February 2011

The Quiot family has been making wine in France’s Rhône Valley since 1748. Some 260 years later, they own numerous properties in the South of France, including Domaine du Vieux Lazaret and Domaine Duclaux in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Houchart in Provence and, our concern today, Chateau du Trignon in the Côtes du Rhône region of the lower Rhone Valley. Among the wines made at the latter property is the tremendously refreshing and downright pretty Chateau du Trignon Roussanne 2009, Côtes du Rhône. Made completely from roussanne grapes, this white wine is not exposed to oak, retaining all the liveliness and pert acidity that come from being fashioned in stainless steel tanks. Delicate aromas of peach, pear and apricot are woven with hints of jasmine and camellia, cloves and almonds. The wine is more emphatically ripe in the mouth, with flavors of spiced and macerated peaches and yellow plums highlighted by notes of lime peel, dried thyme and limestone-like minerality. It glides across the tongue with dreamy aplomb. The essence of a delicious and appealing spring and summer wine. Very Good+. About $16 to $20.

Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y. Tasted at a trade event.

I mentioned the Bastianich Plus Tocai 2006, Colli Orientali del Friuli, briefly last year as the wine whose tough cork broke my favorite corkscrew. I had a second bottle, though, and opened it a couple of nights ago to accompany LL’s wonderful clam linguine. Lord have mercy, what a great wine! Made from a single vineyard of 60-year-old vines in the “eastern hills of Friuli,” in northeast Italy, the wine is not cheap, and the availability is limited, but I urge devotees of character-driven white wines to track it down. Plus Tocai 2006 is made from tocai friulano grapes, 10 percent of which are allowed to hang longer on the vines and become super-ripe and dried; the fermented juice made from those grapes is blended with the rest of the wine to contribute spice and richness and depth. Plus Tocai 2006 sees no oak; it’s fashioned in stainless steel, resting nine months on the lees, with 60 percent of the wine going through malolactic fermentation. The winemakers are Emilio Del Medico and Maurizio Castelli. The medium-gold color Bastianich Plus Tocai 2006 opens with lovely notes of lemon balm and lemon curd, ginger and quince, something like oh, let’s call it tangerine cream; cloves and cinnamon; and some platonic little white alpine flower — one hopes there is such a thing — that balances shy sweetness with astringency. With its spiced and macerated peach and pear flavors and its hint of roasted almonds, the wine is almost savory; it certainly rolls along the taste buds with a silken texture that conveys real weight and presence while seeming effortless, even ineffable. Vibrant acidity keeps the wine vividly immediate, while a burgeoning tide of limestone-like minerality provides a vein of seriousness to the structure. When you smell and taste a great wine, you know it unmistakeably, though that doesn’t mean that it’s overpowering or blatant; rather, its greatness, in this case, lies in an essential gathering of nuance and subtle details. This should drink well through 2012 to ’14. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Production was 800 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. Prices around the country range, rather ridiculously, from $35 to $65.
The 2007 version of this wine is also available.
Dark Star Imports, New York.

I love trying wines from appellations and designations that I haven’t come across before, some obscure, barely-populated little valley in Lombardy, say, or a hidden enclave nestled in a backwater of the Loire. And then there’s the Outer Coastal Plain, an American Viticultural Area (AVA) completely new to me. In fact, to be grossly parochial, it had never occurred to me that anyone might grow grapes and make wine, especially not real wine, in New Jersey. Hope springs eternal, of course, so I received a polite communication from the good people at Bellview Winery asking if they could send some samples for me to taste and review. Having never tried a wine from The Garden State, I agreed, on the usual stipulation that there was no guarantee that I would like or ultimately write about these products. Soon there arrived at my front door two bottles from Bellview’s roster of wines: the Syrah 2008 and the Cabernet Franc 2008. Syrah in New Jersey? I’m happy to report that both are more than decent or merely creditable, though the Cabernet Franc 2008 is the better of the pair. The wines are available only in New Jersey, but I think it’s important in a country where California dominates hearts, minds, wine lists and wallets, to understand that legitimate matters do occur in the rest of the country.

Bellview Winery is owned by Jim and Nancy Quarelle. He is a fourth-generation farmer; the winery and 30 acres of vines occupy part of the original farm established by Jim Quarelle’s great-grandfather after he immigrated from Italy in 1914. Jim and Nancy planted their first three acres in 2000; now they farm 20 grape varieties, mainly European wine grapes, but also some French-American hybrids. As many producers in secondary (or tertiary) winemaking states must do to keep the doors open, Bellview also makes a range of fruit wines.

The Outer Coastal Plain AVA, which takes in most of the lower half of New Jersey, was approved by the federal government in 2006. The terrain is mainly flat or slightly rolling, and the soil is sandy or sand and loam. It’s not surprising that the primary influence is maritime, from the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. Summers are hot, winters fairly mild. The Outer Coastal Plain Vintners Association lists 18 wineries and 11 commercial vineyards.

The Bellview Winery Syrah 2008, Outer Coastal Plain, with a dollop of viognier, presents an attractive ruby-purple color; the bouquet is ripe and spicy and permeated by scents of black currants, blackberries and plums touched with notes of leather and wet fur. The wine is nicely framed by modest oak and slightly more prominent tannins, chewy yet fine-grained. Bellview Syrah 2008 is quite dry, brushy with elements of briers and brambles, and its tasty but spare black and blue fruit flavors open to highlights of licorice and mint, smoke and ash. While this is a good effort, what’s lacking is the punch of a more powerfully sustained structure and texture, though marked acidity keeps the wine vibrant. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $14.

A couple of sniffs of the Bellview Cabernet Franc 2008, Outer Coastal Plain, and I thought, “Ah ha, this is the real deal.” The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet is a smoldering cauldron of cedar and thyme, bell pepper and black olive, smoke and iodine and black tea, black currants and blueberries. The wine is boldly structured, boldly spicy, very dry, and you feel the austerity of burnished oak and finely milled tannins that would like to (but don’t quite manage to) sequester the earthy, loamy black currant, blackberry and plum flavors. Fortunately, a few minutes in the glass free up the wine considerably and allow those flavors more play and even the accompaniment of potpourri and bitter chocolate. Make no mistake, though; the Bellview Cabernet Franc 2008 ain’t for sissies. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19.

Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.

The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9” pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)

“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.

The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.

Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.

I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.

At the end of October, I touted the charms of the inexpensive Li Veli Orion 2008, a primitivo wine from Apulia. Today, for Wine of the Week — and consumed with last’s night’s pizza — it’s the turn of Li Veli Pezzo Morgana 2007, Salice Salentino, made from negroamaro grapes, “negroamaro” meaning “black and bitter,” that is, filled with hearty tannins. Salice Salentino is a D.O.C. region down in the heel of the Italian boot, where the Falvo family, owners of Tuscany’s Avignonese estate, bought a 19th century property in 1999 and made vast improvements. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, Li Veli Pezzo Morgana 2007 offers a deep, dark ruby color and stirring aromas of slightly stewed and Amarone-like black currants and plums permeated by lavender and licorice, smoke, cloves and pruny fruit-cake. The wine is fleshy and meaty in its spicy black and blue fruit flavors, dense with succulent tannins that you can almost roll your tongue around and polished oak; this is robust without being rustic, ingratiating without being kissy-face. The finish brings in sufficient levels of graphite-infused minerality and vibrant acidity to make you take the whole enterprise rather seriously; there’s a last wild note of bruised mulberry and blueberry. Li Veli Pezzo Morgana 2007 was luscious with our pizza and would be equally appropriate with braised or grilled meat and rich pasta dishes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $19 to $22.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

It’s about time I got back to this series.

If your idea of a great cabernet sauvignon is an opulent, vanilla-laced, super-ripe fruit bomb, you might as well stop reading this post and go back to Popular Mechanics or The Robb Report. This post is about balance and elegance, about faithfulness to the grape, about deftness, purity and intensity.

