Chardonnay


I can’t say a great deal about most of these wines, because they were tasted on the fly or at a buffet lunch or dinner during my sojourn in the High Plains AVA (indicated in the map) back in the month of May. And My Readers throughout the country will recognize that the enterprise is inherently unfair in relationship to their curiosity because very few wines produced in the Lone Star State are available beyond its irregular borders. Naturally, this circumstance disturbs winemakers in Texas, because they know that many of the wines that issue from their doors are fine enough to stand up to any in the U.S.A. (No state, of course, has a monopoly on mediocre wines.) Texas has slightly more than 200 wineries; 95 percent of the wine is consumed inside the state. Obviously in a three-day visit, the main purpose being to tour vineyards and interview owners and growers, I could experience only the tiniest fraction of vinous products and those primarily relating to High Plains grapes. Still, I thought that it would be friendly and decent to give a shout-out to the wines that stood above the pack. I’ll say that some of the pricing structure seems inflated, if not downright grandiose. If you’re passing through Texas, however, you might want to investigate some of these wines at retail stores or perhaps visit the wineries. Most will be happy to ship for you if the state you live in allows the practice.
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McPherson Les Copains Rosé 2013, Texas, about $11. A delicate blend of 55 percent cinsault, 30 percent mourvèdre and 15 percent viognier. Kim McPherson is the son of “Doc” McPherson, one of the founders of seminal High Plains winery Llano Estacado, in Lubbock. McPherson Cellars is also in Lubbock and occupies an old Coca-Cola bottling plant from the 1930s. This is one of the best rosés I’ve had all year.
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It’s a consensus ( or fervent hope) in the High Plains of Texas AVA that tempranillo is the grape that will turn the tide and bring national attention to the region, though there’s a back-bench movement for montepulciano. This belief indicates a general segue in High Plains away from “classic” grapes like chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon to grapes that reflect the hot dry climate and its similarity to some areas of Spain, Italy and southern France. I probably tried more wines made from tempranillo grapes (or blends) while I was in High Plains than all the other wines combined; these four were certainly the best:

1. Becker Reserve Tempranillo 2012, about $19
2. Lewis Wines Newsom Vineyard Tempranillo 2011, High Plains. About $32(?). Neal Newsom is a prominent grower in High Plains.
3. Lost Oak Tempranillo 2012, about $33. (The winery is in Burleson, south of Fort Worth.)
4. Inwood Estates Vineyards Cornelious Reserve 2012, 100 percent tempranillo from the Inwood Block at Newsom Vineyards. About $69. (See next entry for more about Inwood.)
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Dan Gatlin is a wine pioneer in Texas, an outspoken and controversial figure. There’s no denying, though, that he is a brilliant winemaker or that his Inwood Estates wines, authentic and highly individual, are difficult to forget once you taste them. Gatlin’s chardonnays undergo no barrel-fermentation or malolactic and have what he called “a brief exposure to oak.” Both the 2012 and ’13 are notable chardonnays, the ’12 deftly balanced between elegance and weight, with prominent stony minerality and hints of pineapple, cloves and baked peaches; the ’13 suave, supple yet a little earthy, almost briery, showing chalky-flint elements. These are from Dallas County; they run about $40. Despite the movement toward Mediterranean basin grapes, cabernet sauvignon is still grown in High Plains; Gatlin’s Inwood Estates Mericana Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Newsom Vineyards, about $70, was definitively the best that I tasted.
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As testament to the affinity of Texas High Plains climate to the grapes of southern France and Spain, I tasted these three wines on every occasion they were offered and kept going back for more. The “Reddy” refers to Vijay Reddy, a prominent grower in High Plains.

1. Bending Branch Reddy Vineyard Mourvèdre 2011, Texas Hill Country, 145 cases, about $28.
2. Brushy Creek Reddy Vineyards Tannat 2008, Texas, about $20.
3. Brushy Creek Rachel’s Reserve Carignane 2010, Martin’s Vineyards, Texas. About $25.
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A raft of chardonnays here from the Golden State, ranging geographically from Santa Barbara County in the south to Sonoma Coast in the north. They’re mainly from 2011 and 2012, with one from 2013. I offer a $10 product so good that you should buy it by the case, which I don’t often say about chardonnay, and reject some models that cost $65 and $70. I mean, as long as producers turn out chardonnays that embody the over-oaked, stridently spicy, tropical-tinged and butter-infused crème brûlée-like style — and the major wine publications continue to pass out high ratings for such wine — I will continue not to recommend them as unpalatable and undrinkable. Little in the way of historical, geographical or technical data today; these Weekend Wine Notes are intended to be quick and incisive, not as detailed as my regular reviews. Enjoy! (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.

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Clos du Val Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Medium gold color; vibrant and vivid purity and intensity, scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hints of mango and cloves; sleek, lithe, dynamic, beautifully balanced; nothing avant-garde or opulent here, just classic winemaking. Excellent. About $28.
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CrossBarn by Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. 14.1% alc. Pale gold hue; bright, clean and fresh; pineapple-grapefruit-roasted lemon, hints of nutmeg, lemon balm and lemon curd; dense and chewy, packed with spice and seashell-limestone minerality; slightly astringent floral element; quite dry, very attractive weight and substance; earthy finish where the oak comes out a bit more. Very Good+. About $25.
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Dunston Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 13.3% alc. Limited production. Ravishing medium gold hue with a green tinge; pine, cloves, grapefruit and pineapple with notes of mango, roasted lemon and some leafy/green tea element; fascinating in its complexity and risk-taking but ultimately exquisitely balanced, though you feel the tug of polished oak on the finish after an hour or so. Limited production. Excellent. About $45.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium gold color; very bright and bold, even brassy; very spicy with roasted grapefruit and baked peach, slightly caramelized; way too much oak, too much butter and tropical elements; stridently spicy, over-ripe and then austerely dry; fundamentally unbalanced. Not recommended. About $35.
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Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.3% alc. Pale gold color; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors with hint of mango; Chablis-like chalk and flint; smoke and earth, dense and chewy and pretty darned intense and concentrated; a substantial style. Very Good+. About $27.
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Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay 2012, Carneros. 13.7% alc. Medium straw-gold color; smoke, toast, oak; roasted lemon and baked pear; fairly spicy with buttered and caramelized citrus fruit; quite dry, sleek, good acidity and limestone minerality, but doesn’t know what style it wishes to emulate. Very Good. About $30.
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Jackson Estate “Camelot Highlands” Chardonnay 2012, Santa Maria Valley. 14.5% alc. This chardonnay falls under the Kendall-Jackson rubric rather than Jackson Family Wines; does either entity really need more brands? Medium gold; vividly spicy, boldly ripe and tropical; smoke, toast, brown sugar; dense and chewy, almost viscous, carries opulence to ridiculous lengths; toasted coconut and marshmallow; crème brûlée; doesn’t even come close to palatable in my world. Not recommended. About $35.
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Jordan Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a typical Jordan chardonnay, nothing bold or sumptuous, thank goodness, but well-balanced with keen acidity and an edge of vital limestone minerality to bolster pineapple-grapefruit flavors highlighted by notes of cloves and lilacs; very dry, clean, spare, elegant; oak is an echo rather than a presence. Excellent. About $30.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley. 13.8% alc. I generally like Laetitia’s pinot noirs, but this chardonnay is beyond the pale. So: pale gold color; starts off clean and fresh, with pineapple-grapefruit and notes of roasted lemon and mango; then expands with extravagant richness and exaggerated spice, smoke and crème brûlée gone to the dark side; where are the mitigating acidity and minerality? Not recommended. About $18.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 182 six-pack cases. Steven Kent can make clean, balanced and finely detailed chardonnay (see below), but under his La Rochelle label he turns more baroque and fantastical; this wine is so oaky and over-spiced that it felt harsh on my palate. It gets no recommendation from me. About $65.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey. 13.5% alc. Clasp this well-made inexpensive chardonnay to your bosom as if it were a long-lost friend. Pale gold color; pineapple-mango-grapefruit, hints of jasmine, crystallized ginger and quince; a tad dusty-earthy; deft balance among acidity, spicy oak and spare limestone minerality; notes of citrus on the finish. Very Good+. About $10 and a Remarkable Bargain.
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Newton Chardonnay 2012, Napa County. 14% alc. Medium gold hue; warm and spicy, bright and bold, but nicely balanced and shapely, with a sheen of oak; ripe pineapple and grapefruit with a note of green apple; brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone finish. Quite attractive. Very Good+. About $28.
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Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. This cousin to the wine mentioned just above is both more ambitious and unfortunately far less balanced; medium gold color; bright, ripe, brassy citrus and stone-fruit scents and flavors; cloves, caramel, brown sugar; very tropical, buttered toast, meringue; yet strangely very dry and austere on the finish. Unpleasant and unpalatable. Not recommended. About $65.
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Olema Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Second label of Amici Cellars) Pale gold color; crisp, taut, fresh; apples, grapefruit and pineapple; spicy and lively, a little lean and sinewy but generous and expansive too; quite pleasant and tasty. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
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Paul Hobbs Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Uh-oh. Medium gold color; forthright and boldly spicy, forthright and deeply oaky. I couldn’t drink it. Not recommended. About $47.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Pale gold; ineffable weaving of grapefruit and pineapple, Golden Delicious apple, cloves, ginger and quince; very dry but juicy and savory; lovely heft and texture, lithe and supple, almost talc-like but riven and balanced by bright acidity. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $40.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; so clean and pure, such crystalline intensity, yet spare, elegant and subtle but with a core of natural richness; roasted lemon and lemon balm; notes of pineapple and nectarine; very dry, packed with limestone and flint minerality, but quite delicious, seductive, compelling. Why can’t all chardonnays be like this? Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40.
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Reuling Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14% alc. 350 cases. Major disappointment. Very pale gold; brightly spicy, boldly scented; nutmeg and cloves, pineapple and grapefruit caramelized in butter; cinnamon toast; too creamy on the one hand, too sharply spicy on the other, essentially unbalanced, paradoxically both cloying and austere. Not recommended. About $70.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrillie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. NA% alc. 504 cases. Pale gold color; spare, clean and fresh; lemon balm with notes of grapefruit rind, lemongrass and green tea; hints of nutmeg and cloves; heaps of limestone minerality buoying a lovely talc-like texture shot with shimmering acidity; let’s call it beautiful. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $34.
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Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Medium straw-gold color; a classic of balance and elegance; pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors infused with cloves and limestone; lovely weight and heft, that is to say feels dense and weightless simultaneously; clean, bright acidity for liveliness; subtle, supple oak influence and limestone minerality. Excellent. About $28.
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Souverain Chardonnay 2011, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; smoke, cloves and nutmeg; pineapple and pears; very dry, very spicy but dense with a crème brûlée element with emphasis on the brûlée; astringent grapefruit finish; bright acidity barely saves the day. Good only. About $16.
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Sometimes you encounter a wine that gets everything right, in terms of impression, quality and price. Such a wine is the Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012, Napa Valley. The winery was founded in 1978 on the site of an abandoned 19th Century “ghost winery” by Jerry and Flora Komes, though the real work of establishing the facility and vineyards went to their children John Komes and his wife Carrie and Julie Garvey and her husband Pat Garvey; now the third generation is poised to take command. Winemaker is Paul Steinauer. The Flora Springs Chardonnay 2012 aged in a thoughtful regimen of 34 percent French oak barrels, 33 percent larger oak “ovals” and 33 percent stainless steel. The color is pale straw-gold; the wine is fresh and clean, floral in the jasmine-honeysuckle range with notes of cloves; classic pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors are full-blown yet not over-ripe; everything is poised in a model of balance and elegance. A supple and moderately lush texture envelopes slightly candied citrus flavors — add a tinge of quince and ginger — with deeper layers of limestone and flint minerality and crystalline acidity; the finish brings in a note of earthiness. This is winemaking at its most shimmering and jewel-like, the result a chardonnay of exquisite purity and intensity. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled or sauteed salmon or swordfish, with grilled shrimp, with tuna salad. Excellent. About $20, representing Terrific Value.

