March 2007


And expensive, but we can dream, can’t we?

When I was in New York two weeks ago, I was invited to a tasting that debuted the splendid 2005 vintage for Faiveley, the venerable Burgundy house — founded in 1825 and still in the same family — with enviable holdings in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards up and down the Cote d’Or. The selection of new wines was select indeed: Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2005; Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru ’05; chablis_01.jpg Nuits-Saint-George “Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru ’05; Gevrey-Chamberton “Clos de Beze” Grand Cru ’05; Chambolle-Musigny “La Combe d’Orveau” Premier Cru ’05; and Corton “Clos de Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru Monopole ’05. I won’t reveal the prices or availability yet.

The event took place in the new and elegant Gordon Ramsey restaurant in the London hotel and featured exquisite hors d’oeuvres and a horde of well-dressed people clamoring for, jostling for and even demanding sips of wine. Well, they were great sips.

We wet our whistles with a glass of Faiveley’s white Mercurey “Clos Rochette” Monopole 2004 — “monopole” means a rare instance in Burgundy when a house owns an entire vineyard — a tremendously clean and fresh chardonnay, very earthy and bracingly minerally, like drinking liquid limestone electrified by vibrant acid, with delicious roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors nestled in a texture that was taut yet almost talc-like. A lovely wine that costs about $24 a bottle. While you’re saving your pennies for the following wines or trying to float a loan, you would be happy knowing you had scored a coup with this bargain. 600 cases imported. (The importer is Wilson-Daniels in Napa Ca.)
OK, here are six Big Guns.

*Domaine Faiveley Chablis “Les Clos” Grand Cru 2005. 100% chardonnay. Exquisite and serious, the epitome of a Grand Cru Chablis in its unerring precision and boundless expansiveness. The acid cuts like a knife honed on the wine’s own limestone and quartz outcroppings, yet the texture takes the opposite approach toward creamy lushness that knows exactly when to exert its spareness and elegance. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors are infused with orange and lime peel, dried baking spice and a profound earthy element, all of these qualities drawn out through a long, sleek finish. One of the best Chablis I have ever tasted. Exceptional. About $88. 150 six-bottle cases imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2005. 100% chardonnay. A brilliant wine, amazingly complex, with awe-inspiring detail and dimension. The bouquet offers toasted hazelnuts, spiced and roasted lemon, jasmine and corton2_01.jpg honeysuckle, limestone and a whiff of grapefruit. The size and weight are spectacular, yet the wine never feels lead-footed or obvious, possessing inherent limpidity, an elevating crispness and acidity. The wine is, however, very dry, very earthy, almost tannic. Try from 2010 to 2015 or ’18. Exceptional. About — one blushes — $273 a bottle, of which 50 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Nuits-Saint-Georges “Les Saint-Georges” Premier Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. This delivers penetrating aromas of crushed raspberry, black cherry and cranberry permeated by exotic spice, potpourri and clean, damp earth. I mean, it’s all sandalwood and lavender, violets and plum dust, finely-milled tannins (and lots of ‘em), polished oak and minerals. It would be almost pretty if it weren’t so brooding. Try from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 or ’16. Or tonight with a grilled veal chop, plenty of rosemary. Excellent. About $146, with 30 six-bottle cases imported to the United States.

*Domaine Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin “Clos de Beze” Grand Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. The seductive bouquet of ripe and dried black cherry, raspberry and currant is buoyed by violets and lavender and anchored in an earthy character that’s almost mossy and musky (meaning that this is good and desirable). It’s very dry and large-framed in the mouth, with deep foundations of earth and minerals, new leather, dense oak and slightly austere tannins. Try from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 to ’18. Excellent, and a pinot noir of immense character and dignity. About — giving one pause — $350 a bottle, of which 130 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faiveley Chambolle-Musigny “La Combes d’Orveau” Premier Cru 2005. 100% pinot noir. Have mercy, this wine is huge! Not just huge but reticent, not just reticent but brooding, without, thank goodness lapsing into truculence, being saved by glimmers of deep, dark black fruit flavors, exotic spice and a mineral quality that’s almost scintillating. Obviously made for the long-haul, this should be given from 2010 or ’14 through 2015 to ’20. Excellent. About $176 a bottle, of which 30 six-bottle cases were imported.

