May 2012

Maison M. Chapoutier traces its roots to 1808, when Marius Chapoutier and his family moved to the Northern Rhône town of Tain l’Hermitage from the Ardeche mountains. In their new home, Marius broke into the wine business by acquiring an estate owned by Comte Monier de la Sizeranne, but the dedicated acquisition of vineyards didn’t actually begin until 1879 with Polydor Chapoutier. For much of the 20th Century, the domaine was run by the well-known, out-spoken and miniscule Max Chapoutier, though when he retired in 1977, quality went into decline. The revival occurred in 1990, when 26-year-old Michel Chapoutier took over operations, and in the process of building back the family’s reputation and in expanding throughout the Rhône — the company produces wine from every region of the long north-south-running valley — and into other areas of the South of France and to other countries made himself into one of the wine world’s most influential figures.

Chapoutier has been run on biodynamic principles since 1991. Use of new oak and small barrels is judicious. In a region where wines are frequently blends of several grape varieties, Chapoutier often holds to a single-variety philosophy; the two white wines under consideration today, for example, employ only marsanne grapes, with no roussanne, as might be typical, while Chapoutier’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape is all grenache. The other innovation for which the company is well-known is that since 1996 the labels for all Chapoutier wines include information in Braille.

You know how it is when you sniff and then take a sip of a wine and you don’t want the experience and the sensation ever to end? That’s how I felt with these Hermitage blanc wines from Chapoutier, which I tasted at “The Return to Terroir” event in New York at the end of February. I didn’t want that one-inch pour (if the pourer is generous); I wanted a full glass, the bottle, a table at a great restaurant overlooking Central Park or the Seine with LL and simple but extraordinary food and a chauffeur-driver Mercedes at my disposal, a brilliant night in which strange and wonderful constellations leaned out from their galactic watch-towers. In the circumstance, I had to content myself with what I was given, and believe me I harbored these pours as if they were liquid gold, of which, in fact, the wines reminded me. In whatever amount, these were magnificent, complete, confident, rare, expensive — and very different — wines.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, New York. Image of Michel Chapoutier from
Made completely from marsanne grapes, the M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, was made one-third in new oak casks and two-thirds in stainless steel, the understanding being that casks are generally larger than the standard barriques. This is a complex and many-layered wine, packed with detail in deep and broad dimension, exuberant without being flashy. Fairly amazing aromas jump from the glass in a welter of roasted lemons and peaches, buttered cinnamon toast and Bit o’ Honey, jasmine and honeysuckle, bees’-wax and hazelnuts. Plump and fleshy without being quite voluptuous, the wine is steadied by the implicit tact of taut acidity and buttressed by scintillating limestone-like minerality. To flavors of peaches and greengage plums add notes of quince, ginger and slightly bitter orange marmelade (without the latter’s sweetness, for the wine is boldly dry) and touches of dried thyme and cedar. The finish is long, racy, spicy, with hints of slate, lime peel and grapefruit rind. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. 350 six-pack cases imported. Exceptional. About $92.
M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, shares pedigree with its cousin of the Lark’s-Song yet feels very different. There’s more structure here, more reticence and a sense of rigorous elimination for the sake of purity and intensity, spareness and elegance. Also made completely from marsanne grapes, grown on vines 60 to 70 years old, the wine aged half in “big wooden barrels” (quoting the winery website) and half in cement vats for six months. The color is medium gold with faint green shadows; the bouquet features scents of verbena and lemongrass, some austere and slightly astringent little white flower, candle wax, roasted lemon and a back-note of sage, all tightly woven and subtly unfurling. The wine’s spicy element grows — cloves, sandalwood, allspice — as does its mineral qualities in the limestone-shale range, ensconced in a texture that’s dense, chewy and supple. Flavors of macerated quince, pears and peaches are full-blown and tasty, yet their ripeness is subdued by a savory quality and by the authority of brisk, bright acidity. The finish packs in limestone and slate to the point of crystalline austerity. 13.5 percent alcohol. 40 six-pack cases imported. This for the near future and the ages; best from 2014 or ’15 to 2028 or ’30. Exceptional. About $190.

I occasionally grow disenchanted with malbecs from Argentina. Though highly touted as primary red grape of that country, malbec can turn out to be as bland as the most anonymous $16 merlot from Sonoma County. On the other hand, when the grape is grown in the right places, particularly at Andean foothill heights under fairly arid conditions, it can make enjoyable, even memorable wines of interesting character. One such is the Ñandú (“nyahn-doo”) Malbec 2010, from the well-known Mendoza region. The grapes for this wine — 98 percent malbec, two percent cabernet sauvignon — derive from vineyards in the Maipu area, at 2,624-feet elevation, and Lujan de Cuyo, at 3,116 feet. The wine aged nine months, half in a combination of stainless steel and concrete, half in French oak barrels. Ñandú Malbec 2010 — named for a large flightless bird indigenous to Argentina — offers a medium ruby-purple color and a purposeful bouquet of black and red currants, black cherries and plums and cherries imbued with cloves and sandalwood, cedar and black olive and intriguing notes of spiced fig and fruitcake. Tannins are smooth and mellow, displaying just an edge of smoke and graphite-like minerality to lend verve to the full-bodied structure, while black and blue fruit flavors are touched with something slightly sweet and untamed, like ripe Rainier cherries; vibrant acidity keeps the whole savory package lively and appealing. Opening from a core of exotic spice and bittersweet chocolate, the finish is a bit brambly and briery and a tad austere. 13.9 percent alcohol. Eminently drinkable, almost elegant, but with marks of seriousness; it’s no pushover. We drank this one night with pizza, the next with seared skirt steak. Very Good+. About $17, representing Real Value.

Winemaker was Bernard Portet, who retired in 2010 after nearly 40 years at Napa Valley’s Clos du Val winery, which he co-founded in 1972.

Imported by Polaris Wines, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.

In the New York Times recently, dance critic Gia Kourlas wrote of a young ballet dancer that “[her] lifts were daring, twisty things without being crass.” In what manner could a dancer’s movements be crass, since ballet we think of as the epitome of elegance and grace? By being overstated or emphatic or by being extended beyond the logical necessity of the physical or narrative arc; by calling attention to themselves at the expense of the entire range of motion and delivery; by sentimentalizing or sensationalizing the aura of the dance through slickness and complacency and ego.

These characteristics of what might comprise crassness in ballet amount to a definition of vulgarity, and they can be applied to a multitude of materials, objects and concepts other than dance. The Chrysler Building, for example, is elegant and graceful; a 10,000-square-foot imitation of a Loire Valley chateau plunked down on a small lot in an old suburban neighborhood is vulgar. Mad Men, for all its soap opera drama, is elegantly and cogently written and presented; the so-called “reality shows,” the Jersey Shores and American Idols and the Kardashians and endless knock-offs, take vulgarity to steroidal impact. Among recent movies, Winter’s Bone, for instance, stands out for the elegance and economy of its story-telling, its sense of truth-in-narrative and acting; all the latest revved-up, computer-generated, violent and witless comic book and super-hero films and the obscene amounts of money that go into the production and marketing of these spectacular behemoths represent a peak moment in the vulgarity of American movie-making and culture .

And wine?

Yes, wine can also be vulgar, by which I mean a wine whose treatment sensationalizes a grape’s aspects instead of allowing them a natural and authentic expression; a wine whose inherent character is obliterated by the ego of its winemaker and manipulator; a wine whose making bends it out of proportion to its — to borrow from the first paragraph — logical necessity, range and delivery.

A zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon or syrah/shiraz wine whose super-ripe grapes and high alcohol content, say, 15.5 or 16 percent, manifest themselves as cloying, jammy sweetness and a hot, unbalanced finish — to which we could add bouquet-and-flavor trashing toasty new oak — is decidedly an example of vulgarity. A chardonnay, pumped up like a be-drugged athlete with barrel fermentation, aging in high-toast barrels and malolactic fermentation so that it turns out tasting like pineapple custard, roasted marshmallows, guava cream and marzipan — quoting the approving descriptions in a well-known wine publication — is another example of the vulgarization of an unsuspecting grape that can’t fight back.

