June 2013


Let’s have another rosé wine for Wine of the Week. This one’s a beauty, and it’s delicious too. Clos LaChance is a family winery, owned and operated by Bill and Brenda Murphy — her maiden name was LaChance — and their two daughters. Director of winemaking is Stephen Tebb. The Clos LaChance Dry Rosé 2012, Central Coast, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 16 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent each zinfandel and pinot noir and 5 percent syrah; it’s like a Rhone-style blend with a touch of California. The color is a riveting blue-tinged cerise-melon hue, not the traditional pale copper but not extracted either. The association with the color is sympathetic, because the aromas surge from the glass in a welter of pure cherry and watermelon with hints of strawberry and raspberry and undertones of orange rind, dried thyme and limestone. This is juicy and tasty, brisk with zesty acidity that balances slightly macerated strawberry and melon flavors, all wrapped in a deftly poised, even lightly tense package that delicately combines elegance and savory powers. The final word is “lovely.” 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Production was 2,000 cases. Excellent. About $15.

A sample for review.

Perfect for drinking this weekend, through the week and through the Summer, these wines from France’s Loire Valley, imported by Kermit Lynch, see no oak at all. Each is fresh, clean, vibrant, well-suited to hot weather fare or sipping around the porch or patio, on a picnic or pool-side. Tasted at a local trade event. The label illustrations are behind the vintages discussed; why don’t companies keep current information and labels on their websites?
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Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2012, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 85% sauvignon blanc, 15% chardonnay. Always a favorite. Pale straw color; bright, clean, fresh, beguiling, but with a bit more stuffing than usual (this used to be all sauvignon blanc); fresh-mown grass, dried thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and ripe pear and heaps of lime and limestone; lemon and lime flavors, hints of sunny, leafy fig; stony, steely, deftly balanced between vibrant acidity and a delicately ripe, rich texture. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
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Domaine de Reuilly Pinot Gris Rosé 2012, Loire Valley, France. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot gris grapes. Very pale onion-skin color, tinge of deeper copper; slightly stonier than the ’11 but just as lovely; dried raspberries and red currants; lots of stones and bones and crisp acidity, quite spare and dry; hints of roses and lilacs; virbrant tension and tautness balanced by an almost succulent nature. Really attractive and tasty. Excellent. About $20.
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Régis Minet Vieille Vignes Pouilly Fumé 2011, Loire Valley, France. 13% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of flint and limestone, lemon curd and lime peel; very crisp, dry, lively, steely and austere; hints of spice and a touch of the grassy element but mainly focused on tight limestone minerality; still, quite fresh and engaging. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2011, Loire Valley, France. 11-14% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. This is about as stylish and elegant and distingué as Sancerre gets at this price; very pale, almost colorless (in the good way); powerfully minerally, pungent with earth and limestone and shale, bare passes as roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; all scintillating structure and arrow-bright acidity with a high-toned, chastening finish. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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…. meaning that I should have written about this pair of wines from Amici Cellars six months ago, though there is still product, as they say, in the pipeline. Winemaker and partner in Amici — “friends” — is Joel Aiken, who would need no other claim to renown than that he was vice president of winemaking for Beaulieu Vineyards for 25 tears and shepherded the well-known BV Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. (I’ll discuss the changes that the iconic brand has been through in a subsequent post.) Suffice to say that it’s no surprise that these examples of Aiken’s wines for Amici are suave and elegant and delicious while conceding no inch to lack of structure; you feel the foundations of each wine as sip succeeds sip. These were samples for review.
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The Amici Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley, is all sauvignon blanc, but 80 percent of the wine is the aromatic sauvignon musque clone. Seventy-five percent of the wines was fermented in stainless steel, and 25 percent was fermented in French oak barrels. This is a lovely sauvignon blanc in every respect, gently framed by oak, slightly flinty and gravelly, delicately spicy. Aromas of lemon and fig, quince, ginger and lemongrass are wreathed with muted notes of jasmine and honeysuckle; a seamless segue into the mouth takes those elements and intensifies them, adding spice, bolstering the whole package with clean, bright acidity, a marvelously supple texture and a finish burnished by limestone and a hint of grapefruit bitterness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 700 cases. Excellent. About $20, representing True Value.
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Here’s a classic Napa Valley cabernet from a guy who cut his teeth on the concept. The Amici Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley, offers a dark ruby color and tantalizing notes of graphite and lavender, cedar and lead pencil, ripe and savory black currant and cherry scents with hints of black olive and rosemary. The blend includes 6 percent each merlot and petit verdot grapes; the wine aged 18 to 20 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels. Beautiful harmony and balance here, but with a very spicy and distinctly charcoal edge and undertones of mocha and leather that support ripe and macerated black currant, black raspberry and plum scents and flavors. The wine is dense and chewy, supple, lithe and lithic, both sleek and chiseled, and a few minutes in the glass bring up elements of bitter chocolate, lilac and bay leaf. A sense of fine-grained tannins and finely-milled oak contribute firm and forgiving structure, while the finish stretches long and lean, muscular and elegant, like the guy on the treadmill next to you at the gym who runs for hours and never seems out of breath. 14.7 percent alcohol. 2,000 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $40.
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Well, it’s Summer — and Wednesday, a bit late for the Wine of the Week, sorry — and we need a wine that’s crisp, bracing, racy, filled with nerve and energy, so I’m thinking sauvignon blanc and the eastern Loire Valley, where the soil rests atop vast reaches of limestone dense with marine and shell fossils deposited some 150 million years. You think this Jurassic Park of mineral plenitude doesn’t lend character to the grapes and the wines made from them? Think again, Grasshopper! The best-known region, perched on the east bank of the Loire River, is Sancerre, easy to pronounce, easy to find, but a wine whose popularity has driven up the price. Let’s look instead inside the great curve that the Loire makes here to a lesser-known appellation called Reuilly (“roo-ee”), one of several Sancerre “satellite” appellations clustered about the city of Bourges on the Cher, a tributary of the Loire. Reuilly was granted AOC status early, in 1937, for white wines made from sauvignon blanc; in 1961, red and rosé wines made from pinot noir and pinot gris were added. Today we look at the Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012. The domaine goes back to 1935, when Camille Rousseau, the grandfather of present proprietor Denis Jamain, first planted vines. The estate, certified organic in 2011, consists of 17 hectares (about 42 acres), 11 planted to sauvignon blanc, 4 to pinot noir and two to pinot gris. Annual production is about 11,000 cases. As the name implies, Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012 derives from a specific vineyard whose sauvignon blanc grapes go only into this wine. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet is a fragrant but very subtle amalgam of roasted lemon and lemon balm, freshly mowed grass, a touch of hay, spare hints of jasmine, pear and juniper and pungency driven by a profound limestone and flint element. What did I assert as the requirements in the first sentence of this post? A wine that’s crisp, bracing, racy, filled with nerve and energy, and boy does this model fulfill those parameters. This is very dry, crisp and lively, a wine animated by vivid acidity and the scintillating presence of limestone-based minerality; it feels cleansing, lithe and chiseled, yet, for all that, exceedingly pleasant and inviting, with real personality. At 12.5 percent alcohol, you could drink a bunch, sitting out on the porch or patio, with a hunk of goat cheese and slices of crusty bread or a platter of grilled shrimp. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif. Tasted at a trade event.