*Domaine Faively Corton “Clos des Cortons Faiveley” Grand Cru Monopole 2005. 100% pinot noir. My first notes are “tremendous — HUGE — god, what a nose!” I guess that sort of tells you everything you need to know, except that for a wine of such amazing heft and substance and power, it remains remarkably light on its feet, with a delicacy of dried and corton1_01.jpg fresh roses and violets, like lace on a midnight black velvet dress, and intense and concentrated black fruit scents and flavors. The tannins, though, are broad, scrunchy, austere. A monument that requires some polishing from 2010 or ’12 to 2015 or ’18. Excellent. About $195 a bottle, of which 200 six-bottle cases were imported.

So, why mention these wines except that, as with Everest, they’re there?

Well, that’s one reason, of course. The other is to allow readers who, like myself, mainly concern themselves with everyday drinking wines, the opportunity to expand their awareness of the possibilities of wine even vicariously, the way we look at expensive watches or automobiles or rare books. The Faiveley wines reviewed here, rare and costly, will end up on the wine lists of high-ticket restaurants and in the cellars of a few collectors. So be it. They still represent the epitome of what the world’s ancient heritage of wine-making — and Burgundy’s — is all about: authenticity, integrity, eloquence.
Faiveley does offer far less expensive wines than these Premier and Grand Cru wines, which represent a fraction of the house’s production. In addition to the Mercurey Clos Rochette Monopole 2004 mentioned above, look for the white Faiveley Montagny “Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet” 2004, about $21, the red Mercurey “Domaine de la Croix Jacquelet” 2004, about $21, and, always a reliable label, Faiveley’s appealing “Georges Faiveley” Bourgogne Chardonnay 2004, about $17.

* Saw this on a menu recently, in the appetizer list: “Toasted bread topped with bruschetta.”

No, people, bruschetta isn’t the topping, tomato/basil (though that has become the cliche) or not; bruschetta is the whole thing, the piece of grilled — not toasted — bread, preferably smeared with olive oil and garlic, mounted by any number of toppings, tomato and basil, certainly, or roasted peppers and eggplant or cheeses or strips of meat or bruschetta_01.jpg chopped shrimp and octopus, pretty much anything that makes a savory few bites to whet the diner’s appetite and go well with a glass of simple wine.

Now we’re even seeing in grocery stores, in the refrigerator case, little plastic containers labeled “Bruschetta” that hold chopped tomatoes and basil in olive oil with a few herbs. No, sorry, you can use that stuff to make bruschetta, but it’s not the thing itself.

* This happened at a restaurant last night, a warm night, suitable for sitting outside, which we did, and ordering a bottle of Taltarni Sauvignon Blanc 2005 and by the way I hate the new label. Anyway, the waiter brought the wine, we went through the tasting ritual, it’s quite lovely but not really cold enough; I mean, this is a sauvignon blanc. So I ask for an ice bucket, “Yes sir,” and she brings the bucket, which is filled with ice, and she tries to jam the bottle down in there. Of course it won’t go; the thing is packed with almost solid ice. So she gives up and leaves the bottle sort of perched on top of the ice with a white cloth wrapped around it.

If you took physics in high school, you know that a bottle of wine sitting on top of a mass of ice cubes is not going to get chilled; there’s no conductivity; it needs water so the cold can circulate, so, of course, I pour my glass of water in the bucket to try and get the ice loosened up a little. It takes several glasses of water. Three, actually.

The point here is that no one trained this waiter that an ice bucket needs to be filled with half ice and half water in order to chill a white wine or keep it cold; the bottle needs to be down in there. And it’s amazing how often this situation occurs, even in fine dining restaurants with great wine lists where you would think they know better. And you hate to be a smart-ass and pull rank and say to the waiter, “Look here, I’m a wine writer and I need to tell you how to handle the ice bucket problem,” because then they turn on you and say something like, “There’s no problem, sir, this is how we do it,” and there you sit with your bottle of white wine or champagne perched on top of the ice and everybody sort of pissed off. At least me.

