November 2008


Run, do not walk, to your favorite retail store or to your computer keyboard and track down the Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de pomerolshbpicpoul.jpg Pinet 2007, Coteaux du Languedoc, in the South of France. Produced from white picpoul grapes by a cooperative called Cave de Pomérols, all in stainless steel, the wine offers an amazing rich, spicy savory character. Notes of green apple and pear waft from the glass, with a touch of fig and a hint of honey, though the wine is completely, almost dauntlessly, dry. In the mouth, the texture is smooth and would be close to luxurious if not for the bright blade of acid that makes the wine seem to pulse with animation. Flavors run to roasted lemon and lemon balm with a hint of fig and roasted peach at the core. It takes a few sips, but you quickly realize that the wine exults in pure minerality, like a bell-tone of limestone and oyster shell. And speaking of oyster shells, it’s difficult to imagine a better wine to accompany fresh oysters or grilled shrimp, though we knocked this bottle back, um, I mean sipped it sagaciously, standing in the kitchen nibbling slices of Comté cheese, and it was great like that. Anyway, I’ll rate this wine Very Good+. The price? Are you ready? About $11, or A Bargain of the Ages.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.

The economy being what it is, I decided not to go out and spend a boodle of money on wine for Thanksgiving dinner. I would just take a few bottles from the stock on hand, which would mean, of course, that people — 10 altogether — would be drinking different wines; when you receive samples, you have a lot of single bottles of wine. Then a friend coming to dinner asked what he could bring, and I suggested that he go to a retail store and buy a bottle of zinfandel without too much alcohol (under 14 percent, if possible) and a dry riesling from California. Yes, I advocate drinking American wines with the American feast, but it’s not a rigid rule. What would really be fun and commemorative would be to offer wines from many states, Virginia, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and so on, but the logistics are difficult.

To get the second out of the way first, the Wente “Riverbank” Riesling 2007, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, made from estate wente.jpg grapes, while an attractive wine, all peach and pear, lemon drop and limestone and vibrant acid, was too sweet for the dinner. I tried manfully to keep a glass going, but had to switch to my friend’s second wine, which was an inspired choice (see the following notes). The winery’s website calls the Wente “Riverbank” Riesling 2007 “semi-sweet,” which at 2 percent residual sugar it definitely is. Nothing on the label indicates that this is the case, however, a fact that can lead consumers into a trap if they’re looking for a dry riesling. This wine, by the way, barely qualifies as varietal; it’s a blend of 79 percent riesling, 19 percent gewurztraminer and 2 percent orange muscat. No wonder it’s so honeyed and floral! On the other hand, if you’re looking for a “semi-sweet” (um) riesling to drink with, say, spicy Southeast Asian or Indian fare, this would be a good bet. Very Good. And the price is irresistible, about $12 to $15.

My friend’s inspired choice was the Marietta Old Vine Red Lot Number 47, a non-vintage blend of zinfandel with dollops of ovr_lot47_label.jpg carignane, petite sirah, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. (The lot number changes as the new version is released.) This was a robust and hearty wine, distinctly spicy, dark and savory with black current and blackberry flavors, a little earthy, minerally and rooty, but clean and very drinkable. At a modest 13.5 percent alcohol, the wine was great with the roasted turkey and all the side dishes. Very Good, and with a compelling price of about $10 to $14.

That bottle was soon consumed by a table-load of diners, so I reached for the Ca’ del Solo Dolcetto 2006, produced from Bonny Doon’s biodynamic Ca’ del Solo vineyard in Monterey County. No “sweet little thing” here, this wine is deep, dark and energetic, dolcetto.gif packed with spice and minerals and flavors of black current, blueberry and some Platonic wild berry. It brings up mulberry and cloves, hints of dried thyme, black olive and underbrush. Despite the complexity, this is not a heavy or obvious wine, and it carries its 13.4 percent alcohol lightly but inevitably. It was terrific with the turkey and chestnut dressing, roasted potatoes with Black Mission figs and thyme, a cornbread strata with broccoli rabe, a sweet potato gratin with ginger; such was part of our spread. 780 cases. Excellent. About $22.

O.K., that went pretty fast too, so I opened the previous wine’s cousin, the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2005, an authentic yet individual rendition of Piedmont’s great grape. This exhaled smoke, violets, new leather and plums from the glass. The wine is dense, intense and concentrated, tarry and earthy; imagine roasted plums made into marmalade and then infused with cassis and then somehow peeled into layers of dried cranberries and potpourri. After a few minutes, grainy, almost gritty tannins surge to the fore; this is a wine that, while drinkable now, could age until 2012 or ’13. Perhaps it was a tad overwhelming for the Thanksgiving feast, but it certainly made a great impression. 878 cases. Excellent. About $30.

I’m not going to tell you what wines to drink with tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast. Many other writers, in print and online, have done that. You’ve probably already laid in your selections anyway. What I will tell you, however, is what to drink churchills_10yr.jpg after dinner, with the pumpkin or sweet potato pie, or with cheese and walnuts, or to sip, sweet and savory, by itself.

The wine is question is the Churchill’s 10 Years Old Tawny Porto, from the house of Churchill Graham. Made from the traditional grapes of port — touriga nacional, touriga francesca, tinta roriz, tinta barroca and tinta cao — this immensely satisfying tawny displays an entrancing medium-to-dark amber color that harbors a glowing rusty garnet hue within. Aromas of apple and pear, toffee and toasted almonds and roasted plums waft from the glass. This port is smooth, dense and chewy, almost viscous; flavors of spicy fruitcake, figs and citron fill the mouth, deepened and darkened by a smoky, autumnal character and, at the bottom, a sublime note of bitter chocolate. Yes, it’s sweet, but moderately so, and as the port passes through your mouth, the sweetness lessens, so the finish is dry, even close to austere. Once opened, this bottle will last for two or three weeks. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

This wine, consumed the night of Nov. 19, 1983, will be the last that I mention from my first wine notebook. You’ll notice that the Sebastiani “Tailfeathers” “Très Rouge” Pinot Noir 1976, Northern California — how many nicknames does a wine pinotnoir.jpg need? — is number 89 from my initial year of keeping notes and labels; the wines in the (conveniently enumerated) notebook go to 100.

At seven years of age, this was an astonishingly youthful and vigorous pinot noir and certainly the best pinot noir I had tasted until then. I bought it for $7.99 and took it to dinner with my first wife and another couple at a splendid (but alas short-lived) French restaurant in Memphis called Bradford House. The wine was terrific with duck a l’orange, a dish seldom seen today. My notes say that the wine was “dark,” “fragrant and fruity,” “tannic,” “rich and complex.” The terms aren’t exactly rich and complex, but they do conjure for me the occasion and a sense of what the wine was like.

The wines we tried between #8 in the chronicle of 100 wines — Chateau d’Agassac 1975, from Sept. 17 and 18 — and the Sebastiani Pinot Noir 1976 were these:

*De Luze Classique Red Bordeaux 1979. $4.99.
*August Sebastiani Country Pinot Noir. A non-vintage jug wine, $5.85.
*De Luze Classique White Bordeaux 1981. $4.99.
*Charlemagne La Crevette 1981, Entre-Deux-Mers. $2.98 and pretty damned good, in fact much better than the generic De Luze “Classique.”
*Domaines F. Ravel Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, Vin de Pays des Maures. $2.99.
*Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon 1976, Maipo, Chile. $3.99.
*Domaines F. Ravel Semillon “Blanc de Blancs” 1981, Vin de Pays des Maures. $2.99. This wine and its cabernet sauvignon stablemate were wonderful values back in the early to mid 1980s. We drank gallons.
*Iron Horse Zinfandel 1981, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. $8.79.
*Parducci Chenin Blanc 1982, Mendocino County. $5.69.
*Hawk Crest Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, North Coast. $6.49.
*Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Gamay Beaujolais 1981, Napa Valley. $6.99. When was the last time Warren Winiarski made wine from gamay grapes?
*Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 1978, California. $4.99.
*Lous Latour Mâcon-Lugny Les Genièvres 1981. $6.96. (“Definitely worth the price.”)
*La Cour Pavillon Bordeaux Blanc 1981. $9.90 at a restaurant.
*Dourthe Vineaux Rouge Red French Wine. A non-vintage “zip code” wine. $4.79 for a 1.5 liter jug. (“Weak body, muddy flavor.”)
*Tokay d’Alsace 1981. $NA. The couple we had dinner with at Bradford House had been in Alsace and brought back this pleasant, light, delicate wine.

Mike Dragutsky and David Sloas, two doctors from Memphis, launched Cornerstone Cellars in 1991, when Sloas was visiting cornerstone_01.jpg winemaker Randy Dunn on Howell Mountain and Dunn offered to sell him 4.8 tons of cabernet sauvignon grapes, a gesture that falls into the “can’t refuse” category, even after a sanity check. Seventeen years later, Cornerstone turns out 2,000 cases together of a Howell Mountain bottling and a Napa Valley bottling (the majority is Napa), is available in almost every major market, and boasts as winemaker Celia Masyczek, who was named Winemaker of the Year by Food and Wine magazine in its October issue.

These are serious cabernet sauvignon wines — 100 percent varietal — for serious cabernet drinkers. The wines age about 22 months in French oak, of which 75 to 85 percent are new barrels. Devotees of the plush, super-ripe, toasty and spicy Napa style should look elsewhere; Cornerstone cabernets offer purity and intensity, resonance and rectitude and, still, for all the emphasis on structure, loads of flavor.

The wines from 2004 are sold out at the winery but can be found in retail stores and in restaurants around the country. The 2005s are being released this month.

Here are my notes on the Cornerstone Howell Mountain and Napa Valley cabernets from ’04 and ’05.
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The Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Napa Valley, looks as inky as midnight and feels as deep as the valley where the grapes are grown. At four years after harvest, the wine is both tight and generous, a sleek amalgam of earth, iodine and slate slicked with cassis, black cherry and plum. The structure is purposeful, unassailable, the tannins dense and chewy and fathomless, and yet the wine is downright delicious, its concentrated black fruit flavors opening to touches of smoke and black pepper. You could open this tonight with a steak or let it rest a year or two; in any case, this should drink well through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About 60 or $65.
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For the first time, the Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley, used a large component of grapes from the UC Davis vineyard in Oakville; the difference is immediately apparent in boldly expansive aromas of black currant, black cherry and cedar with a briery-brambly element right up front. Like its older cousin, this is a solid, firm and resonant cabernet, unfolding layers of clean earth and granite-like minerals, well-oiled tannins and polished oak, intense and concentrated black fruit flavors, all permeated by the vital presence of vibrant acid for the essential factors of balance and magnetism. Try from 2010 to 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $60 to $65.
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It says something about the quality of the grapes and the skill of the winemaker that the Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon wines from 2004 and 2005 seem to express so eloquently the consistency of a true house style. It’s almost superfluous to say that each rendition offers tremendous depth and dimension, that each is so intense and concentrated that one glass of wine seems to hold twice that amount; there’s a complete sense of the vineyards having drawn the geological life of the bedrock up through the roots of the vines. The difference between the wines seems to lie in subtleties of structure and texture; ’04 is all about power and dynamism and delineation, while ’05 (still a powerful wine) is more shapely, a little more nuanced even in its size and substance. If you will forgive a musical analogy from Beethoven, the ’04 is the “Hammerklavier” sonata; the ’05 is the “Waldstein.” In any case, these are cabernets for the longterm; try the ’04 from 2011 or ’12 through 2020 or ’24; try the ’05 from 2012 or ’13 through 2024 or ’25. Both rate Excellent. About $80 to $85, not chump change, but you’re buying monuments here.
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Sunday was blustery and chilly in Memphis, a dwindling down day when yellow leaves or none or few do hang upon the boughs when yellow leaves or none or few do hang … that shake against the cold, you know, bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang. That kind of day, and thanks, Shakespeare! A good day for Port.

I had three bottles of Reserve Porto and six of Tawny Porto, including an example of a single-vintage “Colheita” Tawny. Typically Tawnies are blends of many years of aged ports; a 10-Year Tawny means that the ports in the bottle average 10 years of aging. The usual designations are 10, 20, 30 and 40 years. Because they have already aged for years, even decades, in barrels, Tawny Portos do not develop in the bottle as vintage ports do. Once opened, they will retain their freshness and flavor for four to six weeks. The back labels of Tawny Ports will indicate the year in which they were bottled.

Reserve ports often carry proprietary or brand names. Theoretically, reserves are superior ruby ports, that is, young ports that have aged for three or four years and are bottled when they’re robust and fruity. The term “reserve” has effectively replaced “ruby,” which gained a bad rep as a mindless port for mindless consumption. Nowadays, however, port concerns put a great deal of emphasis on their branded reserve ports as representative of their house style. Reserve ports are reasonably priced and serve as a good introduction to what port is all about.

Anyway, I sat down with Benito and LL and a selection of cheeses and we got to it. We tasted the wines semi-blind, in the sense that I put the bottles in paper bags and then switched them around a few times and wrote numbers on the bags to keep the arrangement. So I knew what the wines were but not the order in which we tasted them within flights.

Remember that these are fortified wines, so the alcohol level is usually 20 percent.

These labels are imported by Premium Port Wines Inc., San Francisco.
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Dow’s Trademark Finest Reserve Porto opens with a burst of grape-infused black currant and black cherry fruit permeated by powdered orange rind, fruit cake and Red Hots; it is, obviously, an exuberantly spicy port that builds depth and darkness in the glass, adding layers of plum pudding, lavender and minerals. Though sweet on entry, this port finishes on a smooth, dry and (again) spicy note. Immensely satisfying. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Porto, while rich and warm and expansive. smoky and luscious, actually displays a bit more spareness and elegance than the Dow’s Trademark. This is beautifully balanced among ripe, sweet black fruit flavors, a velvety texture and ringing acid for liveliness and flair. Notes of black pepper and cinnamon and a hint of a roasted quality infiltrate the fruit from mid-palate back through the sleek finish. Lovely poise and personality. Excellent. About $23.
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I’ll confess to being a fan of the Smith Woodhouse style of sobriety, elegance and austerity, at least as manifested in the firm’s vintage and late bottled vintage ports. We expect, however, a reserve model to offer more youthful character, and indeed the Smith Woodhouse Lodge Reserve Porto, aged four years in oak, delivers aromas of cassis, bitter chocolate, orange rind, cinnamon and cloves. A few minutes in the glass unfold layers of dark fruit and spice packed into a texture so dense and chewy that it’s almost viscous, all this panoply culminating in a bracing finish. Without a doubt, this is my favorite of the trio of reserve ports tasted here. Excellent. About $20, and Great Value.
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Now the Tawny Ports.

The Dow’s 10 Year Old Tawny Porto sports a radiant medium amber color. It’s smooth and harmonious, offering orange rind and bitter chocolate, toasted almonds with a hint of toffee, nuances of spice and floral qualities. Flavors of poached apricot and roasted coconut are set into a dense and chewy texture, while the wine grows more vibrant and spicy by the moment. A lovely 10-year-old. Excellent. About $32.50.
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For whatever reason, the Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Porto does not present quite the balance or harmony of the Dow’s. Oh you wouldn’t be sorry to sip it; there’s smoke and tobacco, burgeoning spice, sweet apricot and quince flavors, a seductive autumnal character, but some quality of heft and integration is not developed, so it gets Very Good+ from me. About $34.50.
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Imagine a dried orange stuffed with smoky almonds and studded with cloves and allspice, then dipped in the most austere of bitter chocolates. That’s how the Smith Woodhouse 10 Year Old Tawny Porto begins. This is as balanced and harmonious as the Dow’s 10 Year Old but more powerful, more vibrant and resonant. The rich medium amber color practically glows, and the wine feels as if it glows as it slides through the mouth and down the throat. This will definitely keep the winter glums away — or cure them if they have already descended. Excellent. About $31.
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The color of the Smith Woodhouse 1994 Colheita Porto shades from medium amber at the rim to dark amber in the center. Wood smoke and tobacco, toffee and bitter chocolate and, in fact, a walnut fudge-like quality prevail. Yet this is, at 14 years old, a remarkably fresh and clean tawny port, vibrant and robust, composed of layers of subtleties in spice and dried fruit, with a cast of leather, autumn leaves and Asian spices. Yes, I like this one; it will warm the cockles of your heart, whatever the hell they are. Excellent. About $46.
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The problem, to use a crude term, with this pair of Tawny ports — Dow’s 20 Year Old and Graham’s 20 Year Old — is that they didn’t sketch enough differentiation on our palates. Certainly they were enjoyable and delivered the acceptable, even required, characteristics for 20 Year Old Tawny Ports — almonds and toffee, spice and chocolate, a combination of potpourri and pomander, a smoldering smoky quality, a sense of viscousness married to lightness and delicacy. As you see, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with them, and I would happily sip on a glass of one or the other. But the matter came down to this, after we had spent more time with these examples than the others: “Very nice, but they seem pretty much the same.” In other words, we were looking for more discernible house style and didn’t find it. Very Good+ for each. Dow’s 20 Year Old is $56; Graham’s is $57.
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Benito of Benito’s Wine Reviews came over Sunday to taste fielddandelions.jpg ports with me and LL — that’s the next post — and brought a bottle of dandelion wine he purchased in Ohio. It was made by the Breitenbach Winery in Dover, a concern owned and operated by the Amish. The winery produces an astonishing number of wines. The red wines include a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and a shiraz as well as proprietary labels like Roadhouse Red, a “classic semi-sweet red” wine. Three “blush” wines include the intriguing Old Dusty Miller. Among whites are Charming Nancy and Frost Fire. (The winery’s website, breitenbachwine.com., does not mention grape varieties for the proprietary labels.) There is also a full line of fruit and berry wines. Most of these products cost under $12.

The closest I have come to a glass of dandelion wine was reading Ray Bradbury’s evocative novel about Midwestern small-town life, “Dandelion Wine,” about 50 years ago, so I was happy that Benito was bringing a bottle of the stuff to the house.

One expects a flower wine to be sweet, and this was, but it wasn’t as sweet as I had anticipated. In fact, I found it delicate, finely structured and just balanced by clean acidity. Aromas of spiced pear and fig wafted from the glass, with hints of dusty meadows. In the mouth, those spiced pear and fig qualities persisted, with touches of something wild and foxy, a little weedy, all of this encompassed by a texture that was almost oily. The finish brought in cinnamon and hay. It felt as if I were sipping the essence of a sunny summer’s afternoon on a blustery Fall day. I’ll rate the wine Very Good. The price was about $10.

Is this actually a dessert wine? I would say only with the most delicate or simple desserts, a plain apple tart or a slice of unadorned sweet potato pie. Perhaps it would be best sipped judiciously after dinner by itself.

Field of dandelions from healthymindshappykids.co.im.

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Here’s a full-bodied red wine for drinking with roasted and braised meat dishes on these chilly nights. The Quinto do Vallado 2006, produced in Portugal’s Douro region, where the vineyards for Port are located, uses the tradition grapes of the area — touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz, tinta amarela, tinta barroca and sousao — to make a dry and immensely appealing wine. The aromas are flagrantly fragrant, a seductive wreathing of stewed and roasted black currants, black cherries and plums with sandalwood, crushed violets and ground slate. Wow, this wine is so warm and spicy, so alert and satisfying in its presence that you want to wrap it around you like a blanket. It ages mainly in stainless steel, with about 15 percent seeing oak, so the impression from start to finish is of pure dark fruit flavors supported by smooth but robust tannins with a hint of woody underbrush-like character. And at the end comes a wave of lilac, wild berries and granite. Very Good+ and Terrific Personality for the price, about $18.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, California.

Recently, in the Tre Bicchieri awards for 2009, given by Gambero Rosso, the Italian publishing house for food, wine and travel, only one producer of Brunello di Montalcino, the venerable Biondi-Santi, won top honors. This is a marked contrast from 2008, when 15 wines from Brunello di Montalcino received the award, and 2007, when 10 Brunello wines were honored. (Thanks to Terence Hughes of mondosapore for compiling these figures, posted on Nov. 8.)

Perhaps the inclusion of only one producer of Brunello di Montalcino — and the most rigorously classic — for 2009 was a rebuke The hill-town of Montalcino to the scandal that has enveloped the region in southern Tuscany since early this year, a scandal that indicts a number of producers for blending minuscule amounts of unauthorized grapes into their wines from 2003. Brunello di Montalcino, first by custom and then codified by law, must be made only of sangiovese grapes; no other grapes are allowed. More than a million bottles of suspect Brunello di Montalcino and Rosso di Montalcino from 2003 were seized by authorities under order of the Siena Magistrate. The scandal coincides with calls from a handful of Brunello producers to change the 100 percent sangiovese rule officially to allow a little blending.

Brunello di Montalcino was created by Ferruccio Biondi-Santi and first bottled in 1888. The family was the only producer of biondi.jpg Brunello di Montalcino until after World War II and had, in fact, released the wine only in 1888, 1891, 1925 and 1945. As the wine’s prestige grew after the war, the number of producers markedly increased, particularly in the 1980s and ’90s.

The original regimen of barrel-aging for Brunello di Montalcino was a long 42 months, a procedure that resulted — no surprise — in wines of great hauteur and austerity that demanded many years, if not decades, to mellow. That requirement was lowered to three years barrel aging in 1990 and two years in 1998, though Brunello di Montalcino must still age four years before release in a combination of barrel and bottle-aging; it’s the producer’s prerogative as to what that process will be.

The recent scandal has roiled not only the Brunello zone but the entire Italian wine industry as well as the Italian and the international wine press. Though news reports occasionally mention a number of incriminated properties up to 20, the ones consistently named are Argiano, Col d’Orcia, Castello Banfi, Antinori and Frescobaldi. It’s interesting and actually provocative that the last three of these Brunello producers are regarded as “outsiders” in the clannish zone. Banfi is owned by the American Mariani family, and though they have been in Montalcino for 30 years, their wealth, their willingness to shape the landscape and their extensive clonal research stirred discontent among their compatriots. Antinori and Frescobaldi are families and producers centered in the Chianti zone, and though Florence is only 67 miles north of Montalcino, it might as well be Upper Volta to the staid Brunello families.

In the meanwhile, the scandal rocks on, though Antinori was cleared of adulterating their 2003 Brunello di Montalcino wine (Pian delle Vigne) in June and the Castello Banfi wines were released on Oct. 20. So, readers, is this a moment for LOL, OMG or WTF? Big Oops! Results are waiting on the others so accused, though Argiano went on and declassified a great amount of its Brunello 2003 and Frescobaldi is fighting the accusation in court. And, in the meanwhile, in late October, the members of the Brunello producers group decided not to change the 100 percent sangiovese rule by a vote of 662 to 30. (The scandal and controversy and the vote on Oct. 27 were covered extensively by VinoWire.)

All right, let’s face it: Brunello di Montalcino is a rare and expensive wine for collectors, just as Grand Cru wines (and increasingly Premier Cru wines) from Burgundy are, and Bordeaux Classified Growths, and vintage Port, and California cult cabernets and Australian icon shiraz wines are. This is the elite, the rarefied level where money counts, and backing up the money are high-powered auctions and temperature-controlled cellars and the sort of wine dinners to which I never get invited. As a wine for collectors, as a representative of a place and philosophy and genre, Brunello di Montalcino should stay exactly as tradition and law say it should, a wine made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes grown in a restricted area, though it’s important to remember that prior to 1968, when Brunello di Montalcino received DOC status and the requirements, under the influence of the hallowed Biondi-Santi (advocates of the 100 percent rule), were set down, it was common for producers to add a bit of other grape varieties to their wine.

Other than that stipulation, who cares? Even Biondi-Santi has called for relaxing the rules regarding Brunello’s cadet version, Rosso di Montalcino, a DOC recognized in 1995 and intended to be less expensive and more accessible than its mentor. Why shouldn’t the Rosso have a little cabernet or merlot in it?

As far as top quality wines with the flexibility for blending are concerned, the DOC already exists. The Sant’Antimo designation was created in Montalcino in 1996 precisely to address this issue. There are no regulations; producers can make wine from whatever grapes they please. Castello Banfi, for example, has taken advantage of the Sant’Antimo designation to produce a full line of single-grape wines and blended wines. Among the latter are some of its now most famous labels: Summus (sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and syrah); Excelsus (cabernet sauvignon and merlot); and Cum Laude (sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah). Who could ask for any more leeway in making blended wines or in fine-tuning combinations of grapes from year to year?

This week I treated the Hugel & Fils Tradition “Hugel”Pinot Gris 2005, from Alsace, rather differently than its venerable producer would probably envision, but I think the company — which dates back to 1639 and is still owned by the same family — would approve. hugel_tpg_trad.jpg

We were feeling a bit puny, so I went to a nearby Chinese take-out place and got our favorite “feed-a-cold” food, wonton soup and war won ton soup. The difference between the soups is that war won ton soup has more vegetables, meat and shrimp. When I get them home, I mix them together.

So, I made LL a toddy — hot water, bourbon and lemon –drove to the restaurant, got the soups, as well as an order of green beans with black bean sauce, drove back home, and gently re-heated the now-combined soups.

Casting about for a wine, I opened the Hugel Tradition Pinot gris 2005, thinking, well, won ton soup is Asian and it’s always recommended that we drink German and Alsatian wines with Asian cuisine.

The wine is a lovely example of a grape that works so well in Alsace, where it tends to be handled with spareness and elegance. At three years old, the wine sports a beautiful medium gold color; aromas of ripe pear and peach fan from the glass, with hints of spice and some astringent floral quality. In the mouth, it deftly balances crisp acidity with a silky texture; the pear and peach flavors deepen with smoke and crystallized ginger and a touch of caramelized quince. The finish is long and suave and spicy. An absolutely delicious and seamlessly layered wine and a complete success with our Chinese take-out supper. Drink through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $28.

Then yesterday, LL suggested that we have — a rare occurrence on a work-day — lunch at home, since we were involved in a complicated routine of letting the dogs out on a rainy day, juggling transportation and so on. I made a simple green salad, and she made grilled cheese sandwiches, using rosemary bread and three cheeses of different textures and flavor profiles. Perhaps this doesn’t matter once the sandwich is grilled, but it certainly tasted like the best grilled cheese sandwich I have ever eaten.

There were about two glasses of the pinot gris left in the bottle in the refrigerator, so I poured a glass for each of us and we sat down and had a nice little lunch, and after that respite, it was back to the hectic round. And the wine was perfect with the grilled cheese sandwiches.

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