Burgundy


Anyone who has read Rockss and Fruit, the blog written by Lyle Fass, knows that he is enthusiastic, opinionated and articulate. Meet him in person, and you understand what a force of nature he is, a man of seemingly boundless energy and zeal for a particular sort of vinous purity and intensity. A little more than a year ago, Fass, who worked in retail for almost 20 years — a well-known figure at the distinctive Chambers Street Wines in lower Manhattan — launched Fass Selections, an online entity designed to get fine European wines into the hands of consumers at reasonable prices by by-passing the three-tier system. Such a scheme is possible for an importer only because in the state of California, since Jan. 1, 2012, it is legal for an importer to sell wine via the Internet and via direct mail without requiring the importer to maintain a physical retail location or to hold a beer and wine wholesaler license (California Business and Professions Code section 23393.5). So while Fass, a fourth-generation Brooklynite, lives in that borough of New York, the business itself is registered in the Golden State. His take on the three-tier system is that it is “beyond imperfect.”

In frigid mid-December, after a round of delayed flights, I met Lyle Fass at the improbable Michelin one-star Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant in Manhattan’s Garment District (60 West 39th Street), a bastion of retro 60s modernist decor inhabited by legions of lunch-going office workers intent on — I’ll say frankly — some of the most riveting Chinese food I’ve ever encountered. Odd as it may seem, the German and French wines that Fass, 39 by the way, brought to taste were terrific with this spicy and profound fare.

What does he look for?

“Wines that express a terroir, that show freshness and acidity, that show purity.” Fass travels to Europe several times a year, using his contacts to find small artisan producers that embody these criteria. He is especially fond of Burgundy and Beaujolais, several regions of Germany, and now Champagne.

How does his system work?

All it requires in the way of brick-and-mortar presence is a warehouse to store the wines before he offers them on his website. Because inventory is low, he doesn’t need a lot of space. Once the wines are sold, Fass has already moved on to the next offerings. “Inventory,” he said, “is the scourge of the industry.”

“All the business is conducted by email,” he said. “I contact the producer and put the wine on the website. I get the orders from customers and send an invoice to the producer, who gets paid before the wine leaves the winery. We outsource the packing and shipping. I deal with farmers. They don’t know how to do invoices.”

His goal, over the next five to seven years, is to find 35 to 40 producers “that I’ll work with for a long time.” He acknowledged that the first two or so years of a start-up are tough. “We had some unexpected expenses, but we also have low overhead. 2015 or ’16 should be the breakthrough.”

While the wines are sold individually at a bottle price, Fass discounts prices in four or six bottle-groups.

The following wines were tasted at lunch with Lyle Fass. They represent the kinds of wines he sells but might not necessarily be available now.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Ineluctable and ineffable earthiness; peaches and lemongrass and camellia; sea salt and salt marsh; pea shoot and lemon balm; ethereal texture and structure; heaps of scintillating limestone. Absolutely irresistible balance and authority. Excellent. About $27.
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Müllen Kinheimen Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2002, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. 7.5% alc. Medium gold color with faint green highlights; otherworldly purity, intensity and beguilement; totally fresh and appealing; lemon verbena, thyme, grapefruit and tangerine with backnote of pineapple; layers of limestone and shale-like earthiness yet sun-kissed with leafy hints of apple, lychee and fig; a golden beauty, for drinking through 2018 to ’20. Exceptional. About $20, a Wonderful Value.
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Laible Durbacher Plauelrain “SL” Riesling Trocken 2012, Baden, Germany. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, peach and yellow plum fruit; spicy and savory; offers the energy of bright acidity and limestone minerality with the seductive power of a lovely almost talc-like texture, resulting in a winsome marriage of refinement and animation; pinpoint balance and integration. Drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $25.
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Irancy is one of those places that you hope never disappears, absorbed into some larger appellation because it’s obscure and little wine is made. Nominally linked to Burgundy but lying southwest of Chablis in a picturesque hidden valley, Irancy produces red wine made from pinot noir grapes and a small amount of rose; the local cesar grape is allowed. Though wine has been made in Irancy for more than 1,000 years, the tiny region was accorded AOC status only in 1999. The Thierry Richoux 2010, Irancy (13% alc.), is one of the purest yet most unusual expressions of pinot noir I have encountered. This is 100 percent pinot noir that sees only old passage barrels, so there’s no tint or taint of new oak. Intense medium ruby color; scents and flavors of mulberries, red currants and blueberries tinged with licorice and cloves and a distinct mossy-loamy quality; this is a lipsmacking tasty wine, for which a bastion of dusty, slightly leathery tannins and brisk acidity provide support. Rustic in the best sense of a country wine that represents its place and grape with style, character and integrity. Now through 2018 to ’22. This was intriguing and evocative with the restaurant’s camphor-smoked duck. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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A different perspective on pinot noir is the Hervé Murat Les Tuvilains Beaune Premier Cru 2010. Murat launched his Burgundian domaine in 2005, not an easy task in a region where vineyards are divided and subdivided and lost and regained through inheritance and where established land is expensive. Les Tuvilains in one of the smaller and lesser-known Premier Cru vineyards of Beaune; it was planted in 1947, and Murat owns half a hectare, that is, about 1.28 acres. This is classic, offering a medium ruby color with a hint of garnet; aromas of macerated and slightly stewed red and black cherries and currants with a hint of lilac and fruitcake and a spare, supple, sinewy structure through which clean acidity cuts a swath. Dark and dynamic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $39.
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The Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen (12.5% alc), is a dry riesling of tremendous tone, presence and character. Radiant medium gold color; replete with spicy apple, stone fruit and yellow plum elements, but fruit is almost superfluous — I think I’ve never said that before — in the face of its dense, almost chewy texture, its resonant crystalline limestone and shale minerality; this is a riesling that comes close to being tannic; huge dimension but real cut, swagger and detail. I mean, holy fucking moly. Now through 2020 to ’25. Exceptional. About $23, practically a Give-Away. .
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Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

