November 2011


It’s been raining for two days is this neck o’ the woods, the temperature is dropping like drones over Afghanistan and we lie poised under threat of snow ce soir. I guess Ol’ Man Winter, wily bastard, is chuckling up his frost-rimmed sleeve right about now. (Which means that the dogs have basically been confined to quarters for two days, and if you don’t believe things are getting pretty damned high-strung …) Obviously it’s time for a robust, flavorful red wine to go two throws out of three with that cauldron of short ribs you have toiling and troubling on the stove this very moment. My recommendation, at least on this direful Monday, is the Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2008 from Antinori. Whereas many other producers in Tuscany are enamored of new French oak barrels — “they’re French! they must be better!” — Pèppoli follows local tradition by being put into large Slovenian oak casks, with 10 percent going into American oak, all this for nine months. The result is a highly aromatic wine that teems with notes of oolong tea, orange rind, black currants and plums, leather and violets and, after a few moments in the glass, hints of cloves and fruitcake. Really heady stuff, though the stuffing comes as the black and red currants and plum flavors slide through your mouth with their display of supple tannic grip and sprightly acidity and a texture balanced between lithe and luxurious. The wine builds in intensity and depth as the minutes elapse, developing richness and concentration, yet it never ceases to offer warmth and generosity. This is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese grapes, with 10 percent merlot and syrah. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $27, though often discounted around the country to $20 or less.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wa. A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by the FCC.

I say “some of” because there are more pinot noirs in Merry Edwards’ roster than are under review on this page.

One of California’s most respected winemakers, Merry Edwards began her career in 1974 at Mount Eden Vineyards. She was the founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek in 1977 and stayed there until 1984. A subsequent venture, Merry Vintners, was not successful, but with investments from family and friends in 1997, she launched Merry Edwards Winery, which focuses on pinot noir from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, primarily from single-vineyards. The latter wines are designated Méthode à l’Ancienne, meaning that whole cluster fermentation occurs with grapes that have not been destemmed, a factor that contributes to the tannic character of the wines. These are ambitious pinots that accentuate size, substance and heft, but not at the expense of the unmistakeable and seductive qualities that make pinot noir what it is.

