Sauvignon blanc


Here’s a sauvignon blanc wine not to be missed. The Hess Allomi Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, was fermented in stainless steel and then spent six months in neutral French oak barrels, “neutral” meaning that the barrels have been used enough times that they impart little of the more obvious wood influences but can lend the wine subtlety of spice and suppleness of texture. The color is shimmering pale gold; aromas of lemongrass, lychee, gooseberry and pear are augmented by hints of thyme and tarragon, a mild grassy element and a backnote of tangerine. The wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, tart and zingy with taut acidity, but not as startlingly tart as many examples from New Zealand; roasted lemon and grapefruit flavors harmonize with a sunny-leafy fig-like quality, all nestled in a structure that paradoxically, but happily, marries talc-like softness with crispness and tension, finishing with an arrow-bright stream of grapefruit rind and limestone. And just to show you how some wines make surprising matches, we drank this one night with fennel-braised pork-belly with green olives and potato-leek mash; it was terrific. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through the end of 2012. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

Now that Spring-like weather is arriving, perhaps, in truth, in fits and starts, you will need an incredibly refreshing white wine to sip while you sit out on the porch or on the patio or while you’re cooking dinner or to drink with a light, delicious supper. Well, here’s one, and though the name may be familiar, if not over-familiar, and the wine may be one that you have sipped before, it deserves attention.

It’s the Rodney Strong “Charlotte’s Home” Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Northern Sonoma. This is a pert, tart and sassy sauvignon blanc, 90 percent fermented in stainless steel, the other 10 percent fermented in French oak barrels, but without the occasional excesses that the New Zealand style can fall into. For its grapes, the wine draws on four areas of Sonoma County — 45 percent Alexander Valley, 24 percent Russian River Valley, 23 percent Dry Creek Valley and 1 percent Knights Valley — and then, from Lake County next door, the final 7 percent.

From the glass waft exuberant scents of tangerine and lime peel, kiwi and celery seed, a touch of leafy fig and tarragon and a powerful element of damp limestone; give the wine a few moments and it gains an almost talc-like exhalation of jasmine and lilac. “Crisp” doesn’t begin to describe how notably crisp and crystalline this sauvignon blanc is, yet that exhilarating factor is balanced by a soft, almost lush texture and a chalky-limestone quality that bolster tangerine, pear and melon flavors that fit snugly into a spicy-herbal parameter; there’s a bright, bracing tinge of grapefruit bitterness on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Interestingly, this wine drank very nicely as accompaniment to a vinegary chicken piccata with a caper and butter sauce. Winemaker was Rick Sayre. Very Good+. About $13.50, a Raving Bargain.

A sample for review.


Today, Friday Wine Sips offers 10 white wines and two reds, the whites mainly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, mainly California but touching down in Italy, Spain and France, the reds collage-like blends, one from California, the other from Argentina.

As usual, I dispense with matters technical, geographical, climatic, philosophical, historical, anthropological, psychological, heretical and hermeneutic to focus on quick, incisive reviews that get at the essence of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at wholesalers’ trade events.

By the way, I was curious, so I went back and checked through the Friday Wine Sips series, which I launched on January 5, to see how many brief reviews I’ve done, and counting this post today, it’s 86 wines. That’s a lot of juice.
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Hess Select Sauvignon Blanc 2010, North Coast. 13.5% alc. Very dry, crisp and lively, with pert acidity and a sleek texture; kiwi, celery seed, tarragon; tangerine, lemongrass and grapefruit skin, with a touch of citrus rind bitterness on the finish. Uncomplicated and tasty. Very Good. About $11.
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Cortenova Pinot Grigio 2009, Veneto, Italy. (% alc. NA) Clean and fresh, hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm with almond and almond blossom and an undertone of pear; the citrus spectrum in a smooth, crisp, bright package; good character and heft for the price. Very Good. About $13.
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Chateau Suau Bordeaux Blanc 2010, Cotes de Bordeaux, France. (% alc. NA) 55% sauvignon blanc, 35% semillon, 10% muscadelle. A lovely white Bordeaux, brisk and refreshing, bordering on elegance; pear and peach, jasmine and honeysuckle, surprising hint of pineapple; all suppleness and subtlety but in a lively arrangement of balancing elements. Very Good+. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Lake County. 13.5% alc. Crisp and sassy, with tremendous appeal; quince and ginger, lemongrass and peach, lime peel and grapefruit and fennel seed, all intense and forward; animated, provocative in its spiciness, its leafy herbal qualities and alert acidity running through steely citrus flavors. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Valminor Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. This boldly spicy and savory albarino offers real grip and limestone fortitude with enticing citrus and grapefruit scents and flavors, whiffs of jasmine and camellia, hints of apple skin and roasted pear; eminently refreshing, spring rain and sea-salt with a bracing punch of earth and bitterness on the finish. One of the best albariños. Excellent. About $20.
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Hall Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. An organic wine. Pale straw color with faint green highlights; nectarine, pear and melon, dried thyme, cloves and a hint of fig, jasmine and honeysuckle; dry, smooth, suave; bright brisk acidity, scintillating limestone element; ethereal spareness and elegance of lemon, pear and grapefruit flavors. Excellent. About $20.
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Benessere Pinot Grigio 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. Pretty exotic for a pinot grigio but super-attractive; pale straw color; apple peel, orange zest, roasted lemon and pear; cloves and clover, touch of mango; nicely balanced between moderately lush texture and zippy acidity, crisp and lively but just an undertow of richness; lemon and tangerine with a touch of peach skin; long spicy finish. 895 cases. Excellent. About $22.
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Molnar Family Poseidon’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.1% alc. Uncommonly spicy and savory; deep, rich, full-bodied, yet so light on its feet, so agile, deft and balanced; classic pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, exhilarating feeling of limestone and river rock minerality; smoke, cloves, cinnamon, hint of sandalwood, yeah, a little exotic but nothing overstated, and blessedly avoids any overtly tropical element. Excellent. About $24.
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Black Dog Cellars Chardonnay 2010, Sonoma Coast. (% alc. NA) Exactly the kind of chardonnay I would drink all the time: lovely purity and intensity of the grape; exquisite balance and integration of all features; pale straw-gold color; pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors highlighted by cloves and limestone; oak lends firmness, suavity and suppleness; there’s a touch of camellia in the nose, and an intriguing bit of resinous grip in the long resonant finish, all bound by acidity you could practically strum like a harp. Sadly only 313 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Morgan “Highland” Chardonnay 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 13.8% alc. Bright straw-gold color; fresh, clean, boldly spicy, apple, pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors, just a hint of mango; lovely finesse, balance and integration; rich but not creamy pineapple and grapefruit flavors, touch of cloves and buttered cinnamon toast, all beautifully modulated; limestone and flint come in on the finish. Excellent. About $26.
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And two reds:
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Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red 2009, Lake County. 14.2% alc. 38% zinfandel, 18% tempranillo, 13% barbera, 12% merlot, 12% cabernet sauvignon, 7% grenache. A pastiche of grapes that produced a warm, spicy, fleshy fruity and engaging wine; dark ruby-magenta color; cassis and blueberry, lavender, lilac and licorice; graphite and shale; hint of cloves and vanilla; quite dry, but juicy with black and blue fruit flavors supported by dense chewy tannins and burnished oak. Great for pizzas, burgers and such. Very Good+. About $17.
