France


I was jesting a few days ago when I posted my “50 Great Wines of 2014″ and urged people to get their shopping lists ready. Obviously not many consumers are going to make note of a hundred-dollar cabernet sauvignon or a strictly limited, hard to find grenache gris. Here, though, is the roster that you’ve been waiting for, the “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2014,” a list of fairly widely available, well-made wines that will not but a strain on your budget. You will notice that a wine doesn’t have to be expensive to earn an Excellent rating. Seventeen of these products, priced from $10 to $20 have Excellent ratings; the rest are Very Good+. Not a one would you regret buying, some of them by the case. Now that fact that a number of these wines are from 2011 and 2012 means that they probably ought to be consumed quickly, especially the white wines and rosés; most of the reds can go for a year or two. The point is that these are terrific over-achieving wines that offer more personality and complexity than their prices might imply. The order is descending cost. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review. This post is the seventh of 2015 on BTYH.
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Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $20.
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Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace, France. Variable blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay. Excellent. About $19.
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Nieto Senetier Nicanor Blend 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 34 percent cabernet sauvignon, 33 percent malbec, 33 percent merlot. Excellent. About $19.
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Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, nv, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. Excellent. About $18.
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McCay Cellars Rosé 2013, Lodi. Old vine carignane with some grenache. Production was 253 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. Excellent. About $18.
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Jean Ginglinger Cuvée George Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $17.
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Livon Pinot Grigio 2013, Collio, Italy. Excellent. About $17.
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J Pinot Gris 2013, California. Excellent. About $16.
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Prazo de Roriz 2010, Douro, Portugal. Tinta barroca 37%, “old vines” 18%, touriga nacional 16%, touriga franca 15%, tinta amarela 7%, tinta cao 7%. Excellent. About $16.
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Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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CVNE Monopole 2013, Rioja Blanco, Spain. 100 percent viura grapes. Very Good+ verging on Excellent. About $15.
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Fratelli Chianti 2011, Toscana, Italy. 100% sangiovese. Very Good+. About $15.
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Domaine Les Aphillanthes Rosé 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. Cinsault, grenache, counoise, mourvèdre. Excellent. About $14.
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Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc 2011, Western Cape, South Africa. Excellent. About $14.
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Dry Creek Fumé Blanc 2013, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $14.
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Palacios de Bornos Verdejo 2013, Rueda, Spain. 100 percent verdejo grapes. Excellent. About $14.
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Stemmari Dalila 2012, Bianco Terre Siciliane, Italy. 80 percent grillo grapes, 20 percent viognier, Excellent. About $14.
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Wolfberger Pinot Blanc 2013, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $14.
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Aia Vecchia Vermentino 2013, Toscana, Italy. With 5 percent viognier grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Pedroncelli Signature Selection Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $12.
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Li Veli Passamante 2012, Salice Salentino, Italy. 100% negroamaro grapes. Very Good+. About $12.
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Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, California. With 15 percent merlot, 3 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $11.
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Mandolin Chardonnay 2012, Monterey County. Very Good+. About $10.
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Tres Ojos Garnacha 2011, Calatayud, Spain. 85 percent grenache, 7 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, 1 percent syrah. Very Good+. About $10.
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Unbate your breath, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” entry, this edition for 2014. I posted to BiggerThanYourHead 135 times in 2014 and reviewed 582 wines. These 50 Great Wines represent 8.6 percent of the wines I reviewed last year. How do I choose the 50 wines for this honor? First, any wine that I rated Exceptional automatically gets a berth in the roster. After that, the selection process involves going back over every post, looking at the reviews of the wines that received an Excellent rating, reading the notes again and looking for the words or phrases signifying that I felt a wine was exciting, provocative, intriguing, highly individual. You can be sure that this list probably isn’t definitive; how could such a selection of wines be? I cut from the field many wines that could easily have been included, but the limit is 50 and they had to be sacrificed. Even as I clicked on the “Publish” button on WordPress I thought, “Oh no, how could I leave out ……?”