These wines were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir 2008, Sonoma Coast, is so damned pretty and balanced and integrated that you want to eat it with a spoon. The color is radiant cerise with a magenta glow; aromas of black cherries and rose petals, cola and cranberry waft from the glass, while in the mouth the wine offers delicious and moderately spicy flavors of ripe black cherries and red currants in a texture that feels transparent and lacy; the satiny finish brings in touches of briers and graphite. 13.9 percent alcohol. Absolutely lovely. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $36.
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The Merry Edwards Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley — notice the narrower focus from Sonoma Coast — is spicier and a bit fleshier than the previous wine; it features scents and flavors of slightly roasted black cherries, currants and plums with a hint of blueberry and smoke. Wonderful presence and tone here, great lift from vibrant acidity, intriguing aspects of fruitcake and cloves; you feel the gravitational pull of sanded tannins through the finish. A deeply gratifying specimen (and completely to Russian River type) of the pinor noir grape. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $42.
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Merry Edwards first made wine from Phil and Toby Flax’s vineyard, in the upper reaches of the Russian River Valley, in 2005. Those who follow pinot noir production in the region will remember that Williams-Selyem makes a pinot noir from Flax, but from an older block. The Merry Edwards Flax Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, is an earthy, loamy wine that bursts with notes of black cherry and rhubarb, cranberry and cloves, briers and underbrush; this is substantial stuff, dark, fully-fleshed out, full-bodied, quite dry, with an inviting texture like fold upon fold of satin sheets warmed by a sleeping body; it feels etched with graphite, violets, dried red currants; the finish is long and smoky. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $54.
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Ted Klopp owns this vineyard, which was planted with pinot noir vines in the 1980s. The Merry Edwards Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, is a frankly gorgeous pinot though of strapping proportions; it plays upon the broad panoply of baking spices, potpourri, fresh and ripe black and blue fruit with undertones of rhubarb and cranberry and dried fruit, all set within a package that deftly, almost riskily, balances delicacy of outline with tannic and mineral foundations. Of these four examples from 2008, the Klopp Ranch is the one that most exemplifies the principle of power and elegance, the one in which you perceive the influence of oak barrels, especially in the long, slightly austere finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $57.
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This wine marks the first release from Merry Edwards of a pinot noir made from Georganne and Bob Proctor’s vineyard in the northern zone of Russian River; chardonnay vines were torn out in 2006 to make way for pinot noir, so this is a very young vineyard in terms of the grape. The Merry Edwards Georganne Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, is a large-framed, full-bodied, slightly bruising pinot that emphasizes structure over fruit and substance over finesse. It’s earthy, loamy and leathery, briery and brambly, and while none of these attributes would be out of place is a pinot that felt more integrated, at this point the wine seems a bit out of focus. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2013 to 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $54.
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Merry Edwards has been making pinor noir from Bob Pelligrini’s Olivet Lane vineyard for 25 years; the advantages of this long relationship and old vines are revealed in the wine’s generosity and complexity. The Merry Edwards Olivet Lane Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, is rich, smoky, meaty and fleshy, with an edge of aged game bird and scintillating graphite, but there’s a core of delicacy and elegance that keeps the wine lively and elevated; this feels as if chiseled from slate but with feline grace and litheness; in fact, the wine is downright muscular in texture, but not at the expense of a super-smooth, satiny skin. Black and blue fruit flavors are slightly roasted and stewed, though fresh, clean and attractive, and through the finish one feels the burgeoning effect of dry tannins and polished oak. 13.9 percent alcohol. Quite an achievement. Best from 2012 through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $60.
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Planted in 2001, the vineyard is named for Merry Edwards’ husband Ken Coopersmith. My first note on the Merry Edwards Coopersmith Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, was “whoa, so much presence!” This is, indeed, a pinot that makes itself immediately known in every respect, from its smoky, fleshy, briery, graphite-tinged bouquet to its background of clean, mossy earth and loam to its dimensional layering of tannin, oak and vibrant acidity. It doesn’t take the grape to the Dark Side, exactly — some of the details of fruit, flowers and spice are actually winsome and beguiling — but it’s certainly a reflection of a vineyard that’s beginning to reach maturity. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2012 or ’13 through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $60.
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With Thanksgiving dinner’s apple-walnut pie and pumpkin pie — from Whole Foods; not baking made for a relaxing morning — we sipped the Renaissance Late Harvest Semillon 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Though labeled “semillon,” the wine contains only 57 percent of that grape, the rest of the blend consisting of 33 percent sauvignon blanc, 7 percent roussanne and 2 percent viognier. The color is radiant medium-gold with hints of green at the center. You smell the nectar-like sweetness in the rich baked apricot and peach aromas that carry undertones of roasted grapefruit and pineapple and hints of honeysuckle and jasmine; something exotic wafts up, cloves and sandalwood, lemongrass and papaya. Fermentation took place predominately in stainless steel tanks (75 percent) with the rest in oak barrels; aging occurred in neutral German and French oak. The wine is incredibly dense and chewy, with slick and sleek viscosity — the residual sugar is 5 percent — and while the entry is terrifically sweet and honeyed (does the concept of roasted honey seem beyond the pale?), the finish is startlingly dry. This is not refined or elegant; rather, the effect is frontal, high performance and a bit rustic; baked apple, ginger and quince, again the lemongrass, a sheen of crackling caramel and with the caramel a twist of sea-salt and white pepper; toffee and taffy. The finish is long, very dry, with thyme and green tea. Quite remarkable in its way. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock made 128 cases of half-bottles (375 milliliters) and 30 cases of standard 750 ml bottles. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $35 for the 375s.

A sample for review.

A few days ago, I griped on Facebook that too many inexpensive wines taste as if they had been designed by committee and manufactured by robots on an assembly line. Thankfully, not all wines in the inexpensive (or even cheap) category seem that way; here are four versatile examples, two white and two red, each from a different country, that do not. Actually and honestly, lots of expensive wines also feel as if they were designed by committee — “this much ripeness, this much toasty new oak, add 15 percent alcohol” — but that’s not our concern today.

All were samples for review.
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The super attractive Zantho Grüner Veltliner 2009, Burgenland, comes under a new label that’s a collaboration between two of Austria’s best-known winemakers, Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. ( I previously reviewed the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008 here.) This grüner veltliner offers delicate notes of orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and lemon balm, with a slightly spicy background; the spice element burgeons in the mouth, along with prominent limestone-like minerality, vibrant acidity and citrus flavors highlighted by hints of ginger and quince. A polished performance, charming in every respect. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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Cimarone Estate is a small producer in the newly declared appellation of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara; apparently, there’s a law that everybody who lives in the AVA has to be happy all the time. Made from the estate’s 26-acre Three Creek Vineyards, the wines focus on Bordeaux-style blends, costing about $60, and a series of less expensive wines under the 3CV label. Owners are Roger and Priscilla Higgins; the first vintage to be released was 2006. The 3CV Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Happy Valley of Santa Barbara — the image says “2009″ but it’s 2010 were concerned with — is a sprightly and resonant sauvignon blanc, registering a distinct melon-lime-gooseberry profile that’s given acidic grip by a swath of grapefruit on the finish and the heft of limestone and shale-like minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lemon balm and baked pear. Fresh, clean and appealing, with a lovely silken texture. 269 cases. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, is a true reserve wine in the sense that the grapes derive from older vineyards than the producer’s “regular” label, it spends 12 months in predominantly French oak and the production is smaller. This wine just damn hits the spot where malbec works best as a dark, spicy, briery, deeply scented and flavored wine with a touch of wildness about it; there’s intensity and concentration here, with brambly-graphite-tinged underpinnings to the dense chewy texture and almost sumptuous black currant, plum and mulberry fruit shot with vivid acidity and touches of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. Thinking Thanksgiving leftovers — as who is not? — then here’s a wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and potatoes and whatever else graced the groaning board. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.

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Produced by the Antinori winery in Pulgia, the Tormaresca Neprica is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from an unusual and provocative blend of 40 percent negroamaro grapes, 30 percent primitivo and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon — you see where the name Neprica comes from — Tormaresca Neprica 2009, Puglia, is a wild, heady amalgam of violets and lavender, spice cake and fleshy black currant, blueberry and plum scents and flavors; the wine is robust, full-bodied, dynamic with rollicking acidity and deeply packed with black and blue fruit that opens to touches of leather, fruitcake, mint and bay, for a vividly savory impression. A great match with pizzas, burgers, hearty pasta dishes and braised meat. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value, often discounted to $10.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.
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Western Australia’s Margaret River region, way down in the extreme southwest tip of the island continent, has proved to be a salubrious locale for the production of riesling. Consistently one of the best is found under the Leeuwin Estate Art Series, a winery distinguished also for its fine chardonnays. The Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2009, Margaret River, displays a radiant pale straw-gold color and a high-toned bouquet of green apples, lychee, lime and grapefruit, with some spiced peach in the background, and a distinct whiff of the grape’s requisite petrol or rubber eraser aroma, bracing and cleansing; give it a few moments and whiffs of some shy astringent mountain blossom waft from the glass. The grapes for this wine were picked at night, and the juice was cold-settled for seven to 10 days; fermentation was in stainless steel tanks. Not surprising, then, that this startlingly vivacious riesling rests on a structure of crystalline acidity that seems to grow from a bedrock of crushed gravel and flint, above which is poised a dry and quenching fruit cocktail of citrus and stone-fruit with a hint of spiced pear. The finish is crisp, minerally and vibrant. A riesling of lovely and somewhat austere purity and intensity. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Drink through 2012. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Old Bridge cellars, Napa Ca. A sample for review.

We happily consumed this riesling with a dish that reveals, once again, LL’s intuitive genius in the kitchen. This was a pasta, concocted last night from what was on hand, that matched wholewheat penne with sauteed broccoli rabe, duck salami and duck crackings (made from leftover duck fat; throw nothing away), thin strips of carrot and a dose of the wildly savory Italian pine cone bud syrup called mugolio. Amazingly complex and delicious.

This little item in The New York Times caught my eye, and that is, the official wine of Lincoln Center, the great performing arts complex in Manhattan, is supplied by William Hill Estate Winery, in California’s Napa Valley. Wonder how many beautifully dressed and bejeweled patrons of the arts know that the wine they’re sipping at the center’s receptions and galas is made by a winery owned by E.&J. Gallo. That’s right, Gallo, the world’s second largest wine company, purchased the William Hill facility and vineyards in July 2007, another in a series of sales and acquisitions that the producer had undergone since 1992. And in other wine-related news, the booth that Lincoln Center maintained at this year’s Fashion Week in New York — begging the question of why Lincoln Center needs a booth at Fashion Week — featured a Kim Crawford wine bar. Kim Crawford is a winery in New Zealand, specializing in sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir, that since 2006 has been owned by Constellation Brands, the world’s first largest wine company.

