You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.

Ah, here we are, the final day of this series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” I offer three examples, one charming Crémant de Bourgogne and two splendid Champagnes, thus bringing to conclusion this foray into different styles of French sparkling wines from various regions. Twelfth Night is the Eve of the Epiphany, or, that is to say, the earthly manifestation of a deity, specifically, for Christians, marking the baptism of Christ by John in the River Jordan. That falls on January 6, tomorrow, a solemn occasion, while Twelfth Night was traditionally given over to revels and fetes, plays and masquerades and general disorder, the sort of fol-de-rol memorably captured by Shakespeare in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night, or, What You Will, written in 1601 or ’02 intentionally for presentation at the close of the Yuletide season. Tis a fitting night, in other words, for a glass or two of sparkling wine or Champagne, but then what night would not be appropriate for the world’s most festive beverage?

The illustration is a sketch by Orson Welles of the characters Malvolio and Olivia in Twelfth Night, courtesy of hollowaypages.com.
A charming way to precede or begin a meal would be with the J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, non-vintage, made completely from chardonnay grapes from the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper. The color is radiant medium straw-gold, and the mousse is persistent, pinpoint, slightly creamy. Plenty of stones and bones in this dry, crisp, lively sparkling wine, which has an aura of apples and green grapes, as well as hints of pear and peach, and a slightly earthy cast, a little sweet and foresty. Tasty and intriguing, with a lingering finish of spice and limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.
Taittinger introduced musically named Prelude and Nocturne in 2005; I recently tasted both and found Prelude much to my liking. The Taittinger Prelude Brut is made from Grand Cru vineyards and is a blend of half-and-half chardonnay and pinot noir; the chardonnay is from the villages of Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Ogre in the Côte des Blancs, while the pinot noir is from Bouzy and Ambonnay in Montagne de Reims. The pedigree, you understand, is there. The color is an entrancing pale yet brilliant blond with silver highlights animated, of course, by the millions of glinting bubbles that swirl up in energetic draft. Balance and integration of all elements are impeccable; this is a Champagne in which every aspect is completely evident and neither dominates nor diminishes the others. Notes of cinnamon toast and roasted almonds are woven with hints of camellia and jasmine, candied ginger and lime peel and immense reserves of scintillating limestone minerality. Prelude is a substantial Champagne, delivering unmistakable presence on the palate, yet it also feels deft, fleet-footed, even delicate in some of its appealing dimension; a model of the marriage of power and elegance. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
Is there a Champagne, indeed any alcoholic beverage, that possesses a more alluring, festive — and better-known? — package than Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque Brut? The curving bough of anemones, painted in enamel, the deliberately old-fashioned and nostalgic typeface, the way the name Perrier-Jouët is displayed so curvaceously on the capsule: all of these elements speak of a species of gaiety, pleasure and joie de vivre we assume to have existed in the era between 1890 and 1914, as if all of life consisted of dining at Maxim’s on oysters and Champagne. The emblematic flowers were designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé, the greatest of the French Art Nouveau glassmakers, but the product itself was not introduced until 1969, with the vintage of 1964. These wines benefit from a few years’ aging, so when LL and I opened the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2004 on New Year’s Eve, to sip with caviar, it was just seven years beyond the harvest and drinking beautifully. The Champagne opens with biscuity, toasty elements that unfold to hints of roasted lemon and pear, toasted hazelnuts and exotic spices and back-tones of quince and ginger, jasmine and limestone, all of these qualities conveyed with utmost finesse and elegance. This is about brightness, clarity and clean definition, while earthy, almost loamy, coffee-like elements provide ballast and foundation. (The blend, by the way, is 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 5 percent pinot meunier.) Great tone and resonance on the palate, crystalline acidity, a kind of fresh, wind-swept feeling, vivacious and tremendously appealing, and at the center a surprising bell-note of spiced grapefruit. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $140.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

Two wines from France, first the white, from the Maconnais region in the south of Burgundy, then the red, a Bordeaux Superieur.
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.
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.

I attended a wine tasting in a retail store — Great Wines and Spirits — in Memphis two nights ago, and while that event may not seem worth celebrating in some other states and cities across The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, it marked a significant change hereabouts. The state legislature recently passed a bill that permitted, for the first time, retail stores to offer customers samples of wine inside the establishments, beginning in July. Yes, friends, Tennessee grew up a little bit today. Now if we could catch up to some other parts of the country where Higher Civilization is represented by the fact that wine and liquor stores can also sell corkscrews and glasses and selections of appropriate food items. That may take a while though. Even longer to accomplish will be grocery-store wine sales. Year after year polls reveal that a majority of Tennesseans desire wine in grocery stores, but the legislature will not be persuaded; too many special interests are arrayed against the notion.
Anyway, this was a great way to begin wine-store tasting in Memphis because the featured wines at this event were four pinot noirs and two chardonnays from the Domaine de la Vougeraie. What was extraordinary, aside from the high quality of the wines, was the fact that four of them were from the 2006 vintage and two from 2003; current releases on the market are the 2009s and ’08s. (Domaine image, much cropped, from jockovino.com)

Jean-Claude Boisset founded his negociant firm in Burgundy in 1961, at the advanced age of 18. He and his wife Claudine purchased their first vineyard, Les Evocelles in Gevrey-Chambertin in 1964, and from that point there was, apparently, no going back. In 1980, the family launched Boisset Family Estates, now the third largest supplier of wine in France. Run by Jean-Claude and Claudine’s son, Jean-Charles Boisset, the company has seen huge expansion over the past 20 years, including in California, where it owns DeLoach, Raymond and Lyeth, among other properties. The most recent acquisition, in April 2011, was Buena Vista Carneros, a descendent of California’s oldest winery, founded in 1857.

