Special occasions


Call me a romantic, but I was raised on Keats and Tennyson, Chopin and Brahms; how could I be anything else? So, here I am again, offering a roster of brut rosé Champagne and sparkling wines for your Valentine’s celebration. Yes, the idea is trite, but it’s also right for the occasion. We hit Italy, Spain, France and California in this post and offer prices that range from a highly manageable $15 to the elusive $100. Whatever the differences in price and character, these are all very satisfying — and in some instances, exciting — products. Pop the cork (carefully) and pour (carefully) into tall flute-style glasses, gaze upon the vivid colors, revel in the effervescence, enjoy the lively flavors and the tingle on your palate. Above all — share with someone you love.

These products were samples for review. Image from clipartguide.com.
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When a sparkling wine bottle comes robed in pink, my first thought is “Gack, sweet!” The Anna Codorníu Brut Rosé, Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, however, feels crisp and bone-dry. Composed of 70 percent pinot noir grapes and 30 percent chardonnay, “Anna” is made is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, as the regulations for Cava dictate. The color is fiery copper; aromas of blood oranges, raspberries and dried red currants are heightened by notes of cloves and orange rind; dry and crisp, yes, but leavened by juicy orange, lemon and strawberry flavors that arrow in to a lively grapefruit zest, lime peel and limestone finish. 12 percent alcohol. This estate goes back to 1659, when Anna Codorníu married Miquel Raventos; their descendants still run the company. Very Good+. About $15, a Distinct Value.

Imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Md.
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Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Penedès. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes in the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, this crowd-pleaser offers a brilliant ruby-garnet hue and a fount of tiny bubbles; notes of pure strawberry and raspberry with a hint of pomegranate lead to a dry, crisp yet juicy and delicious sparkler that provides plenty of crisp acidity and flint-like minerality for body and structure. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16 and Worth the Price.

Imported by Winebow, New York.
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Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011, Lambrusco di Sorbara, is made completely from lambrusco di Sorbara grapes in Italy’s Emilia- Romagna region. The grapes derive from the Cavicchioli family’s original 12.5-acre vineyard; though in the grape-growing business for over a century, the family first bottled its own wines in 1928. For this example, 50 percent of the free-run juice undergoes second fermentation in tank, lending the wine a mild but very pleasing effervescence. Unlike many lambrusco wines, which manifest a dark ruby-purple hue, the color of the Cavicchioli & Figli Vigna del Cristo 2011 is a ruddy copper-flame color; enticing aromas of ripe strawberries and rose petals open to a background of raspberries and a slight earthy rasp to the texture; the wine is very dry, and a surprising limestone and flint element emerges, as well as an autumnal aura, just a touch over-ripe and mossy. All this adds up to a delightful wine with a hint of seriousness. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2014. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
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The latest release of the J Vineyards Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 66 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 1 percent pinot meunier; it’s made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The color is a radiant coral-topaz hue, energized by a gentle upward swirl of tiny silver bubbles. Strawberry shortcake in the bouquet is balanced by notes of raspberries, cloves and orange zest with hints of floral astringency and spiced pears. The stones-and-bones structure is both powerful and elegant, dry and crisp, with a halo of dried red currants and raspberries supported by pert acidity and an impressive limestone character. A lovely sparkler. Winemaker was Melissa Stackhouse. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $38.
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The Ronco Calino Radijan Rosé, Franciacorta, Lombardy, is dedicated to owner Paolo Radici’s father. The color is slightly ruddy, smoky salmon-pink; the bubbles are exceedingly tiny, fine and persistent; first impression is pure strawberry and raspberry but highlighted by notes of orange rind and grated lemon peel, limestone and steel. This is a very lively, spicy sparkling wine, truly effervescent; ripe and macerated red berry flavors are wrapped around a spine of bright acidity and clean flint-like minerality. The whole effect is sensual, charming and appealing yet with dark earthy undertones. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. The image of a piano on the label is an homage to the great pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995), to whom the estate once belonged. Excellent. About $31.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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The Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 49 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 6 percent pinot meunier (slightly different than the previous release), it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Excellent. About $50.
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Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier (see below), and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Don’t worry, though, the Delamotte Brut Rosé is a special brut rosé Champagne priced reasonably for the type. The pinot noir grapes for this blend derive from Grand Cru vineyards at Montagne de Reims; the chardonnay is from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, superior pedigree all round. The color is shimmering copper-salmon, like a deepening sunset; tiny bubbles surge swirling to the surface. This is a high-toned and austere rose, built on strains of steel and limestone wreathed with orange zest, camellia, quince, ginger and lightly buttered cinnamon toast; chiming acidity and an almost crystalline flint and limestone element lend frosty if not glacial elegance, but the effect is more thrilling than forbidding. 12 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Michel Fauconnet, also cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier. Excellent. About $70, though online there’s a wide range of prices.