Maybe not final final because I’m still going to be writing about many of the wines I tasted in New York on March 19, but general thoughts about the event and its implications.

First, the organizers of the event, which offered 167 wines from, I guess, every wine-making region of Italy, need to be better organized. The wines are presented in no order. From table to table, you might have a wine from Tuscany, next to a wine from Abruzzi, next to a wine from Sicily, followed by a wine from Umbria, next to a wine from Piedmont. Since that’s the case, you will find grapes of far different qualities and potential succeeding each other.

And the so-called “Tasting Notebook” doesn’t help, because it lists the wines to be tasted in order of presentation, by table number, and doesn’t mention the region. There’s no way you can scan the list and make sense of regions, grapes or types of wine. And when you have about three hours to try as many wines as possible, you need all the help you can get to be systematic. If you wanted to limit yourself, for example, to wines from Piedmont — Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Asti and d’Alba, Dolcetto and so on — there’s no way you could sample all the wines except by running back and forth from room to room and table to table like a madman.

More important, though, is what this tasting of award-winning wines says about the Italian wine industry, its history and its expectations.

For instance, I tried the Galatrona 2004, a 100 percent merlot wine from Fattoria di Petrolo in Tuscany. It was solid, a little stolid, well-made but certainly emphasizing structure, even pretty damned tannic and oak-ridden; indeed, it ages 18 ganatrona.JPG months in new French oak barrels. Since merlot grapes are not indigenous or traditional to Tuscany, the wine receives a designation of Toscana I.G.T. — indicazione geografica tipica — stating exactly that fact. I asked the representative at the table what the suggested retail price of the wine was, and he blithely answered, “$85 or $90.”

I mean, really, but the principle question here is, “Why?” And then, “Who cares?” James Suckling, European correspondent for The Wine Spectator called Galatrona the “Le Pin of Tuscany,” referring to the tiny estate in Pomerol, on the Bordeaux Right Bank, that produces a highly finite amount of sumptuous and very expensive wine from merlot grapes. If some errant numbskull began producing sangiovese in Pomerol, would Suckling call it the “Il Poggione of Bordeaux”? What I mean is, great merlot (and by extension cabernet sauvignon) can be found in many of the world’s wine regions; why must Tuscan producers feel that they must compete with (especially) Bordeaux and by implication California by using Bordeaux grapes and aging techniques, that is, in small French oak barrels?

Basically, I found too much cabernet sauvignon and merlot and too much French oak at the Gambero Rosso event. Wine after wine was stiff, tannic and wooden, or velvety, voluptuous and toasty, I mean, California or the new style in Bordeaux. Read Italy’s Noble Red Wines by Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman (Macmillan, 1991, second edition) for the story about how Italian producers have gradually, since the 1970s, switched from using traditional large casks of Slavonian oak (even chestnut) to using 59-gallon French barriques. Yes, many red wines in Tuscany and Piedmont used to be aged too long, so that tannin masked the fruit in youth and wood masked the fruit in maturity, but if you think the transition to small, new French oak barrels hasn’t changed the character of many of these wines, you might believe that Anna Nicole died of whooping cough.

It’s disturbing that Slow Food, originating in Italy but now an international voice for locality, integrity and authenticity in food products and wine, is a sponsor or collaborator in Gambero Rosso’s awards and in this event. There’s not much that’s truly authentic and local about a Tuscan wine made from French grapes and aged in French oak.

For much of the wine press — and I don’t mean the machine that presses the grapes but people who write about wine — trade tastings are a way of life. Only a few writers at the top of the profession, if I may use that dignified term, don’t need to attend these mass events at which there can be the opportunity to sample, in the meager sips poured for you, tasting2_01.jpg anywhere from, as in my recent experiences in New York, 35 to 165 wines. Think about the last figure. One-hundred and sixty-five wines is a lot of wine, hence the necessity of sipping judiciously and spitting out the, as it were, used-up wine in your mouth.

