April 2012


I wanted a deftly handled chardonnay to drink with LL’s roasted sea bass and pancetta with braised leeks, sweet potatoes and black garlic, so I plucked a bottle of Trefethen Estate Chardonnay 2010, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, from the fridge, and it delivered all the purity and intensity that I was looking for. This is a chardonnay — aged only nine months in French oak and only 16 percent new barrels — that embodies Platonic ideals of poise and integration, subtlety and elegance. Classic scents of ripe pineapple and grapefruit seem fairly typical until a few moments in the glass bring out an extraordinary display of thyme, lavender and bay leaf, quince and ginger, with back-notes of shale and limestone. The wine is both full-blown juicy and rigorously dry, its flavors of fresh apples, lemon curd and baked grapefruit cut by clean vibrant acidity and scintillating limestone-like minerality, so that its lovely soft dense almost powdery texture is bolstered and balanced by crispness and a sense of vivid alertness; yes, I’m talking about character and breeding. The alcohol content is a very comfortable 13.5 percent. Now through 2015 or ’16, well-stored. Winemaker was Zeke Neeley. Excellent. About $30, though prices around the country go as low as $22.

A sample for review from a wholesaler.

Here’s a sauvignon blanc wine not to be missed. The Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and then spent six months in neutral French oak barrels, “neutral” meaning that the barrels have been used enough times that they impart little of the more obvious wood influences but can lend the wine subtlety of spice and suppleness of texture. The color is shimmering pale gold; aromas of lemongrass, lychee, gooseberry and pear are augmented by hints of thyme and tarragon, a mild grassy element and a backnote of tangerine. The wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, tart and zingy with taut acidity, but not as startlingly tart as many examples from New Zealand; roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors harmonize with a sunny-leafy fig-like quality, all nestled in a structure that paradoxically, but happily, marries talc-like softness with crispness and tension, finishing with an arrow-bright stream of grapefruit rind and limestone. And just to show you how some wines make surprising matches, we drank this one night with fennel-braised pork-belly with green olives and potato-leek mash; it was terrific. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through the end of 2012. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

The vineyard and wine-making region of Ribera del Duero lies on the vast plateau of north-central Spain, athwart the Duero River in the province of Castilla y Leon. The principal grape is Spain’s most famous, the red tempranillo, known, however, in Ribera del Duero as tinto fino. Tempranillo is also the primary grape of Rioja, to the northeast, in Navarra; while Rioja long held a reputation for fine red wines — or, to be honest, frequently long-aged, woody, attenuated wines — Ribera del Duero functions as the upstart, the relatively new kid on the block, at least in terms of gaining international renown. Traditionally matured in American oak barrels, the wines of Ribera del Duero have come under the spell of French barriques, and you will see some evidence of that influence in this report, though as usual in the Friday Wine Sips, I eliminate technical, historical and explicit geographical data. The wines of Ribera del Duero must contain 75 percent tempranillo grapes, the rest made up from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, malbec or the local albillo; most of the wines mentioned here are 100% tempranillo. “Crianza” indicates a wine that has undergone at least one-year aging in oak barrels. These are not wines of finesse and refinement, but when well-balanced by fruit, their power and presence can be seductive. With two exceptions, these were samples for review. It was particularly gratifying to taste examples from 2005, ’04 and ’03.
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Vivir, Vivir 2007, Ribero del Duero. (Bodegas J.C. Conde) 13% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color with a darker center; soft, funky spicy nose, macerated red and black currants and plums; lovely ripe and fleshy black fruit character, vibrant acidity and fine-grained tannins; dusty graphite and underbrush, bittersweet chocolate, finish more austere and rigorous. Now to 2015 or ’17. Very Good+. About $12, so Run Out and Buy a Case.
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Damana 5 2007, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. With 4 percent cabernet sauvignon. Med ruby color; red currants, raspberries and plums with that slight astringency of the tempranillo grape; high notes of wild berries and violets; dry and tannic, dried spices and a sort of distillation or intensification of potpourri and graphite; finish a bit rustic, glaringly dry and austere. Try 2013 to 2016 to ’18. Very Good. About $16.
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Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribero del Duero. 13% alc. First note: “this is great!” Dark ruby color with a garnet rim; terrific balance of power and elegance with all elements perfectly integrated; tobacco, spice, dried flowers and berries; deeply tannic and wood-influenced but all melded and meshed and layered; texture and structure one with the fruit and bright acidity; a few moments bring up hints of oolong tea, orange rind and fruitcake. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $13, an Absolute Freaking Bargain and Worth a Search.
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Ebano 6 2007, Ribero del Duero. NA% alc. Dark ruby color with a touch of magenta at the rim; give it a few minutes in the glass and it becomes quite appealing and drinkable; rich, warm, spicy, savory; red and black currants and cherries, tea and bittersweet chocolate; hefty, slightly grainy tannins are still fairly tight but unfold with airing in the glass; black and red fruit flavors open to hints of sour cherry and fruitcake; solid structure with some manageable woody austerity in the finish. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Very Good+. About $18, Good Value.
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Tinto Federico Roble 2007, Ribero del Duero. 12.5% alc. Warm, fleshy, spicy, ripe, appealing; softly macerated red and black berries and plums, touch of tobacco and iodine plus the whole box of exotic spices; plush and velvety yet sustained by striking acidity and fairly resolute tannins; the woody, tannin nature comes out more in the dry, austere finish. Try 2013 to 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $18.
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Pagos del Infante Crianza 2006, Ribero del Duero. (Lynus ViƱedos y Bodegas) 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color; cool, clean, scintillating inky graphite-like minerality, a touch of mint; more spice than fruit, though an intense concentration of black currants, black raspberries and plums with fruitcake, orange pekoe tea and quince paste; long, dense, impressive, avoids austerity through sheer power of personality. A modern style but more than merely legitimate. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $NA.
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Callejo Crianza 2006, Ribero del Duero. 14% alc. Lots of dimension without much detail; dense, dusty, chewy iron-like tannins; leather and brambles; even the warm spicy aromas feel as if they’re part of some rigorous architecture, etched with a smoke and charcoal edge; dry and austere. A big hmmmm. Perhaps try from 2014 to 2018. Very Good. About $30.
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Portia 2006, Ribera del Duero. 14% alc. Dark ruby with a slightly lighter rim; ripe, spicy, fleshy, warm; good balance and integration; tasty and appealing; moderate and well-integrated oak and tannins. Not exciting but drinks nicely. Now through 2014 to ’16. Very Good. About $30 (or close)
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Pine Ridge Winery, founded in the Napa Valley in 1978 by a partnership headed by Gary Andrus, made its reputation on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but the smartest business move the producer ever made was in creating a chenin blanc-viognier blend and selling it cheap. This justly popular wine — if I owned a restaurant I would sell it by bottle and glass — hits all the points the American palate desires in an inexpensive white wine: it’s tasty, nicely complex for the price and a trifle sweet.

The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2011 is a blend of 79 percent chenin blanc and 21 percent viognier. The wine is clean and fresh, with beguiling aromas of ripe pears (and pears and more pears), roasted lemons and a hint of peaches, twined with touches of mango, lemongrass, jasmine and green tea, for a flirtatious note of the exotic. Pear, peach and citrus flavors are spicy enough (and slightly herbal) that the wine is almost savory, not to mention crisp and lively with bright acidity that cuts through a lovely, moderately lush texture. That trifle of sweetness emerges mainly in the finish, but makes the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2011 a good match with slightly spicy cuisine. It’s versatile too; we drank it one night with whole-wheat linguine with walnuts, orange zest and red chilies and the next with cod and chorizo stew. 12 percent alcohol. Michael Beaulac is Pine Ridge’s general manager and winemaker. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Very Good+. About $14, representing Fantastic Value.

A sample for review.

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