Uncomplicated grapes whose primary purpose is to provide diversion and delight — thinking of Austria’s gruner veltliner — are vulgarized, let’s say it, perverted by a similar process and sold for $50 and $60 and $75 a bottle. You would think that European winemakers might know better than to throw an avalanche of new oak at a basically decent charming wine in an attempt to elicit a measure of specious “greatness” from it; all that effort produces is an imitation of bad California chardonnay.

Give me, then, a wine that’s spare and elegant and lithe; a wine whose well-considered time in oak, if it even needs such treatment, provides support and suppleness and shades of nuance; a wine that honors the nature and potential of the grape or grapes from which it was made and, if possible, the place where those grapes grew; a wine that is not burdened and overwhelmed by inessential technical prowess; give me, above all, delight and daring, confidence and authenticity with a little risk and individuality, like that ballerina who knows the steps and the movements, all the classical requirements, by heart yet invests her performance with added spirit, those “twisty things” that lift her into otherworldly beauty.

Ballerina image from; Kim Kardashian image from

The title of this post says it all: Some Big-Hearted, Two-Fisted Reds for That Memorial Day Cook-Out. We cover a wide geographical range: Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Napa Valley and Lake County in California. Whether you’re grilling hots dogs or sausages, burgers or steaks; pork chops or leg of lamb or ribs, there’s a robust red for you. No technical, historical or specific regional/terroir-type information; just quick, incisive, evocative reviews intending to whet the palate and create a craving. If you’re lucky enough to merit a three-day weekend, have fun, consume alcohol moderately, drive safely and remember that Memorial Day honors the men and women of the American military forces who gave their lives so that we could enjoy our rights and freedoms — whatever party and philosophy we subscribe to and however ambiguously we regard the notion, the operation and the effectiveness of our pretty darned great but surely imperfect democracy. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events. There are some truly great bargains among these reviews.
Monte Velho 2010, Alentejano, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Grapes: trincadeira 40%, aragonez 40%, castelao 20%. Well, this is really different, beginning with the trio of indigenous grapes. Boisterously spicy, buoyantly fruity, dark and alluring; currants, plums, mulberries and more than a touch of some wild exotic thing; briers, brambles, soft slightly grainy tannins; notes of dried spice, dried flowers; fruit and spice-packed finish with a graphite-slate element. Nothing complicated, mind you, but tasty and, well, different. Very Good. About $10, an Amazing Value.
San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barras, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. Inky-ruby color; clean and fresh yet dusty, earthy and minerally; black olive and celery seed, thyme and cedar, black currants and black cherry with a hint of blueberry; wild, untamed, close to exotic, solid structure with dusty, fine-grained tannins and spicy oak; touches of licorice and pomegranate, quince paste and macerated figs wrapped about a black tea and bittersweet chocolate core; dense, dark, almost brooding finish. Now to 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $11, a Bargain of the Century.
Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserve Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ink, iron and iodine bouquet, mint and lavender; dusty, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of wild berry; impressive weight and substance married to a paradoxical sense of refinement, even delicacy; finely-milled tannins; subtle, supple oak; bright acidity; a moderately long finish freighted with clean earth and underbrush qualities. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz Cabernet 2008, Limestone Coast, Australia. ?% alc. Medium ruby color; intense and generous, a little fleshy and meaty, mint, eucalyptus, cherry-berry and an unusual touch of strawberry; exotic spice; earthy, smooth, honed tannins, a minerally-foresty back-note. Lots of personality, almost charming. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 85% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% carignan. Deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center; tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar; vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries, undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; then hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns; beautifully balanced and integrated, dense, slightly grainy tannins, a subtle and supple oak influence for a firm foundation and framework, a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; vibrant acidity, a sleek, spice-and-floral finish. Through 2015 or 2016. Excellent. About $19, a Great Bargain in a mature Rioja.
Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. 94% cabernet sauvignon, 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple; sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors strictly tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, though concealing a barrow-load of coiled energy. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
Mullineux Syrah 2008, Swartland Wine of Origin, South Africa. Dark ruby color; black and red currants, plums, fruitcake, a spike of black pepper and cloves; very earthy and spicy, wild and ripe mulberries, blueberries and plums; deeply earthy, supple, sinewy, bolstered by plush, grainy tannins and dusty granite; exuberant acidity and a long, spice-packed finish. Quite a performance. now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $33.
Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 3% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple; penetrating graphite and granite minerality, a real charcoal edge; cranberry, mulberry and black currant, very dry, dense and chewy, velvety, touch of iodine and iron, smooth integrated tannins; deeply spicy and slightly austere finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Tom Thornton is an architect and Brenda Mixson works in commercial real estate finance, but like so many other people who have successful careers, they wanted to own a vineyard and make wine. They acquired a 32-acre ranch in Napa Valley’s northern Calistoga district in 1997, and within that spread they focus on the 12-acre Winfield Vineyard. They first produced wine from the vintage of 2004; this was The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon, its name taken from a passage in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters. In 2009, they made their first sauvignon blanc, called Sea-Fog, also taken from Stevenson, who sojourned in Silverado and Calistoga in June 1880. The Grade Cellars produces only these two wines, in small quantities, but they are definitely Worth a Search, the cabernet if you’re flush, while the sauvignon blanc is less expensive. Winemaker is Rudy Zuidema.

