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Metrokane, founded in 1983 by Riki Kane and headquartered in New York, is well-known for its Rabbit® line of sleek and widely advertised wine bottle openers and other accessories, but what I urge My Readers to acquire are the incredibly low-tech, remarkably inexpensive yet highly efficient bottle stoppers. The problem has plagued wine drinkers since the first waiter opened an amphora and poured a beaker of wine for a patron in, oh, 463 B.C.: How do you keep the rest of the wine fresh in the bottle for the next few days? Now, of course, restaurants have costly systems for keeping their wine-by-the-glass bottles viable, but the home consumer can’t indulge in such mechanisms; all we want is a simple device that will keep the sparkle going in a bottle of Champagne or retain the quality of a bottle of red or white wine so we can enjoy them for more than one fleeting occasion.

I did not receive these fairly cute little objects as review samples, nor did Metrokane ask me to endorse them. In fact, this post marks the first time that I have mentioned any kind of product other than a beverage on BiggerThanYourHead since its inception in December 2006. LL bought a pair of these Rabbit bottle stoppers at Bed Bath and Beyond. The suggested retail price is a mere $4 a pair.

We drank half a bottle of Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee des Moines Brut Champagne on the evening of June 12th for LL’s birthday. I jammed one of the Rabbit bottle stoppers in it and stuck it in the fridge, and we left for vacation the next day.

Last night, July 6 — 24 days later — I pulled the stopper out of the bottle with a distinct “POP!” and poured us each a flute of the Champagne. It was lovely; it displayed a fine bead of tiny bubbles, no, not the fountain of bubbles it offered more than three weeks previously, but delightful and effervescent nonetheless, and it tasted just fine, thank you very much. And we drank the rest of the bottle.

I have tried many sorts of bottle stoppers; sometimes it seems as if I have tried every kind. All failed eventually.

These little devices are so simple that they seem almost counter-intuitive. Point is: They work.

Choosing my 25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011 was even more difficult than selecting the 50 Great Wines of 2011. Are inexpensive wines getting better? Certainly the past decade has seen marked improvement in the under-$20 category in wines we see from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Argentina and, to a lesser extent Chile, as well as a proliferation of inexpensive wines from hitherto unexplored regions of France; Australia, I’m sorry to say, has largely found itself outclassed, though I have included a couple on this list. The breakdown here, including the rosé supplement, is France 9, California 8, Argentina 3, Chile, Italy and Australia with 2 each, Spain, Austria and New Zealand with 1 each.

The number I choose every year, “25 Great Wine Bargains,” is arbitrary, of course, and I fudged a bit this year with the rosés, so why not 50? Well, I dunno. In a way, 25 is a reasonable limitation because it makes me concentrate and go back over the reviews and notes to determine what wines really impressed me as being “Great Bargains” in terms of character, personality and quality/price ration. It all comes down to shades and degrees and nuances. If two similar wines are priced at $14 and $15 and both rated Very Good+, obviously the $14 wines gets precedence; if two similar wines are priced $15 and one rated Very Good+ and the other rated Excellent, well, you could be as looped as Puff the Magic Dragon and know that the wine with the Excellent rating snags a berth.

In a way, or perhaps in every way, this roster of “25 Great Wine Bargains of 2011″ is more significant than the “50 Great Wines of 2011,” because far more people would pay $18 for a bottle of wine than $80, with the $10 to $14 points being all-important. So go for it, have fun, drink up, but with caution, of course. Prices range from $9 to $19.

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1. Apaltagua Reserva Unoaked Chardonnay 2010, Casablanca Valley, Chile. Very Good+. About $11.

2. Bindi Sergardi 2008, Chianti Colli Senesi, Italy. “Chianti from the hills of Siena.” Very Good+. About $15.

3. Carlton Cellars Cannon Beach Pinot Gris 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Excellent. About $18.

4. Chante Cigale l’Apostrophe 2009, Vin de Pays Méditerranée. 70 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault, 10 percent syrah. Excellent. About $16.

5. Chateau l’Escart Cuvée Eden 2009, Bordeaux Supérieur. 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent malbec. Very Good+. About $15.

6. Colomé Torrontés 2010, Calchagua, Salta, Argentina. Excellent. About $15.

7. Clos de los Siete 2009, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina. 57 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot, 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent syrah, 3 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $18.

8. Les Deux Rives Corbiéres Blanc 2010, Corbiéres, France. Very Good+. About $10.

9. Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais 2009, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $17.

10. Evohé Viña Viejas Garnacha 2009. Vino de la Tierra del Baja Aragon, Spain. Very Good+. About $12.

11. Frisk Prickly Riesling 2011, Victoria, Australia. Very Good+. About $11.

12. Henry’s Drive Morse Code Chardonnay 2010, Padthaway, South Australia. Very Good+. About $9.

13. Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $17.

