Pinot blanc


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.

We continue Italian Wine Week on BTYH with a superb food and wine pairing. LL and I made the Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts a couple of nights ago, and to sip with it I opened the Manincor Réserve della Contessa 2010, Terlano Alto Adige, a blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc. I had not heard of this producer or wine, nor had I heard of the wine’s importer, Angels’ Share Wine Imports, nor of Adrian Chalk Selections. The wine came to my threshold courtesy of FedEx or UPS with no letter or technical material included, so I have no idea who actually sent me the wine. A little consultation with my research staff, Miss Google, revealed that the currant release of the wine is the 2012, so why was I sent the 2010? And why does the label use the French Réserve instead of the Italian Riserva? I was provoked almost to a state of existential quandrariness by these imponderables, though whatever qualms and questions weighed my spirit down were eased somewhat by the terrific quality of the wine, which, I think, at not quite three years old is drinking perfectly. The color is medium golden-yellow; super attractive aromas of roasted lemon and jasmine, orange blossom and wild thyme — “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” — yellow plums and orange blossoms are highlighted by a sort of mountain meadow freshness and rosemary/pine resinous quality. The wine is sleek, spare and elegant, savory and saline, woven of citrus and stone-fruit flavors heightened by baking spices and limestone, lilac and flint, all shot through by crystalline acidity. Wonderful personality and presence. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About — close as I can figure — $28.

The pasta dish is from the September issue of Bon Appetit, and my advice is to get the ingredients and cook it right now. Here’s a link to the recipe. It’s from the restaurant Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. The wine was a sample for review.

The history of Youngberg Hill is as complicated as such things often are in the West Coast wine industry. This land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was farmed by a Swede named Youngberg until 1987, when Norman Barnett, a financier from Boston, rolled in, bought the acreage and built an inn. In 1989, the legendary Ken Wright planted two vineyards here and used those grapes for his Panther Creek pinot noirs. The first time I visited Willamette Valley, in 1993, Wright was making the Panther Creek wines as well as the wines of Domaine Serene; he launched Ken Wright Cellars in 1994. Anyway, Wayne Bailey, originally from Iowa but nurtured on the wines of Burgundy and his work there, bought the property in 2003, and 10 years later he is still the owner and winemaker of this family owned business, which includes the inn — now renovated — that Barnett established 26 years ago. The winery has practiced organic methods since 2003.

So, the Youngberg Pinot Blanc 2012, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, is the wine I opened with last night’s dinner: smoked salmon with a coffee rub; sugar-snap peas; boiled and bashed new potatoes. This is a wine of lovely purity and intensity, offering a radiant medium gold color and beguiling aromas and flavors of roasted lemon, peach and yellow plum, with an almost tea-like and rooty kind of earthiness combined with an elegant, spare, ethereal structure; a few minutes in the glass add hints of cloves, quince and ginger. Lip-smacking acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality balance the wine’s moderately lush texture, while the finish brings in a savory, tangy note of grapefruit and a touch of the woody bitterness of the peach stone. The wine fermented half in stainless steel tanks, half in neutral oak barrels. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $18, an Astonishing Bargain, though obviously, with its small production, the wine also Merits a Search.

A sample for review.

