Pinot gris/grigio


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 broker-wine.com) 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.


The top shelf of the white wine fridge, that is. I received so many wines after I returned from South America that I needed to clear out space for some of the in-coming stuff, so I lined up the bottles that were lying on the top shelf of the refrigerator devoted to white wine and tasted them all. So that’s the category today: Miscellaneous Whites. These reviews follow the order of tasting. All of these wines were review samples.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

A blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Centine Rosé 2009, Toscana, offers an appealing pale onion skin color. A bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and dried red currants with a hint of dried herbs and limestone leads to a dry, crisp mouthful of wine permeated by delicate touches of strawberry and melon and a sort of woodsy berryish mossy note. The finish brings in more limestone and a trace of clove-like spice. The alcohol content is a highly quaffable 12.5 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Drink up. Very Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Well, the Frisk Prickly 2009, Alpine Valleys, Victoria, is completely adorable. A blend of 83 percent riesling and 17 percent muscat gordo (an Australian synonym for muscat of Alexandria), the pale straw-gold colored wine is indeed a bit prickly and rather frisky, with its hint of spritz and star-etched crystalline acidity. The wine is moderately sweet going in, but by the time it flows past mid-palate, it’s classically dry and minerally in the crushed limestone/damp shale sense. Green apple, peach and pear, with a tinge of juicy mango; lilacs and camellias; a final delicate wash of river rocks, like a pale watercolor painting of water; these comprise a delightful wine that I found irresistible. Alcohol is 8.7 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Very Good+. About $10, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Lorentz family has been making wine in Alsace since 1836; the tradition, the heritage and the experience seem evident. The Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace, is a radiant medium gold color; the bouquet delivers a heady amalgam of roasted lemon, lemon balm and almond blossom over subtle tissues of pear, toasted almonds and clean earthiness. Moderately rich notes of lemon, lime skin and pear (with touches of quince and ginger) seethe with teeth-rattling dryness and aching limestone-like minerality; this is, obviously, a very dry, very crisp wine that for all its litheness, leanness and chalky austerity offers wonderful body and presence. I love this detail: according to the winery’s website, its Reserve wines age in wood, stainless steel and glass containers. Drink now through 2014 or ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The color of the Gustave Lorentz Rèserve Riesling 2008, Alsace, is pale straw-gold; pungent aromas of pear, lychee and petrol (or rubber eraser) teem in the bouquet, along with hints of jasmine and damp rocks. This is a high-toned, elegant riesling, completely classic in every aspect, from its pinpoint balance between swingeing acidity and supple texture to its tremendous dose of limestone and shale that verges on pure minerality to its gorgeous peach, pear and roasted flavors. Mainly, however, this is about structure; you feel, beneath the fruit, the stones and bones of true authority and austerity, the chime of bright acidity extending into every bright molecule. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Excellent, though I liked it a degree or two less than the Rèserve Pinot Gris mentioned above. About $24.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pert and pleasant but at the same time fairly neutral, the Centine Bianco 2009, Toscana, a blend of 40 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent pinot grigio and 30 percent chardonnay, does little to bring glory, much less discernible varietal character to any of its constituents. The wine is dry; it is crisp; it is quite minerally, but not in the pristine form of pure scintillating minerality. Even dividing the wine for fermentation and four months’ aging in French barriques doesn’t result in a memorable personality. Let’s face it: Tuscany ain’t prime real estate for sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or chardonnay. 13 percent alcohol. Good. About $11.

Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

It’s always interesting to read the technical sheets that accompany wines from Kendall-Jackson to my door because, for one reason, they confirm what a meticulous winemaker Randy Ullom is. The Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Pinot Gris 2009 carries a Monterey County designation, though the wine includes wee portions of grapes from down south in San Luis Obispo County (3%) and farther north in Napa County (2%); don’t forget that there is a Napa County appellation as well as Napa Valley. The wine is fermented primarily in stainless steel tanks; 26 percent is barrel fermented. Pinot gris grapes account for 93 percent of the wine; blended are marsanne (2%), chenin blanc (2%), viognier (1.6%), roussanne (1%) and, rather incredibly, 0.4 percent chardonnay. I wonder how efficaciously the presence of less than half of a percent of chardonnay affects the wine, though my purpose is not to second-guess the winemaker, whose attention to detail I admire. (Actually that’s not true; I second-guess winemakers all the time. No sense being a hypocrite.)

Why, then, don’t I like this wine better? It’s certainly pleasant, clean, crisp and fresh, and it packs a terrific wallop of limestone-and-shale-like minerality, yet it leaves little impression of fruit or even the fruity/floral personality one would expect from the grape. I hate to be a snot, but I have to ask the question: Why was this wine made? Why was so much time and concentration devoted to it to end up just sort of decent and drinkable and forgettable. Well, there’s a place for such wines, but they don’t usually come with this sort of pedigree. Good+. About $15.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Cadaretta SBS 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon; the grapes derive from hillside vineyards planted in 1992 and 1995, and the wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. The wine offers notes of roasted lemon and yellow plums, with the semillon contributing touches of leafy fig and white waxy flowers, say camellias. There’s nothing grassy about this Bordeaux-style wine, but it does deliver sheaves of dried thyme and tarragon with a broad spectrum of dried savory spices. Elements of limestone seep in around the circumference and within a few minutes the wine is permeated by shale-like minerality, while the finish brings in hints of lime, tangerine and slightly bitter grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 six-pack cases. Winemaker was Virginie Bourgue, who has since left Cadaretta to focus on her own label. Very Good+. About $23.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

At the end of July, I reviewed the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, and wondered why the winery, which is owned by Kendall-Jackson, put the words “vinted and bottled by … ” on the back labels. Shortly thereafter I received an email message from winemaker Peter Fraser, who informed me that the estate’s winemaking facility was almost complete and that future vintages will be estate-bottled.

