France


I don’t think anybody or at least very few people celebrate the festive event of Twelfth Night now, but in Shakespeare’s day, when he wrote the charming and thoughtful romantic comedy “Twelfth Night; or, What You Will,” this day marked the end of the fun-filled, if not riotous Yuletide season and its culmination in the solemnity of the Epiphany. It’s all a fitting way to segue into a new year, during the month of, as far as the Romans were concerned, looking forward and gazing back. Be that as it may, I always enjoy the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine,” especially when I can inform My Readers about products that may be interesting or unusual or new to them. I hope that I achieved success in that criteria for this, the sixth segment of the series. Looking forward, as Janus was wont to do with one of his faces, we have coming up on BTYH the “50 Great Wines of 2012″ and “25 Great Bargains of 2012,” though in a way, that’s looking back too. If I didn’t already do so, here on Twelfth Night I’ll wish all of you a Happy New Year and a 2013 that works to the best of your advantages and dreams.

Image from agoldoffish.wordpress.com.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I have enjoyed tasting and writing about wines from Domaine Mittnacht Fréres several times this year, and certainly up to the standard is the Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace, a Champagne method sparkling wine that’s a blend of 50 percent pinot auxerrois (a white clone of pinot noir) and approximately equal portions of riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. This is a crisp, lively and slightly chiseled sparkling wine that offers a pale straw color, loads of tiny bubbles and a fairly exquisite sense of delicacy married to purpose. Hints of pear, apricot and crystallized ginger are tempered by steel and flint for an overall impression that’s lean, spare and elegant but expressing lots of appeal and personality. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices range from about $19 to $24.

A Daniel Johnnes Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 48 percent chardonnay, 44 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier, it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
It’s a little daunting to encounter an estate whose motto is “Ethics. Ecology. Ethos.” and that gives its products names like “Sagesse,” “Tolérance,” “Harmonie” and “Reliance.” You wonder if you’re up to it. Taste the Champagnes from the little estate — I mean, 10 acres — of Franck and Isabelle Pascal, though, and you’ll realize that you don’t have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson to enjoy them. Franck Pascal took over his family’s property in 1994, when he was only 23, and he quickly worked to convert the vineyards to biodynamic practices. Whatever the reasons and effects of ethics, ecology and ethos, these are Champagnes of intense purity, power and elegance. Let’s bring this 2012/2013 edition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” to a close with the Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé, a blend (according to the importer’s website) of 58 percent pinot meunier, 39 percent pinot noir and 3 percent chardonnay; 94 percent of the wine came from the 2004 vintage, 6 percent from 2005. The color is very pale but radiant onion skin with a faint coppery hue; the bubbles are almost explosive in their initial upward surge. Tolérance is an incredibly dry, high-toned and refined brut rose, with depth upon depth of limestone and shale-like minerality and yet so lacy and transparent that it feels not just delicate but crystalline and frangible., though cemented ultimately by the elemental and adamantine litheness of its tremendous acidity. It allows nuances of red-tinged berry-like scents and flavors, with faint, beguiling touches of dried fruit, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, but this is mainly about exquisiteness, fine-breeding and Alpine austerity. I love it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $65, and Worth a Search.

Imported by LDM Wines, New York.

… and by special I mean that what I describe today is a fine Champagne from a great vintage (if farmers and producers were careful) that’s fully mature and will continue to drink well for another decade. The product in question is the Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from a house that goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and the planting of pinot noir vines by Emile Fleury. This estate was among the first to bottle its own Champagne, starting in 1927 with Robert Fleury, Emile’s son. In the 1970s, Emile’s grandson Jean-Pierre became concerned about the potential damage that the family’s vineyards could suffer under the regimen of the usual chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and he began researching organic methods, eventually finding his way to biodynamic practices, which have prevailed at Fleury since 1989. The 15-hectare estate — 37.5 acres and 90 percent pinot noir — is now operated by Emile’s great-grandson, Jean-Sébastien.

