Riesling


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.
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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.
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Riesling:
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.
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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.
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Chardonnay:
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.
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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.
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Zinfandel:
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.
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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.
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Tempranillo:
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.
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There really is a Mount Beautiful in New Zealand’s Canterbury region, on the South Island, and one can hardly blame David and Leigh Teece for borrowing the name for their label, produced at Teece Family Vineyards in the Cheviot Hills, from this geographical feature. Canterbury lies to the south of New Zealand’s best-known wine area, Marlborough, which produces about 70 percent of the nation’s wine. The Treeces’ bios read like triumphant stories to inspire and abash all the tribe of ill-paid ink-stained wretches: He, a native New Zealander, is Tusher Professor of Global Business at University of California, Berkeley, and a founder and vice chairman of Law & Economics Consulting Corp., while in New Zealand he is known as the co-owner of the CCC rugby brand and so on; she, from California, has degrees in international relations and business from USC and University of Michigan and worked in international banking and venture capital. I admire the decision of these wildly successful people to locate a winery not in a bustling region but in one of New Zealand’s youngest and least-known areas. That said, I found only one of the Mt. Beautiful wines that I tried truly compelling, while the other two were attractive and enjoyable but not essential. The winemaker is Sam Weaver.

Mistarr Wine Importers, Orinda, Cal. Samples for review.
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Refreshing as all get-out, the Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury, was delightful with tequila-lime salmon burgers from Whole Foods. More restrained than most sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, or at least from Marlborough, this all stainless steel wine delivers subtle traces of lime and grapefruit, dusty shale, pea shoot, tarragon and guava before segueing to flavors that feel even more spare with tones of pineapple and roasted lemon wrapped in tingling acidity and a moderately silky texture. The finish pumps up the spicy and stony aspect a bit and brings in a flash of lime and grapefruit crispness. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2011. Very Good+. About $18.
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The best of this trio is the all stainless steel Mt. Beautiful Riesling 2009, Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury, which displays pinpoint varietal qualities and exactitude of character — one might even call it rectitude –in nose and mouth. The color is very pale straw/gold with faint green highlights; aromas of softly spiced and macerated peach and pear, lychee and mango are accented by touches of petrol (or rubber eraser) and limestone, that admit, after a few moments, a spare hint of honeysuckle. The spareness is built-in to the spicy lime and peach flavors all a-tremble at the portals of neon-bright acidity and bastions of limestone and shale, which do not, however, come across as formidable but deftly, riskily, ultimately perfectly balanced and integrated. I served this wine at a dinner party with an entree of salmon roasted with leeks, bacon and shiitake mushrooms; talk about perfection! Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $19, Good Value for the Price.
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The Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2009, Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury, offers an attractive bouquet of black cherry and cranberry, cloves and cola and rhubarb with a touch of brown sugar. The wine aged 11 months in French oak barrels. The appealing texture is supple and satiny and enfolds black cherry and red currant flavors that grow spicier and earthier as the minutes pass. Hints of potpourri emerge, along with foresty elements of briers and brambles; some fine-grained tannins lend the necessary substance. 14 percent alcohol. Tasty, correct, drinkable. Very Good+. About $23.
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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.

You might think that by naming Chile and Germany in the same breath, as it were, with the riesling grape that I’m ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, but such is not the case. The Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile’s Central Valley, was actually quite charming, while Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 — who said that German wine labels are complicated? — from the Mosel region, was, not just charming but pretty freakin’ sublime, but in a quiet, understated manner.

I was finishing, for lunch, the leftover Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo that I mentioned on March 4 as being an unexpected great but risky match with the Nickel & Nickel Truchard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. A more reasonable or typical pairing would have been riesling, so I took these two bottles from the wine fridge to see how they stood up. Both were samples for review.
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In 2005, winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons bought a vineyard in Chile’s Maule Valley region of the country’s vast Central Valley. The vineyard was unusual for being so old — 60 years — and for being planted to grapes rare to Chile, carignane and riesling. We see some excellent riesling coming from the Leyda region, farther north and on the Pacific coast, but not from the Central Valley, so I was surprised and gratified by the quality of the Meli Riesling 2010 that Cerda made. The wine is a pale straw color; delicate, almost crystalline aromas of peach, pear and melon with a touch of cloves and hints of thyme and tarragon are well-knit and completely attractive. The texture is silken and blithely enlivened by vibrant acidity that lends verve to roasted lemon and ripe peach and pear flavors. The spicy element burgeons from mid-palate back, as does a rising tide of limestone minerality. Totally charming and tasty and appropriate for spring and summer sipping. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. Label image from thetravelingskier.blogspot.com
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Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is a small estate — about 9,000 cases a year — centered at Bernkastel. Across from that ancient town, along a bend in the river Mosel, lies the highly regarded Badstrube vineyard, and a 4.6-acre portion of it owned by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is called “alte Badstrube am Doctorberg,” which is to say that it lies just above the “Doctor” vineyard, one of the greatest in Mosel, if not Germany. The year 2008 is regarded as a classic and well-balanced but not exceptional vintage.

That said, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 is utterly entrancing. The color is pale straw-gold; at first, one thinks “apple, apple, apple,” somehow both glowing green and burnished red, but this apple-aspect dims a shade to be replaced by the utmost ineffable, even evanescent delicacy of peach and pear with hints of lychee, almond and almond blossom, though allow the bouquet to blossom a few more moments as hints of ripe apricot shyly trail in. Matters are a bit more assertive in the mouth; there’s a touch of ripe, slightly honeyed sweetness on the entry, but swingeing acidity and scintillating minerality in the form of limestone and damp, dusty slate combine to ease a transition to a dry, refined finish in which spice and stone-fruit flavors are elegantly enshrined. All of these aspects are managed with essential decorum, though there is something, also, rather wild and piercing about the wine’s appeal. Alcohol content is 7 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (and if you open a bottle in one of those years, let me know so I can try it too, please). Excellent. About $25 to $30.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill.
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How did these disparate rieslings pair with the Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo?
The first, the Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile, stood in relationship to the gumbo as two polite doctors might who shake hands and one says to the other “Do no harm,” and the second replies, “O.K., you do no harm too.” I mean, the gumbo is terrific and the Meli Riesling 2010 is very charming and basically no harm was done.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 made for another of those totally off-the-wall risky and spectacular food-and-wine-matches that make your toes curl and your taste-buds smoke. I wish I had a case of this stuff so I could always drink it with spicy food.
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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.
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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.
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“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.)
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“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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Oh, yeah, the holiday is over but the turkey lingers on, so LL and I were thinking about turkey hash, but she did some Internet research and found a recipe for Turkey Shepherd’s Pie. You would think that this would be a pretty simple dish, but it ended up using so many pans and bowls that it well-nigh wrecked the kitchen. The result was good though. What’s interesting is that the recipe calls — in addition to turkey, of course — for peas, cauliflower, potatoes and carrots. LL, in one of her typical astute moments, said, “Wait a minute. That stuff is exactly what you find in an Indian curry.” So she dumped some curry powder in with the turkey and vegetable mixture, and I think the dish was improved considerably.

Curry? Well, the wine had to be riesling, so I opened a bottle of Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008, from Germany’s Rheingau region.

Schloss Johannisberg is an ancient estate that occupies a magnificent site on a broad hill that slopes in a southerly direction down to the Rhine. Grapes have been grown there apparently since the 12th Century, during monastic days. It has been an all-riesling property since 1720 and was one of the first, if not the first, in Germany to make a late harvest sweet wine from grapes affected by botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot.” In 1816, Schloss Johannisberg was given to Prince von Metternich by the Austrian Franz I for services at the Congress of Vienna — which redrew the map of Europe after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo — and while the Metternich name still appears on the estate’s labels, it has been owned since 1974 by the giant conglomerate Dr. August Oetker KG, manufacturer of baking soda, dessert mixes, frozen pizzas and yogurt and owner of breweries, sparkling wine facilities, hotels and so on.

Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Kabinett 2008 is categorized as Prädikatswein, which is to say, Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), though aiming at simplified terminology labels are no longer required to state the whole term, only the shorthand of Prädikatswein. This top category encompasses what are potentially the finest wines made in Germany’s vineyards, though of course many factors enter into a determination of quality, especially the weather throughout the growing season and at harvest. According to germanwineusa.com, in an assessment of 2008 in all the country’s vineyard regions, in Rheingau “the 2008 vintage will be known particularly for high-quality Kabinett wines.”

Why, then, is this wine not better? Not that it’s not attractive and enjoyable. The first impression is of lovely fruit scents and flavors in the form of ripe peach and pear with a hint of apple; the wine is lively and refreshing, quite spicy, moderately sweet on entry but dry from mid-palate back. The texture is sleek and silky, though tingly with crisp acidity, and the finish brings in a tide of limestone. So, pleasant and tasty, indeed, and an entertaining match with the turkey shepherd’s (curry) pie, but what the wine lacks is ultimate verve and nerve, the depth of exhilarating stony/spicy/citric vibrancy that should characterize a QmP-category riesling (with a profound history and heritage) from 2008, supposedly a great Kabinett vintage in Rheingau; it quaffs much easier than it should. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. Prices on the Internet range, ludicrously, from about $20 to $35.

Imported by Valckenberg International, Tulsa, Okla. A sample for review.

For the Thanksgiving dinner dessert, we had a luscious pumpkin chiffon pie, prepared by a local chef, and then I made an apple tart, using Julia Child’s recipe and procedure for puff pastry from our much stained and blotched copy of The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989). Basically, the process is a fairly tedious one of amalgamating six and a half sticks of chilled butter with four cups of flour using only a bare splash or two of ice water to help; ten “passes” with chilling in the refrigerator after every two. Miss Child would probably have been appalled at the rustic appearance of my pastry and the tart overall — the brown splotches are caramelized apricot glaze — but boy it certainly tasted rich and scrumptious. I patted and rolled the crust out on a cutting board and slid it carefully onto the baking sheet sprinkled with a few drops of water. Once on that surface, I used lengths of the dough to fashion the raised edges. The apples were Granny Smith, good for baking because of their tartness and firm texture.

I have a selection of half-bottles of dessert wine in the white wine fridge, but I decided to go with the oldest, the Renaissance Winery Late Harvest Riesling 1992, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. “Oldest” does not mean the oldest released. Though made from grapes harvested in the autumn of 1992, the wine was not released until 2008, that’s right, at 16 years old. Renaissance, as a habit and philosophy, holds their wines longer than any other producer in California. Add two years, and that makes the wine 18 when we tasted it at our table.

The Renaissance Late Harvest Riesling 1992 is the color of faintly tarnished gold, like the back of an old pocket watch. Though closed at first, a few minutes of swirling brought up traces of peaches, orange rind and cloves, with notes of apricot jam and orange marmalade, and hints of quince and crystallized ginger, this gorgeous yet unobtrusive panoply melded with utmost delicacy and finesse. In the mouth, a sweetly faded and gentle quality, a repose of talc, lemon verbena, rose hips, melon drops and pomander reminded me of a sachet in an old-fashioned lady’s vanity. Essential acidity is certainly present, and in fact the wine gains succulence and vibrancy after some moments, elements that lay the foundation for a finish wrapped in grapefruit and limestone. A lovely dessert wine, filled with authoritative detail and dimension yet mild and mannerly; it was tremendously agreeable with the apple tart. 11.8 percent alcohol. If you have this bottle in your cellar, it should be consumed by 2012. Production was 364 cases. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.

This was a sample for review.

