May 2011


Two French wines made from blends of grapes, a white from Bordeaux’s Graves region and a red from Corbieres in Languedoc.
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Chateau Graville-Lacoste is owned by Hervé Dubourdieu, whose family roots in Graves and Sauternes, southeast of the city of Bordeaux along the Garonne river, go back to 1890. His other properties are Chateau Ducasse, for Bordeaux Blanc, and Chateau Roûmieu-Lacoste, where he makes a lovely, sweet, nervy but delicate Sauternes; the irresistible 2005, made from 100 percent semillon grapes, is available in half-bottles for about $22 (Very Good+).

The dry white Graville-Lacoste 2010 — fresh, clean, pure and intense — is a blend of 60 percent semillon grapes (a high percentage for dry Graves), 35 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. Produced all in stainless steel, the wine is lively and compelling, with fetching aromas of celery and tarragon, sage and thyme woven with roasted lemon and pear and hints of leafy fig; in the mouth, the citrus-and-fig-flecked flavors carry a deep bell-tone of black currant bolstered by an earthy character shot through with shattering acidity and scintillating limestone elements. This is an elegant, buoyant Graves, sleek and stylish, that finishes in a wash of austere limestone and chalk. Drink through 2012 or ’13 with trout sauteed with brown butter and capers or grilled shrimp. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $19 to $22.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. The label image says 2009, but it is the 2010 under review here.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The distance from the city of Bordeaux to the city of Narbonne in Languedoc is 352.37 kilometers or 219 miles; a train ride takes 3 hours and 14 minutes. While in geological terms that’s not much of a stretch — one hardly needs Seven-League-Boots — in the realm of geography these are different worlds. As diverse as it is in micro-climates, the Bordeaux’s Left Bank is relatively flat and influenced by Atlantic winds and moisture; Languedoc is hilly, occasionally even mountainous, and its dry, stark climate is definitely Mediterranean. A good area then for Rhône-style grapes and wine, so our red Wine of the Week is Blason d’Aussières 2008, from the region of Corbières, a vast area to the west and southwest of Narbonne. The property is ancient, going back to the Roman days of grape-growing in southern France, but no, the vineyards are not that old. The estate was acquired by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) in 1999, and much replanting and upgrading have occurred.

Blason d’Aussières 2008, which matured 20 percent in barrels and 80 percent in large vats for 18 months, is composed of 45 percent syrah grapes, 40 percent grenache and 15 percent mourvèdre. The wine is rich and dark and deep but balanced by dusty, mineral-laden tannic austerity and vibrant acidity. Blackberries, blueberries and spicy mulberries define the aromas and flavors, to which a few minutes in the glass bring notes of roses and lavender, licorice and bitter chocolate and a hint of tar; a bit more time unfolds touches of thyme, sage and black olive. Despite its sense of depth and gravity, the wine flows in smooth and mellow fashion across the tongue and palate, making for a drink that offers delight as well as levels of seriousness. We opened this wine with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma, a robust dish with eggplant, tomatoes, oregano, basil and a bit of red pepper flakes. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Very Good+ About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.
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The roots of The Hess Collection go back to 1844, when Johann Heinrich Hess founded a brewery in Berne, Switzerland. Beer remained the primary business for the company until Johann’s great-grandson Donald Hess took over the family concern at the age of 20 and, in the 1960s, took the business in the direction of bottled water, creating the Valser brand. Visiting California in the late 1970s, Donald Hess became fascinated by the Napa Valley wine industry, and in 1978, he acquired 550 acres at about 2,000 feet elevation on Mount Veeder, on the valley’s central-western perimeter, opposite Yountville. Hess spent the next few years gradually buying other vineyard acreage in Napa Valley and selling grapes to other wineries; another purchase was the old Christian Brothers’ Mount La Salle winery, which went through a complete renovation. The first wine under the Hess Collection label was not produced until 1988.

