November 2009



Looking at this illustration, fellow wine-writers and bloggers will understand what came in the mail to me yesterday. That’s right, the funky little VW bus, observed here by a pair of astonished, ghostly salt-and-pepper shakers, accompanied bottles of the Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 and Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2009 from the ever-busy producer, the so-called “King of Beaujolais,” Georges Duboeuf. Ah, the perks of the job!

It’s astonishing indeed how Duboeuf, whose title should be “King of Marketers,” elevated what was once, in long ago simpler times, a simple, innocent harvest ritual, into a worldwide phenomenon in which hundreds of thousands of people stay up all night in restaurants from Japan to New Jersey waiting to taste the first Beaujolais Nouveau shipped by overnight shipping companies. Actually, the product is already on the ground in most countries, just waiting for the traditional third Thursday in November, the 19th this year, for release. This year’s vintage is reported to be excellent but smaller in quantity due to a warm, dry summer. In Japan, for example, according to JapanToday.com, bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau shipped totaled 4.8 million, or 400,000 cases, a reduction of 30 percent from last year. Perhaps that steep of a reduction also reflects lack of interest.

This is all silly and rather harmless stuff. The sad part is that people who so eagerly participate in this annual folderol will probably never try a bottle of the great Beaujolais wines produced at the cru level from the 10 named communes of the region or even a bottle of respectable Beaujolais-Villages, typically a quaffable bistro wine.

Normally, I would rather be strapped onto the hood of a speeding Escalade and have “The Moon and New York City” mainlined into my brain 24/7 than actually review any Beaujolais Nouveau, but this year I will go along with the game and hold off until next Thursday and make a few comments on the fresh, grapey stuff, thereby, of course, just adding to the visibility of the silliness.

This year’s red and gold label for the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Villages Nouveau is one of the most garish in the annually changing series, resembling wallpaper in a Chinese restaurant. The wines will be priced at $10 and $11, respectively.

My constant reader and responder-to-posts Thomas Pellechia, author of the blog vinofictions, had a reasonable point when he said to me, in an email, after I described, on Oct. 23, a $45 bottle of Elodian Pinot Noir that I sampled with a plate of cheese toast:

The post popped a thought into my head. I wondered first whether this was a bottle that you were sent or that you bought for at-home dining.

The reason I wondered: if wine writers are trying to reach the general audience and not the geek, your cheese toast with a $45 Pinot Noir might seem rather extravagant (to the audience). If that is the case, then I further wonder what exactly are we saying to the general audience that likely can’t afford a $45 wine just to have each night with dinner, let alone with toast!

Well, ahem, I suppose (I answered) that part of it has to do with the element of surprise, of extravagance, even of theater, in the sense that I don’t mind if people think, “That F.K., what a goof-ball, opened a $45 pinot noir with his cheese toast!” Yeah, I’ll do pretty much anything, verbally and conceptually, for a laugh, for a bit of attention, to keep — and this is the motivation — people coming back to BTYH.

Of course most of the wine I write about comes to me as samples, so, perhaps unfairly, I do have the ability to snatch a $45 wine from the rack to open with my cheese toast or roast chicken or whatever. Such wines exist, and I don’t think they should be ignored just because they’re expensive.

I also provide reviews of inexpensive wines, as in the Wine of the Week (rarely over $20) and in, for example, the post called “12 Under $20: White” that went up on Nov. 8. It’s probably not a good idea to try to be all things to all people, or the general all-purpose wine-writer and reviewer, but there it is.

Just to make amends, however, yesterday I made some cheese toast for my lunch, and before I reached for a wine to open, I thought, “Careful now, let’s be fair to The Readers.” So I opened a bottle of Redtree Pinot Noir 2008, California, which cost me — yes, my own hard-earned cash –the princely sum of $9. And you know what? Not only was it a pleasant and drinkable little wine, it actually displayed hints of real pinot noir character, in the form of smoky black cherry scents and flavors, plums with a hint of cola, subtle touches of spicy cranberry and rhubarb and a bit of clean earthiness; it even offers some pinot noir satiny sleekness for texture. The alcohol level — 12.5 percent — makes no demands. I rate the Redtree Pinot Noir ’08, a product of Cecchetti Wine Co., Very Good. At about $9, it represents Good Value, though you see it around the country as low as $6.50.

See, I’m not always “Mr. Forty-Five-Dollar Man.”

In my business, one tastes many sauvignon blanc wines, especially, these days, not only from California but from Chile and Argentina, the South of France and Australia. I wish I saw more from Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, but that’s simply not the case. (Though it is a plea.) Many of these sauvignon blancs are at least credible, some pleasant and decent, others bland and innocuous, and some, thank Bacchus and his pards, quite authentic and drinkable. And then there’s the Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley, a truly superior rendition of the grape. One must be cautious in throwing around words like “beautiful,” but in this case I’ll draw upon my account at the adjective bank and say, flat-out, that this is a beautiful sauvignon blanc, made all in stainless steel, so there’s no hint (or taint) of oak.

First come aromas of lemon, tarragon and dried thyme that unfold to reveal ripe peaches, lilacs, rose water and lime zest; you want to dab it behind your ears! In the mouth, the wine is notably clean and refreshing, taut and vibrant with acidity that deftly balances and enlivens a lovely soft, talc-like texture. Flavors of grapefruit, lemon curd and orange rind carry hints of sunny, leafy elements, while deep in the core lie subtle bell-tones of lavender and black currant. Most striking, though, is this sauvignon blanc’s irresistible verve and elan; while never forgoing its roots in sheer delight, its sense of purposeful poise and delicacy, it never lets us forget that it’s a wine of significant presence. We happily drank this with a bread salad. Exceptional. About $23.

That’s the theme: 12 white wines priced under $20. I think that needs no elaboration. And we are trying to be diverse. Two rieslings at different prices, two sauvignon blancs at different prices, wines from Spain, Argentina, Western Australia, California, Washington. Soon, maybe not tomorrow but soon, comes “12 Under $20: Red.”
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I know, I know, call me crazy, but the [Down Under] by Crane Lake Chardonnay 2008, South Eastern Australia, “imported & bottled by Crane Lake Cellars, Napa & Sonoma, Cal.,” is more than just passable, or perhaps I should say, it’s not impossible. It’s fairly tasty and quaffable, sporting ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors with a hint of tropical fruit, a modicum of spice and a pleasing texture. Pour it at parties where people aren’t actually thinking too much about the wine, and you won’t be embarrassed. And then you have to wonder: how cheap were these grapes that the juice could be purchased in Australia, shipped to California, bottled there and still sold so cheaply to make a profit? Good+. About $3 to $4, Sort of a Bargain If You Squint Your Eyes.
Crane Lake is one of the innumerable labels from Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co.
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Well, you could have knocked me over with a lop-eared bunny when I tasted the Forest Glen Gewurztraminer 2008, California, and discovered how engaging and authentic it is for the price. No, it’s no Grand Cru from Alsace, but it would take nostrils of stone not to be beguiled by these aromas of peaches and Meyer lemons, lychees and rose petals and a hint of petrol (or rubber eraser) and Bazooka Bubble Gum. The wine is smooth and sleek in the mouth, almost viscous in texture, but shot through with zinging acidity for balance. Lemon and peach flavors, with a touch of pear and melon, offer a bit of sweetness initially, but halfway back the wine segues into crisp, limestone-like dryness and a pass at spiced grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Try as an aperitif or with sushi or ceviche. Very Good, and a Great Bargain at about $8.
Another Bronco wine.
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I like technical information that’s honest and factual. So, the tech sheet for the Elsa Bianchi Chardonnay 2008, San Rafael, Mendoza, tells us that is made “in stainless steel tanks with medium- toasted French oak innerstaves,” meaning that the wine is not fermented or aged in oak barrels but in stainless steel tanks with the staves of oak inside them. This is a controversial method, which usually lines producers on one side, shouting, “Hey, do you know how much those freakin’ French barrels cost?”, against wine-writers on the other side, grumbling, like Jean-Paul Sartre, “Bad faith! Inauthentic!” Well, we writers tend toward introspective existentialism, but however it was made — and let’s remember that we’re talking about a $9-chardonnay here, not a $90 Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru — the Elsa Bianchi Chardonnay 2008 is a damned pleasing quaff.

There’s interesting contrast between the wine’s clean, breezy coolness and its warm, spicy, slightly toasty nature. Grapefruit-pineapple flavors are touched with mango, guava and fig (the latter from 10 percent semillon grapes), while a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of nutmeg and clove. The wine is quite dry, but vibrant with bright acidity in a dense, chewy texture. The wood comes out more in the end, blunting the finish a bit, though drinking the wine with fresh seafood or grilled fish would temper that aspect. On the whole, it’s easy to rate this chardonnay Very Good. About $9.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.
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The Kamiak Windust White 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, is produced by Gordon Brothers Family Vineyards. This is a very interesting blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent chardonnay; part of the sauvignon blanc grapes, the harvesting of which went on until November 6, were late-harvest in style, and they lend intensity and vigor to the wine. Oak influence is so deft that it’s almost subliminal. The bouquet is jasmine and honeysuckle with touches of quince, ginger and pear; in the mouth, traces of Meyer lemon, spiced pear and damp limestone heightened by whiplash acidity combine for a scintillating experience, all of this culminating in a slightly bitter, slightly astringent finish. The texture offers gratifying balance between reticence and lushness. Loads of personality. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, and a Great Bargain.
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Produced by Mason Cellars, the Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2008, California, practically leaps from the glass in a heady welter of green apple, grapefruit, kiwi, green pea and gooseberry. You have to like the aggressively grassy and meadowy style to appreciate this effort, but it’s well-made, crisp, snappy with tingling acidity and nicely married to a modestly talc-like texture. The finish, not surprisingly, is tart with lime peel and grapefruit and a little stony with gravel-like minerality. Very Good. About $10.
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Stonecap “Monson Family Estates” Riesling 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington. Stonecap is a label from Goose Ridge Vineyards. This is an amazing riesling for the price, bursting with notes of roasted lemon, spiced pear, roses and jasmine, all melded into an enchanting bouquet. The wine is vibrant and lively, blatantly spicy, delivering tasty citrus and lychee flavors with hints of orange rind and grapefruit. The mineral elements — limestone and damp shale — come up like a tide in the fleshed-out finish. Closed with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, and a Terrific Bargain.
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The torrontès is an attractive grape as long as it is left alone and not made too much of. Nicely expressing the grape’s clean acidity and winsome floral elements is the Alamos Torrontès 2008, from the Catena winery in Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. There’s orange blossom and camillia is the bouquet, with pear and melon and a hint of peach. Granted that the nose is the most compelling aspect of the wine, as is often the case with torrontès, but a crisp, lively texture, balanced against a hint of lushness, does its part, as well as peach and citrus flavors infused with a burgeoning limestone character. A delightful aperitif. Very Good. About $13, and seen on the Internet as low as $8.50.
Imported by Alamos USA, Haywood, Cal., a Gallo company.
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Made from the grape that Americans are learning how to pronounce — “al-bar-EEN-yo” — the Martín Códax Albariño 2008, from the Rías Baixas appellation in Spain’s northwest region of Galicia, beguiles the nose with scents of lemon balm, almond and almond blossom and a hint of apple and pear. Made completely in stainless steel, 20 percent of the wine goes through the natural malolactic process to soften some of the rampant acidity from a clang to a chime. The wine, then, is crisp and brisk, quite dry, permeated by elements of austere chalk and limestone, and tasty with spicy pear and lime peel flavors. Altogether, the wine is spare and reticent and attractive as an aperitif or with grilled fish and seafood. Very Good. About $15.
Imported by Martín Códax USA, Haywood, Cal., a Gallo company.
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Two Angels consistently produces one of the most palatable sauvignon blanc wines at a reasonable price in California. Made all in stainless steel, the Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2008, High Valley, practically vibrates in the glass with clean, bright acidity and pungent scents of apple, lime peel, roasted lemon and tarragon. There’s a hint of spicy gooseberry that segues into keen citrus and lemon curd flavors emboldened by touches of dried herbs and fresh-mown grass, damp shale and limestone. A darkening of lavender, like eye-shadow on a pale face, brings in a smudge of soft, fragrant earthiness. Completely charming, with wholesome vigor. Very Good+. About $15, Great Value.
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I’m not fond of Terra d’Oro’s single-vineyard zinfandels from Amador County; I recently tasted the Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard Zinfandel 2006 and Terra d’Oro Home Vineyard ’06 (each 15.5. percent alcohol) and found them too old-fashioned in the hot, over-ripe, raisiny sense. Don’t miss, however, the Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio 2008, Santa Barbara County. The color is an engaging pale straw with a faint tinge of pink; that notion of pink reminds me of pink grapefruit, the pith and tang of the fruit, and its juicy, tart acidity, all present in this lively wine. Despite that exhilaration, though, the wine is restrained, a little austere and slightly astringent, drawing on spare elements of roasted lemon, thyme and almond blossom for its primary characteristics. Lovely shape and balance. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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“Lead, kindly light,” said the hymn we used to sing in the Methodist church my family went to when my brother and I were kids. And yes! every year I signed those cards pledging never to drink alcoholic beverages or smoke cigarettes. Dancing and kissing, on the other hand, were O.K. What did our parents think we were doing on Sunday night after M.Y.F.? Not that this memory has a damned thing to do with the Vinaceous Divine Light Verdelho 2009, from Pemberton, Western Australia; it just came to mind. The wine, to get back to that, offers heaps of personality for a grape that is often no more than pleasantly neutral. Charming scents of lime, pear and jasmine serve as prelude to the opening of a whole storehouse of spices bedded on layers of limestone and shale. Hints of dried grasses and herbs, like a slightly parched meadow in summer, lend the wine a dash of sunny Mediterranean-like warmth and appeal, while fleet acidity runs through the whole package like a live current. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by The Country Vintner, Ashland, Va.
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The Craggy Range Fletcher Family Vineyard Riesling 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand, delivers crystalline presence and vibrancy. Scents of apples, pears and lychees are amazingly clean and fresh; a touch of petrol and a bounty of spice offer bass notes among the woven delicacies; 30 minutes in the glass bring in notes of jasmine and cookie dough. The wine is very dry, very crisp and lively, sinewy with acid; lime, peach and pear flavors are packed with gravelly minerality — like a gravel path damp with rain — while the intensity of fruit, acid and mineral elements builds to a finish that feels like liquid limestone. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $19.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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LL and I don’t drink a lot of beer, and when we do, it usually fits a pattern: Negro Modelo in Mexican restaurants, Sierra Nevada at our favorite burger joint, Tsingtao for Chinese and Southeast Asian.

