Chardonnay


We don’t frequently purchase products of the vine with a social or cultural program in mind, and when the rare opportunity comes along, it’s usually in the field of the environment. Steelhead Vineyards, for example, donates 1 percent of sales to environmental projects through 1% for the Planet, the non-profit organization based in Waitsfield, Vermont, that coordinates contributions to environmental groups from more than 1,000 business and corporate members. Buy a bottle of Steelhead’s sauvignon blanc or pinot noir wines, and you know that in some small measure you’ll helping the global ecology.

A recently released sparkling wine, Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut , takes such a concept into actual social and cultural realms by focusing on LGBTQ issues, including the struggle for same-sex marriage laws. The initials (for the uninitiated) stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and before the retrograde among My Readers make the obvious joke about redundancy, “Queer” in this compound designates individuals who take a radical approach to any sexual or gender identification or, on a simpler and opposite level, those who “question” their sexual or gender identity. The creator of Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut — Biagio Cru — in honor of the sparkler’s launch, donated close to $7,000 to various LGBTQ organizations; in addition, an unspecified portion of the sales of Égalité will be donated to such groups. On the product’s Facebook page, you may vote for the groups to which the organization donates

Allow me here to quote from the press release I received: The Égalité concept is a product of exhaustive research by Biagio Cru, as well as input from the gay community. In conjunction with Biagio Cru, its name and label were developed through a focus group that brought together gay and straight participants with diverse backgrounds, including leaders in the fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps the committee-approach accounts for the feel-good generic quality of the label, looking like a thousand Valentine cards, but what counts is the product in the bottle, n’est-ce pas?

Égalité Crémant de Bourgogne Brut offers a pale gold color with a darker gold center; tiny golden bubbles foam upward in constant flurry. A blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay, 20 percent gamay and 5 percent aligoté, this Crémant de Bourgogne is more substantial than most models; it’s toasty and nutty, with notes of roasted lemon and lemon drop, quince and crystallized ginger and hints of cloves and caramel. As the minutes pass, touches of glazed pears, tobacco, cinnamon toast and acacia emerge, while the texture, highlighted by zinging acidity, broadens with elements of limestone and chalk. It would be nice if the wine offered more in the way of refreshing delicacy and elegance, but that’s a stylistic choice; this is for those who prefer a sparkling wine with a more weighty, smoky mature-feeling. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Biagio Cru and Estate Wines — and don’t you know Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines loves that — Roslyn Heights, N.Y. A sample for review.