Our concern, however, is Domaine de la Vougeraie, founded in 1999 by Jean-Charles Boisset and his sister Nathalie (pictured here); founded in the sense of producing a first vintage of wines. Actually the brother and sister had spent a decade consolidating all the family’s superb vineyards or parcels of vineyards in Burgundy — about 86 hectares or 221 acres — under the name and operation of one domaine named for their parents’ home. The vineyards, many of which harbor very old vines, are farmed organically or increasingly along biodynamic principles. For the Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines, indigenous yeast is allowed to start fermentation. New oak is employed judiciously or not at all. Winemaker is Pierre Vincent, who in 2006 replaced Pascal Marchand, so it was Marchard’s wines we tasted.

If you’re used to drinking pinot noirs from California and Oregon — and yes many of those wines are fine indeed — these four pinots from Burgundy may seem alien to you. Whereas many West Coast pinots are often made from very ripe grapes, are deeply extracted for dark colors, heavy fruit flavors and tannins and see a lot of oak, these Burgundian models are delicate, cleanly layered, finely chiseled, elegant and yet intensely varietal. Of course one could cite differences in climate, geography and philosophy for such discrepancies, yet a pinot noir that looks, smells, tastes and feels like a syrah is a betrayal of the character of the grape.

The domaine’s website, by the way, is the best winery site I have ever seen in its thoroughness and attention to detail in describing its wines and how they are made.

Friends, I am but an ink-stain’d wretch and proud to be counted amongst that company, though the financial rewards are not great, especially in the freelance cadre. I do not, as you can imagine, actually buy wine often, but, yes, I dipped into the credit card zone and bought three bottles of these Domaine de la Vougeraie wines, one each of the Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006, the Beaune Blanc 2006 and Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. Here follow reviews of all six wines.
Côte de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 2006. The chardonnay grapes for this wine derive from vines planted in 1989 and 1990, among the youngest in the domaine. The wine aged 10 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Lovely, lively; spiced pear and quince, touch of ginger and cloves, honeysuckle, acacia and — how to say this? — old-fashioned face powder. Smooth, supple, subtly earthy over a mantle of scintillating limestone; squinching acidity cuts a swath on the palate; citrus and pear flavors; gets deeper, spicier. A few minutes in the glass bring in lilac and a hint of mango and yellow plum. Incredibly fresh and inviting but with a slight tinge of smoky maturity. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Alcohol content is 12.5 percent. Production was 457 cases. Excellent. About $50.

Beaune Blanc 2006. Just under two acres (.74 hectares) includes vines planted in 1973 and ’74 and vines planted in 1994 and ’95. The wine aged 14 months in oak barrels, 25 percent new. Wow, what a chardonnay, and what a great price (relatively speaking, n’est-ce pas?). Gorgeous pineapple-grapefruit strung across serious depths of stones and bones; cool and clean, yet seductively spicy, seemingly infused with Parmesan rind and bacon fat, cloves, quince marmalade and ginger scones, Bit O’ Honey; yet very dry, austere even, with swingeing acidity and a huge component of river rock and limestone; gets increasingly spicy and savory and floral; thoroughly compelling but a little daunting. Drink through 2015 or ’16 (well-stored, I mean). 13 percent alcohol. 290 cases. Excellent. About $50
Beaune La Montée Rouge 2006. The vineyard is a hair under nine acres (3.46 hectares); the pinot noir grapes for this wine are drawn from several small parcels planted in 1964 and ’65 and 1985 and ’86. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. Here’s what we want from classic pinot noir: a pale but radiant ruby-brick red color with a hint of garnet at the rim; a delicate and impeccably knit congeries of dried red currants and plums, cloves and a touch of cola with a slight earthy/mossy/mushroomy cast; a supple, suave and satiny texture that entices the tongue while plangent acidity plows the palate; this is quite dry, a little brambly, slightly austere and woody on the finish, nothing that a roasted chicken wouldn’t cure. Drink through 2014 to ’15. 13 percent alcohol. 270 cases. Very Good+. About $50.
Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Corvée Paget Premier Cru 2006. From vines planted in 1987/’88, so fewer than 20 years old at harvest; the parcel is miniscule, about .85 acres (not much larger than my backyard). The wine aged 15 months in oak barrels, 50 percent new, though, interestingly, after 2006 this wine sees no new oak. Light ruby-mulberry color, faint blush of garnet; beautiful aromas of slightly spiced and macerated red cherries, red currants, mulberries and cloves, just a hint of smoke and cola; a few minutes swirling and sniffing unfold delicate tissues of plum pudding, fruitcake and roses; supple and satiny in the mouth, impeccable layering of red fruit flavors (including dried currants), vibrant acidity, a burgeoning spicy element and just a touch of briery, tannic austerity on the finish. Just freakin’ pretty. Drink through 2015 or ’16. 13 percent alcohol. 100 cases. Excellent. About $85.

Savigny-lès-Beaune Les Marconnets Premier Cru 2003. The name “Marconnets” is found on documents going back to the 13th Century. The vineyard parcel is about 4.7 acres and has been farmed on biodynamic principles since 2001. The wine aged 12 months in oak barrels, 45 percent new, but after 2006 will see no new oak. A beautiful but vivid faded ruby-garnet color, almost transparent at the rim; spiced and macerated plums and red cherries, touch of fruitcake, hints of roots, moss and leather; light, elegant, wonderfully knit, spare, tends toward dryness and austerity, especially on the slightly earthy, slightly woody finish; a diminishing beauty though still with power to provoke. Drink through 2013. Alcohol is 13 percent. 564 cases. Very Good+. About $50.

Vougeot Le Clos du Prieuré Rouge Monopole 2003. A monopole, a vineyard owned solely by one person, family or house, is rare in Burgundy, where vineyards tend to have been fragmented by marriage and inheritance over two centuries. Le Clos du Prieuré — the wall of the priory — is a small vineyard, a whisper over one hectare, meaning that it’s close to 2.57 acres. The vineyard has been carefully maintained — now on biodynamic principles — with plantings that go back to 1901/’02; the last planting was in 1982 and ’83. The wine aged nine months in oak barrels, 30 percent new. The color is a gently faded ruby-garnet with a flush of ruddy brick-red; the aromas are smoky, a little roasted and fleshy, spicy and macerated, with hints of plum pudding and fruitcake; it’s a grand wine, dignified, supple and subtle, seductively satiny in texture yet spare, graceful, polished; a few minutes in the glass bring out notes of smoldering potpourri and sandalwood, incense, forest floor, mildly woody tannins. What a beauty! Drink through 2015. Alcohol content is 13 percent. 261 cases. Excellent. About $75.