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Amalaya 2010, Calcahquí, Salta, Argentina. 14% alc. Malbec 75%, cabernet sauvignon 15%, tannat 5%, syrah 5%. Dark ruby-purple color; what a nose: rose hips and fruitcake, walnut shell, black currants, black raspberries and blueberries, cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate, graphite; in the mouth, very dry, very intense and concentrated, amid the tightly-packed tannins and firm oak a deep core of spiced and macerated blackberries and currants, lavender and licorice, briers and brambles. Needs a grateful steak. Very Good+. About $17.
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Today’s “Friday Wine Sips” offers four whites and four reds and that adds up to eight wines if what my high school math teacher Miss Bridger said still holds true. The geographical range includes California, Washington state, New Zealand, Sicily and Austria; the price range is $14 to $20, with a couple of products representing real value. No technical or historical data or philosophical ruminations; just snappy comments taken directly from my notes to give you the essence. These were all samples for review.
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Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc “The Fume” 2010, North Coast, California. 13.5% alc. Clean, fresh, buoyant; roasted lemon, tangerine, lime peel; bright and leafy; dried thyme and tarragon; a crisp arrow of grapefruit through the limestone bullseye. Quite tasty. Very Good. About $14, a Bargain.
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Airfield Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.6% alc. Apple blossom and grapefruit skin; burgeoning and penetrating limestone and flint-like minerality; pungent, resonant, scintillating with crystalline acidity and high-toned touches of quince and ginger, ripe stone-fruit permeated by smoke and cloves; deftly balances a soft, almost talc-like effect with crisp bone and sinew and river rocks. Lovely and delicious. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Martinborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Suave and savory, with an air of blitheness and frank appeal; lemon, lime peel and gooseberry with notes of cloves and ginger, fresh-mown hay and lemongrass; crisp, very dry, a long, sprightly limestone-flint-and-grapefruit laden finish. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Owned by Jackson Family Wines) Pale straw color; very fresh, clean, exhilarating; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass, touches of caraway, tarragon and thyme, hint of honeysuckle; the old hay-foot, straw-foot motif in its deft earthiness; sleek and polished; pear, melon and citrus flavors, slightly herbal, crisp acidity and a touch of flint in the background. Excellent. About $20.
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Zantho St. Laurent 2008, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoke, cigar box and tobacco leaf; the slightly resinous quality of cedar and rosemary; spiced, macerated and roasted black and red currants and plums with touches of black olive and tar; but for all this “darkness,” a clean, fresh and lively red, suited to barbecue ribs and braised short ribs. Highly individual wine from an unusual grape. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
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Buena Vista Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. A fresh, tasty, agreeable zinfandel, quite spicy, bursting with bright black and red cherry flavors infused with hints of blueberry and boysenberry; mannerly elements of tannin and oak, clean brisk acidity. Sports the new “old-timey” Buena Vista Viticultural Society label. For burgers and pizzas. Very Good. About $15.
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Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri Nero d’Avola 2009, Sicily. 14% alc. Refreshing and vibrant, this wine avoids the rusticity displayed by many nero d’Avolas; delicious red and black currant flavors, very spicy, a little briery and brambly; grows darker, more intense as the moments pass, conjuring notes of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, tar and graphite. Direct and satisfying. Very Good+. About $20.
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Craggy Range Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2010, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. 80% merlot, 8% each cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec. Very harmonious initially but with an edge of briers and brambles, forest floor and graphite and an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate; black cherry and red and black currants with a touch of blueberry; gets quite dry, packs some tannic, minerally austerity into the finish. Try with a steak or barbecue brisket. Very Good+. About $20.
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Specialization can be a great thing; I wish more wineries practiced the habit rather than trying to be all things to all people. Kelly Fleming Wines, established in 1998, makes only limited bottlings of a sauvignon blanc wine and a cabernet sauvignon, each 100 percent varietal. Fleming (pictured below) bought 300 acres in the northward Calistoga appellation of Napa Valley, but devotes only 12 acres to organically framed vines, allowing much of the rest of the estate to remain as the wilderness it was. The first vintage, a cabernet from 2002, was released in 2005. The 5,000-square-foot winery, designed by Taylor Lombardo architects of San Francisco, opened in 2010; the underground barrel “room” is a cavern blasted by dynamite 200 feet into a limestone hillside.