Perhaps we toss around too lightly the adjective “legendary” but surely a winemaker and producer deserving that epithet is David Ramey, a man who brought acclaim to such wineries as Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate. Though he continues to consult for various properties in California, he concentrates on his David Ramey Wine Cellars (owned with wife Carla), where he produces a range of chardonnays and cabernet sauvignon-based wines and a couple of syrahs. Today, we look at six chardonnays from 2010. These occur in groups, the Appellation Series that originates in regional areas — Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley — and the Vineyard Designate Series of wines bottled from single vineyard sites or blocks selected from within a single vineyard. All the sites are cool-climate, with low soil vigor so the vines have to work for nutrition. The Appellation chardonnays receive less new oak exposure and less time in barrel than the Vineyard series chardonnays, but in none of these did I detect any taint of over-oaking or woodiness; in fact, all these wines are notable for balance and harmony. In a subsequent post, I’ll look at six of David Ramey’s red wines. These were samples for review.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The grapes for this Appellation Series chardonnay derive from four vineyards: 61 percent Martinelli Charles Ranch; 19 percent Rodgers creek; 15 percent Platt and 5 percent Ritchie. The gold is pale straw-gold; wow, what lovely purity and intensity; aromas of almond brittle, lemon curd and softly ripe peaches open to layers of cloves and limestone and touches of lychee, pineapple and lightly caramelized grapefruit. Nothing aggressive or untoward mars the sleek surface of this chardonnay, its raison d’etre being balance, integration and harmony. It’s quite dry, though burgeoning with spiced citrus and pineapple flavors, and bolstered by bright acidity and a limestone element that grows more prominent through the scintillating finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. The vineyard provenance of this chardonnay is very complicated, so I won’t go into that, but whatever the issuance this is a radiant, ripe, intense, pure wine of tremendous tone and presence. Notes of slightly candied pineapple and grapefruit are touched with elements of cloves, ginger and quince and a hint of mango; it’s almost savory, slightly saline, dry, spare, tense, resonant, filled with citrus and stone-fruit flavors animated by brisk acidity and a pertinent limestone-flint quality that arrows through to the suave, elegant finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $38.
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Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. The color is pale gold. The whole impression is of remarkable intensity and concentration, more typical of a pinot noir, say, than chardonnay; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by notes of toasted hazelnuts, cloves and allspice, even a touch of sandalwood (with a wild note of lilac), and its rich, ripe fruit scents and flavors — baked pineapple, yellow plum, peach skin, apple skin, grapefruit pith — are round and fully developed. This is not a fruit bomb, however; there’s nothing overtly creamy or tropical. Instead, this chardonnay is bolstered by finely tuned acidity and a limestone-flint element that gains power from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Excellent. About $60.
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Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley. A boldly proportioned and beautiful balanced chardonnay with an exquisite side. The color is a shimmery pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and lemon curd, with a hint of pear and lemon balm, are permeated by notes of cloves and crystallized ginger and slightly caramelized pineapple. This is a sleek, suave and supple chardonnay whose lithe acidity and deep bastions of limestone make no concession to prettiness, yet the overall package delivers a sense of elegance and ultimate spareness; it’s slightly creamy and moderately lush, with touches of lemon drop and toasted hazelnuts. As is the case with all great wines, the Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 represents the resolution in harmonious accord of paradoxical elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. Here’s a many-splendored chardonnay that, like its Platt Vineyard cousin, offers the heft and substance of a red wine while retaining the fleetness and vitality that a white wine should display. Because of the site, it delivers more tropical fruit — mango, passion fruit — than the other chardonnays under review here (and is also a bit more bosomy), but it doesn’t push over the edge of opulence, staying firmly in balance with keen acidity and a bright, clean limestone quality. The bouquet is broadly floral and spicy and partakes of notes of lemon zest and tangerine, apricot and pear; on the palate it’s savory, a touch saline — think sea-breeze and salt-marsh — and deeply imbued with elements of damp limestone and shale. Brilliant winemaking. 14.5 percent alcohol. Try from 2014 or ’15 through 2019 to ’22 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $60.
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Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley Carneros. From a vineyard 2.75 miles west of the Hyde Vineyard and set on more rolling terrain, this chardonnay exhibits chiseled chalk and limestone minerality and deftly etched acidity to bolster and furrow its bold rich flavors and cushiony texture. Tangerine and peach, green apple and a hint of honeysuckle characterize a bouquet that draws you in as it unfurls notes of cloves and quince jam and a hint of bees’ wax. Tremendous presence on the palate is not fatiguing, as is the case with some powerfully rich and substantial chardonnays; rather, the wine is clean, lithe, dynamic, filled with personality. Still, this could use a year or two to integrate completely, say from 2015 or ’16 for drinking, as it beautifully matures, through 2020 to ’24. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $60.
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I stayed one night at Holman Ranch last September, and the serenity and beauty of the place — the stillness, the magnitude of stars in the night sky — cannot be emphasized too much. Deep in the hills of Carmel Valley, inland and south of Monterey Bay, Holman Ranch occupies land bestowed upon the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo — hence, later, Carmel Valley — during the reign of Spain in these lands. After the mission properties were secularized, the area passed through many owners until in 1928, a Spanish-style hacienda was built and the ranch became an outpost or retreat for Hollywood stars and producers. Clarence Holman, of the Holman Department Store family in Pacific Grove, acquired the ranch in the 1940s and with business-like acumen transformed it from a private hideaway to a resort, which was still popular with Hollywood’s elite. Present owners Thomas and Jarman Lowder, who purchased Holman Ranch from Dorothy McEwen in 2006, restored the facility, the original hacienda, the quaint cabins and the grounds to full operation and comfort.

If you Google “Holman Ranch” you’ll see that the property’s raison d’etre focuses on events and meetings but particularly weddings. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a more spectacular setting for tying the matrimonial knot. For my purposes, however, it’s more important that Holman Ranch produces small quantities of well-made wines (and olive oil), samples of which were recently sent to me. I found the white wines and the rosé to be engaging and highly drinkable, while the two pinot noirs bordered on exquisite. Search though I did in the brochures that accompanied the wines and on the Holman Ranch website, I found no mention of a winemaker; surely credit must be given when it is earned. All these wines are designated “Estate Grown.”
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Holman Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. This sleek sauvignon blanc offers a pale gold color and beguiling aromas of lime peel and grapefruit, roasted lemon, hints of thyme and tarragon and a lift of lemongrass. An element of limestone minerality produces a whiff of gunflint and also, in the mouth, bolsters citrus flavors lightly touched with fig and fresh-mown grass, all tied together with brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 224 cases. Quite charming, but drink up. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Gris 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is very pale straw; pure apples and pears pour from the glass, imbued with notes of cloves and lime peel, camellia and jasmine. The wine is quite dry, crisp and zesty, eminently refreshing; citrus and pear flavors are bolstered by a burgeoning limestone and flint element, leading to some austerity through the spicy and slightly steely finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. 323 cases. Very Good+. About $20.
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Holman Ranch Chardonnay 2010, Carmel Valley. This is an elegant and stylish chardonnay, from its pale straw-gold color, to its spare citrus and stone fruit scents and flavors, to its hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and dried herbs; there’s a bright undercurrent of crisp acidity and a distinct influence of limestone minerality. The wine is tasty, well-balanced and integrated but a little delicate (especially for a barrel-fermented chardonnay), so its match will be more delicate hors-d’oeuvre and seafood entrees. 12.5 percent alcohol. 205 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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Holman Ranch rosé of Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. Here’s a superior rosé whose brilliant hue of raspberry-tourmaline at least esthetically enhances its aromas of strawberry, watermelon and rose petals; its raspberry-watermelon flavors permeated by hints of pomegranate, cloves and (barely) cinnamon; its appealing touch of dried thyme and limestone minerality; its pert, thirst-quenching acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. 144 cases. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $22.
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Holman Ranch Pinot Noir 2010, Carmel Valley. The enchanting hue is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of black cherries, mulberries and red plums are infused with notes of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and a hint of rhubarb. This pinot noir evinces a lovely lightness of being at the same time as it embodies intensity of black and red fruit flavors and an exquisite satiny texture. A few minutes in the glass bring in touches of smoke and graphite; the finish is medium-length, supple and subtle. 12.5 percent alcohol. 500 cases. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Holman Ranch Heather’s Hill Pinot Noir 2011, Carmel Valley. The color is radiant medium ruby; the whole aura is warm, ripe and spicy, the display is impeccably balanced. Notes of spiced and macerated red currants, black raspberries and cranberries open to hints of cloves and cola. The wine is earthy, with elements of briers and brambles under flavors of red and black currants and cherries, yet it’s elegant, silky, integrated. After 30 or 40 minutes, you feel increasing dryness as the oak and mild tannins assert themselves, but overall this is beautifully made pinot noir. 14 percent alcohol. 444 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $37.
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A week from today at this time I’ll be on a plane to Houston, whence I fly to San Francisco and then take a short flight to San Luis Obispo, all amounting to a long day of travel so that I can attend, on April 26 and 27, some tasting events and seminars arranged by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, a group of wineries in that appellation that specialize in or at least significantly produce wines made from the cabernet sauvignon grape. DAOU Vineyards and Winery is a member of the group, and as a sort of lead-in to the events at the end of next week, I was able to obtain four sample wines for review produced by DAOU in its Paso Robles Collection of wines; they also make Reserve and Estate Collections. The winery is owned by brothers Georges and Daniel Daou, with the latter serving as winemaker.
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The DAOU Grenache Blanc 2011, Paso Robles, wisely ages only seven months in French oak, and those are one-year-old barrels, so the wood influence is restrained and supple, a sort of subdued haze of blond spice. The color is pale but radiant straw-gold; the wine is frankly gorgeous but without being ostentatious and in fact maintaining a sense of lovely spare elegance. Aromas of pear, apple and peach are bolstered by highlights of ginger and quince and a top-note of jasmine, while the touch of bee’s-wax we expect from grenache blanc is here. Flavors of lightly buttered pear tart are enhanced by hints of roasted lemon and honey, but this is a totally dry wine, lent vivacity by authoritative acidity and limestone-like minerality that only asserts itself, and rather gently, from mid-palate back through the spice-packed finish. 14.1% alc. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. We had it, very successfully, with seared swordfish. Excellent. About $36.
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The color of the DAOU Chardonnay 2011, Paso Robles, is light but bright straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit, quince and cloves feel almost savory, while notes of ginger and white pepper provides liveliness and appeal. This is a chardonnay that takes its substance seriously, offering a texture that’s dense and chewy without being overwhelming; it’s quite dry but juicy with ripe apple and pineapple flavors that take on some austerity from a grapefruit pith-limestone-flint character and a slight drying quality from oak aging — 10 months in French barrels, 50 percent new; a few minutes in the glass bring out Burgundian hints of bacon fat and Parmesan rind. As I said, this is a deep, rich and savory chardonnay that does not cross the line into cloying ripeness and spiciness or a superimposed vanilla/buttery/tropical nature. 14.2 percent alcohol. Well-stored, this should develop nicely through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $42.
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DAOU Celestus 2010, Paso Robles, is a blend of the kind one sees more and more, especially from California and Australia and even Italy; this is 59 percent syrah, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 9 percent petit verdot. It’s delicious. The color is an intense dark ruby-purple; pungent scents of crushed red and black currants and cherries (with a hint of plums) are permeated by dust and graphite, cloves and sandalwood and touches of leather and lavender. In the mouth, you intuit the syrah in an undertow of blueberries and briers, while red and black fruit flavors are borne on a tide of vibrant, almost vigilant acidity; velvety tannins; dry, spicy oak; and a fine-grained granitic mineral quality, all of which support the wine with a beautifully-tuned sense of balance and integration. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, 50 percent once-used. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. Rather improbably, we drank this wine one night with a hearty pizza, and it was great. Excellent. About $46.
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The color of the DAOU Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Paso Robles, is vibrant opaque ruby-purple from stem to stern; this is a robust, vigorous, dense mouthful of wine, characterized by deep, dry foresty tannins and forceful oak influence from 10 months — not all that long a passage — in French barrels, 60 percent new. On the other hand, exhilarating elements of cedar and tobacco, briery black currants and raspberries, black olive and bacon fat, red licorice and lavender keep the wine attractive, even seductive; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of tar and pomegranate, blueberry tart and a hint of rhubarb, all ensconced in a dense, firm yet pliant structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’19. Excellent. About $28.
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One of the best-known vineyards in Sonoma County, if not California, is the Durell Vineyard, perched at the cusp of three appellations, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Valley and Carneros, just a toe-hold in the latter, but entitled to a Sonoma Coast designation. Dedicated primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir, this vineyard supplies grapes to such labels as (perhaps most famously) Kistler, Chateau St. Jean, Patz & Hall and Robert Craig, as well as Saxon Brown, Loring, Three Sticks, Armida, Auteur and others. Ed Durell, a food broker in San Francisco, acquired the land in 1977, intending to raise cattle but planted vines instead, and, as it turns out, this area, just at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains, was prime soil and climate for those grapes. In 1998, Durell sold the 200-acre vineyard, by now a prestigious site, to Bill and Ellie Price. Bill Price, a cofounder of TPG Capital, which bought Beringer Wine Estates and sold it to Fosters and if that’s not a great introduction to the wine business I don’t know what is, and Ellie Price divorced in 2001 but each retains ownership of Durell Vineyard.

Ellie Price replanted 8.5 acres around the old farmhouse in 2005, renaming the area Ranch House Block; those grapes are now devoted to the Dunstan label, named for St. Dunstan (909-998), Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, canonized in 1029 and patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths; because he had worked as a blacksmith and, according to legend, shod the devil, the horseshoe is often his symbol. Dunstan is operated by Ellie Price and her partner Chris Towt (image at right); winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz.

I found these wines (samples for review), a chardonnay and pinot noir from 2010, to be extraordinary examples of the purity and intensity of which each of these grapes is capable. Juhasz doesn’t play around with oak; the regimen is rigorous but not soul-destroying, and after at first being skeptical of the program I was won by the remarkable detail and dimension of each wine, by their confidence and aplomb as well as their ultimately beautiful expressions of a grape variety and a significant place.
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The Dunstan Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast, is Old Wente clone selection, meaning that it was made from vines that derive from cuttings brought from the University of Montpellier in 1912 by Carl Wente, who founded the family estate in Livermore in 1883. This well-known clone spread throughout California and helped fuel the state’s burgeoning production of chardonnay wines in the 1940s and ’50s at such pioneering properties as Stony Hill, Louis M. Martini and Hanzell. The wine is a bright green-gold color with a mild brassy tint; the bouquet is a bountiful and extremely flattering amalgam of papaya and mango, slightly roasted pineapple and grapefruit, with cloves and nutmeg and hints of lightly buttered brioche, delicately spicy oak — 14 months French oak, 50 percent new barrels — and, at the edges, a discreet tide of limestone. When you take a sip, you realize what a powerhouse this chardonnay is, though one that marries finesse and elegance to dimension and dynamism. Flavors of pears, peaches and pineapples are fully supported by a dense and chewy texture that manages to be supple and expressive, while bright acidity and a plangent limestone element lend a lively character that borders on scintillating. 14.2 percent alcohol. 391 cases. Obviously delectable (and a little formidable) now but built to last, say 2016 to ’18. I’ll go Exceptional. About $40.
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The color of the Dunstan Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, is radiant medium ruby with a slightly lighter rim. Aromas of sassafras, pomegranate, cloves and cranberry nestle in a broader range of spiced and macerated black and red cherries and currants, deepened by intriguing notes of charred violets and ashes of roses. If you can tear yourself away from that rhapsodic panoply, you find a pinot noir that’s quite satiny and graceful yet very dry; like its stablemate, it aged 14 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and for the first hour or so, I thought that regimen produced a shade too much wood influence in the wine. In the wonderful way that can happen, however, when you give a wine enough time and air, the oak receded by several degrees (remaining firmly in the background structure) and allowed the spareness, elegance and ineffability that I consider essential to great pinot noir to insinuate themselves (and brought in hints of cinnamon and fruitcake). Still, this is surprisingly tannic for a pinot, and a serious wine in its foundational elements of earth, briers, flint and graphite; there’s a lot of subtle power and energy here, but, as I said, that power does not detract from the wine’s ultimate suavity and style. 14.1 percent alcohol. 291 cases. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Again, I have to go with an Exceptional rating. About $50.
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Say, how about a steely, limestone-soaked, oyster-shell-tinged, high-toned little white wine for your delectation? I have just the number you’re looking for. It’s the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011, a tightly-wound yet paradoxically charming chardonnay from an appellation, created from these two villages in 1998, in the Mâconnais just south of Burgundy proper. The domaine is one of the oldest in Burgundy, dating back to 1750; it has been owned since 1999 by the Family Champagne Group Societé Jacques Bollinger. The color of the Chanson Viré-Clessé 2011 is pale pale straw-gold; aromas of lime peel, lemon and pear are permeated by flint and limestone and a sort of talc-like minerality, by which I mean that gratifying (and symbolic) combination of lilacs and dust. Oh, this is fresh, clean and crisp and crisper, with snappy acidity and the snap of flint and shale that warns of austerity from mid-palate back through the finish. This is not just about structure, however, allowing a winsome floral, fruity and slightly spicy element to emerge, just a hint, you understand, but enough to please before the limestone takes over. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. The spareness of the new label matches the lean and lithe nature of the wine. Very Good+. About $22.

Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill. A sample for review. Image, much modified, from hogsheadwine.

Generally, my preference in Champagne is for steely elegance, but one cannot ignore the other styles, so when an example like the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 comes along, I’m happy to acquiesce to its blandishments. This venerable house has released a vintage Champagne only 70 times since its first vintage production was issued in 1842 — the house was founded in 1743 — meaning that between then and now, some 100 harvests have occurred that have not seen a vintage release. The assemblage for 2004, chosen by chief winemaker Benoit Gouez, is 38 percent chardonnay, 33 percent pinot noir and 29 percent pinot meunier; the wine aged in cellar seven years before being disgorged in 2012. (“Disgorged,” which unfortunately sounds like what one does on bended knees after a night of heavy drinking, means the process by which the remnants of yeast cells and other detritus left in the bottle after the second fermentation are quickly popped out and the Champagne is given its final cork and capsule.)

The color of the Möet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut 2004 is pale greenie-gold, and the bubbles, well the bubbles are absolutely mesmerizing; torrents, streams, twirling glinting silver-gold fireworks erupt toward the slightly bronzy-tarnished surface, breaking in a crisp murmur. The bouquet manages to convey an impression both Spring-like in its fresh, brisk floral character and autumnal in its damp, foresty, slightly peat-like resiny nature. Of course there are notes of roasted lemon and pear, hints of camellia and acacia, touches of smoke and lightly buttered and toasted brioche, but the deeper dimension, and the one that compels an almost visceral response, is an evocative savory and saline quality that smacks of spicy, fleshy umami. This Champagne is dense and chewy, scintillating with bright acidity and limestone elements, supple and subtle in texture and almost delicate in its unfolding of lemon curd, lime peel, clove and quince flavors. The finish is long, packed with minerals, invigorating and close to toothsome. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $60.

Imported by Möet-Hennessy USA, New York. A sample for review.

