May 2013


We don’t frequently purchase products of the vine with a social or cultural program in mind, and when the rare opportunity comes along, it’s usually in the field of the environment. Steelhead Vineyards, for example, donates 1 percent of sales to environmental projects through 1% for the Planet, the non-profit organization based in Waitsfield, Vermont, that coordinates contributions to environmental groups from more than 1,000 business and corporate members. Buy a bottle of Steelhead’s sauvignon blanc or pinot noir wines, and you know that in some small measure you’ll helping the global ecology.

A recently released sparkling wine, Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut , takes such a concept into actual social and cultural realms by focusing on LGBTQ issues, including the struggle for same-sex marriage laws. The initials (for the uninitiated) stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and before the retrograde among My Readers make the obvious joke about redundancy, “Queer” in this compound designates individuals who take a radical approach to any sexual or gender identification or, on a simpler and opposite level, those who “question” their sexual or gender identity. The creator of Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut — Biagio Cru — in honor of the sparkler’s launch, donated close to $7,000 to various LGBTQ organizations; in addition, an unspecified portion of the sales of Égalité will be donated to such groups. On the product’s Facebook page, you may vote for the groups to which the organization donates

Allow me here to quote from the press release I received: The Égalité concept is a product of exhaustive research by Biagio Cru, as well as input from the gay community. In conjunction with Biagio Cru, its name and label were developed through a focus group that brought together gay and straight participants with diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps the committee-approach accounts for the feel-good generic quality of the label, looking like a thousand Valentine cards, but what counts is the product in the bottle, n’est-ce pas?

Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut offers a pale gold color with a darker gold center; tiny golden bubbles foam upward in constant flurry. A blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent gamay and 5 percent aligoté, this Crémant de Bourgogne is more substantial than most models; it’s toasty and nutty, with notes of roasted lemon and lemon drop, quince and crystallized ginger and hints of cloves and caramel. As the minutes pass, touches of glazed pears, tobacco, cinnamon toast and acacia emerge, while the texture, highlighted by zinging acidity, broadens with elements of limestone and chalk. It would be nice if the wine offered more in the way of refreshing delicacy and elegance, but that’s a stylistic choice; this is for those who prefer a sparkling wine with a more weighty, smoky mature-feeling. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Biagio Cru and Estate Wines — and don’t you know Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines loves that — Roslyn Heights, N.Y. A sample for review.

Last night LL made fish tacos, a filet of trigger fish, to be precise, purchased at the Memphis Farmers Market, lightly dredged in flour and sauteed to golden brown. Accompanied by diced red onion, chopped radicchio and baby spinach, fresh thyme and oregano from our new herb garden, with excellent store-bought medium-spicy salsa. No added salt, which we are trying to avoid. Now, what wine to drink with these fish tacos? Taking a risk, I withdrew the Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, from the white wine fridge, thinking that its presumed touch of sweetness would balance the mild spiciness of the tacos, assuming that this was not a terrifically sweet Spätlese, as they can be, and hoping for the balancing power and energy of acidity and mineral elements. The year was nearly perfect in weather and ripening in Germany’s wine regions, but the crop was smaller than any of the preceding five years, with the harvest in Rheingau less by 22 percent compared to 2008. The intensity such conditions can supply shows up in spades in this medium-gold-colored, ripe and spicy riesling that offers fine purity of peach, pear and roasted lemon scents and flavor with tantalizing hints of jasmine, lychee and petrol. On entry, the wine is slightly honeyed and only moderately sweet, feeling more floral, ripe and spicy (cloves and allspice) than definitively sweet; that effect modulates nicely from mid-palate back as the bristling, lip-smacking acidity and scintillating mineral character takes hold, leading to the sense that you’re drinking the essence of limestone and flint minerality. Balthasar Ress was founded in 1870 in Hattenheim and is now run by the family’s fifth generation in the business. Schloss Reichartshausen, an ancient site once owned by the Cistercian monastery Kloster Eberbach, is an independent community rather than an individual wineyard and is wholly owned — a monopole — by the Balthasar Ress estate. 10.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

Looking for a cheap, decent drinkable red wine to pour with ribs, grilled pork chops, barbecue and burgers and pizza? Here ’tis. The Grove Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, which carries a general California designation, so don’t ask where the grapes originated, is one of Bronco Wine Co.’s long roster of labels; in this case, winemaker is Kimberly Sapp, and to her I say brava for bringing in a well-made wine at this price. A bit of eccentricity is involved: on the Bronco website, we’re told that the grape blend it 76.9 percent cabernet sauvignon (barely qualifying the wine to be labeled as cabernet sauvignon); 13.6 percent “Proprietor’s Dry Red” and wouldn’t we all like to know what that means; and 9.5 percent segalin, and if at this point My Readers are muttering “wha’ da fuck” I certainly cannot blame them. Segalin — Education Alert! — is a cross of the grape varieties Juraçon noir and Portugais bleu and is used as a blending grape in Southwest France; I had to look it up. Anyway, the Grove Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 offers a dark ruby color; intense and concentrated scents and flavors of black currants, black cherries and plums, with some wild spicy, fruity note in there; a slightly smoky, fleshy character; moderately dense and chewy tannins with undertones of graphite; and clean vibrant acidity. I mean, what more do you want? 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through the end of 2013. Very Good. About $10 but often discounted to $8. A Real Bargain.

A sample for review.

