France


My introduction to wine mainly occurred through reading books about wine and wine production, primarily centered of France’s storied Bordeaux region. That’s where the interest lay in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Learning about the legendary Bordeaux vintages of the past — 1900, 1928 and ’29, 1945 and ’47, 1959 and ’61 — certainly added to my knowledge about wine and whetted my appetite for experience, but the chances of actually encountering such wines, of course, was nil. Bordeaux doesn’t dominate the conversation as it once did, however, because the past few decades have seen a tremendous wave of diversity and change in the world’s wine industry, though the top properties in Bordeaux’s Right and Left Banks still demand high prices and receive the attention of the press and the auction houses. Very few people, though, will pay, say, $800 to $1,500 for a single bottle of wine, or even $200 to $500. The good news is that the region is filled with hundreds if not thousands of small estates that command not a lot of attention but are completely worthy of being investigated for their high quality and comparatively low prices. The wines under review today derive from properties located in what some would consider Bordeaux’s backwaters, appellations that may be familiar locally but scarcely get imported to these shores. These estates also exist at the forefront of contemporary thinking about Bordeaux wines. Most of these estates run on organic or biodynamic principles; most are family-owned and operated and pride themselves on their artisanal approach. They provided me — four whites and five reds — with a great deal of pleasure, and I urge My Readers to search them out.