Twenty-three years later, Hess Family Estates, as the company’s group of wineries is known collectively, extend to Australia, Argentina and South Africa, and the Hess Collection itself encompasses the cabernet-blend wines produced under the Hess Collection label; Hess Napa Valley — the Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah as well as a chardonnay and late harvest charonnay; the ubiquitous Hess Select series of inexpensive wines that carry a California designation; 11 wines in the “Small Block” series; and the Artezin Zinfandel and the new Sequana pinot noir label. Not that there’s anything to worry about at this point, but many a producer has foundered on the shoals called “Being All Things to All People,” and perhaps the Hess Select wines face more rigorous (or at least wide-spread) competition in the $10 to $13 range than they used to; I’m just sayin’.

The Hess Collection represents, obviously, a collection of wines and labels, but the name also refers to Donald Hess’ excellent collection of modern and contemporary art, which is displayed at a museum on the property on Mount Veeder and at museums at Glen Carlou in South Africa and Bodegas Colomé in Argentina.

What I’m looking at today are the Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Mount Veeder; the Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvee 2007 and the Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. Director of winemaking is David Guffy. These wines were samples for review.
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The grapes for the Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, derive from the vineyard of that name in the benchlands of Howell Mountain, directly north of the town of Angwin and east of Calistoga, in the northern reaches of Napa Valley. The wine is a combination of 87 percent cabernet sauvigon grapes, 12 percent petite sirah and 1 percent petit verdot, the petite sirah being the wild card in what might otherwise be a standard Bordeaux-style blend, with, say, merlot or cabernet franc. The wine aged 18 months in American oak barrels, 25 percent new, and you feel the gravity of that American oak in a pointed spicy character and a tinge of austerity on the finish. The color is deep royal purple; the multi-layered bouquet smolders with aromas of tar, violets and tobacco, briers and brambles, cedar, walnut shell and beet-root, shale and graphite and, yes, intense and concentrated though fleshy black currants and plums. Let’s just say that you could spend some time getting to know this bouquet. The wine is powerfully tannic, earthy and minerally, yet it flows smoothly over tongue and palate, and those structural elements bear on their shoulders seductive flavors of blackberry cobbler with a hint of wild blueberries and a dusting of exotic spice; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of dried fruit and potpourri. Quite a sleek and stylish performance, personality-wise, but the wine is prevented from leaning (too much) toward exaggeration by its tannic/mineral character and just-sufficient acidity. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.
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No American oak for the Hess Collection 19 Block Cuvee 2007, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley; this ages 16 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new. The wine is a blend of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 17 percent malbec, 4 percent merlot, 1 percent petit verdot and, in another wild card draw, 4 percent syrah; the grapes come from 19 specific blocks of vines in the winery’s Veeder Summit Vineyard, where the elevation ranges from 1,300 to 2,000 feet. The color is inky ruby purple; the wine is intense and concentrated, tightly focused, and yet black and blue fruit scents and flavors are ripe and a little fleshy. Pronounced density of finely-grained tannins, walnut-shell-like oak and slate-like minerality lend the wine powerful ballast, though if you give it a few minutes in the glass, irresistible aromas of lavender and licorice and violets, cedar, tobacco and bay emerge, along with touches of plums, fruit cake and an intriguing hint of fennel. No rich cobbler element here; this is a cabernet that expresses the rigorous, dusty earthy character of its steep altitude origin but with the suppleness of velvet and the verve of pinpoint acidity. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now (with medium rare steak) through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $36.
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The Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, is a monument to tannin in all its underbrushy-forest floor-briery-brambly-dense-chewy-austere manifestations. Made from a blend of 83 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent malbec and 7 percent merlot — no whimsical touches of syrah in this package — the wine ages 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and you feel the shaping influence of that spicy, dusty wood throughout the experience; substantial also in its earthy-minerally character, the wine resonates with the brooding power of its lead pencil-graphite-shale qualities. Is there room for any other factor here? Yes, you intuit first and then smell and taste a modicum of cedary, slightly macerated black currant, black raspberry and plums aromas and flavors that require a little coaxing to unveil themselves. This is not an exotic or dramatic cabernet; it is, instead, solid, dignified, fully dimensioned, dynamic and pretty damned classic. best from 2012 or ’13 through 2018 to ’20. The alcohol content is 14.6 percent. Excellent. About $48.
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Oh, why the hell not! I was cooking dinner last night and sipping from a glass of the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010, Central Coast, and I thought, “This deserves to be a Wine of the Week, but I don’t want to wait until next week, because it would be great for this Memorial Day weekend.” So here goes.

