June 2008


I have lived in Memphis for most of my life, but I usually don’t think of myself as living in Tennessee, except at election time. I mean, it’s such a long state, and West Tennessee, where Memphis occupies the far southwest corner, is the most liberal section of the state; there are also Middle and East Tennessee. On the other hand, to read the letters to the editor of the newspaper where I work and especially to read the comments on the paper’s website, you would think that Memphis is about as liberal as Myanmar. When I travel and people ask me if I’m from Tennessee, my first impulse is to say, “No, not me,” but then I catch myself and say, “Uh, yeah, but I live in Memphis.”

These ruminations are prelude to offering some facts about selling and buying and obtaining wine in Tennessee, whose nickname is the Volunteer State.

Now, Tennessee is a felony state, which means that it’s a felony to ship wine to an individual inside the state; the penalty goes against the shipper, so a winery could lose its license to do business in Tennessee. Last spring, the Tennessee state legislature, for the umpteenth time, voted down proposals that would have allowed grocery stores sales of wine and shipping of wine to tennessee.jpg consumers in the state without going through a wholesale distributor. It’s the same old story: The lobbying efforts of the retail and wholesale associations and the state’s fundamentalist religious element defeat these bills every time, though since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states could not allow wineries in-state to sell directly to consumers if they didn’t allow out-of-state wineries the same right, if don’t see how that notion can stand much longer.

Each county and municipality in Tennessee can decide, by vote, whether it will be “wet” or “dry” or in what degree. Memphis did not get liquor-by-the-drink until 1972; people brown-bagged their bourbon and paid for set-ups. Some entire counties are dry; some towns allow certain alcoholic beverages to be sold and not others. It’s a puritanical patchwork designed to diminish the simple (and moderate) pleasure of consuming alcoholic beverages.

While wine and liquor stores in other states are allowed to sell wine glasses and cork-screws, may hold wine tastings in the stores and can even sell gourmet food items and other comestibles, none of these are allowed in Tennessee. Think of that: In Tennessee, a wine store cannot hold an event that brings in a winemaker or producer to introduce new products to customers. The motivation seems to be to allow as little contact as possible between those who make the wine and those who sell the wine.

An example of this retrograde philosophy occurred recently when a winery in California wanted to send me some samples. “No problem,” I said, “I’ve been getting samples delivered to me for many years.” “Yeah,” said the winery, “but Tennessee is a felony state, we don’t want to take a chance. How about if we send it to the wholesaler?” “Well,” I said, “that’s OK, but I may not see the wine for six months, or I might never see it. Wholesalers get lots of wine all the time, and they don’t necessarily look at who the box is addressed to or in care of.”

I thought perhaps the winery could ship the samples, in my name, in care of a local retail store, but to make sure, I called the owner of a store in my neighborhood and asked: “Can you accept a box of wine for me in care of your store?”

“No can do, F.K.,” said the owner. “That’s against the law in Tennessee. The ABC wants to keep contact between suppliers and stores to a minimum. So I can’t call a winery and ask to have some samples sent to the store. And that means that we only get to try wines that the wholesalers bring us, we can’t ask the wholesalers to bring in wine we’ve sampled here. We,re trying to get the law changed.”

That particular situation may be a minor annoyance, but it fits an age-old pattern of a seemingly paternalistic government making matters as difficult as possible for adults to enjoy alcoholic beverages that are legal to sell and consume and, in fact, to make the selling of those legal adult beverages as difficult as possible.

Did you know that in New York City, wine and liquor stores can be open on Sunday if they choose? Holy moly, what blasphemy, allowing alcoholic beverages to be sold on the Sabbath! New York certainly lives up to its reputation as the New World’s center of sin and decadence!

When we bought the house where we live four years ago, we were told that an odd tree in the northwest corner of the backyard was a cherry tree. Since what we know about trees could fit into a space about the size of a cherry pit, who were we to dispute this knowledge? plum1.jpg

I say “odd” because the smallish tree, which seemed quite old — I like to call it ancient — had grown in two parts, one of which had fallen at some perhaps unknown time (certainly unknown to us), so that one part stood upright, about 12 feet tall, and the other stretched along the ground. Both divisions of the tree leafed out profusely in the spring, but we saw neither blossoms nor cherries. The tree, we thought, was just too old for that sort of thing.