These wines were samples for review.
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This 24-acre estate, the property of Corinne and Jean-Michel Comme, is operated strictly on biodynamic principles. Only native yeasts are used, and the wine sees no oak, aging four months on the lees in vats. Chateau du Champs des Treilles “Vin Passion” 2015, Sainte-Foy-Bordeaux, is a blend of one-third each sauvignon blanc, semillon and muscadelle. The effect is of impeccable clarity and purity, beginning with the very pale hue that evinces the merest shade of straw-gold, with a faint green tint; the primary notes are lime peel and tangerine, talc and lilac, with hints of leafy fig and peach; it’s very dry yet juicy in its citrus and stone-fruit flavors, lightly dusted with cloves and dried thyme and expanding into shelves of limestone and flint minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
Savio Soares Selections, Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Pierre Lurton owns two of the most august and authoritative properties in Bordeaux, Chateau Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion and Chateau d’Yquem in Sauternes. He is also proprietor of this 146-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers, which dedicates 121 acres to red grapes and 25 to white. Chateau Marjosse 2014, Entre-Deux-Mers, is a blend of 50 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon, 15 percent sauvignon gris and 5 percent muscadelle, fermented in cement and aged two months in French oak. The color is medium gold-yellow; this is all yellow fruit and flowers, like peaches and golden plums, honeysuckle and jasmine, with, in the background, a note of guava; as to minerality, it’s like drinking liquid quartz in its dryness, its scintillating glitter and its vibrant acidity. Alcohol content N/A. It’s quite attractive, but feels just a tad musky and funky, so drink by the end of 2017. Very Good+. About $16.
Peloton Imports, Naoa, Calif; Duclot La Vinicole, New York.
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Chateau Les Charmes-Godard is owned by the Thienpont family, which oversees a startlingly comprehensive roster of fine properties, including Vieux-Chateau-Certan and Le Pin in Pomerol. The 16-acre Les Charmes-Godard is far more humble than those prestigious estates but is operated on meticulous standards. Of the area under vines, only 2.5 acres is devoted to dry white wine. Chateau Les Charmes-Godard 2014, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux. is a blend of 65 percent semillon, 20 percent sauvignon gris and 15 percent muscadelle, fermented in oak and aged eight months, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old, one-third two years old. This is a pinpoint focused wine that offers a mild medium gold hue and lucid aromas of figs and tangerine, with the pertness of lime peel and the dusty richness of greengage; incisive acidity cuts a swath through a texture that deftly balances talc-like softness with crisp tartness. An indisputable limestone edge emerges from mid-palate back through the spare, chiseled finish. 13 percent alcohol. Terrific winemaking. I suspect that this wine possesses the tensile power and vitality to last beyond its immediate principle of pleasure, so drink through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
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Olivier Bernard, owner of the august Domaine de Chevalier in the Graves region, acquired Clos des Lunes with the intention of producing well-made and clos-des-lunes-lune-blanche-bordeaux-2014affordable dry white wines. The paradox is that the 136-acre estate lies in the heart of Sauternes, right next to Chateau d’Yquem, which arguably makes the best sweet wines in the world. (All right, among the best.) Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche 2014, Bordeaux, is an old-vine blend of 70 percent semillon and 30 percent sauvignon blanc, aged six or seven months in vats (70 percent) and oak barrels (30 percent). The wine displays a pale gold hue and offers beguiling aromas of lilac and talc, roasted lemon, with notes of ginger and quince, lemon grass and tangerine; it’s quite dry and spare on the palate, developing a profound element of limestone minerality, but also opening to touches of starfruit, papaya and grapefruit rind for a finish that’s both seductive and a bit austere. 13 percent alcohol. Great winemaking on view here. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $20, another Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.
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Chateau Mauvesin Barton is owned by Lilian Barton and Michel Sartorius, owners of Chateaux Leoville Barton and Langoa-Barton, classified growths in St.-Julien The 126-acre estate is run by their children Melanie and Damien. Chateau Mauvesin Barton 2012, Moulis-en-Medoc, is a blend of 48 percent merlot, 35 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in oak, one-third new barrels, one-third one-year old; one-third from two Leoville-Barton wines. The color is intense dark ruby shading to a transparent mulberry rim; an aura of dust, graphite and cedar encompasses concentrated, rooty and tea-like black currants and cherries. It’s a mouth-filling wine, robust and vibrant, and it pulls up more intensity as the moments pass, revealing a kind of meaty core touched with tapenade, fruit cake and violets. For all that, it manages to be quite tasty. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent, and a Great Value at about $21.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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Clos Puy Arnaud La Cuvee Bistrot de Puy Arnaud 2013, Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, is a blend of 70 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet bistr13_174x241franc, certified biodynamic. Seeing no oak, the grapes fermented and the wine aged three months in cement vats. A bright medium but transparent ruby hue presages the wine’s notion of freshness and drinkability; hints of red currants and cherries are light and tasty, while the wine unfolds a spicy and slightly fleshy aspect and notes of iodine and graphite, mint and cloves; clean acidity keeps the whole package lively and balanced. 12 percent alcohol. Exactly what you might drink in a bistro or cafe with a roasted chicken, steak frites or rabbit and pork terrine. Very good+. About $25. Charming as it may be, I would like this wine better at $18. Drink up; the ’14 is on the market.
Imported by Duclot La Vinicole, Manhasset, N.Y.
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I was supposed to receive the 2010 version of this wine, but got the 2008 instead, and I’m glad I did. We don’t often have the chance to try an eight-year-old red wine from Bordeaux, so this was instructive. And I’ll say that people who love the red wines of Bordeaux but don’t want to pay the gasp-inducing prices attached to the Big Names should consider buying Chateau Reignac by the case, for present and future drinking. The 200-acre estate in Entre-Deux-Mers is owned by Yves and Stephanie Vatelot. Thirty percent of the grapes are vinified in new oak barrels after cold maceration in stainless steel vats; 70 percent are vinified in wood and stainless steel. Chateau de Reignac 2008, Bordeaux Superieur, is a blend of 75 percent merlot, 25 percent cabernet sauvignon. The color is very dark and intense black-ruby with the slightest fading at the rim; notes of tobacco leaf, walnut shell and dried rosemary point toward the structural elements in this wine, finding a complement on the palate in dry, tightly focused tannins and sleek graphite-tinged minerality. The texture is lithe, supple and sinewy and supports concentrated, spicy black currant and cherry flavors showing a hint of plum. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2025 to ’28. Excellent. About $31.
Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc, Long Island City, N.Y.
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Paul Barre, owner of the 17-acre estate Chateau La Grave in Fronsac, was a pioneer of biodynamic practices in Bordeaux, having instituted la gravesuch methods to his vineyard 25 years ago. The word “chateau” carries many implications in the region, and at Chateau La Grave there is no 18th Century mansion; rather; rather, Barre, his wife and son and daughter-in-law live and work in a farmhouse in the midst of the vines. The vineyard is plowed by horse, the grapes are hand-harvested and only native yeasts are employed to start fermentation. Chateau La Grave 2011, Fronsac, is a blend of 66 percent merlot, 26 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent malbec. A very dark ruby robe shades to a bright magenta rim; there’s broad appeal and even charm here, in a wine that displays slightly fleshy, spiced and macerated black currants and raspberries in a dense, almost chewy texture bolstered by moderate tannins and vibrant acidity; it’s peppery and juicy on the palate, and as the moments pass, the wine acquires more substance and heft, through to a somewhat honed, graphite inflected finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $32.
Imported by Grand Cru Selections, New York. Image by Christine Havens.
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The vineyards at tiny Clos du Jaugueyron — 7.4 acres divided into 16 separate parcels — are certified organic and biodynamic. The Clos du jaugueyron Jaugueyron 2012, Haut-Medoc, is a blend of 53 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent merlot and 7 percent petit verdot, aged 12 months in French oak, 75 percent older barrels, 25 percent new. The color is dark ruby, with slight fading at the rim; the glass bursts with notes of mint and cedar, iodine and graphite and black fruit steeped in spiced black tea. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine takes on aspects of forest and loam and dry, well-knit tannins, animated by bright acidity. Granitic minerality in the finish feels chiseled and almost transparent. 12.5 percent alcohol. Beautifully fashioned and well-balanced for drinking through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $36
Imported by Selection Massale, Oakland, Calif.
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It’s well-known that the principle grapes of Alsace, the most Germanic region of France, are riesling and gewurztraminer, but the area also produces, in an achievement of brilliant rarity, wine from all three “pinot” grapes: pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. That line-up could be reproduced, perhaps, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and other cool regions, but the microclimates would have to be fairly specific. Anyway, here are reviews of a pinot blanc, a pinot gris and a pinot noir, made by a trio of venerable estates in Alsace. Very interesting is the oak regimen, because there’s scarcely any oak here, especially not new oak, and certainly none was needed. These products, each 100 percent varietal, are delicious and appealing transition wines from Winter into Spring, marrying the savor of the chilly months to the delicacy of the vernal equinox.

These wines were samples for review.
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Domaine Paul Blanck dates back to the 17th century. The vineyards are tended by organic principles and see no chemicals. The estate’s entry in this roster, the Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2015, Alsace, was made all in stainless steel. The color is shimmering pale gold; what a lovely amalgam of fruit, flowers and spice this is, displaying notes of pear and quince, golden raspberries and yellow plums, green apple, apple blossom and cloves, in a seamless relationship flowing between nose and palate. The texture is lithe and lively, buoyed by bright acidity and a gently burgeoning element of limestone minerality. Really pretty. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
Imported by Skurnick Wines, New York.
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Many wineries boast about the age of their vineyards, saying, for example, that such and such a wine came from 40-year-old vines. In the case of the Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2014, Alsace, the wine aged in 40-year-old barrels, for eight months. I would like to see those esteemed elders among oak barrels; can you imagine the great wines they nurtured over the decades? Anyway, this estate’s origins lie in 1620; it is now operated on biodynamic principles. This whole effort feels purely golden, from its attractive burnished gold hue to its scents and flavors of slightly baked peaches and pears and quince, accented by ginger and cloves; though a completely dry wine, it feels a bit honeyed in its juicy richness and a bit smoky, but remains spare and elegant overall, enlivened by bright acidity and given just a hint of a limestone edge on the finish. A beautiful wine. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’24, if the wine is stored well and undisturbed. Excellent. About $26.
Imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits, Purchase, N.Y.
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The Schlumberger family purchased this estate in 1810; it is now operated by the sixth and seventh generations. The Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbés Pinot Noir 2014, Alsace, aged eight months in old wooden foudres, being large barrels of variable capacities but often 500 hectoliters or more, which is to say, about 13,200 gallons. Don’t look for a dark, rich Burgundian style pinot noir from this effort. The color is a transfixing transparent ruby-garnet; delicate aromas of red raspberries and cherries, lightly spiced, open to notes of potpourri and violets, dried currants and sandalwood; it’s an Audrey Hepburn of a wine that exhibits fine bones, a dry, lean and spare texture, a slightly resinous aura and a finish awash with hints of graphite, smoke and underbrush. Consumed with pork schnitzel and cucumber salad, we loved it. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 or ’20. Excellent. About $26.
Imported by Maison Marques & Domaines USA, Oakland, Calif.
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Domaine Jessiaume must be unique in Burgundy. Its owner, Keith Murray, is a Scot. Its director, Megan McClure, is American. And the cote de beaunewinemaker is a Frenchman with a Belgian surname, William Waterkeyn. The domaine, headquartered in Santenay (population 836), consists of 9 hectares of Premier Cru and Village vineyard– slightly more than 22 acres — located in Santenay, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay and Auxey-Duresses, all in the Côte de Beaune region. Côte de Beaune is the southern half of the narrow ridge that is Burgundy, the northern part being the Côte de Nuits. Because the soil of the Côte de Beaune is more varied, more white wine is made there than in the Côte de Nuits, which is about 90 percent red. The grapes, of course, are chardonnay and pinot noir. The Murray family acquired Domaine Jessiaume from the seventh generation of its founders in 2007. The work to improve the estate includes eliminating the negociant arm and gradually shifting into total organic farming. Only native yeasts are employed, and new oak is held to a minimum. These three wines — samples for review — represent what I love most about the pinot noirs of Burgundy, a sense of delicacy married to purity of fruit and intensity of structure. The prices are irresistible. When many Premier Cru wines, admittedly from illustrious appellations, now cost $75 to $200, these models can be had for $42 and $45. They are more than worth the prices. The wines of Domaine Jessiaume are imported to this country by MS Walker, Norwood Mass.
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Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Premier Cru La Comme 2014 aged 12 months in French oak, 33 percent new barrels, followed by 3 months in santenaystainless steel tanks. It displays an absolutely beautiful limpid, transparent medium ruby hue and scents and flavors of red cherries and currants; it’s quite dry but juicy with spice-inflected red fruit and enticing with an ethereal presence that does not discount a burgeoning tide of brambly-foresty tannins and fleet acidity that cuts a swath through the lithe, supple texture. The balance is lovely, with an emphasis on spareness and elegance. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 73 cases. Now through 2021 to’24. Excellent. About $42.
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Slightly less oak goes into making the Domaine Jessiaume Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru Les Ecussaux 2014 than was used in the previous auxeywine, that is, 12 months, 29 percent new French barrels, following by three months in stainless steel. The color is a totally transparent medium ruby hue; the wine features notes of red and black cherries and currants, lightly inflected with cloves, briers and brambles and a hint of loam. The wine is bright and lively, offering pert black and red fruit highlighted by touches of melon and sour cherry in a lithe, sinewy, vibrant structure. The sense is of innate energy and dimension held in check by the limitless powers of charm and delicacy. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2019 to ’22. Production was 174 cases. Very Good+. About $42.
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For three more dollars, you get, in the Domaine Jessiaume Beaune Premier Cru Les Cent Vignes 2014, a wine that I consider the epitome of beaunethe Burgundian style. Nothing over-extracted here, nothing emphatic, fat or fleshy or overdone, but the perfection of balance between power and elegance, between the ethereal and the earthy. The wine spent 15 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels, followed by two months in stainless steel. The color is a ravishing, ephemeral ruby-mulberry hue; red and black cherries and currants feel permeated by notes of briers, brambles and loam, with a hint of cloves and a touch of ground cumin that lends an air of intrigue. The wine is lithe, sinewy and silky smooth on the palate, where acidity cuts a swath and it flirts with a ferrous-sanguinary character. A sense of the granitic vineyard pulses through the wine, giving it a quality of precisely measured and honed dynamism that animates the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. I could drink this one every night, but only 300 cases were produced. Best from 2018 or ’19 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $45.
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Roussillon lies within the great curve where the French Mediterranean coastline aims south at Spain. Technically part of the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region that stretches from Provence in the east to the Pyrenees in the west, Roussillon nestles within a rugged languedocamphitheater of dry hills that do not detract from the charm of the landscape and its isolated villages. This is primarily red wine territory, though rose wines and vins doux naturels are well-known; there is little white wine. Vines were first planted some 3,000 years ago by Greek sailors, who did so much to bring wine and civilization to the distant shores of the inland sea. The harsh terrain and uncompromising sunny Mediterranean climate, spurred by the northwest wind called Tramontane, make this ideal territory for Rhone Valley red grapes like grenache and mourvedre, especially in the valley of the Agly river and in the small enclave called La Tour de France. Roussillon has had to overcome a reputation as a hotbed for cheap, acidic wines fostered by overproduction and plantations in inappropriate climats, but the past 30 years or so, with the influx of a new generation of winemakers and more thoughtful vineyard methods, has brought great success. I find it interesting that among the five wines considered today, the use of new oak is negligible, while even aging in barrels at all is kept to a minimum. The result is wines that express the spirit of the grapes from which they are made, though in a couple of these examples, high alcohol mutes the effect. These wines were samples for review.
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Chateau Saint-Roch “Kerbuccio” 2014, Maury sec, is a blend of 60 percent grenache and 20 percent each syrah and mourvedre that aged no more than nine months in 70 percent concrete vats, 30 percent 500-liter barrels, that is, about twice the size of a standard barrique. The color, if that’s the right word, is as opaque as motor oil, shading, if that’s the right word, to a violet rim; the wine bursts with notes of ripe blackberries and currants, with a touch of juicy plums and a hint of blueberry tart, all permeated by lavender and graphite, leather and tar. It’s fairly plush with dusty, velvety tannins riven by bright acidity devolving to a keen mineral edge, these elements comfortably supporting delicious spicy black and blue fruit flavors. 15 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Eric Solomon, European Cellars, Charlotte, N.C.
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Domaine La Tour Vieille “La Pinede” 2014, Collioure, is a blend of 70 percent grenache with a mixed 30 percent mourvedre and carignan, collioure
according to the back label, OR 75 percent grenache and 25 percent carignan, according to the technical material I received. The wine received very traditional treatment, with hard-harvesting and destemming and foot treading; it saw no oak, only concrete vats. The color is glowing medium ruby; notes of red cherries and currants are darkened by hints of cherry pits and skins and touches of cloves, briers and brambles. The wine is spare, lithe and dry, yet displays, beyond those basic virtues, a riveting personality of earthy, foresty qualities, graphite minerality, dried fruit and spices, leather and vivid acidity that it seems an epitome of a style and place. When we finished this bottle, LL said, “Do you have a case of it?” Alas, no. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $21.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif.
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I am not privy to the percentages of the blend for the Bila-Haut “L’esquerda” 2013, Cotes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde — even the bilahautlesquerda2013frontimporter’s website doesn’t reveal this information –but not surprisingly the grapes involved are syrah, grenache and carignan. The wine ages 90 percent in cement vats, 10 percent in oak barrels. The color is an almost eerie glowing dark ruby with a nuclear violet rim, while the bouquet seethes with notes of cloves, allspice and sandalwood, woven through floral-tinged aromas of very ripe blackberry, currant and plum; this is very dry red wine, solid and robust, stuffed with dust and graphite and revealing touches of tar and forest floor in the depths, all sustained by bright acidity. 14% alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $21.
An R. Shack Selection for HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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The flaw in the Hecht & Bannier Cotes du Roussillon Village 2011 is that it feels more Californian in size and depth than its origins in the south of France would dictate. The wine is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 15 percent syrah and 10 percent each mourvedre and carignan; it aged in oak demi-muids of 500 liters (40 percent), barriques (30 percent) and cement vats (30 percent). In the glass, the wine is an opaque black-purple with a lighter purple rim; boy, this one pours out the rich, spicy, macerated black fruit scents and flavors, with notes of roasted plums, lavender, toasted herbs and bitter chocolate. Tannins are plush and chewy, while a lithe supple texture paves the way for a graphite-packed finish. 15 percent alcohol. It’s all a bit too much. Drink now through 2019 to ’21. Very Good+. About $22.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The Agly Brothers Cotes du Roussillon 2010 — the current vintage on the market — is a collaboration between Michel Chapoutier, owner of agly B 10the well-known Rhone producer M. Chapoutier, and Ron Laughton, owner of Jasper Hill of Victoria, Australia. (Chapoutier also owns the Bila-Haut estate mentioned above.) The wine is composed of one-third each carignan, grenache and syrah grapes cultivated on bio-dynamic principles; it fermented in cement vats and aged 16 to 20 months in French oak, one to three years old. This is one of those wines that feels unusual, individual and special from the first sniff and sip. It’s an opaque black-purple hue that lightens a bit to a glowing magenta rim; the initial impression is of a wine permeated by ripe, roasted, fleshy and meaty elements of spiced and macerated black currants, blueberries and plums; a few minutes in the glass bring out exotic notes of potpourri and violets, licorice and sandalwood, tobacco leaf and wood smoke; an arrow of profound graphite minerality and vibrant acidity penetrates the wine from beginning to end, bolstering the presence of dusty, velvety tannins and a rigorous underbrush and forest character. You feel the alcohol a bit on the finish; that’s the only flaw in an otherwise stylish, impeccable and impressive performance. 15.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $40.
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Settling down to a lunch of duck and rabbit terrine, perhaps? A lamb chop? A roasted game bird? Or maybe just a plate of perfect cheese GD_Domaine_Moulin_A_Vent_De_La_Vigne_Romaine-LABELtoast? (The latter more likely, of course.) Open a bottle of the Domaine de la Vigne Romaine Moulin-a-Vent 2015, from the ubiquitous Beaujolais producer George Duboeuf. Made in a small quantity from gamay vines that average 50 years old, this A.O.C. Cru Beaujolais aged eight months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and one-year-old French oak casks; no new wood, no small barrels. The color is a riveting opaque blue-black-violet that displays a glowing rim; it’s pure gamay in its pungent aromas of blackberries and black currants etched by cloves, smoke and graphite, with a special ripeness of raspberries and mulberries in the depths. Give the wine a few minutes and it conjures notes of tar and forest, lavender and black cherry licorice, all encompassed in a lithe, silky texture and dry, slightly raspy tannins. Frankly, a joy to drink now but a wine that will benefit from a brief hibernation, say until 2018 or ’20 through 2024 or ’25. Production was 300 cases. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

Valentine’s, the most fraught day of the year, when everybody in America is going to be as romantic as hell or die trying, and what’s more loveromantic than that? In case you — meaning any person of whatever gender fluidity, age, religion, political stance, food preference or IQ — forgot to lay in a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, here is a brief roster of examples, all Brut Rosés, that register at various levels of delectability on the palate and dent-free on the pocketbook; in other words, delicious and not too expensive. (I understand that “expensive” is a relative concept.) Though actual Champagne is not included here, that is, bubbly made exclusively in the Champagne region of France, these models are produced in the famed “Champagne method” of second fermentation in the bottle, the same bottle it will be sold in, after some length of time resting on the lees in said bottle before being finished with the cork and wire. The process is a tad more complicated, of course, but I’m into simplification today so I can get a bottle of sparkling wine into your hands before it’s too late. Two of these selections are from France — Loire Valley and Burgundy — and two from California — Russian River and Napa-Carneros. So, drink up, have fun, dance a step or two and give him or her or him/her a smooch for me.

Credit: Leslie Barron, Big Love, acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 by 48 inches. Courtesy of L Ross Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee.
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De Chanceny Brut Rosé nv, Crémant de Loire, is a product of Alliance Loire, a cooperative founded in 2002 to take advantage of vineyard 17385--de-chanceny-cremant-de-loire-rose-brut-label-1426983098connections that range from Muscadet in the west to the appellations of Touraine in the center. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, aged on the lees at least 12 months. The color is an attractive pale copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry are touched with the slight astringency of mulberry, fleshed out by orange zest and a hint of cloves. This Crémant de Loire is dry, crisp and lively, animated by pert acidity and a deft limestone edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Truly charming. Very Good+. I paid $15 locally, but prices around the country vary from about $13 to $19; don’t pay that much, My Readers.