The whole Anything But Chardonnay trope can be justified because the poor grape is often treated so barbarically in the winery that the results are hideous to drink. On the other hand, there are scads of lovely chardonnays out there to choose from. On the other hand, again, if you’re looking for an alternative to chardonnay — one that’s not, say, sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio — look for wines made from the albariño grape, a mainstay of Rias Baixas, the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline above Portugal. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. (These wines were samples for review.)

The first examples we look at today were made by Bodegas Terras Gauda, which produces just these two wines, one that’s all albariño, the other a blend. Both wines are made completely in stainless steel to retain freshness and immediate appeal. First is the Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012, Rias Baixas, sporting a bright gold color and enticing aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel and cloves; this is very spicy, lively with bracing acidity and saline qualities and unfurling notes of orange blossom, fig, limestone and dried thyme. Abadia de San Campio Albariño 2012 is a sleek, tasty, moderately complex and highly drinkable wine that we happily tried over several nights with different fish entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20. This wine’s stablemate is the Terras Gauda 2012, Rias Baixas, a blend of 70 percent albariño, 20 percent loureira and 10 percent caiño blanco. The addition of the loureiro and caiño blanco grapes lends the albariño here both heft and suavity, as well as touches of lemongrass, quince and ginger, a bit of leafy fig. This too is bracing and saline, offering a hint of brisk salt-marsh austerity to a tone and texture that come close to elegance, while a slightly chiseled limestone finish edges up the spice quotient. 12 percent alcohol. Fabulous with seared swordfish and held its own with tomatillo-braised pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $24, representing Real Value.

