September 2011

The heart of Bordeaux may be its legendary grand chateaux and the great, long-lived and very expensive wines they produce, but the region’s soul lies in the thousands of small estates where families, some of many generations’ duration, turn out well-made, accessible, little-known wines that labor in the shadows of their illustrious brethren. These are not the wines for which those who possess fiduciary prowess fork over inconceivable amounts of money and store them away in their cellars (increasingly in China); these are, however, the wines that more modestly endowed folk enjoy with lunch and dinner, wines that are solid, dependable and enjoyable.

On the other hand, let’s not eliminate any aspects of ambition. Winemaker Laetitia Mauriac, for example — the writer Francois Mauriac was her great-uncle — is justly proud that her Chateau la Levrette 2007, Bordeaux Blanc, is served at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The small group of writers I’m traveling with this week tasted Mauriac’s wines and those of Chateau Sainte Barbe, made by Antoine Touton, last night at Chateau Sainte Barbe, a charming edifice built between 1760 and 1780 by Jean-Baptiste Lynch, the Irish emigre whose name appears on such well-known classified properties as Lynch-Bages and Lynch-Moussas and who served as mayor of the city of Bordeaux. Touton, a former coffee, vanilla bean and cocoa broker, and his wife Lucy bought the decrepit chateau and estate in 2000 and restored the house and replanted the vineyards.

On the chateau’s terrace, looking right onto the Garonne river, we tried Mauriac’s Bordeaux Blanc and Bordeaux Clairet with bowls of green olives and tiny river shrimp boiled with star anise. (The shrimp were whole; one holds them by their teeny heads and eats the rest, shell and all.) La Levrette 2007 — “levrette” means greyhound — made completely from sauvignon blanc grapes, sports a brilliant golden color and a remarkable bouquet of almond blossom and almond skin, roasted lemons, pears and cloves. The wine aged eight months in new oak, with regular stirring of the lees (b?tonnage), resulting in lovely suppleness in texture and a deeply spicy quality in the ripe, round stonefruit flavors (with hints of ginger and quince), all abetted by crystalline acidity. This is a wine that it would be instructive to revisit in three or four years. Mauriac said, “When I make my white wine, I don’t think of it as Bordeaux. I think of it as a wine that I like.”

I had not encountered Clairet, which has its own Bordeaux A.O.C.. It’s darker and possesses more character than rosé but not as much body and flavor as a straight Bordeaux rouge. Chateau La Levrette 2009, Bordeaux Clairet, embodies pure raspberry and mulberry scents and flavors with heady aromas of mulling spices and soft, moderate tannins for a bit of firmness and structure in the mouth. This was absolutely delightful as an aperitif wine and would be terrific, served slightly chilled, on picnics or around the pool or patio.

Dinner was promoted as “light,” but consisted of two preparations of salmon, roast beef with foie gras and scalloped potatoes, a green salad, a cheese course and two cakes. We ate informally in the chateau’s kitchen and tasted a range of wines that included Sainte Barbe 2009, 2007 and ’05, Mauriac’s La Combe des Dames 2008, Bordeaux Supérieur, and La Levrette 2007, Bordeaux Supérieur, which aged for 14 months in oak barrels. The reds are predominantly merlot blended with cabernet sauvignon. Sainte Barbe is a blend of 70 percent merlot with the rest being cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc; these robust and earthy wines age 9 to 12 months in oak, 30 percent new barrels. It’s interesting that Mauriac and Touton made very attractive wines in 2007, generally a difficult year in Bordeaux.

I’m writing this Monday morning after breakfast. It’s warmer in Bordeaux than I anticipated; I brought sweaters and jackets, but today will be a t-shirt day. I’ll shut down here in a moment, pack my gear, and head out for a day of visits and tastings and, inevitably, eating.

