July 2012

Perhaps Bonny Doon’s Le Pousseur Syrah is thus named because it’s a trickster or con man disguised as an actual syrah-based wine from France’s Rhone Valley. I’ll say that for 2009, Le Pousseur exudes such deep earthy aromas and flavors that it feels as if it sprang from the ancient, stony soil of one of those steep Northern Rhone hillsides rather than from a selection of sites in California’s vast Central Coast appellation, including the well-known Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm also makes a single vineyard syrah from Bien Nacido.

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2009, Central Coast, sports a deep ruby-purple color with a dark jewel-like center that approaches motor-oil black in opacity. No mistaking what grape is the heart and soul of this wine; classic syrah aromas of black pepper, wet dog fur, blackberries and blueberries are woven with elements of briers and brambles, smoky potpourri and profound mossy-earthy qualities. In the mouth, the wine — aged in French oak — is as sleek as satin, bright and vibrant, yet slightly roughened by fine-grained tannins that dig tenaciously into the palate for an essential factor of grip and grit; both generous and focused, the ripe black and blue fruit flavors are broadly imbued with touches of exotic spices — sandalwood, allspice — lavender, bitter chocolate and graphite. This panoply is seamlessly bound by resonant acidity and a finish that extends into lithic realms. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 953 cases. We drank this with pork chops coated with a dry rub of cumin, chili powder and coffee spices and grilled over hardwood coals. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $22, though you see it on the Internet as low as $18.

A sample for review.

How often does one get to try what is commonly regarded as New Zealand’s greatest wine? Not often, I would say, and certainly not in my case. What is that wine? Hint: It ain’t sauvignon blanc.

I was at a meeting last week of a new board for the glossy year-old local wine magazine Cork It! Memphis, and of course people on the board of a wine magazine would bring wine to the meeting, n’est-ce pas? I took a bottle of the Trimbach Gewurztraminer 2007, a wine transcending to a state of beautiful pure minerality. Enough of that though, because another member of the board brought the Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. That’s right, 1998. Where do people get these wines?

The Hawkes Bay wine region (without an apostrophe) occupies a semi-circle of geography around Hawke’s Bay in the southeast area of New Zealand’s North Island. Muddying the waters, however, the Hawkes Bay wine region is sometimes also written with an apostrophe, so if you are the kind of person who gets Stag’s Leap, Stags’ Leap and Stags Leap mixed up, you’ll be right at home here. Though the region is the oldest wine-producing area of New Zealand — the first winery was established there in 1851 — and home now to about 75 wineries, that’s a recent development, in vinous terms; even in the early 1970s, there were fewer than 10.

The winery dates back to 1896 and was acquired by present owner John Buck in 1974. Launched in 1982, Coleraine was made from a single vineyard until 1988; since that vintage, it has been made from parcels of vines in other Te Mata estate vineyards but with the preponderance of the cabernet sauvignon coming from the original Coleraine Vineyard.

Te Mata Estate Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay, is a blend of 68 percent cabernet sauvignon and 32 percent merlot. The wine aged 20 months in French oak barriques. The estate’s website touts Coleraine as a 10 to 15-year wine, and I would say that at the age of 14 it’s definitely fully mature and will remain on this plateau for another four to six years. The wine — this bottle, anyway — was as smooth and mellow as you could ask a cabernet/merlot blend to be, with richness and succulence defining the spicy, slightly macerated black currant and plum aromas and flavors, while structure was founded on depths of well-honed tannins and polished oak which, like the Holy Spirit, were everywhere present but nowhere visible. Beyond those factors was a permeation of earthy, graphite-like minerality and still vital (and essential) acidity that tied the wine together, both lively and grounded. Wines like Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot 1998 exist on a plane of integrity, confidence and completeness all their own; when the opportunity to taste one comes along, take it and thank the people who can afford it and offered you a glass. I don’t mind being humble. Current vintage is 2010. Excellent. About $110.

We are so damned eclectic here where our heads are bigger. Today, on this Saturday of the “Friday Wine Sips,” we gotcher rosé (er, not a great one, sorry), we gotcher sparkling wines, we gotcher white wines and we gotcher red wines. Your life will be complete. The countries represented are Germany, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. (Remember, by the way, that all reports in the “Friday Wine Sips” are not favorable; we applaud for, and we warn against.) As for grapes, well, we offer verdejo, vermentino, pinot blanc, pinot auxerrois, chardonnay and riesling; we offer tempranillo, syrah, mourvèdre, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and a host of grapes that typically grow in the Douro Valley. What we don’t offer is much in the way of technical, historical, personal and geographical material; instead, these are quick reviews, some transcribed directly from my notes, others expanded a bit, and designed to be a rapid infusion of knowledge and direction. So, seek out, try, taste and enjoy, where I have recommended that you do so; for a few others, um, just avoid. These wines were samples for review. The order is rosé, white, sparkling and red.
Valdelosfrailes Rosé 2011, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Cigales, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, verdejo 20%. Bright cherry-crimson color; pungent, pert, perky, strawberry and dried currants, hint of pomegranate, dried herbs and limestone; very dry, lip-smacking acidity and viscosity, austere finish. Doesn’t quite hold together. Good+. About $10.
Emina Verdejo 2010, Medina del Campo, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. A confirmation of the theory that delicate, fruity white wines should be consumed before they lose their freshness. Not recommended. About $10.
Prelius Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alc. Probably delightful last year but overstayed its welcome. Only in a pinch. About $15.
Domaine Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc 2010, Alsace, France 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, soft but lithe, very clean and fresh, quite spicy; apples, lemons, pears, touch of yellow plum; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while a few minutes in the glass pull up notes of jasmine and limestone. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
Domaine Mittnacht Freres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12% alc. Pinot auxerrois 60%, pinot blanc 40% (can that be right and still be labeled pinot blanc?) Pale straw-yellow, like Rapunzel’s hair; entrancing aromas of camellia and jasmine, spiced pear and roasted lemon, quince and ginger; very dry, resolutely crisp, yet with such an attractive texture and balance, a sense of soft ripeness and sinewy limestone elements. Very stylish. Now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Excellent. About $19, Fine Quality for the Price.
Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. 8.5% alc. Pale, pale gold; lychee and petrol, pear and pear nectar, lime peel and quince preserves, hint of jasmine, just deliriously attractive; but very dry, formidably crisp and steely; then a dramatic shift to apples, apples and more apples; the entry is quite ripely, kssingly sweet but resonant acidity and scintillating limestone-like minerality turn the wine dry yet still delicate from mid-palate through the finish. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $23, Get It! .
Antech Émotion 2009, Crémant de Limoux, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 70%, chenin blanc 18%, mauzac 10%, pinot noir 2%. Pale copper-onion skin color; a fetching froth of tiny bubbles; apples, strawberries, lime peel, steel and limestone; touches of smoke and red and black currants, almost subliminal; orange zest; so damned pretty and charming; very dry finish. Very Good+. About $18, a True Bargain.
Sekthaus Raumland Cuvée Marie-Luise Blanc de Noirs Brut 2008, Germany. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale gold; a constant stream of glinting silver bubbles; stimulating bouquet of roasted lemons and lemon curd, toasted hazelnuts, tropical back-notes, sea-breeze and salt-marsh, both generous and chastening; very dry, high-toned and elegant, lots of steel and limestone; yet that intriguing tropical element and a muted hint of leafy currant at the core. Really lovely. Excellent. About $45.
Dow Vale do Bomfim 2009, Douro, Portugal. 14% alc. Tinta barroca 30%, touriga franca 25%, touriga nacional 25%, tinto roriz 15%, tinto cao 5%. Color is dark ruby; ripe and fleshy, warm and spicy; intense and concentrated black and red currants, plums and blueberries; heaps of briers and brambles and underbrush, coats the mouth with fine-grained tannins; lots of personality brought up short by a dusty, leathery finish. Drink through the end of 2012 with burgers. Very Good+. About $12.
Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; spicy, tightly wound, chewy, mouth-coating tannins; black currants and plums, very spicy; decent basic cabernet with an earthy, astringent finish. Very Good. About $15.
Chateau La Roque “Cuvée les Vielles Vignes de Mourvèdre” 2006, Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France. 13.5% alc. With 10% grenache. Deep purple with a tinge of magenta; lovely, lively, lots of tone and personality; dense and chewy, intensely spicy, exotic, ripe and fleshy but a slightly hard edge of graphite and walnut shell; plums, plums and more plums, hint of fruitcake (the spices, the nuts, the brandied fruit); a dry finish with earth, leather and wood. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $20, and definitely Worth a Search.
Pierre Gaillard Domaine Cottebrune Transhumance 2007, Faugeres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. 14.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 40%, mourvèdre 10%. Dark ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty black and blue fruit scents and flavors, spiced and macerated; nothing shy here, huge presence, plenty of oak and lipsmacking tannins that pack the mouth, but succulent too, deep and flavorful; sea salt, iron and iodine, a whiff of the decadent but a decent heart. Put yourself in its hands. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $22.

