Tuscany


An Italian pinot grigio and a Chianti Classico, and you’re thinking, “Ho-hum, hum-drum,” but you couldn’t be more wrong. Each is a superior and eloquent expression of grape variety and geography, and they should not be missed.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa Cal. These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform my readers by the FCC, though print journalists are not so required.
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Pinot grigio here, pinot grigio there, blah blah blah, and then I run across a pinot grigio wine that gives the distinct impression that it performs exactly as the grape was meant to perform in its Platonic ideal. This one is the Ascevi Luwa Pinot Grigio 2010 from Italy’s Collio D.O.C. in the northeastern Friuli Venezia Giulia region, right up near the border with Slovenia. Made completely in stainless steel, this pinot grigio exudes a floral-fruity-mineral-laced presence that feels not only irresistible but totally authentic and inevitable. The color is pale yellow-gold; the nose is a remarkable weaving of roasted lemons and lemon balm, verbena and mint, dried thyme, almond and almond blossom, a touch of hay or straw, and then, after a few moments in the glass, comes a waft of a bracing iodine-tinged salt-marsh briskness. No, friends, this is not your ordinary pinot grigio. In the mouth, the wine is smooth and sleek, tasty indeed with lemon, lime and lime peel flavors highlighted by cloves and a hint of licorice, all bolstered by crisp, clean acidity and a burgeoning limestone element, wrapped, finally, by a persistent lime-grapefruit finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. This is almost too good to serve merely as an aperitif, or if you ask it to perform such function make certain to accompany it with snacks like grilled baby octopus or white bean-and-sage bruschetta or a selection of mild charcuterie. Drink now through the end of 2012. Excellent. About $19.
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Italy, again, this time Tuscany, for the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a wine made along modern lines — “modern” since the 1980s — that manages to be completely and happily old-fashioned in effect. The decree of 1984 called for a minimum of 75 percent sangiovese grapes and permitted small amounts of the traditional blending grapes for Chianti Classico, up to 10 percent red canaiolo grapes and five percent white trebbiano and malvasia, and up to 15 percent of what were called “authorized” grapes, that is nontraditional “outsider,” i.e., international, grapes such as merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The Vignole 2008 forgoes the traditional grapes by adding 15 percent merlot to 85 percent sangiovese. Aging in small French barriques is close to ubiquitous in Tuscany now, though Chianti Classico usually is not put through new oak and is better off so. This estate, located in Panzano, noted as a superior site for Chianti Classico since the mid-19th Century, ages the merlot in medium-size casks and the sangiovese in barriques, each for 12 months, followed by two years aging in bottles.

