Bordeaux


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

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

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

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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Pay attention, Readers. These are wines to buy by the case for drinking anywhere from the next year to three or four years from now. At these prices, you can afford them. Four of these are French, one Spanish and one Argentine; in the grape categories, they are completely various and diverse. Three are white, three red. What they share is attractiveness, appeal and accessibility. They are widely available. No technical data or historical or geographical information; the Friday Wine Sips are designed to give you quick insight into a wine’s character. These wines are imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, in Winchester, Va., at the north end of the Shenandoah Valley. Tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
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Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux de Languedoc, France. 12.5% alc. 100% picpoul grapes, aka folle blanche. A perennial fave on BTYH. Savory and spicy, bursting with sunlight and sea-breeze and scintillating limestone and shale elements; roasted lemon and lime peel, touches of thyme, fennel and lilac; dry, delicate, evanescent yet with real substance. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $12.
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D. Coussergues Chardonnay Viognier 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 13.5% alc. 60% chardonnay/40% viognier. Very pretty wine; pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh and floral (honeysuckle, camellia); lemon-lime and hint of grapefruit; touch of viognier’s inherent waxiness and honeyed richness; but very dry, vibrant with crisp acidity, a stones-and-bones finish. Delightful. Through Spring 2013. Very Good+. About $13.
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Nuna Torrontes Reserve 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 14.5% alc. 100% torrontes grapes. Lovely white with a touch of austerity for balance; hints of almonds, jasmine and honeysuckle; roasted lemon and pear, very shapely, round yet breached by taut acidity and limestone minerality; quite dry, gets more spare, almost elegant through the finish. Through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $15.
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El Cortijillo Tempranillo 2011, La Mancha, Spain. 12.5% alcohol. 100% tempranillo grapes. All freshness, brightness and immediate appeal; red cherries and currants and touch of blueberries, hint of dried spices; undertow of briers and brambles, dry grainy tannins slip-slidy with velvety texture and clean acidity. Have a spare rib lying around? A lamb chop? Simple, direct, tasty. Very Good+. About $12.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents 2010, Corbieres, France. 13.5% alc. 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Another BTYH fave. Bright, clean, very appealing; scents and flavors of spiced and roasted black currants and blueberries infused with smoke and minerals; wild, pungent and peppery, dusty briers, brambles and underbrush, great for everyday drinking. Through 2013, with pork chops, meatball sandwiches and the ilk. Very Good +. About $12.
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Chateau Bellevue 2009, Cotes de Castillon, Bordeaux, France. 13.5% alc. 65% merlot, 35% cabernet franc. You feel both the balance and the slight tug of each grape; dark ruby color; black currants and cherries, touch of mulberries; thyme and black olive, graphite and cedar; plush texture leavened by the seriousness of oak and fairly dense tannins with brisk acidity keeping the package fresh and lively. Through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $17.
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Pleasant doings on this unusually timely, not to say early, edition of Friday Wine Sips; no clunkers, no plonk, just refreshment and ease and relaxation, though these wines aren’t meant just for sipping out on the porch or patio, sweet as that activity would be; they’re also meant to be thoughtfully and sympathetically (but not too seriously) consumed with food, though fare that’s light and summery would be best. I’m thinking grilled trout or salmon, shrimp salad, salade Niçoise, fish tacos, fritattas, pizza bianco; you get the idea. These wines were made in stainless steel or given a fleeting kiss of oak; the point is their freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. As usual with the Friday Wine Sips, I eschew technical, historical, psychological, anthropological and personal (or personnel) data for the sake of freshness, spiciness and immediate appeal. Wait, I’m getting this deja vu feeling all over again.