These wines were samples for review.
Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, receives a trace of oak aging, that is, to the extent of 10 percent of the juice going into 11-year-old French barrels for three months; I like the thoughtful deliberation of that choice. This is 100 percent sauvignon blanc from a single vineyard in a warm area of Calistoga, at the foot of Mount Saint Helena, and the wine is beautiful, sleek, suave and tremendously appealing. Enticing aromas of tangerine, nectarine and lemongrass are woven with hints of roasted lemon, ginger and quince, bay leaf and thyme and a floral element — jasmine and honeysuckle — that seems to wreathe itself around your head. The wine practically shimmers with crisp and crystalline acidity and a burgeoning limestone character that support winsome flavors of lemon balm, orange rind and just a wisp of mango. Paradoxically, for all its sensual allure, the Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010 finishes with spareness and a touch of astringency, as if grapefruit gets the final word. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 380 cases. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Calistoga, Napa Valley, spent two years in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Sporting a dark yet radiant ruby-purple color, the wine feels like classic Napa Valley in its scope and dimension, its intensity and concentration, its remarkable presence and tone, vibrancy and resonance. The bouquet is a beauty, a beguiling and fairly exotic amalgam of cassis, black raspberries and mulberries buoyed by lavender, violets and sandalwood, thyme and cedar, with back-notes of fruitcake, black olive and graphite. In the mouth, the wine forgoes a bit of its seductive power for a more solid, brooding aspect, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here. Ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors are permeated by clean loamy earth, granite-like minerality and dense, grainy tannins that grow in import through the long, slightly austere finish; all these aspects are wrapped around a core of bittersweet chocolate, potpourri and a bit of iron. Power and elegance seamlessly allied. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 270 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

The last vintage of Catherine Le Goeuil’s Cairanne Côtes du Rhône-Villages that I reviewed was the excellent 2007. Now it’s the turn of the 2009, though the current release is 2010. Why am I stuck on the ’09? Because it’s still available in markets around the country and because it’s drinking beautifully right now. If you happen to have a few bottles on hand or run upon it at a retail store, now is the time.

This is not an ancient estate in terms of present ownership. Catherine Le Goeuil bought a few hectares in the commune of Cairanne, in the heart of Vaucluse, in the southern Rhone valley, in 1993. The wines are certified organic and are made from vines that are about 50 years old. Le Goeuil uses indigenous yeasts and puts the grapes through a long fermentation in cement vats. The blend is 51 percent grenache, 35 percent syrah and mourvèdre, 14 percent carignane and counoise, in other words, much like many wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Twenty villages are entitled to attach their names to the basic appellation of Côtes du Rhône, thereby lifted to the theoretically superior designation of Côtes du Rhône-Villages and possessing the potential of further elevation to full AOC status. Villages that have achieved such beatification, as it were, include Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise and Vinsobres. Cairanne, generally rated as the best of the 20 villages, surely deserves that honor, more than Vacqueyras did, in my opinion. By the way, beginning with the 2012 vintage, the abbreviated designation AOC will change to AOP, standing for Appellation d’Origine Protégée.

