Chardonnay


Rully is one of the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise entitled to its own appellation. Named for the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, the region is part of greater Burgundy, lying between the southern tail of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and Mâconnais. As with its more important cousin to the north, the grapes in the Chalonnaise are chardonnay and pinot noir, except for the commune of Bouzeron, dedicated solely to the aligoté grape. Surprisingly, for its relatively minor status, 23 climats or vineyards in Rully are entitled to Premier Cru designation. The commune contains about 357 hectares of vines — 882 acres — of which 2/3 are devoted to chardonnay. Our Wine of the Day, No. 39, is the Rully Les Cloux Premier Cru 2012, from the distinguished firm of Olivier Leflaive. This estate owns vines in a magnificent roster of Côte de Beaune powerhouses, including Grand Cru and Premier Cru settings in Meursault, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as interests in Chablis and the Chalonnaise. As we would expect from Olivier Leflaive, the wine is treated carefully, aging six to seven months in oak barrels, never more than 15 percent new and then resting in stainless steel tanks for nine months, resulting in a wine of great freshness and direct appeal. The color is very pale gold; aromas of lime peel, orange blossom and slightly candied grapefruit are twined with a distinct loamy-briery character that segues seamlessly to the palate, where the wine exhibits a lovely, almost talc-like texture and bright acidity that lends liveliness and tautness. A few minutes in the glass bring in a tide of scintillating limestone minerality as well as a freshening swell of slightly exotic spice and floral elements. The importer’s website indicates that this 2012 is the vintage currently in the U.S. market, and while the wines of the region are not intended for laying down, this should certainly retain its attractive nature through 2016 and into 2017. Alcohol content is 13 percent. A chardonnay of terrific presence and integrity. Excellent. About $26, a local purchase that’s a bit below the national average price.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

Oh, what the hell, let’s have a bottle of sparkling wine! Surely you can come up with something to celebrate. Or not. I would just as soon drink Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine for any purpose, any whim, any occasion, even if it’s merely standing around the kitchen preparing dinner. For our category of sparkling wine today, then, I choose the Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, a non-vintage blend of primarily chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with a dollop of pinot noir, the sources being the Carneros regions in Sonoma County (58 percent) and Napa County (42 percent). The wine rested sur lie — on the residue of dead yeast cells — five years in the bottle after the second fermentation that produces the essential effervescence. The color is an entrancing medium copper-salmon hue riven by an upward-surging torrent of glinting silver bubbles. Notes of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry unfold to hints of lime peel, quince and ginger, with, always in the background, touches of limestone, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and orange marmalade; think of the tension and balance between the subtle sweet fruitiness and bitterness of the latter. On the palate, this sparkling wine works with delicacy and elegance to plow a furrow of juicy red berry and citrus flavors — with a bit of pomegranate — into a foundation of slate and limestone minerality and lively acidity for a crisp, dynamic texture and long spicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

