Burgundy


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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.)
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… 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.
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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).
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were introduced to sorrel soup by Justin Young, who was chef at the now closed La Tourelle (in Memphis) in the early 2000s. Not having had such a thing in years, we bought a pound of sorrel at the Memphis Farmers Market last Saturday — the market will not open again until April — and looked for a recipe, which we found in the essential Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996).

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a green leafy vegetable, accounted more as an herb that vegetable in some national cuisines, whose chief characteristic is a sour grassy character that derives from oxalic acid, which is fatally poisonous in large quantities. How large? Sources aren’t very specific about that point. More than a pound certainly. Perhaps a bale.

Anyway the issue that intrigued me was what wine to drink with sorrel soup. That notable sour quality, which possesses a hint of sweetness — LL likened it to pulling up a grass stem and sucking on the root, a memory from childhood — might be a challenge to any number of wines. (The sourness is leavened somewhat by the gentle stewing in chicken stock of diced potatoes, carrots and onions.) In the interest of research, I lined up five white wines, several of which seemed probable matches and at least one of which seemed doomed to failure by its very nature. These were the wines we tried: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008; Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009; Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008; Mendel Semillon 2009; Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009. These wines were samples for review.
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Among this experiment’s surprises was how well, even how profoundly so, the Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 went with the sorrel soup. The domaine was founded in 1840; the Burgundian negociant Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008. The wine is, of course, made completely from chardonnay grapes; it ages half-and-half in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and sees no new oak. I had doubts about chardonnay pairing with the earthy sourness of the sorrel, but the wine’s purity and intensity, its crystalline acidity and minerality created a risky synergy that practically vibrated in our beings. The wine is a medium gold color; aromas of roasted lemon are permeated by ripe peach and pear, with traces of quince and ginger and a hint of camellia. Befitting its pedigree and reputation — “the Montrachet of Pouilly-Fuissé” — the wine delivers wonderful presence and body yet remains delicate, fleet and racy. Citrus flavors dominated by lemon with a touch of lime peel are deeply imbued with baking spices but even more with depths of limestone-like minerality and scintillating acidity. Drink now through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Kobrand, New York.
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Let’s turn to the simplest of these wines, simplest yet definitely lively, tasty and appealing. This is Aveleda’s Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009, from the vast Vinho Verde region that stretches north from the seacoast town of Oporto to the river Minho and also east and southeast of Oporto. (You drive east through this area to reach the Port estates of the Douro Valley.) The wine is a blend of loureiro grapes (55%), trajaduras (32%) and alvarinho (13%). These “green wines” are fresh and vigorous and intended for early drinking. Made all in stainless steel, the clean, fresh Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009 bursts with scents and flavors of apples, pears and spiced lemons bolstered by heaps of earthy limestone and vivid acidity. There you have it, and you could not ask for anything more from such a fresh, delightful wine. Drink over the next six months. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $14.

How did this match with the sorrel soup? It didn’t. The sourness of the sorrel washed right over it, tromped on it, obliterated it, left it for dead.

Imported by Winbow, New York.
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Let’s go back to France for the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008, from Alsace. The estate is the result of the joining of two venerable grower families in Alsace, the Manns and the Barthelmes, each of which has been cultivating grapes since the first half of the 17th Century. The Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008 is absolutely lovely in every aspect. The color is bright, shimmering medium gold; aromas of apple and spiced pear, with a touch of leafy fig and orange rind, all founded on the dominent presence of limestone, balloon from the glass. The paradox of a texture that’s both suave and elegant, on the one hand, and nervy and crisp, on the other hand, contributes considerably to the wine’s charm and fascination. It’s quite lively and dry, vibrant with limestone- and shale-like minerality, and its spicy, slightly earthy citrus qualities increase through the finish. The estate is organically managed and certified by Ecocert. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Closed with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $20.

This was lovely with the sorrel soup, having the interesting effect of bringing out the herb’s hint of sweetness.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Another very attractive match with the sorrel soup was the Mendel Semillon 2009, from the Altamira-Uco Valley area of Argentina’s Mendoza region. The vines, which stand at 3,600-feet elevation, are more than 60 years old, lending the wine irresistible depth and character. Fifteen percent of the wine aged eight months in new American oak barrels. Hay, honey and waxy white flowers, roasted lemon and lemon balm are woven in the seductive bouquet. If you can tear yourself away from these heady aromas, you’re treated to a wine that in texture and structure is as refined and ingratiating as you could ask for, though I don’t mean to imply that the wine is wimpy or over-delicate; in fact, it feels rather as if it had been honed from limestone and slate and burnished to a sheen with a little of that oak (and plowed by keen acidity). It’s sunny, leafy, with touches of fig and fresh-mown grass, hints of cloves and ginger, greengage and pear. Quite an experience, round, complete, balanced, complex. 900 six-packs were imported. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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Last, we come to a wine that was fine, you know just fine, with the sorrel soup but opened to more astonishment than the other wines because of its amazing quality and price ration. I wrote previously about the great bargain called Agustin Cubero Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007. Today it the turn of that wine’s stablemate, the Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, likewise from Spain’s Calatayud region, situated about halfway between Barcelona and Madrid (but closer to Zaragoza). The macabeo grape is also known, perhaps better-known, as viura, though clearly we’re not taking sauvignon blanc here. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is beguiling, intriguing and really pretty. Grass and hay, dried wild flowers, cloves and allspice, apple and pear, quince and ginger — all combine to charm and enchant. Now in truth these sensual qualities so seductive in the bouquet also characterize what goes on in the mouth; there’s no sense that flavors develop beyond the aspects of the bouquet (though the texture — the “mouthfeel” — is graceful and delightful), but who cares when the price is — ready? — a wallet-busting $9. Buy this by the case for drinking over the next year. The rating is Very Good+. A Bargain of the Century and Worth a Search.

Scoperta Imports, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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Not surprisingly, we drink wine with every dinner, and if we happen to be home for lunch, that too. Often, probably most often, our reaction to a matching between the food and the wine will be “That’s good” or “That works” or “I’ll have a little more, please.”

Last night, however, was a zinger, a BINGO! moment that should resonate in the memory-file of food and wine pairing for years.

I made a mushroom risotto, and there’s not much food-wise that’s simpler than that. The mushrooms were crimini, shiitake and chanterelle — about one ounce of the latter since they were $30 a pound, thank you v. much — sauteed in butter until slightly browned. Minced leek likewise sauteed in butter with a bit of olive oil. Then the arborio rice. Half a cup of white wine, cooked down. And then the slow progress of adding warm chicken broth half a cup at a time, stirring, stirring, stirring until each portion of broth is completely absorbed. The whole thing took about an hour, with the stirring part about 30 minutes. A grating of Parmesan cheese goes on before serving.

A bottle of Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé 2007 had been standing quietly in the refrigerator in the kitchen for about nine months, offering me sly admonishment every time I opened the door to get some lettuce or mustard or cheese. Last night, it occurred to me that this wine, now three years old and possibly nicely mellow, might be terrific with the mushroom risotto. Normally, I would have wanted a lighter red, say a Dolcetto d’Alba or a Fleurie, but something told me to reach for the Pouilly-Fuissé.

The wine, 100 percent chardonnay made from grapes bought under long-term contracts, was a radiant medium straw-gold color with a faint greenish cast. It fermented and then aged in stainless steel and oak barrels for six to eight months, seeing no new oak. The wine is spicy, smoky, savory, with a decidedly mellow woodsy quality about it. Scents of roasted lemon with a scant hint of buttered toast are infused with a bit of bright pineapple and grapefruit, the floral influence of little waxy blossoms, and a limestone element of piercing intensity. That penetrating minerality finds expression in the mouth, too, along with acidity of bow-string tautness — making the wine feel almost fiercely animated — and lovely roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors; a strain of autumnal mossy earthiness lends bass notes to a beautifully balanced and integrated wine. This could go another three years, well-stored. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices on the internet range from about $20 to $28; look for the median.