Before the Revolution, Vaucluse was the domain of the de Sade family. Their ruined castle, last inhabited by the Marquis de Sade in 1777, stands in the hills above the village of Lacoste, about 25 miles southeast of Avignon. The castle is owned and was restored by fashion icon Pierre Cardin; it is the site of a celebrated theater festival every summer.

Anyway, the Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne 2009, Côtes du Rhône-Villages, is a dark ruby-mulberry color. Prominent aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly stewed black currants, black raspberries and blueberries are wreathed with beguiling undertones of rhubarb and pomegranate. The texture is firm and resilient, moderately dense and chewy and layered in pleasing dimension with elements of forest floor and underbrush and slightly dusty tannins enlivened by vibrant acidity and graphite-like mineral qualities. Give this a few minutes in the glass, and it pulls up traces of lavender and violets, fruitcake and plum pudding. Altogether, it adds up to perfect pitch and tone in a savory, highly drinkable package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15 with grilled sausages, leg of lamb studded with rosemary and garlic, barbecue ribs and the like. Excellent. About $21.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca. Tasted twice with consistent results, a sample and at a trade event.

I first tasted the wines of Tenuta di Valgiano in March 2006, at the third “Return to Terroir” event in New York. I returned to that city at the end of February this year for the latest manifestation of that gathering of biodynamic wineries and tried the wines again. Happily, I see no reason to reject my initial notes, which followed the lines of “wonderful … fabulous… great character & tone & balance … vibrant … resonant…”

The estate, distinguished by a handsome 16th Century house, lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Lucca, in one of Tuscany’s neglected vineyard regions. Most people, that is, wine consumers, know about Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino and perhaps Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, but fewer realize that wine is also made around the ancient towns of Siena and Pisa and Lucca. Tenuta di Valgiano is owned by husband-and-wife Moreno Petrini and Laura di Collobiano; she seems to be the face of the winery, traveling, officiating at tastings, giving interviews.

Tenuta di Valgiano has been run on biodynamic principles since 2002. In an interview with earthwine in April, Laura di Collobiano listed the methods utilized in the estate’s vineyards: sowing of various herbs and green manure, clay, copper and sulfur treatments, biological action against parasites, and careful management of the leaf canopy – hence yield, quality, health of the vines, and aromatic characteristics of the wine have improved. I find this recitation fascinating, because the practices di Collobiano mentions are, it seems to be, only common sense when farmers, vineyard managers and winemakers approach their jobs in truly thoughtful fashion. Of course one would want to exercise “careful management of the leaf canopy;” that has nothing to do with the philosophy of biodynamic farming.

“Green manure” is not the fresh poop of young cows; the term refers to the use of cover crops sown between rows of vines to retain nitrogen in the soil or to suppress weeds. Among the first group are cowpeas, soybeans, sweet clover and vetch; among the latter are such non-leguminous plants as millet, sorghum and buckwheat. I have trod the earth of many vineyards around the world that employ “green manure” techniques — the rows also look very pretty — and most of them did not operate by the methods of biodynamism but under the assumption that cover cropping made sense economically and agriculturally.

“Biological action against parasites” generally means using good insects to fight bad insects — sort of like good cholesterol and bad cholesterol — the approved predators including dragonflies and damselflies, mantids, lacewings, beetles and some species of wasps and ants. Again, many practitioners of sustainable or organic farming employ the techniques of “biological control”; they are not limited to biodynamic followers.

So while Petrini and di Collobiano subscribe, according to their statements, to the principles, the philosophy and the practices of the biodynamic movement, it sounds to me more as if their procedures embody a sensitive deployment of discrimination, deliberation and common sense as applied to the health of the vines and the well-being of the soil.

The property produces four wines, a bianco and rosso Palistorti di Valgiano; the single-vineyard Scasso dei Cesari, 100 percent sangiovese; and the simply named but powerfully framed Teunta di Valgiano, a blend of sangiovese, merlot and syrah.

