Most wine consumers probably understand that when a label states “Napa Valley” or “Mendocino County” or “Finger Lakes Region,” that the wine in the bottle came primarily from the stated regions. A certain comfort level of consumer-friendliness is involved.

Not that I’m being extra-patriotic, especially in these fraught times, but “America” or “American” can be listed on a wine label as the varaplace of origin of the product in the bottle, though we don’t see it often. Not that the country that lies between two shining seas is an American Viticultural Area (AVA), the delineated wine regions regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the Department of the Treasury; it’s too vast for that distinction. AVAs must have, theoretically, some sort of geological, geographical, climatic and historical coherence. I say “theoretically” because not all AVAs seem to benefit from a logical approach and feel quite obviously geared more to marketing purposes than any guidance for consumers. An example is the vast San Francisco Bay AVA, approved in 1999, amended in 2006, and apparently designed to appeal to fans of Tony Bennett.

But let’s get back to America, so to speak, by taking a look at the bottle I present here. This is the Vara Wines Tinto Especial Lot #012, American Table Wine. Notice a few peculiarities. First, there’s no vintage date. Second, in a wine culture that emphasizes the grapes that wines are made from, there’s no mention here of grape varieties, at least not in the leading position. And third, there’s that “American Table Wine” designation.

According to TTB regulations, wines made from cross-state grape origins — that is, the grapes derive from two or more states — have to be termed “American.” And in that circumstance, no vintage dates are allowed on labels, though in this case, the legend “Lot #012” gives away the mystery; the year was 2012. The reason why the wine does not display a prominent mention of a grape is because the primary variety here, tempranillo, is only 62 percent of the blend. To be featured as a sort of branding device, a wine under the “American,” or a broad state-wide designation, must contain at least 75 percent of that variety. Vara Wines doesn’t tell us what states the grapes derive from — not even on the winery’s website — but we do know what the blend is, as stated on the label in small print: 60 percent tempranillo, 28 percent garnacha, 7 percent syrah and 5 percent monastrell (mourvedre). In other words, the wine aims to be an approximation of a Spanish red, an appropriate stance since Vara is the importing and production arm of The International Brand Family of Spanish and American Wines Commemorating Native American and New World History, based in Albuquerque. The cross-state situation becomes more ambiguous, however, when we consider that a few AVAs actually cross the borders of two states, like the Walla Walla AVA in Washington and Oregon.

The wine in question, a sample for review, features a transparent medium ruby hue and pungent aromas of dried red berries, dried Mediterranean herbs and flowers, with emphasis on cherries and currant, cloves and thyme and notes of violets and lilacs; touches of iodine and graphite, leather and loam add depth, while vivid acidity and dusty, slightly shaggy tannins lend depth. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

This post is the first in an occasional series about the regulations that govern the production of wine in America.

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It’s a gorgeous Spring day here in the Mid-South, and pretty mild elsewhere in our nation, except for California, now enduring a Weather Apocalypse, and we hope all our friends out there stay safe. And if you wonder about the origin of the term “Mid-South,” it was coined in the 1920s — so I heard at a lecture once — by an editor at The Commercial Appeal to define the newspaper’s circulation area: West Tennessee, northern Mississippi, eastern Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel. Now you know. Anyway, if you’re planning to enjoy this great day by kicking back after work and sitting out on the porch or patio or high on an apartment balcony, or if your plans for the weekend include a picnic or some other bucolic expedition to the bosky groves or warm sands, here’s the wine for you. The Pratsch Grüner Veltliner 2015, made by Stefan Pratsch in Austria’s Niederösterreich wine region, is certified organic and produced all in stainless steel tanks at low temperatures to retain freshness and immediate appeal. The color is very pale straw-gold; the wine features what I think of as the primary characteristics of this grape, a kind of white pepper-hay-and-heather highlighting of spiced pear and roasted lemon elements with a dim back-note of quince and ginger, all abetted by crisp acidity and a fledgling flinty-limestone edge. Readers, that’s it, and what more do you need when you’re chilling with family and friends being all familial and friendly and what not? Oh, this would be tasty with seafood-based appetizers and tapas or just as a very pleasant quaff. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. And the price? About $14, for a one-liter bottle, representing Good Value.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill. A sample for review.