Then late last year, after an overnight thunder storm, we came out in the morning and found that the upright portion of the tree had fallen, crashing right down to the ground in the opposite direction of the original fallen trunk. Not just fallen, but died; it produced no leaves in the spring, and its twigs and branches turned brittle. The surviving part of the tree, however, thrived, flourishing with dark green leaves, sending out shoots and suckers and new branches that reached for the sky almost gleefully. Not meaning to anthropormorphize too much here, but it seemed as if the surviving part of the tree was relieved to throw off the shackle of its former, weaker, partner and throw itself into the neglected business of being a real tree.

So. A few days ago, I was in the backyard and I noticed a little reddish-pinkish ball lying in the grass near the tree. “Say what?” I thought. I picked up the little ball and saw that it was a plum. I took in the house and showed it to LL, saying, “Look, it’s a little plum. Where the hell did that come from?” I know, readers, you’re way ahead of me here, but I’m slow about these things. Next, one of the puppies we’re fostering — we have five permanent dogs, and we’re keeping two loaners, golden retriever brothers, while a rescue group finds homes for them –came trotting happily up to the porch with, guess what, a plum in its mouth. And then we noticing that the pups, Deke and Dandy, were hanging out under the low branches of the tree, sticking their snouts up there and nuzzling around.

Finally, I go have a look. And, indeed, the tree is filled, I mean filled, with little plums in various states of ripeness and readiness, from cream-colored to pale green and yellow to mauve and pink and red, glowing like mysterious round jewels in the dark green leaves and shadowed branches.

The plums are tasty, quite juicy, but with a tart, almost bitter finish.

Last night, LL seared some fresh steelhead salmon (from Costco) and made a sauce using a handful of chopped plums, onion and garlic and, well, you know, other stuff. She added a bit of brown sugar to temper the tartness of the plums, but the sauce was still pretty frisky.

With it we drank a bottle of the Markus Molitor Riesling 2004, from Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, an irresistibly delicious and authentic riesling that at almost four years old is so fresh and crisp and fruity and spicy and rivetingly mineral-like that it could have been made yesterday. Excellent, and definitely Worth a Search. About $16.
Imported by Schmitt Sohne Inc., Millersville, Md.

The Burrier family has been in the wine business in “southern” Burgundy — the Mâcon, Pouilly-Fuissé — for 500 years. They have st_ver_classic.jpg owned Chateau de Beauregard since 1883. The domaine has about 36 hectares of vineyards — that’s about 92.5 acres — including 3 hectares, some 7.6 acres, in Saint-Véran. For our Wine of the Week, we turn to the Chateau de Beauregard “Classique” Saint-Véran 2005, a lovely expression of the chardonnay grape from a great year. This is both bone-dry and ripe, bolstered by firm minerality, in the form of chalk and limestone, and crackling acid yet juicy and delicious in its roasted lemon-lemon balm flavors etched with the whimsy of jasmine. The texture is muscular yet almost lush in its appeal. Drink through the end of 2009. Very good+. About $22 to $25.

Imported by Ex Cellars, Solvang, Ca.

Tony and Jo Ann Truchard founded Truchard Vineyards in 1974, making them pioneers in Carneros. They started with 20 acres and today have almost 400; 270 acres are planted in vines. They began making wines from their own grapes in 1989, though truchardcave.jpg only about 20 percent of their grapes go to their 11 wines, which total around 16,000 cases annually. They still sell grapes to 20 or so wineries in the Napa Valley. Since 1998, the winemaker for Truchard has been Sal De Ianni.

I tasted five of Truchard’s wines about two weeks ago — they have not been in our market for several years — and I was knocked out. These wines don’t flirt with the purity and intensity of the grapes from which they are made; they embody those qualities. While the wines are sizable, they are never too big or overbearing, and they certainly don’t display egregious oak; they are, instead, models of power balanced by elegance. They possess the necessary acid and tannin for structure, yet they’re eminently drinkable, and actually delicious.