This post of Weekend Wine Sips isn’t exactly a Mother’s Day edition, but I did receive a press release about wines for Mom from a Major Wine Publication that listed only sauvignon blancs (as if mothers drink only that grape variety), so in this roster of white wines for spring and summer I omit sauvignon blanc entirely. Each of these wines is 100 percent varietal; each is from a different region or country; each is made in stainless steel or receives minimal oak treatment including no new oak. (Actually I think that criterion applies to only one of these.) As usual, I eschew detailed technical, geographical and historical information in these brief Weekend Wine Sips reviews the better to whet your curiosity and thirst with incisiveness and immediacy. Prices here range from about $11 to $25; each wine marks a good value wherever it falls within that range. The motivation is delight, freshness, elegance, balance and appeal. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Plantagenet Omrah Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Great Southern, Western Australia. 13.5% alc. Pale gold color; a really pretty chardonnay — lemon, lime, lime peel and grapefruit; smoke and a hint of mango, touch of jasmine — but crisp acidity, oyster-shell and limestone all the way through the finish; dry with a bit of austerity. Very Good+. About $15.
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Protea Chenin Blanc 2012, Wine of Coastal Region, South Africa. 13% alc. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of hay, thyme and tarragon, pears and yellow plums; lovely satiny texture but bristly and prickly, fleet acidity and heaps of limestone and chalk, dry, crisp, refreshing and appealing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Principessa Gavia Gavi 2012, Piedmont, Italy. 12% alc. Pale straw color with a hint of green; sweetly expressive bouquet: pears and greengage, cloves and thyme, hints of leafy fig and sea-salt, jasmine and lemon balm; squinching acidity, lustrous elements of chalk and limestone and flint; deftly balanced between bone-dry and almost winsomely attractive floral and citrus qualities. Very Good+. About $14.
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Grooner Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. (Produced by Weingut Meinhard Forstreitter) 12% alc. Very pale straw-gold; melon and pears with hints of lemon, lime peel and grapefruit, touch of green pea and thyme; pert, tart, taut and sassy; hint of grapefruit bitterness on the limestone-laced finish. Delightful. Very Good. About $11.
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St. Supéry Estate Moscato 2012, Napa Valley, California. 10.5% alc. Very very pale gold color; apple and apple blossom, pear and peach, hint of lime peel and orange zest; soft, almost cloud-like texture but crisp acidity cuts a swath to the limestone-inflected finish; ripe and sweet on entry, but the acid and mineral elements tone down the sweetness to a sort of blanched dryness, so the finish comes out clean and elegant, delicate and balanced; stands out in the sea of vapid moscato presently engulfing the country; begs for dessert of fresh berries. Excellent. About $25.
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Brooks Runaway White Pinot Blanc 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 11.3% alc. Pale pale straw-gold color; pure lemon with a lime peel twist, hints of jasmine and slightly over-ripe peaches and an elusive scent of lavender; a little earthy and smoky; scintillating acidity and limestone-flint minerality, lots of energy and vitality and a sense of flaking schist and flint; very dry, all stones and bones from mid-palate back; marked spareness and austerity in the vigorous finish. An argument for planting more pinot gris in the appropriate areas and treating it right. 244 cases. Excellent. About $15.
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Villa Wolf Pinot Gris 2011, Pfalz, Germany. 12.5% alc. (Produced by Dr. Loosen) Medium gold-straw color; roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, hints of cloves and smoke, slightly earthy; highly animated acidity and spicy qualities fuel this wines liveliness, while a silken texture and underlying limestone elements give it pleasing heft. Delicious. Very Good+. About $14.
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Greywacke Riesling 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand. 12% alc. Brilliant pale gold color; lychee and a touch of petrol, roasted lemon, spiced pear and honeysuckle, hint of lilac face powder; very dry, lean and clean, irresistible texture combining brisk acidity with lovely soft ripeness that does not preclude the glacial authority of crystalline limestone minerality. Excellent. About $25.
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It has not been Spring-like at all, these days after that buoyant season should have sprung, but a couple of days ago I really wanted to cook something Spring-like, so I concocted a risotto with fresh English peas, shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto and basil, using whole-grain or brown rice, which takes about an hour to cook, stirring, stirring, stirring, adding broth, stirring, stirring, stirring, but one can get a lot of the New York Times read, one-handed, while that’s going on. (You have, of course, already shelled the peas, blanched them and given them an ice-water bath to retain the bright green color and sauteed the onions or shallot.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend Wine Sips and it’s only Friday afternoon. If you live in the Northeast, you probably won’t be able to get to a liquor and wine store tonight — two feet of snow? 50- to 75-mph winds? — but for the rest of the country, time’s a-wasting! There’s one wine in this post that I strongly do not recommend, otherwise these range from pleasant to impressive to memorable. Six eclectic white wines and four reds today, ranging in price from about $13 to $25, with a couple that merit ranking as Bargains and Values. As usual, little in the way of historical, geographical or technical detail; instead I offer quick reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review, and the order is alphabetical.
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Angelini Sangiovese 2008, Colli Pesaresi, Marche, Italy. 13.5% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely warm sangiovese nose of dried red currants, cloves, black tea and orange zest; pert acidity, an element of graphite-like minerality and a rather lean structure contribute to a sense of spareness and angularity, though the wine never loses its charm and appeal. Drink through the end of 2013. Very Good+. About $16.
