Sauvignon blanc


Sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Some foods and dishes reject wine as a companion — or certain wines — no matter how good the wine is in favor of beer. I’m thinking particularly of Indian and Southeastern Asian cuisines, which with their combination of spicy heat and intensity and often exotic flavors defy a pairing with wine, unless it’s a moderately sweet riesling, pinot gris or gewurztraminer whose keen acidity cuts through the richness of the dish and whose delicate sweetness balances the spice. Such a match is a cliche of the wine-and-food-pairing cohort, but as is the case with many cliches there’s a great deal of truth to the assumption. Unfortunately, the night that I prepared the assertive Chicken Khao Soi, a recipe derived from north Thailand sources — it’s the cover recipe for the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit — I didn’t have an appropriate riesling on hand, so I tried beer and a sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not the wine’s fault that it couldn’t stand up to the intensity of the Chicken Khao Soi — I did ask a lot of it — but beer just did a better job here.

The beer was Pistil, a unique seasonal product brewed with dandelion petals (as well as hops, malts and oats) by Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont; Pistil is available from January 15 to March 31. Magic Hat was founded in 1994; in 2010, it was acquired by North American Breweries of Rochester, N.Y. — my home town! — which in turn was acquired in 2012 by Florida Ice & Farm Co., of Costa Rica. Globalization moves on apace, and while it’s not entirely relevant to this post, I’ll mention that the Brewers Association, a nonprofit advocate for craft brewing in this country, offers as one of its definitions of a craft brewery a restriction of 25 percent ownership or control by “an alcoholic beverage industry member not itself a craft brewer.” In other words, a craft brewer that is wholly owned by a large company or conglomerate has lost its hallowed independence and is, by definition, no longer a craft brewer, even if production remains at or below six million barrels. Anyway

Delightful isn’t a word one finds often in reviews and commentary on beer, but I thought that Pistil was delightful in its light, slightly brassy gold color; its mildly creamy but not prominent head with a good formation of what beer tasters call “lace”; and its aromas of orange peel, lemongrass, slightly sour wheat and an earthy element that really develops in the mouth, along with some bitterness and a fairly leafy, spiced tea-like flavor. 4.5 percent alcohol (by volume). Neither too heavy nor too light, this was excellent with the complex flavors of the Chicken Khao Soi. Magic Hat Pistil is about $1.79 for a 12-ounce bottle.

So, what about the wine that bravely held its head up like a good soldier? The Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is always one of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines, and for 2012 — that’s right, the wine isn’t even six months old — it shows itself in fine fashion. The color is a very pale straw hue; snappy yet stylish aromas of grapefruit, lime peel and limestone, fig and tarragon, thyme, sage and bay tantalize the nose; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of fresh-mown grass and gooseberry. The whole enterprise is lively and vibrant, energized by crisp, finely-etched acidity and scintillating, crystalline elements of flint and steel. The 98 percent sauvignon blanc portion, fermented in stainless steel, is supplemented by two-percent barrel-fermented semillon that contributes just a touch of spice and a bit of suppleness to the lovely, slightly powdery texture. As you can see, a great deal of the success of this wine lies in its precise balance between the energy of the acidity and mineral elements and the ripeness and moderate lushness of its texture and fruit. After a few more moments, the Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012 unfolds hints of tangerine and jasmine, pear and caramelized fennel, all of these qualities expressed with delicacy and finesse. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through Summer 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

The wine was a sample for review; the beer was a purchase.

