Pinot blanc


The temperature is rising in many parts of the U.S.A., and we as a people are in desperate need of refreshment. Turn, then, I say, to the tasty, often surprisingly complex and reasonably-priced sparkling wines called Crémant d’Alsace. These are made in that rather Germanic northeastern region of France in the time-honored manner of Champagne, though here called méthode traditionelle, usually from such grapes as chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinor gris, pinor noir and reisling, sometimes in blends, sometimes as single variety. The examples mentioned today are “non-vintage” products, meaning, actually, that they are “multi-vintage,” that is, a blend of several vintages, a practice widely employed wherever sparkling wines are made. These are incredibly satisfying and refreshing sparklers, as appropriate in the kitchen and dining room as they are on the porch or patio, at poolside or on a picnic, served chilled, of course, and in a tall flute so you can appreciate the color and the stream of tiny bubbles. Drink up! Have Fun! Enjoy! It’s Summertime!

These wines were samples for review.
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The Willm Brut Blanc de Blancs is designated Vin Mousseux de Qualité rather than Crémant d’Alsace, the implication being that grapes from outside Alsace may be included. The wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is very pale gold, and the mousse is a pleasing froth of tiny bubbles. Pointed aromas of green apples and spiced pears are wreathed with notes of peach and jasmine, with a hint of lime peel; the entry is slightly sweet, in a ripe fruit sort of manner, but from mid-palate back through the limestone-laden finish it’s dry, elevated by crisp acidity, and a bit saline. All in all, a fresh and refreshing sparkling wine. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value. .

Imported by Monsieur Touton Selections, New York.
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The Cattin family arrived in Alsace from Switzerland in 1720; the estate is operated by the descendents of its original founders. The Joseph Cattin “Brut Cattin” Crémant d’Alsace is a blend, differing according to year, of pinot blanc, pinot gris, riesling and chardonnay; the vineyards are sustainably farmed, with average age of vines for this product being 40 years. The wine offers a pale gold hue and a lovely and persistent effervescence; notes of lemon and grapefruit, almond skin and lime peel shade into hints of lilac and flint. This is a very dry sparkling wine, no playing around with flirty sweetness here, yet the vastly appealing texture is talc-like, almost cloud-like, though energized by incisive acidity and crystalline limestone-and-flint minerality. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $19, and a Bargain at the Price.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Philippe and Pascal Zinck farm their 56 acres of vines organically. The Domaine Zinck Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace, 100 percent pinot noir, sports an entrancing pale copper-salmon color enlivened by hordes of tiny glinting bubbles. Aromas of pure strawberry and raspberry waft from the glass, permeated by notes of orange rind, cloves and rose petals; bright acidity and seashell-like minerality keep a slightly creamy texture clean, bright and crisp under subtle flavors of smoky and spicy red currants and raspberries; the finish is dry and imbued with limestone and shale elements. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.

Imported by HB Wine Merchants, New York.
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Does it help to say that I could drink the François Schmitt Blanc de Noirs Crémant d’Alsace every day? The estate was founded in 1697; François Schmitt took over the family domaine in the 1970s and now runs things with his son Frédéric. This is 100 percent pinot noir with no dosage, so bone-dry does not begin to describe the wine’s scintillating, limestone-powered attitude. The color is very pale gold, like old jewelry; bubbles are fine, tempestuous, tenacious; the whole package seems to glitter with an edge of steel, limestone and flint. There’s a hint of almond skin and hazelnuts, a note of biscuits, a touch of some astringent little white flower, evanescent and ineffable. The effect is of elegance and hauteur, yet this high-toned sparkler is eminently drinkable. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28.