The problem with rosé wines like the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010 is that they’re chilly, tasty and delectable, so we tend to knock them back thoughtlessly instead of taking a bit of time to study them. That proposition presents a paradox: Can a wine be too good for itself? Well, let’s not knot our synapses into an existential conundrum about that idea; let’s just (thoughtfully) enjoy. The wine is blended from 71 percent grenache and 2 percent mourvèdre grapes, which are red, and then a combination of 16 percent roussanne and 11 percent grenache blanc, which are white; these four grape varieties are traditional to the lower Rhone Valley and the South of France. The wine undergoes no oak aging. The color is the classic pale tawny topaz called “onion skin,” hence vin gris in French, “gray wine.” Scents of strawberries and dried red currants are infused with myriad mineral elements — shale, chalk, limestone — and etched with notes of sprightly lime peel and dusty orange rind; give this a few minutes in the glass (but not letting it get over-warm) and you detect a faint aroma of shy musky rose. Flavors of melon and red currants (with hints of thyme and sage) are ensconced in a lovely silky texture sliced by scintillating acidity and a burgeoning limestone character, leaving a finish that’s high-toned, elegant and a little austere. All this, and you can still drink it with cold roasted chicken, deviled eggs, cucumber sandwiches and potato salad. The alcohol content is a sensible 12.8 percent. Now through the end of 2011. Excellent. About $15.

A sample for review.

Oregon’s Torii Mor Vineyard and Winery is owned by Donald Olson, a doctor, and his wife Margie, pictured here. They founded the estate in 1993, gradually working its production up to 15,000 cases a year, primarily of vineyard-designated pinot noir. Located in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA, the winery’s estate vineyard is 39 years old, one of the oldest in Dundee Hills. The winery facility was completed in 2007; it is certified LEED Gold, while the vineyard is certified by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology, Inc). Today’s Wines of the Week are a pinot gris and the winery’s “black label,” entry-level pinot noir. These wines were tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ My first note on the Torii Mor Pinot Gris, 2010, Willamette Valley, is “so lovely.” Made all in stainless steel and undergoing no malolactic fermentation, the wine is crisp, fresh and lively and subtly woven from nuances of almond, almond blossom and honeysuckle, cloves and ginger, peach and pear and wisps of roasted lemon and lemon balm; yes, it’s as delightful as it sounds and delicate rather than overwhelmingly floral. Vibrant with quenching acidity and resonant with some limestone-like minerality on the finish, the wine features flavors of spicy lemon and tangerine with a hint of pear; the finish picks up a bit of dry grapefruit bitterness. Quite charming and tasty, and a perfect porch, patio, pool and picnic wine. A sensible and safe 12.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,800 cases. Very Good+. About $17-$18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Torii More “Black Label” Pinot Noir 2008. Willamette Valley, represents the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, composed as it is of grapes from 17 vineyards. The oak regimen is fascinating: the wine ages 10 months in mostly French oak, with “a few” Hungarian oak barrels, 19 percent new barrels; 25 percent one-year-old; 23 percent two-years-old; 33 percent older neutral barrels. The result is very subtle oak influence, a gentle shaping of wood and slightly woody spice that bolsters and cushions the wine’s fruit and structure without imposing a woody character or dominating in any way; this is how thoughtful all oak maturing in the winery — any and every winery — should be. The color is a very Burgundian light to medium ruby; a bouquet of smoky black cherry, raspberries and plums is infused with cloves and cinnamon and touches of cola and cranberry. Spicy black cherry and plum flavors are lean and sinewy with palate-plowing acidity, yet plumped out with a texture that’s more velvety than classically satiny; from midway back, elements of briers and brambles and other foresty qualities lend the wine a requisite brush of earthiness. A completely reasonable 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $22.
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I won’t make the Benessere Rosato 2010, Napa Valley, the Wine of the Week because there’s not enough available. If it’s sold in your neck o’ the woods, however, or if you can order it from the winery, please do; this is a terrific rosé in the New World sense, meaning that it’s darker in color than the often much paler, “gris”-type rosés we see from Europe, particularly the South of France; those wines, indeed, occupy a sacred place in my heart. The color of the Benessere Rosato 2010, on the other hand, is an entrancing true crimson, that is deep, vibrant red — not ruby! — with a tinge of maroon, which in this case includes a pale brick-red or garnet rim, like the world’s most beautiful rose. The wine, made in stainless steel, is a blend of 49 percent zinfandel, 41 percent sangiovese and 10 percent merlot, a unique marriage that results in a heady bouquet of black and red currants, dried cherry, cranberry and an intriguing earthy hint of pomegranate. Limestone fills the background, with black cherry and red raspberry flavors given a savory quality by touches of dried thyme, cloves and briers. You’re thinking, “Gosh, FK, this sounds like a red wine,” but I promise that it is a rosé, just one with an unusual amount of dimension and character; it’s still a congeries of delicacy and nuance, light-hearted and carefree. I had a glass at lunch recently with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, scallions and black olives, though it would be equally appropriate with fried chicken, potato salad, quiche and other picnic and brunch fare. Serve chilled, through summer of 2012. Winemaker was Jack Stuart. 13.6 percent alcohol. The tag on the bottle said 350 cases; the printed material that came with this sample for review says 284 cases. In either case, mark this rosé Worth a Search. Excellent. About $16.

So it’s harmless, right, to label a wine Bitch. Or Sexy Bitch or Sweet Bitch or Royal Bitch or Crazy Bitch or any other of the 48 “bitch” names for which producers or marketers have applied to the TTB (common shorthand for the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) that oversees and approves labels for alcoholic beverages in the U.S.

I mean this is all just a joke, right, and if I am increasingly bothered by the proliferation of such “humorous” bitch labels then I must be a prude or completely lacking in sense of humor or just plain old, because the bitch labels, the critter labels, the goofy labels, the surreal labels, the double ententre labels — Pinot Evil, Herding Cats, Plungerhead, Screw Kappa Napa, Rude Boy and Rude Girl, Hair of the Dingo, Full Montepulciano, Smoking Parrot, Arrogant Frog and on and on — are intended, we are told, to draw the attention of young people who (quoting a press release) “are intrigued by fun wines freed of the burden of snobbery and geeky Old School connoisseurship.”

Actually, I’m not a prude, and I have a pretty active and slightly bent sense of humor — I won’t comment on the age issue — but words have meanings and consequences, and I think that the “bitch” label phenomenon — apparently launched by the R Winery in Australia, a collaboration between winemaker Chris Ringland and American importer Dan Philips that ran into serious financial trouble last year — offers a serious critique on attitudes toward women in America.

What is a bitch? A female dog, to be sure. Also a complaining woman; a competitive woman; a woman with a superior attitude; a demanding or assertive woman; a woman who denies a man sex; in short — women, because to many segments of American culture, all women are competitive, demanding, assertive, balls-breaking bitches. Unless, of course, they manifest the other side of femininity, promulgated in mainstream Hollywood movies and television sit-coms, as the sweet, non-threatening girls you would be proud to take home to meet Mom and Dad. (Maybe not Dad.) Hiphop, one of the dominant if not the dominant form of pop music in America (and an incredible influence on world culture), is defined by its deeply misogynist stance on women. Who hasn’t stopped at a red light next to a thunderously booming sound system that you feel in the marrow of your defenseless bones that churns out the refrains of “Slap the bitch,” “Fuck the bitch” and “Kill the bitch”?