*Truchard Chardonnay 2006, Carneros, Napa Valley. Here’s exactly what devotees of California chardonnay desire most — chardonnay.jpg should desire most — a chardonnay of poise and balance, of tremendous body and presence permeated by subtleties of crystalline purity. Lovely tone here, a nuanced layering of peach and pear, roasted lemon and lemon curd imbued with smoke and spice and, yes, a rich, slightly honeyed aspect leavened by chiming acid and a limestone element that burgeons in the glass. Oak is there but almost tissue-like in delicacy, a silk scarf thrown around a bare shoulder warmed by the sun. I love it, but a gentleman who tasted this wine at the same time I did complained, “There’s nothing to it. If I’m gonna drink California chardonnay I wanna feel that oak and butter!” I turned away, a silent prayer for mercy on my lips. Exceptional. About $30.

*Truchard Pinot Noir 2005, Carneros, Napa Valley. Those whose palates dote on the red wines of Burgundy rightly gripe that pinot noir wines from California (and sometimes Oregon) can be too deep and dark, too extracted, too ripe and spicy and brown- sugary, too high in alcohol, and, to boot, flabby from lack of acid. Notice that I say “can be,” because not all of California’s pinot noirs are velvety-flocked blockbusters, one example being this elegant, ethereal yet earthy Pinot Noir 2005 from Truchard. The color is an entrancing medium ruby shading to pale violet at the rim; smoky black cherry scents and flavors hint at cranberry and touches of watermelon and rhubarb for a wild aspect. In the mouth, the wine slides like satin, though it’s satin that carries a sense of vibrant acid and dense earthy-minerally-mossy qualities. Just lovely. Excellent. About $35.

*Truchard Merlot 2004, Carneros, Napa Valley. Wonderful — here come those words again — purity and intensity; this breathes merlot.jpg black currants and black cherries penetrated by piercing minerality. The wine is vibrant and resonant in the mouth, sleek, elegant and polished but with dark depths of fruit and spice and smacky tannins that swim through and take a grip on the finish. Drink through 2012 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.

*Truchard Syrah 2004, Carneros, Napa Valley. Seethes with authenticity: Black currant and plums, black pepper, sandalwood, smoke, roasted meat, that ineffable and characteristic touch of wet dog, a core of violets, lavender and minerals that feels as if they have been ground in a mortar. Tremendous weight and presence, engaging liveliness, huge, dense and chewy, awesome tannins that bring some austerity to the finish. Wow! Bring on the ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill! Drink through 2012 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.

Truchard Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Carneros, Napa Valley. Carneros is better known for chardonnay and pinot noir than cabernet sauvignon, but Truchard gets something out of the micro-climate here that seems perfect for the grape. This wine is equal parts seduction and seriousness; as the defunct Wine X magazine might have put it, “Like a blind date between Uma Thurman and the Incredible Hulk.” Twelve percent cabernet franc and one percent petit verdot are blended with the cabernet sauvignon; the wine ages 20 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels; there’s nothing toasty or vanilla-like here. The intensity, the well-knit nature of the wine, the remarkable resonance seem to billow from the glass; this is a wine that draws you in. Black currant, cassis and plum flavors are nailed by riveting elements of dried flowers and a tremendous earthy-mineral quality. Tannins are magnificently proportioned, but soft, chewy, well-honed. A great achievement. Best from 2010 through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $35.

The primary villain of Alice Feiring’s recently published book The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World alice.jpg from Parkerization (Harcourt, $23) is, naturally, Robert M. Parker Jr., whose critical voice, 100-point rating scale and penchant for big, jammy, toasty red wines (expressed in his bi-monthly journal The Wine Advocate) dominates the world of winemaking to an alarming extent. Toward the end of the book, which is cast in the form of a polemical memoir, the outspoken Feiring comes to a sort of uneasy truce with the famous man, whom she allows to have his say.

Not given a voice in the book is a secondary villain, the importer of Italian wines Marc de Grazia, who has made a career of encouraging the producers he handles, especially in Piedmont, to use small French oak barrels, or barriques, for aging their wines instead of the traditional large casks made of Slovenian oak or chestnut wood. Why did the producers of Barolo and Barbaresco and Barbera wines go along with this device? To sell wines in American, where wine drinkers dote on the smell and flavor of toasty new oak. Feiring takes this change in the values and traditions of Piedmont personally, because the first wine she tried that savored of being not just a real wine but a great one, was a Barolo 1968 from the producer Scanavino; it changed her life. I’ll admit that I sympathize with Feiring’s sense of loss. In the early 1990s, I had the chance to taste Barbarescos from the early 1960s and late 1950s made by Angelo Gaja’s father; they were superb, ethereal yet full-bodied, wonderfully pure and intense.