I was completely beguiled by the bouquet of the Vignole 2008, Chianti Classico, a nuanced amalgam of slightly spiced and macerated blueberries and cranberries, with touches of mulberries and plums and undertones of briers and brambles and some wild, woody, foresty aspect; eight or 10 minutes in the glass bring out hints of rose petals and pomegranate. Those earthier elements, the warmth and spice, the red and blue fruit gather in the mouth to be cushioned by dense but soft, supple tannins and subtly-expressed oak, all unfolding around a core of black tea, dried orange zest, sandalwood and potpourri, and enlivened by bright acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. What a pleasure to drink a Chianti Classico — this was with our Saturday Movie Night pizza — that’s not over-extracted or a slave to new French oak or New World dictates. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’15 with rabbit or veal or small game birds. Excellent. About $37.
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Mixed reds and whites today, with some great wines, some good wines and some clunkers. Geography and prices are all over the map; this is how it gets done. Arrangement is by ascending outlay of shekels. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. As is the case with this “Friday Wine Sips” series, inaugurated last week, these brief reviews do not go into the more technical aspects of winemaking, history or geography.
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Un4seen Red Wine 2009, California (though Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.9% alc. A blend of zinfandel, malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Nothing offensive but even inexpensive wine needs more personality than this example of the bland leading the bland. Good. About $11.
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Much better is the un4seen White Wine 2010, California (again, Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.5% alc. A blend of chardonnay, semillon, moscato & viognier. Pale straw color with faint green tinge; fresh apple and peach, slightly leafy and floral, touch of fig; very dry and crisp, very nice texture, almost lush, vibrant, spicy; hint of grapefruit on the finish. Charming; drink up. Very Good. About $11, A Bargain.
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Villa Antinori 2010, Toscana I.G.T., Bianco. 12% alc. 50% trebbiano & malvasia, 35% pinot bianco & pinot grigio, 15% riesling. Dry, crisp, lively; apples and pears, hint of thyme and tarragon, touch of almond and almond blossom; scintillating limestone gradually insinuates itself (say that three times fast); quite pleasant and engaging, nice balance between bright acidity, clean and spicy citrus flavors and a modestly lush texture. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
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Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2009, Salento I.G.T. 14% alc. Heaps of black pepper and cloves, forest, graphite, smoky black currants and plums; robust, plummy, juicy, chewy, dense with soft, grainy tannins and mineral elements; unusually well-balanced and integrated for primitivo; great with pizza, burgers, braised meats. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Concannon Conservancy “Crimson & Clover” Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. 13.7% alc. Blend of 50% petite sirah, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 10% zinfandel. Lacks oomph, stuffing, character; we speak of chemistry to describe the energy and magnetism of movie couples, but the grapes in this blend don’t provide that “chemistry.” Pleasant enough, but we deserve more for the price. Good. About $18.
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Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Ponzi’s “entry-level” pinot. Entrancing medium ruby color with blue-black depths; smoky, spicy, earthy, wild; black cherry and mulberry edged by cranberry and rhubarb; super-satiny, dense, verges on chewy; graphite-like minerality, leather, brambles. Pure pinot with an untamed heart. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
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Chateau Gombaude-Guillot 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux. 13% alc. This is typically about 65% merlot and 30% cabernet franc with a dollop of malbec. Lovely balance and maturity, sweet spices, dried black and red fruit and flowers, undertones of cedar, tobacco and potpourri, mild earthiness and hints of leather. A real treat. I bought this to accompany our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of standing rib roast, Brussels sprouts in brown butter, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Excellent. About $99.
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It’s been raining for two days is this neck o’ the woods, the temperature is dropping like drones over Afghanistan and we lie poised under threat of snow ce soir. I guess Ol’ Man Winter, wily bastard, is chuckling up his frost-rimmed sleeve right about now. (Which means that the dogs have basically been confined to quarters for two days, and if you don’t believe things are getting pretty damned high-strung …) Obviously it’s time for a robust, flavorful red wine to go two throws out of three with that cauldron of short ribs you have toiling and troubling on the stove this very moment. My recommendation, at least on this direful Monday, is the Pèppoli Chianti Classico 2008 from Antinori. Whereas many other producers in Tuscany are enamored of new French oak barrels — “they’re French! they must be better!” — Pèppoli follows local tradition by being put into large Slovenian oak casks, with 10 percent going into American oak, all this for nine months. The result is a highly aromatic wine that teems with notes of oolong tea, orange rind, black currants and plums, leather and violets and, after a few moments in the glass, hints of cloves and fruitcake. Really heady stuff, though the stuffing comes as the black and red currants and plum flavors slide through your mouth with their display of supple tannic grip and sprightly acidity and a texture balanced between lithe and luxurious. The wine builds in intensity and depth as the minutes elapse, developing richness and concentration, yet it never ceases to offer warmth and generosity. This is a blend of 90 percent sangiovese grapes, with 10 percent merlot and syrah. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $27, though often discounted around the country to $20 or less.

Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Wa. A sample for review, as I am required to inform you by the FCC.