Not many winemakers or proprietors go into politics, but Luigi Einaudi (1874-1961), who founded the Einaudi wine estate in Piedmont in the 1890s at the age of 23, became Italy’s first president in 1948. One assumes he invested the office with more dignity than some of his successors, but never mind that. Certainly his descendents have thrived; the well-respected estate now consists of 12 properties or farmsteads (poderi) totaling 321 acres, of which 124 are under vines. The company, best-known for its single-vineyard Barolos, is operated by Luigi Einaudi’s granddaughter Paola Einaudi and her son Matteo Sardagna; winemaker is Beppe Caviola.

The dolcetto grape is little grown outside Piedmont; there used to be some in California (still?) and paradoxically the oldest dolcetto vines in the world, according to Oz Clarke, are probably in Australia. Dolcetto does not take well to oak aging or to attempts to pump it up into a bigger, more significant wine than it ought to be. Fittingly, then, the Poderi Luigi Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani 2010 was given no oak but aged eight to 10 months in stainless steel tanks. Aromas of black and red currants are permeated by hints of dried cherries and dried orange zest, smoke and tobacco, rose petals and a touch of oolong tea. The wine is quite dry — I always wonder how the grape got its name, “little sweet one” — and packed with dried black and red fruit, dried spices and dried flowers; it’s a trove of potpourri and spice box effects enlivened by keen acidity and a pass at earthy minerality. I drank a few glasses one night with lamb chops in an anchovy-caper sauce, and the match was terrific. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. Prices around the country average about $17, though I paid $21 in Memphis.

Imported by Empson USA, Alexandria, Va.

Both of these damned good wines are from Sonoma County, and both involve pizza, for good or ill, as you will see.

Made a pretty darned great pizza last night, definitely a candidate for the apparently infinitely-expandable Top 25 category. The toppings included a generous handful of fresh basil; an also generous amount of oven-dried tomatoes, previously marinated in olive oil, oregano and crushed Aleppo pepper; smoked and pepper-cured hog jowl, diced and fried; chopped green onion; a little thyme scattered over the top after the mozzarella, Parmesan and pecorino cheeses. The crust, as usual, was a blend of white bread flour and wholewheat flour with a couple tablespoons of rye flour. Everything worked together beautifully in this pizza, especially the crust, which was thin without being crackery, yet still slightly chewy, and puffy around the edges.

With the pizza, we drank the Quivira Zinfandel 2009, from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Winemaker is Hugh Chappelle; the estate is run on biodynamic principles. The wine is a blend of 83 percent zinfandel, 9 percent cabernet sauvignon, three percent each petite sirah and syrah and two percent grenache; you could say, without too much of a stretch, that this is a zinfandel operating a bit under a southern Rhone or Languedoc influence, in its warm, open-knit expansiveness, even as it projects a California-style personality. Aromas of black and red currants and macerated plums are woven with notes of cloves and hints of blackberry preserves and fruitcake, with that confection’s primary character of dried fruit and baking spices. Quivira Zinfandel 2009 is full-bodied, fairly dense and chewy, yet neither rustic nor heavy; in fact, vibrant acidity keep the wine light on its feet and appealingly palatable. Flavors fall into the blackberry-blueberry range –the currant aspect more subdued — while well-handled oak, from 14 months in French, American and Hungarian barrels, fewer than 20 percent new, lend the wine pleasing shape and suppleness. The finish brings in some graphite-like minerality and more of the savory fruitcake element. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.
Ah, but every pizza FK makes is not a success. Here’s a tale of pizza failure and a great wine.

I have never cared for pizzas that come bearing seafood. Pizzas with shrimp, for example, seem to me an abomination. I watched a video of Wolfgang Puck making a shrimp pizza on YouTube and the huge amount of Fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses he heaped on seemed sickening. Shrimp with gloppy cheese? Spare me. However, as a long-time maker of pizza, I felt it was incumbent upon me at least to try to produce a pizza with shrimp that I could actually eat. I waited until LL was out of town to indulge in this experiment. We have in the freezer a bag of deep-ocean shrimp that we buy from Paradise Seafood at the Memphis Farmers Market; these have to be the best shrimp I have ever eaten. I cleaned three of these shrimp, split them in half lengthwise, doused them with olive oil, salt and pepper and ran them under the broiler until they got slightly crusty. I made the pizza dough in the usual manner but about half the amount; perhaps cutting everything down threw off the balance. Anyway, once I pressed and rolled out the dough about nine inches across, I spooned dollops of pesto around it, a few sliced oven-dried tomatoes, a little scattering of diced onion, some thyme and the shrimp; finally just a touch of grated Parmesan. Actually, I think it would have been a fine effort if the crust had not turned out to be such a disaster; it was dense, heavy, chewy and very bready. Que pasa!?!? Well, the dogs liked it, and I assuaged my sorrow with a bowlful of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.

Anyway, the wine that I sipped while trying to eat this miserable excuse for a shrimp pizza was the splendid Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Russian River Valley. Merry Edwards is one of a few winemakers in Sonoma County that qualify for legendary status. She began her career at Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Cruz in 1974 and moved on to be the founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek from 1977 to 1984. She spent more than a decade consulting for a number of wineries and working with the Merry Vintners label before finally launching her own winery, dedicated primarily to pinot noir, in 1997.

Not quite half of the grapes in the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010 derive from 35-year-old vines. Oak treatment is gentle; the grapes are barrel-fermented, and then the wine stays in French oak, 18 percent new barrels, for six months. This regimen gives the wine lovely suppleness and a subdued spicy quality in a sort of transparent haze of slightly smoky oak, an element that suavely supports a bouquet of mildly grassy and herbal notes that revolve around lemongrass and celery seed, tarragon and thyme; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints (in aroma and flavors) of roasted lemon, quince and ginger. This is a sauvignon blanc of true class, presence and tone, beautifully balanced by resonant acidity that doesn’t slap your palate with blatant snap and sass (think: New Zealand); no, this is a sophisticated and elegant sauvignon blanc that flows through the mouth with aplomb and finishes with well-integrated touches of apple skin, lime peel and limestone-like minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $30, but I paid $40 in Memphis; I mean, what the fuck … ?

The first vintage of Steelhead was released in 2002. The label was founded by Quivira Vineyards to benefit Trout Unlimited and the restoration of Wine Creek, a tributary of Dry Creek, in a partnership with governmental, educational and non-profit organizations. Dan and Katy Leese and their partner Pete Kight, owner of Quivira, launched their company V2 Wine Group in 2010 with the acquisition of Steelhead, making it a stand-alone winery. Proceeds from the sale of Steelhead wines still help to fund the conservation work of Trout Unlimited. The winemaking staff at Quivira, which includes Hugh Chappelle and Greg La Follette, makes the wines. Production of each of this trio was 2,500 cases. These were samples for review.

The Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Sonoma County, is made completely in stainless steel and does not go through malolactic fermentation, the result being immediate freshness and appeal. While there’s some evidence of sassy gooseberry and tarragon in the bouquet, the primary aromas are roasted lemon, baked pear, celery seed, jasmine and an intriguing touch of smoke. The sense of clean, bracing freshness extends to the mouth, aiding by invigorating acidity and limestone-like minerality that bolster tasty lemon, pear and melon flavors permeated by hints of cloves, dried thyme and newly-mown grass; in fact, the wine gets spicier the longer it stays in the glass. It lacks only some intensity that would raise my rating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good. About $13, representing Good Value.

A bit more impressive than the (still quite enjoyable) Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is the Steelhead Red 2009, Sonoma County, a blend of 55 percent cabernet sauvignon and 45 percent zinfandel that sees no oak. This is a terrific little bistro-style wine, robust without being exactly rustic and nicely balanced between spicy, juicy fruit and carefully delineated acid and tannins. Black currant and blackberry scents and flavors offer a touch of something wild in the range of blueberry and rhubarb, underlain by hints of briers and brambles and nuances of earth and graphite-like minerality. The wine is lively and vibrant, a bit chewy in texture, moderately rich and velvety. It cries out to be in a restaurant’s wine-by-the-glass program at $8 a glass. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $15.
Here’s the prize and the real bargain. In fact, I don’t see how a wine of this character can sell for what it does. The Steelhead Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma County, contains 5 percent syrah, a factor not that unusual in California now; the wine aged for 10 months in oak barrels. The color is an entrancing plum-mulberry hue, with a hint of violet at the rim; the darkly spicy and earthy bouquet delivers bushels of red and black cherries, plums and cranberries etched with touches of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras. The texture is lovely, even gorgeous, completely satiny in its drape and flow across the palate, and the wine offers remarkable intensity and structure for the price; all is not kissy-face, however, because under the richness and the plushness lie elements of spareness, of the slightly rigorous influence of wood and underbrush and forest floor, of slate-like minerality. Quite a performance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $15, a Great Value.