These wines were samples for review or tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Ferraro-Carano Bella Luce 2011, Sonoma County. 13.4% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, muscat canelli, gewurztraminer, viognier, pinot blanc, muscat giallo. Pale straw color; think apples and apples and pineapples, Asian pear and lemongrass, hints of lemon, peach and camellia; in the mouth touches of honeydew melon, more peach but spiced and macerated, honey, hay and a flirtation with fresh rosemary and its slightly resinous, tea-like quality; juicy, lush but balanced by bright acidity and limestone minerality. Quite charming. Drink through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
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Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; yellow plums, roasted lemon, bay leaf, cloves; a whisper of oak for spice and suppleness; ginger and quince, hint of leafy fig; deft balance between crisp, sprightly acidity and an almost dense texture; ultimately light on its feet, delicate; long, dry, savory finish. 1,265 cases. Excellent. About $18, and a Great Bargain.
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Chateau Graville-Lacoste 2011, Graves, Bordeaux. 12% alc. 70% semillon, 25% sauvignon blanc, 5% muscadelle. Sleek, suave, elegant; lemon, lemon balm and limestone; very dry, touch of chalk, a little austere; nuances of thyme and tarragon, slightly grassy; quite fresh, clean and appealing yet high-toned, classy, stylish. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $20.
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Domaine de Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates” 2011, Reuilly Blanc, Loire Valley. 12.5% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. So damned pretty, so fragrant, so lively, heaps of personality; spiced pear and lemon, hint of peach; lots of flint and limestone, some austerity on the finish but never less than fresh, vibrant and attractive. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $20.
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Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Pale straw-gold; very clean and fresh, crisp and lively; lemon balm and lemongrass, hint of tangerine and orange rind; back-notes of dried thyme and tarragon; burgeoning limestone element; lovely, seductive texture, almost soft and talc-like but with superb tautness and reticence. Totally beguiling and just enough complexity. Excellent. About $26.
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Today, Friday Wine Sips offers 10 white wines and two reds, the whites mainly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, mainly California but touching down in Italy, Spain and France, the reds collage-like blends, one from California, the other from Argentina.

As usual, I dispense with matters technical, geographical, climatic, philosophical, historical, anthropological, psychological, heretical and hermeneutic to focus on quick, incisive reviews that get at the essence of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at wholesalers’ trade events.