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

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

The wines of Joseph Drouhin are imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. These bottles were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by the Federal Trade Commission rulings of 2009, a stricture that does not apply to print journalists.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru 2009 and 2010. For 2009, this wine, a blend of several of Drouhin’s Premier Cru vineyards, offers a mild straw-gold color and enticing aromas of lemon balm and lemon curd, camellias and a hint of buttered toast followed, after a few minutes in the glass, by notes of apples, limestone and steel. Bolstering spiced citrus and stonefruit flavors, the texture is a pleasing amalgam of crisp compelling acidity and almost talc-like plushness married to persistent limestone and shale minerality; altogether this is a fine, vivacious expression of the grape and its Premier Cru status to drink through 2014 to ’15. Very Good+. About $37. The 2010 rendition is a little more focused, with earthy notes of sauteed mushrooms, roasted lemons, limestone and oyster shells and hints of quince, ginger and yellow plums. This Chablis Premier Cru is quite crisp, spicy and savory, while its intense mineral elements provide a backbone of scintillating resonance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About 1,100 cases of these wines are imported annually. .
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010. This wine displays a momentous structure of limestone and flint and blade-like acidity. Aromas of apples and apricots, lavender and lilac are permeated by winsome notes of lemon curd and a slight herbal aspect. It’s very dry, lively and vibrant, yet it offers a supremely seductive almost cloud-like texture that practically nestles on the palate; the balance of all these qualities is exciting and fulfilling. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 35 cases imported. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2009 and 2010. The 2009 version of this wine is a splendid, beautifully balanced and integrated expression of the chardonnay grape; it’s a golden and gleaming wine yet a subtle fabric woven of a thousand nuances. Aromas of lemon balm, quince and ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and mild touches of cloves and lemon curd are wreathed with beguiling notes of tobacco and limestone and something slightly resinous. That mineral element burgeons in power and proportion, contributing a steely edge to the wine’s sensuous qualities; aiding and abetting that edge is acid of whiplash sensibility. Still this Premier Cru Sécher remains lovely and appealing. For 2010, the wine offers a medium gold color and aromas of quince and yellow plums, limestone, mushroom-like earthiness, with a touch of lemon balm; there’s a deeply savory almost chewy and briery aspect that feels rooted in the earth, as well as a dusty flinty limestone quality that penetrates through to the spice-and-limestone packed finish. As with the 2009 vintage, the Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2010 balances the innate power and energy with an absolutely lovely and even enchanting texture that feels as if you were rolling some exotic money around in your mouth. Now through 2016 to ’18. Each wine is 12.5 percent alcohol. About 70 cases of each were imported. The 2009 I rate Excellent; the 2010 also Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2009 and 2010. Lordy, the 2009 vintage of this Montmains offers lovely class and elegance, character and balance. The color is pale gold; aromas center on lemon and lemon balm, ginger and quince with an interesting hint of dried thyme and a bracing whiff of sea-salt. It’s all about spareness and litheness, stones and bones, as it were, with pertinent acidity and a limestone-flint element that drives the wine’s resonance through a long tense finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39. For 2010, the wine is flat-out gorgeous, with wonderful tone and presence and a plethora of smack-on details and dimensions. Smoke and dusty limestone minerality, roasted lemons, lemon curd and verbena, sauteed mushrooms and a hint of grated Parmesan cheese; once you sniff and taste this one, you don’t want to stop. The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2010 is vibrant and chiseled, dense and chewy yet ineffably light on its feet, both intense and generous, approachable yet opening to multiple layers of spice, fruit and minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. About 200 cases of each of these wines were imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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Our Weekend Wine Sips are an eclectic selection, with a variety of reds and then only chardonnay for the whites, though two of those are excellent examples from the Dundee Hills appellation of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The California wines spread their wings for a range from Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south. No duds or even much of a quibble in this group; if you’re looking for a bargain, notice the Toad Hollow Merlot 2009 down toward the end. The only technical information included in these brief reviews is the combination of grapes in a blend, if such is the case; otherwise these wines are 100 percent varietal (properly used as an adjective). For historical or geographical data and notes about personalities and personnel, look elsewhere: the intent here is immediacy. The two chardonnays from Oregon were tasted at a trade event; the rest of the wines were samples for review. Several of the label images are behind vintage for the wines under review. I don’t know why businesses — and a winery is a business — don’t keep their websites up to date.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zindandel. Dark ruby-magenta with a hint of violet at the rim; black currants, cherries and raspberries, touch of black plum; full-bodied, mouth-filling, vibrant; cloves and allspice, hint of lavender and licorice; chewy tannins yet surprising refined for a petite sirah; one misses the fabled gumption and rusticity; still, very enjoyable in the new fashion. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $25.
