnet color with a very generous dose of toasted choco-coffee oak on the nose over a base of dark red fruit. There's an interesting gravelly undertone to the tangy dark cassis-tinged midpalate, but the finish bangs you around with astringency and wood tannins. Disjointed. (9/8/00)

Terra Única Tempranillo-Monastrell Alicante Reserva 2000 ($7) (Boatloads VI): Medium to medium-light garnet color. Light hint of volatility, nothing offputting, then quiet spicy-cherry and beef broth hints. Medium-light bodied, composed and small-framed, firm acidity, decent straightforwardly drinkable wine. Simple house-red material, but for seven bucks I'll buy more. [Buy again? Yeah, why not.] (12/05)

Torres Penedes Gran Coronas Black Label Reserva 1978(Fridge): Medium ruby color, faded to brick at the rim. Warm, light nose--stewed tomato, old burnished wood, worn leather. Elegant and faded to sip at, brownish corona around a loose still-red core, straightforward flavors. Not terribly complex but sweetly ethereal and easy to like. Even in its dotage it still has stories to tell. (5/12/02)

Torres Penedes Gran Reserva Black Label 1981(Oddball Grapes): Medium ruby color, with just the smallest hint of ambering at the rim. This also smells earthy, but there's more overt red fruit as well, muted cassis-blackberry base to support the sod smells. Tastes lean and nervy up front, loosens in the middle, layering out with marinara sauce and old leather notes. Not exactly thin, but on the lean side, with good focus and considerable charm. Just old enough, quite pleasant now but I'd drink up soon. (7/27/03)

Bodegas Ugalde Rioja Tinto 'Señorial' 2004 ($6) (Boatloads IX): Simple cherry-berry aromatics wrapped in a camisole of vanilla-scented candlewax. Medium acidity, touch of black licorice, bit of astringency on the finish. Decent, generic. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/06)

La Universal Venus Tarragona-Falset 2000 (15 Fox Place): Deep dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Whoo, smells like a whacking big gobster, matte blackberry/plum/cassis laced with light vanilla and a prominent vein of smoky-toastiness. Ripe and broad and dark, with middling acidity and a fleshy mouthfeel. Big tannins on the finish to go along with the general outsize quality. A bodybuilder wine, it's actually quite decent in an abrasive way, but also rather exhausting--there's the vague sense that it's using my tongue for a punching bag. (3/22/04)

Valduero Ribera del Duero Crianza 1999 (Never Do What We Have Done): Loose, cherried, medium-lightbodied, I dunno, not much going on but nothing offensive either, just kinda nondescript wine. (8/05)

Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 1999 (No Hook): Very dark purple color, almost black. A mouthful of dark plum-blackberry fruit suffused with toastiness, big, rough and chewy. The Portuguese must have better eyesight than ordinary mortals, as tiny, tiny label print announces the appointment of Professor Francesco de Olazabal y Nicolas de Alieida as overseeing oenologist. "More wine professors!" crows Dressner, "There, that's GOT to be the hook!" (6/7/03)

Celler Vall Llach Embruix Priorat 1999 ($25)(Second wine of Vall Llach) (Sleeping Cats): Dark garnet colored, smells a little wacky--plum-cocoa pudding, dark blackberry fruit and a good whiff of shoe polish volatility. The fruit is dense and dark, black and red fruit that isn't giving much in the piehole running alongside some firm but unconnected acidity. Weird and all over the place, this seems like a bit of a mess but it's an amiable mess along the lines of many of the recent so-called 'dumb American Cuvées,' and me being a dumb American I don't hate it as much as others do. (9/17/02)

Celler Vall Llach Embruix Priorat 2001 ($25)(Second wine of Vall Llach) (15 Fox Place): Deep dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Smells of blackberry and plum, laced with shoe polish and toast. Big, shirazzy-style fruit and wood, very brawny and butch, a fightin' wine with its sleeves rolled up and a pack of Luckies tucked away in there. Maybe my palate is a victim of abused-woman syndrome, but I like this better than I did the 1999 (maybe it just hasn't had time to fall apart yet?). (3/22/04)

Finca Villacreces Ribera del Duero 1994 ($20)(Kane Manor): Medium-dark garnet; there is a curious pruney quality to the grapey/bready/cherry nose that catches my attention; dark, black raspberry notes on the palate, crisp & richly flavored, turning towards licorice on the finish. (7/24/99)

Finca Villacreces Ribera Del Duero 1996 ($23): Medium purply-red; ripe, smooth brick, plum & singed roast beef nose. Smooth & silky on the palate, moderately crisp acidity, nice forward fruit, plum/cherry/meaty notes jump at you right off, maybe a little thin in the midpalate, but smooth & rich & velvety, a nice complete package. Very fine dry tannins emerge lightly on the finish & linger as the sweet fruit fades. Nice. (4/11/99)

Bodega Viñas Zamoranos Vino de la Tierra Castilla y Léon 'Tresantos' 2002 ($7) (Boatloads VI): Smoky-stinky at first, smells like something that crawled out from under a flaming outhouse. There's some interesting calm redfruit here, but it seems to have been smothered in what tastes and smells like Liquid Smoke™. Clumsily tannic and oddly stressed, it's a tense wine, burdened with trying too hard to be something it's not, overly made up and tapdancing with a toothy rictus like one of those creepy kids in those child pageants that make you want to call Child Protective Services. The winery's name is in three-point type in metallic ink lettering (along the lines of PMS 8021). I actually have to get out a loupe to read it, a first for me. [Buy again? No no no no no no.] (12/05)

Vinicola del Priorat 'Ònix' Priorat 2001 ($9) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark to dark garnet, purpling at the rim. Balsamic hints, sandalwood, blackberry-earthy and ripe. Matte-textured and meaty-chewy, a bruiser of a wine, big and dark and blackberry-plummy and toothstaining, with a touch of bay leaf herbiness on the finish. Firm acidity, solid core of dark fruit, big and blocky, a chunky large-scaled wine. Well-stuffed and broad-beamed, outsized but fun stuff. [Buy again? Yeah, I think so.] (11/04)

Bodegas Yuntero La Mancha Crianza 1997 (Never Do What We Have Done): Freaky-deaky at first, funky-spiritous-smelling, odd, thin and disjointed. With about an hour of air it comes around to a light cherry-leather banality, no small triumph. The polar opposite of the chainmail-down-your-throat Pucho, a wine that's so light and vague that it seems barely there. Ghost wine, haunted by the spirit of faded cherry and dusty old wood. Awful Bad. (8/05)

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