So, what do we have? The Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996 sports a medium gold color with darker gold highlights and a plethora of infinitely teeny bubbles that spiral upward in dazzling but sedate display. Buttered toast and warm brioche; cloves, ginger and a hint of white truffles; lime peel, limestone and a flicker of flint: all of these elements add up to a complete sense of balance, suavity and elegance, but with a touch of something wild, yeasty, perpetually burgeoning. This is, in short, a Champagne of tremendous presence, tone and character that delivers a profound presence of limestone and gravel minerality layered with vibrant acidity and the subtlest of stone fruit flavors touched with smoke and toffee and sea-salt; the finish — long, lacy, racy, complex — devolves to limestone, spice and some austerity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to 2026. Excellent. National average price is $109, but realistically, look for $90 to $100. Worth a Search.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.

The house of Henriot was founded in 1808 by Apolline Henriot, widow of a vigneron and scholar whose family had owned vineyards since 1640. Henriot makes about 55,000 cases of champagne annually, which puts it in the fair-to-middling level; by comparison Taittinger makes 355,000 cases a year and Mumm makes 625,000. On the other hand, the company has displayed a fairly aggressive tendency toward acquisition, now owning, among other properties, the estates of Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy and William Fevre in Chablis.

The Henriot Brut Souverain is usually touted as the house “entry-level” Champagne, meaning that it’s the least expensive of the roster. Be that as it may, we drank this blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay on New Year’s Eve (and last night too) with our own cured gravlox, and it was delicious. The color is radiant medium gold; a tide of tiny bubbles swirls vigorously up the glass. Biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger are wreathed with notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance as moments pass. The Henriot Brut Souverain is one of those Champagnes — or any wine, too — that delivers so much personality and verve, so much frank appeal that its place in the firmament of beverages hardly matters; it draws you in irresistibly, and you just want to keep drinking. Part of that dynamic can be ascribed to the Champagne’s vivacious acidity; part to its almost glittering minerality; and part to its refreshing balance of savory and saline elements with the more ethereal nature of its effervescence. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $52 as a national average, though I have seen it priced as low as $35.

Imported by Henriot USA, New York.

