Chardonnay


It’s not easy to grow European wine grapes in hot and humid Brazil, and in fact the center of the vast country’s wine industry lies in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, as far as you can get away from the Equator (marked in red on the accompanying map) and still be in Brazil. In that state, most of the vineyards and wineries are in the hilly region of Serra Gaúcha. Wherever grape-growing occurs in Brazil, mostly what is produced are table grapes of American origin; the most widely grown grape in the country is Isabelle, a cultivar of the species Vitis labrusca, the native American grapes. Attempts made to introduce European or Vitis vinifera grapes beginning in the 16th Century were largely unsuccessful. The advent of Italian immigrants in the 1870s brought greater success to establishing vineyards and making wine, but it took another 100 years before truly serious efforts began, mainly because of the infusion of capital from European companies like Moët & Chandon, Seagrams, Domecq and Martini & Rossi.

Another problem that winemakers face in Brazil is that it is not a wine-drinking nation, suffering from low per-capita consumption and a general attitude that wine is not part of everyday culinary culture. In addition, the different taxing situations among Brazil’s states make dealing with logistics difficult.

Still, the industry seems to be growing, and perhaps because of that factor, I introduce the first Brazilian wines that I have ever reviewed, not only on this blog but in my entire career writing about wine. This pair issued from the country’s oldest winery, Vinicola Salton, which traces its origin to 1878, when Antonio Domenico Salton, an immigrant from Italy’s Veneto region, arrived in Rio Grande do Sul. His seven sons took over the business in 1910 and established the winery and vineyards on a firmer viticultural basis. Salton is still operated by the family, in its fourth generation. The products of Vinicola Salton are brought to American by A & M Imports in Baltimore. These wines were samples for review.

So, the Salton Intenso Brut, Serra Gaúcha, is a delightful but not particularly intense blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent riesling grapes. Made in the Charmat method in which the second fermentation is induced in large tanks, this sparkling wine displays a pale gold color and a constant stream of small bubbles. Aromas of green apples and spiced pear, with hints of seashell and roasted lemon, tantalize the nose; the wine is crisp and lively, slightly tropical — guava and pineapple — and just off-dry on the palate though the finish is a bit drier; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of almond and almond blossom. Similar to prosecco but with more body and presence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15 to $17.

The Salton Classic Tannat 2013, Serra Gaúcha, is pretty much what you would expect from a red wine at the price — robust, acidic, a bit rough around the edges but a decent drink with the right food. The color is dark ruby, the bouquet delivers vivid notes of blueberries and red and black currants with touches of graphite, violets and bitter chocolate, and in the mouth the wine strikes a swath of tannin and acid on the tongue. 13 percent alcohol. Reserve this for burgers, barbecue, braised meat and rustic pasta dishes. Good+. About $10 to $12.

“Brazil State RioGrandedoSul” by Raphael Lorenzeto de Abreu – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg#/media/File:Brazil_State_RioGrandedoSul.svg

Newspaper reporter Davis Bynum began making wine at home in Berkeley in 1951. He became sufficiently adept that in 1973 he purchased 84 acres in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that turned into the home of his eponymous winery. Ready to retire in 2007, after making wine for some 60 years, Bynum sold the brand to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards. Present winemaker is Greg Morthole, with the ubiquitous David Ramey serving as consulting winemaker. The Davis Bynum winery today focuses on pinot noir and sauvignon blanc from Jane’s Vineyard and chardonnay from the River West Vineyard. I’m a fan of the pinot noirs, both the “regular” bottling and the clonal selections, and the cool, clean, crisp and herbal sauvignon blanc from Virginia’s Block; I am not a fan of the over-wrought chardonnay, as you will see in the review that follows. Jane’s Vineyard lies on Fulton Road, west of Highway 101, northwest of the city of Santa Rosa. The soil is gravelly loam, shallow and fast-draining. The vine rows run east-west, so clusters on the south side receive more sunlight than those on the shadier north side of the rows. These sorts of nuances of exposure lend complexity to the final product.

