March 2013


Generally, my preference in Champagne is for steely elegance, but one cannot ignore the other styles, so when an example like the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 comes along, I’m happy to acquiesce to its blandishments. This venerable house has released a vintage Champagne only 70 times since its first vintage production was issued in 1842 — the house was founded in 1743 — meaning that between then and now, some 100 harvests have occurred that have not seen a vintage release. The assemblage for 2004, chosen by chief winemaker Benoit Gouez, is 38 percent chardonnay, 33 percent pinot noir and 29 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged in cellar seven years before being disgorged in 2012. (“Disgorged,” which unfortunately sounds like what one does on bended knees after a night of heavy drinking, means the process by which the remnants of yeast cells and other detritus left in the bottle after the second fermentation are quickly popped out and the Champagne is given its final cork and capsule.)

The color of the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 is pale greenie-gold, and the bubbles, well the bubbles are absolutely mesmerizing; torrents, streams, twirling glinting silver-gold fireworks erupt toward the slightly bronzy-tarnished surface, breaking in a crisp murmur. The bouquet manages to convey an impression both Spring-like in its fresh, brisk floral character and autumnal in its damp, foresty, slightly peat-like resiny nature. Of course there are notes of roasted lemon and pear, hints of camellia and acacia, touches of smoke and lightly buttered and toasted brioche, but the deeper dimension, and the one that compels an almost visceral response, is an evocative savory and saline quality that smacks of spicy, fleshy umami. This Champagne is dense and chewy, scintillating with bright acidity and limestone elements, supple and subtle in texture and almost delicate in its unfolding of lemon curd, lime peel, clove and quince flavors. The finish is long, packed with minerals, invigorating and close to toothsome. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $60.

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

Though Chablis is almost as far from the Cote d’Or as it is from Paris, as a vineyard and wine-making region it is nominally considered part of Greater Burgundy. The affinity is not climate and soil but in the intense focus on the chardonnay grape, as in the Burgundian appellations of Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. To my palate, the chardonnay wines of Chablis epitomize the true greatness that the grape can attain, though to be sure I will not turn down a glass of a magnificent Grand Cru or Premier Cru from those legendary areas (hear that, importers?). Still, the elegance, verve and steeliness of a well-made Chablis, married with its innate earthiness and savory qualities, are irresistible to me. For similar quality, they’re also cheaper than white Burgundy.

Today we look at several Chablis wines from Premier Cru vineyards owned by the Joseph Drouhin firm of Burgundy and marketed (since 2008) under its Drouhin Vaudon label, named for the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th century watermill on the property. This domaine is a separate entity with a team of 10 people who work under the eye of vineyard manager Denis Mery, though the wines are “elevated” at the Drouhin headquarters in Beaune. The domaine owns 9.25 acres of vines in Grand Cru vineyards, 18 acres in Premier Cru vineyards and 68.25 acres of “regular” Chablis. All the Drouhin Vaudon vineyard sites are farmed under organic or biodynamic methods. The domaine uses no new oak and employs barrels — double-pieces — that are larger than the typical barriques to keep the wood contact more subdued; the appellation Chablis wines do not touch oak.