Who chose these wines for Lincoln Center to celebrate? What kinds of deals were made? Why does Lincoln Center align itself with giant global corporations when New York City is a vibrant hub of the wine world where every style and type and price of wine is available? Most important, why is the Official Wine of Lincoln Center not a product of New York state? What a boon it would be for the state’s neglected wine industry if the planners and PR people at Lincoln Center positioned the might of their attention and money behind Long Island and the Finger Lakes, where a multitude of excellent, delicious and accessible wines are made. On the other hand, what a boost it would be if the restaurants of New York would do more than pay lip-service to New York state’s wines by including the safe and obligatory two bottles on their wine lists, if even that many. Eat local? New York restaurants are all about that concept. Drink local? Never.

Anyway, as far as Lincoln Center is concerned, faced with the marketing power of Gallo and Constellation, the wineries of New York don’t stand a chance.

Image of Lincoln Center from nycgo.com.


Felt pretty sleepy today, feeling as if I neglected something important. What is today, anyway? Oh, wait, It’s Nov. 17, the third Thursday of November! Oh no! I missed the release of Beaujolais Nouveau! Darn, drat, rats, damn, merde! How could I have done that? I can’t believe that I missed the fun and festivities and frothy, grapy stuff! I must have been, oh, I dunno, out of my head or something. I’ll do better next year. Maybe. Sorta.

LL said a couple of nights ago, “We have any Champagne around this joint?” Not having any Champagne around the joint, I hopped in the old chariot, scooted to the nearest package store, as liquor stores used to be called, and snatched a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé from the refrigerator case. This gesture was, to be sure, an indulgence, but I had not tasted or written about the product in four years, so I thought it was time.

The mind-set among Champagne devotees nowadays is biased toward small artisan estates — preferably in the same family since 1782 and lying in one of the region’s more obscure patches — often set up as models of individuality and integrity against the large old-line houses that turn out hundreds of thousands or millions of bottles a year in a full roster of types and labels, but leveling everything down to a discernible “house-style.” Well, all right, I go along with that notion to a certain extent, who doesn’t love a dark horse, yet the grand producers sometimes benefit from decades of fine-tuning and a meticulously developed consistency that’s gratifying and comforting. Such is the case with the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé. The firm began making a rosé Champagne in 1788 and departed from the region’s tradition of macerating black grapes in white wine to producing a rosé from black and white grapes together, in this contemporary model adding about 12 percent red wine to its typical Yellow Label base of pinot noir grapes (50-55 percent), pinot meunier (15-20 percent) and chardonnay (28-33 percent).

This entirely winsome Brut Rosé displays a lovely pale peach-copper hue vitalized by a constant surging froth of tiny silver bubbles. The ethereal bouquet wreathes hints of raspberry, pear and melon with burgeoning limestone and hints of biscuits and toasted almond. In the mouth, this Champagne offers crisp, resonant acidity and scintillating limestone minerality with touches of dried red fruit, fresh bread and cinnamon toast, all ensconced in a supple, silken texture. Charming and expressive, with a happy conjunction of power and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. As happens with popular imported Champagnes, the range of prices for the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé is astonishing; the East and West coasts will see prices from about $52 to $65, while in the great American heartland the tab can go up to $75 or even $85.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York

The Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 2009 may only be a “regular” Chablis AOC, but it offers perfect pitch in its attributes. Drouhin Vaudon is now the official name of the Chablis operation of the venerable Burgundian firm of Joseph Drouhin, headquartered in Beaune, the quaint medieval city that’s the center of the Burgundy wine trade. The outpost in Chablis is considered a separate entity, though, oddly, it seems to me, after the grapes are pressed at the winery in Chablis, the juice is trucked to Beaune for fermentation and aging; this process is true for the Premier and Grand Cru wines as well as for the Chablis AOC. Well, O.K., whatever. The Drouhin Vaudon vineyards in Chablis are managed on organic or biodynamic methods.

Made all in stainless steel, Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 09 sports a pale gold color sustained by a faint green undertone. (The composition, of course, is 100 percent chardonnay.) The bouquet is a classic weaving of roasted lemon, lime peel, verbena, flint and shale and a slight earthy-mushroomy aspect. The authority here derives from a frank assertion of limestone minerality and a vibrant, energetic aura that encompasses both chiming acidity and alluring suppleness in body and texture. To citrus flavors are added hints of ginger and quince, while the finish, after a few moments in the glass, becomes increasingly dry and flinty. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 3,000 cases imported. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $23, though prices around the country range from about $19 to an unconscionable $33!

Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

My recent sojourn in Bordeaux brought pleasures and revelations of many kinds — people, places, wine, food, history, tradition — but the most acute revelation, in fact the big story, occurred on the last night, when our small group had a tour, tasting and casual dinner at Domaine de Cantemerle — not to be confused with Chateau Cantemerle, the Fifth Growth Haut-Medoc estate in the commune of Macau. The proprietor of Domaine de Cantemerle is 73-year-old polymath Christian Mabille, who with his three sons in 1998 took over the property whose origins go back to the early 19th Century. Mabille, who seems as fluent in English as he wants to be, mainly spoke French when we visited the producer of Bordeaux Supérieur wines that lies about 20 kilometers north of the city of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, in the commune of Saint-Gervais. (The domaine’s wines are available in New Jersey, California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Virginia, Washington D.C., Missouri and Michigan.)

We were enjoying a meal of charcuterie and cheeses in one of the winery’s barrel rooms when Mabille, who is not immune to the twinkling eye and well-placed bon mot, dropped this bomb: “We are trying to anticipate climate change by bringing in chardonnay and other white varieties to replace sauvignon blanc, which is not going to be appropriate in a few more years.”

My colleagues and I scrambled for our notebooks. Chardonnay in Bordeaux? Sacre bleu!

I won’t belabor the point, but to recap briefly, grape-growing and wine-production in France are heavily regulated by the INAO through the AOC system. Each region where grapes are grown and wine is made, from the tiniest, most obscure appellation to the vast and geographically sweeping, is subject to rules that determine what grapes are entitled to be cultivated, how abundant the yields can be, whether certain vineyard and winery practices are allowed (irrigation, chaptalization) and how wines from specific areas are to be labeled. In fact, regulations were recently enacted that determine how many meters high vines can grow for some appellations, though there’s a five-year grace period to retool vineyards, as it were.

No rules exist that say that chardonnay grapes cannot be grown in Bordeaux and that wine cannot be made from those grapes; you just can’t label that wine as being from Bordeaux or anywhere within Bordeaux. The white grapes allowed in Bordeaux are sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle along with a few others like ugni blanc and colombard not used for top-flight wines. Chardonnay is not one of those permitted white grapes, primarily for reasons of practicality; chardonnay grapes to not perform at their best in Bordeaux’s maritime climate.

Mabille’s point is that as climate change continues to alter traditional weather-patterns and the gradual warming of the region becomes more acute, chardonnay and several other white varieties common to the South of France — Mabille is looking in Corbieres — will not only be suited to Bordeaux but necessary if the region is going to continue to produce white wine.

“We’ll only plant one or two hectares,” said Mabille — 2.57 to 5.14 acres — “just as an experiment, and this will happen in a year or two. Everything is in place. We have chosen the root stock and the vines, we have made cuttings, but the hail in September set us back.” (The domaine lost half of its crop of 2011 because of hail.) “Of course the wines will have to be made as Vin de France,” that is, they will not be allowed to carry any Bordeaux designation, a prospect that doesn’t bother Mabille because the domaine’s rosé is bottled as Vin de Table. “We wanted to give our rose a different character that’s not typical of Bordeaux rosés,” he said, “something a little darker, with a little more residual sugar. We didn’t want to confuse things administratively.”

Most startling was Mabille’s attitude toward the AOC structure: “It’s no longer a question of regulations,” he said, “but of client and customer confidence.” He goes further: “In this region, of course we have the traditional varieties, but you know carmenere has almost disappeared and petit verdot is no longer found in the northern Gironde except right here.” (Petit verdot makes up about one percent of the domaine’s 115 acres.) “Even the traditional producers and merchants have accepted that a part of the old grape varieties of Bordeaux are no longer present or viable.”

In fact, Mabille believes that the entire regulatory system needs rethinking.

“In 10 or 15 years, the AOC rules must be changed to allow more grape varieties,” he said, “or the whole thing is just going to blow to pieces. As I travel to other regions of the country and the world, I note that the French appellation system is very much appreciated and admired but not fully copied because it goes too far, it is too complicated. It’s essential to have rules, but they shouldn’t be extreme. I really support the changes to a simplified EU system that are coming in the future. It’s inevitable.”

Photo of Corie Brown, of zester.com, and FK frantically taking notes was shot by Fred Minnick. Many thanks to Jana Kravitz for her heroic translating efforts on this occasion.

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