Weekend Wine Sips has been devoted rather relentlessly to red wines from California, so for a complete change of mood and mode, we turn to white wines from France, one from Bordeaux, one from the Loire Valley, one from Burgundy, the remainder from the South. One is a sweet sparkling wine, three are dessert wines and the other five are dry and perfectly suited to the changes in weather and food that are inching upon us. These are quick reviews, taken often directly from my notes, designed to pique your interest and spark your palate. I keep technical, geographical and historical information and ruminative speculation to a minimum, so the emphasis is on the wines and my impressions of them. The “Little James,” the Sancerre, the Bourgogne and the Muscat Beaumes de Venise were my purchases; the rest were samples for review. Enjoy… and have a good rest of the weekend.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jaillance Cuvée Impériale Clairette de Die “Tradition”, nv. 7% alc. Muscat blanc à petits grains 90%, clairette blanc 10%. My previous experiences with Clairette de Die were dry sparklers, but they were 100% clairette; this jaunty example is definitely sweet. Pleasantly effervescent, a lovely mild straw-gold color; pears and peaches, softly ripe, notes of cloves, lime peel, spiced tea and limestone; hint of jasmine and some tropical fruit, lively acidity. A bit too douce for my palate, but should be pleasing as an aperitif or with desserts with fresh berries. Very Good+. About $16, a Good Value.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Little James’ Basket Press 2011, Vin de Pays d’Oc. 13% alc. 33-year-old viognier from Minervois with sauvignon blanc and muscat of Alexandria. From Chateau de Saint Cosme, established in Gigondas in the Northern Rhone in 1570. Pale straw gold; pears, yellow plums and a touch of peach, some astringent little white flower nestled in a briery hedge; fig and thyme, hint of caramelized fennel; very dry, very crisp and taut, a bit of greengage and grass. Highly unusual, really appealing. Very Good+. About $14, making Great Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Picpoul de Pinet 2011, Coteaux du Languedoc. 13.5%. 100% picpoul grapes. Pale straw color; honeydew melon, yellow plums, orange blossom and zest; crisp acidity but with a lovely silken texture; bracing, savory and saline, a hint of salt-marsh with dried grasses, thyme and sage; sleek mineral-packed finish. Delightful. Very Good+. About $14, Buy by the Case.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul Mas Estate “Single Vineyard Collection” Chardonnay 2011, Vin de Pays d’Aude. 13.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Pale gold color; very dry, taut, crisp, vibrant; lemon and cloves, ginger and a hint of quince; lemon balm and a touch of grapefruit with its welcome astringency; attractive texture subtly balanced between moderately dense lushness and pert acidity; lots of limestone and flint. An attractive and slightly individual chardonnay. Very Good+. About $14.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre 2011, Loire Valley. 11-14% alc. 100% sauvignon blanc. Scintillating purity and intensity; pale straw-gold color; gunflint and limestone, roasted lemon and lemon drop, lime peel and tangerine; bare hint of grass in the background; very dry, tense, lean, pent with energy; deeply earthy with a hint of sauteed mushrooms; long flinty, steely finish, a little austere. Feels archetypal. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Capitain-Gagnerot Bourgogne “Les Gueulottes” 2009, Hautes Côtes de Beaune. 12.5% alc. 100% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color; just freakin’ lovely chardonnay, minutely, gracefully sliding into maturity; roasted lemon and lemon curd, touch of grapefruit and mango; limestone under a soft haze of spicy oak; very dry, with plangent acidity and a lithe but generous texture; a wayward hint of orange blossom and lime peel, ginger and quince jam; long silken finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $27.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Les Petits Grains 2011, Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois. (Les Vignerons de la Mediterranee) 15% alc. Pale gold color; orange blossom and candied orange peel, baked peaches, pears and quince; cloves and sandalwood; bananas Foster with buttered rum; dense and viscous without being heavy; lightly honeyed cinnamon toast; a long sweet finish balanced by vibrant acidity. Very Good+. About $14, for a 375-milliliter half-bottle, a Steal.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine des Bernardins 2009, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. 15% alc. Brassy gold-light amber color; softly ripe and macerated peaches and apricots; tremendous sweetness that turns dry mid-palate then austere on the finish, testifying to the immense powers of rigorous acidity; crème brùlée with a touch of the sweet ashy “burned” sugar; caramelized apricot with a hint of baked pineapple; that distinctive slightly funky muscat floral character; lip-smacking viscosity. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $25 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau de Cosse 2008, Sauternes. 13.5% alc. 85% semillon, 15% sauvignon blanc. The second label of Chateau Rieussec, owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). Medium gold color with a greenish tint; smoke, spiced peach and candied grapefruit, pungent with lime peel and mango and a touch of buttered pear; cloves, vanilla and toasted almonds; satiny smooth, clean, pure, dense yet elegant; exquisite balance and verve. Now through 2018 to ’22. Excellent. About $35 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I made a Salade Lyonnaise one night, and to drink with it pulled out a bottle of Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. That worked intensely well.