Certainly autumn brings to mind hearty red wines to serve with hearty fare, but to me it’s also the season for riesling, a multifarious and versatile wine that pairs well with mild pork and veal dishes, with turkey and chicken, with some fish preparations and many kinds of soup. Here today, then, I offer two rieslings, an inexpensive example from Washington state and a more expensive but splendid model of the grape from Napa Valley.
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Made all in stainless steel, the Joel Gott Riesling 2009, from the Ancient Lake region of Washington’s Columbia Valley, displays a pure, chilly minerality of dusty limestone and shale. Aromas of green apple and pear are joined by a handful of smoky potpourri and lavender, followed by a characteristic whiff of rubber eraser (some writers call this essential element “petrol” or “diesel”). As the wine warms gently in the glass, it exhibits more richness and gains body, depth and sleekness. Flavors of ripe lemons and pears with backnotes of peach and quince take on increasing earthiness and limestone, as well as a seductive floral quality, like honeysuckle or jasmine. Lovely and enticing. 12.8 percent alcohol. Very Good+, and a Knockout Bargain at about $12.
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Last week I mentioned the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008, from the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, as one of the wines I would serve at Thanksgiving dinner, and that was indeed the case. (We drank a second bottle with penne pasta and butternut squash sauce.) Along with that wine, I purchased a bottle of the rendition from 2007, to check on the progress of its development; at three years after harvest, it’s perfection. I opened the Trefethen Dry Riesling 2007 last night to sip with a white bean, bacon and red kale soup; first comment: “Wow, wonderful!” The color is radiant medium gold. The complete effect is of a wine that’s deep and rich and spicy but reined-in by the rigorous balancing agencies of whiplash acidity and a scintillating tide of limestone-and-oyster-shell-like minerality. Beguiling aromas of ripe peach and pear are permeated by light roasted and macerated tones as well as a crystalline hint of candied quince and ginger and a wafting of jasmine. This feels just fabulous on the palate, moderately lush, peachy and silky yet tremendously crisp and vibrant. It’s very petrolly on the nose, and that notion should intensify as the wine matures toward 2012 or ’13 and progresses into a state of pure minerality. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $23; you see it on the Internet as low as $17.
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For a chilly day, I took a package of four pork shanks from the freezer and looked around the larder for what I could do with them. Ah, a container of prunes, left from some other recipe that I do not remember, but there are always leftover prunes, and they last forever. And some fresh rosemary and sage. Things were shaping up nicely. I called LL and asked her to go to the store and get some turnips, carrots, potatoes and mushrooms, which she accommodatingly brought home at lunchtime. Well, I never used the mushrooms because one of the dogs kept stealing them from the counter. Anyway, I browned the shanks in olive oil in a large pot, took the shanks out and sauteed some chopped onions and garlic, scraping up all the little meat bits. To the pot, then, I added chopped turnips, potatoes and carrots — turnips and carrots peeled — and cooked them for a few minutes, stirring them around to pick up any olive oil and rendered fat left in the pot. Then back into the pot with the shanks, along with maybe 16 prunes (sliced in half), handfuls of chopped rosemary and sage, a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of pepper and a bottle of dry white wine. Put the lid on the pot and let those shanks simmer for three hours or so. When LL got home from work, she said, “Wow, something smells really good!” For dinner, I presented her with Braised Pork Shanks with Prunes, Rosemary and Sage. Green beans on the side. A little grated lemon peel on top. So freakin’ good …

Pork and prunes put me in mind of Alsace and Germany, which put me in mind of riesling, but the hearty meatiness of the dish also put me in mind of syrah, particularly the Northern Rhone Valley. In the interests of experimentation, I opened the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008, Rheingau, and the Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes Hermitage 2007. How did the wines turn out as matches with the pork shanks? Read the comments that follow. These were samples for review.
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I first tasted the Peter Jakob Kuhn Quarzit Riesling Trocken 2008 when I visited the biodynamic estate in July 2009; my post about that occasion is here. The property is graciously and fervently run by Peter Jakob Kuhn and his wife Angela; he, as winemaker, produces rieslings of remarkable character and dimension. The Quarzit designation is the second rung in the ladder of their roster of wines. My notes at the time: “V. stony, v. pure and intense, v. spicy; yellow flowers, yellow fruit, stone fruit; huge hit of minerals, slate and limestone; v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere. This is, one admits, a little demanding; it needs a year or two.” Sixteen months later, the wine has opened considerably, but it’s primary motivation remains a scintillating expression of minerality in the form of crushed gravel and shaved granite. The floral element is more apparent; flavors of peach and pear encompass hints of dried thyme and a sort of Platonic grapefruit pithiness. The wine is indeed, as I wrote last year, “v. dry, crisp, vibrant, austere,” all qualities enhanced by acidity of startling vivacity. Ideally, a riesling to match the pork shanks would have halb-trocken — “half-dry” — or even a spatlese; the PJK Quarzit 2008 was simply too dry, too astringent for the richness of the dish, though there were moments when I took a spoonful of prune and turnip in the sauce and then a sip of the wine and felt a brief frisson of perfection. 11.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $28, but prices on the Internet run from about $25 to $40.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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Made from 100 percent syrah grapes, the Domaine Philippe and Vincent Jaboulet Crozes-Hermitage 2007 offers a pungent and classic bouquet of smoke, wet dog, cloves and sandalwood, spiced and macerated red and black currants, and, in a few minutes, burning leaves, briers and brambles, moss, rose petals and violets; in fact, give the wine some time in the glass — I mean like an hour or two — and it smells as if you had somehow taken the whole of the Northern Rhone Valley in your hand, all its weeds and flowers and gravelly, loamy earth, and crushed it and rubbed it and inhaled the deep, exotic redolence. Austerity takes over in the mouth, but it’s the austerity of broad tannins rather than oak. Only 20 percent of the wine ages in oak casks for 10 months; the rest stays in concrete and stainless steel tanks, so despite the grainy heft of the structure there’s an aura of freshness and clarity. Still, this was too young, too dense and underdeveloped for the pork shanks. A better choice would have been, to keep with the Rhone but travel further south, a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, or more toward the home-base, a fruity zinfandel. 900 cases were imported. Excellent potential from 2012 or ’13 through 2017 or ’19. About $31.

