March 2011

Some friends came over a few nights ago for a meeting of a committee that LL and I are chairing for an animal-related fund-raising event, and of course I pulled out a few wines to slake their thirst and accompany a selection of cheeses and grilled vegetables. These friends are not “wine-people”; they just like to drink wine, though when they taste something good they can tell the difference between the good stuff and some bland, innocuous fluff. The temperature was a bit chilly for late March — the month came in like a lion and seems to be going out like one too — so I made it a red wine occasion, to which no one objected. I thought diversity in country and grape variety would be interesting, so here’s what I opened: Gainey Vineyard Merlot 2007, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County; Inurrieta Sur 2007, Navarra, Spain, a blend of garnacha and graciano grapes (maybe; see review below); and La Valentina Spelt 2006, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. These wines were samples for review.

When I poured a few glasses of the Gainey Merlot 2007, Santa Ynez Valley, someone said, “Ymmmmm, so glad you chose this one!” The wine is a blend of 95 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc and 1 percent cabernet sauvignon; it aged 19 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. Boy, this is deep, rich, glittery yet impeccably balanced merlot, permeated by black currant and black raspberry scents and flavors thoroughly imbued with notes of mint and cedar, smoke, graphite-like minerality and polished oak that takes on a bit of toast. The smoky quality, which unfurls to reveal hints of bitter chocolate, black tea and lavender, intensifies as the moments pass, as does the more profound depth of dusty tannins, earthy loaminess and shale. Not that the wine is forbidding; oh, no, these serious qualities, along with vibrant acidity, are necessary to temper, if not tame, the wine’s profuse sensual attractions. Quite a performance. 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $20, Great Quality for the Price.
There’s a bit of confusion about exactly what grapes go into the Inurrieta Sur 2007, from Spain’s Navarra region. The back label tells us that the wine is a blend of garnacha (grenache) and graciano; the printed matter I was sent with the wine says 60 percent garnacha and 40 percent syrah; the winery’s website asserts that the wine contains garnacha, syrah and graciano grapes. O.K., people, let’s get the story straight! The point is, when I poured our friends a glass of the wine, a chorus of “whoa” and “wow” filled the air. The wine is a dark ruby color, while the bouquet is deeply spicy, sooty, smoky, ripe and funky in the fleshy, meaty sense. This is a delectable quaff whose residence in American oak barrels for six months lends a combination of suppleness and sinewy power to the flavors of black currants, black raspberries and mulberries, all slightly macerated and roasted. The whole effect is sleek, burnished, highly drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13. I almost wish I had saved it for pizza, but I’ll find something else, don’t worry. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
The Wine of the Week on Feb 18 was La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008; now it’s the turn of that wine’s slightly older cousin, La Valentina Spelt 2006. Also made from 100 percent montepulciano grapes, Spelt 06 — the wine is named for the region’s dominant grain crop — ages 18 months, partly in stainless steel; partly in French barriques, new and one- and two-years old; and partly in 25 hectoliter barrels. Nothing rustic here; this is a lovely, balanced, eminently drinkable red wine notable for a beguiling bouquet of mint and eucalyptus, slightly spiced and macerated black currant, black raspberry and plum fruit; and a deep dark woody/spicy/chewy/dusty/tannic/graphite/minerally texture and structure etched with delicate tracings of licorice, lavender and potpourri. Alcohol is a sensible 13.5 percent. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $22.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.

Old Bridge Cellars is one of the country’s best importers of wines from Australia. Founded in 1990 by Rob McDonald and based in the city of Napa, Old Bridge bring to the United States such impressive labels as d’Arenberg, Bass Phillip, Brokenwood, Chambers, Jasper Hill, Leeuwin Estate and Plantagenet, among others. Many importers, after some period of time, begin to think about not just being the middleman but of actually producing their own wines — as Terlato does — so Old Bridge has debuted its line of wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma County dubbed Stickybeak, a name that has that inimitable Australian ring to it. “Stickybeak” in Australian parlance apparently means a busybody or, as a verb, “to have a look,” hence the winery’s logo of a rather Magritte-like personage wearing a black suit and bowler having a gaze across a white picket fence at an expanse of “wine country” beyond. Winemaker for Stickybeak is Wayne Donaldson; general manager is Gavin Speight.

I recently tried four of the Stickybeak wines and was impressed by two but, I’m sorry to say, disappointed by the others. These were samples for review.
Of this quartet, the wine I enjoyed most was the Stickybeak Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Sonoma County, an all-stainless steel blend of 72 percent semillon and 28 percent sauvignon blanc that’s clean and fresh and intensely floral. Notes of apple and grapefruit, spicy pear and a bit of fig waft from the glass in a welter of lime peel, jasmine and honeysuckle; yes, it’s as irresistible as it sounds. Hints of new-mown grass and dried thyme and tarragon overlay flavors of lemon curd and roasted lemon, a further dollop of leafy fig, all swathed in a jazzed texture of crystalline acidity and a dry, chalky, limestone-washed finish. Super attractive and exhilarating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the summer of 2012. Very Good+. About $17.
The other Stickybeak wine I liked was the Stickybeak Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast, which is fermented in stainless steel and open vats and then aged in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. Here’s another fresh, bright wine — sporting a radiant medium ruby color — a pinot bursting with requisite tones of red currants and plums with hints of rhubarb and cola, cloves and potpourri, a warm and spicy wine with touches of wheatmeal, briers and brambles in its depths, which a few minutes in the glass devolve to clean, earthy minerality. If the wine has a flaw it’s that the finish turns not just dry but austere; perhaps it requires another year to find better balance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.
The Stickybeak wines that seemed problematic to me were the Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, and the Syrah 2008, Napa County. The Chardonnay 09 was too much in every sense: too oaky, too spicy, too much toffee and brown sugar qualities, too dense and cloying; quite dry yet unpleasantly viscous. Call it a stylistic quarrel if you like, but I don’t recommend it. Avoid. About $17. I could find little of its titular grape in the Syrah 08, which seemed so over-ripe, so juicy and jammy and vanilla-ish and toasty that it could have been an over-ripe, jammy, vanilla-ish and toasty cabernet or zinfandel; California is filled with such wines. Again, no recommendation here. About $20.

When I open a bottle of wine for Pizza & Movie Night, I follow no pattern or motivation, no agenda. I usually just pluck what’s at hand and give it a try. It was coincidence, then, that the wines for the past two Pizza & Movie Nights were Italian, both from Tuscany yet very different sorts of wines.
Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Cal. Samples for review.

First is a simple yet tasty Borgianni Chianti 2007, made by Castello di Volpaia from sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti Colli Senesi area near Siena. The wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks and receives not the slightest kiss of oak; there’s a little canaiolo in the blend, which is traditional for Chianti. What do you want in a quaffable Chianti? How about a dark ruby-colored, robust and slightly sinewy wine that bursts with notes of black and red currants, smoky oolong tea, dried orange rind, cloves and potpourri? Would that get it for you? Borgianni 07 is nicely balanced, with moderately rich black and red fruit flavors cushioned by moderately dense and chewy tannins and enlivened by pert acidity. The wine is quite dry and a bit austere on the briery, foresty finish. 3,000 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13 with pizza, burgers and red-sauce pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Deal.

Tenuta di Biserno is a collaboration between the brothers Marchese Piero and Marchese Lodovico Antinori, of the well-known and venerable family that has been involved with winemaking in Tuscany since the middle of the 14th Century. Piero Antinori runs the vast family business from the Palazzo Antinori in Florence. Lodovico was the founder and owner of Tenuto Dell’Ornellaia in the Bolgheri region in southwestern Tuscany; the first vintage of the flagship “super Tuscan” Ornellaia was in 1985. After various complicated partnerships and buy-outs involving Robert Mondavi, the Frescobadli family and Constellation Brands, Lodovico lost the estate to the Frescobaldi family in 2005.

Tenuta di Biserno was established in 2001. The estate lies in the Alta Maremma region adjacent to Bolgheri near the town of Bibbona. The estate produces three wines, all red, of which Insoglio del cinghiale is considered the entry-level wine. No traditional Tuscan grapes are used here; all devolves upon “international” varieties, and indeed the blend of the Insoglio del cinghiale 2008 — syrah and merlot each 32 percent, cabernet franc 30 percent and petit verdot 6 percent — one might expect to see in California or Australia. Careful winemaking, however, allows Insoglio 2008 to retain individuality outside the category of mere internationalism.

Insoglio 08 is, first, a sleek, elegant and expressive wine whose oak regimen — 40 percent of the wine aged only four months in new and 1-year-old French barriques; the rest in stainless steel — lends it lovely suppleness and firm dimension. The whole effect is of engaging richness, presence and tone tempered by a background of clean, earthy, loamy and graphite-like mineral qualities married to polished and fine-grained tannins that slide through the mouth as if on well-oiled ball-bearings. As many well-made and ambitious wines do, Insoglio 2008 balances intensity and concentration with expansiveness and generosity, and while a few minutes in the glass unfurl depths of minerals and leather, the wine never loses grip on its innate, deeply spicy and macerated black and blue fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Essential drinking, I would think, with rare to medium rare steaks or braised veal shanks, though LL and I happily consumed it with last night’s pizza. Excellent. About $32

I was looking for something to drink with the fettuccine with preserved lemon, black olives, thyme and Parmesan I concocted for lunch a couple of days ago, and came upon a second bottle of the Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, from North Yuba in the Sierra Foothills. Yikes, this was one of my “Best Wines of 2010,” which I tasted back in April or May and wrote about originally in this post in June. Renaissance specializes in small quantities of wines fashioned from Rhone Valley grape varieties, as well as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts; it aged nine months in a combination of new and one- and two-year old barrels. Bottled on May 15, 2007, the Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006 was not released until Jan. 15, 2010; the winery typically holds its products longer than just about any producer in California.

Talk about golden! The color is radiant gold with a tinge of green, and not meaning to be speciously vague or precious, it just feels golden, like a boon of munificence. Notes of peaches and pears and quince spiced with ginger and cloves are ripe and honeyed, though the wine is bone dry; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of baked pineapple, fig and dried thyme, as well as a touch of bees’-wax and limestone. Despite this panoply of delights, the wine is spare and elegant, a bit coolly detached, even, though supple and shapely in texture. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors tilt a nod toward spiced pineapple and fig compote, and there’s a scant bit of grapefruit bitterness on the long, clean, stylish finish. What I want to emphasize is the wine’s exquisite balance among gorgeous fruit and spice elements, its scintillating acidity, bedrock mineral nature and tactful structural reticence; nothing out of place, nothing obtrusive or flamboyant. Winemaker is Gideon Beinstock, a name one does not hear bruited about with the brilliant winemakers of the Golden State, though he certainly deserves inclusion in that company. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 63 cases; I said “small quantities,” didn’t I? Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

The pasta was one of those throw-together things. In fact, I was just going to whip up a salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese pasta when I remembered a jar of preserved lemon slices in the fridge, and of course once I had diced one of those, black olives and thyme seemed inevitable, so the dish took on a Mediterranean cast. It was simple and tasty, and the wine, with its elegant old-gold, lemon-dried herb quality, was close to perfect with it.

Still thinking about the wines I tasted at VINO 2011 two months ago and some of the estate owners and winemakers I talked to. One of those that keeps recurring in my mind is Ca’ di Frara, a property in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region. Winemaker and manager Luca Bellani and Veronica Barri, who handles the marketing end, were so engaging — sort of eager and anxious together– and the wines they showed were also so engaging that I wish I had a glass or two sitting beside me as I write these words and sentences. (On the other hand, I’m sipping a glass of the Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, and listening to Glenn Gould play the “Goldberg Variations,” so I’m not like, you know, unhappy.)

The estate was founded in 1905 and is now owned by the third generation of the family, Luca and Matteo Bellani.

Oltrepò Pavese received D.O.C. status in 1970, though the area had long been considered an under-performer. The region lies directly south of the city of Pavese and south of the Po river — “otrepò” means “beyond the Po” — in the jutting triangle at the southwestern extreme of Lombardy, as if the province were making a tiny geographical genuflection. Oltrepò Pavese is a hilly area, extending toward the foothills of the Apennines, and around Oliva Gessi, where Ca’ di Frara is located, the chalk-like minerality of those hills benefits white grapes like riesling and pinot grigio.

For example, the Ca’ di Frara Apogeo 2009 is a raccolta tardiva, a late harvest riesling that is nonetheless bone dry, coming in at a comfortable 13 percent alcohol, and expressing a structure that I kept trying to find a different word for but kept landing on “beautiful” as a combination of stones and bones can only be when acidity, minerality and fruit are in perfect balance. (Think of Monica Vitti’s face.) Peaches and pears, a hint of lychee and quince; a crisp, vibrant presence, steely but not forbidding; and that line of limestone, taut, damp and radiant. Made all in stainless steel. Excellent. About $22 would be the price in the United States of America. Also made in stainless steel is the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Grigio 2009, again a late harvest wine fashioned in a completely dry manner, with 13.5 percent alcohol and projecting an astonishing and profound depth of chalky/limestone mineral character with a sort of inner strength and dynamism and purpose that very few pinot grigios made anywhere in Italy can evince. Another Excellent. Price would be about $20.

Of two reds, I was a bit dismayed by the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Nero 2008, which though fermented in stainless steel aged 12 months in oak barrels, lending it a deeply spicy nature but also excessive dryness and even some austerity. Perhaps this will be more tolerable after 2012. Alcohol is 13 percent. Good+. About $22. No such caveat attaches to Ca’ di Frara’s La Casetta 2009, a Provincia de Pavia I.G.T. wine that’s a blend of 95 percent croatina grapes and 5 percent “rare grapes.” There’s possible confusion here since in Lombardy croatina is usually known as bonarda, while a different croatina is called “uva rara.” Oh well, let’s just get on with things. I loved this wine for its unusual, authentic, countryside character, its spiciness, wildness and exotic nature, its intense black and blue fruit qualities that managed not to be too ripe or flamboyant. The wine ages in 50 percent French oak, a process that contributes shape and suppleness to the texture without compromising its individual integrity. Charming and delightful yet with satisfying depth. Very Good+. About $20.

Here’s an inexpensive — actually cheap — 100 percent carmenère wine that pulls rank and expresses the character of the grape without echos or sneaky infiltrations of merlot or cabernet sauvignon. The Santa Digna Carmenère Reserva 2009, from Chile’s vast Central Valley, is made by Miguel Torres, of the well-known Torres wine family of Spain. The color pulses with deep purple, and aromas of black olive, bell pepper, tomato skin, black currants, blueberries and plums convince your nose that this is the real deal. A few moments in the glass bring up notes of cedar and tobacco and dusty graphite. The wine is dense and chewy, but still a light-hearted charmer that invests its spicy black and blue fruit flavors — looks for touches of dried orange rind and fig — with vibrant acidity, moderately firm tannins and a long, mineral-laced finish. It’s a bit rustic, as befits a tasty, uncomplicated wine that you might quaff while lying back in a hay-rick gnawing on a piece of cold fried chicken, yet smooth and palatable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $10, a Great Bargain.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co, New York. A sample for review.

For a reasonably priced yet extraordinarily pure and intense example of what the chardonnay grape can achieve, look for the Bourgogne Chardonnay 2008, from the distinguished estate of Thierry and Pascale Matrot. The winery is in the white wine village of Meursault, though the Matrots also make white wine from Puligny-Montrachet and red wine from Volnay and Blagny. The estate goes back to 1904, when Thierry Matrot’s grandfather married a woman who, as Clive Coates writes, “had some vines in Meursault.” Matrot has bottled its wines since 1908, in other words not selling wine in bulk to negociants. Thierry Matrot began working with his father at the domaine in 1976; he has been completely in charge since 1983. The estate vineyards, about 45 acres, have been farmed organically since 2000.

For a simple “Bourgogne” designation, either pinot noir or chardonnay grapes can come from just about any place in Burgundy, though the grapes for the Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2008 are from “near Meursault”; the vines average 30 years old. The wine fermented in oak barrels, 15 to 20 percent new, rested in barrels on the lees for 11 months and underwent total malolactic fermentation. So, how come the wine doesn’t smell and taste at all like wood? How come it exhibits almost crystalline clarity of chardonnay grape character and a tremendous sense of vitality and elan? Thoughtful, careful winemaking, that’s how, a deft hand, a sensitive palate and high-quality grapes to begin with. The medium straw-gold colored wine offers lovely surface allure and great dimension in its pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors fueled by roasted lemon and honey-baked pear, ginger and quince and a huge hit of limestone/shale minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of lemon balm and bees’-wax, along with a trace of cloves. The whole package is sleek and smooth and mouth-filling, though a-tingle with crisp acidity and quite dry from mid-palate back through the limestone-washed finish. Amazing presence and tone, wonderful marriage of elegance and power for the price. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. I paid $20; the national average price is about $18.

LL and I seldom drink a whole bottle of wine with dinner, but we adored this terrific model of chardonnay fashioned in the manner that appeals to us the most. Happily consumed with the never-fail Cod and Chorizo Stew with Potatoes and Leeks.

Imported by Vineyards Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

No, I’m not writing about baked goods; rather, I’m writing about three red wines I tasted recently from Villa San-Juliette, located in Paso Robles. The name sounds Italian, the label is decorous and attractive, but the wines are New World to the hilt: opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe, thoroughly oaked, and with alcohol as high as an elephant’s eye. Who drinks these wines? Turns out that the owners of the 168-acre vineyard in Pleasant Valley north of Paso Robles are Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol. Well, o.k., that fits, over-the-top wines from the producers of the country’s number one over-the-top television program. The prices, however, are not extreme at all, though to make them worth the money you have to love an exaggerated, if not parodistic style. Winemaker is Adam LaZarre, a well-known figure in California for two decades and former head winemaker for Hahn Estate Winery.

These wines were samples from a local wholesale distributor.
The Villa San-Juliette Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French barrels, a process that resulted in a wine dense with creamy, spicy oak and sumptuous with rich cassis, plum and black cherry scents and flavors. This is a blend of 90 percent cabernet grapes, 4 percent each “shiraz” and tempranillo, 2 percent merlot. Give it a few moments and the wine dredges up notes of blueberry tart and boysenberry, the whole effect pretty damned luscious and jammy, and at this point I’m thinking that the VS-J Cab 08 is channeling a big-hearted, two-fisted Paso Robles zinfandel; touches of mint and cedar, lavender and licorice reinforce the notion. Layers of dense, thick, chewy, dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality provide structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. 3,900 cases. To my palate, this wine is a travesty of cabernet sauvignon. Rating is Good+, for those who don’t really want their cabernets to be anything at all like cabernet. About $17.
The Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah 2008, Paso Robles, includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent syrah and 3 percent mourvèdre; it ages 14 months in new and neutral French barrels. The wine is sweet with oak, sweet with its 15 percent alcohol content, sweet with super-ripe, viscous black and blue fruit flavors permeated by blueberry tart and blackberry jam, smoke and ash, potpourri and dusty velvet and (paradoxically) almost iron-like minerality. Opulent and overwhelming. 3,900 cases. Good+. About $17.
LaZarre describes this wine, on the back label, as “blueberry motor oil,” and at first I thought he was apologizing, as in, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that the Petitie Sirah 2008 turned out like blueberry motor oil. I promise to do better next time,” but, no, the term was meant as high praise appropriate to the wine. I guess I’m just so fucking naive.
O.K., on to the Villa San-Juliette Chorum 2007, Paso Robles, a wine intended as the flagship for the estate. This is blend of 68 percent “shiraz” — fer gawd’s sake, just say syrah! — and 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps using the Australian term “shiraz” indicates the wine’s affinity with Australian wines of the same ilk. It ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French oak, and it’s a huge, formidable, flamboyant, ripe and fleshy and meaty performance, a close to Baroque rendition of the companion grapes. Fie, it out-Australians the Australians! 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 510 cases. Good only. About $23.
I tasted those three red wines together day before yesterday, but I have a glass of the Villa San-Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, next to me as I type these words. While I find this bright straw-yellow colored wine the most reasonably proportioned of the VS-J wines I tried, it’s still far from the spare, reticent manner I prefer. Notes of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd distinguish a bouquet that also yields hints of tangerine, pear and melon, with after-thoughts of dusty, dried herbs and the waxiness of little white flowers that take it into Rhone Valley-marsanne/roussanne territory. Not that the wine is not extremely attractive, but it is a bit extreme. It ages 4 months in neutral French barrels, and one feels that oaken subtlety in the wine’s suppleness and smoothness; flavors lean toward stone fruit and mango and baked pear, with a burst of lime and grapefruit (in nose and mouth) that delivers crispness and liveliness to the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,060 cases. Of this quartet, the VS-J Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is the one I recommend, for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