I know. That’s pretty boring.

I like to read about beer, though, and always learn something when wine-writers like Eric Asimov or Benito, who are knowledgeable about the sudsy realm, digress into that topic. The passionate responses to their posts indicate that there are whole tribes of fanatic beer-drinkers out there for whom a term like I.P.A. is equivalent to drawing a line in the sand. And of course there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blogs devoted to hand-crafted brews.

Recently we cooked a Mark Bittman recipe — Panfried Trout with Bacon and Red Onions — (come on, Mark, where else would you fry a trout except in a pan? Oh, right, an engine manifold) that called for “a strong ale” as part of the sauce; it’s an incredibly easy and delicious dish. Anyway, I went to a retail wine and liquor store, where so-called “big beers” are sold in our city, and bought nine bottles of various ales and such, including five examples from Dogfish Head, about which many writers, including Benito, wax eloquently and rapturously.

Most of a bottle of Hennepin Saison Farmhouse Ale went into the skillet, but we each sipped a small glass and found it very crisp, vibrant and refreshing, with a lovely ruddy copper-amber color and a distinct bouquet of apples and wheat. This is made by Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. Looking more closely at the label, I see that the brewery is “Part of the Duvel Family of Fine Ales.” Is that like saying, Crane Lake is “Part of the Bronco Family of Fine Wines”? I dunno.

With beer in the dish, I thought that we should have beer in the glass, so I popped the cap on a bottle of Coopers Vintage Ale 2008, from South Australia. This was tasty stuff, full-bodied yet light on its feet, smooth, a little “malty” (is that the right word? “hoppy” sounds trite), with a touch of caramel and orange rind. Very nice with the trout. I was surprised at the amount of sediment in the glass, though the back label mentions the sediment as a natural by-product of top fermentation and bottle conditioning. Who knew?

Well, that’s not much of an excursion into the arcane world of specialty, artisanal ale, but I have a feeling that the Dogfish Head products will be revelations of craftsmanship and individualism, and I’m all in favor of those qualities, in ale and in wine. I’ll post about those examples soon.

This weekend, Whole Foods and Fresh Market had beautiful chanterelle mushrooms, but at Whole Foods they were $30 a pound and at Fresh Market they were $20 a pound. Guess where we bought a few ounces of the precious Cantharellus cibarius? Thank goodness it takes only a few ounces, mixed with a handful of crimini mushrooms, to make a fine risotto. Chanterelles, by the way, are high in vitamin C and carotene.

A fine risotto is what LL prepared last night. She sauteed the mushrooms and onions in a tablespoon of olive oil, as well as — vegans stop reading here — a tablespoon each of butter and bacon fat, proving the adage, in our house, that everything goes better with bacon. The chicken broth was homemade, the arborio rice slowly simmered and stirred as it absorbed the broth to a state of slightly chewy doneness. The result was a delicious, rich, earthy concoction that we agreed was probably the best risotto LL has made, and believe me, she is a Queen of Risotto.

I didn’t want a sprightly vivacious wine to drink with the risotto; instead, I wanted a wine with some dignity, a sense of gravitas, as well as the sheen of fruit. I elected to open the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley, a wine now made from biodynamically-grown grapes. My history of drinking the Grgich Hills Chardonnay goes back many years, and the experience has convinced me that this is consistently one of the best chardonnay wines made in California and indeed in the world.

The winemaking process is very careful. The grapes are fermented and then aged 10 months in French oak, 60 percent in neutral (that is, used) barrels, 30 percent in new barrels and 10 percent in 900 gallon casks; the classic size of oak barrels for aging wine is 59 gallons. The point is that there’s no detectable trace of toasty, vanilla-laced new oak in the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2007. Rather, the oak influence is gently persuasive, a subtle, supple foundation that encourages balance and integration. The wine does not go through so-called malolactic fermentation — I say “so-called” because the process has nothing to do with fermentation — that transforms, in the barrel, malic acid (“apple-like”) to lactic acid (“milk-like”). ML produces, or helps to produce, the creamy, lush, dessert-inflected chardonnays that earn high scores in the Wine Spectator. Grgich Hills wisely avoids that course.

What we have, then, is a wonderfully authentic and intense rendition of the chardonnay grape, a wine of pristine presence and tone, truly elegant but with washes of earthy-gravelly power and the compelling fuel of bold, zesty acidity. Flavors of roasted lemon, spiced pear and a hint of candied grapefruit feel crystalline in purity; a few minutes in the glass develop notes of honeysuckle, pineapple and limestone, honeysuckle in the nose, that is, with pineapple and limestone in the mouth. The finish is long, spicy, stony, generous. Drink through 2012 to ’14 (well-stored). This was absolutely perfect with the chanterelle risotto; the wine and the dish resonated beautifully. Exceptional. About $42.
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Such perfection doesn’t have to be quite so spectacular or expensive. Last week LL came home for lunch and I whipped up an egg thing, not as formal as a regulation omelet, not as free-form as scrambled eggs, but with a filling (or topping really) of chopped tomatoes, peppers, fresh basil and onions. For accompaniment, I turned to the Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2007, Napa Valley. It’s gratifying, and not a little surprising, that pinot grigio/pinot gris is a recent success story in California and Oregon; you won’t find many pinot grigio wines from Northeastern Italy (or increasingly from Tuscany, for some reason) as good as some now being made on the West Coast, though Alsace remains the pinot gris grape’s spiritual home. Anyway, The Swanson Pinot Grigio 2007 is made completely in stainless steel and sees no malolactic fermentation. This is incredibly lively and engaging. The wine offers a beguiling bouquet of roasted lemon, lemon curd, almond and almond blossom with hints of quince and ginger and a winsome wafting of wood smoke. Then come notes of fig and dried thyme, celery seed, caraway and honeydew melon. Much of this array is present in the mouth as well, buoyed by tremendously vibrant acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Wow, what a seductive and utterly pleasurable wine! Drink through 2010 or ’11. Excellent. About $21.

