Germany


Great wines possess a kind of intensity that flatters the nose and palate, as well as the imagination, with a comprehensive scope of sensation and character without burdening our faculties with any quality of the flamboyant or egotistical; they burn with a hard, gem-like flame — as Walter Pater bade us live — rather than self-immolating in the baroque furnaces of exaggeration and manipulation. Great wines exert a sense of finely tuned balance in addition to a paradoxical element of risk, at times almost playfulness, these qualities subsumed into the overall impression of integration, generosity and completeness. The models I look at today, both samples for review, as I am required to inform you by the Federal Trade Commission, exemplify such standards. Nothing links these wines except the fact that I tasted them on sequential days and that they’re beautifully wrought renditions of the grapes from which they’re made.

First, however, a comment on what’s called the “tasting note.” There’s a hue and cry in the recent press about the death of the tasting note; the tasting note is outmoded, assert its opponents, a relic of a time when wine critics were deemed authorities and their notes — typically involving Bordeaux Classified Growths, Burgundy Premier and Grand Crus and great German rieslings — regarded as sacred texts. Such notions, we’re told, are hopeless in the world of the Internet, instant reaction and analysis, the cohort-like animation of word-of-mouth, blogs, smart phones and hanging loose. I think that’s all fine and dandy. Certainly the tasting note as perfected by a magazine like the Wine Spectator — telegraphic, gnomic, superficial and pointed toward the all-important numerical score — seems unhelpful except to consumers primarily interested in the dynamic of that large, black, bold-face rating. Such punchy tasting notes bear the same relationship to the characterization of a wine in a full review as a capsule summary of a movie does to a review in The New York Times or The New Yorker.

If I may self-advocate here, I have been taking notes on wine for 30 years, and I use those notes to assemble not merely a review of the wine but a narrative that blends history, geography and intention with an attempt to get to the heart of a product, in detail and dimension. I want My Readers to take away from such a review a sense of where a wine came from, the importance of its origin in a place and time and climate, what it smells like and tastes like and feels like over passing moments and what its potential is for growth and development — and perhaps what foods it could profitably accompany. Much as I love the physical properties of many of the wines I taste every year, I also dote on a wine’s chronicle from vineyard through the hands of the winemaker to the bottle on your table. If any of you read this blog and utter a sigh and heartfelt, “Oh, there F.K. goes again, talking about vineyard elevation and late harvesting and oak aging,” well, you should be used to that by now, because you’re stuck with it.

It’s true that not all wines require or deserve such full-blown treatment; many of the products I mention on this blog are simple quaffing wines meant to be enjoyed without much thought, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. The wines that I find richly rewarding though and that capture my attention — as did the two wines under review in this post — seem valuable not merely because of their high quality and complex character but because they imply a narrative that extents into a personal, historical and geological past and into the future of possibility.

The first image above is from my wine notebook, actually a ledger, from 1986 and 1987; the second image represents a small portion of wine notebooks from about 1995 to 2005.
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The Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 derives from steep vineyards that rise 100 to 200 meters above the Mosel River. The slightly fractured landscape lends the slate-impacted vineyard a faceted relationship to the sky, allowing the 30- to 35-year-old vines a multitude of exposures to sunlight as the day proceeds; the result seems to be an unusual degree of richness in the grapes, as well as a profoundly significant array of mineral elements. The estate traces its origin to 1735, when Johannes Huesgen (1697-1762) moved to the town of Traben-Trarbach in the Mosel region and began buying vineyards; in 1762, his son Johann-Wilhelm, with his mother and brother-in-law, founded a wine merchant business. Among the family’s most striking achievements is Villa Huesgen itself, one of the most famous Art Nouveau houses in Europe, designed by notable architect Bruno Möhring in 1904.

I don’t want to wax too poetical here or wade into the murky miasma of metaphor, but the bouquet and the flavors of the Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010 evince such a powerful perception of rain on dusty slate tiles, of damp lilacs, of the snap of gunflint and the mingling of crushed limestone and lime peel, of lemongrass and ginger, of quince and spiced pear that it remains with me vividly two days later. This marked intensity, however, while distinctly present in nose and mouth, is not the least overwhelming; rather it evokes an impression that’s almost poignant in its acuteness and its weaving of infinite delicacies into a fabric of strength and elegance. Close to talc-like in texture but enlivened by crisp and crystalline acidity, Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2010, made all in stainless steel, is fresh and immediately appealing yet should age beautifully through 2018 to 2020. This, friends, is great riesling. 11.5% alcohol. We drank this wine with wholewheat linguine, roasted golden beets and beet greens, kale, leeks and Gruyere. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca.
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The Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Maria Valley, is the finest wine I have tasted from the winery in years. Director of winemaking is Clay Brock, and winemaker is Chrissy Wittmann. I don’t know to what extent the wine was a collaboration between them, but whatever the case, this is well-nigh perfect pinot. The grapes for the 2009 version all came from the well-known Sierra Madre Vineyard; previous vintages have been blends of several vineyards in Santa Maria, which, except for a tiny portion in San Luis Obispo County, lies within Santa Barbara County. Santa Maria, still largely isolated compared to wine regions farther north in the state, is cool climate, with its western-most area cooled even more by sea-breezes. It you ever stay in the vicinity, it’s wondrous to see the whole valley filled with fog early in the morning.

Wild Horse was founded in 1982 by Ken Volk; the winery and its vineyard occupy land above the Salinas River near Templeton, in northern San Luis Obispo County, in the Paso Robles appellation. In 2003, Volk sold the brand, the winery and the 64-acre property to Peak International, a subsidiary of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide. In 2007, Beam was swallowed up by the Icon Estates division of Constellation Brands. In January 2011, as reported in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Constellation decided to “cut back operations” at Wild Horse, shifting the cellaring of Wild Horse wines to Estancia Winery in Soledad and Gonzalez Winery in Gonzales. The crush occurs at the original winery, with the reserve wines still “processed” there. Few things stay the same in California (sung to the tune of “Welcome to the Hotel California”).

Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2009 offers exactly what I want in a pinot from The Golden State, that is, an ineffable sense of tension, resolution and balance between elegance and energy, between spareness and vigor. The color is medium cherry-mulberry from stem to stern. Aromas of red cherries, cranberry and rhubarb are permeated by touches of cloves, hints of toast and licorice and, beyond all that, something fleshy, spicier and untamed, a bell-tone of wild berry and a hint of briers. This bevy of elements is not presented in a blatant fashion but rather as a tissue of subtleties and nuances exquisitely poised, dexterous and agile. The texture is supremely satiny, supple and lithe, a bit of window dressing on the stones and bones of the wine’s vibrantly acidic and scintillating earthy/graphite structure; it spent 14 months in French oak barrels. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of blue plums, pomegranate, sassafras and fruitcake, with the latter’s attendant notes of dried fruit and spices. A refreshing 13.9 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $65.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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So, Thanksgiving is over, but the memory lingers on, at least in the form of this post about a wonderful riesling that we drank with that day’s ritual dinner. The occasion is a highly traditional, even ceremonial, but we try to cook a pretty much completely different meal every Thanksgiving, both of the sake of variety and for the challenge. On the menu this year: Clementine-salt glazed turkey with red-eye gravy; sweet potato-bacon-thyme dressing; mixed winter greens with shiitake mushrooms; bacon-crusted cornbread; and for dessert a bourbon pecan tart and a pear crisp. Now we’ve all read the recommendations from many wine critics, reviewers and writers this time of year about what wine to drink with the multifarious, many-faceted sweet-sour-savory Thanksgiving feast, and basically it distills to this advice: Drink what you like except for cabernet sauvignon and heavily oaked chardonnay, and zinfandel is great but not high-alcohol versions. Many writers advocate drinking all American wines for this American celebration, while other say (implicitly), “Who gives a crap what country’s wines we drink, just pick wines you enjoy,” and the truth is, Thanksgiving dinner is not a wine tasting, nor should it be an event where wine dominates the discussion. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ll confess that I followed the all-American wine trope for years, even serving the same labels: a riesling from Trefethen, the Ridge Three Valleys zinfandel blend and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, generally current vintages except for the Trefethen, which I like best about three years after harvest. This year, I decided to forgo the strictly patriotic route; after all, America is a country of immigrants, so why can’t we drank wine from Italy or France or Germany or anywhere on Thanksgiving. I stayed within the same grape categories, California of course for zinfandel, but Germany for riesling and France, specifically Burgundy, for the pinot noir. The roster: Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel; Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley; Aloxe-Corton Les Vercots Premier Cru 2008, Domaine Tollot-Beaut. We were a small group, so we skipped from the riesling to the Burgundy, a wine to which I will return in a subsequent post. The point of this entry is to celebrate the quiet though complete achievement of the Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, a sample provided by the trade group Wines of Germany.

The village of Veldenz lies south of the Mosel river and the town of Mülheim in the Middle Mosel region of southwest Germany. In a south-running valley there, the vineyard of Elisenberg — hence Veldenzer Elisenberg, first the name of the village, then the vineyard — was presented to Franz Ludwig Niessen in 1813 in gratitude for his personal payment of 3,000 thalers to Napoleon to prevent the destruction of Mülheim and Veldenz. Elisenberg remains in the Richter family today; Niessen was a fifth-generation ancestor.

The year, 2010, was a short vintage, short, that is, in duration and in the quantity of grapes. Despite some difficult stretches, the year produced many excellent wines, filled with nerve and vivacity.

The Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 is a pale but radiant straw-gold color; aromas of ripe apples, peaches and pears (with an intriguing back-tone of red fruit, say cherry or currant) are woven with notes of jasmine, flint and limestone and a hint of honey, all melded with utmost delicacy and finesse; a few moments in the glass bring up wafting touches of quince and crystallized ginger. This innate delicacy does not mean that the wine is fragile or ineffable, though, because there’s a great deal of tensile strength here, manifested in the prominent stones and bones of crisp acidity and limestone minerality that deepen, vitally and vibrantly, as the wine passes through the mouth. Lovely, tasty peach, pear and lychee flavors open to something almost exotic, like guava or star-fruit, mildly spicy and just slightly sweet initially, though from mid-palate back through the finish the wine is quite dry. That finish is slightly bitter with lime peel and grapefruit and is rounded by a final plunge into the limestone pool. 9.5 percent alcohol. Despite its exquisite character, this wine, well-stored, should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About — unbelievable! — $19.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.

The mantra seems to be: “Wines of the Mosel are delicate and nuanced; wines of Rheinhessen and Rheingau are more earthbound.” As is the case with much accepted wisdom, there’s more than a little truth to this assumption, and yet here we have the Weingut Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011, from Germany’s Mosel region, that practically revels in the earthy, gravelly grounding that bolsters its more typical ethereal effects. There’s a fairly new term on the label. We used to see halbtrocken, meaning “half-dry,” indicating a wine that’s slightly sweet, primarily on entry, though usually segueing to a dry finish because of the crisp acidity and limestone-like minerality. We will increasingly see the word feinherb as a replacement for halbtrocken; though feinherb literally means “delicately bitter” — go figure — in the context of German wine labels it denotes a half-dry wine, which somehow is predicated as drier than “semi-sweet.”

What else is on this label? (Attention! Education Alert!)

At the top, the name of the producer, Weingut Max Ferd. Richter and just below that the name of the village where the estate is located, Mülheim. Since we’re reading top to bottom, next is a picture of the old building and below that the indication that the estate has been owned by the same family since 1680. Now we get to the heart of the information. The vintage is 2011, prominently displayed, but even more typographical emphasis is placed upon the village, the vineyard, the grape variety and the style of wine. Mulheimer Sonnenlay means that the grapes were grown in the Sonnenlay vineyard that stands in the village of Mulheim, or, rather, it occupies an area of a hillside just to the southeast of the town. This is not one of the vineyards that photographs so beautifully because its steep terraces hover over the river; that picturesque aspect was precluded some 250,000 years ago when the Mosel changed course slightly and left the hill high and dry. The name of the vineyard means something like “sunshine/slate,” and if there are two more important factors in the nurture of the riesling grape, that is to say sun and soil, I don’t know what they are.

Kabinett is an indication that this wine falls into the category of the theoretically driest of the German wines of superior lineage; see the term Deutscher Prädikatswein just below. Remember that the categories of these wines — Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese and so on — don’t refer to the sweetness or dryness of the wine in the bottle but to the level of ripeness at which the grapes were harvested, the factor being that the longer the grapes hang on the vine, the more concentrated and filled with sugar they will be. “A.P.Nr 2 593 049 03 12″ is the official approval number of this wine and gives the testing boards a code to track the wine in case issues of authenticity arise. Finally, in large letters, “MOSEL,” the name of the region.

And that’s your lesson today in reading a German wine label. Did I cover all the intricate points? Oh, no, that would require a complete post, and this is, after all, the Wine of the Week.

So, to get on with it, the Max Fred. Richter Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Kabinett-feinherb 2011 offers a very pale gold color that almost shimmers with radiance. Aromas of lightly spiced peaches and pears with an overlay of lychee and petrol/rubber eraser are wrapped in a sheen of jasmine and an element of clean earthy/flint-like minerality. That earthiness, a seeming combination of light loam and limestone, provides the bass notes for the wine as it laves the palate with the certainly present but delicately modulated ripeness of those peaches and pears, a ripeness that the tongue perceives as initial sweetness that flows into a sense of increasing dryness as the bright and keen acidity and the vibrant limestone and slate mineral qualities dominate from mid-palate back through the airy, ethereal finish. 11 percent alcohol. A lovely riesling, charming and engaging, with a touch of seriousness, for drinking through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $21, representing Great Value.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles. A sample for review.

