August 2010


Arnold and Alma Tudal planted vines on 10 acres of former walnut orchard north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley in 1974 and released their first wines in 1979. Big Tree Road is still pretty rustic compared to the circus that Hwy. 29 has become, a circumstance reflected in Tudal’s refusal to follow new-fangledness and fleeting fame or even, over the course of 30 years, to alter their winery’s logo or the labels on their products. This refreshing stance implies a becoming modesty of purpose but not of accomplishment; the pair of Tudal cabernet sauvignon wines from 2007 that I tried recently are among the greatest cabernets I have tasted this year. The wines are 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. Winemaker was Ron Vuylsteke, though he departed and has been replaced, as of the 2009 vintage, by Kirk Venge. These wines were samples for review.
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The Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, offers everything that devotees of old-fashioned Napa cabernet look for: classic notes of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; a solid structure based on abundant and vibrant acidity, dust-laden tannins (both polished oak tannins and a hint of slightly more astringent grape tannins) with the bass tone of granite-like minerality; and dark, rich, spicy black currant and black cherry flavors slightly tinged with black olive, briers and brambles. What makes the wine so exciting — LL said, “This is the best red wine I’ve tasted all year” — is that it’s packed with character and a sense of slumbering, brooding dignity as well as being beautifully balanced, clean, fresh and appealing. It feels like a supreme example of an impeccably-made country wine, so perhaps “exciting” is not correct, for this is, above all, a wine that resists trends of nervy raciness or sleek sophistication or blatant ripeness or heavy-handed extraction for the simple yet profound virtues of being natural and effortless and complete. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 490 cases. Best from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’21. Exceptional. About $40.
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The Tudal Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, displays an entrancing dark ruby color with a magenta/blue rim. Blue, too, metaphorically, is its quality of blue fruit drenched with black; its piercing, bluey slate-like minerality; its cool yet smoldering blue flame of smoky potpourri, cassis and lavender. The concession to modern practice is the alcohol content of 14.7 percent; 30 years ago for this wine, 12.5 percent alcohol was considered just fine. (Cherchez le global warming?) Other than that factor, this is a solid, robust, uncompromising Napa Valley cabernet that shows more density and more concentration than its stablemate mentioned above. The finish adds to that austerity with loads of underbrush and forest elements and dusty, dry-leaf and leather tannins. One has to applaud this relentless and totally satisfying unstylishness. Production was 390 cases. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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Vintage 2009 is being proclaimed as the best that Beaujolais has seen not only in many years but in the lifetimes of the oldest vignerons. The grape of Beaujolais is gamay, a cousin of pinot noir. Certainly this range of some of the many Cru Beaujolais wines produced by Georges Duboeuf that I tried recently displayed uncommon depth and resonance and will benefit from aging for eight to 10 years. Duboeuf gets a lot of criticism (including from me) for launching and sustaining the fad for Beaujolais Nouveau and for introducing the yeast — 71B — that imposes the repulsive scents of bananas and coconut on Beaujolais Nouveau and basic level Beaujolais; no, youngsters, those aromas are not “characteristic” of Beaujolais.

