France


In The Bordeaux Atlas and Encyclopedia of Chateaux (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), Hubrecht Duijker and Michael Broadbent write that Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “can be recognized from afar by its two towers” — les tours — “a round crenellated keep and a detached square tower with embrasures, dating from Huguenot times.” The Huguenot era in France would be the mid- to late- 17th Century. In the old postcard image reproduced here, one of those towers is visible, with beyond it a classic mid-18th Century chartreuse structure that features a large, two-story central hall with a wing on each side containing rooms that open into each other. Beyond that is a 19th Century addition and, farthest from the viewer, the estate’s chapel. The 58-hectare property (153 acres) stands on the right bank of the Gironde river in the Blaye Côtes de Bordeaux appellation. Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours — certified organic and biodynamic — is owned by Catherine and Jean-Luc Hubert; she is the fifth generation of her family to farm the vineyards, with the help of her husband and their son Guillaume. The family also owns Chateau La Grolet in nearby Côtes de Bourg. Red wine is made at Peybonhomme-les-Tours, but my intention today is to introduce My Readers to the estate’s white wine, in this case the Chateau Peybonhomme-les-Tours “Le Blanc Bonhomme” 2016, a half-and-half blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon grapes. We were thoroughly charmed by this delightful and thoughtfully-made wine. The color is very pale straw-gold; aromas of green apple and pear, tangerine and damp slate, lilac and camellia are immediately attractive, while a few minutes in the glass add notes of quince and ginger, heather and celery leaf. It’s a white wine of crystalline purity and intensity, taut with bright acidity yet offering a lithe, slightly talc-like texture; subtle stone-fruit flavors are sustained by a scintillating limestone component and a wafting of an almost subliminal grassy-herbal element; the finish seems to partake of the salt-bearing sea-breeze blowing down the river from the Atlantic. Lovely balance and integration. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $22, signifying Remarkable Value. A great choice for buying by the case as your house white wine or for restaurant by-the-glass programs.

Imported by Fruit of the Vines, New York. A sample for review.
Postcard image from candidwines.com.


The estate of Ferraton Père et Fils was founded in Tain l’Hermitage, in France’s northern Rhône region, in 1946. A shift to biodynamic farming methods began in 1998, and in 2004, the ubiquitous Michel Chapoutier, who knows a good thing when he sees one, acquired the estate. The wines are made from vineyards on the property and grapes purchased from other parts of the Rhône Valley. The Ferraton Père et Fils “Samorëns” 2016, Côtes du Rhône blanc, is a blend of 35 percent roussanne grapes, 30 percent viognier, 25 percent grenache blanc and 5 percent each clairette and marsanne; the wine is made all in stainless steel, seeing no oak. The color is very pale straw-gold; subtle aromas of lemongrass and green tea, roasted lemon, gardenia and bees’-wax entice the nose, while on the palate, the wine is spare and lithe, moderately talc-like in texture and infused with a slate-and-flint strain of elemental minerality; a few moments in the glass add notes of baked pear and Mediterranean herbs. 13.5 percent alcohol. From his own estates, Chapoutier makes some of the world’s greatest and most expensive white wines from the same sort of grapes; consumers with just a normal amount of fiduciary prowess will enjoy this pretty and appealing example instead, now through the end of 2018. Very Good+. About $14, representing Excellent Value.

Sera Wine Imports, New York. A sample for review.

At a mere 450 hectares — about 1,100 acres — Côtes de Francs is Bordeaux’s smallest appellation, occupying the highest slopes overlooking the Dordogne river 10 kilometers east of Saint- Emilion. It was granted AOC status in 1967, largely because of the influence of the Thienpont family, which bought Chateau Puygueraud there in 1946 and worked unceasingly to improve the estate, not producing a wine until 1983. In 1988, Nicolas Thienpont and his brothers bought Les Charmes-Godard, a property of 6.5 hectares — slightly more than 16 acres — that makes red, white and sweet wines. Our Wine of the Day is Chateau Les Charmes-Godard 2014, Côtes de Francs, a white wine composed of 50 percent semillon grapes, 35 percent sauvignon gris and 15 percent sauvignon blanc. (The appellation is noted for the predominance of semillon in its white wines.) The estate keeps new oak to a minimum of 25 percent and does not put the white wines through malolactic. What a bargain-priced beauty this one is, and drinking perfectly at three years old. The color is mild straw-gold; aromas of red apple skin, lemongrass, lime peel and roasted lemon unfold scents of lemon balm and spiced pear; bright acidity lends the wine a fleet-footed air, cutting through a lovely talc-like but lithe and supple texture. A few minutes in the glass bring in hints of hay and green leafiness, with just a touch of fig in the limestone swathed finish. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 or ’20, properly stored. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

Imported by Fruit of the Vine, New York. A sample for review.

