Sat 10 Oct 2009
It’s neither Summer nor Autumn, but some messy, unbalancing, in-between seasonless season of abrupt temperature changes, occasional awe-inspiring blue skies, tentatively falling leaves and lots of rain. At this moment, rain is thundering down, and our poor lone remaining sycamore, a tall, slim beacon of silvery bark among the dun-clad oaks, looks a tad queasy in the gusting wind. At such a vacuous climatic juncture, one feels practically inert with quandrariness. And wine? Lord have mercy, what to choose? We don’t want the delicate, delectable wines of June, gossamer as some early aircraft fashioned from string and paper, blown by a breath and a breeze, nor do we yet require the full-blooded, two-fisted drayhorse-drawn wines of November.
My purpose, of course, is to lift you out of your stupor (or lift me out of mine) by offering six transitional wines that will ease you — or us — through this time of unease into the full panoply of Fall. The roster of brilliantly eclectic wines — Bordeaux, Washington, Oregon, Napa Valley, Tuscany, South Africa — includes three whites and three reds. None will furrow the brow of your credit card.
The Chateau Haut-Rian 2008, Bordeaux Sec, a blend of 65 percent semillon and 35 percent sauvignon blanc from 50-year-old vines, offers terrific character for the price. It opens with whiffs of pear and roasted lemon with undertones of wet gravel. It’s very spicy in the mouth, and its slightly leafy citrus-grapefruit-ginger flavors are laced with vibrant acidity and vivid minerality, in the limestone-oyster shell range. The wine is quite dry, a little austere on the finish, and it possesses the supple heft and touch of earthiness required by such dishes as seafood risotto or seared halibut with lentils. Very Good+. About $12, often discounted to $9 or $10.
Imported by Worldwide Cellars, Minneapolis.
The Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon, starts out spicy and keeps getting spicier. It’s as crisp as an apple right off the tree on a chilly day and even offers a touch of apple with its roasted pear and apricot scents and flavors infused with quince and yellow plum and a hint of fig. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean and fresh, and it deftly balances snappy acidity with a texture that’s close to lush. A few minutes in the glass bring up floral aspects, a white blossomy thing. (Notice how close “blossomy” is to “bosomy.” Karma or coincidence? You tell me.) The finish is long for a New World pinot gris, packed with spice and limestone. Delightful now, but the wine should develop depth and resonance through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $20.
Speaking of apples, the Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, teems with pert apple-like scents, combined with peach and pear, a note of lychee and a backnote of the authentic petrol or rubber eraser element. Zinging acidity keeps the peach and pear flavors lively and balances a hint of sweetness on the entry, though from mid-palate back, the wine is all ringing steel and damp shale. I haven’t had this dish in years, really decades, but tasting this wine recently put me in mind of acorn squash roasted with honey and cloves. Drink through Spring 2010. Very Good+. About $12.
Bring on the pizza and pop the cork on a bottle of Frescobaldi’s Rèmole 2007, Toscana. This blend of 85 percent sangiovese and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, made all in stainless steel, sports a medium ruby color with a slightly lighter rim. You get a blast of sangiovese in the smoky plum-black tea bouquet that unfolds hints of cedar and black olive and cabernet’s black cherry and currant. The wine is dry, spicy and lively, loaded with dusty tannins and black fruit flavors of moderate intensity in a slightly chewy texture. You’ll scarcely notice that it falls a little short in the finish. Drink through Summer 2010. Very Good. About $12 and often discounted to $10 or less.
Imported by Folio Wine Co., Napa, Cal.
Here’s a merlot that actually tastes like merlot, not like faux cabernet or generic “red wine.” The Folie à Deux Merlot 2007, Napa Valley, delivers not only black currant, cedar and black olive, but red currant, tobacco and a trace of bell pepper. This range of elements is perfectly melded in a luscious package that allows for an expression of sinewy acidity and slightly muscular tannins borne by the presence of burnished oak from 10 months aging in American (49%), French (46%) and Hungarian (5%) barrels. There’s 11 percent cabernet sauvignon in the blend. The complete effect feels effortless, almost balletic, though grounded in granite-like minerality. I’m thinking roasted chicken with shallots and lemon, pork tenderloin, lamb chops grilled with rosemary. Excellent. The 2008 version of the Folie à Deux Merlot will be released soon, so many retailers are offering this wine at great prices. Look for $14 to $16.
Excelsior Estate, in South Africa, has been owned by the de Wet family since 1870. While the property produces a wide range of wines, those most familiar in the United States are the inexpensive examples from the Robertson region. The Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Robertson, South Africa, is made 60 percent in stainless steel and 40 percent in oak, aging for 10 months. The wine is strikingly clean and fresh, a pure and intense expression of bright smelling and tasting black currants, black cherries and blueberries; the technical term, I believe, is “freakin’ delicious.” Given a few moments, the wine comes up with spice, a touch of plum pudding, a hint of cedar, an intimation of briery tannins, all wrapped up in a sleek package. Now through 2010. Very Good+. About $12, often discounted to $10.
Cape Classics Imports, New York.