When you really want to taste a lot of wines, as was the case a few years ago when VinExpo was in New York and the grand event featured a tasting of Bordeaux red wines from the legendary 2000 vintage, careful planning and a level head are required. I mean, I have seen wine writers of otherwise delicate sensibility and slight constitution throw a block that would make a line-backer quail in order to get to a table where a desirable wine was being poured.

And spitting! The typical procedure is to place buckets at either end of the table, so tasters will have ready access to them. The reality is that so many people crowd particular tables — again, where the best wines are being offered — that it’s impossible to reach the spit bucket on that table, so tasters lean over and spit in the bucket of the next table. Sometimes organizers try to solve the spitting problem by placing the buckets on small tables in the middle of the aisles between the tasting tables, but that procedure usually ends in disaster, because tasters simply step back a bit, twist around and spit from a distance. In a few minutes those tables look like Aztec altars of sacrifice. Not to mention the people who happened to be strolling between a spitter and the distant bucket. And think of what happens when the staff at the tasting, usually a ballroom or event venue, can’t keep up with emptying the spit buckets.

And you thought writing about wine was a noble endeavor!

Another problem at trade tastings lies with the people who don’t come to taste wines but to schmooze, to see and be seen, to drop names all over the place, to bestow air-kisses (mainly women) and punches on the arm (mainly men, though sometimes men give air-kisses, too, depending on the nationality). These are the people who take up a position tasting_01.jpg right in the center in front of a table and stand there forever, jawing away with a winemaker or property owner or public relations manager, gabbing about the last time they were in Rome or London or Santiago, while the rest of us are trying to elbow in, slinking and swerving, holding our glasses up beseechingly, hoping for half-an-ounce of whatever happens to be there.

Frankly, the number of people who take notes at trade tastings is alarmingly small. I mean, what’s the point, though I suppose that the real business of buying and selling doesn’t occur at the tastings but later, in a corridor, on the sidewalk, at dinner. The whole enterprise is pretty hazardous anyway. Imagine juggling a glass, now stained red, your pad and pencil, trying to extract a business card from a pocket that also holds a camera, taking a sip of water occasionally or a bite of bread and making sure that if you shake hands with someone, your fingers aren’t wet with spilled wine.

And then of course, that moment happens, when you’re being hounded and jostled, when the uproar is deafening and your pen is running out of ink and you feel a headache beginning to swell from the back of your neck and your feet and ankles are sore, and you absolutely need to find a restroom, that moment happens when you take in a sip of some wine you’ve never heard of and it hits you, the real thing, a wine with true character and tone and quality, with depth and dimension and deliciousness, and you say, probably louder than you should, though who’s going to hear, “Holy shit,” and you look at the people who poured the wine for you, and they’re grinning from ear to ear.

The image at the top is from the Gambero Rosso tasting of top Italian wines on Monday, March 19, at the Puck Building in New York.

The second image is from the Cercle Rive Droite tasting of 2006 barrel samples from the Right Bank of Bordeaux at Chanterelle in New York on Thursday, March 15.

So, anyway, I attended another trade tasting on Thursday, this one held at Chanterelle, the great restaurant in TriBeCa, a setting that ensured the best snacks I have ever had at such an event. The tasting was mounted by the Cercle Rive Droite, that is, the Circle of the Right Bank, meaning here the Right Bank of Bordeaux, where the reigning red grape is merlot, with cabernet franc playing a supporting role, to large or lesser extent. This situation is in contrast with the Left Bank, where the cabernet sauvignon grape dominates and merlot plays a very important second fiddle, followed by cabernet franc.

The principle appellations of the Right Bank are the august Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. but a host of minor appellations produces fine wines, many of which are increasingly attractive because of the rising prices (especially for the superb 2005 vintage) of Bordeaux’s top properties.

The 44 wines presented at this tasting were all barrel samples from 2006; the finished wines won’t be released until March or April 2008. Tasting the young wines, however (if you can get your tongue around the sometimes searing tannins), gives a decent overview of the year and how the merlot grape performed. Prices are problematic, but I would say that on release most of these examples will cost from about $18 to $40. The producers and chateau owners I talked to seemed almost relieved not to have to deal with a blockbuster year like 2005; now they have fairly accessible wines from an above average to almost excellent vintage that they can sell at reasonable prices.