There are lots of “Côtes” and “Beaunes” here as we navigate six regional and village Burgundy wines from the venerable house of Joseph Drouhin, founded in 1880. I’ve written oft before about the complex categories that comprise the scheme of Burgundy — a surprisingly small area in eastern-central France — so I won’t do that again here. Let’s just say that the products we’re looking at today occupy the tier below Grand Cru (at the top) and Premier Cru (next down, though several Premier Cru vineyards could stand to be promoted), wines that derive from mainly small, fragmented vineyards so hallowed that they practically win Nobel Peace Prizes with every vintage. What we have today, however, reflects the wide base of the Burgundy pyramid, primarily from vineyards that do not occupy the prime Grand Cru and premier Cru acreage in the middle of the hillsides — a côte is a hill or slope — but the broader areas below the slopes or back on the hilltops or around the sides. Many village or regional wines represent good value, though that term becomes more relative as prices go up, and also make a good stab at embodying the particular patch of land whence they come or at least don’t defy or deny their origin and the nature of their grapes, which are, of course, chardonnay and pinot noir.

As is the case with the other large grower/negociant houses in Burgundy, such as Louis Jadot, Louis Latour and Faiveley, the firm of Joseph Drouhin produces many wines from its own vineyards — 182.5 acres throughout the region, including Chablis — and then purchases grapes from growers under long-term contracts for the rest of the wines, mainly the less prestigious ones, which, however, still involve a process of meticulous winemaking. Drouhin has “modernized” its front label script and art somewhat, which I think is unfortunate, because the package now looks less individual and more generic; I miss that red stripe across the bottom, but one one asked me, did they? The company also instituted a bottle that’s lighter by 10 percent, casting a lighter carbon footprint in shipping, and launched, with the 2009 vintage, QR codes on the back labels of most of their wines.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. Samples for review.

The Joseph Drouhin Montagny 2009 is neither a profound nor a glamorous expression of the chardonnay grape, but it displays the sort of lovely intensity and authenticity that make for a satisfying and pleasurable experience. Montagny is the southernmost of the four communes of the Côte Chalonnaise, which lies just south of the Côte de Beaune, separated by the river Dheune. Drouhin buys grapes for this wine from trusted growers under long-term contracts. The wine ages 6 to 8 months in oak, 20 percent new barrels. Every element is in place in this charming chardonnay: acidity is clean and blade-like; the texture is an appealing silky combination of crispness balanced by moderate lushness; scents of apples, quince and hazelnuts segue into flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pears and lemons; and a burgeoning limestone quality offers scintillating and slightly earthy ballast. 305 cases imported. Highly appropriate for restaurant wine lists and by-the-glass programs. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.

Grapes for the Côte de Nuits-Villages appellation come from vineyards in five villages: Brouchon and Fixin in the north part of the Côte de Nuits — Fixin is also entitled to its own appellation — and Comblanchien, Corgoloin and Premeaux-Prissey in the south. Again, Drouhin buys grapes for the Joseph Drouhin Côte de Nuits-Villages 2009 from growers under long-term contracts. The wine ages from 12 to 15 months in oak, with fewer than 10 percent of the barrels being new. The color is medium ruby with a faint plum cast. Aromas of raspberries, mulberries and dried cherries unfold to reveal hints of briers and brambles, dried baking spice and potpourri; in the mouth, vibrant acidity courses through a lithe and sinewy texture that encompasses flavors of black and red cherries with an intriguing and earthy touch spiced rhubarb, all of this couched in fairly dense, dusty tannins. Drink through 2015 or ’16; a year or two will soften the tannins and make the wine more pliable, though it should be fine now with a game bird or roast beef. 575 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21.50.

Where vineyards for Côte de Nuits-Villages wines are found in five villages, grapes for Côte de Beaune-Villages may derive from or be blended from up to 15 villages — but not Aloxe-Corton, Beaune, Pommard or Volnay. Again, Drouhin purchases grapes for these wines but strictly limits the number of sources. Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune-Villages 2009 ages 12 to 15 months in oak, 10 percent new barrels. The color is slightly darker ruby than the previous wine and displays a tinge of magenta at the rim. A bouquet of red raspberry and dried red cherries with touches of mulberry and plum is framed by an earthy character manifested in underbrush and briers and a bit of dusty graphite. The wine is firm with dry, slightly austere tannins yet directly appealing because of the vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. It fills out and fleshes out a bit more than the Côte de Nuits-Villages, though it retains some reticence in its nature. Number of cases imported not available. 13 percent alcohol. Best from 2012 through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $23.50.

Chorey-lès-Beaune lies just north of Beaune the town and Beaune the appellation; in fact, the name means “Chorey near Beaune.” (Pronounced shory-lay-bone.) Drouhin owns about three acres of vines in this small, red-wine-only appellation but supplements that amount by purchasing fruit from other growers. The Joseph Drouhin Chorey-lès-Beaune 2009 is slightly less firm and dense than the Côte de Beaune-Villages described above, which is to say that I found it a bit more subtle and supple, though its typical complement of red raspberry, red cherry and plum scents and flavors are highlighted by a macerated and roasted quality that rendered this wine singular among its cousins. Still, it’s quite dry, a little foresty and brambly in the depths, and the finish brings in a note of austerity. 2,000 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.