The connection between two iconic Napa Valley wineries, Chateau Montelena and Grgich Hills, ancient history though it may be, is the figure of Mike Grgich, now one of the most venerable patriarchs of the Napa Valley wine industry. An immigrant from Croatia in 1958, Grgich worked at the old Souverain, Christian Brothers, Beaulieu Vineyard (under another influential immigrant, Andre Tchelistcheff) and Robert Mondavi. In 1972, Grgich was hired as winemaker at the new Chateau Montelena, founded that year by Jim Barrett (and investors) in an abandoned Gothic winery north of Calistoga that dated back to 1882. Grgich wasted no time, creating in the Montelena Chardonnay 1973 the white wine that placed first in the famous or infamous Paris Tasting of 1976. Obviously Grgich would become a hot property, and in 1977 he partnered with Austin Hills, of the San Francisco coffee family, in establishing the winery in the heart of Rutherford that still bears their names. Meanwhile, after the four-year tenure of winemaker Jerry Luper, Jim Barrett’s son Bo took over as winemaker at Montelena in 1981. Bo Barrett, somewhat of a patriarch himself, holds the title of Master Winemaker now; winemaker at Montelena since 2008 has been Cameron Parry. Grgich Hills is operated on biodynamic principles; winemaker is Ivo Jeramez.

These wines were samples for review.

It feels as if two bottles of wine were somehow packed into one bottle of the Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, by which I don’t mean that the wine is super-overwhelming-opulent but that it possesses so much character that it seems supernaturally dimensioned. The wine is a blend of 90 percent cabernet sauvignon, 6 percent petit verdot, 3 percent merlot and 1 percent cabernet franc; it aged 21 months in French oak, 60 percent new barrels. This is a cabernet of sheens and facets, practically smoldering in the glass with intensity and concentration yet wholly generous and expansive. Classic touches of cedar and tobacco, leather and dusty graphite open to reveal hints of black currants and black cherries etched with briers, brambles and walnut shell. Dense, lustrous tannins and polished oak firmly set the stage for ripe and spicy black fruit flavors permeated by leafy and slightly herbal nuances and (again) that graphite-like minerality and earthiness. The body is tremendous but never ponderous because of the wine’s innate vibrancy and vitality, while the depths are fathomless, the texture forms a suitable balance between lushness and spareness, and the finish is drawn-out and fully furnished with spicy/foresty qualities. A model of a Napa Valley cabernet for drinking now through 2018 to ’20. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $60.

Thyme and cedar and black olive; black currants and plums; walnut shell and dried porcini with a background of cloves and allspice and sandalwood; licorice and lavender and cocoa powder; and sprightly woodland floral elements: all combine to make the bouquet of the Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, more than classic, beyond seductive, downright exotic, yet once inside, you realize that the wine has its sober, more dignified aspects, too. This is a blend — slightly different than its cousin from 2006 — of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 5 percent petit verdot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent merlot; the aging is the same, 21 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new. As a great wine should, this one deftly, almost riskily balances monumental bearing with a delicacy of detail that amounts to a sense of decorum, as if a vast ebon cenotaph were etched in fine filigrees of floral motifs and winding tresses. Yeah, yeah, I’m waxing heavily metaphorical here, but I want to give My Readers some sense of the atmosphere and spirit of the wine, that indefinable impression in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, however appropriate or even wonderful those parts may be. This is, as you may infer, a great cabernet sauvignon for drinking from 2012 or ’14 through 2020 to ’22. Alcohol content is 14.8 percent. Exceptional. About $60.

The Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley, is a blend of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot and 4 percent cabernet franc; the wine ages 18 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. My first note on this wine is “classic … beautiful structure and balance.” The bouquet offers typical yet darkly radiant notes of briers and brambles, cedar and dried thyme, leather and walnut shell in a suave package that includes aromas of spiced and macerated black currants, black cherries and plums and a wafting touch of violets. The intensity and concentration here are awesome, yet the wine is not massively proportioned and even conveys the impression of being fleet-footed (helped by bright acidity); of course the melding of dense, chewy tannins, refined oak and a clean earthy mineral element lends the wine plenty of substance and purpose, but for its size and intent this Montelena Cabernet ’06 is remarkably drinkable. Infused by baking spice, lavender and potpourri, the wine draws out to a long finely-meshed finish. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Alcohol is 14.1 percent. Excellent. About $49.

LL described the Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, as “plum jam on fire.” I’ll go with that. The wine is a blend of 91 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot and 1 percent cabernet franc; it ages 14 months in French and “Eastern European” — usually meaning Hungarian or Slovenian — oak barrels, only 15 percent of which were new. The wine is deep, rich and spicy, imbued with notes of bitter chocolate, ancho chile, black currants, black cherries and plums, licorice and graphite and the smokiness of smoldering meadows of lavender; try to tear your nose away from that. But do, of course, so you’re appreciate a structure of finely-milled tannins that feels like a handful — well, mouthful, I guess — of velvety dust and intense and concentrated black fruit flavors that take on a high, wild tone of mulberry, all of this broadly permeated by cloves and allspice, black olive and dried thyme and a fat fleshy smear of bacon. These factors are packed into a long, immersive finish that devolves into shale and gravel and dry, brushy forest elements. Despite the panoply of sensuous detail, nothing about this wine is over-stated or exaggerated; all is balance, poise and integration. Save for a couple of years or drink now through 2017 to ’20. Alcohol content is 14.2 percent. Excellent. About $49.

Looking for a hearty, sinewy red wine to sip along with this Pork Chile Verde, its spicy, savory qualities deepened with a dollop of red ancho chile sauce, I opened a bottle of the Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. Ah, yes, this worked. Actually, I was eating a bowl of the leftover chili for lunch; the night before, the first serving, we drank beer. The recipe is in the February issue of Bon Appétit, the “new” Bon Appétit relocated to New York from Los Angeles and under completely different editorial staff. Making the dish is one of those kitchen-wreckers, but it turned out great. You do, for example, have to use the processor to make the green sauce (tomatillos, green onions, cilantro, garlic and chicken broth) and then wash the container and so on to make the red sauce (which is toasted dried ancho chilies and toasted garlic with fillips of honey and cinnamon; talk about power and intensity). I’ll probably make this again when cold weather rolls around in the Fall, but I’m looking forward to lighter dishes over the next few months. There exists a great deal of controversy about the spellings of chili and chile, with national and regional variations and a plethora of stylebooks and grammar guides lending weight to their often contradictory favorites. Bon Appétit spelled the dish “chili” but the pepper “chile,” hence the name “Pork Chile Verde” refers to the sauce, not the concoction, as least by their lights. I think.

Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008 is a blend of 50 percent malbec grapes, 40 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent tannat, the latter a grape of midnight hue and rough-shod tannins primarily associated with Madiran, in southwest France, but making headway in Uruguay and showing promise in Argentina. The grapes for Septima Gran Reserva ’08 derive from vineyards ranging from 2,800 feet to 3,600 feet above sea level, and you feel the high altitude gravity of gravelly depth in the wine’s robust structure. The wine ages 12 months in used French oak barrels. This opens slowly, with a deep brooding of briers and brambles, earth, forest and walnut shell, gradually unfurling notes of mulberry and plum, red currants and cranberry and intenser hints of bitter chocolate, tar, fruit cake and (yes) dried ancho chile. In the mouth, for all its vigorously dense tannins and graphite-like minerality, the wine is remarkably fresh, clean and lively, spurred by spanking acidity and luscious red and black fruit flavors that yield, over a few minutes, beguiling undercurrents of mint, lavender and potpourri. I kept going back for another sniff, another sip, as the wine developed in the glass and added both the dimension of heft and proportion and the finely etched details of fruit, spices and flowers. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $25.

Bodega Septima is part of the international Codorníu Group; imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland. A sample for review.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that yesterday was Valentine’s, but today the Wine of the Week is La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008, made from Abruzzo’s indigenous montepulciano grape. (Not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from sangiovese grapes.) The winery was founded in 1990 by Sabatino Di Properzio in the hillside village of Spoltore. Winemaker is Luca D’Attorna. La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 is the perfect knock-about red wine for pizza — we did this on a recent Pizza-and-Movie Night — hearty pasta dishes and grilled or braised meat. The grapes ferment in stainless steel; the wine ages 12 months, 80 percent in a combination of stainless steel and cement tanks, 20 percent in wood. The color is dark ruby/purple; aromas of black currants, blueberries and red plums (with a slight coffee-prunish cast) are permeated by briers, brambles and a touch of graphite-tinged minerals; give it a few minutes and hints of violets, lavender and baking spices emerge. La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 is robust without being rustic, quite dry but not austere, and lent vigor by lively acidity; juicy black and red fruit flavors carry a shading of woody spice and deeper stretches into the finish of foresty tannins. One of those inexpensive wines that makes you happy to be drinking it. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.

… and you don’t have a really long time — like, about six hours — to decide (and buy) what you’re going to offer to your sweetheart — of whatever persuasion, genre, gender, age, nationality — in terms of vinous pleasure at whatever kind of festivity you have planned tonight, whether full-fledged romantic dinner, discreet tête à tête or a discussion about the nature of love vis-a-vis Plato and Augustine in a bosky dell, so let’s cut to the freakin’ chase, brothers and sisters, and remember two words: Brut Rosé, as in Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine. I’m just trying to help.

Image from clipartguide.com

Three from the actual Champagne region of France:

The pale copper-salmon Bollinger Brut Rosé — Bollinger is purveyor to the British Royal Family, so the label is getting a lot of play this spring — is as high-toned and elegant as brut rose gets; this is very dry, all steel and stones, but with hints of strawberry shortcake and biscuits, dried red currants, an idea more than a notion of cinnamon toast with a touch of orange marmalade, but still supremely poised and sophisticated. It’s a blend of 62 percent pinot noir grapes, 24 chardonnay and 14 pinot meunier. Very impressive for the beloved; he or she will love you for this. Excellent. About $100.
Terlato Wines International. A sample for review.

Not to make this all educationy, but notice the slight difference in the blend for the Taittinger Prestige Rosé (in comparison to the Bollinger Brut Rosé above): 55 percent pinot noir, 30 chardonnay and 15 pinot meunier. Many other factors are involved, natch, but the Taittinger Prestige Rosé comes out a little rounder, a little more creamy/crisp in effect; fresh bread, macerated raspberries, dried strawberries with a touch of something wild like mulberries (dark and musky), and tantalizing elements of orange zest, cloves and almonds. Quite substantial yet effortless and ineffable. Excellent, again, irresistible, a playful kiss that mid-way turns serious. Prices around the U.S.A. range from about $55 to $75.
Kobrand Corp. A sample for review.

Third in this triumvirate is the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé, and the blend here is 60 percent pinot noir, 30 pinot meunier and 10 chardonnay, an interesting reversal of the latter two grapes. The color and bead are entrancing, like a foam of pale golden fireworks seething in a faint tangerine/topaz sheathe that at the bottom is almost transparent. Yes, and add to that enchantment dried strawberries and cranberries (with the latter’s hint of wild tartness), toasted almonds and brioche, an elevating aura of crisp and crystalline acidity, effervescence and transparent-seeming limestone. Really attractive and rated Very Good+. Prices around our nation vary from about $35 to $49, so this is the bargain of the group.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Not a sample.
Three alternatives, because as fine as Champagne can be, all the world’s sparkling wine is not produced in that august region nor does it have to be so expensive; you pays yer money and you takes yer choice:

The pale peach/copper colored Mumm Napa Brut Rosé, Napa Valley, used to be the winery’s Blanc de Noirs, but Brut Rose, after all, sounds a little more romantic and enticing. Made from 85 percent pinot noir grapes and 15 percent chardonnay, this is boldly spicy, intense, with well-wrought heft and dimension; strawberry/raspberry with dried red currants, orange zest, spiced tea; dry, crisp, stony, smoky. Mesmerizing stream of tiny bubbles; dynamic effervescence and tone, gratifying concentration and weight; close to elegant. Excellent. About $24, though often discounted as low as $19.
Not a sample.

After its torrent of tiny glistening bubbles in a pale copper/onion skin hue, the Scharffenberger Brut Rosé, Mendocino County (54 percent pinot noir, 46 chardonnay), is refined and polished, exquisitely proportioned in its emphasis on spareness and suppleness; layers of limestone and flint envelop notes of dried raspberries and red currants, orange zest and orange Pekoe tea buoyed by lively acidity; a few minutes in the glass unfold more ripeness and fleshiness, as if the fruit were more spiced and macerated than dried. Really charming. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is about $25, though I (gratefully) paid $19.
Not a sample, obviously.

I tasted — i.e., drank all I could get my hands on — of the Alma Negra Malbec Rosé 2009 back in October when I was in its home region of Mendoza, Argentina, and I was pleased to find that it’s available in the U.S. of A., though only 2,000 cases were produced, so you may have to make a few phone calls in its behalf. This is absolutely delightful, though quite subtle, a weaving of dried strawberries with peach, orange rind, hints of toasted almonds and a bit of almond blossom; dry and thoroughly laced with limestone yet soft in texture, almost cloud-like, so suave and drinkable. Plus, it has this great, mysterious packaging! Very Good+. About $20, though you can find it as low as $17.
Imported by Winebow, Inc.

The recipe for this terrific soup, which includes a drizzle of balsamic reduction, came from New Flavors for Soups: Classic Recipes Redefined, a Williams-Sonoma book published by Oxmoor House in 2009 ($22.95). This is an easy dish, which requires some fine chopping — onion, carrots, celery — but mainly involved sipping a glass of wine and reading the newspaper while things simmer on the stove. The smoked turkey legs came from Whole Foods. The “balsamic drizzle” is just 3/4s of a cup of balsamic vinegar boiled down to 1/2 cup, though I took it down to the point above still runny sludge. Other items we have prepared from this nifty volume include Chicken and Hominy Soup with Ancho Chiles (excellent); Spicy Turkey and Jasmine Rice Soup with Lemongrass (not so successful but our fault for not working well with lemongrass); and Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo, which was fabulous. Anyway I prepared the Split-Pea Soup with Smoked Turkey on the night when LL teaches and had it ready when she got home, along with hunks of crusty bread and a simple red-leaf lettuce salad. For wine, I opened the Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. I include, below, notes on the 2008 version of this wine that I somehow neglected to write about last year. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramez. These wines were samples for review.
The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2009, Napa Valley, displays all the subtlety, suppleness and confidence that this wine typically offers. Made from certified organic and biodynamic estate vineyards in American Canyon and Carneros, the wine receives thoughtful treatment: 80 percent of the grapes ferment in 900-gallon French oak casks, with 20 percent fermented in used small French oak barrels; after fermentation, the wine rests on the lees in neutral barrels for six months. The result is a sauvignon blanc that balances richness and ripeness with nuanced details and elegant dimensions. Enticing aromas of peaches, yellow plums and roasted pears are permeated by hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and touches of nectarine. The wine is delicately grassy and herbal, with emphasis on juicy lemon and pear flavors beautifully set-off by fluent acidity, a finespun, almost lacy limestone element and that gently shaping hand of lightly spicy, nearly illusive wood. The texture is a seductive combination of graceful spareness and moderate lushness, with talc-like softness balanced by keen vivaciousness. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $30.
The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2008, Napa Valley, received the same treatment in the winery as its younger cousin from 2009, yet the result was a different sort of wine. The ’08 is just as lovely, no, even lovelier, but the emphasis is on smoky grapefruit and lime with slightly more obvious spiciness and a swaddling of oak that warms and frames the wine even as vivid acidity and a burgeoning limestone factor provide balancing crispness and liveliness. Ginger and quince, orange blossom and a touch of green leafiness underlie refined peach, pear and grapefruit aromas and flavors set into a structure that’s a little more rigorous, perhaps even more powerful than the structure of the ’09, though this model (2008) never loses touch with its essential elegance and sophistication. The sense of presence and tone, the wine’s assurance and self-possession are utterly convincing and gratifying; also, it’s completely delicious. We drank this wine with seared tuna, bok choy and sweet potato salad. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2013 or ’14. Exceptional. About $30.

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