December 2012


… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
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Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
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The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
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The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
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All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
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David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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… and when I say “a superior cava,” I’m not damning with faint praise. As many of My Readers know, “cava” is the term for Spanish sparkling wine produced in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, the step that produces the all-important bubbles. Just because cava in made in the method of Champagne does not mean, of course, that cava resembles Champagne, even with the bubbles, one reason being that traditionally cava was made pretty exclusively from indigenous grapes, that is, macabeu, xarel.lo and parellada, which sound like names in a science-fiction novel. Cava, in other words, could often be refreshing, charming and delightful, as well as uniquely Spanish, but seldom displayed complexity or depth. That situation changed when forward-thinking producers started adding chardonnay and pinot noir to their cava, along with the traditional grape varieties. A terrific example of such a model is the CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, made by Mont-Ferrant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Carme Ruscalleda’s restaurant in Sant Pau. (Mont-Ferrant was founded in Catalonia in 1865 by August Vilaret.)

So, the blend in CR20 Cava 2006 is 60 percent chardonnay, 20 percent xarel.lo and 10 percent each macabeu and parellada. The color is medium gold; a stream of fine bubbles seethes up through the glass. The first impression is of bread and biscuits, backed up by limestone and steel and notes of hay and acacia, roasted lemon and a hint of pear; a few moments bring in touches of ginger and green tea. This is a saline and savory sparkling wine, energized by brisk acidity and the buoyancy of a spanking sea-breeze yet given a layering of nutty yeast and toast with elements of cloves and limestone-like minerality. All aspects add up to a cava of rare presence and character. 12.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco. A sample for review. Image from adictosalalujuria.com.

So here we are at the penultimate day of 2012, a year that will not, I venture, be remembered with great affection, either publicly or privately. December 30th is the Holy Day of two rather obscure figures, Pope Felix I, who reigned approximately from 269 to 274 and about whom very little is known, not even if he was actually a martyr, and Ecgwine (died 717), bishop of Worcester whose remains after the Norman Conquest were said to have inspired miracles. Selected birthdays include Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Bert Parks (1914-1992), Jack “Book ‘em, Danno!” Lord (1920-1998), Bo Diddley (1928-2008) and Davy “Daydream Believer” Jones (1945-2012).

In doing the research on the Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut — “between sky and earth” — I ran into contradictory information about its composition. Some sources said that it was 100 percent pinot meunier, others that it was 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir, and still others that is was a blend of 41 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 24 percent pinot meunier. I contacted Jon-David Headrick, importer of Françoise Bedel, and asked “what’s up?” It turns out that all the sources were correct but for different editions of the wine. The composition of the example that I tried in New York back in February, at “The Return to Terroir” event, is indeed 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. The vast variation in the make-up of “Entre Ciel et Terre” isn’t the result of inconsistency but a conscious decision to allow the character of the year and the harvest to dictate the nature of the wine. Unlike the large Champagne firms, which maintain an identifiable house-style year by year, especially for the non-vintage products, small estates tend not to purchase grapes or keep large stores of reserve wines for blending. There’s nothing wrong with the former practice; one reason I love a Champagne like the nonvintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve is because it does provide the pleasure and security of a consistent and recognizable manner. It’s also gratifying though to mark the individuality and handcrafted qualities of smaller, primarily family-owned and operated houses like Champagne Françoise Bedel.

Françoise Bedel took over her parents’ estate in the tiny village of Crouttes sur Marne in 1979; her son Vincent joined her professionally in 2003. Bedel owns 8.4 hectares — about 20.75 acres — of vines that range from 20 to 60 years old. The emphasis is on the pinot meunier grape, which accounts for 79 percent of the vineyards, with chardonnay making up 14 percent and pinot noir 7 percent. The estate has been operated on biodynamic principles since 1998, that is, no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and a strict calendar-based regimen of special organic “teas” and totally natural mixtures to ensure the health and integrity of the vineyards. I’m a skeptic about the efficacy of the more radical biodynamic philosophy and techniques, but in the case of Francoise Bedel, the result is great Champagne.