… and I offer, as usual, a variety of Champagnes and sparkling wines to suit, I hope, every taste and pocketbook and every occasion, whether you’re entertaining the entire cast of Survivor: Dude, Is Mars Even Inhabitable? to the most private, secret rendezvous a deux. And be careful tonight and in the wee hours. I don’t want to lose any of My Readers to the vagaries of drunkenness, whether in themselves or others. Happy New Year!
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, the Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée Brut, California, is manufactured in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, and for the price, it’s completely appropriate for large crowds. It’s a racy blend of chenin blanc, French colombard, chardonnay and pinot noir that’s fresh, effervescent, clean, crisp and very dry; packed with limestone-like minerality verging on the saline quality of oyster shells, it offers hints of roasted lemons and pears and a touch of spice. According to Kenwood’s website, the Yulupa Cuvée Brut is available only in December. Very Good. About $12, but discounted as low as $9 throughout the country.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The story of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling wines in Sonoma County makes a chronicle of constant improvement and success. In fact, one of the products I reviewed in my first wine column, published in July, 1984, in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, was a very early rendition of the Gloria Ferrer Brut, and I didn’t think much of it. I’m happy to say that’s not the case all these years later. The Gloria Ferrer Brut, Sonoma County, is a blend of 91.2 percent pinot noir and 8.8 percent chardonnay, and I sort of dote on that accuracy of detail. The color is medium gold with a pale copper flush, energized by a streaming froth of tiny golden bubbles. Notes of dried strawberries and raspberries reveal hints of roasted lemons and lime peel over a layer of limestone and flint; lip-smacking acidity keeps this sparking wine crisp and lively, while its lovely, dense texture, given a dose of elegance by scintillating minerality, lends personality and appeal. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.
A sample for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Argyle Brut 2008, Willamette Valley, Oregon, a blend of 63 percent pinot noir and 37 percent chardonnay, presents an exuberant welter of fresh biscuits and steel, cinnamon bread and limestone, quince and crystallized ginger. The color is pale gold; tiny winking bubbles spiral ever upward. I cannot overemphasize the terrifically irresistible nature of this sparkling wine, its elegance and elevating nature, its blitheness rooted in the stones and bones of crisp, nervy acidity and the essential, lacy element of limestone-like minerality. In the background are hints of lemons, baked apple and toasted hazelnuts, these elements subsumed into a finish that delivers a final fillip of flint and caramelized grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
All right, so you want real Champagne for New Year’s Eve, like from France, the Champagne region, but you don’t want to hijack your credit card or fall into 2013 already entailed by debt. (Haha, good luck with that!) Choose, then, the Champagne Philippe Fontaine Brut Tradition, a 70/30 pinot noir/pinot meunier blend that will satisfy your festive taste-buds and spirit as well as your wallet. The color is shimmering pale gold, and tiny bubbles indeed shimmer up through the glass. This is an very attractive, clean yet savory and nicely faceted Champagne that features a modulated toasty character, vibrant blade-like acidity, heaps of limestone and flint elements for minerality and a texture engagingly balanced between fleetness and moderate density. What’s not to like? 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices vary widely, but the national average is about $28.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
David Léclapart cultivates three hectares — about 7.7 acres — of mainly chardonnay vines in the Premier Cru village of Trépail. I have unfortunately never possessed a whole bottle of any of Léclapart’s four cuvees — L’Amateur, L’Artiste, L’Alchimiste, L’Apôtre — having tasted them on three occasions in New York at trade events, but those encounters made me wish devoutly for more intimate and prolonged contact. The estate has been operated since 1998 on biodynamic principles, certified by EcoCert and Demeter; the wines are made sans dosage, that is, without sugar for the second fermentation, so they are bone-dry, sometimes achingly so. And yet they are, at least to my palate, eminently appealing, though equally demanding, even rigorous. Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (sometimes called the estate’s “entry-level” wine) is a 100 percent chardonnay Champagne that was fermented in stainless steel. Notes of limestone, flint and steel practically explode from the glass; paradoxically, while it takes elegance to the farthest extreme in the realms of chilliest allure, L’Amateur reveals a savory, earthy background, as well as an unexpected wisp of camellia and fresh apples and pears. Acidity, it’s almost needless to mention, is of the most resonance and chiseled quality, while the limestone element feels deeply and irrevocably etched. If I were summoned to my fate tomorrow morning on the dueling ground, I would sip a glass of this Champagne before turning to face my foe. 12.5 percent alcohol. Exceptional. Again, price range across the map, but the national average appears to be about $83.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In doing the research on the Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut — “between sky and earth” — I ran into contradictory information about its composition. Some sources said that it was 100 percent pinot meunier, others that it was 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir, and still others that is was a blend of 41 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 24 percent pinot meunier. I contacted Jon-David Headrick, importer of Françoise Bedel, and asked “what’s up?” It turns out that all the sources were correct but for different editions of the wine. The composition of the example that I tried in New York back in February, at “The Return to Terroir” event, is indeed 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. The vast variation in the make-up of “Entre Ciel et Terre” isn’t the result of inconsistency but a conscious decision to allow the character of the year and the harvest to dictate the nature of the wine. Unlike the large Champagne firms, which maintain an identifiable house-style year by year, especially for the non-vintage products, small estates tend not to purchase grapes or keep large stores of reserve wines for blending. There’s nothing wrong with the former practice; one reason I love a Champagne like the nonvintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve is because it does provide the pleasure and security of a consistent and recognizable manner. It’s also gratifying though to mark the individuality and handcrafted qualities of smaller, primarily family-owned and operated houses like Champagne Françoise Bedel.

Françoise Bedel took over her parents’ estate in the tiny village of Crouttes sur Marne in 1979; her son Vincent joined her professionally in 2003. Bedel owns 8.4 hectares — about 20.75 acres — of vines that range from 20 to 60 years old. The emphasis is on the pinot meunier grape, which accounts for 79 percent of the vineyards, with chardonnay making up 14 percent and pinot noir 7 percent. The estate has been operated on biodynamic principles since 1998, that is, no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and a strict calendar-based regimen of special organic “teas” and totally natural mixtures to ensure the health and integrity of the vineyards. I’m a skeptic about the efficacy of the more radical biodynamic philosophy and techniques, but in the case of Francoise Bedel, the result is great Champagne.

You know how there are some grand edifices that are imposing without being distinguished? In terms of that comparison, Françoise Bedel Cuvee Entre Ciel et Terre Brut is both imposing and distinguished. This is indeed a Champagne of grand proportions, quite sizable, very dry, possessing dimension and detail in abundance. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a tempest-like froth of bubbles. The approach is all limestone and steel, with a snap of gun-flint and undertones of cloves and ginger. It’s a mouth-filling Champagne, substantial, high-toned, even a little demanding in its sheer elegance and austerity; one understands the metaphor of earth and sky in its inextricable melding of scintillating minerality and (paradoxically) the more delicate elusive fruit and floral qualities that provide a sense of urgent elevation. This is exciting stuff, a Champagne of great character yet tremendous appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75 as a national average.

Imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.

December 29 is the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by four knights of Henry II in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1172. Today’s birthdays include Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), Andrew Johnson, our luckless 17th president (1808-1875); and Mary Tyler Moore (76), Marianne Faithfull (66), Ted Danson (65), Patricia Clarkson (53) and Jude Law (40).

Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquarted in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson BCC, headed by Bruno Paillard.

The Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut, non-vintage — though it would be more accurate to say mixed or blended vintages — offers a beautiful moderate gold color and a robust fountain of tiny bubbles. The impression this Champagne creates is, in fact, of a robust character that manages to be fairly elegant at the same time. The blend of grapes is 45 percent pinot meunier, 35 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. This is toasty, with lots of acacia and almond blossom, biscuits and cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and lemons, hints of toffee and walnut crème; also, though, there’s a delicate structure of clean acidity, fresh apples and apple skin, cloves and allspice, a sort of lacy transparency of limestone and flint, with a finish that stretches out in a pleasing but slightly bracing and austere haze of minerals, hay, stone fruit and, ok, more crisply faceted minerals. The whole effect is somewhat lapidary. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.

Birthdays today: Our 28th President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924); jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983); actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996); and among the living, Stan Lee (90), Maggie Smith (78), Denzel Washington (58), Noomi Rapace (33) and Sienna Miller (31).

One of my “rules” in the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series — now in its sixth year! — is that I never repeat a wine. I may repeat a label or brand, perhaps, but not the same product. I say that now because I included two Champagnes from the house of Gosset in the first week of January segment of this series in 2007/2008 — the Grande Reserve Brut and the Brut Excellent — and today will review a different one, the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut.

Established in 1584, the house of Gosset is the oldest wine producer in Champagne. In those days, however, the wine wasn’t the sparkling product that we know and love today; that process didn’t begin until the late 17th Century, and for 125 years or so the practice of producing a sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was an inexact and accident-prone science. In any case, the Gosset family was certainly there at the creation of the champagne wine industry.

In 1994, after 410 years of ownership by the same family, Gosset was purchased by the Remy-Cointreau company and Beatrice Cointreau was put in charge, wisely keeping to the same regime of grapes purchased primarily from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, barrel fermentation and no malolactic, so the Gosset champagnes retain more than usual vivacity.

The Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is a pale blond beauty, all steel and limestone and quince and with intriguing hints of ginger, hay and lemongrass, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles and fleet-footed acidity. Blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — means that this is all chardonnay and in this case all grapes from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is cool, sleek and elegant, exactly as I like a blanc de blancs to be, yet it exudes a touch of biscuits and buttered cinnamon toast for a bit of warmth. This feels completely dry, and the limestone-like minerality and vibrant acidity build from mid-palate back through the finish, concluding in an element of chalk-like and slightly honeyed but brisk grapefruit austerity that merely adds to the Champagne’s somewhat Olympian allure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $68.

I chose the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut to accompany our traditional Christmas Day Southern Breakfast of fried eggs, grits, biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy. Why, you ask, such a high-toned Champagne with such a down-home meal? Because it takes that effervescence, the bright acidity and the cleanness, the blade-like effect to cut through the richness and the fat, and because it’s, you know, just plain fun.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Florida. A sample for review.

No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Look no further than the Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Blanc 2011, Côtes du Rhône, for an incredibly reasonably priced white wine to go with all manner of food — we had a few glasses with turkey noodle soup — or to serve as an aperitif. Les Abeilles means “the bees” in French, a reference to the busy little pollen-spreading workers that populate Colombo’s vineyards. This sprightly, highly drinkable wine is a blend of 80 percent clairette grapes and 20 percent roussanne, derived from vineyards in the regions of Cairanne, Rasteau and Vacqueyres, the first two allowed to be named on labels of Côtes du Rhône-Villages, the third receiving its own A.O.C in 1990. Les Abeilles 2011 was fermented in stainless steel and briefly aged 15 percent in oak barrels, 85 percent in stainless steel tanks. The result is a wine that is notably clean, fresh and appealing, while being subtly shaped and supported by the nuanced wood influence. The color is medium straw-gold; aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear are permeated by notes of dried thyme and sage, almond and almond blossom and a hint of yellow plum. It’s silky and supple on the palate, spare and taut and almost reticent yet imbued with tasty lemon and grapefruit flavors highlighted by touches of cloves and limestone and an invigorating element of salt marsh and sea breeze and crisp acidity. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Value.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton. A sample for review.

Welcome back, Weekend Wine Sips, after a two week hiatus! “Thanks, FK, glad to be back!” So what do we have in store today? “Well, FK, since this segment of BTYH took some time off, I thought I’d assemble a vastly varied group of 12 wines that should appeal to just about every taste and pocketbook as well as hitting diverse regions.” Sounds good, WWS, can you be more specific? “Of course! We have four white wines, three rosés and five reds, and we’re looking at two regions of Spain, Argentina, Italy, Alsace, different areas of California and Washington state.” Sounds exciting! “Thanks! I think our readers will find a lot to ponder and enjoy.” And as usual –? “Right you are, FK! No tech notes, no history or geographical info, just quick, pithy, insightful notes and remarks that grab the essence of the wine and shake it out on the table!” Ah, perhaps I wouldn’t have put the case exactly in those words, but what the hell! “Indeed! And I say, let the show begin!” Don’t forget to mention, as per FTC regulations — “Oh, damn! These wines were samples for review.”
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Viña Reboreda 2011, Ribeira, Spain. 11.5% alc. 40% treixadura grapes, 20% each godello, torrontés and palomino. Pale straw-gold color; clean, fresh aromas of roasted lemons and spiced pears permeated by hints of dried thyme and limestone; taut, bracing acidity; texture indulges in lushness that feels almost powdery, like electrified talcum powder; citrus and stone-fruit flavors persist through a finish that pours on the limestone. Very Good+. About $13.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. 100% semillon grapes. Pale straw-gold with a faint greenish cast; fig and pear, green pea, hint of grapefruit; sleek and smooth but with a touch of wildness in its weedy-meadowy quality; ripe and almost luscious but quite dry, crisp and lively and truly spare and high-toned; hint of almond skin bitterness on the finish. Extraordinary power and character for the price. Production was 1,000 cases. Excellent. About $16, marking Tremendous Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaines Schlumberger Les Princes Abbes Pinot Gris 2009, Alsace, France. 100% pinot gris. 13.5% alc. Medium straw-gold color; beguiling bouquet of pear, peach and melon heightened by jasmine and cloves and a tinge of honeyed grapefruit; quite spicy and lively in the mouth, just this side of exuberant yet a wine imbued with the dignity of limestone and flint; slightly sweet initially but shifts smoothly to bone-dry through the mineral-and-grapefruit flecked finish. Drank this with the soup made from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass. Excellent. About $20. How can they sell it so cheaply?
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jordan Chardonnay 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Clean, fresh, spare, elegant; lovely balance and integration; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors permeated by ripe slightly spicy stone fruit and hints of ginger and quince; seductive texture that’s almost cloud-like yet enlivened by crystalline acidity and an inundation of liquid limestone. Very dry, a bit austere through the finish; one of the most Chablis-like of California’s chardonnays. Excellent. About $29.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosato 2011, Navarra, Spain. 13% alc. 100% garnacha grapes. Entrancing bright cherry magenta; pure raspberry and strawberry, touches of watermelon and mulberry; dark, more full-bodied than most rosés; notes of briers and slate for an earthy undertone. Quite charming, but nothing light or delicate. Very Good+. About $13.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Heller Estate Merlot Rosé 2011, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 100% organic merlot grapes. Light cherry-violet color; raspberry, mulberry and melon with a touch of pomegranate; very stony and spicy, with hints of damp slate and dusty herbs; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and thirst-quenching. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $21.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Lasseter Family Winery Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 13.2% alc. 73% syrah, 24% mourvèdre, 3% grenache. Entrancing shimmering pale salmon-copper color; delicate, spare, elegant; dried raspberries and cranberries with hints of melon and pomegranate, backnotes of cloves and orange zest; quite dry but subtly ripe and flavorful; “I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows”; pert acidity, slightly stony but not austere. Quite lovely rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme 2010, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. 14% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium cherry-ruby color; a beguiling mélange of smoky and sweetly ripe red cherries and red currants with hints of blueberry and mulberry; undertones of violets and potpourri and gentle touches of briers and graphite-like minerality, with a smooth segue into the mouth, all elements supported by moderately chewy tannins, bright acidity and subdued granitic earthiness. Excellent. About $15, marking Great Value.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Lasseter Family Winery Chemin de Fer 2010, Sonoma Valley. 14.8% alc. 49% grenache, 38% syrah, 13% mourvèdre. Medium ruby-purple with a hint of violet at the rim; wow, smoke on silk and tattered on briers and brambles; graceful, balanced and integrated but gathers power and dimension as the moments pass; luscious and spicy blackberry, raspberry and blueberry flavors but not over-ripe, held in check by a taut spine of acid and sinew of dense and dusty tannins. Love this one. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Candaretta Windthrow 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.6% alc. 36% syrah, 29% mourvèdre, 18% counoise, 17% grenache. Very dark and dense in every way; deep ruby-purple color; spiced and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums with an undertow of blueberry; smoke and a charcoal edge, leather and graphite; touch of earth and wet dog; incredibly lively and vivid, royal tannins and imperial acidity. Drink through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 14.9% alc. 100% syrah. Classic in shape, proportion and tone; dark ruby-purple with a violet-magenta rim; volcanic in its elements of smoke, ash, graphite; tar, leather, fig paste and fruitcake; black currants and plums, very spicy, very lively; finely milled tannins, dense and chewy; long dry, earthy finish. Drink through 2019 or ’20.
Excellent. About $50.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 85% petite sirah, 15% field blend of at least 16 other grape varieties. Just what petite sirah should be. Deep ruby-purple color; dark, dense, ripe, packed with dusky blackberry, black currants and blueberry scents and flavors; plum jam and an intensely highlighted dusty graphite element; smoke and ash, leather and tar; robust and rustic, with large-scale but palatable velvety tannins. Bring on the braised short ribs or the grilled pork chops with cumin and chillies. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $80.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »