January 2010

I just saw that Imbibe online lists BiggerThanYourHead as one of 10 “bookmark-worthy” wine blogs that are “honest, outspoken, accessible and often funny.” I say “Yes!” to that. Here’s what they say about Yours Truly and BTYH:

“Sure, you’re initially drawn to this blog for its larger-than-life name, but one visit and you’ll be sold on Fredric Koeppel’s site which solely focuses on unfettered and unbiased wine reviews and tasting notes. Added bonus? He lists the U.S. importer of every wine he mentions, making it extra easy to track down a bottle of your own.”

To which I say “Amen” and “May a Thousand Blessings Fall Upon Your Bones.”

I’m happy to be in good, if not enviable company on this roster: 1 Wine Dude; Brooklyn Guy Loves Wine: Dr. Vino; The Good Grape: Good Wine Under $20; The Pour; Swirl Smell Slurp; Veritas in Vino: and Vinography. Wow, that’s pretty breathtaking.

Thanks again for the honor Imbibe, and thanks for getting it.

A native Burgundian with a family heritage of winemaking that goes back to the 17th century, Vincent Girardin began his career in 1982 with two hectares — about 5.15 acres — of vines. The domaine now encompasses more than 25 hectares — about 65 acres — in 60 appellations that stretch from the top to the bottom of Burgundy.

The white wines see about 40 percent new oak; they age about 11 months for village and regional wines, 13 months for Premier and Grand Cru. The reds take 30 to 50 percent new oak, aging from 15 to 18 months.

The domaine produces 46,000 cases of wine annually, most of it in small if not minute quantities from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. The range can be bewildering: 10 separate wines from Santenay, 10 separate wines from Puligny-Montrachet and so on. The 14 products I look at today, all from 2007, obviously don’t begin to indicate the depth and breadth of Vincent Girardin’s roster. Prices are approximate.

The wines of Vincent Girardin are imported to the United States by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

These are my notes from a trade tasting in New York.
Three whites:
<>Bourgogne Blanc “Emotion de Terroirs” 2007. Enticing, seductive; gravel and flint with white flowers, yellow citrus and stone fruit; sinew and bone, ringing acidity; just a little lush and sleek. A lovely chardonnay. Very Good+. About $23.

<>Rully Vieilles Vignes 2007. Good depth, quite dusty and minerally in the limestone mode; very dry, austere, needs a year or two to unfurl. Very Good. About $25.

<>Savigny-les-Beaunes “Les Vermots Dessus” 2007. Beguiling, entrancing; apple
and apple blossom, jasmine, flint; fleet and sinewy acidity balanced with tremendous body; fat and sassy but crisp, fraught with limestone; vibrant and resonant. A beauty. Excellent. About $28.50. If I were compiling a restaurant wine list, this would definitely be featured by bottle and glass.

The reds
<>Bourgogne Rouge “Emotions de Terroir” 2007. Simple, direct, tasty, cherry/berry fruit, touches of earth and minerals. Attractive but lacks the dimension of the white version. Very Good. About $24

<>Santenay “Terre d’Enfance” 2007. Impressive, lovely, eminently drinkable; red currants and rose petals buoyed by a chalky/minerally aspect; taut acid but seductive satiny texture; loads of personality and integrity. Very Good+. About $28.

<>Santenay “Les Gravieres” Premier Cru 2007. Earthy, mossy, chalk and crushed gravel; red currant, black cherry and mulberry; some wild, exotic spicy note; dense, chewy and intense. Needs 1 or 2 years but delicious now. Very Good+. About $36.50.

<>Savigny-les-Beaune “Les Vergelesses” Premier Cru 2007. Deep, large-framed, concentrated; very dry, gravelly and austere; a brooding contention of acid and tannin that keeps fruit in abeyance. Try from 2011 or ’12. Very Good+, for potential. About $36.50.

<>Beaune “Les Bressandes” Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. Seductive aromas of red and black currants, potpourri, crushed gravel, rose petal, hint of mocha; solid and true, with good dimension and depth, but not exciting, lacks the ultimate generosity of a complete wine. Very Good+. About $42.

