April 2012


Wines made from gewurztraminer grapes can be so floral that they’re off-putting, like old flowers in a vase, or so sweetly ripe that they’re cloying, but find one that’s perfectly balanced and you should clasp it reverently to your bosom, especially when it’s priced as attractively as the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 from Alsace. The estate was founded in 1425 and is now operated by the 18th generation.

Made all in stainless steel, the Lucien Albrecht Reserve Gewurztraminer 2010 displays a pale straw-gold color and an alluring bouquet of jasmine and honeysuckle, lychee and mango and a hint of slightly buttery and clove-inflected roasted pineapple; the final fillip is a trace of rose petal and golden raisin. This is a gleaming and (again) golden gewurztraminer which in the mouth is all ginger and quince, pears and pear nectar, though the wine is bone-dry, vibrant with crisp acidity and a piercing line of limestone-like minerality that rivets the finish to your blissful palate. Still, the texture is supple and silken, enveloping in character, and the whole package is sleek and seductive. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. We sipped this quite successfully one night with shrimp risotto and the next day with tuna panini. It would also be good with moderately spicy Southeast Asian cuisine. Excellent. About $20, a Great Bargain.

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

Image, cropped and re-sized, from aglassafterwork.com.

Domaine Michel Lafarge is one of the great producers of the wines of Burgundy’s Volnay appellation. The domaine is small, owning just under 25 acres of vines, and producing only about 4,000 cases annually, but the wines are models of their genres. The family has been cultivating grapes in Volnay since the early 19th Century and possibly back to the late 18th Century. Very gradually did the Lafarges accumulate, piece by piece, the portions of vineyards that comprise their domaine; these include Volnay Clos des Chênes and the wholly owned Clos du Chateau des Ducs, Beaune Grêves, Pommard Pezerolles (all Premier Cru) and parcels of Volnay village and Premier Cru, as well as Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Passetoutgrains and a village Meursault.

Lafarge was a pioneer in bottling its own wine, rather than selling the wine to a negociant, beginning with the harvest of 1934. The wines see only about 25 percent new oak, typically aging for 15 to 20 months, depending on the vintage and the vineyard. The entire domaine has been farmed on biodynamic principles since 2000. Does that mean that the wines are better than they were before the domaine’s steps toward biodynamic methods were instituted in 1997? And what would “better” mean? My experience with the wines goes back only to the Meursault 2002, Volnay Clos-des-Chênes 2003 and Volnay Clos du Chateau des Ducs 2004, so I have no standard of comparison, though these wines were superb and a little challenging — of the Clos du Chateau des Ducs 2004 my first note was “a chill comes off this.”

The literature, however, is primarily unstinting in regard for the classically proportioned and detailed pre-biodynamic wines — read Clive Coates on the Volnay Clos des Chênes 1990, 1983 and 1952 — so is it possible that the post-2000 wines are in some sense truer, more authentic, more reflective of the vineyards than they were for all those decades? The domaine’s philosophy has always been to pay close and careful attention in the vineyard and to leave the wine as undisturbed as possible during its making. What more could grapes or wine ask for?

Tasted at “Return to Terroir: La Renaissance des Appellations” in New York, February 27, 2012. Becky Wasserman Selection for Martin Scott, Lake Success, N.Y., and other importers around the country.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Raisins Dorés Bourgogne Aligoté 2009. Aligoté is Burgundy’s “other” white grape, grown usually in the highest or lowest sites, that is, not in the areas of the superior vineyards in the middle of the slopes. The wine is bottled as Bourgogne Aligoté; only in Bouzeron, in the Chalonnaise, does it get its own appellation. We expect aligoté to be immensely crisp with acidity — which is why it’s essential in a Kir, combined with cassis — even sometimes fairly arid with acidity’s drying quality, but this example leavens the intense vibrancy and nervosity with a lovely supple, moderately dense texture and tasty flavors of lemon curd and roasted lemon, subtly wedded to cloves, dried rosemary and limestone. A beguiling jasmine and honeysuckle aspect gets matters off to a good start. 14 percent alcohol. Seductive harmony and balance. Very Good+. About $23, but prices range from $18 to $28.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009. I’ll repeat the phrase from the previous note — “seductive harmony and balance” — but add something individual, almost feral that lifts this commune wine above its counterparts. It opens with notes of jasmine and lilac, cloves and orange rind, wedded to roasted lemon and lemon balm. The wine feels fleet, transparent, luminous, with lovely depths of spice and limestone, light citrus and quince-like fruit and a sort of crystalline distillation of chardonnay character, enrobed in a texture of ethereal silkiness and enlivened by bright acidity. This is chardonnay that I could drink every day, if I could afford it. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $44 to $48.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain “L’Exception” 2009. We rarely see the quaffer Passetoutgrains outside Burgundy — Lafarge spells this without the “s” — where it’s often consumed with simple meals. The wine is made from a minimum of one-third pinot noir with the rest gamay. This example offers a light ruby-cherry color and delicate aromas of red currants and black and red cherries supported by modest brambly tannins and shimmering acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. More character and less rusticity than most Passetoutgrains I have encountered. Very Good+. About $25 to $28. (Can that be right? Passetoutgrains used to sell for $15 to $18.)
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay “Vendages Selectionnes” 2009. Classic Volnay, made from a selection of older vines. The color ranges from mild cherry at the rim to a slightly darker ruby-cherry in the center; the bouquet is a subtle weaving of dried spice and flowers with red currants and black cherries and a touch of plum and, at the heart, an almost ethereal gamy, slightly earthy aspect. The texture feels like the most delicate and ineffable of satin draperies, yet you sense, also, the structure of stones and bones and the clean acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There is fruit, of course, red and black, a little spiced, macerated and stewed, yet nothing forward or blatant. The wine is elegant and graceful but very dry and draws out a line of spareness and austerity through the finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Wonderful quality for a village wine. Excellent. About $68 to $75.
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Malbec. Carmenere. Cabernet Sauvignon. We must be talking about Chile and Argentina. These wines are priced from about $11 to about $20, and some of them around $12 to $14 represent Excellent Value. I was more impressed with the carmenère wines than the malbecs or cabernets; I assume that conclusion is just the luck of the draw as far as the wines I had on hand. As usual in the Friday Wine Sips I eschew technical, historical and specific geographical information about vineyards and such for the sake of brevity and the clean, penetrating stroke. These were all samples for review. If you’re firing up the grill, most of these wines would be great accompaniment to steaks, burgers, sausages, pork chops and so on. I know it’s Saturday, so sue me.
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Malbec
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Bodegas Elena de Mendoza Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.6% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; simple, straight-forward, undifferentiated fruit, a little bland. Serviceable at best if you’re not thinking too hard. Good. About $11
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Chakana Maipe Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. ??% alc. Dark ruby-violet color; simple, direct, tasty; black currant and blueberry, touch of spice, back-note of lavender; nice complement of tannin and acidity. A decent burger and pizza wine. Good+. About $13.
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Apaltagua Reserva Malbec 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Black olive, cedar, thyme; black currants, blueberries and plums; quite dense and chewy; tannins, minerals and acidity prominent, if not audacious; spicy oak dominates. Needs a year or two to settle down. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
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Trivento Amado Sur Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. With 10% bonardo & 10% syrah. Deep ruby-purple; intriguing aromas of lavender and leather, smoky currants and plums, rye toast and graphite; the wine is robust, tannins are soft and velvety yet gripping, chewy; black fruit flavors are dark and spicy; quite dry, a bit austere on the finish. Needs a steak. Very Good+. About $13, Good Value.