Imported by Fruit of the Vine, Riahi Selections, Long Island City, New York.
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And, boy, are they eclectic! And sort of electric in effect, by which I mean snappy, vivid, lively and crisp. Some are fairly straightforward, fruity and appealing; a few others are more complicated and inspire a little contemplation, though in these languid, humid days, a bit of contemplation harmonizes with the lap of waves at the beach or the plock-plock of tennis balls or the creak of the rope that supports your gently swaying hammock. We touch Chile, Spain, Italy, Germany, Alsace in France and several regions of Italy and California today, as well as a dazzling range of grape varieties. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, my goal is not to overload your sensibility with technical, historical, geological data, as I might in more extensive reviews but to offer incisive impressions that will pique your interest and whet your palate. Contemplating an afternoon at a picnic, by the pool, on the porch or patio? Any of these white wines would serve you well.

These wines were samples for review.
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Albamar Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 12.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold color; notably fresh and zingy; lychee and pear, lime peel and grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle; hints of celery seed, fennel and fig; leafy, sprightly, with a scintillating limestone edge; plenty of verve and clarity. Drink through 2015. Very Good+. About $11, a Sure-Fire Bargain.
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Blanco Nieva Pie Franco Verdejo 2012, Rueda, Spain. 13% alc. 100% verdejo grapes. Light gold color; clean, crisp and vibrant; bee’s-wax, sea salt, roasted lemon, lime peel, limestone, little waxy flowers; very nicely knit and well-balanced; bracing acidity and salinity, with a dry finish that offers a pleasing touch of candied grapefruit. Very attractive and refreshing; lots of personality. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $23.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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Conundrum 2012, California. 13.5% alc. Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscat canelli, viognier. Is Conundrum getting drier? Is that why I actually liked this vintage of the well-known white blend? Pale gold color; fully-fleshed out notes of peaches and spiced pears, lychee and riesling-like petrol; operatically floral in the lilac and honeysuckle range, some muscat-tinged muskiness; a touch of sweetness going in but felt more as plush ripeness; crisp yet lush, sleek, polished, sophisticated; very dry finish etched with limestone. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22, often discounted.
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Dry Creek Vineyards Dry Chenin Blanc 2013, Clarksburg. 13% alc. Pale gold color; hay, roasted lemon, acacia and dried thyme; savory, spare and bracing yet graceful; hints of yellow stone fruit and tangerine; background of damp stone minerality; all bound by crisp acidity. Quite charming. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
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Hugel et Fils Gewurztraminer “Hugel” 2011, Alsace. 14% alc. Very pale gold color; lychee, peach and spiced pear; notes of lemon curd, honeysuckle and preserved lemon; dry but juicy with stone-fruit and hints of citrus and green apple; a cool wine, shot through with limestone and flint minerality, warmed by touches of cloves and allspice; ultimately spare, elegant, slightly astringent on the finish. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $22.
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J Vineyards Pinot Gris 2013, California. 13.8% alc. Light gold color; lemon and lime peel, delicate notes of honeysuckle, thyme and sage, lemon oil and orange blossom, crushed gravel undertones; very crisp and refreshing though spare and lithe; pith and peel and the bracing astringent bitterness that attends them, yet a wisp of slightly overripe peach under the spareness and a hint at briers and loamy earthiness. A thoughtful and appealing rendition of the grape, surprisingly complex for the price. Excellent. About $16, a Terrific Bargain.
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Masseria Li Veli Fiano 2012, Puglia. 13% alc. 100% fiano grapes. Pale gold color, tinge of green; cloves and allspice, jasmine and smoke; roasted lemon and bee’s-wax, talc and limestone; clean, dry and savory; lovely body, cloud-like density and supple texture but spurred by bracing acidity. Irresistibly tasty. Very Good+. About $11, representing Wonderful Value.
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St. Urbans-Hof Bockstein Ockfen Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany. 8% alc. A reisling of scintillating purity and ethereal refinement; very pale gold color; delicately struck notes of jasmine and apricot, mango and lychee, lemon peel and almond skin; vivid acidity sends an electric wave across the palate though the ultimate effect is never less than utmost elegance and elevation; a texture almost lush exquisitely balanced by the acid and the bright limestone minerality. Now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
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Senorio de Rubios Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. How well does albarino age? Beautifully, in this case. I don’t usually include
wines that are Worth a Search in the Weekend Wine Notes, but this 2010 was the sample I received, even though, apparently, the 2012 is available. Light gold color; my first reaction, “Gosh, how lovely”; not as fresh as it would have been two years ago, perhaps, but with a depth of spice and richness; roasted lemon, lemon balm and baked pear; camellia, quince and ginger; very dry, saline and savory, slightly honeyed entry leading to an earthy, limestone-inflected finish that’s a bit austere. Drink up. Very Good+ leaning toward Excellent. About $18.
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Toad Hollow Francine’s Selection Unoaked Chardonnay 2012, Mendocino County. 13.9% alc. Pale gold color; lively, clean and bright, very dry, crisp and pert; notes of lemon and mango, hint of jasmine; lots of serious limestone minerality enlivened by a grapefruit finish. Quite refreshing. Very Good+. About $14.
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Trimbach Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold color; pear, peach and lychee, yellow plum; tantalizing floral elements, like memories of dewy violets and lilacs; a precise and incisive wine, layered with flint and limestone, crystalline acidity; earthy, though, a bit dusty; the entire effect clean, resonant and elegant. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $17, representing Great Value.
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Zenato Lugana 2012, San Benedetto, Veneto. 13% alc. 100% trebbiano di Lugana grapes. Very pale shimmering gold color; super attractive, with notes of jasmine and orange rind, talc and lilac, mango and spiced pear; slightly honeyed, with hints of bee’s-wax and lanolin; touches of dried thyme and rosemary, with the latter’s slightly resinous quality; notably clean and fresh, chiming acidity and a seashell-like minerality. I could drink this all Summer. Very Good+. About $14, marking A Notable Bargain.