Here’s what Feiring says about Marc de Grazia:

… de Grazia, an American living in Florence, is attributed with aiding in [Piedmont's] modernization. He encouraged many growers who supplied large producers … to make their own wines, and make them according to his guidance. Most of that stable of winemakers — Scavino, Sandrone, Seghesio — became Parker superstars. They made their wines with barriques, specialty yeasts, and fermenters that beat up the grapes to make the wine fruitier. By 1990, those new techniques and French barrels had become pandemic. Barbera is a low-tannin grape, and the extra wood did indeed give the wine more structure. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, has high tannin and its wines can have bones. To me, new wood on Barolo gives the wine hard-edged tannins that feel raspy, as if steel bristles were brushing the back of my throat, ruining the gorgeous wine.

Now it happens that a few months ago, I tasted about 45 wines, mainly red, from the portfolio of Marc de Grazia Selections. My reaction was that many of the wines were frankly, to borrow Feiring’s word, gorgeous; on the other hand, many of them were ferociously tannic, as in the Cavallotto Barolo “Vignolo” Riserva 2001 (about $100), the Cantina de Taburno “Bue Apis” Aglianico 2003 (about $145), and the Fratelli Pardi Rosso di Montefalco 2005 (about $24).

Some of the wines seemed more definitely of a place than others, which, while well-made, did not feel regionally or varietally characteristic. Several wines made from aglianico grapes, from Campania and other regions, could have been nothing but themselves. Oddly enough, the one wine that revealed a ludicrous, manipulative amount of oak was a white, the Vie di Romans Pinot Grigio “Dessimis” 2005, a clear attempt to force a wine above its proper station in life (about $44!); I found it undrinkable.

The website for Marc de Grazia is one of the most comprehensive that I have seen from an importer; you can find all the details of the winemaking process for each of the hundreds of wines the company imports. Reading about the wines that I offer brief reviews of below, I learned that de Grazia does not require or encourage new French barriques of all his producers. Several, you will see, adhere, almost strenuously, to traditional methods; other wines receive no oak at all, maturing in stainless steel tanks or concrete vats. I try to mention the wood regimen or lack thereof for these 24 wines. alario-dolcettocostafiore03.jpg Marc de Grazia Selections wines are imported to the U.S. by Vin DiVino in Chicago.

Piedmont
*Alario Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba “Costa Fiore” 2006. Lovely wine, intense and concentrated, deep purple color, deeply spicy, vivid black fruit flavors, chewy texture, dense tannins, vibrant with acid. This wine in made in stainless steel; no oak. Excellent. About $22, Great Value.

*Elio Altare “Arborina” Barolo 2003. Exotic, ravishing bouquet of potpourri, sandalwood, baking spice, powdered orange rind and dried cherries, but a huge wine, vigorously tannin, formidably earthy and minerally. Ages two years in French barriques, 30 percent new. Don’t touch before 2010; should age beautifully through 2018 or ’20. Excellent (potential). About $155.

*Cavallotto Dolcetto d’Alba “Scot” 2006. No winsome little Dolcetto here. Incredibly deep and dark, very spicy, tightly cavallotto-barolo00.jpg wound and concentrated, packed with grainy, velvety tannins, some astringency on the finish. No oak; matures six months in stainless steel. Needs a year or two to unfurl. Very good+. About $22.

*Cavallotto Barbera d’Asti Bricco Boschis “Cuculo” 2004. Ripe, warm, fleshy and roasted, sleek and muscular, has that core of minerals, spice, dried flowers and fruit as if ground in a mortar, soft finely-milled tannins, but an austere finish. Ages two years in casks, that is, barrels that are larger than barriques. Needs a year or two. Excellent. About $39.

*Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis 2004. God, that’s huge, impenetrable, a monument and megalith. One reserves judgment. Try from 2010 or ’12 and see how it goes. Ages 40 months in Slavonian oak casks of various sizes. About $76.