Two Italian wines today, a white from Umbria and a red from Tuscany, both made in stainless steel, so no oak influence, both accessible, approachable and tasty.
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Two weeks ago, I made the Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007 the Wine of the Week — here — so today it’s the turn of that wine’s cousin made from the white grechetto grape, the Arnaldo- Caprai Grecante 2009, Grechetto dei Colli Martani. The grape came from Greece — think El Greco — in ancient times, or else was thought to have been; the same claim is made for greco bianco, the grape that makes Greco di Tufo. Anyway, The Arnaldo-Caprai Grecante 2009, made from vineyards in the Martani hills in eastern Umbria, is delicately spicy and floral, a sort of tissue-like congeries of citrus effects: orange blossom, roasted lemon, lime peel and a hint of pink grapefruit; add a touch of peach, and there’s a great deal of winsome beauty in the wine. This is clean, fresh, spare, slightly lean and sinewy in texture but also lovely in its slightly talc-like weight, its ripeness and modest density. We enjoyed this wine with seared rare tuna and Romesco sauce. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca.
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The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is made from 100 percent sangiovese grapes in Tuscany, not around Florence but near Siena; in fact, Chianti Colli Senesi means “Chianti from the hills of Siena.” The Bindi Sergardi family has been growing grapes and making wine on their estate for six centuries. The Bindi Sergardi Chianti Colli Senesi 2008 is a medium ruby color with a tinge of magenta. Because it receives no oak aging — it’s made all in stainless steel — the wine offers delightful purity and intensity of grapy mulberry and black and red currant aromas and flavors grounded in earthy touches of briers and brambles and leather. A few minutes in the glass bring up hints of lavender and violets, baking spices and black tea; the wine finishes with a smoky, slightly meaty aspect and dry, fairly dense tannins. The combination of fruit and spice, of smoke and vibrant acidity makes this wine attractive and highly drinkable, now through 2012 or ’13; great with burgers, pizzas, red sauce pasta dishes and steaks. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble Fine Wines, Memphis, Tenn.
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All right, let’s do this again. Recently, I posted the entry “8 Grapes, 8 Places, 8 Wines,” and it was an agreeable way to celebrate the diversity of wine in the world’s wine-making regions, but such an effort doesn’t even qualify as a molecule of a gnat’s whisker on the needle-point of the teeniest tippy-tip of the vinous iceberg, if you see what I mean. So let’s do it again. In the previous post, I reviewed wines made predominantly from these grapes: sauvignon blanc, riesling, chenin blanc and chardonnay; pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo. The regions were Mendoza and Patagonia in Argentina; Rheinhessen in Germany; Chablis in France; Rioja in Spain; Marlborough in New Zealand; and Carmel Valley and Napa Valley in California. So, today, none of those grapes and none of those places. The first post offered four whites and four reds; today the line-up is five whites, fairly light-bodied and charming for summer, the reds rather more serious.
These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events.
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Albariño Rias Baixas is the most important wine region in the province of Galicia in northwest Spain, right up against the Atlantic coastline. The white albariño is the principal grape. Albariño does not take well to oak, and its quality diminishes exponentially when it is over-cropped, so care must be taken in the vineyard and the winery. No such worries with the Don Olegario Albariño 2010, Rias Baixas, made all in stainless steel tanks from grapes grown using sustainable practices. Heady aromas of jasmine and camellia are twined with roasted lemon, lemon balm, limestone and a bracing whiff of salt-strewn sea-breeze; lovely heft and texture, almost lacy in transparency yet with a tug of lushness bestowed by ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors (touched with a bit of dried thyme and tarragon), all enlivened by brisk acidity and a scintillating limestone element. Albariño is not grown much outside of Spain and Portugal, where it’s known as alvarinho and goes into Vinho Verde; Mahoney Vineyards, however, makes an excellent example in Carneros. Great with fresh seafood, grilled fish and risottos. 12.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $18.
Imported by Kobrand Corp, Purchase, N.Y.
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Falanghina We are used to the promiscuous regard of grapes in Italy, in which one variety can be found in many provinces throughout the country and usually under different local names. Not so the ancient falanghina, grown in a small area of Campania, the state of which Naples is the capital; it is grown nowhere else except in vineyards near the coast north of Naples. Perhaps this situation is a healthy and profitable one for the producers of wines made from the falanghina grape, because they can at least make a claim for uniqueness. A great introduction to the grape is the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009, Sannio Falanghina. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean and fresh and appealing. The color is pale straw-gold with green notes; it’s a savory, spicy, floral wine, bursting with hints of apple, roasted lemon and baked pear, cloves and allspice, lilac and lavender, all given a slightly serious tone by the bracing astringency of what I have to call salt-marsh and some hardy sea-side flowering plant. There’s a touch of the tropical in flavors of pineapple and banana, with strong citrus undercurrents and a hint of dried thyme and tarragon, all of this bolstered by crisp acidity and a burgeoning quality of limestone-like minerality. A natural with seafood, grilled fish and sushi. Winemaker is Riccardo Cotarella. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+ About $18.
Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Melon de Bourgogne This grape was kicked out of Burgundy in the 18th Century, leading to the eventual ascendancy of the chardonnay grape. It made a pretty perfect fit, however, with the maritime climate and stony soil of the Nantais, way to the west of the Loire region. While it’s true that 90 percent of Muscadet wines are cheap, bland and forgettable, in the right hands the melon de Bourgogne grape is capable of finer things. The Éric Chevalier Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu 2009 feels like an exhalation of sea wind, bright, clean, salt-flecked, exhilarating. The wine is spare and pared-down, lean and sinewy, with notes of roasted lemon and pear imbued with hints of honeysuckle and yellow plum. Chiseled acidity etches deep and scintillating limestone-like minerality resonates like a blow on an anvil, yet the wine remains warm, slightly spicy and tremendously appealing. If ever a wine got down on its knees and practically begged, I repeat begged, to be consumed with a platter of just shucked oysters extracted from cold, briny waters a fleeting moment past, by damn, this is it. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