The essence of Salade Lyonnaise, or salad in the style of the city of Lyon, is the combination of strong bitter greens, typically frisée, a type of chicory; pieces of bacon — what the French call lardons; and a poached egg, dressed with a warm vinaigrette. I have seen versions that include potatoes, which is how I made the dish, with new potatoes segmented into small pieces and roasted. And I fried my egg instead of poaching it. I know; purists weep. My greens were spinach, red and green chard and baby kale.

The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011 was made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes grown in certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Napa Valley’s American Canyon and Carneros regions. Eighty percent of the grapes were fermented, using indigenous yeasts, in 900-gallon French oak casks, the rest in already used 59-gallon French oak barriques; after fermentation, the wine aged six months in neutral barrels. No fetish for new oak here! This Fumé Blanc — a name invented by Robert Mondavi almost 50 years ago to indicate a sauvignon blanc wine supposedly modeled on those of the Loire Valley — is beautifully and subtly balanced and integrated, yet feels poised with energy and purpose. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted pears and lemons are woven with tangerine and lime peel, a touch of tarragon and caramelized fennel, and, with a few minutes in the glass, a whiff of quince and ginger. Those elements segue seamlessly into the mouth, where the wine is quite dry yet engagingly juicy and flavorful and bolstered by an almost powdery texture enlivened by scintillating acidity that cuts a swath. The spice-packed finish brings in a burgeoning limestone and flint quality that provides a poignant snap of mineral potency. Alcohol content is a blessed 13.2 percent, thanks to a cool growing season. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

Bittman being Mark Bittman, and the recipe was the Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs and Blue Cheese from his recently published The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon & Schuster, $35). Mondavi being the Robert Mondavi Winery and its Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. The match: Exquisite, though allow me to emphasize, as anyone writing about food and wine pairing should, that there’s no such thing as one wine being the sole Platonic beverage to sip with one particular dish; both food and wine are more versatile than that “perfect marriage” trope would have you believe.

Anyway, I think Bittman wouldn’t mind that we added a handful of diced applewood-smoked bacon and a scattering on top of homemade breadcrumbs to enhance the dish, since he offers variations on many of the book’s recipes himself. And the combination of bacon, figs and blue cheese seemed a triumvirate almost unholy in its synergistic appeal. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts (and, notoriously, artichokes) can be difficult to match with wine because of the presence (Education Alert!!) of phenylthiocarbamides, which produce bitterness — the ability to detect PTC, by the way, is genetic — and the sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates. Still, in this dish the Brussels sprouts are chopped and distributed throughout along with other ingredients and the whole shebang baked. For the wine, I chose the Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010 almost randomly and with a trace of doubt. I need not have worried.

The grapes for the wine derive from the Wappo Hill Vineyard in the Stags Leap District (51 percent), from Mondavi’s well-known estate vineyard To Kalon in Oakville (30 percent) with the remaining 19 percent from other vineyards in Napa Valley, the point being to balance grapes from different microclimates in terms of the effect that varying temperatures and soils have on their development and character. Sixty-nine percent of the grapes were fermented and then the wine aged five months in French oak barrels, the rest in stainless steel tanks. The blend is 94 percent sauvignon blanc and six percent semillon grapes. Winemaker is Genevieve Janssens.

The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2010, notable for restraint and elegance, offers a pale straw-gold color with faint green highlights. Aromas of lemongrass, roasted lemon and verbena sift from the glass with back-notes of freshly mowed hay, lime peel, fennel seeds and a bare whiff of fig and gooseberry; you detect just a touch of oak in a sort of blond shimmer of wood and spice. This seeming welter of sensations is subdued to an admirable structure of harmony and poise, though there’s nothing delicate or fragile about it. It’s a mouth-filling wine, not quite dense but certainly displaying pleasing heft on the palate; at the same time, there’s an element of fleetness and transparency, abetted by crystalline acidity. To the citrus and herbal qualities are added hints of quince and ginger, a slightly more emphatic dose of fig — there’s that semillon! — and an ineffable quality of sunny leafiness through the finish. Again, you feel the oak as an influence on the wine’s spicy nature and the suppleness of its texture. Somehow the wine made a terrific match with the Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs and Blue Cheese (and Bacon), allowing everything rich and savory and slightly sweet about the dish to have complete integrated expression and in turn bringing out the savory, spicy qualities of the wine. Drink now through 2014. Excellent. About $20, an Incredible Bargain.

