Loire Valley


I’ll show you on the map to the right. Though nominally included in any survey of the Loire Valley, tiny Fiefs Vendéens actually lies fairly far south of the city of Nantes and the surrounding region of Muscadet, the farthest western area in the long reach of the Loire River where it debouches into the Atlantic. When I encountered the wines of Domaine Saint Nicolas at the “Return to Terroir: Les Renaissance des Appellations” tasting in New York last week, my question was exactly the title of this post: “Where the hell is Fiefs Vendéens?” You have to love the opportunity to try wines from tiny, out-of-the-way areas!

The Vendée lies in the ancient province of Poitou, the birthplace of Eleanor of Aquitaine and part of her vast realm. The area was devastated during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) and during the internal Wars of Religion (1562-1598). The Vendéens are fiercely independent and royalist, launching a major — and doomed — pro-Catholic war against the Revolution (1793-1795), refusing to recognize the authority of Napoleon when he escaped from Elba in 1815, and attempting a revolt against Louis-Philippe in 1832. Things are calmer now.

Vineyards are a small segment of the flat agricultural landscape of the Vendée. The grape-growing and wine-making activity of Fiefs Vendéens centers on four communes — Mareuil, Brem, Vix and Pissotte — with many of the vineyards lying a stone’s-throw from the sea. The vines, not trained on trellises, bend low to the ground because of the constant wine. Grapes for red wine are gamay, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir; for white wine, the grapes are chenin blanc, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc; other, more obscure grapes, such as groslot gris (also called grolleau), are also permitted. The small region labored in obscurity for many years, finally achieving VDQS status — between Vin de Pays and AOC — in 1984. VDQS stands for Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure; the designation accounts for about 1 percent of French wine. In March 2011, Fiefs Vendéens was granted full AOC recognition.

A great deal of that advancement is due to Thierry Michon of Domaine Saint Nicolas, of the shore-hugging commune of Brem. The fully biodynamic estate, since 1995, is located on the Ile d’Olonne; Michon cultivates 37 hectares, about 95 acres, of vines, an enormous amount for the region. The wines are beguiling, flavorful yet spare, and highly individual, thoroughly unfolding their connection to the schist and limestone soil that dominates in Brem. It was a pleasure and somewhat of a gratifying puzzlement to try them, since all authentic wines have something of the paradoxical about them.

The wines of Domaine Saint Nicolas are imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Asheville, N.C. The prices I list are more approximate than usual, if available. Image of Thierry Michon from jimsloire.blogspot.com
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaine Saint Nicolas Gammes en May 2010, Fiefs Vendéens. Made from 100 percent gamay grapes, this punningly-named crowd- pleaser is utterly fresh and clean, blithe and bracing, with notes of red and black cherries and dried raspberries and undertones of roses and violets and an intriguing slightly mossy earthiness. The color is bright cherry with a tinge of dark ruby at the center. There’s a brief episode of sweetness on the entry, but this is, at least from mid-palate back, a dry wine, vibrant with acidity and couched in terms of — here’s that word again — an intriguing complex of red and black fruit flavors. both ripe and dried, flinty earthiness and exotic spice. 13 percent alcohol. Not complicated but truly charming. Very Good+. $NA.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Domaine Saint Nicolas Reflets 2010, Fiefs Vendéens, will appeal to those for whom enjoying a rose is a matter of pleasure shaded by Puritan tartness and asperity, for this is indeed a very dry rose permeated by the crispness of resonant acidity and the austerity of limestone-and-flint-like minerality. It’s a blend of pinot noir grapes, gamay, groslot gris and negrette that results, on the other hand, in lovely scents and flavors of red currants and mulberries with a pale touch of plum and peach skin. I was tasting this wine mid the madding crowd of a major trade event, but it instantly put me in mind of crusty bread, rabbit terrine and a blanket outdoors. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. $NA.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The Domaine Saint Nicolas Les Clous 2010, Fiefs Vendéens, is, depending on the source you read, a blend of 80 chenin blanc, 15 percent chardonnay and 5 percent groslot gris; the wine aged eight months, 80 percent in tank, 20 percent in oak barrels. I don’t want to overuse an adjective — you know, “intriguing” — so allow me to say that the wine is mysteriously curious and captivating. I couldn’t say precisely what the 5 percent groslot gris brings to the wine, but from the chenin blanc come dominating elements of straw, greengage plum, lemon balm, pear and precision-tooled acidity; the chardonnay, I would say, contributes a bit of body, moderate lushness and back-notes of cloves and grapefruit. No great depth or concentration but delightful and delicious. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
The make-up of the Domaine Saint Nicolas Le Haut des Clous 2010, Fiefs Vendéens, is 100 percent chenin blanc. The wine is spanking fresh and clean, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze after a morning rain, deeply minerally in the limestone and flint range; it’s quite racy and nervy, animated by the tang of lemon pith, lime peel and slightly bitter peach skin, yet softened with appealing touches of camellia, lemon balm, spiced pear and damp straw. Super attractive and drinks like a charm. Excellent. About $20-$25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Can there be another wine in the world that blends pinot noir with cabernet franc? That’s the case with the unusual and ambitious Saint Nicolas Cuvée Jacques 2007, Fiefs Vendéens with pinot noir in the dominant 90 percent position. I have no information about the oak regimen — zut alors! the winery’s website needs a total overhaul — but I will say the the wine is dry, spare, elegant, packed with notes of dried spices and flowers and great reserves of dry, earthy tannins. Perhaps the cabernet franc, blended at 15 percent in some vintages, accounts for a paradoxical tinge of ripe fatness, a hint of the grape’s black olive and bay leaf character and rugged structure, though this is, again paradoxically, if not quixotically, quite subtle; somehow, the wine achieves smooth balance and integration. I’ve never tasted anything like it, and I mean that as a compliment. Excellent. About $25-$27.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Domaine Saint Nicolas Pinot Noir 2009, Fiefs Vendéens, is distributed only in the United States of America. It’s a rather spare, delicate pinot noir, offering fresh and clean scents of red and black cherries and a bit of red and black currant permeated by dried spice, touches of rose petal and pomegranate and a hint of cola, all presented in a manner much more French than the ripe, opulent pinots of California and Oregon. Lovely purity, with moderate intensity. Very Good+. $24.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Remember that this series in “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” focuses on the diversity of bubbly products made in various regions of France, as well as Champagne. The Third Day of Christmas, by the way, is also the feast day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, author, according to legend, of the book of Revelations, and of the Gospel and the three Letters we find under his name, all composed, we are told, in the worst Greek of the New Testament. Shoulda stayed in school, right? Anyway, our sparkling wine today originates in the Loire Valley, as did the example on Christmas Day, but instead of coming from Vouvray, this was made in Chinon, southwest of Vouvray and still in the Central Loire region. You won’t find the name “Chinon” on the label, however, because the rules of the appellation do not allow for sparkling wine; you can make a sparkler if you want, you just can’t label it or market it as being from Chinon.

Couly-Dutheil is a distinguished house in Chinon, founded in 1921 and still owned by the family, that makes a roster of wines from the red cabernet franc grape — only about two percent of the region’s wines are white — as well as a fine rosé and, it turns out, this “forbidden” sparkling wine with which I recently became acquainted. The Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, non-vintage, is billed as the only sparkling wine in the world made completely from cabernet franc grapes, and for all I know, this claim may be, if St. John does not mind my saying so, gospel. I certainly can’t think of another one. Do, though, track this down. The color of the Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc is shimmering pale gold, and the bead, as the British term the stream of bubbles, is fine, energetic and frothy; the bouquet, well, the bouquet is a seductive weaving of blood oranges, peaches, red currants and sweet Asian spices, with a hint of rose petals. The wine is ripe and almost soft in the mouth yet imbued with tremendously vibrant acidity and a resonant limestone element, the combination of which lends the finish marked dryness and some high-toned austerity; it’s quite appealing and frankly delicious but with a moderately serious edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21, though you see higher and lower prices around the country.

Imported by Frank-Lin International, San Jose, Cal. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

On Christmas Day 2011, let’s begin this series of Champagnes and sparkling wines with a product that’s not only charming but pretty darned complex and a bargain to boot. The emphasis this time around is on the diversity of French sparkling wines, and we’ll touch on several areas outside of iconic Champagne. The wine today is the Champalou Vouvray Brut, a nonvintage sparkler made from chenin blanc grapes, or as they’re called in the region, pineau de la Loire. Chenin blanc reigns supreme in the central Loire Valley, specifically the part called Touraine, after the city of Tours. The estate was founded in 1983 by Catherine and Didier Champalou, who make only about 12,000 cases of white wine annually, all from chenin blanc grapes.

The Champalou Vouvray Brut is made in what’s called méthode traditionelle, that is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle; that’s the step that produces the essential bubbles. (The term méthode champenoise, by the way, was outlawed for label use by the EU in 1994.) The Champalou Vouvray Brut is fermented in stainless steel tanks and allowed to rest on the lees of spent yeast cells; then it is transferred to bottles, given a dosage of yeast and sugar (to kick-start the second fermentation) and capped; it spends 20 months in bottles before being corked and released.

The color is shimmering pale gold; effervescence is mild but persistent. Heady aromas of almond and acacia, lemongrass and quince, with a touch of something earthy and straw-like, are tempered by a cut of steel and limestone. This is surprisingly creamy and substantial, almost luscious, but balanced by bright, crisp acidity and more of that clean, slightly austere limestone minerality to bolster flavors of roasted lemons and spiced pears; hints of candle-wax and camellia come out in the long, lively satisfying finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent, and Great Value at about $19 to $26, reflecting prices around the country.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal. A sample for review.

Here’s a terrific sparkling wine from France that will make your palate and your pocketbook happy. It’s the Marcel Martin Tête de Cuvée Crémant de Loire Brut. The requirements for the Crémant de Loire appellation include originating in the regions of Anjou-Saumur or Touraine, lower grape yields than go into the Loire’s other sparkling wines and a higher percentage of free-run juice, as well as one-year’s aging, as opposed to nine months for other local sparklers. Grapes tend to be chenin blanc and cabernet franc, though chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and some indigenous grapes are allowed. “Tête de Cuvée” on a label implies that the product is top (or “head”) of the line, but the term is not regulated in France, so consumers must depend on the honesty of the producer. These wines are made in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle.

Marcel Martin Tête de Cuvée Crémant de Loire Brut presents a medium straw-gold color such as Rapunzel’s hair might be; a tremendous fountain of tiny bubbles erupts from the bottom of the glass and surges upward to the surface. This is all roasted lemon, steel and limestone, with hints of winsome acacia and almond, straw and bracing sea-salt. This sparkling wine truly is full-bodied and creamy, though cleanly cut with rapier-like acidity and scintillating limestone and flint minerality. The finish is long, fervent, steely and spicy. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ (with a couple more +s if I could; it’s that close to Excellent). I paid $23, but I have seen prices as low as $17 around the country.

Imported by The Stacole Co., Boca Raton, Fla.


We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from airninja.com.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

All right, let’s do this again. Recently, I posted the entry “8 Grapes, 8 Places, 8 Wines,” and it was an agreeable way to celebrate the diversity of wine in the world’s wine-making regions, but such an effort doesn’t even qualify as a molecule of a gnat’s whisker on the needle-point of the teeniest tippy-tip of the vinous iceberg, if you see what I mean. So let’s do it again. In the previous post, I reviewed wines made predominantly from these grapes: sauvignon blanc, riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay; pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. The regions were Mendoza and Patagonia in Argentina; Rheinhessen in Germany; Chablis in France; Rioja in Spain; Marlborough in New Zealand; and Carmel Valley and Napa Valley in California. So, today, none of those grapes and none of those places. The first post offered four whites and four reds; today the line-up is five whites, fairly light-bodied and charming for summer, the reds rather more serious.
These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Albariño Rias Baixas is the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline. The white albariño is the principal grape. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. No such worries with the Don Olegario Albariño 2010, Rias Baixas, made all in stainless steel tanks from grapes grown using sustainable practices. Heady aromas of jasmine and camellia are twined with roasted lemon, lemon balm, limestone and a bracing whiff of salt-strewn sea-breeze; lovely heft and texture, almost lacy in transparency yet with a tug of lushness bestowed by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors (touched with a bit of dried thyme and tarragon), all enlivened by brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Albariño is not grown much outside of Spain and Portugal, where it’s known as alvarinho and goes into Vinho Verde; Mahoney Vineyards, however, makes an excellent example in Carneros. Great with fresh seafood, grilled fish and risottos. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Falanghina We are used to the promiscuous regard of grapes in Italy, in which one variety can be found in many provinces throughout the country and usually under different local names. Not so the ancient falanghina, grown in a small area of Campania, the state of which Naples is the capital; it is grown nowhere else except in vineyards near the coast north of Naples. Perhaps this situation is a healthy and profitable one for the producers of wines made from the falanghina grape, because they can at least make a claim for uniqueness. A great introduction to the grape is the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009, Sannio Falanghina. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean and fresh and appealing. The color is pale straw-gold with green notes; it’s a savory, spicy, floral wine, bursting with hints of apple, roasted lemon and baked pear, cloves and allspice, lilac and lavender, all given a slightly serious tone by the bracing astringency of what I have to call salt-marsh and some hardy sea-side flowering plant. There’s a touch of the tropical in flavors of pineapple and banana, with strong citrus undercurrents and a hint of dried thyme and tarragon, all of this bolstered by crisp acidity and a burgeoning quality of limestone-like minerality. A natural with seafood, grilled fish and sushi. Winemaker is Riccardo Cotarella. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+ About $18.
Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Melon de Bourgogne This grape was kicked out of Burgundy in the 18th Century, leading to the eventual ascendancy of the chardonnay grape. It made a pretty perfect fit, however, with the maritime climate and stony soil of the Nantais, way to the west of the Loire region. While it’s true that 90 percent of Muscadet wines are cheap, bland and forgettable, in the right hands the melon de Bourgogne grape is capable of finer things. The Éric Chevalier Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu 2009 feels like an exhalation of sea wind, bright, clean, salt-flecked, exhilarating. The wine is spare and pared-down, lean and sinewy, with notes of roasted lemon and pear imbued with hints of honeysuckle and yellow plum. Chiseled acidity etches deep and scintillating limestone-like minerality resonates like a blow on an anvil, yet the wine remains warm, slightly spicy and tremendously appealing. If ever a wine got down on its knees and practically begged, I repeat begged, to be consumed with a platter of just shucked oysters extracted from cold, briny waters a fleeting moment past, by damn, this is it. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pinot gris Let’s just come right out and say that the Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2009, Yarra Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, is delightful, but at the same time, while “delight” might conjure a notion of being too eager to please, the wine is also fresh, pert and sassy, talkin’ back and takin’ names, an Ellen Page of a wine. The bouquet is freighted with aromas of cloves and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle, apple and spiced pear, with undercurrents of lime, fennel and thyme. Bright and vibrant, this pinot gris zings with crisp acidity and sings with crystalline notes of limestone minerality, while offering tasty peach, pear and quince flavors. It drinks almost too easily. We had it one night with seared swordfish marinated in lime, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and white wine. The wine ages in neutral or used French oak barrels, a device that lends it a sheen of woody spice and a lovely, shapely structure. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Old bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Vermentino The white vermentino grape is found in nooks and crannies up and down the Italian boot but does its best work in Tuscany and Sardenia, with good examples coming recently from Tuscany’s Maremma region, an isolated area in the southwest by the Tyrennian Sea. So, the Val delle Rose Litorale Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana (one of the Cecchi Family Estates), could be called another seaside wine (or at least in proximity), though unlike the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009 mentioned above, this is not so much a savory, spicy drink as a wine of delicacy and nuance. This is a blend of 85 percent vermentino and “15 percent other complementary white grape varieties,” a vague designation that occurs not merely on the printed matter that accompanied the wine to my door-step but on the website of Banfi Vintners, the wine’s importer. What I really want to know, of course, is what those other grapes are, but I’m writing this post on Sunday morning, so I won’t worry my pretty little head about the issue. Anyway, yes, the Litorale Vermentino 2010 — sporting a radically different label that emphasizes the wine’s coastal or desk-side drinkability — offers subtle tissues in a well-wrought fabric of almonds and almond blossom, lemon and lime peel, a slightly leafy character and just a hint of mango and papaya. It’s balanced and harmonious in the mouth, with mildly lush citrus and stone-fruit flavors, though crisp acidity and chalk-like minerality lend to its lively, thirst-quenching nature and a sprightly finish. Drink through summer 2012. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Carmenère The story of how for decades all that merlot in Chile was really carmenère — widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th Century — but this fact wasn’t discovered until the 1980s and so on has often been related, even by me on numerous occasions, so here’s a link to something I wrote previously on the issue and let’s leave it at that. Apaltagua is a small estate in the Apalta Valley of Chile’s Colchagua wine region, itself part of the Rapel Valley south of Santiago. The winery is owned by the Edward Tutunjian family; winemaker is Alvaro Espinoza. The Apaltagua Reserva Carmenère 2010, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, impresses immediately with its clarity, purity and intensity of expression. The color is deep ruby-purple; vivid scents of black currants, blackberries and blueberries are permeated by notes of black olive, dried thyme, briers and brambles, smoky cedar and lavender. Your mouth will welcome a dense chewy texture founded on dusty, graphite-imbued tannins and ripe, spicy black and blue fruit flavors — adding a bit of plum — buoyed by vibrant acidity. Sorta like cabernet sauvignon and merlot but sorta itself, too. A terrific red to quaff with burgers, meat loaf, pepperoni pizza and such. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Merlot Merlot doesn’t receive a huge amount of respect because it’s so much like cabernet sauvignon in many ways, or at least it’s made that way, so when you run across an example of the grape that expresses some individually, a little character that sets it apart from cabernet, then it’s time to splurge on a case. The Kunde Family Estate Merlot 2006, Sonoma Valley, California, is one of those models. The deep ruby color may be dark, but the wine is bright and clean with intense aromas of very spicy black currants and red and black cherries that take on a slight edge of graphite-like minerality and smoky wood; the wine aged 18 months in small barrels of French, Hungarian and American oak, 30 percent new. The Kunde Merlot 06 is dense and chewy, robust without being rustic, solid without being stolid, and a few minutes in the glass smooths it out nicely and lends a bit of finesse and elegance. In fact, the hallmark of this wine is lovely balance and harmony among oak and tannin, fruit and acidity, while its pass at wildness in hints of oolong tea, moss and blueberry gives it a sense of off-beat but appropriate personality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $18 — Good Value — but found around the country at prices ranging from $14 to $20.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Syrah Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2008, Central Coast. This wine features on the label a depiction of the montebank, the alchemical trickster from the Tarot deck, but there’s nothing shifty or tricky about the wine in the bottle. Made by the inimitable Randall Grahm, Le Pousseur 2008 offers a deep, dark ruby color with a fleck of magenta at the rim; it’s winsome and involving simultaneously, with seductive aromas of ripe, spicy, dusty black currants, blueberries and plums that unfold to hints of rhubarb and mulberry and, deeper and more intense, layers of licorice, lavender and sandalwood. Great grip and definition make for a wine that fills the mouth and nurtures the palate while grounding its effects in slightly sandpapery tannins and earthy elements of briars, brambles and underbrush, all serving to promote savory, up-front flavors of blackberries and blueberries tinged with a little smoke and bacon fat. Scrumptious but with a nod to syrah’s more serious (but not too severe) side. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 with roasted and grilled meats and such hearty fare. 2,705 cases were made. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

When I was a kid, I thought that picnics must be pretty damned cool and racy events, because I was familiar with Manet’s great painting Dejeuner sur l’herbes that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. In the book of reproductions that I looked at constantly, the two men and two women depicted in the work were described as “dining al fresco,” and since one of the women was nude and the other partially so, I thought that a picnic meant eating outside naked. Well, it didn’t turn out that way, damnit, but naked or not, picnics (under controlled conditions) can be quite charming. The foods I favor at these occasions include deviled eggs, cold roasted chicken, cucumber sandwiches, potato salad and strawberry shortcake; I don’t normally cotton to strawberries, the stupidest of the berry line, but in the picnic situation, they’re allowed. What’s also allowed are young, fresh, attractive wines that we can enjoy without worrying our pretty little heads too much; wines that offer an interesting level of complexity without being ponderous or demanding or shrill. That’s what I bring to you today, because as the temperature moderates slightly in some parts of the United States of America, My Readers might be contemplating picnics, even if they occur on the safety of their own porch or patio or backyard, rather than say, Yosemite.

None of these wines sees the least smidgeon of oak; none has an alcohol content higher than 13 percent; all slide across the counter at a reasonable price. The primary motifs are charm, delight, drinkability. With one exception, these wines are from vintage 2010; one is from 2009. All rate Very Good+ with one exception, and that’s a superb rosé that I scored Excellent. These are versatile wines intended to match with all sorts of casual fare, not just my ideal picnic menu. Samples for review, except for one that I bought.

Image from artchive.com.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Let’s start with a delightful sip of something just a little sweet. Innocent Bystander Moscato 2010, Yarra Valley, from an area just northeast of Melbourne in Australia’s Victoria region, is exactly the color in your glass as you see in this illustration: a very pale melon/bubble gum pink. It’s what Italians call frizzante, which is to say sparkling but more of a light fizz than gushing effervescence. The wine is a blend of 65 percent muscat of Alexandria and 35 percent muscat of Hamburg. Here is pure raspberry and strawberry notched up by a spike of lime with delicate scents of watermelon and rose petals and something slightly earthy and foxy. In the mouth, Rainier cherries and orange zest come into play and a hint of cloves enveloped in chiming acidity and a bit of limestone-like minerality. The wine is slightly sweet initially, but it quickly goes bone-dry, while retaining a sense of ripe softness and talc-like lushness balanced by that crisp structure and gentle, fleeting bubbles. Absolutely charming and — a word I seldom employ apropos wine — fun. 5.5 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot! Very Good+. Half-bottles about $10 to $12.
Old Bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Torres Vina Esmeralda 2010, Catalunya, Spain. Well, now, what a sweetheart this one is! The color is pale straw-gold with a slight green sheen. The wine is composed of 85 percent muscat of Alexandria grapes and 15 percent gewurztraminer, so it’s not surprising that what you first notice about the bouquet are aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, followed by peach and pear, and then a hint of lychee and petrol. The wine is sprightly, spicy, snappy, quite dry; it’s permeated by prominent strains of limestone and shale (though the texture is moderately lush) that bolster flavors of roasted lemon, canned lychee and some of its juice and a touch of peach nectar, all devolving to a stony, acid-lashed finish that reveals a hint of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Really charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., N.Y.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Albariño is Spain’s white grape of the moment, and the Martin Códax Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas (in Galicia in northwest Spain) is a worthwhile interpretation. I found this wine’s invigorating dry grass-sea salt-roasted lemon-limestone character irresistible, and it immediately put me in mind of trout seared in an iron skillet with butter and capers over a camp fire (or Coleman stove), though that example truly sounds more like a cook-out on a camping trip than a halcyon picnic in a bosky dell. Add to those qualities hints of dried thyme and tarragon, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touches of fennel and cloves and a late-comer bloom of jasmine, and you get a well-nigh perfect picnic or patio wine. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Martin Codax USA — i.e., Gallo — Haywood, Ca.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Grapes for the Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2010, Central Coast, derive from all up and down the vast Central Coast region of California, but include a portion from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. I love the name of this wine — “Stainless Chardonnay,” as if it were a product of immaculate conception — but the free-of-sin cuteness makes a point; this wine is made all in stainless steel and goes through no malolactic process in tank, so it functions as an epitome of freshness, bright flavors, vibrancy and minerality; it’s not just “no-oak” but “anti-oak.” My first note is “Lovely.” Pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors are imbued with hints of mango and guava (though the wine seems not a whit tropical) and touches of quince and lime. The texture is shapely and supple; it just feels beguiling sliding through the mouth, while plenty of limestone and steel and a hefty dose of jazzy acidity keep the keel on a purposeful cutting path across the palate. Thoughtful winemaking here from New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
With its engaging manner, crisp liveliness and lovely tone and presence, the Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2010 seduces the nose and gladdens the mouth. Made all in stainless steel from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, this product of a small appellation south of the city of Blois and the Loire River offers notes of fresh-mown grass, dried thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and ripe pear and heaps of lime and limestone. Lemon and lime flavors are touched by hints of sunny, leafy fig with a bell-tone echo of black currant at the center. Juicy and spicy, yes, but dry, stony, steely, deftly balanced between scintillating acidity and a delicately ripe, rich texture. The domaine was founded in 1898 by the Delaille family and has been owned by them since then; it is operated by Gilbert Delaille and his sons Emmanuel and Thierry. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Befitting a white wine that hails from an island, the Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, is savory and spicy, brisk as a sea-wind fledged with brine, replete with notes of pear and almond skin, a sort of sunny lemony quality, and underlying hints of bees’-wax and jasmine. The winery was founded in 1899 by two friends from Piedmont named — ready? — Sella and Mosca. The wine is made from 100 percent vermentino grapes, some of which, after harvest, are allowed to dry before being pressed, a process that adds some richness and depth to the wine without detracting from its notable freshness and immediate appeal. Ringing acidity keeps La Cala 09 vibrant and resonant as a bow-string, yet the tautness is balanced by a texture of almost powdery softness. Completely lovely. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.
Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Boy, is this pretty! The Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2009, Bianco di Toscana, made in stainless steel, is a blend of trebbiano, malvasia Toscana and chardonnay grapes, to produce an unusual and very attractive combination. “Bianco di Toscana” is a basic designation that means, as if you didn’t know, “white wine of Tuscany,” so producers can do just about anything they want with it. In the case of Oriolus 09, we have a light straw color with a sort of ghostly green tone and a bouquet of almond and almond blossom, spicy lemon and lemon balm, cloves and shale and limestone. A few minutes in the glass bring up elements of spiced peach and pear, which provide high-notes in the aromas but dominate flavors bolstered by clean, fresh acidity and subtle touches of dried herbs, tangerine and steely limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble, Cordova, Tenn.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Luna Mater Franscati Superiore Secco 2009, produced by Fontana Candida, represents a rendition of the famous “wine of Rome” that is indeed superior. Such quality might not be such a difficult task to attain considering that most Frascati is bland and innocuous, but efforts are being made, and Luna Mater — “Mother Moon” — is among the best. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is a blend of 60 percent malvasia bianca di Candia, 30 percent trebbiano Toscano and 10 percent malvasia del Lazio, from vineyards that average 50 years old. What’s here? Almond and almond blossom with a touch of almond skin bitterness; green apples, roasted lemon and a bit of peach; dried thyme and lemon verbena; a very dry, steely and minerally effect in the mouth, with taut acidity, a rousing note of breeze-borne sea-salt and salt-marsh; rollicking spiciness from mid-palate back through a finish flecked with quince and ginger. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.
VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, from the area of Provence between Marseilles and Toulon, an absolutely classic South-of-France-style rosé, a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, with a lovely pale onion skin color slightly tinted with very pale copper; dried raspberries and red currants with a tinge of melon and peach; bone-dry, scintillating acidity, a spicy finish flush with limestone; wonderful tautness and presence, a little electrifying yet pleasantly supple and nuanced. The best rosé I’ve had this summer. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