By the way, I was curious, so I went back and checked through the Friday Wine Sips series, which I launched on January 5, to see how many brief reviews I’ve done, and counting this post today, it’s 86 wines. That’s a lot of juice.
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Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Very dry, crisp and lively, with pert acidity and a sleek texture; kiwi, celery seed, tarragon; tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit skin, with a touch of citrus rind bitterness on the finish. Uncomplicated and tasty. Very Good. About $11.
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Cortenova Pinot Grigio 2009, Veneto, Italy. (% alc. NA) Clean and fresh, hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm with almond and almond blossom and an undertone of pear; the citrus spectrum in a smooth, crisp, bright package; good character and heft for the price. Very Good. About $13.
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Chateau Suau Bordeaux Blanc 2010, Cotes de Bordeaux, France. (% alc. NA) 55% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon, 10% muscadelle. A lovely white Bordeaux, brisk and refreshing, bordering on elegance; pear and peach, jasmine and honeysuckle, surprising hint of pineapple; all suppleness and subtlety but in a lively arrangement of balancing elements. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Lake County. 13.5% alc. Crisp and sassy, with tremendous appeal; quince and ginger, lemongrass and peach, lime peel and grapefruit and fennel seed, all intense and forward; animated, provocative in its spiciness, its leafy herbal qualities and alert acidity running through steely citrus flavors. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Valminor Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. This boldly spicy and savory albarino offers real grip and limestone fortitude with enticing citrus and grapefruit scents and flavors, whiffs of jasmine and camellia, hints of apple skin and roasted pear; eminently refreshing, spring rain and sea-salt with a bracing punch of earth and bitterness on the finish. One of the best albariños. Excellent. About $20.
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Hall Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. An organic wine. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; nectarine, pear and melon, dried thyme, cloves and a hint of fig, jasmine and honeysuckle; dry, smooth, suave; bright brisk acidity, scintillating limestone element; ethereal spareness and elegance of lemon, pear and grapefruit flavors. Excellent. About $20.
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Benessere Pinot Grigio 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. Pretty exotic for a pinot grigio but super-attractive; pale straw color; apple peel, orange zest, roasted lemon and pear; cloves and clover, touch of mango; nicely balanced between moderately lush texture and zippy acidity, crisp and lively but just an undertow of richness; lemon and tangerine with a touch of peach skin; long spicy finish. 895 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Molnar Family Poseidon’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Uncommonly spicy and savory; deep, rich, full-bodied, yet so light on its feet, so agile, deft and balanced; classic pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, exhilarating feeling of limestone and river rock minerality; smoke, cloves, cinnamon, hint of sandalwood, yeah, a little exotic but nothing overstated, and blessedly avoids any overtly tropical element. Excellent. About $24.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. (% alc. NA) Exactly the kind of chardonnay I would drink all the time: lovely purity and intensity of the grape; exquisite balance and integration of all features; pale straw-gold color; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors highlighted by cloves and limestone; oak lends firmness, suavity and suppleness; there’s a touch of camellia in the nose, and an intriguing bit of resinous grip in the long resonant finish, all bound by acidity you could practically strum like a harp. Sadly only 313 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Morgan “Highland” Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 13.8% alc. Bright straw-gold color; fresh, clean, boldly spicy, apple, pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, just a hint of mango; lovely finesse, balance and integration; rich but not creamy pineapple and grapefruit flavors, touch of cloves and buttered cinnamon toast, all beautifully modulated; limestone and flint come in on the finish. Excellent. About $26.
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And two reds:
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Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red 2009, Lake County. 14.2% alc. 38% zinfandel, 18% tempranillo, 13% barbera, 12% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 7% grenache. A pastiche of grapes that produced a warm, spicy, fleshy fruity and engaging wine; dark ruby-magenta color; cassis and blueberry, lavender, lilac and licorice; graphite and shale; hint of cloves and vanilla; quite dry, but juicy with black and blue fruit flavors supported by dense chewy tannins and burnished oak. Great for pizzas, burgers and such. Very Good+. About $17.
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Amalaya 2010, Calcahquí, Salta, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 75%, cabernet sauvignon 15%, tannat 5%, syrah 5%. Dark ruby-purple color; what a nose: rose hips and fruitcake, walnut shell, black currants, black raspberries and blueberries, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, graphite; in the mouth, very dry, very intense and concentrated, amid the tightly-packed tannins and firm oak a deep core of spiced and macerated blackberries and currants, lavender and licorice, briers and brambles. Needs a grateful steak. Very Good+. About $17.
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Here are notes on two terrific French white wines we took to dinner at Restaurant Iris in Memphis. Great meal, too, and thanks to our generous friend Allison Jacob, editor and publisher of CorkIt! magazine, for bringing the splendid Eagles Trace Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley.
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Chateau La Louvière, fortuitously located in the Bordeaux commune of Pessac-Léognan, traces its origins to the year 1476, when the first vines were planted, though for the modern period the important date is 1965, when André Lurton acquired the property and completely transformed it. The exquisite Neo-Classical style chateau, dating from the late 18th Century, is listed in the official Roster of Historic Properties. La Louvière produces about 12,500 cases of red wine and about 4,160 cases of white wine annually, as well as red and white wines under the second label, L de La Louvière. The cepage for the blanc is 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon. The wine ages typically for 12 months in a combination of oak barrels, 30 to 50 percent new, depending on the year.