On the way home from looking at an art exhibition, I stopped at Sharon’s Bread and Chocolate Cafe — two great food groups! — and got a meatball sandwich to go. When I sat down to write, sandwich unwrapped and still hot next to me, I thought, “Well, hold on. We need a glass of red wine to accompany this little beauty.” So I opened a bottle of the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, from Austria’s Burgenland region, southeast of Vienna along the border with Hungary. The label, named for a species of lizard that lives in the vineyards, is a collaboration among Joseph Umathum, one of Austria’s greatest winemakers; Wolfgang Peck (not Puck) and the Andau winegrowers’ cooperative. So far production is limited to three red grapes well-known in Austria and almost limited to that country’s vineyards: zweigelt, St. Laurent and blaufränkisch. In Germany, blaufränkisch is called, helpfully, limburger and lemburger; under the latter name, the grape in grown in small amounts in Washington state. Anyway, the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, offering a characteristic deep ruby-violet color, is a dark, rooty, dusty wine with plenty of grip and stuffing, by which I mean that you feel the presence of the wine with some urgency and vitality. Aromas of macerated blueberries and plums are underlain by notes of graphite-like minerality and beguiling touches of cedar and thyme, tobacco and black olives and a hint of funky plum pudding, with its slightly exotic spices and dried fruit. The wine is fairly intense and concentrated in the mouth, but a few minutes in the glass reveal its more generous, expansive nature in the form of ripe and spicy blueberry, black currant and plum flavors flecked with briers and brambles, light elements of smoke and moss and bottom notes of wet fur and bitter chocolate, all enlivened by a strain of spirited acidity. Yes, this is a highly individual wine, a bit eccentric and altogether authentic; it was terrific with the meatball sandwich. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago. The closure is a glass stopper under a screw-cap. A sample for review.

Carignan is not a grape we associate with Chile, being far more common in Spain and the south of France, but on the evidence of the Meli Carignan 2010, Maule Valley, perhaps producers in the bony, horizontally-challenged country’s wine regions should opt for planting more. This is from winemaker Adriana Cerda, whose riesling I reviewed back in March. The Meli Carignan 2010, made from 60-year-old vines, has 10 percent cabernet sauvignon in the blend and ages briefly in stainless steel tanks and used oak barrels. The color is the characteristic purple-magenta with a violet rim. The wine is delightfully fresh and clean and vibrant; deeply spicy red and black currants and macerated plums are infused with soft-grained graphite-like minerality and finely-milled tannins and an infinitesimally ground amalgam of lilac, lavender and bitter chocolate, all melded by pert acidity. Nothing super-serious, just appealing, fruity and delicious and perfect for pizzas, burgers and such. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.

Global Vineyard Wine Importers, Berkeley, Ca. A sample for review. Image from

The history of Domaine du Tariquet is complicated — the progenitor was a bear-tamer — so it will suit our purposes merely to say that the same family his owned the property since 1912, first the Artaud family and then, through marriage in the early 1940s, the Grassa family. Today, the third Grassa generation operates the estate, which originally produced only Bas-Armagnac and then in 1982 added white wines in what were pioneering blends of chardonnay and chenin blanc or chardonnay and sauvignon blanc or ugni blanc and colombard. These white wines and a rosé, great values among them, are the subject of today’s reviews. The appellation is Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, in the southwest region of France called Midi-Pyrénées. For centuries, Gascony, which shares a mountainous border with Spain, was home to a Basque-speaking people whose origins and affinities really lay in Spanish culture; in fact, the root of the words Basque and Gascony is the same. Côtes de Gascogne, surrounded by predominantly red wine regions, is unusual in that 91 percent of the production is white wine, the rest being about 8 percent red and 1 percent rosé.

Imported by Robert Kacher Selections, Washington DC. Samples for review.
Domaine du Tariquet Classic Ugni Blanc Colombard 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. 70 percent ugni blanc, 30 percent colombard. Ugni blanc is the same grape as the usually nondescript Italian trebbiano; by keeping things simple and controlling the grape’s inherent withering acidity, it’s capable of making an attractive, lively wine of no huge character; it would help if yields were kept low. Paradoxically, ugni blanc is the principle grape in Cognac and Armagnac, precisely because its neutral nature and high acidity make it perfect for distillation and wood aging. Anyway, this little quaffer is as alluring as all get-out, offering hints of lemon, pear and yellow plum woven with touches of jasmine and cloves, a bit of almond skin and something slightly herbal. Fresh, clean, delightful and very nice as an aperitif or with mild cheeses and seafood dishes. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $9, a Real Bargain.

Domaine du Tariquet Chenin Chardonnay 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. Chenin blanc 75 percent, chardonnay 25 percent. This is pleasant enough but certainly not the most attractive or compelling of this group of wines. Crisp and vibrant, with tasty touches of lemon, quince and green plum and a burgeoning spicy element supported by a hint of limestone. 12.5 percent alcohol. Good+. About $11.

Domaine du Tariquet Chardonnay 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. While the other wines noted in this post receive no oak aging, Tariquet’s Chardonnay 2010 was given three months in barrels. Amazing quality for the price here: this is clean, fresh and bright, with pears and roasted lemon for the nose, highlighted by hints of grapefruit and pineapple and gentle spice and a touch of buttered toast, while a few minutes bring round a note of jasmine; the texture deftly balances moderate lushness and a very pleasing texture with resonant acidity and a bit of limestone in the background. Surprising heft, presence and personality for a chardonnay in this range. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $11.

Domaine du Tariquet Cote 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. This beguiling wine is a well-balanced blend of 50 percent chardonnay and 50 percent sauvignon blanc, each grape nicely delineated yet fitting seamlessly into the package. Fresh aromas of apples, pears and slightly spiced and macerated lemons with hints of thyme and freshly-mown grass and a touch of jasmine; crisp and quite lively, with spicy, roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors ensconced in a texture seductively poised between chardonnay’s ripe lushness and sauvignon blanc’s tidy spareness, all encompassed by a finish packed with limestone. We enjoyed this wine with seared rare tuna, under a dense peppercorn crust. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.

Domaine du Tariquet Rosé de Pressée 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. My favorite of this group. A blend of 30 percent each merlot and cabernet franc, 25 percent syrah and 15 percent tannat, the wine was made in the fashion of a white wine, that is grapes pressed and the juice removed from the skins, rather than the saignée method of crushing the grapes and bleeding off some juice before it colors completely. This example is unusually ripe and fleshy for a rosé, though the color is a pale melon-copper; aromas of fresh strawberries, red currants and melon unfold to elements of pomegranate, almond skin, thyme and limestone; a lovely, almost silken texture is riven by scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality, pointing up spicy red fruit flavors that aim toward a finish that gets spare and almost austere. A superior rosé, charming yet with a fairly serious edge. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $12, a Great Bargain.

In most European wine regions, place matters. That’s why in Burgundy, for example, and in the Rhone Valley, in Germany, in much of Italy, the term most prominently displayed on a label will be the name of a village or commune, often accompanied by the name of a vineyard. The name of the estate, producer or winery will be in smaller print at the bottom of the label or off to the side or up on a neck label. The implication is that the most crucial factor in producing a great wine is not the human hand and mind, as helpful as they might be, but great terroir, that is, all the geographical, geological and climatic elements, whether as large as the weather patterns or minute as a worm or deep as the soil and bedrock, that influence the vineyard, the vines and the grapes.

When the 19th Century wine pioneers in California were growing grapes and making wine, they often labeled their products in such a way that American consumers would relate them to European counterparts, though these resemblances were often based more on romance than reality. Thus the Claret and Hock, the Burgundy (made from anything except pinot noir) and Sauterne (without the final “s”), the Chianti and French Colombard and Chablis — remember Gallo’s Chablis Blanc, in case you couldn’t tell it was white? — that graced the tables of American for many decades of the 20th Century. After Prohibition, however, and especially after World War II, producers in California began to evince independence from Europe and pride in their own achievements by highlighting the names of their wineries and the principal grape in the wine on bottles, thus giving birth to the varietal labeling that dominates the New World wine industries today and has even crossed back over the Atlantic to show up in Europe. “Hock” image from

So, I’m fascinated by the label for this wine, because it’s an attempt to market an American wine based not on the name of the winery or producer and not on the name of the grape but — on the model of much of Europe — on the name of a federally-recognized vineyard region or American Viticultural Area, as the official term expresses it. Notice, in fact, how much the label resembles a label of a Premier Cru vineyard Burgundy (as in the Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses above).

The most prominent feature on this label is Red Mountain, granted AVA status by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in 2001. Red Mountain, not so much a mountain as a steep, long southwest-facing slope of deep gravelly soil, lies within the Yakima Valley AVA, which is part of the sprawling Columbia Valley AVA; with only about 600 acres under cultivation, Red Mountain, known for its distinctively tannic and minerally cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, wines of grain and substance, is the smallest of Washington state’s grape-growing regions. It’s close to Benton City — “A Tuscany Sort of Place” — pop. 2,800. The application for AVA recognition was initiated by Hedges Family Estate and supported by Kiona Vineyards, Blackwood Canyon Vintners, Sandhill Winery, Seth Ryan Winery and Terra Blanca Winery.

The proprietors of Hedges Family Estate are Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges, who married in 1976 — she is from France’s Champagne region, he is from eastern Washington — and in 1986 launched American Wine Trade Inc. to export wine to Europe. The first wine from Hedges Cellars came in 1987, after which the couple segued toward vineyard acquisition and the founding of a real facility. Winemaker for Hedges is Tom Hedges’ brother Pete.

So, the label of the wine in question is from the Hedges stable. While Hedges produces other wines from the Red Mountain appellation, the name of the winery and the grapes take precedence on the labels, as is typical with American wines. This one, however, modeled, as I said, on certain French examples, is produced by Descendants Liegeois Dumont — seen at the bottom of the label — a combination of the two names of Anne-Marie Hedges’ family in Champagne. Under “Red Mountain” is the name of the vineyard — Les Gosses — and under that the special name for this production “Cuvée Marcel Dupont,” Anne-Marie Hedges’ grandfather, and, finally and modestly, Descendants Liegeois Dumont.

A major difference between the Red Mountain “Les Gosses” designation on this wine and, for example, Chambolle-Musigny “Les Amoureuses” is the sense of history and reputation. All lovers of fine wine know that Chambolle-Musigny is one of the stellar wine villages of the Cote de Nuit section of Burgundy and that Les Amoureuses is a Premier Cru vineyard (deserving elevation to Grand Cru status) whose renown stretches back to the 19th Century. Forgive my bluntness, but who the hell knows anything about Red Mountain?

Marketing California wines or American wines generally, I think, would be difficult, though more successful, theoretically, if the AVA indicated is very well-known for the quality of the wines in produces, focused on particular grape varieties, or small and fairly unique. Nobody is going to buy a wine based on the words Central Coast or North Coast displayed prominently on the label; the scope is too vast, the identifying characteristics too vague, the quality too variable. (The same argument is true, of course, for huge, tractless regions like the Loire Valley or just Toscana.) I mean, I would be interested in a pinot noir that boldly announced its terroir as Santa Lucia Highlands or Santa Rita Hills or cabernet sauvignon whose label was emblazoned with Mount Veeder or Howell Mountain. And if some brash producer featured the seldom-seen Fair Play AVA (in the Sierra Foothills) as the paramount element in its label design, I would probably take a chance on it, if only because it’s very small — only 350 acres of vines — and because it’s the highest elevation AVA in California. (Yeah, I had to look it up.)

