France


Today, or this eve, is Twelfth Night, the traditional 12th Day of Christmas that heralds Epiphany on January 6, the day that the Wise Men or the Magi arrived in Bethlehem after following the brilliant star in the west. We get the symbolism; first to pay homage to the baby Jesus were shepherds, and then came the kings. The 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany were marked in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, by celebration and revelry, not to mention burlesque and ribaldry, a sequence of disguise and exchanged identity — male and female, master and servant — not unlike the elements that Shakespeare employed in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, a play dominated by star-crossed relationships. In any case, we could use a few Wise Men around these days to work some wonders. The point is, really, that today means the conclusion of the 7th annual series, “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine,” and we’ll end with a flourish of three products, a Prosecco from northeast Italy ( Veneto), a sparkling wine from California and a Champagne from that fabled region in France. Enjoy! And Happy 2014….

Image from sfstl.com, the website of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis.
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The mid-range sparkling wine from Adriano Adami is the Bosco di Gica Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, composed of 95 to 97 percent glera grapes and 3 to 5 percent chardonnay. It’s a very pale gold hue, almost silver, and the bubbles glint like silver fireworks within. Let’s just say that this fresh, clean sparkling wine, even in its bracing steel and saline qualities, is delightful. There’s a note of green apple and apple peel, bare hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, and a finish of limestone and almond skin. 11 percent alcohol. Great for parties and receptions. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.
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The Chandon Blanc de Noirs — white from black — carries a California designation, meaning that grapes wee selected from vineyards in
different parts of the state. It’s a blend of 91 percent pinot noir grapes, 6 percent chardonnay and 2 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold enlivened by an enchanting and dynamic stream of tiny bubbles. This is a pert, tart sparkling wine, full-bodied and savory, almost balsamic in its depths, but highlighted by notes of red currants and lime peel. It displays lovely tone and presence and could almost be called viscous if its creaminess were not cut by crisp and incisive acidity; the finish reveals a touch of sweet red fruit ripeness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

A sample for review.
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This is what I like in Champagne: A torrent of bubbles, a blizzard of steel; a softness of spiced pear and orange blossom; a strict regimen
of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The Delamotte Brut — 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir, 10 percent pinot meunier; 30 to 36 months on the lees — delivers those exhilarating qualities as well as fleeting notes of apple and grapefruit and hints of cinnamon toast and hazelnuts. Mainly though this is about elegance and austerity, fine bones, chiseled stones and impressive purity and intensity. 12 percent alcohol. It doesn’t say so on the label, but this is a Champagne derived from Grand Cru vinyards, so the price is also impressive. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

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

On New Year’s Eve, to accompany Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian, served plain on lightly toasted baguette, I opened the Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005, from a house in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay that produces a total of about 2,500 cases annually. Winemaker Jacques Beaufort is, from what I understand, eccentric and reclusive, a devotee of biodynamic practices that gradually grew from organic methods undertaken after Beaufort fell ill, purportedly from contact with chemical pesticides and herbicides. He employs only natural yeast from the vineyard, and ages the wines as long as possible on the lees in the bottle. The domaine’s vineyards consist of 80 percent pinot noir grapes and 20 percent chardonnay. The sense of dedication to an ideal, even an obsession if that is not too strong a word, permeate the Champagne under review today.

The color is medium gold, the tiny bubbles steady, gentle, somehow expressive, and, in fact, the whole package here feels the opposite of the exuberant, scintillating Champagnes one often encounters; this seems thoughtful, studied, utterly harmonious. The first impression is of citrus fruit slightly roasted and slightly honeyed, though this is very dry, even austere in the farther reaches of the finish. (“Brut Nature” means that there was no added sugar in the dosage.) There’s a paradoxical note of apple skin, an element of chalk and seashell, and hints of grapefruit rind, lime peel and hazelnuts, then quince and candied ginger and a touch of cinnamon bread. André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005 is both rich and delicate, savory and elegant, bracing and ethereal; a saline streak highlights brisk acidity and leads to a conclusion woven of limestone minerality, clove-like spice and almost bitter grapefruit pith, altogether mildly, charmingly effervescent. 12 percent alcohol. A highly individual Champagne and one unlike any Champagne I have experienced. Excellent. I sprang for $130 locally — gasp! — but come on, it was for New Year’s Eve.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

If you’re hosting hordes of revelers tonight and wish for a tasty and inexpensive sparkling wine to lubricate the path toward “Auld Lang Syne,” you can’t go wrong with the Gran Sarao Cava Brut, a descending blend of 40 percent xarel-lo grapes, 30 percent macabeo, 20 percent parellada and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is medium gold, and the bubbles are finely threaded and active. Notes of green apple, lemon, lime peel and grapefruit are buoyed by delightful effervescence and crisp acidity, with an undertone of spiced and roasted lemon. It spends 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the lees, so it delivers a pleasing full-body for the price. Thoroughly charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. Look for prices from $10 to $16, and buy a case.