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Charles Krug Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. 80% merlot, 6% malbec, 5% petit verdot, 3% each cabernet sauvignon and syrah, 2% zinfandel, 1% cabernet franc; and why not a little charbono and alicante bouschet, fer cryin’ out loud! Dark ruby color; a cool customer, sleek with mint and graphite, intense and pent black currants and cherries with a hint of blueberry; smooth, suave, a little tailored, but stacked structure, layered texture, finely-wrought acidity; unfurls dense, dusty tannins and a leathery, foresty quality; finish is rather austere. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $24.
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Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay 2011, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.1% alc. Just lovely, I mean lovely tone and texture, appealing weight and elegance, beautiful balance and integration; what are you waiting for? O.K., scents and flavors of pineapple and grapefruit with hints of apple and cloves; smooth, supple, silky yet with the acidity and flint-like minerality to provide pointed liveliness and energy; ripe and rich yet imbued with innate delicacy. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $33.
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Domaine Serene Clos du Soleil Chardonnay 2010, Dundee Hills, Oregon. 14.6% alc. You know how it is; some wines you sniff and sip and think, “All right, this is it.” Wonderful presence and allure, but married to an almost rigorous sense of structure and texture; rich, ripe, almost golden in effect, with notes of pineapple and peach, touches of caramelized grapefruit and candied lime peel, apple and jasmine; powerful limestone-chalk Chablis-like minerality and bright acidity animate the entire package, with supple, subtly spicy oak playing counterpoint; long layered finish. Drink through 2018 to ’2020. Excellent. About $65.
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Donum Estate Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. 14.1% alc. 140 cases. Bright straw-gold color; intense and concentrated, almost tannic in its deep savory character and dense chewy texture; very dry but with brave amplitude of structure and a generous wash of roasted lemon, lemon balm and grapefruit bolstered by a prominent limestone element; hints of honeysuckle, quince and ginger; a long gorgeous finish. A powerhouse of a chardonnay without being over-orchestrated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $50.
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Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2010, Napa Valley. 15% alc. 86% zinfandel, 6% petite sirah, 4% each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. Moderate ruby color with a mulberry rim; black currants, cherries and plums, hints of blueberries and blackberries; background of smoke, cloves and fruitcake and a touch of bacon; very dense and chewy and lip-smacking acidity, but surprisingly smooth and mellow; juicy black and blue fruit flavors; picks up tannic authority and austerity from mid-palate through the finish; manages to avoid any taint of high alcohol glibness and sweetness. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $36.75.
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Pali Wine Co. Huntington Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County. 14.2% alc. Medium ruby-mulberry color; ripe and spicy and satiny smooth; black and red currants with hints of cherries and plums; cloves, a touch of sassafras, back-note of fruitcake; lovely purity and intensity of pinot flavors unfolding to spare elements of leather and graphite and a foundation of briers and brambles. Super-attractive with the grit to be serious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.50, representing Good Value.
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Pfendler Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. 13.5% alc. 250 cases. Medium straw-gold color; bold and rich but not creamy or tropical; well-integrated flavors of pineapple and grapefruit infused with ginger and quince and a hint of peach; very dry but really lovely, elevating and balletic; oak comes through from mid-palate back, yet the whole package reflects a hands-off approach; final touch of jasmine and roasted hazelnuts. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $38.
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Rodney Strong Reserve Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. At four years old, clean, fresh, powerful, deeply spicy; rich without being cloying; pineapple and grapefruit, yellow plums, quince and cloves; touch of candied lime peel; huge minerally-limestone element, bristling acidity, dense and almost savory, yet nothing over-played, almost light on its feet. One of the best chardonnays I’ve tasted from this winery. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Silverado Mt. George Vineyard Merlot 2008, Napa Valley. 14.6% alc. 91% merlot, 7% cabernet sauvignon, 1% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Dark ruby, almost opaque; classic notes of black currants and plums, hints of bay leaf and cedar, thyme and black olives; firm, solid structure built on spicy oak and graphite-like mineral qualities with clean acidity running underneath; intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors etched with lavender and bitter chocolate with touches of baking spice and new leather. Good character for the price. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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Toad Hollow Richard McDowell Vineyard Merlot 2009, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; black currants, red cherries, touch of cranberry; very spicy, with robust tannins, leather, briers and brambles with oak in the background; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of plums and fruitcake; fairly rustic and shaggy but tasty and attractive. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $13, a Raving Bargain.
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Trefethen Harmony Chardonnay 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Bright straw-gold color; another big, bold, rich and ripe chardonnay, slightly buttery and roasted pineapple and grapefruit over cloves and ginger; lots of oak, ’tis true, but fits the size and dimension of the wine; keen acidity keeps this chardonnay on keel and scintillating limestone minerality lends crystalline ballast. A beauty for drinking through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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Weekend Wine Sips has been devoted rather relentlessly to red wines from California, so for a complete change of mood and mode, we turn to white wines from France, one from Bordeaux, one from the Loire Valley, one from Burgundy, the remainder from the South. One is a sweet sparkling wine, three are dessert wines and the other five are dry and perfectly suited to the changes in weather and food that are inching upon us. These are quick reviews, taken often directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest and spark your palate. I keep technical, geographical and historical information and ruminative speculation to a minimum, so the emphasis is on the wines and my impressions of them. The “Little James,” the Sancerre, the Bourgogne and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise were my purchases; the rest were samples for review. Enjoy… and have a good rest of the weekend.
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Jaillance Cuvée Impériale Clairette de Die “Tradition”, nv. 7% alc. Muscat blanc à petits grains 90%, clairette blanc 10%. My previous experiences with Clairette de Die were dry sparklers, but they were 100% clairette; this jaunty example is definitely sweet. Pleasantly effervescent, a lovely mild straw-gold color; pears and peaches, softly ripe, notes of cloves, lime peel, spiced tea and limestone; hint of jasmine and some tropical fruit, lively acidity. A bit too douce for my palate, but should be pleasing as an aperitif or with desserts with fresh berries. Very Good+. About $16, a Good Value.
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Little James’ Basket Press 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 33-year-old viognier from Minervois with sauvignon blanc and muscat of Alexandria. From Chateau de Saint Cosme, established in Gigondas in the Northern Rhone in 1570. Pale straw gold; pears, yellow plums and a touch of peach, some astringent little white flower nestled in a briery hedge; fig and thyme, hint of caramelized fennel; very dry, very crisp and taut, a bit of greengage and grass. Highly unusual, really appealing. Very Good+. About $14, making Great Value.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. 13.5%. 100% picpoul grapes. Pale straw color; honeydew melon, yellow plums, orange blossom and zest; crisp acidity but with a lovely silken texture; bracing, savory and saline, a hint of salt-marsh with dried grasses, thyme and sage; sleek mineral-packed finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $14, Buy by the Case.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Chardonnay 2011, Vin de Pays d’Aude. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; very dry, taut, crisp, vibrant; lemon and cloves, ginger and a hint of quince; lemon balm and a touch of grapefruit with its welcome astringency; attractive texture subtly balanced between moderately dense lushness and pert acidity; lots of limestone and flint. An attractive and slightly individual chardonnay. Very Good+. About $14.
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Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2011, Loire Valley. 11-14% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Scintillating purity and intensity; pale straw-gold color; gunflint and limestone, roasted lemon and lemon drop, lime peel and tangerine; bare hint of grass in the background; very dry, tense, lean, pent with energy; deeply earthy with a hint of sauteed mushrooms; long flinty, steely finish, a little austere. Feels archetypal. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color; just freakin’ lovely chardonnay, minutely, gracefully sliding into maturity; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touch of grapefruit and mango; limestone under a soft haze of spicy oak; very dry, with plangent acidity and a lithe but generous texture; a wayward hint of orange blossom and lime peel, ginger and quince jam; long silken finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $27.
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Les Petits Grains 2011, Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois. (Les Vignerons de la Mediterranee) 15% alc. Pale gold color; orange blossom and candied orange peel, baked peaches, pears and quince; cloves and sandalwood; bananas Foster with buttered rum; dense and viscous without being heavy; lightly honeyed cinnamon toast; a long sweet finish balanced by vibrant acidity. Very Good+. About $14, for a 375-milliliter half-bottle, a Steal.
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Domaine des Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. 15% alc. Brassy gold-light amber color; softly ripe and macerated peaches and apricots; tremendous sweetness that turns dry mid-palate then austere on the finish, testifying to the immense powers of rigorous acidity; crème brùlée with a touch of the sweet ashy “burned” sugar; caramelized apricot with a hint of baked pineapple; that distinctive slightly funky muscat floral character; lip-smacking viscosity. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Chateau de Cosse 2008, Sauternes. 13.5% alc. 85% semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc. The second label of Chateau Rieussec, owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Medium gold color with a greenish tint; smoke, spiced peach and candied grapefruit, pungent with lime peel and mango and a touch of buttered pear; cloves, vanilla and toasted almonds; satiny smooth, clean, pure, dense yet elegant; exquisite balance and verve. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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