Pinot gris/grigio

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

A white wine and a red wine from California, both reasonably priced, and we’ll begin with white.

The Morgan R & D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands (in Monterey County), ages two months in stainless steel and two months in neutral — several times used — French oak barrels. The result is a bright, spicy and appealing wine with an entrancing bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, jasmine and camellia and after-thoughts of lavender, quince and candied fennel. Crisp acidity and a penetrating limestone element give the wine a vibrant structure, while a lissome, moderately lush texture encompasses flavors of ripe tangerine, peach and lemon, with just a hint of dried thyme and tarragon and an elusive sheen of slightly spicy wood. The wine is quite dry, with a touch of mineral austerity on the finish. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink into 2012 with smoked shrimp or mussels, octopus or squid salad or ceviche. Consistently one of the best pinot gris wines made in California. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Excellent. About $18.
A sample for review.

The Liberty School label was created in 1975 by Caymus Vineyards to absorb surplus cabernet sauvignon grapes. In 1987, after the brand became popular, the Hope family, which owned vineyards in Paso Robles, began selling cabernet grapes to Caymus. By 1995, production of Liberty School had moved to Paso Robles, and within four years, a Central Coast chardonnay and syrah had been introduced. Liberty School is now a label under the umbrella of Hope Family Wines, which includes Treana, Austin Hope and Candor.

We drank the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, a few nights ago with a homemade pizza topped with grilled artichoke hearts, Roma tomatoes, bell pepper and spring onions; shards of speck; basil, rosemary and oregano; mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheeses. The pizza was great and the wine — robust, spicy and flavorful — was perfect with it. Liberty School Cab 08 isn’t complicated or thought-provoking and heaven forbid that it would be. Instead, you get vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak — from 12 months aging in French and American barrels, 10 percent new — and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all of this spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of foresty character. Delicious intensity and simple purity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the rest of the year into 2012 with burgers, carne asada, barbecue ribs and, of course, pizza. Very Good+. About $14, a Great Bargain.
A sample for review.

Oregon’s Torii Mor Vineyard and Winery is owned by Donald Olson, a doctor, and his wife Margie, pictured here. They founded the estate in 1993, gradually working its production up to 15,000 cases a year, primarily of vineyard-designated pinot noir. Located in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA, the winery’s estate vineyard is 39 years old, one of the oldest in Dundee Hills. The winery facility was completed in 2007; it is certified LEED Gold, while the vineyard is certified by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology, Inc). Today’s Wines of the Week are a pinot gris and the winery’s “black label,” entry-level pinot noir. These wines were tasted at a local wholesaler’s trade event.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ My first note on the Torii Mor Pinot Gris, 2010, Willamette Valley, is “so lovely.” Made all in stainless steel and undergoing no malolactic fermentation, the wine is crisp, fresh and lively and subtly woven from nuances of almond, almond blossom and honeysuckle, cloves and ginger, peach and pear and wisps of roasted lemon and lemon balm; yes, it’s as delightful as it sounds and delicate rather than overwhelmingly floral. Vibrant with quenching acidity and resonant with some limestone-like minerality on the finish, the wine features flavors of spicy lemon and tangerine with a hint of pear; the finish picks up a bit of dry grapefruit bitterness. Quite charming and tasty, and a perfect porch, patio, pool and picnic wine. A sensible and safe 12.2 percent alcohol. Production was 1,800 cases. Very Good+. About $17-$18.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Torii More “Black Label” Pinot Noir 2008. Willamette Valley, represents the winery’s entry-level pinot noir, composed as it is of grapes from 17 vineyards. The oak regimen is fascinating: the wine ages 10 months in mostly French oak, with “a few” Hungarian oak barrels, 19 percent new barrels; 25 percent one-year-old; 23 percent two-years-old; 33 percent older neutral barrels. The result is very subtle oak influence, a gentle shaping of wood and slightly woody spice that bolsters and cushions the wine’s fruit and structure without imposing a woody character or dominating in any way; this is how thoughtful all oak maturing in the winery — any and every winery — should be. The color is a very Burgundian light to medium ruby; a bouquet of smoky black cherry, raspberries and plums is infused with cloves and cinnamon and touches of cola and cranberry. Spicy black cherry and plum flavors are lean and sinewy with palate-plowing acidity, yet plumped out with a texture that’s more velvety than classically satiny; from midway back, elements of briers and brambles and other foresty qualities lend the wine a requisite brush of earthiness. A completely reasonable 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $22.

