December 2008


Not a very imaginative title, but it gets the job done. The term “Cuvee Unique” attached to the sixth wine means that the importer, North Berkeley Imports, tasted through the barrels of that wine in the producer’s cellar and selected the barrels they thought were best to be bottled for them.

These are traditional red Burgundies, in the sense that none is heavy or obvious or highly extracted; colors are radiant but moderate; textures are satiny rather than velvety or plush; the wines are animated by lively acidity. The wines reviewed today are from four Premier Cru vineyards and two Grand Crus.

I quote prices here from my area (Memphis), which are significantly higher than in other parts of the country, especially in coastal major markets, so I append, where possible, the lowest prices from the Internet to give readers an idea of the range. The Grand Cru wines, because of their limited production, are necessarily expensive, but the prices for the Charmes-Chambertin and Echezeaux reviewed here are notably less expensive than similar wines from other producers; many Grand Cru wines cost $350 and higher. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

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The Michel Ecard Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Gravains” Premier Cru 2006 delivers red currants, roses and lavender in the nose, with undertones of earth and forest; the wine is silky smooth, almost delicate, though flavors of moderately spicy red and black currants are intense, The wine brings up tannins in the form of briers and underbrush, and the finish is dry and rather austere. A lovely and very drinkable pinot noir, petal-like and autumnal, from the small vineyard region near — “les” — Beaune, the medieval town where beats the heart of Burgundy. Very good+. About $60, though seen on the Internet as low as $42.
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Frederic Magnien’s Morey-Saint-Denis “Clos Baulet” Premier Cru 2006 opens with aromas of red and black currants, black plums, leather and earth. It’s a generous and expansive wine, filling the mouth with red currant and plum flavors shaped to classic intensity by vibrant acid that cuts a swath on the tongue and allows the wine to feel light-footed. There are dark dimensions here, though, reservoirs of spice and minerals and tannic elements in suggestions of mushrooms, dry leaves and underbush. Nothing wrong with drinking this wine now, but it would be better to let it rest until 2010 or ’11 for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $80.
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The Frederic Magnien Gevrey-Chambertin “Cazetiers” Premier Cru 2006 is a classic, from its entrancing medium ruby color, seemingly lit by fires within; to its aromas of black currants and black cherries, smoke, talc and roses; to its appealing satiny texture that contains plenty of mineral grip. This is a “Cazetiers” of enviable presence and personality, draping the tongue with satiny seduction yet retaining, for structure, the dynamic necessity of acid and the inevitability of polished tannins. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $110.
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The Premier Cru Clos de la Bousse d’Or vineyard is a monopole for the house of Pousse d’Or (no, that’s not a typo, Bousse and Pousse are correct), a rare example in Burgundy of a whole vineyard owned by one winery (to use a “New World” ett_boussedor.gifterm). So, the Pousse d’Or Volnay “Clos de la Bousse d’Or” 2006 exhibits lovely, impeccable purity and intensity, wonderful delicacy and decorum married to and balanced by fairly rigorous acid that cuts through the wine like a shining blade. The color is a gorgeous medium ruby with slightly ruddy highlights; scents and flavors of red and black currants with a hint of mulberry nestle in a suave, satiny texture that your mouth doesn’t want to let go of. To match the acid, the wine delivers pretty stout support in the form of earthy, minerally tannins and more ephemeral autumnal qualities like the smoke from burning autumn leaves. This is one of the wines that confirms our belief in Burgundy. Excellent. About $125.
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Imagine roses and violets smoked in oolong tea; that begins to describe the aromas of the Frederic Magnien Echezeaux Grand echezeaux.jpg Cru 2006. Brushy, earthy elements are right up front, both in the nose and the mouth, but red and black currant and mulberry flavors are ripe and fleshy, while the texture is like dusty satin. The wine deepens and intensifies in the glass, deftly matching elegance to power. Despite that depth and concentration, this Echezeaux does not come across as Californian; the color is still medium ruby with a hint of darker bluish ruby at the center, and the whole construction is a matter of the melding of nuances. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $150, but seen on the Internet as low as $115.
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Ah, well, in the Gerard Raphet Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvee Unique 2006 we have ineffable delicacy and tensile strength inevitably wedded; resonant and resolute tannins, vibrant acid and lapidary mineral elements provide the sinew and bone, while exquisite red and black currant flavors, with a hint of smoky, slightly spicy black cherry, fill out the notes of purest ray serene. It’s a model of absolute harmony, balance and integration, and a pleasure and a treat to taste. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $155 in my neck o’ the woods, but seen on the Internet as low as $90.
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One night last week, we were finishing the last remnants of the Thanksgiving turkey in a frittata and LL said, “I don’t think you mentioned on the blog how we cooked the turkey.”

