July 2012

Born in 1948, Pierre Morey has had an illustrious career in Burgundy — and specifically in the white wine commune of Meursault — that even older, more venerable figures might envy. The family’s heritage in Meursault goes back to the late 18th Century, though the modern history begins in 1937, when August Morey-Genelot, a traveling salesman, was persuaded to return to his family’s roots and take over the domaine, which he ran until 1972, when the young Pierre Morey took over. August had established a relationship en métayage with the estimable Domaine des Comte Lafon, which is to say, a system similar to sharecropping that in the wine world is practically unique to Burgundy. Pierre Morey inherited this arrangement, but, as Clive Coates writes, it “evaporated piece by piece from 1987 onwards as Dominique Lafon took his patrimony back, and has now ceased.” To gain access to Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, in 1990 Morey and his wife Christine founded a negociant company called Morey-Blanc, for which he buys grapes and must (moût in French), that is, the mass of material that comes from the crusher before fermentation takes place; the must includes juice, fragments of stems and seeds, skins and pulp. In addition to running the domaine and the negociant side, Morey was until recently the winemaker for Domaine Leflaive.

Domaine Pierre Morey began using organic methods in 1992 and went to biodynamic practices in 1997. Notice how the principles of biodynamism are described on the domaine’s website:

Respect of the vineyards : Soil work and addition of compost favor the development of the microbial life of the soils and improve the defenses and the health of the vines. The vines become more resistant to the different parasites and diseases. We only use very low doses of products, totally natural, when the time is right.

Respect of the fruit : Carefully looked after during their whole life, healthy and ripe, harvested by hand, the fruit is taken to the place where the winemaking is done : in old, vaulted, Burgundian cellars where the natural yeasts from the vineyard promote the fermentation process.

One does not have to subscribe to the philosophy of biodynamism to agree with the sentiments expressed here. Who would not want to show respect to the vineyards and the fruit the vineyards produce? Who would not want to want to work carefully and thoughtfully in the vineyard and the winery, to keep the soil, the vines and the grapes healthy? (Well, maybe plenty of people, but you know what I mean, people with integrity.) In any case, Pierre Morey is a meticulous farmer and winemaker, and he makes wines of great authority and principle (as well as being often delicious), as you will see from my notes about five of them. Morey, by the way, is sparing with new oak, using only about 25 percent new oak each year.

This is the last post about Burgundy wines tasted at the “Return to Terroir” event that occurred in New York at the end of February. Image of Pierre Morey from bibendum-times.co.uk The wines of Domaine Pierre Morey are imported by Martin Scott, Lake Success, N.Y.

Domaine Pierre Morey Bourgogne Aligoté 2009. This pale straw-gold wine is very pert, bright, spicy and lemony, and it displays that sense of racy tension and nervosity that we want from the aligoté grape, composed of whiplash acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, but nicely balanced by lemon, grapefruit and lime peel flavors slightly enriched by touches of lemon balm and cloves. Bring on the oysters, please, bracing and briny in the shell! 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17 and well-worth the price.
Domaine Pierre Morey Meursault 2009. The domaine owns 0.86 hectares (about 2.14 acres) of vines, in portions of three well-placed vineyards, in the village of Meursault, well-placed meaning in proximity to Premier Cru vineyards; Morey “village” Meursault is usually a blend of grapes from the three vineyards. Average age of these vines is 29 years. The wine, sporting a radiant mild gold color, offers lovely depth, breadth and balance, cleaved with a kind of clean animation and energy poised with the moderate richness of spicy citrus and stone-fruit scents and flavors. The Pierre Morey Meursault 09 is very dry but juicy and flavorful and delivers a range of nuances from jasmine and honeysuckle in the bouquet to limestone and flint in the long finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $75.
Domaine Pierre Morey Meursault Les Tessons 2007. That’s right, 2007, a stressful vintage in Burgundy, generally
regarded as better for whites than reds, though elegance can be found in both. In any case Morey turned out an intense and pure expression of the chardonnay grape from 0.89 hectares of Les Tessons, largely planted in 1975; this is a very stony vineyard just above the village of Meursault. The wine is quite floral and spicy — whiffs of camellia and cloves — and deeply imbued with lemon, grapefruit and pear flavors supported by earthy, limestone-like minerality and, in the distance, an almost tea-like quality. There’s a sheen of oak, mostly subdued, that adds to the smooth suave texture and the abundantly flinty, spicy, slightly briny finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $86.
Domaine Pierre Morey Monthelie 2009. The pinot noir grapes for Morey’s Monthelie derive from 1.32 hectares of vines in six lieux-dits, that is, traditional local vineyards below the Premier Cru level. The average age of the vines is 48 years. Monthelie is sandwiched between Volnay on the east and Auxey-Duresses on the west. The (let’s admit it) not very important commune, which surprisingly has 11 Premier Cru vineyards, produces far more red wine than white. Pierre Morey’s Monthelie 2009 is clean, bright and appealing, with sprightly black cherry and red currant flavors, loads of spice and slightly earthy graphite elements, and vibrant acidity that cuts a row on the palate. The finish brings in touches of leather, brambles and slightly mossy forest elements. Quite attractive and drinkable, now through 2014 or ’15. I’m thinking roasted chicken or rabbit fricassee. Very Good+. About $35.
Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009. Morey owns 0.43 hectares — a hair over one acre — of this 10.15-hectare Premier Cru vineyard. (There is also a Petits Epenots vineyard, which is, paradoxically, about five hectares bigger than Grand Epenots.) The commune of Pommard, with its 28 Premier Cru vineyards, is a few minutes drive south of the city of Beaune. Well, damnit, this is great. The wine is characterized by terrific heft, intensity and concentration, though it’s ultimately elegant and harmonious. The color is medium dark ruby; it takes a couple of minutes for the bouquet to open with notes of ripe and fleshy black cherries, red currants and plums permeated by hints of rose petals, graphite and leather. Smooth and polished tannins bolster earthy and spicy black and red fruit flavors ensconced in a supple, satiny texture whose sense of luxury is rigorously tempered by resolute acidity and a slightly lithic or iron-like element of minerality. The point is the balance and integration among all these qualities. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $85.

An interesting line-up of wines today, mostly white, but with one rosé and also including a sparkling wine from Limoux in France, made for the Toad Hollow label and imported by the winery. We’re start with the latter, move to the rosé and then do the rest of the wines according to price, as is my wont in these brief Friday Wine Sips. Three sauvignon blanc wines here, made in different styles; the knock-out and super-inexpensive rosé from the fairly obscure (at least to me) Bulles region in southeastern Spain; a so-so Soave, but cheap; one of Joe Bastianich’s sophisticated wines from northeastern Italy, and so on. Very little technical or geographical information, because I want the Friday Wine Sips to be immediate and spontaneous, and indeed they are transcribed pretty directly from my notes, though cleaned up a bit. Enjoy.