14. Hugel et Fils “Hugel” Cuvée Les Amours Pinot Blanc 2008. Alsace. Excellent. About $15.

15. Kendall-Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2009, California. K-J’s foray into “unoaked” territory. Very Good+. About $14.

16. Morgan Winery R. & D. Franscioni Vineyard Pinot Gris 2010, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. Excellent. About $18

17. Mount Beautiful Riesling 2009, Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Excellent. About $19.

18. Napa Station Chardonnay 2008, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

19. Domaine des Rozets 2009, Coteaux du Tricastin, France. 65 percent grenache, 35 percent syrah, 5 percent cinsault. Very Good+. About $12.

20. San Huberto Bonarda 2009, La Rioja, Argentina. Very Good+. About $11.

21. Santa Digna Carmenére Reserva 2008, Valle Central, Chile. Very Good+. About $10.

22. Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, Italy. Very Good+. About $12.

23. Steelhead Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $15.

24. X Winery X Red 2009, North Coast. 52 percent syrah, 19 percent mourvedre, 17 percent zinfandel, 12 percent grenache. Very Good+. About $15.

25. Zantho Blaufränkisch 2008, Burgenland, Austria. Very Good+. About $14.

Et les rosés:

1. Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence. Excellent. About $19.

2. Benessere Rosato 2010, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $16.

3. Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2010, Central Coast. Excellent. About $15.

4. Mas de la Dame “Rosé du Mas” 2010, Les Baux de Provence, France. Excellent. About $15.

5. Domaine du Tariquet Rosé de Pressée 2010, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gasgogne, France. 30 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet franc, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent tannat. Excellent. About $12.

Selecting my 50 Great Wines of the year always requires soul-searching and concentrated thought. After several days of these headache-inducing activities, somewhat assuaged by drinking great wine, here’s the list. Notice that my title is “50 Great Wines of 2011.” I don’t say “the greatest” or the “best,” because this roster arises, naturally, only from wines that I tasted and wrote about in 2011; it doesn’t reflect the state of the entire vast bewildering world of wine out there, but just what I experienced. I’ll admit that when I peruse the lists of best wines or most exciting wines or whatever printed in the Wine Spectator or the Wine Enthusiast or Wine & Spirits, I become somewhat downcast at how many “best” or “exciting” wines I didn’t taste. I am, however, only one man, and I have a living to make outside the realm of this blog.

So here are my 50 Great Wines, and by great I mean not only that they pleased me immensely and intensely but that they possess something so special in the way of personality and character and authenticity that they register on a higher plane than the stuff that’s just tasty and enjoyable, though there’s nothing wrong with those wines, either, everything depends on time and space and circumstance. California dominates this roster, but there are also wines from Oregon, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Australia.

You’ll notice that the venerable Napa Valley winery Grgich Hills Estate appears on this list thrice, each time for a wine that rates Exceptional. For that reason, and for incredible dedication, hard work and integrity, for believing in balance and integration and varietal character yet allowing each wine to speak for itself, for transitioning to biodynamic practices without making a big freakin’ deal about it, and for always making wines that I love, Grgich Hills is my Winery of the Year.

Coming in a few days: “25 Great Wine Bargains.”

No hierarchy here; the order is strictly alphabetical.
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1. Angela Clawson Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon (though the vineyard lies on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley). Excellent. About $50.

2. Arnaldo-Caprai Montefalco Rosso 2007, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy. 70 percent sangiovese, 15 percent sagrantino, 15 percent merlot. Excellent. About $23.

3. Barda Pinot Noir 2010, Patagonia, Argentina. Excellent. About $30.

4. Bastianich Tocai Plus 2006, Colli Orientali del Friuli. Exceptional. About $60.

5. Black Kite Cellars River Turn Block Pinot Noir 2009, Anderson Valley, Mendocino. 160 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

6. Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004, Carneros. Exceptional. About $85.

7. Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2007, Mendoza, Argentina. 350 cases. Exceptional. About $120.

8. Chateau Doisy-Védrines 2005, Sauternes, Bordeaux, France. Excellent. About $45-$50.

9. Colomé Estate Malbec 2009, Calchaqui Valley, Salta, Mendoza. Excellent. About $25.

10. Drouhin-Vaudon Chalbis Réserve de Vaudon 2009, Chablis, France. Excellent. About $27.50.

11. Far Niente Chardonnay 2009, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $58.

12. Fontanelle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 750 cases. Exceptional. About $52.

13. Godspeed Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. About $25.

14. Grant Eddie Syrah 2006, Whitman’s Mountain Vineyard, Sierra Foothills. 150 cases. Exceptional. About $27.

15. Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $60.

16. Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $42.

17. Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc 2008, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $30.

18. Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $48.

19. Tenuto di Biserno Insoglio 2008, Toscano I.G.T. 32 percent each merlot and syrah, 30 percent cabernet franc, 6 percent petit verdot. Excellent. About $32.

20. Jake-Ryan Cellars Bald Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 410 cases. Excellent. About $28.

21. Kapcsándy Endre 2008, Yountville, Napa Valley. 51 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 16 percent cabernet franc, 8 percent petit verdot. 370 cases. Excellent. About $75.

22. L’audacieuse 2010, Coteaux de l’Ardeche (rose). 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache, 20 percent cinsault. In a year of superb rosé wines, this was the best. Excellent. About $30.

23. Lis Neris “Gris” Pinot Grigio 2008, Friuli Isonzo, Italy. Excellent. About $25-$35.

24. Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi Lugano del Lupo 2006, Lugano, Lombardy, Italy. A mind-blowing sweet wine made from — who woulda thunk it? — late-harvest trebbiano. Excellent. Price unknown. (A small quantity of the Ca’ Lojera di Tiraboschi wines are brought to these shores.)

25. Mayacamas Chardonnay 2008, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley. 876 cases. Exceptional. About $30.

26. Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $30.

27. Montenidoli Il Templare 2006, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. An extraordinary blend of what should be ordinary grapes: trebbiano, malvasia, vernaccia. Exceptional. About $23.

28. Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $49.

29. Morgan Winery Double L Chardonnay 2009, Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey. 560 cases. Exceptional. About $36.

30. Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling 2008, Clare Valley, Australia. Exceptional. About $32 for a half-bottle.

31. Nickel & Nickel Medina Vineyard Chardonnay 2009, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Exceptional. About $48.

32. Nickel & Nickel Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Oakville District, Napa Valley. 547 cases. Exceptional. About $140.

33. Nickel & Nickel Vogt Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $90.

34. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte 2009, Toscana I.G.T., Italy. 50 percent merlot, 30 percent sangiovese, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon. Excellent. About $30.

35. Paul Bara Grand Cru Brut Réserve, non-vintage. A grower Champagne from one of the best houses in Bouzy. Excellent. About $45-$50.

36. Paul-Marie et Fils Pineau des Charentes Tres Vieux Fut #3. Pineau des Charentes, a fortified wine made in Cognac, is considered old if it ages five years in barrels; this superb example aged 25 years. Exceptional. About $90.

37. Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstuke am Doctorberg Riesling Spätlese 2008, Mosel, Germany. Excellent. About $25-$30.

38. Pfeffingen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2004, Pfalz, Germany. Exceptional. About $50 for a half-bottle.

39. Roda Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 81 percent tempranillo, 14 percent graciano, 5 percent garnacha. Excellent. About $45.

40. Bodegas Septima Gran Reserva 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 50 percent malbec, 40 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent tannat. Excellent. About $25.

41. Sequana Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 514 cases. Excellent. About $45.

42. Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $45.

43. Smith-Madrone Chardonnay 2008, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $30.

44. Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. Excellent. About $25.

45. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 1998, Champagne, France. Exceptional. About $179, but prices soar beyond.

46. Tardieu Laurent “Guy Louis” 2008, Côtes-du-Rhône. Excellent. About $28.

47. Chateau Thivin Côte de Brouilly 2010, Beaujolais, France. Excellent. About $24.

48. Chateau Tire Pe Les Malbecs 2009, Bordeaux. Excellent. About $25-$28.

49. Trefethen Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley. Excellent. About $58.

50. Twomey Cellars Merlot 2006, Napa Valley. Exceptional. About $50.


Felt pretty sleepy today, feeling as if I neglected something important. What is today, anyway? Oh, wait, It’s Nov. 17, the third Thursday of November! Oh no! I missed the release of Beaujolais Nouveau! Darn, drat, rats, damn, merde! How could I have done that? I can’t believe that I missed the fun and festivities and frothy, grapy stuff! I must have been, oh, I dunno, out of my head or something. I’ll do better next year. Maybe. Sorta.

Readers, colleagues, friends, this blog, Bigger Than Your Head, has been nominated for a third year in the category of “Best Wine Reviews” in the annual Wine Blog Awards. We won the first two times, and I hope you won’t consider me selfish to want to win again! It’s an interesting rosters of nominees, with several strong contenders. The awards are based 50 percent on popular vote and 50 percent on the judges’ evaluations, so your vote really counts. If you enjoy the blog, if you learn something from my posts, if my reviews lead you to an understanding of individual wines and wine as a whole, if the complete package is informative, educational and a little amusing, then give me another chance to add a third winner’s badge to the sidebar. Voting ends June 27. Here’s a link to the voting page: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CNTK5P8

Thanks! Cheers!

My Readers … I want to steal a moment from the calm of New Year’s Day — blackeyed peas, hogjowl and turnip greens simmering on the stove; more Champagne chillin’ in the fridge — to thank you for your attention, your concern, your regard during 2010. In December, a month that concluded just 12 hours ago, this blog received 61,351 visits, the highest monthly figure since the thing was launched four years ago. And here’s what’s thrilling: For 2010, the total number of visits received by biggerthanyourhead.net was — ta-dah! — 516,015. That’s right, a shade more than half a million! In comparison, the total visits for 2009 was 383,511. Wow, that’s quite an increase. Naturally, I would like for those figures to climb exponentially for 2011, so do your part, come back and read my reviews, recommendations and commentaries, and click on those advertisements. I need the dough.

Happy New Year!


Readers, today, June 11, 2010, BiggerThanYourHead is the Featured Wine Blog on Foodista.com, “The Cooking Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit.” You’ve already read the post — it’s Monday’s “Wine of the Week” — but follow the link to see what’s up on their website. Thanks, Foodista!

Lo, my children, such a thing has never happened in my many years of extracting corks from wine bottles, thousands of wine bottles.

Look at the picture. Yes, that’s my treasured Laguiole corkscrew, a gift, broken by the cork in this bottle of Bastianich Tocai Plus 2006, Friuli, which, as it happens, is a terrifically suave, layered and delicious wine. Now the bizarre accident didn’t occur as I was trying to lever the cork from the bottle. No, this happened when I was trying to insert the screw into the cork, which felt like iron. It took a mighty effort just to get the screw to scratch the surface of the cork. It was like trying to dig a hole with a shovel in dry, rocky soil. As I attempted to cope with this anomalous situation, I looked at LL, who raised her eyebrows and said, “Having a problem?” I replied, “Lord have mercy, this is the hardest cork I have ever seen,” meanwhile grunting with the effort and, naturally, swearing a bit. And then the screw part of the corkscrew snapped.

How do I know what the wine tasted like?

Later, I put the bottle in the sink and cracked the neck with repeated blows of a rubber mallet. I mean, what else?

This morning we’re tasting Barbera d’Asti from the Monferrato sub-region.

Here we go.

It’s snowing, and the roof of the building across the street wears a thick slope of pure white snow. A woman in a yellow house-dress just opened the double glass doors to her little balcony and used a broom to brush the snow off the plants in the box hanging from the wrought-iron balustrade.

I’m finding the Monferrato wines not stridently oaky, certainly not as much wood as the wines from Days One & Two. The acidity is certainly there; a couple of these so far have fairly screamed with acid, yet several examples strike me as being wholly satisfying. Of course my colleagues may disagreed; they’re a feisty bunch!

Again, though, the problem is inconsistency. One wine will brim with purity and intensity of fruit and penetrating mineral qualities; it’s the breath of fresh air syndrome. The next wine, however, smells so earthy that it feels unclean, so macerated that it’s sweetishyly cloying. And another will feature the whole box of dried spices and flowers and I think, “Very attractive,” until the acidity sears my palate. (After 25 years, my palate should get combat pay and Purple Hearts.) And I just wrote of another wine that’s it’s “so middle-of-the-road that it’s comforting.”

And I just wrote of another wine: “Dried spices, flowers and fruit, very attractive; v. intense, dense and concentrated, but fairly well-balanced, but very dry, now increasingly austere, does it need all this tannin?”

You, see? These wines are all over the map, and the map itself is not very large.

The most consistent aspect of this morning seems to be the snow.

I just saw that Imbibe online lists BiggerThanYourHead as one of 10 “bookmark-worthy” wine blogs that are “honest, outspoken, accessible and often funny.” I say “Yes!” to that. Here’s what they say about Yours Truly and BTYH:

“Sure, you’re initially drawn to this blog for its larger-than-life name, but one visit and you’ll be sold on Fredric Koeppel’s site which solely focuses on unfettered and unbiased wine reviews and tasting notes. Added bonus? He lists the U.S. importer of every wine he mentions, making it extra easy to track down a bottle of your own.”

To which I say “Amen” and “May a Thousand Blessings Fall Upon Your Bones.”

I’m happy to be in good, if not enviable company on this roster: 1 Wine Dude; Brooklyn Guy Loves Wine: Dr. Vino; The Good Grape: Good Wine Under $20; The Pour; Swirl Smell Slurp; Veritas in Vino: and Vinography. Wow, that’s pretty breathtaking.

Thanks again for the honor Imbibe, and thanks for getting it.

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