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Pinot gris Let’s just come right out and say that the Innocent Bystander Pinot Gris 2009, Yarra Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia, is delightful, but at the same time, while “delight” might conjure a notion of being too eager to please, the wine is also fresh, pert and sassy, talkin’ back and takin’ names, an Ellen Page of a wine. The bouquet is freighted with aromas of cloves and ginger, jasmine and honeysuckle, apple and spiced pear, with undercurrents of lime, fennel and thyme. Bright and vibrant, this pinot gris zings with crisp acidity and sings with crystalline notes of limestone minerality, while offering tasty peach, pear and quince flavors. It drinks almost too easily. We had it one night with seared swordfish marinated in lime, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and white wine. The wine ages in neutral or used French oak barrels, a device that lends it a sheen of woody spice and a lovely, shapely structure. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Old bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
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Vermentino The white vermentino grape is found in nooks and crannies up and down the Italian boot but does its best work in Tuscany and Sardenia, with good examples coming recently from Tuscany’s Maremma region, an isolated area in the southwest by the Tyrennian Sea. So, the Val delle Rose Litorale Vermentino 2010, Maremma, Toscana (one of the Cecchi Family Estates), could be called another seaside wine (or at least in proximity), though unlike the Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2009 mentioned above, this is not so much a savory, spicy drink as a wine of delicacy and nuance. This is a blend of 85 percent vermentino and “15 percent other complementary white grape varieties,” a vague designation that occurs not merely on the printed matter that accompanied the wine to my door-step but on the website of Banfi Vintners, the wine’s importer. What I really want to know, of course, is what those other grapes are, but I’m writing this post on Sunday morning, so I won’t worry my pretty little head about the issue. Anyway, yes, the Litorale Vermentino 2010 — sporting a radically different label that emphasizes the wine’s coastal or desk-side drinkability — offers subtle tissues in a well-wrought fabric of almonds and almond blossom, lemon and lime peel, a slightly leafy character and just a hint of mango and papaya. It’s balanced and harmonious in the mouth, with mildly lush citrus and stone-fruit flavors, though crisp acidity and chalk-like minerality lend to its lively, thirst-quenching nature and a sprightly finish. Drink through summer 2012. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.
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Carmenère The story of how for decades all that merlot in Chile was really carmenère — widely planted in Bordeaux in the 19th Century — but this fact wasn’t discovered until the 1980s and so on has often been related, even by me on numerous occasions, so here’s a link to something I wrote previously on the issue and let’s leave it at that. Apaltagua is a small estate in the Apalta Valley of Chile’s Colchagua wine region, itself part of the Rapel Valley south of Santiago. The winery is owned by the Edward Tutunjian family; winemaker is Alvaro Espinoza. The Apaltagua Reserva Carmenère 2010, Apalta Valley, Colchagua, impresses immediately with its clarity, purity and intensity of expression. The color is deep ruby-purple; vivid scents of black currants, blackberries and blueberries are permeated by notes of black olive, dried thyme, briers and brambles, smoky cedar and lavender. Your mouth will welcome a dense chewy texture founded on dusty, graphite-imbued tannins and ripe, spicy black and blue fruit flavors — adding a bit of plum — buoyed by vibrant acidity. Sorta like cabernet sauvignon and merlot but sorta itself, too. A terrific red to quaff with burgers, meat loaf, pepperoni pizza and such. 14 percent alcohol. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $11, a Fantastic Bargain.
Global Vineyard Imports, Berkeley, Ca.
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Merlot Merlot doesn’t receive a huge amount of respect because it’s so much like cabernet sauvignon in many ways, or at least it’s made that way, so when you run across an example of the grape that expresses some individually, a little character that sets it apart from cabernet, then it’s time to splurge on a case. The Kunde Family Estate Merlot 2006, Sonoma Valley, California, is one of those models. The deep ruby color may be dark, but the wine is bright and clean with intense aromas of very spicy black currants and red and black cherries that take on a slight edge of graphite-like minerality and smoky wood; the wine aged 18 months in small barrels of French, Hungarian and American oak, 30 percent new. The Kunde Merlot 06 is dense and chewy, robust without being rustic, solid without being stolid, and a few minutes in the glass smooths it out nicely and lends a bit of finesse and elegance. In fact, the hallmark of this wine is lovely balance and harmony among oak and tannin, fruit and acidity, while its pass at wildness in hints of oolong tea, moss and blueberry gives it a sense of off-beat but appropriate personality. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $18 — Good Value — but found around the country at prices ranging from $14 to $20.
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Syrah Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2008, Central Coast. This wine features on the label a depiction of the montebank, the alchemical trickster from the Tarot deck, but there’s nothing shifty or tricky about the wine in the bottle. Made by the inimitable Randall Grahm, Le Pousseur 2008 offers a deep, dark ruby color with a fleck of magenta at the rim; it’s winsome and involving simultaneously, with seductive aromas of ripe, spicy, dusty black currants, blueberries and plums that unfold to hints of rhubarb and mulberry and, deeper and more intense, layers of licorice, lavender and sandalwood. Great grip and definition make for a wine that fills the mouth and nurtures the palate while grounding its effects in slightly sandpapery tannins and earthy elements of briars, brambles and underbrush, all serving to promote savory, up-front flavors of blackberries and blueberries tinged with a little smoke and bacon fat. Scrumptious but with a nod to syrah’s more serious (but not too severe) side. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 with roasted and grilled meats and such hearty fare. 2,705 cases were made. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
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So, yes, this post is a miscellany, a salmagundi, a pot au feu of topics and wines with which I want to deal and get done; well, two, anyway. Here goes:
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Not meaning to be a jerk or any such thing, but like all people who write about wine, while I try to cultivate a universal palate, there are certain styles of wine that get my back up; as if you didn’t know, one is over-ripe, tropical chardonnay from California and another is red wine from Tuscany that relies on aging in French oak barrels and ends up resembling nothing more Italian than a Bordeaux or Napa Valley cabernet. So, I was pleasantly surprised to like two wines I encountered recently that reversed my bias, at least in these examples. I’m not a convert, if you please.

