Chablis


“50 Great Wines of [The Year]” is a post I look forward to, even though its production is fraught with anxiety. “Fraught with anxiety!” you exclaim. “FK, you get to taste and write about terrific wines all year long! This task should be easy!” Look, my apostrophe-addicted friend, I started with a list of 76 potentially great wines and had to eliminate 26 of them. It was painful; it hurt my brain and my spirit. Even now, going back over this post just before I click the PUBLISH button, I am wracked by indecision and regret. On the other hand, life is about choices, n’est-ce pas, and we all have to knuckle down and make those choices, difficult as the job may be.

I reviewed 624 wines in 2013, compared to, for some reason, 642 in 2012, though I suppose 18 wines is not statistically significant in that range. Or perhaps it is; I’m not a statistician. Out of 642 wines in 2012, I rated 18 wines Exceptional. In 2013, out of 624 wines, I rated 28 as Exceptional. Did I taste that many better wines in 2013, or am I getting soft as I near my 30th anniversary as a wine writer? How did I choose, for “50 Great Wines of 2013,” the 22 examples to add to the 28 rated Exceptional? By reading again every review I wrote over the past year, by weighing the description and the language, by revisiting my memory of the wine, by looking for wines that possessed that indescribable quality of charisma, that combination of personality and character that distinguish a great wine. I could expand this post to 60 or 70 or 75 wines, but I’ll leave it as is. Suffice to say that these “50 Great Wines of 2013″ could include others, but for now, I’m sticking with these.
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Artesa Vineyards & Winery Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $40.
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Adelsheim Ribbon Springs Vineyard Auxerrois 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 400 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $24.
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Belle-Pente Winery Belle-Pente Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 785 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Black Kite Cellars Rivers Turn Pinot Noir 2010, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $52.

Image from princeofpinot.com.
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Boekenoogen Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $35.
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Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $25.
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Calera Wine Company Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Mount Harlan, San Benito County. 398 cases. Exceptional. About $55.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 100 percent chardonnay. Excellent. About $27.
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Catena Zapata Adrianna Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Colgin “IX Estate” Red Wine 2009, Napa Valley. Cabernet sauvignon 69 percent, merlot 15 percent, cabernet franc 10 percent, petit verdot 6 percent. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $450.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $80.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Estate Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé (non-vintage), Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $175.
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Domaine de Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Domaine Carneros Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003. Exceptional. About $100.
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Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $65.
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Domus Aurea 2009, Upper Maipo Valley, Chile. Cabernet sauvignon 85 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 5 percent, petit verdot 2 percent. Exceptional. About $60.
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Drouhin Vaudon Montmains Premier Cru 2910, Chablis, France. 200 cases imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 391 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 291 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Dunstan Durell Vineyard Rosé Wine 2012, Sonoma Coast. 100 percent pinot noir. 95 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Elyse Naggiar Vineyard L’Ingénue 2011, Sierra Foothills. Roussanne 52 percent, marsanne 32 percent, viognier 11 percent, grenache blanc 5 percent. 416 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Rosé Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot meunier 58 percent, pinot noir 39 percent, chardonnay 3 percent. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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Frankland Estate Netley Road Vineyard Riesling 2012, Frankland River, Western Australia. Exceptional. About $28.50.
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Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.
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Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.
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Halter Ranch Block 22 Syrah 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. With 13 percent grenache and 11 percent tannat. 175 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 308 cases. Exceptional. About $68.
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J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Pinot noir 49 percent, chardonnay 49 percent, pinot meunier 2 percent. 500 cases. exceptional. About $90.
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Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. Exceptional. About $66.
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La Rochelle Donum Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros. 259 six-pack cases. Excellent. About $75.
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La Rochelle McIntyre Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 112 cases. Rose of the Year. Excellent. About $24.
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L’Aventure Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 425 cases. Exceptional. About $85 (winery only).
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Long Shadows Pedestal Merlot 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $60.
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Morgan Winery Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 375 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Morgan Winery Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $53.
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Penner-Ash Riesling 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Exceptional. About $23.
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Pine Ridge Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $85.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Wine Cellars Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, Carneros. Exceptional. About $60.
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Rombauer Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $34.
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Renaissance Vineyards and Winery Granite Crown 2005, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Syrah 60 percent, cabernet sauvignon 30 percent, merlot 7 percent, cabernet franc 2 percent, petit verdot 1 percent. 74 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Robert Turner Cabernet Franc 2010, Napa Valley. 50 cases. Exceptional. About $35.
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Shirvington Shiraz 2009, McLaren Vale, Australia. Excellent. About $70.
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Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2011, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 463 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Smith-Madrone Riesling 2012, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $27.
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Steven Kent Winery Ghielmetti Vineyard “Small-Lot” Cabernet Franc 2010, Livermore Valley, Alameda County. 48 cases. Exceptional. About $50.
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Tablas Creek Vin de Paille “Quinressence” 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 100 percent roussanne dessert wine. 100 cases. Exceptional. About $85 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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A local wine store offered some products on sale, two of which piqued my interest. These were the Domaine A. et P. de Villaine Bouzeron 2009 and the Frédéric Magnien Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2009. The first was about $17, marked down from $30; the second was about $30, marked down from $50. I couldn’t resist. Technically, each wine is classified as Burgundy, though neither derives from vineyards in the Côte d’Or, what we may call Burgundy proper. Bouzeron is a village in the Côte Chalonnaise which has had its own appellation since 1997, only for wines made from the aligoté grape. Côte Chalonnaise, named for the city of Chalon-sur-Saône, lies just below the Burgundian region of Santenay, at the southeastern-most tail of the Côte d’Or. Chablis, on the other hand, is not connected geographically with Burgundy and in fact stands almost equidistant between Dijon and Paris. The connection is that its wines are made from the chardonnay grape, as are the great white wines of Burgundy’s Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet appellations.
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Audibert de Villaine, a man whose very quietness and self-affacement exude a kind of unimpeachable authority, is not only the owner, with his wife Pamela, of Domaine A. et P. de Villaine but the co-proprietor and manager of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an estate based in Vosne-Romanée that produces only Grand Cru wines and is generally regarded as not only the most prestigious producer in Burgundy but among the best in the world. The contrast between the domaines could not be more pronounced in terms of the wines they make, yet de Villaine operates each with integrity and acumen. Domaine A. et P. de Villaine has been certified organic since 1986. Beside the Bouzeron, the domaine produces Mercurey les Montots, Rully les Saint-Jacques and several different Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise wines. Minimal new oak is employed, with the domaine depending on used barriques, large foudres and stainless steel. The Bouzeron is aged about 20 percent in barriques. The domaine uses not the aligoté vert grape but its cousin, the more aromatic and flavorful aligoté doré.