Going through these wines, many of My Readers may cry “Foul!” because some of them were produced in severely limited quantities, but that’s often the case with great wines. Think of the situation as a challenge wherein you face a sort of scavenger hunt in tracking such wines down. Some of these wines were made by well-known winemakers for prominent wineries or estates; others are far more obscure, but I enjoy bringing attention to young, small, family-owned and -operated properties that otherwise might not receive the exposure they deserve. The usual suspect grapes are included, of course — chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir — but you will also find on this list proponents of trousseau gris and grenache gris, carignane and cinsault, crafted by brave pioneers of the unusual, even rare grapes. With one exception — the Dolce 2005 — these products are the current releases from their wineries, or close to it. I think all of them were samples for review or were tasted at the property. I hope this list of 50 Great Wines inspires you to look for the ones that capture your interest and to try wines you never encountered before. Prices, by the way, range from about $22 to $120. Coming in a few days will be my annual list of 25 Great Bargain Wines $20 and Under.
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Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sonoma Valley. With 7 percent petit verdot. 1,475 cases. Exceptional. About $70.
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Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Elevation 950 Feet Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $75.
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Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. With 17 percent petit verdot. From Michael Mondavi. Excellent. About $85.
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d’Arenberg The Other Side Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 96-year-old vines. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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d’Arenberg Tyche’s Mustard Shiraz 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14% alc. 200 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $85.
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Battenfeld Spanier Mölsheim Riesling 2012, Rheinhessen, Germany. Exceptional. About $23.
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Blair Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 481 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. 55% roussanne, 26% grenache blanc, 19% picpoul. 1,965 cases. Exceptional. About $28.
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Bonny Doon Cuvée R Grenache 2012, Monterey County. 593 cases. Excellent. About $48.
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Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $28.
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Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $120.
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Cenyth 2009, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 47% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 10% cabernet franc, 8% petit verdot, 7% malbec. The debut release from this collaboration between Julia Jackson, daughter of the late Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, and Helene Seillan, daughter of Pierre Seillan, winemaker of Verité. Exceptional. About $60.
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Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, France. 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Exceptional. About $85.
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Clos Saron Out of the Blue, 2013, Sierra Foothills. 90 percent cinsault, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent graciano. (The cinsault vines planted in 1885.) 170 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. With 10% merlot. 470 cases. Exceptional. About $80.
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Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. 361 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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Dolce 2005, Napa Valley. 90 percent semillon, 10 percent sauvignon blanc. A majestic dessert wine. Exceptional. About $85 for a half-bottle.
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Gewürztraminer 2012, Alto Adige, Italy. Exceptional. About $32.
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The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 261 cases. Exceptional. About $33.
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FEL Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $38.
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Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Mokelumne River, Lodi. 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Gallegos Boekenoogen Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 250 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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Idlewild Grenache Gris 2013, Mendocino County. 230 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneto du Lot 2011, Soave Classico, Italy. Excellent. About $30.
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Inman Family “Endless Crush” Rosé of Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Inwood Estates Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, Dallas County, Texas. Excellent. About $40.
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J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 756 cases. Excellent. About $35.
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J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Diamond Mountain District, Napa Valley. With nine percent malbec. Exceptional. About $90.
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Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto adige, Italy. Excellent. About $25.
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McCay Cellars Carignane 2011, Lodi, 218 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2010, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. This proprietary wine is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 18 percent each cabernet franc and petit verdot and 4 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $100.
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Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley. With 3 percent petit verdot, 1 percent each malbec and cabernet franc. Excellent. About $100.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 230 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. 588 cases. Exceptional. About $30.
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La Pitchoune Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma Coast. 279 cases. Exceptional. About $60.
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Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010, Burgenland, Austria. Excellent. About $27.
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Quinta do Vallado 20 Years Old Tawny Porto. 83 cases. Exceptional. About $80 for a 500-milliliter bottle..
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Respite Reichel Vineyard Indulgence 2010, Alexander valley, Sonoma County. A proprietary blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 22 percent malbec and 13 percent cabernet franc. 77 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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La Rochelle Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2010. Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. 429 six-pack cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 1,302 cases. Excellent. About $45.
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Steven Kent Winery Merrellie Chardonnay 2012, Livermore Valley. 504 cases. Excellent. About $34.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Origin Chardonnay 2012, Sonoma Valley. 266 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011, Sonoma Coast. 170 cases. Exceptional. About $65.
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Tin Barn Coryelle Fields Syrah 2009, Sonoma Coast. 123 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris 2012, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River Valley. 25 cases. Exceptional. About $25.
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VML Blanc de Noirs 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.
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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $60.
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Wakefield St. Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, Australia. 250 cases imported. Excellent. About $60.
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Weltner Rödelseer Küchenmeister Trocken Sylvaner 2012, Franken, Germany. Excellent. About $27.
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The 11th Day of Christmas is the penultimate day, the one before Twelfth Night, which could be called Epiphany Eve, if one were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, which I am not, and also the next-to-last post in this “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. It happens to be Sunday, a gloomy, dreary, cheerless day in Memphis, Tennessee, and a day to keep within the comfort of our own houses. I offer, on the 11th Day of Christmas, the Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 2004, a blend of 52 percent pinot noir and 48 percent chardonnay that spent altogether nine years in the bottle and received very little dosage at the end. The color is medium gold, all a-shimmer with a fountain of tiny bubbles; many dimensions of steel and limestone are on display here but etched with notes of toasted almonds, brioche, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all opening to hints of crystallized ginger, jasmine and (faintly) toffee and an intriguing drop of red currant. These aspects are seamlessly balanced and integrated, while at the end of its 10th year, this Champagne is notably fresh and lively; it’s also savory, scintillating with spice and saline elements and, finally, quite dry, in fact, after a few minutes elapse, formidably dry, signaling that it still needs some time, say from 2016 or ’18 for drinking through 2024 to ’28. Alcohol content is 12 percent. This needs to accompany flavorful but not exceedingly rich appetizers and entrees, especially seafood or veal — or a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with fennel pollen. Excellent. About $80 but seen around the country as low as $65.

Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.

Every New Year’s Eve, LL and I indulge in 1.75 ounces of Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian and a bottle of fine Champagne. The necessity in this scheme in that the Champagne be very dry and filled with scintillating mineral character, to balance the richness and brininess of the tiny brownish-black sturgeon eggs. Two nights ago, for the occasion, I opened a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut, a non-vintage blend of 55 percent chardonnay and 45 percent pinot noir. In Champagne, the terms “Ultra Brut” or “Brut Zero” mean that the product did not have an addition of sugar syrup — the “dosage” — after the second fermentation in the bottle, the typical practice that helps alleviate the profound effect of Champagne’s high acidity. The history of Champagne, much like the history of the Martini cocktail, is one from sweetness to increasing dryness; indeed, most of the Champagne consumed in the 19th Century was markedly sweeter than our palates now would tolerate. Laurent-Perrier, established in 1812, introduced a no-dosage Champagne in the late 1890s; the concept was re-integrated into the house line-up in 1981.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut displays a medium straw-gold color and an engaging and energetic stream of glistening bubbles. The first impression is of all phases of the lemon realm: that is, lemon balm, lemon curd and lemon zest, woven with notes of baked apple and spiced pear and hints of fresh biscuits and quince, hay, sea-salt and crystallized ginger, all poised against a background of damp limestone. Yes, this is a very dry Champagne, notable for its piercing acidity and penetrating limestone qualities, yet it also offers the warmth of dried woody spices, as well as touches of almond skin and candied grapefruit rind. It’s decisive enough to stand up to caviar, to freshly-shucked oysters and perhaps a filet of salmon, grilled medium rare and simply dressed with olive oil and lime juice, salt and pepper. Cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier is Michel Fauconnet. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75, but prices nationally veer all over the map.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier US, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.

… a day for quiet reflection, hangover recovery and preparing the annual dish of blackeyed peas, hog jowl and greens, which I will get to in a few minutes. First, though, the Champagne of the Day, the Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married the nobly-dubbed Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquartered in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson-BCC group, headed by Bruno Paillard.

Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé is a multi-vintage blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 30 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay. A light copper-salmon pink color looks like the slightly tarnished old rose-gold hue of your grandmother’s wedding ring; bubbles are bountiful and exuberant. Notes of orange zest, cloves, red currants and dried raspberries are imbued with hints of almond skin, acacia, lime peel and a sort of powdered flint aura; this Champagne offers lovely weight and heft, with deftly expressed delicacy and ethereal aspects, though powered by lip-smacking acidity and incisive limestone elements. The texture is lively, lithe and supple, and the whole package exudes tremendous verve and elan. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, ineffable, but displays a serious core of crystalline minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $63; prices around the country range from $50 to $70.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles Ill.

It took Pierre Brigandat 24 years, from 1961 to 1985, to acquire separately seven hectares of vines — about 17 acres — in the extreme south of Champagne’s Aube region, meaning that if you drive any further, you’re not in Champagne anymore. From a subsistence farming family, Brigandat had gone into banking locally, but his heart, apparently, lay in the vineyards, and in 1985 he resigned from his job to devote himself to viticulture and making Champagne. Pierre’s son Bertrand joined him at the domaine in 1993 and since 2001 has been completely in charge of the operation. Their estate, which is farmed organically, epitomizes the meaning of the term on the label — récoltant-manipulant, often abbreviated as RM — “harvester-maker.” Made completely from pinot noir grapes, the Pierre Brigandat et Fils Brut Rosé offers a brilliant fire opal hue and a dynamic upward thrust of tiny bubbles; a great flush of red cherry and raspberry scents and flavors is permeated by notes of cloves and orange zest, with a background of pomegranate, rose petal and lime peel. This is an almost joyfully exuberant and robust brut rosé, very crisp and clean, with rollicking acidity, a glimmering limestone element and a savory, saline quality; the whole effect is of delicious vitality and lacy transparency, the result of which is that it makes you feel happy to drink it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $48, an online purchase. Worth a Search.

Bonhomie Wine Imports, South Orange, N.J.

The house of Jacquart was launched in 1962 by a group of 30 families living mainly in the region of Champagne called Côtes des Blancs, where, as it sounds, the chardonnay grape dominates. Thirty-eight years later, that small cohort had grown to 700 families that draw on 350 hectares (about 864 acres) in 60 separate crus. The company occupies a noble-looking late 19th Century edifice in the city of Reims. For The First Day of Christmas — and Merry Christmas to all My Readers! — in this eighth edition of “Twelves Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” I offer the Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2006, made completely from chardonnay grapes grown in Premier Cru vineyards. The color is very pale gold with glimmers of tarnished silver, through which a torrent of tiny silver-tinged bubbles streams upward. The bouquet draws you in with notes of toasted hazelnuts, fresh biscuits, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all laid over elements of steel and limestone; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of smoke and toffee. This is a spicy and savory blanc de blancs that delivers plenty of power in its crisp acid and scintillating mineral structure, yet those factors do not overwhelm the innate delicacy and elegance of the overall package. It is, I’ll report, quite dry, and the limestone-oyster shell quality rises like a tide through the finish. Completely delightful but with a serious edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $56.

JAD Imports, Manhasset, N.Y. A sample for review. Image from placedesgrandsvins.com

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2014, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Eighth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly (or mildly) amusing to commemorate today the previous seven lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 132 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
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2013/2014

Dec. 25, 2013, Christmas Day. Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Excellent. About $22.

Dec. 26. Champagne Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 27. Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008, Cava, Spain. Excellent, About $15 to $19.

Dec. 28. Champagne Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. Excellent. About $80.

Dec. 29. Montenisa Franciacorta Brut. Excellent. About $35.

Dec. 30. Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $50 to $55.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gran Sarao Cava Brut. Very Good. About $10 to $16.
Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, Very Good+. About $16.
Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. Excellent. About $50;
Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, Napa County 52%, Sonoma County 48%. Exceptional. About $100.

Jan. 1, 2014, New Year’s Day. Laetitia Brut Rose 2009, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent, about $28.

Jan. 2. Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005. Excellent. About $130 (a local purchase).

Jan. 3. Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.

Jan. 4. Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, Franciacorta, Italy. Excellent, about $32.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Adriano Adami Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. Very Good+. About $18.
Domaine Chandon Blanc de Noirs, California. Excellent. About $22.
Champagne Delamotte Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $50.
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2012/2013

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, Burgenland, Austria. Very Good+. About $19.

Dec. 26. Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $68.

(Dec. 27. Skipped. I have no idea why.)

Dec. 28. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Dec. 29. Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.

Dec. 30. Mont-Ferrant CR20 Cava d’Aniversari per a Carme Ruscalleda 2006, Gran Reserva Extra Brut, Cava, Spain. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California. Very Good. About $9 to $12.
Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County. Very Good+. About $22.
Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $27.
Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition. Very Good+. About $28.
Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut. Exceptional. About $83.

Jan. 1, 2013, New Year’s Day. J Vintage Brut 2005, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $48.
J Late Disgorged Vintage Brut 2003, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $90.

Jan. 2. Champagne Henriot Brut Souverain. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 3. Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996. Excellent. About $90 to $100.

Jan. 4. Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.
Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $19 to $24.
Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast. Excellent. About $50.
Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55 to $65.
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2011/2012
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
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2010/2011

Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
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2009/2010

Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
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2008/2009

Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional. About $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
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2007/2008
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.
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Chêne Bleu — “blue oak” — occupies 340 acres in a unique microclimate at elevations from 1,600 to 1,800 feet in a saddle of the Dentelles de Montmirail where four southern Rhône appellations — Gigondas, Côtes du Ventoux, Côtes du Rhône and Séguret — merge. Eighty-seven acres of the estate, called La Verrière for more than six centuries, are cultivated to vineyards; grapes have been grown in the steep, stony area for a thousand years. Xavier and Nicole Rolet purchased the isolated and long neglected property and its ancient ruined priory in 1993 and spent 10 years restoring the dilapidated buildings and shabby vineyards. The first wines were released in 2006. Viticulturalist is Xavier Rolet’s sister Bénédicte Gallucci; winemaker is her husband Jean-Louis Gallucci. The vineyards are managed in a combination of organic and biodynamic methods. The use of new oak barrels is sparing.

The winery eschews the typical appellation system, preferring to use the simpler Vin de Pays du Vaucluse designation or, as that category became a few years ago when the Vin de Pays AOC was dismantled, Vaucluse Indication Geographique Protegée, a step that allows a certain freedom in the choice of grapes they blend. Everything about this stylish, sophisticated winery and its products — and prices — indicates a desire to be considered a world-class estate, and I would not be surprised if such is not the case within the next 10 to 20 years. Greatness is not achievable in winemaking within a vintage or two; it takes time for knowledge and experience to merge perfectly with nature and terroir, though the wines under review today seem well on their way. All five — a rose from 2013, whites from 2012 and 2010 and two reds from 2007, the current releases — display remarkable individuality, personality and character.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Calif. These wines were samples for review.
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The Chêne Bleu Rose 2013, Ventoux, is a blend of 65 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 5 percent cinsault, given a very cold fermentation in stainless steel for five weeks. Twenty percent of the wine aged for three months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, mainly barrique-size, that is 228-liters or 60 gallons. As I mentioned on Facebook, if this isn’t the best rose wine I tasted this year, I can’t think immediately of what the better one is. The color is a classic pale onion skin hue; the whole impression is of a delicate, even ethereal construct that nonetheless retains a slightly earthy, loamy, smoky aspect. Aromas of dried strawberries and raspberries are wreathed with notes of tangerine, lime peel and green tea, elements that segue generously into the mouth, where they take on touches of damp and dusty limestone and flint, all energized by brisk acidity. Most memorable is the wine’s sense of tone and presence, its suave and elegance weight on the palate. 13 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through the end of 2015. Excellent. About $31.
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The Chêne Bleu Aliot 2010, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is named for Aliot de Montvin, an artisan glassblower of noble birth who named the winery’s estate La Verrière — The Glassblowing Workshop — in 1427. The blend is 65 percent roussanne, 30 percent grenache blanc, 5 percent marsanne and some smidgeon of viognier. Cold fermentation occurred in 600-liter demi-muids — 159-gallon barrels — and the wine aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is bright yellow-gold; the wine is rich and honeyed in every sense, with scents and flavors of spiced pears and peaches, candied quince and ginger and hints of papaya and mango. Rich and honeyed, yes, but both succulent and bone-dry, vibrant, crystalline, wreathed with notes of cloves and sea-salt, savory spiced and baked pineapple and grapefruit, with a contrasting touch, on the lush finish, of grapefruit bitterness, the entire package permeated by limestone and chalk minerality. 14 percent alcohol. 45 six-pack cases were imported. That’s right readers, 270 bottles for the USA, and we took one to dinner at Erling Jensen restaurant in Memphis, where the wine performed beautifully with an appetizer of crisp sweetbreads with parmesan ravioli, shiitake mushrooms and a veal jus. Drink — carefully stored — through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $85.
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Not quite 100 percent varietal, the Chêne Bleu Viognier 2012, contains 4 percent grenache blanc. The appellation is IGP — Indication Geographique Protegée — Vaucluse, IGP having replaced the old, familiar Vin de Pays. As with the Aliot, mentioned above, this wine was cold-fermented in 600-liter demi-muids and aged six to eight months in a combination of old and new French oak. The color is pale gold; the (to my mind) signature elements of the viognier grape quickly emerge with notes of jasmine and gardenia, cloves and mango, bee’s-wax, baked pear and dried thyme. The wine is distinctly savory, its ripe stone-fruit flavors rife with sage, sea-salt and grapefruit rind; back-notes of dried apricot, ginger and quince lend complexity to lip-smacking acidity, scintillating limestone minerality and a dense, almost chewy texture. There’s nothing heavy or opulent here though; all elements are delicately tied and buoyantly expressed. 13.5 percent alcohol. 300 cases were produced. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $41.
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The blend of the Chêne Bleu Abelard 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is 90 percent grenache to 10 percent syrah, the grapes derived from vines that are 45 and more years old. The initial winemaking process involved a three-day cold maceration in wooden vats, 10 days of fermentation and then four weeks of maceration on the skins; The wine spent 11 months in a combination of old and new French oak barrels, primarily 60-gallon barriques; it is unfined and unfiltered. My advice is to decant the wine — not a difficult or scary process, just pour it into a clean glass container — and let it air out for an hour or two before drinking. The color is dark ruby; remarkably fresh for a seven-year-old grenache, this offers scents of ripe and slightly roasted blackberries and plums laden with dusty graphite minerality and notes of fruitcake, old leather, lavender and dried rosemary. Lithe and supple in texture, Abelard 2007, unlike its namesake, does not lack balls; the tannic-acid structure is forthright and more evident as time passes and you pay attention to what’s happening in the glass and bottle, but that rather stern foundation does not submerge the wine’s innate balance, integration and elegance. 14.5 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $100.
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The Chêne Bleu Heloise 2007, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse, is the most complicated and intriguing of this group of wines. The winemaking regimen is the same as for its Abelard 2007 stablemate, if it’s permissible to use such a term for these celebrated lovers — or non-lovers — though this is a blend of 60 percent syrah, 37 percent grenache and 3 percent viognier. The color is dark ruby, and at first this Heloise feels more mature than the companion Abelard — sorry, my dear! — more autumnal in its scents of smoky, spiced and macerated red and black cherries and currants and undertones of loam, mushrooms and moss. Give the wine a chance, however, to build its character, either in the glass or by decanting an hour or so before consuming; let it expand with elements of fennel and pomegranate, dried rosemary and cedar and their requisite resiny notes (meaning that in the best way); allow it to gain in suppleness and the savory qualities of sage and sea-salt and depth of spicy red and black fruit flavors. And while its feet are definitely planted in the earth, Heloise 07 succeeds in maintaining an elevating, wild note at the top of its range. 15 percent alcohol. 800 six-pack cases were imported. Drink now through 2018 to 2022. Excellent. About $100.
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We can’t drink great wine all the time. Contrary to what My Readers may think, I certainly don’t. In fact, a diet of perfection would become cloying and wearisome, n’est-ce pas? Well, perhaps not, but let’s assume that most people really just want a decent bottle of wine to accompany a simple meal. Here, then, are two white wines and four reds designed to be to consumed with, say, a tuna sandwich or seafood risotto, on the one hand, or a burger or steak, on the other. Prices range from $12 to $17, with quality fairly evenly portioned along the Very Good to Very Good+ range. Will these wines — especially the reds — lodge in the memory as some of the best wine you’ve tasted? certainly not, but they get the job done, or better, at a reasonable price. If only everything in life turned out that way. Quick reviews here, intended to pique your interest and whet the palate. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