The Yangarra Roussanne 2009, McLaren Vale, sees no new oak, aging, instead, in 35 percent two-year-old French oak barrels and the rest in even older, neutral French oak; the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a subtle, supple wine with a lovely sleek texture that deftly balances crisp, apple-fresh acidity with the moderate lushness of ripe pears and roasted lemon. This roussanne is a pale straw-gold color; aromas of green apple, pear and lemon peel are infused with notes of bee’s-wax, jasmine and honeysuckle. The entire effect is of spareness and elegance endowed with confidence and varietal authority, and besides, it’s delicious. 13.5 percent alcohol. Bottled with a screw-cap. Production was 1.045 six-bottle cases. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Charles Krug Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, was pitched to me as the chardonnay that redraws the map for chardonnay, but it seemed to me to be just another weary Baedeker into the dead-end territory of manipulative excess. It took “three new yeasts” to get the job done here, including “Dave’s super secret yeast” — winemaker is Dave Galzignato — and while I admire the restrained use of oak (seven months in French oak, 35 percent new) and malolactic (only 23 percent), the wine came out smelling and tasting like a brown sugar/toffee/crème brûlée dessert bomb. This is too bad, because it opened nicely, with hints of pear and peach, lemon peel and orange zest, but it descended quickly to strident spice and cloying fruit. Tsk tsk. 14.5 percent alcohol. On the other hand, you will be surprised that I rate this wine Good+ rather than Avoid, because the next chardonnay is even worse, and a guy has to draw the line somewhere. About $20.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Erk! Gack! Bananas Foster goes psycho-killer! I found the Hanna Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, completely beyond the pale. Going through full barrel fermentation, malolactic “fermentation” — to remind you, ML is a natural process but not inevitable that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid — and aged in 75 percent new French oak, this bastion of butterscotch and brown sugar is strenuously toasty, muscularly spicy and aggressively oaky, with an unpleasantly dry, austere finish. At this point, some of my readers are saying gently, “Um, F.K., isn’t this a matter of taste and stylistic preference?” Well, no, it isn’t. Wines such as this one (and the preceding model) are travesties that have nothing to do with the chardonnay grape, just as over-oaked, over-ripe, sweet, cloying, high-alcohol zinfandels have nothing to do with the zinfandel grape. It’s a matter of respect; if you truly respect the chardonnay grape, you don’t make a wine that smells and tastes like a combination of the dessert trolley in a continental restaurant and a lumber yard. A wine writer whom I admire enormously wrote in a recent column that he would never tell a winemaker how to make wine. Oops, hey, I sure would! Look at it this way: I have reviewed books for 25 years — I was book page editor from 1988 to 2003 of the newspaper where I used to work — and I have produced a fair number of negative reviews. A negative review, even only partially, is a way of saying that an author was wrong about how he or she wrote the book, and the same principle holds true with wine and winemakers. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the winery goes out with every bottle of wine. Where was I? Oh, right. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not for me, O.K.? I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are wine drinkers (and reviewers at Wine Spectator) who like this “style” of chardonnay, but their palates are beyond my comprehension. About $22.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

This is really interesting, a non-vintage dessert wine, and I don’t mean port or some other fortified type. The Höpler Beerenauslese nv, Burgenland, Austria, tasted from a 375-milliliter half-bottle, offers a radiant medium gold color and seductive aromas of roasted apricots and peaches, baked pears, quince jam, honeysuckle and touches of ginger and cloves. In the mouth, this sweetheart is honeyed and viscous; flavors of spiced and brandied peaches with a touch of honeydew melon and mandarin orange are balanced by resounding acidity and a strain of earthy, slightly funky minerality. The wine is definitely sweet on the entry, but halfway across the palate the sweetness melts away, so the finish is resolutely dry and a little stony. The wine is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent sämling 88 (a synonym in Burgenland for Germany’s scheurebe grape) and 10 percent grüner veltliner. This doesn’t project the weight or presence or ultimate finesse of a great dessert wine, but it’s very attractive and even irresistible. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About — this is a guess based on imperfect Google results — $24.

USA Wine Imports, New York.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a revealing comparison: the Höpler Beerenauslese nv mentioned above contains 136 grams per liter of residual sugar (the sugar level after fermentation has run its course); the Höpler Trockenbeerenauslese 2007, Burgenland, contains 214.1 grams per liter of residual sugar, and you feel it in the wine’s massively ripe opulence and succulence, in its sense of softly dissolving grapes and skins, of macerating peaches and apricots liquifying in spiced brandy, of smoky pomanders and crème brûlée and tangerine clafoutis, of roasted honey and orange marmalade. This dazzling panoply of nectar is saved from cloyingness by a tremendous charge of limestone-like minerality and by acidity that feels electrified. “Exquisite” scarcely begins to describe this wine, made completely from sämling 88 grapes. The alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $52 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

USA Wine Imports, New York
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

The SantoWines Vinsanto 2003, Santorini, Greece — the company also deals in capers, fava beans and tomato products as well as non-dessert wines — is a blend of 70 percent assyrtiko and 30 percent aidani grapes, both widely grown on the island of Santorini; the wine was bottled in 2008 and is throwing a sediment. The color is medium amber with a translucent rim; the bouquet offers aromas of toffee, roasted raisins and toasted almonds, fruit cake and a sort of Platonic cinnamon toast. These beguiling qualities segue into the mouth, where such flavors are a little torn between a very sweet entry and an achingly dry finish. Let’s call it an enjoyably rustic version of vinsanto that just misses essential balance. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $40 for a 500-milliliter bottle.

Stellar Importing Co., Whitestone. N.Y. Image, slightly cropped, from Benito.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »