Wine of the Week


The wines of Bordeaux that receive all the attention and hype and that command high prices at retail and auction probably number fewer than 150. The estates that produce these august wines are located primarily in the Left Bank communes of Margaux, Pauillac, St-Julien, St-Estephe, Graves and Pessac-Leognan and the Right Bank communes of St-Emilion and Pomerol. The region of Bordeaux, however, has many more appellations than these celebrated areas — 54 altogether — and something like 8,000 chateaux or estates, though those concepts may be applied rather loosely and in terms of actual architecture range from palatial to humble. The point is that while you may have to pay hundreds of dollars or in the four figures to acquire a bottle of wine from a top-rated chateau, plenty of options exist for enjoyable, drinkable authentic wines available at reasonable prices. Let’s consider two examples from 2011, each of which would be worth buying by the case to serve as your house red wine. These wines were samples for review.
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Many estates in Bordeaux carry the name “Bellevue,” either by itself or in a hyphenated arrangement with another name. This particular Chateau Bellevue 2011 falls under the Bordeaux Superieur designation and is owned by Vicomte Bruno de Ponton d’Amecourt, whose family acquired the 17th Century property in 1973. The wine is a blend of 60 percent merlot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent malbec. The color is dark ruby; aromas of black currants and cherries with a tinge of blueberry are permeated by notes of cedar and cloves and an undertone of graphite; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of coffee and tobacco. This is a quite tasty and drinkable wine, its dry character and ripe, spicy black fruit flavors animated by vibrant acidity; moderately rustic tannins lend structure (and grow more prominent the minutes elapse). 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 to 19. Very Good+. About $15 to $19.
Imported by Esprit du Vin, Port Washington, N.Y.
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Chateau d’Aiguilhe — the name means “needle” and refers to a nearby rocky outcropping — lies in the commune of Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux, designated as such in 2009, east of the city of Bordeaux on the bank of the Dordogne river. The ancient estate, whose chateau dates back to the 13th Century, was purchased in 1993 by Comte Stephan von Neipperg, whose family also owns the important properties of La Mondotte, Clos de l’Oratoire, Chateau Canon La Gaffeliere and Chateau Peyreau in St-Emilion and the Sauternes estate Chateau Guiraud. The grape proportion at Chateau d’Aiguilhe 2011 is 80 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet franc. The effort here is toward balance and elegance; the color is dark ruby; the bouquet features ripe cassis and black raspberry scents infused with cedar, loam and dried thyme and a tantalizing hint of black olive. The wine is firm and supple on the palate, with a lithe muscular feeling supported by mildly dusty tannins and bright acidity. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 to 2022. Excellent. About $22 to $29.
Importer unknown.
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Here’s a terrific and reasonably-priced wine to open when you’re serving such redolent and deeply-flavored wintery fare as braised short ribs, veal or lamb shanks or hearty stews. The Vina Robles Red 4 2012, from Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, is an interesting blend of 50 percent petite sirah grapes with 20 percent each syrah and grenache and 10 percent mourvèdre, drawn primarily from the winery’s estate Huerhuero vineyard. In other words, it’s a California rendition of a southern Rhône Valley red wine except that half of it consists of petite sirah, a grape grown almost exclusively in the Golden State. The wine aged 16 months in a combination of small and large American, French and European oak barrels, the latter term — I mean France is in Europe, n’est-ce pas? — usually implying an origin in what used to be called Eastern Europe, i.e., Slovenia or Hungary. In any case, the color here is dark ruby with a magenta-mulberry cast; the bouquet is spicy, feral, bursting with notes of ripe blackberries, blueberries and currants. The wine is lithe and supple on the palate, buoyed by vibrant acidity and mild but slightly dusty tannins and a line of graphite minerality, all at the service of tasty black and blue fruit flavors permeated by hints of lavender, leather and bitter chocolate and briery-brambly undertones. There’s a lot of personality here for the price. 13.9 percent alcohol. Vina Robles was founded in 1996 by Swiss entrepreneur Hans Nef; winemaker is Kevin Willenborg. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $17.

A sample for review.

Dry riesling can be a versatile wine with the food of Autumn and Winter, at least in its Germanic or Eastern European versions. I’m thinking of such items as pork chops or pork roast cooked with apples; charcouterie; schniztel and other veal dishes; game birds stuffed with prunes and walnuts. All right, now I’m hungry! If your imagination and taste buds are leaning in those directions, try the Gunderloch “Jean-Baptiste” Riesling Kabinett 2012, from Germany’s Rheinhessen region. The color is very pale gold, just a shimmer of hue; delicate and beguiling aromas of peach and spiced pear, jasmine and lime peel and a bare intriguing hint of diesel lead to a presence on the palate that perfectly combines moderate richness of ripe stone-fruit with incisive limestone-and-flint minerality and scintillating acidity; the complete effect is of tremendous vibrancy and resonance caged by elegance and an ethereal character. 10.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Rudi Wiest Selections, San Marcos, Calif. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Vacqueyras became part of the Côtes du Rhône appellation in 1937 and only in 1990 was it allowed into the ranks of regions whose wines could be bottled with their own place name. It lies south of Gigondas — also a former Côtes du Rhône Villages commune, elevated to its own status in 1971 — on the river Ouvèze, a tributary of the Rhône. Production here is about 97 percent red, with grenache serving as principal grape. The Lavau Vacqueyras 2011 is a blend of 50 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah and 10 percent mourvèdre; the wine aged 20 percent in oak barrels, 80 percent in stainless steel tanks, and indeed it’s notable for freshness and a character that derives little from the influence of wood. The color is radiant ruby-purple, violet-tinged; the wine is intensely floral and spicy, with aromas of marinated black currants, blackberries and plums permeated by lavender and potpourri, cloves and sandalwood, with undertones of briers and brambles, smoke and tobacco leaf. It’s a dry, robust wine, certainly not elegant but not rustic, either; fine-grained tannins and vigorous acidity support delicious black fruit flavors deeply imbued with graphite minerality and earthy, loamy elements. 13.5 percent alcohol. We drank this bottle with beef shanks braised with carrots, potatoes and turnips bathed in a rich winy sauce, and the match was perfect. Now through 2017 to 2020, with similar braised meat dishes. Excellent. About $24.

Imported by Kinson Wines, New York. This wine was a sample for review. The label image is two years behind the example reviewed here, but it was a very clear picture, so I used it.

The Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2013, Napa Valley, illustrates the manner in which a wine can be carefully calibrated without feeling manipulated or over-cossetted. It’s a blend of 90 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent semillon; 89 percent of the grapes came from two vineyards in Napa Valley, 11 percent from Mendocino County. O.K., here’s where it gets complicated: 60 percent of the juice was barrel-fermented, eight percent of that in new oak; the other 40 percent fermented in stainless steel; the wine aged five months in French oak barrels on the lees, that is, the residue of yeast. So, you’re thinking, Why go to all this trouble? Can’t they just make the wine and let me drink it? The point is to create a wine that thoughtfully balances richness and substance with fresh brightness and crispness, a task this one does handily. The color is very pale gold; aromas of jasmine and lemongrass, lime peel and guava are wreathed with spiced pear and tangerine, touches of hay and dried thyme, and back-notes of limestone and flint. On the palate, this sauvignon blanc offers a lovely, soft talc-like texture animated by scintillating acidity and limestone minerality, buoying the spice-inflected citrus and stone-fruit flavors that open to hints of melon, quince and (barely) fig. It’s a leafy, sunny sauvignon blanc that displays marked presence and character. Director of winemaking at Robert Mondavi is Geneviève Janssens. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink through the end of 2015 as aperitif or with seafood risottos and stews or grilled shrimp or mussels. Excellent. About $20, representing Good Value.

This wine was a sample for review.

The Wine of the Week has been red for so many weeks that today I give you a twofer of inexpensive dry white wines, a reisling from the Pfalz region in Germany, the other a semillon-based wine from Bordeaux’s Graves region. Both represent Good Value.
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The Pfeffingen Dry Riesling 2012, Pfalz, Germany, comes from an estate that harks back to a royal land grant issued in 1622 to the ancestors of the present-day proprietors. This is the property’s basic wine, and it’s a sweetheart. Made from 100 percent riesling grapes, all in stainless steel, the wine offers a pale gold color and beguiling classic aromas of peach, lychee, jasmine and petrol — yeah, a little kick of diesel fuel — while a few moments in the glass add notes of spiced pear and grapefruit. Crisp, vibrant and surprisingly layered for the price, this riesling delivers a truckload of spicy stone fruit flavors nestled in a trove of flint-and-limestone minerality and crystalline acidity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2015 or ’16 as an aperitif or with seared or roasted fish and seafood. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Rudi Wiest Selections, San Marcos, Calif. Tasted at a wholesale trade event.
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Hervé Dubourdieu owns several white wine properties in Bordeaux, including Roûmieu-Lacoste, a dessert wine estate that goes back to 1890 on his mother’s side of the family. What we consider today is his Chateau Graville-Lacoste 2013, Graves, a dry white wine, made in stainless steel, that’s a blend of 75 percent semillon grapes, 20 percent sauvignon blanc and five percent muscadelle. The color is very pale gold; the bouquet is mildly grassy and herbal — hay, lemongrass and dried thyme — with notes of lime peel and lemon balm, quince and ginger, and a touch of lilac and whiff of grapefruit to give it lift. These elements are consistent on the palate, too, with the addition of an earthy, almost loamy quality, crisp scintillating acidity and a limestone-and-chalk quality that burrows deep. 12 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’17 with seafood risottos, grilled trout, oysters and such. Excellent. About $20, my purchase, but prices around the country start around $15.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Calif. The label image is one vintage behind.
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Here’s a syrah wine that gets to the nitty-gritty of the grape. The Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Syrah 2012, derived from four cool climate vineyards in the Central Coast appellation, offers reams of spicy black fruit and whole tomes of briery-brambly-underbrush structure. True to the grape’s youngster mode, the emphasis is on spiced and macerated blackberry-blueberry-plum scents and flavors powerfully inflected with dense, chewy, lithic tannins and evocative notes of mossy earthy, loamy minerality. Call it robust without being rustic and deeply dark (and a little shaggy) without being inchoate, and allow it a few or considerable minutes to open to its more floral, spicy, attractively ripe aspects, and you have a red wine whose chiseled, faceted (yet inherently sensual) character lends itself as accompaniment to braised short ribs or veal shanks, beef stew or medium-rare rib-eye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. The Poser may be a trickster, but there’s no chicanery here. 13.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 or ’20. Winemaker is, of course, Randall Grahm. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review, tasted with a variety of salamis and hard cheeses.


Casting about for a bright, fresh, fruity wine to accompany a pizza the primary elements of which were Brussels sprouts leaves, leeks and bacon, I settled on the Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2013, Monterey County, and got exactly what I wanted. The wine is a blend of 75 percent grenache grapes, 17 percent syrah and 8 percent mourvèdre. The color is dark ruby with a glint of magenta at the rim. Bright, fresh and fruity, indeed, with blackcurrant, raspberry and strawberry aromas permeated by notes of pomegranate and cloves and hints of pepper and graphite. Sleek on the palate, this is an easy-drinking wine, or deceptively so, because you become aware, as the moments pass, of firm, fine-grained tannins and slick-as-a-whistle acidity for balance and verve. And its black and red fruit flavors are delicious. 14 percent alcohol. Now through 2015 or ’16. Delightful and, in my experience, versatile. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.


My introduction to Ray Signorello’s Fuse, Edge and Trim line of cabernet-based wines was with the 2010 vintage in 2012. This is a side-project apart from his Signorello Estate. The motive was to produce inexpensive or moderately-priced red wines that performed above their price point. (Here is the post with my reviews of those initial releases.) Today’s Wine of the Week, the Trim Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, carrying a California designation, fulfills Signorello’s goal handily. The wine is a blend of 82 percent cabernet, 15 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec. The color is dark ruby with a hint of magenta at the rim. Aromas of black cherries and red and black currants are highlighted by notes of blueberries, cloves and lavender with undertones of dusty graphite. It’s sleek and supple in the mouth, propelled by vibrant acidity and oak-tinged tannins that do not detract from juicy and spicy black fruit flavors with a touch of dried fruit and flowers about them. The slightly chiseled finish is packed with spice and graphite-tinged minerality. 13.5 percent alcohol. Winemakers are Ray Signorello and Pierre Birebent. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. We had this quite successfully with a homemade pizza that featured roasted eggplant and duck breast. Very Good+. About — ready for this? — $11, a Bargain of the Century.

This wine was a sample for review.

Tres Ojos Garnacha is one of the world’s great wine bargains. Produced by the cooperative Bodega San Gregorio, founded in 1965 in the Calatayud wine region in Spain’s province of Aragon, this wine consistently offers lots of pleasure and surprising depth of character for the price. Tres Ojos — “three eyes” — Garnacha 2011 is a blend of 85 percent garnacha (grenache) grapes, seven percent each cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo and one percent syrah; made all in stainless steel, it sees no oak, The color is deep ruby with a mulberry tinge; first your nose picks up notes of tar, black olives, smoked tea, followed by scents of spiced and macerated blackberries, blueberries and plums, the whole effect having a slight balsamic cast. Plenty of grip keeps dusty tannins on the palate in support of dense black and blue fruit flavors permeated by hints of bitter chocolate, lavender and graphite; vibrant acidity keep the wine alert and lively. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with grilled leg of lamb, braised short ribs, hearty stews. Very Good+. About $10, so Buy by the Case.

Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. Tasted as a wholesaler’s trade event.

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