A Steve Miles Selection, Denver, Colo.
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From an estate founded in 1824 comes the Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes that offers a pale gold color and a steady, swirling array of tiny gleaming bubbles. I love this Cremant d’Alsace for its foxy muscat-like aromas of orange blossom, spiced pear, damp leaves and slightly over-ripe lychee; its — by contrast — steely backbone of scintillating limestone minerality and crisp, brisk acidity; its delectable spicy citrus flavors; and the lovely balance and integration of these elements. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wein-Bauer, Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. A sample for review.
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All right, let’s say that your New Year’s Eve gathering is more exclusive and intimate, perhaps a small dinner party. Try, in that case, one of my favorite sparkling wines — we’ve had it twice this year — the Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. From its shimmering pale gold color and constant confident upward flow of tiny bubbles, to its delicacy and elegance and, on the other hand, its authoritative expression of a grape — it’s 100 percent chardonnay — and a place, this sparkling wine exudes character and breeding. Meadowy aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle are entwined with notes of toasted hazelnuts, slightly roasted grapefruit, limestone and chalk; this is fresh, clean and ardently lively, but it gains body and power in the glass, adding a hint of caramel and toast, and it finishes with steely hauteur and touches of almond and grapefruit rind. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 883 cases. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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On the other hand, what if tonight’s celebration is just for two? Some caviar, a perfect little supper, a toast at midnight. Splurge on the Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, a world-class sparkling wine that’s a blend of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, originating in Napa County (52 percent) and Sonoma County (48 percent). The color is pale platinum blond, and the bubbles surge in a headstrong froth. This sparkling wine is fresh, clean, racy and nervy; you feel its dynamic energy in every sniff and sip. Notes of roasted lemon, quince and crystallized ginger overlay elements of biscuits, almond skin, lime peel and limestone; a lovely creamy texture is balanced by vibrant acidity and lambent minerality, while a few moments in the glass bring in touches of smoke, lilac and chalk. A splendid marriage of elegance and power and one of California’s great sparkling wines. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $100.

A sample for review.
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I love blanc de blancs Champagne, made completely from chardonnay grapes — “blanc de blancs” means “white from whites” — for its elegance and ethereal nature, its tinselly decor and tensile strength, its taut nervosity built on intense minerality. One of the best I have tried recently is the nonvintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut, and I offer it today as the sixth entry in the current series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Holy cow, we’re halfway through the sequence! Time’s a-wastin’! Anyway, Champagne Delamotte was established in 1760 in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, what is now a prestigious area devoted solely to Grand Cru vineyards. Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Our purpose, however, is to look at the more affordable and accessible Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. The color is palest gold with undertones of tarnished silver; a storm of tiny bubbles races swirling to the surface. This is all smoke and steel, limestone and flint, but with notes of jasmine and acacia, spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit and a chilly errant hint of mint and juniper. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of biscuits, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon; for all the richness of its detail, this blanc de blancs is ethereal, evanescent, high-toned yet based on the essential vitality of crisp acidity and slightly earthy stoniness. As it’s said of the faces of the Hepburn girls — Katharine and Audrey — this Champagne has great bones. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $40 to $68 — yes, that’s quite a range — so be happy if you pay $50 to $55.

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

Let’s keep it sparkling, shall we? For today’s post in the “Wine of the Week” category, let’s sashay off to Alsace, in northeastern France, where the sparkling wines termed Crémant d’Alsace, made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, tend to be lively, tasty and fairly inexpensive. Such a one is the Clément Klur Brut, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, a blend of pinot blanc and pinot auxerrois grapes. The color is pale but radiant gold, and a steady stream of fine bubbles rises from the bottom of the glass. Notes of apples and pears are highlighted by hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, with a touch of lime peel for emphasis; a shivery limestone element and chiming acidity lent this sparkling wine vibrancy and resonance, while a touch of chalk grounds it in the earth. Citrus flavors are permeated by ginger and quince, the wine is taut yet juicy and altogether nicely balanced and integrated. 12 percent alcohol. The Clement Klur estate has been completely organic since 1999. The strikingly graphic label is an anomaly in Alsace, where bottle art tends to be conservative and traditional. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by A.I. Selections, New York. A sample for review.

I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.