She was right, and since the method is not one we had used before, I’ll tell readers what we did.

We have long participated in the Cult of Brining, but this year LL elected to follow the Path of High-Heat. The instructions came from the Gourmet magazine issue of November 2005, but there are myriad recipes on the Internet. The idea is simple: Salt, pepper and an oven set at 450 degrees; roast for approximately two hours. The result was a glistening dark bronze skin and meat — even white meat — of surpassing moistness and tenderness.

And a kitchen filled with smoke, a factor that brought some consternation to guests when they arrived, as in, “Hi, here are the desserts. Shall I call 911?”

We roasted the bird in the wall oven instead of the oven on the Viking range, which is bigger and could take all the side dishes at once. The fans are in the hood over the range, so naturally they couldn’t do as effective a job in sucking out the smoke as they would have if the turkey had been in that oven.

So, Big Oops, but, boy, that turkey was good.

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So, here’s this little bottle of framboise raspberry liqueur, called Chateau Monet. (This is a liqueur, not a traditional eau-de-vie.) There is, indeed, a depiction of a chateau on the label. The squat, bulbous bottle is satisfyingly old-fashioned looking, as if the producer went to some trouble to acquire bottles that resembled those used, say, in the 18th Century. “How quaint, how authentic, how French,” we think. Then we look at the back label and read: “Prepared and bottled in the USA by La Maison Coulombe, Lewiston, Me & Londonderry, NH.”

Yes, once again we have been victimized by what marketing people call “foreign branding.” Foreign branding grows from the idea, apparently inherent in American life and culture, that anything with a foreign name just has to be better than something made in America. Do you want to get a massage or a Swedish massage? Do you want some onion soup or some French onion soup? A pizza with a lot of cheese or a Tuscan Quattro Fromaggi Pizza?
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The best-known example of foreign branding is Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which millions of Americans, including myself for many years, thought came from Sweden or Denmark: “Wow, no wonder it’s so good!” The company has been owned by General Mills since 1983, but Häagen-Dazs was founded in The Bronx in 1959 by Polish immigrants Reuben and Rose Mattus. The name, deliberately concocted to sound Scandinavian, is Duncan Hines spelled or spoken sort of inside-out and reinforced by some consonants and an umlaut. The first store opened in Brooklyn in 1975, and the rest is foreign branding history.

Another example, dear to the hearts of American folk and media culture, is the Ginsu Knife, heavily advertised on late-night television starting in 1978 in those unforgettable commercials that began, “In Japan, the hand can be used as a knife” and ending with a line that became embedded in common speech: “But wait, there’s more!” Far from being made in Japan, the knives, called Eversharp, were originally manufactured in Freemont, Ohio, where they were discovered by a pair of wily entrepreneurs who turned the brand into a raging success: “As Seen on TV!”

It’s no wonder that the 19th Century wine industry in American relied completely on European models and names to sell their stclair.jpg wares to consumers more used to terms like “Burgundy,” “Chianti,” “Sauternes” and “Madeira” than a product called, simply, “California Red Wine.” Varietal labeling didn’t really develop in California until after the end of Prohibition, though of course many wines continued (and continue) to exploit the foreign branding concept. This idea applies not only to wineries called Chateau This and Clos du That but to brands like Hearty Burgundy and Chablis Blanc and the old (and actually tasty) Green Hungarian, made by Paul Masson; we drank gallons of these wines, back in the day.