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

LL visited one of our favorite restaurants last night, sans moi, but with colleagues from the university and a visiting curator. So, left to my feeble devices, I conjured an omelet aux fines herbes, with minced fresh oregano, thyme and tarragon and two chopped black olives. I dribbled olive oil on a couple of slices of whole-grain bread and grated on a little Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and ran them under the broiler. Voila! My dinner, which I ate out on the screened porch as a gentle rain fell and dusk deepened to the point that I could no longer read.

One of the so-called truisms of wine and food pairing is that it’s difficult to match wine with eggs. Zut alors! All sorts of wines go with eggs, but they cannot be big, heavy or obvious wines. With omelets before I have consumed rosés, particularly the pale, delicate rosés of Provence and Languedoc (or on that model), rieslings and lighter pinot noirs. Last night, however, I took a chance on the chardonnay grape in the form of the Rully “Chatalienne” 2007, from the house of J.M. Boillot, and was happy that I did.

Jean-Marc Boillot worked for the Burgundian family domaine, Henri Boillot, from 1971 to 1984. After some disagreement with the family on philosophy and methodology, he went to work for Olivier Leflaive, while making wine from five acres under his own label. He set up business, based in Pommard, in 1988, benefiting from inheritances, in the form of exceptional vineyard acreage, from his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandfather, the renowned Etienne Sauzel. The firm of J.M. Boillot owns about 11 hectares — just over 28 acres — in Volnay, Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, mainly in Premier Cru vineyards. J.M. Boillot’s wines from Rully, just south of Burgundy proper, at the top of the Côte Chalonnaise, are made from purchased grapes or wine that Boillot “finishes.” As with many houses in Burgundy that are both property owners (“proprietors”) and negociants (“negotiating” for grapes and wine), Boillot distinguishes between such wines on the labels; wines from the domaine are listed as “Domaine J.M. Boillot,” while those from the negociant side merely say “J.M. Boillot.”

Whatever the case, J.M. Boillot’s Rully “Chatalienne” 2007 is an exquisite expression of the chardonnay grape. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is a subtle amalgam of lemon and baked pear with a hint of honeysuckle and spiced peach. These aromas grow more pure and intense as the moment pass, becoming almost deliriously attractive. Flavors of roasted lemon and milder pineapple take on a circumference of quince and crystallized ginger. The wine is quite dry, vibrant with burgeoning elements of limestone and damp shale and with crisp acidity, though the texture deftly balances leanness with talc-like lushness. A trace of mature earthiness joins a touch of apple custard on the long, lovely finish. Drink through 2011, well-stored, and consume it nicely chilled to keep that acidity high. Excellent. About $19 to $23, Great Value.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. I paid for this one.

You may have to do a little ferreting around to find this wine, but it will be worth the effort, I promise.

It’s the Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007, a 100 percent chardonnay wine made in the Mâcon-Villages appellation in the southern part of Burgundy. The domaine is run by brothers Dominique and Romain Cornin and their horse Coccinelle. They — the brothers — are the third generation of the family to work the domaine and make wine from its cluster of vineyards that range from 15 to 40 years old. Since 2003, the domaine has been operated on biodynamic principles.

Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007 is made completely in stainless steel, so it sees no oak. The wine is an expressive example of the intensity and purity that the chardonnay grape is capable of achieving without interference. The bouquet is penetrating and rich, almost peaty, yet vibrantly fresh and clean and packed with spiced pear and roasted lemon with a hint of pineapple. In the mouth, seamless layers of flint, limestone and oyster shell dig deep and bolster lemon and grapefruit flavors permeated by cloves, quince and ginger. The texture and structure handily balance lithe, crisp, vivid acidity with talc-like lushness, elements that lead to an increasingly dry finish of stony austerity. At a bit less than three years old, this is a fully mature Mâcon-Villages for drinking through 2011 or ’12, well-stored. A lovely wine with tons of personality. About 1,320 cases produced. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $17 to $24(!), so look for $21 and under for Good Value.

We drank the Dominique Cornin Mâcon-Chaintré 2007 last night with grilled tuna, doused with a lime-chili vinaigrette, and grilled vegetables, i.e. eggplant, zucchini. yellow squash and tomatoes, marinated for an hour in olive oil, salt and pepper, oregano and marjoram. It all made a great match.

Imported by Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal. A sample from the local wholesaler.

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