France


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.

Well, here’s a milestone of sorts: The 300th entry in the Wine of the Day series. My Readers may remember that I started the Wine of the Day in May 2015 when a broken right arm interfered with my writing abilities and I was able only to type in short, erratic bursts. Like Topsy, the thing just grew and two years and three months later, here we are at No. 300. Shall I continue? I would like to hear from you about this issue, bless your little pointy heads and may your tribes increase.

For this 300th posting in the series, I’ll nudge across the line to a celebratory mode and offer a new label and product from the distinguished Champagne house of Laurent-Perrier. This is the Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV, which replaces the former Brut NV — “non-vintage” — in the house’s roster. Composed of 55 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier, the Champagne contains 30 percent reserve wines and attains 94 percent premier cru rating. It spends a minimum of four years in bottle on the yeasts before disgorgement. The color is very pale gold, and I’ll say right here that this was the most energetically effervescent bottle of Champagne I have ever opened; tiny, glinting bubbles surged in what seemed to be an endless foaming fountain in the glass. Aromas of slightly roasted pears, peaches and quince are incredibly fresh, clean and enticing, with touches of just-baked brioche and almond skin and a lightly honeyed aspect of bee’s-wax and white flowers. Incisive acidity cuts a swath through a chiseled texture that feels like the transfigured quintessence of limestone and chalk; paradoxically, on the palate this Champagne also delivers an element of talc-like softness, the resulting tension between the dry, honed quality and the powdery lushness providing a great deal of excitement as you drink. Ultimately, the Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée leaves the impression of fine-boned elegance matched to dynamic power. 12 percent alcohol. Cellarmaster is Michel Fauconnet. We loved drinking this one. Excellent. About $50.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier USA, Long Island City, N.Y. A sample for review.

At just under three years old, the Helfrich Riesling 2014, from Alsace, is drinking beautifully, with promise of increasing its burnished character for four to six more years or so — such estimates are always inexact, though based on knowledge, experience and intuition. Fashioned all in stainless steel, the wine offers a very pale straw-gold hue and sprightly aromas of green apples, ginger and quince, with notes of petrol, heather and hay and more subtle hints of lychee and mango; as the moments pass, the floral element of honeysuckle and jasmine burgeons and blossoms. The entire effect is of a crystalline, chiseled substance, equal parts limestone and steel, propelled by scintillating acidity and buoyant flavors of spiced pear and lime zest. The finish delivers a bracing hit of apple peel, almond skin and pure shimmering minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink with fresh oysters, grilled trout with capers and brown butter, pike quenelles, or, as we did last night, miso soup. Excellent. About $16, representing a Top Value.

Imported by Advantage International Distributors, Miami, Fla. A sample for review.

The Côté Mas Brut Rosé, Crémant de Limoux, barely qualifies as a rosé wine by most measures, being a blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent pinot noir. In other words, 90 percent of this charming sparkling wine is white, with only a few dollops of a red grape to lend the requisite rosé color, in this case a beguiling light copper-salmon hue animated by a stream of tiny, glinting bubbles. The nose is pure raspberry, peach and lime peel; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of heather and seashell. This is crisp, dry and tart on the palate, where lip-smacking acidity keeps it lively and engaging and the minerality of damp limestone and flint delivers reasonable structure for nice heft and balance, all these elements supporting subtle flavors of roasted lemon and strawberry. 12 percent alcohol. A lovely aperitif. You could sell about a million glasses in bars and restaurants. Very Good+. About $16 and often found discounted to $13 or $14.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes. Limoux — pop. 9,781 souls — a commune and subprefecture in the Aude department in the vast Languedoc-Roussillon region, lies a mere 30 kilometers or 19 miles south of the celebrated castle-city of Carcassonne, nestled in the French foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

In referring to the French, the term “arrogant frog” is redundant, n’est-ce pas? Ha ha, just a little joke to introduce the Wine of the Day, the Arrogant Frog Rosé 2016, Pay d’Oc (nicknamed “Lily Pad Pink”), made from 100 percent syrah grapes for the Côté Mas label of Domaine Paul Mas. It’s interesting how grapes, like syrah and mourvèdre, that tend to produce big-hearted, two-fisted red wines, can also, in rosé mode, be fashioned into beverages of the utmost delicacy and subtlety. This one offers a lovely pale copper-pink hue and nuanced aromas of strawberries and raspberries with a hint of melon and notes of rose petals and floral-herbal meadowy elements. On the palate, a bit of peach comes into play, but this is mainly about ineffable red fruits and berries enlivened by brisk acidity and a touch of limestone minerality that comes to dominate the finish. Very refreshing and appealing and perfect for picnics and other outdoor adventures. Very Good+. About $10, a Verifiable Bargain.

Imported by Esprit du Vin, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

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