Dessert wines


In these egalitarian times, we don’t often speak of what were once called the “noble grapes,” because such a hierarchical scheme would imply that grapes omitted from that brilliant roster were somehow inferior. A generation ago, however, the term was common among writers about wine and commentators on the wine industry. Generally, six grapes were allowed “noble” status: Chardonnay, riesling (see accompanying image) and sauvignon blanc; cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir. You’ll notice the French bias immediately; we’re talking about Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a bone thrown to Alsace and parts of Germany with riesling. Notice that nebbiolo and sangiovese don’t make the cut; those are Italian grapes. Chenin blanc? Forget those divine dessert wines of the Loire Valley; they’re not Sauternes.

Still, there was a point to the noble grape concept, and I tell you that some grapes are simply better — or potentially better — than others. Chardonnay is capable of making splendid wines that grapes such as, say, torrontes or albarino, however charming and refreshing they may be, just can’t match. Cabernet sauvignon grapes can be turned into wines of the sort of depth, dimension and dignity that, oh, alicante bouschet or refosco could not begin to reach. No matter, of course, in the grand scheme, because we derive pleasure from all kinds of wines for many different occasions and reasons, but the truth is that certain grapes deserve their elevated reputations, if, I have to add, they are handled carefully and thoughtfully in the vineyard and the winery.

Riesling certainly deserves inclusion in the pantheon of noble grapes, as I was reminded as I stood in the kitchen at home and spent a couple of hours with this group of nine wines made from the grape. One winning aspect of riesling is its versatility; riesling is, in fact, the most versatile of the noble grapes. Even in this limited encounter, you can see that the wines range from delightful and appealing to stunning and profound without losing authenticity and integrity. The grape is geographically versatile, too; these nine wines encompass three of Germany’s best-known regions — Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz; two areas in Australia, two in California and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. The styles range from bone-dry to sumptuously sweet, but all are characterized by the grape’s inherent acidity and limestone-like minerality. This was a flight that I really liked.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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The Frisk Prickly Riesling 2011, Victoria, Australia, is a real sweetheart of a riesling, a bit moscato-like in its initial delicate sweetness, floral nature and cloud-like softness, but just ripping with crisp acidity and honed limestone minerality. As the name implies, it’s lightly frizzante, that is, gently sparkling, just a tickle, as it were, that helps deliver notes of green apple and pear to your nose in a delightful manner. Ripe citrus flavors are touched with lychee and a hint of smoke; the wine sheds its sweetness and turns increasing dry and structured crossing the palate, finally reaching an austere, mineral-laced finish. Quite charming as an aperitif or with shrimp or chicken salad. 8.9 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, an Incredible Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Ca.
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The Bex Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany, is fresh, crisp, juicy and lively; sporting a pale straw-gold color, it offers a bouquet of lime peel, grapefruit and honeysuckle deeply imbued with riesling’s signature petrol or rubber eraser aroma and a transparent foundation of damp limestone and shale. This is lovely, lithe and lacy in structure, fairly simple and direct, to be honest, but tasty with ripe apple, pear and lime flavors, very dry with a finish of crushed oyster-shell minerality. 9.5 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $10-$13.

Imported by Purple Wine Co., Graton, Ca. Great image from yumsugar.com.
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This is a terrific spätlese, deftly balanced between sweetness and dryness, between generosity and focus. The color of the Weingut Max Ferd Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009, Mosel, is glinting pale straw; aromas of spiced peach and pear, with delicate back-notes of quince and lychee, are woven with hints of rose petals and limestone. Pretty heady stuff, all right. In the mouth, you feel the slight tension, the sliding resolution between the initial sweetness, partaking of very ripe and macerated stone-fruit, and the striking acidity and limestone minerality that dominate the wine from mid-palate through the long earthy yet finely-tuned finish. 8.5 percent alcohol. This should develop nicely through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24-$28, Good Value. The estate has been owned by the family since 1680.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.
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Seeing the vintage of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Oakville District, Napa Valley, you may ask, “But, FK, why the 2008 when the 2010 is the current release?” The answer is that I like to drink Trefethen’s rieslings at three to four years old, when they become, as it were, like shafts of bright and shining limestone and shale-like minerality. We always have a bottle of this wine on the table at Thanksgiving; last year it was the 2007. (In fact, the 2010 was my Wine of the Week on August 29th this year.) The 2008 we consumed at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner indeed practically vibrated with the minerality I mentioned, from start to finish, as well as exuding notes of petrol and peach and pear, a hint of jasmine, but, boy, is it ever a profound matter of stones and bones. It sort of wrapped itself around the turkey and dressing and potatoes and so on and supported everything subtly and beautifully. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. I paid $26.
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Let me just get this word out right now: Superb. I’m referring to the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet draws you in irresistibly with aromas of baked apple, roasted peach and apricot skin nestled in a honeyed radiance of cloves, sandalwood and orange marmalade. This description makes the wine sound heavy, but instead it is ineffably delicate, almost lacy and transparent in its wreathed character; paradoxically — and great wines embody myriad paradoxes within their balance and harmony — it’s also profoundly dense and earthy, its viscous nature splendidly belied by tremendous acidity whose tautness could ring church bells from Brisbane to Boston. A wonderful achievement. Stephanie Toole operates this small estate, which I visited in the far-off days of October 1998, with meticulous attention, producing only 4,500 cases annually of five wines. Alcohol contest is 11 percent. Drink through 2013 or ’14 with the simplest of fruit desserts or a plain sugar cookie or on its own. The current release in Australia is 2011. Exceptional. About $27-$36.

Imported by USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
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The frozen grapes for the Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2008, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, were harvested from the last week of December 2008 and into early January; the wine is not aged in oak. A beguiling medium gold color seems to inspire aromas of candied orange zest, marzipan and creme brulee layered over baked peaches and apricots and a hint of mango; the wine is supernally rich, honeyed and viscous — it rolls over the palate like money — yet balanced by whiplash acidity and profound and penetrating slate-like minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoky cloves, lime peel, a touch of jasmine and depths of spiced and macerated flavors, like stone-fruit dissolving in brandy. Inniskillin is owned by Constellation Brands, and it’s good to see that despite being part of a giant conglomerate that has swallowed dozens of wineries and brands the quality of the product has not diminished. Winemaker is Bruce Nicholson. 9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $80 for a tall, stylish half-bottle (375 ml).

Imported by Icon Estates, Rutherford, Ca.
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The Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Schlossberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau, Germany, is a damned serious riesling all right. The color is pale straw-yellow; aromas of jasmine and lychee, pear, quince and crystallized ginger open to notes of grapefruit, limestone and shale. The wine is seamless from front to back, but there’s nothing ethereal about its earthy character or its crisp, snappy acidity, and despite latter-day touches of fig, peach and marzipan, it’s not sweet at all; this is achingly dry, resonant, austere, even partaking of a sort of Olympian detachment through the stony finish. Still, as I said, the wine is seamless, beautifully balanced, authoritative without being blatant. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $29-$40. The term Erstes Gewächs on the label is the German equivalent of Grand Cru.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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At seven years old, the Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany, feels perfect, yet I wager it will age beautifully for another seven years. The color is brilliant medium gold; a poignant and penetrating hit of petrol or rubber eraser permeated by hints of softly over-ripe peaches and apricots identifies this wine as a classic riesling dessert wine, though the richness and honeyed nature are balanced by or even serve as foil to some astringent floral note. The viscosity of the gorgeous texture fills and coats the mouth, while the wine grows more intense, more freighted by cloves and quince, more deeply imbued with flavors of orange zest, crystallized ginger and apricots. In the manner of great dessert wines, however, a slashing blade of acidity lends the wine keen vibrancy and a dry, scintillating finish. A grand achievement. 8.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. About $50 for a half-bottle (375 ml).

A Rudi Wiest Selection for Cellars International, San Marcos, Cal.
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Twenty-three years old, yes, but the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1988, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills was only released in 2010, when it was a relatively young 22, after spending 20 years in bottle. The color is caramel-amber with a deep copper glint; the bouquet partakes of barely overblown flowers, like peonies and camellias before they begin wearily to drop their petals, along with coconut, toasted almonds, candied ginger and roasted and slightly caramelized peaches; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of pine resin and maple syrup. There’s a deep caramel circumference to the flavors of burnt orange, lime peel and spiced apricots, and that’s where the sweetness stays, at the edge of the palate, while the interior flow, as it were, is not just surprisingly but audaciously dry, leading to a finish of daunting austerity and limestone-like minerality. There’s a touch of confusion about the balance between mid-palate and finish, but primarily this wine is a delightful and intriguing example of what can happen when riesling gets all grown-up. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $45.
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With Thanksgiving dinner’s apple-walnut pie and pumpkin pie — from Whole Foods; not baking made for a relaxing morning — we sipped the Renaissance Late Harvest Semillon 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Though labeled “semillon,” the wine contains only 57 percent of that grape, the rest of the blend consisting of 33 percent sauvignon blanc, 7 percent roussanne and 2 percent viognier. The color is radiant medium-gold with hints of green at the center. You smell the nectar-like sweetness in the rich baked apricot and peach aromas that carry undertones of roasted grapefruit and pineapple and hints of honeysuckle and jasmine; something exotic wafts up, cloves and sandalwood, lemongrass and papaya. Fermentation took place predominately in stainless steel tanks (75 percent) with the rest in oak barrels; aging occurred in neutral German and French oak. The wine is incredibly dense and chewy, with slick and sleek viscosity — the residual sugar is 5 percent — and while the entry is terrifically sweet and honeyed (does the concept of roasted honey seem beyond the pale?), the finish is startlingly dry. This is not refined or elegant; rather, the effect is frontal, high performance and a bit rustic; baked apple, ginger and quince, again the lemongrass, a sheen of crackling caramel and with the caramel a twist of sea-salt and white pepper; toffee and taffy. The finish is long, very dry, with thyme and green tea. Quite remarkable in its way. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock made 128 cases of half-bottles (375 milliliters) and 30 cases of standard 750 ml bottles. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $35 for the 375s.

A sample for review.

Ummmm …… Probably not.

Not that I don’t enjoy a glass of Moscato, especially from the wine’s home-base around the city of Asti in Piedmont. When I was in that region last year, blogging for the Barbera 2010 conference, visits to wineries and estates often began with a glass of clean, crisp, slightly sweet Moscato d’Asti that went surprisingly well with the bountiful spreads of meats, cheeses and breads typically laid out for us. Moscato d’Asti is lightly sparkling, what the Italians call frizzante, as opposed to spumante, full sparkling, so it can be quite refreshing without being blatantly effervescent or filling. Moscato d’Asti also works well as a dessert wine, actually is mostly assumed to be a dessert wine, especially when served with simple confections like uncomplicated fruit tarts. Its low alcohol content — 5.5 percent — makes it easy to quaff. Moscato d’Asti is made from the moscato bianco grape, the Italian name for muscat blanc a petits grains, the best of the numerous muscat varieties. The hallmarks of Moscato d’Asti are its delicacy, its musky, floral aromas and a sensation of sweetness more implied than acted upon; crisp acidity is essential for balance, though it must not ruffle the wine’s innate softness.

Now, a great deal of Prosecco is fairly sweet, though it need not be, and a remarkable quantity of the wines are bland and innocuous, which they also need not be. The official expansion of Prosecco’s approved growing area in the Veneto will not bolster quality. Nonetheless, Prosecco is among the fastest growing segments in the imported wine market in the United States, and at the best it can be a fine and thoroughly enjoyable sparkling wine. (Prosecco is the name of the grape and the product.) Prosecco can be a still wine, though that manifestation is rare, and it can be both frizzante or spumante, with the latter type outnumbering the former three to one. My point is that as delightful and subtle as Moscato d’Asti can be — and I mean the best examples, not the vapid, sappy-sweet ones — it has limited utility in the diurnal round. Prosecco, on the other hand, especially those few models produced from superior zones in a dry, minerally style, can be not only versatile but engaging and elegant.