And yesterday at lunch, with bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, I thought, “Oh, what the hell,” and opened the Silverado Merlot 2005, Napa Valley, and was really glad that I did. (I didn’t realize that Napa Valley was a theme of this post, but there it is.) At four years old, this suave, sleek merlot is drinking beautifully. A blend of 93 percent merlot, 6 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent petit verdot, the wine is lovely, smooth and mellow, bursting with scents and flavors of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black raspberries enlivened by touches of cedar, black olive and dried thyme. Such appealing character, such appropriate substance and shape are only found in wines made with thoughtfulness and confidence; there’s nothing flamboyant here or over-done. A joy to drink, now through 2012 to ’15. Excellent. About $32.
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In September 1984, a friend of ours, Jane Sharding, one of the city’s best organists and choir directors, was going to Paris, and she asked me, in full blithe innocence, if she could bring me something. You know how people do that on the eve of departure, with a little laugh, expecting you to say, “Oh, don’t bring me anything, just send a postcard.” Well, I had been poring over Steven Spurrier’s The Concise Guide to French Country Wines (Putnam/Perigee Books, 1983), and I replied to Jane’s jocular aside with goober-like seriousness and a list of wines and directions to Spurrier’s intimate, little shop, Les Caves du Madeleine. Spurrier is the Englishman who engineered the famous “Paris Tasting of 1976″ in which a California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon “beat” exemplary models from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Anyway. Jane came through like a good sport and a trouper and returned to Memphis with three bottles of red wine in a sturdy cardboard carry-box. They were: Château de Beaupré Cuvée Spéciale 1981, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence; Domaine des Féraud 1981, Côtes de Provence; Domaine du Souleillou 1980, Cahors. The first two were interesting, educational, enjoyable; the third was the knockout.

I had read in various books that Cahors, dominated by the malbec grape, there called auxerrois, produced tough, rustic, full-bodied “black wines” that provide appropriate accompaniment to the local hearty cuisine; it’s perfect with cassoulet. Cahors lies athwart the Dordogne river in a rugged area southeast of Bordeaux and is even today not easy to reach. I visited the region and city in 1990, driving up from Toulouse by a wildly picturesque route.

The Domaine du Souleillou 1980 wasn’t exactly black, more like deep, dark ruby-garnet. Rustic, though, yes, I will admit to that quality, by which I mean unpretentious, unsophisticated, honest and forthright. But not simple: There were complexities of ripe, dusty currant and plum scents and flavors, sort of buried in briery tannins, port-soaked fruitcake, woody spice and mossy-like earthiness. This was intense and heady stuff, unlike any wine I had encountered. I didn’t record what we ate with the wine; it was clearly not made for lighthearted sipping. I opened it on Oct. 4, 1984, so I assume it went with something flavorful and autumnal.

This is, by the way, my favorite kind of wine label, nothing gaudy, neither ostentatious nor tricked out with japes and frippery. It’s as honest in lay-out and typography as the wine was in its construction and essence. The fact that the words “Domaine du Souleillou” are set on a slight curve and that the name of the proprietor is in cursive lends this artless label a touch of elegance. I’ll let Benito, who ought to have a separate blog about wine labels, offer his knowledge about the typefaces, but I think he would agree that this label illustrates the epitome of clarity and good sense.

We didn’t care much for the dish we had cooked for dinner — see comment below — but we loved the wine.

This was the Maçon-Villages Vieilles Vignes 2007, from Domaine Perraud, a pure and intense expression of the chardonnay grape. (The Maconnais is a narrow region south of Burgundy proper; “vieilles vignes” means “old vines.”) The wine, a radiant pale straw-gold color, offers roasted lemon and spiced pear in the bouquet, along with notes of mushroom-like earthiness and a hint of quince. Close to the most gratifying aspect of the wine is the lovely sense of tension and balance among bold, vibrant acidity; a resolute limestone/wet shale element; and a dense, chewy texture that enfolds the lemon-yellow plum-grapefruit flavors like a pillow. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of jasmine and crystallized ginger, with a finishing tide of gravel-like minerals and more spice. Wonderful presence and verve. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $16.25; I paid $20 at a local store. The ’08 version of this wine is available, but the ’07, at two years old, is drinking perfectly now and will do so through 2010 or ’11. Worth a Search.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

The dish was Chicken Roulades with Mustard Sauce, from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook (Free Press, $34.95). These are boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat, folded around chopped basil, rolled in a yogurt-mustard sauce and then breadcrumbs and baked in a 400-degree oven. Sounded good, but the result, we agreed, was like banquet food.

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