A sample for review.

And, boy, are they eclectic! And sort of electric in effect, by which I mean snappy, vivid, lively and crisp. Some are fairly straightforward, fruity and appealing; a few others are more complicated and inspire a little contemplation, though in these languid, humid days, a bit of contemplation harmonizes with the lap of waves at the beach or the plock-plock of tennis balls or the creak of the rope that supports your gently swaying hammock. We touch Chile, Spain, Italy, Germany, Alsace in France and several regions of Italy and California today, as well as a dazzling range of grape varieties. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, my goal is not to overload your sensibility with technical, historical, geological data, as I might in more extensive reviews but to offer incisive impressions that will pique your interest and whet your palate. Contemplating an afternoon at a picnic, by the pool, on the porch or patio? Any of these white wines would serve you well.

These wines were samples for review.
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Albamar Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notably fresh and zingy; lychee and pear, lime peel and grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle; hints of celery seed, fennel and fig; leafy, sprightly, with a scintillating limestone edge; plenty of verve and clarity. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About $11, a Sure-Fire Bargain.
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Blanco Nieva Pie Franco Verdejo 2012, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. Light gold color; clean, crisp and vibrant; bee’s-wax, sea salt, roasted lemon, lime peel, limestone, little waxy flowers; very nicely knit and well-balanced; bracing acidity and salinity, with a dry finish that offers a pleasing touch of candied grapefruit. Very attractive and refreshing; lots of personality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $23.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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Conundrum 2012, California. 13.5% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscat canelli, viognier. Is Conundrum getting drier? Is that why I actually liked this vintage of the well-known white blend? Pale gold color; fully-fleshed out notes of peaches and spiced pears, lychee and riesling-like petrol; operatically floral in the lilac and honeysuckle range, some muscat-tinged muskiness; a touch of sweetness going in but felt more as plush ripeness; crisp yet lush, sleek, polished, sophisticated; very dry finish etched with limestone. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22, often discounted.
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Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2013, Clarksburg. 13% alc. Pale gold color; hay, roasted lemon, acacia and dried thyme; savory, spare and bracing yet graceful; hints of yellow stone fruit and tangerine; background of damp stone minerality; all bound by crisp acidity. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer “Hugel” 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Very pale gold color; lychee, peach and spiced pear; notes of lemon curd, honeysuckle and preserved lemon; dry but juicy with stone-fruit and hints of citrus and green apple; a cool wine, shot through with limestone and flint minerality, warmed by touches of cloves and allspice; ultimately spare, elegant, slightly astringent on the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, California. 13.8% alc. Light gold color; lemon and lime peel, delicate notes of honeysuckle, thyme and sage, lemon oil and orange blossom, crushed gravel undertones; very crisp and refreshing though spare and lithe; pith and peel and the bracing astringent bitterness that attends them, yet a wisp of slightly overripe peach under the spareness and a hint at briers and loamy earthiness. A thoughtful and appealing rendition of the grape, surprisingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, a Terrific Bargain.
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Masseria Li Veli Fiano 2012, Puglia. 13% alc. 100% fiano grapes. Pale gold color, tinge of green; cloves and allspice, jasmine and smoke; roasted lemon and bee’s-wax, talc and limestone; clean, dry and savory; lovely body, cloud-like density and supple texture but spurred by bracing acidity. Irresistibly tasty. Very Good+. About $11, representing Wonderful Value.
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St. Urbans-Hof Bockstein Ockfen Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. 8% alc. A reisling of scintillating purity and ethereal refinement; very pale gold color; delicately struck notes of jasmine and apricot, mango and lychee, lemon peel and almond skin; vivid acidity sends an electric wave across the palate though the ultimate effect is never less than utmost elegance and elevation; a texture almost lush exquisitely balanced by the acid and the bright limestone minerality. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
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Senorio de Rubios Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. How well does albarino age? Beautifully, in this case. I don’t usually include
wines that are Worth a Search in the Weekend Wine Notes, but this 2010 was the sample I received, even though, apparently, the 2012 is available. Light gold color; my first reaction, “Gosh, how lovely”; not as fresh as it would have been two years ago, perhaps, but with a depth of spice and richness; roasted lemon, lemon balm and baked pear; camellia, quince and ginger; very dry, saline and savory, slightly honeyed entry leading to an earthy, limestone-inflected finish that’s a bit austere. Drink up. Very Good+ leaning toward Excellent. About $18.
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Toad Hollow Francine’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Mendocino County. 13.9% alc. Pale gold color; lively, clean and bright, very dry, crisp and pert; notes of lemon and mango, hint of jasmine; lots of serious limestone minerality enlivened by a grapefruit finish. Quite refreshing. Very Good+. About $14.
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Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; pear, peach and lychee, yellow plum; tantalizing floral elements, like memories of dewy violets and lilacs; a precise and incisive wine, layered with flint and limestone, crystalline acidity; earthy, though, a bit dusty; the entire effect clean, resonant and elegant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Zenato Lugana 2012, San Benedetto, Veneto. 13% alc. 100% trebbiano di Lugana grapes. Very pale shimmering gold color; super attractive, with notes of jasmine and orange rind, talc and lilac, mango and spiced pear; slightly honeyed, with hints of bee’s-wax and lanolin; touches of dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slightly resinous quality; notably clean and fresh, chiming acidity and a seashell-like minerality. I could drink this all Summer. Very Good+. About $14, marking A Notable Bargain.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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Perhaps we should all be like the young doctor whose party in the Mississippi Delta we attended some 20 years ago. He poured magnums of Chateau Margaux 1981 as house wine, and folks were knocking it back as if the night would never end. As we were trying to leave, he insisted that we finish a bottle of Echezeaux ’59; I forget the name of the producer. (He wasn’t so happy with me the next morning, after he found out that I kicked a couple of ivories off his grand piano, but that’s another story. I did apologize.) The point is that some people in a highly elevated and rarefied realm can drink great wine all the time, while most people — including yours truly — make do with more ordinary vinous material. And isn’t that really as it should be? Would we not find a constant regimen of the world’s best wines cloying, tiring, demanding? Well, perhaps not, but most consumers are content with wines that don’t require deep thought and a fund of fiduciary prowess to obtain. Here, then, are eight decent quaffs — four white, four red — drinkable, enjoyable and not overly complicated wines to accompany all sorts of meals and occasions. Nothing flamboyant or brilliant here, just wines that you would not be unhappy to sip with friends and family around the table. No need for a lot of technical folderol; just read these brief reviews and go buy a selection to get you through the next few weeks. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Torrontes 2013, Salta, Argentina. 13% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and camellia, spiced pear, yellow plum and a hint of peach; notes of lilac, roasted fennel and ginger; spare, crisp, lively, very dry; shimmering acidity and limestone minerality. Quite tasty. Drink up. Very Good. About $13.
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Apothic White Winemaker’s Blend 2012, California. (A Gallo label.) 12% alc. Chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling. Light gold color; jasmine and honeysuckle, spiced pear and slightly over-ripe peach; muscat-like muskiness, with a touch of lychee; sweet entry tamed by crisp acidity to a dry finish. Quite enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good. About $14.
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Wente “Louis Mel” Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Livermore Valley, California. 13% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean and crisp; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, lime peel and grapefruit, mildly grassy and herbal; spicy and savory; falls off a bit in the middle but offers nice follow-through with the spice-and-limestone-laced finish. Drink up. Very Good. About $15.
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Garzon Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Uruguay. 13% alc. Very pale gold; lime peel and grapefruit, pea shoot, lemongrass and celery seed, lilac and caraway; super fresh and refreshing; brings in notes of roasted lemon and fig; needs more verve and attitude in mid-palate but a delicious sip of sauvignon blanc. Drink up. Very Good. About $17.
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Pedroncelli friends.red 2012, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Merlot, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple color; warmly stacked with cloves and allspice, ripe black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors; notes of briers, brambles and loam, touch of graphite; mainly supported by sleek tannins and a bit of oak. Easy-going with a hint of seriousness. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $12, making Fine Value.
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Tercos Bonarda 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. 100% bonarda grapes. Dark ruby color; earthy, rooty and sappy; ripe and spicy black currants, plums and blueberries, with a touch of dried fruit, fruitcake and pomander; mouth-filling, dense and chewy, notes of tar and beet-root; tannic and savory. Intriguing character for the price. Drink through 2014. Very Good. About $13.
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Vino dei Fratelli Primitivo 2011, Puglia, Italy. 13% alc. 100% primitivo grapes. Dark ruby-purple color; currants, plums and blueberries, cloves and graphite; dusty tannins and a velvety texture; hints of zinfandel-like briers and brambles; tasty, substantial. Now through 2015. Very Good. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 13.5% 100% sangiovese. Medium ruby color; warm and spicy, laden with graphite minerality and loam; red and black cherries and currants, smoky and a little plummy; chewy, satiny tannins, dark and spicy with notes of black olive, orange zest and bitter chocolate-covered black cherries. Lots of personality. Where’s the rabbit ragu? Through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, Excellent Value.
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Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
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The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

Wine has been made in the state of Virginia since about 1607, beating the Spanish missions in California by some 160 years. The early English colonists produced wine — or “wine” — from indigenous grapes. It was Thomas Jefferson, perhaps American’s first wine connoisseur, who famously brought vinifera grapes from France and planted them (unsuccessfully) at Monticello. The climate seems iffy; Virginia is, of course, The South, and the growing season is hot and humid. Such factors as fungal diseases don’t discourage the truly dedicated, however, because if people are determined to grow cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay grapes where it might seem inappropriate, they’re just gol-darn gonna do it. Many traditional vinifera, i.e., European grapes are cultivated in Virginia, though many wineries also rely on native or hybrid grapes. I have heard and read that in some of these regions and AVAs such white grapes as viognier and petit manseng perform surprisingly well, but I have not tried these wines.

The state is organized into nine regions and seven official American Viticultural Areas — AVAs — with such colorful names as Rocky Knob and Northern Neck George Washington’s Birthplace. According to the very helpful virginiawine.org, there are 248 wineries in the state. Virginia is the country’s fifth largest wine-grape producer and fifth in the number of wineries. How many people outside of Virginia have tasted wines from the Blue Ridge State? Not many, I would guess. In fact, until recently, I had not tried a single wine from Virginia, and that’s when Stinson Vineyards, a small producer in the Blue Ridge Mountains sent me a few bottles.

How small is the operation? The estate encompasses 12 acres, of which five are in vines. In a winery converted from an old three-car garage, father and daughter Scott and Rachel Stinson make minute quantities of wines that follow, they say, a French model, particularly of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Stinson’s historical feature is Piedmont House, seen in the evocative image to the right, built in 1796 and expanded in the 1840s.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Stinson Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, Monticello, was my favorite of these three wines. The color is classic pale copper-salmon; the wine is quite fragrant and evocative, offering hints of apple and gardenia, melon and dried red currants. It has that Provençal thing going on: dusty roof tiles, a hint of dried rosemary, warm rocks, zinging acidity, with final hints of raspberries and limestone, all delicately knit in a pleasing slightly lush texture. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 220 cases. Drink through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
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The bright gold color of the Stinson Chardonnay 2012, Monticello, seems like a pretty good indication of the ripeness of its pineapple and grapefruit flavors, though perhaps I’m being metaphorical. In any case, this is a very ripe, slightly smoky chardonnay whose fruit feels rather roasted and candied, with a spicy overlay and a hint of ripe fruit sweetness — peach and lemon balm — from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, for the price, you get a lot of burnish and style, though I would prefer more restraint. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $22.
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The Stinson Cabernet Franc 2012, Virginia, offers a luminous medium ruby color and attractive aromas of blueberries, black currants and plums, highlighted by notes of cloves and dried thyme; bright acidity enlivens tasty black and blue fruit flavors set into a moderately tannic structure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. This is a truly delicious and drinkable wine, but its relationship to what the cabernet franc grape does best is fleeting. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $23.
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Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

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

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

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

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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