Food and wine pairing — and was there ever a culture more concerned and nervous about that issue than ours? — doesn’t have to be about temples of cuisine and fine old wines. The perfect wine with a cheeseburger qualifies as a great match. Today’s entry in the “Damn, This Was Good!” series is a sterling example of the “It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated” principle. The dish was a simple bowl of spaghetti with an intense tomato sauce; the wine was the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, an inexpensive blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 15 percent each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and five percent syrah, aged for 12 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. (And we won’t get into the issue here about “North Coast” being an appellation so ludicrously huge as to be meaningless as a “place.”)

Billed as “$4 Spaghetti That’s Almost as Good as $24 Spaghetti,” the dish is chef Roy Choi’s take on a pasta from Scott Conant’s restaurant Scarpetta in New York. Choi runs the Kogi group of food trucks in Los Angeles; Conant was chef and owner at L’Impero in Manhattan’s Tutor City what now seems an eon ago. I hope they’re friends. I’ll append a link to the recipe online at the end of this post, but a brief description will give My Readers an idea of how the sauce gets its powerful flavor. The recipe calls for simmering sliced white mushrooms in water for an hour, reducing the liquid to make a mushroom broth. Simultaneously, you’re simmering about a truck-load of peeled garlic cloves in olive oil, until the garlic gets toasty golden brown and platonically tender. Then you empty two large cans of tomatoes into a Dutch oven or something of similar size and shape, add the olive oil and garlic, bring to a boil, add the mushroom broth, turn the heat off (v. important), stick an immersion blender down in there and blast that stuff into a smooth puree. (You could use a potato masher, but the sauce won’t be as smooth.) Turn the heat back on and let the sauce simmer for about an hour until it thickens a bit. Yowsir, it’s fine stuff, intensely garlicky and deeply flavorful. Here’s a link to Cho’si recipe: here.

And here’s an F.K. Kitchen Hint, from the School of “Experience Is a Dear Teacher But Fools Will Learn No Other Way” (as my seventh grade teacher Mrs. Simpson told our class every fucking day!): When that immersion blender is running, don’t lift it out of the tomato sauce. Took me about an hour to clean the stove and the counter and the stainless steel backsplash and the tea kettle and the Vent-a-Hood and the floor, though the dogs cheerfully volunteered for the latter duty.

Anyway, the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, embraces the lighter, brighter, immediately attractive side of the zinfandel grape, while allowing the other varieties in the final cut to add some darkness and oomph to a very tasty, blithely vibrant package. The color is deep ruby purple; this is clean and fresh, with black and red currants and blueberries galore — “Your Galleria of Berriness”! — hints of smoky graphite, lavender and potpourri and high notes of spiced cherry. Deftly balanced tannins, well-honed and slightly grainy, support black and blue fruit flavors that take on an edge of briers and brambles and touches of macerated plums, with a nimble pass-off to a dry, slightly sanded finish. Beside the fact that the wine was delicious, what cemented its sacred kinship with this assertive spaghetti sauce and made LL and I look at each other and say, “Yep, this is it,” was acidity of authoritative dimension and lively degree, a quality that clasped the acidity of the sauce with the fervor of a soul-mate and cut through the richness like a flame-thrower through a stack of telephone books. It made you want to laugh with happiness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Consulting winemaker was Hugh Chappelle. Very Good+. About $15, a Notable Value.

A sample for review. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Steelhead wines funds Trout Unlimited and other conservation projects.

For the July 31st issue of the Wine Spectator, veteran columnist and taster James Laube wrote the lead article, “California’s Best Chardonnays: Top 30 Producers.” With the exception of longtime writers and pundits like Dan Berger and Charles E. Olken, Laube probably knows more about the wines of California and the history of its industry in the last three or four decades than anyone, so naturally it’s instructive to see his take on what’s going on with the chardonnay grape in the Golden State and his roster of the 30 best estates and wineries. Since Laube writes for a magazine format, one can see why he limited his selection to 30 and a short paragraph to each. Matters were different when he wrote the book California’s Great Chardonnays, published in 1990 by Wine Spectator Press; in that tome, Laube included 74 producers, devoting two to four pages of descriptions and notes apiece.

It’s interesting to compare the list of “Great Chardonnays” from 1990 to the “Top 30 Producers” of 2012; a considerable amount of attrition in several areas has occurred in 22 years. Many of the wineries that produced great chardonnay wines in 1990 don’t exist anymore or were acquired and absorbed by other companies or went through an unfortunate transition to lesser quality. And the reverse proposition is true; some of the “Top 30 Producers” of chardonnay wines in the article weren’t a gleam in their founders’ eyes in 1990, while others, like Rodney Strong, are included now because of improved performance. In fact, only five producers from the earlier book make it onto the present roster: Beringer, Hanzell, Kistler, Robert Mondavi and Mount Eden.

When Laube describes or reviews the top wines, he emphasizes richness and complexity, though he usually tempers his tastes by mentioning brightness, acidity, poise and elegance, qualities that I wholeheartedly endorse. Actually, of course, I would take brightness, acidity, poise and elegance over richness any day (though not complexity), and it puzzles me to read in Laube’s reviews for this article

A little like a top-rated chardonnay

(and seen in many past issues of the Wine Spectator) praise given to such attributes as butterscotch and roasted marshmallow. I cannot for the life of me conceive why anyone would want a chardonnay to smell or taste like butterscotch or roasted marshmallows, or if they tasted such a wine wouldn’t spit it out in horror. Butterscotch belongs on sundaes and the proper place for roasted marshmallows is at the end of sticks held over a campfire while a gaggle of 12-year-olds unhappily drones “Kumbaya.”

All of which leads to this post’s focus, and that’s my reviews of six chardonnay wines from Mount Veeder, a series of steep hillsides, stretching up some 2,000 feet, at the southwestern corner of Napa Valley and part of the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa and Sonoma counties. None of these wineries is included as a Top Producer in Laube’s story, and only one (Hess Collection) is mentioned in the brief reviews that follow, but I found them pretty damned brilliant. No butterscotch or roasted marshmallows in these mountainside chardonnays, no “toasty oak”; this is, rather, one of the most elegant groups of chardonnay I have tasted, though they’re also powerful, flavorful and multifaceted. I bestowed four Excellent and two Exceptional ratings.

These wines were samples for review. Butterscotch sundae image from foodsnobz.com
Fontanella Family Winery Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Our first wine in this Mount Veeder line-up aged nine months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels; a smidgeon of the wine, 12 percent, went through malolactic fermentation (henceforward abbreviated “malo”). The color is pale gold; the first impression is of a chardonnay that’s clean and fresh and bright, yet very spicy in its ripe pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors given some gravity by bastions of flint and limestone. There’s a touch of white peach and nectarine, and a texture that’s almost talc-like in its combination of firmness and softness, enlivened by crisp acidity. The wine gains power in the glass; this is a mouthful of chardonnay that asserts its presence on the palate but manages to achieve a measure of elegance too in its balance and integration. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’17. Productions was 600 cases. Winemaker is Jeff Fontanella. Excellent. About $34.

I wrote about this wine at the end of October last year; here’s the review. You can see that the intervening months have given the wine space to settle down a bit.
Godspeed Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. The regimen here is 11 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent neutral (used several times) and 20 percent new; the wine does not go through malo. The color is pale gold; aromas of smoky lemon curd and lemon balm are woven with touches of mango, pear, yellow plums and pineapple and, after a few moments in the glass, hints of toasted hazelnuts and cloves. The wine is rich, ripe, downright gorgeous, but the pulchritude is blessedly tempered by resounding acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone-like minerality for a sense of acutely honed balance. However juicy and bountiful, the Godspeed Chardonnay ’10 is quite dry, dense, almost chewy, yet suave and smooth, and the finish is long and spicy. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Production was 550 cases. Excellent. About $28.

Hess Collection Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. This pale straw-gold chardonnay is given no new oak, aging, rather, for nine months in four- to five-year-old French barrels; there is no malo. Produced from vines planted at altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 feet elevation, the wine offers a brilliant bouquet of spiced lemons and pears with pineapple and grapefruit, quince and ginger in the background and a high note of honeysuckle. The wine delivers tremendous power and gravitas, as well as lip-smackin’ stone-fruit and citrus flavors bolstered by crackling acidity, all elements assembled with lucent fleetness and transparency. Not gorgeous but lovely; not flattering to the palate but subtle and supple. The finish is packed with spice, limestone and flint. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’18. Production was 392 cases. Excellent. About $35.

Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. In this chardonnay, among the group, we see the longest period of time in oak: six months in large American casks; one year in French barrels, 20 percent new; the wine does not go through malo. The result? A “Wow!” as my first note. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine, steel and limestone, quince and fig and ginger discreetly unfold hints of candied grapefruit and pineapple. The wine, dry and spare in the mouth, bristles with vitality and energy and displays awesome purity and intensity in its blending of fruit, acid and mineral elements; despite the sensation of elevating, crystalline, almost balletic qualities, there’s underlying earthiness through the finish, a seeming connection to soil and bedrock. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’19. Production was 1,156 cases. Could this please be my house chardonnay? Exceptional. About $30, a Remarkable Price for the Quality.

Y. Rousseau “Milady” Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Again, no malo in the making of this wine, though it’s barrel-fermented, using natural yeasts, and aged 11 months on the lees in French oak, of which 20 percent of the barrels were new. (The fruit derived from the Godspeed Vineyard.) The wine is quite fresh and bright, very pure and intense (if My Readers don’t mind that I repeat these important words), dense, chewy, spicy. The color is shimmering pale gold; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit open to hints of cloves and toasted hazelnuts. This chardonnay is moderately creamy, smooth and svelte but heightened by chiming acidity and scintillating limestone and flint-like minerality. The finish is long, dry and spicy and packed with minerals. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’17. Production was 195 cases. Winemaker was Yannick Rousseau. Excellent. About $36.

I wrote about this wine at the end of October last year; here’s the review.
Spotted Owl Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Here is the earthiest, the boldest and ripest of these six chardonnays; I wrote “very spicy,” followed by “very spicy.” Here, also, are terrific tone and energy, in a wine that feels almost visceral in its drawing upon the essential core of the chardonnay grape’s character and its frank lively appeal to the palate, yet it abdicates not a nuance of the finest detail of its pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors layered with camellia and talc, pear and yellow plum, cloves and figs. Wood-wise, this was barrel-fermented with natural yeasts and aged 11 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels; information about malolactic was not available. If acidity and limestone minerality could glitter, this wine would light up a dark room. The finish is long, dense, lithe and spicy. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 or ’20. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay; 120 cases. Winemaker was Rolando Herrera. Exceptional. About $45.

Buy the Cusumano Insolia 2011, a Sicilian white wine, by the case. Made completely from indigenous insolia grapes by Alberto Cusumano and all in stainless steel, this deliriously attractive wine sports a pale but radiant straw-gold color and seductive aromas of orange rind and orange blossom, apples and pears, hints of lemon balm and lilac and a touch of breeze-borne sea-salt; what more could you ask for in sensual delight? (I mean in a wine at this price, not from life generally.) Matters turn a tad more serious in the mouth, where elements of limestone and flint-like minerality along with taut and tart acidity bring a deft note of rigor and austerity to what otherwise is a wine of almost talc-like lushness. This is quite dry, despite the ripe juiciness of its pineapple and roasted lemon flavors, and all devolves to a spice-packed finish that brings in some of the pithiness and bracing character of grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2013 as a fine aperitif or with grilled shrimp or seafood risotto. Very Good+. About $12, certainly a Bargain of the Highest Order.

