Brief fearless notes on Naked Wines: a Tempranilla and a Portuguese Vinho Tinta

Judy bought a case of wines from Naked Wines, a Napa negociant who goes a second mile to encourage promising unknown producers. Here are a couple.

Trigales Angels Share Red, nonvintage, from Spain.

This is a Tempranilla from Rioja. “By Carlos Rodriguez,” the label says. And it is what one expects from a bottle of Tempranilla. It displays a very pretty clear ruby/garnet color, with a nose of sweet light cherry and subtle mocha. The taste follows the nose: soft, round, great balance, with a subtle transformation into a raspberry creme aftertaste. It would be good with any pizza, with salmon or tuna, or chicken thighs. The alcohol is a modest 13 percent. We bought this in a mixed case for $60, but apparently it’s supposed to be a $10 wine. At $5 it was a super value; at $10 it’s about right. You can order it from .

Montaria Vinho Tinta Red Wine

This non-vintage Portuguese red wine is not credited with a specific appellation. At 13.7 percent alcohol, its very dark purple, almost black, appearance suggests dark stone fruit and is surprisingly approachable. There’s lots of bright (but not sharp) acid, and dark fruit taste. The label identifies tobacco as well; I wanted at first to think leather, but I think the label may be right. In either case, it’s not one-dimensional and it’s the kind of tasty liquid food you’d want to pair with roast or grilled pork, saltimbocca, or wild fowl.

Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.

If the bottle says “Groom” on it, buy it! It’ll be top quality Australian or top quality Californian in any case

Groom 2011 Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc is boldly subtle; or, subtly bold? It’s one of the Club wines from Food and Wine magazine. We enjoyed it with wild salmon fillet — ¬†fearlessly complemented with creamy mashed potatoes and a subtly bold, creamy bacon and soy sauce gravy.

First — who’s Daryl Groom, actually?

He’s the much-honored pioneer maker of one of the world’s premier red wines, Penfolds Grange.

And he’s the winemaker hired by Henry Trione to move the young Groom kids to Geyserville, California, so he could ratchet up Trione’s Geyser Peak winery to world class.

And he’s the fearless Aussie who now is showing New Zealand Kiwi patriots how to keep the best elements of a white Bordeaux/Loire wine, Sauvignon Blanc, while suppressing some of the rustic exuberance of Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs they and Americans love.

Here in Sonoma County I had linked Groom’s name tightly with red wines, though he’s good with any grape he certifies as excellent. So I was a bit surprised to receive this white and I’m sure glad I did.

This wine has a shy nose, or so I thought because Sauvignon Blanc is so often grassy and even vegetal — the whole of the vineyard billowing out as the first glass is poured.The Wine Club detects gooseberry (a naturally subtle fruit), lemon zest, and “freshly mown” grass. I can’t disagree, but . . . those aromas did seem shy.

But wow! This wine tastes terrific — clean, bright acids bolster the aromas and the citric acid zings around the mouth and carries through to a long, bright aftertaste. Gooseberries, once meek, by now have visited a gym and, as you savor the wine even before your meal, gooseberry toughs it out with lemon. They both win.

First, I had considered a Chardonnay with the very nice wild sockeye salmon fillets. But my decision was to pair a robust fish with a light teriyaki style bacon sauce. (Mine was a “gravy,” really, since I made plenty of it to slather on potatoes, and Italians usually want a lot of gravy; sauce means just a teaser — and if it’s good they want lots of it.) The marriage of my choice — Groom Sauvignon Blanc — with this sauce was balanced nicely, just as a light Pinot Noir might have been. Neither overpowered the other; neither faded. Nice.

I serve salmon, usually, without skin unless it’s grilled. I put a bit of white wine (no, not this Groom) in a skillet, just enough to reach up to the fish flesh. A very few minutes of simmering, covered, loosens the skin which I chopped and fed to the dog (our Maine Coon cat wants nothing to do with fish!). I seasoned one side of the fish generously with coarse freshly crushed black pepper and the other side with . . . plenty of dried lavender. I sauted both sides in good olive oil and, once on the plate, I aimed a shot of lemon juice at it.

I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter and light sour cream, plus some granulated garlic, to make fluffy mashed potatoes. The gravy also was built with light sour cream, a little of the Sauvignon Blanc, and good olive oil.

When I decided the color was too pallid, I threw in a little leftover coffee and a hefty splash of soy sauce. I finally added four crumbled slices of fried bacon.

It still needed something. Dried dill? Why not? Good idea. We all loved the sauce. Who woulda thunk?

And — it was a very good wine match.. — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.

We just enjoyed a bright, rich Tempranillo from a wild part of Spain

Vina Santa Maria 2008 Santa Clara Crianza is one gorgeous wine!

It was time to open another Club wine from Food and Wine magazine. The wine club promotes its offerings as “excellent wines for everyday drinking.”

I had the elements of a rich everyday meal in the fridge. A survey of the six bi-monthly wines from Ron and Sherry quickly told me this was the night to try the wine from the remote, wild Extremadura region of southeastern Spain, known by some readers, I hope, for jamon Iberico which is made from black pigs that feast on acorns. I must confess I’ve only tasted that ham once, and we’ve never had a real Spanish Tempranillo — but we love that varietal when it comes from South America. I figured if it can be a great match for an acorn-saturated big black porker, it could work for me on something less exotic but also tasty.

So, first, the food. I stuffed red bell peppers with a thick mixture of short grain brown rice and green mung beans that had gently steeped in water with tag ends of carrots and other veggies, shrimp shells, clam shells and ordinary white wine. I can’t begin to tell you how I seasoned that! Herbs, cracked black pepper, garlic granules, cumin . . . the way an everyday cook makes any meal that is meant to perk people up after a day with office colleagues or construction foremen.

Why not a salad? I had mixed greens. Gently sprinkling them with raspberry vinegar and toasted sesame oil, I added half a cup of pepper jack cheese, then crowned the salad with a line of battered and deep-fried (halved lengthwise) white chicken tenders! [Use what you have, that's my mantra.] Judy had brought the chicken and some corn dogs home from the Sonoma County Fair food stand where she works for half a month in the summer. Corn dogs? No, not unless I didn’t have any chicken! And my generous fridge gave me that neat choice.

The food came out nicely — that is, Judy and Erik really enjoyed it, and I thought it deserved . . . a nice rich, bright Spanish Tempranillo. And I had some!

This wine (which you could locate by visiting began with a delightful nose — “blueberry, violets and espresso” is the way the wine club describes it, and I couldn’t have said it better. However, that impression is volatile, fleeting, so sniff it as soon as it’s poured.

Actually, the initial sensations of blueberries and coffee don’t entirely disappear. They experience resurrection in the mouth, along with the dark plum and “velvety chocolate” sensations the wine club describes. Surprising, and very pleasing in a rather soft, round wine, was a huge hit of beautifully-balanced (but maybe enamel-eroding) acids. Your mouth will stay excited because that sensation lasts and lasts.

It’s a lovely-looking wine — rich garnet with a ruby edge. Long-lasting generous legs correctly suggest a long aftertaste with restrained tannins that really shouldn’t scare those who often are afraid that deep-red wines will be gritty with tannic acid.

Wine left over after dinner was really delicious all by itself today. Boy, this is one great trip to a part of Spain I’ve never seen! — Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.