All these wines were samples for review.
Toad Hollow Risqué nv, Blanquette de Limoux, France. 6% alc. 100% mauzac grapes. Pale gold color; mildly but delightfully effervescent; very clean and fresh; apple, stone fruit, Poire William, mango and cloves; quite sweet but with the tingle of acidity to dry it on the palate and produce a bit of an austere, slightly stony finish. Delicate and charming. Very Good+. About $16.
Numero 3 Rosado de Monestrall 2011, Bulles, Murcia, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dusky watermelon color with a tinge of pale copper; pure strawberry, raspberry and red currant with a touch of peach skin and licorice; ripe, round and fleshy, satiny and almost viscous but tempered by brisk acidity and a muscular flexing of the limestone element. Not just alluring but sort of remarkable. Excellent. About $12, a Fantastic Bargain.
ReMidas 2011, Soave, Italy. 12% alc. 100% garganega grapes. A simple, direct and pleasant Soave. Pale straw color; pears and tangerines, almond and almond blossom and a hint of camellia; a little spicy and earthy, crisp, pert and minerally; gets a bit diffuse from mid-palate back. Good+. About $10.
Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2011, North Coast, California. 13.5% acl. Very pale, almost colorless; crisp, snappy, sassy, bags o’ limestone and flint with scintillating acidity; quite grassy and herbal, bursting with grapefruit and gooseberry, thyme and tarragon, celery seed, a hint of leafiness, a little fig; very dry, with a chilly, mineral-laden finish. A great summer aperitif. Very Good. About $11; you can’t beat the price.
Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.8% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Ubiquitous on restaurant wine lists. Pale straw color; restrained, elegant, very dry; lots of grapefruit, particularly in the slightly bracing finish; lemon and lemongrass, a tang of celery seed and tarragon; you feel the partial barrel-fermentation in the spice and suppleness and a touch of wood from mid-palate back; a very pleasing combination of earthiness and bright, sunny leafy qualities; taut, measured, balanced and slightly yielding, it persuades me to a rating of Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. 13% alc. 100% friulano grapes. Medium straw-gold color; very apparent, very bright; roasted lemon, baked pear, high tone of green apple; amazing texture and substance for an all stainless steel wine; quite earthy, bristles with spice and vibrant acidity; notes of candied grapefruit and lime peel, quince and ginger; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lanolin and camellia; suave, sleek, loads of personality. Now through 2013, maybe into summer of ’14. Excellent. About $16, a Wonderful Price.
Peter Lehmann Dry Riesling 2011, Eden Valley, Australia. 11% alcohol. Pale straw-gold; clean, fresh, light; apples and pears, lemon balm, grapefruit and lime peel; steel scaffolding on a limestone foundation; a tad dusty, with underlying earthiness; just a hint of petrol and lychee; nicely balanced among shimmering acidity, sheer minerality and juicy stone fruit flavors. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14% alc. Pale straw color, tinge of green; it does feel a tad unfettered, exuberant; mango and tangerine, smoky lemon and lemongrass; very clean, crisp and earthy; acidity and flinty mineral qualities practically shimmer with energy; notes of thyme and fig, a snap of celery and fennel seed; part used oak, part stainless steel, that hint of wood exerts itself in the finish, giving some gravity to a buoyant character. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $29.

Randall Grahm sold the certified biodynamic Ca’ del Solo Vineyard in Soledad in 2009, so this Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, is the next-to-last vintage. The vineyard’s name is a pun typical of Grahm’s well-known wit; though it sounds Italian, the name refers to the state penitentiary at Soledad, outside of whose gates the 160-acre vineyard lay, hence, House of Solo. (Ca is short for casa; the locution is common in Venice.) The presence of the prison also gave rise to Bonny Doon’s Big House brand of inexpensive wines, a label of which Grahm divested himself in 2007.

Not much nebbiolo is grown in The Golden State. According to the annual California Grape Acreage Report, in 2011 there were only 166 acres of nebbiolo, accounting for a crush of 380 tons; total number of tons of all red grapes crushed in 2011 was 1.9 million, so we can see that nebbiolo is a specialty, nurtured principally by devotees, if not fanatics.

Nothing heavily extracted here, the color of the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is a lovely, limpid cerise-scarlet color with a faint garnet rim. The bouquet offers aromas of dried currants and black and red cherries with spiced and macerated aspects and hints of black tea and dried orange zest with leather and rose petals. About half the grapes for this wine were air-dried before being crushed, lending subtle notes of fruitcake in the nose and succulence on the palate, though the wine is completely dry and far more elegant than obvious. The wine sees neither new wood nor small barrels (aging in tanks and puncheons of French oak), and we wish that more producers in Piedmont would return to this old-fashioned way of making Barolo and Barbaresco from their nebbiolo grapes, instead of being slaves to the allure of the barrique. Anyway, for a wine as spare and reticent as this is, it delivers juicy black and red fruit flavors supported by smooth and slightly dusty tannins that provide a bit of earthy grip on the finish; otherwise, this nebbiolo goes down like warm satin. Nor is the grape’s legendary acidity lacking; the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007 is lively and vibrant. 13.7 percent alcohol. Production was 765 cases. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $40.

This wine was a sample for review.

We drank the Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo 2007, Monterey County, with medium rare tri-tip roast cooked (with a slight variation) according to a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home (Artisan, 2009). This requires you to coat the meat with salt, pepper, sweet paprika and piment d’Espelette, the latter made from ground chili peppers grown only in the French Basque commune of Espelette and which I could not find anywhere, so I substituted smoked sweet paprika, Urfa pepper and chili maresh. Anyway, you wrap the roast in plastic and leave it in the refrigerator for 24 hours and take it out 30 minutes before it’s time to sear it in oil and butter with a smashed garlic, a sprig of rosemary and five thin lemon slices; the garlic, rosemary and lemon slices are placed on top of the roast and it all goes into a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Be sure to let the roast rest on a plate or cutting board for half an hour before slicing to let the juices redistribute. Tri-tip is not the most tender cut (which is why it’s relatively inexpensive) but it delivers a lovely, mild meaty flavor, enhanced, in this recipe, by the piquant spiciness of the coating. If you don’t have the cookbook, the blog Rocket Lunch reproduced the recipe here. We ate the tri-tip, sliced thinly, with roasted potatoes and a succotash of fresh corn, edamame and red bell pepper. A great dinner and bottle of wine.

La Mozza estate was established in 2000 by three larger-than-life personalities who rule a great deal of the Italian restaurant and wine scene in New York, that is to say, Joe Bastianich and his business partner chef Mario Batali and his mother the restaurateur Lidia Bastianich. La Mozza is in Maremma, in southwest Tuscany by the coast of the Tyrrhennian, mare being Latin for sea; the province is Grosseto. Joe Bastianich and his mother also own the Bastianich winery, founded in 1997, in the Colli Orientali del Friuli region of northeast Italy. Maremma long lagged behind the central Chianti regions of Tuscany because of the swampy terrain, the presence of malaria and the tendency of the populace to banditry. Those problems were solved by the middle of the 20th Century, and the ambitious started buying land and planting vines. While the coastline is rife with resorts, the vineyard areas lie inland. La Mozza produces two wines, I Perazzi Morellino di Scansano, mainly sangiovese, morellino being the local name for the grape, and the more expensive, but not strenuously so, Aragone Maremma Toscana, in which sangiovese plays a smaller role. Winemakers are Gabriele Gadenz and Maurizio Castelli.

La Mozza I Perazzi 2010, Morellino di Scansano, is a blend of 85 percent sangiovese, 5 percent each syrah and alicante, 3 percent ciliegiolo and 2 percent colorino; colorino is a minor red grape of Chianti, little used now, while ciliegiolo is another minor grape about which there is some dispute that it is either a parent or an off-spring of sangiovese. “Morellino” means “little cherry,” and indeed I Perazzi, though named for an indigenous pear-like fruit, offers the vivid tint, scent and flavor of fresh black and red cherries, highlighted by hints of raspberries and mulberries. The wine is fermented by natural yeasts; 30 percent aged for 10 months in used French barriques. This is no simpleminded cherry-berry wine, however; the succulence of its tasty flavors is bolstered by vibrant acidity, a fine-grained texture and structure — I think of the texture as the surface of the structure — and well-balanced, slightly dusty tannins that nonetheless bring a bit of austerity to the finish. Elements of lavender and licorice, graphite and underbrush add detail to the wine’s dimensions. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. We had I Perazzi 2010 with a hearty pizza topped with bacon and roasted tomatoes, onions and peppers; it would also serve excellently with burgers and steaks, grilled lamb chops and such. Very Good+. About $16, a price that merits Buying by the Case.

Dark Star Imports, New York. This was a sample for review.

It was a casual Friday night. We had been to an art exhibition opening and were home again about to watch the last episode of The Borgias on DVD– it’s like The Sopranos set in late 15th Century Rome but better — and LL said, “Let’s do something with eggs,” and faster than you could say “La plume de ma tante” we had a beautiful salade Lyonnaise. My assignment was poaching the eggs. (Also with bacon, green beans, little potatoes, pieces of ripe tomato on a bed of baby kale, doused with a vinaigrette.) Ah, but what to drink with the notoriously hard-to-match-with-wine eggs? No problem, as waiters say incessantly today, a classic, dry rosé, but one made from grapes grown in California’s Los Carneros region.

The Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros, is a true vin gris (“grey wine”) color, a light, slightly copperish onion skin hue. The wine is not made by bleeding off juice from the crushing of red grapes; this one is whole-cluster pressed, carefully, and then taken off the skins to leave that pale pigmentation. This is, I’ll assert right out loud, a world-class rosé, not just spicy but savory, not just fruity but flavorful, not sweet at all but bone-dry and yet almost luscious in texture. Aromas of dried red currants and raspberries are woven with hints of orange rind, camellia, limestone and a sort of dusty slate aspect; a few minutes in the glass bring in an intriguing grassy/dried thyme note. In the mouth, you feels layers of complexity, red fruit, of course, but touches of rhubarb, beet-root and peach skin, cloves, warm stones, the lithic edge of slate and a citric tang to the scintillating acidity. Immensely attractive and pleasurable, a rosé with an unusual marriage of energy and elegance, and a great drink with the salade Lyonnaise. 13.8 percent alcohol. Now through summer 2013. Excellent. About $28; I paid $30 locally. Very limited production, so mark this Worth a Search.

Wine image from robertsinskey.com.

Metrokane, founded in 1983 by Riki Kane and headquartered in New York, is well-known for its Rabbit® line of sleek and widely advertised wine bottle openers and other accessories, but what I urge My Readers to acquire are the incredibly low-tech, remarkably inexpensive yet highly efficient bottle stoppers. The problem has plagued wine drinkers since the first waiter opened an amphora and poured a beaker of wine for a patron in, oh, 463 B.C.: How do you keep the rest of the wine fresh in the bottle for the next few days? Now, of course, restaurants have costly systems for keeping their wine-by-the-glass bottles viable, but the home consumer can’t indulge in such mechanisms; all we want is a simple device that will keep the sparkle going in a bottle of Champagne or retain the quality of a bottle of red or white wine so we can enjoy them for more than one fleeting occasion.

I did not receive these fairly cute little objects as review samples, nor did Metrokane ask me to endorse them. In fact, this post marks the first time that I have mentioned any kind of product other than a beverage on BiggerThanYourHead since its inception in December 2006. LL bought a pair of these Rabbit bottle stoppers at Bed Bath and Beyond. The suggested retail price is a mere $4 a pair.

We drank half a bottle of Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines Brut Champagne on the evening of June 12th for LL’s birthday. I jammed one of the Rabbit bottle stoppers in it and stuck it in the fridge, and we left for vacation the next day.

Last night, July 6 — 24 days later — I pulled the stopper out of the bottle with a distinct “POP!” and poured us each a flute of the Champagne. It was lovely; it displayed a fine bead of tiny bubbles, no, not the fountain of bubbles it offered more than three weeks previously, but delightful and effervescent nonetheless, and it tasted just fine, thank you very much. And we drank the rest of the bottle.

I have tried many sorts of bottle stoppers; sometimes it seems as if I have tried every kind. All failed eventually.

These little devices are so simple that they seem almost counter-intuitive. Point is: They work.

Devotees of adding grape varieties to their Century Club roster may find a few candidates among the wines reviewed in this edition of Friday Wine Sips, posted for you actually on Friday! The theme today — not that we always have a theme — is blended red wines, and not the usual cab/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot or syrah/mourvèdre/grenache agenda but some blends that draw perhaps on those grapes but even more on eclectic notions of what grapes are right, fit and proper together. The inclusion of a couple of wines from Portugal that feature indigenous varieties guarantees a couple of grapes that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with, while for the first time in the epic history of this Higgs boson-haunted cosmos I feature a wine from Turkey and a pair of grapes that will tip the mercury in your thermometer of exoticism. Once a producer blends four or five or six red grapes from a broad area or from several regions, the point obviously is not to pay homage to the purity of a grape variety or the integrity of a vineyard but to assemble a wine that’s appealing and tasty or, perhaps more important, that structurally and philosophically makes sense on its own terms. Several of the wines considered today accomplish this task handily, a few range from decent and acceptable to a little iffy, and one employs five grape varieties from three counties in California and succeeds only in manufacturing something generic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I avoid most technical, historical, specifically geographical and personal information for the sake of quick, incisive notices designed to make you say “Hot damn, gimme some o’ that!” (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.
Esporão Alandra Red Table Wine nv, Portugal. 13% alc. A blend of moreto, castelão and trincadeira grapes. Dark mulberry-plum color; very smoky and spicy, ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; deep, dense, chewy, sapid and savory, heaps of robust grainy tannins; finish packed with slate, forest, thyme and dried porcini; sort of amazing presence and personality for the price. Begs for grilled sausages (though it’s not a wine to beg, really, more like demand). Very Good. About $7, an Outrageous Bargain.
Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2010, California. 13.7% alcohol. 69% carignane, 31% syrah. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; pungent, ripe, fleshy, black cherry and black currant with hints of plums, blueberries, smoke, graphite; intense core of potpourri and bittersweet chocolate; very spicy, quite dense and chewy with grainy tannins, vibrant acidity, lots of structure; an old-fashioned, rather rustic, juicy, briery California quaffer for burgers, steaks, pizzas. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
Peter Lehmann Layers 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. 55% shiraz, 18% tempranillo, 17% mourvèdre, 10% grenache. Dark ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums with touches of black pepper, iodine, cloves and foresty elements; dense and chewy yet smooth and mellow, drinks like a charm; deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, delicious and unfettered; a satisfying, moderately long finish packed with spice and earthy notes. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza. Very Good+. About $17.
Ghost Pines Red Blend “Winemaker’s Blend” 2009, Napa County 46%, Sonoma County 36%, San Joaquin County 18%. (A Gallo label.) Cabernet sauvignon 33%, petite sirah 29%, zinfandel 22%, merlot 10%, syrah 6%. Solid, well-made, symmetrical and unexciting; good acidity and smooth tannins, tasty black fruit flavors, but lacks personality and delineation. Maybe it would be O.K. at five dollars less. Very Good. About $20.
Highflyer Centerline 2008, California. 14.8% alc. 81% syrah, 12% petite sirah, 4% tempranillo, 3% zinfandel. Deep purple-black with a motor oil-like sheen; very intense, very concentrated; black currants, black raspberries and plums with some plum-skin bitterness and underbrush on the finish; iron and iodine, exotic, wild, coats the mouth with brooding tannins and yet elevating touches of sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake; still, needs a year or two or a huge medium-rare steak hot and crusty from the grill. Try 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20.
Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2009, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 42% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 6% zinfandel, 3% syrah, 3% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color; packed with spice, earth, shale-and-slate-like minerality; very intense and concentrated, pretty damned densely tannic and oaky; robust, almost exuberant, but needs a couple of years to ease the reins of its furled nature (furl its reins? rain on its fur?). Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $24.
Kayra Imperial 2008, Elazig, Denizli, Turkey. 14% alc. Okuzgozü 80%, bogazkere 6%, syrah, 7%, petit verdot 7%. Very dark ruby-purple; bright, vivid, very spicy; blueberries and mulberries, smoke and graphite-like minerality; very appealing, furry tannins and a velvety texture, but oak and tannin also give it some structural rigor, all being nicely composed and well-knit; a bit of austerity on the finish. A fascinating wine. Very Good+. About $25.
Esporão Reserva 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14.5% alcohol. A blend of aragonez (that is, tempranillo), trincadeira, alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Color is inky-purple; first impression: oak and tannins pretty blatant; smoky, fleshy and meaty, lots of spice, touch of mint, slightly herbal, dark and succulent black fruit flavors; there’s a personality here waiting to unfold but give it a year or two or three. Very Good+. About $25.
Spelletich 3 Spells Blend GHK Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 57% merlot, 28% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple; rates an initial “wow”; ink, iodine and iron, graphite, lavender and licorice, violets and bittersweet chocolate; black and red cherries, raspberries and plums; smooth and mellow but something born free about it, almost feral; plush and voluptuous but held in check by resonant acidity, substantial tannins and granite-like minerality; definitely Californian and all the better for it. 300 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 and Worth a Search.

