Chile


You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
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Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
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Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
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Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
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Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
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J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
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Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.
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Carignan is not a grape we associate with Chile, being far more common in Spain and the south of France, but on the evidence of the Meli Carignan 2010, Maule Valley, perhaps producers in the bony, horizontally-challenged country’s wine regions should opt for planting more. This is from winemaker Adriana Cerda, whose riesling I reviewed back in March. The Meli Carignan 2010, made from 60-year-old vines, has 10 percent cabernet sauvignon in the blend and ages briefly in stainless steel tanks and used oak barrels. The color is the characteristic purple-magenta with a violet rim. The wine is delightfully fresh and clean and vibrant; deeply spicy red and black currants and macerated plums are infused with soft-grained graphite-like minerality and finely-milled tannins and an infinitesimally ground amalgam of lilac, lavender and bitter chocolate, all melded by pert acidity. Nothing super-serious, just appealing, fruity and delicious and perfect for pizzas, burgers and such. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.

Global Vineyard Wine Importers, Berkeley, Ca. A sample for review. Image from edito3d.wordpress.com.

All right, let’s do this again. Recently, I posted the entry “8 Grapes, 8 Places, 8 Wines,” and it was an agreeable way to celebrate the diversity of wine in the world’s wine-making regions, but such an effort doesn’t even qualify as a molecule of a gnat’s whisker on the needle-point of the teeniest tippy-tip of the vinous iceberg, if you see what I mean. So let’s do it again. In the previous post, I reviewed wines made predominantly from these grapes: sauvignon blanc, riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay; pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. The regions were Mendoza and Patagonia in Argentina; Rheinhessen in Germany; Chablis in France; Rioja in Spain; Marlborough in New Zealand; and Carmel Valley and Napa Valley in California. So, today, none of those grapes and none of those places. The first post offered four whites and four reds; today the line-up is five whites, fairly light-bodied and charming for summer, the reds rather more serious.
These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.
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Albariño Rias Baixas is the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline. The white albariño is the principal grape. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. No such worries with the Don Olegario Albariño 2010, Rias Baixas, made all in stainless steel tanks from grapes grown using sustainable practices. Heady aromas of jasmine and camellia are twined with roasted lemon, lemon balm, limestone and a bracing whiff of salt-strewn sea-breeze; lovely heft and texture, almost lacy in transparency yet with a tug of lushness bestowed by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors (touched with a bit of dried thyme and tarragon), all enlivened by brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Albariño is not grown much outside of Spain and Portugal, where it’s known as alvarinho and goes into Vinho Verde; Mahoney Vineyards, however, makes an excellent example in Carneros. Great with fresh seafood, grilled fish and risottos. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
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Falanghina We are used to the promiscuous regard of grapes in Italy, in which one variety can be found in many provinces throughout the country and usually under different local names. Not so the ancient falanghina, grown in a small area of Campania, the state of which Naples is the capital; it is grown nowhere else except in vineyards near the coast north of Naples. Perhaps this situation is a healthy and profitable one for the producers of wines made from the falanghina grape, because they can at least make a claim for uniqueness. A great introduction to the grape is the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009, Sannio Falanghina. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean and fresh and appealing. The color is pale straw-gold with green notes; it’s a savory, spicy, floral wine, bursting with hints of apple, roasted lemon and baked pear, cloves and allspice, lilac and lavender, all given a slightly serious tone by the bracing astringency of what I have to call salt-marsh and some hardy sea-side flowering plant. There’s a touch of the tropical in flavors of pineapple and banana, with strong citrus undercurrents and a hint of dried thyme and tarragon, all of this bolstered by crisp acidity and a burgeoning quality of limestone-like minerality. A natural with seafood, grilled fish and sushi. Winemaker is Riccardo Cotarella. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+ About $18.
Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Melon de Bourgogne This grape was kicked out of Burgundy in the 18th Century, leading to the eventual ascendancy of the chardonnay grape. It made a pretty perfect fit, however, with the maritime climate and stony soil of the Nantais, way to the west of the Loire region. While it’s true that 90 percent of Muscadet wines are cheap, bland and forgettable, in the right hands the melon de Bourgogne grape is capable of finer things. The Éric Chevalier Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu 2009 feels like an exhalation of sea wind, bright, clean, salt-flecked, exhilarating. The wine is spare and pared-down, lean and sinewy, with notes of roasted lemon and pear imbued with hints of honeysuckle and yellow plum. Chiseled acidity etches deep and scintillating limestone-like minerality resonates like a blow on an anvil, yet the wine remains warm, slightly spicy and tremendously appealing. If ever a wine got down on its knees and practically begged, I repeat begged, to be consumed with a platter of just shucked oysters extracted from cold, briny waters a fleeting moment past, by damn, this is it. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
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Pinot gris Let’s just come right out and say that the Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2009, Yarra Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, is delightful, but at the same time, while “delight” might conjure a notion of being too eager to please, the wine is also fresh, pert and sassy, talkin’ back and takin’ names, an Ellen Page of a wine. The bouquet is freighted with aromas of cloves and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle, apple and spiced pear, with undercurrents of lime, fennel and thyme. Bright and vibrant, this pinot gris zings with crisp acidity and sings with crystalline notes of limestone minerality, while offering tasty peach, pear and quince flavors. It drinks almost too easily. We had it one night with seared swordfish marinated in lime, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and white wine. The wine ages in neutral or used French oak barrels, a device that lends it a sheen of woody spice and a lovely, shapely structure. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Old bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
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Vermentino The white vermentino grape is found in nooks and crannies up and down the Italian boot but does its best work in Tuscany and Sardenia, with good examples coming recently from Tuscany’s Maremma region, an isolated area in the southwest by the Tyrennian Sea. So, the Val delle Rose Litorale Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana (one of the Cecchi Family Estates), could be called another seaside wine (or at least in proximity), though unlike the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009 mentioned above, this is not so much a savory, spicy drink as a wine of delicacy and nuance. This is a blend of 85 percent vermentino and “15 percent other complementary white grape varieties,” a vague designation that occurs not merely on the printed matter that accompanied the wine to my door-step but on the website of Banfi Vintners, the wine’s importer. What I really want to know, of course, is what those other grapes are, but I’m writing this post on Sunday morning, so I won’t worry my pretty little head about the issue. Anyway, yes, the Litorale Vermentino 2010 — sporting a radically different label that emphasizes the wine’s coastal or desk-side drinkability — offers subtle tissues in a well-wrought fabric of almonds and almond blossom, lemon and lime peel, a slightly leafy character and just a hint of mango and papaya. It’s balanced and harmonious in the mouth, with mildly lush citrus and stone-fruit flavors, though crisp acidity and chalk-like minerality lend to its lively, thirst-quenching nature and a sprightly finish. Drink through summer 2012. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.
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Carmenère The story of how for decades all that merlot in Chile was really carmenère — widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th Century — but this fact wasn’t discovered until the 1980s and so on has often been related, even by me on numerous occasions, so here’s a link to something I wrote previously on the issue and let’s leave it at that. Apaltagua is a small estate in the Apalta Valley of Chile’s Colchagua wine region, itself part of the Rapel Valley south of Santiago. The winery is owned by the Edward Tutunjian family; winemaker is Alvaro Espinoza. The Apaltagua Reserva Carmenère 2010, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, impresses immediately with its clarity, purity and intensity of expression. The color is deep ruby-purple; vivid scents of black currants, blackberries and blueberries are permeated by notes of black olive, dried thyme, briers and brambles, smoky cedar and lavender. Your mouth will welcome a dense chewy texture founded on dusty, graphite-imbued tannins and ripe, spicy black and blue fruit flavors — adding a bit of plum — buoyed by vibrant acidity. Sorta like cabernet sauvignon and merlot but sorta itself, too. A terrific red to quaff with burgers, meat loaf, pepperoni pizza and such. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Merlot Merlot doesn’t receive a huge amount of respect because it’s so much like cabernet sauvignon in many ways, or at least it’s made that way, so when you run across an example of the grape that expresses some individually, a little character that sets it apart from cabernet, then it’s time to splurge on a case. The Kunde Family Estate Merlot 2006, Sonoma Valley, California, is one of those models. The deep ruby color may be dark, but the wine is bright and clean with intense aromas of very spicy black currants and red and black cherries that take on a slight edge of graphite-like minerality and smoky wood; the wine aged 18 months in small barrels of French, Hungarian and American oak, 30 percent new. The Kunde Merlot 06 is dense and chewy, robust without being rustic, solid without being stolid, and a few minutes in the glass smooths it out nicely and lends a bit of finesse and elegance. In fact, the hallmark of this wine is lovely balance and harmony among oak and tannin, fruit and acidity, while its pass at wildness in hints of oolong tea, moss and blueberry gives it a sense of off-beat but appropriate personality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $18 — Good Value — but found around the country at prices ranging from $14 to $20.
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Syrah Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2008, Central Coast. This wine features on the label a depiction of the montebank, the alchemical trickster from the Tarot deck, but there’s nothing shifty or tricky about the wine in the bottle. Made by the inimitable Randall Grahm, Le Pousseur 2008 offers a deep, dark ruby color with a fleck of magenta at the rim; it’s winsome and involving simultaneously, with seductive aromas of ripe, spicy, dusty black currants, blueberries and plums that unfold to hints of rhubarb and mulberry and, deeper and more intense, layers of licorice, lavender and sandalwood. Great grip and definition make for a wine that fills the mouth and nurtures the palate while grounding its effects in slightly sandpapery tannins and earthy elements of briars, brambles and underbrush, all serving to promote savory, up-front flavors of blackberries and blueberries tinged with a little smoke and bacon fat. Scrumptious but with a nod to syrah’s more serious (but not too severe) side. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 with roasted and grilled meats and such hearty fare. 2,705 cases were made. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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The point of making wines from a single vineyard or even more precisely from selected blocks within a vineyard is to highlight particular qualities of character and excellence that those locations or rows of vines theoretically embody. Such a principle is the philosophical and esthetic guiding light, for example, of Burgundy, where legendary vineyards separated by no more than a low stone wall or narrow country lane serve as testimony to the nuances imposed upon a wine by the minute shifts in exposure, drainage, soil composition and wind direction that we call terroir. It takes a taster possessing years of experience with Burgundy — a Clive Coates or Allen Meadows — to be able to detect the differences between an estate’s bottling of the adjacent vineyards of Chambolle-Musigny Les Chabiots and Chambolle-Musigny Les Borniques (seen in the accompanying map, left of center) or Montrachet Les Pucelles and Montrachet Le Cailleret. Most of us, even in the wine-writing business, are not called upon to render such rarefied distinctions, though we are, of course, grievously envious of those who have the opportunity.

