November 2016


As we head into the biggest sparkling wine season of the year, I’ll remind My Readers from time to time about Champagnes and other albrechtsparkling products worthy of consideration. An annual treat for us is the Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose from the venerable estate of Lucien Albrecht, established in 1425, among the oldest family-owned wineries in Europe and still in the hands of the founding family. This non-vintage — i.e., multi-vintage — sparkling wine is made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle; this one spends 14 to 16 months in the bottle on the lees before being disgorged and resealed. The color is a lovely ruddy copper-salmon hue, highlighted by a surging fountain of tiny glittering bubbles; aromas of fresh raspberries and lime peel, blood orange and orange blossom are infused by notes of heather, spiced tea and limestone. Bright, brisk acidity lends this an almost tart character, though it flows on the palate with a full, round quality; the whole effect is delicate, elegant and steely, concluding in a slightly austere, saline, mineral-laced finish. Pure delight, with real style and a racy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Jerome Keller. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

Pasternak Imports, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review.

The Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys red wine blend is a perennial visitor to our Thanksgiving table, this year being no different. Whereas Ridge typically focuses on single-vineyard ridge-three-valleysbottlings, the Three Valleys derives from a variety of vineyards in Sonoma County. seeking to achieve a sort of overall Sonoma character, if such a thing is possible. The wine was first produced in 2001. The Ridge Three Valleys 2014, fermented by native yeast, is a blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 17 percent petite sirah, 14 carignane and 4 grenache. The wine aged 15 months in American oak, a scant six percent new barrels, 43 percent one-to-two-year-old barrels, 51 percent three-to-six-year-old barrels. In other words, the effect of new oak is negligible, while the general wood influence is subtle and supple in its shapeliness. The color is intense dark ruby with a vibrant cherry rim; aromas of sweet, smoky currants, blueberries and plums gradually open to notes of spiced and macerated red cherries, lavender and violets. This is dense and chewy in the mouth, permeated by graphite-infused tannins that provide plenty of grit and resistance on the palate; black fruit flavors are ripe and spicy but reticent, yielding place to bright acidity, briery and brambly forest floor elements, and a strain of granitic minerality that persists through the warm but sculptured finish. In other words, a wine that delivers equal measures of pleasure and structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with big-hearted, two-fisted cuisine. Excellent. About $26.

A local purchase.

Let’s relax and think about the inevitable: Thanksgiving leftovers. We had eight people at our table last night but prepared enough food for at least 20. Not surprisingly, the refrigerator is crammed with plastic vessels containing an immense amount of leftover selections, though, curiously, not much pie. People tend to eat pie even when they’re aching with surfeit. All over the country, on Thanksgiving, Americans are saying, “Wow, I couldn’t eat another bite! Oh, well, sure, I guess I could manage some of that pecan pie.” Anyway, whether you’re making a hugelsandwich of turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce or just settling down to a plateful of food that bears a remarkable resemblance to what you ate yesterday, here’s a wine that makes a terrific accompaniment. The Famille Hugel Classic Riesling 2015, Alsace, from the winemaking family that goes back 13 generations in the region, was fashioned all in stainless steel to ensure its sense of freshness and immediate appeal. The color is pale gold with a faint green tone; enticing aromas of green apple and ripe peaches are wreathed with scents of lychee, jasmine and honeysuckle and a prominent element of petrol, or you could call it rubber eraser, in either case a typical note and always intriguing touch from the riesling grape. The wine is silky smooth but slightly chiseled on the palate, encompassing ripe and spicy and juicy stone-fruit flavors enlivened by fleet and lithe acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The finish is clean, bright, spicy and floral and nicely faceted. A classic, all right, and a real crowd-pleaser. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

During the next six weeks or so, My Readers will doubtless be invited to an endless round of parties, dinners, open-house events and other fetes celebrating various holiday preoccupations. And many of you will doubtless carry along a bottle of wine as a gift for your hosts. What bottle to give, however, what price to pay, how to proceed are issues I will address for you today.

First, don’t blow your credit card limit on a bottle of great wine, even if it’s intended for a dear friend or family member and especially if they’re not particularly crazy about or don’t know anything about fine vintages. It doesn’t make sense to stand at the threshold of an 3-beautiful-handmade-wine-bottle-gift-wrap-ideas_642x640open-house and hand over to your host a bottle of, say, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 2000 that cost you an arm and a leg and say, “Here, I think you’ll enjoy this.” Even someone who likes or knows something about wine will appreciate a more modest offering. I think a reasonable category would be $20 to $30; plenty of terrific wines are available in that range.

Second, if you know that your host has wine preferences — pinot noir or sauvignon blanc, for instance, or interesting wines from unusual grapes or places — definitely go in that direction. That way, you’ll be able to say, “I know you like Willamette Valley pinot noir. This is from a winery I just found out about” or “Here’s a grenache blend from a little appellation in the Pyrenees. I think you’ll like it.”

Remember that half of the impact of a gift lies in its thoughtfulness and appropriate nature. Following that sentiment, don’t just pick up a $10 bottle of malbec that anyone could buy at any retail shop or grocery store, as if you were in a rush and couldn’t be bothered, unless, of course, your hosts would be grateful for that $10 malbec. And don’t make ironic gifts, like taking that $10 malbec as a joke to someone who appreciates and collects the best wines, handing it over with an embarrassed smirk. Ho-ho, asshole.

If you don’t know your host’s preferences, choose something that you like and offer it by saying, “This is one of our favorite wines. We hope it will be one of your favorites, too.” Of course a sparkling wine is always welcome, and it doesn’t have to be Champagne. Plenty of excellent bubblies are available from France, Italy, Spain and California priced under $30.

If you happen to be a collector or own a cellar filled with wine, it makes a wonderful gift-wrap-wineimpression to give a bottle that reflects your personal taste or style, especially if the recipient is equally knowledgeable about wine. The point is not that you shouldn’t waste a bottle of fine wine on the undeserving but that you don’t want to create a sense of pressure or obligation. Don’t hand over a bottle that will make your hosts nervous and wonder what the hell they’re supposed to do with it.

Do put the wine in an attractive presentation sleeve or sock or carrying bag, even wrapped (neatly) in tissue and tied with a ribbon. It’s just nicer that way, as my late mother would have said. The simpler, the better, please; you don’t have to go all Martha Stewart.

And remind the recipients that the wine is intended for them, not for general consumption at the party or dinner. Always say something like, “The wine is for you. Let’s put it on the table over here so it doesn’t get opened at the bar.”

Remember, the idea is not to show off your wine acumen or fiduciary prowess, but to display your kindness and generosity with a bottle of wine that says “Thanks for inviting us to your party.”

Top image from coupons.com; lower image from publix.com.

As you make your celebratory imbibing plans for the holiday season that runs from Thanksgiving to Epiphany — and happens to include my birthday — don’t forget Schramberg Vineyards, a Napa Valley-based producer of sparkling wines that has been around for 50 years and might be in danger of flying under the radar of all the other sparkling wine makers in California that emerged after its pioneering efforts. I rated three of these recent releases Excellent and one Very Good+, a better than decent outcome. In fact, I enjoyed these wines immensely and heartily recommend them for your Yuletide revels. Samples for review.
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The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2013, North Coast, is 100 percent chardonnay, a blend of grapes from Napa County (63 percent), Sonoma (30 percent), Mendocino (4 percent) and Marin (3 percent), hence the North Coast designation. A blanc de blancs is the first sparkling wine that the producer made, in 1965, and the touch remains deft and fluent. The color is very pale gold, and the tiny, glinting bubbles are exuberantly effervescent; beautifully layered aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and toasted and lightly buttered brioche are twined with acacia blossom and almond skin. A few moments in the glass bring up a bright edge of flint and chalk bolstered by vivid acidity, both elements lending this sparkling wine tremendous verve and appeal, while notes of slightly candied quince and ginger round out the citrus-stone fruit flavor profile. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $39.
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The opposite of blanc de blancs — “white from white” — is blanc de noirs — “white from black” — through the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2012, North Coast, blends 12 percent chardonnay with the balance of pinot noir. Counties of origin are Sonoma (44 percent), Mendocino (33 percent), Napa (19 percent) and Marin (4 percent). The color is very pale gold, enlivened by a surging flurry of tiny bubbles; this is pure lemon in all its aspects, married to fresh bread, cloves, ginger and quince, with a dry scent like dusty heather and a deep bell-note of currant. It’s a high-toned and elegant sparkling wine, vibrant with energy, full-bodied, almost lush except for the rigor of prominent limestone-flint minerality and a seam of resonant acidity. 12.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $41.
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The Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2013, North Coast, is composed of 61 percent pinot noir and 39 percent chardonnay. The county make-up is 41 percent Sonoma, 26 percent Mendocino, 25 percent Napa and 8 percent Marin. The ravishing color is pale copper salmon, with abundant bubbles swirling upward; aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries open to notes of dried red currants, lime peel, melon and sour cherry, with follow-up hints of cloves and orange rind. You might think that this sparkling wine is all about sensual appeal, which it obviously does not lack, but there’s real structure, too, with elements of chiseled limestone and chalk minerality borne by chiming acidity; it flows across the palate with crisp vitality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 through ’23. Excellent. About $44.
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The Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2012, Napa Valley — a departure from the winery’s usual North Coast designation — is a blend of 74 percent flora grapes, 16 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. Flora is a crossing of gewürztraminer and semillon, created in 1938 by Harold P. Olmo (1909-2006), a professor of viticulture at University of California, Davis, who pioneered the crossing of vinifera grapes for warm climate regions; among his other creations are ruby cabernet and symphony. To 85 percent Napa Valley grapes, this sparkling wines adds 10 percent from Sonoma and 5 percent from Mendocino; that 85 percent allows the Napa Valley designation. The color is pale straw-yellow; the bubbles are tiny but gentle, a stream but not a froth. Scents of green apple, peach and apricot are delicately floral and lead to a sweet entry — in fact sweeter than I thought it would be. This sparkling wine offers elegance in body and texture, a lively impression from clean acidity and flint-limestone minerality for background and a touch of dryness from mid-palate through the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 or ’22. At 2,387 cases, this product has the smallest production of this quartet. Very Good+. About $40.
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The wine aged ……… The color is pale straw-yellow

Here’s how I like my pinot grigio: lean and lithe, bright and vibrant, yet with a winsome, csm_pinot_grigio_2005_riserva_7895065a86pretty touch. The example in question is the Marco Felluga “Mongris” Pinot Grigio 2015, from Italy’s far northeastern Collio region, which shares a border with Slovenia. Collio is a version of the Italian word colli, which means “hills,” this rolling terrain being composed of layers of sandstone, limestone and clay once the ocean floor. Made all in stainless steel, the Marco Felluga “Mongris” Pinot Grigio 2015 offers a pale gold color and enticing aromas of acacia and heather, green apple and pear, seashell and salt marsh; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roasted lemon and almond skin. It’s a spare and bracing pinot grigio, crystalline in its chiming acidity and scintillating flinty minerality and its finish of grapefruit pith and lime peel, though tasty with faceted citrus and stone-fruit flavors. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 with seafood risottos, grilled fish (preferably right on the beach) and fresh oysters. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Looking for a true Rhone Valley experience in a California red wine? Well, then, you should be. bns12c_bottle_180x579pxIn any case, look for a bottle of the Bonny Doon Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah 2012, Santa Maria Valley. In all its wild and woolly and autumnal 100 percent syrah nature, the wine feels elemental, fundamental and inevitable. The color is an opaque black-ruby shading to a glowing violet rim; aromas of roasted meat and wet dog are foresty and loamy, opening to notes of macerated and slightly stewed blackberries, currants and plums; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of black pepper, tar, oolong tea and fruitcake, iodine, smoke and roasted fennel, with a bell-tone of blueberry. This syrah rests on deep foundations of briery and granitic tannic power and dynamic acidity, combined with very intense and concentrated black fruit flavors, polished oak and graphite minerality, these factors meshing across the palate and culminating in a brooding, darksome, feral finish. 13 percent alcohol. Tremendous character and personality. Production was 313 cases. The wine is a natural with braised short ribs or veal shanks and such cool-weather fare, though we drank it happily with black bean and sweet potato chili. Now through 2020 to ’22. Exceptional. About $50.

A sample for review.

Etude Wines was founded in 1982 in Napa Valley by Tony Soter to focus on cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir made from purchased grapes grown in highly regarded vineyards. After a series of purchases, acquisitions and transformations, Etude is owned by Treasury Wine Estates, along with a rather astonishing roster of properties in California, Australia and other regions. The winery still concentrates on pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, usually produced from named vineyards in small quantities. Under review today are six of Etude’s single-vineyard pinot noir wines from 2014, touching AVAs in Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills in California; Yamhill-Carlton in Willamette Valley; and Central Otago in New Zealand. Winemaker is Jon Priest. These are, let me just say, splendid examples of the pinot noir grape and the resonance rung upon it by specific locations. Priest sensibly employs a minimal amount of oak, as well as keeping alcohol levels to reasonable levels. These are all worth searching for.

Samples for review.
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The Etude Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sonoma Coast, aged 13 months in French oak, percent new barrels. The steeply sloping vineyard sits at around 800 feet elevation, just above the morning fog line, four miles east of the Pacific Ocean. The color is dark ruby-mulberry with a slightly paler rim. A burst of cloves, allspice and sandalwood precedes notes of a compote of black and red cherries and plums, wreathed with loam and graphite, mint and iodine, presided over by high-tones of pomegranate and cranberry; pretty heady stuff, all right. On the palate, this pinot noir brings in more red fruit — cherries and currants — its deeply spicy character buoyed by slightly flinty minerality, dusty tannins and lively acidity that cuts a swath on the tongue. The finish delivers a polished melange of spice, graphite tinged minerals and an element of heathery meadow flowers. 14.8 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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The Etude Grace Benoist Ranch Estate Grown Pinot Noir 2014, Carneros, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Located at the northwest corner of the Carneros AVA, the vineyard features various types of well-drained, rocky volcanic soils and is influenced by breezes from the Pacific. The color is medium mulberry-magenta shading to a transparent circumference. Scents of red and black cherries are permeated by notes of sassafras, pomegranate and cranberry, talc, lilac and rose petals; the perfume grows deeper and more redolent as the moments pass. This pinot noir embodies beautiful shape and substance, flowing on the tongue like perfection in a lithe, supple stream of satiny texture; there’s a touch of baked plum in the red and black fruit flavors and a strain of dusty graphite minerality to the subtle yet skillfully chiseled tannins. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $45.
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The superlative transparent violet-magenta hue of the Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Maria Valley, belies the seriousness of its frame and foundation and its earthy, loamy character. The vineyard, planted in calcareous clay sandstone, lies in a secluded canyon that’s a bit more exposed to sunlight and a bit warmer than the rest of the valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, the least oak influence of these six wines. A complex array of spicy effects — cloves, sassafras and cumin — heightens elements of ripe red and black cherries that open to notes of wild berries and oolong tea, pomegranate and cranberries. A profoundly earthy, loamy character penetrates the entire enterprise, lending deep roots for its graphite-tinged tannins and minerality. 14.4 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’25. Excellent. About $45.
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Location is everything, n’est-ce pas? For example, the Fiddlestix Vineyard lies in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that is part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA, all encompassed by Santa Barbara County. The hills and ranges run east and west here, unusual for California where the typical etu_12fiddlestix_pinot_nv_400x126 mountainous orientation is north-south, and a configuration that allows a direct inlet for fog and cooling ocean breezes. The vineyard receives its share of those daily climatic events but stands low enough against the hills to be sheltered from strong afternoon winds. The combination of exposure and protection with well-drained clay-loam and calcareous marine shale soils results in pinot noir wines of great depth and finesse.

The Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Sta. Rita Hills, aged 12 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is a transparent medium ruby-magenta hue of transfixing radiance; aromas of rhubarb, sassafras and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, smoky black cherries and plums achieve a Platonic level of loveliness, while on the palate the wine is lithe, supple and satiny. juicy black and red cherry flavors reach down to elements of some rooty black tea, talc and chalk and a kind of gravelly condensation of graphite minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring out notes of rose petals and lavender. Redolent, even pungent; deeply spicy and flavorful; elegant and fine-boned yet with a dynamic of bright acidity, lightly dusted tannins and the shaping force of subtle oak — this is one of the most complete and wholly beautiful pinot noirs I have tasted this year. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’24. Exceptional. About $45.
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This wine takes us to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Approved in 2004, the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA is a horse-shoe shaped region that includes only acreage that lies between 200 and 1,000 feet elevation, where marine sediments compose some of the oldest soil in Willamette Valley. The vineyard from which this wine is derived stands at 600 feet. The Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton District, aged 13 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels. The color is transparent medium ruby shading to a mulberry rim; to notes of black cherries and plums, pomegranate and cranberry, the wine adds touches of tobacco and black tea, mint and iodine, as well as the deep loamy character typical of Willamette Valley pinot noir. The texture is superbly satiny, though powered by swingeing acidity and energetic tannins; the wine is quite dry, revealing an immediacy of granitic minerality that leads to a brooding, chiseled finish. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2021 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Talk about far afield, this wine takes us to New Zealand and Central Otago, the world’s southernmost wine region. The Etude Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014, Central Otago, spent 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I found this to be an extremely fine-grained, richly detailed and slightly exotic pinot noir. The color is transparent magenta-mulberry with a delicate rim; aromas of macerated and lightly stewed red and black cherries are permeated by notes of cloves and allspice, red licorice and violets, loam and damp wood ash; after 15 or 20 minutes, the bouquet unfurls hints of cedar, iodine and rosemary. Nothing opulent or flamboyant here, the wine is spare and honed, riven by arrows of acidity and borne by gravel-like minerality and layers of loam and foresty elements. 13.8 percent alcohol. I loved it. Now through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $60.
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Sometimes, friends, you just have to have one of those snappy, slap-yo-face, fresh-as-raindrops sauvignon blanc wines from New Zealand. Here’s a terrific example. Made all in stainless steel, the Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc 2015, from New Zealand’s well-known Marlborough region, lying at the extreme northeastern corner of the South Island, offers a shimmering medium straw hue and scintillating aromas of grapefruit, lime peel, pea shoot, celery seed and lemongrass. This one is as crisp and vibrant as they come, powered by squeaky-bright acidity and a burgeoning element of damp limestone and flint. Flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear reveal notes of sunny, leafy figs with a hint of mango, these flowing with lithe and dynamic verve across the palate. It all just makes you pretty happy to drink. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Sam Smail. Now through 2018 as a highly effective aperitif or with seafood risottos, grilled fish or goat cheeses. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

The wine is distributed in the USA by Gallo. A sample for review.

We are inching our way toward the most festive season of the year, a hectic, expensive, exhausting and frequently joyful stretch that encompasses Thanksgiving, My Birthday, Christmas, bottle-etoile-roseNew Year and Twelfth Night. Call it Yuletide 2.0. To slide into the proper spirit, I offer as Wine of the Day, No. 201, the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé, a non-vintage sparkling wine from the company that’s pretty much the grand-daddy of sparkling wine in California. By “non-vintage,” the common parlance, I really mean “multiple-vintage,” since this product and virtually all non-vintage Champagnes and sparkling wines contain wine from the current year as well as reserve wines from previous years, the point being to lend depth and character to the product from wines that have aged for several years. Now Chandon is surprisingly reticent about information for this sparkler and others I received recently. I can tell you, for example, that the grapes for the Domaine Chandon Étoile Rosé were grown in the cool Carneros region of Napa and Sonoma counties and that the blend includes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, but not in what proportion. I can tell you that the sparkling wine rested on the lees in the bottle for “at least three years,” but I cannot be more specific. I can also tell you that the Domaine Chandon Etoile Rose is beguiling and irresistible. The color is ruddy salmon-copper, animated by a steady frothing stream of tiny bubbles. A cool rush of orange rind and strawberry compote is twined with smoke and seashell-like salinity with hints of cloves and lightly toasted brioche. This is lively on the palate, even sprightly and balletic, yet it delivers depths of limestone and chalk minerality, as well as flavors of roasted lemons, spiced pears and a hint of red currant. 13 percent alcohol. A very attractive and enticing brut rose. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

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