Imported by Aveniu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland.
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I mentioned up top that the albariño grape doesn’t take kindly to oak, unless the regimen is carefully applied. That’s the case with the Lee Family Farm Albariño 2012, Monterey, a 100 percent albariño that aged a brief four months in neutral French oak barrels, meaning barrels that have been used several times previously, so their influence is not only subtle but almost subliminal. That’s the case here, any wood effect being in a super supple structure that feels as if it has a bit of give to it and a below-the-radar permeation of cloves and ginger. There’s fresh green apple here, the roasted lemon and lemongrass that we expect, a hint of pears and a backnote of grapefruit, with just a smidgeon of grapefruit bitterness on the finish and a slightly leafy quality. This mainly features tremendous character and polish, beautiful tone and balance, and a texture that flatters the palate without being opulent or obvious. Lee Family Farm is the side-project of Dan Lee, proprietor of Morgan Winery; the knowledge and experience show. 13.5 percent alcohol. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18, a Phenomenal Bargain.
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My Readers — I’m pleased, O.K., thrilled, to announce that BiggerThanYourHead won Best Reviews on a Wine Blog from the annual Wine Blog Awards for the third time, adding 2013 to the awards of 2009 and 2010. I’ll admit that I was becoming cynical about my efforts, my talents and writing abilities, just because, I suppose, there are so many blogs out there that review wine and assay commentary on the wine industry, that the whole endeavor, bloggers as well as audience, is getting younger, and because I thought my voice was too well known to merit much interest. So I’m doubly thrilled that people voted for this blog and for the concept of what I do here, and that is to write about individual wines and groups of wines in a way that peels back the wine to get at its essence, its heart, and to place that wine (or those wines) as much as possible in a historical, geographical, personal and technical context. Heartened by this award, I will continue to produce the same kinds of reviews and stories that I have written since this blog was launched in December 2006 and since my first print column was published in July 1984. Yep, I’m a veteran, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love wine and all the ideas and nuances that surround each great bottle. Here’s to you, My Readers, for your confidence in me, your patience and your appreciation. Cheers, and remember always to drink sensibly and in moderation.

Gregory Hecht and François Bannier founded their negociant firm in 2002 to exploit favorable appellations and vineyard sites in France’s vast Languedoc, a region that encompasses most of the country’s southwest geography that lies along the Mediterranean coast as it slants down toward Spain. Grapes for the Hecht & Bannier Rosé 2012 derive from one of my favorite place-names in France, Étang de Thau, and from the ancient grape-growning area of Saint Chinian, situated at the foot of the Massif Centrale. The étangs form a series of long narrow lakes between the coast and slender islands, all the way from the mouth of the Rhone river to the foothills of the Pyrenees; Étang de Thau is the largest of these lakes. Though Saint Chinian is rocky and landlocked, it still opens to the south to maritime influence. The blend of the Hecht & Bannier Rosé 2012, Languedoc, is 34 percent grenache, 33 percent syrah and 33 percent cinsault. Boy, this is a fresh, tart, clean rose, even a bit sassy. The color is pale copper with a faint peach-like flush, and in fact, under the pert strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavors, there’s a hint of ripe peach and, oddly, gooseberry, for a decided lift in the buoyant bouquet. The wine is quite dry, yet juicy with red and blue berry flavors and a touch of melon; in the background lie hints of dried Mediterranean herbs and a burgeoning stony element. The whole package is delicately strung yet imbued with the tensile energy of crisp acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. A great wine for porch, patio and picnic. Drink through the end of this year. Very Good+. Prices around the country start at an astonishing $9 but realistically look for $13 to $15.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. Tasted at a trade event and as a sample for review.

Here I am on chardonnay from California again. I like some of these wines very much, enough to pass out a few Excellent and Exceptional ratings. Some, however, the ones over-oaked and malolactic-ed to a fare-thee-well get Not Recommended ratings. And I ask the question I have posed so often in the past: Why would anyone make such undrinkable chardonnay? Anyway, the point of the Weekend Wine Sips, even for the wines I loathe, I mean, the wines I don’t recommend, is concision and quick insight, therefore I do not include much in the way of technical, historical or geographical info. What you read is what you get. These chardonnays, as the title of this post states, are from vintages 2011, ’10 and ’09 and hail from Sonoma and Monterey counties, Napa Valley and Carneros. These examples were samples for review.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Monterey. 13.9% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; candied pineapple and grapefruit, cloves, allspice, lemon balm and lime peel, roasted almonds, penetrating gunflint and limestone minerality; ripe and rich, very spicy; dense texture, almost viscous; quite dry, growing austerity through the finish; feels unbalanced, the parts don’t mesh. Good only. About $18.
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La Crema Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (Jackson Family Wines) Pale gold color; huge oak influence, very spicy, very creamy — you feel that “malo” — ; way too ripe and tropical; candied and roasted citrus and mango; exotic spice; lots of smoke; cloying and unpalatable to this palate; how can people choose to make chardonnay in such an impure fashion? And yet the pinot noirs from this winery are pure, intense and beautiful. Not recommended. About $30.
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La Follette Sangiacomo Vineyard Robert’s Road Block Chardonnay 2010. Sonoma Coast. 14.2% alc. Medium gold color with a faint green flush; pineapple and backed apple; ripe and fleshy, a little toasty; roasted lemons and yellow plums, cloves and ginger; very spicy and very dry; brings up a touch of butter and caramel; supple, dense and viscous; heaps of limestone minerality. Pushes the limits but still beautifully balanced. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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La Follette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.3% alc. Highly individual, almost exotic in spiciness; you feel the oak as an intrusive agent that dries the palate; almost tannic in character; pineapple and grapefruit, touch of banana; very dry and the spice gets pretty strident; curious and off-putting combination of fruit candy, creamy desserts and spicy, woody oak. Not recommended. About $38.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 502 cases. How beautiful. Medium straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crystalline, restrained and elegant yet displaying inner richness and depth; lively and spicy, quince and ginger, pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; you scarcely perceive the oak except for a tinge of burnished slightly dusty wood on the finish; unfurls a hint of camellia and lilac; a powerful limestone mineral element that expands through the wine’s generous spirit. Exquisite balance and harmony and resonance. Now through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $35.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. 400 cases. Certified organic. Wonderful clarity, purity and intensity; jasmine and lilac, roasted lemon, spiced pear, lemon balm and verbena; backnotes of cloves and flint; bountiful presence and tone yet firm in structure and texture, almost robust and savory; blazing acidity, very dry, finish packed with spice, flint and limestone. Incredible authority yet fleet, light on its feet, elegant. Best from 2014 through 2020. Exceptional. About $45.
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Gary Farrell “RR Selection” Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; boldly ripe and spicy, classic grapefruit and pineapple scents and flavors tinged with mango and slightly over-ripe peach; a bright and golden chardonnay, a little earthy; very lively and spicy, cloves, touch of brown sugar; dense, almost chewy texture; you feel the tug and sway of oak in the background. Very Good+. About $32.
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Boekenoogan Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 14.3% alc. A gorgeous character-filled chardonnay, deep and broad and generous; boldly rich and spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors permeated by limestone minerality of the most demanding nature; seductive, almost talc-like texture emboldened by clean, bright acidity; the fruit currently subdued by the structural elements, though the oak influence feels supple, close to subliminal. Drink now, sure, but this is a 10 to 15-year chardonnay. Exceptional. About $35.
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Signorello Estate Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. Medium gold color; not my preference at all in chardonnay: very spicy, very ripe, lots of oak; caramel, brown sugar, burnt match; caramelized pineapple and candied grapefruit; exaggerated, strident. I hear rumors that people exist who enjoy this sort of chardonnay; not me, brother. Not recommended. About $70.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2010, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Bright medium gold color; cloves and sandalwood, pineapple and grapefruit, ripe peach and pear; quite ripe, a little funky and earthy but with a real edge of limestone minerality and spicy oak; a chardonnay that feels vast and close to tannic, though oak stays in the background and burgeons only from mid-palate back through the finish. Definitely an individual styling for the grape yet it has attractions for the brave. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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Stemmler Estate Chardonnay 2011, Carneros. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; boy, this is woody and harshly spicy; yes, the necessary lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element, but so burdened by oak and a sharp smoky candied burnt sugar-cloves-roasted grapefruit edge and a texture that’s dauntlessly dry yet viscous at the same time; unresolved, unbalanced. Not recommended. About $24.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, taut, vigorous; roasted lemon and lemon curd, lime peel, orange blossom and a hint of toasted almonds; quite dry, limned with chalk and limestone, clean, fresh pineapple-grapefruit flavors touched with buttered toast, a hint of cloves, a squeeze of green apple; very Chablis-like for Sonoma. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $30.
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Actually, “shrimp pasta” is a simplistic term for the dish LL concocted last night. She took large shrimp bought at the Memphis Farmers Market, doused them with pepper and smoked paprika (we’re still cooking without salt) and grilled them in the cast-iron skillet. The marinara was left over from a meal I made last week. Notice in the picture that there’s just a dollop of the marinara with the shrimp, so the flavorful tomato sauce is a presence but doesn’t dominate. Finally, she cut a bale of herbs from the garden we planted last month — thyme, oregano, chives, basil, also sorrel — and scattered them over the pasta. Not simplistic but simple perfection.

