Thu 22 Apr 2010
Joan Didion was once asked to lecture on the topic “Why I Write.” Her response was something like, “Look at the vowels in those three words: I, I, I.” In other words, writing is all about me, myself and I, and writing on a blog is the same deal. Wait! No! Those are the other blogs! This blog is all about you, you, you, my readers! Just so, the title of this post, “Nine White Wines,” encloses those “I, I, I” implications, but is really about wine choices for you, though today I limit those choices somewhat by excluding wines made from the chardonnay grape. I’ve tried some pretty good ones recently but also some chardonnays that were sodden with oak, so that grape will get separate posts in a week or so, “a week or so” being such a comfortingly elastic expression of futurity. (I’ve never seen this photograph of Joan Didion before, from 1970; wow, what a dish! And one of my favorite writers and heroes for her courage, her unflinching gaze, her slashing prose! I’m on a project now of reading or re-reading all her books.)
Anyway, Nine White Wines (and a bonus at the end).
Made all in stainless steel, the Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2008, Wilson Ranch, Clarksburg — in the Sacramento Delta region of Northern California — opens with whiffs of lemon balm and dried thyme, with tangerine and a hint of orange zest. This is an incredibly fresh and refreshing wine whose crisp acidity whets the palate and lays the groundwork for juicy citrus flavors touched with a bit of mango; lightness and delicacy are wedded to a moderately lush texture. The finish rounds out the wine with some lime peel and bracing grapefruit bitterness. The alcohol is a soothing 12.5 percent. Always a favorite for summer quaffing with grilled shrimp, seafood risotto or linguine with clam sauce. Closed (for the first time) with a screw-cap. Very Good. About $12, representing Great Value.
The torrontés grape makes charming and delightful wines but not great wines, and that’s nothing for it to worry its pretty little head about; how happy we are, for example, to meet a person who is consistently charming, delightful and undemanding. Sort of like me. The Trivento Amado Sur Torrontés 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, however, blends 15 percent viognier grapes and 10 percent chardonnay with 75 percent torrontés. What, I thought, is this an attempt to pump up the virtues of a simple grape and turn it into something “important,” a “Super Torrontés,” as it were? The fact is, this is a terrifically appealing wine that offers scents of ripe peach, pear and quince with meadowy undertones and a whiff of camellia. It’s very dry, very crisp and mounts a limestone element so piercing that it’s almost poignant. Give the wine a few minutes and it becomes slightly honeyed (but not sweet), with notes of candied grapefruit and ginger, but there’s always that crystalline acidity and austere minerality to leaven the sensuousness; the finish brings in the forthright bitterness of grapefruit and lime peel. So, I suppose this is a kind of Super Torrontés and no worse for the bolstering. Very Good+. About $15, Good Value.
Imported by Excelsior Wine & Spirits, a division of Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. Trivento — “three winds” — is the Argentine outpost of Chile’s giant wine producer Concha y Toro.
Bold in stone fruit, the Adegas D’Altamira Albariño Brandal 2008, from Spain’s northwestern region of Rias Baixas in Galicia, takes yellow plum and peach and blends them with dried thyme, sage and white pepper for a striking bouquet; in a few minutes you’ll notice touches of orange zest and lime peel, grass and hay. The texture is amazing, so plush that it feels talc-like yet cut with riveting acidity and a scintillating limestone quality. Flavors are more melon and pear than stone fruit, with hints of cloves and ginger, the whole package being dry, zesty and savory. The wine is made all in stainless steel and does not go through the malolactic process, so it retains buoyant freshness and concentration. I can hear it now, on its knees, begging, “Please, please, please, serve me with oysters right out of the sea!” Or mussels grilled with rosemary would be good too. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Excellent. About $18.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca.