Still, the thinking in the wine industry is that while a wine, let’s say chardonnay, that carries a Napa Valley designation may be good, a chardonnay from Carneros will, hypothetically, be better because it derives from a smaller, more specialized area, while a chardonnay from a particular vineyard in Carneros, say Truchard or Sangiacomo, will be the best because it originated from a designated and well-known patch of land. And occasionally this scheme works. Certainly wineries and their marketing teams would like to persuade us that this is the case because single-vineyard products generally command higher prices than wines from a more general appellation. The problem is that even some of the most famous vineyards in California aren’t more than 40 or 50 years old; people have cultivated those fragmented vineyards in Burgundy for a thousand years. The track-record for many vineyards in California, Oregon and Washington is far from complete or even necessarily convincing.

Oh, yes, a winery like Diamond Creek made its indisputable reputation on cabernet sauvignon wines produced from three teeny-weeny and very different vineyards, bottled separately, nestled around a little pond high on Diamond Mountain west of Calistoga; those cushioned by trust funds can savor and debate the subtleties of those expensive wines. For every successful producer of single-vineyard wines like Diamond Creek, however, there are dozens that trade on the supposed superiority of vineyard-designated wines for which the public will pay.

All of which leads me to the trio of wines being considered in this post today: the Terrunyo wines produced by Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s most historic producers and the source, under its roster of labels, of almost 25 percent of the country’s wine production. The Terrunyo wines are not simply single-vineyard wines; the grapes come from specific blocks of vines within these vineyards. They are, according to the press release lying here on my desk, “The Ultimate Definition of Chilean Terroir.” Let’s look at each individually. Winemaker was Ignacio Recabarren. These were samples for review.

Map of the commune of Chambolle-Musigny from Atlas des Grands Vignobles de Bourgogne (Le Grand Bernard des Vins de France, 1985), by Sylvain Pitiot and Pierre Poupon. Notice, if you can see it, that the Premier Cru Les Bornique directly abuts the Grand Cru Les Musigny. How much difference does a few feet make; in Burgundy, a lot.
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The Terrunyo Carmenere 2007 originates from Block 27 of the Peumo Vineyard in the Cachapoal Valley of the Rapel region. This information isn’t very enlightening if one doesn’t know much about the geography of Chile’s wine regions; suffice to say that Rapel is part of Chile’s vast Central Valley that starts immediately south and southwest of the city of Santiago with Maipo and continues south with Rapel, Curico and Maule, each of which is divided into sub-regions and zones. Cachapoal lies along the river of that name, so not surprisingly the soil is alluvial in nature, deep and loamy. Carmenère is a grape grown almost exclusively in Chile. In the 19th Century, it was considered as important as cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux but fell from favor because of its irregular ripening pattern; by the early 20th Century, carmenère had basically been eliminated from Bordeaux, but cuttings had been imported to Chile along with merlot. This field blend planting became so dominant that it wasn’t until the early 1990s that DNA testing revealed that something like 80 percent of what was thought of as merlot in Chile was actually carmenère; now, on its own or blended with merlot and cabernet sauvignon, it has become the country’s signature red grape. I’ve noticed, by the way, that many wineries in Chile have dropped the accent that should properly be part of carmenère; is this supposed to make matters somehow easier for Americans? Fie, leave the accent alone!

So, Terrunyo Carmenere 2007, Block 27, Peumo Vineyard — the vineyard was planted in 1990 — is a dark ruby-purple color; aromas of cedar and tobacco, mint and graphite are woven with spiced and macerated blueberries, black currants and plums. This is a dusty, earthy, minerally, leathery wine, steeply endowed with oak and tannin and all their austere attributes of underbrush, forest floor and dried porcini mushrooms; it aged 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels, and you really feel the dry, mouth-coating mocha-bitter chocolate/briery-brambly influence of that process. Where’s the fruit? I mean, wine is made from grapes, remember? One has to wonder what aspect of Block 27 of the Peumo Vineyard is left in this wine after it was been fashioned with so much oak and tannin. The motivation of such a wine is to be a distinctive reflection of a specific site within a specific vineyard, while what emerges in this case is a carmenère made like many others in Chile, with a high level of aspiration that’s choked by technique. I’m not saying that Terrunyo Carmenere 2007, Block 27, Peumo Vineyard, couldn’t be enjoyed with a steak, just that it doesn’t do what it claims to do. 14 percent alcohol. Try from 2012 or ’14 through 2017 to ’18. Very Good+. About $38.

Map from chilediscover.com.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ All right, let’s turn to the Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Las Terrazas Block, Old Pirque Vineyard, Maipo region, Maipo being the area of the Central Valley closest to Santiago. This vineyard was planted in 1978. The oak regimen is the same as for the Terrunyo Carmenere 2007, that is, 18 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels. And as with its carmenère cousin, the Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is made from grapes influenced by a nearby river, the Maipo, and its alluvial, deep gravelly soil. For whatever reason, despite its quite evident earthiness, leather and granite/graphite-like minerality, this wine is a little brighter, its black currant, black cherry and plum aromas given a lift of ripeness and freshness. A few minutes in the glass bring out classic cabernet touches of cedar and black olives, dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter herb’s slightly resinous quality. Still, tannins are stalwart, a shaggy, dusty bastion bolstered by sleek polished oak that sends a line of austerity directly through the mouth and into the wine’s dry, woody/spicy finish. Well, so, here’s a cabernet that’s fine up to a point but doesn’t deliver on its promise of reflecting the virtues of a particular, limited set of vines within a significant vineyard; whatever details of cabernet-like nuance Las Terrazas Block night have imparted seem subsumed to a general idea of international cabernetness such as could be found in many other examples of cabernet sauvignon from Chile or California, Italy or Australia. Good to drink with a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill? Sure. A unique terroiristique expression of the cabernet sauvignon grape? Sorry, no way. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $38.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Hailing from Block 34 of the Rucahue Vineyard in the Rapel Valley, the Terrunyo Syrah 2007 is a wine that simply does not assert anything of the character of the grape. Grape varieties do, of course, have individual character, which is why we make wine from cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir, from chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, so we can savor the differences between them. Everything you love about the syrah grape — the meaty, fleshy, slightly stewed black and blue fruit scents and flavors; the touches of bacon fat, wet dog and fruitcake; the spicy, peppery qualities; the bit of funkiness balanced by piercing minerality and scintillating acidity — don’t look for any of that here, because this is a syrah wine that so closely resembles a cabernet sauvignon that it’s almost indistinguishable from the wine reviewed just above. Indeed, this wine’s panoply of dry, leathery, earthy, austere tannins, with their notes of walnut shell, wheatmeal and bitter chocolate pretty much out-cabernets most cabernets: mark, and I pray you, avoid it! 14 percent alcohol. Good+. About $38.

Yes, he’s on his high-horse again. Or flogging a dead horse. It must be done, so I’ll ask a question I have asked before: why go to the effort, the time and the expense to produce a vineyard-designated wine or even more narrowly, as in the case of these Terrunya examples, ones from specific blocks within vineyards, if you’re not going to allow the grapes to express what’s unique about the site? Without using those wines to define what’s unique about the site and make a case for their legitimacy? Unfortunately, the world of wine is filled with such wasted opportunities.
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… including some that I should have tasted months ago or last year or maybe years ago, but the process proved interesting in some ways, disappointing in others. Since the majority of the chardonnays were produced in California, many of them, perforce, were stiff and unwieldy with oak. Well, why should I have been disappointed; too much oak, strident spice and austere finishes (or cloying buttery, creamy, tropical, dessert-like qualities) are typical in chardonnays from the Golden State. All the more reason, then, to praise the few on this roster that actually celebrate the purity and intensity of the chardonnay grape itself.

Of necessity, these reviews will be briefer than usual, and I will devote less space to the negligent wines and more space to the successes. To avoid a hierarchical scheme, the order is alphabetical. I receive at my doorstep, you will perceive, all sorts of wines in many styles and at many prices. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review.
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Alamos Chardonnay 2009, Mendoza, Argentina. This is the inexpensive line from the Catena family. Spiced apple, pineapple and grapefruit, a haze of oak; very pleasing dense, slightly chewy texture; lively acidity, a firm limestone background, essential balance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the summer of 2012. Very Good. About $13, representing Good Value.
Imported by Alamos USA, Haywood, Ca. (i.e., Gallo).
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Albamar “William Cole” Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. The problem with this otherwise attractive wine is that it seems in every respect more like a sauvignon blanc than a chardonnay, right down to its sauvignon blanc-like notes of leafy fig and dried thyme and tarragon. Also touches of peach and pear and roasted lemon; very dry, heaps of limestone; austere finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $11.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
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A. et P. de Villaine Les Clous Bourgogne Chardonnay 2007, Cotes Chalonnaise. About a month ago, I wrote about the A. et P. Villaine La Fortune Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2007; now comes the turn of its stablemate chardonnay, an absolutely lovely and authentic example that I wish I could have as a house wine. If I were compiling a wine list for a restaurant, I would certainly include this both by bottle and glass. Pale gold color; roasted lemon and pear, jasmine and acacia (think of some pert, astringent little white flower); earthy and minerally in the limestone and wet shale range; quite dry but juicy, almost luscious, yet superbly matched by a texture that balances spareness with a talc-like effect; all wrapped in scintillating acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. I paid about $25.
Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Cal. (Current release is the 09.)
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Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca, Chile. I don’t know how widely available this chardonnay is, but it’s worth the effort to make a search. Bright, clean, seductively fragrant; green apple, pineapple and grapefruit; honeysuckle and cloves; touch of roasted lemon and baked pear in aroma and flavor; brings in some peach; heaps of flint- and limestone-like minerality; quite dry but tasty; a lovely chardonnay with a slightly serious acid and mineral edge. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Cal.
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Aquinas Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. Obviously I forgot about this wine and allowed it to languish in the wine fridge, but boy, did I get a surprise when I tried it. Full-bodied, vibrant and resonant; spiced pineapple and grapefruit, roasted lemon; dense and chewy; good balance though the oak comes in more prominently through the finish; dry, stony. Quite attractive and drinkable. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 (according to the tag on the bottle; website says $20. This is apparently the current release of this wine.)
From Don & Sons division of Don Sebastiani Family of Companies.
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Benziger Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. Sangiacomo is one of the most important vineyards in California; many producers have made award-winning chardonnays from its grapes, but of course what happens in the winery is beyond control of the vineyard and poor little ol’ grapes themselves. This is a big, bold, powerfully spicy and thoroughly oaked chardonnay, and the oak influence continues to gain momentum, like a force of nature, through mid-palate to finish. If all you care about is oak, you’ll like this. I don’t. 14.1 percent alcohol. Biodynamically produced. Not recommended. About $20.
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Box Car Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast. Pale straw color; very attractive poise and balance, moderately rich pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors; spicy, vibrant, dense and chewy; good integration, through the wood — 10 months in French oak, 10 percent new barrels — comes through a bit on the finish. Still, it’s tasty and pleasing. 13.4 percent alcohol. 917 cases. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $23.
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B.R. Cohn Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County; B.R. Cohn Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. The differences between these chardonnays (one from the well-known Sangiacomo Vineyard) lie in degrees of power, intensity and dimension. The 09, Sonoma County, offers a pale straw color; green apple, pineapple and grapefruit; it’s bright, ripe and spicy, with dusty limestone and damp shale and a long finish woven of ripe fruit, clean acidity and spicy oak. Eight months in French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $24. The Sangiacomo 09, on the other hand, which is barrel-fermented and matures in 100 percent new French oak, eight months, is not just bright and ripe and spicy but boldly stated and authoritatively proportioned, a true well-bred luxury item; the wine is intense and concentrated, though it greets your first sniff and sip with accommodating freshness and cleanness. Again, the oak regimen layers its effects as the wine builds, yet the balance is never compromised; in fact, the wine gets better as the minutes pass. 14.4 percent alcohol. Best from 2012 through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.
Winemaker is Tom Montgomery.
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Bridlewood Chardonnay 2007, Monterey County. The most difficult wines to write about are the ones that are just fine, thank you v. much, that are completely O.K. and fairly pleasant in every sense but not memorable. So, the Bridlewood Chardonnay 2007 — it’s a Gallo label — offers interesting notes of pear and quince, cloves and yellow plums; the balance is nicely maintained; there’s a slightly chewy, slightly dusty texture and heaps of limestone on the very dry, almost austere finish. Oak and stainless steel fermentation and aging. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15.
Winemaker is David Hopkins.
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Coppo Costebianche Chardonnay 2007, Piemonte. What happened here? The 08 version of this wine has been released, but there’s no reason why the 07 shouldn’t be, well, maybe not as fresh as a daisy but certainly attractive and nicely developed. Instead, this is all buttered toast, toffee, burnt orange, burnt match, sherry-like and very dry. Bad storage? Bad shipment? Or a wine that contravenes everything that I believe proper about making chardonnays? 12 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $20.
Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. (My previous and more approving post on Coppo’s Barbera d’Asti wines and a Barolo is here.)
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Davis Bynum Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. In chapter and verse, in song and refrain, this excessively spicy chardonnay is about oak, oak and more oak. Eleven months in French barrels, 70 percent malolactic fermentation. Winemaker was Gary Patzwald. It doesn’t help that the alcohol level is 14.9/15 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $25.
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Franciscan Estate Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. Toasty, buttery, cinnamon and cloves, spicy and roasted fruit aromas; very dry; tons of oak, almost fruitless in mouth, unbalanced. Seven months in French and American oak, 20 percent new barrels; that doesn’t sound like much exposure to wood, but this came out wrong. 13.5 percent alcohol. Not recommended. About $18.
Winemaker was Janet Myers. Franciscan is owned by Constellation Brands.
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Forest Ville Chardonnay 2008, California. (A Bronco label) Bright, clean, fresh; apples, pineapple and grapefruit; pear and melon flavors, a bit of grapefruit on the finish; well-balanced, ripe, tasty, slightly floral. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good, and a Terrific Bargain at about $6.
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Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2009, Paarl, South Africa. You feel the pull of the oak in this bright, bold, resonant chardonnay, but its baked pear, spiced pineapple and hazelnut scents and flavors are pretty engaging, balanced by vibrant acidity and an almost lacy sense of limestone minerality. 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new. 14 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.
The Hess Collection New World Wines, Napa Ca.
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Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay 2007, Carneros. This estate-grown and bottled chardonnay may be 3 and a half years old, but it feels as bright and radiant as the day it was made. It takes oak to the edge for my palate, yet the buttered toast, pear compote and smoky pineapple elements are nicely balanced by a prominent limestone quality and scintillating acidity. Suave and sophisticated. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18 to $20.
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Haywood Estate Los Chamizal Chardonnay 2008, Sonoma Valley. Peter Haywood’s wines are never shy, and this chardonnay is no exception. Serious structure, dense, chewy; builds layers of dimension and detail, all manner of ripeness and boldly spicy qualities; gains power but also nuance in the glass and essential vibrancy and resonance; exquisite balance yet slightly over-the-top. Quite a performance. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28. A great choice for restaurant wine lists that specialize in a wide range of California chardonnays.
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Heller Estate Chardonnay 2008, Carmel Valley. All Heller wines are certified organic and vegan (no animal products used in filtering or fining). Pure loveliness: sage and lemongrass, jasmine and honeysuckle, pineapple, grapefruit, quince, yellow plums; some time in the glass pulls up spiced peach and baked pear; vital with limestone minerality and crystalline acidity; nothing too rich or powerful though texture is fairly lush. Quite attractive, with a very dry, slightly woody finish. 12 months in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24. Tasted twice with consistent results.
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Hook & Ladder Chardonnay 2003, Russian River Valley; Hook & Ladder “Third Alarm” Reserve Chardonnay 2003, Russian River Valley. Your eyes do not deceive you; these chardonnays are from 2003, yet the freshness, the balance are amazing. The “regular” bottling is absolutely lovely in the way that only well-made, mature chardonnays can be: smoky pears and peaches, deeply spicy, slightly honeyed yet bone-dry, touch of guava, quince and ginger, polished, supple oak, chiming acidity; authoritative yet winsome: one could mistake this for a superior Puligny-Montrachet village wine. 14.2 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18-$20(?)The “Third Alarm” Reserve, which I assume received more oak — that’s what “reserve” tends to mean in California — does project more of a woody-dried spice character and again the spiced and macerated peaches and pears, but this is earthier, more intense and concentrated, very dry, leaning toward austerity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $25(?)
Hook & Ladder is the winery Cecil De Loach founded after selling the De Loach winery.
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J Vineyards Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. Attractively clean, bright and fresh; vibrant and lively; seductive heft and presence; spicy pineapple-grapefruit flavors with a pronounced citrus turn and underpinnings of cloves, quince and limestone: a long spicy finish. Barrel-fermented and aged in French oak (40 percent new) with malolactic fermentation. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28. Tasted twice with consistent results.
Winemaker is George Bursick.
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Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2009, California. This wine is K-J’s entry into the unoaked (or “little-oaked”) segment of the market, and I immediately liked it better than the ubiquitous Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, the wine that put K-J on the map back in 1982. Fresh, crisp and clean; attractive scents and flavors of apple and mango, pineapple and grapefruit, which, in the bouquet, are woven with subtle touches of jasmine and honeysuckle. A few moments bring up nuances of almond and almond blossom; dry, stony finish has a bit of almond skin’s mild bitterness; dense, almost cloud-like texture; whole package animated by lively acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
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1. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Monterey; 2. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma Coast; 3. La Crema Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley; 4. La Crema Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. Let me say rat cheer that I’m a fan of winemaker Melissa Stackhouse’s pinot noirs (which I will mention soonishly) but not of these chardonnays, with one exception. (The winery was founded in 1979 as La Crema Vinera — how many people remember that label? — struggled financially and quality-wise for years and after a bankruptcy was purchased in 1996 by Kendall-Jackson; it is now one of the Jackson Family Wines.)
1. & 2. Though new oak is kept to a minimum, both of these wines are thoroughly oaked and woody, and the density and fairly strident character either dull or mask the fruit. Neither recommended. Each about $20.
3. La Crema Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley; big, resonant, vibrant, vital; very spicy, oak, oh yes, but held in check, allowed its own sense of deliberation; pineapple-grapefruit, ginger and quince, deeply floral and smoky; nothing tropical, nothing dessert-like; heaps of limestone and shale. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30. But see the following:
4. What a difference from No. 3. RRV 09, cloves, cinnamon, hazelnuts; seductive powdery texture, smoky lilac and lavender; but drenched in oak; very dry, stiff, unbalanced. 14.5 percent alcohol. Wanted to like it, but couldn’t. Not recommended. About $30.
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Luca Chardonnay 2008, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Luca is a personal project of Laura Catena, daughter of Nicolas Caterna, patriarch of the venerable Catena Zapata winery. The grapes for the Chardonnay 08 come from vineyards lying at 4,710-feet elevation; the Catenas indeed believe in high-elevation vineyards. Winemaker is Luis Reginato. The wine aged 12 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels. I loved this wine; it’s like drinking limestone cliffs infused with baked pear, roasted lemon and lemon balm, all permeated by the astringent scent of some little white mountainside flowers and fashioned with impeccable elegance and elan. Production was 1,500 cases, so this is definitely Worth a Search. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $26.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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Ministery of the Vinterior Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. Ha ha, o.k., nice pun, though I’m not so fond of wines with punning names, still, this is an appealing chardonnay: quite dry and stony; beguiling notes of green apple, lemon and lime peel, touch of pineapple-grapefruit; snappy acidity, delicately floral; one of those wines that makes you think, “Gosh, I’m glad to be drinking this.” A first release from this winery. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Winemaker is Daniel O’Donnell.
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Moobuzz Chardonnay 2009, Monterey. 85 percent Monterey, 15 percent Clarksburg; there’s two percent viognier in the wine. Talk about punning or “fun” names! Hey, all you cows and bees! Anyway: clean, crisp and refreshing; pineapple-grapefruit, touches of lemon balm and lemon curd, very spicy; attractive, moderately lush texture cut by bright acidity; very dry finish, a bit austere. 13.5/13.8 percent alcohol (depending on if you’re reading the label or the printed matter). Four months in oak barrels. Very Good. About $15.
From The Other Guys, part of the Don Sebastiani Family of Companies. (& a very strange opening device!)
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Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 and 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands. Morgan’s Double L Vineyard is certified organic.
2009: Pale straw-gold color; bright, bold, dense, chewy; roasted lemon, baked pineapple, grapefruit, hint of peach; ginger and cloves, jasmine and camellia; oak — 10 months French barrels, 33 percent new — is supple and resonant and shapely; a powder-like texture riven by crystalline acidity; the whole thing just fucking sings of the purity and intensity of the chardonnay grape given thoughtful and gentle handling; just at the finish: a tiny fillip of buttered cinnamon toast over slate. 14.2 percent alcohol. 560 cases. Now through 2015 or ’16. Exceptional. About $36.
2008: Pineapple-grapefruit, jasmine-honeysuckle; deeply spicy, deeply flavorful; fruit is slightly creamy and roasted without being tropical or dessert-like; dense chewy almost voluptuous texture, the approximation of liquid gold, but held in check by crisp acidity; oak is ever-present — 10 months French, 30 percent new — yet as a permeable, shaping force. A fairly serious chardonnay, now through 2014 or ’15. 14.4 percent alcohol. 450 cases. Excellent. About $36.
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1. Nickel & Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley, Carneros; 2. Nickel & Nickel Medina Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley; 3. Nickel & Nickel Searby Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli; director of winemaking is Dirk Hampson. The Nickel & Nickel chardonnays do not undergo malolactic fermentation.
1. First note on the N&N Truchard Chardonnay 09, “Wow, what power and elegance!” Green apple that segues to roasted lemon, lemon balm, spiced pear and peach; it’s a substantial chardonnay, no lie, fully framed and fleshed-out, yet it’s a construct of myriad delicate details; firm, supple texture; a few minutes bring in hints of cloves and allspice, with the latter’s touch of dry astringency amid the lushness of savory ripeness. Nine months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. Pretty much a masterpiece. Excellent. About $48.

2. First note on the N&N Medina Chardonnay 2009, “Golden.” A shimmering and lustrous chardonnay that spent nine months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels; expansively floral, deeply rich and spicy without being strident or cloying, in fact the lushness of savory, slightly roasted stone fruit and pineapple-grapefruit flavors is almost rigorously tempered by the spare elegance of bright acidity and limestone-like minerality. Frankly beautiful. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Production was 1,093. Exceptional. About $48.

3. The N&N Searby Chardonnay 08 aged nine months in French oak, 51 percent new barrels. The vineyard was planted in 1972. Big, rich, bright and bold, but not brassy or obstreperous; firm, suave, supple and silky, frankly gorgeous; apple-pineapple-grapefruit with hints of fig, cloves, ginger and slightly creamy quince; touch of honeysuckle; deeply permeated by spice; lovely talc-like texture enlivened by crisp acidity and a monumental limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16 (well-stored). 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,986 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Picket Fence Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley. The last time I wrote about Picket Fence, it was a new endeavor one of whose partners was Don Van Staaveren, formerly winemaker at Chateau St. Jean and creator of that winery’s fabulously successful Cinq Cepages Cabernet Sauvignon 1996. Now Picket Fence is a brand owned by Fred Franzia’s Bronco Wine Co.; the wheels in California grind pretty damned quickly and exceedingly fine. This chardonnay is clean and fresh, modestly appealing but mainly generic and pedestrian; it also displays a bit more oak than it needs. 13.5 percent alcohol. Good. About $15.
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Plantagenent Chardonnay 2008, Great Southern, Western Australia. What a sweetheart of a chardonnay! Clean and fresh with bright acidity; a sense of earthy integrity and authority while offering nicely poised delicacy and deliciousness; mouth-filling, balanced and integrated with a strain of spare and lithe elegance; jasmine and peach and pear; heaps of limestone with a touch of grapefruit on the finish and a hint of buttered cinnamon toast. Nine months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels; no malolactic. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21, Good Value for the Price.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal. Winemaker is John Durham.
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Renaissance Chardonnay 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Medium straw-gold color with a green glimmer; spiced and macerated peach and pear, baked pineapple and grapefruit, ginger and quine; dry, stony, woody spice (a sort of blondness); quite earthy, lithe and sinewy; lilac and camellia; after 30 minutes slightly peppery and herbal; suave and sleek yet elemental and authoritative. Aged nine months in new and 1- and 2-year old barrels. Another individually-styled wine from Gideon Beinstock. 13.6 percent alcohol. Production was 81 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County. Longtime winemaker Rick Sayre crafts a well-made, middle-of-the-road chardonnay that’s fresh and lively, with apple-lemon scents and pineapple-grapefruit flavors that feel like a clarion-call for perfect ripeness and luscious stone-fruit flavors bolstered by lively acidity, undertones of polished oak and a burnished limestone element. Low-key but classic. Sixty percent barrel-fermented, 40 percent in stainless steel; the barrel-fermented portion ages four months in French and American oak. The winery is “carbon-neutral, solar powered, sustainably farmed.” 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $13.50, representing Good Value.
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Sanford Chardonnay 2008, Santa Barbara County. While I am an admirer of Sanford’s pinot noirs, I found this chardonnay to be stern and stiff, drenched with oak, with emphasis on strident spice and cloying toffee and caramel elements. 14.5 percent alcohol. The materials here are great; the grapes derive from some of the best vineyards for chardonnay (and pinot noir) in the Sta. Rita Hills — La Rinconada and Sanford & Benedict — and Sta. Maria Valley — Bien Nacido and El Camino. The wine is barrel-fermented, spends eight months in 20 percent new French oak barrels, and undergoes full malolactic fermentation. Not recommended. About $22.
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Simi Chardonnay 2008, Sonoma County. Very dry, austere, woody. 85 percent barrel-fermented; 6 months in 25 percent new oak. Not recommended. About $18.
Simi, a venerable winery founded in 1867, is owned by Constellation Brands.
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Spelletich Cellars Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. This small family winery was launched in 1994 by Timothy Spelletich and his wife, winemaker Barb Spelletich. The material I received with a sample of their wines mentions “minimal intervention” and “when to pull the wine off the oak to pursue something larger and more elusive than your ordinary wine.” Sorry, but I don’t buy those principles, not when this chardonnay went through barrel-fermentation and aged sur lie 18 months — yes, 18 months for a chardonnay! — in French and Hungarian oak. Not much of the grape could survive that manipulation. The wine is bright, bold, spicy, tropical; oily and viscous in texture; very spicy (I say again), very toasty, very ripe to the point of being over-ripe, with baked pineapple and grapefruit, guava and mango, cloves and buttered cinnamon toast; very dense and chewy, almost powdery; where’s the acidity? I find this sort of chardonnay intolerable. 14 percent alcohol. 336 cases. Not recommended. About $27.
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Trefethen Chardonnay 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. A model of classic balance and integration; very pure, very intense and drinking perfectly now at three and a half years old (the current release in 09); you feel the oak at its inextricable framing and foundational purpose but never at the expense of fruit and a suave, silky and lively texture; the chiming acidity and scintillating limestone elements are not only essential but exciting. If you can find some bottles (or a case) drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Eight months in French oak. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
Director of viticulture and winemaking is Jon Ruel; winemaker is Zeke Neeley.
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Windsor Sonoma Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley. A large-framed chardonnay, stones and bones, bright, bold and a little brassy with tasty ripe pineapple-grapefruit flavors holding shades of stone-fruit, cloves and cinnamon; fairly dense texture packed with supple oak, crisp acidity and burgeoning limestone minerality. Indigenous yeast; 10 months in French oak, 50 percent new. Could go through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
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X Winery Chardonnay 2009, Carneros. Two vineyards: 60 percent Sangiacomo, 40 percent Truchard. Bold, bright, full-bodied; smoky spicy pineapple-grapefruit scents and flavors; vibrant, resonant, sleek and supple, feels crisp, lively and moderately lush; earthy with hints of mushrooms and limestone; oak comes out more on the finish — 8 months in a combination of 90 percent French, 10 percent American oak — but the wine is well-balanced and integrated. 14.5 percent alcohol. (Bottled w/ a screw-cap.) Excellent. About $25.
Winemakers are Reed Renaudin & Gina Richmond.
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Here’s an inexpensive — actually cheap — 100 percent carmenère wine that pulls rank and expresses the character of the grape without echos or sneaky infiltrations of merlot or cabernet sauvignon. The Santa Digna Carmenère Reserva 2009, from Chile’s vast Central Valley, is made by Miguel Torres, of the well-known Torres wine family of Spain. The color pulses with deep purple, and aromas of black olive, bell pepper, tomato skin, black currants, blueberries and plums convince your nose that this is the real deal. A few moments in the glass bring up notes of cedar and tobacco and dusty graphite. The wine is dense and chewy, but still a light-hearted charmer that invests its spicy black and blue fruit flavors — looks for touches of dried orange rind and fig — with vibrant acidity, moderately firm tannins and a long, mineral-laced finish. It’s a bit rustic, as befits a tasty, uncomplicated wine that you might quaff while lying back in a hay-rick gnawing on a piece of cold fried chicken, yet smooth and palatable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $10, a Great Bargain.

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

You might think that by naming Chile and Germany in the same breath, as it were, with the riesling grape that I’m ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, but such is not the case. The Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile’s Central Valley, was actually quite charming, while Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 — who said that German wine labels are complicated? — from the Mosel region, was, not just charming but pretty freakin’ sublime, but in a quiet, understated manner.

I was finishing, for lunch, the leftover Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo that I mentioned on March 4 as being an unexpected great but risky match with the Nickel & Nickel Truchard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. A more reasonable or typical pairing would have been riesling, so I took these two bottles from the wine fridge to see how they stood up. Both were samples for review.
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In 2005, winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons bought a vineyard in Chile’s Maule Valley region of the country’s vast Central Valley. The vineyard was unusual for being so old — 60 years — and for being planted to grapes rare to Chile, carignane and riesling. We see some excellent riesling coming from the Leyda region, farther north and on the Pacific coast, but not from the Central Valley, so I was surprised and gratified by the quality of the Meli Riesling 2010 that Cerda made. The wine is a pale straw color; delicate, almost crystalline aromas of peach, pear and melon with a touch of cloves and hints of thyme and tarragon are well-knit and completely attractive. The texture is silken and blithely enlivened by vibrant acidity that lends verve to roasted lemon and ripe peach and pear flavors. The spicy element burgeons from mid-palate back, as does a rising tide of limestone minerality. Totally charming and tasty and appropriate for spring and summer sipping. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. Label image from thetravelingskier.blogspot.com
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Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is a small estate — about 9,000 cases a year — centered at Bernkastel. Across from that ancient town, along a bend in the river Mosel, lies the highly regarded Badstrube vineyard, and a 4.6-acre portion of it owned by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is called “alte Badstrube am Doctorberg,” which is to say that it lies just above the “Doctor” vineyard, one of the greatest in Mosel, if not Germany. The year 2008 is regarded as a classic and well-balanced but not exceptional vintage.

That said, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 is utterly entrancing. The color is pale straw-gold; at first, one thinks “apple, apple, apple,” somehow both glowing green and burnished red, but this apple-aspect dims a shade to be replaced by the utmost ineffable, even evanescent delicacy of peach and pear with hints of lychee, almond and almond blossom, though allow the bouquet to blossom a few more moments as hints of ripe apricot shyly trail in. Matters are a bit more assertive in the mouth; there’s a touch of ripe, slightly honeyed sweetness on the entry, but swingeing acidity and scintillating minerality in the form of limestone and damp, dusty slate combine to ease a transition to a dry, refined finish in which spice and stone-fruit flavors are elegantly enshrined. All of these aspects are managed with essential decorum, though there is something, also, rather wild and piercing about the wine’s appeal. Alcohol content is 7 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (and if you open a bottle in one of those years, let me know so I can try it too, please). Excellent. About $25 to $30.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill.
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How did these disparate rieslings pair with the Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo?
The first, the Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile, stood in relationship to the gumbo as two polite doctors might who shake hands and one says to the other “Do no harm,” and the second replies, “O.K., you do no harm too.” I mean, the gumbo is terrific and the Meli Riesling 2010 is very charming and basically no harm was done.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 made for another of those totally off-the-wall risky and spectacular food-and-wine-matches that make your toes curl and your taste-buds smoke. I wish I had a case of this stuff so I could always drink it with spicy food.
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I haven’t made cheese toast in a long time. We saw a program by a diet/lifestyle guru on PBS, and I thought, “Whoa, I hafta change the way I eat.” Cheese toast, of course, does not fall into the category of Food That’s Really Good for You. I mean, cheese toast is not brown rice and tofu and seaweed, but it tastes better than brown rice, tofu and seaweed. So yesterday, rewarding myself for work well-done (I know, you’re not supposed to reward yourself with food), I sliced some white bread, which we usually don’t have around the house but is essential for cheese toast, slathered on some Dijon mustard, shaved some parmesan, pecorino and piave cheeses and layered them on the bread and sprinkled on Urfa pepper and Mapuche chili spice. Under the broiler! Zip! Zap! A few minutes later, nice and brown and crusty.