Signature Imports, Mansfield, Mass.
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Founded in 1831, Domaine Albert Bichot produces Burgundy wines that encompass the complete geographical and hierarchical aspects of the region. Today, however, we look not at any of the domaine’s Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines but at its quite satisfying non-vintage Albert Bichot Brut Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, composed of chardonnay, pinot noir and gamay grapes. The color is pale copper-pink, the essential bubbles active and energetic. Notes of blood orange, cloves, tangerine and red cherry are given a serious touch by an element of limestone minerality. It’s quite dry but displays lovely bones and a deceptive quality of tensile strength. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

European Wine Imports, Cleveland, Ohio. A sample for review.
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The J Vineyard Brut Rosé nv, Russian River Valley, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it aged two years en tirage, that is, on the lees in the bottle. This is all flushes, blushes and nuances, from its very pale copper-sunset hue, to its slightly fleshy, subtly ripe notes of orange zest, raspberry and lemon rind touched with almond skin, to its steely, chiseled structure. The bubbles, however, are nothing discrete, being a dynamic upward surge like a fountain. This sparkling wine is elegant and fine-boned, finishing with an intriguing hint of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.
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The Frank Family Vineyard Brut Rosé 2012, Napa Valley-Carneros, a blend of 76 percent pinot noir and 24 percent chardonnay, offers a pale copper hue flushed with rose-petal pink; the tiny bubbles teem like a glinting tempest in the glass. This is a focused and intense sparkling wine that displays burnished notes of blood orange and tangerine, red raspberries and currants wrapped in a package of lightly toasted brioche and limestone steeliness, managing to be both generous and austere. Lip-smacking acidity and effervescence and scintillating minerality keep it appealing and dynamic, while innate elegance makes it lithe and attractive. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $55.

A sample for review.
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The sparkling wine Crémant de Bourgogne may be made from any of the grape varieties allowed in Burgundy, meaning predominantly chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir, but including gamay and pinot blanc. The product must be fashioned in the “Champagne method” of second fermentation cremant de bourgogne mapin the bottle it’s sold in. The Crémant de Bourgogne appellation is extensive, reaching from Chablis down through Burgundy proper, Chalonnaise, Mâconnais and Beaujolais and encompassing 365 communes in four départménts. Grapes intended for Crémant de Bourgogne are generally cultivated separately from grapes that go into the great village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines of Burgundy and Chablis; that land is too precious and those grapes too expensive to sideline into sparkling wine, though that was often the practice at great estates before 1975, when the appellation regulations were laid down. Until 1975, the product was known as Borgogne Mousseux. A great deal of Crémant de Bourgogne is produced by cooperatives or by estates that specialize in effervescence; on the other hand, some of Burgundy’s best-known domaines, such as Yves Boyer-Martenot, Duc de Magenta and Jean-Noel Gagnard, still engage in the practice. In truth, many domaines are so small that they don’t have room for producing Crémant.