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Stepping Stone Rocks! White Wine 2013, North Coast, California. 13.3% alc. (Stepping Stone is the second label of Cornerstone Cellars; Rocks! is, well, the second label of Stepping Stone.) “Mystery” blend of chardonnay, viognier and muscat canelli. Very pale gold color; lilac, lemon-lime and pear, slightly grassy and herbal, hint of lemongrass; quite clean, crisp, fresh and dry, with a kind of gin-like purity and snap; taut, vibrant, lean but a pleasing, cloud-like texture; crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; slightly earthy finish. Extremely attractive white blend for short-term drinking. Very Good+. About $15, representing Excellent Value.
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Tomero Torrontes 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; jasmine and gardenia, spiced pear and lemon balm, lime peel and a touch of grapefruit, a few minutes in the glass bring in whiffs of lavender and lilac, though this is not overwhelmingly floral, all is subtle and nuanced; pert citrus and stone fruit flavors; lovely body, crisp, lithe and lively yet imbued with an almost talc-like texture that slides across the palate like silk; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. A superior torrontes for consuming over the next year. Very Good+. About $17.
Imported by Blends, Plymouth, Calif.
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Mandolin Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Central Coast. 13.8% alc. Brilliant dark ruby with a flush of mulberry at the rim; unfolds layers of cedar,
thyme and black olive, black currants and plums, hint of wild berry; notes of iodine and graphite; trace of wood in the slightly leathery tannins, quite dry but juicy with herb-inflected black fruit flavors; sleek and supple texture, lively acidity; spice-and-mineral-packed finish. Now through the end of 2015. Great personality for the price. Very Good+. About $12, an Amazing Bargain.
Image from brainwines.com.
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Esprit du Rhône 2013, Côtes du Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. 60% grenache, 30% syrah, 5% carignan, 5% cinsault. 1,000 cases imported. Medium-dark ruby color shading to a transparent rim; aromas of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plum with notes of cloves, briers and leather; fairly dense and robust tannins and bright acidity keep the texture forthright and lively for the sake of tasty, spicy black fruit flavors. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $12.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. Image from vivino.com.
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Nieto Senetiner Malbec 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; briery and brambly blackberry and plum fruit deeply imbued with cloves, mocha and licorice; moderate and slightly chewy tannins for structure, an uplift of acidity; tasty black fruit flavors in a rustic, graphite-laden package. Now into 2015. Very Good. About $13.
Imported by Foley Family Wines, Sonoma, Calif.
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Tercos Bonarda 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. (From the winery of Ricardo Santos). 13.8% alc. Dark ruby hue, almost opaque; spicy and feral, blackberries and plums with notes of wild cherry, tar, graphite and licorice; heaps of rough-hewn tannins make for a sturdy mouthful of wine, though nothing heavy or ponderous to detract from ripe, delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors; loads of personality. Now through the end of 2015. Very Good. About $14.
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