The EU frowns on the use of European place names on American wine labels, and a series of trade agreements have been instituted to prevent producers in America from plastering the terms Sherry, Port and Champagne on labels while Europeans will not pretend that their wines were made in the Napa Valley. (I mean, did they ever? Was there a “Napa Valley Riesling” from Germany?) The trick is that some veteran manufacturers of sparkling wine in California — Korbel and Gallo –were permitted to retain the use of “champagne” on their sparkling wine labels, you know, for old-times’ sake. That loophole seems pretty egregious to me, and also to French trade groups, which have mounted advertising campaigns against it.

“St. Clair Burgundy” label (it says in tiny type that it was printed in St. Louis) is from labeltrader.com, a fascinating site for collectors of all sort of antique paper labels.

Sorry , readers, BTYH was disabled for about 10 hours today and just got back up at 9:34 p.m. The problem was purely technical, though even after talking to two support people at BlueHost, I don’t really fathom what the Big Deal was. Something about repairing and optimizing tables in the c-panel. So, here we are, thanks to the valiant efforts of my designers at Mouse Foundry. Did I mention that I hate computers?

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I got the idea for putting leaves of Brussels sprouts on pizza from a post on The Girl Who Ate Everything on Dec. 3. (This is a terrific and very funny site about eating in New York and environs with great photographs.) Anyway, last Saturday I fried some applewood smoked bacon, poured off most of the grease and used it to saute a couple of handfuls of Brussels sprouts leaves until they were caramelized. I also used some thin slices of yellow bell pepper, maybe eight quartered cherry tomatoes and shavings of roasted garlic. Fresh thyme and rosemary, a scattering of fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese completed the experiment. I let the pizza cook on its stone in the oven at 450 for 10 or 11 minutes, and then I took it outside and laid it on the grill where hardwood charcoal was barely smoldering. I closed the top of the grill so the smoke would permeate the pizza and the heat would char the bottom of the crust.

It was great!

We watched Wall-E, of which I thought the first half was brilliant and the second half was banal but watchable. I henriot.jpghate it when movies break in half that way.

But the wine, that’s the important part!

It was a decadent night in the FK/LL household. While I was preparing the pizza, I thought, “Oh, what the hell,” and opened a bottle of the Henriot Brut Millesime 1998. Lord have mercy, what a fine champagne! The color is mild but radiant gold; it sends a frothing stream of tiny glinting bubbles surging upward. Nothing frivolous here; this is serious, full-bodied, richly detailed champagne that pumps out aromas of biscuits and fresh bread, roasted lemons and pears, limestone and a hint of caramelized green apple. It delivers that wonderful paradox of champagne in which the vibrant acidity is crisp and lively, even taut, while the texture is lush and creamy. With its deeply spicy nature, like crystallized ginger mixed with cloves, this champagne is almost savory, though nothing impedes its imperial sense of purity and intensity. What a treat! Excellent. About $95 but seen on the Internet as low as $75.

With the pizza, we drank the Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2005, Napa Valley. This venerable winery, founded in 1977, by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich and Austin Hills, makes wine completely from estate-grown grapes; the vineyards are run on organic and grgich.jpgbiodynamic principles, and the winery is solar powered.

The Grgich Hills Estate Merlot ’05 ages 18 months in a mixture of small and large French oak barrels, of which only 30 percent are new. While the alcohol level is a relatively high 14.7 percent — relative compared with, say, 15.5 percent — there’s no sense of alcoholic sweetness or over-ripeness; the wine is, instead, balanced and integrated and sleek. The emphasis is on a distinctive clean, loamy character that speaks of the wine’s origin in roots and vines, in strata of soil and rock. Black currant, black cherry and black raspberry flavors are permeated by smoke and tobacco, baking spice and lavender, touches of black olive, underbrush This is no wimp of a merlot; in tannic structure it’s strapping and vigorous and in flavor it’s forthright and bold. While it’s recognizably merlot (with 2 percent petit verdot), by not cleaving to a standard model, it bears the stamp of individuality and integrity. Drink now though 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $42.

Hopeless Wines aren’t necessarily bad; they’re just blah or disappointing. They’re wines that should be better than they are. If you drop a five-spot on some merry little sauvignon blanc from a vast appellation and it tastes like slightly perfumed water, you think, “Oh, what the hell, what did I expect for five bucks?” You drop 50 big ones on some single vineyard sauvignon blanc from the Stags Leap District, however, or a white Graves from a celebrity chateau, and it tastes like slightly perfumed water, well, there’s a disappointment, if not outrage. Hopeless Wines may even be well-made, but in a certain predictable or narrow style, often emulating or parroting an accepted fashion, in the sense that so many California cabernet sauvignon and merlot wines seem much the same in their toasty, over-ripe, high alcohol copy-catness.

Wines of Hope, on the other hand, remind us that people exist who put the vineyards, the grapes and the ultimate wine above their egos. Wines of Hope wear their purity and integrity proudly but not arrogantly. They offer such a panoply of detail, dimension and individuality that they seem not just to embody but to transcend their price range and station in life. Wines of Hope, through their individuality, give us faith in the future of wine and our wine-drinking.

The wines mentioned today are all California, all red. That’s the way it worked out.
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An example of a Wine of Hope is the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Napa Valley. This is, let me say right now, a close to perfect cabernet. Just so you know, I’m not reaching into the past to write about this wine. It’s still available in some markets, and I tasted it a few weeks ago; the current release is the 2003. (I reviewed the ’03 on BTYH on Jan. 8, 2008.) The winery was founded in 1971 and is owned by the brothers Charles and Stu Smith, who maintain, as much as possible, a hands-off policy toward farming and winemaking. They produce annually about 1,000 cases each of riesling, chardonnay and cabernet sauvigon.

A blend of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon 8 percent merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc, the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 smithmadrone.gif offers deliriously seductive aromas of cassis and black cherry, lavender and leather, potpourri and sandalwood and a deep, heady mineral quality. Aged in new American oak for 25 months — 25 months! — the wine shows no trace of woodiness; rather, the fully developed, dry-farmed. mountainside grapes soaked up all the oak and put it to good use in building the wine’s beautifully balanced yet unassailable structure. Dry-farmed means no irrigation; the Smith brothers believe in letting the climate and the vineyard duke it out on their own. This is a wine of remarkable purity and intensity and superb integration of all elements. Still, it’s also a wine of rigorous intent and effect; it’s never heavy or overbearing, though grainy, chewy tannins and sinewy iron-like minerals come up like a tide, lending austerity to the finish. This would be best from 2009 or ’10 through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. And get the price: About $39 a bottle.
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Here’s another Wine of Hope, the Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Anderson Valley, consumed with grilled chicken back in the summer. This is a lovely pinot noir, ripe and succulent, dense, intense and satiny, and fully framed by vibrant acid, polished oak (33 percent new French barrels) and tannins of moderate grip and power. Black and red current flavors are infused by dried spice and hints of cranberry and cola. The wine is pervasively layered with elements of moss and dried leaves, briers and brambles, clean earth and minerals; one senses the connection to the vineyard, the growing of the vine in the soil, a factor undiminished by the wine’s remarkable (for a pinot noir) alcohol level of 14.9 percent. Generally, I deplore pinots charged with this much alcohol — we’re not discussing zinfandel, after all — but careful winemaking turned out a wine completely satisfying for its balance and integration. Again, I celebrate a wine that eloquently expresses the character of its grape while maintaining faultless individuality. 425 cases, and definitely Worth a Search. Excellent. About $46.
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And a third example. Michael and David Phillips continue to produce one of California’s great eccentric wines in the Michael and David Petite Petit 2006, Lodi. Every time I try this blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, it makes me p8052.jpg laugh at the sheer audacity of its creation. The wine is about as dark as a red wine can be before it becomes plummy-black. It’s smoky and funky in the nose, ripe and meaty — sounds like the locker room at a barbecue competition — bursting with scents of cassis and black cherry, mulberry and loganberry dredged with cedar, lavender and black olive. Petite Petit 2006 is incredibly spicy, mouth-filling with juicy and luscious black fruit flavors but given form and foundation by the firmness of oak and the tautness of slightly austere tannins. Open this with steak au poivre, pork chops marinated in chili powder, cumin and garlic or braised short ribs, and just have a great ol’ freakin’ time. Excellent. About $20, though I’ve seen it on the Internet as low as $15.
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Hopeless Wines? Sure, I’ll mention a couple of recent examples.

I have been impressed with previous vintages of the Obsidian Ridge “Obsidian Ridge Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Red Hills of Lake County, but I found the version for 2005 puzzling and disappointing. Before, I had noted the wine’s sturdy integrity, its glossy permeation of fruit, polished tannin and resolute acidity — a cabernet sauvignon for grown-ups — but the ’05 I tasted last weekend was as over-ripe, exaggerated and stridently spicy as an over-ripe, exaggerated and stridently spicy zinfandel, if you care for that sort of thing; as cabernet, it’s a travesty. Could 15.2 percent alcohol have anything to do with it? This gets no recommendation from me. About $25.

Tasted on the same occasion was the Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley, a wine so over-ripe and extracted that it’s close to raisiny. Even as a zinfandel, I wouldn’t drink it. About $28.

What are people thinking? The word “yuck” comes to mind.

Most producers in Burgundy turn out a basic level wine, denominated just Bourgogne, but usually with a proprietary name to bourgogne.jpg distinguish it from all the other Bourgognes. However basic the wines may be, the grapes still have to come from vineyards in officially recognized areas of Burgundy. not from just, you know, someone’s backyard.

So, the Faiveley “Joseph Faiveley” Bourgogne 2006 offers a limpid medium ruby color, like the color of a glass of wine in a Dutch still-life painting. Aromas of slightly macerated black cherry are wreathed with smoke and dried spice with a touch of clean earth and loam. The texture is satiny, and the black cherry flavor takes on a zesty note of cranberry highlighted by lively acidity. Tannins in the form of underbrush and brambly qualities sustain a smooth, autumnal finish. The wine is, in short, real pinor noir, real Burgundy, but in a minor yet quite delicious and well-structured mode. Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Ca., imported 2,200 cases of this wine. Very Good+. I wish I could say, as in back in the day, that this wine costs $14 or $16, but the reality of our world now is that the suggested retail price is about $22.

Now hear this, Readers: Bigger Than Your Head was launched two years ago this week, on December 3, 2006, to be precise. megaphone_yellows_med.jpg

Since that day, I have posted 302 entries.

Since that day, visitors to the blog have numbered 464,882. (Damnit, I was hoping for the half-million mark!)

How has the activity grown? In the first full month that BTYH was running, January 2007, visitors numbered 6,800; last month, there were 26,978. No, it ain’t YouTube — or “The Pour” — but it makes me happy.

Just as it makes me happy to write about the wines I taste or the wines that LL and I have with dinner or with pizza on movie night and to write about issues in the wine and restaurant industries and, whenever possible, bring some humor, if not outright sarcasm or downright annoyance, to the scene.

I’m having fun doing this, and I hope you’re having fun too, and learning a few things about food and wine, eating and drinking.

It’s almost Christmas and New Years, so let’s shove on and keep doing what we’re doing.

And thanks for all the responses and email messages; those are what make this endeavor worthwhile.

Megaphone images from bccforums.org.uk.