This wine was a sample for review.

Since the “Weekend Wine Sips” for the past two weeks concerned red wines, today I’ll offer a group that consists of two roses, five
sauvignon blancs and two chardonnays. There should be a bottle here to appeal to most every palate and pocketbook. Nothing extensive in the way of background information, just quick reviews designed to strike to the heart of the matter and tempt your taste-buds. These were all samples for review.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Jean Luc Colombo Cape Bleue Rosé 2012, Mediterranée IGP, France. 12% alc. 67% syrah, 33% mourvèdre. Classic pale onion skin color; dried strawberries and red currants, hints of cloves and Earl Grey tea; back-notes of lavender and limestone, hint of mineral austerity on the finish; juicy but bone-dry. Quite charming. Now through end of 2013. Very Good+. About $12, a Terrific Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calcu Rosé 2012, Colchaqua Valley, Chile. 12% alc. 50% malbec, 40% syrah, 10% petit verdot. Distinctive pale salmon/melon color; wild cherry and dried red currants and cranberries with a touch of plum; soft and inviting, touches of dried herbs and stones. Now through end of 2013. Very Good. About $14.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Peñalolen Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Limari Valley, Chile. 12.5% alcohol. Pale straw color; pert and sassy; mandarin orange, thyme and tarragon, lime peel and grapefruit; winsome touch of honeysuckle; vibrant acidity and a pleasing moderately lush texture. Very Good+. About $13, representing Good Value.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Calcu Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Colchaqua Valley, Chile. 12% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean, crisp; grapefruit, kiwi, lime peel all the way; hints of thyme and tarragon; very spicy, sprightly, vibrant. Uncomplicated, super appealing. Now through Summer 2013. Very Good. About $14.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Northern Sonoma. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold; bright, clean and fresh; lime peel, celery seed and tarragon, roasted lemon and yellow plum; resonant acidity and a keen limestone edge. Lots of personality. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $15, Excellent Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Marlborough, New Zealand. 12.5% alc. Pale straw-gold with faint green highlights; very bright, scintillating with acidity and limestone-like minerality; grass, thyme and fennel seed; celery, kiwi and lime peel, touches of grapefruit and some astringent floral note; more balanced and restrained than many NZ sauvignon blancs and all the better for it. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $16, a Great Value.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Ladera Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 13.5% alc. Just great. Notes of green plums, lemon grass and roasted lemon, grapefruit and lime; crisp, lively, spicy and vibrant, terrific tone and presence, balances leanness and sinew with suppleness; tremendous minerality in the shale and flint range. Now into 2014. Production was 946 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay 2009, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. (Jackson Family Wines). Did I forget this wine in the white wine fridge? In any case, it’s drinking perfectly right now; balanced and harmonious, everything in place: baking spice, fleet acidity, citrus fruit with a tropical overlay, mineral elements, sweet floral top-note; ultimate freshness and brightness; lovely, svelte and lithe texture. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Robert Turner Wines Dutton Ranch Chardonnay 2011, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. Lovely class and elegance; clean and fresh, hints of peach and spiced pear under pineapple and grapefruit with a burgeoning limestone component; very pleasing texture, assertive but not quite lush; deft oak a presence just around the circumference. Thoughtful and well-made. 150 cases. Now though 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30, and Worth a Search.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

… that is the question, and my reply, unsurprisingly, would be, when in doubt, don’t, and even if you’re not in doubt, think twice before you do. Oak aging can enhance a wine, and it can kill a wine. Careful! This observation emerges after tasting two very similar wines from the same producer; one was made in stainless steel, while the other matured in new French barriques. Therein lies the difference.

The Zuani winery was founded in 2001 in Italy’s Collio region, in the northeast near Austria and Slovenia, by Patrizia Felluga, a fifth-generation winemaker and producer. She runs the operation with her adult children, Caterina and Antonio Zanon (see photo, right). From its 30-acre vineyard, the winery makes only two wines, both white, from a combination of friulano, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio grapes. In terms of methodology, the grapes for the Zuani “Zuani,” a “reserve” style wine, are generally picked two weeks later than the grapes for the Zuani “Vigne,” so the ripeness factor is more intense. “Zuani,” then, is the wine that receives new oak. In both cases, we have sleek, sophisticated wines, but, though I don’t want to be ungracious, my preference is the unoaked Zuani “Vigne.”

The Zuani wines are imported by Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y. These were samples for review. Images from zuanivini.it.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Zuani “Vigne” 2011, Collio, offers a pale gold color with faint green highlights. It’s a spare, lean, elegant white wine that doesn’t neglect its earthly origins in dominant layers of shale and schist that buoy elements of roasted lemon, dried thyme, lime leaf, lemongrass and green tea; there’s a tantalizing hint of camellia. If that description makes the wine sound inviting and appealing, then you’re securely in my camp. Acidity is taut and vibrant, lending crisp, coiled energy, while the mineral component gives the wine a sense of chiseled, frangible transparency. It’s dry yet juicy with flavors of lemon, spiced pear and grapefruit, all devolving to a finish that brings in more limestone and a touch of chalky austerity. 13 percent alcohol. Loads of personality. Now through 2014 with the classic Venetian risotto with mushrooms and peas, or with grilled fish or smoked or cured salmon. Excellent. About $24.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
I’ve already told My Readers that the Zuani “Zuani” Riserva, 2010, Collio, was picked from slightly riper grapes and aged in new French oak. The color is radiant light gold; the wine overall is soft, supple and spicy, delivering notes of roasted lemons and yellow plums with a hint of almond blossom. As with its younger, unoaked cousin, this wine is resonant with bright acidity and scintillating limestone and shale minerality, but casting a veil over every characteristic is a sheen of blond oak, and though that woody camouflage gives the wine the sort of suavity upon which elegance seems to be based, in reality it masks and blunts that character that makes the first wine so attractive: the character of freshness and verve, of clean-cut, faceted clarity. I’ve said it before, and I’ll take this opportunity to say it again: If a wine smells like oak and tastes like oak, there’s too much oak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 or ’15. Very Good+. About $37.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

It may surprise My Readers to know that it’s even more difficult to decide on the “25 Great Wine Bargains” than it is the “50 Great Wines.” I could probably, from 2012, have compiled a completely different roster of 25 bargain wines, but after much cogitation, meditation and drinking, I thought, No, just leave it alone, because these are all terrific wines. The break-down is 18 white wines, 6 reds and 1 rose; by country or region: California 9, Argentina 4, Spain 4, Chile 3, Washington state, Italy, France and Hungary each 1. Go for it. The order is alphabetical; no hierarchies here.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Airfield Estates Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. Excellent. About $16.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Callia Alta Torrontés 2011, Valle de Tulum, San Juan, Argentina. Very Good+. About $9.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. Excellent. About $16.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. Very Good+. About $11.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Terre d’Etoiles Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France. Excellent. About $19.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Morgan Winery R&D Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Excellent. About $18.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So, My Readers, today I present the annual “50 Great Wines” in the edition for 2012. Why 50? It’s a nice comfortable round number, but it also makes me work hard to determine those 50 great selections.

I reviewed 642 wines on this blog in 2012, so 50 choices represent only 7.78 percent of the wines I reviewed. Wines that I rated as “Exceptional” automatically make the cut. In 2012, I ranked 16 wines “Exceptional,” or only 2.5 percent of all the wines I reviewed. How did I ascertain the other 34 wines? That’s where the task got difficult. I read all the reviews of wines that I rated “Excellent” and wrote down the names of 68 that seemed promising, but of course that was already way too many wines; I had to eliminate half of that list. I went back through the reviews and looked for significant words or phrases like “an exciting wine” or “a beautiful expression of its grapes” or “epitomizes my favorite style” or “I flat-out loved this wine,” terms that would set a wine apart from others in similar genres or price ranges, even though they too were rated “Excellent.” By exercising such intricate weighing and measuring, by parsing and adjusting, by, frankly, making some sacrifices, I came to the list of wines included here, but I’ll admit that as I went over this post again and again, checking spelling and diacritical markings and illustrations, there were omissions that I regretted. You get to a point, however, where you can’t keep second-guessing yourself.