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Carmenère
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Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenère 2010, Rapel Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Deep dark purple; ripe, fleshy and meaty, very intense and pure, fraught with graphite, lavender and leather over concentrated black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors, touched with dried thyme and rosemary; an ink-iron-iodine-and-mint wine, dense and chewy but with high wild notes; sheathes the palate with finely-milled tannins. Give it a year – or a steak. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Value.
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Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carmenere 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. With 7% cabernet sauvignon. Vivid dark ruby-purple; cedar, tobacco, lead pencil, hints of black olive and bell pepper, intense and concentrated aromas (and flavors) of spicy cassis, black cherries and plums with a plangent note of blueberry; fills the mouth with dusty tannins, dusty slate and dusty oak; needs a year or two to unfurl. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
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Marques de Casa Concha Carmenere 2009, Peuma, Chile. (Concha y Toro) 14% alc. Deep purple-violet; slightly roasted, slightly toasty, ripe but intense and concentrated; cedar, tobacco, thyme and black olive; black and blue fruit; plush, grainy tannins, earthy and minerally in the graphite-slate range but goes down easily; well-bred harmony and balance, though you feel the wood and forest floor qualities from mid-palate back through the finish. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $20.
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Cabernet sauvignon
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San Huberto Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Castro Barros, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. An intense and concentrated fistful of wheatmeal, walnut shell, cedar and tobacco, bitter chocolate and graphite, briers and brambles; lip-smacking tannins and acidity, very dry and austere. Will it ever soften? Good+. About $11.
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Vina Siegal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. ??% alc. With 15% syrah. Deep ruby-cherry color; red and black cherries and currants, touch of strawberry jam; hints of vanilla, lavender and licorice, rose petals and leather; very pleasing texture, dense and chewy yet smooth with nicely tamed tannins; moderate finish with spice, pepper and brambles. Well-made for the price. Very Good. About $13, a Bargain.
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Cigar Box Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. As the name indicates, cigar box and lead pencil, cedar and tobacco, black currants and plums; walnut shell, brambles, earthy and mossy forest floor; succulent fruit lasts about a nanosecond; dry, austere, astringent finish, though give the wine a few minutes and it dredges up hints of blueberry and boysenberry, potpourri and orange rind in the bouquet. More zinfandel-like than cabernet. Good+. About $13.
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Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. & Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. These are serious cabernets. The 2010: dark ruby color, almost opaque; very intense, very concentrated, iron and iodine, graphite and shale; profound core of dusty graphite, potpourri, lavender and bitter chocolate; immense but not daunting tannins. The 2009: deep ruby-purple; smoke and iron; bristles with briers and brambles and bitter chocolate; offers defining scents of cassis, lavender, licorice and lilac; deeply tannic but velvety. Try these from 2014 to 2018 or ’20. Each Very Good+ and about $20.
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Red blend
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Maquis Lien 2008, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 13.5% alc. Carmenere and syrah each 25%, cabernet franc 20%, petit verdot and malbec each 15%. Inky-purple; real character, heft, tone and presence; supported by immense reserves of dusty, slate-laden tannins and burnished oak, vibrant acidity; dense and chewy, coats the mouth with tannins and graphite-like minerals; yet beguiling, seductive, delicious, manages to balance power with some measure of grace. best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $20.
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One of the advantages of tawny port is that it has already been aged for you and is ready to drink when opened; another is that it tends to be less expensive, often much less, than the Vintage Porto that grabs all the headlines and is produced in small quantities. Tawny ports are left to age in barrels until they reach the desired point of maturity and character, so that, unlike Vintage Porto, they do not develop once they have been bottled. Tawny ports that carry age designations, usually 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, are typically made (or should be made) from high quality grapes to maintain a level of integrity. Those age designations are approximations, generally meaning an average; a 10-year-old tawny may be blended from wines from five to 15 years old. Remember that port is a fortified wine whose fermentation is stopped by the addition of pure spirits, resulting in sweetness and relatively high alcohol, about 19 to 20 percent.