The chapter on Domaine Leflaive in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (University of California Press, 1997), is unsurpassed in its research, acumen and judicial enthusiasm. In quick summary, the family traces its origin to the 15th Century, and the beginning of the domaine to 1717. In accordance with French law, though, with the death of each patriarch, the vineyards were divided among the heirs, until all that remained to the family by 1905 was two hectares of vines (5.14 acres). Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953), a mechanical engineer — he helped design the first French submarine — saw opportunity in the depression that followed the phylloxera disaster and started buying tiny portions of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, totaling about 20 hectares (some 51.5 acres). Proprietorship passed to brothers Joseph Leflaive (1908-1982) and Vincent (1912-1993), and then, when Vincent retired in 1990, to his daughter Anne-Claude and nephew Olivier, who now operates his own negociant company. Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with biodynamic methods in selected parcels in 1990, and now the entire domain is operated on those techniques.

In 2004, the domaine acquired five sections of vines in the Mâcon-Verzé appellation. These vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wine is made by Eric Remy, Domaine Leflaive’s estate manager. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts; the wine spent 15 months in barrels. The vines are 26 years old.

The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 displays a clean light gold color and offers exceedingly attractive aromas of jasmine and lilac, talc, roasted lemon, yellow plums and lemongrass; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. This is a wine — 100 percent chardonnay — of tremendous tone and presence that still embodies all we desire in the way of harmony, delicacy and elegance. The lovely texture is almost powdery in effect yet enlivened by bright vibrant acidity and scintillating flint-and-limestone minerality. The finish — very dry, a little austere — delivers spare elements of cloves, lemon balm and shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 is drinking beautifully now and will through 2016 or ’17 and perhaps go longer. Excellent. I paid $50, the full asking price, but the wine is being discounted around the country to $35 or so as the 2012 version becomes available.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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A local wine store offered some products on sale, two of which piqued my interest. These were the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 and the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. The first was about $17, marked down from $30; the second was about $30, marked down from $50. I couldn’t resist. Technically, each wine is classified as Burgundy, though neither derives from vineyards in the Côte d’Or, what we may call Burgundy proper. Bouzeron is a village in the Côte Chalonnaise which has had its own appellation since 1997, only for wines made from the aligoté grape. Côte Chalonnaise, named for the city of Chalon-sur-Saône, lies just below the Burgundian region of Santenay, at the southeastern-most tail of the Côte d’Or. Chablis, on the other hand, is not connected geographically with Burgundy and in fact stands almost equidistant between Dijon and Paris. The connection is that its wines are made from the chardonnay grape, as are the great white wines of Burgundy’s Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet appellations.
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Audibert de Villaine, a man whose very quietness and self-affacement exude a kind of unimpeachable authority, is not only the owner, with his wife Pamela, of Domaine A. et P. de Villaine but the co-proprietor and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an estate based in Vosne-Romanée that produces only Grand Cru wines and is generally regarded as not only the most prestigious producer in Burgundy but among the best in the world. The contrast between the domaines could not be more pronounced in terms of the wines they make, yet de Villaine operates each with integrity and acumen. Domaine A. et P. de Villaine has been certified organic since 1986. Beside the Bouzeron, the domaine produces Mercurey les Montots, Rully les Saint-Jacques and several different Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise wines. Minimal new oak is employed, with the domaine depending on used barriques, large foudres and stainless steel. The Bouzeron is aged about 20 percent in barriques. The domaine uses not the aligoté vert grape but its cousin, the more aromatic and flavorful aligoté doré.

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

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

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

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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We don’t frequently purchase products of the vine with a social or cultural program in mind, and when the rare opportunity comes along, it’s usually in the field of the environment. Steelhead Vineyards, for example, donates 1 percent of sales to environmental projects through 1% for the Planet, the non-profit organization based in Waitsfield, Vermont, that coordinates contributions to environmental groups from more than 1,000 business and corporate members. Buy a bottle of Steelhead’s sauvignon blanc or pinot noir wines, and you know that in some small measure you’ll helping the global ecology.

A recently released sparkling wine, Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut , takes such a concept into actual social and cultural realms by focusing on LGBTQ issues, including the struggle for same-sex marriage laws. The initials (for the uninitiated) stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and before the retrograde among My Readers make the obvious joke about redundancy, “Queer” in this compound designates individuals who take a radical approach to any sexual or gender identification or, on a simpler and opposite level, those who “question” their sexual or gender identity. The creator of Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut — Biagio Cru — in honor of the sparkler’s launch, donated close to $7,000 to various LGBTQ organizations; in addition, an unspecified portion of the sales of Égalité will be donated to such groups. On the product’s Facebook page, you may vote for the groups to which the organization donates

Allow me here to quote from the press release I received: The Égalité concept is a product of exhaustive research by Biagio Cru, as well as input from the gay community. In conjunction with Biagio Cru, its name and label were developed through a focus group that brought together gay and straight participants with diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps the committee-approach accounts for the feel-good generic quality of the label, looking like a thousand Valentine cards, but what counts is the product in the bottle, n’est-ce pas?

Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut offers a pale gold color with a darker gold center; tiny golden bubbles foam upward in constant flurry. A blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent gamay and 5 percent aligoté, this Crémant de Bourgogne is more substantial than most models; it’s toasty and nutty, with notes of roasted lemon and lemon drop, quince and crystallized ginger and hints of cloves and caramel. As the minutes pass, touches of glazed pears, tobacco, cinnamon toast and acacia emerge, while the texture, highlighted by zinging acidity, broadens with elements of limestone and chalk. It would be nice if the wine offered more in the way of refreshing delicacy and elegance, but that’s a stylistic choice; this is for those who prefer a sparkling wine with a more weighty, smoky mature-feeling. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Biagio Cru and Estate Wines — and don’t you know Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines loves that — Roslyn Heights, N.Y. A sample for review.

Say, how about a steely, limestone-soaked, oyster-shell-tinged, high-toned little white wine for your delectation? I have just the number you’re looking for. It’s the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011, a tightly-wound yet paradoxically charming chardonnay from an appellation, created from these two villages in 1998, in the Mâconnais just south of Burgundy proper. The domaine is one of the oldest in Burgundy, dating back to 1750; it has been owned since 1999 by the Family Champagne Group Societé Jacques Bollinger. The color of the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011 is pale pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, lemon and pear are permeated by flint and limestone and a sort of talc-like minerality, by which I mean that gratifying (and symbolic) combination of lilacs and dust. Oh, this is fresh, clean and crisp and crisper, with snappy acidity and the snap of flint and shale that warns of austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. This is not just about structure, however, allowing a winsome floral, fruity and slightly spicy element to emerge, just a hint, you understand, but enough to please before the limestone takes over. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. The spareness of the new label matches the lean and lithe nature of the wine. Very Good+. About $22.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. Image, much modified, from hogsheadwine.

Weekend Wine Sips has been devoted rather relentlessly to red wines from California, so for a complete change of mood and mode, we turn to white wines from France, one from Bordeaux, one from the Loire Valley, one from Burgundy, the remainder from the South. One is a sweet sparkling wine, three are dessert wines and the other five are dry and perfectly suited to the changes in weather and food that are inching upon us. These are quick reviews, taken often directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest and spark your palate. I keep technical, geographical and historical information and ruminative speculation to a minimum, so the emphasis is on the wines and my impressions of them. The “Little James,” the Sancerre, the Bourgogne and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise were my purchases; the rest were samples for review. Enjoy… and have a good rest of the weekend.
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Jaillance Cuvée Impériale Clairette de Die “Tradition”, nv. 7% alc. Muscat blanc à petits grains 90%, clairette blanc 10%. My previous experiences with Clairette de Die were dry sparklers, but they were 100% clairette; this jaunty example is definitely sweet. Pleasantly effervescent, a lovely mild straw-gold color; pears and peaches, softly ripe, notes of cloves, lime peel, spiced tea and limestone; hint of jasmine and some tropical fruit, lively acidity. A bit too douce for my palate, but should be pleasing as an aperitif or with desserts with fresh berries. Very Good+. About $16, a Good Value.
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Little James’ Basket Press 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 33-year-old viognier from Minervois with sauvignon blanc and muscat of Alexandria. From Chateau de Saint Cosme, established in Gigondas in the Northern Rhone in 1570. Pale straw gold; pears, yellow plums and a touch of peach, some astringent little white flower nestled in a briery hedge; fig and thyme, hint of caramelized fennel; very dry, very crisp and taut, a bit of greengage and grass. Highly unusual, really appealing. Very Good+. About $14, making Great Value.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. 13.5%. 100% picpoul grapes. Pale straw color; honeydew melon, yellow plums, orange blossom and zest; crisp acidity but with a lovely silken texture; bracing, savory and saline, a hint of salt-marsh with dried grasses, thyme and sage; sleek mineral-packed finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $14, Buy by the Case.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Chardonnay 2011, Vin de Pays d’Aude. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; very dry, taut, crisp, vibrant; lemon and cloves, ginger and a hint of quince; lemon balm and a touch of grapefruit with its welcome astringency; attractive texture subtly balanced between moderately dense lushness and pert acidity; lots of limestone and flint. An attractive and slightly individual chardonnay. Very Good+. About $14.
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Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2011, Loire Valley. 11-14% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Scintillating purity and intensity; pale straw-gold color; gunflint and limestone, roasted lemon and lemon drop, lime peel and tangerine; bare hint of grass in the background; very dry, tense, lean, pent with energy; deeply earthy with a hint of sauteed mushrooms; long flinty, steely finish, a little austere. Feels archetypal. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color; just freakin’ lovely chardonnay, minutely, gracefully sliding into maturity; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touch of grapefruit and mango; limestone under a soft haze of spicy oak; very dry, with plangent acidity and a lithe but generous texture; a wayward hint of orange blossom and lime peel, ginger and quince jam; long silken finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $27.
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Les Petits Grains 2011, Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois. (Les Vignerons de la Mediterranee) 15% alc. Pale gold color; orange blossom and candied orange peel, baked peaches, pears and quince; cloves and sandalwood; bananas Foster with buttered rum; dense and viscous without being heavy; lightly honeyed cinnamon toast; a long sweet finish balanced by vibrant acidity. Very Good+. About $14, for a 375-milliliter half-bottle, a Steal.
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Domaine des Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. 15% alc. Brassy gold-light amber color; softly ripe and macerated peaches and apricots; tremendous sweetness that turns dry mid-palate then austere on the finish, testifying to the immense powers of rigorous acidity; crème brùlée with a touch of the sweet ashy “burned” sugar; caramelized apricot with a hint of baked pineapple; that distinctive slightly funky muscat floral character; lip-smacking viscosity. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Chateau de Cosse 2008, Sauternes. 13.5% alc. 85% semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc. The second label of Chateau Rieussec, owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Medium gold color with a greenish tint; smoke, spiced peach and candied grapefruit, pungent with lime peel and mango and a touch of buttered pear; cloves, vanilla and toasted almonds; satiny smooth, clean, pure, dense yet elegant; exquisite balance and verve. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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The Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, non-vintage, made completely from chardonnay grapes grown in the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper, sports a new, simpler and slightly more elegant label. (And a slightly higher price than the last time I tried it. C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?) The color is shimmering pale gold, and the tiny bubbles surge upward is a steady swirling eddy. Made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this is quite lemony, with touches of lemon balm, apple and limestone and, after a few moments in the glass, a hint of crystallized ginger. Pert acidity keeps this sparkler bright and lively, while a scintillating mineral element — limestone and flint — lends earthy authority. It’s dry, appealingly effervescent, stylish and tasty, and it offers, as a bonus, a final fillip of sweet floral bounty. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

Did you think we were finished with sparkling wine? Mais non, mes amis! Few are the wine regions around the world that don’t produce some type of sparkling wine, and we touch upon some of those areas today in a “Weekend Wine Sips” post that refers to France (a little mysteriously); Argentina; Spain; South Africa; and diverse appellations in California. With one exception, these 10 sparkling wines were samples for review. Unless a year is indicated, these are nonvintage sparklers. And with one exception, they were all produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

I was at a doctor’s office last week, and the younger nurses and assistants were all saying “Have a Super Sparkly Day” to each other, with the appropriate amount of cynicism. This term, from the credit card commercial that drove the United States of America half bonkers during the Yuletide season, has gone viral, and there are, of course, t-shirts now available. I certainly hope that as far as sparkling wine or Champagne is concerned that you indeed “Have a Super Sparkly Day.”

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Cachette Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, “France.” 11.5% alc. Just a tad of enological and geographical info here. This pleasant little sparkling wine is made from the airen grape, the white-grape workhorse of Spain but one not allowed an official label designation in France; nobody’s saying you can’t grow the grape, you just can’t put any information on the label or use a legal appellation. “Bottled by V.A. at 21200″ is what we’re told, and thanks to my research assistant, Miss Google, I can tell you that 21200 is the postal code of the hamlet of Meursanges (population 485 in 2010), in the Cote-d’Or department, Beaune district, Beaune-Sud township; in other words — Burgundy. Pale straw color; moderate stream of fairly fine bubbles; clean, fresh dry; brisk and refreshing; lots of limestone and flint; no great character but serves a purpose with decency and grace. Very Good. About $15.
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Mont-Ferrant Brut Rosé Cava, Spain. 12.46% alc. Monastrell 55%, garnacha 40%, pinot noir 5%. Cherry-maroon color; pleasing effervescence; pure raspberry and strawberry; ripe and spicy, a touch sweet initially but goes dry with taut acidity and limestone minerality; vibrant and robust, almost tannic; a wild quality, brambles, roses. Intriguing style. Very Good+. About $19.
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Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 89% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay, 3% muscat. Icy blond color, a froth of tiny platinum bubbles. Almond and almond blossom; lemon and quince, ginger and cloves; touch of slightly honeyed star-fruit; round and creamy but shivery with crisp acid and limestone minerality; altogether warm and seductive with a touch of sweetness at the beginning. Really charming. Very Good+. About $22.
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Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 12% alc. 53% pinotage, 35% pinot noir, 12% pinot meunier. Pale copper-salmon color; exuberant bubbles, pretty in pink; strawberry and raspberry, very steely with a limestone background, bright acidity; cery clean, slick as a whistle, a little earthy though, raspberry with all the rasp. Charming and interesting. Very Good+. About $25.
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JCB No. 21 Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne. 12% alc. Pinot noir and chardonnay. Pale gold color; lively effervescence; lemon and lime peel, touch of candied grapefruit; very crisp and dry, steely and stony, heaps of limestone and flint; spiced pear and a hint of orange blossom; taut and vibrant. Very Good+. The Boisset website lists this at $25, but on the Internet I have not seen it over $20, and in fact that’s what I paid.
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Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Robertson, South Africa. 12.21% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw-gold color; clean-cut, sleek and elegant, lots of cut; also a ton of limestone and steel-like minerality, cool and bracing; yet it’s round, spicy, with hints of roasted lemon and smoked and slightly honeyed almonds. Very Good+. About $25.
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V. Sattui Prestige Cuvée Brut 2009, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 81% chardonnay, 19% pinot noir. Pale mild gold color; nice constant stream of bubbles; crisp, clean and fresh; apples and lime peel, hints of limestone and chalk; plenty of verve from acid and scintillating minerality but lacks a little substance; still quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $29. Available at the winery or through the V. Sattui website.
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Bianchi Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.3% alc. 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir. Pale gold with faint green highlights; ethereal stream of tiny bubbles; a distinctly ripe, earthy and fleshy style of sparkling wine; roasted pear, apricots and yellow plums, subsumed to pert acidity and a bracing mineral element of limestone and shale; taut yet luscious. Very Good+. About $30.
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Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2007, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot gris. Light straw-gold color; an exuberant host of tiny bubbles; delicate, elegant, steely; definitely citrusy with notes of lime, ginger and quince, definitely minerality with dominating limestone and flint; very high-toned, crisp, sleek; you can imagine it glittering as it walked. Excellent. About $36.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, North Coast. 13% alc. 55% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier. A substantial sparkling wine that announces its character in a resonant balance of austerity and robustness; slightly brassy gold color; upward spiraling stream of tiny bubbles; lightly buttered cinnamon toast, crystallized ginger, quince jam, roasted lemon; delicate up-notes of lime peel, wheatmeal and toffee; vibrant structure animated by vivid acidity yet slightly creamy, touch of roasted hazelnuts. A fine example of California sparkling wine. Excellent. About $40.
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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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