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
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Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
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When I was in Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, last week, I spend a couple of hours at Tablas Creek Vineyard, tramping through the acreage of vines (certified organic) spreading in rolling hills across the limestone-clay soil, feeling how the mid-afternoon breeze filtered in from the Pacific, seeing how different grape varieties are planted in rows on slopes that face different exposures to sunlight, and, back in the tasting room, going through a roster of the wines with general manager Jason Haas. Tablas Creek is owned and operated by the Perrine family, longtime owners of Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the great properties of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the Haas family, owner of Vineyard Brands, the importer of Beaucastel. The families began planting vines west of the city of Paso Robles in 1994; the 90 acres of vineyards produce about 20,000 cases of wine annually, some of the wines released in limited quantities. How refreshing to walk through a winery and see no French barriques, that is, the ubiquitous 59-gallon oak barrel, and instead see squads of larger puncheons and 1200-gallon foudres, so the wood influence on Tablas Creek wines is kept to a supporting and not dominant role. The emphasis, not surprisingly, is on Rhone Valley grape varieties and Rhone-style wines. The thread that runs through these wines is an earthy, briery, loamy character, a bristly, prickly liveliness that is more prominent in the reds but is certainly presence in the whites. Winemaker is Neil Collins. These brief reviews are intended to strike to the heart, the essence of the wines, and to whet My Readers palates for more.
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Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 14% alc. 1,250 cases. 75% grenache, 20% mourvèdre, 5% counoise. Very pale onion skin color; sleek, suave, lively, a bristly-limestone-flecked background; dried red currants and raspberries, with a flush of ripe strawberry; hint of cloves and (intriguingly) tobacco leaf; flint-like minerality builds through the finish. Eminently delightful. Very Good+. About $20.
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Dianthus 2012, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 1,200 cases. 60% mourvèdre, 25% grenache, 15% counoise. A great rosé. True onion skin color but with a blush of pale copper; again, dried red currants and raspberries but a deeper hint of mulberry and plum; touches of briers and dried herbs, full body, dense, almost lush for a rosé, yet crisp, keen, lively; lovely lustrous, limestone-etched finish. Excellent. About $27.
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Vermentino 2012, Paso Robles. 12.5% alc. 1,300 cases. 100% vermentino grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; extremely fresh, clean and crisp; brisk, saline, almost savory; all hints and nods of roasted lemon and yellow plum, honeysuckle; pert acidity yet a soft delicate feeling overall. Very Good+. About $27
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Côtes de Tablas Blanc 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,475 cases. 27% viognier, 25% grenache blanc, 25% marsanne, 22% roussanne. Pale straw-gold color; graham crackers and camellias, subtly earthy and perfumed; spare and elegant; hints of roasted lemons and pears, bare touch of spiced peach; very dry but juicy and flavorful, with scintillating acidity and chalky limestone elements; beautiful balance, tone and presence. Excellent. About $27.
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Marsanne 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 225 cases. 100% marsanne grapes. Light straw-gold color; a wine of great subtlety and nuance, like tissues of delicacy woven into a taut and resilient fabric; quite dry, spare, reticent; bracing salinity, a hint of dried thyme and marsh-grass, gently floral; touches of citrus and stone-fruit; an earthy background with flint and shale minerality; altogether finely-knit and supple. Excellent. About $30.
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Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2010, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 2,100 cases. 60% roussanne, 35% grenache blanc, 5% picpoul blanc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely balance and poise, light on its feet with a wonderful well-knit texture with finely-honed acidity and plangent steely, limestone qualities; again, a white wine of shades and degrees of nuance, lightly spiced, delicately fitted with lemon and pear flavors and a hint of apricot; all bound with that spruce-tinged minerality. Excellent. About $40
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Patelin de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13.7% alc. 8,460 cases. 52% syrah, 29% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 1% counoise. Medium ruby-mulberry color; meaty and fleshy; bacon fat, black olive, slightly roasted red and black currants and plums with a hint of blackberry; quite dry, moderately dense, chewy tannins; attractive fairly incisive finish, touches of graphite, briers and brambles. Very Good+. About $20, representing Good Value.
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Côtes de Tablas 2011, Paso Robles. 13% alc. 1,560 cases. 49% grenache, 28% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 8% counoise. Dark ruby-magenta color; earthy, loamy and foresty but clean and fresh; intense and concentrated but not closed or aloof; focused tannins and acidity that drive the wine’s energy and allure; very dark, spicy and slightly meaty black and red currants and raspberries with hints of blackberry and blueberry; long spice- and graphite-packed finish. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $30.
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Mourvèdre 2010, Paso Robles. 14.1% alc. 720 cases. 100% mourvèdre grapes. Dark ruby color with an opaque center; pure raspberry with all the raspiness of briers and brambles and foresty qualities, backed by clean earth and loam, iodine and iron; for all the structure and groundedness in place, the stones and bones, strangely winsome and lovely. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $40.
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Grenache 2010, Paso Robles. (Wine club only). 14.8% alc. 733 cases. 100% grenache grapes. Medium ruby color; red raspberries, black cherries and hints of blackberries; quite earthy and briery; fairly intense and hard-edged tannins, in fact, the most tannic and least integrated of these red wines; deeply spicy, long dense finish. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2018 to ’20. Very Good+. About $40.
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Esprit de Beaucastel 2010, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 4,400 cases. 45% mourvèdre, 30% grenache, 21% syrah, 4% counoise. A deep, dark, earthy and loamy wine in every sense; dense, leathery, foresty tannins; briers, brambles and graphite; a spice-cabinet’s-worth of exoticism; an assemblage of great confidence and authority worthy of a flagship wine. Try 2014 to ’16 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles. (Tasting room and online only) 13.5% alc. Just under 100 cases. 100% cabernet sauvignon grapes. A one-off production produced from a couple of rows of cabernet grapes. Perfect cabernet color of dark but radiant ruby with an opaque center and a rim that verges on violet-magenta; classic notes of black currants and raspberries, cedar and tobacco, black olive and lead pencil; lots of graphite and granitic minerality, iodine and iron; fairly knotty tannins that dictate two or three years more aging, or open it with a medium rare strip steak, hot and crusty from the grill; drink through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. $40.
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Vin de Paille “Quintessence” 2010, Paso Robles. 11.5% alc. 100 cases. 100% roussanne grapes. Glowing light gold-amber color; apricot, baked peaches and candied, caramelized pineapple; a little musky and dusty; cloves and honey, bananas Foster; powerful acidity and a huge limestone mineral presence keep the initial sweetness from being cloying and indeed turn the wine dry from mid-palate back through the deep, rich, earthy finish. Now through 2018 to 2022. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375 milliliter half-bottle.
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