I will write about these wines in more detail later, but here’s a quick run-down of some of my favorites.

*Chateau Carignan “Prima” 2006, Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux. Deep, dark purple, bright, fresh and clean, vivid, vibrant fruit, harmonious and drinkable. 85% merlot, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc.

*Chateau Bel Air La Royere 2006, Blaye. Lovely, penetrating, seductive, immediately attractive, crsushed raspberries, potpourri and plum dust. Try 2010 to 2014. 70% merlot, 30 % malbec.

*Clos Puy Arnaud 2006, Cotes de Castillon. Fresh and attractive but intense and concentrated, cassis, dried raspberries and cranberries, potpourri, seductive spice and flowers. Try 2009 to 2012 or ’14. 65% merlot, 30% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon.

*Chateau de La Dauphine 2006, Fronsac. Huge, massive but succulent, almost sweetly ripe, intensely dusty, almost gritty. Try 2010 to 2014-’16.  90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc.

*Chateau Mazeyres 2006, Pomerol. Beguiling bouquet of sandalwood, exotic spice, dried flowers, cassis, black raspberry, well-balanced and harmonious. Try 2009 to 2012 or ’14. 83% merlot, 17% cabernet franc.

*La Fleur de Bouard 2006, Lalande de Pomerol. Entrancing bouquet, well-balanced and harmonious, delicious but with a tight tannic and mineral edge. 2009 to 2012 and beyond. 80% merlor, 15% cabernet franc, 5% cabernet sauvignon.

*Chateau Barde-Haut 2006, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Lovely style and character, dense, rich, well-balanced, plenty of grit. 2008 to 2014 or ’16. 90% merlot, 10% cabernet franc.

*Chateau La Marzelle 2006, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. Gorgeous, a burst of exotic fruit and spice, almost jammy but lots of dense chewy tannins. 2010-1016. 84% merlot, 16%, cabernet franc.

*Chateau Guibot La Fourvieille 2006, Puisseguin Saint-Emilion. First note: God, what a bouquet! Sweet spices, bitter chocolate, cassis and raspberry. luscious but with a dense, dusty texture. 80% merlot, 10% cabernet frranc, 10% cabernet sauvignon.

*Chateau Clos des Jacobins 2006, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe. The scent, the color, the flavor of ink, great style, tone and balance, touch of exoticism, oak is fairly profound. 2010 through 2018 or so. 70% merlot, 28% cabernet franc, 2% cabernet sauvignon.

These posts from NYC make it sound as if I have occupied myself with French wines, when actually I have tasted more Italian wines (which I’ll be reporting on soon), and indeed this afternoon I’m going to my last event, the big Gambero Rosso tasting of top Italian wines. 

Then a quiet dinner, packing my bags (wondering how I’m going to bring back some wine) and a short sleep before catching a 6:30 a.m. flight home.

So anyway, I’ve been carrying this copy of the Wine Spectator around with me, the March 31st issue with “50 Best Bordeaux Below $50″ on the cover, and I finally settle back and start going through those telegraphic reviews — “Firm, almost austere, with good concentration to the mineral, citrus and tropical fruit flavors and a short, intense finish” — and I notice something really strange about page 162. (I’m back at the Starbucks at the corner of Third Avenue and 66th Street, by the way.) Something vital is missing, and it takes me a few seconds to figure out what it is. The reviews are there and the bold-printed numerical ratings and prices, but — but — holy phylloxera! — the names of the wines aren’t there!

Yes, friends, an entire page of wine reviews in WS omits the names of all the wines, 31 of them.

At first I ascribed this unprecedented omission to a production error, but on thinking about it, I decided that Marvin Shankman and the crew at WS are wilier than that. I think the “mistake” was deliberate, not as an effort to confuse me personally — “Man, are we ever gonna mess with this guy’s head!” — because my copy of WS was plucked at random from the magazine shelf of a big-box store in America’s great heartland. No, I think WS is striking back at the vocal critics of its controversial 100-point rating system. Long-time readers of the glossy magazine have always noticed that it’s difficult to determine why one wine, for example, rates 93 and another 92 or 94 and that the curve – there are effectively no scores under 50 — is steep indeed.