Notice that I don’t title this post “50 Greatest Wines” or “50 Best Wines.” That would be folly, just as I think it’s folly when the slick wine publications select one wine — out of 15,000 — as the best of the year. The wines honored in this post are, simply, 50 great wines, determined by my taste and palate, that I encountered and reviewed in 2012. Some of them are expensive; some are hard to find. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, though, at how many of them are under $40 or even in the $20 range; the price of a wine can be immaterial to its quality, and I mean that in both the positive and the negative aspects. Where I know the case limitation, I make note. With wines that are, for example, chardonnay or pinot noir, you can count on them being 100 percent varietal; in other cases, I mention the blend or make-up of the wine if I think it’s necessary.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Bargains of 2012.”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County. 55 percent syrah, 45 percent grenache. 95 cases. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Archery Summit Looney Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County. 573 cases. Excellent. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut. Excellent. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy. 100 percent sangiovese. Exceptional. About $149.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chalone Estate Chenin Blanc 2011, Chalone, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chamisal Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County. Excellent. About $40.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier Chante-Alouette 2007, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne grapes. 350 six-packs imported. Exceptional. About $92.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

M. Chapoutier De L’Orée 2008, Hermitage blanc, Rhone Valley, France. 100 percent marsanne. 40 six-packs imported. Exceptional, About $190.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cima Collina Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Etude Pinot Noir 2009, Carneros. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Ferrari-Carano Prevail West Face 2007, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 61 percent cabernet sauvignon, 39 percent syrah. Excellent. About $55.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County. Excellent. About $40.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Foursight Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Excellent. About $46.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2009, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $23.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Hidden Ranch 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Michel Lafarge Meursault 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $44-$48.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

La Follette Van Der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma Mountain. 429 cases. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lasseter Enjoué 2011, Sonoma Valley. 73 percent syrah, 24 mourvèdre, 3 grenache. A superior rosé. 570 cases. Excellent. About $24.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Champagne David Léclapart L’Amateur Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut, non-vintage. Exceptional. About $83.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lenné Estate Pinot Noir 2008, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 491 cases. Excellent. About $55.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Lèognan, Bordeaux, France. 85 percent sauvignon blanc, 15 percent semillon. Excellent. About $42.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Manzoni Vineyards Home Vineyard Syrah 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. 494 cases. Excellent. About $26.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $19.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mayacamas Chardonnay 2009, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi. 449 cases. Excellent. About $28.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine Pierre Morey Pommard Grands Epenots Premier Cru 2009, Burgundy. Excellent. About $85.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Newton “The Puzzle” 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 42 percent merlot, 36 cabernet sauvignon, 14 cabernet franc, 6 petit verdot, 2 malbec. Excellent. About $80.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Nicolas Joly Clos de La Bergerie 2009, Savennières-Roches-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France. 100 percent chenin blanc. 580 cases. Exceptional. About $45-$60.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pelerin Sierra Mar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey County. Exceptional. About $42.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County. 250 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Phifer Pavitt Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. 372 cases. Exceptional. About $75.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. From Margerum Wine Co. 58 percent merlot, 22 cabernet sauvignon, 18 cabernet franc, 2 petit verdot. 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Quivira Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. 862 cases. Excellent. About $22.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 380 cases. Excellent. About $25.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Hillside Select 2007, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $225.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Shafer Merlot 2009, Napa Valley. With 7 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent malbec. Exceptional. About $48.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Signorello Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley. With 12 percent cabernet franc. 381 cases. Excellent. About $75. Date on label is one year behind.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir 2011, Los Carneros. Another superior rosé to drink all year. Excellent. About $28.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Spotted Owl Chardonnay 2010, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. Inaugural release of this winery’s chardonnay. 120 cases. Exceptional. About $45.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $125.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. With 10 percent merlot, 2 petit verdot and 1 cabernet franc. Excellent. About $55.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Domaine André et Mireille Tissot La Graviers Chardonnay 2010, Arbois, France. 552 cases. Excellent. About $26-$30. Label is two years out of date.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tudal Family Winery Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. 295 cases. Excellent. About $50.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tenuta di Valgiano 2008, Colline Luccesi, Tuscany. 60 percent sangiovese, 20 merlot, 20 syrah. Excellent. About $55-$60.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vieux Télégraphe “La Crau” 2009, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France. 65 percent grenache, 15 mourvèdre, 15 syrah 5 cinsault, clairette “and others.” Excellent. About $85.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Villa Huesgen Schiefen Riesling Trocken 2010, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $35.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a twofer, a white and a red from Ventisquero, a winery in Chile that gives new meaning to the term “middle of nowhere.” I visited this remote and beautiful place in the Apalta region of the Colchagua Valley with a group of writers in October 2010, and we finally had to abandon our bus and walk, the road was that narrow and the dinky bridges so precarious. Head winemaker is Felipe Tosso; responsible for pinot noir and white wines is Alejandro Galay, while Sergio Hormazábal oversees other red wines and the Queulat label. The winery is Certified Sustainable for all its vineyards and Certified Carbon Neutral.

