January 2012


Choosing my 25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011 was even more difficult than selecting the 50 Great Wines of 2011. Are inexpensive wines getting better? Certainly the past decade has seen marked improvement in the under-$20 category in wines we see from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Argentina and, to a lesser extent Chile, as well as a proliferation of inexpensive wines from hitherto unexplored regions of France; Australia, I’m sorry to say, has largely found itself outclassed, though I have included a couple on this list. The breakdown here, including the rosé supplement, is France 9, California 8, Argentina 3, Chile, Italy and Australia with 2 each, Spain, Austria and New Zealand with 1 each.

The number I choose every year, “25 Great Wine Bargains,” is arbitrary, of course, and I fudged a bit this year with the rosés, so why not 50? Well, I dunno. In a way, 25 is a reasonable limitation because it makes me concentrate and go back over the reviews and notes to determine what wines really impressed me as being “Great Bargains” in terms of character, personality and quality/price ration. It all comes down to shades and degrees and nuances. If two similar wines are priced at $14 and $15 and both rated Very Good+, obviously the $14 wines gets precedence; if two similar wines are priced $15 and one rated Very Good+ and the other rated Excellent, well, you could be as looped as Puff the Magic Dragon and know that the wine with the Excellent rating snags a berth.

In a way, or perhaps in every way, this roster of “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011″ is more significant than the “50 Great Wines of 2011,” because far more people would pay $18 for a bottle of wine than $80, with the $10 to $14 points being all-important. So go for it, have fun, drink up, but with caution, of course. Prices range from $9 to $19.

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1. Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $11.

2. Bindi Sergardi 2008, Chianti Colli Senesi, Italy. “Chianti from the hills of Siena.” Very Good+. About $15.

3. Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $18.

4. Chante Cigale l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée. 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault, 10 percent syrah. Excellent. About $16.

5. Chateau l’Escart Cuvée Eden 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur. 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $15.

6. Colomé Torrontés 2010, Calchagua, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

7. Clos de los Siete 2009, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 57 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent syrah, 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $18.

8. Les Deux Rives Corbiéres Blanc 2010, Corbiéres, France. Very Good+. About $10.

9. Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais 2009, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $17.

10. Evohé Viña Viejas Garnacha 2009. Vino de la Tierra del Baja Aragon, Spain. Very Good+. About $12.

11. Frisk Prickly Riesling 2011, Victoria, Australia. Very Good+. About $11.

12. Henry’s Drive Morse Code Chardonnay 2010, Padthaway, South Australia. Very Good+. About $9.

13. Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $17.

14. Hugel et Fils “Hugel” Cuvée Les Amours Pinot Blanc 2008. Alsace. Excellent. About $15.

15. Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2009, California. K-J’s foray into “unoaked” territory. Very Good+. About $14.

16. Morgan Winery R. & D. Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. Excellent. About $18

17. Mount Beautiful Riesling 2009, Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $19.

18. Napa Station Chardonnay 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

19. Domaine des Rozets 2009, Coteaux du Tricastin, France. 65 percent grenache, 35 percent syrah, 5 percent cinsault. Very Good+. About $12.

20. San Huberto Bonarda 2009, La Rioja, Argentina. Very Good+. About $11.

21. Santa Digna Carmenére Reserva 2008, Valle Central, Chile. Very Good+. About $10.

22. Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, Italy. Very Good+. About $12.

23. Steelhead Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

24. X Winery X Red 2009, North Coast. 52 percent syrah, 19 percent mourvedre, 17 percent zinfandel, 12 percent grenache. Very Good+. About $15.

25. Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, Burgenland, Austria. Very Good+. About $14.

Et les rosés:

1. Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence. Excellent. About $19.

2. Benessere Rosato 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

3. Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010, Central Coast. Excellent. About $15.

4. Mas de la Dame “Rosé du Mas” 2010, Les Baux de Provence, France. Excellent. About $15.

5. Domaine du Tariquet Rosé de Pressée 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gasgogne, France. 30 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet franc, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent tannat. Excellent. About $12.

“Feral’ isn’t usually a term we associate with pinot noir; perhaps, rather, with a wild, woolly, wet-dog infused syrah. The d’Arenberg The Feral Fox Pinot Noir 2009, Adelaide Hills, however, does convey some untamed, unfettered quality while remaining thoroughly true to its grape variety. The winery, located in the McLaren Vale of South Australia, was founded in 1912; winemaker now is fourth generation Chester Osborn, a meticulous craftsman and an inventive marketer. In a country where unusual names for wines are common, Osborn has excelled at eccentric and attention-getting labels that include such eye-catchers as The Dead Arm Shiraz, The Monkey Spider Roussanne, The Derelict Vineyard Grenache, The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc and The Wild Pixie Shiraz Roussanne.

The Feral Fox Pinot Noir 2009 reads like an Old School textbook in winemaking. Fermentation was partial whole-cluster using natural yeasts; after fermentation came traditional foot-treading followed by the gentle action of a 19th Century basket press. Aging occurred over 12 months in French oak, only 5 percent new barrels. The color is medium ruby with a hint of magenta-blue at the center; aromas of black and red cherries and sour cherry are woven with notes of cola, cranberry and strawberry, cloves and licorice and melon ball. This is a savory pinot noir, richly spiced and imbued with delicious cherry and plum flavors and benefiting from a lovely satiny drape to the texture, yet it also displays a sense of delicacy and spareness, of almost lacy transparency, and its oak influence sits as lightly and deftly as a silk scarf on a warm shoulder. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.

Selecting my 50 Great Wines of the year always requires soul-searching and concentrated thought. After several days of these headache-inducing activities, somewhat assuaged by drinking great wine, here’s the list. Notice that my title is “50 Great Wines of 2011.” I don’t say “the greatest” or the “best,” because this roster arises, naturally, only from wines that I tasted and wrote about in 2011; it doesn’t reflect the state of the entire vast bewildering world of wine out there, but just what I experienced. I’ll admit that when I peruse the lists of best wines or most exciting wines or whatever printed in the Wine Spectator or the Wine Enthusiast or Wine & Spirits, I become somewhat downcast at how many “best” or “exciting” wines I didn’t taste. I am, however, only one man, and I have a living to make outside the realm of this blog.

So here are my 50 Great Wines, and by great I mean not only that they pleased me immensely and intensely but that they possess something so special in the way of personality and character and authenticity that they register on a higher plane than the stuff that’s just tasty and enjoyable, though there’s nothing wrong with those wines, either, everything depends on time and space and circumstance. California dominates this roster, but there are also wines from Oregon, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Australia.

You’ll notice that the venerable Napa Valley winery Grgich Hills Estate appears on this list thrice, each time for a wine that rates Exceptional. For that reason, and for incredible dedication, hard work and integrity, for believing in balance and integration and varietal character yet allowing each wine to speak for itself, for transitioning to biodynamic practices without making a big freakin’ deal about it, and for always making wines that I love, Grgich Hills is my Winery of the Year.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Wine Bargains.”

No hierarchy here; the order is strictly alphabetical.
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1. Angela Clawson Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon (though the vineyard lies on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley). Excellent. About $50.

2. Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy. 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent sagrantino, 15 percent merlot. Excellent. About $23.

3. Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, Argentina. Excellent. About $30.

4. Bastianich Tocai Plus 2006, Colli Orientali del Friuli. Exceptional. About $60.

5. Black Kite Cellars River Turn Block Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

6. Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004, Carneros. Exceptional. About $85.

7. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. 350 cases. Exceptional. About $120.

8. Chateau Doisy-Védrines 2005, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France. Excellent. About $45-$50.

9. Colomé Estate Malbec 2009, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Mendoza. Excellent. About $25.

10. Drouhin-Vaudon Chalbis Réserve de Vaudon 2009, Chablis, France. Excellent. About $27.50.

11. Far Niente Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $58.

12. Fontanelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 750 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

13. Godspeed Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. About $25.

14. Grant Eddie Syrah 2006, Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard, Sierra Foothills. 150 cases. Exceptional. About $27.

15. Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.

16. Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

17. Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.

18. Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

19. Tenuto di Biserno Insoglio 2008, Toscano I.G.T. 32 percent each merlot and syrah, 30 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $32.

20. Jake-Ryan Cellars Bald Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 410 cases. Excellent. About $28.

21. Kapcsándy Endre 2008, Yountville, Napa Valley. 51 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 16 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot. 370 cases. Excellent. About $75.

22. L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche (rose). 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault. In a year of superb rosé wines, this was the best. Excellent. About $30.

23. Lis Neris “Gris” Pinot Grigio 2008, Friuli Isonzo, Italy. Excellent. About $25-$35.

24. Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi Lugano del Lupo 2006, Lugano, Lombardy, Italy. A mind-blowing sweet wine made from — who woulda thunk it? — late-harvest trebbiano. Excellent. Price unknown. (A small quantity of the Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi wines are brought to these shores.)

25. Mayacamas Chardonnay 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 876 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

26. Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $30.

27. Montenidoli Il Templare 2006, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. An extraordinary blend of what should be ordinary grapes: trebbiano, malvasia, vernaccia. Exceptional. About $23.

28. Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $49.

29. Morgan Winery Double L Chardonnay 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 560 cases. Exceptional. About $36.

30. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $32 for a half-bottle.

31. Nickel & Nickel Medina Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $48.

32. Nickel & Nickel Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 547 cases. Exceptional. About $140.

33. Nickel & Nickel Vogt Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $90.

34. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte 2009, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. 50 percent merlot, 30 percent sangiovese, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.

35. Paul Bara Grand Cru Brut Réserve, non-vintage. A grower Champagne from one of the best houses in Bouzy. Excellent. About $45-$50.

36. Paul-Marie et Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux Fut #3. Pineau des Charentes, a fortified wine made in Cognac, is considered old if it ages five years in barrels; this superb example aged 25 years. Exceptional. About $90.

37. Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstuke am Doctorberg Riesling Spätlese 2008, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $25-$30.

38. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. Exceptional. About $50 for a half-bottle.

39. Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 81 percent tempranillo, 14 percent graciano, 5 percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45.

40. Bodegas Septima Gran Reserva 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 50 percent malbec, 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent tannat. Excellent. About $25.

41. Sequana Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 514 cases. Excellent. About $45.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.

43. Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $30.

44. Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.

45. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $179, but prices soar beyond.

46. Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis” 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône. Excellent. About $28.

47. Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2010, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $24.

48. Chateau Tire Pe Les Malbecs 2009, Bordeaux. Excellent. About $25-$28.

49. Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $58.

50. Twomey Cellars Merlot 2006, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
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Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
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Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
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Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
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Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
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J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
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Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.
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Ah, here we are, the final day of this series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” I offer three examples, one charming Crémant de Bourgogne and two splendid Champagnes, thus bringing to conclusion this foray into different styles of French sparkling wines from various regions. Twelfth Night is the Eve of the Epiphany, or, that is to say, the earthly manifestation of a deity, specifically, for Christians, marking the baptism of Christ by John in the River Jordan. That falls on January 6, tomorrow, a solemn occasion, while Twelfth Night was traditionally given over to revels and fetes, plays and masquerades and general disorder, the sort of fol-de-rol memorably captured by Shakespeare in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night, or, What You Will, written in 1601 or ’02 intentionally for presentation at the close of the Yuletide season. Tis a fitting night, in other words, for a glass or two of sparkling wine or Champagne, but then what night would not be appropriate for the world’s most festive beverage?

The illustration is a sketch by Orson Welles of the characters Malvolio and Olivia in Twelfth Night, courtesy of hollowaypages.com.
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A charming way to precede or begin a meal would be with the J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, non-vintage, made completely from chardonnay grapes from the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper. The color is radiant medium straw-gold, and the mousse is persistent, pinpoint, slightly creamy. Plenty of stones and bones in this dry, crisp, lively sparkling wine, which has an aura of apples and green grapes, as well as hints of pear and peach, and a slightly earthy cast, a little sweet and foresty. Tasty and intriguing, with a lingering finish of spice and limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.
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Taittinger introduced musically named Prelude and Nocturne in 2005; I recently tasted both and found Prelude much to my liking. The Taittinger Prelude Brut is made from Grand Cru vineyards and is a blend of half-and-half chardonnay and pinot noir; the chardonnay is from the villages of Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Ogre in the Côte des Blancs, while the pinot noir is from Bouzy and Ambonnay in Montagne de Reims. The pedigree, you understand, is there. The color is an entrancing pale yet brilliant blond with silver highlights animated, of course, by the millions of glinting bubbles that swirl up in energetic draft. Balance and integration of all elements are impeccable; this is a Champagne in which every aspect is completely evident and neither dominates nor diminishes the others. Notes of cinnamon toast and roasted almonds are woven with hints of camellia and jasmine, candied ginger and lime peel and immense reserves of scintillating limestone minerality. Prelude is a substantial Champagne, delivering unmistakable presence on the palate, yet it also feels deft, fleet-footed, even delicate in some of its appealing dimension; a model of the marriage of power and elegance. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Is there a Champagne, indeed any alcoholic beverage, that possesses a more alluring, festive — and better-known? — package than Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque Brut? The curving bough of anemones, painted in enamel, the deliberately old-fashioned and nostalgic typeface, the way the name Perrier-Jouët is displayed so curvaceously on the capsule: all of these elements speak of a species of gaiety, pleasure and joie de vivre we assume to have existed in the era between 1890 and 1914, as if all of life consisted of dining at Maxim’s on oysters and Champagne. The emblematic flowers were designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé, the greatest of the French Art Nouveau glassmakers, but the product itself was not introduced until 1969, with the vintage of 1964. These wines benefit from a few years’ aging, so when LL and I opened the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2004 on New Year’s Eve, to sip with caviar, it was just seven years beyond the harvest and drinking beautifully. The Champagne opens with biscuity, toasty elements that unfold to hints of roasted lemon and pear, toasted hazelnuts and exotic spices and back-tones of quince and ginger, jasmine and limestone, all of these qualities conveyed with utmost finesse and elegance. This is about brightness, clarity and clean definition, while earthy, almost loamy, coffee-like elements provide ballast and foundation. (The blend, by the way, is 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 5 percent pinot meunier.) Great tone and resonance on the palate, crystalline acidity, a kind of fresh, wind-swept feeling, vivacious and tremendously appealing, and at the center a surprising bell-note of spiced grapefruit. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $140.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.
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Here is a sparkling wine that for quality and price you should grasp to your bosom and purchase by the case. The Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, non-vintage, is a blend of 60 percent chardonnay grapes, 30 percent chenin blanc and 5 percent each mauzac and pinot noir made in the Crémant de Limoux appellation in southwest France, not far from medieval walled town of Carcassonne. The wine is a collaboration between the Bourgeois family, the well-known importers headquartered in Asheville, N.C., and Domaine J. Laurens.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes.

The Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience offers a mild straw-gold color and a plethora of teeming bubbles. The bouquet is a subtle weaving of biscuits, lemon zest and baking spices highlighted by a pointed limestone element; the impression is of pinpoint focus and vibrancy with nothing fancy or flashy. In the mouth, this is clean, bright, effervescent and very dry, a pleasing combination of a soft generous texture (and hints of macerated citrus fruit) with taut acidity and an upright, straight-arrow minerality in the limestone-flint range, much as if it were a cadet version of the hallowed Champagne itself. In fact, not wanting to make too hard a sell here, but the Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience makes a fair bid for elegance, presence and class beyond its station. Don’t neglect this in your sparkling wine plans. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.

So today is January 4th, meaning that tomorrow is Twelfth Night and the 12th Day of Christmas, bringing the 2011-2012 edition of this series to an end. Stop by for a couple of valedictory selections.

… a bottle of Michel Turgy. To be specific, a bottle of the Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, non-vintage. This is a grower Champagne produced by a family that founded the house in 1881 and still owns the estate, farming a miniscule 6 hectares — 15.42 acres — in the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the best sites in all of Champagne. As a blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — this Champagne is 100 percent chardonnay. The color is pale gold; the glass foams with myriad tiny, glinting bubbles. In the nose: apples, pears and limestone, cinnamon toast and biscuits, and hints of candied ginger and quince paste; just lovely but also a signal, in its toasty and expansive nature, of how substantial the wine is. Sizable, even dense on the palate, yes, but paradoxically elegant and steely, with roasted lemon and baked pear flavors cleanly etched by vivid acidity and burgeoning limestone-like minerality, all leading to a high-toned, somewhat austere finish. There’s dignity here, perhaps even nobility, as well as fine detail and sensual appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $52, though as always prices vary widely around the country.

December 3, by the way, is the Holy Day of Genevieve, patron saint of Paris; she is typically invoked as protection against drought and flood and has served, since 1962 and approved by Pope John XXIII, as patron of French security forces.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

As is the case with the history of the Martini, the progress of Champagne has been from sweet to dry, which is why a Champagne termed Extra Sec (“extra dry”) is actually sweeter, technically, than Brut (“raw”). Imbibers of bubbly in the 19th Century assumed that Champagne would be sweet, but gradually tastes changed — dare one say, became more sophisticated — the amount of sugar in the dosage (remember, the dosage helps start the second fermentation in the bottle) was reduced, and Champagne became drier. Even Brut Champagne can have a quality of sweetness, though it’s usually masked by acidity and the essential element of minerality. The rarely encountered actually sweet Champagne is called Doux. A moderately sweet Champagne is called, paradoxically, Demi-Sec, “half-dry,” and is typically served as a compliment to uncomplicated desserts, like a plain apple tart.