Whatever advances were attained by women and their male supporters in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, popular culture has succeeded in dumbing down or, at least in the collective imagination, turning into a charade, a caricature of progress. Look at the two women involved in the latest public displays of unhinged male prowess, the still-unnamed chambermaid assaulted in a New York hotel — excuse me, allegedly assaulted — by IMF director Dominque Strass-Kahn, and Mildred Patricia Baena, the housekeeper who worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for 20 years and who after an affair with Schwarzenegger gave birth to his child in 1997. Both women are being demonized on websites and blogs all over the world, the maid for daring to accuse a man far her superior in wealth, status and importance, and Baena for not being hot enough. Like, who do these gold-digging bitches think they are?

There’s nothing wrong with humor and irreverence in the naming of wines and the design of their labels; if irreverence and creativity bring more people into the wine-drinking fold, I’m all for it. Do we, however, have to continue to demean women in such automatic, casual, degrading manner? Let’s have a moratorium on “bitch”‘ labels. Let’s be better than that.

Bitch Grenache image, slightly altered, from aglassafterwork.com

I thought the 2008 version of Tardieu Laurent’s Les Becs Fins Côtes-du-Rhône Villages was terrific, and I feel the same way about the rendition for 2009. The wine is a blend of 60 percent grenache grapes, from a 60-year-old vineyard, and 40 percent syrah, from 20-year-old vines. Les Becs Fins 09 was made all in stainless steel tanks; there’s no oak influence. The color is deep ruby with a faint bluish/magenta rim; pure aromas of ripe black currants and plums are permeated by notes of black olives, dried thyme, smoke, ash, leather and a bit of syrah’s signature wet fur element, all making for a bouquet that while fresh and brisk is a little funkier and earthier than the bouquet of the 2008. The earthy and leathery aspects translate into the mouth, where a dense, chewy texture, freighted with dusty graphite, fine-grained tannins and pinpoint acidity, supports spicy and luscious (but not opulent or jammy) black and blue fruit flavors. This is, in other words, textbook Côtes-du-Rhône Villages that displays real varietal and regional personality and offers a huge amount of pleasure, now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $22.
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The Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis” Côtes-du-Rhône 2008 is excellent in a different manner than its cousin, Les Becs Fins 2009. It, too, is composed of 60 percent grenache and 40 percent syrah, the former from 50-year-old vines, the latter from 35-year-old vines. One difference is that this wine matures in new and one-year-old French oak barrels rather than stainless steel; another is that the color is a shadowy shade darker. The emphasis here is on a combination of rustic power and sleek stylishness (not the same as elegance), on intensity and concentration; in the mouth, one immediately notices the presence of considerable tannins that are supple, lithe and dry. Still there’s black and blue fruit a-plenty here, with a deeply spicy, dried floral quality and a top-note of sweet ripeness, all imbued with smoke and lavender, cedar and juniper. Loads of character married to granite-and-loam-like minerality that ties the wine to the earth. 14 percent alcohol. 200 six-bottles cases imported, yes, that’s 1,200 bottles for the U.S.A. Drink now, with roasted or grilled meat, through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ If you’re looking for a white wine that melds high-toned elegance and austerity with lovely sensual appeal, try the Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis Blanc” Côtes-du-Rhône 2009. Matured in new and one-year-old French oak, the wine is a blend of 60 percent marsanne grapes, 15 percent roussanne, 15 percent viognier and 10 percent grenache blanc. In fact the wine’s steel-edged and chalk-and-limestone-laced minerality feel, at first, as if you’re drinking the White Cliffs of Dover. A few minutes in the glass, however, bring in whiffs of jasmine and camellia, peach and nectarine and notes of bee’s-wax and dried thyme. This is a clean, crisp savory white wine whose stone fruit flavors are tinged with sage, ginger and quince, all backed by scintillating acidity for liveliness and freshness and that unassailable minerality. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. 250 six-bottle cases imported, that’s right, 1,500 bottles for the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If I were compiling a restaurant wine list, though, I would want a few bottles of this wine. Excellent. About $28.
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Last year I extolled the virtues of Fever Tree Tonic Water, which we liked so much in our gin and tonics that I bought a case.

This year it’s the turn of Fentimans Tonic Water, which I discovered a few weeks ago at Fresh Market. The company dates back to 1905 and has long been known in Great Britain as a producer of superior, quite gingery Ginger Beer, of which I am also very fond, and other soda-type beverages, including a Dandelion and Burdock variety that I wish were imported to these shores, and if it is, let me know. Tonic water is a late addition to the roster, but you must, if you’re now in gin and tonic mode, search it out. Fentimans is unlike any other tonic water I have tried, being actually rather savory as well as spicy and paradoxically slightly sweet/peppery/austere; besides quinine, it contains lemon oil and lemongrass, all combining for a piney, bitter, uplifting quality that both sustains the gin and cuts through it like a blade.

The squat brown bottle holds 9.3 fluid ounces, compared to the 6.8 fluid ounces of a bottle of Fever Tree, yet each costs $5.99 for a four-pack. (Fever Tree is available at Whole Foods.) Fentimans is obviously designed to fuel two tall drinks, while Fever Tree is perfect for short drinks the way I make gin and tonics for LL and me. Do we prefer one over the other? Not really. In fact, I’ve been alternating on the days when we have time after work to sit on the back porch with a gin and tonic and a bowl of something snacky, so one time we’ll have a drink with the more elegant, acerbic, high-toned Fever Tree and the next time with the more earthy, savory Fentimans. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

Here’s another rosé wine on another gloomy day in Memphis, Tennessee, where the water’s still high as an elephant’s eye. Last week we had the air conditioner on; today I had to turn on the heat. Nothing like a great rosé, then, to lift the spirits. Oops, wait, a bulletin from the Great Outdoors; the sun is shining, rather fitfully, it’s true, but that’s something anyway.

Tavel in the southern Rhone Valley has a centuries-old reputation for rosé wines, a reputation too often merely rested upon than reasonably proved. Fine models exist, however, and some of the finest are produced by the Prieuré de Montèzargues, pictured here. The original priory was established in 1119; grapes have been grown on the property and wine made since sometime shortly after 1300. Winemaker in the present manifestation of the estate — it long-since ceased its function as a religious house, the Revolution looking unkindly on monastic sinecures — is Guillaume Dugas. Grapes grown at Prieuré de Montèzargues are grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvèdre and carignan for red and clairette, picpoul and bourboulenc for white, all the typical southern Rhône or Provençal varieties. The intriguing blend for the Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010, Tavel, is 55 percent red and white grenache; 30 percent cinsault, 13 percent clairette and 2 percent of mere dollops of syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and bourboulenc. I don’t know about you, but I picture Monsieur Dugas poised over the vats with an eye-dropper, administering impossibly minute quantities of wine.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged briefly in concrete vats. The entrancing color is radiant light melon with a slightly tawny topaz cast, as if lit from within; aromas of lightly macerated strawberries, raspberries and red currants are grounded in earthy elements that reminded me of sun-warmed rocks and damp, dusty roof tiles, yeah, all quite Provençal, and boy, do I wish I had a little plate with some rabbit terrine and a basket of crusty bread. Flavors tend toward melon and peach permeated by touches of dried thyme and lavender and a distinct slatey quality that runs like a taut thread through the finish. Bright acidity and a moderately lush texture offer gratifying balance in a way that seems sweetly competitive and cooperative; all great wines are about tension and resolution. The Prieuré de Montèzargues 2010 is ultimately spare and bone-dry, even a bit austere in the finish, as we expect from well-made rosé from the southern Rhône Valley, though the hauteur doesn’t detract one whit from the delightful fruity/floral character. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Excellent. About $24.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

When I wrote the post called “Tasting Every Damn Chardonnay in the Wine Fridge” (here), I dissed (sometimes strenuously) a number of chardonnays, especially from California, but tried to ease the pain somewhat by mentioning that I liked some of the red wines from the producers in question. Today, I’ll go back to the pinot noirs of 2009 and 2008 from La Crema Winery, because, however much I dislike the winery’s chardonnays and the manner of their making, I pretty much adore the pinots.