Many winemaking areas in Italy produce some version of a moscato wine, and you find it increasingly throughout the world; one of my favorite non-Italian versions, a true delight, is produced by Innocent Bystander in Australia’s Yarra Valley; here’s a link to a recent review. I have tasted a number of Italian Moscatos lately; I’ll mention the most gratifying. Those made outside Piedmont may have slightly more alcohol than 5.5 percent.

Image of Moscato in glass from spiritofwine.blogspot.com.
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First, three genuine Moscato d’Asti wines:

The Coppo Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti 2010 is a real classic. Apple, pear and melon on the nose, slightly spiced and honeyed, a little foxy, with almond and almond blossom, orange zest and orange blossom; very refined, very delicate, a softly sweet entry that quickly goes dry on the palate with lip-smacking acidity and a scintillating limestone element; despite the crisp acidity, though, a lovely cushiony texture that supports flavors of peach and pear with mild effervescence. Quite charming. 5 percent alcohol. Very Good +. About $17.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca.

The Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2009 seems to offer more bubbles than Moscato d’Asti wines typically do. Pale straw-gold color; apple, peach and pear, almond and almond blossom, musk-rose; shimmering acidity tingles the tongue; sweet as biting into a ripe peach but tempered by acid and a very dry limestone-drenched finish that runs under the lushness of stone-fruit flavors; delicately married to an intriguing hint of earthiness. Lovely. 5.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Ca.

A tad simpler than the preceding examples, the Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2010 is still quite tasty and tempting. Pale straw-gold color; a gentle froth of bubbles; melon bubble gum, peach, orange blossom, almond; seductively lush with a talc-like texture cut by keen acidity and limestone-like minerality. A nice quaff. 6 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa Ca.
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The bubbles on the Seven Daughters Moscato n.v., Veneto I.G.T., offer barely a prickle; this is true subtlety, though a mildly pleasant sensation on the tongue; green apple, peach and pear, quite fresh and appealing, a little spicy; a burst of sweetness at the beginning but zippy acidity and a flush of damp limestone turn it pretty darned dry from mid-palate back; a bracing bit of bitterness on the finish. 7 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $15.
Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.

The Cantine Maschio Cadoro Moscato n.v, Puglia, is a fascinating product, first because it derives from Apulia, down in the southeast, and second because of its heightened effervescence — it’d spumante rather than frizzante — and third because it is more substantial than delicate; call it a super-Moscato, perhaps. Amid this host of bubbles is a welter of apple and melon, peach and pear, all slightly spicy and honeyed and a little woodland wildness; a sweet entry moderated by swingeing acidity and a prominent limestone, shale element wrapped around lush stone fruit flavors, all devolving to a touch of apple peel/almond skin bitterness on the finish. Intriguing and delicious. 7.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
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In the indispensable Grand Vins: The Finest Chateaux of Bordeaux and Their Wines (University of California Press, 1995), Clive Coates unravels the long and tangled familial, political and financial history of Sauternes’ three “Doisy” estates: the two most prominent, Doisy-Védrines and Doisy-Daëne, and the seldom-seen Doisy-Dubroca, which produces only about 500 cases annually. All three were awarded Second Growth ranking in the 1855 Classification of the wines of Sauternes and Barsac; arguments could be made for or against that status now, but certainly Védrines and Daene often make superb sweet wines, while Dubroca would be difficult to make a case for since it is so rarely encountered. Suffice to say that Doisy was once a single and ancient vineyard that was divided in the 1830s or ’40s. Our concern today is Chateau Doisy-Védrines, because I recently tried Doisy-Védrines 2005, two glasses of which, in an untypical fit of decadence, I consumed with a lunch of pan perdu, maple syrup and blackberries. The property has been owned by the Castéja family since 1840. The estate covers just over 66 acres; the vineyards are planted with 80 percent semillon grapes, 15 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. For 2005, the wine spent 18 months in oak, 70 percent new barrels.

Chateau Doisy-Védrines 2005, Sauternes, sports a radiant medium gold color that goes quite delicate and limpid around the rim. The first impression is of ripe, spiced, macerated and roasted peaches, apricots and pineapple infused with honey, vanilla and cloves and a burgeoning element of honeysuckle, camellia and bees’-wax; the sense is of filigrees upon filigrees of scents layered in ethereal jewel-like proximity. Some dessert wines feel as heavy as money in the mouth; this, while not attaining elegance, is more refined than weighty, more supple than o’ermastering. Upon entry, Doisy-Védrines 05 is powerfully sweet and honeyed, with the super-ripe, earthy, creamy character we expect from a vintage that was rich in flavor but a little low in acid; this lacks somewhat the essential tension and ultimate resolution between enveloping richness and piercing acidity — I first wrote “squinching” acidity; do you get it? — that mark the best products of Sauternes and Barsac. This is, still, as lovely as it gets, and the acid does plow a moderate swath on the palate and the (slightly rotten) luscious peach and apricot flavors are tempered by a hint of bright green apple and toasted hazelnuts, all of this panoply leading to a finish that’s dry and a little austere and permeated by limestone. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’18, well-stored. While my French toast may have been an extreme pairing — it really shivered my timbers — you could try this wine with simple fruit desserts, or just a plain shortbread cookie, or a piece of fine bleu cheese. Excellent. Prices on the Internet reveal a ludicrously wide range from about $30 to $60; look, realistically, for $45 to $50.

A sample for review. Image of Chateau Doisy-Védrines by Neal Martin at Wine Journal.