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Léognan, is about exactly what one wants a sauvignon blanc-based wine to be, or at least it thoroughly convinces you that that’s the case when you’re drinking it. (Pessac-Léognan was separated from Graves in 1987 and granted its own AOC status; most of the finest chateaus in this former area of Graves were included in the new appellation.) The wine opens with a burst of roasted lemon and a snap of flint, quickly joined by notes of grapefruit and jasmine, lemon curd and acacia; a few minutes in the glass unfold hints of a sunny, leafy, slightly herbal element and a touch of fig. This is so clean and fresh, utterly youthful, shot through with bright, almost joyful acidity — well, the liveliness makes you feel that happy — and bolstered by a keen limestone edge; these factors do not prevent the wine from exhibiting lovely resonance and vibrancy and a texture that’s close to talc-like while balanced by intense crispness and a supple, lacy spiced oak structure. So complete, pure and intense, yet balletic and light on its feet. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. Average price in the U.S. is $42, but I sure did pay $50 right here in good ol’ Memphis, Tennessee.

Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, N.Y.
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The William Fevre Bougros Grand Cru Chablis 2006 is the best white wine I have tasted in a blue moon; it’s the kind of wine to which one says, “O.K., I place myself in your hands. Do with me what you will.” This is an astonishing revelation of the purity, intensity and authority of the chardonnay grape, and while the wine does undergo oak aging — a controversial position in Chablis where many great wines are made in stainless steel — the amount of new oak barrels at the domaine was reduced in 1998 when the Champagne house of Henriot acquired the property. The color is light straw-gold with a slight green tint; the knock-out bouquet weaves tremendous elements of limestone and flint with lemon balm and lemon curd, fleshy and lightly spiced stone-fruit and an earthy undercurrent — just a hint — of sauteed mushrooms. The wine is indubitably rich, almost lavish, yet it’s taut with crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone elements and exhibits really amazing energy and dynamic qualities; call it charisma, because this is one freakin’ gorgeous wine! And yet, for all its star-quality, the William Fevre Bougros Grand Cru Chablis 2006 is built on layers of subtlety and nuance, and ultimately it allows its elegant character to dominate its power. At just over five years old, this is drinking beautifully and should continue to drink beautifully through 2016 to ’18, as long as it’s well-stored. Exceptional. I paid $70.

Imported by Henriot Inc., New York.
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Mixed reds and whites today, with some great wines, some good wines and some clunkers. Geography and prices are all over the map; this is how it gets done. Arrangement is by ascending outlay of shekels. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. As is the case with this “Friday Wine Sips” series, inaugurated last week, these brief reviews do not go into the more technical aspects of winemaking, history or geography.
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Un4seen Red Wine 2009, California (though Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.9% alc. A blend of zinfandel, malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Nothing offensive but even inexpensive wine needs more personality than this example of the bland leading the bland. Good. About $11.
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Much better is the un4seen White Wine 2010, California (again, Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.5% alc. A blend of chardonnay, semillon, moscato & viognier. Pale straw color with faint green tinge; fresh apple and peach, slightly leafy and floral, touch of fig; very dry and crisp, very nice texture, almost lush, vibrant, spicy; hint of grapefruit on the finish. Charming; drink up. Very Good. About $11, A Bargain.
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Villa Antinori 2010, Toscana I.G.T., Bianco. 12% alc. 50% trebbiano & malvasia, 35% pinot bianco & pinot grigio, 15% riesling. Dry, crisp, lively; apples and pears, hint of thyme and tarragon, touch of almond and almond blossom; scintillating limestone gradually insinuates itself (say that three times fast); quite pleasant and engaging, nice balance between bright acidity, clean and spicy citrus flavors and a modestly lush texture. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2009, Salento I.G.T. 14% alc. Heaps of black pepper and cloves, forest, graphite, smoky black currants and plums; robust, plummy, juicy, chewy, dense with soft, grainy tannins and mineral elements; unusually well-balanced and integrated for primitivo; great with pizza, burgers, braised meats. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Concannon Conservancy “Crimson & Clover” Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. 13.7% alc. Blend of 50% petite sirah, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 10% zinfandel. Lacks oomph, stuffing, character; we speak of chemistry to describe the energy and magnetism of movie couples, but the grapes in this blend don’t provide that “chemistry.” Pleasant enough, but we deserve more for the price. Good. About $18.
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Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Ponzi’s “entry-level” pinot. Entrancing medium ruby color with blue-black depths; smoky, spicy, earthy, wild; black cherry and mulberry edged by cranberry and rhubarb; super-satiny, dense, verges on chewy; graphite-like minerality, leather, brambles. Pure pinot with an untamed heart. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Chateau Gombaude-Guillot 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux. 13% alc. This is typically about 65% merlot and 30% cabernet franc with a dollop of malbec. Lovely balance and maturity, sweet spices, dried black and red fruit and flowers, undertones of cedar, tobacco and potpourri, mild earthiness and hints of leather. A real treat. I bought this to accompany our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of standing rib roast, Brussels sprouts in brown butter, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Excellent. About $99.
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My recent sojourn in Bordeaux brought pleasures and revelations of many kinds — people, places, wine, food, history, tradition — but the most acute revelation, in fact the big story, occurred on the last night, when our small group had a tour, tasting and casual dinner at Domaine de Cantemerle — not to be confused with Chateau Cantemerle, the Fifth Growth Haut-Medoc estate in the commune of Macau. The proprietor of Domaine de Cantemerle is 73-year-old polymath Christian Mabille, who with his three sons in 1998 took over the property whose origins go back to the early 19th Century. Mabille, who seems as fluent in English as he wants to be, mainly spoke French when we visited the producer of Bordeaux Supérieur wines that lies about 20 kilometers north of the city of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne river, in the commune of Saint-Gervais. (The domaine’s wines are available in New Jersey, California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Virginia, Washington D.C., Missouri and Michigan.)

We were enjoying a meal of charcuterie and cheeses in one of the winery’s barrel rooms when Mabille, who is not immune to the twinkling eye and well-placed bon mot, dropped this bomb: “We are trying to anticipate climate change by bringing in chardonnay and other white varieties to replace sauvignon blanc, which is not going to be appropriate in a few more years.”

My colleagues and I scrambled for our notebooks. Chardonnay in Bordeaux? Sacre bleu!

I won’t belabor the point, but to recap briefly, grape-growing and wine-production in France are heavily regulated by the INAO through the AOC system. Each region where grapes are grown and wine is made, from the tiniest, most obscure appellation to the vast and geographically sweeping, is subject to rules that determine what grapes are entitled to be cultivated, how abundant the yields can be, whether certain vineyard and winery practices are allowed (irrigation, chaptalization) and how wines from specific areas are to be labeled. In fact, regulations were recently enacted that determine how many meters high vines can grow for some appellations, though there’s a five-year grace period to retool vineyards, as it were.

No rules exist that say that chardonnay grapes cannot be grown in Bordeaux and that wine cannot be made from those grapes; you just can’t label that wine as being from Bordeaux or anywhere within Bordeaux. The white grapes allowed in Bordeaux are sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle along with a few others like ugni blanc and colombard not used for top-flight wines. Chardonnay is not one of those permitted white grapes, primarily for reasons of practicality; chardonnay grapes to not perform at their best in Bordeaux’s maritime climate.

Mabille’s point is that as climate change continues to alter traditional weather-patterns and the gradual warming of the region becomes more acute, chardonnay and several other white varieties common to the South of France — Mabille is looking in Corbieres — will not only be suited to Bordeaux but necessary if the region is going to continue to produce white wine.

“We’ll only plant one or two hectares,” said Mabille — 2.57 to 5.14 acres — “just as an experiment, and this will happen in a year or two. Everything is in place. We have chosen the root stock and the vines, we have made cuttings, but the hail in September set us back.” (The domaine lost half of its crop of 2011 because of hail.) “Of course the wines will have to be made as Vin de France,” that is, they will not be allowed to carry any Bordeaux designation, a prospect that doesn’t bother Mabille because the domaine’s rosé is bottled as Vin de Table. “We wanted to give our rose a different character that’s not typical of Bordeaux rosés,” he said, “something a little darker, with a little more residual sugar. We didn’t want to confuse things administratively.”

