Aligote


The prices of these 50 Great Wines of 2017 range from an unprecedented $15 to a whopping $250. Not that I expect My Readers to hasten out and snatch up a bottle of wine that costs $250, but when an extraordinary wine crosses my horizon and I rate it “Exceptional,” well, it goes on this list no matter the price. That’s one of the criteria for this annual roster: Every wine I rated Exceptional in 2017 is included automatically, followed by wines I rated Excellent and that I go back through the reviews and parse very carefully. Now I’m sure My Readers understand that by “50 Great Wines” I’m not saying that these are the 50 greatest wines in the world, just that they’re great wines — as I interpret greatness — that I tasted during the year in question. What makes a wine great? Purity, intensity, integrity, authenticity, as well as a sense of individuality and, if possible, a connection to a region or, in more rarefied examples, to a vineyard. Not all wines, even great ones, display this spectrum of virtues completely; winemaking is too intuitive a craft to allow for cookie-cutter sameness. Often, it’s the differences among wines from vintage to vintage that make them intriguing and exciting. I hope the wines listed here pique your interest and that you have a chance to try some of them. Many of them are entrancing and beautiful, and we could all stand a little enchantment and beauty in our lives.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alois Lageder “Porer” Pinot Grigio 2015, Alto Adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Vineyard Old Telegram 2014, Contra Costa County. 100 percent mourvedre. 277 cases. Excellent. About $45.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brooks Wine “Janus” Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $38.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capofaro Didyme Malvasia 2016, Salina, Sicily. Excellent. About $25.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $35.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $98.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition nv, Champagne, France. 70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $68.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2016, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Enzo Bianchi Red Wine 2012, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot, 7 percent malbec. Excellent. About $55.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Esporão Private Selection 2011, Garrafeira, Alentjo, Portugal. 40 percent each aragonez and alicante boschet, 20 percent syrah. Excellent. About $65.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Fathers & Daughters Ella’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 110 cases. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gamble Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Yountville, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $25.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley. 393 cases. Excellent. About $32.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ghost Hill Cellars Bayliss-Bower Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Yamhill-Carlton district, Willamette Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 646 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
The label vintage date is one year behind.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. 942 cases. Exceptional. About $94.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Heitlinger Tiefenbacher Schellenbrunnen Trocken Riesling 2014, Baden, Germany. Exceptional. About $30.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Inman Family Endless Crush Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 672 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée 2012, Green Valley of Russian River Valley. A brut rosé, 76 percent pinot noir 24 percent chardonnay. 300 cases. Excellent. About $65.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Jessiaume Les Cent Vignes Beaune Premier Cru 2014, Beaune, Burgundy. 300 cases. Excellent. About $45.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jordan Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley. Excellent. About $32.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cantina Kaltern Pfarrhof “Kalterersee” Classico Superiore 2015, Südtirol-Alto Adige, Italy. 95 percent schiava. 5 percent lagrein. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Konstantin Frank Gewurztraminer 2015, Finger Lakes, New York. Exceptional. About $15.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, France. 100 percent malbec. 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Jota Vineyard Co. Howell Mountain Merlot 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $85.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lioco “Sativa” Carignan 2014, Mendocino. 650 cases. Excellent. About $30.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne. 77 percent chardonnay, 23 percent aligote. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Marc Roy Les Champs Perdrix 2015, Marsannay, Burgundy. 100 percent chardonnay. 175 cases. Excellent. About $50.
The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Vineyards The Terraces Special Bottling Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $95.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Montelena “The Montelena Estate” Cabernet Sauvigono 2013, Calistoga, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $160.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2014, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 45 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Onward Wines Capp-Inn Vineyard Skin-Fermented Malvasia Bianca 2015, Suisun Valley, Solano County. Exceptional. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Blanck Scholssberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace. Excellent. About $34.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Penner Ash Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley. 915 cases. Exceptional. About $65.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux. 50 percent each sauvignon blanc and semillon. Excellent. About $22.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc 2014, Oakville District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sidebar Kerner 2016, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 193 cases. Excellent. About $25.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Siduri Wines Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $35.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc and 6 percent merlot. Excellent. About $50.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2014, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,551 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stewart Cellars Beckstoffer Las Piedes Vineyard “Nomad” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. 180 cases. Exceptional. About $175.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stony Hill Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tongue Dancer Wines “Pinot de Ville” Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast. 125 cases. Excellent. About $65.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Troon Kubli Bench Blanc 2016, Applegate Valley, Oregon. 55 percent marsanne, 45 percent viognier. 180 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling 2013, Alsace. Exceptional. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yount Ridge Cellars Epic Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $250.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yount Ridge Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Napa Valley. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $35.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