Duboeuf, however, through long-term contracts and relationships, also produces and markets the wines of a number of small estates or properties among the 10 Cru Beaujolais communes, as well as making his own Cru wines sold under his well-known flower labels. I tasted a selection of these wines recently at a trade event. The products of Georges Duboeuf are imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y.
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Brouilly 2009 (Flower label). Enticing ruby-purple color; penetrating, almost startling, aromas of black currant, mulberry, cloves and shale, vibrant and refreshing; a deep, dark Brouilly, with tingling, beckoning acidity for backbone, spicy black cherry and black currant flavors (with a flare of red plum) for flesh, and a heart of clean, mineral-laced tannins. A remarkable performance at this level. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Fleurie 2009 (Flower label). You could swim in the bouquet, dab it behind your ears, send it on an extraterrestrial voyage with a note that says, “Here’s what we smell like, lucky us” but, boy, after the panoply of generous black fruit scents, roses and violets, spicy and foresty elements, this is a pretty damned tight and closed-in wine, at this point rather overwhelmed by its tannic structure. Try from 2011 through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17.
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Clos des Quatre Vents Fleurie 2009. This Fleurie from the “Walled Vineyard of the Four Winds” offers aromas of spiced, macerated and roasted black currants, black raspberries and mulberries in a base of smoky plums and graphite. It’s large in scale and mouth-filling, even for a Cru Beaujolais, but doesn’t lose the gamay grape’s signature poignant notes of ripe red raspberry, rose petals and brambles. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $19.
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Morgon 2009 (Flower label). A vivid assemblage of black cherry, red raspberry, baking spice, bitter chocolate, iron and shale, ensconced in a dark ruby-purple color. What more do you want? Very sleek and polished, yet the tannins are formidable and unexpectedly gritty. Still, black fruit flavors are ripe and juicy, and touches of rhubarb, licorice and a clean rooty element lend detail and dimension. Drink now through 2013 to ’15. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine de la Chaponne Morgon 2009. At first this estate Cru Beaujolais seems subdued and restrained, but that’s because it’s marshaling its considerable reserves of intense shale-like minerality, concentrated black (and blue-tinged) fruit flavors and finely-milled tannins. It envelopes the nose and fills the mouth and is, altogether, as powerful expression of the gamay grape as I have seen, yet does power equal integrity? This is also the most syrah-like interpretation of a Cru Beaujolais that I have seen, or at least among this roster, so, yes, it offers attractions but to my mind loses focus and purpose a bit. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2015 to ’17 and see if it comes to its senses. On the other hand, I mustn’t forget that Morgon is typically the largest, the deepest of the Cru Beaujolais. Very Good+. About $16.
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Jean Descombes Morgon 2009. Back in December, I made the 2008 version of this wine my Wine of the Week. For 2009, it’s even better. Remarkable purity and intensity; wonderful depth and concentration and resonance. Dark and spicy black cherry and red raspberry fruit with a touch of tart mulberry — we have a mulberry tree in the front yard — and just a hint of violets; this is big, dry, deeply permeated by granite-like minerality and foresty elements, yet it doesn’t lose sight if its, um, site, that is to say in a commune noted for producing gamay wines of generosity and expansiveness. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $17, representing Real Value.
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Juliénas La TrinQuée 2009. Juliénas tends to be my favorite of the Cru Beaujolais, perhaps from nostalgia, because on my birthday in 1984, we drank a bottle of Duboeuf Julienas 1983, or simply because it embodies all the virtues of Cru Beaujolais without the occasional extremes; it’s not too floral and spicy, not is it as tannic and structured as Morgon and Moulin à Vent can be. Juliénas La TrinQuée 2009 is a wine of particular purity and intensity, resonance and vibrancy. It offers, paradoxically, the warmth of ripe, fleshy, meaty black and red fruit flavors with the coolness of granite and peat. Immensely appealing, powerful without being forceful, elegant without being fragile. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Juliénas Chateau des Capitans 2009. On the other hand, this is not my favorite Juliénas. Oh, it certainly displays tremendous purity and intensity — it practically vibrates in the glass — but in its wheatmeal-earthy-minerally nature, its rollicking spice and dusty, chewy tannins, I find it atypical of its grape and commune. It’s not enough merely to take the virtues of those essential entities and pump them up like sluggers on steroids. Or perhaps it just needs some time to find company manners, say from 2012 or ’13 through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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Moulin à Vent Domaine de la Tour de Bief 2009. Ripe, roasted and meaty, with black cherry and cassis scents and flavors stirringly imbued with penetrating graphite-like minerality and a dark, earthy, spicy element. Quite vibrant and resonant, real presence, yet neither heavy nor obvious; actually graced with an inner sense of delicacy and balance. Still — always the qualifying “still” — this rather quickly takes on the trappings of seriousness in the form of underbrush, a mossy note and a finish freighted with dry, tannic austerity. Among the most complex Cru Beaujolais wines I have encountered. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $18, a Bargain for the Price.
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Readers, this is the 700th post on BTYH since December 2006 when it started.
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The Regaleali “Le Rose” 2009, from the Sicilian producer Tasca d’Almerita, is among the most charming and refreshing rosé wines I have tasted all summer. Tasted? Nay, happily consumed in these Dog Days when the temperature is just, as we say in our house, stinkin’ hot. Today, for example, the mercury is supposed to reach 105, with a heat index of 115. Taint a fit day out for man nor beast. The grape for this wine is the nerello mascalese, indigenous to the island of Sicily.

The color is a radiant copper-salmon, midway between the classically pale of the South of France and the increasingly and unnaturally dark of “rosés” from Australia and California. Aromas of ripe and slightly fleshy raspberries and red currants are twined with hints of melon and peach and a slight sensation of earthiness. This is a lovely, supple and quite dry rosé that exhibits delicately spiced and macerated red fruit flavors imbued with traces of dried thyme and tarragon wrapped around a lean backbone of limestone and thirst-quenching acidity. The alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Very Good+. Prices range from about $10 to $14 around the country, but like an idiot I paid $18 at a store here in Memphis. Caveat emptor, indeed.

Leonardo Locascio Selections for Winebow Inc., New York.

You know how it is. It’s gin and tonic season, and you go to the grocery store and pluck a bottle of the usual tonic water from a shelf and there it is. One day, however, I was in Whole Foods, and I saw, on a bottle shelf, a four-pack of little bottles of Fever-Tree Tonic Water, so I bought a set and the next time I made gin and tonics of LL and me, I used it. Wow, what a difference! More effervescent, sharper, tangier, drier, chastely medicinal, great balance; tonic water for grown-ups. Next time I was at Whole Foods, however, the store was out of the Fever-Tree Tonic Water but had Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon. This is slightly yellower that the pale tonic water and a little cloudy from pieces of lemon pulp. It too contains quinine, the basis of tonic water, but the lemon component seems to lend more body and a citric tang that jazzes the dryness and slight bitterness without being puckery. I suppose one cannot call the cocktail of gin and bitter lemon (with a squeeze of lime juice and a slice of lime; a sprig of mint is good too) a gin and tonic, but it’s one of the most refreshing and summery cocktails around.

Fever-Tree was launched in 2004 by Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow; Rolls ran the Plymouth Gin company. Fever-Tree, which is based in London, also makes ginger ale and ginger beer that I would dearly love to try. Fever tree was the name given to the cinchona tree from which quinine is derived. British officers in India began mixing quinine with water and sugar in the 1820s to ward off malaria, and it must work, because I’ve consumed about a billion gin-and-tonics in my lifetime and I’ve never had malaria. Fever-Tree products contain no preservatives, artificial sweeteners or coloring agents.

A four-pack of 6.8 fluid-ounce bottles is $4.99 at Whole Foods.

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