So, I had to make a choice. Was this a red wine dish because of the marinara or a white wine dish because of the shrimp? I went with red, and after a few sips, LL said, “Uh-uh, this needs white wine,” and she was right; the red just didn’t feel like a comfortable fit. Then I opened the wine under consideration here, the Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, made by the Giovanett family of the Castelfeder estate. The Dolomiti — the Dolomites, in English — are the dazzling white mountains that separate Trentino Alto Adige from Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy’s Northeastern wine regions. Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011 is not complicated, but it offers a sense of purity and intensity too often lacking in the vast area’s bland, generic examples of the grape.

The color is pale straw-gold with faint green highlights. The wine is brisk and saline, gently spicy and floral, a font of limestone and oyster shell minerality; there’s something of the mountain valley slopes here, a quality that combines a bit of austerity with the winsomeness of shy flowers and herbs. Roasted lemons with hints of lime peel and grapefruit are chief in aromas and flavors, with touches of almond and almond blossom and backnotes of dried rosemary. Like the clever label illustration of a delicate “naked” moon composed of stars, the Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011 displays a lacy, almost transparent feeling of glittering clarity. Quite charming and an appropriate foil to the pasta, serving to balance the richness of the shrimp and the sauce and the hints of bitterness from the herbs. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $14. representing Good Value.

Imported by Winesource International, Hilton Head Island, S.C. A sample for review.

Though Prosecco and Moscato earned a place in the hearts of American sparkling wine consumers over the past decade — Moscato more recently accounting for a surge in sales of sweet wines, its popularity spreading from hip-hop culture — we mustn’t forget that of readily accessible non-French sparking wines, the Spanish Cava has been around these shores for 40 years or more. While the field is dominated by brands such as Freixenet and Codorniu, other labels offer alternatives in the way of style and quality. One of these is Vilarnau, founded in 1949 in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the capital of the Cava zone in Catalonia, and acquired by Gonzalez Byass in 1982. By regulation, Cava must be produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

The Vilarnau Brut Nature Reserva 2009 is a blend of 55 percent macabeo grapes, 30 percent parellada and 15 percent chardonnay. After second fermentation — that’s when the bubbles are made without which sparkling wines would not sparkle — the wine aged in bottle for a minimum of two years. The color is pale gold, and the upward rush of bubbles is a foam of glinting gold. “Brut nature” implies a dry wine, and the Vilarnau Brut Nature Reserva 2009 is indeed dry, though loaded with lemony notes and hints of grapefruit and lime, with undertones of limestone and lime peel. It’s quite crisp with bright acidity and offers a texture nicely balanced between fleet-footed effervescence and pleasing density. 11.5 percent alcohol. We drank this over several nights with a variety of appetizers. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange. A sample for review.

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