ZD Winery Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2013, Carneos. 800 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne may be made from any of the grape varieties allowed in Burgundy, meaning predominantly chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir, but including gamay and pinot blanc. The product must be fashioned in the “Champagne method” of second fermentation cremant de bourgogne mapin the bottle it’s sold in. The Crémant de Bourgogne appellation is extensive, reaching from Chablis down through Burgundy proper, Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais and encompassing 365 communes in four départménts. Grapes intended for Crémant de Bourgogne are generally cultivated separately from grapes that go into the great village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy and Chablis; that land is too precious and those grapes too expensive to sideline into sparkling wine, though that was often the practice at great estates before 1975, when the appellation regulations were laid down. Until 1975, the product was known as Borgogne Mousseux. A great deal of Crémant de Bourgogne is produced by cooperatives or by estates that specialize in effervescence; on the other hand, some of Burgundy’s best-known domaines, such as Yves Boyer-Martenot, Duc de Magenta and Jean-Noel Gagnard, still engage in the practice. In truth, many domaines are so small that they don’t have room for producing Crémant.

The house we look at today is Domaine Louis Picamelot, founded in 1926 in Rully, a village — population about 600 — in the Côte Chalonnaise. The domaine is still in family hands, in the third generation, but run by sons-in-law. Picamelot draws chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir grapes from its own 10 hectares of vineyards in Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune but also from vineyards under long-term contracts reaching from Beaujolais to Chatillonnais, a region (not an appellation) lying between Chablis and the Côte d’Or that contributes heavily to Crémant de Bourgogne. I found the four examples from Picamelot reviewed here to be beautifully made, very sophisticated and mostly worthy of giving lower-priced Champagne — or higher-priced, for that matter — a run for its money. The sparkling wines of Domaine Louis Picamelot are imported by Ansonia Wines, Newton, Massachusetts. These wines were samples for review. Map of Crémant de Bourgogne from bourgogne-wines.com, a very informative website.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
louis-picamelot_210
The medium straw-gold Louis Picamelot Le Terroirs Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 57 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 11 percent aligoté, aged at least 12 months on the lees. Elements of limestone and seashell surround notes of baked lemons and pears that open to stone-fruit compote, cloves, heather and toffee; it’s surprisingly dense and viscous on the palate, gathering an array of mineral-tinged textural elements and glimpses of yellow fruit that neatly balance bright acidity with a slightly creamy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
louis-picamelot_208
Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the Louis Picamelot Les Terroirs Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, aged at least 12 months in the bottle on the lees; the grapes came from vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise. The color is pale salmon-copper; energetic bubbles stream upward in a steady surge. Aromas of raspberry, peach and orange peel open to hints of raspberry leaf and cinnamon bread, over a limestone and steel character; on the palate, this is fine-boned and tensile, slightly briery, clean and elegant while offering a dynamic veracity of bright acid and a scintillating mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
louis-picamelot_156
The Louis Picamelot Terroir de Chazot Blanc de Noir Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is also 100 percent pinot noir, this from a designated vineyard situated on the higher hillsides of St. Aubin in the Côte de Beaune. It aged at least 18 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, while the persistent stream of tiny bubbles is satisfying and exhilarating. Notes of roasted lemon and pear nectar open to hints of tangerine and lime peel, almond skin and lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a sort of fragile seashell-limestone element of chiseled minerality. That honed and hewn quality persists on the palate, where its chalk and flint character defines a spare, elegant package of lovely nuance and subtlety. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
louis-picamelot_164
The Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard Brut 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 77 percent chardonnay and 23 percent aligoté, qualifying as a blanc de blancs. A pale gold hue is animated by a teeming torrent of frothing bubbles; it’s a clean, spare, elegant sparkling wine that features notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears with undertones of quince and ginger, chalk and lightly toasted brioche. This builds character and substance in the glass, layering pertinent limestone minerality with brisk acidity and hints of baked stone-fruit flavors, all wrapped in a lively effervescent nature that doesn’t emphasize any element unduly; balanced yet exciting. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $38.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A local wine store offered some products on sale, two of which piqued my interest. These were the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 and the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. The first was about $17, marked down from $30; the second was about $30, marked down from $50. I couldn’t resist. Technically, each wine is classified as Burgundy, though neither derives from vineyards in the Côte d’Or, what we may call Burgundy proper. Bouzeron is a village in the Côte Chalonnaise which has had its own appellation since 1997, only for wines made from the aligoté grape. Côte Chalonnaise, named for the city of Chalon-sur-Saône, lies just below the Burgundian region of Santenay, at the southeastern-most tail of the Côte d’Or. Chablis, on the other hand, is not connected geographically with Burgundy and in fact stands almost equidistant between Dijon and Paris. The connection is that its wines are made from the chardonnay grape, as are the great white wines of Burgundy’s Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet appellations.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Audibert de Villaine, a man whose very quietness and self-affacement exude a kind of unimpeachable authority, is not only the owner, with his wife Pamela, of Domaine A. et P. de Villaine but the co-proprietor and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an estate based in Vosne-Romanée that produces only Grand Cru wines and is generally regarded as not only the most prestigious producer in Burgundy but among the best in the world. The contrast between the domaines could not be more pronounced in terms of the wines they make, yet de Villaine operates each with integrity and acumen. Domaine A. et P. de Villaine has been certified organic since 1986. Beside the Bouzeron, the domaine produces Mercurey les Montots, Rully les Saint-Jacques and several different Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise wines. Minimal new oak is employed, with the domaine depending on used barriques, large foudres and stainless steel. The Bouzeron is aged about 20 percent in barriques. The domaine uses not the aligoté vert grape but its cousin, the more aromatic and flavorful aligoté doré.

The A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 offers a brilliant medium gold color and shy aromas of roasted lemons and yellows plums with hints of limestone and chalk and dried thyme, all sketched with delicacy and a slight feeling of attenuation, a papery quality. As the wine warmed gently in the glass, it brought up a modicum of spice and floral elements — ghosts of cloves and jasmine — and also expanded its grip on limestone and flint minerality, so that in a few moments, I felt as if I were sipping pure minerals, a factor that contributed scintillating austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. The texture is lithe and lively but not dynamic, and I could not shake the feeling that the wine was several shades diminished from what it would have been in, say, 2011. Still, an enjoyable and instructive experience and not a bad accompaniment to fish tacos. 12.5 percent alcohol. If any readers have this wine on hand, I would say, Drink up, certainly by the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $17, on sale.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Ca.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
LL and I seldom finish a bottle of wine at dinner these days; the two-bottle-night era is some 20 years in the past. Last night, however, we gulped down with glee and gratitude the last drops of the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. Have mercy, what a wine! And what a great match with LL’s sea-bass baked in a package with asparagus, lemon and oregano.

Frédéric Magnien founded his negociant house in 1995, but he still makes the wines for his father’s Domaine Michel Magnien. The father owns slices of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards; the son purchases grapes on long-term contract from growers he trusts, some of whom he directly oversees in the vineyard. It’s not uncommon for negociants in Burgundy — Frédéric Magnien is based in Morey-Saint-Denis — to extend their sway to Chablis, as happens also, for example, with Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot. At almost four years old, the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009 is fresh as a daisy, charming and vibrant and elegant, packed with the trademark Chablis characteristics of gunflint, sauteed mushrooms, nervy acidity and a tremendous limestone-shale element that permeates every iota without dominating the wine. The bouquet delivers hints of quince and ginger, camellia and a tantalizing trace of lilac and a mysterious whiff of cloves and lemongrass; in the mouth, this Vaillons Premier Cru is lean and supple, vividly etched, yet with a generosity of texture and structure that’s downright seductive, all of these aspects combined in an energetic form that keeps you coming back to the glass; lyrical, yes, but with a staccato edge. Just lovely purity, intensity and excitement and made to age another five or six years. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30 on sale.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________