Australia



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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
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.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Every print and online wine publication in the Northern Hemisphere has been promoting what we’ll call Wines for Summer Sipping lately, and here at BTYH we’re no different. Few activities are more relaxing than sitting on the porch or patio, lounging by the pool or gamboling in forest cool and dim or meadow wide and fragrant at a picnic while sipping a refreshing, delicate, summery wine. And here’s one of the most attractive around. The name and label are quite clever; notice, class, the provocative use of negative space.

Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2009, from the Yarra Valley region of Victoria — the large geographical bump on the bottom of southeast Australia — is, in three words, charming, delightful, appealing. A blend of 91 percent pinot gris grapes and 9 percent viognier, aged a few months in older French oak barrels, and sporting a lovely pale-straw-gold color, the wine offers a seductive bouquet of jasmine, green apple and lemon balm infused with bee’s-wax and hints of cloves and ginger. Bone-dry but nicely ripe and rounded, Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 09 delivers flavors of pears and roasted lemon buoyed by touches of dried thyme and lime peel, pea shoots, more ginger and just a pass at the tang of grapefruit’s bracing bitterness, way out at the edge of the finish. Crystalline acidity and a nod at damp limestone complete an irresistible package. Try with grilled shrimp and mango salsa, sushi, simply prepared fish dishes (no cream sauce, please) or as a crowd-pleasing aperitif. Very Good+. About $15-$16, a Great Value.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

I don’t typically compose a post at the moment of drinking, I mean, of course, tasting a wine, but the day is so damned pleasant — except for the noisy yard work going on to the north and the east; people assume no one is home during the day, I guess — ANYWAY, the afternoon, as I said, is pleasant and I just opened my first rosé wine of the season, though as far as I’m concerned it’s always open season for roses.

The Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese 2009 is from the Mudgee “geographical indication” of New South Wales. Officially, Mudgee is included in the Central Ranges region, along with Cowra and Orange. If you know anything about Australia’s wine geography, Mudgee is inland from Hunter Valley on the east coast. So, this is 100 percent sangiovese, made all in stainless steel. The color is a moderately ruddy copper/salmon; call it angry peach. Irrepressible scents of watermelon, strawberries and orange zest draw you in to meet flavors of nectarine, apricot and dried cranberry given a savory slant by a hint of sage. The wine is quite dry and slightly minerally in the limestone area; bright acidity cools a lovely dense texture that somehow segues into a bit of ripeness on the finish. The wine possesses the heft to accompany antipasti, other sorts of hearty appetizers and hard cheeses. Or take it on a picnic, well-chilled; it’s closed with a screw-cap, so it doesn’t matter of you forget the corkscrew. The alcohol content is a comfortable 12.8 percent; whoa, is that my third glass? Just kidding! Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Robert Oatley Vineyards, Petaluma, Ca. A sample for review.

Yes, friends, there are bubbles concealed in the Plutonian depths of the blood-red Hill of Content Sparkling Red (non-vintage), made primarily from shiraz grapes grown in the South Australian region of Padthaway. The first time I encountered sparkling shiraz, as it happens on a trip to Australian, my impression was of drinking sparkling roast beef, but I was so much younger and naive 11 years ago. Certainly the Hill of Content Sparkling Red is a little meaty but not that brashly beefy as the example to which I was initially introduced. The bottle is sealed with a crown cap — like on a soda bottle — which indicates that the pressure inside is not as great as the pressure inside most sparkling wines; this is gently effervescent, a breeze of bubbles rather than a torrent. The bouquet offers plums and raspberries and notes of toast and leather. In the mouth, flavors of spiced red currants and cassis, as well as plums, are cushioned in a dense chewy texture; the base wine for this sparkler spends two-and-a-half years in French oak, and you feel the force and the resonance. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of fruitcake, if fruitcake were not sweet, and more leather. I have seen this rather astonishing product listed on some retail websites as a dessert wine, but it clearly is not; imagine the driest wine you ever tasted and then go beyond that into a region of Platonic dryness. What’s most unusual here is the sense that you are drinking a chilled sparkling wine and partaking of cold tannins. And yet — always an “and yet” — there’s a pretty, winsome quality about it, a thread of something floral and delicately macerated the belies its size and power. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at about $15.

The Australian Premium Wine Collection.

Sent as a sample for review.

Yesterday was the first meteorological day of winter, but that season debuted officially at our house two nights ago with the first ritual preparation of the cod and chorizo stew, with leeks and potatoes, that LL and I dote on. I have written about this delicious, body-filling and soul-satisfying dish before, so I won’t go into detail about it, but I do want to mention, of course, the superb wine we drank with it so successfully (and the wine’s cousins).

This was the Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2008, from the Frankland River region of Western Australia. The estate produces three single-vineyard rieslings, as well as a sort of cadet version under the Rocky Gully label, all finished with screw-caps.
______________________________________________________________________________________

The Frankland Poison Hill Riesling 2008 delivers incredible purity and intensity; this is a purposeful and confident riesling, shimmering, vibrant and concentrated in dimension and detail. Piercing limestone and damp shale qualities support classic notes of diesel fuel (call it rubber eraser if that makes you feel better), pear and peach with spiced apple and ginger. Hints of jasmine and honeysuckle seem to draw from the Platonic essence of those blossoms, so the effect is more earthy than overtly floral. This is a case when the accumulation of different sorts of delicacy meld into the balance between power and elegance; while there’s a sense that what you’re drinking is transparent and ethereal, you never forget this riesling’s strong connection to the soil. Rattling in its dryness, startling in its crystalline acidity, the Frankland Poison Hill 2008 finishes with marked austerity, high-toned and a little glacial, yet packed with citrus and spice. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Exceptional. About $28.
_____________________________________________________________________________________
The Frankland Estate Cooladerra Vineyard Riesling 2008, Frankland River region, feels even more serious than the Poison Hill ’08 rendition. This riesling is substantial, generous and expansive, while still tiptoeing an edgy line of blade-like acidity; there’s a risk in seeking this kind of precise balance between tension and resolution in a riesling, but the scheme works here. And for all its grand airs, the Cooladerra ’08 offers delightful elements of peach and lychee, lime and gravel, wrapped in an elixir of petrol and lilac. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Last of this trio is the Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2008, Frankland River Region. You’re greeted by an extraordinary bouquet of petrol and taffy, lychee, candied grapefruit, smoke and bergamot; riesling lovers may dab it behind their ears. After that beguilement, you’re surprised when the wine explodes with unassailable dryness, irrepressible acidity and irreproachable minerality in the crushed gravel, damp shale mode. I mean this wine is so crisp that it feels as if you could break it over your knee and pass out the shards to the poor in spirit, yet if ever a wine carried elegance to the point of severity, this is it. And still — and still — how winsomely it brings up a note of orange rind and another note of cloves, and a hint of quince, and an element so earthy and macerated that the wine is almost savory. What a performance! Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Exceptional. About $28.

Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection. These were sample bottles sent to me for review.
_____________________________________________________________________________________


The friendly drivers of UPS and FedEx bring wine to my door, not every day of the work week but often three or four days, sometimes two or three. It varies by circumstance and weather; shipping drops off during the hottest and coldest months. Some weeks, I receive a couple of cases of wine altogether; other weeks only a few bottles. Without these samples for review, a blog like this couldn’t exist, just as newspaper and magazine book pages couldn’t exist without the copies of books sent by publishers.

On August 20, I received seven bottles of wine, one from Argentina, two from Australia, one from California and three from Oregon. Prices ranged from 8 to $105. Contemplating these wines and the enormous variety and variation they representeded, I thought, “Eureka! Here’s an interesting post for BTYH, reviews of the wines I received on a single day, whatever their origin or cost.”

The order is from cheapest to most expensive.
____________________________________________________________________________________

Black Swan Wines, which carry a South Eastern Australia designation, are imported to the U.S. and bottled by Barossa Valley Importers in Modesto, Cal., the mention of the town of Modesto telling us that Black Swans are Gallo wines. I received two from an extensive roster, the Shiraz 2008 and the Riesling 2008. Of this pair, the Riesling ’08 is the Bargain.
Not that I minded the Black Swan Shiraz ’08. Produced in 230,000 cases, it offers the definite character of a mass-produced wine, that is, one feels it as a “red wine” rather than as anything definably shiraz-like. Its mildly spicy black fruit scents and flavors are passably decent and it offers a pleasing texture, and if we were at a party and someone handed me a glass (or plastic cup, more likely) of this wine, I wouldn’t turn to LL and raise an eyebrow too noticeably. In fact, that setting would be this wine’s highest purpose, as a red vinous beverage to be knocked back when dozens of people are thwacked by loud music and have to shout in each others’ ears to be heard and the whole situation borders on the mindless. Fun!

The Black Swan Riesling ’08, on the other hand, makes a real claim to varietal character. The wine is fresh and clean, as we would hope, and displays sufficient hints of peach, pear and lychee highlighted by the grape’s requisite note of petrol (you may call it rubber eraser) that when I swirled, sniffed and sipped, I thought, “Well, shut my mouth, this is riesling,” not, I hasten to say, riesling of great intensity and purport, but certainly more than merely decent. The texture niftily balances crisp acidity with moderate lushness, and the finish brings in spice and limestone.

I rate the Shiraz as Good and the Riesling as Very Good. Each about $8.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Don Miguel Gascon is an actual winery, founded in 1884, with an actual winemaker, Ernesto Bajda. This, too, is imported by Gallo, though unlike the Black Swan wines, Gascon Malbec 2008 is made, aged and bottled in its home, the Mendoza region of Argentina. This is a great wine for the price; I have used several previous vintages as Wine of the Week.

Made from 100 percent malbec grapes and aged seven months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, Gascon Malbec 2008 is a dark ruby-purple color with a violet rim (that’s when you tilt the glass and look through the edge of the wine to reveal all the hues); the bouquet bursts with scents of ripe blueberry and blackberry, spicy oak and briery, brambly elements. Black fruit flavors are permeated by plum dust, hints of coffee and tobacco, a bit of cedar; the texture is dense and chewy, and though the wine is robust (and a little exotic), tannins and oak influence are kept to sensible supporting roles. We drank this one night with grilled pork chops, and it was a hit. Very Good+. About $14, Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

The words no producer wants to read in a review are “disappointed” and “I liked the less expensive wine more than the expensive one.” Alas, that is what I must write today regarding three pinot noirs from Willamette Valley Vineyards.

The one I liked best, the one that seemed purest, most intense and unsullied is the Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Fermented Pinot Noir 2008. “Whole Cluster” means that the freshly picked and sorted grapes are placed, uncrushed, in stainless steel containers that contain carbon dioxide gas, sprayed with yeast and then sealed in. As fermentation slowly occurs, the weight of the grapes on top begins gently to crush the grapes below, releasing the juice. The result, as in this example, is urgent freshness and elixir-like fruitiness, first grapey and then redolent of black and red cherries and mulberries. In the mouth, this wine dips a delicate toe into the dark waters of spice and macerated black fruits; a few minutes in the glass manifest something slightly leafy, a little mossy and earthy. The texture is so satiny as to be almost viscous, but vibrant acidity cuts a swath. Utterly charming and delicious. Drink now through 2011. Very Good+. About $19.

I loved the bouquet of the Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007. A welter of cranberry, black cherry and sassafras, lilac and baking spice, it would easily seduce the most jaded nose. When you taste the wine, however, you find that touch of brown sugar and emphatic spice that too often characterizes West Coast pinot noirs. This element coasts on a tide of burly oak, and together they swamp the wine’s fruit, so that the finish devolves to wood and wood’s austerity. Very good. About $25.

My mantra is “If a wine smells like wood and tastes like woody, it’s too damned woody.” That’s my reaction to the Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007. Yes, ’07 should turn out to be a fine year for Oregon, and, yes, the Elton Vineyard is highly respected, but vintages and vineyards matter little if a wine is over-manipulated in the winery. At first glance, one might think that the oak regimen for the wine was perfectly balanced, 14 months in French barrels, 20 percent new, but there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip, and for my palate the wine was insufferably oaky. I spent half an hour or so with this glass, swirling, sniffing, sipping, waiting for some nuance, some detail to emerge, but those pleasurable factors seemed not to have a chance. 410 cases. Perhaps a few years aging will make a difference, but I don’t have much hope. About $45.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s the story: 14 years ago, young Will Jarvis, son of the owners of Jarvis Winery, had an 8th grade science project. It seemed natural to make red wine, for which he had to receive permission and made a two-gallon barre, illustrating the whole process. Ten years later, he and his parents tried the wine and thought it was so good that it inspired the present wine, a first release of Jarvis “Will Jarvis Science Project” Cabernet Franc 2007, Napa Valley. No, readers, this is not the original wine, but it’s certainly one of the best cabernet franc wines to be made in California.

The color is dark ruby-purple, almost black. The first impression is of immense minerality, like shoals of granite and shale, but the wine is immensely fruit-endowed too, bursting with scents and flavors of spiced and macerated blueberries and black currant jam. The wine exhibits tremendous heft and substance, breadth and depth, but it’s neither heavy nor obvious; it wears its size stylishly, legitimately. As moments elapse, the wine unfolds layers of smoke and charcoal, touches of loam and burning leaves, deeper hints of violets and tar. When you take a sip, it’s not only mouth-filling but encompassing. Yes, quite a wine. It was in all new French oak, but only for nine months; how reasonable is that? 391 cases. Best from 2010 through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About — ouch! — $105.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous Page