The winery enterprise is dominated by the talents of women. While Fleming’s son Robert works in sales and her vineyard manager is Jeff Roberts, the winemaker is Celia Welch, who has made wine for Staglin Family, DR Stephens and Hartwell, and assistant winemaker is Becky George; the winery’s assistant manager is Fleming’s daughter Colleen. As I mentioned in a post last week, one of the most gratifying aspects of writing about wine is being introduced to estates whose wines I have not only not experienced before but haven’t heard of. I’m happy to have tried these expertly turned out and attractive wines and look forward to their successors.

These were samples for review. Images from kellyflemingwines.com.
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The Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley, is not made from estate grapes, but from Oakville grapes, including some from the legendary To Kalon vineyard, supplemented with fruit from Pope Valley, the latter a hotter and drier, more isolated Napa appellation mainly known for being home to St. Supery’s Dollarhide Ranch. The wine is made 80 percent in stainless steel and 20 percent in new French oak, aging for six months. Produced from the aromatic sauvignon musque clone, the Kelly Fleming Sauvignon Blanc 2010 lives up to that source with its scents of lemongrass and jasmine, honeydew melon and fig along with notes of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, celery seed and tarragon; though complex and layered, the bouquet is blessedly free of exaggeration. In the mouth, this sauvignon blanc is gracefully influenced by a sheen of soft spicy oak, while retaining an aura of lively, almost alert acidity that buoys flavors of roasted lemon, greengage (that is, yellow) plum and a strain of sunny, leafy fig; the finish is imbued with scintillating limestone and a bright arrow of bracing grapefruit bitterness. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Truly one of the best sauvignon blanc wines made in Napa Valley. 540 cases. Excellent. About $30, and Worth a Search.
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The Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley, is made completely from estate grapes grown on the winery’s 12 acres. The wine ages in 85 percent new French oak barrels for 20 months. The color is a glamorous robe of dark ruby with a vestment of blue-purple at the rim. What a bouquet! Black currants and blueberries, fruitcake and black cherry tart, cumin and cardamom and ancho chile, with a bite of black pepper and smoky graphite. The whole package is framed by dense, dusty finely-milled tannins and oak that feels burnished to an ebon glow; that oak comes up more forcefully from mid-palate back through the long earthy, mineral-defined finish, though none of this structure, profound as it is, prevents the taster from perceiving how deep and rich and ripe the black and blue fruit flavors are nor how thoroughly permeated by traces of lavender and licorice, potpourri and slightly bitter mocha; a touch of austerity contributes to the wine’s dignity and integrity. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Production was 700 cases. Excellent. About $90.
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Here are notes on two terrific French white wines we took to dinner at Restaurant Iris in Memphis. Great meal, too, and thanks to our generous friend Allison Jacob, editor and publisher of CorkIt! magazine, for bringing the splendid Eagles Trace Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley.
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Chateau La Louvière, fortuitously located in the Bordeaux commune of Pessac-Léognan, traces its origins to the year 1476, when the first vines were planted, though for the modern period the important date is 1965, when André Lurton acquired the property and completely transformed it. The exquisite Neo-Classical style chateau, dating from the late 18th Century, is listed in the official Roster of Historic Properties. La Louvière produces about 12,500 cases of red wine and about 4,160 cases of white wine annually, as well as red and white wines under the second label, L de La Louvière. The cepage for the blanc is 85 percent sauvignon blanc and 15 percent semillon. The wine ages typically for 12 months in a combination of oak barrels, 30 to 50 percent new, depending on the year.

Chateau La Louvière 2009, Pessac-Léognan, is about exactly what one wants a sauvignon blanc-based wine to be, or at least it thoroughly convinces you that that’s the case when you’re drinking it. (Pessac-Léognan was separated from Graves in 1987 and granted its own AOC status; most of the finest chateaus in this former area of Graves were included in the new appellation.) The wine opens with a burst of roasted lemon and a snap of flint, quickly joined by notes of grapefruit and jasmine, lemon curd and acacia; a few minutes in the glass unfold hints of a sunny, leafy, slightly herbal element and a touch of fig. This is so clean and fresh, utterly youthful, shot through with bright, almost joyful acidity — well, the liveliness makes you feel that happy — and bolstered by a keen limestone edge; these factors do not prevent the wine from exhibiting lovely resonance and vibrancy and a texture that’s close to talc-like while balanced by intense crispness and a supple, lacy spiced oak structure. So complete, pure and intense, yet balletic and light on its feet. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. Average price in the U.S. is $42, but I sure did pay $50 right here in good ol’ Memphis, Tennessee.

Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, White Plains, N.Y.
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The William Fevre Bougros Grand Cru Chablis 2006 is the best white wine I have tasted in a blue moon; it’s the kind of wine to which one says, “O.K., I place myself in your hands. Do with me what you will.” This is an astonishing revelation of the purity, intensity and authority of the chardonnay grape, and while the wine does undergo oak aging — a controversial position in Chablis where many great wines are made in stainless steel — the amount of new oak barrels at the domaine was reduced in 1998 when the Champagne house of Henriot acquired the property. The color is light straw-gold with a slight green tint; the knock-out bouquet weaves tremendous elements of limestone and flint with lemon balm and lemon curd, fleshy and lightly spiced stone-fruit and an earthy undercurrent — just a hint — of sauteed mushrooms. The wine is indubitably rich, almost lavish, yet it’s taut with crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone elements and exhibits really amazing energy and dynamic qualities; call it charisma, because this is one freakin’ gorgeous wine! And yet, for all its star-quality, the William Fevre Bougros Grand Cru Chablis 2006 is built on layers of subtlety and nuance, and ultimately it allows its elegant character to dominate its power. At just over five years old, this is drinking beautifully and should continue to drink beautifully through 2016 to ’18, as long as it’s well-stored. Exceptional. I paid $70.