In 1429, during the Hundred Years’ War, Joan of Arc made her headquarters in Blois, a city that maintains a good deal of its Medieval and Renaissance character. Not that such a fact has tremendous bearing on today’s Wine of the Week, except that Blois lies on the north bank of the Loire River, and if you cross the river at this point and drive south, you soon find the charming village of Cheverny, home of a notable chateau (in a region bursting with such edifices) and sleepy — I’ve been there — little seat of a minor winemaking region. This is not Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, not Anjou or Saumur, yet the white wines — made primarily from sauvignon blanc — command respect for their liveliness and subtly woven delicacy as well as for their generally inexpensive nature. Today’s Wine of the Week is the Monmousseau Cheverny 2009, a blend of 70 percent sauvignon blanc and 30 percent chardonnay that offers hints of lemon balm and tangerine, almond and orange blossom and, as the wine spends a few moments in the glass, a strain of ginger and quince. Flavors of lime peel and grapefruit, animated by sassy acidity (and a brisk bite of spiced pear), are neatly poised with a tinge of dried grass and herbs and a finish that sends up a taut flag of limestone and gun-flint. Drink through 2012. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Very Good+. I paid $14, but it can be found around the country for $12.
Chardonnay is relatively rare in the Loire Valley, by the way, employed only as a blending grape and usually in restricted quantity.
USA Wine Imports, New York.

What could be more straightforward than that? Not that all lists aren’t arbitrary in some degree, but after going through all the posts from 2010 on this blog several times and doing some cogitating and sighing and reluctant winnowing, here they are, The 50 Best Wines of 2010, as experienced by me and written about last year. Wines that I tasted in 2010 but haven’t written about yet will not show up on this list, nor will older vintages that I was lucky enough to taste, which I do damned little enough anyway. The order is wines I rated Exceptional, alphabetically, followed by wines I rated Excellent, alphabetically. Where I think such factors might be helpful, I list percentages of grapes and, for limited edition wines, the case production, if I know it. Prices begin at about $25 and go up to $200, with most, however, in the $30s, $40s and $50s.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
<>Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Sonoma Valley. Richard Arrowood’s new label. 996 cases. Exceptional. About $80.

<>Catena Alta Adrianna Chardonnay 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Exceptional. About $35. (Winebow, New York)

<>Joseph Drouhin Chablis-Vaudésir Grand Cru 2007, Chablis, France. 130 six-bottle cases imported. Exceptional. About $72. (Dreydus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Exceptional. About $150, though prices around the country range up to $225. (Winebow, New York)

<>Vincent Girardin Corton Renardes Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes 2007, Burgundy, France. Exceptional. About $70. (Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala.)

<>Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $38. (USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection)

<>Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Syrah 2007, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 75 cases. Exceptional. About $40.

<>Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 974 cases. Exceptional. About $48.

<>Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2008, St. Helena, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $32.

<>Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. 275 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

<>Rochioli Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,200 cases. Exceptional. About $60.

<>Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 490 cases. Exceptional. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
<>Alma Negra Misterio 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. The red grapes in this blend are never revealed, but count on malbec, cabernet franc and bonarda. Excellent. About $30-$33. (Winbow, New York)

<>Benovia Bella Una Pinot Noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 195 cases. Excellent. About $58.

<>Francois Billion Grand Cru Cuvée de Reserve Brut Cépage Chardonnay (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $60. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut, Champagne, France. Excellent. About $65. (Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Ill.)

<>Brovia Sorí del Drago Barbera d’Asti 2007, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $20-$28. (Neal Rosenthal, New York)

<>Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches (blanc) 2007, Burgundy, France. 600 cases imported. Excellent. $100-$110. (Dreyfus, Ashby & Sons, New York)

<>Easton Old Vines Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, Amador County. “Old Vines” meaning back to 1865. Excellent. About $28.

<>Egly-Ouriet Brut “Les Vignes de Vrigny” (nonvintage). Champagne, France. Made, unusually, from all pinot meunier grapes. Excellent. About $70. (North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>En Route “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir 2008, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 1,993 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Bodegas Fariña Gran Dama de Toro 2004, Toro, Spain. Tempranillo with six percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45. (Specialty Cellars, Santa Fe Springs, Cal.)

<>Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuisse 2008, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $30. (Kobrand, New York)

<>Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Pinot noir with a dollop of chardonnay. Excellent. About $55. (Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.)

<>Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 407 cases. Excellent. About $46.

<>Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga Barbaresco 2006, Piedmont, Italy. Excellent. $45-$55. (Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Cal.)

<>Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $35.

<>Haton et Fils “Cuvée Rene Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut (nonvintage), Champagne, France. Excellent. About $62. (William-Harrison Imports, Manassas, Va.)

<>Heller Estate Pinot Noir 2007, Carmel Valley, Monterey County. 154 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Petillant 2002, Loire Valley, France. Excellent. About $30-$35. (Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York)

<>Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. 81 percent pinot noir/19 percent chardonnay. 950 cases. Excellent. About $50.

<>Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. With 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec. Excellent. About $52.

<>Kruger-Rumf Munsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett 2008, Nahe, Germany. Excellent. About $22-$25. (Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, New York.)

<>Margerum Rosé 2009, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County. 100 cases. Excellent. About $21.

<>Mendel Semillon 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Excellent. About $25. (Vine Connection, Sausalito, Cal.)

<>Misty Oaks Jones Road Cabernet Franc 2008, Umpqua Valley, Oregon. 75 cases. Excellent. About $28.

<>Oakville Ranch Robert’s Blend Cabernet Franc 2005, Napa Valley. With 10 percent cabernet sauvignon. 393 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $90.

<>Joseph Phelps Insignia 2006, Napa Valley. Excellent. about $200.

<>Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. Renaissance holds wines longer than any other winery; this dessert wine was released in 2008. Production was 364 cases of half-bottles. Excellent. About $35.

<>Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. 63 cases. Excellent. About $45.

<>Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys 2008, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $22.

<>St. Urban-Hof Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Piesling Auslese 2007, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Excellent. About $55. (HB Wine Merchants, New York)

<>Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $42.

<>Talbott Logan Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $25.

<>Tardieu-Laurent Les Becs Fins 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, France. 50 percent syrah/50 percent grenache. 1,008 cases imported. Excellent. About $22. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, Cal.)

<>Chateau Tour de Farges Vin Doux Natural 2006, Muscat de Lunel, France. Excellent. About $24. (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Cal.)

<>V. Sattui Black-Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 400 cases. Available at the winery or mail order. Excellent. About $40.

<>Yangarra Estate Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, Australia. 500 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29. (Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.)
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Coming Next: 25 Fantastic Wine Bargains.

First, a lesson in wine geography and nomenclature.

Readers familiar with the official A.O.C. system — Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée — that governs grape-growing and winemaking in France probably know that there are basic wines from Bordeaux that can be labeled as such and basic wines from Burgundy that can be labeled as Bourgogne. The same is not true, however, for the Loire Valley region. Burgundy is minuscule in extent compared to Bordeaux, while Bordeaux is dwarfed by the Loire Valley, noted for being France’s largest and most diverse vineyard and wine-producing area. Grape varieties in Burgundy and Bordeaux, to stay with these handy examples, are limited and consistent; the Loire Valley is blessed — some would say cursed — with a dizzying array of grape varieties. If you picked up a bottle labeled Bourgogne Blanc, you could count on chardonnay being inside the bottle (well, yes, there’s a little pinot blanc in those vineyards); similarly, you would know that Bordeaux Blanc would be a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon, perhaps with a touch of sauvignon gris or muscadelle. What would be inside a bottle labeled generically as Loire Valley Blanc, however, would be anybody’s guess.

This little disquisition leads to the Wine of the Week, the Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2009, which carries the designation Vin de Pays du Val de Loire. “Ah ha,” you crow, “there it is, F.K. ‘Val de Loire.’ Loire Valley.” Ah ha, yourself. Notice that this wine is a Vin de Pays, a “country wine,” and therefore a step below the A.O.C. wines in the French scheme of vinous things. Once known by the rather meaningless title Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France, the name was changed to Vin de Pays du Val de Loire in 2007, lending a regional identity which is still somewhat misleading, since this Vin de Pays encompasses 14 departments..

Now, here’s the interesting part. The grapes for this wine derive from two vineyards in the Touraine A.O.C., a Central Loire area rich in history and grand chateaux and a long heritage of winemaking. A Touraine Blanc A.O.C. does exist; the wine can be a blend of chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, arbois and up to 20 percent chardonnay. There’s even an appellation for Sauvignon de Touraine. So, why did Pascal Jolivet elect to label this wine as VDP du Val de Loire rather than the A.O.C. Sauvignon de Touraine? The clue perhaps lies in the letters “I.G.P” after the VDP designation on the label. The initials stand for Indication Géographique Protégée — “protected geographical region” — and it’s part of a five-year modernization of wine regulations launched by the French government in May 2008. IGP will replace the VDP level of wines, and among other easing of the former rules, it will allow producers to make wines from whatever grape varieties they chose and to take grapes from two or more regions. (It also allows the use of wood chips instead of oak barrels.)

Anyway and finally, the Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc 2009, made all in stainless steel, is a charming wine with enough seriousness about it to demand some consideration. The color is very pale straw-gold. Aromas of lemon and lime are imbued with elements of limestone and flint and hints of grapefruit skin and apple skin. There is indeed a bit of “attitude” about the wine, evidenced in its bright spiciness and the boldness of its clean acidity. Flavors of roasted lemon, quince and ginger are bolstered by deep, pervasive minerality, a sort of chalk over limestone foundation, while the texture is both lively and supple. The finish is rounded with a bracing bell-tone of grapefruit pith. Alcohol content is an eminently sane 12.5 percent. This was terrific with seared sock-eye salmon, potato salad and chard. Very Good+. About $17.

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

« Previous PageNext Page »