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Brancaia “Tre” 2010, Toscana, Italy. …% alc. 80% sangiovese, 20% merlot and cabernet sauvignon, from three estates, hence “Tre.” Deep ruby color; intense and concentrated; dried red and blue fruit, dried flowers (lavender and potpourri), dried spices like cloves and allspice; hints of thyme, rosemary with its slightly resiny quality, earthy and slate-like minerality; black tea and black olives; the oak comes out on the finish a bit obviously, but lots of personality. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.
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Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Central Coast, California. (Owned by Gallo since 2011) 13.9% alc. Very pale straw color; scintillating bouquet of lime peel, lemongrass, kiwi, tarragon and grapefruit; segues smoothly to the palate, enhanced by rousing acidity and a keen limestone edge. Now through the end of 2013. Totally attractive. Very Good+. About $15.
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Franz Keller “Schwarzer Adler” Pinot Blanc 2010, Baden, Germany. 13% alc. Pale straw-gold color; pear and peach with a trace of lychee and spicy backnotes; very crisp, lively and flinty; vibrant acidity, taut, clean, fresh; touch of limestone-laced earthiness to buoy the ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors; svelte, elegant, lots of authority yet charming. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Hooker Betsy’s Vineyard “Home Pitch” Syrah 2010, Knights Valley, Sonoma County, California. 14% alc. Deep ruby color with a magenta rim; robust, intense and concentrated, roasted and fleshy, smoke and ash, damp mossy earth and leather; ripe blackberry and black currant scents and flavors with notes of wild raspberry and plums; a little nutty and toasty; builds power as it goes, accumulating layers of graphite, licorice, bitter chocolate, briers and brambles. Pretty darned classic. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $24.
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Poliziano Lohsa 2010, Morellino di Scansano, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. Unusual blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% alicante, petit verdot and carignano (carignane). Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, touch of red cherry, deeply imbued with spice and brambly elements, notes of oolong tea, mushrooms and sour cherry; neatly balanced rusticity with pleasing poise and integration; slightly shaggy tannins abound. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Santiago Ruiz 2011, Rias Baixas, Spain. 13% alc. 70% albariño, 15% loureiro, 10% caiño, 5% treixadura and godello. Pale straw color; spanking fresh and clean as new ironed sheets, with a savory, bracing sea-salt, sea-breeze exhilaration as well as a stony and steely backbone; thyme and mint, peach, kumquat and quince, touch of bay leaf; deftly handled texture halfway between prettily lush and bony spare; very polished sense of heft and presence. Now through the end of 2013. Excellent. About $17, a True Bargain.
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Treana 2010, Central Coast, California. 14.5% alc. (Hope Family Wines) 50% each marsanne and viognier. Again and again, I try to like this wine but cannot. Two grapes that are capable of lovely finesse and ardent dimension are treated in such manner that the wine comes out brassy, over-ripe and florid, stridently spicy, candied and over-blown. Oh, and way too oaky. I know that people love this wine, but I don’t recommend it. About $23.
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Wente Riverbank Riesling 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; a very appealing riesling at the right price; a touch of sweetness in the entry tones down to just off-dry across the palate; jasmine, lychee, pear and a hint of ripe peach; a little fleshy but good acidity; a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value.
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William Hill Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, California. 14.5% alc. (Gallo acquired William Hill from Beam Wine Estates in 2007.) Pale gold color; a generous and expansive version of the grape, fresh and vibrant with enticing personality and authority; dry, crisp and bright, with moderately ripe pineapple and grapefruit flavors barely touched by mango and jasmine and what people like to describe as “a kiss of oak”; nothing bold or brassy here, just clean balance and integration and, through the finish, a hug of limestone minerality. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
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Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I don’t mind admitting that I’m a fan of Crémant d’Alsace, not as a substitute for Champagne or the finest sparkling wine from California but just as itself. Something about the combination of grapes, usually riesling, pinot blanc and chardonnay, speaks to the expression of the region and makes the product unique. We’ve tried quite a few in the past few weeks, and certainly among the best is the Domaine Barmès Buecher 2009. It’s unusual to see Crémant d’Alsace with a vintage date; like many Champagnes and sparkling wines, most are a blend of several vintages. The domaine was founded by wife and husband Genevieve Buecher Barmès and François Barmès — surnames that point to the region’s Franco-German heritage — with vineyards that had belonged to their respective families since the 17th century. Tragically, François Barmès was killed in October 2011, when he was struck by an automobile while riding his bike. Their children Sophie and Maxime are now part of the organization. The estate is operated on biodynamic methods.

The Domaine Barmés Buecher 2009, Crémant d’Alsace, offers a radiant but mild straw color and a tempest of bubbles that look like fervent tarnished glints in the golden hue. The immediate and fresh impression is of apples, limes and limestone, with hints of roasted lemons, lime peel and cloves in the background. This model, very dry, very crisp, is more substantial than most examples of the genre, and you cannot help sensing the confidence and the character that it implies. It’s slightly macerated and toasty in the mouth, with touches of coffee and caramel, yet never less than elevating and effervescent. The finish brings in more limestone, inflected with flint, and a reiteration of spicy citrus flavors. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drinking beautifully at three years, this should be fine through 2014. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by Petit Pois Corp. t/a Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, N.J. This bottle was a sample for review.

Birthdays on December 27 include scientists Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) — who discovered the principle of fermentation; actors Sydney Greenstreet (1879-1954) and Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992); and poet Charles Olson (1910-1970).

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