Imported by several small companies. Cropped image of Laura di Collobiano from
The winsome and terrifically appealing Palistorti di Valgiano 2010, Colline Lucchesi Bianco, is a blend of 50 percent vermentino grapes, 25 percent trebbiano and malvasia and 25 percent chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It’s fresh and clean and bright, an amalgam of almond and almond blossom, roasted lemon and lemon balm with a touch of lime peel; there’s a hint of hay, and a touch of the sea about it in an intriguing whiff of sea-salt and salt-marsh. Spare and elegant, permeated by flint and limestone-like minerality, Palistorti Bianco 2010 still yields a gorgeous, almost golden texture as it unfurls aspects of dried spice and flowers, citrus and stone-fruit flavors and frisky acidity. Now through the end of 2012 or into 2013, with grilled fish or shellfish or marine-based pastas and risottos. Excellent. About $17 to $22.
The blend of the Palistorti di Valgiano 2009, Colline Lucchesi Rosso, is 70 percent sangiovese, 20 percent merlot and 10 percent syrah. The wine is clean, fresh and very spicy, deeply imbued with scents and flavors of ripe black and red currants, blueberries and plums permeated by elements of briers and brambles and undertones of dried fruit and flowers, orange zest and black tea. Moderately dense but well-behaved tannins, vibrant acidity and a touch of mossy earth and granite-like minerality support juicy but not lush or blatant fruit, all this devolving to a mineral-packed and slightly austere finish. This calls for burgers, red-sauce pasta, barbecue brisket or a steak. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17 to $22.
The flagship Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Lucchesi, is a serious wine with a structure that’s almost brooding in its intensity and concentration, yet it comports itself with finely honed dignity and a sense of resilience and expansiveness; in other words, great character, tone and presence in a wine that will begin to unfurl from about 2014 onward. It’s a blend of 60 percent sangiovese grapes and 20 percent each merlot and syrah that even in this state of youthful power and darkness manages to feel elegant in its balance and dimension. It’s not easy to spend time with a wine at a trade event, but I happened to take my meager glass of Tenuta di Valgiano 2008 to a fairly secluded corner and swirl, sniff and sip for a few minutes. Even that brief acquaintance allowed the wine to bloom a bit, so while the color of course remained deep kingly ruby-purple, my nose detected beguiling elements of lavender and violets, dusty graphite, a hint of iron and iodine and, almost more implied than in evidence, spiced and macerated black and red currants, plums and mulberries. Enormous potential, but the patient will give it two or three to five years. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $60.

Image, much cropped, from

Pleasant doings on this unusually timely, not to say early, edition of Friday Wine Sips; no clunkers, no plonk, just refreshment and ease and relaxation, though these wines aren’t meant just for sipping out on the porch or patio, sweet as that activity would be; they’re also meant to be thoughtfully and sympathetically (but not too seriously) consumed with food, though fare that’s light and summery would be best. I’m thinking grilled trout or salmon, shrimp salad, salade Niçoise, fish tacos, fritattas, pizza bianco; you get the idea. These wines were made in stainless steel or given a fleeting kiss of oak; the point is their freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, I eschew technical, historical, psychological, anthropological and personal (or personnel) data for the sake of freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. Wait, I’m getting this deja vu feeling all over again.

These wines were samples for review or tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
Ferraro-Carano Bella Luce 2011, Sonoma County. 13.4% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, gewurztraminer, viognier, pinot blanc, muscat giallo. Pale straw color; think apples and apples and pineapples, Asian pear and lemongrass, hints of lemon, peach and camellia; in the mouth touches of honeydew melon, more peach but spiced and macerated, honey, hay and a flirtation with fresh rosemary and its slightly resinous, tea-like quality; juicy, lush but balanced by bright acidity and limestone minerality. Quite charming. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; yellow plums, roasted lemon, bay leaf, cloves; a whisper of oak for spice and suppleness; ginger and quince, hint of leafy fig; deft balance between crisp, sprightly acidity and an almost dense texture; ultimately light on its feet, delicate; long, dry, savory finish. 1,265 cases. Excellent. About $18, and a Great Bargain.
Chateau Graville-Lacoste 2011, Graves, Bordeaux. 12% alc. 70% semillon, 25% sauvignon blanc, 5% muscadelle. Sleek, suave, elegant; lemon, lemon balm and limestone; very dry, touch of chalk, a little austere; nuances of thyme and tarragon, slightly grassy; quite fresh, clean and appealing yet high-toned, classy, stylish. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $20.
Domaine de Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates” 2011, Reuilly Blanc, Loire Valley. 12.5% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. So damned pretty, so fragrant, so lively, heaps of personality; spiced pear and lemon, hint of peach; lots of flint and limestone, some austerity on the finish but never less than fresh, vibrant and attractive. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $20.
Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold; very clean and fresh, crisp and lively; lemon balm and lemongrass, hint of tangerine and orange rind; back-notes of dried thyme and tarragon; burgeoning limestone element; lovely, seductive texture, almost soft and talc-like but with superb tautness and reticence. Totally beguiling and just enough complexity. Excellent. About $26.

Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, was one of my favorite rosé wines last year, and it made my list of “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011.”

Now it’s the turn of Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2011, and though it’s still early in the rosé-drinking season, I know it will once again be among my favorites. The appellation lies in an area of Provence east of Marseilles and north of Toulon, a region of sun-bleached rocky soil, dusty fragrant wild herbs and wind-sheltered pine forests; vineyard cultivation here goes back beyond the stolid Romans, beyond the wily Greeks to the clever and mysterious Phoenicians. The wine, produced on an estate run on bio-dynamic principles (and founded in 1792), is a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, made entirely in stainless steel; let no oak tamper with this sheer delicacy and elegance! The color is the palest of the most pale onion skin, just slightly tinged with watermelon pink; spare yet evocative aromas of dried raspberries and red currants are subtly imbued with melon and peach; the wine is bone-dry, vibrant, shimmering with acidity and limestone-like minerality, flush with spice and a hint of thyme, devolving to a finish that manages to be both taut and supple. Really lovely but with backbone. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Nathalie Coquelle, whom I nominate, on the basis of this wine, for a Nobel Peace Prize. Sip it or remark on its versatility as you drink it with a variety of summer fare. Excellent. About $18 to $20.

The wine’s name means “Follow me, young man,” perhaps a reference to Hannibal’s armies, which marched through this region, with their elephants, in the Autumn of 218 B.C., before turning north to cross the Alps southward on the way to do battle with the Romans on the plains of northern Italy. I think the golden elephant depicted on the label should be evidence enough.

Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.

Sometimes we can learn a lot about wine from small producers who keep ambition, not to mention grandiose schemes, in check and focus on doing an excellent job on a small but impeccable scale. Such a producer is Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot, from whose 10 hectares of vines — a bit more than 25 acres — around the city of Beaune in Burgundy come about 4,350 cases annually of what could be considered minor wines, at least compared to the Big Leagues of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. Emmanuel Giboulot, the name of the owner and winemaker as well as the domaine, is not trying to be all things Burgundian to all people, accumulating a few rows here and a few rows there in all the prestigious appellations up and down the Côte d’Or, in the manner of the important negociants. No, Giboulot steadfastly works in the Côte de Beaune, up on the hilltop, or to the east of the city, in the little-known Vin de Pays area and manages to produce wines of precision, clarity and integrity. He does make one Premier Cru wine, the white Rully La Pucelle.

This is a bio-dynamic estate. Giboulot went all organic in 1985 and bio-dynamic in 1996, and he subscribes to most of the principles: root and flower “tea” preparations; the infamous dung buried in the cow horn; organic composts. He also uses methods that just make sense: indigenous yeast, manual harvest, very careful deployment of sulfur, minimal new oak. How much the success of the wines depends on the bio-dynamic approach I couldn’t say; I do know that while we are not looking here for the glorious depth and dimension of chardonnay and pinot noir from the world-renowned Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards what Giboulet delivers is a gratifying sense of infallible craftsmanship, unimpeachable character and lovely purity.