First is the Ventisquero Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes grown at the winery’s vineyard in the Casablanca Valley. The color is pale straw-gold. This is a grippingly clean and fresh sauvignon blanc that feels imbued by the bracing sea breezes that cool Casablanca; aromas of gooseberry and lemongrass, thyme and tarragon are wreathed with notes of apple, lime peel and damp limestone. Pert, tart and sassy, Queulat Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010 offers loads of personality but never comes across as blatant or flamboyant as many examples from New Zealand do (I mean, let’s pick on New Zealand!); rather, this wine delivers its message with subtlety, balance and elegance, as well as a little flair. The texture is a pleasing combination of soft ripeness and crisp vivacity, while flavors of lightly spiced and grassy roasted lemon and pear segue to a finish loaded with flint and a touch of grapefruit bitterness. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18, representing Terrific Value.

Ventisquero’s Grey label focuses on single-vineyard wines, which for the Grey Carménère 2010 is the Trinidad Vineyard in Maipo Valley. The wine aged 18 months in French oak, only 33 percent new barrels, a process that lent the wine depth, structure and suppleness without muddying the character we look for in 100 percent carménère: notes of coffee and tobacco, black olive and bell pepper, twined with black currants and plums, graphite and black tea and a hint of fruitcake, with its implications of dried fruit and spices. This layered effect continues in the mouth, where flavors of fresh and dried black and blue fruit are permeated by vibrant acidity, fairly dense and chewy yet smooth, slightly velvety tannins and a penetrating earthy, granitic mineral quality that persists through the finish. The wine is packed with presence and pleasing heft; you take it in and think, “Oh yeah, this is a real mouthful of wine!” 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18, with roasted or braised red meat. Excellent. About $24.

The Queulat is imported by Austral Wines, Atlanta, Ga.; Grey is imported by The San Francisco Wine Exchange, San Francisco, Ca. These wines were samples for review.

