France


Though Chablis is almost as far from the Cote d’Or as it is from Paris, as a vineyard and wine-making region it is nominally considered part of Greater Burgundy. The affinity is not climate and soil but in the intense focus on the chardonnay grape, as in the Burgundian appellations of Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault. To my palate, the chardonnay wines of Chablis epitomize the true greatness that the grape can attain, though to be sure I will not turn down a glass of a magnificent Grand Cru or Premier Cru from those legendary areas (hear that, importers?). Still, the elegance, verve and steeliness of a well-made Chablis, married with its innate earthiness and savory qualities, are irresistible to me. For similar quality, they’re also cheaper than white Burgundy.

Today we look at several Chablis wines from Premier Cru vineyards owned by the Joseph Drouhin firm of Burgundy and marketed (since 2008) under its Drouhin Vaudon label, named for the Moulin de Vaudon, an 18th century watermill on the property. This domaine is a separate entity with a team of 10 people who work under the eye of vineyard manager Denis Mery, though the wines are “elevated” at the Drouhin headquarters in Beaune. The domaine owns 9.25 acres of vines in Grand Cru vineyards, 18 acres in Premier Cru vineyards and 68.25 acres of “regular” Chablis. All the Drouhin Vaudon vineyard sites are farmed under organic or biodynamic methods. The domaine uses no new oak and employs barrels — double-pieces — that are larger than the typical barriques to keep the wood contact more subdued; the appellation Chablis wines do not touch oak.

The wines of Joseph Drouhin are imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., New York. These bottles were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by the Federal Trade Commission rulings of 2009, a stricture that does not apply to print journalists.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru 2009 and 2010. For 2009, this wine, a blend of several of Drouhin’s Premier Cru vineyards, offers a mild straw-gold color and enticing aromas of lemon balm and lemon curd, camellias and a hint of buttered toast followed, after a few minutes in the glass, by notes of apples, limestone and steel. Bolstering spiced citrus and stonefruit flavors, the texture is a pleasing amalgam of crisp compelling acidity and almost talc-like plushness married to persistent limestone and shale minerality; altogether this is a fine, vivacious expression of the grape and its Premier Cru status to drink through 2014 to ’15. Very Good+. About $37. The 2010 rendition is a little more focused, with earthy notes of sauteed mushrooms, roasted lemons, limestone and oyster shells and hints of quince, ginger and yellow plums. This Chablis Premier Cru is quite crisp, spicy and savory, while its intense mineral elements provide a backbone of scintillating resonance. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About 1,100 cases of these wines are imported annually. .
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010. This wine displays a momentous structure of limestone and flint and blade-like acidity. Aromas of apples and apricots, lavender and lilac are permeated by winsome notes of lemon curd and a slight herbal aspect. It’s very dry, lively and vibrant, yet it offers a supremely seductive almost cloud-like texture that practically nestles on the palate; the balance of all these qualities is exciting and fulfilling. 12.5 percent alcohol. About 35 cases imported. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2009 and 2010. The 2009 version of this wine is a splendid, beautifully balanced and integrated expression of the chardonnay grape; it’s a golden and gleaming wine yet a subtle fabric woven of a thousand nuances. Aromas of lemon balm, quince and ginger, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and mild touches of cloves and lemon curd are wreathed with beguiling notes of tobacco and limestone and something slightly resinous. That mineral element burgeons in power and proportion, contributing a steely edge to the wine’s sensuous qualities; aiding and abetting that edge is acid of whiplash sensibility. Still this Premier Cru Sécher remains lovely and appealing. For 2010, the wine offers a medium gold color and aromas of quince and yellow plums, limestone, mushroom-like earthiness, with a touch of lemon balm; there’s a deeply savory almost chewy and briery aspect that feels rooted in the earth, as well as a dusty flinty limestone quality that penetrates through to the spice-and-limestone packed finish. As with the 2009 vintage, the Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Sécher 2010 balances the innate power and energy with an absolutely lovely and even enchanting texture that feels as if you were rolling some exotic money around in your mouth. Now through 2016 to ’18. Each wine is 12.5 percent alcohol. About 70 cases of each were imported. The 2009 I rate Excellent; the 2010 also Excellent. About $39.
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Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2009 and 2010. Lordy, the 2009 vintage of this Montmains offers lovely class and elegance, character and balance. The color is pale gold; aromas center on lemon and lemon balm, ginger and quince with an interesting hint of dried thyme and a bracing whiff of sea-salt. It’s all about spareness and litheness, stones and bones, as it were, with pertinent acidity and a limestone-flint element that drives the wine’s resonance through a long tense finish. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $39. For 2010, the wine is flat-out gorgeous, with wonderful tone and presence and a plethora of smack-on details and dimensions. Smoke and dusty limestone minerality, roasted lemons, lemon curd and verbena, sauteed mushrooms and a hint of grated Parmesan cheese; once you sniff and taste this one, you don’t want to stop. The Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2010 is vibrant and chiseled, dense and chewy yet ineffably light on its feet, both intense and generous, approachable yet opening to multiple layers of spice, fruit and minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. About 200 cases of each of these wines were imported. Exceptional. About $39.
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It has not been Spring-like at all, these days after that buoyant season should have sprung, but a couple of days ago I really wanted to cook something Spring-like, so I concocted a risotto with fresh English peas, shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto and basil, using whole-grain or brown rice, which takes about an hour to cook, stirring, stirring, stirring, adding broth, stirring, stirring, stirring, but one can get a lot of the New York Times read, one-handed, while that’s going on. (You have, of course, already shelled the peas, blanched them and given them an ice-water bath to retain the bright green color and sauteed the onions or shallot.)