The first is the Seven Heavenly Chardonnays 2010, from the Michael David Winery in Lodi (and counterpart to their 7 Deadly Zins, ha-ha), an area of the Central Valley not typically regarded as prime real estate for chardonnay; actually, viognier tends to do better. Anyway, the wine opens in a very ripe, very spicy manner, seething with lemon curd and lemon balm, mango and pineapple, quince jam and crystallized ginger, with underlying notes of cinnamon toast. Holy Hannah, I thought, I’m not going to like this one damned bit! I was wrong. Carefully nurtured by winemakers Adam Mettler and Derek Devries, the wine ages only five months in a combination of 30 percent French oak and 70 percent steel tanks, so after the initial introduction the wood influence smooths out and is actually quite subtle and supple. Though the wine is sizable, and sports a texture that’s almost talc-like in softness, it’s deftly structured with enough acidity and limestone-like minerality to lend it balancing crispness and energy. Flavors still fall into the classic pineapple-grapefruit range but feel fully integrated into a package that while being bold and bright never seems flamboyant or ponderous. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $14. A sample for review.

The second example of a wine that surprised and pleased me is Le Volte 2009, a Toscana IGT from Tenuta dell’Ornellaia. Truly, I open red wines from Tuscany with constant trepidation, because I know the way of thinking in that ancient realm of traditional winemaking is that if a wine is good, it will be better if it ages in French barriques. This concept is a complete misconception, of course, yet producers all over the world cling to it as the drowning to a lifeboat; the result is that many of the (especially) red wines I open and taste deliver an overwhelming smack of smoky, toasty, austere woody wood right to my nose and palate. It’s a shame. So, I extracted the cork from this bottle of Le Volte 2009, a blend of 50 percent merlot, 30 percent sangiovese and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, with a rueful sigh. And guess what? Prego, the wine was absolutely lovely, balanced, integrated and delicious. Yes, the wine aged in French barriques, but only for 10 months, and the barrels ranged from 2 to 4 years old and were all, as they say, “third-use,” having been employed previously in the production of the estate’s flagship wine Ornellaia. Here’s a “modern” Tuscan red, dominated by “international” grape varieties that does not seem hopelessly devoted to the models of Paulliac or the Napa Valley. The wine offers the essence of thyme-and-cedar-infused black currants with a touch of black olives and wild traces of mulberry, rhubarb and sandalwood underlain by a generous element of graphite-tinged earthiness. The whole shebang is ripe and a little fleshy, spiced and macerated (with a hint of sangiovese’s black tea, dried roses and orange rind), and it glides across the palate on sweetly orchestrated bearings of finely-milled, well-oiled tannins and polished oak. Lithe and elegant, yet with a touch of the unbridled free spirit about it. Drink now through 2015 to ’17. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners, Napa, Ca. A sample for review.
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The current vintage of Pillar Box White in the United States in the 2008; in Australia, they’re drinking the 2009. Having lunch in Memphis a couple of weeks ago, however, with Kim Longbottom, owner of Henry’s Drive Vignerons, producer of the Pillar Box wines, we tried the 2007. This situation resulted from a conflict between distributors about changing brands and having to get wine from a distributor on the other side of the state — and Tennessee is a very long state — all the ramifications of which I did not comprehend, but the upshot was that the Pillar Box White 07, a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and verdelho grapes, is drinking beautifully now. Remember, this is basically a simple, direct white wine intended for easy quaffing and not thinking about too much. I was amazed then that this four-year-old uncomplicated white wine offered beguiling notes of roasted lemon and bees’-wax, some hints of sunny, leafy figs and quince, a touch of lanolin, a delicate infusion of limestone and shale. Certainly I would not hold onto the wine for even another year, but it’s so graceful and charming now that it’s irresistible. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. You can find this around the country at $7 to $12, representing Great Value.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Ca. Image from isleofwine.com.au.

Another wine from 2007 that I encourage My Readers to look for the Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2007, a cru Beaujolais from one of the hardest areas to find. Made 100 percent from gamay grapes, as by law the wines of Beaujolais must be, this delivers that true gamay combination of black currants, red cherries and high-tones of fresh grapiness permeated by briers and brambles and a hint of clean slate. Three and a half years have given the wine a little fleshy ripeness, a whiff of lilac, a back-note of fruitcake. Smooth, mellow, engaging, downright delicious. The wine spent six months in large oak casks. Zaccharie Geoffray bought the small estate and chateau at auction in 1877; his descendents still own and operate the property, now with grand-nephew Claude Geoffray, his wife Evelyne and their son Claude-Edouard. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20 to $28 around the country, the latter the price I paid locally.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.
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Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from lifesambrosia.com; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