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

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

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

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Though Chablis is almost as far from the Cote d’Or as it is from Paris, as a vineyard and wine-making region it is nominally considered part of Greater Burgundy. The affinity is not climate and soil but in the intense focus on the chardonnay grape, as in the Burgundian appellations of Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. To my palate, the chardonnay wines of Chablis epitomize the true greatness that the grape can attain, though to be sure I will not turn down a glass of a magnificent Grand Cru or Premier Cru from those legendary areas (hear that, importers?). Still, the elegance, verve and steeliness of a well-made Chablis, married with its innate earthiness and savory qualities, are irresistible to me. For similar quality, they’re also cheaper than white Burgundy.

Today we look at several Chablis wines from Premier Cru vineyards owned by the Joseph Drouhin firm of Burgundy and marketed (since 2008) under its Drouhin Vaudon label, named for the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th century watermill on the property. This domaine is a separate entity with a team of 10 people who work under the eye of vineyard manager Denis Mery, though the wines are “elevated” at the Drouhin headquarters in Beaune. The domaine owns 9.25 acres of vines in Grand Cru vineyards, 18 acres in Premier Cru vineyards and 68.25 acres of “regular” Chablis. All the Drouhin Vaudon vineyard sites are farmed under organic or biodynamic methods. The domaine uses no new oak and employs barrels — double-pieces — that are larger than the typical barriques to keep the wood contact more subdued; the appellation Chablis wines do not touch oak.