So I think that this page of ratings, prices and brief reviews lacking the names of the wines reflects a stroke of genius. “You don’t like our rating system?” says the Spectator. “Well, in your face, Jack! All yer getting on this page is ratings! Live with it!”  

I predict that the Spectator with increase its new scheme page by page every issue, so that by the end of 2007, readers will be confronted with no names of any wines anywhere in the magazines, only prices, descriptions and scores, scores and more scores.

The 100-point rating system will triumph at last!

So, anyway, I landed in New York a week ago today, that is, March 11, and launched myself to work on Monday, at a tasting of Loire Valley sauvignon blanc wines put on by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau. Instead of rounding up a cattle-call of labels, as so often happens at trade tastings — these are attended primarily by wholesalers, retailers, restaurant people and the press — the organizers presented only 35 wines, most of which were top-quality. These were mainly from 2005, a year that has producers celebrating all over France, though a handful of wines from 2004 that were displayed were seductively attractive.

The sauvignon blanc area of the Loire Valley nestles in the eastern part of the region, where that scenic river, which threads its way through the heart of French history, makes a great curve from the south to the west. The most familiar appellations are Sancerre and Pouilly Fume; the others, smaller and relatively obscure, are Touraine Sauvignon, Reuilly, Quincy, Meneton-Salon and Coteaux du Giennois. Loire Valley wines remain seriously underpriced; these represent fabulous value.

I’ll be writing about these wines in detail on a page on the website, but for the moment, I’ll mention five Loire Valley sauvignon blancs you can’t live without, though, as usual and regretfully, I make no promises about availability. 

*Domaine Mardon Quincy Tres Vieilles Vignes 2005. “Very old vines,” indeed, in this case 85 years old. Loads of nerve and energy animate this drinkable yet seriously dimensioned and detailed sauvignon blanc that’s loaded with peach, pear, apple and lime flavors and huge reserves of acid and minerals. I was knocked out. About $13.

*Domaine Henry Natter Sancerre 2004. Not just classic in proportion and detail but a wonderful wine, blazingly clean and fresh and crisp, tremendously earthy and spicy, and, surprising for the price, capable of aging to 2010 or 2012. About $14-$15.

*Domaine Claude Lafound Reuilly “Clos Fussay” 2005. Keen acid, crystalline citrus flavors, shimmering limestone, lovely texture, amazing tone and verve for the price. About $15. 

*Tour St. Martin Meneton-Salon 2004. I hate to be overdrawn on my “lovely” account, but I have to write the check and pronounce this sauvignon blanc lovely in every aspect and scintillating in its exquisite integration and balance. Pay attention to the way in which crisp acid, dense limestone elements and an almost plush texture support and invigorate each other. About $18. 

*Domaine de Congy Pouilly Fume “Cuvee Les Galfins” 2005. Bouquet, fruit, texture draw you in irresistibly, the huge earthy and minerally qualities held in perfect equilibrium with electric acid and toothsome pear, peach and melon flavors. About $20.

 

Sorry to be out of touch, friends, readers, supporters, detractors, what-have-you, but I have been in New York since last Sunday, and don’t return to the fabled Bluff City until early Tuesday morning. I’m sitting in the Starbucks at Third Avenue and East 66th (not quite like Auden’s “low dive”), finally connected to the vast internet through my new laptop computer and typing as fast as I can. I have eaten well and tasted well and just plain drunk well this week, and I will be sharing most of this material with you in posts to this blog and on the website in the next few days. And I’m far from finished. It’s funny how one event leads to another, so I have a big tasting of Faiveley Burgundies tomorrow, debuting the splendid 2005 vintage, and two major tastings Monday. Then it’s handfuls of aspirin and a 6:30 a.m. flight back home.

Oh, it sleeted and snowed Thursday night and all day Friday and most of last night, and now the streets and sidewalks are piled with sleet and snow and slush. Yuck!