You know how there are some grand edifices that are imposing without being distinguished? In terms of that comparison, Françoise Bedel Cuvee Entre Ciel et Terre Brut is both imposing and distinguished. This is indeed a Champagne of grand proportions, quite sizable, very dry, possessing dimension and detail in abundance. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a tempest-like froth of bubbles. The approach is all limestone and steel, with a snap of gun-flint and undertones of cloves and ginger. It’s a mouth-filling Champagne, substantial, high-toned, even a little demanding in its sheer elegance and austerity; one understands the metaphor of earth and sky in its inextricable melding of scintillating minerality and (paradoxically) the more delicate elusive fruit and floral qualities that provide a sense of urgent elevation. This is exciting stuff, a Champagne of great character yet tremendous appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75 as a national average.

Imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.

December 29 is the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by four knights of Henry II in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1172. Today’s birthdays include Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), Andrew Johnson, our luckless 17th president (1808-1875); and Mary Tyler Moore (76), Marianne Faithfull (66), Ted Danson (65), Patricia Clarkson (53) and Jude Law (40).

Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquarted in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson BCC, headed by Bruno Paillard.

The Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut, non-vintage — though it would be more accurate to say mixed or blended vintages — offers a beautiful moderate gold color and a robust fountain of tiny bubbles. The impression this Champagne creates is, in fact, of a robust character that manages to be fairly elegant at the same time. The blend of grapes is 45 percent pinot meunier, 35 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. This is toasty, with lots of acacia and almond blossom, biscuits and cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and lemons, hints of toffee and walnut crème; also, though, there’s a delicate structure of clean acidity, fresh apples and apple skin, cloves and allspice, a sort of lacy transparency of limestone and flint, with a finish that stretches out in a pleasing but slightly bracing and austere haze of minerals, hay, stone fruit and, ok, more crisply faceted minerals. The whole effect is somewhat lapidary. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.

Birthdays today: Our 28th President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924); jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983); actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996); and among the living, Stan Lee (90), Maggie Smith (78), Denzel Washington (58), Noomi Rapace (33) and Sienna Miller (31).

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a fan of Crémant d’Alsace, not as a substitute for Champagne or the finest sparkling wine from California but just as itself. Something about the combination of grapes, usually riesling, pinot blanc and chardonnay, speaks to the expression of the region and makes the product unique. We’ve tried quite a few in the past few weeks, and certainly among the best is the Domaine Barmès Buecher 2009. It’s unusual to see Crémant d’Alsace with a vintage date; like many Champagnes and sparkling wines, most are a blend of several vintages. The domaine was founded by wife and husband Genevieve Buecher Barmès and François Barmès — surnames that point to the region’s Franco-German heritage — with vineyards that had belonged to their respective families since the 17th century. Tragically, François Barmès was killed in October 2011, when he was struck by an automobile while riding his bike. Their children Sophie and Maxime are now part of the organization. The estate is operated on biodynamic methods.

The Domaine Barmés Buecher 2009, Crémant d’Alsace, offers a radiant but mild straw color and a tempest of bubbles that look like fervent tarnished glints in the golden hue. The immediate and fresh impression is of apples, limes and limestone, with hints of roasted lemons, lime peel and cloves in the background. This model, very dry, very crisp, is more substantial than most examples of the genre, and you cannot help sensing the confidence and the character that it implies. It’s slightly macerated and toasty in the mouth, with touches of coffee and caramel, yet never less than elevating and effervescent. The finish brings in more limestone, inflected with flint, and a reiteration of spicy citrus flavors. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drinking beautifully at three years, this should be fine through 2014. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Petit Pois Corp. t/a Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J. This bottle was a sample for review.

Birthdays on December 27 include scientists Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) — who discovered the principle of fermentation; actors Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954) and Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992); and poet Charles Olson (1910-1970).