This line-up seems to represent most of the pinot noirs from La Crema for 2008 and 2009. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse, who recently left La Crema to take the position of vice president of winemaking at J Vineyards and Winery. Her replacement at La Crema is Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, who had been associate winemaker under Stackhouse. La Crema is one of the Jackson Family Wines.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Coast, and La Crema Pinot Noir 2009, Monterey County. Carrying broad designations, Sonoma Coast and Monterey, these are the winery’s entry-level pinot noirs; both are reliable, well-made pinots that are appealing and satisfying without reaching ecstatic heights. The oak influence is wisely kept to a minimum; the Sonoma Coast Pinot 09 ages seven and a half months in French oak, 26 percent new barrels, while the Monterey Pinot 09 ages seven months in French oak, 29 percent new barrels. La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 09 is a lovely expression of the grape that offers aromas of red and black currants and plums with hints of cranberry, cola and cloves; the texture is smooth and satiny, and the overall impression is of balance, integration and authentic tone. 13.8 percent alcohol. La Crema Monterey Pinot Noir 09 takes the character of its stable-mate and intensifies and concentrates it into a wine that’s darker, literally and metaphorically, and spicier and whose emphasis is more on black and blue fruit scents and flavors rather than black and red. There’s a bit more weight and substance here too, a little more velvet than satin. 13.9 percent alcohol. Both of these highly drinkable pinot noirs should perform nicely through 2013 or ’14. Both rate Very Good+. About $24.

La Crema Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, and La Crema Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley. With the narrower regional focus, the ante goes up for the Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley; the oak regimen is a little more strict: nine months for Anderson, 36 percent new French oak, 10 months for RRV, 51 percent new French oak; the alcohol contents are slightly higher, 14.4 and 14.6 percent respectively; and there is, not surprisingly, a heightened level of resonance and concentration. The color of La Crema RRV Pinot 09 is medium ruby with a blue/magenta overlay; the generous bouquet is expansive with sweet red and black cherry scents, cranberry, cola and cloves and undertones of briers and brambles; smooth and supple, yes, but with marked intensity and vibrancy in ripeness, in spice and in density; a polished wine that’s beautiful in balance, tone and integration. Excellent. About $40. La Crema Anderson Valley Pinot 09 is a shade darker in its ruby color, definitely spicier and deeper in its slightly macerated and roasted aromas and flavors of black and red fruit; it’s also just a bit heftier and more tannic — you feel this suggestion of weight, this slightly acerb quality especially from mid-palate back through the foresty finish. Also Excellent. About $50. The production was 5,800 cases for the RRV, 2,700 cases for the Anderson. Both of these pinot noirs will reward another year’s aging and then drinking through 2015 to ’16.
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La Crema Pinot Noir 2008, Sonoma Coast, and La Crema Pinot Noir 2008, Monterey County. So, here we are at the vintage of one year earlier. The oak treatment is the same except that in the case of the Monterey pinot the barrels are 30 percent new rather than 29 percent as with the 2009 version; how much difference this detail makes I’m not sure, but I assume the idea is to allow the vintage to express itself rather than any abrupt alterations in winery methodology. The color of the Monterey Pinot 08 is a beguilingly limpid medium ruby with a faint blue cast; classic aromas of black cherry and plum are imbued with cloves, cinnamon and cocoa powder and hints of leather and sassafras. The texture is seductively satiny; the ripe yet spare black cherry and plum flavors unfold to touches of mulberry and cranberry, and after a few minutes — I mean 20 or 30 minutes — you feel the slight tug of briery tannins and polished oak through the finish. Just freakin’ lovely. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $24. La Crema Sonoma Coast Pinot 08 feels cooler, a little more spare, more mineral-influenced, less spicy, more floral: rose petals, shale, cranberry and cola; lavender and licorice; a texture as dense as satin drapery yet with vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; again, you feel the oak and tannin creeping up through the finish, but boy this is good. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $24.

La Crema Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, is certainly a satisfying pinot noir, but given the choice and considering the price, I would go with the Sonoma Coast Pinot 08. Still, this is a pinot noir that touches all the authentic bases of dimension and detail with earthy, smoky black cherry and plum scents and flavors, hints of leather and slightly briery underbrush and barnyard elements, supple tannins and a dense, satiny texture. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Very Good+. About $40.
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