*Cavallotto Riserva Barolo San Giuseppe Bricco Boschis 2001. You could swim in the bouquet, sleep in it, wear it around your shoulders, it’s that ravishing and seductive, but in the mouth the wine is monumentally powerful, resolutely tannic, intense, concentrated and, finally, austere and astringent. Ages four years in Slavonian casks of various sizes. Excellent potential, I think, but needs long slumbering in the deep, delv’d earth. From a great year in Piedmont. About $100.

*Moccagatta Barbaresco “Bric Balin” 2003. Color is light, burnished garnet; bouquet of dried fruit and spices with a touch of fruit cake; old-fashion muscular and sinewy Barbaresco, yet it matured 18 months in barriques. Needs three or four years. Very good+ About $62.

*Mauro Molino Barolo 2003. Very deep, resonant, dense and chewy, packed with spice and tannin, almost forbidding in its austerity. Two years in oak. Try after 2010 or ’12. Perhaps the potential is there. About $50.

*Fratelli Revello Barolo 2003. Purple upon purple; smoky and spicy, potpourri, warm, ripe and roasted black fruit, but depths of structure, earthy, tannic and minerally. 18 months, new French oak. Feels like a keeper with great rewards after 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $55.
(more…)

Here’s an email bulletin I received from Sam’s Wine and Spirits in Chicago yesterday. Founded in 1946, Sam’s is one of the best and most comprehensive wine stores in the country. So:

The Only Thing That’s Gone Up More Than Gas… the Price of Bordeaux

2005 Bordeaux Vintage Offers a Valuable Long-Term Investment!

With the uncertainty of the economy and the market of today, investors are looking to alternatives to stocks and bonds. The margaux-lafite-large-format.jpg answer to the market crisis may come from a particular entity that we may use to relief this stress—wine.

The 2005 Bordeaux Vintage wine has received such high reviews that demand for the wine continues to rise rapidly. Acclaimed wine writer/critic, Robert Parker describes the 2005 Bordeaux vintage as “the greatest vintage produced during my 30 year career.”

Yet, is all the hype really going to pay off in dollars and cents in the end? Although the 2005 Bordeaux guarantees superb quality and taste, many retailers are steadily increasing their prices to meet the high market demand. With these high prices, the 2005s will take up to 10 years to show value growth, but then should prove to be an amazing long term investment. The vintage wine has already appreciated over 300% from its birth in 2005.

Brian Rosen, President of Sam’s Wines and Spirits states “We heard the buzz from our customers so we responded by obtaining the largest inventory of 2005 Bordeaux in the country with over 5,000 cases to be delivered to our stores.” Brian also offers another worthwhile wine investment, “Since the buzz has been primarily focused on the 2005 Bordeaux, earlier vintage wines such as the 2004 Bordeaux will offer a great shorter term return.”

Notice what’s missing here: Not a mention of when the Bordeaux from 2005 will be ready to drink, just when they might be ready to sell. No mention of the qualities of Bordeaux red wines, their potential for nobility, grace and elegance. No indication that when the Bordeaux from 2005 reach maturity they will drink wonderfully with a beef crown roast or venison, that they will bring to your table a sense of history and geography and artisanship. No reference to the wine’s ability to bring friends and families together in a shared moment of great wining and dining (and all the Bordeaux of 2005 are not extravagantly expensive). No hint that the real investment is in pleasure and the satisfaction of drinking a magnificent bottle of wine.

Have the wines of Bordeaux from 2005 really “appreciated” 300 percent since their “birth” that year, or are merchants simply charging 300 percent more than they did when the wines were offered as futures? If you paid (or promised to pay) $300 a bottle for Pichon-Longueville (or whatever) two years ago, could you sell that bottle now for $900? I would say, Dream on.

And don’t forget that if you invest in wine, you have to take responsibility for proper storage: Constant 55 degrees, no vibration, humidity regulation and so on. Whether you have your own cellar, lucky you, or pay for storage in a well-maintained facility, keeping that wine safe and cool costs money, part of which goes to pay for the fuel that runs the refrigeration unit.

So, thanks, pal, for making the gasoline for my car more expensive, while you sit on your “investment” and wait to rake in the dough.

How many times do I have to say this? Whether it’s today, tomorrow or 10 or 20 years from now: Wine is to drink.

Image from vintages.com.

We often cook from a magazine-format book called Fast, published by Food & Wine in 2004. At four years old, our copy has seen hard use; the cover is separated from the inside pages, many pages are wrinkled and stained with wine or various unidentifiable substances; I think once the book was left out in the rain. Still, it survives and provides recipes for quick simple dishes that are packed with flavor. We had friends over for lunch last Sunday and prepared, from this venerable book, the Cold Cucumber Soup with Mint (it also contains radishes and dill) and the Shrimp with Watercress and Cannellini Beans.

Last night, we made the Singapore-Style Macaroni, contributed by the great cook and cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey. This involves chicken and shrimp marinated in tamari, sherry, curry powder, sugar and sesame oil and then sauteed with garlic, ginger, jalapeno, scallions, carrots and basil (for which we substituted mint), all finely chopped. Then a little oyster sauce and chicken broth, stir it all into the pasta and voila, there’s dinner. The hardest part is the chopping, and that only takes 10 minutes or so. It was delicious; each bite allowed the elements of the dish to work together yet be detected separately.

For wine, because the dish is Asian-inspired, I thought riesling and plucked from the refrigerator the Thomas Schmitt Private riesling.jpg Collection Riesling 2005, from Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. In the official classification of German wines, this is a “QbA,” or Qualitatswein bestimmer Anbaugebiete, meaning that the wine in the bottle derives from only one of the country’s designated wine regions. QbA wines occupy the basic (but not necessarily “lowest”) rank of Germany’s qualitatswein or “quality wines.” I say not necessarily lowest, because while oceans of bland QbA wines exist, QbA products sometimes are made partly from declassified wines from a higher rank, and even if not that, they may reflect the true character of their grapes.

That’s certainly the case with the Thomas Schmitt Private Collection Riesling 2005, a wine that shimmers with crystalline purity and clarity. The wine is very pale gold in color; it’s clean and fresh and minerally, offering slightly spicy lemon scents and flavors with hints of pear and lychee and a touch of the grape’s defining rubber eraser character. In the mouth, it’s gently sweet on entry but firmly balanced by crisp acid and a limestone element that swings into play mid-palate and then dominates the finish. The wine is an appealing construct of freshness and delicacy for drinking through the end of 2008 or into 2009. Very Good+ and Good Value and about $15. It was lovely with our Singapore-Style Macaroni.

Visit schmitt-soehne.com.

Lifting a steak, hot and crusty, from the grill? Pork chops with a Southwestern rub? How about a leg of lamb, studded with garlic and rosemary? Or even a plateful of burgers. meaty and juicy. antis-malbec-reserve-04.JPG

A terrific wine to serve with any of those foods — and even though I’m writing this at 6 a.m., before breakfast, I’ve made myself hungry for red meat — would be the Antis Reserve Mablec 2004, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. This is a tremendously vibrant and intense example of Argentina’s best grape. It’s robust, dense and chewy, packed with deep and spicy black currant, cherry and plum flavors with a wild edge of blueberry. The wine feels classically structured and balanced, charged with a taut yet tender relationship among fruit and acid, grainy tannins and polished oak (from aging a year in French barrels, 50 percent new). Drink now through 2010. Very good+. About $15 to $18.

William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.

The longest river in France defines the country’s largest and most varied winemaking appellation. It’s fortunate for the 05381.gif summertime wine consumer that in addition to its celebrated white and red wines, its dessert wines and sparkling wines, the region produces a wide range of delightful rosés, generally from cabernet franc and pinot noir grapes. Here are three examples.

*The Domaine des Nouelles Rosé d’Anjou 2007, produced by B. Chereau, is simple, direct and delicious, offering a bouquet that flaunts orange blossom, orange zest and red currants with a hint of strawberry and limestone. A touch of sweetness in the front of the mouth is balanced by crisp acid, prominent mineral elements and a dry finish. The color is pale salmon/coral. The vineyards from which the cabernet franc and grolleau grapes derive lie southwest of the city of Angers, a charming town that boasts a picturesque medieval section and a formidable castle, once the seat of a powerful dukedom. I rate the wine Very Good. About $10 and Good Value. Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.