Imported by Henriot Inc., New York.
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You know me. I like to write extensive reviews of individual wines or groups of wines that include notes on history, geography, climate and terroir, the techniques and methods of winemaking and evaluations of the wines that weigh them in terms of detail and dimension, philosophy and spirit. I don’t, unfortunately, have either time or space to perform that educational and critical function for all the wines I taste, and so this week, in the spirit of the still fairly new New Year, I am launching “Friday Wine Sips,” a new feature on BTYH that will present quick reviews of wines that otherwise might not make it onto the blog. In these “Sips,” I forgo the usual attention to personalities and family history, weather conditions, oak aging, malolactic fermentation and such in favor of stealth missions that present the brief essence of each wine, along with a rating. I’m not giving up my preferred treatment; it’s simply the case that I receive too many wines to give the full FK treatment. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. Today: nine white wines. (Hmmm, a couple of these are longer than I meant them to be: I have to get used to brevity.)
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Jean-Luc Colombo Les Abeilles 2010, Côtes du Rhônes blanc. Clairette 80%, roussanne 20%. Palm Bay International. Fresh and clean and snappy, lanolin and bee’s-wax, camellia and honeysuckle, roasted lemon; spicy and taut with bracing acidity but moderately soft texture, peachs and pears, celery seed and thyme. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Michel Dutor La Roche Pouilly-Fuissé 2009. 13% alcohol. Stacole Fine Wines. Lean and minerally, limestone, jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and ginger, roasted lemon; very dry but a lovely, almost talc-like texture encompassing lithe, scintillating acidity and profound limestone with a hint of chalk. Classic. Very Good+. About $20. Not a sample.
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Michael Torino Estate Cuma Torrontés 2010, Cafayate Valley, Argentina. 13.5% alcohol. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Organic grapes. Melon, lemon drop and lemon balm, pea shoots, thyme and tarragon, jasmine and camellia; very dry, very crisp, a spare, slightly astringent sense of almond skin, peach pit and bracing grapefruit bitterness. A terrific torrontes. Very Good+. About $15.
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Veramonte Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. 13.5% alcohol. Huneeus Vintners. Fresh, clean, crisp and snappy, pea shoot, grapefruit and lime peel, tangerine; brings in celery seed and green grapes, touch of earthiness; taut with acidity and limestone, stand-up grapefruit bitterness on the finish. Screw-cap. Very Good+. About $12, Good Value.
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Roth Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Alexander Valley. 13.2% alcohol. 2% viognier grapes. Very clean, fresh, pure and intense; distinctive without being exaggerated; lime and limestone, tangerine, peach and pear, slightly floral, very spicy, vibrant acidity, grapefruit on the finish. Lots of personality. Very Good+. About $16.
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Cadaretta SBS 2010, Columbia Valley, Washington. 14.1% alcohol. 75% sauvignon blanc, 25 % semillon. Sleek and suave, beautifully balanced, no edges except for a crisp line of vibrant acidity; lime and lime peel, camellia, dried thyme and tarragon, pent with energy and vitality; very dry, heaps of limestone and chalk. Lovely wine. Excellent. About $23.
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J. Moreau & Fils Le Croix Saint-Joseph Chablis 2009. 12.5% alcohol. Boisset America. Radiant medium gold color; slightly green, flint, pears, roasted lemon, jasmine and verbena; touch of slightly earthy mushroom element; “wow” (in my notes) “what a structure, what a texture”; heaps of powdery limestone and shale and talc but riven by chiming acidity, bracing salt-marsh-like breeziness, all enrobing pert citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Classic Chablis, cries out for a platter of just-shucked oysters. Excellent. About $20. Not a sample.
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Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Rottland Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau. 8.5% alcohol. Michael Skurnick. Pale straw color, hint of spritz; subtle and nuanced, peach and pear, damp hay, jasmine, baked goods; quite spicy, lip-smacking acidity, almost lush texture but with real “cut,” a bit sweet initially but finishes quite dry, even austere, like sheaves of limestone and quartz; superb balance and intensity. Try with trout or skate sauteed in brown butter. Excellent. About $33.
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With Thanksgiving dinner’s apple-walnut pie and pumpkin pie — from Whole Foods; not baking made for a relaxing morning — we sipped the Renaissance Late Harvest Semillon 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills. Though labeled “semillon,” the wine contains only 57 percent of that grape, the rest of the blend consisting of 33 percent sauvignon blanc, 7 percent roussanne and 2 percent viognier. The color is radiant medium-gold with hints of green at the center. You smell the nectar-like sweetness in the rich baked apricot and peach aromas that carry undertones of roasted grapefruit and pineapple and hints of honeysuckle and jasmine; something exotic wafts up, cloves and sandalwood, lemongrass and papaya. Fermentation took place predominately in stainless steel tanks (75 percent) with the rest in oak barrels; aging occurred in neutral German and French oak. The wine is incredibly dense and chewy, with slick and sleek viscosity — the residual sugar is 5 percent — and while the entry is terrifically sweet and honeyed (does the concept of roasted honey seem beyond the pale?), the finish is startlingly dry. This is not refined or elegant; rather, the effect is frontal, high performance and a bit rustic; baked apple, ginger and quince, again the lemongrass, a sheen of crackling caramel and with the caramel a twist of sea-salt and white pepper; toffee and taffy. The finish is long, very dry, with thyme and green tea. Quite remarkable in its way. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker Gideon Beinstock made 128 cases of half-bottles (375 milliliters) and 30 cases of standard 750 ml bottles. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $35 for the 375s.

