Wine of the Week


Because I am late with the Wine of the Week, I offer a pair of products to atone for my procrastination. These are two bargain-priced wines from Bordeaux and are definitely Worth a Search. Each, incidentally, was acquired within the past few years by Russian and Chinese companies. Imported by The Wine Trust, Mattituck, N.Y. These wines were samples for review.
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Chateau de Birot overlooks the Garonne River from its hillside in Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux. Wine has been made on the estate for more than 200 years; the impressive chateau — the Dutch writer Hubrecht Duijker calls it “alluring” — dates from the second half of the 18th Century. Acquired by Eric and Hélène Fournier-Casteja in 1989, the estate was sold in December 2014 to the Chinese hospitality company New Century Tourism Group.

Blanc de Birot 2012, carrying a Bordeaux designation, is a blend of 65 percent sauvignon blanc grapes and 35 percent semillon; it aged 12 months in French oak, 20 percent new barrels. The color is pale gold; speaking of “alluring,” an extraordinary bouquet of lemongrass, pineapple, fig, lime peel and jasmine teases and tantalizes the nose; on the palate, the wine is clean and fresh, tart with lemon and grapefruit flavors and scintillating with bright acidity and crushed gravel/limestone minerality. The whole effect offers gratifying balance between sassy briskness and a soft talc-like texture. 13 percent alcohol. A wine that practically gets down on its knees and begs for a platter of just-shucked oysters, though it also serves handily as aperitif. Drink through 2016. Very Good+. About $13 or $14, a Bargain of the Decade.
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The red wine of this pair is Les Sources de Livran 2009, Medoc, the second label of Chateau Livran, an estate that traces its long history back to 1280, when King Edward I of England granted the right to brother knights Arnaud and Beraud de Got to build a fortress on the land, a few kilometers west of the Gironde estuary. Their more famous brother was Bertrand de Got, who served as Pope Clement V from 1305 to 1314. Nothing of that fortress remains, but the estate itself has produced wine for hundreds of years. In 1889, the property was acquired by the Englishman James L. Denman, and then in the mid-20th Century by Robert Godfren, under whose ownership the estate released what are usually described as “correct” and “adequate” wines. In 2008, however, Chateau Livran was purchased by a Russian investment firm, and if things can be turned around in a couple of harvests, that may have been the case here, because Les Sources de Livran 2009 is a lovely wine, not overly serious or weighty but delicious and satisfying, what the British call a “luncheon claret.”

This ’09 is a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, aged 12 months in oak. The color is dark ruby with a touch of garnet at the rim; aromas of dried currants and plums, cloves and sandalwood, violets and potpourri dominate a bouquet that meshes with dusty, woodsy notes, dried herbs and a hint of graphite. Animated by lip-smacking acidity and featuring a firm though not tight tannic grip, the wine is spare but not austere, slightly dusty and powdery in texture and decently furnished with black and blue fruit flavors that peel back touches of dried spices and lavender; in fact, the floral element grows as the moments pass. 13 percent alcohol. Drink this wine through 2016 or into ’17 with game terrines and patés, beef stew or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $15 to $17, another Great Value.
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If you’re looking for a hearty robust red wine to drink with burgers, braised spare ribs or grilled pork chops, slide the cork out of a bottle of the Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2012, Sonoma County. The venerable winery began its modern period in 1973, under Jim Bundschu, though traces its history back to 1858; that’s ancient in terms of California. Understand, we’re not talking about finesse or elegance here but about power, grip and deep flavors. The color is dark ruby-purple; the bouquet of this cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend is ripe, meaty and fleshy, bursting with notes of black and red currants and cherries, a strain of graphite and hints of cloves, crushed violets, vanilla and slightly creamy oak. A mouthful of dusty, velvety tannins serves as backdrop for black fruit flavors that offer a tinge of blue and a core of tightly wound lavender, bitter chocolate and woody spices. The whole effect is gamey and a little feral, with qualities of wild berries and forest-floor that emerge in the finish. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.

A sample for review.


When I first tasted the Oak Knoll Winery Pinot Noir 2011, assembled from six vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, my reaction was, “Well, O.K., that’s nice.” As I continued to sniff and sip the wine, however, my assessment changed to “Hmmm, that’s really good” and finally to “Excellent. Well-done.” The point is, give this pinot a little time, say 25 to 30 minutes, to develop in the glass. The color is a lovely transparent medium ruby-garnet; aromas of spiced tea, rose-hips and loam are blended with notes of macerated raspberries and currants, tobacco, briers and mushrooms. A few moments bring in hints of cloves, lavender and sassafras, and the wine, both in nose and mouth, becomes a little fleshy and meaty, picking up some slightly dusty tannins and graphite elements. The wine also develops more firmness, offering a tantalizing texture that’s part dense, part ephemeral, all enlivened by spanking fresh acidity. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Reticent, spare, elegant. Oak Knoll was founded in 1970 by Ron and Marjorie Vuylsteke; it is operated now by their sons, Tom and John. Excellent. About $18, marking Good Value.

A sample for review. This post is the 9th on BTYH for 2015.


Brewers that work in the craft or European tradition often issue seasonal or limited release beers, so why should wineries be any different? Here’s an example, and if you’re feeling bewitched, bothered and bewildered — or rather beset by the obligations and responsibilities of late December — turn to Besieged 2013, a limited release red wine from Ravenswood, the well-known zinfandel producer in Sonoma County. Made from an unspecified blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvedre grapes, the wine sports a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of ripe blackberries, red and black currants and blueberries, these notes highlighted by elements of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. This is robust and rustic in all the right ways, with rollicking acidity, lip-smacking tannins and a slightly shaggy texture to support its fleshy and dusty black fruit flavors flecked with hints of ancho chili and cloves. Lots of the power you need to power through big dinners of braised short ribs or lamb shanks, hearty beef stews or just a bacon-cheeseburger. Winemaker is Joel Peterson. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.

This wine was a sample for review.

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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