In lieu of a provocative title for this post — “Give Babies More Booze!” — I’ll just be straightforward and get to the point; here are 10 worthwhile red wines that won’t deliver a sucker punch to your wallet. They’re from all over the place. Inexpensive means from about $10 to $17. I won’t make special notations about “Good Value” and so on, because all of these wines represent Excellent Value for the quality and price.
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Buy the Maximo Tempranillo 2006, Vino de la Tierra de Castillo, by the case. Produced by Grupo Baron de Ley, owners of the well-known El Coto de Rioja brand, Maximo Tempranillo 2006 is young, fresh, bright, vigorous and quite attractive. The wine features a deep ruby color, scents and flavors of red and black currents and plums and a hint of dried herbs. Moderate tannins and modest oak — the wine ages six months in new American and French barrels — provide a firm structure, and the wine is, overall, nicely balanced and harmonious. Made for simple and hearty fare: pizzas, pasta, red meat dishes. Very good. About $10.
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Can you imagine a wine called “The Spirit of Italy” or “The Spirit of Australia”? In any case, here’s Espiritu de Chile Carmenère 2006, Valle Central, and son-of-a-gun if it’s not a well-made little wine that displays surprising character for the price. Aromas of black olive and bell pepper, cedar and tobacco are wreathed with black currants, black cherries and herbs de Provence; the wine fills the mouth, where spicy oak supports fleshy red and black fruit flavors that deepen slightly with hints of fruit cake, dried floral elements and clean earth. Tannins grow more prominent on the finish. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Very good. About $11.
I was not so fond of the Espiritu de chile Shiraz Cabernet 2006, which was pleasant and agreeable but indistinguishable from 100 other wines of the same genre.
Imported by Racke USA, Sonoma, Ca.
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The Domaine de Régusse Pinot Noir 2007 comes from the Vin de Pays des Alpes de Haute Provence appellation, north of Marseilles in the foothills of the Luberon mountains. It’s a dark, warm and appealing mouthful of wine, smelling and tasting of dried currents and cranberries infused with touches of sandalwood and cloves, underbrush, black tea and leather. An attractive and intriguing rendition of pinot noir, fresh and drinkable, but with something of the antique about it, like faded flowers pressed between the fragile pages of an old book. This would be seductive with a veal roast with rosemary and thyme. Very Good. About $12.
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There’s five percent shiraz (syrah) in the Don Miguel Gascon Malbec 2007, Mendoza, Argentina, a point of interest, I’m sure, but the wine feels all malbec, all the way. This is dark, leathery and earthy, robust, fleshy and meaty. Flavors of black currant, black raspberry and some wild berry are charged with spice and dried herbs, briers and brambles. The texture is sleek yet dense and chewy, while plenty of brushy tannins and vibrant acid provide essential structure. Bring on the steak or pork chops. Very Good+. About $12.
Imported by Gascon USA, Haywood, Ca., a division of E&J Gallo.
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Twist a few arms if you must to get hold of some bottles of the Castelmaure Col des Vents 2006, Corbières. This blend of 50 percent carignan, 35 percent grenache and 15 percent syrah is produced by a cooperative that receives consulting from the great Tardieu Laurent winery in the northern Rhone Valley; the attention to detail is evident. The wine is bright, clean and attractive, bursting with scents and flavors of spiced and roasted black currants and blueberries infused with smoke and minerals. It feels a bit untamed, lively and peppery, nestled on dusty briers, brambles and underbrush, a sort of velvety yet prickly Br’er Rabbit of a wine for everyday drinking. This would be a great addition to restaurant wine by the glass programs. Very Good+. About $12.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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The Bodega Tamari Reserva Malbec 2007, Mendoza, Argentina, is rich, warm and spicy, robust and rugged, intense and concentrated, dense and chewy; what more do you want from a malbec? Loads of vivid black fruit flavors are permeated by smoke, cedar and tobacco leaf, moss, underbrush and leather. Savory woody-spicy qualities expand after a few minutes in the glass, while the taut, tannic structure feels generous yet firm and solid. A very well-made malbec. Very Good+. About $14.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Napa, Ca.
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A word one seldom uses with petite sirah is “pretty,” but by golly, the Spellbound Petite Sirah 2005, Lodi, with “2 percent other red varietials,” is the prettiest petite sirah I have ever tried. The wine teems with seductive mulberry, blackberry and black current scents and flavors permeated by licorice, lavender and minerals; you could eat it with a spoon. After a few minutes in the glass, the wine pulls up tannins that are fairly rugged and rustic, belying the first impression of sheer prettiness but proving that the wine should be taken seriously after all. Now through 2010. Very Good+. About $15.
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A classic blend of 40 percent corvino, 30 percent molinara and 30 percent rondinella grapes, the Lamberti “Santepietre” Valpolicella Ripasso 2006 is almost volatile in its bold spicy and fruity qualities; it make your scent receptors want to do the right thing. This is deep and dark, rich and robust, a magnetic amalgam of black and red currents and plums infused with smoky mulberry jam. Don’t think, however, that the wine is merely a sensualist’s fruit-basket turnover; you feel the wood, the smooth tannins, the attention-getting mineral qualities, and the wine finishes with dry austerity that you might call dignified on the one hand, and demanding, on the other. Drink this with braised short ribs, roasted veal and the like, through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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The Hess Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 could carry a “North Coast” designation, but instead the label spells out the origin of the grapes: Mendocino County 45 percent, Lake County 30 percent, Napa County 25 percent. A blend of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent syran and 4 percent merlot, the wine offers vivid black currant and black cherry flavors wrapped in furry tannins and polished oak. A core of minerals, potpourri and very intense bitter chocolate expands as you sip the wine and appreciate its firm, solid structure and slightly velvety texture. Yeah, it sounds pretty standard for a cabernet in its price range, but this example delivers an extra measure of resonance and vibrancy. Drink through 2011 or ’12 with steaks and chops. Very Good+. About $17.
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Well, now, the Hook & Ladder Station Number Ten Red Wine 2006, Sonoma County, delivers a bounteous snootful of ripe and roasted black and blue fruit scents boosted by sandalwood and cloves, ancho chili and the smoke from a grill holding barbecue ribs over smoldering coals. This riotously strapping, robust, luscious and juicy wine is a blend of 83 percent zinfandel, 10 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignane and 2 percent alicante, picked from 100-year-old vines. Lip-smacking tannins contribute to a texture that’s almost viscous, while elements of briers and brambles and underbrush lead to a dry, austere finish. Nowhere but in Sonoma County would you find a wine like this; it’s like drinking a piece of history with your steak or, I guess, barbecue ribs. Now through 2011 or ’12. Very good+. About $17.
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Left in the roasting pan after the turkey was done on Thanksgiving was a dark, glossy sludge of turkey juice, a La Brea Tar Pit of gravy. No need to let that wonderful, elemental gunk go to waste, so LL made a risotto using this turkey slag, slightly diluted with chicken broth because it was so thick, as the base. That and shallots and thyme. It was, in a word, divine. It was, in nine words, one of the best risottos I have ever eaten. My heart quails before menus that use the term “creamy risotto.” A properly made risotto needs neither cream nor butter, the rice having absorbed all that olive oil and wine and broth making it rich enough. Why can chefs not just leave things the hell alone?
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Anyway, for wine I opened a bottle of the Renaissance Vineyard & Winery Granite Crown “Vin de Terroir” 2002, Sierra Foothills, rdgc2000-resized.jpg North Yuba. Yes, 2002 is the current release of this wine, a blend of 50 percent each syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The wine ages about 27 months in neutral German oak ovals, that is, large barrels that have been used so many times that they impart structure and spice to the wine but not the woodiness or toastiness of new oak. After that process, the wine rests in bottle for three and a half years before release. The result is an absolutely lovely wine, ripe, warm and fleshy, imbued with scents and flavors of spiced, macerated and stewed red and black currants and plums. There’s an extraordinary mineral edge — no wonder the wine is called “Granite Crown” — with touches of dust, lead pencil, orange rind, leather, mulberry and dark bitter chocolate. The tannins comes up after a few minutes, lending earthiness, a note of dried porcini, and ultimate austerity. The balance is delicately strung between succulence and dryness. Drink now through 2012 or ’14. Production was 210 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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One of the side-dishes we served with Thanksgiving dinner was roasted potatoes with figs and thyme. Before roasting, the figs, of the Black Mission variety, steeped for half a day in strong black tea. Yes, these were dense, earthy little flavor bombs. So anyway, about a dozen of these incredible macerated and roasted figs were left over and I said, “It would be interesting to try la_tunella_verduzzo_friulano_label.jpg these on vanilla ice cream.” So we did that, and I want to tell you, readers, that the combination of the figs, Platonically, almost brutally sweet and savory at the same time, and the ice cream made my synapses forget what they were supposed to be doing so that they began firing randomly in astonishment and sent deep shivers amongst my timbers.

With this treat I opened a bottle of La Tunella Verduzzo Friulano 2006, a dessert wine from the far northeastern Italian appellation of Colli Orientali del Friuli. This wine is made from verduzzo friulano grapes that are allowed to hang on the vines and turn to intense, concentrated raisins. The wine is fermented in French oak and aged for 10 months. The color is deep gold-amber. The wine displays an amazing panoply of dried spices, with orange zest, baked honey and super-ripe peach and apricot; it’s dense, weighty and viscous, sweet yet savory with hints of roasted peach, mango and (yes) fig, kept within sane limits by taut, vibrant acid. The finish is actually dry and profoundly spicy. Wow! This should last and develop, well-stored, through 2014 or ’16. Excellent. About $23 for a 500-milliliter bottle.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa Ca.
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