One of my “rules” in the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series — now in its sixth year! — is that I never repeat a wine. I may repeat a label or brand, perhaps, but not the same product. I say that now because I included two Champagnes from the house of Gosset in the first week of January segment of this series in 2007/2008 — the Grande Reserve Brut and the Brut Excellent — and today will review a different one, the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut.

Established in 1584, the house of Gosset is the oldest wine producer in Champagne. In those days, however, the wine wasn’t the sparkling product that we know and love today; that process didn’t begin until the late 17th Century, and for 125 years or so the practice of producing a sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was an inexact and accident-prone science. In any case, the Gosset family was certainly there at the creation of the champagne wine industry.

In 1994, after 410 years of ownership by the same family, Gosset was purchased by the Remy-Cointreau company and Beatrice Cointreau was put in charge, wisely keeping to the same regime of grapes purchased primarily from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, barrel fermentation and no malolactic, so the Gosset champagnes retain more than usual vivacity.

The Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is a pale blond beauty, all steel and limestone and quince and with intriguing hints of ginger, hay and lemongrass, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles and fleet-footed acidity. Blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — means that this is all chardonnay and in this case all grapes from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is cool, sleek and elegant, exactly as I like a blanc de blancs to be, yet it exudes a touch of biscuits and buttered cinnamon toast for a bit of warmth. This feels completely dry, and the limestone-like minerality and vibrant acidity build from mid-palate back through the finish, concluding in an element of chalk-like and slightly honeyed but brisk grapefruit austerity that merely adds to the Champagne’s somewhat Olympian allure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $68.

I chose the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut to accompany our traditional Christmas Day Southern Breakfast of fried eggs, grits, biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy. Why, you ask, such a high-toned Champagne with such a down-home meal? Because it takes that effervescence, the bright acidity and the cleanness, the blade-like effect to cut through the richness and the fat, and because it’s, you know, just plain fun.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Florida. A sample for review.

Let’s launch the sixth edition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” with this winsome winner from Austria, the Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, produced in the Neusiedlersee area of Burgenland. I will say right here that this sparkling wine, made in the Méthode Traditionelle — that is, the technique of second fermentation in the bottle, a la Champagne — fairly knocked our socks off. The composition is 100 percent grüner veltliner grapes. The color is pale gold; a stream of tiny glinting bubbles surges gracefully upward in the glass. This attractive sparkler is notably clean and fresh, with hints of roasted lemons and lime peel, lemongrass and lemon balm; it’s also quite notably savory, sporting a bracing touch of sea-salt and an undercurrent of seaside meadow — sort of rigorously herbal and floral and seashelly — all devolving to a finish layered with steel and limestone, apple peel and baking spice. 12 percent alcohol. Appropriate for any happy occasion or just standing around the kitchen cooking dinner, the Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut would be a terrific addition to restaurant or bar by-the-glass programs. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $19.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.

Good old Isaac Newton was among the first people to suggest that Jesus Christ wasn’t actually born on December 25 and that the date was selected (or evolved) to coincide with other ancient solstice festivals; coincidentally, Newton was born on Christmas Day, at least under the old Julian calendar. Other Christmas babies include Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Buffett, Annie Lennox, Sissy Spacek, Rod Serling and Cab Calloway.