Imported by Vineyard brands, Birmingham, Ala.
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The entrancing color of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut, Champagne, France, is a ruddy copper-salmon color, like tarnished silver over rosy-gold, enlivened by a constant upward froth of tiny glinting bubbles; this is all pinot noir, from 10 Grand Cru villages, presented in an old-fashioned bell-shaped bottle. The initial impression is of raspberries, red currants, orange zest and lightly toasted brioche, quickened by high notes of something wildly berry-like and broadened by bass tones of flint and chalk. The balance between fleetness and suppleness is exciting, and while the whole package is beautifully woven, elegant and sleek, it harbors depths of limestone minerality and bright acidity for resonance. Intense yet buoyant and sophisticated. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 suggested retail price but can be found for far less on the Internet.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier U.S., Sausalito, Cal.
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All right, O.K., O.K., all right, I perceive a backlash against writing about Brut Rosé sparkling wines and Champagnes for Valentine’s, and I know who you curmudgeons are. Come on, tomorrow is all about romance, rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines are romantic, or, granted have the reputation for being romantic — marketers are working overtime — and they tend to be beautiful and impressive. I, for one, love Brut Rosé Champagne, and I damn well would not pass up a rosé sparkling wine from Alsace or the Loire Valley or one of the many fine examples produced in California. My preference in these wines is for elegance and spareness, great bones and stones, sleekness and subtlety, though I don’t disdain fruit and floridness either. And of course, there must be bubbles, billions on tiny glinting bubbles. numberless as the numberless stars in the numberless galaxies! Ahem. For your consideration today, with an eye toward intimate tete-a-tetes with your sweetheart of whatever genre, nationality or political persuasion, I offer one Italian sparkling wine and six French: three Champagnes of various characters and prices and more inexpensive sparkling wines from Alsace and the Loire. With one exception, these products were samples for review; the David Léclapart L’Alchimiste was tasted at a trade event.

Here are links to other Brut Rosé Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed on BTYH in the past year; all rate Excellent: Domaine Chandon Brut Rosé Etoile and Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé here; J Brut Rosé here; Borgo Maragliano Giovanni Galliano Brut Rosé here.

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Santa Margherita Brut Rosé. This sparkling wine, made from 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent glera, as the prosecco grapes is termed nowadays, and 5 percent malbec, is produced in Trentino-Alto Adige, though the label doesn’t say so. The color is pale onion skin with a persimmon glint; tiny bubbles rise in stately flow up the glass. Perhaps the dollop of malbec makes the difference, because this intriguing brut rose has something dusky, dusty and brambly about it; scents of red berries and stone fruit segue seamlessly to similar flavors that are cossetted by a moderately lush texture cut with efficient acidity. The wine is quite dry and crisp and slightly earthy, delivering a joyously sensual profile that flashes a serious earthy, limestone edge. 11.4 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. The color is radiant copper-salmon; the bubbles persist in a fine upward spiral. Scents of red currants and wild strawberries waft from the glass, with notes of spiced tea, orange zest and limestone. The texture of this 100 percent pinot noir sparkling wine is lovely, a winsome yet steely combination of crisp lively acidity and cloud-like softness of macerated red berries, though the finish gets all grown-up with flinty austerity and a hint of sea-salt. 12 percent alcohol. Founded in 1425, Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest continuously family-owned estates in Europe. Excellent. About $20.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Dirler-Cadé Brut Rosé 2009, Crémant d’Alsace. The Dirler firm was founded in 1871, but it was the marriage of Jean Dirler and Ludivine Hell-Cadé — and what a moniker that is to live up to! –in 2000 that formed the present Dirler-Cadé estate, which is operated on bio-dynamic principles. The Brut Rosé 2009, composed completely from pinot noir grapes, offers a shimmering pale onion skin hue shading to light copper and a torrent of tiny glinting bubbles. An arresting bouquet of red currants, dried strawberries and blood oranges with a high note of pomegranate opens to hints of peach, limestone and clove-infused tea. The word “shimmering” seems to apply to every aspect of this super-attractive sparking wine, from its brisk acidity to its slightly macerated red fruit flavors to its lacy limestone sense of transparency. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $22.

Imported by T. Edward Wines, New York.
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Langlois-Chateau Brut Rosé Crémant de Loire. The delicacy of this sparkling wine’s blush of peach-copper color and the elegance of its constant fountain of silver bubbles are a bit deceptive, because its composition — 100 percent cabernet franc grapes — lends a touch of complexity that many examples don’t convey. Yet it remains completely refreshing, even seductive, with its panoply of ripe and slightly smoky red fruit scents and flavors; in fact, in its winsome floral-lime peel-orange zest qualities and its ineffably flint-and-limestone infused texture it comes close to being ethereal. What can I say; it feels romantic. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
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Moët et Chandon Rosé Impérial. Here, friends, is a Brut Rosé for grown-ups. The blend, depending on the vintages involved, tends to be 40 to 50 percent pinot noir, 30 to 40 percent pinot meunier and 10 to 20 percent chardonnay. The color is a ruddy peach-copper hue; tiny bubbles form a seething torrential up-surge. The beguiling bouquet and the round flavors are characterized by blood oranges, red currants and strawberries both ripe and dried, all sifted with elements of chalk and limestone; the result is a Champagne that’s very dry and austere but svelte and supple, almost dense through the mid-palate. A few minutes in the glass bring in traces of softly ripened peaches and mint and hints of rose petals and white pepper. Whatever delicate overtones it manifests, this is a substantial, savory sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50, though one sees prices as high as $65.

Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, New York.
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Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé. This first foray into Champagne by the three branches of the Rothschild wine families is a blend of 85 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot noir. The color is a classic limpid onion skin with a tinge of copper; the bubbles too are classic: infinitely tiny silver flecks spiraling upward in a froth. The effect is pure strawberry, blood orange and peach, with hints of hazelnuts and cloves, exquisite effervescence and a burgeoning presence of chiming acidity and limestone minerality. The finish is deep and smoky and lithe, though at mid-palate the texture is dense and almost viscous. A great marriage of power and elegance; I’m not crazy about the down-market labeling, though. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $100 to $125.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y.
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Champagne David Léclapart L’Alchimiste Premier Cru Estate Extra-Brut Rosé. “Premier Cru” means that grapes for this Brut Rose, which takes the notion of elegance to a higher, more precise and faceted — call it glacial — level, derived from vineyards in villages classified as such. Premier Cru vineyards rate 90 to 99 percent in Champagne’s Echelle des Crus system; only Grand Cru vineyards achieve 100 percentile. Leclapart’s production is small — fewer than 1,000 cases for five types of Champagne — but they are definitely Worth a Search for devotees of elemental purity and intensity of purpose and result, as who is not, n’est-ce pas? The estate has operated on bio-dynamic principles since 1998. Other techniques are quite traditional. For this wine, the grapes are trod by foot three or four times a day in large wooden casks, with fermentation occurring in old barriques. Still, L’Alchimiste feels as if it had been conjured by some sort of alchemy. Made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it offers a radiant pale copper color, suffused with energetic flecks of tiny bubbles, and an utterly entrancing bouquet of watermelon, strawberries, dried red currants and roasted lemons; hints of some astringent mountain flower with notes of lime peel and lemongrass emerge from the background. This is an exceptionally dry, aristocratic Extra-Brut Rosé, with the finest of bone structures, underpinnings of crystalline limestone and clean acidity the flashes like a bright blade. Not for the timorous, perhaps, but delivers multiple rewards for the initiate. 13 percent alcohol. Exceptional. About $175. Sorry; perfection does not come cheap.

Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
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So, Thanksgiving is over, but the memory lingers on, at least in the form of this post about a wonderful riesling that we drank with that day’s ritual dinner. The occasion is a highly traditional, even ceremonial, but we try to cook a pretty much completely different meal every Thanksgiving, both of the sake of variety and for the challenge. On the menu this year: Clementine-salt glazed turkey with red-eye gravy; sweet potato-bacon-thyme dressing; mixed winter greens with shiitake mushrooms; bacon-crusted cornbread; and for dessert a bourbon pecan tart and a pear crisp. Now we’ve all read the recommendations from many wine critics, reviewers and writers this time of year about what wine to drink with the multifarious, many-faceted sweet-sour-savory Thanksgiving feast, and basically it distills to this advice: Drink what you like except for cabernet sauvignon and heavily oaked chardonnay, and zinfandel is great but not high-alcohol versions. Many writers advocate drinking all American wines for this American celebration, while other say (implicitly), “Who gives a crap what country’s wines we drink, just pick wines you enjoy,” and the truth is, Thanksgiving dinner is not a wine tasting, nor should it be an event where wine dominates the discussion. It’s all for pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ll confess that I followed the all-American wine trope for years, even serving the same labels: a riesling from Trefethen, the Ridge Three Valleys zinfandel blend and the Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir, generally current vintages except for the Trefethen, which I like best about three years after harvest. This year, I decided to forgo the strictly patriotic route; after all, America is a country of immigrants, so why can’t we drank wine from Italy or France or Germany or anywhere on Thanksgiving. I stayed within the same grape categories, California of course for zinfandel, but Germany for riesling and France, specifically Burgundy, for the pinot noir. The roster: Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, Mosel; Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley; Aloxe-Corton Les Vercots Premier Cru 2008, Domaine Tollot-Beaut. We were a small group, so we skipped from the riesling to the Burgundy, a wine to which I will return in a subsequent post. The point of this entry is to celebrate the quiet though complete achievement of the Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010, a sample provided by the trade group Wines of Germany.

The village of Veldenz lies south of the Mosel river and the town of Mülheim in the Middle Mosel region of southwest Germany. In a south-running valley there, the vineyard of Elisenberg — hence Veldenzer Elisenberg, first the name of the village, then the vineyard — was presented to Franz Ludwig Niessen in 1813 in gratitude for his personal payment of 3,000 thalers to Napoleon to prevent the destruction of Mülheim and Veldenz. Elisenberg remains in the Richter family today; Niessen was a fifth-generation ancestor.

The year, 2010, was a short vintage, short, that is, in duration and in the quantity of grapes. Despite some difficult stretches, the year produced many excellent wines, filled with nerve and vivacity.

The Max Ferd. Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 is a pale but radiant straw-gold color; aromas of ripe apples, peaches and pears (with an intriguing back-tone of red fruit, say cherry or currant) are woven with notes of jasmine, flint and limestone and a hint of honey, all melded with utmost delicacy and finesse; a few moments in the glass bring up wafting touches of quince and crystallized ginger. This innate delicacy does not mean that the wine is fragile or ineffable, though, because there’s a great deal of tensile strength here, manifested in the prominent stones and bones of crisp acidity and limestone minerality that deepen, vitally and vibrantly, as the wine passes through the mouth. Lovely, tasty peach, pear and lychee flavors open to something almost exotic, like guava or star-fruit, mildly spicy and just slightly sweet initially, though from mid-palate back through the finish the wine is quite dry. That finish is slightly bitter with lime peel and grapefruit and is rounded by a final plunge into the limestone pool. 9.5 percent alcohol. Despite its exquisite character, this wine, well-stored, should drink beautifully through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About — unbelievable! — $19.

Imported by Langdon Shiverich, Los Angeles.

Greg Davis, mayor of Southaven, Miss., is in deep shit; in fact the term “embattled mayor” has become redundant in what’s called the Mid-South because of his (alleged) shenanigans. Southaven, by the way, abuts Memphis immediately to the, well, south, just on the other, the southern side of the Tenn.-Miss. state line.