The label image is one vintage behind.
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Mother’s Day is Sunday, so right now I offer six selections of sparkling wine and Champagne to honor your Mom, toast her presence or memory and basically perform your duty as a child, which you will always be as long as either or both of your parents are among the living. No beverage is more festive that Champagne or sparkling wine — the latter designation for such products made outside of France’s Champagne region — and lord knows, your Mom deserves some festivity and honor after what she put up with all these years, n’est-ce pas? Prices range from just under $20 to over $60, so I hope there’s a bottle of bubbles here that will suit varying budgets. I include two sparkling wines from Italy and two from California, each of diverse spirit, and two Champagnes, also made in different styles; three of these products are rosés, making them even more celebratory. The sparkling wines were samples for review; I bought the Champagnes. Enjoy! And be good to your Mom!
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Carpenè Malvolti Extra Dry (nv), Prosecco Conigliano Valdobbiadene, Italy. 11% alc. 100% glera grapes. Pale pale gold color; green apples, almond skin and lemon curd, hint of lime peel; slightly sweet entry but dry from mid-palate back through the tingly, modestly spicy finish; quite clean, crisp and lively. Enticing by itself, or use in a Bellini with peach nectar. Very Good+. About $19.
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Sofia Blanc de Blancs 2012, Monterey County, California. 12% alc. Pinot blanc 74%, riesling 16%, muscat 10%; Pale gold color with brisk effervescence; jasmine and orange blossom, spiced pears; hints of lime peel and orange rind, roasted lemon; sprightly, engaging, just off-dry; touch of limestone minerality; backnote of biscuits and toasted hazelnuts. Very pleasant for casual sipping. Very Good+. About $19.
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Berlucchi Cuvée 61 Franciacorta Rosé (nv), Lombardy, Italy. 12.5% alc. Chardonnay 50%, pinot noir 50%. Lovely copper-salmon color, persistent stream of frothy bubbles; pop the cork and you smell strawberries from a foot away; add orange rind, almond skin and honeysuckle; pert, tart and sassy (my law firm), slightly sweet in the beginning but quickly transitions to bone dry; notes of lemon and lemon curd balanced by the acidity previously referred to and more than a hint of seashell minerality. Quite charming and beautifully structured. Excellent. About $35.
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Inman Family Brut Rosé 2012, Russian River Valley, California. 12% alcohol. 100% pinot noir. Pale pale pink color, almost virginal; a torrent of tiny bubbles; dried strawberries and raspberries, hints of brambles and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; a spine of bright acidity supporting a framework of scintillating limestone minerality; very dry, with spare red currant and stone-fruit flavors, hint of spiced pear, all elements woven with steely delicacy and elegance. Delightful, marvelous sparkling wine. Excellent. About $56.
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Henriot Souverain Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Chardonnay 40%, pinot noir 60%. Medium straw-gold color, wildly effervescent; biscuits and fresh bread, pears, lime peel and ginger, notes of limestone and chalk that take on increased resonance; vivacious acidity, almost glittering limestone minerality; lovely personality and verve, refreshing balance of savory and saline elements; irresistibly appealing. Excellent. I paid $62, but prices around the country go as low at $42.
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Paul Bara Grand Rosé Brut (nv), Champagne, France. 12% alc. Pinot noir 80%, chardonnay 20%, all Grand Cru vineyards. Pure topaz in hue; billions of tiny glinting bubbles; macerated strawberries, cloves, orange marmalade, hint of brioche, notes of chalk and flint; full-bodied, lots of presence and a powerful limestone element, yet wreathed with ethereal touches of dried red currants and rose petals, slightly biscuity; bone-dry with chiming acidity; tremendous class and breeding. Excellent. I paid about $69, but it can be found as cheaply as $45 if you look.
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Unless you’re myopic or dogmatic, you know that great white wines are made in places other than Burgundy and Bordeaux, Alsace and Germany, California and Oregon. I’m speaking of Italy, which, while its many regions are capable of churning out seas of anonymous and innocuous white wines, is capable of producing not just attractive but terrific whites, largely from indigenous grapes. The eight wines I offer today rate Very Good+ or Excellent, and all represent good value, even those priced in the low and mid-$20s. We touch on Collio and Alto Adige and, farther south. Marche and Pulgia. In a departure from standard Weekend Wine Notes practice, I include a smidgeon of technical information, because though most of these wines were fashioned completely in stainless steel, a few demonstrate the quality that emerges from a deft combination of stainless steel with oak. I loved all of these wines, from the simplest to the most complicated; each provides pleasure and enjoyment in myriad ways, and they would all be wonderful will Spring and Summer fare. Enjoy!