Most startling was Mabille’s attitude toward the AOC structure: “It’s no longer a question of regulations,” he said, “but of client and customer confidence.” He goes further: “In this region, of course we have the traditional varieties, but you know carmenere has almost disappeared and petit verdot is no longer found in the northern Gironde except right here.” (Petit verdot makes up about one percent of the domaine’s 115 acres.) “Even the traditional producers and merchants have accepted that a part of the old grape varieties of Bordeaux are no longer present or viable.”

In fact, Mabille believes that the entire regulatory system needs rethinking.

“In 10 or 15 years, the AOC rules must be changed to allow more grape varieties,” he said, “or the whole thing is just going to blow to pieces. As I travel to other regions of the country and the world, I note that the French appellation system is very much appreciated and admired but not fully copied because it goes too far, it is too complicated. It’s essential to have rules, but they shouldn’t be extreme. I really support the changes to a simplified EU system that are coming in the future. It’s inevitable.”

Photo of Corie Brown, of zester.com, and FK frantically taking notes was shot by Fred Minnick. Many thanks to Jana Kravitz for her heroic translating efforts on this occasion.

Two wines from France, first the white, from the Maconnais region in the south of Burgundy, then the red, a Bordeaux Superieur.
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The Henri Perrusset Macon-Villages 2010 is the real deal as far as chardonnay goes, and I mean that this little beauty, because of its intensity, dimension and detail, could pass as a ringer for a Cote de Beaune blanc — all right, a minor Cote de Beaune blanc –at half the price. My first note on the wine, which was made all in stainless steel, was, “Damn, that’s good!” Lovely purity of chardonnay character here, with spicy roasted lemon and baked pear scents and flavors accented by cloves, quince and ginger and a scintillating limestone element that goes hand in hand with crystalline acidity; oh, and a zephyr-like wafting of camellia. Yes, this is fresh, clean and vibrant, and it delivers terrific balance and integration; not only does it taste good, but it feels good in the mouth. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Speaking of the real deal, the Chateau Senailhac 2005, Bordeaux Superieur — from a great vintage in Bordeaux — is the real deal as far as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are concerned. In fact, unusually for Bordeaux Superieur, this wine contains all five of the classic Bordeaux grape varieties: 43 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon, 23 percent cabernet franc, 7 percent malbec and, finally, a 2 percent dollop of petit verdot. At six years old, the wine displays a transparent medium ruby color tinged with brick-red/garnet at the rim; classic, too, is this bouquet of spiced and macerated black currants and black cherries with hints of cedar and tobacco, black olive and bell pepper and a touch of walnut shell and brambles. The wine offers slightly fleshy and meaty flavors of black currants and plums encompassed in a dense and chewy structure that’s firm and close to velvety without being heavy or obvious; tannins are mellow and a little chewy, a bit gritty with dusty graphite-like minerality that extends through the finish. Chateau Senailhac 2005 is drinking beautifully now and should do so through 2014 to ’16. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. I paid $19; prices around the country start at $16.

Imported by Luxco Inc., St. Louis.
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As a basic concept, a Bordeaux wine is any wine made within the defined region of Bordeaux, a geographical but not a political entity in the Gironde départment in southwest France. Within Bordeaux, however, there are 57 separate appellations, that is, official growing and winemaking areas defined by the INAO, the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, established in 1935 and taxed with regulating (in great detail) some 470 wines and spirits as well as other agricultural products. The fact that a region like Bordeaux consists of 57 appellations might seem difficult enough to encompass, though the system is further complicated by the existence of different rules within appellations — white wine made in Margaux, for example, cannot be designated as Margaux AOC — and by certain limited choices of designation that producers can make.