Quivira Vineyards and Winery was founded in 1981, by Holly and Henry Wendt, at the serendipitous confluence of Wine Creek and Dry Creek in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley appellation. (Well, it became an AVA in 1983.) The producer quickly established a reputation for sauvignon blanc and zinfandel wines. In 2005, the estate was certified by Demeter as authentically biodynamic. Winemaker since 2010 has been Hugh Chappelle.

Quivira offers three wines that are 100 percent sauvignon blanc, a “regular” Dry Creek Valley bottling, a more limited bottling from the Fig Tree Vineyard, and an even more limited edition called Refuge, the last of which I have not seen.

The Quivira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, is the first release of this label. It draws on the biodynamic Fig Tree Vineyard for about 50 percent of its grapes, with the balance derived from neighboring off-estate sites. The wine ferments in stainless steel, sees no oak and does not go through malolactic fermentation, though it rests on the lees of spent yeast cells — the yeasts are both indigenous and cultured — for up to six months. The result is an especially attractive and winsome example of the grape. The color is very pale straw-gold; the bouquet is so fresh and clean that you want to kiss it (like yer kid sister); sprightly aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, ginger and quince, jasmine and honeysuckle are woven with touches of slightly roasted lemons and pears. There’s an immaculate segue for these irresistible qualities into the mouth, with a bright boost of flint and limestone and shimmering acidity that enliven a lovely supple texture; the wine is bone-dry, spare and close to elegant yet juicy and tasty. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Excellent. About — ready? — $15, a Great Value.

The sibling or cousin to the previous wine is the Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard 2011, Dry Creek Valley. This ferments with native yeasts primarily in stainless steel tanks, though a small percentage goes into neutral French oak and — surely this is rare — acacia wood barrels. The wine ages six months in a combination of stainless steel and used oak and does not go through malolactic fermentation. The fruit is all estate-grown. The color is medium-pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; lordy, how lovely! — dried thyme and tarragon, slightly leafy and grassy, with touches of quince jam and fig marmalade (but not sweet, just the intense aromas), apples, lemons and lemon balm and an unusual hint of almond and almond blossom. Piercing limestone-like minerality and precision-cut acidity buoy a texture that’s otherwise utterly smooth and suave yet bristling with spice and fruit that leans from citrus to almost tropical. The whole enterprise beautifully balances every element in burnished harmony. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Production was 862 cases. Excellent. About — gasp! — $22, another Great Value.

These were samples for review.

Torrontés is not one of the world’s great and noble grapes, but all grapes don’t have to be Olympian, do they? (I was thinking Olympian in terms of “god-like,” but the metaphor holds true for superb competitive athleticism too, and speaking of such matters I returned to the gym yesterday for the first time in more than a year.) Sometimes all we demand of a grape is that it produce pleasant, attractive tasty wines that can be enjoyed in a variety of circumstances; not a damned thing wrong with that. Torrontés has become the white grape for which Argentina is best known, whether grown in the south, in Patagonia, or in the north, in La Rioja and Salta. The grape tends to produce highly floral, spicy and crisp wines that at their best are delicate, genial and charming and at their worse are insipid and flabby. Not much movement to artificially pump up the qualities of the grape with oak barrel aging has occurred, for which we can be thankful. The way to bring out the choicest qualities of the grape is not through manipulation in the winery but through the selection of the most appropriate sites and through the most efficacious vineyard practices.

That said, I’ll assert that the Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, is the best version of the grape that I have encountered, and I’ll add that contributing elements to its virtues are the altitude of the vineyard, which stands at 5,900 feet above sea-level on the slopes of the Andes mountains, stressing those vines– think of it as grapes going to the gym — and the fact that it sees no oak. The wine offers remarkable tone, presence and character, with lovely purity and intensity, though never losing sight of its innate delicacy. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet is more spicy than floral, though hints of jasmine and camellia are woven through aromas of green apples, roasted lemons and yellow plums highlighted by cloves and a touch of white pepper. In the mouth, there’s more emphasis on citrus, especially in the realm of lemon and lime peel and tart grapefruit, though there’s a sense of sunny leafiness about the wine, along with scintillating acidity and a clean, fresh mineral element. The texture is exquisitely balanced between moderate lushness and bright pertness, while the finish is trim, elegant and smooth. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $15, an Incredible Bargain.

Imported by Moet Hennessy USA, New York. A sample for review.

The carignan grape doesn’t get much respect. The entry in the Third Edition of the formidable Oxford Companion to Wine (2006) comments that carignan “could fairly be called the bane of the European wine industry,” that it is “distinguished mainly by its disadvantages” and that “some interesting old Carignan vines [may] be treasured but let it not be planted.” Even Oz Clarke, who in his Encyclopedia of Grapes (2001) frequently displays a somewhat rueful fondness for off-varieties, says that the grape “is now in decline but not fast enough.” Ouch! Well, he does at least concede that “only in exceptional sites, with first-class exposure and good drainage, and with very good winemaking can it produce fine wine on its own.”

Let me proffer a candidate for such an example. This is the Meli “Dueño de la Luna” Carignan 2009, Maule Valley, Chile. The wine is produced on an estate purchased in 2005 by veteran winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons, who were attracted by the 60-year-old carignan and riesling vines. Meli “Dueño de la Luna” Carignan 2009 is 100 percent varietal. The wine fermented in stainless steel tanks with native yeasts, and it aged one year in stainless steel and six months in old French oak barrels, so there’s no taint of new oak about it; rather, it’s notable for its fresh, clean appeal and integrity. The color is vivid dark ruby-purple. Aromas of blueberries and blueberry tart, red and black currants and plums display a high, wild note that sings of cloves and sandalwood and potpourri, all underlined by penetrating elements of cocoa powder and graphite. It’s a fairly substantial wine that remains lithe, light on its feet, fleetingly lithic; in other words a happy marriage of power and elegance enlivened by vibrant acidity and well-mannered and burnished tannins that support juicy, spicy black and blue fruit flavors. Meli “Dueño de la Luna” Carignan 2009 is quite dry, and it gains intensity and concentration as the moments pass, leading to a finish that brings in a slightly austere character of underbrush, moss and dried porcini. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $45.

We gladly drank the Meli “Dueño de la Luna” Carignan 2009 with a dinner LL prepared of pork chops given a coating of sweet paprika and spicy coffee rub, then seared in our old cast-iron skillet, and wholewheat penne pasta with chopped and sauteed beet stems and greens with a few yellow plums. A terrific meal, deeply rich and flavorful, with the perfect wine for the moment.

Imported by Global Vineyard, Berkeley, Cal. A sample for review.

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