The closing device is a glass stopper under a metal screw-cap; don’t stick a corkscrew down there.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago, Ill. A sample for review.

Saturday again! And time for the Friday Wine Sips, and by “Non-American Reds” I don’t mean ferrin commies! I mean red wines that come from anywhere except America, which in the case of this post would be Austria, Chile, Italy and Spain. Every single one of these wines, all seven, would be great with red meat smokin’ hot and crusty right off the grill, whether beef, lamb, pork or goat. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips I tip-toe around technical, personal, historical and specifically geographical/climatic/terroiristic information (with one exception today) for the sake of brief lightning-stroke reviews designed to stoke your interest. All of these wines were samples for review.
Feudi di San Marzano Primitivo 2011, Puglia, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby color; fresh, bright, spicy and lively; berry berry, as in rasp-, blue- and mul- with a touch of rose petal and potpourri; Big Boy tannins, though, a robust and rustic wine but thoroughly drinkable and enjoyable. Bring forth the burgers and lamb chops. Very Good. About $12, a Distinct Bargain.
Casa Silva Reserva Carmenere 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. 100% carmenere grapes. Deep ruby-purple color; plums and blackberries, lavender and graphite, briers and brambles; pretty wild and woolly, with punchy tannins and rollicking acidity supporting black and blue fruit flavors and a finish that carries a wagon-load of spice and dry underbrush. Another cinch for burgers, chops and hearty pastas and pizzas. Very Good+. About $12, representing Super Value.
Zantho St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. 100% St. Laurent grapes. Dark ruby color; very intense and concentrated; tar and incense, bitter chocolate; cedar, tobacco, cloves, rhubarb and cola, yes, this is a highly individual wine; lip-smacking tannins and acidity, smoke and underbrush, flavors of dried mulberries and blueberries; the finish is pretty gritty and austere. Could age a year. Very Good+ About $14.
Vesevo 2009, Beneventano Aglianico, Campania, Italy. 13% alc. 100% aglianico grapes. Dark ruby-purple; spiced and macerated, fleshy and meaty, black currants, blackberries and blueberries, touch of iodine, sort of roiling with sensation; a few minutes bring in hints of pomegranate, thyme and a touch of bell pepper, definitely another individual wine and slightly exotic; dry, gritty tannins need a year to settle down. Very Good+. About $16, and Worth a Search.
Indue 2007, Toscana, Italy. 14.5%alc. Sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon. A collaboration between Volpaia, in Chianti Classico, and sister property Preluis in Maremma. Dark ruby-purple color; a deep, dark, intense and concentrated wine though a few miniutes in the glass lend some ripeness and fleshiness to the black and red fruit scents and flavors; heaps of tannin and graphite-like minerals occupying a silent brooding state presently; lip-smacking acidity, a finish packed with spice and underbrush. Give it a year or two. Very Good+. About $25.
Castello di Volpaia 2008, Chianti Classico Riserva, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% sangiovese grapes. Radiant ruby-magenta color; red and black currants, black raspberries, a little toasty and vanilla-ish, hint of potpourri; solid, firm, smooth, permeated by finely-honed tannins, vibrant acidity and a graphite-like mineral element; fleshy and smoky black and red fruit flavors, sustained by woody spice in the finish. My injunction (to myself) in these Friday Wine Sips is not to clutter matters with technical prattle, but I’ll point out that this CCR aged 24 months in wood, 80% in Slovenian and French oak casks (that is, large barrels) and 20% in French oak barriques (that is, small barrels). I feel that wood regimen a bit too much in nose and finish. Certified organic vineyards. Very Good+. About $27.
Matarromera Crianza 2009, Ribera del Duero, Spain. 14.5% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; mint, eucalyptus and cloves; red and black currants, plums and a touch of plum pudding (baking spices, dried fruit, walnuts); black tea, orange rind, leather; dusty tannins and granite-like minerality, quite dry and austere; needs a year or two or a spit-roasted goat. Very Good. About $28.