When I open a bottle of wine for Pizza & Movie Night, I follow no pattern or motivation, no agenda. I usually just pluck what’s at hand and give it a try. It was coincidence, then, that the wines for the past two Pizza & Movie Nights were Italian, both from Tuscany yet very different sorts of wines.
Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, Cal. Samples for review.
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First is a simple yet tasty Borgianni Chianti 2007, made by Castello di Volpaia from sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti Colli Senesi area near Siena. The wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks and receives not the slightest kiss of oak; there’s a little canaiolo in the blend, which is traditional for Chianti. What do you want in a quaffable Chianti? How about a dark ruby-colored, robust and slightly sinewy wine that bursts with notes of black and red currants, smoky oolong tea, dried orange rind, cloves and potpourri? Would that get it for you? Borgianni 07 is nicely balanced, with moderately rich black and red fruit flavors cushioned by moderately dense and chewy tannins and enlivened by pert acidity. The wine is quite dry and a bit austere on the briery, foresty finish. 3,000 cases imported. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13 with pizza, burgers and red-sauce pasta dishes. Very Good+. About $14, a Terrific Deal.
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Tenuta di Biserno is a collaboration between the brothers Marchese Piero and Marchese Lodovico Antinori, of the well-known and venerable family that has been involved with winemaking in Tuscany since the middle of the 14th Century. Piero Antinori runs the vast family business from the Palazzo Antinori in Florence. Lodovico was the founder and owner of Tenuto Dell’Ornellaia in the Bolgheri region in southwestern Tuscany; the first vintage of the flagship “super Tuscan” Ornellaia was in 1985. After various complicated partnerships and buy-outs involving Robert Mondavi, the Frescobadli family and Constellation Brands, Lodovico lost the estate to the Frescobaldi family in 2005.

Tenuta di Biserno was established in 2001. The estate lies in the Alta Maremma region adjacent to Bolgheri near the town of Bibbona. The estate produces three wines, all red, of which Insoglio del cinghiale is considered the entry-level wine. No traditional Tuscan grapes are used here; all devolves upon “international” varieties, and indeed the blend of the Insoglio del cinghiale 2008 — syrah and merlot each 32 percent, cabernet franc 30 percent and petit verdot 6 percent — one might expect to see in California or Australia. Careful winemaking, however, allows Insoglio 2008 to retain individuality outside the category of mere internationalism.

Insoglio 08 is, first, a sleek, elegant and expressive wine whose oak regimen — 40 percent of the wine aged only four months in new and 1-year-old French barriques; the rest in stainless steel — lends it lovely suppleness and firm dimension. The whole effect is of engaging richness, presence and tone tempered by a background of clean, earthy, loamy and graphite-like mineral qualities married to polished and fine-grained tannins that slide through the mouth as if on well-oiled ball-bearings. As many well-made and ambitious wines do, Insoglio 2008 balances intensity and concentration with expansiveness and generosity, and while a few minutes in the glass unfurl depths of minerals and leather, the wine never loses grip on its innate, deeply spicy and macerated black and blue fruit flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 to ’18. Essential drinking, I would think, with rare to medium rare steaks or braised veal shanks, though LL and I happily consumed it with last night’s pizza. Excellent. About $32
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Vernaccia di San Gimignano has roots way back in history, being cited (as a billion wine-writers repeat) as the favorite wine of Michelangelo. Was it precisely the same Tuscan wine that was awarded, in 1966, the first DOC classification? That we’ll never know, since, as far as can be ascertained, Michelangelo never took notes on the wines he drank. The situation is interesting for a white wine that had almost disappeared by mid-century from this area of chalky hills and San Gimignano, its famous hill-town of jutting slender towers northwest of Siena. Farmers neglected the vernaccia grape in favor of trebbiano and malvasia. In a sense, the bestowal of the DOC revived the fortunes of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, though that’s not supposed to be the motivation of the official classification; it’s rather like the manner in which Academy Awards are given for an actor’s minor work because he didn’t get the Oscar when he should have years ago. One could list a dozen wines that should have been first to receive DOC classification, but that hardly matters now. Promotion to DOCG status came to Vernaccia di San Gimignano in 1993.

These observations are inspired by a group of wines that I encountered in New York on Jan. 25. The event was a tasting, at VINO 2011, of wines from 30 Tuscan properties that had been included in the 2010 Selezione dei Vini di Toscana Awards. I didn’t get to try many of these wines because I had been in a seminar on social media that ran at the same time that afternoon, but the tasting was supposed to go on until 6 p.m. so I still had more than an hour, except that after a few minutes hotel staff started flashing the lights. A wedding was going to occur later that night and the room had to be prepared, chairs set up and so on. Good planning there.

Anyway, the wines that absolutely knocked me out were whites from Montenidoli, the “mount of the little nests,” a small organically-run estate near San Gimignano founded by Sergio and Elisabetta Fagiuoli in 1965. Senora Fagiuoli herself, 46 years later, poured wines at VINO 2011. She offered one rose and five whites wines, though the estate also produces reds, two Chianti Colli Senesi and a Toscana I.G.T., all three of which I dearly long to try, because matters are handled in the old-fashioned way at Montenidoli. The wines are labeled “Sono Montinidoli,” meaning that they are made completely from estate grapes.

Some of the wines of Montinidoli are brought to our shores by various importers, including Artisan Wines Inc., in Edison, N.J.

The Canaiolo 2009, Toscana Rosato, is made from the canaiolo grape, traditionally a minor portion in Chianti wines (to soften sangiovese’s tannic edge) but largely relegated to oblivion these days, except for producers that cling heroically to the past. This is an extremely attractive and totally dry rose, sporting a pale copper-peach color, aromas and flavors of strawberries, peaches and dried red currants, and a finish of dried thyme and damp limestone. On a frigid day in New York, it brought to mind a pleasant early summer in Tuscany. Very Good+. About $18.

Montinidoli produces three levels of vernaccia wines. The first, in the current vintage, is the straightforward but surprisingly layered La Vernaccia Tradizionale 2007, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which receives more skin contact than the estate’s other vernaccias to extract all of the grape’s natural spiciness and elements of bee’s-wax and camellias and touches of leafy citrus. This Vernaccia Tradizionale 2007 is far better than the simple refreshing knock-it-back quaff typical of most examples of the genre. Very Good+. About $20.

Next is the Montinidoli “Fiore” 2007, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, made from free-run juice, fermented in stainless steel and allowed to rest “long” on the lees in tank. My first note on this wine was “Wow, so great!” I’ll come right out and say that not only have I never tasted a Vernaccia di San Gimignano filled with so much character but I never expected in this lifetime that I would. (We can talk about other lifetimes in, you know, another lifetime.) The purity and intensity, the sense of presence — by which I mean the wine’s authority in the nose and mouth and its sense of “thereness” — are amazing, yet the grape’s innate delicacy, its crisp, lively acidity keep the wine buoyant and animated. Roasted lemon, almond and almond blossom, bee’s-wax, a touch sage, a hint of freshly-mowed grass all combine for a feeling of sensual appeal and completeness. Drink now through 2013 to ’15. Excellent. About $23 and definitely Worth a Search.

Third is this roster is the Carato 2006, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, which ages 12 months in barriques, that is, small barrels of French oak. Instead of being limited to three sips, I would love to try Carato ’06 with a wild mushroom risotto or a piece of swordfish marinated in lemon juice and white wine and seared to just beyond rare at the center. The wine is boldly spicy, deeply luscious with fresh and dried citrus and stone fruit, and, yes, one feels the influence of the oak aging in the wine’s supple texture and sandalwood-like “blondness,” yet a powerful acidic structure asserts its crystalline authority and a whole topography of limestone and chalk provides unassailable foundation. How strange and gratifying to encounter a world-class wine made from a grape whose wines are usually dismissed as “merely drinkable.” I suspect that Carato 2006 has five or six years of aging ahead, so drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $35.

The tradition in the vineyards around San Gimignano — so I have read — is that the workers would harvest the white trebbiano and malvasia grapes first, press them and use the free-run juice to make vin brusco — brusque wine — and then when the sangiovese and canaiolo had been picked for Chianti, that juice would rest on the skins of the white grapes. Montinidoli’s Vinbrusco 2005 — yes, 2005 — is no winsome little quaffing wine; no, friends, this is a wine of tremendous body and character, made all in stainless steel and resting on the lees for an unspecified time. I would urge you to drink it with white meats like veal and rabbit or with grilled trout, but it is not imported to the U.S., so I’ll keep this short. Excellent, and if available it would cost an astonishing $20.

Finally, we come — at the risk of mindless repetition — to another amazing wine, the Montenidoli Il Templare 2006, Toscana I.G.T., a blend of trebbiano, malvasia and vernaccia grapes that sort of blew my mind. (San Gimignano was a way-station for the Knights Templar.) This ages in wood, and you feel that structure, that woody spiciness and slightly spare austerity, that dryness, yet the wine is, as all these are, superbly balanced, thoroughly poised and integrated, a model of two forces that wed here in sweet synergy as they should in all wines that deserve our attention: integrity and individuality. From the color, which is radiant medium gold, to its aromas of roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon balm imbued with dusty acacia and a hint of briers and brambles and thyme, to its spiced and macerated citrus and pear flavors supported by the triumvirate of bright acidity, keen limestone-like minerality and subtle wood, this is a world-class wine. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About — gasp! — $23.

I hope that I’m not overselling these wines, but it’s probably pretty evident that I loved them, not only for their inherent qualities but for the blessed amalgam of geography, vineyard, hard work, tender care and individuality that they seem to embody. I hope that My Readers can track down a few bottles.


The top shelf of the white wine fridge, that is. I received so many wines after I returned from South America that I needed to clear out space for some of the in-coming stuff, so I lined up the bottles that were lying on the top shelf of the refrigerator devoted to white wine and tasted them all. So that’s the category today: Miscellaneous Whites. These reviews follow the order of tasting. All of these wines were review samples.
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A blend of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, the Centine Rosé 2009, Toscana, offers an appealing pale onion skin color. A bouquet of strawberries, raspberries and dried red currants with a hint of dried herbs and limestone leads to a dry, crisp mouthful of wine permeated by delicate touches of strawberry and melon and a sort of woodsy berryish mossy note. The finish brings in more limestone and a trace of clove-like spice. The alcohol content is a highly quaffable 12.5 percent. Bottled with a screw-cap. Drink up. Very Good. About $11.

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

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

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.