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2012, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Sixth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly amusing to commemorate today the previous five lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 96 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
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2011/2012
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
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2010/2011
Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
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2009/2010
Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
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2008/2009
Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional, about $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
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2007/2008
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.
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The hallowed reputation of an ancient wine region like Burgundy is predicated on the supposition that some vineyards are better than others and that minute variations in microclimate, exposure, slope, drainage and soil, even over a distance of a few yards– we’re not talking miles — will be not just detectable but identifiable and desirable in the wine. This is the concept of terroir. In the hierarchy of Burgundy’s intricate system, for example, vineyards like Le Musigny and Les Borniques, in Chambolle-Musigny (primarily pinot noir but a little chardonnay), may be divided by no more than a stone wall, but Le Musigny is a Grand Cru vineyard, while Bornique is classified Premier Cru, producing great wines perhaps but not, theoretically at least, as great. Likewise, in chardonnay-dominated Meursault, the vineyards Les Gouttes d’Or and Les Terres Blanches are separated only by a country lane and a creek, yet Gouttes d’Or is designated Premier Cru, while Terres Blanches produces a mere “village” wine. The number of people who possess the knowledge and experience to distinguish the differences (in a blind tasting) among the wines produced from Burgundy’s hundreds of small vineyards and lieux-dits is probably quite small, yet the enduring romance of the region lies in the supposed integrity and individuality of those vineyards and the vignerons that make the wines and honor the distinctions.

Can that philosophy translate to the New World?

The Italian and German immigrants that launched California’s wine industry in the mid 19th century regarded blending and branding as far more important than some airy notion of single-vineyard designated wines. The tremendous growth of that industry after World War II, and especially in the 1960s and ’70s, inspired investigations into French ideas and methods of winemaking, and one of those ideas was the concept that an individual vineyard could become the expression, through the wine made from it, of a particular plot of land and geographical trope, as in the iconic Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon. So theoretically — there’s that word again — a wine produced from a single vineyard or a particular lot or block of vines in a vineyard will represent higher quality (and of course command a high price) than a wine with a broader background; anyway, that’s the argument. The scenario doesn’t always work out that way, and the proliferation of single-vineyard wines in California and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley doesn’t always translate to better wine or wines that express a vineyard’s, um, theoretical character, yet producers continue to make wines based on that philosophy. Not always; but sometimes they do, thinking for example of the pinot noirs that Morgan Winery makes from Rosella’s, Gary’s, Double L and Tondre Grapefield vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands.

I want to explore the possibility today, though, by looking at one general designate wine and three single-vineyard wines, all pinot noir, all Sonoma Coast, from Sojourn Cellars, a winery that specializes in small lots of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. The winery was founded by Craig and Ellen Haserot and winemaker Erich Bradley; the first release was 100 cases of cabernet sauvignon from the 2001 vintage.

Sonoma Coast, comprising 500,000 acres, is one of those huge AVAs that the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (aka TTB) seems to dote upon. Certainly it’s not as vast as the “North Coast” AVA, which includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Solano, an area so geographically broad and geologically varied as to be meaningless as a vineyard and wine region, nor is it as large as the “Sonoma County” AVA, of which Sonoma Coast represents the most westerly enclave and the one most pertinently influenced by the presence of the Pacific Ocean. As you can see by the map above, Sonoma Coast extends from the Mendocino border all the way down to San Pablo Bay, with a big and improbable jut inland and up between Russian River Valley and Sonoma Valley. This cool climate region, however diverse it may be from north to south, is attracting an increasing number of producers for its demonstrable affinity for pinot noir and chardonnay. (Map from schiller-wine.blogspot.com.)