For the Thanksgiving dinner dessert, we had a luscious pumpkin chiffon pie, prepared by a local chef, and then I made an apple tart, using Julia Child’s recipe and procedure for puff pastry from our much stained and blotched copy of The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). Basically, the process is a fairly tedious one of amalgamating six and a half sticks of chilled butter with four cups of flour using only a bare splash or two of ice water to help; ten “passes” with chilling in the refrigerator after every two. Miss Child would probably have been appalled at the rustic appearance of my pastry and the tart overall — the brown splotches are caramelized apricot glaze — but boy it certainly tasted rich and scrumptious. I patted and rolled the crust out on a cutting board and slid it carefully onto the baking sheet sprinkled with a few drops of water. Once on that surface, I used lengths of the dough to fashion the raised edges. The apples were Granny Smith, good for baking because of their tartness and firm texture.

I have a selection of half-bottles of dessert wine in the white wine fridge, but I decided to go with the oldest, the Renaissance Winery Late Harvest Riesling 1992, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. “Oldest” does not mean the oldest released. Though made from grapes harvested in the autumn of 1992, the wine was not released until 2008, that’s right, at 16 years old. Renaissance, as a habit and philosophy, holds their wines longer than any other producer in California. Add two years, and that makes the wine 18 when we tasted it at our table.

The Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992 is the color of faintly tarnished gold, like the back of an old pocket watch. Though closed at first, a few minutes of swirling brought up traces of peaches, orange rind and cloves, with notes of apricot jam and orange marmalade, and hints of quince and crystallized ginger, this gorgeous yet unobtrusive panoply melded with utmost delicacy and finesse. In the mouth, a sweetly faded and gentle quality, a repose of talc, lemon verbena, rose hips, melon drops and pomander reminded me of a sachet in an old-fashioned lady’s vanity. Essential acidity is certainly present, and in fact the wine gains succulence and vibrancy after some moments, elements that lay the foundation for a finish wrapped in grapefruit and limestone. A lovely dessert wine, filled with authoritative detail and dimension yet mild and mannerly; it was tremendously agreeable with the apple tart. 11.8 percent alcohol. If you have this bottle in your cellar, it should be consumed by 2012. Production was 364 cases. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

This was a sample for review.

Well, I’m way behind on this one. Time is a river blah blah. The world is too much with us late and soon blah blah.

I instituted this series at the end of March to present reviews of a red wine and a white wine that I tasted within a three-month period that I didn’t get to write about but that are clearly superior in quality. So, this pair comes from July, August and September, and I should have posted this five or six weeks ago.

These wines were samples for review.
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I don’t often drink or taste or sample the rich, sweet golden wines of Sauternes; who does, except for British wine writers? Understandably, when this bottle of Chateau Suduiraut 1999 arrived I was mightily pleased and filled with anticipation that was not proved errant. At 11 years old, the wine is splendid and has a long life of development and maturity ahead. For a complete (and well-written) history and assessment of the estate, see the account by The Wine Doctor; I could not better his research and experience. Suffice to say that Suduiraut is one of the oldest estates in Sauternes, going back to 1580; that its slightly fortified chateau, rebuilt in the late 17th Century, is a prime example of the architecture of the period; that the wine was granted Premier Cru status in the 1855 Classification, though writers with long memories or access to old books testify to many inconsistent vintages; that it underwent many changes of ownership in the 19th and 20th centuries until AXA Millésimes (the wine arm of the giant AXA insurance group) acquired the property in 1992 and wrought essential improvements; for example no wine was bottled in 1991, ’92 or ’93. The vineyard is planted with 80 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon blanc (though contrary Parker says it’s 90/10). The estate typically produces about 10,000 cases a year.

Like all great wines that issue from Sauternes, Chateau Suduiraut 1999 combines a directness of appeal with layers of complexity that feel almost unfathomable. The color is pure brilliant medium yellow-gold; there’s not a tinge of amber. The bouquet immediately announces the presence of botrytis cinerea — the “noble rot” — in its luscious, earthy scents of over-ripe, spiced and macerated peaches and apricots drenched in honey and butter and roasted until they dissolve in their own delirious juices; add notes of smoke, honeysuckle and jasmine and sun-warmed rocks, and you have an absolutely classic Sauternes nose. In the mouth, the wine is dense but silken; you might be sipping apple tart and creme brulee through which run threads of quince and crystallized ginger, orange rind and tangerine and just a touch of semillon’s tell-tale leafy quality. Suduiraut ’99 is quite sweet on entry, almost dangerously and decadently so, one’s instinct says, but the sweetness is tightly reined by assiduously deft acidity, so it is balanced, and then checked, and the wine finishes dry and stony and with a bare swipe at something toffee-like. It’s simultaneously exquisite and luxurious, like drinking the gold that Zeus rained upon Danaë. Now through 2019 to 2024 or ’25, properly cellared. Perhaps this lacks the grand paradox of transcendent refinement and incomparable tautness that the very best Sauternes display, i.e. Yquem, but it’s still pretty damned stunning. Exceptional. About $60.
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The Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County, is one of the purest expressions of the syrah grape I have tasted from California. Dan Lee had made wines for Durney Vineyards and Jekel Vineyards but decided to concentrate on his own label in the early 1980s. While producing chardonay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from several appellations — Alexander Valley, Carneros, Monterey — he concentrated more as the years passed on a few vineyards in Monterey County. Double L, acquired in 1996, is Morgan’s home vineyard. Situated at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, the 65-acre property slopes gently to the east; the vines are oriented north-south for maximum exposure. Forty-eight-and-a-half acres are planted: 28.5 for pinot noir, 18 for chardonnay and one each for syrah and riesling. Double L has been certified organic since 2002.

Both brooding and exuberant, the bouquet of the Morgan Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007 twines scents of smoked plums, smoked bacon, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries with old leather, a clean, earthy mossy element and the authentic touch of wet dog for a tinge of funkiness. (The color: “as through a glass darkly.”) A few minutes bring up pungent notes of lavender, sandalwood, white pepper. In the mouth, this syrah is ripe and intense and concentrated, almost ferociously spicy and fruity yet packed with dusty, fine-grained tannins that slowly emerge (or are slowly unleashed), an oak influence — 14 months in French barrels, 25 percent new — that feels deep and iron-bound, and, speaking of iron, a scintillating geological quality in the damp granite and slate range. The wine is dry, foresty, a little autumnal, like the smoke and ash from burning leaves, and ultimately austere enough to require another year or two in the bottle, though it’s awe-inspiring with a medium-rare steak. Altogether a wine of immense character, depth and dimension. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

Image of Double L Vineyard from morganwinery.com.
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The top shelf of the white wine fridge, that is. I received so many wines after I returned from South America that I needed to clear out space for some of the in-coming stuff, so I lined up the bottles that were lying on the top shelf of the refrigerator devoted to white wine and tasted them all. So that’s the category today: Miscellaneous Whites. These reviews follow the order of tasting. All of these wines were review samples.
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A blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Centine Rosé 2009, Toscana, offers an appealing pale onion skin color. A bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and dried red currants with a hint of dried herbs and limestone leads to a dry, crisp mouthful of wine permeated by delicate touches of strawberry and melon and a sort of woodsy berryish mossy note. The finish brings in more limestone and a trace of clove-like spice. The alcohol content is a highly quaffable 12.5 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Drink up. Very Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Well, the Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valleys, Victoria, is completely adorable. A blend of 83 percent riesling and 17 percent muscat gordo (an Australian synonym for muscat of Alexandria), the pale straw-gold colored wine is indeed a bit prickly and rather frisky, with its hint of spritz and star-etched crystalline acidity. The wine is moderately sweet going in, but by the time it flows past mid-palate, it’s classically dry and minerally in the crushed limestone/damp shale sense. Green apple, peach and pear, with a tinge of juicy mango; lilacs and camellias; a final delicate wash of river rocks, like a pale watercolor painting of water; these comprise a delightful wine that I found irresistible. Alcohol is 8.7 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.
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The Lorentz family has been making wine in Alsace since 1836; the tradition, the heritage and the experience seem evident. The Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace, is a radiant medium gold color; the bouquet delivers a heady amalgam of roasted lemon, lemon balm and almond blossom over subtle tissues of pear, toasted almonds and clean earthiness. Moderately rich notes of lemon, lime skin and pear (with touches of quince and ginger) seethe with teeth-rattling dryness and aching limestone-like minerality; this is, obviously, a very dry, very crisp wine that for all its litheness, leanness and chalky austerity offers wonderful body and presence. I love this detail: according to the winery’s website, its Reserve wines age in wood, stainless steel and glass containers. Drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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The color of the Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Riesling 2008, Alsace, is pale straw-gold; pungent aromas of pear, lychee and petrol (or rubber eraser) teem in the bouquet, along with hints of jasmine and damp rocks. This is a high-toned, elegant riesling, completely classic in every aspect, from its pinpoint balance between swingeing acidity and supple texture to its tremendous dose of limestone and shale that verges on pure minerality to its gorgeous peach, pear and roasted flavors. Mainly, however, this is about structure; you feel, beneath the fruit, the stones and bones of true authority and austerity, the chime of bright acidity extending into every bright molecule. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent, though I liked it a degree or two less than the Rèserve Pinot Gris mentioned above. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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Pert and pleasant but at the same time fairly neutral, the Centine Bianco 2009, Toscana, a blend of 40 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent pinot grigio and 30 percent chardonnay, does little to bring glory, much less discernible varietal character to any of its constituents. The wine is dry; it is crisp; it is quite minerally, but not in the pristine form of pure scintillating minerality. Even dividing the wine for fermentation and four months’ aging in French barriques doesn’t result in a memorable personality. Let’s face it: Tuscany ain’t prime real estate for sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or chardonnay. 13 percent alcohol. Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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It’s always interesting to read the technical sheets that accompany wines from Kendall-Jackson to my door because, for one reason, they confirm what a meticulous winemaker Randy Ullom is. The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 carries a Monterey County designation, though the wine includes wee portions of grapes from down south in San Luis Obispo County (3%) and farther north in Napa County (2%); don’t forget that there is a Napa County appellation as well as Napa Valley. The wine is fermented primarily in stainless steel tanks; 26 percent is barrel fermented. Pinot gris grapes account for 93 percent of the wine; blended are marsanne (2%), chenin blanc (2%), viognier (1.6%), roussanne (1%) and, rather incredibly, 0.4 percent chardonnay. I wonder how efficaciously the presence of less than half of a percent of chardonnay affects the wine, though my purpose is not to second-guess the winemaker, whose attention to detail I admire. (Actually that’s not true; I second-guess winemakers all the time. No sense being a hypocrite.)

Why, then, don’t I like this wine better? It’s certainly pleasant, clean, crisp and fresh, and it packs a terrific wallop of limestone-and-shale-like minerality, yet it leaves little impression of fruit or even the fruity/floral personality one would expect from the grape. I hate to be a snot, but I have to ask the question: Why was this wine made? Why was so much time and concentration devoted to it to end up just sort of decent and drinkable and forgettable. Well, there’s a place for such wines, but they don’t usually come with this sort of pedigree. Good+. About $15.
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The Cadaretta SBS 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon; the grapes derive from hillside vineyards planted in 1992 and 1995, and the wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. The wine offers notes of roasted lemon and yellow plums, with the semillon contributing touches of leafy fig and white waxy flowers, say camellias. There’s nothing grassy about this Bordeaux-style wine, but it does deliver sheaves of dried thyme and tarragon with a broad spectrum of dried savory spices. Elements of limestone seep in around the circumference and within a few minutes the wine is permeated by shale-like minerality, while the finish brings in hints of lime, tangerine and slightly bitter grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 six-pack cases. Winemaker was Virginie Bourgue, who has since left Cadaretta to focus on her own label. Very Good+. About $23.
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At the end of July, I reviewed the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, and wondered why the winery, which is owned by Kendall-Jackson, put the words “vinted and bottled by … ” on the back labels. Shortly thereafter I received an email message from winemaker Peter Fraser, who informed me that the estate’s winemaking facility was almost complete and that future vintages will be estate-bottled.

The Yangarra Roussanne 2009, McLaren Vale, sees no new oak, aging, instead, in 35 percent two-year-old French oak barrels and the rest in even older, neutral French oak; the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a subtle, supple wine with a lovely sleek texture that deftly balances crisp, apple-fresh acidity with the moderate lushness of ripe pears and roasted lemon. This roussanne is a pale straw-gold color; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon peel are infused with notes of bee’s-wax, jasmine and honeysuckle. The entire effect is of spareness and elegance endowed with confidence and varietal authority, and besides, it’s delicious. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Production was 1.045 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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The Charles Krug Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, was pitched to me as the chardonnay that redraws the map for chardonnay, but it seemed to me to be just another weary Baedeker into the dead-end territory of manipulative excess. It took “three new yeasts” to get the job done here, including “Dave’s super secret yeast” — winemaker is Dave Galzignato — and while I admire the restrained use of oak (seven months in French oak, 35 percent new) and malolactic (only 23 percent), the wine came out smelling and tasting like a brown sugar/toffee/crème brûlée dessert bomb. This is too bad, because it opened nicely, with hints of pear and peach, lemon peel and orange zest, but it descended quickly to strident spice and cloying fruit. Tsk tsk. 14.5 percent alcohol. On the other hand, you will be surprised that I rate this wine Good+ rather than Avoid, because the next chardonnay is even worse, and a guy has to draw the line somewhere. About $20.
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Erk! Gack! Bananas Foster goes psycho-killer! I found the Hanna Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, completely beyond the pale. Going through full barrel fermentation, malolactic “fermentation” — to remind you, ML is a natural process but not inevitable that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid — and aged in 75 percent new French oak, this bastion of butterscotch and brown sugar is strenuously toasty, muscularly spicy and aggressively oaky, with an unpleasantly dry, austere finish. At this point, some of my readers are saying gently, “Um, F.K., isn’t this a matter of taste and stylistic preference?” Well, no, it isn’t. Wines such as this one (and the preceding model) are travesties that have nothing to do with the chardonnay grape, just as over-oaked, over-ripe, sweet, cloying, high-alcohol zinfandels have nothing to do with the zinfandel grape. It’s a matter of respect; if you truly respect the chardonnay grape, you don’t make a wine that smells and tastes like a combination of the dessert trolley in a continental restaurant and a lumber yard. A wine writer whom I admire enormously wrote in a recent column that he would never tell a winemaker how to make wine. Oops, hey, I sure would! Look at it this way: I have reviewed books for 25 years — I was book page editor from 1988 to 2003 of the newspaper where I used to work — and I have produced a fair number of negative reviews. A negative review, even only partially, is a way of saying that an author was wrong about how he or she wrote the book, and the same principle holds true with wine and winemakers. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the winery goes out with every bottle of wine. Where was I? Oh, right. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not for me, O.K.? I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are wine drinkers (and reviewers at Wine Spectator) who like this “style” of chardonnay, but their palates are beyond my comprehension. About $22.
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This is really interesting, a non-vintage dessert wine, and I don’t mean port or some other fortified type. The Höpler Beerenauslese nv, Burgenland, Austria, tasted from a 375-milliliter half-bottle, offers a radiant medium gold color and seductive aromas of roasted apricots and peaches, baked pears, quince jam, honeysuckle and touches of ginger and cloves. In the mouth, this sweetheart is honeyed and viscous; flavors of spiced and brandied peaches with a touch of honeydew melon and mandarin orange are balanced by resounding acidity and a strain of earthy, slightly funky minerality. The wine is definitely sweet on the entry, but halfway across the palate the sweetness melts away, so the finish is resolutely dry and a little stony. The wine is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent sämling 88 (a synonym in Burgenland for Germany’s scheurebe grape) and 10 percent grüner veltliner. This doesn’t project the weight or presence or ultimate finesse of a great dessert wine, but it’s very attractive and even irresistible. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About — this is a guess based on imperfect Google results — $24.

USA Wine Imports, New York.
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Here’s a revealing comparison: the Höpler Beerenauslese nv mentioned above contains 136 grams per liter of residual sugar (the sugar level after fermentation has run its course); the Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese 2007, Burgenland, contains 214.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and you feel it in the wine’s massively ripe opulence and succulence, in its sense of softly dissolving grapes and skins, of macerating peaches and apricots liquifying in spiced brandy, of smoky pomanders and crème brûlée and tangerine clafoutis, of roasted honey and orange marmalade. This dazzling panoply of nectar is saved from cloyingness by a tremendous charge of limestone-like minerality and by acidity that feels electrified. “Exquisite” scarcely begins to describe this wine, made completely from sämling 88 grapes. The alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $52 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

USA Wine Imports, New York
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The SantoWines Vinsanto 2003, Santorini, Greece — the company also deals in capers, fava beans and tomato products as well as non-dessert wines — is a blend of 70 percent assyrtiko and 30 percent aidani grapes, both widely grown on the island of Santorini; the wine was bottled in 2008 and is throwing a sediment. The color is medium amber with a translucent rim; the bouquet offers aromas of toffee, roasted raisins and toasted almonds, fruit cake and a sort of Platonic cinnamon toast. These beguiling qualities segue into the mouth, where such flavors are a little torn between a very sweet entry and an achingly dry finish. Let’s call it an enjoyably rustic version of vinsanto that just misses essential balance. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $40 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Stellar Importing Co., Whitestone. N.Y. Image, slightly cropped, from Benito.

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You may have to get up off your shiftless butt and do a bit of legwork to find this Vin Doux Natural from a small appellation in the South of France, but a little research is good for the soul, and the result will be splendid. I never said that the Wine of the Week would be easy.

The product is Chateau Tour de Farges 2006, Muscat de Lunel. This A.O.C. region lies between Montpellier and Nîmes in the Languedoc; the required grape for Vin Doux Natural here is the evocatively dubbed Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Despite its name, V.D.N is not all that natural; the wine is fortified with grape spirits — to stop fermentation and leave sugar in the wine –to about 15 percent alcohol.

Chateau Tour de Farges has a long and storied history. The property was evidently established in the 16th Century and has been owned since the end of the 18th Century by the Sabatier d’Espeyres family. During the 19th Century, the chateau was presided over by the celebrated Viennese singer Caroline Ungher, whom François Sabatier married in 1840. Intellectual, sentimental, charming and gregarious, she attracted to Tour de Farges such figures as artist Gustave Courbet, who executed an appropriately poetic depiction of the chateau; novelist Alexander Dumas; and the as-yet-unknown political and economic theorist named Karl Marx. I don’t often include the websites of wineries in these posts, but the website of Tour de Farges is so charming and eccentric and filled with anecdote that I will break my injunction for this occasion.

Chateau Tour de Farges 2006 sees no oak; it ages six months in stainless steel tanks and concrete vats. The color is very pale yet glowing straw-gold. The wine manifests every fraction of lightness and elegance yet offers real presence and consequence on the palate. The lithesome bouquet is woven of ripe peach and spiced apricot with hints of apples, apple pie and roasted almonds. The entry is moderately sweet and honeyed, but from midway back the effect is increasingly dry, balanced by pinpoint, almost electrifying acidity. Poised in paradoxical equilibrium between rich and spicy peach, apricot and quince flavors and a texture that’s close to lacy transparency, this wine is a true sweetheart that exhibits its earthy side in a mineral-permeated finish of stones and bones. Luscious and supple but with inner spareness and a sense of discretion. Drink now through 2016 to ’18 (well-stored) with the simplest of desserts, like unadorned fruit tarts or even a shortbread cookie. For a culinary frisson, try with seared foie gras, a classic match. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal. Tasted at a trade event. The label image says “2005,” but it is the 2006 under review here.

… but blueberries and cherries are good for warding off the accumulation of uric acid that can lead to a gout episode (sorry to be clinical) and yogurt, well, yogurt is good for something, in fact, LL asserts that “yogurt is totally good for everything!” so in the interest of good health — I also despite that term “wellness” — I’m trying to eat more fruit and berries (pineapple is also a top-rated gout preventative), so a couple of days ago I cleaned some Rainier cherries, blueberries and raspberries and put them in a bowl, and I scooped out a spoonful of the no-fat Greek yogurt that LL buys, and I thought, “Ugh, yuck, gack, no, I can’t do this.” BUT, I had a brilliant idea! I put the yogurt in a little bowl, stirred in a dollop of honey and then very carefully, drop by drop, added some aged balsamic vinegar and stirred that in too. I bought this tiny bottle for LL for her birthday, oh, maybe 15 years ago. We were having lunch at the old 61 restaurant in the basement of the Barney’s on Madison at 61st Street and before leaving we wandered around the food shop. There was a display of long-aged and rare balsamic vinegars, and we were particularly fascinated by this one, from the firm of Cavalli cav. Ferdinando that cost $100 for 100 milliliters; friends, that’s 3.4 fluid ounces. Only 333 bottles were produced. When we were back in Memphis, I called a friend in New York and sent him the money to go to Barney’s and buy one of those precious bottles. And fresh mint from the Farmers Market, as you can see in these images.

Anyway, I’ll tell you that that was some yogurt I could get my tongue and taste-buds around!

So, the next time (today) I wanted to eat some fruit and berries and doctored yogurt — maybe there’s a market for this — we had peaches from the Farmers Market and strawberries that some friends had brought over. I washed and and peeled and sliced (not necessarily for everything) and jazzed up the yogurt and was about to take a bite when I had ANOTHER BRILLIANT IDEA!! I was really missing an opportunity to try a dessert wine. I mean, the fruit and yogurt concoction was for lunch today, but what the hell, that’s what being a professional is all about.

Actually, I have 10 or so dessert wines that I have been meaning to try, so here was a chance to knock one off, so to speak. I poked around in the wine fridge and pulled out a bottom of Mendelson Muscat Canelli 2002, Napa Valley. This is a fairly unusual wine for California in that it’s made in the French vin doux natural style, that is lightly fortified with grape spirits (to 14.2 percent alcohol), and then after fermentation it’s aged two years in French oak. The result is pungent and potent, a wine bursting with notes of peach and apricot, banana and ripe mango; it’s spicy, honeyed and roasted, and exhibits profound earthiness and minerality. The texture is thick, almost viscous, and after a few minutes in the glass the wine begins to exhibit signs of spicy, blond wood, as well as touches of bananas Foster, baked apples and macerated peaches. The finish brings in candied ginger and orange peel. Yes, this is quite an effort, best enjoyed with a few sips on its own or with a shortbread cookie, not, I have to say, with fruit, berries and pumped up yogurt. 250 cases of half-bottles were produced. Excellent. About $33 for a half-bottle.

So, I’m thinking, though the Mendelson Muscat Canelli ’02 was terrific — it inspires silence and contemplation — what would go better with my yogurt and berry lunch? Back to the wine fridge I went and pulled out a bottle of the Vino dei Fratelli Moscato d’Asti 2007 from Piedmont. The alcohol on this wine is only 5.5 percent. It’s incredible freshness and appeal results from the winemaking process; the must (that is the mass of crushed grapes) is kept just above zero, and when wine is needed for bottling, the must is fermented and the wine is bottled immediately. The color is pale straw; the bouquet offers a beguiling wreathing of lemon-lime, almond and almond blossom, a hint of apple, a touch of jasmine. The wine is sweet, lightly spritzy, delicately fruity in a citrusy-apple sense and though basically simple and direct, it’s also tasty and charming and was delightful with the yogurt, fruit and berries. That’s the twins, Castor and Pollux, on the label. Very Good. About $15.

LL came home for lunch yesterday and said, “You know, today is Bastille Day.”

“Right,” I said, “Allons, enfants de la patria and all that.”

“We should have a French dinner tonight,” she said. “And French wines.”

“Good ideas,” I said.

“And you should do it,” she said. “You know, moules, steak frites, escargot, duck a l’orange.” A pause. “French onion soup.”

“Uh, right.”

Now there was a certain rigorous logic behind this statement. I am, after all, the one who is out of work, not she, whiling away the hours laboring over this blog, practicing the piano and generally indulging in grandiose visions of the future. (“Yes, I will write that novel!”) So, I did a little cookbook investigation and decided to prepare a sort of rustic dinner consisting of an onion tart, soupe au pistou and a pear clafoutis. Went to the store, bought what was needed, though I’ll tell you, while the tart was baking and the soup was simmering, with ingredients still to be chopped and put in, I thought, “No way am I making a clafoutis tonight.” So LL took the slices of pear that I was marinating in cognac, lemon juice and sugar, caramelized them in butter in the good ol’ cast-iron skillet, and we had them over vanilla ice cream, which was immensely satisfying.

Here’s what we ate and drank for Bastille Day 2009.
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O.K., so I cheated on the onion tart. It should be pretty obvious from the picture that this is a small onion pizza, ha-ha! not an Official Julia Child-Sanctioned Tart. Yes, I made a pizza dough using one cup of flour — the usual pizza has about two-and-a-half cups of flour — but the same amount of yeast (1/2 a teaspoon) so the dough rose fairly quickly. I followed the advice from several French cookbooks and allowed the thinly sliced onions to cook over very low heat for about 45 minutes with salt, black pepper and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. I patted out the dough by hand, instead of rolling it, so that it would be fairly irregular, spread the onions on top, added some sliced black olives, more thyme and a generous amount of shredded Gruyère cheese, and put it into a 450-degree oven for 12 or 15 minutes. It was self-indulgently good.

I went looking for a Bourgogne Aligoté, not a common wine in the ol’ Mid-South, but found exactly what I was looking for at Great Wine & Spirits, owned by a longtime friend, Gary Burhop. This is the Bourgogne Aligoté 2007 from the distinguished house of Amiot Guy et Fils. Aligote, the “second white grape of Burgundy,” is generally described along the lines of “tart, acidic and functional” and is best-known as the wine from which a true kir is supposed to be fashioned (with a few drops of cassis, the black currant liqueur). Some domaines lift aligoté above the fray, however, and Amiot Guy is one. (A. Villaine is another.) The Amiot Guy Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, as elegant as aligoté gets, feels etched in limestone and wreathed in little waxy white flowers. This piercing minerality is buoyed by scintillating acidity and hints of roasted lemon, pears and almond skin. The wine is defined by lovely heft and balance, though the finish, one grants, is dry and chalky to the point of astringency. This drank nicely with the onion tart, cutting through the richness, but would probably really shine with grilled trout or shellfish. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
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The next course, soupe au pistou, I took from Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud Cookbook (Scribner, 1999). This is a country-style soup from Provence, finished with pistou, a sort of pesto sans pine nuts, though — shoot me if you will — I bought a jar of pesto instead of using the bales of basil it would require to make it. Anyway, this is a sort of kitchen sink concoction with celery, onion, leek, garlic, potato, green beans, carrots, chickpeas, zucchini and, finally, plum tomatoes, which you don’t add until the soup is finished and off the fire. You could use a vegetable stock, if you wanted, but I just used water as the base and let the leeks, onion and potatoes sort of melt into the liquid, making a fragrant and flavorful broth. Before serving the soup, you stir in some pesto or pistou and scatter julienne basil over the top. It was really good.

For the soup, I opened the Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne “Cuvée Léa Felsh” 2006, Côtes du Rhône Villages. The soup could probably have used a wine less robust than this one — even a rosé — but the wine was so well-made that it hardly mattered. (In fact, I’m sipping from a glass of this wine as I type these words, and it’s lovely.) Cairanne is one of a small number of villages in the Côtes du Rhône Villages region considered a good enough source of grapes and wines that it is entitled to put its own name on labels of its wines.

This was substantial, hearty, robust without being rustic, seething with lavender and lilac, earth and minerals, black currant and plums and blueberries with a high wild berry note. Flavors of slightly macerated and roasted black and blue fruits are supported by stalwart but smooth tannins that unfurl to reveal touches of wet slate, tar, leather, briers and brambles. The dusty, earthy finish pulls up underbrush and moss and, intriguingly, powerful spicy elements. As with a wine from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not far away, this blends grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan, cinsault and counoise grapes. Try this from 2010 through 2015 or ’16 with veal chops, country-style pates and terrines and hearty pasta dishes. Certified organic. Excellent. About $20, though found on the Internet from $14 to $18.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
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So, we didn’t have the clafoutis; there’s a limit to how many courses one can cook after 7 p.m., and timing a meal of several courses, especially with dessert, has always been one of my weak points as a stove-meister. Still, caramelizing the pears in butter with the cognac and lemon juice was brilliant and resulted in a simple yet sumptuous dessert. Not much eye-appeal but great flavors.

Along with the Amiot Guy Aligoté ’07 and the Catherine Le Goeuil Cairanne ’06, I purchased a half-bottle of the dessert wine Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002, a blend of 85 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc and 5 percent muscadelle. Monbazillac, part of the Bergerac appellation, is a sort of country cousin to Sauternes and Barsac, further west in Bordeaux. (Bergerac’s most important river, the Dordogne, merges with the Garonne to form the Gironde that flows northwest through the Bordeaux region.) Sweet wines from Monbazillac, made from the same grapes found in Sauternes and Barsac, don’t have the finesse of their more elegant relatives, but the wines are satisfying and much less expensive.

The Seigneurs de Monbazillac 2002 gave off aromas of honeyed peach and apricots, cloves and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, the wine was thick and chewy, almost viscous though brightened with keen acidity and minerality; flavors of roasted apricots and pears were permeated by baking spice and a hint of orange rind. The principle feature, however, is a kind of foresty earthiness that grounds every other aspect. Simple, direct and appealing. Very Good+ and a sweetheart of a food and wine match. About $11 for a half-bottle.

Victoire Imports, San Leandro, Cal.

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