A rosé wine can be made in one of three ways. First, mix red and white wine, just a touch of red. Voila, it’s pink! Generally, this method is avoided in making still rosés, and in fact is primarily used in the production of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines. Second, and endless crushmost common, is maceration, in which the skins of red grapes macerate with the juice for a brief period, usually two to 20 hours, and then the juice is removed from the vats when the desired lightness or depth of hue and flavor is reached. (The color of red wine, whether medium ruby or motor-oil purple, derives from the skins; grape juice itself has no or little color.) Third is saignée, a French term meaning “to bleed.” The process involves siphoning or “bleeding off” some of the juice from the macerating tanks before it becomes too dark, a step that helps concentrate the “real” wine as well as produce a rosé. The rosé wine considered today was made by maceration of grapes grown especially for this wine, not as an after-thought or coincidental product bled off from a more important wine. The Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, was made from organic grapes grown in the winery’s Olivet Grange vineyard and picked in August last year. After a few months in stainless steel tanks, the wine was bottled on December 7, making it all of about six months old. The color is very pale petal pink; oh, this is a delicate and ethereal wreathing of strawberries, red currants and watermelon that opens to a fine web of honeysuckle and lilac, orange rind and grapefruit, all encompassed by a slightly earthy undertone of damp and slightly dusty tiles and river stones. Tensile strength emerges with the wine’s bright, lip-smacking acidity and mouth-watering juiciness and the contrast between its crisp nature and an almost lush texture. 11.9 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2017. Production was 672 cases, and it goes fast. A superior rosé wine that feels like a kiss from Spring and a caress from Summer. Exceptional. About $35.

A sample for review.

The limited edition “Miljenko’s Selections” wines from Grgich Hills Estate are named for the winery’s co-founder and longtime winemaker 2014-ESS-FRONT-WITHOUT-ALCMiljenko “Mike” Grgich, and the label is a fitting tribute to this Napa Valley pioneer. (Present winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz.) Our Wine of the Day is the superb Grgich Hills Miljenko’s Selection Essence Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, a sauvignon blanc of riveting purity and intensity. The wine fermented with natural yeasts and aged nine months in large oak casks, so any wood influence is subtle, almost subliminal. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, lemongrass and gooseberry are heightened by notes of jasmine and lilac and a kind of sunny, leafy fig suggestion. The texture is both soft and talc-like and boldly crisp with assertive acidity; flavors take on a wisp of stone-fruit rounded by a tangerine edge, all finishing with grapefruit rind, seashell and limestone scintillation. The energy and elegance of this sauvignon blanc cannot be overstated, nor can its poignant, piercing minerality or its lovely sense of presence; it is one of the most sheerly beautiful examples of the grape I have encountered. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 646 cases. Drink now through 20 to ’22. Exceptional. About $55.

A sample for review. The label image is one vintage behind; 2015 has not made it onto the winery’s website.

Consumers can find plenty of wines from Sicily made from the so-called international grape varieties like chardonnay and cabernet grillosauvignon, but it seems more fitting to me to drink wines fashioned from indigenous grapes such as grillo for white and nero d’avola and nerello mascalese for reds. A fine example of that white grape, long a staple in the production of Marsala, is the Tenuta Regaleali Grillo Cavallo delle Fate 2015, Sicilia, a wine that seems to embody the encompassing geography of sea, sky and mountain in one sleek, spare package, mirroring the shimmer of its pale gold hue. Notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear and acacia open to aspects of dried meadowy herbs and flowers and a kind of sunny leafy rasp; there’s a touch of fig and a wisp of salty iodine to a finish replete with burgeoning limestone and flint minerality; acidity bright as sunlight lends vibrant immediacy.13 percent alcohol. We drank this last night with swordfish that I marinated for a few hours in a bath of olive oil, soy sauce and lime juice. The olive oil, infused with garlic and thyme, has been used the previous night in chicken confit, so there’s that. The wine was a perfect foil for the richness of the swordfish. Drink through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20.

A Leonard LoCascio Selection for Winebow Inc., New York. A sample for review.

The St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Wiltinger “Alte Reben” Kabinett Riesling 2015, Mosel, is a thrilling example of the riesling grape offered suhwar12frontat a remarkably fair price. How old are the old vines — alte reben? They originate in a vineyard established in the early 1900s, with some of the vines dating back that far. The soil sits on Devonian slate with a high iron-content that lends the wines a profound sense of minerality. The wine is made all in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts. The color is a shimmer of pale straw-gold; the wine is fresh and bright and tends toward brilliant immediacy of effect in its notes of jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and lime peel, lemongrass and green apple bolstered by a burgeoning element of flinty-limestone. The spicy stone-fruit flavors display a slightly honeyed element, but the wine is totally dry, enlivened with chiming acidity and crystalline minerality of intense focus and purity, all leading to a finish animated by graphite and grapefruit. The wine’s texture and structure, lithe and balletic, flow across the palate like liquid money. 10.5 percent alcohol. I cannot say enough how exciting this riesling was to drink, how much it felt like an embodiment of the spirit of the grapes and place where they were grown. No, it does not possess the depth of character of a “Grand Cru” vineyard, but, wow, what a fabulous, scintillating surface it conveys. It was perfect with a soup of cabbage, pork and shiitake mushrooms with lots of garlic and ginger that I made last night. Excellent. About $18, a Crazy, Raving Bargain.

An R. Shack Selection, for HB Wine Merchants, New York.

Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

Credit: Leslie Barron, Big Love, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 by 48 inches. Courtesy of L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
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De Chanceny Brut Rosé nv, Crémant de Loire, is a product of Alliance Loire, a cooperative founded in 2002 to take advantage of vineyard 17385--de-chanceny-cremant-de-loire-rose-brut-label-1426983098connections that range from Muscadet in the west to the appellations of Touraine in the center. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, aged on the lees at least 12 months. The color is an attractive pale copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are touched with the slight astringency of mulberry, fleshed out by orange zest and a hint of cloves. This Crémant de Loire is dry, crisp and lively, animated by pert acidity and a deft limestone edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Truly charming. Very Good+. I paid $15 locally, but prices around the country vary from about $13 to $19; don’t pay that much, My Readers.

Signature Imports, Mansfield, Mass.
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Founded in 1831, Domaine Albert Bichot produces Burgundy wines that encompass the complete geographical and hierarchical aspects of the region. Today, however, we look not at any of the domaine’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines but at its quite satisfying non-vintage Albert Bichot Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, composed of chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay grapes. The color is pale copper-pink, the essential bubbles active and energetic. Notes of blood orange, cloves, tangerine and red cherry are given a serious touch by an element of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but displays lovely bones and a deceptive quality of tensile strength. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

European Wine Imports, Cleveland, Ohio. A sample for review.
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The J Vineyard Brut Rosé nv, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it aged two years en tirage, that is, on the lees in the bottle. This is all flushes, blushes and nuances, from its very pale copper-sunset hue, to its slightly fleshy, subtly ripe notes of orange zest, raspberry and lemon rind touched with almond skin, to its steely, chiseled structure. The bubbles, however, are nothing discrete, being a dynamic upward surge like a fountain. This sparkling wine is elegant and fine-boned, finishing with an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.
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The Frank Family Vineyard Brut Rosé 2012, Napa Valley-Carneros, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, offers a pale copper hue flushed with rose-petal pink; the tiny bubbles teem like a glinting tempest in the glass. This is a focused and intense sparkling wine that displays burnished notes of blood orange and tangerine, red raspberries and currants wrapped in a package of lightly toasted brioche and limestone steeliness, managing to be both generous and austere. Lip-smacking acidity and effervescence and scintillating minerality keep it appealing and dynamic, while innate elegance makes it lithe and attractive. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.
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It’s interesting that these two gewurztraminer wines, made in regions thousands of miles and a hemisphere apart, received such similar treatment in the winery, that is to say, mostly stainless steel with a judicious amount of wood. Drink these with charcuterie, pork chops smothered in apples and white wine, seafood soups and stews, grilled mussels, moderately spicy Southeast Asian cuisine.

These wines were samples for review.
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First, the Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Gewurztraminer 2014, Sonoma Coast, produced from vineyards where the vines are 10 years old and 2014-GBW-gewurztraminer-f40 years old, fermented and aged in 90 percent stainless steel tanks and 10 percent neutral French oak barrels; in addition, and even more interesting, 15 percent of the grapes were frozen before being pressed. What’s the result of this process? A clean, fresh and spare gewurztraminer that displays a very pale straw-gold hue and arresting aromas of lime peel and grapefruit, lychee, gardenia and jasmine, with following hints of green tea and lemongrass and an overall sheen of petrol and limestone. It’s pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, the wine is pithy, crisp with essential acidity, and lively with a kind of flinty nervosity, these elements providing a keen edge to the lovely, ripe, talc-like stone-fruit and citrus flavors, culminating in a finish flush with grapefruit bitterness. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22, as time should burnish this to a state of pure golden minerality. Excellent. About $22.50.
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Grapes for the Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2014, Marlborough, New Zealand, derive from vineyards planted in 1981. The regimen is six months in 80 hectoliter tanks — 2,113.37 gallons — and standard French barriques. This is a truly lovely wine, from its shimmer of pale gold hue to his intriguing scents of lychee and gardenia, grapefruit and mango, with notes of petrol and honeysuckle, to its exquisite tension among spicy flavors of figs, quince and ginger; scintillating limestone minerality; and bright acidity that cuts a furrow on the palate. The essence here is a briery, loamy, heather and woodsy character under succulent yellow fruit, leading to a typical stony finish freighted with grapefruit rind bitterness. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $19.

Imported by The Country Vintner, Ashland, Va., a division of Winebow Inc.
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You may think I’m wayward and quixotic for recommending a rosé wine on February 9, a day of storms, wind, snow and ice for much of the nation, but yesterday I drank a glass (or two) of this wine while sitting on the back porch, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And then the toad hollowtemperature dropped precipitously, so we had a very cold night, a chilly but sunny today, and tomorrow we’re back in the 70s. Who can live with this whiplash approach to mid-Winter? The wine is the Toad Hollow Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, designated Sonoma County, though the grapes derived from the marine climate of Carneros. The wine’s name — “Dry Rosé” — indicates that at one time and perhaps even now American consumers considered rosé wines sweet, though the great majority of them are bone-dry. While made completely from pinot noir grapes — no grenache, cinsault, counoise, no syrah or mourvèdre — this rosé thoroughly partakes of the spirit of its counterparts in Provence. The color is an entrancing pale onion skin hue — what used to be called “eye of the partridge” — and the aromas of orange zest, peach and strawberry are subtle and delicate, bolstered by a hint of wet stones and dried thyme; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of watermelon and lilac. On the palate, this charming rosé wine is a little gingery, featuring peach and raspberry flavors enlivened by crisp acidity and a burgeoning limestone and flint element. “Charming,” yes, but quite spare, slightly honed and chiseled, nothing gushing or abundant; I call it classic and graceful. 11.5 percent alcohol. Now through the end of 2017. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

A sample for review.

The sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne may be made from any of the grape varieties allowed in Burgundy, meaning predominantly chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir, but including gamay and pinot blanc. The product must be fashioned in the “Champagne method” of second fermentation cremant de bourgogne mapin the bottle it’s sold in. The Crémant de Bourgogne appellation is extensive, reaching from Chablis down through Burgundy proper, Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais and encompassing 365 communes in four départménts. Grapes intended for Crémant de Bourgogne are generally cultivated separately from grapes that go into the great village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy and Chablis; that land is too precious and those grapes too expensive to sideline into sparkling wine, though that was often the practice at great estates before 1975, when the appellation regulations were laid down. Until 1975, the product was known as Borgogne Mousseux. A great deal of Crémant de Bourgogne is produced by cooperatives or by estates that specialize in effervescence; on the other hand, some of Burgundy’s best-known domaines, such as Yves Boyer-Martenot, Duc de Magenta and Jean-Noel Gagnard, still engage in the practice. In truth, many domaines are so small that they don’t have room for producing Crémant.

The house we look at today is Domaine Louis Picamelot, founded in 1926 in Rully, a village — population about 600 — in the Côte Chalonnaise. The domaine is still in family hands, in the third generation, but run by sons-in-law. Picamelot draws chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir grapes from its own 10 hectares of vineyards in Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune but also from vineyards under long-term contracts reaching from Beaujolais to Chatillonnais, a region (not an appellation) lying between Chablis and the Côte d’Or that contributes heavily to Crémant de Bourgogne. I found the four examples from Picamelot reviewed here to be beautifully made, very sophisticated and mostly worthy of giving lower-priced Champagne — or higher-priced, for that matter — a run for its money. The sparkling wines of Domaine Louis Picamelot are imported by Ansonia Wines, Newton, Massachusetts. These wines were samples for review. Map of Crémant de Bourgogne from bourgogne-wines.com, a very informative website.
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The medium straw-gold Louis Picamelot Le Terroirs Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 57 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 11 percent aligoté, aged at least 12 months on the lees. Elements of limestone and seashell surround notes of baked lemons and pears that open to stone-fruit compote, cloves, heather and toffee; it’s surprisingly dense and viscous on the palate, gathering an array of mineral-tinged textural elements and glimpses of yellow fruit that neatly balance bright acidity with a slightly creamy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the Louis Picamelot Les Terroirs Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, aged at least 12 months in the bottle on the lees; the grapes came from vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise. The color is pale salmon-copper; energetic bubbles stream upward in a steady surge. Aromas of raspberry, peach and orange peel open to hints of raspberry leaf and cinnamon bread, over a limestone and steel character; on the palate, this is fine-boned and tensile, slightly briery, clean and elegant while offering a dynamic veracity of bright acid and a scintillating mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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The Louis Picamelot Terroir de Chazot Blanc de Noir Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is also 100 percent pinot noir, this from a designated vineyard situated on the higher hillsides of St. Aubin in the Côte de Beaune. It aged at least 18 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, while the persistent stream of tiny bubbles is satisfying and exhilarating. Notes of roasted lemon and pear nectar open to hints of tangerine and lime peel, almond skin and lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a sort of fragile seashell-limestone element of chiseled minerality. That honed and hewn quality persists on the palate, where its chalk and flint character defines a spare, elegant package of lovely nuance and subtlety. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
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The Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard Brut 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 77 percent chardonnay and 23 percent aligoté, qualifying as a blanc de blancs. A pale gold hue is animated by a teeming torrent of frothing bubbles; it’s a clean, spare, elegant sparkling wine that features notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears with undertones of quince and ginger, chalk and lightly toasted brioche. This builds character and substance in the glass, layering pertinent limestone minerality with brisk acidity and hints of baked stone-fruit flavors, all wrapped in a lively effervescent nature that doesn’t emphasize any element unduly; balanced yet exciting. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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