These Sojourn Cellars pinot noirs are not inoculated but undergo fermentation by native yeasts, that is, yeasts that occur naturally in the vineyard and in the winery. They are all aged in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, but material on the winery’s website does not reveal how many months the wines spend in oak, a crucial factor as far as I’m concerned; none of the wines, however. felt as if they suffered from too much exposure to wood. How do they stack up, in terms of their single-vineyard designations? Read on…
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Let’s start with the Sojourn Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, a blend of grapes from eight lots deriving from vineyards along the length of the appellation. It’s a graceful expression of the pinot noir grape, a lovely marriage of elegance and power, beautifully balanced and integrated. The wine is quite lively and spicy, with notes of macerated black and red currants and plums and a deep vein of slightly loamy earthiness and graphite-like minerality. For all that grounding, however, this is the sleekest and most svelte, the most elevated of this quartet. 14.4 percent alcohol. 925 cases were produced. Excellent. About $39.
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For the first of the single vineyard wines, let’s take the Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. The Sangiacomo family, whose immigrant ancestors started as pear farmers in Sonoma County in 1928, maintain 10 vineyards in the Carneros appellation and three in the Sonoma Coast AVA; the family grows primarily chardonnay and pinot noir. Altogether, they supply grapes to 84 wineries, 34 of which use the Sangiacomo name on their labels. The Sojourn Sangiacomo Pinot Noir 2010 is a sinewy, muscular model, dark, deeply fragrant with fresh and dried black and red fruit scents and flavors and notably clean, pure, intense and spicy. 14.5 percent alcohol. 925 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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The interesting comparison follows with the Sojourn Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, because Gap’s Crown lies just above the Sangiacomo Vineyard that provided the grapes for the previous wine. Whatever the geographic proximity of these vineyards, the Sojourn Gap’s Crown is the most individually styled of these four pinot noirs, the most exotic but also the most tannic, deeply and roundly spicy and fleshed out but also the driest, even tending toward austerity through the finish, but suffering no diminuendo of juicy black fruit flavors. 14.6 percent alcohol. 300 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Finally, the Sojourn Rodgers Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, registers brilliantly for its spare Burgundian sense of lightness, delicacy and elegance, its radiant medium ruby color, the acidity that cuts a swath on the palate, its core of black cherry and mulberry fruit slightly shaded by notes of cloves and sandalwood, its background of earthy loam and truffles. The vineyard lies on a ridge high on the Petaluma Gap, where the Pacific breezes surge through to the east, bringing cool temperatures and fog. 14.2 percent alcohol. 375 cases. Excellent. About $48. Though it seems superfluous to nominate a favorite from these four well-made pinot noirs, this one was my favorite.
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Here’s a twofer, a white and a red from Ventisquero, a winery in Chile that gives new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere.” I visited this remote and beautiful place in the Apalta region of the Colchagua Valley with a group of writers in October 2010, and we finally had to abandon our bus and walk, the road was that narrow and the dinky bridges so precarious. Head winemaker is Felipe Tosso; responsible for pinot noir and white wines is Alejandro Galay, while Sergio Hormazábal oversees other red wines and the Queulat label. The winery is Certified Sustainable for all its vineyards and Certified Carbon Neutral.

First is the Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes grown at the winery’s vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. The color is pale straw-gold. This is a grippingly clean and fresh sauvignon blanc that feels imbued by the bracing sea breezes that cool Casablanca; aromas of gooseberry and lemongrass, thyme and tarragon are wreathed with notes of apple, lime peel and damp limestone. Pert, tart and sassy, Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 offers loads of personality but never comes across as blatant or flamboyant as many examples from New Zealand do (I mean, let’s pick on New Zealand!); rather, this wine delivers its message with subtlety, balance and elegance, as well as a little flair. The texture is a pleasing combination of soft ripeness and crisp vivacity, while flavors of lightly spiced and grassy roasted lemon and pear segue to a finish loaded with flint and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18, representing Terrific Value.

Ventisquero’s Grey label focuses on single-vineyard wines, which for the Grey Carménère 2010 is the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, only 33 percent new barrels, a process that lent the wine depth, structure and suppleness without muddying the character we look for in 100 percent carménère: notes of coffee and tobacco, black olive and bell pepper, twined with black currants and plums, graphite and black tea and a hint of fruitcake, with its implications of dried fruit and spices. This layered effect continues in the mouth, where flavors of fresh and dried black and blue fruit are permeated by vibrant acidity, fairly dense and chewy yet smooth, slightly velvety tannins and a penetrating earthy, granitic mineral quality that persists through the finish. The wine is packed with presence and pleasing heft; you take it in and think, “Oh yeah, this is a real mouthful of wine!” 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18, with roasted or braised red meat. Excellent. About $24.

The Queulat is imported by Austral Wines, Atlanta, Ga.; Grey is imported by The San Francisco Wine Exchange, San Francisco, Ca. These wines were samples for review.

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