The wines of Joseph Drouhin are imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. These bottles were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by the Federal Trade Commission rulings of 2009, a stricture that does not apply to print journalists.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru 2009 and 2010. For 2009, this wine, a blend of several of Drouhin’s Premier Cru vineyards, offers a mild straw-gold color and enticing aromas of lemon balm and lemon curd, camellias and a hint of buttered toast followed, after a few minutes in the glass, by notes of apples, limestone and steel. Bolstering spiced citrus and stonefruit flavors, the texture is a pleasing amalgam of crisp compelling acidity and almost talc-like plushness married to persistent limestone and shale minerality; altogether this is a fine, vivacious expression of the grape and its Premier Cru status to drink through 2014 to ’15. Very Good+. About $37. The 2010 rendition is a little more focused, with earthy notes of sauteed mushrooms, roasted lemons, limestone and oyster shells and hints of quince, ginger and yellow plums. This Chablis Premier Cru is quite crisp, spicy and savory, while its intense mineral elements provide a backbone of scintillating resonance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About 1,100 cases of these wines are imported annually. .
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010. This wine displays a momentous structure of limestone and flint and blade-like acidity. Aromas of apples and apricots, lavender and lilac are permeated by winsome notes of lemon curd and a slight herbal aspect. It’s very dry, lively and vibrant, yet it offers a supremely seductive almost cloud-like texture that practically nestles on the palate; the balance of all these qualities is exciting and fulfilling. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 35 cases imported. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2009 and 2010. The 2009 version of this wine is a splendid, beautifully balanced and integrated expression of the chardonnay grape; it’s a golden and gleaming wine yet a subtle fabric woven of a thousand nuances. Aromas of lemon balm, quince and ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and mild touches of cloves and lemon curd are wreathed with beguiling notes of tobacco and limestone and something slightly resinous. That mineral element burgeons in power and proportion, contributing a steely edge to the wine’s sensuous qualities; aiding and abetting that edge is acid of whiplash sensibility. Still this Premier Cru Sécher remains lovely and appealing. For 2010, the wine offers a medium gold color and aromas of quince and yellow plums, limestone, mushroom-like earthiness, with a touch of lemon balm; there’s a deeply savory almost chewy and briery aspect that feels rooted in the earth, as well as a dusty flinty limestone quality that penetrates through to the spice-and-limestone packed finish. As with the 2009 vintage, the Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2010 balances the innate power and energy with an absolutely lovely and even enchanting texture that feels as if you were rolling some exotic money around in your mouth. Now through 2016 to ’18. Each wine is 12.5 percent alcohol. About 70 cases of each were imported. The 2009 I rate Excellent; the 2010 also Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2009 and 2010. Lordy, the 2009 vintage of this Montmains offers lovely class and elegance, character and balance. The color is pale gold; aromas center on lemon and lemon balm, ginger and quince with an interesting hint of dried thyme and a bracing whiff of sea-salt. It’s all about spareness and litheness, stones and bones, as it were, with pertinent acidity and a limestone-flint element that drives the wine’s resonance through a long tense finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39. For 2010, the wine is flat-out gorgeous, with wonderful tone and presence and a plethora of smack-on details and dimensions. Smoke and dusty limestone minerality, roasted lemons, lemon curd and verbena, sauteed mushrooms and a hint of grated Parmesan cheese; once you sniff and taste this one, you don’t want to stop. The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2010 is vibrant and chiseled, dense and chewy yet ineffably light on its feet, both intense and generous, approachable yet opening to multiple layers of spice, fruit and minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. About 200 cases of each of these wines were imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Here are notes on two terrific French white wines we took to dinner at Restaurant Iris in Memphis. Great meal, too, and thanks to our generous friend Allison Jacob, editor and publisher of CorkIt! magazine, for bringing the splendid Eagles Trace Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley.
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Chateau La Louvière, fortuitously located in the Bordeaux commune of Pessac-Léognan, traces its origins to the year 1476, when the first vines were planted, though for the modern period the important date is 1965, when André Lurton acquired the property and completely transformed it. The exquisite Neo-Classical style chateau, dating from the late 18th Century, is listed in the official Roster of Historic Properties. La Louvière produces about 12,500 cases of red wine and about 4,160 cases of white wine annually, as well as red and white wines under the second label, L de La Louvière. The cepage for the blanc is 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon. The wine ages typically for 12 months in a combination of oak barrels, 30 to 50 percent new, depending on the year.

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

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

Imported by Henriot Inc., New York.
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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.)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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… and of course New Year’s Eve means celebrating with Champagne or some other form of sparkling wine. I could make tons of recommendations for inexpensive sparkling wines to serve tonight, especially if you’re hosting a soiree with a cast of thousands, but since the emphasis in this sequence of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” is on France, I’ll put my money on the Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, a Crémant de Bourgogne from Chablis. From Chablis? Mais oui, mes amis, Chablis is nominally considered part of Burgundy, though its climate is far different and it lies some distance to the northwest of the Côte d’Or. Simonnet-Febvre has been producing Champagne method sparkling wine in Chablis since it was founded in 1840 and is the only firm in Chablis still doing so. Simonnet-Febvre also makes excellent Chablis still wines at every level and sells them for reasonable prices. The company was acquired by Louis Latour in 2003. The Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc is a blend of 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir. The wine is exuberantly outfitted with bubbles and conveys a racy, nervy note of effervescent combined with fleet acidity and a keen limestone edge. This is clean and fresh, almost tangy with apple and slightly roasted citrus flavors ensconced in a crisp, lively texture. 12 percent alcohol. A crowd-pleaser. Very Good+. Prices countrywide range from about $14 to $19.

But say that your plans tonight include not teeming mobs drunkenly intoning the half-forgotten words of “Auld Lang Syne” but a more intimate gathering, perhaps even only one other person for whom you require something elegant and impressive. Turn, then, to the Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, the label that defines the house style for Perrier-Jouët (the final “t” is prounounced). The company was founded in 1811 and achieved a high reputation in the 19th Century, especially for supplying Champagne to various royal courts of Europe. In 1959, Perrier-Jouët was acquired by the Mumm Group, which was later taken over by Seagram. In 1999, the latter sold Perrier-Jouët and Mumm to private investors who immediately turned around and, um, unloaded the house to Allied Domecq, which, of course, was subsumed by Pernod Ricard, the present owners. Sometimes you have to keep a score-card. Anyway, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, a blend of 40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay, offers a bright golden-yellow color and a stately upward procession of tiny bubbles. I was, frankly, surprised at how robust and full-bodied this Champagne is; it’s the real deal when it comes to the toasty, bready fashion, and to match its generous dimension, the details of toffee, sea-salt, roasted lemon and hints of apples, almonds and almond blossom flesh it out considerably. This is quite dry, vibrant and resonant, almost chewy, and its chiming acidity (there are hints of grapefruit and lime peel) and elements of limestone tracery develop power — yet with finesse to match — through the finish. 12 percent alcohol. True class and breeding. Excellent. I paid $52, but realistically prices range from about $40 to $56.

Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc imported by Louis Latour Inc., San Rafael, Cal.; Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.

The series of “Damn, This Was Good!” posts focuses on terrific wines that made a great match with whatever we were eating that night. In this case, the wine was the Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis Réserve de Vaudon 2008; the dish was the Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Ragout with Herbed Dumplings, from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen (Broadway Books, 2005). Madison was the founder of Greens, the well-known vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco. (The book, by the way, is only six years old, and already the pages are falling out in droves; whatever happened to solid bookmaking?) Anyway, this is a deeply earthy, flavorful and satisfying meal that’s vegan without the dumplings, but those puffy, savory little pockets of dough add considerable flair and down-home goodness to the dish, which is wonderful chilly, rainy night fare.

With this recipe, Madison recommends “a New World Chardonnay with rich fruit and a little oak, from Santa Barbara …,” but I demurred and selected this Chablis.

The Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis Réserve de Vaudon 2009 comes from a 14.8-acre area in a biodynamic vineyard that lies between two Premier Cru vineyards. Fashioned completely from chardonnay grapes, as is the requirement, the wine is made in stainless steel tanks and ages “a few months” in oak barrels, according to the material I was sent. (A contradiction is in play here; the winery’s website says only stainless steel, no oak.) In any case, the wine offers a radiant medium straw-gold color with a pale green glow. A lovely expression of the chardonnay grape, this delivers pert, smoky citrus aromas woven with cloves, quince and crystallized ginger and high notes of lemongrass and honeysuckle. Crackling acidity and scintillating limestone-clad minerality greet the palate in startling degree, setting the stage for a lively yet serious and quite dry Chablis rooted in earthiness while it delivers rich roasted lemon and lime peel flavors at an elevated level of purity and intensity; the limestone and shale elements give the impression of increasing in size and extent through the long, artful finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 or ’15, properly stored. 800 cases imported. Excellent. About $27.50 but often discounted to $20 around the country. Chablis lovers should not miss it.

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

The Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 2009 may only be a “regular” Chablis AOC, but it offers perfect pitch in its attributes. Drouhin Vaudon is now the official name of the Chablis operation of the venerable Burgundian firm of Joseph Drouhin, headquartered in Beaune, the quaint medieval city that’s the center of the Burgundy wine trade. The outpost in Chablis is considered a separate entity, though, oddly, it seems to me, after the grapes are pressed at the winery in Chablis, the juice is trucked to Beaune for fermentation and aging; this process is true for the Premier and Grand Cru wines as well as for the Chablis AOC. Well, O.K., whatever. The Drouhin Vaudon vineyards in Chablis are managed on organic or biodynamic methods.

Made all in stainless steel, Domaine Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 09 sports a pale gold color sustained by a faint green undertone. (The composition, of course, is 100 percent chardonnay.) The bouquet is a classic weaving of roasted lemon, lime peel, verbena, flint and shale and a slight earthy-mushroomy aspect. The authority here derives from a frank assertion of limestone minerality and a vibrant, energetic aura that encompasses both chiming acidity and alluring suppleness in body and texture. To citrus flavors are added hints of ginger and quince, while the finish, after a few moments in the glass, becomes increasingly dry and flinty. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 3,000 cases imported. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $23, though prices around the country range from about $19 to an unconscionable $33!

Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

The theme today, such as it is, is diversity. I chose eight wines that were either 100 percent varietal (or a little blended) from eight different regions as a way of demonstrating, well, I guess the amazing range of places where wine can be made. Eight examples barely scratch the surface of such a topic, of course, and a similar post could probably be written in at least eight variations and not use the same grapes as primary subjects. Another way would be to create a post called “1 grape, 8 Places,” to show the influence that geography has on one variety. That topic is for another post, though. All the whites were made in stainless steel and are perfect, each in its own manner, for light-hearted summer sipping. The reds, on the other hand, would be excellent will all sorts of grilled red meat, from barbecue ribs to steaks.
All samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Sauvignon blanc:
The Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, from Jackson Family Wines, is the archetypal New Zealand model that bursts with pert notes of gooseberry, celery seed, new-mown grass, thyme, tarragon and lime peel; it practically tickles your nose and performs cart-wheels on your tongue. It’s very dry, very crisp, a shot of limestone and chalk across a kiss of steel and steely acidity that endow with tremendous verve flavors of roasted lemon, leafy fig and grapefruit. That touch of grapefruit widens to a tide that sends a wave of bracing bitterness through the mineral-drenched finish. Truly scintillating, fresh and pure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Ca.
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Riesling:
The Gunderloch “Jean-Baptiste” Riesling Kabinett 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany, is a fresh, clean and delicate wine that opens with hints of green apple and slate and slightly spiced and macerated peaches and pears; a few minutes in the glass bring out a light, sunny, almost ephemeral note of petrol and jasmine. Ripe peach and pear flavors are joined by a touch of lychee and ethereal elements of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone that persist through the finish; the texture is sleek, smooth and notably crisp and lively. Really charming. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
Rudi Wiest for Cellars International, San Marcos, Ca.
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Chenin blanc:
Made from organically-grown grapes, the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009, Carmel Valley, California, is refined, elegant, almost gossamer in its exquisite melding of tart apple and ripe peach with spiced pear and a hint of roasted lemon; there’s a touch of chenin blanc’s signature dried hay-meadowy effect as well as a hint, just a wee hint, of riesling’s rose petal/lychee aspect. (This wine typically contains 10 to 15 percent riesling, but I can’t tell you how much for 2009 because I received not a scrap of printed material with this shipment, and the winery’s website is a vintage behind; hence the label for 2008. Hey, producers! It doesn’t take much effort to keep your websites up-to-date!) Anyway, the wine is crisp and lively with vibrant acidity and offers a beguilingly suave, supple texture. It’s a bit sweet initially, but acid and subtle limestone-like minerality bring it round to moderate dryness. Lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
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Chardonnay:
Roland Lavantureux makes two wines, a Chablis and a Petit Chablis. Both are matured 2/3 in stainless steel tanks and 1/3 in enamel vats; the Petit Chablis for eight months, the Chablis for 10. The domaine was founded in 1978 and is family-owned and operated. The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 2009 makes you wonder how the French wine laws differentiate between “little” Chablis and “regular” Chablis. This rated a “wow” as my first note. It feels like a lightning stroke of shimmering acidity, limestone and gun-flint tempered by spiced and roasted lemon and hints of quince, mushrooms and dried thyme. This wine serves as a rebuke to producers who believe that to be legitimate a chardonnay must go through oak aging; it renders oak superfluous. (Yes, I know, oak can do fine things to chardonnay used thoughtfully and judiciously.) The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 09 radiates purity and intensity while being deeply savory and spicy; it’s a natural with fresh oysters or with, say, trout sauteed in brown butter and capers. A very comfortable 12.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $23.
Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Pinot noir:
Bodega Chacra, which makes only pinot noir wines, was established in Argentina’s Patagonia region — the Rio Negro Valley in northern Patagonia — in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the grandson of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the creator and proprietor of Sassicaia, one of the most renowned Italian wineries, and nephew of Niccolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who currently manages the family’s winemaking enterprises. Bodega Chacra produces three limited edition pinot noirs, one from a vineyard planted in 1932, one from a vineyard planted in 1955, and the third made from a combination of these old vineyards and grapes from two 20-year-old vineyards. The vineyards are farmed on biodynamic principles; the wines are bottled unfiltered. The Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, is an example of the third category of these wines. It spends 11 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent new. Barda Pinot Noir 2010 is vibrant, sleek, stylish and lovely; the bouquet is bright, spicy and savory, bursting with notes of black cherry, cranberry and cola highlighted by hints of rhubarb, sassafras and leather. It’s dense and chewy, lithe and supple; you could roll this stuff around on your tongue forever, but, yeah, it is written that ya have to swallow some time. Flavors of black cherry and plum pudding are bolstered by subtle elements of dusty graphite and slightly foresty tannins, though the overall impression — I mean, the wine is starting to sound like syrah — is of impeccable pinot noir pedigree and character. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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Zinfandel:
If you grow weary, a-weary of zinfandel wines that taste like boysenberry shooters, then the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, California, is your cup of, as it were, tea. No bells and whistles here, just the purity and intensity of the zinfandel grape not messed about with. Grgich Hills is farmed entirely organically and by biodynamic principles, and winemaker Ivo Jeramaz uses oak judiciously, in this case 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s no toasty, vanilla-ish taint of insidious new oak. The color is medium ruby with a hint of violet-blue at the rim; the nose, as they say, well, the nose offers a tightly wreathed amalgam of deeply spicy, mineral-inflected black and red currants and plums with a swathing of dusty sage and lavender, wound with some grip initially, but a few minutes in the glass provide expanse and generosity. Amid polished, burnished tannins of utter smoothness and suppleness, the black and red fruit flavors gain depths of spice and slate-like minerals; the whole effect is of an indelible marriage of power and elegance and a gratifying exercise in ego-less winemaking. 14.7 percent alcohol. We drank this with pizza, but it would be great with any sort of grilled or braised red meat or robustly flavored game birds. Excellent. About $35.
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Cabernet sauvignon:
You just have to rejoice when you encounter a cabernet, like the Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, that radiates great character and personality — yes, those are different qualities — and maintains a rigorous allegiance to the grape while expressing a sense of individuality and regionality. The vineyards average 3,510-feet elevation; that’s way up there. Five percent malbec is blended in the wine; it aged 15 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like a high proportion of new oak, that element feels fully integrated and indeed a bit subservient to the wine’s strict high-altitude tannins and granite-like minerality. Aromas of black currants and black plums are ripe and fleshy, a bit roasted and smoky, yet iron-like, intense and concentrated; a few moments in the glass bring up classic touches of briers and brambles, cedar and wheatmeal, thyme and black olive, a hint of mocha. This is a savory cabernet, rich, dry, consummately compelling yet a little distant and detached, keeping its own counsel for another year or two, though we enjoyed it immensely with a medium rare rib-eye steak. What’s most beguiling are the broadly attractive black and blue fruit flavors permeated by moss and loam and other foresty elements married to muscular yet supple heft, dimensional and weight. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
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Tempranillo:
Here’s a terrific, slightly modern version of Rioja, by which I mean that it’s not excessively dry, woody and austere, as if made by ancient monks putting grapes through the Inquisition. Bodegas Roda was founded by Mario Rotillant and Carmen Dautella in 1991, in this traditional region that abuts Navarra in northeastern Spain. The deep and savory Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain, blends 14 percent graciano grapes and five percent garnacha (grenache) with 81 percent tempranillo; the wine is aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and spends another 20 months in the bottle before release. The color is rich, dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of black currant and black raspberry are infused with cloves and fruit cake, sage and thyme, bacon fat, leather and sandalwood, with something clean, earthy and mineral-drenched at the core. That sense of earth and graphite-like minerality persists throughout one’s experience with the wine, lending resonant firmness to the texture, which also benefits from finely-milled, slightly dusty tannins and vibrant acidity, all impeccably meshed with smoky, spicy flavors of black and red fruit and plum pudding. 14 percent alcohol. An impressive, even dignified yet delicious wine for drinking now, with grilled meat and roasts, or for hanging onto through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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