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

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

Why, then, don’t I like this wine better? It’s certainly pleasant, clean, crisp and fresh, and it packs a terrific wallop of limestone-and-shale-like minerality, yet it leaves little impression of fruit or even the fruity/floral personality one would expect from the grape. I hate to be a snot, but I have to ask the question: Why was this wine made? Why was so much time and concentration devoted to it to end up just sort of decent and drinkable and forgettable. Well, there’s a place for such wines, but they don’t usually come with this sort of pedigree. Good+. About $15.
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The Cadaretta SBS 2009, Columbia Valley, Washington, is a blend of 78 percent sauvignon blanc and 22 percent semillon; the grapes derive from hillside vineyards planted in 1992 and 1995, and the wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. The wine offers notes of roasted lemon and yellow plums, with the semillon contributing touches of leafy fig and white waxy flowers, say camellias. There’s nothing grassy about this Bordeaux-style wine, but it does deliver sheaves of dried thyme and tarragon with a broad spectrum of dried savory spices. Elements of limestone seep in around the circumference and within a few minutes the wine is permeated by shale-like minerality, while the finish brings in hints of lime, tangerine and slightly bitter grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 500 six-pack cases. Winemaker was Virginie Bourgue, who has since left Cadaretta to focus on her own label. Very Good+. About $23.
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At the end of July, I reviewed the Yangarra Estate Vineyard Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, and wondered why the winery, which is owned by Kendall-Jackson, put the words “vinted and bottled by … ” on the back labels. Shortly thereafter I received an email message from winemaker Peter Fraser, who informed me that the estate’s winemaking facility was almost complete and that future vintages will be estate-bottled.

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

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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The Charles Krug Chardonnay 2009, Carneros, was pitched to me as the chardonnay that redraws the map for chardonnay, but it seemed to me to be just another weary Baedeker into the dead-end territory of manipulative excess. It took “three new yeasts” to get the job done here, including “Dave’s super secret yeast” — winemaker is Dave Galzignato — and while I admire the restrained use of oak (seven months in French oak, 35 percent new) and malolactic (only 23 percent), the wine came out smelling and tasting like a brown sugar/toffee/crème brûlée dessert bomb. This is too bad, because it opened nicely, with hints of pear and peach, lemon peel and orange zest, but it descended quickly to strident spice and cloying fruit. Tsk tsk. 14.5 percent alcohol. On the other hand, you will be surprised that I rate this wine Good+ rather than Avoid, because the next chardonnay is even worse, and a guy has to draw the line somewhere. About $20.
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Erk! Gack! Bananas Foster goes psycho-killer! I found the Hanna Estate Grown Chardonnay 2008, Russian River Valley, completely beyond the pale. Going through full barrel fermentation, malolactic “fermentation” — to remind you, ML is a natural process but not inevitable that transforms crisp malic (“apple-like”) acid into creamy lactic (“milk-like”) acid — and aged in 75 percent new French oak, this bastion of butterscotch and brown sugar is strenuously toasty, muscularly spicy and aggressively oaky, with an unpleasantly dry, austere finish. At this point, some of my readers are saying gently, “Um, F.K., isn’t this a matter of taste and stylistic preference?” Well, no, it isn’t. Wines such as this one (and the preceding model) are travesties that have nothing to do with the chardonnay grape, just as over-oaked, over-ripe, sweet, cloying, high-alcohol zinfandels have nothing to do with the zinfandel grape. It’s a matter of respect; if you truly respect the chardonnay grape, you don’t make a wine that smells and tastes like a combination of the dessert trolley in a continental restaurant and a lumber yard. A wine writer whom I admire enormously wrote in a recent column that he would never tell a winemaker how to make wine. Oops, hey, I sure would! Look at it this way: I have reviewed books for 25 years — I was book page editor from 1988 to 2003 of the newspaper where I used to work — and I have produced a fair number of negative reviews. A negative review, even only partially, is a way of saying that an author was wrong about how he or she wrote the book, and the same principle holds true with wine and winemakers. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in the winery goes out with every bottle of wine. Where was I? Oh, right. 14.5 percent alcohol. Not for me, O.K.? I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are wine drinkers (and reviewers at Wine Spectator) who like this “style” of chardonnay, but their palates are beyond my comprehension. About $22.
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This is really interesting, a non-vintage dessert wine, and I don’t mean port or some other fortified type. The Höpler Beerenauslese nv, Burgenland, Austria, tasted from a 375-milliliter half-bottle, offers a radiant medium gold color and seductive aromas of roasted apricots and peaches, baked pears, quince jam, honeysuckle and touches of ginger and cloves. In the mouth, this sweetheart is honeyed and viscous; flavors of spiced and brandied peaches with a touch of honeydew melon and mandarin orange are balanced by resounding acidity and a strain of earthy, slightly funky minerality. The wine is definitely sweet on the entry, but halfway across the palate the sweetness melts away, so the finish is resolutely dry and a little stony. The wine is a blend of 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent sämling 88 (a synonym in Burgenland for Germany’s scheurebe grape) and 10 percent grüner veltliner. This doesn’t project the weight or presence or ultimate finesse of a great dessert wine, but it’s very attractive and even irresistible. 11 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About — this is a guess based on imperfect Google results — $24.

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

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

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

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