These wines were tasted at the “Return to Terroir” event in New York on March 6. A Becky Wasserman “Le Serbet” selection for Domaine Select Wine Estates. New York. Image of Emmanuel Giboulot from
Made from chardonnay vines that average 50 years old, the Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot La Grande Chatelaine 2009, Côte de Beaune, is a wine of “verys” and verities, that is, it’s very floral, very spicy and very minerally, and it expresses what feels like the truth, the verity, of the chardonnay grape’s fruit, acid and mineral-driven essence; 18 months in oak lend suppleness to the texture but do not hamper the crystalline purity and intensity of the grape. The vineyards of the Côte de Beaune appellation lie nestled around the tops of the Montagne de Rochetin and Les Mondes Rondes — 396 and 350 meters, respectively — above the prime area of the Beaune appellation, which are adjacent to the famous medieval city of that name; we do not expect wines from Côte de Beaune — red and white are permitted — to be as full-bodied, complex, generous or expansive as from Beaune’s Premier Cru vineyards. I mean, to take a rather extreme example, last night a gentleman at an event I attended poured me a glass of Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru 2007, from the great vineyard north of Beaune; the wines produced from the Côte de Beaune vineyards could not attain that level of sublimity, not would we expect them to. Pleasure, however, occurs at many different planes and ranges of excitement; if this were not so, we would die of transcendent satiety. The point is that Emmanuel Giboulot’s La Grande Chatelaine 2009 offers its own essay, as it were, on the virtues and character of the chardonnay grape, among which are a lovely dense, almost talc-like texture balanced by crisp clean acidity; a full range of citrus and stone-fruit scents and flavors fleshed out with slightly macerated and baked elements; and a burgeoning earthy limestone and shale quality that keeps the wine scintillating and vibrant. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $39.

Image, much cropped, from

Also from the Côte de Beaune appellation, the Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot La Combe d’Eve 2009 is 100 percent chardonnay and aged 12 months in small oak barrels, none new. The color is mild straw-gold; the bouquet is a penetrating and beguiling amalgam of jasmine and camellia, damp shale, spiced peaches, yellow plums and pears. The wine feels lacy, transparent, edged with limpid and lucent limestone elements and bristling acidity that decorate and support the delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. The finish is lithe and silky smooth, packed with spice, stones and bones. 13 percent alcohol. It would be difficult to find a prettier, more seductive chardonnay. La Combe d’Eve means “the valley of evening” or perhaps of Eve herself. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $39.
Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot Terres Burgondes 2009, Vin de Pays de Sainte-Marie-La-Blanche. This seldom-seen Vin de Pays, established in 1979, covers 17 parishes in the Côte d’Or administrative department that surround the village of Sainte-Marie-La-Blanche, four miles southeast of Beaune. We are, in other words, in the flatlands not entitled to the name Burgundy. Red and rosé wines may be made from pinot noir, gamay and pinot gris grapes, whites from chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc, aligoté and auxerrois and even melon de bourgogne, the grape banished from Burgundy by royal edict in the 17th Century; it migrated to the Nantais and became the grape of Muscadet. Anyway, Emmanuel Giboulet makes the red Terres Burgondes from pinot noir; the white is pinot gris. The red Terres Burgondes 2009 — is the name Giboulot’s way of saying that the wine still comes from “Burgundian earth”? — is a light cherry color; the bouquet offers delicate, almost ethereal scents of dried roses, spiced cherries and red currants and a hint of briers and slightly mossy underbrush. The flavors are a bit warmer and fleshier — there’s a touch of mulberry and plum — and definitely more spicy, yet this remains a spare, dry, earthy and slightly austere pinot noir, held soldier-straight by a backbone of brisk acidity and graphite-like minerality. 11.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $32.

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The Domaine Emmanuel Giboulot Beaune Lulune 2010 is from the Beaune appellation, not Côte de Beaune. One hundred percent pinot noir, it offers a light, almost transparent red cherry color that makes up in radiance what is seems to lack in darkness; red Burgundy does not need to be blatantly dark in hue. Aromas of macerated and slightly roasted cherries and currants are borne by briers and brambles, a touch of mossy earthiness and a delicate wafting of that characteristic beet-root scent, a hint of honed granite. How is this wine different, you ask, from its cousin from the wrong side of the tracks? (The Paris-Lyon line runs east of the town of Beaune, and Sainte-Marie-La-Blanche lies beyond that.) The difference, particularly on the palate, is concentration, intensity and duration and, paradoxically, a sense of refinement. Every aspect of the Terres Burgondes 2009 can be found in its Lulune stablemate, but in deeper more profound qualities, with more breeding and elegance and with a longer, slightly more layered finish; the wine is kept vibrant by clean acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $54.

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