The wines of Joseph Drouhin are imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. These bottles were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by the Federal Trade Commission rulings of 2009, a stricture that does not apply to print journalists.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru 2009 and 2010. For 2009, this wine, a blend of several of Drouhin’s Premier Cru vineyards, offers a mild straw-gold color and enticing aromas of lemon balm and lemon curd, camellias and a hint of buttered toast followed, after a few minutes in the glass, by notes of apples, limestone and steel. Bolstering spiced citrus and stonefruit flavors, the texture is a pleasing amalgam of crisp compelling acidity and almost talc-like plushness married to persistent limestone and shale minerality; altogether this is a fine, vivacious expression of the grape and its Premier Cru status to drink through 2014 to ’15. Very Good+. About $37. The 2010 rendition is a little more focused, with earthy notes of sauteed mushrooms, roasted lemons, limestone and oyster shells and hints of quince, ginger and yellow plums. This Chablis Premier Cru is quite crisp, spicy and savory, while its intense mineral elements provide a backbone of scintillating resonance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About 1,100 cases of these wines are imported annually. .
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010. This wine displays a momentous structure of limestone and flint and blade-like acidity. Aromas of apples and apricots, lavender and lilac are permeated by winsome notes of lemon curd and a slight herbal aspect. It’s very dry, lively and vibrant, yet it offers a supremely seductive almost cloud-like texture that practically nestles on the palate; the balance of all these qualities is exciting and fulfilling. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 35 cases imported. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2009 and 2010. The 2009 version of this wine is a splendid, beautifully balanced and integrated expression of the chardonnay grape; it’s a golden and gleaming wine yet a subtle fabric woven of a thousand nuances. Aromas of lemon balm, quince and ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and mild touches of cloves and lemon curd are wreathed with beguiling notes of tobacco and limestone and something slightly resinous. That mineral element burgeons in power and proportion, contributing a steely edge to the wine’s sensuous qualities; aiding and abetting that edge is acid of whiplash sensibility. Still this Premier Cru Sécher remains lovely and appealing. For 2010, the wine offers a medium gold color and aromas of quince and yellow plums, limestone, mushroom-like earthiness, with a touch of lemon balm; there’s a deeply savory almost chewy and briery aspect that feels rooted in the earth, as well as a dusty flinty limestone quality that penetrates through to the spice-and-limestone packed finish. As with the 2009 vintage, the Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2010 balances the innate power and energy with an absolutely lovely and even enchanting texture that feels as if you were rolling some exotic money around in your mouth. Now through 2016 to ’18. Each wine is 12.5 percent alcohol. About 70 cases of each were imported. The 2009 I rate Excellent; the 2010 also Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2009 and 2010. Lordy, the 2009 vintage of this Montmains offers lovely class and elegance, character and balance. The color is pale gold; aromas center on lemon and lemon balm, ginger and quince with an interesting hint of dried thyme and a bracing whiff of sea-salt. It’s all about spareness and litheness, stones and bones, as it were, with pertinent acidity and a limestone-flint element that drives the wine’s resonance through a long tense finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39. For 2010, the wine is flat-out gorgeous, with wonderful tone and presence and a plethora of smack-on details and dimensions. Smoke and dusty limestone minerality, roasted lemons, lemon curd and verbena, sauteed mushrooms and a hint of grated Parmesan cheese; once you sniff and taste this one, you don’t want to stop. The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2010 is vibrant and chiseled, dense and chewy yet ineffably light on its feet, both intense and generous, approachable yet opening to multiple layers of spice, fruit and minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. About 200 cases of each of these wines were imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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No, Disappointing Herons is not the name of my next band, it’s an expression of my dismay at the quality of some of a recently tasted group of products from Heron Wines, a company founded by Laely Heron (image at right) in 1995. Her idea was straightforward: own no vineyards but buy grapes from reliable, preferably sustainable sources, make wines with as little manipulation as possible and sell them at a reasonable price, in other words, to fill the role of a responsible negociant.

My first encounter with a wine from Heron was in the form of the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which I received as a sample and subsequently reviewed in a post on January 24, 2009, otherwise known as The Dim Past. Here’s what I wrote:

If you can find the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, California, anywhere, buy it by the case. Sporting a mild but effective 13 percent alcohol, this irresistible cabernet is a lovely medium purple-magenta color. Aromas of smoke, minerals and earth, cedar, tobacco and black pepper wreathe notes of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black cherries. The wine is dense and chewy in the mouth, with grainy tannins that permeate succulent and very spicy black currant and black cherry flavors. Aged a judicious eight months in French oak, the wine delivers a firm yet yielding structure that opens to reveal a hint of underbrush and dried porcini on the finish. There’s a lot of heart here for the price. Very Good+ and a phenomenal bargain at about $14.

Now that sounds like a wine you could get behind and feel happy about every time you opened a bottle. Unfortunately, the Heron Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Mendocino, not only has no heart but it lacks soul, conveying the impression of a “red wine” at its most generic common denominator. My notes conclude, “What a shame!”

I tasted five current releases of Heron products courtesy of a local wholesaler now carrying the wines in our market. Two I can recommend, and three, including the Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, I cannot. The other two not recommended are the Merlot 2010, Mendocino County, again a matter of a wine tasting more generic and blah than varietal (though with merlot sometimes I wonder what varietal means) and the Chardonnay 2011, California (a blend of grapes from Russian River Valley, Carneros and Santa Maria Valley, one-third each) that channels the inner sauvignon blanc to which all chardonnays must surely aspire.

Here, though, are the Heron wines that I recommend:
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The all stainless steel Heron Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Mendocino County — that is to say, 75 percent Mendocino and 25 percent Yountville, in Napa valley — displays a bright medium straw color and enticing aromas of lime peel, roasted lemon, grapefruit, thyme and tarragon, with back-notes of smoke and a burgeoning, penetrating tide of limestone and flint minerality. That mineral character permeates spicy and savory flavors of citrus and stone-fruit highlighted by keen acidity and a lean and taut structure that nevertheless admits of a winsome, almost talc-like texture; the contrast is delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality; restaurants and bars could sell the hell out of this wine in by-the-glass programs. Drink now through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Value.
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The Heron Pinot Noir 2011, California, derived from Monterey (75 percent), Paso Robles (20 percent) and Russian River Valley (5 percent) and aged a careful nine months in French oak, a combination of new, one-year-old and two-year-old barrels. The color is an entrancing cerise with a touch of magenta; this is clean and fresh pinot noir that offers an engaging Beaujolais-Villages-like aspect of ripe black and red cherries, hints of raspberry and mulberry and a touch of rose petals and violets, with undercurrents of slightly funky earthiness and graphite. There’s enough tannin to give the wine a slight dusty edge, and sufficient acidity to lend vibrancy and liveliness. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Again, this would be a very attractive restaurant and bar wine to sell by the glass; pair it with a roasted chicken or mushroom omelet. Very Good+. About $14, representing Real Value.
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It has not been Spring-like at all, these days after that buoyant season should have sprung, but a couple of days ago I really wanted to cook something Spring-like, so I concocted a risotto with fresh English peas, shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto and basil, using whole-grain or brown rice, which takes about an hour to cook, stirring, stirring, stirring, adding broth, stirring, stirring, stirring, but one can get a lot of the New York Times read, one-handed, while that’s going on. (You have, of course, already shelled the peas, blanched them and given them an ice-water bath to retain the bright green color and sauteed the onions or shallot.)

So, what to serve? An equally Spring-like wine, the Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2011, from Alsace. Something about pinot blanc reminds me of Spring, and not just the name, which could be construed as colorless but I perceive as delicate and inviting; there are many pinots, but this is the white one, not so much a blank as filled with sunshine and light. And there is about the wines made from this grape a similar sense of sunlight, rare understated elegance and innate decorum and delight. That delight was manifest in the pairing of the risotto and the wine, and while it may have been chilly and blustery outside, in our house it felt like a far more balmy and bountiful season.

Such a one is the all stainless steel Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc d’Alsace 2011, from an estate that traces its history to the 17th Century — not unusual for Alsace. Naturally there are holdings in Grand Cru vineyards and wines made from other single-designated vineyards, but the wine we look at today falls under the “Classique” rubric of everyday table wines, “everyday” but not ordinary. The color is very pale straw-gold; the bouquet blithely blends notes of lime peel and roasted lemon, honeysuckle and lilac, a touch of quince and a hint of cloves, this panoply of effects set neatly into a background of slightly earthy minerality in the limestone and damp shale range. Juicy and cloud-like lemon and yellow plum flavors are bolstered by fleet acidity that keeps the wine crisp and lively and a vigorous yet quicksilver mineral element that never asserts too much gravity on what is essentially a ripe luminously tasty wine. A refreshing 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, meaning Excellent Value.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.

The G.H. von Mumm estate was launched in 1811, when Gottlieb Mumm presciently purchased the entire harvest of Schloss Johannisberg in what turned out to be one of the greatest European vintages of the early 19th Century. Two hundred years later, the estate consists of 161 acres of vines in 16 prime sites in the Rheingau, 85 percent of the acreage devoted to riesling. If the nomenclature “G.H.” and “Mumm” look familiar, Gottlieb and his two brothers and two other partners founded a little company in Champagne in 1827 that would become G.H. Mumm, named after Gottlieb’s son and famous for the unmistakeable diagonal red stripe; the Champagne house has been owned since 2005 by Pernod Ricard, taken in its acquisition of Allied-Domecq. The Mumm family has not owned the German estate since 1918.

But enough history! Our concern today is with the Wine of the Week, the G.H. von Mumm 50 degree Riesling Trocken 2011, Rheingau, produced under the watchful eye of present estate director Christian Witte. “Trocken” indicates a dry wine, and while even some German wines so designated can taste a little sweet, at least at the first sips, this example is the true bone-dry, limestone-dry, flint-dry. The wine is titled in honor of the 50th parallel that runs right through the vineyards of the Rheingau. Ephemeral elements of lime peel and grapefruit and elusive touches of lychee and jasmine characterize a bouquet that teems with limestone-like mineral qualities that go on to dominate the flavors of spicy and slightly roasted stone-fruit — peaches and yellow plums –and lend the wine a scintillating and steely sheen, all abetted by whiplash acidity of crystalline intensity. Yes, you feel the vibrancy and resonance all the way down through the somewhat austere but deeply refreshing finish. Now don’t mistake the G.H. von Mumm 50 degree Riesling Trocken 2011 for a multi-layered, nuance-filled wine; this is an entry-level riesling that displays all the necessary qualities in fairly simple direct and tasty form. We drank this one night with seared swordfish, covered with cracked black pepper and chile maresh, and it was terrific. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $13, representing Great Value.

Imported by Riondo USA, Allendale, N.J. A sample for review.

Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Jim Barrett, founder of Chateau Montelena, deserves all the praise he has received in the tributes and obituaries published in magazines and newspapers and online since his death on March 14 at the age of 86. A successful attorney with a particular vision about what chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines should be, in 1969 he acquired a long-abandoned Gothic-style winery built in 1882 near Calistoga, in the northern part of Napa Valley, worked to restore the building and the property’s vineyards and, while the estate vines were too young to produce viable grapes, sought reliable vineyards as sources. The event that brought Chateau Montelena and California (and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) to the astonished attention of the wine world was the famous or infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, organized by Englishman Steven Spurrier, at which Montelena’s Chardonnay 1973 — notice that the wines was a blend of grapes from Napa Valley and Alexander Valley — and the Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 placed first in competition with the best of white Burgundy and red Bordeaux. Though there has been been a great deal of controversy over the scoring methodology of the ’76 “Judgment of Paris,” the fact remains that, in this blind tasting with prestigious judges from the French wine, restaurant and publishing industries, the California wines involved performed extremely well, gratifying Americans, when the news came out, and embarrassing the French.

I have read many of the notices of Barrett’s death, and they refer, consistently, to his chardonnay that won the Paris Tasting. In the sense that he owned Chateau Montelena and was its guiding spirit, that assessment is correct. Only one writer that I have seen, though, S. Irene Virbila of the Los Angeles Times, noted the fact that the historic Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 was made by Mike Grgich, and that by rights the wine should properly be referred to as his chardonnay. I don’t mean to denigrate or diminish Jim Barrett’s accomplishment in shaping Chateau Montelena nor that of his son Bo Barrett, who became winemaker with the vintage of 1982 (and became CEO of Montelena at his father’s death). I’m a fan of the Montelena wines and their combination of power and elegance, and I look forward to tasting and writing about them with every vintage. However, the neglect of Grgich’s contribution in this area reflects a general neglect in the media of winemakers below the celebrity level. It’s symptomatic of this issue that Grgich was also ignored in the movie Bottle Shock (2008, directed by Randall Miller), which purported to tell the story of Montelena and the ’76 Paris Tasting, but actually sensationalized it. Of course Grgich went on to partner with Austin Hills to establish what is now the venerable Grgich Hills Estate.

My point is that I receive press releases many times a day from marketing firms and wineries that extol the virtues of new releases and the glorious histories and geographies of the wineries, the wisdom and passion of their owners and proprietors, urging me to accept samples for review, but never mentioning the name of the winemaker. Isn’t that like publicizing a book without naming the author or a movie without mentioning the director?

In line with giving credit where credit is due, I try to be consistent in giving credit for the images used on this blog. So, the image of Mike Grgich is from intowine.com; the photo of Jim Barrett (at top) and the label of the Montelena Chardonnay 1973 are so ubiquitous, however, that’s it’s difficult to tell whence they originated.

Sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Some foods and dishes reject wine as a companion — or certain wines — no matter how good the wine is in favor of beer. I’m thinking particularly of Indian and Southeastern Asian cuisines, which with their combination of spicy heat and intensity and often exotic flavors defy a pairing with wine, unless it’s a moderately sweet riesling, pinot gris or gewurztraminer whose keen acidity cuts through the richness of the dish and whose delicate sweetness balances the spice. Such a match is a cliche of the wine-and-food-pairing cohort, but as is the case with many cliches there’s a great deal of truth to the assumption. Unfortunately, the night that I prepared the assertive Chicken Khao Soi, a recipe derived from north Thailand sources — it’s the cover recipe for the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit — I didn’t have an appropriate riesling on hand, so I tried beer and a sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not the wine’s fault that it couldn’t stand up to the intensity of the Chicken Khao Soi — I did ask a lot of it — but beer just did a better job here.

The beer was Pistil, a unique seasonal product brewed with dandelion petals (as well as hops, malts and oats) by Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont; Pistil is available from January 15 to March 31. Magic Hat was founded in 1994; in 2010, it was acquired by North American Breweries of Rochester, N.Y. — my home town! — which in turn was acquired in 2012 by Florida Ice & Farm Co., of Costa Rica. Globalization moves on apace, and while it’s not entirely relevant to this post, I’ll mention that the Brewers Association, a nonprofit advocate for craft brewing in this country, offers as one of its definitions of a craft brewery a restriction of 25 percent ownership or control by “an alcoholic beverage industry member not itself a craft brewer.” In other words, a craft brewer that is wholly owned by a large company or conglomerate has lost its hallowed independence and is, by definition, no longer a craft brewer, even if production remains at or below six million barrels. Anyway

Delightful isn’t a word one finds often in reviews and commentary on beer, but I thought that Pistil was delightful in its light, slightly brassy gold color; its mildly creamy but not prominent head with a good formation of what beer tasters call “lace”; and its aromas of orange peel, lemongrass, slightly sour wheat and an earthy element that really develops in the mouth, along with some bitterness and a fairly leafy, spiced tea-like flavor. 4.5 percent alcohol (by volume). Neither too heavy nor too light, this was excellent with the complex flavors of the Chicken Khao Soi. Magic Hat Pistil is about $1.79 for a 12-ounce bottle.

So, what about the wine that bravely held its head up like a good soldier? The Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is always one of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines, and for 2012 — that’s right, the wine isn’t even six months old — it shows itself in fine fashion. The color is a very pale straw hue; snappy yet stylish aromas of grapefruit, lime peel and limestone, fig and tarragon, thyme, sage and bay tantalize the nose; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of fresh-mown grass and gooseberry. The whole enterprise is lively and vibrant, energized by crisp, finely-etched acidity and scintillating, crystalline elements of flint and steel. The 98 percent sauvignon blanc portion, fermented in stainless steel, is supplemented by two-percent barrel-fermented semillon that contributes just a touch of spice and a bit of suppleness to the lovely, slightly powdery texture. As you can see, a great deal of the success of this wine lies in its precise balance between the energy of the acidity and mineral elements and the ripeness and moderate lushness of its texture and fruit. After a few more moments, the Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012 unfolds hints of tangerine and jasmine, pear and caramelized fennel, all of these qualities expressed with delicacy and finesse. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through Summer 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

The wine was a sample for review; the beer was a purchase.

Let’s spring forward with a delightful Toad Hollow “Eye of the Toad” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. This is not a saignée rosé, in which some juice is bled off from the tank before fermentation to concentrate the resulting wine (i.e., less juice to the same amount of skins). This is, instead, made from pinot noir grapes gently pressed and then pulled from the skins after a short maceration that yields a fine-hued rosé color, a sort of melon pink infused with light copper with a hint of violet at the rim. This is a charming and delicate rosé that displays ineffable aromas of pomegranate and strawberry with hints of melon and peach skin; flavors of spiced peach, red currants and limestone; and a slight dried herb element, all supported by lip-smacking acidity for crisp liveliness. 11.5 percent alcohol and appropriate with all sorts of light Spring fare. Very Good+. About $13, marking Great Value.

A sample for review.

The winery was founded in 1993 by Todd Williams (1938-2007), retired from an illustrious career in bars and restaurants, and Rodney Strong (1927-2006), the former Broadway dancer and Sonoma County vineyard pioneer who had long had no hand in the winery that still bears his name. Artist of the whimsical Toad Hollow labels is Maureen Erickson.

A few weeks ago, Gilt.com had a sale on groups of three wines each from Sean Thackrey, 10 percent off the price of the wines and minimal shipping cost. We love the wines but have not seen them in years; Thackrey, who can legitimately be called legendary if not mythic in California, produces small quantities of highly individual and allocated wines, about 4,000 cases altogether, from vineyards in Napa Valley, Mendocino and Marin County. I debated for a few days and finally took the plunge. I ordered three bottles of Pleiades Old Vines XXII, the most recent non-vintage blend of red grapes from various sources that Thackrey has produced since 1992, and the Cassiopeia Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley; the Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite sirah 2010, Mendicino County; and the Andromeda Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir 2006, Marin County. This weekend, I opened the first bottle of Pleiades Old Vines XXII to drink on Pizza and Movie Night.

Bottled in June 2012, Pleiades Old Vines XXII, California Red Table Wine, is a blend of sangiovese, viognier, pinot noir, syrah and mourvèdre “to name but a few” as the label says, leading of course to rank speculation: petit verdot? tempranillo? alicante bouschet? The color is vivid ruby-red with a tinge of magenta at the rim; aromas of raspberries and black and red currants are nestled in elements of briers and brambles, rose hips and violets, a hint of cloves. Speaking of raspberries, the wine is pleasantly raspy and earthy, and while at first one thinks, “O.K., this is nice, drinkable, tasty,” as the minutes pass the wine gains power, dimension and edge; the tannins gather force, expressing themselves in a slightly gritty squinchy fashion, while bright, nervy acidity flings an authoritative arrow through the whole array, keeping it fresh and lively. Blue fruit joins the panoply amid a broader range of dried spices, flowers and graphite, though the emphasis remains on a peculiar intensity of blackness involving black currants, raspberries and plums — but always that wild touch of red. An imminently sane 13.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. One of California’s great loopy, blended wines. Excellent. About $24.

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