Later.

 

 

You know, if you haunt retail wine and liquor stores the way I do, you inevitably come across hidden treasures, wines on sale, a case or two of something over in a corner that might be worth taking a risk on, meaning shelling out some dollars coulee_01.jpg in hopes that the wine will turn out swell.

Here are some successful examples, all white, three from France and one from Australia.

*Domaine Bruno Clavelier Bourgogne Aligoté 2004. Aligoté is inevitably referred to as Burgundy’s “other white grape,” counting far less on the scale of importance and acreage than chardonnay and relegated to nameless vineyards in the Burgundian uplands or lowlands Still, the grape can make crisp, racy and even sometimes stylish wines, as this model is. Spicy citrus and pear flavors are permeated by limestone and steel and ringing acid that takes the notion of crispness to empyrean reaches. Despite this austere nature, the wine is almost pretty and offers a texture that’s soft and appealing, almost talc-like. After 45 minutes or so — we were drinking this at dinner, with our standard cod, potato, leek and chorizo stew — the wine took on winsome notes of floral astringency and muscadine. Very Good+ and definitely worth tracking down at about $15. Imported by Martine’s Wines, Novato, California.

*Domaine Prieur-Brunet Bourgogne Cuvée Ste-Jehanne de Chantal 2003. This “generic” chardonnay from Burgundy, now a bit more than three years old, sports a beautiful golden-yellow color and an alluring bouquet of green apples, roasted lemons, baking spice and camellia. It’s very dry, forcefully earthy and minerally, and offers tremendous body, dense and chewy and almost powdery in texture, knit with layers of lemon-lime and grapefruit flavors. Though the wine dries out a bit on the finish, it generally delivers lovely tone and complexity for the price, about $15. Very Good+. It needs grilled trout or pike quenelles. Imported by International Gourmet Corp, Tucker, Georgia.

*Henschke Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc 2004, Lenswood, Adelaide Hills, Australia. This is beautiful. It’s fresh, lively, grassy, henschke_01.jpg dry and crisp, quite Sancerre-like in its earthy limestone and chalk qualities and its scintillating lime and grapefruit scents and flavors, but it slowly ravels a skein of jasmine and lemon curd, shifting from its initial hayfield nature to wild meadowy elements wrapped around a succulent core of gooseberry, lanolin and licorice and a hint of some astringent white flower. The current release of this wine in the 2006, but don’t neglect to search out the slightly older cousin. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Excellent. About $28 to $32. Imported by Negociants USA, Napa, California.

*Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 2000, Savennières, Loire Valley. Nicolas Joly is the Lord High Honcho and out-spoken advocate of the biodynamic method of farming in the vineyard, and while I won’t go into my usual, intemperate tirade against bio-dy at this moment (except to say that it’s nonsense), I will say that Joly makes superb wines, probably the world’s greatest wines, from chenin blanc grapes. Of course he would most likely be doing the same thing without the benefit of burying “dynamized” manure in cows’ horns in his vineyards. Anyway, Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is a tiny, separate appellation within Savennières. At a bit more than six years old, this example bursts with quince, peach and pear, spice-cake, mango and orange rind that gets smokier and more roasted as the minutes pass, all nestled in a plush texture cut by vibrant acid. The wine tastes like honey, but it’s completely dry, so dry, in fact, that the finish is austere, offering the slight bitterness of grapefruit rind tempered by lanolin and a touch of jasmine. Exceptional, and under-priced at $36 to $40. Long life ahead; drink now through 2010 to ’14 (well-stored).

All right, I should have been more clear about my Proustian moment raking and bagging old leaves in the backyard last weekend that led to an explication of the “great Burgundy smells like shit” simile. Yes, great red Burgundy, made from pinot noir grapes, smells deeply earthy, loamy and mossy, with a touch of fleshy and sometimes slightly decayed and “barnyardy” elements (that’s the shit part), nobly clean and fresh, but it also smells (or should or may smell) of pure smoky black cherry and currant fruit (sometimes cranberry), of cloves and allspice, of minerals, and (subtly, one hopes) of spicy oak. There, are you happy now?

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