Imported by Wilson-Daniels, Napa, Cal. Bottle image by John McJunkin.
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And being Thanksgiving, these are the wines I’ll be serving at the festive groaning board on Thursday. These are the same wines I have been offering, but at different vintages and prices, since our first Thanksgiving in this house in 2005. These are American wines, two from California, one from Oregon. I wish I could have some wines from Virginia, Michigan and New York too, but those are hard to come by in what’s called the Mid-South, this corner where West Tennessee, North Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas meet at the banks of Ol’ Man River. (You understand — Geography Alert! — that Tennessee and Mississippi are east of the river, and Arkansas is on the other side.) Anyway. I bought these wines a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the annual feast.

Trefethen Dry Riesling 2008 & 2007, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. Trefethen’s Dry Riesling is consistently one of the best rieslings produced in the Golden State. It’s quite a versatile wine, matching with a variety of foods, from the Thanksgiving turkey and all the trimmings to a dish we made recently, a Catalan cannellini bean and radicchio soup that was supposed to be vegan, but I cheated and unapologetically used bacon. Boy, it was great! When I said to LL that I was going to look for an appropriate wine, she said, “The Thanksgiving riesling,” and she was absolutely right. About $24. I bought one each of the 2008 and the 07, just to see how the latter is doing since I last tasted it. Here’s a link to the New York Times website with the recipe.

The Ridge Three Vineyards 2008, Sonoma County, is a blend of 74 percent zinfandel, 11 percent petite sirah, 5 percent carignan, 4 percent of mataro (more often called mourvedre or, in Spain, monastrell), and 3 percent each syrah and grenache. I like drinking zinfandel with Thanksgiving dinner, especially in a rendition that brings in a few other grapes like the 15 percent Rhone Valley varieties in this wine. Ridge’s Three Valley, while supple and spicy and flavorful is never over-ripe or over-alcoholic, making it a terrific pairing with the myriad and sometimes contradictory sensations that the Thanksgiving dinner affords. About $25. I bought two bottles of this wine.

Finally, I like to have a bottle of the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, on hand. The vintage available in my town is the 2007. The pinot noirs from Domaine Serene to me comprise the perfect balance of power and elegance that’s the hallmark of great pinot. You may ask, “Does pinot noir belong on the Thanksgiving table?” To which I reply, “Hey, it’s my table.” About $47 in my neck of the woods, $42 on the winery’s website. I bought a single bottle of this one.

My plan is to drink one glass of each of these wines, in the order in which I mentioned them here. I like to see how each reacts with the turkey and gravy, the potatoes, the sweet potatoes and so forth.

Whatever wines you choose to serve at Thanksgiving don’t really matter because the meal, being what it is, draws almost any wine close to its heart. That’s why people who write about wine seem to provide such contradictory advice at this time of year; mainly we fall back on our favorites. So go for it, do your thing, be happy, and have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.

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