There is a town called Santenay, just south of Chassange-Montrachet, but, unusually for Burgundy, the vineyard appellation of Santenay is broken into four very irregularly shaped areas, two of which are not that close to the town. One frequently reads that the saying in Burgundy is “The last sip of Santenay is better than the first,” and the Joseph Drouhin Santenay 2009 proves the wisdom of the old saw. I found the wine to be the hardest of this group of five pinot noirs, and though I toyed with it for an hour, that is coming back to it several times, it never resolved itself with a clear sense of definition. I did like the balance between swingeing acidity and attractive fullness of body, but essentially the wine lacked character in the middle. Perhaps it needs time, say until 2013 or ’14, to find itself. 265 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $27.50.

The difference between the appellations of Côte de Beaune-Villages and Côte de Beaune is that the latter does not revolve around particular, scattered villages but is a vineyard area (not all contiguous) west of the city and higher in the hills than the Premier Cru vineyards of the Beaune appellation. Drouhin owns nine acres of organically-cultivated vines in Côte de Beaune from which it draws for the Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune 2009. The wine ages 10 to 12 months in barrels. This is an immediately attractive, warm and spicy pinot noir that teems with notes of black cherry, dried red currants, cranberry and rhubarb, cola and dried flowers; no, it’s not Californian, but it certainly could serve as a model. From top to bottom, this wine offers more detail and dimension than its peers, both in its complex network of spicy, mineral-drenched black and red fruit flavors and in the layering of acidity, oak and dry, fairly stalwart, foresty tannins. The Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune 2009 could profit from being undisturbed until 2013 and then should drink very well through 2017 or ’18. About 400 cases imported. The printed material I received called this wine “relatively simple” — and let’s hope that it’s not too “simple” for the price — but I think that description sells it short. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $33.50.

In honor of tomorrow’s Mother’s Day celebration, I offer notes on a quartet of inexpensive or reasonably priced sparkling wines — not that the worth of our mothers is to be calculated in dollars but, rather, in tears and joy — that will bring a little lift to the occasion of a lunch or dinner, a party or reception. The style and tone of each of these is different and capable of creating its own mood. There’s still time to hie thyself to a wine store and pick up a bottle or two for the sake of maternal love and obligation. These were samples for review. Image from armymomhaven.com
The Caposaldo Prosecco from Italy’s Veneto region is an exhilarating Prosecco — the name of the grape and the wine — that sports a very pale straw/gold color and a seething plethora of tiny glinting bubbles. Caposaldo Prosecco is fresh, clean and lively, with whole shoals of limestone and steel buttressing notes of almond and almond blossom, orange rind and lemon and a delicate hint of pear. Heaps of vitality and energy, currents of crisp acidity, very dry, with a pert, stony finish. Quite charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ About $14, representing Good Value.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
The unusual blend of the Trapiche Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina, is 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent semillon and 10 percent malbec. Made in the Charmat method of second fermentation in tank, this sparkling wine offers a radiant light gold color and an entrancing bouquet of dry, dusty acacia and and sweet, honeyed jasmine, orange zest, green apple and roasted lemon. This sparkler is very dry, brightly crisp and delicate, in fact downright elegant, as if its lustrous limestone-damp shale minerality were etched to transparency with silver leaf. Notes of citrus and toasted almond reveal a hint of something spicy, wild, leafy and tropical in the background, a tiny element of unexpected and intriguing exuberance, as well as a bit of buttered toast. How could Mom not love it? 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the past six months with consistent results.)
Made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes in the champagne method, the JJ Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne delivers a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles in a very pale straw color with a slight greenish tint. This is incredibly clean and crisp and lively, with vivid acidity and scintillating lemon-lime and limestone elements (and a hint of green apple) carried by a texture that’s paradoxically crisp yet almost creamy. Though the wine is close to austere in its resolute limestone and chalk-like minerality, it’s saved from being daunting by a suave, elegant tone, refreshing lemony fruit highlighted by touches of ginger and spice (and, I suppose, everything nice) and a trace of sweet floral nature. Delightful but with a slightly serious edge. 12 percent alcohol. So close to Excellent, but still Very Good+. About $20.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y.
The Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé is made in the champagne method from pinot noir grapes grown in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region.
This is lovely, charming and elegant. The color is lightly tarnished copper over silver salmon scale; the foaming surge of tiny flecking bubbles is deliriously mesmerizing. First one sniffs smoke, red raspberry and dried red currants; then come orange rind, a touch of lime sherbet, melon ball and a slight yeasty, bready element. The wine is crisp, dry, lively, clean and fresh, a tissue of delicacies that add up to a supple, engaging structure — close to sassy yet almost creamy — buoyed by an increasingly prominent limestone minerality. The finish brings in hints of cloves and pomegranate and a smooth conjunction where limestone turns into damp shale, and a final winsome whiff of rose and lilac. 11.5 percent alcohol. Bound to be a crowd-pleaser. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookfield, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the last six months with consistent results.)

… including some that I should have tasted months ago or last year or maybe years ago, but the process proved interesting in some ways, disappointing in others. Since the majority of the chardonnays were produced in California, many of them, perforce, were stiff and unwieldy with oak. Well, why should I have been disappointed; too much oak, strident spice and austere finishes (or cloying buttery, creamy, tropical, dessert-like qualities) are typical in chardonnays from the Golden State. All the more reason, then, to praise the few on this roster that actually celebrate the purity and intensity of the chardonnay grape itself.

Of necessity, these reviews will be briefer than usual, and I will devote less space to the negligent wines and more space to the successes. To avoid a hierarchical scheme, the order is alphabetical. I receive at my doorstep, you will perceive, all sorts of wines in many styles and at many prices. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review.
Alamos Chardonnay 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. This is the inexpensive line from the Catena family. Spiced apple, pineapple and grapefruit, a haze of oak; very pleasing dense, slightly chewy texture; lively acidity, a firm limestone background, essential balance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the summer of 2012. Very Good. About $13, representing Good Value.
Imported by Alamos USA, Haywood, Ca. (i.e., Gallo).
Albamar “William Cole” Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. The problem with this otherwise attractive wine is that it seems in every respect more like a sauvignon blanc than a chardonnay, right down to its sauvignon blanc-like notes of leafy fig and dried thyme and tarragon. Also touches of peach and pear and roasted lemon; very dry, heaps of limestone; austere finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $11.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
A. et P. de Villaine Les Clous Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007, Cotes Chalonnaise. About a month ago, I wrote about the A. et P. Villaine La Fortune Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2007; now comes the turn of its stablemate chardonnay, an absolutely lovely and authentic example that I wish I could have as a house wine. If I were compiling a wine list for a restaurant, I would certainly include this both by bottle and glass. Pale gold color; roasted lemon and pear, jasmine and acacia (think of some pert, astringent little white flower); earthy and minerally in the limestone and wet shale range; quite dry but juicy, almost luscious, yet superbly matched by a texture that balances spareness with a talc-like effect; all wrapped in scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. I paid about $25.
Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Cal. (Current release is the 09.)
Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca, Chile. I don’t know how widely available this chardonnay is, but it’s worth the effort to make a search. Bright, clean, seductively fragrant; green apple, pineapple and grapefruit; honeysuckle and cloves; touch of roasted lemon and baked pear in aroma and flavor; brings in some peach; heaps of flint- and limestone-like minerality; quite dry but tasty; a lovely chardonnay with a slightly serious acid and mineral edge. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
Aquinas Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. Obviously I forgot about this wine and allowed it to languish in the wine fridge, but boy, did I get a surprise when I tried it. Full-bodied, vibrant and resonant; spiced pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; dense and chewy; good balance though the oak comes in more prominently through the finish; dry, stony. Quite attractive and drinkable. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 (according to the tag on the bottle; website says $20. This is apparently the current release of this wine.)
From Don & Sons division of Don Sebastiani Family of Companies.
Benziger Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. Sangiacomo is one of the most important vineyards in California; many producers have made award-winning chardonnays from its grapes, but of course what happens in the winery is beyond control of the vineyard and poor little ol’ grapes themselves. This is a big, bold, powerfully spicy and thoroughly oaked chardonnay, and the oak influence continues to gain momentum, like a force of nature, through mid-palate to finish. If all you care about is oak, you’ll like this. I don’t. 14.1 percent alcohol. Biodynamically produced. Not recommended. About $20.
Box Car Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. Pale straw color; very attractive poise and balance, moderately rich pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; spicy, vibrant, dense and chewy; good integration, through the wood — 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels — comes through a bit on the finish. Still, it’s tasty and pleasing. 13.4 percent alcohol. 917 cases. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $23.
B.R. Cohn Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County; B.R. Cohn Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. The differences between these chardonnays (one from the well-known Sangiacomo Vineyard) lie in degrees of power, intensity and dimension. The 09, Sonoma County, offers a pale straw color; green apple, pineapple and grapefruit; it’s bright, ripe and spicy, with dusty limestone and damp shale and a long finish woven of ripe fruit, clean acidity and spicy oak. Eight months in French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $24. The Sangiacomo 09, on the other hand, which is barrel-fermented and matures in 100 percent new French oak, eight months, is not just bright and ripe and spicy but boldly stated and authoritatively proportioned, a true well-bred luxury item; the wine is intense and concentrated, though it greets your first sniff and sip with accommodating freshness and cleanness. Again, the oak regimen layers its effects as the wine builds, yet the balance is never compromised; in fact, the wine gets better as the minutes pass. 14.4 percent alcohol. Best from 2012 through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Winemaker is Tom Montgomery.
Bridlewood Chardonnay 2007, Monterey County. The most difficult wines to write about are the ones that are just fine, thank you v. much, that are completely O.K. and fairly pleasant in every sense but not memorable. So, the Bridlewood Chardonnay 2007 — it’s a Gallo label — offers interesting notes of pear and quince, cloves and yellow plums; the balance is nicely maintained; there’s a slightly chewy, slightly dusty texture and heaps of limestone on the very dry, almost austere finish. Oak and stainless steel fermentation and aging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15.
Winemaker is David Hopkins.
Coppo Costebianche Chardonnay 2007, Piemonte. What happened here? The 08 version of this wine has been released, but there’s no reason why the 07 shouldn’t be, well, maybe not as fresh as a daisy but certainly attractive and nicely developed. Instead, this is all buttered toast, toffee, burnt orange, burnt match, sherry-like and very dry. Bad storage? Bad shipment? Or a wine that contravenes everything that I believe proper about making chardonnays? 12 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $20.
Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. (My previous and more approving post on Coppo’s Barbera d’Asti wines and a Barolo is here.)
Davis Bynum Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. In chapter and verse, in song and refrain, this excessively spicy chardonnay is about oak, oak and more oak. Eleven months in French barrels, 70 percent malolactic fermentation. Winemaker was Gary Patzwald. It doesn’t help that the alcohol level is 14.9/15 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
Franciscan Estate Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. Toasty, buttery, cinnamon and cloves, spicy and roasted fruit aromas; very dry; tons of oak, almost fruitless in mouth, unbalanced. Seven months in French and American oak, 20 percent new barrels; that doesn’t sound like much exposure to wood, but this came out wrong. 13.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $18.
Winemaker was Janet Myers. Franciscan is owned by Constellation Brands.
Forest Ville Chardonnay 2008, California. (A Bronco label) Bright, clean, fresh; apples, pineapple and grapefruit; pear and melon flavors, a bit of grapefruit on the finish; well-balanced, ripe, tasty, slightly floral. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good, and a Terrific Bargain at about $6.
Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2009, Paarl, South Africa. You feel the pull of the oak in this bright, bold, resonant chardonnay, but its baked pear, spiced pineapple and hazelnut scents and flavors are pretty engaging, balanced by vibrant acidity and an almost lacy sense of limestone minerality. 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.
The Hess Collection New World Wines, Napa Ca.
Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2007, Carneros. This estate-grown and bottled chardonnay may be 3 and a half years old, but it feels as bright and radiant as the day it was made. It takes oak to the edge for my palate, yet the buttered toast, pear compote and smoky pineapple elements are nicely balanced by a prominent limestone quality and scintillating acidity. Suave and sophisticated. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18 to $20.
Haywood Estate Los Chamizal Chardonnay 2008, Sonoma Valley. Peter Haywood’s wines are never shy, and this chardonnay is no exception. Serious structure, dense, chewy; builds layers of dimension and detail, all manner of ripeness and boldly spicy qualities; gains power but also nuance in the glass and essential vibrancy and resonance; exquisite balance yet slightly over-the-top. Quite a performance. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28. A great choice for restaurant wine lists that specialize in a wide range of California chardonnays.
Heller Estate Chardonnay 2008, Carmel Valley. All Heller wines are certified organic and vegan (no animal products used in filtering or fining). Pure loveliness: sage and lemongrass, jasmine and honeysuckle, pineapple, grapefruit, quince, yellow plums; some time in the glass pulls up spiced peach and baked pear; vital with limestone minerality and crystalline acidity; nothing too rich or powerful though texture is fairly lush. Quite attractive, with a very dry, slightly woody finish. 12 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24. Tasted twice with consistent results.
Hook & Ladder Chardonnay 2003, Russian River Valley; Hook & Ladder “Third Alarm” Reserve Chardonnay 2003, Russian River Valley. Your eyes do not deceive you; these chardonnays are from 2003, yet the freshness, the balance are amazing. The “regular” bottling is absolutely lovely in the way that only well-made, mature chardonnays can be: smoky pears and peaches, deeply spicy, slightly honeyed yet bone-dry, touch of guava, quince and ginger, polished, supple oak, chiming acidity; authoritative yet winsome: one could mistake this for a superior Puligny-Montrachet village wine. 14.2 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18-$20(?)The “Third Alarm” Reserve, which I assume received more oak — that’s what “reserve” tends to mean in California — does project more of a woody-dried spice character and again the spiced and macerated peaches and pears, but this is earthier, more intense and concentrated, very dry, leaning toward austerity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $25(?)
Hook & Ladder is the winery Cecil De Loach founded after selling the De Loach winery.
J Vineyards Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. Attractively clean, bright and fresh; vibrant and lively; seductive heft and presence; spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors with a pronounced citrus turn and underpinnings of cloves, quince and limestone: a long spicy finish. Barrel-fermented and aged in French oak (40 percent new) with malolactic fermentation. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28. Tasted twice with consistent results.
Winemaker is George Bursick.
Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2009, California. This wine is K-J’s entry into the unoaked (or “little-oaked”) segment of the market, and I immediately liked it better than the ubiquitous Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, the wine that put K-J on the map back in 1982. Fresh, crisp and clean; attractive scents and flavors of apple and mango, pineapple and grapefruit, which, in the bouquet, are woven with subtle touches of jasmine and honeysuckle. A few moments bring up nuances of almond and almond blossom; dry, stony finish has a bit of almond skin’s mild bitterness; dense, almost cloud-like texture; whole package animated by lively acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
1. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Monterey; 2. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast; 3. La Crema Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley; 4. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. Let me say rat cheer that I’m a fan of winemaker Melissa Stackhouse’s pinot noirs (which I will mention soonishly) but not of these chardonnays, with one exception. (The winery was founded in 1979 as La Crema Vinera — how many people remember that label? — struggled financially and quality-wise for years and after a bankruptcy was purchased in 1996 by Kendall-Jackson; it is now one of the Jackson Family Wines.)
1. & 2. Though new oak is kept to a minimum, both of these wines are thoroughly oaked and woody, and the density and fairly strident character either dull or mask the fruit. Neither recommended. Each about $20.
3. La Crema Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley; big, resonant, vibrant, vital; very spicy, oak, oh yes, but held in check, allowed its own sense of deliberation; pineapple-grapefruit, ginger and quince, deeply floral and smoky; nothing tropical, nothing dessert-like; heaps of limestone and shale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30. But see the following:
4. What a difference from No. 3. RRV 09, cloves, cinnamon, hazelnuts; seductive powdery texture, smoky lilac and lavender; but drenched in oak; very dry, stiff, unbalanced. 14.5 percent alcohol. Wanted to like it, but couldn’t. Not recommended. About $30.
Luca Chardonnay 2008, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Luca is a personal project of Laura Catena, daughter of Nicolas Caterna, patriarch of the venerable Catena Zapata winery. The grapes for the Chardonnay 08 come from vineyards lying at 4,710-feet elevation; the Catenas indeed believe in high-elevation vineyards. Winemaker is Luis Reginato. The wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I loved this wine; it’s like drinking limestone cliffs infused with baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm, all permeated by the astringent scent of some little white mountainside flowers and fashioned with impeccable elegance and elan. Production was 1,500 cases, so this is definitely Worth a Search. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $26.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
Ministery of the Vinterior Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. Ha ha, o.k., nice pun, though I’m not so fond of wines with punning names, still, this is an appealing chardonnay: quite dry and stony; beguiling notes of green apple, lemon and lime peel, touch of pineapple-grapefruit; snappy acidity, delicately floral; one of those wines that makes you think, “Gosh, I’m glad to be drinking this.” A first release from this winery. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Winemaker is Daniel O’Donnell.
Moobuzz Chardonnay 2009, Monterey. 85 percent Monterey, 15 percent Clarksburg; there’s two percent viognier in the wine. Talk about punning or “fun” names! Hey, all you cows and bees! Anyway: clean, crisp and refreshing; pineapple-grapefruit, touches of lemon balm and lemon curd, very spicy; attractive, moderately lush texture cut by bright acidity; very dry finish, a bit austere. 13.5/13.8 percent alcohol (depending on if you’re reading the label or the printed matter). Four months in oak barrels. Very Good. About $15.
From The Other Guys, part of the Don Sebastiani Family of Companies. (& a very strange opening device!)
Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 and 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. Morgan’s Double L Vineyard is certified organic.
2009: Pale straw-gold color; bright, bold, dense, chewy; roasted lemon, baked pineapple, grapefruit, hint of peach; ginger and cloves, jasmine and camellia; oak — 10 months French barrels, 33 percent new — is supple and resonant and shapely; a powder-like texture riven by crystalline acidity; the whole thing just fucking sings of the purity and intensity of the chardonnay grape given thoughtful and gentle handling; just at the finish: a tiny fillip of buttered cinnamon toast over slate. 14.2 percent alcohol. 560 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $36.
2008: Pineapple-grapefruit, jasmine-honeysuckle; deeply spicy, deeply flavorful; fruit is slightly creamy and roasted without being tropical or dessert-like; dense chewy almost voluptuous texture, the approximation of liquid gold, but held in check by crisp acidity; oak is ever-present — 10 months French, 30 percent new — yet as a permeable, shaping force. A fairly serious chardonnay, now through 2014 or ’15. 14.4 percent alcohol. 450 cases. Excellent. About $36.
1. Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley, Carneros; 2. Nickel & Nickel Medina Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley; 3. Nickel & Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli; director of winemaking is Dirk Hampson. The Nickel & Nickel chardonnays do not undergo malolactic fermentation.
1. First note on the N&N Truchard Chardonnay 09, “Wow, what power and elegance!” Green apple that segues to roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and peach; it’s a substantial chardonnay, no lie, fully framed and fleshed-out, yet it’s a construct of myriad delicate details; firm, supple texture; a few minutes bring in hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s touch of dry astringency amid the lushness of savory ripeness. Nine months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. Pretty much a masterpiece. Excellent. About $48.

2. First note on the N&N Medina Chardonnay 2009, “Golden.” A shimmering and lustrous chardonnay that spent nine months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels; expansively floral, deeply rich and spicy without being strident or cloying, in fact the lushness of savory, slightly roasted stone fruit and pineapple-grapefruit flavors is almost rigorously tempered by the spare elegance of bright acidity and limestone-like minerality. Frankly beautiful. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,093. Exceptional. About $48.

3. The N&N Searby Chardonnay 08 aged nine months in French oak, 51 percent new barrels. The vineyard was planted in 1972. Big, rich, bright and bold, but not brassy or obstreperous; firm, suave, supple and silky, frankly gorgeous; apple-pineapple-grapefruit with hints of fig, cloves, ginger and slightly creamy quince; touch of honeysuckle; deeply permeated by spice; lovely talc-like texture enlivened by crisp acidity and a monumental limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16 (well-stored). 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,986 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Picket Fence Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. The last time I wrote about Picket Fence, it was a new endeavor one of whose partners was Don Van Staaveren, formerly winemaker at Chateau St. Jean and creator of that winery’s fabulously successful Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. Now Picket Fence is a brand owned by Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co.; the wheels in California grind pretty damned quickly and exceedingly fine. This chardonnay is clean and fresh, modestly appealing but mainly generic and pedestrian; it also displays a bit more oak than it needs. 13.5 percent alcohol. Good. About $15.
Plantagenent Chardonnay 2008, Great Southern, Western Australia. What a sweetheart of a chardonnay! Clean and fresh with bright acidity; a sense of earthy integrity and authority while offering nicely poised delicacy and deliciousness; mouth-filling, balanced and integrated with a strain of spare and lithe elegance; jasmine and peach and pear; heaps of limestone with a touch of grapefruit on the finish and a hint of buttered cinnamon toast. Nine months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels; no malolactic. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21, Good Value for the Price.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal. Winemaker is John Durham.
Renaissance Chardonnay 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Medium straw-gold color with a green glimmer; spiced and macerated peach and pear, baked pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quine; dry, stony, woody spice (a sort of blondness); quite earthy, lithe and sinewy; lilac and camellia; after 30 minutes slightly peppery and herbal; suave and sleek yet elemental and authoritative. Aged nine months in new and 1- and 2-year old barrels. Another individually-styled wine from Gideon Beinstock. 13.6 percent alcohol. Production was 81 cases. Excellent. About $35.
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County. Longtime winemaker Rick Sayre crafts a well-made, middle-of-the-road chardonnay that’s fresh and lively, with apple-lemon scents and pineapple-grapefruit flavors that feel like a clarion-call for perfect ripeness and luscious stone-fruit flavors bolstered by lively acidity, undertones of polished oak and a burnished limestone element. Low-key but classic. Sixty percent barrel-fermented, 40 percent in stainless steel; the barrel-fermented portion ages four months in French and American oak. The winery is “carbon-neutral, solar powered, sustainably farmed.” 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $13.50, representing Good Value.
Sanford Chardonnay 2008, Santa Barbara County. While I am an admirer of Sanford’s pinot noirs, I found this chardonnay to be stern and stiff, drenched with oak, with emphasis on strident spice and cloying toffee and caramel elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. The materials here are great; the grapes derive from some of the best vineyards for chardonnay (and pinot noir) in the Sta. Rita Hills — La Rinconada and Sanford & Benedict — and Sta. Maria Valley — Bien Nacido and El Camino. The wine is barrel-fermented, spends eight months in 20 percent new French oak barrels, and undergoes full malolactic fermentation. Not recommended. About $22.
Simi Chardonnay 2008, Sonoma County. Very dry, austere, woody. 85 percent barrel-fermented; 6 months in 25 percent new oak. Not recommended. About $18.
Simi, a venerable winery founded in 1867, is owned by Constellation Brands.
Spelletich Cellars Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. This small family winery was launched in 1994 by Timothy Spelletich and his wife, winemaker Barb Spelletich. The material I received with a sample of their wines mentions “minimal intervention” and “when to pull the wine off the oak to pursue something larger and more elusive than your ordinary wine.” Sorry, but I don’t buy those principles, not when this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged sur lie 18 months — yes, 18 months for a chardonnay! — in French and Hungarian oak. Not much of the grape could survive that manipulation. The wine is bright, bold, spicy, tropical; oily and viscous in texture; very spicy (I say again), very toasty, very ripe to the point of being over-ripe, with baked pineapple and grapefruit, guava and mango, cloves and buttered cinnamon toast; very dense and chewy, almost powdery; where’s the acidity? I find this sort of chardonnay intolerable. 14 percent alcohol. 336 cases. Not recommended. About $27.
Trefethen Chardonnay 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. A model of classic balance and integration; very pure, very intense and drinking perfectly now at three and a half years old (the current release in 09); you feel the oak at its inextricable framing and foundational purpose but never at the expense of fruit and a suave, silky and lively texture; the chiming acidity and scintillating limestone elements are not only essential but exciting. If you can find some bottles (or a case) drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Eight months in French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
Director of viticulture and winemaking is Jon Ruel; winemaker is Zeke Neeley.
Windsor Sonoma Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. A large-framed chardonnay, stones and bones, bright, bold and a little brassy with tasty ripe pineapple-grapefruit flavors holding shades of stone-fruit, cloves and cinnamon; fairly dense texture packed with supple oak, crisp acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality. Indigenous yeast; 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new. Could go through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
X Winery Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. Two vineyards: 60 percent Sangiacomo, 40 percent Truchard. Bold, bright, full-bodied; smoky spicy pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors; vibrant, resonant, sleek and supple, feels crisp, lively and moderately lush; earthy with hints of mushrooms and limestone; oak comes out more on the finish — 8 months in a combination of 90 percent French, 10 percent American oak — but the wine is well-balanced and integrated. 14.5 percent alcohol. (Bottled w/ a screw-cap.) Excellent. About $25.
Winemakers are Reed Renaudin & Gina Richmond.