So, what to serve? An equally Spring-like wine, the Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2011, from Alsace. Something about pinot blanc reminds me of Spring, and not just the name, which could be construed as colorless but I perceive as delicate and inviting; there are many pinots, but this is the white one, not so much a blank as filled with sunshine and light. And there is about the wines made from this grape a similar sense of sunlight, rare understated elegance and innate decorum and delight. That delight was manifest in the pairing of the risotto and the wine, and while it may have been chilly and blustery outside, in our house it felt like a far more balmy and bountiful season.

Such a one is the all stainless steel Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc d’Alsace 2011, from an estate that traces its history to the 17th Century — not unusual for Alsace. Naturally there are holdings in Grand Cru vineyards and wines made from other single-designated vineyards, but the wine we look at today falls under the “Classique” rubric of everyday table wines, “everyday” but not ordinary. The color is very pale straw-gold; the bouquet blithely blends notes of lime peel and roasted lemon, honeysuckle and lilac, a touch of quince and a hint of cloves, this panoply of effects set neatly into a background of slightly earthy minerality in the limestone and damp shale range. Juicy and cloud-like lemon and yellow plum flavors are bolstered by fleet acidity that keeps the wine crisp and lively and a vigorous yet quicksilver mineral element that never asserts too much gravity on what is essentially a ripe luminously tasty wine. A refreshing 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, meaning Excellent Value.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.