Winter’s Hill farm was established in 1961 by the Gladhart family in what is now Oregon’s Dundee Hills appellation within the Willamette Valley. Dundee Hills is where David Lett, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blosser family started their pioneering wineries in the 1960s and early ’70s, staking a claim for pinot noir. The Gladharts planted their first vines in 1990. The winemaker now is Delphine Gladhart, a Frenchwoman married to Russell Gladhart.
The Winter’s Hill Pinot Blanc 2007, Dundee Hills, delivers wonderful tone and presence while maintaining a fleetness and delicacy of effect that’s exhilarating. Mildly spicy pear and lemon scents segue into spicier flavors of pear, roasted lemon and melon, with a touch of almond skin. The balance and restraint here, the equilibrium and sense of elegance allied to a feeling of slightly repressed depth, are not only admirable but irresistible. So many wines could profit from this sort of decorum that never feels fastidious. Production was 840 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. The alcohol level is 14 percent. Excellent. About $18.
The Guado al Tasso Vermentino 2008, from Antinori’s winery in Bolgheri, in southwestern Tuscany, is a sort of seaside wine; one feels the briskness and breeziness of the sea-wind, the snap of salt and crusted oyster shells. There’s the slight fragrant astringency of rosemary crushed in the hand, the richness of roasted lemon and lemon balm, a subtle note of honeysuckle and jasmine. Adding to the freshness are tingling acidity, a touch of spritz –this is all stainless steel — and heaping elements of damp limestone. So this is delightful and charming, but not simpleminded; there are serious bones here, the structure of elegance, an evocative whisper of Olympian distance in the austere finish. 13 percent alcohol. We drank this with roasted salmon with a potato and artichoke hash. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.
Yes, you’re reading this correctly: Pinot blanc grapes — a mutation of genetically unstable pinot noir — do grow in Burgundy, though they are found rarely in vineyards and even more rarely bottled as a single wine. (They thrive in cooler Alsace.) The venerable Domaine Henri Gouges, however, employs pinot blanc for its Bourgogne, and for 2007 produced a delightful example. Did I say “delightful”? Actually, the Domaine Henri Gouges Bourgogne Blanc Pinot Blanc 2007 is one of the prettiest wines I have tasted in dog’s years. This is wonderfully fresh, clean and pure, with notes of jasmine and chalk, macerated lemons and lemon curd with a touch of spiced pear and quince. Avid acidity flashes like a bright blade — man, I just freakin’ love alliteration! — enlivening a texture that inextricably weds crispness to slightly cushiony lushness. If this didn’t fall a tad short on the finish, it would be well-nigh perfect, though it’s still well-worth seeking out. Very Good+. About $26 to $32.
Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.
Here’s what hard work and perseverance (and maybe being in the right place at the right time) will do for you. Damian Parker, director of winemaking for Joseph Phelps Vineyard, came to the winery in 1981 as bottle-line supervisor. Ashley Hepworth came to Joseph Phelps in 1999 to work the crush, after two years in the kitchen at Charlie Trotter, and in 2008 was promoted to winemaker. America is a great country after all!
Whatever the combination of knowledge and experience Parker and Hepworth represent, they got the Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley, exactly right. While there’s nothing wrong (or not much) with the larky, snappy, blastingly citric and tropical sauvignon blancs that flood the market today, it’s nice to sip a sauvignon blanc fit for grown-ups. First, all things lemon are here, from roasted lemon to lemon balm and lemon curd, with an infusion of dried thyme and tarragon and a hint of dusty summer meadows. The wine is quite lively, sporting a keen edge of damp limestone and a tingling line of crisp acidity. The oak is subtle and supple, the result of eight months in new French oak puncheons — generally defined as holding 500 liters — and one- and two-year old French barriques, holding 225 liters or 59 gallons; in other words, the winemakers consciously decided to forgo the influence of new barriques for a more nuanced approach. What can I say? This is a sauvignon blanc of immense presence and authority that doesn’t neglect the elements of elegance and grace. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. The alcohol content is a sensible 13.5 percent. Exceptional. About $32.
The Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, South Australia, delivers exactly what you want from a Clare Valley riesling: a classic bouquet of lychees and peaches, lime peel and petrol (or rubber eraser) and penetrating aromas of gunflint and damp shale. If you could drink such a bouquet you could stop there, but move along, please, to flavors of orange zest, grapefruit and mango ensconced in a very dry, very crisp and spare structure that makes it feel as if you’re drinking liquid limestone that dates back to the Ice Age it’s so pure and immediate, and yet, paradoxically, here comes a gentle whiff of rose petal and lilac. The finish, not surprisingly, is elegantly-wrought, all high cheek-bones and unblemished foreheads, very cool, pale, princesse lointaine, complete. The whole effect is beguiling and seductive, and I wish I had a glass sitting right here beside me (though I’m having a fine old time with this quaffable Domaine “La Garrigue” Cuvee Romaine Côte du Rhône 2008 that I’m sipping rather too much of at the present moment). Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Screw-cap closed. Exceptional. About $38.
Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
What you need to know about the St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, is, first (working backward), that it’s from Germany’s Mosel region; second, that it derives from the excellent and even better year of 2007; that’s the ripeness level of Auslese is pretty damn ripe and potentially sweet; that the grape is riesling; that the vineyard is the well-known, even legendary Goldtropfchen; that the commune wherein the vineyard resides is the equally well-known Piesport; and that the producer is St. Urbans-Hof. Got that? And they say that German wine labels are too complicated!
The color is shimmering pale gold; aromas of softly spiced and macerated peaches and pears are permeated by lime peel and cloves and by subtle earthiness, clean and damp, and pert slate-like minerality. The acidity is so tremendous that the wine practically vibrates in the glass, yet the faint sweetness, a subtle sense of honeyed and baked stone fruit, like brioche with peach and plum marmalade, cuts the acid down to layers of etched limestone. This is vital, resonant and lively, though the finish comes through with an aura of stately balance and integration. We drank this with roasted salmon accompanied by roasted potato salad in a cilantro/jalapeño vinaigrette. Yay, LL! Now through 2017 or ’20, well-stored. Excellent. About $55.
Yer Bonus: Two sparkling wines from Vouvray, Loire Valley, meaning chenin blanc grapes. Each made in the traditional champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.
The Francois Pinon Vouvray Brut (non-vintage) is all steel, limestone and shale, roasted lemons, quince and ginger; the color is pale straw/gold, the myriad tiny bubbles as uncountable as the galaxies in the heavens. Very clean and fresh and crisp, with touches of biscuits, baking spices and toasted almonds, with a faint whiff of almond blossom. We drank this while cooking dinner one night and snacking on flatbread slathered with dried tomato and walnut pesto. Charming and delectable. Very Good+, and a Bargain at about $17.
Imported by Louis/Dressner, New York.
Maison Huet — “oo-ay” — has been among the best producers of dry, semi-sweet and late-harvest Vouvray wines since it was founded in 1928. You will notice that the Domaine Huet Brut 2002, Vouvray Petillant, is seven and a half years old, and at this point it is drinking to perfection. Pop the cork — I mean open it properly and gently — and you smell the fresh bread, biscuits and granite from a foot away. The color is medium gold; the “bead” is gently effusive — petillant implies lightly sparkling — and mildly effervescent. This sparkling wine, which ages four years in the bottle on the yeast, evinces the straw/hay quality of the chenin blanc grape but offers, also, touches of buttered toast, cinnamon bread and a hint of roasted hazelnuts and macerated lemons and pears preserved with cloves. I hope readers get the idea that the Huet Brut 2002 is not just “a reasonable alternative” to Champagne but a fine expression of a grape and a style of sparkling wine in itself. It should be consumed within a year or 18 months. Excellent. About $30 to $35.
Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York.
Samples for review, except for the Domaine Henri Gouges Bourgogne Pinot Blanc 2007, tasted at a trade event in New York. Photo of Joan Didion, Hollywood, 1970, by Julian Wesser, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________