A sample for review.

A few days ago, I griped on Facebook that too many inexpensive wines taste as if they had been designed by committee and manufactured by robots on an assembly line. Thankfully, not all wines in the inexpensive (or even cheap) category seem that way; here are four versatile examples, two white and two red, each from a different country, that do not. Actually and honestly, lots of expensive wines also feel as if they were designed by committee — “this much ripeness, this much toasty new oak, add 15 percent alcohol” — but that’s not our concern today.

All were samples for review.
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The super attractive Zantho Grüner Veltliner 2009, Burgenland, comes under a new label that’s a collaboration between two of Austria’s best-known winemakers, Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck. ( I previously reviewed the Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008 here.) This grüner veltliner offers delicate notes of orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and lemon balm, with a slightly spicy background; the spice element burgeons in the mouth, along with prominent limestone-like minerality, vibrant acidity and citrus flavors highlighted by hints of ginger and quince. A polished performance, charming in every respect. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.
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Cimarone Estate is a small producer in the newly declared appellation of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara; apparently, there’s a law that everybody who lives in the AVA has to be happy all the time. Made from the estate’s 26-acre Three Creek Vineyards, the wines focus on Bordeaux-style blends, costing about $60, and a series of less expensive wines under the 3CV label. Owners are Roger and Priscilla Higgins; the first vintage to be released was 2006. The 3CV Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Happy Valley of Santa Barbara — the image says “2009″ but it’s 2010 were concerned with — is a sprightly and resonant sauvignon blanc, registering a distinct melon-lime-gooseberry profile that’s given acidic grip by a swath of grapefruit on the finish and the heft of limestone and shale-like minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of lemon balm and baked pear. Fresh, clean and appealing, with a lovely silken texture. 269 cases. Drink through summer 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
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Terrazas de los Andes Reserva Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, is a true reserve wine in the sense that the grapes derive from older vineyards than the producer’s “regular” label, it spends 12 months in predominantly French oak and the production is smaller. This wine just damn hits the spot where malbec works best as a dark, spicy, briery, deeply scented and flavored wine with a touch of wildness about it; there’s intensity and concentration here, with brambly-graphite-tinged underpinnings to the dense chewy texture and almost sumptuous black currant, plum and mulberry fruit shot with vivid acidity and touches of lavender, licorice and bittersweet chocolate. Thinking Thanksgiving leftovers — as who is not? — then here’s a wine to drink with the turkey and dressing and potatoes and whatever else graced the groaning board. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Möet Hennessy USA, New York.

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Produced by the Antinori winery in Pulgia, the Tormaresca Neprica is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Made from an unusual and provocative blend of 40 percent negroamaro grapes, 30 percent primitivo and 30 percent cabernet sauvignon — you see where the name Neprica comes from — Tormaresca Neprica 2009, Puglia, is a wild, heady amalgam of violets and lavender, spice cake and fleshy black currant, blueberry and plum scents and flavors; the wine is robust, full-bodied, dynamic with rollicking acidity and deeply packed with black and blue fruit that opens to touches of leather, fruitcake, mint and bay, for a vividly savory impression. A great match with pizzas, burgers, hearty pasta dishes and braised meat. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $13, representing Real Value, often discounted to $10.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wash.
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We made a quick trip to New York — up Friday morning, back Sunday afternoon — to celebrate a friend’s birthday with other friends we had not seen in three or four years. Naturally the festivities included a great deal of eating and drinking, as in a small dinner Friday, a large birthday bash dinner Saturday and brunch on Sunday. Here are notes, some brief and some not so brief, on the wines we tried.

Image of NYC skyline in the 1950s from airninja.com.
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This was a hit. For dinner we were having a casserole of chicken and sausage and onions and fresh herbs — which was deeply flavorful and delicious — at the B’day Girl’s place, and I thought “Something Côtes du Rhône-ish is called for.” She is fortunate enough to live right around the block from Le Dû’s Wines, the store of Jean-Luc Le Dû, former sommelier for Restaurant Daniel, and we traipsed over to see what was available. She wanted to buy a mixed case of wines, and I wanted to pick up a bottle of Champagne and whatever else piqued my interest.

l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée, caught my eye. The wine is made by Chante Cigale, a noted producer of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a pedigree that reveals itself in its full-bodied, rustic savory qualities. A blend of 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault and 10 percent syrah and made all in stainless steel, the wine sports a dark ruby-purple hue and burgeoning aromas of spiced and macerated blackberries, red and black currants and plums. Black and blue fruit flavors are potently spicy and lavish, wrapped in smoky, fleshy, meaty elements and bolstered by a lithe, muscular texture and underlying mossy, briery and graphite qualities. I mean, hell, yes! This was great with the chicken and sausage casserole. Drink through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $15-$16, representing Real Value.

Imported by David Bowler Wine, New York. (The label image is one vintage behind.)
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Also at Le Dû’s Wines, I gave the nod to Domaine de Fontenille 2009, Côtes du Luberon, a blend of 70 percent grenache and 30 percent syrah produced by brothers Jean and Pierre Leveque. Côtes du Luberon lies east of the city of Avignon in the Southern Rhone region. This wine was a tad simpler than l’Apostrophe 2009, yet it packed the same sort of spicy, savory, meaty, fleshy wallop of macerated black and blue fruit scents and flavors ensconced in the earthy loaminess and soft but firm tannins of briers and brambles and underbrush. Now that prices for Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages have edged above $20 (and $30 even), wines such as Domaine de Fontenille and l’Apostrophe offer reasonable and authentic alternatives. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $14-$15.

Imported by Peter Weygandt, Washington D.C. (The label image is many vintages laggard but it’s what I could find.)
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With poached fennel-stuffed salmon, we drank the At Riesling 2009, Colli Orientale del Friuli, from Aquila dei Torre — eagle of the tower — which at two years old is as clean as a whistle, fresh and lively, and gently permeated by notes of spiced peach, pear and quince with a background of lychee, lime peel and limestone; there’s a hint of petrol or rubber eraser in the bouquet and a touch of jasmine. Made in stainless steel and spending nine months in tanks, At Riesling 09 offers crisp acidity and a texture cannily poised between ripe, talc-like softness and brisk, bracing, slightly austere spareness; the finish focuses on scintillating minerality in the limestone-slate range. The designation means “the eastern hills of Friuli.” Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $22.

Domenico Selections, New York.
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We drank the Campo San Vito 2004, Valpolicella Classico Superiori Ripasso, with roast beef at the B’Day Girl’s Big Dinner Bash. I first reviewed the wine in July 2009; here are the notes:

For wine, I opened the Campo San Vito Valpolicella 2004, Classico Superiore Ripasso, a wine that also conveyed a sense of intensity and concentration. Ripasso is a method in which certain Valpolicella wines are “refermented,” in the March after harvest, on the lees of Amarone wines; the process lends these wines added richness and depth. The color here is almost motor-oil black, with a glowing blue/purple rim; the bouquet is minty and meaty, bursting with cassis, Damson plums, smoke, licorice and lavender and a whole boxful of dried spices. Yes, this is so exotic that it’s close to pornographic, but the wine is not too easy, on the one hand, or overbearing, on the other, because it possesses the acid and tannic structure, as well as two years in oak, to express its purposeful nature and rigorous underpinnings. Flavors of black currant and plum, with a touch of mulberry, are permeated by spice, potpourri and granite, as if all ground together in a mortar; the finish, increasingly austere, gathers more dust and minerals. Quite an experience and really good with our dinner. Limited availability in the Northeast. Excellent. About $25.

What was the wine like two years later, at the age of seven? A lovely and beguiling expression of its grapes — corvina, molinara, rondinella — still holding its dark ruby hue and all violets and rose petals, tar and black tea and lavender, stewed plums and blueberries with an almost eloquent sense of firmness, mellow, gently tucked-in tannins and vivid acidity, but after 30 or 40 minutes, it began to show signs of coming apart at the seams, with acid taking ascendancy. Drink now. Very Good+ and showing its age, but everyone should hope to do so in such graceful manner.

Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.
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And two rosé wines:

The house of Couly-Dutheil produces one of my favorite Loire Valley rosés, so it’s not surprising that I found the Couly-Dutheil “René Couly” Chinon Rosé 2010 to be very attractive. This is 100 percent cabernet franc, sporting a classic pale onion skin hue with a blush of copper; so damned pretty, with its notes of dried strawberries and red currants over earthy layers of damp ash and loam and a bright undertone of spiced peach, all resolving to red currant and orange rind flavors and shades of rhubarb and limestone. Dry, crisp and frankly delightful. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Spring 2012. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by Cynthia Hurley, West Newton, Mass.

Ah, but here comes what could be the best rosé wine I have tasted. O.K., not to be extreme, one of the best rosés I have ever tasted.

L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche, comes in a Big Deal heavy bottle with a deep punt (the indentation at the bottom); instead of being in a clear bottle, to show off the pretty rosé color, L’audacieuse 2010 is contained within a bottle of serious dark green glass. The producers of this prodigy, a blend of 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent cinsault, are Benoit and Florence Chazallon. The estate centers around the Chateau de la Selve, a fortified house built in the 13th Century. The grapes for L’audacieuse 2010 are grown under organic methods and fermented with natural yeasts, 1/2 in barriques and 1/2 in concrete vats; it aged six months in barriques. The color is pale but radiant onion skin or what the French call “eye of the partridge.” An enchanting yet slightly reticent bouquet of apples, lemon rind, orange zest and dried red currants wafts from the glass; in the mouth, well, the wine feels as if you were sipping liquid limestone suffused with some grapey-citrus-red fruit essence, enlivened by striking acidity and dry as a sun-bleached bone. While that description may make the wine sound formidable, especially for a rosé — and it is as audacious as its name — its real character embodies elegance and sophistication, integration and balance of all elements, but with something ineffably wild and plangent about it. This is, in a word, a great rosé. 13 percent alcohol. Production was all of 2,100 bottles and 80 magnums. Drink through Summer 2012. Excellent. About $30 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Metrowine Distribution Co., Stamford, Conn.
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I bought the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé so LL and I could toast our friend Saturday evening before going to her Big B’Day Bash. The house was founded in 1818, but the Billecart family has roots in Champagne going back to the 16th Century. According to Tom Stevenson, in the revised and updated edition of World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, 2003, and really needing another revision and updating), the blend of the Brut Rosé is 35 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 30 percent chardonnay. What can I say? This is a bountifully effervescent rosé Champagne of the utmost refinement, elegance and finesse, yet its ethereal nature is bolstered by an earthy quality that encompasses notes of limestone and shale and by a dose of subtle nuttiness and toffee, while exquisite tendrils of orange rind, roasted lemon and red currants are threaded through it; zesty acidity keeps it fresh and lively. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $78; prices around the country vary from about $75 to $90.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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