Forgive me for waxing rhapsodic (for the billionth time), but the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, falls certainly within the top handful of wines made from that grape in the United States of America. The winery is owned by Dave Grooters and Robin Russell; Grooters, former owner of a software company on Philadelphia, takes the duties of grower and winemaker. Though the Willamette Valley is indisputably inland, all the wines from Carlton Cellars feature magnificent artwork — this one from a photograph by Chip Phillips — and the names of sites along the Oregon coast, hence Cannon Beach. About halfway through my notes on the Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, I wrote the word “ravishing.” Now this term is meant in complimentary fashion, but it could also signify faint dispraise, as if the wine were merely superficially pretty — “Pretty is as pretty does,” my late mother used to say — or spectacularly yet narrowly appealing. We have all had such wines, or met such people, however, no worries in this case. The seductive bouquet teems with notes of lime peel, apple and pear, with high tones of jasmine and acacia (with its slightly astringent complexity) and deeper whiffs of dusty limestone and flint; give the wine a few moments in the glass, and whimsical hints of dried tarragon and thyme emerge. Spicy citrus flavors, abetted by touches of roasted lemon and peach, are enveloped in a deeply satisfying texture that’s almost talc-like in cloud-buffed softness, yet the wine never lapses into mindless luxury because it’s ardently animated by scintillating acidity and glittering limestone-like minerality, the whole package being lively, vibrant and resonant. Now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Production was 600 cases. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value. (Interestingly, for local readers, in Memphis this wine is offered at $16.)

A sample for review.

Still thinking about the wines I tasted at VINO 2011 two months ago and some of the estate owners and winemakers I talked to. One of those that keeps recurring in my mind is Ca’ di Frara, a property in Lombardy’s Oltrepò Pavese region. Winemaker and manager Luca Bellani and Veronica Barri, who handles the marketing end, were so engaging — sort of eager and anxious together– and the wines they showed were also so engaging that I wish I had a glass or two sitting beside me as I write these words and sentences. (On the other hand, I’m sipping a glass of the Morgan Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Santa Lucia Highlands, and listening to Glenn Gould play the “Goldberg Variations,” so I’m not like, you know, unhappy.)

The estate was founded in 1905 and is now owned by the third generation of the family, Luca and Matteo Bellani.

Oltrepò Pavese received D.O.C. status in 1970, though the area had long been considered an under-performer. The region lies directly south of the city of Pavese and south of the Po river — “otrepò” means “beyond the Po” — in the jutting triangle at the southwestern extreme of Lombardy, as if the province were making a tiny geographical genuflection. Oltrepò Pavese is a hilly area, extending toward the foothills of the Apennines, and around Oliva Gessi, where Ca’ di Frara is located, the chalk-like minerality of those hills benefits white grapes like riesling and pinot grigio.

For example, the Ca’ di Frara Apogeo 2009 is a raccolta tardiva, a late harvest riesling that is nonetheless bone dry, coming in at a comfortable 13 percent alcohol, and expressing a structure that I kept trying to find a different word for but kept landing on “beautiful” as a combination of stones and bones can only be when acidity, minerality and fruit are in perfect balance. (Think of Monica Vitti’s face.) Peaches and pears, a hint of lychee and quince; a crisp, vibrant presence, steely but not forbidding; and that line of limestone, taut, damp and radiant. Made all in stainless steel. Excellent. About $22 would be the price in the United States of America. Also made in stainless steel is the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Grigio 2009, again a late harvest wine fashioned in a completely dry manner, with 13.5 percent alcohol and projecting an astonishing and profound depth of chalky/limestone mineral character with a sort of inner strength and dynamism and purpose that very few pinot grigios made anywhere in Italy can evince. Another Excellent. Price would be about $20.

Of two reds, I was a bit dismayed by the Ca’ di Frara Pinot Nero 2008, which though fermented in stainless steel aged 12 months in oak barrels, lending it a deeply spicy nature but also excessive dryness and even some austerity. Perhaps this will be more tolerable after 2012. Alcohol is 13 percent. Good+. About $22. No such caveat attaches to Ca’ di Frara’s La Casetta 2009, a Provincia de Pavia I.G.T. wine that’s a blend of 95 percent croatina grapes and 5 percent “rare grapes.” There’s possible confusion here since in Lombardy croatina is usually known as bonarda, while a different croatina is called “uva rara.” Oh well, let’s just get on with things. I loved this wine for its unusual, authentic, countryside character, its spiciness, wildness and exotic nature, its intense black and blue fruit qualities that managed not to be too ripe or flamboyant. The wine ages in 50 percent French oak, a process that contributes shape and suppleness to the texture without compromising its individual integrity. Charming and delightful yet with satisfying depth. Very Good+. About $20.

Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.

The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9″ pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)

“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.

The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.

Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.

I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.

I wanted to describe in more detail the wines presented at the seminar in Friulian white wines Monday at VINO 2011 because they possessed such prominent varietal character and intensity. Five are imported to these shores; of the other three information was unavailable. I’ll follow the order of tasting. I have appended a map of Friuli Venezia Giulia (borrowed from to give you some idea of where its wine regions are.

Livon-Tenuta Roncalto Ribolla Gialla 2009. The vineyard is in the region of Collio, whose steep hillsides are right up against Slovenia. The wine is made from 100 percent ribolla gialla grapes; a comfortable 12.7 percent alcohol. Pale straw color; beguiling aromas of roasted lemon, bee’s-wax, acacia, limestone and gun-flint; in the mouth, lemon and toasted almond, lovely soft, round texture snuggled into bright, vivid acidity and a powerful limestone element; a bracing spicy mineral-laced finish with a hint of almond skin bitterness. While the information sheet we were given at the seminar states that the wine is made in stainless steel, the producer’s website says 60 percent stainless steel, 40 percent barriques. Excellent. The price seems to be about $20.
Imported by Angelini Wine Ltd., Centerbrook, Conn.

The Comelli Sauvignon 2009 is from Colli Orientali del Friuli, that is the “Eastern Hills of Friuli.” This region abuts Collio on the northwest and extends along the Slovenian border and inland. The wine is 100 percent sauvignon blanc; the alcohol level is 13 percent; all stainless steel. Pale gold color; penetrating minerality (gravel and limestone), sage and tarragon, damp stones, lemon with a touch of lime peel; taut, crisp and vibrant, dusty citrus, a bit of orange rind, slightly leafy, very dry, leaning toward austere with a chalky finish. An engaging and elevating sauvignon blanc. Very Good+. Price unknown.
Imported by Peter/Warren Selections, New York

Here’s a pinot grigio of a quality you likely have not before encountered. The Lis Neris “Gris” Pinot Grigio 2008 is from the Friuli Isonzo DOC, which, as you see on the map above in green, lies just under Collio and curves around in a rough C-shape. The “Gris” in the wine’s name is not a reference to pinot gris, as the grape is called in Alsace, but means “cricket” and is the name of the vineyard whence the grapes derive. The color is a radiant medium-gold. The bouquet is spicy, appealing and seductive, with notes of roasted lemon, verbena, dusty acacia, lime peel and dried thyme. The wine ages 11 months in used 500-liter French tonneaux — that is, larger than barriques — so the influence is soft and subtle, lending the wine almost a haze of oak and mild woody spice and a winsome suppleness of texture. While there are citrus overtones, in the mouth this pinot grigio emphasizes taut, vibrant acidity and prominent minerality is the damp gravel and shale range. No, this is no Mom-and-Pop pinot grigio; it’s the real deal. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2013 or ’14 and see how it develops. Excellent. Prices seem to be about $25 to $30.
Imported by MHW/LIS NERIS, Manhasset, N.Y.
Let’s just say that I have a real crush on the Forchir “Campo dei Gelsi” Pinot Bianco 2009, from the Friuli Grave DOC region, which, as you can see on the map that I have thoughtfully provided for your viewing pleasure, is by far the largest region in Friuli Venezia Giulia. This single-vineyard pinot bianco ferments in stainless steel and then ages in what the winery calls “mid-size barrels” of seven hectoliters, that is, about 185 gallons; compare that with the standard French barrique of about 59 gallons. The color is medium straw-gold; beguiling aromas of camellia and honeysuckle, spicy peach and pear, a hint of greengage and a touch of something green and leafy and herbal round off a wonderful nose. In the mouth, this is all stones and bones, a combination of suppleness and nervy energy, tender slightly woody spice and crystalline acidity, buoyed by reserves of limestone and shale. Alcohol is a refreshing 12.8 percent. Excellent. No importer and price unavailable.
The grape now called friulano used to be tocai friulano until the bureaucrats at the EU decided that consumers would confuse generally dry, crisp wines made from tocai friulano with the sumptuous Hungarian dessert wine called Tokay; I know that I was certainly flummoxed by the uncanny resemblance! So government brings about change, though I notice that on the websites of many producers in FVG the name tocai friulano lingers, perhaps from pure nostalgia or else from neglecting their sites. Anyway, the Valentino Butussi Friulano 2009, from Colli Orientali del Friuli, is made all in stainless steel and carries alcohol content in the sweet spot of 13.5 percent. The color is medium straw-gold; the bouquet is clean, fresh and appealing, with hints of peach, pear and tangerine wrapped about limestone. The wine is quite dry and crisp, leaning toward austerity because of the dominance of limestone and chalk elements. Nicely attractive without being compelling. Very Good+. No importer and price unavailable.

The wines of La Tunella, an estate in Colli Orientali del Friuli, are imported to the U.S. by Quintessential, in Napa, Ca., but the Valmasia 2009, a stainless steel wine from from 100 percent malvasia Istriana grapes, does not appear to be among them; at least it’s not mentioned on the company’s website. Let’s hope that it will be added to the roster. This is a superbly attractive wine, pale straw in color and with a seductive bouquet of lavender and acacia, dried orange rind and cloves, roasted lemons and pears and a hint of lime-laced grapefruit. That last term indicates something of the dynamic liveliness and crisp tartness of the wine, which possesses, nonetheless, a texture of almost talc-like softness and fleshy mobility balanced by a tremendous limestone quality; the finish brings in spice and dried flowers. Lovely purity and intensity. Excellent. Price unknown.

Thoughtful indeed is the Petrussa Pensiero 2007, a Vino da Tavola from Colli Orientali del Friuli made completely from verduzzo friulano grapes. With 40 percent of the grapes affected by botrytis, the “noble rot,” this wine is a tawny/golden amber color with a light tea hue around the rim. It ages 18 months in French barriques. The bouquet is extraordinary, a heady amalgam of roasted peaches, orange zest, light maple syrup, orange blossom and oolong tea. Yeah, “yikes” is right. Not surprisingly, the wine is dense and viscous, honeyed, sumptuous, yet its dried fruit/toffee/almond brittle character is animated by tremendous acidity and profound limestone-like minerality. This could go 10 years easily. 700 bottles were produced. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. No importer; price unavailable.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ In Colli Orientali del Friuli, Picolit is a DOCG for sweet wines. Aquila del Torre’s Picolit 2007, which spends 12 months in barriques, is made from picolit grapes dried three or four months in wooden boxes. The color is medium amber with brassy tints. The staggering bouquet features roasted peaches, crème brûlée, pomanders, hot stones and honey. Like honey or liquid money, the wine flows slowly across the tongue, a dense, viscous concoction lavish with baked apple, pineapple upsidedown cake (with that touch of opulent sweetness married to something slightly astringent) and toffee-almond butter. Yet its cleanness and freshness, its zip and vigor form an almost dynamic poise with its sumptuous nature. Alcohol is 13 percent. There’s a decade or 12 years of life here. Excellent. Price not available.
Imported by David Vincent Selections, Union, N.J.

Last night LL made what is probably the best risotto I have ever eaten. And since the wine I chose to match this paragon of ricely beatitude was smack-dab on the money, we had a pretty damned perfect meal.

It was one of those nights of looking around the kitchen, the refrigerator and the cabinets to see what was on hand. We had about a cup of leftover diced butternut squash, so LL broiled that until the pieces had nice blackened edges. She sauteed some chopped shallot and then a few sliced hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, stirred in the rice and some white wine, let the wine evaporate and then began the process of slowly incorporating the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time. Toward the end, she folded in the butternut squash and a handful of chopped parsley and then — pure genius! — about a tablespoon of white miso to give the dish a deep, savory bass note. Readers, it was wonderful, with layers of complementary yet slightly contrasting scents and flavors bound in the creamy, not quite chewy rice.

I opened a bottle of the Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006, from the venerable firm of Hugel et Fils, founded in the town of Riquewihr in Alsace in 1639. The grapes derive from nearby vineyards secured by the family through long-term contracts and also from a selection of declassified grapes from Grand Cru vineyards on the Hugel estate. The Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006 is made all in stainless steel and sees no oak. The wine is a lovely medium straw-gold color with a faint green cast. Subtle aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and pear, crystallized ginger and a back-note of woody spices are woven with a strand of smoke and baked apple. In the mouth, the wine is satiny and mellow, slightly honeyed in aspect yet completely dry, with flavors of apple and nectarine and a hint of green grapes, all enveloped in a spicy, smoky haze that opens to a touch of barely mossy earthiness. The texture feels almost cloud-like, and the acidity, while lively enough for some vivacity, is soft and accommodating. What a treat! And the synergy with the risotto was amazing! And I’m using too many exclamation points! Drink now through 2013 to ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About — here’s the clincher — $15, though you see prices on the Internet as high as $24; somebody’s making a killing. A Raving Bargain.

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

San Benito County, bordering Monterey County on the east, is home to four American Viticultural Areas, two of which — Paicines and Cienega Valley — were instigated by Almedan, which was once the major, if not only, wine presence in the region. Though Cienega has a vineyard history that goes back to the 1850s, most of the valley’s vines were planted in the late 1990s. Taking advantage of that tradition were Cort, Phyllis and John Blackburn, who purchased an old property in 1989 for their Pietra Santa Winery. The winemaker is Alessio Carli.

Featured today is this knock-out Pietra Santa Pinot Grigio 2009, Cienega Valley, an all stainless steel white wine that scintillates with vim, verve and vivacity. The color is a surprising medium gold, surprising because so many pinot grigios are about as colorless as water. The wine is incredibly clean and fresh and appealing, with attractive aromas of roasted lemon and spiced pear, dried thyme, almond blossom and dusty acacia. In the mouth, vivid acidity and a keen limestone edge keep this pinot grigio crisp and lively; these essential elements are nicely balanced by flavors of pear, peach and tangerine drawn out finely to a finish enlivened by a touch of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Most of the pinot grigio wines that come from northeast Italy cannot boast of this character. Production was 1,285 cases. Alcohol, well, the label says 14.1 and the material I was sent states 13.7, so split the difference and say, um, 13.9. Excellent. About $18, Great Quality for the Price.

A sample for review.

Well, this is impressive. Ever wonder how strong those bags are inside the box that holds the wine? Well, turns out that they’re pretty damned strong. This bag-in-the-box of Folonari Pinot Grigio delle Venezie “Fresh Cask” 2009 happened to be sitting on a shelf in a room where we’ve been keeping a foster dog named Buddy. This handsome beast was not so handsome when we rescued him from a mobile home park north of town, along with a smaller female companion dog. They had been abandoned and were living in some woods on their own when, after some months, a couple tried to befriend them and feed them.

The dogs, named Buddy and Ladybug, would come up to the couples’ home every few days to be fed but were otherwise fairly wary. When we met them, they looked terrible. We agreed to take on the responsibility of having our vet examine them, spay and/or neuter them and give them all their shots. Not surprisingly, they had heartworm and are now undergoing that treatment. Buddy has a worse case, and that’s why he has been confined to quarters, with no running around, for about six weeks. I take him for slow walks on a leash six times a day.

Anyway, Buddy, who now weighs about 70 pounds, has been astonishingly good about living in one room, though he occasionally gets bored and chews up a magazine or, regretfully, a book (um, which happened a few minutes ago). Still, how would you like to be incarcerated like that? He’s actually a sweetheart, a big sort of Scooby Doo galumphing sort of dog. And, yes, in a moment of boredom or perhaps from the thrill of curiosity, he dragged this box of Folonari Pinot Grigio “Fresh Cask” ’09 from the shelf and masticated it thoroughly, tearing it apart and trying to extract the bag of wine. What he did not manage to do was pierce the inner skin, that is, the bag itself, though it bears teeth marks galore. Even the mangled spout still worked. Could you have survived such a going over? Thus technology triumphs over canine carnage.

The wine itself, well, it’s decent and serviceable, clean, fresh and bright, just spicy and floral and lemony enough to qualify as tasty and a little endearing. Serve as an aperitif and don’t think too much about it. It’ll keep in the fridge for several weeks. Good+. About $20 for a three-liter box, which translates to four bottles.

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

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