<>Volnay Vieilles Vignes 2007. A great pinot noir; damp earth and chalk, tar and leather; red currants and black cherries, briers and brambles; dry, earthy, sinewy, acidity plows a furrow through a dense satiny texture; an exciting wine, filled with confidence and verve. Drink through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $42.

<>Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2007. Wow, a massive pinot noir. Leather, violets, wheatmeal; piercing minerality; a little fleshy and meaty, freighted with spice; dried red and black currants; overwhelmingly satiny texture; mid-palate back brings increasingly dry, rooty tannins; finish is dry, austere, distant. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $46.

<>Volnay-Santenots Premier Cru 2007. Another great pinot; quite large, resonant and resolute, tremendously earthy, intense and concentrated; vibrant acid cuts a swathe but the wine is rich, spicy, supple, almost succulent (but not Californian); the finish, though, brings in dry tannins, an autumnal austerity. Try from 2011 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $53.

<>Pommard-Les Grand Epenots Premier Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. Closed, deliberate, secretive; quite dark, roiling with woody spice; very dense, very chewy; bales of briers and brambles, everything foresty and underbrushy; dry, granite-like earthiness, the power of geological patience. This emits the aura of greatness, but it has miles to sleep before it goes. Excellent potential, 2012 or ’13 through 2018 or ’20. About $68.

<>Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007. True, strong, pure and intense; concentrated yet generous, earthy, autumnal, feral; beguiling yet serious; eloquent expression of the mineral dimension; tremendous tone and presence. A great achievement. Best from 2012 or ’14 through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. About $70.

<>Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2007. What’s to say? A monumental Charmes-Chambertin, very earthy, very tannic, mineral-laden, rooty, briery and brambly, a slumbering giant needing four or five years to unfold and then a 15 to 20-year life ahead. Excellent potential, but time is essential. About $125.

Inevitably, as more people read my fledgling newspaper wine column, I was asked to attend or conduct wine tastings. I accepted these invitations because, while I made no money from the effort, I was given the chance to taste great wines. Sometimes at these tastings the wines were prescribed, and sometimes I was invited to put together a group of wines for the event.

By the Winter and Spring of 1985, I was giving tastings for the local chapter of Les Amis du Vin, usually in the upstairs room at John Grisanti’s restaurant, and for Les Femmes du Vin, a group of young professional women interested in learning about wine. I also did a series of wine classes at the Oliver-Britt House, a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Oxford, Miss., the hour-long drive from Senatobia necessitated because Tate County, where we lived, was dry. Remember, though, I was still getting or buying most of my wine in Memphis. Inevitably, again, I often relied on the generosity of Shields Hood, wine manager at Athens Distributing, and “Big John” Grisanti for wines to feature at tastings.

Looking through my album of labels and notes from 25 years ago, I can piece together some of these events. For example, on Jan. 8, 1985, I attended a meeting of Les Amis du Vin that featured 12 cabernet-based wines tasted blind. The ones I recorded in my album were Zaca Mesa Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, California; Konocti Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Lake County; Chevalier Lascombes 1981, Medoc; and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, Napa Valley (“clearly the best … fabulous spicy black currant nose — lots of depth and complexity”).

One night, at my class at the Oliver-Britt House, we tried, among other wines, Chateau Lynch-Moussas 1981, Pauillac, and Carneros Creek Winery Fay/Turnbull Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 1980, Napa Valley, the latter a beautifully-made, expressive cabernet.

For the women of Les Femmes du Vin, on April 21, I assembled a sterling group of red wines from Bordeaux: Vieux Chateau Certan 1982, Pomerol; Chateau Branaire Ducru 1981, Saint-Julien; Chateau d’Issan 1979, Margaux; Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1978, Paulliac; Chateau Gruaud-Larose 1976, Saint-Julien (my favorite); and Chateau Leoville-Barton 1975, Saint-Julien (second favorite). I seem to remember that Shields Hood and “Big John” Grisanti both contributed wines to this important and educational tasting. The experience, the education were my compensation, though getting to spend some time with intelligent, well-spoken, attractive and pretty damned hard-drinking women only added to the allure.

On some occasion that Spring — I didn’t record which one — I did a little seminar on white Burgundy, tasting and talking about this quartet: Chassagne-Montrachet 1983, Leonard de Saint-Aubin; Puligny-Montrachet 1983, A. Noirot-Carriere; Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 1983, Chateau de Maligny; and Domaine de la Maladiere Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 1983, William Fevre. The two village wines didn’t stand much of a chance against the superb Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis.

Best, however, was the group of five wines that I presented to my small class at the Oliver-Britt House the last night of the series. I wanted to conclude with a sort of blow-out, and that’s what we did, courtesy, as always, of my benefactors. Here was the line-up: Chateau Branaire-Ducru 1981, Saint-Julien; Chateau Nenin 1981, Pomerol; Chateau Petit-Figeac 1981, St.Emilion Grand Cru; Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Stag’s Leap Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1981, Napa Valley; and, the triumph, the best wine I tasted in the first four months of 1985, Chateau Margaux 1981, from the Bordeaux commune Margaux.

The variable though frequently excellent year, 1981, was seriously overwhelmed by the magnificent 1982; ’81 was more classic, the wines a little tighter and leaner. Margaux was coming off two bad decades, making a dramatic turn-around, under the recent ownership of the Mentzelopoulos family, in 1978. The wine of Chateau Margaux is dominated by cabernet sauvignon, sometimes as much as 85 percent, followed by decreasing portions of merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. Robert M. Parker Jr. described Margaux 1981 as “outstanding,” though without the “power and weight” of the 1982, ’83 or ’86. In The New Great Vintage Wine Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), Michael Broadbent writes that “recent” tastings of Margaux ’81, that is in the late 1980s, gave the impression of a wine “still deep, youthful; good crisp fruit, opening up well; dry, fullish, lean, raw but flavoury.” (Flavoury?) Out of five stars, Broadbent gave Margaux ’81 a score of **(*), a more temperate response than Parker’s rating of 91.

My notes from that night, in the Spring of 1985: “Wow! Incredibly good, even this young — deep purple; fragrant berryish/cassis nose; deep, but elegant, wonderful tone and balance, yet tannic, fruit already emerging. Favorite of the evening and maybe the course.” No “maybe” about it! This was a great wine.

The point, as I think I have said in previous entries of The Chronicle, is not to say, “Ha-ha, here are the wines I was tasting 25 years ago that you didn’t,” but to reveal the course of my education — especially in Bordeaux — and how rapidly it accelerated after I started writing a newspaper column and had met people whose aid and influence were invaluable. I was lucky enough to be the right person in the right place at the right time.

Last year I enjoyed several products from Western Australia’s Ad Lib label, including the “Tree Hugger” No Oak Chardonnay 2008 and the “Wallflower” Riesling 2008, both listed among my “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2009.”

Add to those the Ad Lib “Mix Master” Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Western Australia, a blend with 21 percent merlot that’s fresh and bright and delicious. The color is deep ruby with a pulsing purple core; that’s how resonant it seems. The bouquet teems with touches of smoke and granite-like minerals, black currants and plums and hints of cedar and dried thyme, black olive and bell pepper, that bell pepper an authentic note that sadly has been largely eradicated from the world of cabernet sauvignon these days. Black and blue fruit flavors are intense and earthy, and the wine darkens and gains more intensity as the moments pass, picking up bass tones of espresso and mocha, wood fire and exotic spice, all stitched with vibrant acidity. This is quite a mouthful of wine, and we kept it in the kitchen for a couple of days to sip with lunch or a snack. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Vintage New World, San Miguel, Cal.

A review sample.

Founded in 1979 by brothers Jim and Steve Allen, Sequoia Grove just slips under our limit (of 1980) for Old School California wineries. Sequoia Grove occupies the site of a 19th Century property in what is now known as the Rutherford Bench. There, it owns its original 24-acre estate vineyard as well as the recently acquired 50-acre Tonella Vineyard, also in Rutherford, as well as property in Carneros. The winery focuses on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, though it produces cabernet franc, syrah and sauvignon blanc in limited quantities.

There is nothing flashy or flamboyant about wines from Sequoia Grove, which are notable for depth, complexity and reticence. You will notice that through the reviews of the two wines runs the common thread of tannin, because these are indeed tannic, earthy red wines that require considerable aging to become more approachable. Be that the case, one cannot help being impressed by their authenticity and integrity.

Director of winemaking operations at Sequoia Grove, Mike Trujillo, has been with the winery since 1982. Winemaker is Molly Hill. The Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2007, Carneros, Napa Valley, made my recent “50 Great Wines of 2009.” Here’s the original review.

These wines were received as review samples.

The Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley, is 100 percent varietal. Fifty-six percent of the grapes derive from the winery’s estate vineyard, 12 percent from Oakville, and the rest from vineyards as far-flung as St. Helena in the north to Atlas Peak in the southeast. The wine is, in other words, an expression of Napa Valleyness, if such a thing is possible, rather than an embodiment of a more narrow sub-appellation.

The wine ages 18 months in American oak, 45 percent new barrels.

So, what do we have? A classic seductive bouquet of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil that cushions notes of briery black currants and black cherries with a background of walnut shell and dried porcini mushrooms. In the mouth, this is dense with grainy, chewy tannins and earthy, iron-like minerals, a panoply of dried baking spices and dusty potpourri, more walnut shell and dried porcini, underbrush and moss. The wine’s raison d’etre, in other words, seems to be structure — a noble, dignified structure — with glimmers of black fruit flavors patiently poised in the wings; there are intimations of generosity. Try from 2011 through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+ with Excellent Potential. About $34.
The make-up of the Sequoia Grove Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Napa Valley, is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, 8 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent each petit verdot and malbec. The majority of the grapes comes from the winery’s estate vineyard in Rutherford. The oak treatment is different from that of the “regular” cabernet; the Rutherford Bench Reserve sees no American oak but ages 20 months in French oak, 48 percent new barrels.

This is a powerfully earthy, minerally cabernet, intense and concentrated and as deep as the alluvial soil that fans from the western mountains and provides the basis for many of California’s — and the world’s — greatest and most distinctive cabernet sauvignon wines. Sequoia Grove’s Rutherford Bench Reserve ’04 is monumental, a superb example of the balance and integration of acidity, oak and tannin, with tightly furled black currant and blackberry — the latter unusual in a cabernet — lurking in the fathoms. Give it a few minutes in the glass and hints of mocha, some mossy, root-like tea, licorice and black pepper emerge, over a seething element of smoldering potpourri. The finish is aloof, a little austere. The alcohol level is a fairly modest 14.4 percent. Best from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $75.

… for many reasons but what I’m thinking of particularly is because LL is such a great cook. I tell her this all the time, and she dismisses my praise by saying something like, “Well, I’ve been cooking for a long time, you just learn things.” I think it’s more than that. LL possesses the instinct and intuition that tell her what flavors, spices and herbs compliment each other; she has the ability to add a squeeze of lemon juice here, a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar there, a sliver of butter in this other place and voila, a dish had been intensified. I mean, I take some pride in my Bolognese sauce, but when LL creates a similar sauce, it’s just better, deeper, more resonant.

Even a dish as simple as shrimp risotto, which she made one night last week, ends up being sublime. She served this with asparagus, first blanched and then sauteed with bits of roasted red pepper. What a great meal!

I opened a bottle of Silverado Chardonnay 2008, Napa County. (Yes, “county,” not “valley.”) The winemaking here is carefully done. Grapes for this wine derive from three estate vineyards: Miller Ranch (55%), south of Yountville; and Vineburg (23%) and Firetree (22%), in Carneros, with Vineburg closer to San Pablo Bay. Ninety-one percent of the wine undergoes barrel-fermentation and 9 percent is fermented in stainless steel. The wine ages six months in 95 percent French oak barrels and 5 percent American oak; only 40 percent of the barrels are new. Finally, 34 percent of the wine goes through the malolactic process. I mention these details to show how deliberately winemaker John Emmerich treats the balance of wood to fruit, creating a chardonnay that’s subtle and supple without the overbearing influence of oak or malolactic-induced creaminess. (And it’s amazing how many wineries in California tart up their chardonnays with cheap oak and malolactic effects!)

Instead, the Silverado Chardonnay 2008 is balanced, harmonious and integrated. Classic grapefruit and pineapple flavors are rich yet restrained, slightly smoky and tinged with baking spice. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of autumnal stone fruit and hints of jasmine. Within a lovely, moderately lush texture, acidity is apple-crisp, and in the sustained finish a thread of limestone ties all elements together. Drink now through 2011. Excellent. About $25.

A review sample.

When I went back through BTYH looking for great wine bargains for 2009, I was surprised at how many candidates there were. I mean, I taste a lot of bland, generic cheap wine year in and year out, but it was encouraging to realize how many wines priced between about $9 and $19 I really liked. So many that I quickly tallied a list of 63, which I then, of course, had to cut back to 25. Ouch, major surgery! I think the result is a very strong roster of wines that reflect authenticity, integrity and pure enjoyment with considerable personality and character thrown into the mix. And speaking of mix, this is an eclectic, geographically-challenging group of wines. Perhaps some of your favorites are here.
25 Great Bargains of 2009

<>Ad Lib “Tree Hugger” No Oak Chardonnay 2008, Pemberton, Western Australia. Excellent. About $17. (Vintage New World)

<>Ad Lib Wallflower Riesling 2008, Mount Barker, Western Australia. Excellent. About $17. (Vintage New World)

<>Andeluna Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Tupungato, Mendoza. Excellent. About $10. (San Francisco Wine Exchange)

<>d’Arenberg The Stump Jump Verdelho 2008, McLaren Vale, South Australia. Very Good+. About $11. (Old Bridge Cellars)

<>Attems Pinot Grigio 2008, Collio, Friuli. Excellent. About $18-$20. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)

<>August Kesseler Riesling QbA 2007, Rheingau. Excellent. About $16. (August Kesseler Importing Co.)

<>Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne “Cuvée Léa Felsh” 2006, Côtes-du-Rhône
Villages. Excellent. $15-$18. (Kermit Lynch)

<>Channing Daughters Cabernet Franc Rosato 2008, North Fork, Long Island. 369 cases. Excellent. About $17.

<>Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles. Excellent. About $14.

<>Elsa Bianchi Torrontés 2008, Mendoza. Very Good+. About $9. (Quintessential)

<>Excelsior Chardonnay 2008, Robertson, South Africa. Very Good+. About $12. (Cape Classics Imports)

<>Folie à Deux Merlot 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. $14-$16.

<>I Stefanini Monte de Toni 2006, Soave Classico. Excellent. $15-$17. (Domenico Selections)

<>Jim Barry Wines “The Cover Drive” Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, South Australia. Excellent. About $19. (Negociants USA)

<>Josh Amber Knolls Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Red Hills, Lake County. Very Good+. About $15.

<>Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles. Excellent. About $15.

<>Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $17.

<>Morgan Winery R.& D. Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $17.

<>Oak Ridge Winery OZV Zinfandel 2005, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

<>Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette 2007, Vouvray, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $19. (Vineyards Brands)

<>Petraio Nero d’Avola 2007, Sicily. Very Good+. About $9.50. (Scoperta Importing Co.)

<>Ravenswood Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

<>Le Rosé de Mouton Cadet 2008, Bordeaux. 65% merlot, 20% cabernet franc, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Very Good+. About $10. (Constellation Wines USA)

<>Rued Chardonnay 2007, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $18.

<>!ZaZin Old Vines Zinfandel 2007, Lodi. Excellent. About $17.

“Better late than never!” people say, hoping that adage is correct. Perhaps being only midway through two-faced January it’s all right to offer this annual story now rather than immediately after the turn of the year as usual. So be it.

To arrive at the “50 Great Wines of 2009,” I went back through all the posts for last year, read all the reviews, made notes, looked again, made more notes, thought hard, and came up with a list of candidates numbering 70. Now the difficult part began; how to eliminate 20 very worthy wines? First, any wine rated Exceptional is assured of a place. After that step, it’s a matter of fine-tuning and dealing with nuances that involve the commitment of the reviews, the excitement conveyed by the language and the implication of the ratings. If there are, for example, two pinot noirs that cost $25 and each rates Excellent but of one I said, “and also great value for the price,” or words to that effect, then that’s the wine that makes the list. If there are three cabernets at $45, and two rate Excellent and one rates Exceptional, well, I discard the two with the Excellent ratings.

Readers, this takes days, and it’s with genuine sorrow that some of the wines have to be eliminated from the roster, but 50 wines is what I’m after and 50 it has to be. Sort of like an audition for “A Chorus Line.”

The order here is Exceptional wines, from highest to lowest price, then Excellent wines, also from highest to lowest price. There is no hierarchy, no “No. 1 Wine,” no “Best Wine of the Year.” Not included are a few older wines I was fortunate enough to taste here and there, like older rieslings in Germany or Ports in the Douro Valley. The point is that these are current releases, or they were when I tasted and wrote about them. Notice that great wines don’t have to be expensive. This list begins at $19, and quite a few bottles cluster in the $20s, $30s and $40s. If a wine is limited in availability, I’ll mention the case production, if I have that information.

First, though, a category in which one wine does get singular attention.
Best Debut Wine of 2009

Trivium is a collaboration of Napa Valley grape-grower Doug Wright, winemaker Jack Stuart and marketer Stu Harrison. The winery’s debut product is Trivium Les Ivrettes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, St. Helena. Composed of 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, the wine spent 19 months in oak, 85 percent French barrels, 60 percent new. This is a great Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, this wine of awesome purity and intensity beautifully balances elegance and power and seems to draw for its dense and concentrated character upon the nature of the soil and strata on which the vineyard stands. A terrific achievement that devotees of classic Napa cabernet won’t want to miss. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ‘16. Production was 318 cases. Excellent. About $60.

Now, 50 Great Wines of 2009.

<>Mount Veeder Reserve Red Wine 2004, Napa Valley. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 44% merlot, 3% malbec. Exceptional. About $80.

<>St. Supéry Élu 2004, Napa Valley. 66% cabernet sauvignon, 23% merlot, 8% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Exceptional. About $70.

<>William Humbert Jalifa Rare Old Dry Amontillado Solera Especial, Jerez, Portugal. Exceptional. About $70. (Kindred Spirits of North America)

<>Roland Champion Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne. Exceptional. About $65. (Kysela Père et Fils)

<>Two Hands “Harry & Edward’s Garden” Shiraz 2006, Langhorne Creek, South Australia. Exceptional. About $65. (Terlato Wines International)

<>Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 600 cases. Exceptional. About $62.

<>Black Kite Cellars “River Turn” Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 195 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

<>Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Porto 2007. Exceptional. About $50, following by several big question marks. (Vintus)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

<>Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2006, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Peter Jakob Kühn Oestrich Doosberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau. Exceptional. About $38. (Domaine Select Wine Estates)

<>Renaissance Roussanne 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. 76 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

<>Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2006, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. $29.

<>Frankland Estate “Poison Hill” Riesling 2008, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Frankland Estate “Isolation Ridge” Riesling 2008, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Smith-Madrone Riesling 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

<>Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $23.

<>Mt. Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2006, Clare Valley, South Australia. Exceptional. About $19. (USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru 2007, Burgundy. 60 cases imported. Excellent. About $172.

<>Mongeard-Mugneret Grands-Echézeaux Grand Cru 2007, Burgundy. Excellent. About $163. (Vineyard Brands)

<>Henri Gouges Nuit-Saint-Georges Les Saint-Georges Premier Cru 2007, Burgundy. Excellent. About $147. (Vineyard Brands)

<>Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto 2004, Alendejo, Portugal. 45% aragonês (tempranillo), 40% alicante bouschet, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $90. (Quintessential)

<>Brandlin Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.

<>Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut Champagne. Excellent. About $85. (Laurent-Perrier USA)

<>Quinta do Vale Meao Douro Red 2005, Douro Valley. Excellent. About $75. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons)

<>Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Champagne. Excellent. About $65> (William-Harrison Imports)

<>Reale Andrea Borgo di Gete 2005, Colli di Salerno. 100% tintore grapes. Excellent. About $55. (Domenico Selections)

<>Eddy Family Wines Elodian Pinot Noir 2007, Yamhill-Carleton District, Willamette Valley. 580 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Black Kite Cellars Kite’s Rest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 726 cases. Excellent. About $42.

<>Sanford Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Rita Hills. Excellent. About $40.

<>Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

<>Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2006, North Coast. Excellent. About $40.

<>Benovia Zinfandel 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 197 cases. Excellent. About $38.

<>Merryvale Merlot 2005, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley. 399 cases. Excellent. About $35.

<>Kühling Gillot Ölberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs 2007, Rheinhessen, Germany. Excellent. About $32.50. (Domaine Select Wine Estates)

<>Jackson Estate “Vintage Widow” Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $32. (Avanti Fine Wine Selections)

<>Clos du Val Pinot Noir 2007, Carneros. Excellent. About $30.

<>Domaine de la Mordorée Rosé 2008, Tavel, Rhone Valley. Excellent. About $30. (Kysela Père et Fils)

<>Gargiulo Vineyards Money Road Ranch Rosato di Sangiovese 2008, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 450 cases. Excellent. About $30.

<>Sbragia Family Gino’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2006, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $28.

<>Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2007, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.

<>Judd’s Hill San Ysidro Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Central Coast. 668 cases. Excellent. About $26.

<>Two Angels Divinity 2006, High Valley, Lake County. 52% syrah, 22% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 6% petite sirah. Excellent. About $25.

<>Loan Semillon 2005, Barossa Valley, South Australia. Excellent. About $22. (The Grateful Palate)

<>Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2007, Cru Beaujolais. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson Daniels)

<>Serre del Prete Aglianico del Vulture 2007, Basilicata, Italy. Excellent. About $22. (Domenico Selections)

<>Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $21.

<>Moulin de Chauvigné Clos Brochard Savennières 2007. Excellent. About $20. (Fruits of the Vine)

<>Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
In a few days, I’ll post “25 Great Bargains of 2009”

It has been as cold in the Mid-South the past week as it has been in 14 years, so a full-bodied heat-seeking wine was what we needed. With meatloaf one night, I opened a bottle of the Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2008, a label from Chile’s venerable Concha y Toro. “Ka-ching,” went the wine-and-food-matching bell, and “Yum,” went our satisfaction meters.

The color is dark purple with a deep plum edge. The heady bouquet is loaded with black currants, plums, cedar, tobacco and lead pencil and a heaping portion of exotic spice. A blend of 85 percent carmenere — for decades in Chile thought to be merlot until DNA testing in the 1980s proved otherwise — 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and 5 percent syrah, the wine offers a dense, dusty texture packed with almost furry tannins wrapped around urgently spicy black fruit flavors fretted with potpourri, lavender and bitter chocolate. Among the grape’s characteristics is a sort of dark, tarry gravity, which this example possesses in spades. The wine is aged for eight months, 70 percent in American oak, 30 percent in stainless steel. Winemaker is Marcelo Papa. Drink this with hearty meat and pasta dishes or with grilled chops and steak. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $12.
For whatever reason, the folks at Concha y Toro (or its American importers) do not employ the diacritical marking that ought to be present in the name of this grape — it should be carmenère –but I’ll follow their practice here.
Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. A sample bottle for review.

I apologize, My Readers, for not posting to BTYH since last Tuesday. It is not my habit, as you know, to neglect this blog, but I have been considerably under the weather since Christmas and am just beginning to feel a tad less puny. We’ll get back on track in a few days.

Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany, marks the end of the Yuletide season and the conclusion of this series about champagne and sparkling wine. For the third year, I have tried to bring My Readers a variety of sparkling wines from different countries and regions, made from a variety of grapes, and suited to the myriad purposes implied by style and price. One of my rules, so far, has been that there be no repetitions from year to year, and if you go back and look at “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on BTYH from 2008/09 and 2007/08, you’ll see that I have been true to that principle.

Twelfth Night was traditionally a time of revels, eating, drinking and play-acting, music and dance, with servants dressed as their masters, women dressed like men and so on, all activities reflected in one of Shakespeare’s most satisfying romantic comedies of mistaken identity and star-crossed love, Twelfth Night: or, What You Will. The play was first performed on Feb. 2, 1602, Candlemas Day, in the Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court in London.

Now I’m not saying that My Readers are out this evening gamboling in merry romps, disguises and amorous adventures, but whatever you do, I’ll finish this series of 12 posts about champagne and sparkling wine with four selections, trying, again, to appeal to many predilections and pocketbooks: One from France, two from Italy, one from California.

The estate of i Stefanini makes some of the best Soave wines in the Veneto, especially from the Classico and Classico Superiore regions. Now the family turns its attention to a sparkling wine, the i Stefanini Spumante Brut. Produced completely from chardonnay grapes, this charming sparkler, made in the Charmat process, displays a limpid pale gold color and enticing aromas of pear, lime peel, orange blossom and dusty acacia. It’s a caressing fabric of delicate heft and presence, soft yet bright and crisp, and displaying, amid hints of slightly spicy stone fruit, just the right modicum of limestone. A pretty sparkling wine, dry, appealing and great as an aperitif. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
Limited distribution. Received as a review sample.

Made from chardonnay grapes and finished with a dose of late-harvest muscat and pinot noir, the Mumm Napa Cuvee M is a slightly sweet, pale blond blanc de blancs that offers good character for the price. Aromas of toast and fresh bread support scents of apples and pears and hints of roasted almonds and orange zest. A host — you could say cohorts — of bubbles surge upward singlemindedly. After the initial sweetness, which is more like stone-fruit and citrus ripeness than just sweetness, this sparkling wine (made in the champagne method) is crisp and dry, well-balanced and harmonious, with a texture nicely poised between lushness and vivid acidity. Very Good+. About $20.
Tasted at a trade event.

Here’s a sparkling rosé wine that may win your heart. The Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007 is made from pinot noir grapes grown in the Oltrepò Pavese region of Lombardy. A very pale onion skin color with a shade of ruddy salmon, the elegant Filanda 2007 is all flashing steel and flaring limestone that allow for glimpses of dried red currants and dried raspberries over a hint of peach. A stream of tiny bubbles expresses a sort of star-struck dimensionality; call it hypnotic. Resting on a suave interpretation of damp gravel and liquid limestone, this sparkling wine is very dry, well-integrated, persistent and delicious in a spare, high-toned manner. An impressive aperitif. Very Good+. About $22.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York.
Received as a sample for review.

The Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra is composed of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, a combination that somehow lends this champagne freshness and boldness as well as evanescence, serving as a sort of reality-meets-the-light-fantastic metaphor. What I’m saying — “yeah, F.K., what the hell are you saying?” — is that this champagne is loaded with yeasty, bready elements, buttered biscuits and baking spices, roasted lemons and baked pears and toasted hazelnuts, all the panoply of dimension and detail, character and substance, while, at the same time, it’s lovely, crisp, deft, supple and, toward the finish, bursting with limestone. A final fillip of jasmine completes the poised, confident package. Excellent. About $62.
William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.
A sample bottle for review.

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