Davis has been accused of padding his expense account; spending exorbitant amounts of dough on travel, wining and dining, as if he were some Wall Street money-bags; and douple-dipping on his expense reports, that is, submitting the same travel and entertainment receipts to the city and the bizarrely enabling Southaven Chamber of Commerce, a body whose striking naivete will go down in the history of wide-eyed innocence. Yolanda Jones and Marc Perrusquia, reporters for The Commercial Appeal, the daily newspaper in Memphis, delivered a wonderful story about the double-dipping last week, in which they reported uncovering 26 instances in which Davis submitted identical invoices to the city and to the Chamber of Commerce, which for two years paid Davis for expenses he incurred in accommodating developers and people in the tourism industry. It was all part of the job! And four months into this imbroglio, Davis declines to resign.


I was particularly intrigued by a credit card receipt for a dinner that occurred on August 17, 2010, at Mesquite Chophouse in Southaven. The bill for six diners — that is, Davis and his five guests — was $469.60, tax was $42.27, and to the $611.77 total the wildly munificent Davis — motto: “It’s only money, and it’s not mine!” — threw in a tip of $200, a whopping 42 percent of the pre-tax amount. An even more grandiose example of Davis’ city-backed largesse, also reported by The Commercial Appeal, was when he and a group of legislators and lawyers dined at The Mint Restaurant in Ridgeland, Miss., and he dropped a $1,000 tip for a bill that totaled $2,509.43, including two bottles of Opus One at $415 each. Damnit, I wanna have dinner with Greg Davis some night!

I wish I could photographically reproduce the credit card receipt for the Mesquite Chophouse affair from the newspaper, but I will instead write it out in similar form. It’s as strange and fascinating a document as Barack Obama’s birth certificate in the fevered imagination of a Tea Party fanatic. Here ’tis:

Jack Black (11 @$5.00) 55.00
MIC ULTRA (2 @$4.00) 8.00
Bud Light (3 @$4.00) 12.00
Crown Royal (3 @$6.00) 18.00
ABSOLUT VODKA (5 @$6.50) 32.50
And Tonic Water
GHOST RIVER DRAUGHT 5.60
LOS ROCAS GARNACHA (5 @$7.50) 37.50
BUFFALO MOZZ SALAD 10.00
GRILLED CATCH OF THE DAY (4 @$26) 104.00
ESTANCIA CHARDONNAY (4 @$8.00) 32.00
Jack Black (2 @$5.00) 10.00
GUMBO 6.00
KJ CHARD GLASS (2 @$9.50) 19.00
Buttery Nipple (8 @$6.50) 52.00
CHOPHOUSE SALAD (2 @$5.00) 10.00
Prime 8oz FILET 28.00
GARLIC MASHED POTATOES 6.00
BLACKENED CATFISH 24.00

Here is a text (or texte) worthy of the analytical mind of Claude Levi-Strauss, but I think we can dope out some significant aspects without unlimbering our well-worn copies of The Raw and the Cooked.

First, this party of six spent $188 on food and $281.50 on alcoholic beverages, and that’s without buying a single full bottle of wine. The breakdown in the beverage category is $25.60 for beer, $88.50 for wine by the glass, and a staggering — haha — $167.50 on booze. most in the form of shots or shooters. How much food did this party absorb to temper the effects of the alcohol? Not a great deal. Three salads, a bowl of soup, six entrees and a side-order of mashed potatoes. At least everyone had a main course, but, boy, how these boys could drink!

Did I say boys? Well, I don’t mean to be sexist; I know plenty of women who can drink men under the table and still recite a chapter of Finnigans Wake without missing a Gaelic pun. And of course many women work in the travel, tourism, entertainment and development industries, precisely Mayor Greg Davis’ booze-hound constituency. On the other hand, don’t women have more sense than to consume an amount of alcohol that would cement the party-animal reputation of an Ole Miss frat boy on a post-football Saturday night?

If the order of the receipt is chronological, I think that by the time Davis and his guests got to the task of eating, it was far too late; to paraphrase Dante: “No more business was done that night.” I like that in the midst of the meal, several diners returned to Jack Daniels. Was there a designated driver? A chauffered van? Think of the magnitude of boozing at that table: 29 cocktails, shots or shooters; six beers; 11 glasses of wine. That’s 7.66 drinks per person. Just the kind of table that waiters love.

Perhaps your eye was drawn, as mine was, to the term “Buttery Nipple.” I don’t get out a lot, I suppose, because that was a new one to me. A Buttery Nipple is, in case you don’t get out a lot either, a cocktail or, I suppose, a shooter composed of 3 ounces of Bailey’s Irish Cream atop which is carefully floated 2 ounces of butterscotch schnapps. A couple of those do wonders for your blood sugar.

Apparently all the instruments agree that a good time was had by all; we possess no reports to the contrary. And every drink and every dish was free! Well, free up to a point. The tax-payers of Southaven beg to differ.

Image of Greg Davis, AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis. Image of Mequite Chophouse in Southaven, Miss., from local.yahoo.com.

I have been inundated by press releases suggesting that Port would make an appropriate gift for Father’s Day, despite the fact that a great deal of the country is sweltering under unprecedented high temperatures. (“Hey, honey, the paint’s melting off the walls. Let’s open that bottle of Port!”) I do understand the impulse, though. Fathers are men and men are manly, and manly men sit enthroned in their studies or libraries, comforted by the ease of their leather wingback chairs, surrounded by ancient leather-bound books, dim portraits of famous racing horses and beloved hunting dogs, admiring their collections of antique canes, dueling pistols, hand-colored maps and shaving brushes and sipping on a fine old vintage Port, while a Cuban cigar importantly smolders in an ash-tray nearby. I mean, that’s how I live and I assume that’s how the rest of you fathers and manly men live; Port is just a natural part of being a man, n’est-ce pas?

So I will recommend a Port that you can run out today and buy for Dad and that can be drunk now, rather than waiting five or 10 years for a Vintage Port. This is the Fonseca Bin No. 27 “Finest Reserve” Porto, and it’s the finest, to borrow that word, reserve-type port I have tasted in years. A “reserve” Port is basically a Premium Ruby Port that offers more character and depth than a typical pedestrian Ruby Port, the latter having earned a reputation over the years as a catch-all for the lowest-common denominator of blended and pasteurized products suited for a cheap and easy binge. After all, didn’t Pope pen a couplet something like this:

By the lamp-post a tilting sot holds down the fort,
awash in the sickly reek of ruby port.


Well, actually, I wrote that, but you see what I mean, right? No wonder we don’t encounter the term “ruby port” much on labels nowadays; “reserve” conveys a far better tone, and most Port firms now offer a brand of Reserve Port that exemplifies their house style.

Anyway, the color of the Fonseca Bin No. 27 “Finest Reserve” Porto is dark ruby-purple, opaque at the center, with a tinge of plum/magenta at the rim. The aromas begin with a high grapy note that expands into blackberries, black currants and plums infused with spice cake and plum pudding — there’s a plum motif — licorice and lavender, a touch of bacon fat and stewed rhubarb; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of dusty graphite. This Reserve Porto is powerfully sweet initially but quickly goes dry, from mid-palate back, under the influence of sleek dust-laden tannins and rollicking acidity; luscious black and blue fruit flavors fill the mouth and arrow brightly over the tongue, bringing hints of cloves and citron, slate and potpourri. The finish is long, rich and deep. A Reserve Port of uncommon intensity which, once opened, will drink nicely for three or four days. 20 percent alcohol. Excellent and A True Bargain at about $19.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.

In honor of tomorrow’s Mother’s Day celebration, I offer notes on a quartet of inexpensive or reasonably priced sparkling wines — not that the worth of our mothers is to be calculated in dollars but, rather, in tears and joy — that will bring a little lift to the occasion of a lunch or dinner, a party or reception. The style and tone of each of these is different and capable of creating its own mood. There’s still time to hie thyself to a wine store and pick up a bottle or two for the sake of maternal love and obligation. These were samples for review. Image from armymomhaven.com
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The Caposaldo Prosecco from Italy’s Veneto region is an exhilarating Prosecco — the name of the grape and the wine — that sports a very pale straw/gold color and a seething plethora of tiny glinting bubbles. Caposaldo Prosecco is fresh, clean and lively, with whole shoals of limestone and steel buttressing notes of almond and almond blossom, orange rind and lemon and a delicate hint of pear. Heaps of vitality and energy, currents of crisp acidity, very dry, with a pert, stony finish. Quite charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ About $14, representing Good Value.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
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The unusual blend of the Trapiche Extra Brut, Mendoza, Argentina, is 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent semillon and 10 percent malbec. Made in the Charmat method of second fermentation in tank, this sparkling wine offers a radiant light gold color and an entrancing bouquet of dry, dusty acacia and and sweet, honeyed jasmine, orange zest, green apple and roasted lemon. This sparkler is very dry, brightly crisp and delicate, in fact downright elegant, as if its lustrous limestone-damp shale minerality were etched to transparency with silver leaf. Notes of citrus and toasted almond reveal a hint of something spicy, wild, leafy and tropical in the background, a tiny element of unexpected and intriguing exuberance, as well as a bit of buttered toast. How could Mom not love it? 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the past six months with consistent results.)
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Made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes in the champagne method, the JJ Vincent Cremant de Bourgogne delivers a tempest of tiny swirling bubbles in a very pale straw color with a slight greenish tint. This is incredibly clean and crisp and lively, with vivid acidity and scintillating lemon-lime and limestone elements (and a hint of green apple) carried by a texture that’s paradoxically crisp yet almost creamy. Though the wine is close to austere in its resolute limestone and chalk-like minerality, it’s saved from being daunting by a suave, elegant tone, refreshing lemony fruit highlighted by touches of ginger and spice (and, I suppose, everything nice) and a trace of sweet floral nature. Delightful but with a slightly serious edge. 12 percent alcohol. So close to Excellent, but still Very Good+. About $20.
Frederick Wildman & Sons, N.Y.
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The Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé is made in the champagne method from pinot noir grapes grown in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region.
This is lovely, charming and elegant. The color is lightly tarnished copper over silver salmon scale; the foaming surge of tiny flecking bubbles is deliriously mesmerizing. First one sniffs smoke, red raspberry and dried red currants; then come orange rind, a touch of lime sherbet, melon ball and a slight yeasty, bready element. The wine is crisp, dry, lively, clean and fresh, a tissue of delicacies that add up to a supple, engaging structure — close to sassy yet almost creamy — buoyed by an increasingly prominent limestone minerality. The finish brings in hints of cloves and pomegranate and a smooth conjunction where limestone turns into damp shale, and a final winsome whiff of rose and lilac. 11.5 percent alcohol. Bound to be a crowd-pleaser. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Banfi Vintners, Old Brookfield, N.Y. (Tasted twice in the last six months with consistent results.)
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… and you don’t have a really long time — like, about six hours — to decide (and buy) what you’re going to offer to your sweetheart — of whatever persuasion, genre, gender, age, nationality — in terms of vinous pleasure at whatever kind of festivity you have planned tonight, whether full-fledged romantic dinner, discreet tête à tête or a discussion about the nature of love vis-a-vis Plato and Augustine in a bosky dell, so let’s cut to the freakin’ chase, brothers and sisters, and remember two words: Brut Rosé, as in Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine. I’m just trying to help.

Image from clipartguide.com

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Three from the actual Champagne region of France:

The pale copper-salmon Bollinger Brut Rosé — Bollinger is purveyor to the British Royal Family, so the label is getting a lot of play this spring — is as high-toned and elegant as brut rose gets; this is very dry, all steel and stones, but with hints of strawberry shortcake and biscuits, dried red currants, an idea more than a notion of cinnamon toast with a touch of orange marmalade, but still supremely poised and sophisticated. It’s a blend of 62 percent pinot noir grapes, 24 chardonnay and 14 pinot meunier. Very impressive for the beloved; he or she will love you for this. Excellent. About $100.
Terlato Wines International. A sample for review.

Not to make this all educationy, but notice the slight difference in the blend for the Taittinger Prestige Rosé (in comparison to the Bollinger Brut Rosé above): 55 percent pinot noir, 30 chardonnay and 15 pinot meunier. Many other factors are involved, natch, but the Taittinger Prestige Rosé comes out a little rounder, a little more creamy/crisp in effect; fresh bread, macerated raspberries, dried strawberries with a touch of something wild like mulberries (dark and musky), and tantalizing elements of orange zest, cloves and almonds. Quite substantial yet effortless and ineffable. Excellent, again, irresistible, a playful kiss that mid-way turns serious. Prices around the U.S.A. range from about $55 to $75.
Kobrand Corp. A sample for review.

Third in this triumvirate is the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé, and the blend here is 60 percent pinot noir, 30 pinot meunier and 10 chardonnay, an interesting reversal of the latter two grapes. The color and bead are entrancing, like a foam of pale golden fireworks seething in a faint tangerine/topaz sheathe that at the bottom is almost transparent. Yes, and add to that enchantment dried strawberries and cranberries (with the latter’s hint of wild tartness), toasted almonds and brioche, an elevating aura of crisp and crystalline acidity, effervescence and transparent-seeming limestone. Really attractive and rated Very Good+. Prices around our nation vary from about $35 to $49, so this is the bargain of the group.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Not a sample.
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Three alternatives, because as fine as Champagne can be, all the world’s sparkling wine is not produced in that august region nor does it have to be so expensive; you pays yer money and you takes yer choice:

The pale peach/copper colored Mumm Napa Brut Rosé, Napa Valley, used to be the winery’s Blanc de Noirs, but Brut Rose, after all, sounds a little more romantic and enticing. Made from 85 percent pinot noir grapes and 15 percent chardonnay, this is boldly spicy, intense, with well-wrought heft and dimension; strawberry/raspberry with dried red currants, orange zest, spiced tea; dry, crisp, stony, smoky. Mesmerizing stream of tiny bubbles; dynamic effervescence and tone, gratifying concentration and weight; close to elegant. Excellent. About $24, though often discounted as low as $19.
Not a sample.

After its torrent of tiny glistening bubbles in a pale copper/onion skin hue, the Scharffenberger Brut Rosé, Mendocino County (54 percent pinot noir, 46 chardonnay), is refined and polished, exquisitely proportioned in its emphasis on spareness and suppleness; layers of limestone and flint envelop notes of dried raspberries and red currants, orange zest and orange Pekoe tea buoyed by lively acidity; a few minutes in the glass unfold more ripeness and fleshiness, as if the fruit were more spiced and macerated than dried. Really charming. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is about $25, though I (gratefully) paid $19.
Not a sample, obviously.

I tasted — i.e., drank all I could get my hands on — of the Alma Negra Malbec Rosé 2009 back in October when I was in its home region of Mendoza, Argentina, and I was pleased to find that it’s available in the U.S. of A., though only 2,000 cases were produced, so you may have to make a few phone calls in its behalf. This is absolutely delightful, though quite subtle, a weaving of dried strawberries with peach, orange rind, hints of toasted almonds and a bit of almond blossom; dry and thoroughly laced with limestone yet soft in texture, almost cloud-like, so suave and drinkable. Plus, it has this great, mysterious packaging! Very Good+. About $20, though you can find it as low as $17.
Imported by Winebow, Inc.
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Every January, food magazines and newspaper food sections come out with stories about “new,” healthier, sustainable, non-grease-bomb snacks for nibbling while watching two Super Bowl football teams destroy each other in mud, blood and gore on large-screen televisions. But come on, guys, we all know what you’re going to be scarfing down: fiery-hot fried chicken wings with vats of blue cheese dressing; nachos dripping with melted cheese and sour cream studded with ground beef, refried beans and sliced jalapeno peppers; slabs of barbecue ribs slathered with spicy sauce; tortilla chips dipped into mouth-searing salsas; pigs-in-blankets, fer gawd’s sake!

In keeping with the kick-ass tradition of Super Bowl snack food, I offer a roster of kick-ass red wines that will nestle in there amongst your manliness and man the barricades of Guydom Snack Food.

Let’s start with the Penley Estate Hyland Shiraz 2006, Coonawarra, a smoking depth-charge of a wine that smells and tastes like roasted meat, bacon fat, wet dog, black pepper and intensely rich and ripe black and red currants and plums. To give you some idea of this wine’s bragging rights, we drank it last night with flank steak tacos; I slathered the meat with chili powder, chipotle powder, ground cumin, adobo seasoning (onion, garlic, pepper, Mexican oregano, cumin, cayenne pepper) and mapuche spice from Chile, a mixture of cacho de cabra chilies and coriander seeds, let it meditate on its worthiness for four hours and then seared it in a cast-iron skillet. Woo-hoo! The alcohol level is 15 percent, but you can handle it. Excellent. About $19 to $21.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.

Or to stay in the Antipodes, try the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia, a Platonic model of gravel-like minerality, smoke, gritty tannins and pumped-up black and red currants with a rooty, feral tang. Don’t let that touch of rose petals in the bouquet bother you. The blend is 67 percent shiraz, 33 percent grenache. Excellent. About $19 to $21.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa Cal.

Also from the Southern Hemisphere, but from the opposite side of the wide Pacific, comes the Trapiche Broquel Bonarda 2006, made from 100 percent bonarda grapes grown in Argentina’s Mendoza region. This intriguing wine, which ages a year in new French and American oak, is dark, dry, spicy and a little exotic, a little black leathery; its compelling black and red cherry and black currant flavors wrap cozily around a core of sassafras and orange rind, smoked ancho chilies and bittersweet mocha with a poignant fillip of fresh cracked pepper. Zowie! Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

Shifting briefly to Europe, we have the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2007, from Sicily. Boy, this is one smoky, spicy, tarry, exotic and robust red wine for drinking with full-flavored, hearty food. Flavors of ripe red and black currants and plums are bolstered by cloves and bitter chocolate, by some rooty, earthy tea-like element, by notes of wild berry and slightly shaggy tannins. The wine is so engaging and lively that it practically vibrates in the glass. Very Good+, and a Great Bargain at $13 to $15.
Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago.

The rest of these, to set your patriotic minds at rest, were made in the U.S.A., that is, if you consider California part of the country.

“Robust” scarcely begins to describe the rustic, bumptious Seven Artisans Petite Sirah 2007, from California’s Suisun Valley. This is a dusty, dusky wine whose grainy tannic nature is matched blow by blow with ripe, juicy black fruit flavors and resonant acidity. Smoke and ash circulate in the depths, along with hints of lead pencil of granite-like intensity, dried porcini, crushed ancho chilies and a touch of dried cranberries. Potent and sort of charming in its muscularity. Very Good+ About $18.

No, bullshit, readers, the Turnbull “Old Bull” 2006, Oakville, Napa Valley, is as solid as a lineman’s biceps and as
supple as a quarterback’s thighs. It took a buffet of grapes to get the job done here — merlot (44%), tempranillo (18%), sangiovese (16%), cabernet sauvignon (9%), barbera (6%), cabernet franc (5%) and syrah (2%). The wine is packed with dusty tannins, dusty spice, dusty macerated black fruit and dusty minerals; yep, it’s a dusty wine, all right, which is a reflection of its profound earthy character and fathomless structure. The fruit holds up, though, and in addition to the wine’s emphasis on structure, it’s downright lip-smackin’ delicious. Very Good+. I paid $24 for this wine, but the suggested price is $20.

We drank the X Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, with pork chops smacked with chili powder and cumin, seared in olive oil with garlic, and then baked for about 10 minutes, so you understand its potential for standing up to a tray of chicken wings. Boy, this is one dense and chewy cabernet — with 10 percent merlot and 2 percent petit verdot — that flaunts intense and concentrated black currant and black cherry flavors permeated by smoky potpourri, cedar and tobacco, a woodsy, autumnal dried moss element and immense reserves of dusty tannins and gravel-like minerals. Lots of character for the price. 672 cases. Excellent. About $25.

The Real Bargain of these eight wines is the St. Francis Red 2006, Sonoma County, a blend of merlot (48%), cabernet sauvignon (28%), syrah (10%), zinfandel (3%) and the mysterious category of “mixed blacks” for 6%. There are truckloads of personality in this hearty, dark, boldly spiced and flavorful wine that partakes of fleshy roasted elements, macerated black currants, black cherries and plums and enough dusty, earthy tannins for whole pallets of wine. Nothing complicated here, but an engaging, slightly rock-ribbed quaff to buy by the case. Very Good+. About $10.

Except for the Turnbull “Old Bull” 2006, these were sample wines submitted for review.

Thanks to these sources of images:
Football: msg.com
Nachos: utopiankitchen.com
Barbecue ribs: bbq-ribs.com
Pigs in Blankets: girlofwords.com
Chicken wings: eldoradobbq.com

Yes, readers, BiggerThanYourHead.net debuted three years ago this week, December 2006. This brief retrospective glance chalks up as Post No. 554.

Who knew I had so much to say? (He said, disingenuously.)

I don’t know how many wines I have reviewed in three years; forgive me if I don’t go back and count each one. A lot, anyway.

What’s gratifying, besides the responses and the give-and-take of opinion that blogs afford, is the readership that has steadily grown since the beginning. In January 2007, the first full month of record-keeping, my counter program, from Bluehost.com, recorded 6,800 visitors; in November 2009, the last full month, the number of visitors was 35,739. (The best month was October ’09, with 36,496 visitors.) Anyway, the increase has been about 80 percent. Total number of visits, from the start? 836,418. So close to a million!

I dwell on these statistical matters because I still harbor the illusion that with enough readership, this blog will draw advertising and provide a modicum of income, so that while I am spending hours writing posts, reviewing wine and expressing my opinion about issues in various aspects of the wine industry, I could feel that I am not too grievously neglecting other writing work that actually pays. Or perhaps every reader who visits BTYH could click on a bunch of those little Google ads, which so far bring me about $100 a year. Woo-hoo! Yeah, I’m feeling pretty mercenary; tomorrow is my birthday, and I could use a boost.

Anyway, thanks to all you readers for coming to BTYH and finding something valuable here, whether they’re reviews, commentary, opinion, food and wine matching or the expression of a personality. And thanks to the wineries and estates, the importers and the local wholesalers that send me wine or call and say, “We’re tasting such-and-such today, come on over.” Obviously, I couldn’t do this job without wine samples or tastings and such, and, as the FTC now demands, such debt must be acknowledged.

Thanks also to all the readers and voters that helped BTYH win the “Best Wine Blog Reviews” prize from the American Blog Awards this year. That was a tremendous thrill and also a reminder of the standards that I must maintain, so I’ll keep truckin’ along from this side and try to make the whole shebang fun for everybody, combining experience, knowledge and imagination with a love of wine and food and sharing all of it with you.

Third anniversary image from wrongwroks.com

One of the traditions maintained by “Big John” Grisanti was that the first time a guest visited his wine cellar at home, he or she could pick a bottle of wine to take with them. The task could be overwhelming, so on the occasion of my first visit, struck dumb by the choices, I allowed Grisanti to choose for me, at which prompting he handed me a bottle of Chateau Haut Brion 1975, a First Growth red wine from the Bordeaux region of Graves. I, in turn, gave the bottle to my (former) father-in-law as a housewarming present; he and my mother-in-law had just moved into a new house in East Memphis. (Now a widower, he still lives there, in his mid-90s every bit the gentleman he was raised to be.) He opened the wine for us to enjoy at the Thanksgiving dinner in November 1984.

Records of vines being cultivated at the estate of Haut Brion go back to 1423. The Pontac family built the chateau depicted on the label in 1550. In his diary entry for April 10, 1663, Samuel Pepys mentions a visit to the Royal Oak Tavern in London where “I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan which hath a good and most particular taste which I never before encountered…..” The estate went through several changes of ownership in the 18th and 19th centuries, and after a period of decline was purchased by the Dillon family in 1935.

Haut Brion was listed as a First Growth in the 1855 Classification of the wines of the Medoc. Whatever variations of quality and fortune it endured through the 20th Century, the estate has performed at the highest level of quality and consistency since 1975. The vineyards at Haut Brion are planted with 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 37 percent merlot and 18 percent cabernet franc; the proportion of grapes in each wine differs according to vintage conditions. The “second” wine of Haut Brion is Bahans Haut Brion. The estate also produces one of the region’s greatest white wines. Production of Chateau Haut Brion is about 11,000 cases annually; Bahans Haut Brion is about 7,300 cases and the blanc is 650 cases.

In Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine (Harcourt, 2002), the British auctioneer and writer gives 1975 a four star rating (out of five stars), though he calls the year “irregular” and “certainly interesting, not to say challenging.” His notes on Haut Brion 1975 are ambivalent, though he rather grudgingly comes around to liking the wine by 1995. Robert M. Parker Jr. calls the year “tricky,” with “the overall quality level … distressingly uneven and the number of failures … too numerous to ignore.” Yikes! Haut Brion 1975, however, Parker rates as “a great wine and one of the top dozen or so wines of the vintage.”

My impression of Haut Brion ’75, on Thanksgiving 1984? Here are my original notes: “A great wine. Surprising color, deep brown, like mahogany. Cedar nose, lead pencil, fruity, quite tannic, emerging fruit, exotic, dry but with an underlying core of succulent sweetness. Years to go.”

At the time, in Memphis, the Haut Brion ’75 sold for $100 to $110.

Well, today we don’t have a Bordeaux First Growth to grace the Thanksgiving board. Instead, there are three bottles of my standard Thanksgiving wine, the Ridge Three Valleys, Sonoma County, this from 2007. For this vintage, the blend is zinfandel (75%), petite sirah (8%), syrah (7%), grenache (6%) and carignane (3%). I also have a bottle of Trefethen Riesling 2007, Napa Valley, because I do like a riesling with the Thanksgiving feast. Some bottles of pinot noir — Morgan, Terlato, Sokol Blosser — await in case our guests’ tastes incline that way. All American wines, yes, because this is, after all, a great American celebration.

On the menu: Clementine-Salted Turkey with Redeye Gravy (a Matt and Ted Lee recipe); Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Thyme; Wild Mushroom-Collard Green Bundles; green beans, roasted carrots and bacon-topped cornbread. There’s a pumpkin pie for dessert, and a pear crisp with candied ginger. If anyone wants a dessert wine, I have a couple of vintages of Dolce and Beringer Nightingale on hand.

All of that should get the job done.

I hope that all of my readers partake of excellent food and excellent wine today, blessed with family and friends, and remember, while you’re at it, all of those who have neither food nor wine, family nor friends, and let us help them at all times of the year.

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