Warre’s launched its Otima label a few years ago in an effort to modernize the rather staid image of port in general and tawnies in particular. The design is simple and stylish, and unlike most port bottles, the glass is clear rather than opaque. Warre’s, the oldest British Port house, established in 1670, is owned by the Symington family, which also owns Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Gould Campbell, Graham’s, Quarles Harris, Quinta do Vesuvio and Smith Woodhouse.

Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Porto sports a radiant medium copper-amber color with a faintly lighter rim; as the case should be with a 10-year-old tawny, the nose is a subtle yet complex weaving of toasted coconut, toasted almonds, rum-soaked raisins and citrus fruit, and fruitcake with overtones of orange rind and a touch of the exotic in hints of cloves, sandalwood and mango. In the mouth, this tawny is fairly direct, rather fiery initially, and it slides over the palate with sleek ease; what it lacks in depth it makes up for with the suavity and smoothness of its brown-sugar-and-rum-tinged citrus, plum and fig flavors and the authority of its vibrant acidity; sweet on the intake, it turns quite dry by the finish. Made for sipping after dinner sitting out on the porch. 20 percent alcohol. Serve slightly chilled. Very Good+. About $26 for a 500ml bottle.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, American Canyon, Ca. A sample for review.

Casting around for a wine to sip with Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas, I opened, with a deft twist of the wrist, the Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009, Mosel, and it turned out to be a great match with the dish. (The first time I made this, we drank the Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010, Paso Robles, reviewed here.) The 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar in the sauce, the slowly sauteed leeks, and the peas and tarragon added before serving lent the dish a touch of savor and sweetness, with which the Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 resonated in fine fashion.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr is one of the Middle Mosel region’s most celebrated locations; lying along the north bank of the Mosel, where the river makes a broad sweep to the northwest around the hill of Schwarzlay, the vineyard rests on soil of shallow, stony slate. Sonnenuhr is the vineyard; the village of Wehlen provides the commune designation.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 presents a pale almost transparent straw-gold color; aromas of green apples, apple skin, ripe peaches and pears are melded to hints of limestone and flint and notes of cloves and lychee. The wine is exquisitely honeyed and spiced, a golden fandango of juicy peach and pear flavors and slightly roasted lemon with ginger and quince, all of these wedded with the utmost delicacy, refinement and elegance and enlivened by scintillating acidity. The wine imperceptibly segues to dryness in mid-palate, leading to a finish that adds more limestone and shale and just a tinge of lychee and pink grapefruit. Absolutely lovely, a limpid vision of glittering tinsel strung on a structure of tensile strength. 8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’19, well-stored. Excellent. About $33.

A sample for review.


Sacre bleu! Here I am, posting the “Friday Wine Sips” on Friday instead of Sunday! I am so freakin’ disciplined and organized and impressed with myself! Ten wines today, a rosé, four whites and five reds. The one product that rates Excellent is the Beni di Batasiolo “Granee” Gavi 2010, definitely Worth a Search. As usual in this series, I do not include historical, geographical or technical data in order to keep the order of business in lean, clean, incisive order. These were all samples for review.
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Montes Cherub Rosé of Syrah 2011, Colchagua, Chile. 13.5% alc. Entrancing cerise-magenta color; robust, earthy, almost muscular for a rosé, yet limpid, transparently delicious; pure strawberry and raspberry with a flush of rhubarb and pomegranate; very spicy; crisp acidity with a flourish of limestone on the finish. Really attractive and food-friendly. Very Good+. About $17 but often discounted as low as $13.
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Albamar Chardonnay 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. (William Cole Vineyards) 12.5% alc. A cool-climate chardonnay that channels its inner sauvignon blanc; tastes nice but couldn’t it be a bit more like, you know, chardonnay. Good+. About $11.
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Plantagenet Omrah Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. A 3-year-old sauvignon blanc that tastes as fresh as the day it was bottled; pure lychee infused with pear and peach and a hint of mango; hints of dried thyme and tarragon and leafy fig; ripe and round but quite dry and crisp, silky texture; a line of chalky limestone that starts mid-palate and drives back through the finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $15.
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Les Charmes Chardonnay 2010, Mäcon-Lugny, France. 13% alc. A lean, racy, nervy style of chardonnay, built on layers of limestone, chalk and talc suffused with lime peel, roasted lemon and pear; subtly earthy, supple, sinewy but asserts its charm. Ubiquitous. Very Good. About $16.
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Beni di Batasiolo “Granée” Gavi 2010, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. A superior Gavi. Pale straw color; very spicy; almond and almond blossom, roasted lemons and pears, touch of greengage and peach, high plangent tones of lilac and licorice; scintillating acidity and limestone-like minerality, lovely texture; the finish laden with flint and shale. Excellent. About $18.
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Double Decker Red Blend 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah, barbera. Medium ruby color; pleasant enough, taxes neither your taste buds nor your intellect, quite dry, actually pretty darned tannic with lots of brambles and underbrush. Doesn’t exactly hang together. Good. About $10.
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Hey Mambo Sultry Red 2010, California. (The Other Guys) 13.5% alc. 29% syrah, 26% petite sirah, 13% zinfandel, 12% grenache, 10% tempranillo, 6% cabernet sauvignon, 4% merlot. Hard to know what each grape variety contributes to this kitchen-sink blend; still, sort of “sultry” in an imaginary Mediterranean style; warm, fleshy; spiced black cherries and plums; ripe sweet fruit amid the lip-smacking tannins and acidity; soft almost velvety texture over some graphite-like minerality. Quaff it down. Very Good. About $12.
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Alamos Seleccíon Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Dark, rigorous, spicy, tannic; did I say tannic already? Needs one of those Argentine grilled meat extravaganzas — beef, pig, lamb, goat — to soften the edges of the oaky, granitic, um, tannic structure. Very Good. About $20.
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Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. (Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Lafite) 75% cabernet sauvignon, 10% carmenère, 10% syrah, 5% malbec. Classic; mocha, tobacco, cedar, black olive; hints of smoked bell pepper and tomato skin; black currants and plums; firm, dense, chewy; very dry, a touch austere through the finish, which is packed with woody spices, burnished oak and finely-meshed tannins. A well-crafted and powerful Bordeaux-like expression of the grape; needs a steak. Very Good+. About $20.
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The Spur Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. (Murietta’s Well) 14.5% alc. 32% cabernet sauvignon, 30% malbec, 21% petit verdot, 7% cabernet franc, 6% petite sirah, 4% merlot. A well-made but fairly typical California-ish blended red wine; dark ruby color; fragrant with ripe and spicy and slightly macerated black currants, black cherries and plum with undertones of lavender and black tea; dense, chewy texture but not ponderous; grainy (but not gritty) tannins and vibrant acidity frame juicy black fruit flavors permeated by woody spices, mocha and graphite; a long cool earthy finish. Have fun with it tonight, though you might not remember its name in the morning. Very Good+. About $25.
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The Jura Mountains, in east-central France, between Burgundy and Switzerland, remain an exotic and remote region for most winelovers, even those who may know a considerable amount about French wine. Landscape, grape varieties and methods in the Jura and Arbois appellations are unique, and so are the wines, which tend toward delicacy and elegance. While chardonnay and pinot noir are widely cultivated in Jura and Arbois, the red trousseau and poulsard (helpfully also called ploussard) and the white savagnin (not sauvignon) are what give the region its distinctive qualities. Savagnin is allowed in all white wine production of the regions but is the only grape permitted in the unusual vin jaune (“yellow wine”), which is akin to Sherry but without being fortified.