We are so damned eclectic here where our heads are bigger. Today, on this Saturday of the “Friday Wine Sips,” we gotcher rosé (er, not a great one, sorry), we gotcher sparkling wines, we gotcher white wines and we gotcher red wines. Your life will be complete. The countries represented are Germany, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. (Remember, by the way, that all reports in the “Friday Wine Sips” are not favorable; we applaud for, and we warn against.) As for grapes, well, we offer verdejo, vermentino, pinot blanc, pinot auxerrois, chardonnay and riesling; we offer tempranillo, syrah, mourvèdre, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and a host of grapes that typically grow in the Douro Valley. What we don’t offer is much in the way of technical, historical, personal and geographical material; instead, these are quick reviews, some transcribed directly from my notes, others expanded a bit, and designed to be a rapid infusion of knowledge and direction. So, seek out, try, taste and enjoy, where I have recommended that you do so; for a few others, um, just avoid. These wines were samples for review. The order is rosé, white, sparkling and red.
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Valdelosfrailes Rosé 2011, Cubillas de Santa Marta, Cigales, Spain. 13.5% alc. Tempranillo 80%, verdejo 20%. Bright cherry-crimson color; pungent, pert, perky, strawberry and dried currants, hint of pomegranate, dried herbs and limestone; very dry, lip-smacking acidity and viscosity, austere finish. Doesn’t quite hold together. Good+. About $10.
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Emina Verdejo 2010, Medina del Campo, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. A confirmation of the theory that delicate, fruity white wines should be consumed before they lose their freshness. Not recommended. About $10.
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Prelius Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana, Italy. 12.5% alc. Probably delightful last year but overstayed its welcome. Only in a pinch. About $15.
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Domaine Roland Schmitt Pinot Blanc 2010, Alsace, France 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; lovely, soft but lithe, very clean and fresh, quite spicy; apples, lemons, pears, touch of yellow plum; vibrant acidity keeps it lively and appealing, while a few minutes in the glass pull up notes of jasmine and limestone. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $16.
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Domaine Mittnacht Freres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. 12% alc. Pinot auxerrois 60%, pinot blanc 40% (can that be right and still be labeled pinot blanc?) Pale straw-yellow, like Rapunzel’s hair; entrancing aromas of camellia and jasmine, spiced pear and roasted lemon, quince and ginger; very dry, resolutely crisp, yet with such an attractive texture and balance, a sense of soft ripeness and sinewy limestone elements. Very stylish. Now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. Excellent. About $19, Fine Quality for the Price.
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Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. 8.5% alc. Pale, pale gold; lychee and petrol, pear and pear nectar, lime peel and quince preserves, hint of jasmine, just deliriously attractive; but very dry, formidably crisp and steely; then a dramatic shift to apples, apples and more apples; the entry is quite ripely, kssingly sweet but resonant acidity and scintillating limestone-like minerality turn the wine dry yet still delicate from mid-palate through the finish. Now through 2015 to ’18. Excellent. About $23, Get It! .
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Antech Émotion 2009, Crémant de Limoux, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 70%, chenin blanc 18%, mauzac 10%, pinot noir 2%. Pale copper-onion skin color; a fetching froth of tiny bubbles; apples, strawberries, lime peel, steel and limestone; touches of smoke and red and black currants, almost subliminal; orange zest; so damned pretty and charming; very dry finish. Very Good+. About $18, a True Bargain.
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Sekthaus Raumland Cuvée Marie-Luise Blanc de Noirs Brut 2008, Germany. 12% alc. 100% pinot noir. Pale gold; a constant stream of glinting silver bubbles; stimulating bouquet of roasted lemons and lemon curd, toasted hazelnuts, tropical back-notes, sea-breeze and salt-marsh, both generous and chastening; very dry, high-toned and elegant, lots of steel and limestone; yet that intriguing tropical element and a muted hint of leafy currant at the core. Really lovely. Excellent. About $45.
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Dow Vale do Bomfim 2009, Douro, Portugal. 14% alc. Tinta barroca 30%, touriga franca 25%, touriga nacional 25%, tinto roriz 15%, tinto cao 5%. Color is dark ruby; ripe and fleshy, warm and spicy; intense and concentrated black and red currants, plums and blueberries; heaps of briers and brambles and underbrush, coats the mouth with fine-grained tannins; lots of personality brought up short by a dusty, leathery finish. Drink through the end of 2012 with burgers. Very Good+. About $12.
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Prelius Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Dark ruby-mulberry color; spicy, tightly wound, chewy, mouth-coating tannins; black currants and plums, very spicy; decent basic cabernet with an earthy, astringent finish. Very Good. About $15.
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Chateau La Roque “Cuvée les Vielles Vignes de Mourvèdre” 2006, Pic Saint Loup, Coteaux du Languedoc, France. 13.5% alc. With 10% grenache. Deep purple with a tinge of magenta; lovely, lively, lots of tone and personality; dense and chewy, intensely spicy, exotic, ripe and fleshy but a slightly hard edge of graphite and walnut shell; plums, plums and more plums, hint of fruitcake (the spices, the nuts, the brandied fruit); a dry finish with earth, leather and wood. Now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $20, and definitely Worth a Search.
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Pierre Gaillard Domaine Cottebrune Transhumance 2007, Faugeres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France. 14.5% alc. Syrah 50%, grenache 40%, mourvèdre 10%. Dark ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty black and blue fruit scents and flavors, spiced and macerated; nothing shy here, huge presence, plenty of oak and lipsmacking tannins that pack the mouth, but succulent too, deep and flavorful; sea salt, iron and iodine, a whiff of the decadent but a decent heart. Put yourself in its hands. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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Interesting, versatile and charming white wines today, appropriate for summer pleasure (though they don’t have to be limited to warm-weather usage), and each one utilizing different grapes, since variety, as someone said, is the spice of life. Actually, that someone was English poet and hymn-writer William Cowper (1731-1800), and the lines are from his book-length poem The Task of 1785, more properly: “Variety’s the very spice of life,/That gives it all its flavor.” Well-said, Bill. Anyway, we touch Germany, Italy and California in this post, while the prices range comfortably from $10 to $20. All these wines were samples for review. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I eschew most technical, historical, geographical and philosophical info or data to bring you incisive and penetrating notices of the wines. Enjoy!
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Bex Riesling 2010, Nahe, Germany. 9.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; green apple, lychee and pear; slightly sweet initially but hints of melon and lemon curd are truncated by scintillating acidity and limestone-flint elements so dry they attain aching austerity; for riesling lovers devoted to intense minerality. Does not quite achieve the dimension and appeal of the 2009 version. Very Good. About $10, still Good Value for the style.
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Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2010, Veneto, Italy. 12.5% alc. 100% garganega grapes. Pale straw color; roasted lemon and spiced pears, whiffs of green plums and grapefruit, hints of almonds and orange blossoms, wild thyme; sense of earthiness, lots of limestone; crisp acidity and liveliness; close to lush texture but borne by a distinct quality of spareness and reticence. Even better than the 2009 rendition, which I made a Wine of the Week in April 2011. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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McManis Family Vineyards Viognier 2011, California. 13.5% alc. 100% viognier grapes. Pale straw-gold color with a faint yellow blush; nicely balanced among floral, spicy and fruit elements, with hints of thyme and sage; lemons and pears, touches of peaches, tangerines and grapefruit; bit of lanolin and camellia; slightly powdery texture yet crisp with acidity, almost taut; quite dry, slightly bitter finish. Very Good+. About $12, representing Good Value.
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Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2010, Toscana Bianco, Italy. 12% alc. Trebbiano, malvasia Toscana, chardonnay. Pale straw color; fragrant and floral, roasted lemons, yellow plums, hints of almonds, almond blossom; very crisp and lively, quite spicy, lots of limestone minerality, yet sleek and suave, with a seductive soft texture though it goes all dry and austere on the finish; begs for fresh shellfish. Very Good+. About $15.
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Beni di Batasiolo Bosc Dla Rei 2011, Moscato d’Asti, Italy. 5.5% alc. Pale gold color; pure apple and apple blossom, pear and tangerine, orange zest and lime peel; gently effervescent; ripe and modestly sweet entry followed by pert acidity and a dry limestone-infused finish. Quite charming and goes down oh so easily. Very Good+. About $17.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Sonoma County, California. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; beautifully fresh and appealing; slightly grassy and herbal with scents of lemon, lemon balm and lightly macerated pears, with celery seed, lemongrass and tarragon and a lovely touch of lilac; tart and crisp, jazzed by snappy acidity and bright, clean limestone and flint running through citrus and stone-fruit flavors; lean and sinewy, spare and bracing. Excellent and one of the best at the price, about $20.
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Casting around for a wine to sip with Vinegar-Braised Chicken with Leeks and Peas, I opened, with a deft twist of the wrist, the Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009, Mosel, and it turned out to be a great match with the dish. (The first time I made this, we drank the Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Blanc 2010, Paso Robles, reviewed here.) The 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar in the sauce, the slowly sauteed leeks, and the peas and tarragon added before serving lent the dish a touch of savor and sweetness, with which the Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 resonated in fine fashion.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr is one of the Middle Mosel region’s most celebrated locations; lying along the north bank of the Mosel, where the river makes a broad sweep to the northwest around the hill of Schwarzlay, the vineyard rests on soil of shallow, stony slate. Sonnenuhr is the vineyard; the village of Wehlen provides the commune designation.

Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009 presents a pale almost transparent straw-gold color; aromas of green apples, apple skin, ripe peaches and pears are melded to hints of limestone and flint and notes of cloves and lychee. The wine is exquisitely honeyed and spiced, a golden fandango of juicy peach and pear flavors and slightly roasted lemon with ginger and quince, all of these wedded with the utmost delicacy, refinement and elegance and enlivened by scintillating acidity. The wine imperceptibly segues to dryness in mid-palate, leading to a finish that adds more limestone and shale and just a tinge of lychee and pink grapefruit. Absolutely lovely, a limpid vision of glittering tinsel strung on a structure of tensile strength. 8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 to ’19, well-stored. Excellent. About $33.

A sample for review.

You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
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Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
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Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
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Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
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Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
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J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
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Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.
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In these egalitarian times, we don’t often speak of what were once called the “noble grapes,” because such a hierarchical scheme would imply that grapes omitted from that brilliant roster were somehow inferior. A generation ago, however, the term was common among writers about wine and commentators on the wine industry. Generally, six grapes were allowed “noble” status: Chardonnay, riesling (see accompanying image) and sauvignon blanc; cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir. You’ll notice the French bias immediately; we’re talking about Bordeaux and Burgundy, with a bone thrown to Alsace and parts of Germany with riesling. Notice that nebbiolo and sangiovese don’t make the cut; those are Italian grapes. Chenin blanc? Forget those divine dessert wines of the Loire Valley; they’re not Sauternes.

Still, there was a point to the noble grape concept, and I tell you that some grapes are simply better — or potentially better — than others. Chardonnay is capable of making splendid wines that grapes such as, say, torrontes or albarino, however charming and refreshing they may be, just can’t match. Cabernet sauvignon grapes can be turned into wines of the sort of depth, dimension and dignity that, oh, alicante bouschet or refosco could not begin to reach. No matter, of course, in the grand scheme, because we derive pleasure from all kinds of wines for many different occasions and reasons, but the truth is that certain grapes deserve their elevated reputations, if, I have to add, they are handled carefully and thoughtfully in the vineyard and the winery.

Riesling certainly deserves inclusion in the pantheon of noble grapes, as I was reminded as I stood in the kitchen at home and spent a couple of hours with this group of nine wines made from the grape. One winning aspect of riesling is its versatility; riesling is, in fact, the most versatile of the noble grapes. Even in this limited encounter, you can see that the wines range from delightful and appealing to stunning and profound without losing authenticity and integrity. The grape is geographically versatile, too; these nine wines encompass three of Germany’s best-known regions — Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz; two areas in Australia, two in California and Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. The styles range from bone-dry to sumptuously sweet, but all are characterized by the grape’s inherent acidity and limestone-like minerality. This was a flight that I really liked.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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The Frisk Prickly Riesling 2011, Victoria, Australia, is a real sweetheart of a riesling, a bit moscato-like in its initial delicate sweetness, floral nature and cloud-like softness, but just ripping with crisp acidity and honed limestone minerality. As the name implies, it’s lightly frizzante, that is, gently sparkling, just a tickle, as it were, that helps deliver notes of green apple and pear to your nose in a delightful manner. Ripe citrus flavors are touched with lychee and a hint of smoke; the wine sheds its sweetness and turns increasing dry and structured crossing the palate, finally reaching an austere, mineral-laced finish. Quite charming as an aperitif or with shrimp or chicken salad. 8.9 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, an Incredible Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Ca.
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The Bex Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany, is fresh, crisp, juicy and lively; sporting a pale straw-gold color, it offers a bouquet of lime peel, grapefruit and honeysuckle deeply imbued with riesling’s signature petrol or rubber eraser aroma and a transparent foundation of damp limestone and shale. This is lovely, lithe and lacy in structure, fairly simple and direct, to be honest, but tasty with ripe apple, pear and lime flavors, very dry with a finish of crushed oyster-shell minerality. 9.5 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $10-$13.

Imported by Purple Wine Co., Graton, Ca. Great image from yumsugar.com.
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This is a terrific spätlese, deftly balanced between sweetness and dryness, between generosity and focus. The color of the Weingut Max Ferd Richter Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2009, Mosel, is glinting pale straw; aromas of spiced peach and pear, with delicate back-notes of quince and lychee, are woven with hints of rose petals and limestone. Pretty heady stuff, all right. In the mouth, you feel the slight tension, the sliding resolution between the initial sweetness, partaking of very ripe and macerated stone-fruit, and the striking acidity and limestone minerality that dominate the wine from mid-palate through the long earthy yet finely-tuned finish. 8.5 percent alcohol. This should develop nicely through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24-$28, Good Value. The estate has been owned by the family since 1680.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.
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Seeing the vintage of the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, Oakville District, Napa Valley, you may ask, “But, FK, why the 2008 when the 2010 is the current release?” The answer is that I like to drink Trefethen’s rieslings at three to four years old, when they become, as it were, like shafts of bright and shining limestone and shale-like minerality. We always have a bottle of this wine on the table at Thanksgiving; last year it was the 2007. (In fact, the 2010 was my Wine of the Week on August 29th this year.) The 2008 we consumed at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner indeed practically vibrated with the minerality I mentioned, from start to finish, as well as exuding notes of petrol and peach and pear, a hint of jasmine, but, boy, is it ever a profound matter of stones and bones. It sort of wrapped itself around the turkey and dressing and potatoes and so on and supported everything subtly and beautifully. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. I paid $26.
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Let me just get this word out right now: Superb. I’m referring to the Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet draws you in irresistibly with aromas of baked apple, roasted peach and apricot skin nestled in a honeyed radiance of cloves, sandalwood and orange marmalade. This description makes the wine sound heavy, but instead it is ineffably delicate, almost lacy and transparent in its wreathed character; paradoxically — and great wines embody myriad paradoxes within their balance and harmony — it’s also profoundly dense and earthy, its viscous nature splendidly belied by tremendous acidity whose tautness could ring church bells from Brisbane to Boston. A wonderful achievement. Stephanie Toole operates this small estate, which I visited in the far-off days of October 1998, with meticulous attention, producing only 4,500 cases annually of five wines. Alcohol contest is 11 percent. Drink through 2013 or ’14 with the simplest of fruit desserts or a plain sugar cookie or on its own. The current release in Australia is 2011. Exceptional. About $27-$36.

Imported by USA Wine West for The Australian Premium Wine Collection.
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The frozen grapes for the Inniskillin Riesling Icewine 2008, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, were harvested from the last week of December 2008 and into early January; the wine is not aged in oak. A beguiling medium gold color seems to inspire aromas of candied orange zest, marzipan and creme brulee layered over baked peaches and apricots and a hint of mango; the wine is supernally rich, honeyed and viscous — it rolls over the palate like money — yet balanced by whiplash acidity and profound and penetrating slate-like minerality. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of smoky cloves, lime peel, a touch of jasmine and depths of spiced and macerated flavors, like stone-fruit dissolving in brandy. Inniskillin is owned by Constellation Brands, and it’s good to see that despite being part of a giant conglomerate that has swallowed dozens of wineries and brands the quality of the product has not diminished. Winemaker is Bruce Nicholson. 9 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $80 for a tall, stylish half-bottle (375 ml).

Imported by Icon Estates, Rutherford, Ca.
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The Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Schlossberg Riesling 2007, Rheingau, Germany, is a damned serious riesling all right. The color is pale straw-yellow; aromas of jasmine and lychee, pear, quince and crystallized ginger open to notes of grapefruit, limestone and shale. The wine is seamless from front to back, but there’s nothing ethereal about its earthy character or its crisp, snappy acidity, and despite latter-day touches of fig, peach and marzipan, it’s not sweet at all; this is achingly dry, resonant, austere, even partaking of a sort of Olympian detachment through the stony finish. Still, as I said, the wine is seamless, beautifully balanced, authoritative without being blatant. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $29-$40. The term Erstes Gewächs on the label is the German equivalent of Grand Cru.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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At seven years old, the Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany, feels perfect, yet I wager it will age beautifully for another seven years. The color is brilliant medium gold; a poignant and penetrating hit of petrol or rubber eraser permeated by hints of softly over-ripe peaches and apricots identifies this wine as a classic riesling dessert wine, though the richness and honeyed nature are balanced by or even serve as foil to some astringent floral note. The viscosity of the gorgeous texture fills and coats the mouth, while the wine grows more intense, more freighted by cloves and quince, more deeply imbued with flavors of orange zest, crystallized ginger and apricots. In the manner of great dessert wines, however, a slashing blade of acidity lends the wine keen vibrancy and a dry, scintillating finish. A grand achievement. 8.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 or ’20. Exceptional. About $50 for a half-bottle (375 ml).

A Rudi Wiest Selection for Cellars International, San Marcos, Cal.
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Twenty-three years old, yes, but the Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1988, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills was only released in 2010, when it was a relatively young 22, after spending 20 years in bottle. The color is caramel-amber with a deep copper glint; the bouquet partakes of barely overblown flowers, like peonies and camellias before they begin wearily to drop their petals, along with coconut, toasted almonds, candied ginger and roasted and slightly caramelized peaches; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of pine resin and maple syrup. There’s a deep caramel circumference to the flavors of burnt orange, lime peel and spiced apricots, and that’s where the sweetness stays, at the edge of the palate, while the interior flow, as it were, is not just surprisingly but audaciously dry, leading to a finish of daunting austerity and limestone-like minerality. There’s a touch of confusion about the balance between mid-palate and finish, but primarily this wine is a delightful and intriguing example of what can happen when riesling gets all grown-up. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $45.
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The theme today, such as it is, is diversity. I chose eight wines that were either 100 percent varietal (or a little blended) from eight different regions as a way of demonstrating, well, I guess the amazing range of places where wine can be made. Eight examples barely scratch the surface of such a topic, of course, and a similar post could probably be written in at least eight variations and not use the same grapes as primary subjects. Another way would be to create a post called “1 grape, 8 Places,” to show the influence that geography has on one variety. That topic is for another post, though. All the whites were made in stainless steel and are perfect, each in its own manner, for light-hearted summer sipping. The reds, on the other hand, would be excellent will all sorts of grilled red meat, from barbecue ribs to steaks.
All samples for review or tasted at trade events.
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Sauvignon blanc:
The Long Boat Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, from Jackson Family Wines, is the archetypal New Zealand model that bursts with pert notes of gooseberry, celery seed, new-mown grass, thyme, tarragon and lime peel; it practically tickles your nose and performs cart-wheels on your tongue. It’s very dry, very crisp, a shot of limestone and chalk across a kiss of steel and steely acidity that endow with tremendous verve flavors of roasted lemon, leafy fig and grapefruit. That touch of grapefruit widens to a tide that sends a wave of bracing bitterness through the mineral-drenched finish. Truly scintillating, fresh and pure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Ca.
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Riesling:
The Gunderloch “Jean-Baptiste” Riesling Kabinett 2009, Rheinhessen, Germany, is a fresh, clean and delicate wine that opens with hints of green apple and slate and slightly spiced and macerated peaches and pears; a few minutes in the glass bring out a light, sunny, almost ephemeral note of petrol and jasmine. Ripe peach and pear flavors are joined by a touch of lychee and ethereal elements of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone that persist through the finish; the texture is sleek, smooth and notably crisp and lively. Really charming. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
Rudi Wiest for Cellars International, San Marcos, Ca.
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Chenin blanc:
Made from organically-grown grapes, the Heller Estate Chenin Blanc 2009, Carmel Valley, California, is refined, elegant, almost gossamer in its exquisite melding of tart apple and ripe peach with spiced pear and a hint of roasted lemon; there’s a touch of chenin blanc’s signature dried hay-meadowy effect as well as a hint, just a wee hint, of riesling’s rose petal/lychee aspect. (This wine typically contains 10 to 15 percent riesling, but I can’t tell you how much for 2009 because I received not a scrap of printed material with this shipment, and the winery’s website is a vintage behind; hence the label for 2008. Hey, producers! It doesn’t take much effort to keep your websites up-to-date!) Anyway, the wine is crisp and lively with vibrant acidity and offers a beguilingly suave, supple texture. It’s a bit sweet initially, but acid and subtle limestone-like minerality bring it round to moderate dryness. Lovely. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
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Chardonnay:
Roland Lavantureux makes two wines, a Chablis and a Petit Chablis. Both are matured 2/3 in stainless steel tanks and 1/3 in enamel vats; the Petit Chablis for eight months, the Chablis for 10. The domaine was founded in 1978 and is family-owned and operated. The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 2009 makes you wonder how the French wine laws differentiate between “little” Chablis and “regular” Chablis. This rated a “wow” as my first note. It feels like a lightning stroke of shimmering acidity, limestone and gun-flint tempered by spiced and roasted lemon and hints of quince, mushrooms and dried thyme. This wine serves as a rebuke to producers who believe that to be legitimate a chardonnay must go through oak aging; it renders oak superfluous. (Yes, I know, oak can do fine things to chardonnay used thoughtfully and judiciously.) The Roland Lavantureux Petit Chablis 09 radiates purity and intensity while being deeply savory and spicy; it’s a natural with fresh oysters or with, say, trout sauteed in brown butter and capers. A very comfortable 12.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $23.
Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Pinot noir:
Bodega Chacra, which makes only pinot noir wines, was established in Argentina’s Patagonia region — the Rio Negro Valley in northern Patagonia — in 2004 by Piero Incisa della Rochetta, the grandson of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, the creator and proprietor of Sassicaia, one of the most renowned Italian wineries, and nephew of Niccolo’ Incisa della Rocchetta, who currently manages the family’s winemaking enterprises. Bodega Chacra produces three limited edition pinot noirs, one from a vineyard planted in 1932, one from a vineyard planted in 1955, and the third made from a combination of these old vineyards and grapes from two 20-year-old vineyards. The vineyards are farmed on biodynamic principles; the wines are bottled unfiltered. The Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, is an example of the third category of these wines. It spends 11 months in French oak barrels, 25 percent new. Barda Pinot Noir 2010 is vibrant, sleek, stylish and lovely; the bouquet is bright, spicy and savory, bursting with notes of black cherry, cranberry and cola highlighted by hints of rhubarb, sassafras and leather. It’s dense and chewy, lithe and supple; you could roll this stuff around on your tongue forever, but, yeah, it is written that ya have to swallow some time. Flavors of black cherry and plum pudding are bolstered by subtle elements of dusty graphite and slightly foresty tannins, though the overall impression — I mean, the wine is starting to sound like syrah — is of impeccable pinot noir pedigree and character. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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Zinfandel:
If you grow weary, a-weary of zinfandel wines that taste like boysenberry shooters, then the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, California, is your cup of, as it were, tea. No bells and whistles here, just the purity and intensity of the zinfandel grape not messed about with. Grgich Hills is farmed entirely organically and by biodynamic principles, and winemaker Ivo Jeramaz uses oak judiciously, in this case 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s no toasty, vanilla-ish taint of insidious new oak. The color is medium ruby with a hint of violet-blue at the rim; the nose, as they say, well, the nose offers a tightly wreathed amalgam of deeply spicy, mineral-inflected black and red currants and plums with a swathing of dusty sage and lavender, wound with some grip initially, but a few minutes in the glass provide expanse and generosity. Amid polished, burnished tannins of utter smoothness and suppleness, the black and red fruit flavors gain depths of spice and slate-like minerals; the whole effect is of an indelible marriage of power and elegance and a gratifying exercise in ego-less winemaking. 14.7 percent alcohol. We drank this with pizza, but it would be great with any sort of grilled or braised red meat or robustly flavored game birds. Excellent. About $35.
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Cabernet sauvignon:
You just have to rejoice when you encounter a cabernet, like the Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, that radiates great character and personality — yes, those are different qualities — and maintains a rigorous allegiance to the grape while expressing a sense of individuality and regionality. The vineyards average 3,510-feet elevation; that’s way up there. Five percent malbec is blended in the wine; it aged 15 months in French oak, 80 percent new barrels, and while that may seem like a high proportion of new oak, that element feels fully integrated and indeed a bit subservient to the wine’s strict high-altitude tannins and granite-like minerality. Aromas of black currants and black plums are ripe and fleshy, a bit roasted and smoky, yet iron-like, intense and concentrated; a few moments in the glass bring up classic touches of briers and brambles, cedar and wheatmeal, thyme and black olive, a hint of mocha. This is a savory cabernet, rich, dry, consummately compelling yet a little distant and detached, keeping its own counsel for another year or two, though we enjoyed it immensely with a medium rare rib-eye steak. What’s most beguiling are the broadly attractive black and blue fruit flavors permeated by moss and loam and other foresty elements married to muscular yet supple heft, dimensional and weight. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Ca.
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Tempranillo:
Here’s a terrific, slightly modern version of Rioja, by which I mean that it’s not excessively dry, woody and austere, as if made by ancient monks putting grapes through the Inquisition. Bodegas Roda was founded by Mario Rotillant and Carmen Dautella in 1991, in this traditional region that abuts Navarra in northeastern Spain. The deep and savory Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain, blends 14 percent graciano grapes and five percent garnacha (grenache) with 81 percent tempranillo; the wine is aged 16 months in French oak, 50 percent new barrels, and spends another 20 months in the bottle before release. The color is rich, dark ruby, opaque at the center; aromas of black currant and black raspberry are infused with cloves and fruit cake, sage and thyme, bacon fat, leather and sandalwood, with something clean, earthy and mineral-drenched at the core. That sense of earth and graphite-like minerality persists throughout one’s experience with the wine, lending resonant firmness to the texture, which also benefits from finely-milled, slightly dusty tannins and vibrant acidity, all impeccably meshed with smoky, spicy flavors of black and red fruit and plum pudding. 14 percent alcohol. An impressive, even dignified yet delicious wine for drinking now, with grilled meat and roasts, or for hanging onto through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y.
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