These were samples for review.
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Garofoli Macrina 2012, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche (pronounced “mar-kay”). 100% verdicchio grapes. Very pale gold color; vibrant, savory, saline, crisp and dry; lilac and heather, lemon and lemon balm, notes of grapefruit peel, lemongrass and chalk; deliciously seductive, with silky medium body and supple texture; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of anise, lavender and limestone; surprising detail and dimension for the price. (All stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $14, and a Freaking Great Value.
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Elena Walch Selezione Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; lemon, pears, lemon curd, hints of lilac and honeysuckle; touch of spiced peach; very dry, an ethereal, almost powdery texture; super-attractive and very appealing. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
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La Battistina Gavi 2013, Gavi, Italy. 12% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Pale pale gold; a shimmering white wine, lovely with hints of green apples and lemons, almond blossom and spiced pears and a distinctive edge that balances slightly honeyed ripeness with dry salinity; juicy but spare, with bracing acidity that cuts a swath and a scintillating seashell/flint character. (Stainless steel.) Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $16.
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Li Veli Masseria Verdeca 2012, Valle d’Itria. 13% alc. 90% verdeca grapes, 10% fiano minutolo. Light gold color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince, cloves, camellia and bee’s-wax; hints of pear and peach; dried herb character with a bit of sea-grass, savory and saline; quite dry with a pronounced chalk-like minerality; lively and engaging. (Stainless steel). Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18
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Elena Walch Kastelaz Pinot Bianco 2012, Alto Adige. 13.5% alc. 100% pinot bianco grapes. Pale gold color; deep, spicy, notes of candied grapefruit, with quince and ginger, hints of pear and lychee; chiming acidity arrows straight through the intensity of limestone transparency, bolstering spicy lemon and stone-fruit flavors; very dry, dynamic, a powerful presence. (Single vineyard grapes; 2.3 stainless steel, 1/3 new French oak.) Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $22.
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Marco Felluga Molamatta Bianco 2011, Collio. 13.5% alc. Pinot biano 40%, tocai friulano 40%, ribola gialla 20%. Pale gold color; almond and almond blossom, lemon and grapefruit, a little earthy and fleshy, slightly honeyed with a touch of lanolin; deftly balanced, elegant, yet dense and almost chewy texture; quite dry, enlivened by brisk acidity, limestone and a hint of almond skin and grapefruit rind bitterness. Lovely personality. (The pinot bianco fermented and aged in oak, the rest in stainless steel.) Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $23.
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Garofoli Podium 2011, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Marche. 14.5% alc. 100 percent verdicchio grapes. Pale gold color; spiced peaches and yellow plums, hints of honey, jasmine and rosemary, with an echo of that herb’s pithy piney character; warmly spicy yet cool with limestone and flint minerality; moderately dense, satiny texture cut by resonant acidity and a crystalline mineral quality; long finish wreathing spice, limestone and stone-fruit flavors. The difference between this wine and its cousin mention above: estate vineyards, lower yields, 15 months on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
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Marco Felluga Sauvignon Russiz Superiore 2012, Collio. 13.4% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Very pale gold; camellias and roasted lemons, slightly herbal and grassy — thyme, timothy, tarragon — with notes of lime peel and tangerine and a hint of bell pepper; lovely talc-like texture riven by vivid acidity and a vibrant limestone-flint element; very dry, with a fairly restrained, savory and austere finish. Now through 2016. (85% stainless steel/15% oak) Excellent. About $26.
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Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” revolves around the notion that places exist that represent the epitome of decency and decorum. I hope the late, great (but deeply troubled) author doesn’t mind if I borrow the term to apply to a group of wines that represent, for me, the epitome of clarity and crystalline transparency, wines that seem to radiate light and chiseled elegance. The six wines under review today hail from the roster of Alois Lageder, an estate founded in 1823 and now operated by the fifth generation. The vineyards from which these wines derive — all white, though reds are also produced — lie in Italy’s Alto Adige region and in the foothills of the Dolomiti — the Dolomites — where the Alps render national and regional boundaries inconsequential. The wines of Alois Lageder, the eponymous leader of the estate, are divided into two groups: Alois Lageder and Tenutae Lageder. Under the former label, the wines are produced partly from the company’s own biodynamically-farmed vineyards and partly from grapes purchased on long-term contracts with local estates. The second group encompasses wines made solely from biodynamic single vineyards owned by the estate. A third tier is Cantina Riff, a pinot grigio and a merlot-cabernet blend made from selected growers in the “Tre Venezie” region; these are the least expensive of the offerings. Winemaker is Luis von Dellemann.

Samples for review from Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. Image of the Dolomites from adventourus.com

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The Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina 2012, della Venezia, is as delicate and crisp as a snowflake and just as faceted. The color is very pale gold; piquant aromas of lemons, apples and lime peel unfurl to backnotes of grapefruit and almond blossom and a hint of almond skin. In the mouth, this wine feels chiseled from green apples, limestone and crystalline acidity, bolstered by touches of ripe peach and spiced pear; the finish is lean and spare. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014 as aperitif, with seafood and vegetarian appetizers or fish stews. Very Good+. About $10, an Amazing Bargain.
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Higher on the quality and price scale is the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2012, Dolomiti, deriving from more specific locations in Trentino than the generalized Riff Pinot Grigio Terra Alpina ’12. The color is radiant straw-gold with faint green highlights; jasmine and honeysuckle dominate a bouquet inflected by notes of cloves, lilac, pomander, roasted lemons and yellow plums. Surprisingly full-bodied, ripe and spicy with citrus and stone-fruit, but leavened by crisp acidity and a shimmering limestone element; the texture is lovely and buoyant, the finish of medium length, packed with spice and minerals. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now into 2015. A superb aperitif, with seafood terrines, dry cheeses, green olives, or with grilled fish. Excellent. About $15, a Fantastic Bargain.
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The grapes for the single-vineyard Tenutae Lageder Porer Pinot Grigio 2012, Sudtirol, Alto Adige, derive from biodynamic-farmed vines certified by the Demeter organization. (I’m not advocating for biodynamic principles; just informing those who are interested.) The color is pale gold; the whole package feels like tissues of delicate froth seamlessly woven with tensile strength; jasmine and camellia dominate a nose that features notes of greengage, lime peel and lemon lightly spiced and touched with almond. The wine offers delicious citrus and pear flavors and moderately full body, almost creamy, but brightened by crisp acidity and streamlined limestone and flint qualities; the whole effect is of lovely transparency and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $25.
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Now we go to pinot blanc, first with the “regular” Alois Lageder Pinot Blanc 2012, Dolomiti. The color is pale pale straw-gold; there’s a burst of floral energy, a seductive strain of jasmine and honeysuckle, then roasted lemon and lemon balm, lime peel and a hint of grapefruit. That grapefruit element persists through the wine’s striking acidity and its note of bitterness on the finish. In between, this is bracing and saline, shot through with limestone and river-rock minerality in lovely crystalline filigree. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Quite delightful. Very Good+. About $14, an Attractive Price.
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The Alois Lageder Haberle Pinot Blanc 2011, Alto Adige, derives from the Haberlehof estate vineyard that ranges in altitude from 1,500 to 1,710 feet. This is a cool-climate vineyard that sees extremes of day and night temperature variation. The color is mild gold; the wine overall is more subdued than its cousin mentioned immediately above, but is also more expressive and expansive. Yes, it is saline and bracing, as if it had feasted on seashells; yes, it features elements of roasted lemons and lime peel but adds spiced pear, a hint of lychee and dried thyme. The aura here is elevating and balletic, elegant, transparent; bright acidity arrows through to a finish heightened by notes of ginger and quince and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 with seafood pastas or risottos or grilled fish. Excellent. About $22.
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Last in this roster is the Alois Lageder Müller Thurgau 2012, Dolomiti, made from a grape that we tend to associate with Germany (where it’s the second-most widely planted grape) and Austria but is grown all over Eastern Europe as well as in New Zealand, England and the United States. It was created in 1882 as a cross between riesling and madeleine royale grapes by Hermann Müller of the Swiss canton of Thurgau, hence the name. The wine derives from Alois Lageder’s highest vineyards, at 1,960 to 2,780 feet altitude. The color is pale gold; the bouquet is notably floral and spicy, weaving cloves and ginger with jasmine and camellia, as well as hints of roasted lemon, grapefruit pith and lime peel and a faint wash of musk. It’s more straightforward in the mouth, quite tasty, a bit savory and saline, very crisp and lively with acid and limestone minerality, but the real attraction is in the nose. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15.
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Well, the first one is a cheat; it’s $22, but the rest are $20 and under, I promise, with prices starting at $13. Every wine on this list is rated Excellent, and it’s an eclectic roster, first geographically, with five wines each for California and Argentina, three each for Italy and Spain, two each for Oregon and France, one each for Germany, Portugal, Chile, Austria and Australia, and by genre; there are no dominant cabernet sauvignons, merlots or pinot noirs on this list and only one chardonnay, but you will find pinot blanc and riesling and gruner veltliner, albariño and carménère, loureiro and treixadura, as well as sangiovese and syrah and the ever-popular bobal. These are wines that performed above their price range in terms of intensity and satisfaction, a quality that is, I suppose, what we wish from every wine we encounter.
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Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, Germany. Excellent. About $22.
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Balverne Rosé of Sangiovese 2012, Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $20.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay 2012, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $20.
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Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Enrico Cialdini 2011, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. Excellent. About $15.
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Colognole Chianti Rufina 2007, Tuscany, Italy. Excellent. About $19.
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Cono Sur Reserva Especial Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Excellent. About $15.
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Davis Bynum Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $18.
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Finca La Linda Malbec Rosé 2012, Lujan de Cujo, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $13.
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Fred Loimer “Lois” Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. Excellent. About $16.
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Greg Norman Shiraz 2010, Limestone Coast, Australia. Excellent. About $15.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 716 cases. Excellent. About $19.
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Inama Carménère Piú 2010, Colli Berici, Veneto, Italy. With 25 percent merlot. Excellent. About $20.
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Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, Portugal. 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio, 5 percent rabigato. Excellent. About $16.
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Lee Family Farm Albariño 2010, Monterey County. 213 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, France. Excellent. About $20.
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Manuel Manzaneque Nuestra Selección 2005, Finca Elez, La Mancha, Spain. Cabernet sauvignon 40 percent, tempranillo 40 percent, merlot 20 percent. Excellent. About $16.50.
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Domaine de Reuilly Les Pierres Plates 2012, Reuilly, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $20.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Riax Baixas, Spain. 70 percent allero grapes, 15 percent loureiro, 10 percent caino, 5 percent treixadura and godello. Excellent. About $17.
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Una Seleccion de Ricardo Santos Semillon 2013, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $16.
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Sierra Norte Pasión de Bobal 2010, Utiel-Reguene, Spain. Excellent. About $15.
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Tinto Negro Co-Ferment Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. With 7 percent cabernet franc and 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $20.
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Tolentino Pinot Grigio 2011, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.
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Vina Robles Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $14.
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Youngberg Hill Pinot Blanc 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 160 cases. Excellent. About $18.
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If you’re hosting hordes of revelers tonight and wish for a tasty and inexpensive sparkling wine to lubricate the path toward “Auld Lang Syne,” you can’t go wrong with the Gran Sarao Cava Brut, a descending blend of 40 percent xarel-lo grapes, 30 percent macabeo, 20 percent parellada and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is medium gold, and the bubbles are finely threaded and active. Notes of green apple, lemon, lime peel and grapefruit are buoyed by delightful effervescence and crisp acidity, with an undertone of spiced and roasted lemon. It spends 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the lees, so it delivers a pleasing full-body for the price. Thoroughly charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. Look for prices from $10 to $16, and buy a case.

A Steve Miles Selection, Denver, Colo.
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From an estate founded in 1824 comes the Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes that offers a pale gold color and a steady, swirling array of tiny gleaming bubbles. I love this Cremant d’Alsace for its foxy muscat-like aromas of orange blossom, spiced pear, damp leaves and slightly over-ripe lychee; its — by contrast — steely backbone of scintillating limestone minerality and crisp, brisk acidity; its delectable spicy citrus flavors; and the lovely balance and integration of these elements. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wein-Bauer, Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. A sample for review.
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All right, let’s say that your New Year’s Eve gathering is more exclusive and intimate, perhaps a small dinner party. Try, in that case, one of my favorite sparkling wines — we’ve had it twice this year — the Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. From its shimmering pale gold color and constant confident upward flow of tiny bubbles, to its delicacy and elegance and, on the other hand, its authoritative expression of a grape — it’s 100 percent chardonnay — and a place, this sparkling wine exudes character and breeding. Meadowy aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle are entwined with notes of toasted hazelnuts, slightly roasted grapefruit, limestone and chalk; this is fresh, clean and ardently lively, but it gains body and power in the glass, adding a hint of caramel and toast, and it finishes with steely hauteur and touches of almond and grapefruit rind. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 883 cases. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
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On the other hand, what if tonight’s celebration is just for two? Some caviar, a perfect little supper, a toast at midnight. Splurge on the Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, a world-class sparkling wine that’s a blend of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, originating in Napa County (52 percent) and Sonoma County (48 percent). The color is pale platinum blond, and the bubbles surge in a headstrong froth. This sparkling wine is fresh, clean, racy and nervy; you feel its dynamic energy in every sniff and sip. Notes of roasted lemon, quince and crystallized ginger overlay elements of biscuits, almond skin, lime peel and limestone; a lovely creamy texture is balanced by vibrant acidity and lambent minerality, while a few moments in the glass bring in touches of smoke, lilac and chalk. A splendid marriage of elegance and power and one of California’s great sparkling wines. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $100.

A sample for review.
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Let’s keep it sparkling, shall we? For today’s post in the “Wine of the Week” category, let’s sashay off to Alsace, in northeastern France, where the sparkling wines termed Crémant d’Alsace, made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, tend to be lively, tasty and fairly inexpensive. Such a one is the Clément Klur Brut, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, a blend of pinot blanc and pinot auxerrois grapes. The color is pale but radiant gold, and a steady stream of fine bubbles rises from the bottom of the glass. Notes of apples and pears are highlighted by hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, with a touch of lime peel for emphasis; a shivery limestone element and chiming acidity lent this sparkling wine vibrancy and resonance, while a touch of chalk grounds it in the earth. Citrus flavors are permeated by ginger and quince, the wine is taut yet juicy and altogether nicely balanced and integrated. 12 percent alcohol. The Clement Klur estate has been completely organic since 1999. The strikingly graphic label is an anomaly in Alsace, where bottle art tends to be conservative and traditional. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by A.I. Selections, New York. A sample for review.

My Readers can probably tell by the Italian words in the title of this post that we’re back in Italy for the Fifth Day of Christmas, specifically in Lombardy, where we find the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta, about halfway between the cities of Bergamo to the northwest and Brescia to the southeast. These products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Franciacorta was accorded the official status of DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in 1995. The Montenisa estate has been in the hands of the Conti Maggi family since the late 16th Century. In 1999, the Maggi family entered an agreement with Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany to share in the operation of the vineyards. Montenisa Brut is composed of chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes with a touch of pinot noir. The grapes are fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barriques; after second fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for 30 months. The color is pale gold, and the fountain of bubbles forms a gratifying torrent in the glass. Montenisa Brut is fresh and clean with notes of apple and spiced pear and hints of yeasty bread and roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit. This is a zesty, vibrant, savory and botanical sparkling wine — I mean by botanical slightly minty and floral — with a prominent background of limestone and flint minerality for a lithe and elegant structure, though it does not stint on subtle ripeness and a sense of moderately mouth-filling lushness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A sample for review.


The holiday season stretching from Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night, with Christmas and New Years monumental stops on the road, is almost upon us. If you’re looking for a house sparkling wine that’s far better than cheap tank-generated sparklers but nothing as expensive and thought-provoking as the more luxurious examples from California and Champagne, here’s a candidate. The Laetitia Brut Cuvée, a nonvintage sparkling wine from San Luis Obispo County’s Arroyo Grande Valley, is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes, produced in the traditional champagne method by a winery noted for its precisely made single-vineyard pinot noirs. The color is pale gold with a slight shimmer of silver in the upward surge of tiny bubbles. This feels like steel and snow, biscuits and lemon curd, apples and pears, with cloves and almond skin in the background and a foundation of scintillating limestone. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of tangerine and grapefruit, the whole package enlivened by crisp and vibrant acidity. Laetitia Brut Cuvée spend 24 months en tirage – no, not triage — that is, two years in the bottle resting on the lees of the yeast cells and touch of sugar that stimulated the second fermentation. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,600 cases. Thoroughly enjoyable and engaging, close to elegant. Very Good+. About $25.

A sample for review.

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