These wines were samples for review.
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Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. The Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley, was made in exactly the manner that produces chardonnays that set my teeth on edge. The grapes were barrel-fermented; the wine went through full malolactic fermentation, the chemical process that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into soft creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid; the wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels, of which 29 percent were new, not a bad regimen, but the wine rested sur lie, on the residue of spend yeast cells, and received “plenty of batonnage,” that is, stirring to agitate the lees and promote richness in the wine. The result is a chardonnay that is bold, bright, brassy, stridently spicy and imbued with dessert-like qualities of creme brulee, lemon meringue pie and caramelized pineapple. At the same time, a paradoxical austerity from mid-palate through the finish contributes to the wine’s fundamental lack of balance, integration and integrity. This is a chardonnay that’s not about a vineyard and the grapes but about pumping up an extraneous character through the devices of its making. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Now, on to happier matters.
The Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, derives from selected blocks within the vineyard. The wine spent 10
months in French oak barrels, 30 percent of which were new. The color is a limpid medium ruby-garnet hue; aromas of black and red cherries and plums are highlighted by notes of sour cherry candy and melon ball, with hints of cloves, sassafras and exotic sandalwood and a burgeoning element of violets and rose petals, altogether a most enticing bouquet. On the palate, the wine offers a super satiny and polished texture for its spicy and moderately succulent cherry and currant flavors, while earthy underpinnings in the form of fresh loamy qualities provide foundation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. A real pleasure. Very Good+. About $ .
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, aged 10 months in French oak, 31 percent new barrels. The color is an entrancing medium ruby with a light cerise robe; scents and flavors of cranberries and pomegranate, with a hint of cherry and plum compote, are riven by bristling elements of briers and brambles and undertones of loam; a few moments in the glass bring up notes of violets and lilac and a beguiling whiff of talcum powder. Lovely drag and flow over the tongue induce a feeling like silky static, and while the wine is darkly tasty, it’s quite dry and almost tannic in effect; the wine grows earthier and more burnished as time passes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 480 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $55.
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The oak treatment for the Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 667 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is slightly different from that of its Clone 115 stablemate mentioned above; for this wine, it’s 11 months in French oak, 32 percent new barrels. Another difference is that this pinot noir is a bit more reticent, rather more spare and structured than the 115. The color is medium ruby with a transparent rim; aromas of cranberries, black cherries and plums open to subtle notes of lavender and sage and nuances of violets and cloves. Surprisingly, the wine is fairly tight on the palate, with a prominent display of slightly dusty tannins and an earthy, almost granitic and austere finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 507 cases. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2020 to ’24. Excellent. About $55.
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Sojourn Cellars was launched in 2001 with 100 cases of cabernet sauvignon. The winery, based in the town of Sonoma, was founded by Craig and Ellen Haserot with winemaker Erich Bradley. The (not uncommon) idea was to produce limited quantities of pure and intense chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir wines from excellent vineyards. Judging from my experience with a selection of chardonnays and pinot noirs from 2010 — link to my reviews here — and these examples from 2012, the team succeeds in their aim. As you will see, the chardonnay from the Durell Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast AVA was a bit flamboyant for my palate, but I find the pinot noirs to be perfect models of the grape’s delicate yet tensile marriage of power and elegance. All the wines are fermented by native yeasts; the pinots see 50 percent new French oak barrels. Though the length of time in oak was not specified in the technical information I received with these samples, the influence of the span spent in the new and used barrels resulted in wines of lovely suppleness and nuance.
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The Sojourn Cellars Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Coast, is a “3 Bs” chardonnay: Not Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, but bold, bright and brassy. The color is luminous medium gold; forthright aromas of lightly roasted and caramelized pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves and ginger and hints of mango and orange rind; a quadrille of ripe and macerated stone-fruit parades across the palate, and I wish it revealed a bit more of a limestone and flint element and brisk acidity to balance the richness. Still, it’s not blatantly tropical, it’s not dessert-like, it’s not stridently spicy, though it’s a little over the top for my taste. The wine was barrel-fermented in 40 percent new French oak and underwent malolactic fermentation while aging. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 275 cases. Very Good+. About $54.
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The color of the Sojourn Cellars Wohler Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, is an entrancing medium ruby-mulberry hue, while the hypnotic bouquet wreathes notes of cranberry and sassafras, black and red cherries, lavender and crushed violets with undertones of oolong tea and orange rind and hints of loam and mushrooms. These intoxicating elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where they drape and flow like a dense satiny fabric of luxurious cost, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here; this is a pinot noir that whatever its heft retains an essential grasp on the ineffable. The aromas deepen as an hour or so passes, and the wine grows increasingly floral and spicy; it’s quite dry, however, with a long finish that’s surprisingly mineral-flecked and tannic. Exquisite proportions, 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 550 cases. Drink now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Sojourn Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, is characterized by racy acidity, and while the wine is delicate and elegant, it offers plenty of vitality and cut. The color is medium ruby-magenta; aromas of cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants blend with hints of pomegranate and cranberry and notes of dried fruit and sandalwood, yes, there’s incense-like pungency in the glass. Despite a touch of cherry-berry succulence, the wine pulls up an element of briery-brambly earthiness and underbrush-infused loam for depth under its savory, slightly macerated black and red fruit flavors. Despite those factors, the wine feels poised, graceful and delectable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,150 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $54.
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The Sojourn Ridgetop Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast, offers a limpid medium ruby-mulberry hue with a transparent rim; this is the earthiest of this trio of single-vineyard pinot noirs, displaying a full complement of briers, brambles and loam under layers of redness: I mean red cherries and raspberries, a hint of cranberry, a touch of red licorice. Vibrant acidity cuts a swath on the palate, making for a texture that’s spare and lithe though not meager; this, like its stablemates, remains generous and expansive in terms of fruit and spice while making rather serious demands in terms of its tannic and mineral-flecked structure, making it the most Burgundian of these examples, not that the comparison matters, but it indicates to me a certain style and philosophy. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 450 cases. Best from 2016 through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $59.