One of the most progressive estates in Arbois is Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, founded in 1962. André and Mireille’s son Stéphane, after working at wineries in Australia and South Africa, took over the domaine in 1990 and operates it with his wife Bénédicte. They produce 28 wines, each a remarkable distillation of vineyard and grape and frank individuality, the kinds of wines that make a wine-writer think, “Oh, yes, this is why I love wine!” Stéphane Tissot converted the estate to all organic practices in 1999, followed by biodynamic methods in 2004; the Tissot vineyards are certified by Demeter.

Tasted at the “Return to Terroir” event in New York, February 27. Prices are approximate. Various small importers.
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My first note on the Tissot Classique Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, is “god, how lovely!” The grapes for this chardonnay derive from vineyards planted in 1962, ’74 and ’78. The wine ages 12 months in the standard Burgundy barrel of 228 liters, but only 10 percent of the barrels were new. This is chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, very floral and spicy, with ethereal scents and flavors of apple, grapefruit and roasted lemon nestled in shale and limestone. The sense of tension and resolution between clean, bright acidity and a moderately lush texture afford a great deal of pleasure, assuring a quality of liveliness and confidence that remains subtle and graceful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from thewinecountry.com.
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The vineyards for Tissot’s La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, were planted in 1952, ’53, ’64, ’70, ’72, ’76 and then, after a span of 26 years, in 2002. The wine aged 16 months in barriques, 1/3 new oak barrels. This is a chardonnay of the utmost purity, delicacy and elegance; it’s an exquisite and airy fabric of quince and ginger, roasted lemon and camellia, cloves and limestone, all wrapped in a structure that’s as honed and fine-boned as an 18th century Wedgwood tea-cup, yet displaying surprising heft and substance for all that — and, in the finish, touches of burgeoning shale-like minerality and a drop of wild-flower honey. You can scarcely imagine how diametrically opposed this wine is to the typical heavy-handed, over-wrought chardonnay from California. Production was about 550 cases. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from blindtastingclub.net.
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Another chardonnay, this one Le Clos de la Tour de Curon 2009, Arbois. The vineyard was planted in 2002; the wine aged 24 months in barriques, 1/3 new barrels. This is altogether deeper, richer and spicier than the two previous examples of Tissot’s chardonnays, but neither is it blatant nor ponderous. The wine is quite dry, scintillating with limestone-like minerality and almost tingling with crisp, vibrant acidity, yet the stones-and-bones approach does not neglect piquant, intriguing (and fairly remarkable) aromas and flavors of preserved lemon, dried lavender and chestnut honey (but not the latter’s sweetness), with a final fillip of cloves and allspice. Yes, a savory, almost food-like chardonnay that manages to be completely balanced and true and authentic. Production was about 138 cases. Now through 2016 to ’19. Excellent. About $27 to $32.
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The sole red wine under consideration here is Tissot’s Singulier Trousseau 2010, Arbois. In the chilly environs of the foothills of the Alps, red wines tend to be delicate and refined, certainly the case with this gossamer, almost powdery, eminently attractive wine, which aged 12 months in old oak foudres, that is large casks. The color is pale rose with a slight bluish magenta cast; aromas of dried cherries and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves, cinnamon and rose petals, segueing in the mouth to those spicy cherries and red currants but encompassing hints of pale plums and tart mulberries. This is dry, lovely, graceful, charming, almost ephemeral, yet it’s enlivened by chiming acidity, pliant tannins and a vibrant mineral element that provide the necessary structure to be taken seriously. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $27 to $29.
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The oxidized wines of the Jura and Arbois are difficult to write about because they resemble the best products of Spain’s Sherry regions yet they’re also distinctly their own. For example, Tissot’s Savagnin 2008 was made from vineyards planted in 1968, ’74, ’96, ’97 and 2000; the wine aged 25 months in barriques that are not topped up, so some evaporation occurs along with the formation of a layer of yeast on top of the quietly resting wine. The result is something like a superior Manzanilla Sherry — very dry and nutty — but with beguiling hints of green olives, dried figs, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slight resinous quality, and roasted almonds. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About — quite approximately — $27 to $29.
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Let’s discuss the Vin Jaune “En Speis” 2005 and the Vin Jaune “Les Brayeres” 2005 together. Remember that these rare wines, however Sherry-like they may seem in character, are not fortified, as Sherry is. Because of the winters in the Jura mountains, it may take two or three years for the veil or voile of yeast to grow across the surface of the wine in the barrel; that length of time adds to the full time of maturing, so the vin jaune of the Jura may not, by law, be released for six years and three months after harvest. The wines are bottled in unique 62-cl vessels called clavelin. “En Speis” is toffee, caramel, roasted raisins, orange rind, toasted coconut and almonds and dried figs; “Brayeres” is richer, deeper, more in the range of bittersweet chocolate and dried blood oranges, with those typical touches of raisins and almonds and a slightly astringent citrus and persimmon background. Both are bone-dry, elegant, spare, utterly distinctive. Such wines last for ages, so let’s say, now through 2035 to ’40. No kidding. Excellent. Each about $70.

Image, much cropped, from julienmarchand.com.
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And let’s not neglect the delightful Domaine Tissot Crémant du Jura Brut, non-vintage, which doesn’t mean that it came from no year but that the grapes came from several vintages. The blend is 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 10 percent indigenous trousseau and poulsard grapes. This sparkling wine is made in the “ancient tradition,” as regions outside of Champagne often term the classic methode champenoise of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is brassy-gold shot with an upward surge of golden glinting bubbles, and actually this feels like a golden sparkling wine, seemingly an exhalation of the sun and beautiful long glowing afternoons. From the glass waft scents of cloves and sandalwood, orange blossom and waxy white flowers, roasted lemons and lime peel; the wine is clean, fresh and crisp, yet the texture is almost dense, almost lush, though cut with a kind of bright, glancing acidity and seething layers of limestone and flint. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $22, representing Great Value.
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The Sovrana Barbera d’Alba 2009, a single-vineyard wine made by the estate of Beni di Batasiolo, is a “new style” Barbera, that is, it’s aged in small oak barrels — 12 to 15 months — instead of the traditional large old casks. The controversial process — sides have been drawn, insults hurled throughout Piedmont — imparts a different range of aromatics to the bouquet, and yet what a winsome and seductive range that is. Sovrana Barbera d’Alba 2009 offers an incredible perfume of dried cloves and sandalwood, lavender and potpourri and pomander, dried red currants and raspberries with a tinge of ripe mulberries and plums, layered with dusty graphite, all quite penetrating and evocative. In the mouth, matters take a more serious turn; the wine is intense and concentrated, displaying heaps of backbone and grit and vibrant acidity, along with dense, chewy, slightly grainy tannins and, finally, tightly-knit flavors of black cherry, red currants and tart mulberries. The finish brings in more earthiness and granite-like minerality with hints of iron and iodine. Give it some air and give it food; this is no smacky-mouth sipping wine but a beverage intended for a salt-strewn medium rare rib-eye steak, a veal chop grilled with rosemary and garlic or, as we tested it last night, with spaghetti with sausage meatballs, basil and peas, a Jamie Oliver recipe. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Boisset America, St. Helena, Ca. A sample for review.


Oops, not exactly Friday, is it? I must have fallen into the sinkhole of the space-time continuum. Anyway, no theme today, just a group of wines that I tasted recently, some of which I liked and a few that I didn’t. That’s the breaks, n’est-ce pas? As usual in the erstwhile Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical and geographical data for the sake of incisive reviews of blitzkrieg intensity. Included today are a delightful pinot noir rosé from Sonoma County, two excellent chardonnays (one from Carneros, one from New Zealand) and an inexpensive red wine blend from the “South of France” that’s worth a search for devotees of organic products.