Chardonnay gets all the glory, but if I had my druthers, sauvignon blanc would get the love, especially sauvignon blanc wines made in the vast curve where the Loire River makes a left-turn from the south and starts its long westward journey to the Atlantic. In that geography lie the regions of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and several lesser known areas where sauvignon blanc is the dominate grape. Today’s featured wine is the Chateau de Sancerre 2011, and while the 2012 rendition is presently on the market, the 2011 is drinking beautifully now, and it looks online as if plenty is available. Chateau de Sancerre is owned by the Marnier-Lapostolle family, perhaps more widely recognized for their proprietorship of the ubiquitous liqueur Grand Marnier and the Lapostolle winery in Chile, but this estate in Sancerre, which they have owned since 1919, is something of a jewel. Made in stainless steel, Chateau de Sancerre 2011 offers a medium gold color and penetrating aromas of chalk, limestone and earth, with herbal notes of meadow and lemongrass and elements of roasted lemon, ginger and quince; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of jasmine and camellia. The wine is taut with bracing and cleansing acidity, and it resonates with scintillating limestone minerality, but not at the expense of deeply spicy lemon and grapefruit flavors with undercurrents of spiced stone-fruit. The finish builds to a kind of mushroom-like earthiness and a fresh clean mineral character. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $20 to $26.

Terlato Wines International. A sample for review.

I was going to write up more cabernet sauvignon wines from California for this edition of Weekend Wine Notes — Sunday is still the weekend — but I realized that this blog has been top-heavy with red wines for the past few months, so instead I offer a diverse roster of white wines with a couple of rosés. We hit many grapes, regions and styles in this post, trying to achieve the impossible goal of being all things to all people; you can’t blame me for trying. As usual with the weekend wine thing, I provide little in the way of historical, technical and geographical data; just quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Prices today range from $8 to $24, so blockbuster tabs are not involved. These were samples for review, except for the Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, which I bought, and the Laetitia Chardonnay 2012, tasted at the winery back in April. Enjoy! (Sensibly and in moderation)
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Domaine de Ballade Rosé 2012, Vin de Pays des Gascogne. 13% alc. 100% cabernet sauvignon. Pale copper-salmon color; raspberries and red currants, very spicy and lively; vibrant acidity; spiced peach and orange rind; slightly earthy, with a touch of limestone minerality. Tasty and enjoyable. Drink up. Very Good+. About $12, meaning Good Value.
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C.H. Berres Treppchen Erden Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 11% alc. 100% riesling. Luminous pale gold color; green apples and grapefruit, hint of mango; delicately woven with limestone and shale and spanking acidity; very dry and crisp but an almost cloud-like texture; ripe flavors of pear and peach, hint of tangerine. Now through 2015 to ’17. Delightful. Very Good+. About $20.

I borrowed this image from Benito’s Wine Reviews.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 14.5% alc. This winery’s first release of sauvignon blanc. Pale gold color; lemongrass and celery seed, quince and cloves, hint of ginger and mango, a fantasia on grass, hay and salt-marsh savoriness; flavors of ripe pear, pea shoots, roasted lemon; brisk acidity cutting through a burgeoning limestone element; lots of personality, almost charisma. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Halter Ranch Rosé 2012, Paso Robles. 13.5% alc. 68% grenache, 15% mourvèdre, 12% picpoul blanc, 5% syrah. 1,200 cases. Beautiful pale copper-salmon color; pure strawberry and raspberry highlighted by cloves, tea leaf, thyme and limestone; lovely texture, silky and almost viscous but elevated by crisp acidity and a scintillating limestone element; finishes with red fruit, hints of peach and lime peel, dried herbs. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $19.
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Hans Lang Vom Bunten Schiefer Riesling 2009, Rheingau, Germany. 12.5% alc. 100% riesling. Very pale gold color; lovely and delicate bouquet of lightly spiced peach and pear with notes of lychee, mango, lime peel and jasmine, all subdued to a background of limestone and an intense floral character; still, it’s spare and fairly reticent, slightly astringent, quite dry yet juicy with citrus and tropical fruit flavors; exquisite balance and tone. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Inama Vigneti di Foscarino 2010, Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% gargenega grapes. Medium yellow-gold color; spicy and savory; roasted lemon, yellow plums, almond and almond blossom, acacia, dried mountain herbs; Alpine in its bracing clarity and limestone minerality; spare and elegant but with pleasing moderate lush texture and fullness. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. A superior Soave Classico. Excellent. About $25.
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Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2011, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia. 12.5% alc. Pale gold color; lemon balm, yellow plums and grapefruit zest; spare but not lean texture, enlivened by zinging acidity; crisp and lively and lightly spicy; quite delicate overall; finish brings in more grapefruit and a touch of limestone. Quite charming to drink through Summer of 2014 on the porch or patio or on a picnic. Very Good. About $8, a Bargain of the Decade.
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Laetitia Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, San Luis Obispo County. 13.8% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; pungent and flavorful with limestone, pineapple and grapefruit with hints of mango and peach, jasmine and lightly buttered toast; sleek and supple, seamlessly balanced and integrated, oak is just a whiff and deft intimation; lively with fleet acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Mercurey Clos Rochette 2009, Domaine Faiveley, Chalonnaise, Burgundy. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; ginger, quince, jasmine, talc; grapefruit and a hint of peach; very dry wine, crystalline limestone-like minerality; note of gun-flint and clean hay-like earthiness; grapefruit, pineapple, spiced pear; lovely silky texture jazzed with brisk acidity; sleek, charming. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $24 (what I paid).
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Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 5.5% alc. Very pale gold color, with a tinge of green, and modestly effervescent, which is to say, frizzante; apples and pears, smoky and musky, soft and slightly sweet but with driving acidity and a limestone edge; notes of muskmelon, cucumber and fennel; a few moments bring in hints of almond, almond-blossom and musk-rose. Delicate, tasty, charming. Now through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Certified biodynamic. Pale straw-gold color; very dry but ripe and juicy; peach, pear, touch of lychee; incisive and chiseled with chiming acidity and fleet limestone minerality yet with an aspect that’s soft, ripe and appealing; slightly earthy, with a hint of moss and mushrooms; a pleasing sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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The Bordeaux estate of Chateau de Sours goes back to the 14th Century — as things often do in France — but the present house was erected in 1792, no slouch when it comes to age. The property was bought by Martin and Nicolette Krajewski — he’s a noted British businessman — in 2004, and they have expended great efforts to improve the estate and the wines. The rosé made at Chateau de Sours in very popular in the British Isles, and its production is not an afterthought; about 99 acres of vines, nearly half the estate, is dedicated to the merlot and cabernet franc grapes that go into the rose. The winery is located in Saint-Quentin-de-Baron, just about smack in the middle of Entre-Deux-Mers, the vast area that lies between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers before they meet to form the mighty Gironde.

These wines are imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Calif. Samples for review.
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The Chateau de Sours 2012, Bordeaux Rosé, a blend of 70 percent merlot and 30 percent cabernet franc, offers a pale copper-peach color, the true onion-skin hue, and attractive aromas of plums, dried red currants and cloves with bottom notes of wet stones. The whole effect is dry, delicate and spare, built on a framework of crisp acidity, limestone minerality and ineffable hints of mildly spicy red berries and stone-fruit. 12.5 percent alcohol. Transparent and thirst-quenching. Drink up. Very Good+. About $18.
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If you’re looking for a well-made, solidly structured and tasty Bordeaux red wine to put on your table at a reasonable price, try the Chateau de Sours 2010, Bordeaux rouge, a blend of 85 percent merlot, 10 percent petit verdot and 5 percent cabernet franc. The color is dark ruby; scents of black currants and black cherries are highlighted by notes of cedar and tobacco, rosemary and graphite, with a foundation of iron and iodine. The wine is circumscribed by dense, chewy, slightly dusty tannins and granitic minerality and enlivened by bright acidity, all well-balanced and integrated and supporting flavors of ripe, spicy black fruit. 13.5 percent alcohol. In terms of Bordeaux generally, this is certainly a minor wine, but it would compliment and enhance any grilled steak or bowl filled with braised short ribs or even a burger; you know what I’m talking about. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20.
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I saved the best for last. La Source du Chateau de Sours 2010, Bordeaux blanc, is one of the most satisfying white wines I tasted recently. A blend of 80 percent sauvignon blanc and 20 percent semillon, this wine exudes elegance, sophistication and confidence. The color is very pale gold with a faint greenish sheen; notes of lychee, lemongrass, lime peel and limestone teem in the bouquet, with hints of fig, thyme and tarragon coming underneath. From start to finish, the wine is characterized by intense and penetrating limestone and flint minerality and piercing acidity; yes, it’s dry as a bone, with a big bit of grapefruit and grapefruit rind asperity, yet the texture is lovely, ethereal, almost talc-like in effect, so there’s intriguing balance between vivacious crispness and soft evanescence. On the other hand, the finish is packed with minerals and concludes with a fillip of grapefruit bitterness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Don’t waste this wine as an aperitif, though it delivers many charms; its complexity really demands fish or seafood. Now through 14 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.
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