Weekend Wine Sips has been devoted rather relentlessly to red wines from California, so for a complete change of mood and mode, we turn to white wines from France, one from Bordeaux, one from the Loire Valley, one from Burgundy, the remainder from the South. One is a sweet sparkling wine, three are dessert wines and the other five are dry and perfectly suited to the changes in weather and food that are inching upon us. These are quick reviews, taken often directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest and spark your palate. I keep technical, geographical and historical information and ruminative speculation to a minimum, so the emphasis is on the wines and my impressions of them. The “Little James,” the Sancerre, the Bourgogne and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise were my purchases; the rest were samples for review. Enjoy… and have a good rest of the weekend.
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Jaillance Cuvée Impériale Clairette de Die “Tradition”, nv. 7% alc. Muscat blanc à petits grains 90%, clairette blanc 10%. My previous experiences with Clairette de Die were dry sparklers, but they were 100% clairette; this jaunty example is definitely sweet. Pleasantly effervescent, a lovely mild straw-gold color; pears and peaches, softly ripe, notes of cloves, lime peel, spiced tea and limestone; hint of jasmine and some tropical fruit, lively acidity. A bit too douce for my palate, but should be pleasing as an aperitif or with desserts with fresh berries. Very Good+. About $16, a Good Value.
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Little James’ Basket Press 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 33-year-old viognier from Minervois with sauvignon blanc and muscat of Alexandria. From Chateau de Saint Cosme, established in Gigondas in the Northern Rhone in 1570. Pale straw gold; pears, yellow plums and a touch of peach, some astringent little white flower nestled in a briery hedge; fig and thyme, hint of caramelized fennel; very dry, very crisp and taut, a bit of greengage and grass. Highly unusual, really appealing. Very Good+. About $14, making Great Value.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. 13.5%. 100% picpoul grapes. Pale straw color; honeydew melon, yellow plums, orange blossom and zest; crisp acidity but with a lovely silken texture; bracing, savory and saline, a hint of salt-marsh with dried grasses, thyme and sage; sleek mineral-packed finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $14, Buy by the Case.
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Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Chardonnay 2011, Vin de Pays d’Aude. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; very dry, taut, crisp, vibrant; lemon and cloves, ginger and a hint of quince; lemon balm and a touch of grapefruit with its welcome astringency; attractive texture subtly balanced between moderately dense lushness and pert acidity; lots of limestone and flint. An attractive and slightly individual chardonnay. Very Good+. About $14.
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Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2011, Loire Valley. 11-14% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Scintillating purity and intensity; pale straw-gold color; gunflint and limestone, roasted lemon and lemon drop, lime peel and tangerine; bare hint of grass in the background; very dry, tense, lean, pent with energy; deeply earthy with a hint of sauteed mushrooms; long flinty, steely finish, a little austere. Feels archetypal. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color; just freakin’ lovely chardonnay, minutely, gracefully sliding into maturity; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touch of grapefruit and mango; limestone under a soft haze of spicy oak; very dry, with plangent acidity and a lithe but generous texture; a wayward hint of orange blossom and lime peel, ginger and quince jam; long silken finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $27.
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Les Petits Grains 2011, Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois. (Les Vignerons de la Mediterranee) 15% alc. Pale gold color; orange blossom and candied orange peel, baked peaches, pears and quince; cloves and sandalwood; bananas Foster with buttered rum; dense and viscous without being heavy; lightly honeyed cinnamon toast; a long sweet finish balanced by vibrant acidity. Very Good+. About $14, for a 375-milliliter half-bottle, a Steal.
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Domaine des Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. 15% alc. Brassy gold-light amber color; softly ripe and macerated peaches and apricots; tremendous sweetness that turns dry mid-palate then austere on the finish, testifying to the immense powers of rigorous acidity; crème brùlée with a touch of the sweet ashy “burned” sugar; caramelized apricot with a hint of baked pineapple; that distinctive slightly funky muscat floral character; lip-smacking viscosity. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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Chateau de Cosse 2008, Sauternes. 13.5% alc. 85% semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc. The second label of Chateau Rieussec, owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Medium gold color with a greenish tint; smoke, spiced peach and candied grapefruit, pungent with lime peel and mango and a touch of buttered pear; cloves, vanilla and toasted almonds; satiny smooth, clean, pure, dense yet elegant; exquisite balance and verve. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
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The Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, non-vintage, made completely from chardonnay grapes grown in the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper, sports a new, simpler and slightly more elegant label. (And a slightly higher price than the last time I tried it. C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?) The color is shimmering pale gold, and the tiny bubbles surge upward is a steady swirling eddy. Made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this is quite lemony, with touches of lemon balm, apple and limestone and, after a few moments in the glass, a hint of crystallized ginger. Pert acidity keeps this sparkler bright and lively, while a scintillating mineral element — limestone and flint — lends earthy authority. It’s dry, appealingly effervescent, stylish and tasty, and it offers, as a bonus, a final fillip of sweet floral bounty. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