For a reasonably priced yet extraordinarily pure and intense example of what the chardonnay grape can achieve, look for the Bourgogne Chardonnay 2008, from the distinguished estate of Thierry and Pascale Matrot. The winery is in the white wine village of Meursault, though the Matrots also make white wine from Puligny-Montrachet and red wine from Volnay and Blagny. The estate goes back to 1904, when Thierry Matrot’s grandfather married a woman who, as Clive Coates writes, “had some vines in Meursault.” Matrot has bottled its wines since 1908, in other words not selling wine in bulk to negociants. Thierry Matrot began working with his father at the domaine in 1976; he has been completely in charge since 1983. The estate vineyards, about 45 acres, have been farmed organically since 2000.

For a simple “Bourgogne” designation, either pinot noir or chardonnay grapes can come from just about any place in Burgundy, though the grapes for the Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay 2008 are from “near Meursault”; the vines average 30 years old. The wine fermented in oak barrels, 15 to 20 percent new, rested in barrels on the lees for 11 months and underwent total malolactic fermentation. So, how come the wine doesn’t smell and taste at all like wood? How come it exhibits almost crystalline clarity of chardonnay grape character and a tremendous sense of vitality and elan? Thoughtful, careful winemaking, that’s how, a deft hand, a sensitive palate and high-quality grapes to begin with. The medium straw-gold colored wine offers lovely surface allure and great dimension in its pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors fueled by roasted lemon and honey-baked pear, ginger and quince and a huge hit of limestone/shale minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring up notes of lemon balm and bees’-wax, along with a trace of cloves. The whole package is sleek and smooth and mouth-filling, though a-tingle with crisp acidity and quite dry from mid-palate back through the limestone-washed finish. Amazing presence and tone, wonderful marriage of elegance and power for the price. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. I paid $20; the national average price is about $18.

LL and I seldom drink a whole bottle of wine with dinner, but we adored this terrific model of chardonnay fashioned in the manner that appeals to us the most. Happily consumed with the never-fail Cod and Chorizo Stew with Potatoes and Leeks.

Imported by Vineyards Brands, Birmingham, Ala.

Pinot noir wines produced in California and Oregon can be fine indeed, though many, because of winemaking philosophy and perhaps climate issues, fall into the lush and opulent or sturdy and hardy categories, seeming to take their cues from some ideal of zinfandel or syrah. Often these pinot noirs convey a sense of sweetness founded on ripeness, extended oak aging and high alcohol. Nothing wrong with those stances, of course, it’s a question of choice and fashion, but I urge devotees of those styles of pinot noir, and their makers, to try a wine that takes the opposite tack, a modest wine, perhaps, but one that possesses the power to offer a lesson, if not enlightenment. This is the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007, from the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper. Aubert de Villaine is one of the most respected and widely-known proprietors in the world, being co-owner and co-director and the public face of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an entity from which issues Grand Cru Burgundy wines of awe-inspiring achievement and price. A. et P. Villaine, on the other hand, is a smaller, more personal project, based in Bouzeron in Côte Chalonnaise and owned by Aubert de Villaine and his wife Pamela. The estate is impeccably run and has been certified organic since 1986 by Qualicé-France.

What is special about the single-vineyard “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007 — 2008 and ’09 are also available — is its very simplicity and directness; nothing interferes with the consumer’s primary experience of the pinot noir grape. The wine is a medium ruby color, not dark or dangerous-looking or deeply extracted. Aromas and flavors of ineffably smoky black cherry, red raspberry and plum are completely aligned from beginning to end with elements of clean, fresh earth, slightly nervy briery and brambly qualities and a burgeoning aspect of spice and potpourri. The wine’s texture and structure are similarly inextricable, being one in their spare, dry elegance and sinewy character with vibrant acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. There it is, a portrait in purity and intensity that more expensive pinot noirs, sometimes more heavily manipulated, too often miss. The alcohol content is a sensible 12.5 percent. Excellent. About $25. I bought this one.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, California

LL and I drank half a bottle of the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine “La Fortune” Bourgogne 2007 last night with dinner, a lovely tomato soup with fennel-orange zest gremolata, potato “croutons” and Fontini cheese, along with slices of a dense olive and rosemary bread. The recipe is in the March 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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