Faithful Readers — may your tribe increase! — a piece I wrote is the featured article on The Palate Press website this week. Here’s a link to the story, which grew out of my tasting experience and interviews with winemakers at VINO 2011 in New York back in January. The focus of the piece is the culture war (as I see it) between advocates of old-fashioned winemaking in Italy, that is, using large, old barrels for aging wine, and the innovators who tout the (proliferating) use of small French barriques. I hope that you enjoy the story and will leave a comment if you are inspired or provoked. Click here.

Why don’t people drink more Chateauuneuf-du-Pape? Unfamiliarity with the grapes and the geography perhaps? A strange sort of name, maybe? Limited availability? Bad marketing?

In any case, Chateauneuf-du-Pape — “the pope’s new castle” — deep in the southern Rhone Valley, north of Avignon, was the first wine region in France to be subject to rules of self-regulation, proposed in 1923 by Baron Le Roy of Chateau Fortia. The wine is unusual in that the red Chateauneuf-du-Pape may officially contain the juice of 13 grapes, though the reality today is that most renditions consist of grenache, syrah and mourvèdre. Traditional producers, however, often include dollops of the other permitted varieties, which include cinsault, muscardin, vaccarèse, picpoul, terret noir and counoise, as well as the white grenache blanc, clairette, bourboulenc and roussanne grapes. These white grapes also make the region’s rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, about 3 to 5 percent of the production.

During the so-called “Babylonian Captivity” of 1309 to 1378, the papacy moved to Avignon. Pope John XXII selected the village of Calcernier — not called Chateauneuf-du-Pape until the 19th Century when the wine began to gain renown — as the site of his summer palace, the ruins of which are seen in the accompanying image.

Today’s Wines of the Week are a red and a white Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Lazaret. Owned by the Quiot family, the domain is named for an ancient hospice for the poor and sick in the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, once operated by the Lazarists, a silent order of monks founded in 1625 by St. Vincent de Paul.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Image of the pope’s summer palace from
The Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2008 is a beautifully knit and bountifully spicy wine blended of 45 percent grenache blanc, 30 percent clairette, 20 percent bourboulenc and 5 percent barrel-fermented roussanne. One expects from the best Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc a seamless melding of roundness and lushness with lithe, spare elegance, a character this example provides in spades, along with bell-ringing acidity for crisp liveliness and a kind of vast, gradual unveiling of limestone-like minerality. Hints of peaches and pears, decked out with roasted almonds and a touch of almond blossom and some waxy floral element are supremely enticing; a few minutes in
the glass bring up notes of cloves, quince and ginger and touches of dusty dried herbs like thyme and marjoram. Well-made versions of these wines age well; drink this now with pleasure or let it develop more depth and dimension through 2015 to ’18. A lovely effort. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $25 to $35.

Definitely needing time is the Domaine Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge 2008, made from 67 percent grenache, 22 percent syrah, 5 percent mourvèdre and 6 percent of smidgeons of the 10 other grapes allowed in the wine by law. The wine ferments in concrete vats and then spends 18 months in large vats and foudres, meaning no new oak, no small barriques. The aromas form a seductive weaving of black and red currants, black raspberries and plums, potpourri, lavender and allspice, with fairly stark notes of briers and brambles, new leather and sandalwood. In the mouth, however, these sensual qualities fade out, and the wine leans more toward the dry, forest and underbrush nature of grainy tannins and the imposing flank of granite-like minerality; the finish is tight and austere, though the tannins are not the blunt, scorching tannins that afflict some renditions of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you’re enjoying the Vieux Lazaret Blanc 2008, allow its rouge cousin to rest until 2013 or ’14, for drinking through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $24 to $36.

Imported by David Milligan Selections, Sagaponack, N.Y.

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