Bordeaux, in its most celebrated guise, is home to some of the world’s greatest wine estates, well-nigh legendary properties that annually release to the waiting arms and open pocketbooks of connoisseurs, collectors and high-end restaurants wines of finesse, breeding, power and longevity. These wines, famous indeed but only about five percent of the region’s total production, tend to originate in the appellations of Graves, Pessac-Léognan, Margaux, Pauillac, St.-Estephe, St.-Julien, Pomerol and St.-Emilion, all for red wine, and Sauternes and Barsac for dessert wines. Most of these appellations are communal, meaning that they are named for old towns and villages around which the vineyards and chateaux cluster.

In the regional sense, however — and let’s not forget that Bordeaux is also a city on the Garonne river that has been a center of wine-trading for eight centuries — in the narrowly (or formally) determined sense, the word “Bordeaux” officially applies to seven of the 57 appellations according to the A.O.C (Appellation d’Origine Côntrolée) regulations: Bordeaux Red; Bordeaux Supérieur Red; Bordeaux White; Bordeaux Supérieur White; Bordeaux Rosé; Bordeaux Clairet; and Crémant de Bordeaux — yes, small amounts of champagne method sparkling wine are produced in Bordeaux, and its quite tasty, if generally simple and direct. These seven appellations and their growers are represented by the Syndicat Viticole des AOC Bordeaux et Bordeaux Supérieur from its headquarters at Planete Bordeaux in Beychac et Caillau, just south of the Dordogne river in Entre-Deux-Mers.

The vineyards that supply the grapes for the seven “Bordeaux” appellations account for 54 percent of Bordeaux’s vineyard area, some 61,000 hectares, or about 156,770 acres. These vineyards are farmed by 6,085 growers, many of whom make, bottle and market their own wines, though the majority sell either grapes or wine to cooperatives, of which there are 44. The average holding for each grower is just under 26 acres; these are not large landowners, and they do not sell their wines for hefty prices. Obviously we are talking about a realm far removed from the heady preserves of the Classified Growths and grand chateaux nestled in their parks and illustrious, historic vineyards from which spring the hallowed, long-lived wines — Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, Petrus, Ausone, Cheval Blanc and so forth — that command tremendous feats of fiduciary prowess on the part of American CEOs and Asian magnates. No, I am writing here of smaller, more intimate chateaux, glorified farmhouses really, surrounded by a few hectares of vines often tended by the same families for generations, even back to the 18th Century. (Let me add that there are many beautiful old estates and chateaux in all regions and appellations of Bordeaux.)

Like the tremendous gulf that yawns between the salaries of business leaders and wage-earners in America, the untenable gap between the prices fetched for the top five percent of Bordeaux wines and the rest of the vast sea of wine produced in the region is economically insupportable. And where are these small landowners going to sell their products now that the French consume less wine than at any point since records began being kept yet more wine — a glut of wine — is being made? (Answer: The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.)

Anyway, the differences between Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC are matters of degrees. Bordeaux Supérieur red wine is supposed to be made from older vines (though the age is unspecified in the regulations) and aged for 12 months; it must finish with a minimum of 10.5 percent alcohol, as opposed to the minimum of 10 percent for “regular” Bordeaux, though the reality is that almost all the wines produced from both appellations vary from about 11.5 to 13.5 percent. The “Supérieur” designation does not mean that the wine is inherently “better” or “superior” to a wine that carries a plainer “Bordeaux” designation; the implication, however, is that because the rules are slightly more demanding, the possibility exists that a Bordeaux Supérieur wine would display more character and be capable of aging for four or five years.