These were all samples for review.
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Toad Hollow Eye of the Toad Rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma County. 11.5% alc. Pure strawberry and raspberry with undertones of pear, melon and peach skin; a hints of orange rind, almond blossom and limestone; quite dry but soft and juicy; more stones and bones on the finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $13, a Great Bargain.
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Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13% alc. A lovely, delicate, elegant chardonnay, yet very spicy, slightly resinous (as in a hint of rosemary), touched of roasted lemon, pineapple and grapefruit with a tinge of mango; underlying richness and complexity, quite dry, always mindful of balance and poise. More than charming, attractively individual. Excellent. About $21.
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Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Rich but beautifully balanced, bold but not brassy; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors deeply infused with cloves and allspice, hints of lemon and honeysuckle; a golden and sunny chardonnay with a sheen of deft oak, ripe and slightly creamy yet with a prominent limestone edge. Pure, intense, sophisticated. Excellent. About $50.
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Naked Earth 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc (though the front label says “South of France”). 12.5% alc. Merlot 50%, cabernet sauvignon 25%, grenache 20%, carignan 5%. Certified organic. Surprising character for the price and geographic anonymity; dark ruby color; cedar, tobacco, black olives; black currants and plums; lavender and violets, touch of new leather; dry, dusty tannins, almost velvety texture, spicy black fruit flavors, lipsmacking acidity. Worth seeking out. Very Good. About $12, representing Real Value.
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Green Truck Zinfandel 2009, Mendocino County. 13.5% alc. Certified organic. A generic red wine with wild berries and brambles, very dusty tannins and heaps of graphite-like minerality. People searching for organic wine deserve better. Good. About $14.
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Murphy-Goode Merlot 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; toasty oak, caraway and celery seed; cherries, plums and raspberries; very dry, disjointed plus a vanilla backnote. Not recommended. About $14.
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Murphy-Goode Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, California. 13.5% alc. Better than the merlot but still fairly ordinary; attractive heft and texture, ripe and spicy black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors, nice balance among fruit, acidity and mildly dusty chewy tannins. Very Good. About $14.
Note that both of these Murphy-Goode products carry a California appellation instead of Sonoma County and are “vinted” rather than “produced,” which means that consumers have no idea whence within the state the grapes came or where the wine was made. Jackson Family Wines acquired Murphy-Goode in 2006.
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Mark West Pinot Noir 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands. 14.2% alc. Dark ruby color with a paler ruby edge; black cherry and leather, cola and cloves; hits all the necessary points without being compelling; dense, chewy tannins, swingeing acidity, very dry with a dusty, earthy, mineral-flecked finish. Very Good. About $14. (Sorry, the price is actually about $19.)
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Davis Bynum Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. You gotta like wood to like this one. At first, subtly woven black cherry, mulberry, smoke, cola and woody spice (cloves, sandalwood), then you feel the oak sneak up, as it were, from the back to front, smothering everything in its path. Not my cuppa tea. Good. About $35.
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Pizza and barbecue ribs don’t have much in common; the first is a form of savory flatbread, while the second is pure meat and bones; the first cooks quickly, the second luxuriates in long, slow heat. Of course pizza often has some form of meat as a topping (certainly the case at my house; I asked LL once if she would like a vegetarian pizza and she replied, “What’s the point?”) and frequently incorporates tomatoes, while ribs are, you know, meat and the basting sauce sometimes has a tomato base, so while we may not be talking about blood-brothers, there may be more going on here than I thought initially.

Anyway, here’s a roster of full-flavored, full-bodied wines that we have tried recently on Pizza-and-Movie Night, as well as a syrah and grenache blend that we drank with barbecue ribs. Not that these labels and recommendations are fused in iron; most of these wines, with their rich ripe fruit and stalwart tannins, could match with a variety of hearty grilled or roasted fare.

These wines were samples for review.
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Las Rocas Garnacha 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Gallo bought Las Rocas, which was launched in 2003, from its American importer and his Spanish partner in 2009; a smart move, since Las Rocas Garnacha is an incredibly popular, inexpensive red wine. Made completely from garnacha or grenache grapes, the version for 2009 is as we would expect: very ripe, floral and spicy, with teeming amounts of black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors bolstered by earthy and dusty graphite elements, moderately grainy tannins and bright acidity. The fruit qualities taste a little fleshy and roasted, and there’s a bit of heat on the finish, testimony to the exceptionally dry, hot weather in 2009 along that plateau in northeastern Spain. Quite enjoyable, though, for its frank flavors and rustic directness; try with pizza (of course), burgers and grilled sausages. 15.2 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $14.

With this wine came Las Rocas Red Blend 2009 ($14) and Las Rocas Viñas Viejas 2009 ($20) which I did not find appreciably better or much different.

Imported by Las Rocas USA, Hayward, Ca.
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Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato 2008, Irpinia Aglianico, Campania, Italy. Campania is the province that surrounds the city of Naples and extends east from it. This area is almost the exclusive arena of the unique, rangy and rustic aglianico grape, though it also makes the DOC Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata, to the southeast. The grape originated in Greece and was brought to central Italy by the Phoenicians, so it is of ancient provenance, as so much in Italy is. Feudi di San Gregorio’s Rubrato ’08 displays all the character of the grape in full. The color is deep, dark ruby; the heady bouquet is spicy and meaty, an amalgam of black and blue fruit, cloves, fruitcake, black olives, oolong tea, tar and blackberry jam. In the mouth, the wine, which aged eight months in French oak barriques, is rich and savory but firm, dense and chewy, fathomlessly imbued with grainy tannins, brooding mineral elements and teeming acidity. On the other hand, the alcohol content is a relatively winsome 13.5 percent. We drank this blood-and-guts (yet pleasing and user-friendly) red with pizza, but it’s really suited to barbecue ribs or brisket or a grilled rib-eye steak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Sausal Family Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Sporting a dark ruby slightly unto purple color, this zinfandel, made from vines averaging 50 years old, is robust and full-bodied, offering spiced and macerated red currants and blueberry with a bare hint of boysenberry; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by elements of graphite and lavender, fruitcake and potpourri, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak, a process that lends firmness to the structure, suppleness to the texture and touches of cloves and mocha. Tannins are fine-grained and generously proportioned, while taut acidity provides vim and zip (sounding like characters in a play by Samuel Beckett). The long finish is packed with black and red fruit and earthy graphite-like minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $19, another Good Value.
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Benessere Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley. Not a zinfandel that attempts the extracted uber-darkness/super-ripe effect, here the color is medium ruby with a dark cherry center and the bouquet focuses on red and black cherries with hints of sour cherry, plum skin, cloves, fruitcake and hints of earthy leather and brambles. Not that the wine isn’t ripe and rich or packed with juicy wild berry flavors; in fact, this is a remarkably sleek and stylish zinfandel that only shows its more rigorous side when the closely-knit tannins and dense oak — 18 months in new and used French and American barrels — make themselves known through the finish. The spice elements, a backnote of cocoa powder and more brambles and briers also build from mid-palate back, adding verve and depth, aided by lively acidity. 14.7 percent alcohol. A great match for pizzas with hearty topping like sausage, guanciale or spicy salami. Production was 390 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley. Here’s a blend of syrah (55 percent) and grenache (45 percent) fully worthy of its Rhone Valley heritage, but I have to apologize for its lack of wide distribution. In any case, this wine went head to head and toe to toe with a rack of barbecue ribs and did them both proud. The grapes were grown organically at about 900 feet above Sonoma Valley, in a vineyard that lies next to the legendary Monte Rosso vineyard, once the mainstay of the Louis M Martini cabernet sauvignon wines and now owned by Gallo. Cuvée Alis 09, named for Richard Arrowood’s wife and co-proprietor of Amapola Creek, aged 18 months in new and used French oak. The color is an almost opaque ruby-purple with a magenta rim; the bouquet is first earth, leather, smoke, ash, black pepper; then intoxicating aromas of pure blackberry, black raspberry and plum, permeated, after a few moments in the glass, with beguiling notes of sandalwood, cumin and cardamom, ancho chili and bittersweet chocolate. The wine is characterized by huge presence and tone; it’s dense and chewy and powerfully imbued with smooth packed-in tannins and an iron and iodine-like mineral nature, yet it remains vital and vibrant, even a bit poised, while black fruit flavors are spicy, fleshy and meaty. The finish, though, is daunting and rather austere, a quality that deepens as the minutes pass. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Try from 2014 to 2018 to ’22. I wrote about Richard Arrowood’s Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and his history as a winemaker in Sonoma County here, and I rated that wine Exceptional; this Cuvée Alis 09 is no exception, it’s also Exceptional. About $48.
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