*Here’s a Great Bargain. The Jean-Maurice Raffault Chinon Rosé 2007 delivers amazing style and substance for the price. Made from cabernet franc grapes, the wine shimmers in its light salmon-dark peach color. Spiced apple and pear meet red currant and strawberry in the bouquet, while in the mouth, the wine is almost opulent in weight, dynamic in texture, yet crisp, close to tart in acidic properties, and quite earthy and minerally. Don’t waste this as an aperitif; drink with picnic fare like fried chicken or with Asian food like spring rolls or mild curries. Very Good+. About $14. Imported by VOS Selections, New York. p15578.jpg

*Made completely from pinot noir grapes, the Lucien Crochet Sancerre Rosé 2007 sports a lovely bright onion skin color and equally lovely aromas of spiced peach, pear and melon with a touch of dried strawberry. This crisp and refreshing wine is very stony and minerally and combines hints of dried thyme and tarragon with strawberry-melon flavors, a hint of dried cranberry and its tartness with a limestone element that burgeons through the finish. Very Good+. About $22 (though I have seen this on the Internet as high as $32). Imported by Neal Rosenthal, New York.

Brian Loring, owner and winemaker of Loring Wine Company, is a confessed pinot noir fanatic. In 1999 he began making small lots of pinot noir wines using grapes purchased from highly regarded and carefully chosen vineyards. For 2006, he produced 7,000 cases of pinot noir from 14 vineyards in California, averaging 500 cases for each vineyard-designated wine. “I’m not trying to be Burgundian,” Loring told me a couple of weeks ago, when I tried three of his pinots, and indeed you would not mistake these wines for the classic refined and elegant character of the best Burgundian models. On the other hand, you would not necessarily assert that these are typically Californian either; the Loring wines I tasted revealed none of the over-ripe, cloying brown sugar, stridently spicy elements that mar so many pinot noirs from The Golden State.

“Fruit is everything,” said Loring, and “What happens in the vineyard determines the quality of the wine,” two sentiments with which I heartily agree. The result of this philosophy — and of treating all the grapes in similar manner, whatever their vineyard of origin — is pinot noirs that reek of deep, dark, unabashedly fruity qualities bolstered by a tremendous earthy, minerally g_2001.jpg character.

The Loring Durrell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Sonoma Coast, offers an entrancing color where purple shades into magenta that fades out with a ghostly blue rim. The bouquet smolders with bright, vivid black cherry, black currant and plum scents permeated by roses and violets and a hint of face powder. The wine is substantial, solid, tense, ravishing with intense black fruit flavors deeply etched with vibrant acid; the earthy aspect comes in as strata of brambles and briers and moss with underlying g_2002.jpg minerality. The texture is like liquid satin, with satin’s sense of coolness and warmth. Drink now through 2012 or ’14. The alcohol level is 14.3 percent. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

The black fruit on the Loring Russell Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Paso Robles, is spicier, more elevated, even brighter than on the previous wine. This one is tremendously lively and vivid and resonant, feeling almost sentient in the mouth, though after a few minutes in the glass, brooding aspects of earth and minerals begin to assert themselves. The wine remains exquisitely balanced, however, an edifice rolling on finely milled tannins and subtle, tasteful oak. Drink now through 2011 to ’13. The alcohol level is 14.6 percent. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Distinguished by the slightly macerated and roasted nature of its black currant and plum scents and flavors, the Loring Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Santa Rita Hills, stops short of being overwhelmingly sensuous. While the bouquet is subtly floral, the intense black fruit flavors, hinting at spice cake, are wrapped around a core of crushed violets, lavender, licorice and minerals. The wine is robust and vigorous, and it regally drapes the tongue and palate. Of this trio of Loring pinot noirs, the Clos Pepe is the least earthy, though the finish brings in rooty, mossy, briery elements. Drink now through 2012 or ’14. The alcohol level is 14.7 percent, but the wine does not feel “hot” or in the least over-ripe. Exceptional. About $45 to $55.

These label images, taken from loringwinecompany.com, which could seriously use some up-dating, are from previous vintages of the Loring Gary’s Vineyard pinot noirs.

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