Arbois/Jura


So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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The Jura Mountains, in east-central France, between Burgundy and Switzerland, remain an exotic and remote region for most winelovers, even those who may know a considerable amount about French wine. Landscape, grape varieties and methods in the Jura and Arbois appellations are unique, and so are the wines, which tend toward delicacy and elegance. While chardonnay and pinot noir are widely cultivated in Jura and Arbois, the red trousseau and poulsard (helpfully also called ploussard) and the white savagnin (not sauvignon) are what give the region its distinctive qualities. Savagnin is allowed in all white wine production of the regions but is the only grape permitted in the unusual vin jaune (“yellow wine”), which is akin to Sherry but without being fortified.

One of the most progressive estates in Arbois is Domaine André et Mireille Tissot, founded in 1962. André and Mireille’s son Stéphane, after working at wineries in Australia and South Africa, took over the domaine in 1990 and operates it with his wife Bénédicte. They produce 28 wines, each a remarkable distillation of vineyard and grape and frank individuality, the kinds of wines that make a wine-writer think, “Oh, yes, this is why I love wine!” Stéphane Tissot converted the estate to all organic practices in 1999, followed by biodynamic methods in 2004; the Tissot vineyards are certified by Demeter.

Tasted at the “Return to Terroir” event in New York, February 27. Prices are approximate. Various small importers.
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My first note on the Tissot Classique Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, is “god, how lovely!” The grapes for this chardonnay derive from vineyards planted in 1962, ’74 and ’78. The wine ages 12 months in the standard Burgundy barrel of 228 liters, but only 10 percent of the barrels were new. This is chardonnay of wonderful purity and intensity, very floral and spicy, with ethereal scents and flavors of apple, grapefruit and roasted lemon nestled in shale and limestone. The sense of tension and resolution between clean, bright acidity and a moderately lush texture afford a great deal of pleasure, assuring a quality of liveliness and confidence that remains subtle and graceful. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from thewinecountry.com.
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The vineyards for Tissot’s La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, were planted in 1952, ’53, ’64, ’70, ’72, ’76 and then, after a span of 26 years, in 2002. The wine aged 16 months in barriques, 1/3 new oak barrels. This is a chardonnay of the utmost purity, delicacy and elegance; it’s an exquisite and airy fabric of quince and ginger, roasted lemon and camellia, cloves and limestone, all wrapped in a structure that’s as honed and fine-boned as an 18th century Wedgwood tea-cup, yet displaying surprising heft and substance for all that — and, in the finish, touches of burgeoning shale-like minerality and a drop of wild-flower honey. You can scarcely imagine how diametrically opposed this wine is to the typical heavy-handed, over-wrought chardonnay from California. Production was about 550 cases. Now through 2016 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 to $30.
Image from blindtastingclub.net.
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Another chardonnay, this one Le Clos de la Tour de Curon 2009, Arbois. The vineyard was planted in 2002; the wine aged 24 months in barriques, 1/3 new barrels. This is altogether deeper, richer and spicier than the two previous examples of Tissot’s chardonnays, but neither is it blatant nor ponderous. The wine is quite dry, scintillating with limestone-like minerality and almost tingling with crisp, vibrant acidity, yet the stones-and-bones approach does not neglect piquant, intriguing (and fairly remarkable) aromas and flavors of preserved lemon, dried lavender and chestnut honey (but not the latter’s sweetness), with a final fillip of cloves and allspice. Yes, a savory, almost food-like chardonnay that manages to be completely balanced and true and authentic. Production was about 138 cases. Now through 2016 to ’19. Excellent. About $27 to $32.
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The sole red wine under consideration here is Tissot’s Singulier Trousseau 2010, Arbois. In the chilly environs of the foothills of the Alps, red wines tend to be delicate and refined, certainly the case with this gossamer, almost powdery, eminently attractive wine, which aged 12 months in old oak foudres, that is large casks. The color is pale rose with a slight bluish magenta cast; aromas of dried cherries and red currants are permeated by notes of cloves, cinnamon and rose petals, segueing in the mouth to those spicy cherries and red currants but encompassing hints of pale plums and tart mulberries. This is dry, lovely, graceful, charming, almost ephemeral, yet it’s enlivened by chiming acidity, pliant tannins and a vibrant mineral element that provide the necessary structure to be taken seriously. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $27 to $29.
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The oxidized wines of the Jura and Arbois are difficult to write about because they resemble the best products of Spain’s Sherry regions yet they’re also distinctly their own. For example, Tissot’s Savagnin 2008 was made from vineyards planted in 1968, ’74, ’96, ’97 and 2000; the wine aged 25 months in barriques that are not topped up, so some evaporation occurs along with the formation of a layer of yeast on top of the quietly resting wine. The result is something like a superior Manzanilla Sherry — very dry and nutty — but with beguiling hints of green olives, dried figs, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slight resinous quality, and roasted almonds. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About — quite approximately — $27 to $29.
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Let’s discuss the Vin Jaune “En Speis” 2005 and the Vin Jaune “Les Brayeres” 2005 together. Remember that these rare wines, however Sherry-like they may seem in character, are not fortified, as Sherry is. Because of the winters in the Jura mountains, it may take two or three years for the veil or voile of yeast to grow across the surface of the wine in the barrel; that length of time adds to the full time of maturing, so the vin jaune of the Jura may not, by law, be released for six years and three months after harvest. The wines are bottled in unique 62-cl vessels called clavelin. “En Speis” is toffee, caramel, roasted raisins, orange rind, toasted coconut and almonds and dried figs; “Brayeres” is richer, deeper, more in the range of bittersweet chocolate and dried blood oranges, with those typical touches of raisins and almonds and a slightly astringent citrus and persimmon background. Both are bone-dry, elegant, spare, utterly distinctive. Such wines last for ages, so let’s say, now through 2035 to ’40. No kidding. Excellent. Each about $70.

Image, much cropped, from julienmarchand.com.
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And let’s not neglect the delightful Domaine Tissot Crémant du Jura Brut, non-vintage, which doesn’t mean that it came from no year but that the grapes came from several vintages. The blend is 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 10 percent indigenous trousseau and poulsard grapes. This sparkling wine is made in the “ancient tradition,” as regions outside of Champagne often term the classic methode champenoise of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is brassy-gold shot with an upward surge of golden glinting bubbles, and actually this feels like a golden sparkling wine, seemingly an exhalation of the sun and beautiful long glowing afternoons. From the glass waft scents of cloves and sandalwood, orange blossom and waxy white flowers, roasted lemons and lime peel; the wine is clean, fresh and crisp, yet the texture is almost dense, almost lush, though cut with a kind of bright, glancing acidity and seething layers of limestone and flint. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $22, representing Great Value.
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