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Sometimes all we require from a white wine is that it be clean, fresh, cold and tasty and that it goes down like a sea-breeze. Other times, however, we desire a white wine with more weight, with more character and savor, especially that latter quality. So today I offer 10 such white wines, produced from many wine regions and from a variety of grapes, a couple rather unusual. These are the white wines that stimulate the palate as well as refresh the spirit. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew a recital of technical detail, historical perspective and geographical data — all of which I adore — to present quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet the old taste-buds. These wines, all rated Excellent except for one Exceptional, were either samples for review or were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy, but with good sense and moderation.
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Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2013, Valle Isarco, Alto Adige, Italy. 13.5% alc. (You may add kerner to your list of obscure grapes.) Medium straw-gold hue with a faint green cast; roasted lemon, notes of quince and ginger, thyme and pine resin, touch of peach and a tantalizing hint of iris and lilac; slightly dusty and buoyant texture, focus on bright acidity and clean limestone minerality; spiced pear and yellow plum flavors with a saline edge. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $19, marking Good Value.
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Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Bianco 2013, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, Italy. 13% alc. Pale gold color; every aspect of lemon: lemon peel, lemon balm, lemon curd, with hints of green apple, peach and grapefruit, a whiff of almond blossom and rosemary; a savory and saline pinot blanc, trussed by limestone and flint minerality that devolves to a bracing finish featuring a bite of grapefruit bitterness. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $23.
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Éric Chevalier Clos de la Butte 2013, Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France. 11.5% alc. 100% melon de Bourgogne grapes. Pale straw-gold hue; unusually sizable and savory for Muscadet, with a lithe, sinewy structure based on fleet acidity and glittering limestone and flint minerality; pert and redolent with lemon and lime peel and a hint of almond blossom; notes of pear and apple; overall, glistening and glassy, delicate and finely-knit but with impressive heft. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Clemens Busch Grauen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2012, Mosel, Germany. 12% alc. Shimmering pale gold color; distinct aromas of lychee and rubber eraser, cloves, lime peel and grapefruit and a pert gingery quality, touch of jasmine; blazing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; quite dry but with inherent citrus and stone-fruit ripeness; lovely lithe texture with elegant heft; a hint of loamy earthiness in the finish. A brilliant riesling. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $30.
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Etre Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. (Saxon Brown’s unoaked chardonnay.) 13.5% alc. 447 cases. Medium straw-gold color; ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; an intriguing whiff of toasted oats; cloves and orange rind; all ensconced in lime peel and limestone minerality; bare hint of honeysuckle and mango; notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon; lively but not crunchy acidity; seductively lush texture but nothing opulent or obvious. Why would this need oak? Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc grapes. Certified organic. Pale gold hue; lime peel and lemongrass, grapefruit and jasmine, mint and heather, a touch of guava, all seamlessly wreathed with a sort of breathless ease; lime and a note of peach in the mouth, a hint of thyme and timothy, lovely supple refined structure, a golden core of quince and ginger; finish is all flint, limestone and grapefruit rind. Now through 2017 or ’18. Exceptional. About $30.
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Kennedy Shah Dubrut Vineyard Reserve Riesling 2012, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.3% alc. Pale gold color; penetrating and provocative aromas of petrol, lychee, peach and spiced pear, top-notes of lemongrass and lime peel; crushed gravel and shale; very dry but luminously fruit-filled and animated by bright acidity and a vibrant limestone presence; notes of lime pith and grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A chiseled, multi-faceted riesling with plenty of appeal. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $25 .
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André & Michel Quenard Les Abymes 2013, Savoie, France. 11% alc. 100% jacquere grapes (to be added to your roster of obscure grapes). Very pale gold color; cloves, cedar and mint, roasted lemon and spiced pear; vibrant acidity with a crisp edge, and more steel than limestone; clean and refreshing but with a woodsy aura and a touch of mossy earthiness on the finish. Drink through 2016. Excellent. About $20.
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Saxon Brown Fighting Brothers Cuvee Semillon 2012, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 334 cases. Pale gold hue; beeswax, fig, quince and ginger; slightly leafy and herbal; candied orange peel, hint of mango; back-notes of spiced and brandied stone-fruit; wonderful sleek, silken texture, slides across the tongue like money; quite spicy and savory on the palate, with lip-smacking acidity and a wisp of limestone minerality. Pretty damned irresistible. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $28.
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Schloss Schonborn Riesling Trocken 2010, Rheingau, Germany. 11.5% alc. Crystalline and transparent in every sense, with marked purity and intensity; very pale gold color; winsome jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe and spicy pear, peach and lychee; hints of lemon balm and lemon curd; incisive acidity and decisive limestone and flint elements; slightly candied lime and grapefruit peel, cloves and ginger; the finish is all hewn limestone, a little austere and aloof. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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I wrote about the FEL Wines Chardonnay 2013 and Pinot Noir 2012, carrying Anderson Valley designations, in Part VI of this series about chardonnay and pinot noirs wines from the same producer. For this entry, we go to single vineyard versions of these wines. The idea behind issuing wines from a single vineyard source, instead of a more general regional or county/valley-wide source, is that a single vineyard will offer more character and individuality in the finished wine than a broader designation would. That sounds fine in theory, but it doesn’t always work out that way, especially when techniques in the winery mute or obliterate whatever qualities may have been inherent in the grapes and the soil and micro-climate from which they derive, as seems to be the case with this chardonnay. Richard Savoy, owner of a well-known bookstore in San Francisco, planted the vineyard that would bear his name in 1991. It lies at the mid-point of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, just west of the town of Philo, occupying an area that slopes gently toward the southwest. He sold the vineyard in 2011 but continues to advise on farming for Ryan Hodgins, winemaker for FEL wines.

These bottles were samples for review.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, aged 14 months in French oak, 56 percent of which were new barrels.The color is dark but vivid ruby; subtle notes of loam and graphite support enticing aromas of black cherries, currants and plums infused with cloves and allspice — with a hint of the latter’s woodsy astringency — sassafras and potpourri, all amounting to a sensuous panoply of complicated but deftly melded effects. Matters are a bit more ambiguous in the mouth, as the palate feels cleansed by bright acidity that drives spicy black fruit flavors through a lithe, supple and satiny texture to a finish that demands attention with a nod to dry slightly dusty tannins and notes of leather and underbrush. Great authority here, as well as spare elegance, exactly what I want in well-made pinot noir. 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 645 cases. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $65.
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The FEL Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Anderson Valley, pushes every wrong button in my relationship to chardonnay and how it is too often made in California. It was fermented in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, and aged 15 months sur lie, that is, on the residue of yeast cells. The color is bright medium gold; bold and vivacious aromas of ripe and roasted pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by notes of cloves, quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. It’s a super sleek chardonnay whose citrus and stone-fruit flavors are saturated by obtrusive elements of toffee, baked apple, caramelized lemon curd and orange scented creme brulee, all cloying and stridently spicy. I’ve asked this question a thousand times: Why would anyone make chardonnay like this, and why would anyone drink it? 14.2 percent alcohol. Production was 138 cases. Not recommended. About $48.
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The small, family-owned house of Champagne J. Lassalle is named in honor of its founder, Jules Lassalle, who established the firm in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses. The patriarch died in 1982, and his wife Olga and her daughter Chantal Decelle-Lassalle took the reins. Chantal Decelle-Lassalle and her daughter, Angeline Templier, now run the house, the latter joining the estate as winemaker in 2006, spanning three generations of mothers and daughters. J. Lassalle produces about 12,500 cases of Champagne annually; the estate’s vineyards are farmed by organic methods. The production is very traditional, all done by hand, and the various cuvées tend to age three to five years in bottle before disgorgement. The wines go through full malolactic fermentation, so they tend to be quite rich.

The J. Lassalle Cuvée Preference Premier Cru Brut in this present disgorgement is a blend of wines from 2009 and 2010. It’s a combination of approximately 60 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent each pinot noir and chardonnay — “approximately,” because the house does not reveal exact percentages — and it aged 48 months on the lees in bottle. The color is pale gold with a cast of slightly tarnished silver, an effect that continues as swirls of tiny glinting bubbles surge to the surface; notes of lemon balm and roasted lemon are buttressed by intriguing scents of roasted grain and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. This is a very dry and stylish Champagne, animated by limestone and chalk elements and given a sense of attentiveness by its fleet-footed acidity; though substantial and fully fleshed out with an array of spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors, it’s neither heavy nor obvious. In fact, the focus intensifies from mid-palate through the finish tinged with hazelnuts and just-baked bread and hints of sea-salt and grapefruit rind. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $45. Prices around the country range from $35 to $50.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, Calif.

The experience at VINO 2015 — as at VINO 2011, the last time the event was held in New York — is overwhelming. Again, the three-day conference about Italian wine and the Italian wine industry and their relationship with America occurred (last week) at the venerable Waldorf Astoria hotel, and though my room this year was not as grand as my accommodations were four years ago — not, I hope, a reflection of any diminishing of my status — the hotel is a sumptuous place that certainly fulfills any expectations for service. (In fact, the Waldorf is so exclusive that to eat breakfast in Peacock Alley, just off the ornate lobby, you have to reserve a table and wear a dark business suit.) It’s pretty interesting and even gratifying to mingle with (or observe from a distance) some of the great figures in wine education and authorship, people who wrote some of the definitive and best-known books in the business, including Karen MacNeil, Ed McCarthy, Harriet Lembeck, Kevin Zraly, Terry Robarts, Elin McCoy and others. It’s also a treat to hobnob with a host of my blogging compatriots, exchanging notes and thoughts.

To a significant extent, the conference is about selling wine or figuring out how to sell wine, so most of the attendees come from the wholesale tier of the industry, and their presence tips the focus toward getting wine to the market and in the hands of consumers. For example, a seminar about the wines of Calabria given by an author and educator emphasized the land and region, the characteristics of the grapes and the details about the wines, while a seminar on the wines of the Campania region given by an expert in Italian wines at the retail level was mostly about how to sell the wines and explain them to customers.

The overwhelming part consists of the sheer numbers of estates, producers and cooperatives offering wine to taste — according to the Italian Trade Commission, 350 producers and more than 1,200 wines. In addition, Slow Wine, an adjunct of the Slow Food organization, mounted its own, smaller and very select tasting of wines from producers featured in their wine guide. There’s no way that one sane healthy person could taste even a fraction of that vinous flood, so as I mentioned in a previous post, I tried to be judicious and pick producers carefully or, to be honest, on a whim. It’s surprising how often that rather antimethodical method works out, especially among the producers that do not have representation in the United States. Of course when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to taste the wines of prestigious estates too.

Today, I launch a series devoted to the wines I encountered at VINO 2015, beginning with four producers, from the Slow Wine tasting, that do not have representation in this country. Listen up, importers!

Postcard image of the Waldorf Astoria from vanartgallery.bc.ca.
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Tenuta Terraviva lies close to the coastal town of Tortoreto in the region of Abruzzo. The organic estate produces small quantities of white and red wine from local grapes such as trebbiano, pecorino and montepulciano, employing thoughtful application of wood and steel to craft delicious, lively and charming wines with a slightly serious edge and surprising complexity. Alcohol content stays consistently in the 13 to 13.5 percent range. I tried the sleek, spicy, lightly honeyed and blossomy Terraviva Trebbiano 2013, the winery’s entry-level white, made in stainless steel; another trebbiano, Mario’s 40 2012, which undergoes 12 months in large oak barrels and six months in steel tanks, lending notes of spiced pear, candied grapefruit and almond flower (about 415 cases); the intriguing ‘Ekwo 2013, Abruzzo Pecorino, made in stainless steel and offering distinct hints of heather, yellow plums, mango and lime peel (about 335 cases); and for red, the Lui 2011, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, aged half in used barriques and half in steel tanks, for a feral and woodsy effect of wild cherries and raspberries, dried mountain herbs and leather, with real dusty tannic grip (about 1,650 cases; alcohol content 14 percent). Tenuta Terraviva is looking for an American importer, and we would all be happy if one were found. At the current conversion rate of euros to dollars, the Trebbiano 2013 is priced at about $10.25, while Mario’s 40 2012 is about $13.50. Even after the costs of importation and the three-tier system, these would be attractive and reasonably priced wines.
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Villa Venti is located about 30 kilometers directly west of the sea-coast resort city of Rimini, in the extreme southeastern corner of Emilia-Romagna. Boasting bed and breakfast lodging and a farm for demonstrating organic and biodynamic methods, the estate is operated by the Castellucci, Giardini and Riva families. I tried two of their wines, the exotic Serenaro 2013, Forli Bianco IGT, made from the very local famoso di Cesena grape, and the appealing and enticing Primo Segno 2012, Romagna Sangiovese Superiore, as well as the version from 2011. This red wine, which sees no oak, is deceptively light, with floral and spicy fragrances that seem to nourish the soul, very pretty red cherry and raspberry fruit, bracing acidity and a surprising amount of supple loamy tannins; that’s the 2012; the ’11 offers even more burnish, depth and purchase. It made me long for a dish of pappardelle with rabbit or a selection of salumi and cheeses. In Italy, this stylish wine costs about 10 euros.
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The founding of Torre San Martino began with the discovery, in 2000, of sangiovese vines dating back to 1922. The estate occupies 70 hectares — about 173 acres — in the central Appennines of the area called Tosco-Romagnola; we’re still in Emilia-Romagna but in the far west. The stunning young woman who poured the wines of Torre San Martino supplied me with a sleekly designed brochure, all black, white and gray, but it offered no technical information about the products, and the estate’s website is “Under Construction,” so I can deliver no technical data about how these wines were made, though someone is doing something right. The intriguing white entry, the Vigna della Signora 2013, Colli di Faenza Bianco, is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and albana grapes, the latter an indigenous vine that does not get much love, despite its DOCG status. In combination, though, with unspecified amounts of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it produces a wine that seems pure gold, from its brilliant straw-gold hue to its notes of yellow fruit and flowers, spiced pears and caramelized grapefruit and orange zest, and a texture poised between pert acidity and moderate lushness. The Vigna 1922 Riserva 2011, Sangiovese di Romagna, is made exclusively from those 93-year-old vines; it’s a wine of great elegance and breeding, intensity and depth, displaying a sense of history and geography, and if you could not sell the hell out of it in restaurants in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. then you would need to get a job cleaning milk shake machines. The Gemme 2013, Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, is a younger wine in every way, fresh and amenable but with plenty of stuffing. These are sophisticated wines that embody high-design components and an interesting narrative; how could they not find an American importer?
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I was terrifically impressed by the wines of Ronco del Gelso, an estate located in the Isonzo DOC of Friuli Venezia Giulia, in northeastern Italy. Mainly white wines are produced here, with a few reds, and these white wines are notably fresh, clean, crisp and spicy, as in the instance of the Toc Bas 2013, made from friulano grapes. More layered is the Sot lis Rives 2013, a barrel-aged pinot grigio that employs crystalline limestone qualities and vivacious acidity to cushion tasty peach, lime and grapefruit flavors, with hints of hazelnuts and almond blossom. The Siet Vignis Chardonnay 2013 aged a year in 2,500-liter oak barrels, lending the wine lovely subtlety and suppleness, while retaining well-defined mineral elements and delicious citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Best of these, however, is Ronco del Gelso’s Schulz Riesling 2013, a captivating and winsome wine made all in stainless steel, resting on the lees with no malolactic fermentation; the result is a beautifully balanced amalgam of peach, pear, lychee, jasmine and limestone that’s slightly sweet on the entry but very dry on the finish and exhibiting all the verve and energy you want in a great riesling.
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Rodney Strong Vineyards already has a fairly full roster of chardonnay and pinot noir wines. There are the Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the Estate Chardonnay, designated Chalk Hill, and Estate Pinot Noir, designated Russian River Valley, and a “regular” Sonoma County chardonnay. Recently, the winery added, under its Estate division, a chardonnay and pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast AVA. Sonoma Coast, officially approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1987, encompasses more than 500,000 acres and stretches from San Pablo Bay in the south to the Mendocino County line in the north. In the past decade or so, the region has established a reputation, primarily because of its ocean influence and cooler climate, as a prime, not to say primal, area for chardonnay and pinot noir. On the other hand, it’s such a large AVA that it’s difficult to establish one fixed identity for it, which is why there are movements afoot to portion off distinct smaller regions as sub-AVAs; Fort Ross-Seaview was approved in 2011, and I wouldn’t be surprised if windy, foggy Petaluma Gap, which contributes grapes to both of the wines under review today, was granted that privilege soon. You’ll notice on the labels illustrated here that the Sonoma Coast designation is given prominence over the grape variety. Winemakers for these examples were Rick Sayre and Justin Seidenfeld. These wines were samples for review.
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When I saw that the Rodney Strong Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, was barrel-fermented and spent 10 months in 85 percent new French oak barrels, my heart sank; that’s a lot of new oak for a chardonnay. However, some (unspecified) amount stayed in stainless steel, which perhaps helped to right the balance. In any case, the color is pale gold; the whole effect is bright, fresh and clean, with beguiling aromas of pineapple, grapefruit and green apple woven with cloves and crystallized ginger and notes of guava and quince; yes, there’s a hint of a tropical element, but it’s not overplayed. Oak is deftly integrated on the palate, with just a touch of the toasty quality, but supported by brisk acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; delicious green apple and spiced pear flavors are nestled in a winsome, moderately dense texture that flows with supple subtlety across the palate. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
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The color of the Rodney Strong Pinot Noir 2013, Sonoma Coast, is an almost translucent ruby-magenta hue. This is a highly fragrant wine, offering prominent notes of cloves and sassafras, black cherries and plums, with hints of red and black currants and pomagranate, and touches of lavender and rose petals. There’s a lovely satiny drape to the texture, but the structure is broad and deep, almost tannic, and framed by spicy, woody, woodsy elements from 10 months in French oak barrels, 35 percent new; a copious amount of loamy, briery and brambly earthiness lends foundation to a well-balanced and integrated package. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $30.
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Longtime readers of this blog — bless your tiny pointed heads and may your tribes increase! — know that a great deal of effort goes into the annual “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series, but as encompassing as that sequence is, it cannot include all the Champagnes and sparkling wines that I taste from late November through early January. For this edition of Weekend Wine Notes, therefore, I offer an eclectic roster of nine of such products, one from Champagne, a duo from Franciacorta in Lombardy and a Lambrusco, an unusual darker-than-a-rosé sparkler from the far western Loire Valley, and versions from California and Oregon. I deliver as much technical information as might actually be required but concentrate on the essence of the blitzkrieg review: short, incisive and to-the-point. With one exception, these wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Lombardy, Italy. 13% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir. A favorite of ours for two Yuletide seasons. Light gold color; a seething horde of tiny bubbles; another year has burnished this sparkling wine; a little spicier, a bit toastier than it was at the previous tasting; roasted lemon and lemon balm, spiced pear; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; keen acidity and a honed limestone element; delicious, with appealing generosity but also a serious edge. Excellent. About $35.
Imported by Masciarelli Wine co., Weymouth, Mass.
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Argyle Brut 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay. Pale gold gold, animated by a shimmer of tiny bubbles; a finely meshed construct of delicate details: lemon balm, verbena and lemon curd, a touch of orange rind; candied quince and ginger and a note of cloves; hint of biscuit; quite dry, bright acidity, lots of flint and limestone; very steely, very steady. Lovely. Excellent. About $27.
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Bonny Doon Sparkling Syrah 2011, Central Coast. 13.8% alc., according to the label, 11.9% alc. says the winery website. 83% syrah, 17% grenache. 378 cases. Opaque purple-black with a violet cast; moderately fizzy; the roasted, meaty and fleshy aspect we expect from syrah, but with vivid elements of deeply spiced and macerated strawberries and raspberries; a high balsamic note; burgeoning hints of violets and lavender; strangely attractive yet very intense, almost demanding, in fact too intense to use as an aperitif; this definitely needs food. Very Good+. About $36, intended for the winery’s club members.
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Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premier 2013, Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco, Italy. 11% alc. 100% lambrusco di Sorbara grapes. Bright medium ruby-red cherry hue; definitely and pleasantly effervescent; raspberries, red and black currants; slightly earthy with heather and boxwood; swashbuckling acidity keeps the whole dark, savory package lively and quenching, while a hint of tannin lends body; appealing supple texture balances a touch of dry austerity on the finish. Classic with rabbit pasta, terrines, duck. Very Good+. About $ .
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Contadi Castaldi Brut Rosé 2008, Franciacorta, Lombardy. 15.5% alc. 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Pale salmon/onion skin hue; quite effervescent; fresh raspberries and strawberries with hints of rose petals and lilac; freshly baked bread, cloves, anise, orange zest; elegant and ethereal; limestone and almond skin on the finish; lovely texture and structure. Very Good+. About $21
Imported by TMT USA, San Antonio, Texas. Image from altissimocento.net.
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Emma 2013, Vin de France. 9% alc. A blend of gamay and grolleau gris grapes, produced by Domaine de la Coche. The Vin de France classification was created in 2009 and allows winemakers to blend grapes and wines from across France, not just those dictated by their appellation. Domaine de la Coche is an organic estate located in the Pays de Retz that lies south of the Loire estuary and north of the Breton marshlands. Bright purple-magenta hue; gently effervescent, just tickles your nose; rose petals and violets, blueberries and raspberries, surprisingly earthy; detectably sweet initially but segues to dry from mid-palate back; a little dusty and raspy but mainly delightful. Very Good+. About $24, an online purchase.
Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y. I think that Emma needs a label makeover.
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Evolution Sparkling Wine nv, America. Produced by Sokol Blosser Winery. 12.5% alc. A proprietary blend of semillon, riesling, muller thurgau, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, chardonnay. Sokol Blosser, founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1971, delivered a real hit with its non-vintage Evolution White, now in its 18th “edition.” This sparkling wine, now debuting and made from the same grape varieties in Washington state, seemed like a natural development. It’s essentially a Prosecco-like sparkling wine made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Pale gold color; a tidy splurge of tiny bubbles; apples and lemons, a lot of flowers from the muscat and gewurztraminer, it seems, as well as a hint of muscat funkiness; detectably sweet on the entry but slides toward dryness on the finish; fortunately clean acidity and a hint of limestone keep it honest. Very Good. About $22.
Image from urbanblisslife.com.
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Jacquard Brut Rosé nv, Champagne. 12.5% alc. 53% pinot noir, 35% chardonnay, 12% pinot meunier. Enchanting pale copper-salmon color; a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles; wild strawberries and cherries with a hint of red currants, touches of peach and orange zest; biscuits and cinnamon toast; quince and crystallized ginger; delicate, elegant, an ethereal construct buoyed by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone quality; a finish half chiseled/half softly appealing. Really lovely. Excellent. About $55.
JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y.
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Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. 88% flora grapes, 11% chardonnay, 1% pinot noir. 96% Napa County, 2.5% Mendocino, 1.5% Sonoma, 1% Marin. The flora grape is a cross of semillon and gewurztraminer developed of UC-Davis. Very pale gold hue; a gentle tug of finely-wrought bubbles; lemon balm, spiced pear and a touch of peach; jasmine and camellia; not so much sweet as ripe, soft and cloud-like; the floral and slightly nutty elements burgeon as the limestone character digs deeper, creating attractive tension even as the wine feels integrated and harmonious. Drink with the most simple desserts, nothing flamboyant; a sugar cookie or biscotti, a fruit tart, light cakes. Excellent. About $39.
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I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014″ and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review. This post is the seventh of 2015 on BTYH.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace, France. Variable blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay. Excellent. About $19.
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Nieto Senetier Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 34 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent malbec, 33 percent merlot. Excellent. About $19.
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Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, nv, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. Excellent. About $18.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. Old vine carignane with some grenache. Production was 253 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $18.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvée George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $17.
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Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $17.
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J Pinot Gris 2013, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Excellent. About $16.
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Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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CVNE Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, Spain. 100 percent viura grapes. Very Good+ verging on Excellent. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 100% sangiovese. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Excellent. About $14.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.
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Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $14.
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Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 100 percent verdejo grapes. Excellent. About $14.
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Stemmari Dalila 2012, Bianco Terre Siciliane, Italy. 80 percent grillo grapes, 20 percent viognier, Excellent. About $14.
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Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2013, Toscana, Italy. With 5 percent viognier grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12.
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Li Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 100% negroamaro grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California. With 15 percent merlot, 3 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $11.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County. Very Good+. About $10.
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Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain. 85 percent grenache, 7 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, 1 percent syrah. Very Good+. About $10.
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