Friends, family, relatives, bloggers and drinkers and wine producers far and near, retailers and wholesalers, former classmates and students, judges who saw fit to have mercy, the UPS man who unexpectedly asked for my card last week as he handed over a box of product — My Peeps! This blog has been nominated for a 2012 Wine Blog Award in the category of Best Writing, and I am honestly thrilled to be included in a highly competitive roster. Also, honestly again, I’m asking for your vote. Here’s a link to the ballot page: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WBA12. Voting continues through July 26, and it’s easy and fun! If you have time, go through the other categories and check out the efforts by the other bloggers; none of the blogs is like any other, and they provide, in their individual ways, a wide view of what’s going on in tasting and thinking about wine today. Of course voting for BiggerThanYourHead is most important!.

A thousand thanks, bless your bones and may your tribes increase…

With Saturday night’s pizza, I opened a bottle of the Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico 2009, a wine drinking beautifully at not quite three years old.

The small hill town of Volpaia — “fox’s lair” — dates to the 11th Century, established as a frontier outpost by Florence against Siena. The village retains much of its medieval appearance today, thanks, in large part, to the restoration efforts of the Stianti Mascheroni family that owns about two-thirds of the town and has converted many of the old buildings to winery facilities and homes for their workers. Volpaia’s Chianti Classico is a combination of modern and traditional. For modernity, it’s a blend of 90 percent sangiovese with 10 percent “international” grapes — merlot and syrah; the vineyards are certified organic, and the age of the vines varies from about 10 to about 40 years old. For traditional, the wine was aged 12 months in large oak casks, not small French barriques, though the Chianti Classico Riserva (one level higher, theoretically) gets about 20 percent barrique treatment.

Anyway, Volpaia Chianti Classico 2009 sports an intense medium ruby color; aromas of dried cherries and currants are woven with spiced tea, violets, orange zest, a hint of briers and brambles and a bit of graphite. It’s quite alluring but in a subdued manner; there’s nothing flamboyant or opulent here. While this Chianti Classico’s structure is firm and a little dense with finely-milled and open-knit tannins, it also exhibits lovely lightness, delicacy and balance, along with vibrant acidity and juicy but spare flavors of red and black cherries and currants with a sprightly touch of mulberry, potpourri and sandalwood. The finish is of moderate length, sleek and elegant with a bit of woody spice and earthy minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Ca. A sample for review.

Even though last night was Pizza-and-Movie Night and I had already selected an Italian wine for that occasion, we still needed to mark Bastille Day, if only with a toast — why do we Americans feel compelled to do this? — so I opened a bottle of J. Lassalle Premier Cru Brut and we downed a couple of glasses while nodding in the direction of La Belle France.

The small, family-owned house is named in honor of its founder, Jules Lassalle, who established the firm in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses. The patriarch died in 1982, and his wife Olga and her daughter Chantal Decelle-Lassalle took the reins. Chantal Decelle-Lassalle and her daughter, Angeline Templier, now run the house, the latter joining the estate as winemaker in 2006, spanning three generations of mothers and daughters. J. Lassalle produces about 6,000 cases of Champagne annually from its own vineyards. The production is very traditional, all done by hand. Even the non-vintage Brut Champagnes age an extraordinary five years in bottle before release. The wines go through full malolactic fermentation, so they tend to be quite rich.

The non-vintage J. Lassalle Premier Cru Brut — which means a blend of several vintages — is a remarkably robust and fruity Champagne. The color is medium gold; tiny bubbles glint ever-upward in exuberant array. Pungent aromas of roasted lemons and pears open to back-notes of mango and walnuts, ginger and cinnamon toast. It’s a full-bodied, dense and chewy Champagne, very dry and quite earthy, fraught with bastions of limestone-like minerality and yet neither heavy nor obvious; crisp acidity provides a sense of fleetness and raciness to the effect, while the wine’s long-aging in bottle lends a touch of mature toffee-like and almond croissant character. The finish is spicy and stony and slightly austere. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $55.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.

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