Australia


So, yes, this post is a miscellany, a salmagundi, a pot au feu of topics and wines with which I want to deal and get done; well, two, anyway. Here goes:
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Not meaning to be a jerk or any such thing, but like all people who write about wine, while I try to cultivate a universal palate, there are certain styles of wine that get my back up; as if you didn’t know, one is over-ripe, tropical chardonnay from California and another is red wine from Tuscany that relies on aging in French oak barrels and ends up resembling nothing more Italian than a Bordeaux or Napa Valley cabernet. So, I was pleasantly surprised to like two wines I encountered recently that reversed my bias, at least in these examples. I’m not a convert, if you please.

The first is the Seven Heavenly Chardonnays 2010, from the Michael David Winery in Lodi (and counterpart to their 7 Deadly Zins, ha-ha), an area of the Central Valley not typically regarded as prime real estate for chardonnay; actually, viognier tends to do better. Anyway, the wine opens in a very ripe, very spicy manner, seething with lemon curd and lemon balm, mango and pineapple, quince jam and crystallized ginger, with underlying notes of cinnamon toast. Holy Hannah, I thought, I’m not going to like this one damned bit! I was wrong. Carefully nurtured by winemakers Adam Mettler and Derek Devries, the wine ages only five months in a combination of 30 percent French oak and 70 percent steel tanks, so after the initial introduction the wood influence smooths out and is actually quite subtle and supple. Though the wine is sizable, and sports a texture that’s almost talc-like in softness, it’s deftly structured with enough acidity and limestone-like minerality to lend it balancing crispness and energy. Flavors still fall into the classic pineapple-grapefruit range but feel fully integrated into a package that while being bold and bright never seems flamboyant or ponderous. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $14. A sample for review.

The second example of a wine that surprised and pleased me is Le Volte 2009, a Toscana IGT from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Truly, I open red wines from Tuscany with constant trepidation, because I know the way of thinking in that ancient realm of traditional winemaking is that if a wine is good, it will be better if it ages in French barriques. This concept is a complete misconception, of course, yet producers all over the world cling to it as the drowning to a lifeboat; the result is that many of the (especially) red wines I open and taste deliver an overwhelming smack of smoky, toasty, austere woody wood right to my nose and palate. It’s a shame. So, I extracted the cork from this bottle of Le Volte 2009, a blend of 50 percent merlot, 30 percent sangiovese and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a rueful sigh. And guess what? Prego, the wine was absolutely lovely, balanced, integrated and delicious. Yes, the wine aged in French barriques, but only for 10 months, and the barrels ranged from 2 to 4 years old and were all, as they say, “third-use,” having been employed previously in the production of the estate’s flagship wine Ornellaia. Here’s a “modern” Tuscan red, dominated by “international” grape varieties that does not seem hopelessly devoted to the models of Paulliac or the Napa Valley. The wine offers the essence of thyme-and-cedar-infused black currants with a touch of black olives and wild traces of mulberry, rhubarb and sandalwood underlain by a generous element of graphite-tinged earthiness. The whole shebang is ripe and a little fleshy, spiced and macerated (with a hint of sangiovese’s black tea, dried roses and orange rind), and it glides across the palate on sweetly orchestrated bearings of finely-milled, well-oiled tannins and polished oak. Lithe and elegant, yet with a touch of the unbridled free spirit about it. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.
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The current vintage of Pillar Box White in the United States in the 2008; in Australia, they’re drinking the 2009. Having lunch in Memphis a couple of weeks ago, however, with Kim Longbottom, owner of Henry’s Drive Vignerons, producer of the Pillar Box wines, we tried the 2007. This situation resulted from a conflict between distributors about changing brands and having to get wine from a distributor on the other side of the state — and Tennessee is a very long state — all the ramifications of which I did not comprehend, but the upshot was that the Pillar Box White 07, a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and verdelho grapes, is drinking beautifully now. Remember, this is basically a simple, direct white wine intended for easy quaffing and not thinking about too much. I was amazed then that this four-year-old uncomplicated white wine offered beguiling notes of roasted lemon and bees’-wax, some hints of sunny, leafy figs and quince, a touch of lanolin, a delicate infusion of limestone and shale. Certainly I would not hold onto the wine for even another year, but it’s so graceful and charming now that it’s irresistible. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. You can find this around the country at $7 to $12, representing Great Value.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. Image from isleofwine.com.au.

Another wine from 2007 that I encourage My Readers to look for the Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2007, a cru Beaujolais from one of the hardest areas to find. Made 100 percent from gamay grapes, as by law the wines of Beaujolais must be, this delivers that true gamay combination of black currants, red cherries and high-tones of fresh grapiness permeated by briers and brambles and a hint of clean slate. Three and a half years have given the wine a little fleshy ripeness, a whiff of lilac, a back-note of fruitcake. Smooth, mellow, engaging, downright delicious. The wine spent six months in large oak casks. Zaccharie Geoffray bought the small estate and chateau at auction in 1877; his descendents still own and operate the property, now with grand-nephew Claude Geoffray, his wife Evelyne and their son Claude-Edouard. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20 to $28 around the country, the latter the price I paid locally.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
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When I was a kid, I thought that picnics must be pretty damned cool and racy events, because I was familiar with Manet’s great painting Dejeuner sur l’herbes that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. In the book of reproductions that I looked at constantly, the two men and two women depicted in the work were described as “dining al fresco,” and since one of the women was nude and the other partially so, I thought that a picnic meant eating outside naked. Well, it didn’t turn out that way, damnit, but naked or not, picnics (under controlled conditions) can be quite charming. The foods I favor at these occasions include deviled eggs, cold roasted chicken, cucumber sandwiches, potato salad and strawberry shortcake; I don’t normally cotton to strawberries, the stupidest of the berry line, but in the picnic situation, they’re allowed. What’s also allowed are young, fresh, attractive wines that we can enjoy without worrying our pretty little heads too much; wines that offer an interesting level of complexity without being ponderous or demanding or shrill. That’s what I bring to you today, because as the temperature moderates slightly in some parts of the United States of America, My Readers might be contemplating picnics, even if they occur on the safety of their own porch or patio or backyard, rather than say, Yosemite.

None of these wines sees the least smidgeon of oak; none has an alcohol content higher than 13 percent; all slide across the counter at a reasonable price. The primary motifs are charm, delight, drinkability. With one exception, these wines are from vintage 2010; one is from 2009. All rate Very Good+ with one exception, and that’s a superb rosé that I scored Excellent. These are versatile wines intended to match with all sorts of casual fare, not just my ideal picnic menu. Samples for review, except for one that I bought.

Image from artchive.com.
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Let’s start with a delightful sip of something just a little sweet. Innocent Bystander Moscato 2010, Yarra Valley, from an area just northeast of Melbourne in Australia’s Victoria region, is exactly the color in your glass as you see in this illustration: a very pale melon/bubble gum pink. It’s what Italians call frizzante, which is to say sparkling but more of a light fizz than gushing effervescence. The wine is a blend of 65 percent muscat of Alexandria and 35 percent muscat of Hamburg. Here is pure raspberry and strawberry notched up by a spike of lime with delicate scents of watermelon and rose petals and something slightly earthy and foxy. In the mouth, Rainier cherries and orange zest come into play and a hint of cloves enveloped in chiming acidity and a bit of limestone-like minerality. The wine is slightly sweet initially, but it quickly goes bone-dry, while retaining a sense of ripe softness and talc-like lushness balanced by that crisp structure and gentle, fleeting bubbles. Absolutely charming and — a word I seldom employ apropos wine — fun. 5.5 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot! Very Good+. Half-bottles about $10 to $12.
Old Bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
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Torres Vina Esmeralda 2010, Catalunya, Spain. Well, now, what a sweetheart this one is! The color is pale straw-gold with a slight green sheen. The wine is composed of 85 percent muscat of Alexandria grapes and 15 percent gewurztraminer, so it’s not surprising that what you first notice about the bouquet are aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, followed by peach and pear, and then a hint of lychee and petrol. The wine is sprightly, spicy, snappy, quite dry; it’s permeated by prominent strains of limestone and shale (though the texture is moderately lush) that bolster flavors of roasted lemon, canned lychee and some of its juice and a touch of peach nectar, all devolving to a stony, acid-lashed finish that reveals a hint of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Really charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., N.Y.
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Albariño is Spain’s white grape of the moment, and the Martin Códax Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas (in Galicia in northwest Spain) is a worthwhile interpretation. I found this wine’s invigorating dry grass-sea salt-roasted lemon-limestone character irresistible, and it immediately put me in mind of trout seared in an iron skillet with butter and capers over a camp fire (or Coleman stove), though that example truly sounds more like a cook-out on a camping trip than a halcyon picnic in a bosky dell. Add to those qualities hints of dried thyme and tarragon, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touches of fennel and cloves and a late-comer bloom of jasmine, and you get a well-nigh perfect picnic or patio wine. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Martin Codax USA — i.e., Gallo — Haywood, Ca.
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Grapes for the Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2010, Central Coast, derive from all up and down the vast Central Coast region of California, but include a portion from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. I love the name of this wine — “Stainless Chardonnay,” as if it were a product of immaculate conception — but the free-of-sin cuteness makes a point; this wine is made all in stainless steel and goes through no malolactic process in tank, so it functions as an epitome of freshness, bright flavors, vibrancy and minerality; it’s not just “no-oak” but “anti-oak.” My first note is “Lovely.” Pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors are imbued with hints of mango and guava (though the wine seems not a whit tropical) and touches of quince and lime. The texture is shapely and supple; it just feels beguiling sliding through the mouth, while plenty of limestone and steel and a hefty dose of jazzy acidity keep the keel on a purposeful cutting path across the palate. Thoughtful winemaking here from New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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With its engaging manner, crisp liveliness and lovely tone and presence, the Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2010 seduces the nose and gladdens the mouth. Made all in stainless steel from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, this product of a small appellation south of the city of Blois and the Loire River offers notes of fresh-mown grass, dried thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and ripe pear and heaps of lime and limestone. Lemon and lime flavors are touched by hints of sunny, leafy fig with a bell-tone echo of black currant at the center. Juicy and spicy, yes, but dry, stony, steely, deftly balanced between scintillating acidity and a delicately ripe, rich texture. The domaine was founded in 1898 by the Delaille family and has been owned by them since then; it is operated by Gilbert Delaille and his sons Emmanuel and Thierry. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
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Befitting a white wine that hails from an island, the Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, is savory and spicy, brisk as a sea-wind fledged with brine, replete with notes of pear and almond skin, a sort of sunny lemony quality, and underlying hints of bees’-wax and jasmine. The winery was founded in 1899 by two friends from Piedmont named — ready? — Sella and Mosca. The wine is made from 100 percent vermentino grapes, some of which, after harvest, are allowed to dry before being pressed, a process that adds some richness and depth to the wine without detracting from its notable freshness and immediate appeal. Ringing acidity keeps La Cala 09 vibrant and resonant as a bow-string, yet the tautness is balanced by a texture of almost powdery softness. Completely lovely. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.
Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Boy, is this pretty! The Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2009, Bianco di Toscana, made in stainless steel, is a blend of trebbiano, malvasia Toscana and chardonnay grapes, to produce an unusual and very attractive combination. “Bianco di Toscana” is a basic designation that means, as if you didn’t know, “white wine of Tuscany,” so producers can do just about anything they want with it. In the case of Oriolus 09, we have a light straw color with a sort of ghostly green tone and a bouquet of almond and almond blossom, spicy lemon and lemon balm, cloves and shale and limestone. A few minutes in the glass bring up elements of spiced peach and pear, which provide high-notes in the aromas but dominate flavors bolstered by clean, fresh acidity and subtle touches of dried herbs, tangerine and steely limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble, Cordova, Tenn.
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Luna Mater Franscati Superiore Secco 2009, produced by Fontana Candida, represents a rendition of the famous “wine of Rome” that is indeed superior. Such quality might not be such a difficult task to attain considering that most Frascati is bland and innocuous, but efforts are being made, and Luna Mater — “Mother Moon” — is among the best. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is a blend of 60 percent malvasia bianca di Candia, 30 percent trebbiano Toscano and 10 percent malvasia del Lazio, from vineyards that average 50 years old. What’s here? Almond and almond blossom with a touch of almond skin bitterness; green apples, roasted lemon and a bit of peach; dried thyme and lemon verbena; a very dry, steely and minerally effect in the mouth, with taut acidity, a rousing note of breeze-borne sea-salt and salt-marsh; rollicking spiciness from mid-palate back through a finish flecked with quince and ginger. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.
VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, from the area of Provence between Marseilles and Toulon, an absolutely classic South-of-France-style rosé, a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, with a lovely pale onion skin color slightly tinted with very pale copper; dried raspberries and red currants with a tinge of melon and peach; bone-dry, scintillating acidity, a spicy finish flush with limestone; wonderful tautness and presence, a little electrifying yet pleasantly supple and nuanced. The best rosé I’ve had this summer. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.
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These attractive, approachable wines come from Henry’s Drive Vignerons, the winery in Australia’s Padthaway region that releases its products under labels that relate to the country’s 19th Century postal system. The Morse Code connection lies in the fact that it used to be postal telegraphists — a term that rates the common parlance nowadays of typesetters and clock-winders — that operated the keys that sent messages of alarm and condolence across vast networks of wires. The Morse Code wines occupy a price point just under the winery’s popular Pillar Box series. I’ll admit to a soft spot for anything to do with Morse Code, because my late father, who had a bug about education because he was not well-educated, insisted that our family — he and my mother, my older brother and I — learn Morse Code; this was in the early 1950s. You have to picture us sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, each with a telegraph key fastened to a small block of wood, using our little guidebooks to Morse Code and tapping out messages to each other. My mom: “D.i.d. y.o.u. l.e.a.r.n. a. l.o.t. a.t. s.c.h.o.o.l t.o.d.a.y.?” Me: “No.” We also came late to television.

Anyway, Padthaway is in South Australia, in an area called the Limestone Coast, not because there are great cliffs but because the sandy-loamy soil is based on old limestone-permeated seabeds. This is considerably south of the lovely city of Adelaide — wonderful bookstores! — facing the Indian Ocean to the southwest. Though Padthaway is inland, it still receives some maritime influence because of the relatively flat or gently rolling terrain. There’s not much rainfall: 19.7 inches average annually, with about 7.6 inches of rain during the growing season; irrigation is a precondition. Surprisingly, considering the climate and geography, chardonnay is the great success of the region, though riesling, shiraz (syrah) and cabernet sauvignon are also grown extensively.

Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal. The Morse Code on the label spells the name of the grape. Henry’s Drive wines are imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. I tasted these wines with Kim Longbottom, the owner of Henry’s Drive, in Memphis last week.

Image of a very handsome telegraph key, slightly cropped, from mtechnologies.com.
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The Morse Code Chardonnay 2010, Padthaway, South Australia, is lean and sprightly and as fresh as a sea-breeze. An array of lemony notes — lemon, lemon balm, roasted lemon — is woven with grapefruit and lime peel with a grounding in cloves and limestone. Keen acidity keeps the wine lively and puckish, buoying citrus flavors that open to a bit of peach and pear, ginger and quince marmalade. The wine saw a little oak, that is, about 30 percent spent four months in French barrels, and that manifestation lends a texture deftly balanced between moderate silky lushness and brisk, crisp liveliness. The finish brings in more spice and a burgeoning, scintillating limestone element. 13.5 percent alcohol. A perfect white wine for porch, patio and picnic. Very Good+. About $9.
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The Morse Code Shiraz 2009, Padthaway, South Australia, is given a whisper of oak, but is largely made in stainless steel. This is an eminently drinkable shiraz that displays a beguiling elevated quality of blackberry and blue plum scents infused with licorice and lavender, a touch of eucalyptus, and a smoky, fleshy, slightly roasted element; a few minutes in the glass add hints of blueberry and rhubarb. The smoky, slightly leathery character increases in the mouth, as does an earthy-graphite-tinged element that gives the wine some backbone and bottom while never challenging the freshness and appeal of its delicious fruity essence. Tannins are sleek and supple, a bit velvety but subdued and nicely balanced. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try with burgers and steaks, hearty pasta dishes and pizzas. Very Good+. About $9.
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Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from lifesambrosia.com; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

All right, I know that this is the list My Readers most want to see, a roster of terrific and affordable wines. No hierarchy; the order is chronological as the wines appeared on the blog. Prices range from $8 to $20, and notice that most of these inexpensive wines were rated Excellent. The value quotient on this list is unimpeachable.
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<>Chateau des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Crémant de Loire, Savennières, Loire Valley, France. A sparkling wine composed of 85 percent chenin blanc and 25 percent cabernet franc. Excellent. About $18. (LDM Wine Imports)

<>Morgan Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Monterey County. Excellent. About $15.

<>Morgan Winery Cotes du Crow’s 2008, Monterey County. Syrah 55 percent, grenache 45 percent. Excellent. About $16.

<>Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $16.

<>Clos de los Siete 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Malbec (56%), merlot (21%), syrah (11%), cabernet sauvignon (10%), petit verdot (2%). Excellent. About $19. (Dourthe USA, Manhasset, N.Y.)

<>Plantagenet Riesling 2008, Great Southern, Australia. Excellent. About $20. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.)

<>Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 1,450 cases. Excellent. About $15. (Also the Gainey Sauvignon Blanc 2009 rates Excellent and sells for $14; production was 2,300 cases.)

<>Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

<>Oveja Negra Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Carmenère 2009, Maule Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $12. (Vini Wine & Spirits, Coral Sp[rings, Fla.)

<>Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009, Beaujolais, France. Very Good+. $10-$12. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y.)

<>Graham Beck Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008, Coastal Region, South Africa. Excellent. About $16. (Graham Beck Wines, San Francisco)

<>La TrinQuée Juliènas 2009, Les Vins de Georges Duboeuf, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $16. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Llai Llai Pinot Noir 2008, Bio Bio Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $13. (W.J. Deutsch & Sons, New York)

<>Prieler Johanneshöle Blaufränkisch 2007, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $19-$20. (Terry Theise Selections for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syossett, N.Y.)

<>Bodegas Aragonesas Coto de Hayas Garnacha Syrah 2009, Campo de Borja, Spain. Very Good+. About $8. (Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>Bodegas Agustin Cabero Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Very Good+. About $9. Scoperta Importing Co., Cleveland Heights, Ohio)

<>X Winery Red X 2008, North Coast. A provocative blend of 55 percent syrah, 23 percent tempranillo, 14 percent grenache and 8 percent zinfandel. Very Good+. About $15.

<>Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca, Chile. Excellent. About $13. (Austral Wines, Atlanta)

<>Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2009, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $15. (Dark Star Imports, Neww York)

<>Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valley, Victoria, Australia. 83 percent riesling, 17 percent muscat of Alexandria. Very Good+. About $10. (Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal.)

<>Calcu Red Wine 2008, Colchagua, Chile. 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carmenère, 15 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Very Good+. About $12. (Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Alma Negra Bonarda 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20. (Winebow, New York)

<>Carrefour Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $18.

<>Joel Gott Riesling 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Very Good+. About $12.

<>Niner Estate Syrah 2006, Paso Robles, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $20.
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What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
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<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
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Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

Why “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine”?

For fun, of course. Because I love Champagne and sparkling wine in all their categorical imperatives. Because I adore certain kinds of old traditions, such as the sequence of 12 days that leads from the solemnity of Christmas to the revels of Twelfth Night — that’s tonight –and the Epiphany, the day, according to ancient beliefs, on which the Three Kings arrived at Bethlehem. (The Kings, or Wise Men, were my favorite Christmas characters.) Of course end of the old year/beginning of the new year festivities extend back in history to the Roman Saturnalia and other ceremonies, riotous or not, that celebrate the glimmer of longer days and the foretaste of the coming Spring.

My favorite comedy by Shakespeare is Twelfth Night; or What You Will (to give the full title), a play, written indeed as a Twelfth Night entertainment, that in its witty and touching chronicle of love and loss, mistaken identity and discovery, foolishness and wisdom, pomposity and common sense, malice and miracle exactly captures the spirit of an occasion on which, in Medieval and Renaissance England, people disguised themselves and indulged in fits of merrymaking, feasting, drinking and dancing.

Perhaps the connection of Twelfth Night and sparkling wine is tenuous, but, after all, sparkling wine and Champagne are without doubt the most festive of beverages, and in honor of that conceit, I offer a roster of sparkling wines from around the world that would be appropriate for many, perhaps all, occasions.

These wines were samples for review. Three Wise Men images from mcleananddeakin.com
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Lambrusco got a bad rep in the 1960s and ’70s with the ubiquitous “Chill a Cella” television ads. This essential wine of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, however, is bone-dry, not sweet and sticky, and made to match the rich, hearty indigenous cuisine. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this entry about the Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia, I’m sipping a glass of the deep purple/magenta/beet colored stuff with my quite savory and spicy cheese toast. Marked “Sept 2010″ on the back label, the Ottocentonero is lightly sparkling, what in Italy is called frizzante (as opposed to the full-sparkling spumante), a sort of pink tickle-and-tease. A gamay-ish nose of black currants and black cherries contains hints of bubble gum and roses and surprisingly dusty shale-like minerality. There’s a lightness of being here that belies the dark intensity of the wine’s color and broad spicy component, yet it’s well-balanced by ripe black fruit flavors, titillating acidity and a touch of astringency on the finish. Charming but with an obsidian edge. The grapes are 50 percent lambrusco salamino, 40 percent lambrusco grasparossa and 10 percent lancelotta. Very Good+. About $16.

VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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The Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut, marked 2009 on the back label, is a superior expression of the prosecco grape. The color is pale gold permeated by scads of tiny bubbles. Pop the cork, and you immediately smell apples, lemons and pears, followed by almond blossom, almond skin and a touch of orange zest. This is a very dry, crisp and steely prosecco whose exuberant effervescence makes for a lively and lovely quaff. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Montacastelli Selections, New York.
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The package on the Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava is so ludicrous that’s it’s almost sweet. With its elaborate pewter emblem and carved pewter base, the bottle looks like the Great Seal of the Duchy of Flabbergastan. On the other hand, this is an interesting expression of the Cava style of Spain’s Alt Penedes region. Composed of 67 percent macabeo and 33 percent parellada, traditional grapes for Cava, the first impressions are of a beautiful medium gold color, an absolute froth of bubbles and a sense of buoyancy. This is bright, fruity and savory, with an intriguing (or slightly odd) muscat/riesling-like petrol aroma wreathed with lime, lemon curd and jasmine. In the mouth, this sparkling wine is dry and crisp, smoky and steely, with a sort of dried fruit compote element before a limestone-laced, austere finish. Very Good+. About $25.

Imported by Friexenet USA, Sonoma, Cal.
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Australians have a fetish about sparkling shiraz, which I first tried in the Antipodes in 1998 and thought that it tasted like sparkling blood, not to put you off or anything. Indeed, there’s a meaty, beefy quality about sparkling shiraz that the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia, embodies handily. The color is, inevitably, very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; that darkness pretty much conceals the effervescence, though tiny purple bubbles gather at the wine’s rim in the glass, and of course you feel that liveliness and sort of brooding dynamism on your tongue. This is deep and rich, very spicy, packed with ripe, dusty, crepuscular black cherry and blackberry flavors that feel dense and fleshy; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of walnuts and thyme. Still, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious, even managing to evince some delicacy of tone. It is very dry. No winsome aperitif sparkling wine, this demands food as large-framed as it is. Very Good+. About — ready? — $10, a Raving Bargain.

Imported by Quinessential, Napa, Cal.
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The Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace, made from 100 percent pinot blanc grapes, is completely delightful. The color is pale straw; a flurry of tiny bubbles surges up to the surface, like a reverse snow dome. Aromas of apple and pear permeated by cloves and a hint of spiced peach are deftly circumscribed by elements of limestone and steel. Flavors of baked apple and roasted lemon circulate in the mouth, almost caressed by a supple texture that’s fleetly enlivened (and nicely balanced) by acidity of staggering crispness and cool limestone-like minerality. The entire effect is of purity, intensity, electricity and, ultimately, lovely elegance in temper and tone. Great stuff. Excellent. About $25.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. Image from redwhiteandfood.blogspot.com

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Here’s another blanc de blancs, separated from Alsace by distance, style and grape variety. The Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County, is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, 35 percent of which go through barrel fermentation. The color is very pale shivery blond-gold; the surging gold-flecked bubbles are hypnotic. Yes, this evokes all the green apple and pear, limestone and steel one expects from a blanc de blancs, but adds flourishes of fresh biscuits and cookie dough, almond skin and almond blossom, with traces of roasted lemon and a distant waft of mango; sort of a thrilling bouquet. In the mouth, however, this sparkling wine is very dry, very crisp, very high-toned; a hint of roasted almonds and lightly buttered cinnamon toast bring a touch of winsomeness to the hauteur. I don’t mean the last sentence in a critical spirit; I love these Alpine sparkling wines and Champagnes and their aching sense of being above it all. Production was 1,550 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Yesterday was inadvertently a turkey day at our house. I finished the turkey, barley and mushroom soup for lunch, and for dinner, we just microwaved the leftovers and basically had Thanksgiving dinner again, while watching the (melodramatic) spy thriller The Eye of the Needle (1981) with Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan, and whatever happened to her? With both meals, I opened a pinot noir wine, and I’m not really comparing the two, I was being fastidious, I mean facetious about that; the situation was utter coincidence.
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With the hearty, flavorful turkey, barley and mushroom soup, I tried the Wakefield Pinot Noir 2009, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills, a wine that provides an intriguing interpretation of the grape. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and ages about 12 months in one- to two-year-old French oak hogsheads, meaning large barrels; in other words, the oak influence is very subtle, a gentle shaping rather than an overt or intrusive force. The beguiling bouquet weaves bright strands of rhubarb, cranberry and cola with a persistent high note of mint and undertones of briers and brambles. In the mouth, the wine is a supple, silky and smoky amalgam of red and black currants and black cherry with a touch of cloves and a slightly exotic hint of sandalwood. This is all quite charming, tasty and drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Very Good+. About $17, representing Good Value.

Imported by American Wine Distributors, South San Francisco. A sample for review.
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I had picked up a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, to sip with the actual Thanksgiving dinner, but stayed with the other wines on that occasion (Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Ridge Three Valleys 2008) and left the pinot noir on the sideboard. Last night, perhaps closing the book on the Thanksgiving leftovers, I thought, “Oh what the hey,” and brought it along. The Yamhill Cuvee is, in a sense, Domaine Serene’s entry level wine, and certainly its price, about $42 at the winery, is a bit less daunting than the costs of the limited edition pinots like its Evenstad Reserve ($58), Jerusalem Hill Vineyard ($70) and Mark Bradford Vineyard ($90). The Yamhill Cuvee is made from grapes derived from Domaine Serene’s estate vineyards in the Eola Hills and the Dundee Hills; it ages 10 months in French oak, 43 percent new barrels. The bouquet is unmistakable for the producer and the Willamette Valley: pungent, almost homey aromas of briers and brambles and moss, smoked black cherries and red currants and deep strains of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras. These elements assert themselves throughout one’s experience of the wine, adding notes of leather and violets and forest floor to the medley. The texture is ultimate satin, a suitably suave and elegant cocoon for flavors of spiced and macerated black cherries and plums with a plangent note of wild berry, all of this singing, in alto range, above a bass-line of rich, clean earthiness and damp shale. Yeah, I freakin’ love this wine! 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 to ’14. Excellent. I paid $47.
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The top shelf of the white wine fridge, that is. I received so many wines after I returned from South America that I needed to clear out space for some of the in-coming stuff, so I lined up the bottles that were lying on the top shelf of the refrigerator devoted to white wine and tasted them all. So that’s the category today: Miscellaneous Whites. These reviews follow the order of tasting. All of these wines were review samples.
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A blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Centine Rosé 2009, Toscana, offers an appealing pale onion skin color. A bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and dried red currants with a hint of dried herbs and limestone leads to a dry, crisp mouthful of wine permeated by delicate touches of strawberry and melon and a sort of woodsy berryish mossy note. The finish brings in more limestone and a trace of clove-like spice. The alcohol content is a highly quaffable 12.5 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Drink up. Very Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Well, the Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valleys, Victoria, is completely adorable. A blend of 83 percent riesling and 17 percent muscat gordo (an Australian synonym for muscat of Alexandria), the pale straw-gold colored wine is indeed a bit prickly and rather frisky, with its hint of spritz and star-etched crystalline acidity. The wine is moderately sweet going in, but by the time it flows past mid-palate, it’s classically dry and minerally in the crushed limestone/damp shale sense. Green apple, peach and pear, with a tinge of juicy mango; lilacs and camellias; a final delicate wash of river rocks, like a pale watercolor painting of water; these comprise a delightful wine that I found irresistible. Alcohol is 8.7 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.
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The Lorentz family has been making wine in Alsace since 1836; the tradition, the heritage and the experience seem evident. The Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace, is a radiant medium gold color; the bouquet delivers a heady amalgam of roasted lemon, lemon balm and almond blossom over subtle tissues of pear, toasted almonds and clean earthiness. Moderately rich notes of lemon, lime skin and pear (with touches of quince and ginger) seethe with teeth-rattling dryness and aching limestone-like minerality; this is, obviously, a very dry, very crisp wine that for all its litheness, leanness and chalky austerity offers wonderful body and presence. I love this detail: according to the winery’s website, its Reserve wines age in wood, stainless steel and glass containers. Drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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The color of the Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Riesling 2008, Alsace, is pale straw-gold; pungent aromas of pear, lychee and petrol (or rubber eraser) teem in the bouquet, along with hints of jasmine and damp rocks. This is a high-toned, elegant riesling, completely classic in every aspect, from its pinpoint balance between swingeing acidity and supple texture to its tremendous dose of limestone and shale that verges on pure minerality to its gorgeous peach, pear and roasted flavors. Mainly, however, this is about structure; you feel, beneath the fruit, the stones and bones of true authority and austerity, the chime of bright acidity extending into every bright molecule. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent, though I liked it a degree or two less than the Rèserve Pinot Gris mentioned above. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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Pert and pleasant but at the same time fairly neutral, the Centine Bianco 2009, Toscana, a blend of 40 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent pinot grigio and 30 percent chardonnay, does little to bring glory, much less discernible varietal character to any of its constituents. The wine is dry; it is crisp; it is quite minerally, but not in the pristine form of pure scintillating minerality. Even dividing the wine for fermentation and four months’ aging in French barriques doesn’t result in a memorable personality. Let’s face it: Tuscany ain’t prime real estate for sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or chardonnay. 13 percent alcohol. Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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It’s always interesting to read the technical sheets that accompany wines from Kendall-Jackson to my door because, for one reason, they confirm what a meticulous winemaker Randy Ullom is. The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 carries a Monterey County designation, though the wine includes wee portions of grapes from down south in San Luis Obispo County (3%) and farther north in Napa County (2%); don’t forget that there is a Napa County appellation as well as Napa Valley. The wine is fermented primarily in stainless steel tanks; 26 percent is barrel fermented. Pinot gris grapes account for 93 percent of the wine; blended are marsanne (2%), chenin blanc (2%), viognier (1.6%), roussanne (1%) and, rather incredibly, 0.4 percent chardonnay. I wonder how efficaciously the presence of less than half of a percent of chardonnay affects the wine, though my purpose is not to second-guess the winemaker, whose attention to detail I admire. (Actually that’s not true; I second-guess winemakers all the time. No sense being a hypocrite.)

Why, then, don’t I like this wine better? It’s certainly pleasant, clean, crisp and fresh, and it packs a terrific wallop of limestone-and-shale-like minerality, yet it leaves little impression of fruit or even the fruity/floral personality one would expect from the grape. I hate to be a snot, but I have to ask the question: Why was this wine made? Why was so much time and concentration devoted to it to end up just sort of decent and drinkable and forgettable. Well, there’s a place for such wines, but they don’t usually come with this sort of pedigree. Good+. About $15.
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The Cadaretta SBS 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon; the grapes derive from hillside vineyards planted in 1992 and 1995, and the wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. The wine offers notes of roasted lemon and yellow plums, with the semillon contributing touches of leafy fig and white waxy flowers, say camellias. There’s nothing grassy about this Bordeaux-style wine, but it does deliver sheaves of dried thyme and tarragon with a broad spectrum of dried savory spices. Elements of limestone seep in around the circumference and within a few minutes the wine is permeated by shale-like minerality, while the finish brings in hints of lime, tangerine and slightly bitter grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 six-pack cases. Winemaker was Virginie Bourgue, who has since left Cadaretta to focus on her own label. Very Good+. About $23.
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At the end of July, I reviewed the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, and wondered why the winery, which is owned by Kendall-Jackson, put the words “vinted and bottled by … ” on the back labels. Shortly thereafter I received an email message from winemaker Peter Fraser, who informed me that the estate’s winemaking facility was almost complete and that future vintages will be estate-bottled.

The Yangarra Roussanne 2009, McLaren Vale, sees no new oak, aging, instead, in 35 percent two-year-old French oak barrels and the rest in even older, neutral French oak; the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a subtle, supple wine with a lovely sleek texture that deftly balances crisp, apple-fresh acidity with the moderate lushness of ripe pears and roasted lemon. This roussanne is a pale straw-gold color; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon peel are infused with notes of bee’s-wax, jasmine and honeysuckle. The entire effect is of spareness and elegance endowed with confidence and varietal authority, and besides, it’s delicious. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Production was 1.045 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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The Charles Krug Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, was pitched to me as the chardonnay that redraws the map for chardonnay, but it seemed to me to be just another weary Baedeker into the dead-end territory of manipulative excess. It took “three new yeasts” to get the job done here, including “Dave’s super secret yeast” — winemaker is Dave Galzignato — and while I admire the restrained use of oak (seven months in French oak, 35 percent new) and malolactic (only 23 percent), the wine came out smelling and tasting like a brown sugar/toffee/crème brûlée dessert bomb. This is too bad, because it opened nicely, with hints of pear and peach, lemon peel and orange zest, but it descended quickly to strident spice and cloying fruit. Tsk tsk. 14.5 percent alcohol. On the other hand, you will be surprised that I rate this wine Good+ rather than Avoid, because the next chardonnay is even worse, and a guy has to draw the line somewhere. About $20.
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Erk! Gack! Bananas Foster goes psycho-killer! I found the Hanna Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, completely beyond the pale. Going through full barrel fermentation, malolactic “fermentation” — to remind you, ML is a natural process but not inevitable that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid — and aged in 75 percent new French oak, this bastion of butterscotch and brown sugar is strenuously toasty, muscularly spicy and aggressively oaky, with an unpleasantly dry, austere finish. At this point, some of my readers are saying gently, “Um, F.K., isn’t this a matter of taste and stylistic preference?” Well, no, it isn’t. Wines such as this one (and the preceding model) are travesties that have nothing to do with the chardonnay grape, just as over-oaked, over-ripe, sweet, cloying, high-alcohol zinfandels have nothing to do with the zinfandel grape. It’s a matter of respect; if you truly respect the chardonnay grape, you don’t make a wine that smells and tastes like a combination of the dessert trolley in a continental restaurant and a lumber yard. A wine writer whom I admire enormously wrote in a recent column that he would never tell a winemaker how to make wine. Oops, hey, I sure would! Look at it this way: I have reviewed books for 25 years — I was book page editor from 1988 to 2003 of the newspaper where I used to work — and I have produced a fair number of negative reviews. A negative review, even only partially, is a way of saying that an author was wrong about how he or she wrote the book, and the same principle holds true with wine and winemakers. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the winery goes out with every bottle of wine. Where was I? Oh, right. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not for me, O.K.? I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are wine drinkers (and reviewers at Wine Spectator) who like this “style” of chardonnay, but their palates are beyond my comprehension. About $22.
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This is really interesting, a non-vintage dessert wine, and I don’t mean port or some other fortified type. The Höpler Beerenauslese nv, Burgenland, Austria, tasted from a 375-milliliter half-bottle, offers a radiant medium gold color and seductive aromas of roasted apricots and peaches, baked pears, quince jam, honeysuckle and touches of ginger and cloves. In the mouth, this sweetheart is honeyed and viscous; flavors of spiced and brandied peaches with a touch of honeydew melon and mandarin orange are balanced by resounding acidity and a strain of earthy, slightly funky minerality. The wine is definitely sweet on the entry, but halfway across the palate the sweetness melts away, so the finish is resolutely dry and a little stony. The wine is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent sämling 88 (a synonym in Burgenland for Germany’s scheurebe grape) and 10 percent grüner veltliner. This doesn’t project the weight or presence or ultimate finesse of a great dessert wine, but it’s very attractive and even irresistible. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About — this is a guess based on imperfect Google results — $24.

USA Wine Imports, New York.
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Here’s a revealing comparison: the Höpler Beerenauslese nv mentioned above contains 136 grams per liter of residual sugar (the sugar level after fermentation has run its course); the Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese 2007, Burgenland, contains 214.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and you feel it in the wine’s massively ripe opulence and succulence, in its sense of softly dissolving grapes and skins, of macerating peaches and apricots liquifying in spiced brandy, of smoky pomanders and crème brûlée and tangerine clafoutis, of roasted honey and orange marmalade. This dazzling panoply of nectar is saved from cloyingness by a tremendous charge of limestone-like minerality and by acidity that feels electrified. “Exquisite” scarcely begins to describe this wine, made completely from sämling 88 grapes. The alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $52 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

USA Wine Imports, New York
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The SantoWines Vinsanto 2003, Santorini, Greece — the company also deals in capers, fava beans and tomato products as well as non-dessert wines — is a blend of 70 percent assyrtiko and 30 percent aidani grapes, both widely grown on the island of Santorini; the wine was bottled in 2008 and is throwing a sediment. The color is medium amber with a translucent rim; the bouquet offers aromas of toffee, roasted raisins and toasted almonds, fruit cake and a sort of Platonic cinnamon toast. These beguiling qualities segue into the mouth, where such flavors are a little torn between a very sweet entry and an achingly dry finish. Let’s call it an enjoyably rustic version of vinsanto that just misses essential balance. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $40 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Stellar Importing Co., Whitestone. N.Y. Image, slightly cropped, from Benito.

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As faithful readers of this blog know — bless yer little pointy heads! — every feasible Saturday night it’s Pizza-and-Movie Night in the FK/LL household. This has been a steady occurrence for 15 years or so, and for most of that time I adhered to pretty much the same routine in making the pizza. Recently, though, I radically changed the way I make pizza, in terms of basic ingredients and technique.

The first inspiration was an article that ran in the food section of The New York Times on May 18 (and available online), called “The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” by Oliver Strand. Following the advice of a number of professional pizza-makers, the story advocates making the pizza dough and letting it rise at room temperature for 24 hours or at least overnight. Now I’ve always indulged in what I thought of as a slow rising of the dough at about eight hours, but overnight was new to me. I tried the technique soon after I read the article, making the dough on Friday night and leaving the bowl on the counter until the next morning. About 11 o’clock, I punched the dough down, kneaded it a few times, put it back in the bowl and set it out on the back porch. By the time I was ready to make the pizza at 6 p.m., the dough has been working for about 20 hours.

What happened next was remarkable. Usually, when you roll out the dough, you have to have do it a couple of times because the gluten is still elastic, so it has to rest for a couple of minutes and then be rolled again. With the new technique, I rolled the dough out and it immediately spread across the edges of the wooden paddle and onto the counter. Whoa! I actually had to trim the circumference because the pizza would have been too big for the stone. (Sorry I don’t have images of the process.) When we ate the finished pizza, the crust was thinner than I have ever achieved before, yet still chewy, not cracker-like, with a texture that had a little give and a rim that was slightly puffy. Fabulous, yes, but for me anyway, this technique is a little tricky, and over the past two months or so, I have had — it seems to me; LL is more generous –about a 25 percent failure rate, by which I mean that the crust was not up to a fine standard. I think I just have to keep trying to tune the method until I get it right.

The other change is that I began buying, at the Memphis Farmers Market, the hard white whole grain wheat flour from Funderfarm, a milling operation run by a young couple in Coldwater, Miss. The flour is not cheap — $8.50 for four pounds — but it’s ground the day before I purchase it, and it contributes wonderful texture and flavor to pizza. Now I can’t make a pizza with only the Funderfarm flour (the result is rather heavy), so I worked out a formula of about 40 percent Funderfarm hard white whole grain flour, about 50 percent King Arthur Bread Flour and about 10 percent rye flour from Whole Foods. All of these flours are organic.

We have also benefited from a bumper crop of local aubergines, including little globular eggplant; slim, tender baby eggplant; and pale lavender eggplant with faint white stripes. I slice these thin, marinate the slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and oregano, salt and pepper and then grill them briefly over hardwood charcoal. This is great on pizzas, especially in conjunction with pepper-cured bacon (as in the image above), and what’s interesting is that usually I can’t stand eggplant, it sort of
hurts my stomach. Ratatouille, yuck! I also like combining fresh tomatoes and marinated dried tomatoes on the same pizza, dribbling on a bit of the marinade as the final touch. (This image is of a small vegetarian pizza I made one Saturday when LL was traveling.) And recently I’ve been using four cheeses: mozzarella, feta, parmesan and pecorino.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening in My Pizzaworld. As far as wine is concerned, here are notes on the variety of wines we’ve had with pizza over the past few months. These were all samples for review.

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When Easton says “old vine,” they’re not kidding. The grapes for the Easton Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, derive from the Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard, some of whose vines date to the original planting of 1865, up there in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. Can there be an older vineyard still producing grapes in California? This is a beautifully balanced and integrated zinfandel, with loads of poise and character. The color is rich dark ruby with an opaque center and just a nod to cherry-garnet at the rim. Scents of macerated and meaty plums and red and black currants are permeated with smoke and cloves with a touch of leather and briers. In the mouth, the wine is rich and warm, displaying an intriguing combination of the savoriness of ripe, fleshy black fruit flavors with a sweet core of spicy oak and a touch of the grape’s brambly, black pepper nature. It’s quite dry, though, gaining a bit of dignified austerity and mineral presence on the finish. Nothing jammy, nothing overdone, and surprisingly elegant for an “old vine” zinfandel. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Winemaker was Bill Easton, who also makes Rhone-style wines under the Terre Rouge label. Alcohol is 14.5. percent. Excellent. About $28 and definitely Worth a Search.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2006, Napa Valley, asserts an individual character, unlike so many merlot-based wines that just taste “red” or like an imitation cabernet. From the winery’s Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards, this intense and concentrated merlot delivers a bouquet of ripe black currants and black cherries etched with smoke and bitter chocolate and hints of lavender and Damson plum. A few minutes in the glass bring on a slightly roasted element, with flavors of black currants and blackberries permeated by cedar and dried thyme, all of these sensations cushioned by gritty, velvety tannins and fairly militant dusty, gravel-like minerality. The wine aged 18 months in a combination of French barriques and casks (that is, small and large barrels), some 30 percent of which were new. Such a regimen lends the wine shape, tone and seriousness without the frippery of toast or overt spiciness. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz, nephew of the winery’s co-founder and winemaker emeritus, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $42.
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The winery was founded in Australia’s Barossa Valley as Karlsburg Wines in 1973 by Czech winemaker Karl Cimicky; his son Charles changed the winery’s name to Charles Cimicky Wines when he took the reins. The blend in the Cimicky Trumps Grenache Shiraz 2007 is 55 percent of the first, 45 percent of the second. The wine spends 15 months in two-year-old French oak barrels that lend subtle spice and suppleness. This is a big, dark, rich and, yes, jammy red wine that bursts with aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and plums swathed with licorice and lavender and crushed gravel. Despite the intense black fruit nectar-like ripeness, the wine is completely dry, even austere toward the finish, but it also just rolls across the taste-buds like liquid velvet couched in furry, chewy tannins. A little swirling unfurls notes of clean earth, new leather and smoke. This was terrific with the night’s pizza, but Lord have mercy, would it ever be great with a medium-rare, pepper-crusted rib-eye steak. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
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La Mozza is jointed owned by Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe Bastianich and his partner is the restaurant business, Mario Batali. None of these celebrities — especially Batali — needs an introduction. (Mother and son also own a winery, launched in 1997, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the Colli Orientali Giulia D.O.C. region.) La Mozza was founded in 2000 and is located in Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma area. La Mozza Aragone 2006, Maremma Toscana I.G.T., could be called a combination of Italy and France; on the Italian side we have 40 percent sangiovese and 25 percent alicante grapes, and on the French side, specifically the southern Rhone Valley, we have 25 percent syrah and 10 percent carignane. The wine aged 22 months in 500-liter French casks; the standard French barrel is 225 liters, so theoretically, because of the greater mass of wine in proportion to wood, the oak influence with a cask is less, or at least more subtle. Not that the point matters tremendously for this dark, robust and vigorous red wine. Scents of red and black currants (and a touch of mulberry) are permeated by elements of graphite and potpourri, moss, briers and brambles and a bass note of mushroomy earthiness. Yes, there are intriguing, seductive layers in the bouquet, and if the wine is a bit more brooding in the mouth, that’s nothing that a little bottle aging won’t ease. The wine is well-balanced, but the emphasis is on dense but smooth, almost sleek tannins and rich, smoky black fruit flavors that need a year or two to develop. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Alcohol content is a comfortable 13 percent. Excellent. A few months ago, the price range for this wine was about $38 to $42; today it’s about $28 to $35.

Dark Star Imports, New York.
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard, located in Australia’s McLaren Vale appellation, is part of the Jackson Family Wines empire. While the Yangarra wines are promoted as “100% estate grown,” the federally required designation on the back label mysteriously does not say “Produced and Bottled by …” but “Vinted and Bottled by …”; the implication is that the Yangarra wines (at least the ones shipped to the U.S.) are not made at the estate. Whatever the case, the Yangarra Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, is a wonderful, I’ll say it again, a wonderful expression of the mourvèdre grape. While a traditional component of the blended red wines of the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc in southern France, mourvèdre is seldom bottled on its own except for a few instances in California and Australia. At first, this is all black: Blackberry, black currant, black plum, black pepper, black olive. Then a touch of dried red current enters the picture, along with sweet cherry and sour cherry, red plum, new leather. Give the wine a few more minutes and it turns into a glassful of smoldering violets and lavender, with overtones of bitter chocolate, espresso and dried thyme. The mineral element expands into layers of dusty granite and graphite that permeate the bastions of polished, chewy tannins. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, only 15 percent of which were new, so the wood influence is sustained yet mild and supple and slightly spicy. This could mature for a year or two, so drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 500 six-bottle cases; winemaker was Peter Fraser. Alcohol content is the now standard 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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Just as the Yangarra Estate Mourvedre 2008 mentioned above represents a Platonic embodiment of the mourvedre grape, the Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, performs a similar service for syrah. Syrah was planted in Darien in 2000 and 2001, so the vines have reached a point of development that should lend rich character to the wine and continue on a plateau of quality for 50 or 60 years. There’s a whole truckload of crushed thyme, marjoram and Oolong tea in this wine, as well as baskets of blackberries and blueberries imbued with hints of prunes, plums, lanolin and leather and an all-over sense of ripe fleshiness. The color is inky with a faint violet/purple rim; the granite and shale-like mineral element feels/seems inky too. So add the caprice of lavender, licorice, bitter chocolate and potpourri crushed by mortar and pestle and scattered on a smoldering field of wild flowers and herbs. Yes, I’m saying that this is a syrah that reaches a level of delirious detail, depth and dimension, and the deeper it goes, the darker and denser it gets, until you reach the Circle of Austerity and the Chamber of Tannins and the Rotunda of Oak. (The wine aged 14 months in French barrels, 42 percent new.) Despite those fathoms, the wine is surprisingly smooth and drinkable, huge in scope yet polished and inviting. Production was 974 cases. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. Drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’20 (well-stored). Winemaker was Darice Spinelli. Exceptional. About $48.
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Desiring something probably less complicated and certainly cheaper on a subsequent Pizza-and-Movie Night, I opened the Estancia Zinfandel 2007, Keyes Canyon Ranches, Paso Robles. Estancia was founded in 1986 on the old Paul Masson vineyards in Soledad, in Monterey County. The winery is now owned by Constellation. Keyes Canyon is in Paso Robles, down south in San Luis Obispo. The wine is touted on its label as “Handcrafted” and “Artisan-Grown,” whatever those nebulous terms mean. As is the case with many of the products from wineries purchased by Constellation, this wine says on the label “Vinted and Bottled … “; check your bottles of Mt. Veeder and Franciscan, also owned by Constellation. Actually what the complete line on this label says is “Vinted and Bottled by Estancia Estates, Sonoma Co.” So the question is: Where the hell was the wine made?

Anyway, I didn’t like it. I tried manfully for 15 or 20 minutes to coax something out of the glass that might resemble anything to do with the zinfandel grape, but all I got was a generic sense of smoky, toasty red wine that could have been cabernet or merlot. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Scott Kelley. Avoid. About $15.

Finally, LL said, “Oh, just open something else. Something better.” So I went looking and found the next wine.
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Yes, as you know, I’m the kind of guy who will open a Jordan Cabernet to go with pizza, but, damnit, the movie was going and we were chowing down and I had to grab something. And of course I’m not implying that a wine that costs $52 is necessarily better than a wine that costs $15; the case is simply that every wine should perform up to or better than its price range, and the Estancia certainly didn’t do that.

Anyway, the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, offers lovely balance, integration and harmony. The blend is 75 percent cabernet sauvigon, 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Aging was 12 months in French (67%) and American (33%) oak barrels, of which 33 percent were new. The bouquet is first a tangle of briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and black olive with a background of iron and dusty walnut shell; a few minutes bring in the notes of black currants, black cherries and cassis. The wine is intense and concentrated, dense and chewy, with finely-milled tannins and polished oak enfolding flavors of spicy black currants and plums and a streak of vibrant acidity contributing a sense of purpose. A model of the marriage of power and elegance and a delight to drink. Try now through 2015 or ’16. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Rob Davis. Excellent. About $52.

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