I opened a bottle of the Calcu Red Wine 2008, from Chile’s Colchagua region. This little darlin’ is a blend of 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent carmenère and 15 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot. You could say that Calcu is a true Bordeaux-style blend, since the carmenère grape was widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th Century but was eliminated in the early 20th century because of the unreliability of its yield. For a hundred years or so what were thought to be merlot vines in Chile turned out to be about 90 percent carmenère. DNA-testing pretty much straightened out that problem in the 1990s.

Anyway, Calcu Red Wine 2008 delivers a ravishing snootful of intense and concentrated black currant and black cherry scents deeply imbued with leather and dusty minerals in the limestone and granite range threaded with bitter chocolate and smacked with a fistful of smoky potpourri. That dust-laden mineral element increases in the mouth, providing the backdrop for cozy, chewy tannins and luscious black fruit flavors flecked with lavender and violets rubbed between two hands. Pert and lithe acidity keeps the wine dynamic and quaffable. The whole package asserts more personality than you would think from the price. I enjoyed the wine with my cheese toast, but after sipping a glass I wished that I had saved it for tonight’s pizza. Bringing up the topic: What Wine Shall I Serve with the Pizza in about an Hour? Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.

Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. A sample for review.

Part of the success of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay in Chile has been a decades-long process of finding the right place to grow the grapes. As happened in California through much of the 20th Century, the importance of finding the suitable micro-climate or terroir for particular grapes in Chile was relegated to the scientific principle of: “How ’bout plantin’ grapes over there?” “Uh, o.k., looks good to me.” The slow and meticulous process of searching for appropriate vineyard areas began in the 1980s and continues today, bringing a focus for sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to cooler-climate regions like Casablanca and Leyda valleys, from which you could drop-kick a corkscrew to the Pacific Ocean. With one exception, all of these sauvignon blancs or chardonnay are from those two areas.
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Viña Leyda was founded in 1997 in the Fernandez Valley (about 80 kilometers — 50 miles — southwest of Santiago), which the winery successfully had changed to the Leyda Valley and named an official D.O. in 2002. The Pacific Ocean lies just over a series of low hills, and when you walk up Viña Leyda’s sloping westward-facing vineyards to an elevation of about 180 meters (540 feet), you feel the freshening of the breeze and a bracing salty bite. The valley is increasingly a home for wineries or vineyard owners looking for prime sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir acreage, though syrah is beginning to be planted too. From no properties some 12 or 13 years ago, the Leyda Valley now holds about 2,000 hectares of vineyards planted by 20 producers. Viña Leyda owns 249 hectares, about 615 acres. The winery was acquired by Viña Tabali in 2007; the overarching entity is now Viñas Valles de Chile. Chief winemaker for Viña Leyda is Viviana Navarrete.

The Leyda Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2010 delivers a heady bouquet of lime, lemon and grapefruit in a pungent welter of gooseberry, dusty limestone, fennel and dried tarragon. The wine is terrifically bright and lively, keenly crisp and endowed with heaps of lime and tangerine flavors highlighted by sunny- leafy elements amid a tidy balance between lushness and spareness. It keeps you on edge for another sip and cries out for fresh oysters. Very Good+. About $9 to $11, a Great Bargain. How different is the Leyda Garuma Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010? It’s spicier than its cousin, rounder, a little lusher and clearly more high-toned and elegant yet vibrant with limestone, oyster-shell and penetrating gunflint qualities. Fruit tends toward gooseberry and yellow plums. This is an extremely attractive and beautifully balanced sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $14 to $16, representing Good Value.

The fresh, clean Leyda Classic Chardonnay 2010 offers simple, direct appeal in a well-made package. Scents of green apple, pineapple, grapefruit and jasmine are bolstered by prominent limestone-like minerality, while spicy pineapple and grapefruit flavors are couched in a smooth, moderately lush, chewy texture. Very Good. About $9 to $11. A wholly other creature is the light gold Leyda Lot 5 Chardonnay 2009, a bright, bold chardonnay that features notes of pineapple and grapefruit, spice cake, toasted hazelnuts, camellias and (after a few moments) almond brittle but no whit of anything tropical or buttery. It’s almost opulent in the mouth, rich and dense, yet finely balanced by crisp acidity and traceries of limestone and shale; 25 percent new oak lends a sheen of blond spice and subtle wood. Thoughtful winemaking. Excellent. About $25. Production was 500 cases, so mark this one Worth a Search.

The wines of Viña Leyda are imported to the U.S.A. by Winebow Inc. New York. Image of Viviana Navarrete from leyda.cl.
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Veramonte has a complicated history into which I will delve more thoroughly when we touch upon red wines, particularly its “icon” pinot noir called Ritual. Suffice to say that Veramonte came early to Casablanca Valley, which lies northwest of Santiago close to the ocean. When I was in Chile in April 1999, the winery’s impressive Palladian facility was just a couple of years old; I was surprised when we pulled up on the afternoon of October 4 — two weeks ago! — to see the place looking rather shabby and badly in need of a coat of paint.

As at many wineries in Chile and Argentina (and the United States of America), a “Reserva” or “reserve” label indicates the least expensive line of wines, another indication that outside of the European Union the term, which should imply some prestigious limitation, is meaningless. On the other hand, it’s the quality of wine in the bottle that counts, right, and in their price range, the Veramonte Reserva wines are real stand-outs, though to be honest, I found the Veramonte Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Colchagua Valley, too dense, woody and tannic and generally too big for its britches. (See, however, last week’s Wine of the Week.) Veramonte’s winemaker is Cristian Aliaga.

The Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca, is pale straw-gold in color; lively aromas of grapefruit, damp limestone, tarragon and dried thyme, Key lime and tangerine burst from the glass, and whoa! wait a sec! is that a tinge of mango? The wine is tremendously vibrant, crisp with tingling acidity and a scintillating limestone-like mineral element, all of this balancing a texture that’s almost powdery in seductive softness. The bright finish brings in more spicy lime and grapefruit and a hint of shale. I challenge you not to slurp this up. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, a Great Value.

Veramonte wines are imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherfordm Cal. Image of Cristian Aliaga from veramonte.com.
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My group visited Viñedos Terranoble’s El Algarrobo (the carob tree) estate in Casablanca on Tuesday, Oct. 5, an occasion notable not only for the wines we tasted but for our initiation into the traditional Chilean barbeque. During this al fresco lunch I discovered that in Chile (and Argentina, I later found out), a bit of salad and vegetables on the plate serves merely as an excuse for piling on the meat. The winery was founded in 1993; owner is general manager Juan Carlos Castro. Terranoble owns 4,750 acres of vineyards in Casablanca, Colchagua and, farther south, Maule Valley, where the wines are made. Unlike at many other wineries, the “Reserva” label is Terranoble’s second tier; the “Classic” label forms the base of the production pyramid. Chief winemaker is Ignacio Conca. I’ll discuss Terranoble’s red wines later, but here’s a mention of the very attractive Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009, whose grapes derived from El Algarrobo. The vineyard was planted in 1998.

Made all in stainless steel, the Terranoble Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Casablanca, is a pale straw color; the aromas seem typical for the grape and the region: lime and lime peel, tangerine, grapefruit and its zest, dried thyme and tarragon, but there are touches of acacia, almond blossom and even a hint of toasted almond for added intrigue. The wine displays lovely weight and balance, feeling not just crisp and vibrant but rather welcoming in the mouth, with deft poise between soft roundness and taut acidity. Flavors are dominated by lemon and lime, but include shades of melon and mango. The finish is dry, herbal and chalky. The alcohol content is 13 percent. Absolutely delightful. Very Good+. About $13, another Great Value.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York

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Viña Cousiño-Macul was founded in 1856 and is the only 19th Century winery in Chile still owned solely by the founding family. Once distant from Santiago, the estate today is surrounded by the city, though buffered by a 150-acre private park of magical dimensions, especially when toured at twilight. Though grapes are still grown at the family domain, most of the productive vineyards for Cousiño-Macul are in other provinces. Technical director for the winery is Pascal Marty.

The Antiguas Reservas Chardonnay 2009, Maipo Valley, is fermented 90 percent in stainless steel and 10 percent in new French oak barrels. While the color is pale — that is, a pale but intense gold — there’s nothing pale about the effects that follow. Fashioned rather in the out-going Californian mode, this is a bright, bold and ripe chardonnay that bursts with notes of baked pineapple and grapefruit and hints of lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Quite tasty and appealing, the wine stays on the sensible side of flamboyance to set a classic tone of a lush, almost creamy texture balanced by chiming acidity and a strain of limestone-like minerality. Alcohol level is 13.7 percent. Very Good+. About $14, a Nice Bargain.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.
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It was a tough day at Valdivieso, despite the distraction of a superb view and a plethora of passed appetizers — including chopped bull’s testicles for the Anthony Bourdain types — and a nice lunch; loved the truly comforting quinoa pudding for dessert! But we tried 30 wines, and that was after a very long bus ride through Colchagua along little twisty dirt roads and over rickety plank “bridges” until the point that, within sight of the tasting pavilion, high on a hillside, the driver gave up and we walked the rest of the way. The whole enterprise gives new meaning to the word “remote.”

The winery traces its origin to Alberto Valdivieso, who founded a sparkling wine company in the Curico Valley in 1879; that’s where the wines and sparkling wines of Valdivieso are still made, though the winery has vineyards in Casablanca, Leyda, Colchagua (where we were), Maipo Valley, Rapel Valley, Maule and Curico. Director of enology and winemaking for Valdivieso is New Zealander Brett Powell.

We’ll work our way through the multitude of Valdivieso’s red wines in the future, but for now, I’ll stick to sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, the subject of this post.

The Valdivieso Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Leyda Valley, is attractive yet typical of its grape and region. That is, it features bright, cleansing acidity; pert and pungent elements of lime, grapefruit and limestone; some leafy touches of dried thyme and tarragon; and a crisp, tart texture balanced with a bit of soft lushness. Not compelling but quite nice to drink. Very Good+. About $15. The Valdivieso Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Leyda, on the other hand — aged six months in 500-liter barrels, 30 percent new — delivers a powerfully earthy, flint-laced wine that’s lovely enough that it stops short of being dramatic. This is deeply spicy and herbal, with tangerine-and-clove-tinged citrus flavors that feel packed into a texture of great presence and personality. A superior sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20, and well worth the price.

The Valdivieso Wild-Fermented Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, also from Leyda Valley, rests one year in mixed oak barrels, that is, of various sizes and ages. I’ll say that while this bright, bold, exuberantly spicy, ripe, slightly tropical and creamy chardonnay is not my favorite style, there’s no denying the thought and craft that went into its making. At least you don’t feel the wood too much; that’s a blessing. Very Good+. About $20.

Imported by Laird & Co., Scobyville, N.J.
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It turns out that Viña Ventisquero is even more remote than Valdivieso, and the landscape, in the high Apalta region of Rapel Valley, is even more spectacular, especially as the setting sun gilded the steep, vineyard-fledged hillsides. The winery is a project of Gonzalo Vial, who owns Agrosuper, a leading purveyor of fresh food in Chile. The winemaking facility is in Maipo, though like most producers in Chile, Ventisquero owns vineyards in many regions. Chief winemaker is Felipe Tosso, who left Concha y Toro in 2000. He works (on the top wines) with Australian consulting enologist John Duval, who made his last Penfolds Grange in 2002. Ventisquero means “glacier.”

These white wines are from Casablanca, far north of where we were tasting them.

The Ventisquero Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a shimmering pale straw color. The bouquet offers penetrating scents of lime and grapefruit, dried tarragon and a scintillating strain of clean earthiness and bright limestone. The wine is very dry, crisp, lively, chalky, with that pert, fresh, taut, damp grassy, bracing salt marsh thing, yet it lies blithely, smoothly on the tongue with its notes of lemon balm and lemon drop, pear and melon. A truly compelling sauvignon blanc, one of the best. The alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent. About $13, a Phenomenal Value.

Equally enticing is the Ventisquero Reserva Chardonnay 2009, a wine that displays Chablis-like minerality in the limestone/shale range, with a hint of pungent flint, and lovely tones of pineapple and grapefruit with a slight tropical bent. Thirty percent of the wine is fermented in stainless steel with the rest in French oak, approximately 10 percent new barrels; some of the wine — Tosso said, casually, “maybe 15 or 20 percent” — goes through malolactic fermentation. The result is impeccable balance between richness (almost creamy) without ostentation and spareness without aridity; in other words, this chardonnay is earthy and elegant, juicy yet crisply taut, and it just feels damned terrific in the mouth. Excellent, and another Great Value at about $13

The “Grey” label is next to the top-line for Ventisquero. The Single Block “Grey” Chardonnay 2009 is a fine example of the grape from a cool climate, making a wine that exudes confidence and elan and displays great presence and personality. This sees French oak, 50 percent new, and goes through 40 percent malolactic. Again, the limestone-infused Chablis style is indicated, though in the case of “Grey” the manner is hyper-intense and concentrated and fraught with electrifying acidity, though the wine is balanced by lovely ripe and spiced citrus and pear flavors and a modicum of slightly creamy lushness. Another Excellent rating. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?

Imported by Austral Wines, Atlanta, Georgia.
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Sauvignon gris is another name for the sauvignon rosé, a pink-skinned mutation of sauvignon blanc. Got that? Not much is planted, under either name, but in Chile sauvignon gris can be made into a delightful white wine, one of the best versions of which comes from the venerable institution of Cousiño-Macul.

Made all in stainless steel, the pale straw-gold Cousiño-Macul Sauvignon Gris 2009, from Maipo Valley, offers a delightful bouquet of roasted lemon, spiced peach and lemon balm with hints of acacia and verbena; give it a few minutes in the glass and notes of orange zest and tangerine emerge, along with a slightly waxy element. Spicy citrus and pear flavors with a trace of dried thyme dominate the mouth, ensconced in a lovely texture that’s almost cloud-like yet lithe and spare and jazzed by crisp, lively acidity. Really charming and great either as aperitif or with fresh ceviche or sushi. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York. Tasted at the Cousiño-Macul estate on Oct. 5.

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