For a guy who doesn’t much cotton to chardonnay wines, I have probably been paradoxical in my inclusion of chardonnays in this “Wine of the Day” series, now at its 22nd entry. I won’t bother to extemporize upon the manifold ways in which I think chardonnay wines can be over-done, over-blown, exaggerated and over-oaked; I have done that more than a sufficient numbers of times on this blog. I will say, however, that when I try a chardonnay that seems to touch on all the points of perfection that I will clasp it to my heart as not only an exemplar but a talisman, and I will shout its virtues from the roof-tops. Such a one is the Amapola Creek Jos. Belli Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Russian River Valley. This wine was made by Richard Arrowood, and if ever a winemaker in California deserved the accolade “legendary,” he is certainly at the top of that brief list. Joseph Belli’s certified organic vineyard lies at the extreme western edge of the Russian River AVA in Sonoma County, where the land begins to slope gently upward. Facing east, the terraced and well-drained acreage receives full sunlight in the morning and early afternoon but is shielded by the hills from the harsh light of late afternoon. The color is pale gold with a faint green cast; the entire impression is of a chardonnay that is clean, pure and fresh, balanced yet forward, fervent, almost emphatic in its intensity; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are layered with hints of cloves, yellow plums, baked pear and undertones of ginger, quince and damp limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in touches of jasmine and lilac. The wine flows on the palate with sleekness and subtlety, in a texture almost talc-like in its packed nature yet riven by resonant acidity and a brisk chalk-and-flint mineral quality; though quite dry, it offers juicy, spicy and engaging citrus and stone-fruit flavors that lead to a finish finely-sifted with fruit, acid, oak and minerals. The wine went through barrel-fermentation and aged 11 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels; its presence is apparent as a shaping element, and its tangible influence emerges primarily through the elegance but powerful finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 475 cases. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Faithful readers of this blog — bless yer pointy little heads and may yer tribes increase! — know that California chardonnay and I have an uneasy and sometimes contentious relationship. I find too many of them over-blown, buxom, viscous and stridently ripe and spicy. On the other hand, chardonnays that display florid ripeness but manage to maintain an edgy balance with racy acidity and striking mineral elements can be not just delicious but exciting, even risky. Such a one is the Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands. The winery was founded by Dan Morgan Lee and his wife Donna in 1982; winemaker since 2005 has been Gianni Abate. The Lees purchased the Double L property, at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, in 1996, planting the following year. At present, the vineyard consists of 48.52 planted acres: 27.99 acres planted to pinot noir, 18.45 acres of chardonnay and minuscule amounts of syrah and riesling. The vineyard is certified organic. The Morgan Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new, the rest one- and two-year-old barrels. This is a golden and glittering chardonnay, offering a mild medium gold hue and forthright aromas of baked pineapple and caramelized grapefruit entwined with notes of jasmine, smoke, cloves and heather, spread on a background of damp crushed gravel. It’s indeed a sizable wine, quite dry but ripe and juicy with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors and animated by shattering acidity and dusty, scintillating limestone minerality. Oak provides a finely sifted and supple framework and foundation; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of lemon balm and walnut oil. The finish is dense yet nimble, serious and exquisite together and radiant with chardonnay’s purity and intensity. 13.9 percent alcohol. A chardonnay this rich and layered, though elegantly (and dynamically) balanced, requires dishes of utmost simplicity; ultra-rich fare would compete with and clash with the wine. Something like grilled trout with brown butter and capers or roasted chicken with tarragon would be perfect. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Production was 530 cases. Exceptional. About $42.

A sample for review.

Fellow toilers in the fields of wine-writing, blogging and journalism will understand that sometimes bottles get forgotten in the mounting backlog of samples. Such was the case with the Hestan Vineyards Chardonnay 2010, San Francisco Bay. On the other hand, the winery’s current release chardonnay, according to its website, is the 2011, so there’s not much of a lag. Obviously proprietors Stanley and Helen Cheng like to hold their chardonnays a bit longer than most producers do, evidenced by the fact that most California chardonnays on the market now are from 2012 and ’13. Winemaker for Hestan is Thomas Rivers Brown, who invests the estate’s cabernets and chardonnays with plenty of heart, size, structure and flavor. Though the winery’s principle vineyards lie up-valley, the chardonnay grapes come from a 2.5-acre site near the mouth of the Napa River, hence the San Francisco Bay appellation, approved as an AVA in 1999, amended in 2006. The Hestan Chardonnay 2010 displays a bright medium gold hue with a slight greenish cast; aromas of peach and baked pineapple are imbued with notes of cloves, bay leaf, heather and touches of peach-pit woodiness and pine; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of quince and crystallized ginger. This is a strapping chardonnay, supple, lithe and silky, almost muscular; despite the ripeness of its citrus and stone-fruit flavors, it’s quite dry, alight with blazing acidity and anchored by prominent limestone minerality, two qualities that save it from opulence and flamboyance. Also blessedly absent are any traces of the tropical, the creamy and the buttery. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 350 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Drink now through 2018 or ’20. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

Here’s what I decided to do, after posting a few days ago that this blog would take a hiatus until the cast came off my broken arm and I could write easily again. I don’t actually want to have a long gap in posting, so I will begin today with one brief review of a bottle of wine and continue in this manner every day until the arm heals and I can write more extensively again. This scheme forgoes my preferred method of comparing wines — six Napa Valley cabs, say, or pinot noir and chardonnay from the same producer and so on — but it keeps my (left) hand in and lets My Readers know that I’m still here.

So, first in this temporary series is the Matanzas Creek Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma County. The winery falls under the Jackson Family Wines umbrella. The color is shimmering pale gold; this is a clean and fresh chardonnay, eloquent in its expression of green apples and peaches under classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit, all wreathed by hints of jasmine and crushed gravel. This chardonnay is dense, almost talc-like in texture, but enlivened by brisk acidity and a burgeoning limestone element; the spicy qualities, centered on cloves and ginger, increase through the crystalline, faceted finish, where a touch of oak holds everything together. A wine of lovely balance and animation. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17 with grilled salmon, tuna or swordfish. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

I taste — not drink — a great deal of chardonnay wines made in California. Much of them are well-made and serve as exemplars of the grape, but far too many reveal signs of being over-manipulated in the winery with barrel-fermentation, malolactic, lees stirring and long aging in barrel. The result is often chardonnays that I find undrinkable because of their cloying viscosity and dessert-like character, their aggressive spiciness, their flamboyant richness and over-ripeness and basic lack of balance. This is why, when LL and I sit down to a dinner that requires a white wine, I generally open a sauvignon blanc or riesling, a Rhone-inspired white, a pinot blanc or an albariño. Looking for respite from tasting California chardonnays, I purchased a bottle of the Domaine Perraud Vieilles Vignes Mâcon-Villages 2013 from a local retail store. This is made completely from chardonnay grapes from 45-year-old vines; it sees no oak, and it’s a shimmering graceful beauty. Mâconnais lies south of Burgundy proper, between Chalonnais and Beaujolais and considerably smaller than either. The soil tends to be limestone and chalk and is best on the south-facing hillsides about 800 or so feet elevation. This wine spends eight to 12 months in stainless steel tanks, resting on the fine lees of dead yeast cells and skin fragments. The color is very pale gold; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, jasmine and verbena are highlighted by bright notes of quince and ginger; a lovely, almost talc-like texture is riven by a blade of clean acidity and bolstered by layers of chiseled limestone minerality, all at the service of delicious citrus and stone fruit flavors tempered by a concluding fillip of bracing grapefruit vigor. Utterly fresh, beautifully poised between elegance and delicacy, on the one hand, and presence and gravity on the other. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this last night with a dinner of broiled catfish with boiled potatoes and salsa verde, green beans on the side. What’s the lesson here? Chardonnay does not have to be bold, brassy, brash and buxom. Excellent. About $20, a Great Value.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

Come on, you know that your sainted mother deserves some Champagne or sparkling wine on Mother’s Day, especially after all the trouble, toil, stress and tears you put her through. Remember how she bailed you out of jail at 3 a.m. that time? (And then docked your allowance forever.) Remember how she wrote your term paper on Moby Dick after the dog ate your notecards? Remember how she stood up for you against the imprecations of the king your father and ensured your claim to the Throne of the Recalcitrant Kingdoms? You owe her, dude! (Or dudette!) Here, in honor of Mother’s Day, is a roster of seven sparkling wines and Champagnes to tempt every palate and soothe every spirit. Four are from California, three from France, including two real and actual Champagnes. Prices start at about $22, though you can find stores around the country that discount radically. Since this is the Weekend Wine Notes post, I eschew a plethora of technical, historical and geographical data in favor of brief and incisive reviews designed to pique the interest and whet the palate. I will mention that all of these products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Unless pointed out specifically, these bottles were samples for review. Enjoy! (In health and moderation.)

Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1” hangs in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
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Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs nv, Carneros. 12.2% alc. 92% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay. Very pale copper-onion skin hue; pert and lively, with a pleasing froth of glinting bubbles and attractive aromas of red currants and raspberries, touches of cloves, orange peel and peach, and hints of hazelnuts and cinnamon toast; bracing acidity; very nice intensity and body, with a lively texture and finish. Very Good+. About $22, a local purchase.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé nv, Crément d’Alsace. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Shimmering copper-salmon hue; a fountain of glittering tiny bubbles; raspberries and lime peel, blood orange and orange blossom; spiced tea and limestone; almost tart but full and round; delicate yet steely; slightly austere, saline mineral-laced finish. Real style and racy character. Very Good+. About $22.
Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Mirabelle Brut Rosé nv, California (from Schramsberg). 12.8% alc. 53% chardonnay, 47% pinot noir. Medium salmon-peach hue; dependable stream of tiny bubbles; notes of strawberries, raspberries and orange zest; very crisp and and animated; very dry and a bit chiseled with elements of limestone and flint but with a lovely texture that deftly balance spareness with moderate lushness. Delightful. Very Good+. About $26.
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Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2011, North Coast. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Platinum blond color, befitting a “white from whites” sparkling wine; a swirling torrent of tiny bubbles; roasted lemon and spiced pear, quince and ginger, cloves and a hint of mango; touches of toasted brioche, lemon balm and almond blossom; decisive limestone minerality and incisive acidity make it fresh and clean, vibrant and lively, all finely-tuned and lithely toned; the finish is fine, elegant, a little austere. Always a favorite in our house. Excellent. About $38.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut nv, Napa and Sonoma counties. 48% chardonnay, 46% pinot noir, 6% pinot meunier. Pale gold color; a fountain of tiny shimmering bubbles; apples and lemons, spiced pear, hint of brioche and a touch of toffee; savory and saline; quite dry but expansive and generous; lots of chalk and limestone minerality; a large-scale sparkling wine that balances tasty roasted lemon and toasted hazelnut flavors with lip-smacking acidity; all devolving to an elegant finish packed with flint, cloves and grapefruit. A great performance, refined, generous and integrated. Excellent. About $40.
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Champagne Canard-Duchêne Authentic Brut nv. 12.5% alc. 45% pinot noir, 35% pinot meunier, 20% chardonnay. Pale gold color; steady stream of tiny bubbles; grapefruit and roasted lemon, lightly toasted brioche and lemongrass, notes of spiced pear, quince and ginger; very dry, heaps of smoke, chalk and limestone but expansively fitted with citrus flavors and hints of peach; crisp, almost tart, certainly lively and engaging. Our new favorite Champagne at home. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase.
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Nicolas Feuillette “D’Luscious” Demi-Sec Rosé nv. 12.5% alc. 60% pinot noir, 30% pinot meunier, 10% chardonnay. Lovely dusty topaz hue; not so much sweet — demi-sec means “half-dry” — as slightly voluptuous in texture and bursting with ripe fruit in the strawberry and raspberry range; the off-set is provided by notes of yeast and fresh biscuits, almond skin, limestone minerality and brisk acidity; a touch of orange zest is a bit candied. More balanced than I would have thought; quite lovely and enjoyable. Excellent. About $59.
Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.
Image from somminthecity.com.
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I have been reviewing the pinot noir wines of Black Kite Cellars since the vintage of 2007 was released, but recently had the opportunity to try the winery’s chardonnays for the first time, as well as its flagship “Angel Hawk” pinot noir. Winemaker Jeff Gaffner makes the Black Kite wines from separate blocks of the estate vineyards in Mendocino County as well as from vineyards in Sonoma Coast and Monterey County’s Santa Lucia Highlands. Gaffner is also proprietor and winemaker for Saxon Brown, whose wines I have been tasting recently and will report about soon.