One may think of Bordeaux, then, as a structure of concentric circles, with Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC, which may be made anywhere in the overall Bordeaux region, as the outer circles, while the rest of the (theoretical) circles become smaller and smaller, until finally we come to the communal appellations and their Classified Growths. Bordeaux Rosé AOC, Clairet and Crémant can also be made anywhere in the Bordeaux region, but you can bet that such production is limited to the broad AOCs; the winemakers at Classified Growths have better things to do with their expensive pedigreed grapes than knock out a few cases of rosé. There’s always the possibility that an estate could take advantage of the allowance to declassify a wine to Bordeaux AOC in an irregular year, though that decision has to be reached before the wine is made, not after; Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Supérieur AOC are not to be used as dumping appellations for inferior or mediocre wines.

Thanks to Jana Kravitz of Vin’Animus for clearing up some points of confusion; if there’s anything confusing in this account, it’s my fault. Image of the old port of Bordeaux from darvillsrareprint.com.

No, blanc de blancs Champagne will not yield its supreme place in my heart to any upstart, but I tasted and, yeah, just outright drank a great deal of what’s called Bordeaux Clairet when I was in Entre-Deux-Mers during the last week of September, and it’s a wine that brings lots of pleasure, delight and savor, qualities that are often overlooked in our search for vinous experiences of the profound variety. Sometimes it’s fine if a wine just makes you feel good and perhaps brings a smile to your undernourished lips and a twinkle to your jaded eye. Bordeaux Clairet — the final “t” should be pronounced according to the regional idiom of Bordeaux — is a bit darker and slightly more substantial and flavorful than Bordeaux Rosé, which is made in the traditional pale French manner, but less dark and less substantial than Bordeaux rouge. The color tends to be brilliant cerise or scarlet rather than the onion skin or light copper of a rosé or the dark ruby of red Bordeaux. In fact, Bordeaux Clairet resembles, as far as people understand, the delicate light-colored wines that began to be exported to England in the 12th century and continued until the late 17th Century when the wine’s character began to be darker, weightier and more age-worthy. Those earlier wines gave the British the word “claret,” by which they still refer to the red wines of Bordeaux.

The grapes for Bordeaux Clairet are the same as for any red wine made in Bordeaux: merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, with malbec and petit verdot allowed but seldom seen. Clairet tends to come from younger vines and typically is not aged in barrels. The ideal is a young, fresh, juicy wine of immediate appeal — think spiced strawberries and mulberries with a hint of black and red currants — that offers moderate texture and body and avoids the austerity or aridity that sometimes defines a very dry and delicate rosé. Clairet really goes well with charcuterie.

The Bordeaux Clairet appellation coincides with all of the Bordeaux region; in other words, chateaux in any appellation, even high-toned Margaux and Pauillac, Pomerol and St. Emilion, could produce Clairet if they so desired. Imagine the cellarmaster at Mouton-Rothschild or Latour saying, “Alors, I have a thought. Let’s take these three rows of not quite up to snuff grapes and turn them into a few thousand bottles of Clairet.” Well, no, that’s not going to happen; grapes at the grand houses are too valuable to waste in such a way; that’s why the concept of the “second wine” was invented.

Realistically, Bordeaux Clairet is made by the smaller properties that produce A.O.C. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur wines. In fact, most of the chateaux we visited on our brief tour offered both Bordeaux Rosé and Bordeaux Clairet, but the latter is not made in large amounts. Clairet production totals about 33,912 hectoliters — a hectoliter, which is a hundred liters, equals 26.4 gallons — or about 377,000 cases. That’s about 13.5 percent of the production of Bordeaux Rosé and just a drop in the barrel compared to AOC Bordeaux Red and Bordeaux Supérieur Red.

Very little Bordeaux Clairet is exported to the United States, if any is at all. Many wineries in California now produce rosé wines in a “New World” style that’s darker, spicier and more flavorful than the traditional pale Provençal-style rosé, so what would it behoove properties in Bordeaux to send their Clairet across the Atlantic? Better, perhaps, for the wine-producing families to keep Clairet for local restaurants, for themselves, their friends and honored guests. I know that I’ll look forward to a glass or two of Clairet when I return to Bordeaux.

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