The house we look at today is Domaine Louis Picamelot, founded in 1926 in Rully, a village — population about 600 — in the Côte Chalonnaise. The domaine is still in family hands, in the third generation, but run by sons-in-law. Picamelot draws chardonnay, aligoté and pinot noir grapes from its own 10 hectares of vineyards in Côte Chalonnaise and Côte de Beaune but also from vineyards under long-term contracts reaching from Beaujolais to Chatillonnais, a region (not an appellation) lying between Chablis and the Côte d’Or that contributes heavily to Crémant de Bourgogne. I found the four examples from Picamelot reviewed here to be beautifully made, very sophisticated and mostly worthy of giving lower-priced Champagne — or higher-priced, for that matter — a run for its money. The sparkling wines of Domaine Louis Picamelot are imported by Ansonia Wines, Newton, Massachusetts. These wines were samples for review. Map of Crémant de Bourgogne from bourgogne-wines.com, a very informative website.
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louis-picamelot_210
The medium straw-gold Louis Picamelot Le Terroirs Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 57 percent pinot noir, 32 percent chardonnay and 11 percent aligoté, aged at least 12 months on the lees. Elements of limestone and seashell surround notes of baked lemons and pears that open to stone-fruit compote, cloves, heather and toffee; it’s surprisingly dense and viscous on the palate, gathering an array of mineral-tinged textural elements and glimpses of yellow fruit that neatly balance bright acidity with a slightly creamy nature. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
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louis-picamelot_208
Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, the Louis Picamelot Les Terroirs Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, aged at least 12 months in the bottle on the lees; the grapes came from vineyards in the Côte Chalonnaise. The color is pale salmon-copper; energetic bubbles stream upward in a steady surge. Aromas of raspberry, peach and orange peel open to hints of raspberry leaf and cinnamon bread, over a limestone and steel character; on the palate, this is fine-boned and tensile, slightly briery, clean and elegant while offering a dynamic veracity of bright acid and a scintillating mineral element. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $24.
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louis-picamelot_156
The Louis Picamelot Terroir de Chazot Blanc de Noir Brut, nv, Crémant de Bourgogne, is also 100 percent pinot noir, this from a designated vineyard situated on the higher hillsides of St. Aubin in the Côte de Beaune. It aged at least 18 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, while the persistent stream of tiny bubbles is satisfying and exhilarating. Notes of roasted lemon and pear nectar open to hints of tangerine and lime peel, almond skin and lightly buttered cinnamon toast and a sort of fragile seashell-limestone element of chiseled minerality. That honed and hewn quality persists on the palate, where its chalk and flint character defines a spare, elegant package of lovely nuance and subtlety. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.
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louis-picamelot_164
The Louis Picamelot Cuvée Jean Baptiste Chautard Brut 2012, Crémant de Bourgogne, is a blend of 77 percent chardonnay and 23 percent aligoté, qualifying as a blanc de blancs. A pale gold hue is animated by a teeming torrent of frothing bubbles; it’s a clean, spare, elegant sparkling wine that features notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears with undertones of quince and ginger, chalk and lightly toasted brioche. This builds character and substance in the glass, layering pertinent limestone minerality with brisk acidity and hints of baked stone-fruit flavors, all wrapped in a lively effervescent nature that doesn’t emphasize any element unduly; balanced yet exciting. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $38.
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chateau-la-freynelle-blanc-bordeaux-france-10597961
Here’s a bargain in a Bordeaux blanc, a category in which sauvignon blanc grapes are usually blended with semillon and muscadelle and in whatever degree the terroir, the vintage and the winemaker decide, though muscadelle is often omitted. The winemaker in this case is Véronique Barthe, whose family has owned the property in Entre-Deux-Mers since 1789, that fateful year in French history. Chateau La Freynelle 2015, Bordeaux, is a blend of 60 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent semillon and 10 percent muscadelle. The wine displays a pale straw-gold hue and offers pert aromas of lime peel, grapefruit, pea shoot and gooseberry, with notes of lilac and violets gradually and genially emerging; hints of lemon balm and a slight waxy quality increase the attractive powers. It’s very clean, bright and fresh on the palate, and the combination of stone-fruit and citrus flavors — think delicate peach and tangerine — are heightened by a leafy-figgy aspect and a lovely talc-like texture, the whole package enlivened by brisk acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2017 with oysters just shucked from the shell, grilled mussels, shrimp or chicken salad; it would serve as a terrific picnic wine when the weather permits. Very Good+. About $13, though prices around the country range from about $11 to $15.

Imported by Aquitaine Wines USA, Berkeley, Calif. A sample for review.

Limoux is a wine region in Languedoc, lying about 40 miles south of the walled city of Carcassonne, in the foothills of the French Pyrénées. It encompasses four AOCs, three for sparkling wine and one, more recently defined, for red wine made predominantly from merlot. The major white grape of the area is the indigenous mauzac, followed by chenin blanc and chardonnay. Apparently, Limoux bertrandis the site of the first sparkling wines fashioned by second fermentation in the bottle, precisely dated, by historians, to 1531 and therefore preceding its discovery in Champagne. Whatever the case, Limoux is a source for delightful sparkling wines generally available at reasonable prices. Such a one is the Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” 2013, Crémant de Limoux, a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 15 percent chenin blanc, 10 percent mauzac and 5 percent pinot noir. Why “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson”? Because when that most Francophile of American presidents died, the only sparkling wines found in his cellar were from — guess! — Limoux. The color is pale straw-gold, somewhat like Rapunzel’s hair, I should guess. A pretty and persistent surge of tiny bubbles animates the proceedings, while aromas of roasted lemon, lemon balm and baked pear entice the nose; a few moments is the glass unfold notes of jasmine and almond skin and touches of hay and heather. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine displays a flinty notion of limestone minerality as edgy yet fragile as a seashell, an example of vivid tensile power married to thoughtful delicacy. O.K., let’s not overplay this; what I chiefly mean is that the Gérard Bertrand “Cuvée Thomas Jefferson” 2013, Crémant de Limoux, is a real charmer that offers a lithe and scintillating scale of mineral-and-acid texture and structure. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018. Excellent. Prices around the country run from about $16 to $21.

Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review from the local distributor.

The ancient city of Cahors lies on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the River Lot, in southwest France. It was originally an Pont_valentre_lot_1outpost for the Cadurci people, the last of the Celtic tribes to resist the invading Romans armies around 50 B.C. Divona Cadurcorum, as it was called, became a major Roman city and developed economically and culturally through the Roman period and to end of the Middle Ages. Its dark red wine was exported through the Dordogne river and up the Gironde past Bordeaux — and around Europe — when that town was still emerging from the marshes. In a region known for its quaint and charming towns and villages, Cahors is one of the most quaint and charming of them all, filled, as it is, with remnants of Roman buildings and monuments and by a density of half-timbered Medieval structures. It’s three-towered Pont Valentré (1308-1378) is among the world’s most beautiful stone bridges.

The Cahors AOC applies only to red wines, made primarily — at least 70 percent — from the malbec grape, known locally as auxerrois. The vineyards are laid out west of the city, on terraces formed by the centuries-long meanderings of the Lot. The first terrace, along the river banks, is inappropriate for cultivation, so the vineyards tend to be planted on the second, third and fourth terraces. Like Bordeaux, Cahors is heavily influenced by the climate and winds of the Atlantic Ocean; unlike Bordeaux, it also receives, mainly in September and October, influence from the Mediterranean winds. The soil is silt-clay over Kimmeridgian limestone.

The wines under consideration today were produced by Chateau Lagrezette, a property dating back to 1503 that was acquired in 1980 by Alain Dominique Perrin, whose name is a by-word in the world of luxury goods for his steering of the development of Cartier International and his creation of the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. Perrin poured immense sums into the restoration of the 15th Century castle at Lagrezette and the replanting and renovation of the vineyards and winery. Winemaker since 2007 has been Cedric Blanc; consulting enologist is the ubiquitous Michel Rolland.

The wines of Chateau Lagrezette are imported into the U.S.A. by Curious Cork Importers, Napa, Calif., and Denver, Colo. Image of the Pont Valentré from www.par-monts-et-par-vaux.eu. These wines were samples for review.
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lagrezette marguerite
The youngest of this quartet of malbec wines and from the youngest vines, the Chateau Lagrezette Clos Marguerite 2012 is a robust (but not rustic) wine that aged 16 months in 40 percent new oak barrels, 40 percent one-year-old and 20 percent two years old. It features a vibrant dark ruby color and pointed scents and flavors of plums, raspberries and fruitcake bolstered by fairly rigorous, dusty, graphite-laden tannins with undercurrents of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. It is, in other words, a finely balanced feat of power and poise, and a fount of gushing black and red fruit flavors nicely restrained by structure. Now through 2022 to 2026. Production was 416 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
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lagrezette dame
The Chateau Lagrezette Cuvée Dame Honneur 2011, Cahors, includes 5 percent merlot in the blend; it aged 20 months in new French oak barrels. The color is inky purple, an aspect that feels mirrored in the wine’s pungent notes of smoked plums, mint and cedar, licorice and lavender; as the moments pass, say an hour or two, the wine grows increasingly floral, in the violets, rose petals and lilac range, and takes on more depth of ripe and spicy black and red berry fruit. It’s a succulent wine, dense, silky and lithe on the palate, though any sense of luxury is strictly tempered by a profound element of graphite minerality and surging acidity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2021 to ’26. Production was 2,784 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $45.
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lagrezette 1
A true vin de garde, the Chateau Lagrezette Cru d’Exception 2009, Cahors, show every sign of aging capability through, say, 2021 to 2026 or ’30. The wine is a blend of 87 percent malbec, 12 percent merlot and 1 percent tannat, aged 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak barrels. The color is a dark but radiant ruby hue; the whole tenor of the wine resonates with ferrous and sanguinary elements of iron, iodine and beef-blood, with subsidiary notes of black tea, mint, forest floor, briers and brambles. Scents and flavors of blackberries, blueberries and mulberries feel deeply spiced and macerated, taking a cue from swingeing acidity and a profound graphite/granitic mineral quality. One feels, it seems, the limestone-laced soil upon which the vineyard lies. Drink now through 2022 to 2029. Production was 7,000 cases, obviously the most accessible of these four wines. Excellent. About $45.
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lagrezette pigeonnier
Le Pigeonnier, named for an ancient dovecote on the estate, is the flagship wine of Lagrezette. The Chateau Lagrezette Le Pigeonnier 2011, Cahors, is 100 percent malbec from 35 to 40-year-old vines, aged 28 months in new French oak barrels. The color — if that word is applicable — is totally opaque, with a faint glimmer of purple at the rim; it’s a deep, ripe, rich and spicy wine in every sense, but framed by intense flinty-graphite minerality, rigorous acidity and profoundly dense, dusty tannins. It’s also, paradoxically, bright and lively and feels young at just over five years old. The blackberry-currant-blueberry aspects teem with notes of iodine and mint, cloves and allspice, lavender and licorice and bittersweet chocolate that unfurl an exotic flair of cumin and ancho chili. The finish offers a chiseled edge of limestone, and the whole package glitters darkly like earthen ore. 14.5 percent alcohol. Brilliant winemaking. Drink now through 2025 to ’30, or, you know, it could be immortal. Production was 1,070 six-bottle cases. Exceptional. About $250.
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