These bottles were samples for review.
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Black Kite Soberanes Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Soberanes Vineyard, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range, is owned by Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni, both from farming families long rooted in Monterey County. From this vineyard, and others they own in the Highlands, they supply notable wineries with chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes. This aged 10 months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. It’s a bold, ripe and spicy chardonnay, displaying a medium gold hue and forthright aromas of roasted pineapple, caramelized grapefruit, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, cloves and a hint of toasted coconut, all accumulating in what long-time readers of this blog will recognize as not my favorite manner of chardonnay. It’s quite dry but juicy with citrus flavors, pear and lemon oil; dense, viscous, almost talc-like in texture but saved by a fundamental quality of brisk acidity and limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 195 cases. Perhaps this requires a year or two in bottle to calm down a bit and resolve itself. Until then, Very Good+. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars Gap’s Crown Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast. The 138-acre Gap’s Crown Vineyard lies in the cool and windy Petaluma Gap area in southwest Sonoma County; elevation varies from 300 to 800 feet above sea level. First planted in 2002, it supplies primarily pinot noir grapes (and some chardonnay) to a roster of California’s best pinot producers, Bill Price purchased the vineyard in January 2013. Price owns one of California’s best-known vineyards, Durell Vineyard, which he purchased in 1998. He co-founded the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group in 1992 and sold his share back to the company in 2007, and that, friends, is a lesson in how you get into the vineyard and winery business. Price is chairman of Kosta Brown Winery and Gary Farrell Winery — you know those names — and has interest in Kistler, another name you know. This chardonnay marks the first wine from the vineyard for Black Kite. It aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 40 percent new and presents a more classic restrained version of chardonnay than the example from the Soberanes Vineyard mentioned above. Still, this is quite pronounced in its expression of pineapple and grapefruit scents and aromas, highlighted by notes of ginger, quince and spiced pear. The texture is pleasingly dense, not viscous or oily and it offers more acidity and limestone minerality by several degrees. In fact, this is a chardonnay of crystalline clarity and eloquence that culminates in a long, compelling finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 236 cases. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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Black Kite Cellars “Angel Hawk” Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. This wines derives from vines that owners Rebecca and Tom Birdsall and winemaker Jeff Gaffner consider the best of their estate vineyards. And while my heart sinks to read that a pinot noir wine aged 19 months in 100 percent new French oak barrels — I think that’s typically too much new oak for too many months for pinot noir — this model handily absorbed that influence and turned into a deep, supple, lithe and super satiny wine. The color is deep ruby with a transparent rim; rich aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries, currants and plums are permeated by notes of pomegranate, rhubarb and loam; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves, white pepper, leaf smoke and tobacco. This layered panoply of sensation segues smoothly to the palate, where the wine flows purposefully to a graphite-packed, slightly tannic finish. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 190 cases. This is obviously no evanescent, ephemeral, elegant pinot noir; rather, it draws on the grape’s potential for power and substance, helped a bit in the cellar, of course, though it still beautifully captures its essential character. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $85.
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While other wineries attempt to be all things to all consumers — “Maybe we better make a moscato, they’re hot now!” — Jordan Vineyard and Winery goes right on doing what it has always done since starting in 1976, producing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from its estate vineyards, Alexander Valley for cabernet, Russian River Valley for chardonnay. These are not opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe or over-oaked wines. Alcohol levels are kept low — see the wines reviewed below — and new oak is employed thoughtfully. Jordan’s wines drink exceptionally well with food, and while in some quarters such an assertion is greeted with disdain, that factor seems to me to be the highest purpose and achievement of wine. Jordan also fields a website almost unparalleled in California for its usefulness, range and flow of information and accessibility. Pay heed, all you wineries that cannot manage to get your latest releases on your websites.

These wines were samples for review.
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Two-thirds of the Jordan Chardonnay 2013, Russian River Valley, was barrel-fermented, one-third fermented in stainless steel. The wine aged six months in French oak, 40 percent new barrels; only 18 percent of the wine went through “malo” — the so-called malolactic fermentation that transforms sharp malic (“apple-like”) acid to creamier lactic (“milk-like”) acid — thus retaining most of the wine’s crisp, vibrant character. The color is bright but pale gold; classic aromas of pineapple and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of cloves, quince and ginger, with tinges of mango and jasmine lingering in the background. This is quite fresh, lively and appealing, poised among spicy citrus and slightly roasted stone-fruit flavors, a scintillating limestone element and a texture just lush enough to add some sensuality to its spare elegance. 13.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or 2020 with seared salmon or swordfish, trout with brown butter and capers, seafood risottos. Excellent. About $30.
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The Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, is a blend of 79 percent cabernet sauvignon, 17 percent merlot, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Interesting that 85 percent of the grapes derived from Alexander Valley; 14 percent came from Mendocino County and a scant 1 percent from Dry Creek Valley; this is called choosing your sources carefully. The wine aged 12 months in 73 percent French oak barrels and 27 percent American oak, a total of 37 percent being new barrels; it spent 22 months resting in bottle before being released. The color is a transparent medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim; the wine is unusually intense and concentrated on structure, with aromas of briers and brambles and loam permeating notes of black currants, cherries and plums, accented by hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s element of exotic woodsy astringency. On the palate you taste the spicy black fruit flavors wrapped around a firm core of iodine and iron etched with lavender and violets and a touch of bitter chocolate; the texture is lithe and supple, while the whole package, animated by bright acidity, is dense and chewy with dusty, graphite-tinged tannins. While this cabernet may display a tad less elegance than Jordan cabernets typically do, it feels imbued with more dignity and character; consider it a triumph from a difficult year. 13.8 percent alcohol. Try with steak or grilled veal or pork chops from 2016 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $53.
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