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

The past Yuletide season, that cornucopia of Champagne and sparkling wine, is but a dim memory now; might as well not have happened. Valentine’s? So last week. Yet is there ever a day in the history of the cosmos that would not be made better by the imbibing of some sort of sparkling wine? Think how much improved our poor benighted, beset and conflicted world would be if everyone just chilled and had a glass of (chilled) Champagne or sparkling wine at 11 a.m. Of course we can’t all drink Champagne all the time; it’s too expensive. So today, in order to launch you on your path toward daily sparkling wine enlightenment, serenity and world peace, I introduce the Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, originating, naturally, in Alsace, the region of France that seems to hold more ancient estates per square meter than any other hallowed piece of vineyardry. Operated (on biodynamic terms) by brothers Jacky and Maurice Barthelmé and their wives Marie-Claire and Marie-Thérèse, the Albert Mann estate resulted from the combining of two family estates that were established in the early and mid 17th Century; that’s the 1600s, for the chronologically-challenged. The 21-hectare property — about 54 acres — includes five Grand Cru vineyards.

The Albert Mann Brut 2010, Crémant d’Alsace, made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, offers a shimmering pale gold color and a swirling tempest of tiny bubbles. The wine is a blend of pinot blanc, auxerrois, pinot gris and riesling grapes. Aromas of green apples and limes, steel and limestone, ginger and cloves and a hint of jasmine and roasted lemon segue seamlessly into flavors that while tasty take a back seat to a remarkably savory and saline sensation that builds upon clean, bright acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. This is a sparkling wine that travels in the course of a sniff, a sip and a swallow from spicy, fruity appeal to spare elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Pa. A trade group sample for review.

All right, O.K., O.K., all right, I perceive a backlash against writing about Brut Rosé sparkling wines and Champagnes for Valentine’s, and I know who you curmudgeons are. Come on, tomorrow is all about romance, rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines are romantic, or, granted have the reputation for being romantic — marketers are working overtime — and they tend to be beautiful and impressive. I, for one, love Brut Rosé Champagne, and I damn well would not pass up a rosé sparkling wine from Alsace or the Loire Valley or one of the many fine examples produced in California. My preference in these wines is for elegance and spareness, great bones and stones, sleekness and subtlety, though I don’t disdain fruit and floridness either. And of course, there must be bubbles, billions on tiny glinting bubbles. numberless as the numberless stars in the numberless galaxies! Ahem. For your consideration today, with an eye toward intimate tete-a-tetes with your sweetheart of whatever genre, nationality or political persuasion, I offer one Italian sparkling wine and six French: three Champagnes of various characters and prices and more inexpensive sparkling wines from Alsace and the Loire. With one exception, these products were samples for review; the David Léclapart L’Alchimiste was tasted at a trade event.

Here are links to other Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed on BTYH in the past year; all rate Excellent: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé Etoile and Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé here; J Brut Rosé here; Borgo Maragliano Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé here.

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Santa Margherita Brut Rosé. This sparkling wine, made from 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent glera, as the prosecco grapes is termed nowadays, and 5 percent malbec, is produced in Trentino-Alto Adige, though the label doesn’t say so. The color is pale onion skin with a persimmon glint; tiny bubbles rise in stately flow up the glass. Perhaps the dollop of malbec makes the difference, because this intriguing brut rose has something dusky, dusty and brambly about it; scents of red berries and stone fruit segue seamlessly to similar flavors that are cossetted by a moderately lush texture cut with efficient acidity. The wine is quite dry and crisp and slightly earthy, delivering a joyously sensual profile that flashes a serious earthy, limestone edge. 11.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. The color is radiant copper-salmon; the bubbles persist in a fine upward spiral. Scents of red currants and wild strawberries waft from the glass, with notes of spiced tea, orange zest and limestone. The texture of this 100 percent pinot noir sparkling wine is lovely, a winsome yet steely combination of crisp lively acidity and cloud-like softness of macerated red berries, though the finish gets all grown-up with flinty austerity and a hint of sea-salt. 12 percent alcohol. Founded in 1425, Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest continuously family-owned estates in Europe. Excellent. About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Dirler-Cadé Brut Rosé 2009, Crémant d’Alsace. The Dirler firm was founded in 1871, but it was the marriage of Jean Dirler and Ludivine Hell-Cadé — and what a moniker that is to live up to! –in 2000 that formed the present Dirler-Cadé estate, which is operated on bio-dynamic principles. The Brut Rosé 2009, composed completely from pinot noir grapes, offers a shimmering pale onion skin hue shading to light copper and a torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. An arresting bouquet of red currants, dried strawberries and blood oranges with a high note of pomegranate opens to hints of peach, limestone and clove-infused tea. The word “shimmering” seems to apply to every aspect of this super-attractive sparking wine, from its brisk acidity to its slightly macerated red fruit flavors to its lacy limestone sense of transparency. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Langlois-Chateau Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire. The delicacy of this sparkling wine’s blush of peach-copper color and the elegance of its constant fountain of silver bubbles are a bit deceptive, because its composition — 100 percent cabernet franc grapes — lends a touch of complexity that many examples don’t convey. Yet it remains completely refreshing, even seductive, with its panoply of ripe and slightly smoky red fruit scents and flavors; in fact, in its winsome floral-lime peel-orange zest qualities and its ineffably flint-and-limestone infused texture it comes close to being ethereal. What can I say; it feels romantic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Moët et Chandon Rosé Impérial. Here, friends, is a Brut Rosé for grown-ups. The blend, depending on the vintages involved, tends to be 40 to 50 percent pinot noir, 30 to 40 percent pinot meunier and 10 to 20 percent chardonnay. The color is a ruddy peach-copper hue; tiny bubbles form a seething torrential up-surge. The beguiling bouquet and the round flavors are characterized by blood oranges, red currants and strawberries both ripe and dried, all sifted with elements of chalk and limestone; the result is a Champagne that’s very dry and austere but svelte and supple, almost dense through the mid-palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in traces of softly ripened peaches and mint and hints of rose petals and white pepper. Whatever delicate overtones it manifests, this is a substantial, savory sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50, though one sees prices as high as $65.

Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, New York.
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Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé. This first foray into Champagne by the three branches of the Rothschild wine families is a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot noir. The color is a classic limpid onion skin with a tinge of copper; the bubbles too are classic: infinitely tiny silver flecks spiraling upward in a froth. The effect is pure strawberry, blood orange and peach, with hints of hazelnuts and cloves, exquisite effervescence and a burgeoning presence of chiming acidity and limestone minerality. The finish is deep and smoky and lithe, though at mid-palate the texture is dense and almost viscous. A great marriage of power and elegance; I’m not crazy about the down-market labeling, though. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 to $125.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Premier Cru Estate Extra-Brut Rosé. “Premier Cru” means that grapes for this Brut Rose, which takes the notion of elegance to a higher, more precise and faceted — call it glacial — level, derived from vineyards in villages classified as such. Premier Cru vineyards rate 90 to 99 percent in Champagne’s Echelle des Crus system; only Grand Cru vineyards achieve 100 percentile. Leclapart’s production is small — fewer than 1,000 cases for five types of Champagne — but they are definitely Worth a Search for devotees of elemental purity and intensity of purpose and result, as who is not, n’est-ce pas? The estate has operated on bio-dynamic principles since 1998. Other techniques are quite traditional. For this wine, the grapes are trod by foot three or four times a day in large wooden casks, with fermentation occurring in old barriques. Still, L’Alchimiste feels as if it had been conjured by some sort of alchemy. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it offers a radiant pale copper color, suffused with energetic flecks of tiny bubbles, and an utterly entrancing bouquet of watermelon, strawberries, dried red currants and roasted lemons; hints of some astringent mountain flower with notes of lime peel and lemongrass emerge from the background. This is an exceptionally dry, aristocratic Extra-Brut Rosé, with the finest of bone structures, underpinnings of crystalline limestone and clean acidity the flashes like a bright blade. Not for the timorous, perhaps, but delivers multiple rewards for the initiate. 13 percent alcohol. Exceptional. About $175. Sorry; perfection does not come cheap.

Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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Bring in the roller of big cigars, the pigs in blankets, the barbecue brisket nachos with black beans and jalapenos; bring in the slow-cooked ribs slathered with tangy sauce, the cheeseburger sliders and short-rib quesadillas, the fried chicken and the firehouse chili. For, lo, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday, and who gives a flip who’s playing and where, because the party and the food are the name of the game. And while I know that many of you out there will be downing your favorite beer with the rich, bountiful, caloric Super Bowl-type party food, allow me to recommend some Kick-Ass Bad Boy red wines that will serve you equally well. We draw on Argentina and Chile, Australia and France’s Loire Valley and several points through California. Not much in the way of technical, historical and geographical data here; just incisive reviews meant to whet your palates and perhaps your football-addled imaginations. Snap that ball, Froggie, and plow for the uprights! Or whatever.

These wines were samples for review.
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MontGras Quatro 2011, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 35% carmenere, 15% malbec, 10% syrah. Dark ruby, almost opaque; piercing shale and graphite minerality; ashes and currants say the bells of St. Lawrence, with dried thyme, cedar and tobacco; jubilant acidity and rollicking tannins with deep roots; not forgetting intense and concentrated black and blue fruit scents and flavors; multitude of layers and unfoldings though keeps something hidden that feels slightly perverse, definitely a Dark Knight of a wine. Excellent. About $14, an Incredible Value; Buy a Case.
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Gascon Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.9% alc. Dark ruby color; deeply saturated black currants and plums, very spicy and earthy, yet clean and fresh; a tense core of lavender and potpourri, bitter chocolate and cocoa powder; dusty, chewy tannins; a surprising touch of blueberry tart and fruitcake. Very Good+ and Very Good Value. About $15.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 13.5% alc. Dark ruby color; clean, sleek but robust; deeply spicy and flavorful; black fruit galore borne by a tide of blueberry with hints of rosemary, cedar and tobacco; stalwart tannins fit the mix with burly yet beneficent insistence. Always a solid performer. Very Good+. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Nuna Bonarda Reserva 2010, Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby color; tar, lavender and licorice, intensely ripe and spicy black currants, plums and mulberries; touches of fruitcake and plum pudding; polished and seductive yet very dry, densely tannic, resonant, a little brooding even, full-bodied, rustic. Very Good+. About $17.
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Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. Dark ruby color shading to medium ruby at the rim; pure and intense, a furnace of shiraz, huge presence of smoke and ash and the symmetry of a chiseled monument; very concentrated but deeply spicy blackberry and black currant scents and flavors; chewy, dusty, muscular yet with an element of fleetness and light. Through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $18, a Fantastic Bargain.
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Tower 15 Petite Sirah 2010, Paso Robles. 14.9% alc. Deep ruby-purple color; robust, rough-hewn, vibrant acidity and chock-a-block tannins, wild berries, black plums, blackberries and blueberries; backnotes of cloves and licorice, coiled potpourri; a little exotic but with characteristic earth-bound, graphite elements. Sadly only 167 cases, so Worth a Search. Very Good+. About $18.50.
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Morgan Winery Syrah 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 13.6% alc. Deep purple-mulberry color; smacky tannins, whiplash acidity; smoke, ash, leather, edgy graphite; oh, yes, juicy and spicy red and black cherries and plums with hints of blueberries and mulberries; earth, briers, wet dog, the whole syrah kit ‘n’ kaboodle. Lots of personality. Excellent. About $20.
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Catherine et Pierre Breton La Dilettante 2010, Bourgueil, Loire Valley, France. 12% alc. 100% cabernet franc. Light ruby-cranberry color; lithe and wiry, scintillating acidity and flint-like minerality; briers and brambles, thyme and black olives, hints of coffee and tobacco; black currants and blueberries; slightly shaggy tannins. A scrappy little wine despite its deceptive lightness. Through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $25.
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The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 15% alc. 50% syrah, 50% zinfandel. No, this wine is not dedicated to the NRA; the name is based on the fatal duel fought by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Dark ruby-purple color; inky, ashy, slinky; deep. rich with very ripe spicy black fruit scents and flavors yet taking the cool course of dominant flint and shale-like minerality; cigar box, tobacco, thyme; the zinfandel and syrah don’t so much duel here as kiss and make up. A real mouthful of wine. Excellent. About $36.
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Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. How old are those “Century Vines”? The vineyard was planted before 1877, so we’re talking at least 136 years old. Dark ruby shading to magenta; deep, spicy, ripe and roasted, a little earthy/funky; blackberry and blueberry with a touch of mulberry but none of that sissy, jammy boysenberry stuff; leather, briers and brambles, burgeoning tannins yet a serene air that’s appropriate for the venerable age of the vineyard. Now through 2149; just kidding! Make that 2019. Excellent. About $40.
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Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2010, McLaren Vale, Australia. 14.5% alc. Deep ruby-purple; stalwart and vigorous; smoke, ash and graphite with a charcoal edge; defines dense and chewy and full-bodied, but not ponderous or weighty; very intense and concentrated black currant, black cherry and plum scents and flavors (touch of mocha); dry but ripe and juicy; heaps of depth and dimension; a big but well-modulated wine. Excellent. About $45.
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Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, McLaren Vale. 14.5% alc. Sorta sexy, sorta beastly, but you won’t hate yourself in the morning for hooking up. Dark ruby-mulberry color, close to black; smooth and mellow yet somehow voluminous, with a tang of acidity and a distinct faceted charcoal/granitic character; very spicy, slightly macerated and roasted black currants and plums; clenched tannins give you a soft wallop in the finish. Excellent. About $45.
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Did you think we were finished with sparkling wine? Mais non, mes amis! Few are the wine regions around the world that don’t produce some type of sparkling wine, and we touch upon some of those areas today in a “Weekend Wine Sips” post that refers to France (a little mysteriously); Argentina; Spain; South Africa; and diverse appellations in California. With one exception, these 10 sparkling wines were samples for review. Unless a year is indicated, these are nonvintage sparklers. And with one exception, they were all produced in the traditional Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

I was at a doctor’s office last week, and the younger nurses and assistants were all saying “Have a Super Sparkly Day” to each other, with the appropriate amount of cynicism. This term, from the credit card commercial that drove the United States of America half bonkers during the Yuletide season, has gone viral, and there are, of course, t-shirts now available. I certainly hope that as far as sparkling wine or Champagne is concerned that you indeed “Have a Super Sparkly Day.”

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Cachette Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, “France.” 11.5% alc. Just a tad of enological and geographical info here. This pleasant little sparkling wine is made from the airen grape, the white-grape workhorse of Spain but one not allowed an official label designation in France; nobody’s saying you can’t grow the grape, you just can’t put any information on the label or use a legal appellation. “Bottled by V.A. at 21200″ is what we’re told, and thanks to my research assistant, Miss Google, I can tell you that 21200 is the postal code of the hamlet of Meursanges (population 485 in 2010), in the Cote-d’Or department, Beaune district, Beaune-Sud township; in other words — Burgundy. Pale straw color; moderate stream of fairly fine bubbles; clean, fresh dry; brisk and refreshing; lots of limestone and flint; no great character but serves a purpose with decency and grace. Very Good. About $15.
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Mont-Ferrant Brut Rosé Cava, Spain. 12.46% alc. Monastrell 55%, garnacha 40%, pinot noir 5%. Cherry-maroon color; pleasing effervescence; pure raspberry and strawberry; ripe and spicy, a touch sweet initially but goes dry with taut acidity and limestone minerality; vibrant and robust, almost tannic; a wild quality, brambles, roses. Intriguing style. Very Good+. About $19.
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Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvée, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 89% pinot noir, 8% chardonnay, 3% muscat. Icy blond color, a froth of tiny platinum bubbles. Almond and almond blossom; lemon and quince, ginger and cloves; touch of slightly honeyed star-fruit; round and creamy but shivery with crisp acid and limestone minerality; altogether warm and seductive with a touch of sweetness at the beginning. Really charming. Very Good+. About $22.
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Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé 2011, Stellenbosch, South Africa. 12% alc. 53% pinotage, 35% pinot noir, 12% pinot meunier. Pale copper-salmon color; exuberant bubbles, pretty in pink; strawberry and raspberry, very steely with a limestone background, bright acidity; cery clean, slick as a whistle, a little earthy though, raspberry with all the rasp. Charming and interesting. Very Good+. About $25.
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JCB No. 21 Brut, Crémant de Bourgogne. 12% alc. Pinot noir and chardonnay. Pale gold color; lively effervescence; lemon and lime peel, touch of candied grapefruit; very crisp and dry, steely and stony, heaps of limestone and flint; spiced pear and a hint of orange blossom; taut and vibrant. Very Good+. The Boisset website lists this at $25, but on the Internet I have not seen it over $20, and in fact that’s what I paid.
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Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Robertson, South Africa. 12.21% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale straw-gold color; clean-cut, sleek and elegant, lots of cut; also a ton of limestone and steel-like minerality, cool and bracing; yet it’s round, spicy, with hints of roasted lemon and smoked and slightly honeyed almonds. Very Good+. About $25.
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V. Sattui Prestige Cuvée Brut 2009, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 81% chardonnay, 19% pinot noir. Pale mild gold color; nice constant stream of bubbles; crisp, clean and fresh; apples and lime peel, hints of limestone and chalk; plenty of verve from acid and scintillating minerality but lacks a little substance; still quite enjoyable. Very Good+. About $29. Available at the winery or through the V. Sattui website.
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Bianchi Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina. 12.3% alc. 60% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir. Pale gold with faint green highlights; ethereal stream of tiny bubbles; a distinctly ripe, earthy and fleshy style of sparkling wine; roasted pear, apricots and yellow plums, subsumed to pert acidity and a bracing mineral element of limestone and shale; taut yet luscious. Very Good+. About $30.
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Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs 2007, Napa Valley. 12.5% alc. 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot gris. Light straw-gold color; an exuberant host of tiny bubbles; delicate, elegant, steely; definitely citrusy with notes of lime, ginger and quince, definitely minerality with dominating limestone and flint; very high-toned, crisp, sleek; you can imagine it glittering as it walked. Excellent. About $36.
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Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut, North Coast. 13% alc. 55% chardonnay, 25% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier. A substantial sparkling wine that announces its character in a resonant balance of austerity and robustness; slightly brassy gold color; upward spiraling stream of tiny bubbles; lightly buttered cinnamon toast, crystallized ginger, quince jam, roasted lemon; delicate up-notes of lime peel, wheatmeal and toffee; vibrant structure animated by vivid acidity yet slightly creamy, touch of roasted hazelnuts. A fine example of California sparkling wine. Excellent. About $40.
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It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
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Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

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Apaltagua Envero Gran Reserva Carménère 2010, Calchagua Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $14.

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Aventino Tempranillo 2007, Ribera del Duero, Spain. Excellent. About $13.

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Bastianich Adriatico Friulano 2010, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy. Excellent. About $16.

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Bonny Doon Vineyard Albarino 2011, Central Coast, California. Excellent. About $18.

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Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. Excellent. About $19.

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Bodegas Carchelo “C” 2010, Jumilla, Spain. 40 percent each monastrell and syrah, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $16.

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Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
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Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

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Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
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Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

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J Pinot Gris 2011, California. Excellent. About $15.

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Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Verdelho 2010, Alta Mesa, Lodi. Excellent. About $15.

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Meli Dry Riesling 2011, Maule Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $13.

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Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. Excellent. About $15.

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Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
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Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

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Navarro Pinot Grigio 2011, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $16.

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Numero III Rosado de Monastrell 2011, Bulles, Spain. Excellent. About $12.

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Quirvira Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

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St. Clement Chardonnay 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $19.

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San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barnas, La Rioja, Argentina. Excellent. About $11.

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Terrazas Reserva Torrontés 2011, Cafayate Terrace, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.

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Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $18.

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So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
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Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
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Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
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Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
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Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
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Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
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Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
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M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
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M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
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Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
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Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
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Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
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Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
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Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
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Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
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Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
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Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
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Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
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La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
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Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
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Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
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Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
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Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
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Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
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Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
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McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
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Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
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Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
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Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
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Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
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Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
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Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
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Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
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Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
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St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
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Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
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Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
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Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
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Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
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Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
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