I may be taking the label of the Red Mountain “Les Gosses” Cuvée Marcel Dupont 2009, Descendants Liegeois Dupont, way too seriously; there’s a good chance that this homage to French practices on the part of the Hedges family is purely whimsical. Still, and despite earlier caveats, I applaud this tiny effort at place-based nomenclature.

The wine, by the way, is superb. One hundred percent syrah — a grape that takes to the Red Mountain terrain the way fondant icing snuggles up to a petit four — it aged 14 months in a combination of American (65%), French (30%) and Hungarian (5%) oak, half new barrels, half neutral. Heady aromas of mint and eucalyptus, black currants and blueberries are woven with briers and brambles, earth and slate; a few minutes in the glass bring up traces of cloves and sandalwood, smoke and ash and moss, rose petals, potpourri and bitter chocolate. Right, try to stop sniffing that. In the mouth, the wine is dense and chewy, an impermeable sifting of finely-milled tannins, burnished wood and polished granitic elements that gradually unveil deep spicy and floral roots that support ripe and macerated black and blue fruit flavors in a package that’s quite fresh and vibrant and ultimately beautifully balanced and integrated. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. 986 cases. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $25; I paid $30 in Memphis.

The stores are closed today, being Labor Day, but labor always persists for freelance writers and bloggers, and since today is Monday, federal holiday or nor, a Wine of the Week is due. So be it.

With our pizza Saturday night, we sipped Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2010, Central Coast, a blend of 75 percent grenache grapes — barely qualifying it for a varietal label — with 13 percent cinsault and 12 percent syrah; seeing no oak barrels, you may think of it as a very pretty and highly drinkable version of a Côtes-du-Rhône. The color is brilliant ruby-cerise with a pale violet/magenta rim; aromas of pure black raspberries and red cherries are wreathed with cloves and sandalwood as well as lovely touches of roses, potpourri and that trademark grenache hint of Bazooka Bubble Gum. There’s a beguiling air of exoticism about this wine, though it also keeps itself firmly anchored in its essential straightforward rusticity. Flavors of spicy black and red currants, cherries and plums carry some notion of dusty briers and brambles for a slight earthy aspect, while tingling acidity keeps the wine almost quenchingly appealing. Tasty and delightful. Winemaker was, of course, the indefatigable Randall Grahm. 13.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

The image of the wine life that magazines, television and film offers is beautiful, leisurely, well-mannered and expensive. Whether the winery setting is a gauzy little chateau in the Loire Valley, an ancient villa in Provence, a fairy tale castle in Rheingau or Mosel, an 18th Century farmstead in Tuscany, a venerable hacienda in Argentina, a sleek contemporary (self-sustaining) structure in the Napa Valley, the narrative devolves on family history, endless afternoons of fine old wines and meals served al fresco overlooking green and golden acres of rolling vineyards, of rows of barrels resting majestically and mystically in dim cellars amid the pungency of young wine and wood, of horses and rose gardens, art collections and hunting trophies, all embraced by the traditional diurnal round of farming, growing, harvesting and winemaking that results in the essence of earth and grape translated into a few rare and costly bottles.

As you’re sipping your wine today, however, be it something fresh and frothy or something aged and hallowed, be it on the patio or porch, at a picnic or gathered round the dinner table, don’t forget, this Labor Day holiday, the day-laborers, the migrant workers, the men and women (and in some countries the children) who actually dig and fence and erect the poles and wires and trellises for the vineyards, who prune and trim, who pick the grapes, passing through the rows of vines under the sun, sometimes on slopes so steep that neither tractors nor horses can manage the grade. Harvest is commencing in many wine regions of the Northern Hemisphere, so, for example, in Germany the Polish laborers are out in force, just as thousands of Mexicans will be filling their baskets and bins with California’s bounty.

Without the immense physical efforts of these minimum-wage workers, who do not inhabit the glamorous realms of their employers nor drink their storied products, you would not be enjoying a glass of wine today.

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