I don’t drink or even taste many Demi-Sec Champagnes, but I was delighted by the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, non-vintage. “Sublime” is pure marketing, of course; I would call it Cuvée Really Damned Pretty.

Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck all trace their origins to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, who established the company in 1785. I won’t delve into the multi-tangled history of the three houses and how they became separated by reasons of birth and marriage and other familial and non-familial relationships. It’s sufficient to say that Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck are owned by Remy-Cointreau, while Heidsieck & Co. Monopole is owned by Vranken Pommery.

The Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, a blend of 55 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent chardonnay, offers a radiant pale gold-straw color and a flourish of frothy blond bubbles, the sort of bubbles that make great posters and photographs; one imagines Jeanne Avril and Toulouse-Lautrec with glasses giddily held aloft, while gas-lamps flare and the orchestra stirs in overture. At first, this feels dry, elegant and high-toned, even a touch austere; the sense of sweetness (or half-sweetness) develops after a few moments as the red currant, peach and pear flavors, with a hint of marzipan, become soft and ripe and macerated, and the texture, while rightly organized around crisp acidity and limestone, turns lush and almost viscous. I don’t mean that this is some kissy-face pushover of a date; no, the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec is well-knit, meticulously balanced and precisely integrated, which is to say, that the elegance holds true from start to finish. Come on, we know that Americans, like magpies, adore bright, shiny things; what’s not to adore about this? 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $42, though as is usually the case, prices vary widely throughout the country.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Borgo Maragliano is a small producer of classic “champagne method” sparkling wines in the Loazzolo area of Piedmont, between the towns of Alba and Asti, farming only 15 hectares — just under 40 acres — of moscato, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. Don’t miss this estate’s Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé 2005, made from 100 percent pinot noir. Now the 2006 and ’07 are also in the United States of America, but this ’05 is drinking beautifully now and may serve as testimony that these wines benefit from five or six years aging. (The vintage is printed on the back label in small type.) The color is a light copper-pale onion skin hue; the bead is an exhilarating upward surge of tiny bubbles. Aromas of orange zest, raspberries and dried red currants open to notes of biscuits, cinnamon toast, almond blossom and almond skin, with its hint of astringency, all woven into a tremendously beguiling bouquet. This rosé sparkling wine is the epitome of elegance and restraint, its flush of dried red fruit flavors and subtle spice buoyed by bright acidity and lavish layers of limestone and shale-like minerality; a touch of austerity on the finish completes the impression. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25 to $32.

Imported by Le Vignoble, Cordova, Tennessee.

So, January 1st, day of beginnings and endings, looking forward and looking back, celebrated in many parts of the world with mummers’ parades and with wassailing, although after the indulgences of New Year’s Eve it’s probably best to go light on the good old wassail. Let’s celebrate this entry in “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” by looking at two unusual French sparkling products, a Savoie Brut and a Clairette de Die Brut.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal. Samples for review.
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There is some evidence that “méthode champenoise” sparkling wines were produced in Die — “dee” — long before they were made in Champagne. This tiny appellation nestles on the Drôme River, a tributary east of the Rhône, halfway between the Northern and the Southern Rhône regions. The Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut, non-vintage, is made 100 percent from clairette grapes, a species that does not get a lot of love in wine and grape handbooks, though it is apparently an ancient variety in the south of France, praised by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). Whatever the case, the example made — on biodynamic practices — by Domaine Achard-Vincent is pleasantly effervescent, fresh, clean and lively, with appealing notes of ripe pears, melon, almond blossom, cloves and ginger; there is about it something a little wild and earthy and rustic, completely, it seems, a creature of its patch of geography. A terrific aperitif, and a wine your guests probably will not have encountered. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $24.
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Savoie is an Alpine region abutting Switzerland where the grapes are largely unfamiliar outside the area and where the wines are mostly consumed on their home ground by tourists and skiers. These wines, made on far-flung estates because of the rugged terrain, tend to be almost all white, clean and crisp, befitting their consumption in mountain valleys; a small amount of sparkling wine is produced. The André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, non-vintage, is made from the jacquère grape, in this case from 50-year-old vines. The first impression, after the teeming torrent of bubbles, is of green apples and steel, then hints of pear and quince and a touch of orange rind. Is it the high altitude that gives this sparkling wine such a deep foundation of limestone and shale, this slick-as-a-whistle, lace-like zestiness? It’s very dry, electric with fleet acidity, almost airy but nicely textured. Completely delightful, whether you’re lounging on a terrace overlooking a steep valley or sitting in your own living-room. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $25.
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