No snark today; it’s my birthday! So what I offer are eight wines that we have enjoyed at home recently, mainly with lunches or dinners or standing in the kitchen preparing meals, with no — all right, very few — quibbles. It’s an eclectic group: white, rosé and red; still and sparkling, originating in Germany, Hungary, France, Oregon, Sonoma County and Napa Valley. Prices range from $11 to $45; ratings go from Very Good+ to Exceptional. No technical notes and details; just heart-felt reviews designed to spark your interest and whet your palate. These were all samples for review.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Count Karolyi Grüner Veltliner 2011, Tolna, Hungary. 12% alc. 100% grüner veltliner grapes. Very pale straw-gold color; bone-dry, spare, lean, subtly infused with green apple, lime peel and a tang of spiced pear and grapefruit; powerful strain of oyster-shell-like/limestone minerality, but winsome and attractive. 523 cases imported. Very Good+. About $11, a Raving, Cosmic Bargain.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
River Road Nouveau Rosé of Pinot Noir 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. The first California wine from 2012 that I’ve tasted. Lovely pale watermelon color; pure strawberries and watermelon in the nose; soft, supple, almost shamelessly appealing; hints of dried cranberries and mulberries, pert, tart, laced with limestone; touch of orange rind and plum skin; slightly sweet on the intake, but the finish is dry. 240 cases. Absolute delight. Very Good+. About $15.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace Rosé (nv), Alsace. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Radiant medium salmon-copper color; a constant upward swirl of tiny bubbles, glinting silver in the dusky pink; striking aromas of macerated strawberries and raspberries with touches of cloves, orange zest and lime peel; very dry, very crisp, heaps of limestone and shale; yet creamy, supple, lots of body and heft, almost chewy; a long spice and mineral-laden finish. Production was 2,500 cases. Delectable and more. Very Good+. About $25.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Domaine Chandon Reserve Brut (nv), 82% Sonoma County, 18% Napa County. 12.5% alc. Composition is 80% pinot noir, 20% chardonnay. Medium straw-gold color with a touch of bronze; a surging whirlwind of tiny bubbles; very biscuity, roasted hazelnuts, spiced pears; lightly buttered cinnamon toast; ginger and quince and a hint of baked apple; heaps of limestone-and-flint minerality, very steely, quite elegant yet with robust underpinnings; long spicy, toast-and-limestone packed finish. Very classy. 2,046 cases. Excellent. About $30.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Cornerstone Chardonnay 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 100% chardonnay grapes. Pale straw color; pungent with pineapple and grapefruit aromas tinged with honeysuckle, lemon zest, cloves, damp limestone and a touch of mango; lots of presence, lots of personality; lively, crisp, refreshing; dense, talc-like texture, almost chewy yet taut, chiming with acidity and a vibrant limestone-and-flint minerality. Quite stylish and attractive. 166 cases produced. Now through 2014 t0 ’16. Excellent. About $35.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Villa Huesgen Enkircher Steffensberg Riesling Kabinett 2011, Mosel, Germany. 10% alc. 100% riesling grapes. Pale straw-gold color; delicate, lithe and lacy, crisp as an apple fresh from the cellar and slightly bitter and bracing as apple skin; whiff of some dewy white flower like camellia, traces of smoke and ripe lychee, peach skin and apricot; smells like summer, what can I say? so lively that it’s almost pétillant, burgeoning quality of limestone and shale, hints of roasted lemons and pears, but all subsumed to a sense of elegance and refinement married to the power of fluent acidity and scintillating minerality. Production was 2,000 cases. Just great. Now to 2020 to ’25. Excellent. About $40.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Signorello Seta Proprietary White Wine 2011, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. 62% semillon grapes, 38% sauvignon blanc. Takes risks with oak but pulls off the feat. Light straw-gold color; spicy figs and pears, dried thyme and tarragon, greengage plums, roasted lemons, guava and ginger: yeah, quite a bouquet, in which you also sense, as ink seeps into the graven lines of the etcher’s plate, the soft permeating burr of oak and woody spices, as well in the body of the wine; yet boy what presence and tone, clarity and confidence; a few minutes bring in notes of white peach and gooseberry, something wild and sunny and definitive; crisp acidity, a modicum of stony minerality. 177 cases. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $42.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pfendler Pinot Noir 2010, Sonoma Coast. 14.4% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. A brilliant pinot noir; you want to hand yourself over to it. Dark ruby color with a slightly lighter violet-magenta rim; deliriously spicy and floral; black cherries, red currants and mulberries, just a hint in the background of something a little earthy and funky, very Burgundian in that aspect; super satiny texture but with a slightly roughed or sanded (as if were) surface — there’s a touch of resistance; a substantial pinot noir that fills the mouth, dense and intense; gains power as the moments pass; there’s an autumnal element: burning leaves, slightly dried moss, briers but overall gorgeous fruit. 200 cases. Among the best pinot noirs I tasted (or drank) in 2012. Now through 2016 to ’18. Exceptional. About $45.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

« Previous PageNext Page »