So, today is Thanksgiving + One, and all the fuss about what the hell are we going to drink with the Feast of Abundance and Gratitude is over, done, finito. I will, however, describe what we drank. We happen to like riesling with this gargantuan and multi-diverse meal, and looking through the wine fridge, I found what turned out to be a wonderful choice, the Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2013, from one of the most distinguished estates in Alsace, originally founded by Capuchin monks in 1612 but operated since 1898 by the Faller family. The color is pale straw-gold; arresting aromas of peach, pear and mango are permeated by notes of cloves, honey and hay, acacia, green apple and almond skin, with a background of slate and flint. The wine features superb definition and dimension, framed by incisive, crystalline acidity and profound limestone-and-flint minerality that bolster spare flavors of roasted lemon and spiced pear with a paradoxical hint of lemon curd for a sly element of richness; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of lilac and lime peel. Silky smooth, it’s quite dry on the palate and finishes with a boldly austere impression of august limestone minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. We were quite happy last night with this wine’s ability to bridge the often contradictory sensations that the Thanksgiving meal affords, as well as with the fairly glorious wine itself. Half a glass remained, which I finished this morning. Exceptional. About $40.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

… and it’s Beaujolais again. Looks as if I have a theme going here, but I promise that the sequence is coincidental. The Wine of the Day for this post is the Paul Durdilly et Fils “Les Grandes Coasses” Beaujolais 2016, the designation indicating the basic level in Beaujolais — under Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 cru Beaujolais — but belying that position in its intense and generous expression of the gamay grape. In fact, this example will make you rethink your evaluation of this basic category. The estate’s 30 acres of vines grow on limestone; the vineyards — 40 to 80 years old — are tended using sustainable practices. The grapes ferment with native yeast, and the wine ages in a combination of steel tanks and old large oak foudres. The color is bright purple-magenta shading to a transparent rim; the wine is fresh and appealing, lively and engaging; it features a compote of ripe and spicy blackberries and currants permeated by notes of violets and lavender and graphite, with undertones of smoke and tar. The wine is sleek, lithe, supple and quite delicious on the palate, animated by vigorous acidity and driven by a coalition of briers and brambles over a fleet-footed foundation of deft granitic minerality and slightly dusty tannins, all the while never losing sight of its focus on the principle of pure, ripe, drinkable pleasure. 12.5 percent alcohol. Astonishing detail and dimension for its class and price. Excellent. Prices range from about $11 to $15, making this wine an Amazing Freak-Ass Bargain.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review from the local distributor.

The Côtes de Gascogne vineyard region lies in — guess where? — Gascony, in southwest France, home of Armagnac and d’Artagnan and known as Aquitaine, the much-contested property of England from 1137 to 1453, that year marking the end of the Hundred Years’ War. Our Wine of the Day is a tasty quaffer, the Domaine La Salette Gascogne Blanc 2016, a blend of 80 percent colombard grapes, 10 percent gros manseng and 10 percent ugni blanc, made all in stainless steel. The color is very pale straw-gold, but there’s nothing pale or shy about the wine’s abundant aromas of hay and heather, thyme and lilac, lime peel, lemon and licorice. This is notably crisp, dry, vibrant and thirst-quenching, delivering bright acidity that drives expressive citrus and stone-fruit flavors through to a finish of limestone and seashell salinity. 12 percent alcohol. I don’t want to oversell this little beauty, but you should buy it by the case. Very Good+. Prices around the country range from $11 to $14, representing an Irresistible Value.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. A sample for review from the local distributor.


The grapes for the Stéphane Aviron Vieilles Vignes Chenas 2015, a cru Beaujolais wine, derive from a pre-phylloxera vineyard whose vines average 100 years old. Truly, the wine qualifies for the designation “Old Vines.” Made from 100 percent gamay grapes — there’s no blending in Beaujolais — the wine aged for 12 months in a combination of 1-year-old to 4-year-old French oak barrels, hence, no new oak. The color is dark ruby that shades to a transparent robe and magenta rim; immediately apparent are aromas of black currants, mulberries and plums, very spicy, slightly macerated and poached, or, to put the case differently, like a compote of black and blue fruit, all abetted by notes of lavender and violets, cloves and allspice, a few minutes in the glass bringing in hints of sage and bay. As befits a wine made from century-old vines, on the palate this Chenas is dense, dusty and concentrated, with plenty of appealing and suave ripe fruit flavors but also graphite-tinged tannins for structure and bright acidity for a lithe and chiseled texture. 13 percent alcohol. While drinking beautifully now, this Chenas could age a few years, say through 2022. I can see this wine snuggling right up to your Thanksgiving turkey. Excellent. About $21, representing Good Value.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.

Those who want to drink a wine that offers the aura of authority and authenticity need look no further than the riveting Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes Côte-de-Brouilly 2015, a Cru Beaujolais made by Nicole Chanrion from her 8.75-acre sustainably-farmed vineyard. When I write “made by,” I mean that Chanrion does everything herself, from plowing to pruning and other vineyard activities to carefully fashioning the wine in the chai. “Fashioning” is probably too strict a term to refer to Chanrion’s method; basically, she nurtures the wine and allows the gamay grapes and the vineyard to speak for themselves. The 50-year-old vines lie over blue schist stone and volcanic rock, and if ever a wine reflected the character of its geology, this one is it. Chanrion produces only 2,500 cases annually, divided between this one and a sparkling gamay. The domaine was founded in 1861. The grapes for the Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes Côte-de-Brouilly 2015 fermented by means of native yeasts, and the wine aged nine months in large oak foudres. The color is an intense purple-violet; evocative aromas of blackberries and currants, smoke, iodine and graphite are twined with hints of leather and bacon fat, with a back-note of mulberry. The wine is silky smooth and supple on the palate, energized by bright acidity that animates ripe, fervent and slightly exotic compote of black fruit permeated by dusty tannins and a touch of loam and ash. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’25. A Côte-de-Brouilly of gratifying personality and character. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $19 to $22, representing Extraordinary Value.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review. Label image from cellartracker.com.

The chenin blanc grape doesn’t get a lot of love in America, though it is widely planted, yet it’s a grape capable of making world-class wines, fit to stand among the ranks of chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc. The best examples occur in the grape’s homeground of the Loire Valley, particularly in the appellations of Anjou, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux de Layon, Quarts de Chaume, Saumur, Savennieres and Vouvray. Several of these areas devote their efforts to sweet wines of awesome dimensions, while others are dry — Savennieres — or produce a full range of styles, as in Vouvray. Our featured wine today is the dry Champalou Vouvray 2015, a delightful and reasonably priced chenin blanc — usually called pineau de la Loire in the region — from a house that practices sustainable agriculture and employs native yeasts in fermentation. The wine sees no oak, but ferments in stainless steel and rests in tank on the lees for 11 months. The vines for this wine average 35 years old. The color is pale gold; aromas of hay and heather, roasted lemon and spiced pear, quince and ginger draw you in enticingly, while a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of green tea and lemongrass, with hints, almost echoes, of fennel and celery seed. This is spare and dry on the palate, yet ripe with flavors of slightly baked stone-fruit, with a background of dusty mountain herbs and damp stones; bright acidity impels the wine to a bright, lightly honeyed, buoyantly bracing finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 or ’20. We drank this with last night’s dinner: baked cod with ginger and sesame and a field-pea ragu. Excellent. Average price around the country is about $20.

Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

The focus on cabernet franc nowadays aims at Argentina, where the grape is ubiquitous and too often of cookie-cutter quality. The original area where cabernet franc thrives as a single variety is France’s Loire Valley, particularly the appellations of Saumur, Bourgueil and Chinon. (The grape is also essential in Bordeaux, but as a factor in the blends, featured prominently on the Right Bank.) While the Alain de la Treille Chinon 2016, our Wine of the Day, doesn’t reach the profound heights and depths of which cabernet franc is capable in the hands of producers like Bernard Baudry, Charles Joguet and Olga Raffault, it offers true cab franc quality at a bargain price. The Alain de la Treille Chinon 2016, which sees no oak, offers a deep ruby-purple hue and penetrating aromas of blueberries, gravel and tar, with notes of raspberry and raspberry leaf, and a concentrated core of violets, black olives and bittersweet chocolate. These aspects segue smoothly into the mouth, where the wine displays plenty of silky tannins for structure, lip-smacking acidity that whets your taste-buds for another sip, and spicy black and blue fruit flavors. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke, leather and rosemary, with a touch of that herb’s slightly resinous character. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 or ’20 with braised short ribs or veal shanks, meat pies or just good old cheeseburgers. Excellent. About $19, representing Good Value.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.

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