I don’t cotton to wines with fanciful names, but I’ll admit that after a few moments in the glass the Loomis Family Ember Red Wine 2012, Napa Valley, seethed like a seductive glowing coal of smoldering lavender, licorice and graphite. The wine is a blend of 49 percent syrah grapes, 22 percent grenache and 7 percent mourvèdre, grapes associated, of course, with France’s Rhône Valley, and it aged 20 in French oak barrels. Winemaker is Timothy Milos. The color is dark ruby with a hint of magenta at the rim; aromas of ripe and macerated blackberries, black currants and plums open to elements of briers, brambles and underbrush for a fairly rigorous foundation, leading to a gradually burgeoning structure of chiseled granitic minerality, taut dusty tannins and lip-smacking acidity. There’s a tinge of red to the succulent and spicy black fruit flavors, but despite the frank deliciousness, the wine is quite dry. Give it a chance, and it develops an intriguing earthy, funky edge from mid-palate back, driving an exotic finish that’s packed with cloves and sandalwood, loam and leather. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 75 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review, a bit of information I am required to provide according to ruling by the Federal Trade Commission. This dictate applies only to bloggers; print journalists are not so required.

The Dorgogne region is one of the oldest inhabited areas of France, as testified by numerous caves filled with wall paintings and etchings that date back 30,000 and 40,000 years. It’s also one of the country’s wildest and most beautiful areas, marked by rugged and towering cliffs, many topped by ancient castles; deep river valleys; rolling hills and forests; and a network of villages and towns that retain much of their medieval appearance. Recently, we spent a week in France’s Dordogne region, with LL’s son and his children, Julien, 14, and Lucia, 10, eating local food — dominated by foie gras, magret and confit of duck — and drinking local wines. We rented a centuries-old stone cottage outside the village of Beynac et Cazenac — pop. 560 — an almost mythically quaint hamlet perched right on a bank of the Dordogne River and winding up the cliff dominated by an immense castle, Chateau de Beynac, seen in this image from sourcedordogne.free.fr.

Our locale was at the southeastern corner of the Dordogne department, not wine-country itself but not too far from the appellations of Bergerac, Côtes de Bergerac, Montravel and Pécharmant, all cultivating the Bordeaux grape varieties and producing country cousin versions of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot for red, sauvignon blanc and semillon for white. About a two-hour drive to the east in the Lot department is Cahors, a traditional region for hearty wines made from the malbec grape, known as cot in that area. Though I had been offered visits to chateaus and wineries by some of my contacts in importing and marketing in the US, my determination was that this sojourn would be strictly vacation and that any wine we drank would come either from grocery stores, open-air markets or restaurant wine lists.

Our first dinner, at a hotel restaurant in Beynac, was mediocre, but we enjoyed the wines. These were a 2011 rouge, in a 500-milliliter bottle, and a 2013 blanc, in a 375 ml bottle, from Chateau Court-Les-Mûts, Côtes de Bergerac. The rouge offered a bright, seductive floral and spicy bouquet but was fairly rude and rustic on the palate; the more palatable blanc was fresh, young and zesty, with yellow fruit and dried herbs. Each cost 14 euros, about $15.66 at today’s rate. Far more successful, in both food and wine, was our dinner the following night, a Sunday, at La Petite Tonnelle, just a few yards up the street from the restaurant of the previous night. Built right into the cliff that dominates this strategic site overlooking the Dordogne river, the restaurant was pleasing in every aspect. Our waiter, a young woman, was friendly and accommodating; the restaurant served the silkiest foie gras, smoked magret and confit of duck I have ever tasted; and the wine list emphasized regional products highlighting sustainable, organic and biodynamic methods. With the hearty fare, we drank a bottle of the Chateau Masburel 2010, Montravel, a predominantly merlot wine with dollops of cabernet sauvignon. The restaurant owner came over and nodded his approval, telling us that it was a powerful wine. Powerful indeed and robust, but sleek too, packed with dusty tannins, graphite-tinged minerality, black fruit flavors and vibrant acidity. It cost 42 euros, about $46 at today’s rate.

Both in cafes and at our rented house, we consumed a great deal of rosé wine, not just because we love rosé but because the weather was unseasonably hot, with temperatures going to 100 and higher every afternoon. Rosés in the Dordogne are made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec and typically are more robust than their cousins in Provence. For example, in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, generally just called Tayac, home to the National Museum of Prehistory and the center of a cluster of caves with prehistoric art, we ate lunch at Cafe de Mairie and downed a 500 cl bottle of the delightful Clos des Verdots 2014, Bergerac Rosé, at 14 euros. Other rosés we tried during our sojourn included La Fleur de Mondesir 2014, Domaine de Mayat 2014 and Domaine de Montlong 2013, all Bergerac, and the simple but tasty Mayaret 2014, Vin du Pays Perigord. Tayac is absolutely worth a visit. We were too late to get admittance to the cave called Font de Gaume, which features wall paintings, so we drove to the cave of Les Combarelles, a few minutes away, and saw the exquisite series of rock engravings executed 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The town itself, with many of its houses and buildings carved directly into the cliffs, is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

Other red wines we tried, back at the house with various dinners, included Chateau des Hautes Fargues 2010 and Domaine La Closerie 2011, both from Pécharmant, and, from Bergerac, the excellent Domaine Maye de Bouye 2010, and the best red wine of our time in the Dordogne, Clos de Gamot 2008, a superb, deeply characterful Cahors that cost all of 12.5 euros, about $13.70. Clos de Gamot is owned by the Jouffreau family and has been in operation since 1610. The grapes derive from two vineyards, one over 120 years old and the other with vines 40 to 70 years old. The wines age 18 months to two years in large old oak casts.

The way to explore this ancient region is to drive to as many of the towns and villages as possible, preferably one each day, park the car (hopefully in the shade) and then wander through the plazas and narrow streets, stopping to walk through churches, alleys and courtyards. If there’s a chance, for a few euros, to tour a castle or old mansion, do that; the rewards in history, esthetics and emotional satisfaction are immense. We particularly enjoyed Sarlot, Domme and the medieval section of Soulliac, and we visited two castles that were traditional enemies during the Hundred Years’ War, Chateau Beynac, “our” castle, and just up-river, Castelnaud-la-Chapelle.

Oh, what the hell, let’s have a bottle of sparkling wine! Surely you can come up with something to celebrate. Or not. I would just as soon drink Champagne and other forms of sparkling wine for any purpose, any whim, any occasion, even if it’s merely standing around the kitchen preparing dinner. For our category of sparkling wine today, then, I choose the Domaine Chandon Étoile Brut Rosé, a non-vintage blend of primarily chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes with a dollop of pinot noir, the sources being the Carneros regions in Sonoma County (58 percent) and Napa County (42 percent). The wine rested sur lie — on the residue of dead yeast cells — five years in the bottle after the second fermentation that produces the essential effervescence. The color is an entrancing medium copper-salmon hue riven by an upward-surging torrent of glinting silver bubbles. Notes of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry unfold to hints of lime peel, quince and ginger, with, always in the background, touches of limestone, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and orange marmalade; think of the tension and balance between the subtle sweet fruitiness and bitterness of the latter. On the palate, this sparkling wine works with delicacy and elegance to plow a furrow of juicy red berry and citrus flavors — with a bit of pomegranate — into a foundation of slate and limestone minerality and lively acidity for a crisp, dynamic texture and long spicy finish. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.

Like a poem by Walt Whitman or the notion of democracy itself, the best wines embrace contradiction and resolve paradoxical elements into a sense of palatable completeness. An excellent or exceptional wine may be both elegant and propulsive, chiseled and generous, rich and warm yet cool and aloof, glamorous and rigorous altogether. The best scenario occurs when such a wine conveys the panoply of its character with subtlety and nuance. Must all wines exhibit such a congeries of effects, depth and dimension? Certainly and thankfully not. Sometimes — quite often actually — all we require is a decent quaff, a well-made but uncomplicated wine, to accompany a simple meal. It must be a bit wearying always to drink the world’s finest, most complex, demanding and attention-grabbing wines, though aside from collectors possessing rare fiduciary prowess and a select crew of wine critics that does not include me, most of us will never be able to test that hypothesis. After that prelude, then, here is a pinot noir wine of gratifying qualities, a perfectly balanced projection of the attributes I mentioned above. The Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is a hand-crafted product — the popular term today is “artisan” — that was pressed in a wooden basket press, fermented with native yeast, saw only 40 percent new French oak and was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The color is a lovely medium ruby hue that shades to a transparent rim. First, we notice the wine’s spicy nature: cloves, sassafras and sandalwood, and then the expansive quality of its scents and flavors of macerated red raspberries, currants and plums, tinged with black fruit, something like cherry skins and pips and a note of black currant; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of dust, graphite and loam for the essential earthy quality without which pinot noir wines seem to lack varietal integrity. While sensually pleasing with its supple and satiny texture, this pinot noir unfolds a burgeoning mineral edge honed, it feels, by a beam of bright and bracing acidity. The finish builds a case for the floral aspect with touches of lavender and rose petals, while the combination of wild berries and slightly candied berry fruit gives it a sheen that’s both feral and sophisticated. The alcohol content is a blessed and beautifully manageable 13.6 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with a roasted chicken, a grilled lamb or veal chop. Production was 224 cases. Winemaker for Foursight Wines is Joe Webb. Excellent. About $46.

A sample for review.

Here’s a beautiful rosé wine that you’ll have to make a little effort to find, because it was produced in a limited quantity. The Joon Coryelle
Fields Vineyard Rosé of Syrah 2014, Sonoma Coast, was made by Michael Lancaster at the Tin Barn winery. The grapes derived from the six-acre vineyard — lying at an elevation of 1,000 feet — owned and managed by Carolyn Coryelle. Made all in stainless steel, the wine delivers an entrancing smoky topaz-salmon skin hue that glows like a platonic Summer sunset. Aromas of pomegranate, macerated strawberries and orange rind have a slightly candied effect, while a bracing background of pink grapefruit and lime peel contribute notable zest and character. Unusually dense and satiny for a rosé, the wine, with its flavors of red currants and dried raspberries, nonetheless is animated by brisk acidity and a limestone-like mineral element that burgeons from mid-palate back through the finish, where clean touches of thyme, lavender and loam add depth. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 158 cases. A rosé substantial enough to serve as a table-wine and picnic libation. Excellent. About $23.

A sample for review.


We’ll resume the Wine of the Day series — and posting to the blog after a long vacation hiatus — with a model albariño white wine that’s not just fetching and delightful but subtly serious and multi-layered. The Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014, from Spain’s Rias Baixas region, derives from a 30-hectare estate established in 1988, though grape-growing and winemaking on the site date back to the 16th Century. One hundred percent varietal and made all in stainless steel, the Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014 is clean, fresh, savory and slightly saline. It offers a pale gold hue and attractive aromas of roasted lemons, spiced pears and lime peel, with flavors that develop along the delicious lines of mango and peach, though not too ripe or florid; this is more about spareness and elegance. A few minutes in the glass bring in elements of bee’s-wax, lanolin and lavender, along with a nuanced touch of woodsy-leafy earthiness. Brisk acidity keeps the wine crisp and lively, a sort of precursor to its essential and bracing sea-breeze/salt-marsh character. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 with grilled shrimp or mussels, trout sauteed in a cast-iron skillet, paella and fish tacos. Pazo San Mauro is part of Marques de Vargas Family Wines & Estates. Excellent. About $19, representing Real Value.

Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Company, New York. A sample for review.


Blithe but many-layered, the Masi Masianco 2014 is a blend of 75 percent pinot grigio grapes and 25 percent verduzzo delle Venezia, an unusual combination that earns the wine a designation of “delle Venezia I.G.T.,” meaning that it lies outside the usual regulations for the Veneto region. Masi Agricola is well-known for its firm, traditional Valpolicella and Amarone wines, but this excursion into freshness and immediate appeal comes high on the Summer-drinking rankings. Fermented in stainless steel and briefly aged in barriques — small French oak barrels — for suppleness of texture, this delightful quaffer offers a pale straw-gold color and up-front aromas of roasted lemon and lime peel, fennel, caraway and thyme and bare hints of pineapple and grapefruit; the whole effect is of absolute freshness highlighted by a note of green leafiness. Masi Masianco 2014 is quite dry, very crisp and lively and exhibits citrus and stone-fruit elements borne on a tide of chalk and flint minerality and chiming acidity; the finish is elegant, subtle and a bit austere. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 as a charming aperitif or with fresh seafood, chicken salad and other picnic fare. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Value.

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

Perhaps what you desire is a riesling that offers a touch of sweetness to balance the spice and mild heat of an Indian curry or pad thai or some similar dish from Southeast Asia that delivers multiple layers of flavor and temperature. I have a candidate for that office. It’s an inexpensive wine from Germany’s Rheinhessen region, the Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett 2012, and it draws on the sweeter extension of the Kabinett purview, Kabinett being, to express the matter simply, the driest category of Germany’s classified wines. I don’t mean that the wine is cloying or dessert-like, only that its intense ripeness slides across the palate with a feeling of juicy, slightly roasted and brandied citrus and stone-fruit flavors steeped in green tea. The color is medium straw-gold; an enveloping softness of peach, pear, lychee and lime peel trembles from the glass, augmented by traces of candied orange rind and pink grapefruit, this subtle and nuanced panoply of delights anchored by a distinct sense of leafy, loamy earthiness; a few moments of swirling, sniffing and sipping bring out touches of quince and ginger and an echo of caramelized fennel. This completely pretty wine plunges across the taste-buds like liquid money, nothing profound but eminently attractive. 10 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $15.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Illinois. A sample for review.

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, “greats” and also the single fathers, all you guys who are raising or helping to raise children or who did your job and now bask in the glory of watching your own children raise their off-spring. Typically, in the weeks and months before Father’s Day, I and the other wine writers and bloggers receive tons of PR material about Port, on the assumption that even though June marks the beginning of the hottest time of year, hordes of fathers will be sitting around in their smoking jackets sipping Port in wood-paneled libraries. Ha-ha, well, whatever, so today in honor of fathers everywhere I offer a stunning example of vintage port, one that will, admittedly, require some years of aging to shed its fiery youthful vigor. The Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is a single-vineyard Port produced by a venerable firm that dates its official founding to 1692. Wine director for Taylor Fladgate is David Guimaraens, who represents the sixth generation of his family in the Port business. Sixty percent of the Quita de Vargellas vineyard consists of vines 75 years old and older. Made very traditionally, this Port encompasses the grape varieties Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, completely foot-trodden; it aged two years in wooden vats before being bottled and released. The color is a deep opaque ruby-purple with a glowing magenta edge; aromas of incredibly ripe, rich and intense blueberries, blackberries and mulberries seem coated with the darkest of bitter chocolate, these elements infused with notes of loganberries, lavender and violets, graphite and iodine, with hints of mint, briers and brambles; the effect is hypnotic, intoxicating, feral and carnal. This is a Port that feels more minerally than spicy and is altogether powerful, intense and concentrated, animated by swingeing acidity and penetrating granite-etched tannins whose dusty velvet-like texture coats the palate. Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Porto 2012 is characterized by amazing presence and weight and displays a piercing sense of confidence, conviction and authority; it’s the nexus where the torrentially sweet and the formidably dry coalesce. Alcohol content of this fortified wine is 20 percent. Drink from, say, 2020 or ’24 through 2036 to ’40 and beyond. Exceptional. About $53.

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

We don’t drink much merlot in our house because generally merlot wines made in California (and elsewhere in the world except for St. Emilion and Pomerol) tend to be rather uninteresting cadet cabernets. Here, thankfully, is an exception, a 100 percent merlot that displays not only integrity but marked individuality. McIntyre Vineyards lies in Monterey Country’s Santa Lucia Highlands, a growing area occupying terraces in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Range well-known for chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah. The narrow 12-mile-long region looks across the Salinas Valley to Chalone and the awesome rock formation called The Pinnacles. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 comes not from Santa Lucia Highlands, however, but from Arroyo Seco, an AVA just to the south. The 81-acre Kimberly Vineyard, planted entirely to merlot, occupies a site near the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and Salinas Rivers on an alluvial fan at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains, just beyond the influence of the intense Salinas Valley winds, creating a micro-climate much warmer than the surrounding terrain, that is, more suited to merlot than pinot noir. The McIntyre Kimberly Vineyard Merlot 2012 offers an opaque dark ruby hue with a riveting violet-magenta rim that’s almost nuclear; this is a blue-fruit wine — blueberry, blue plum, mulberry — packed with granite and graphite, briers and brambles that allow for notes of lavender, mint and loganberry tart. It is, make no mistake, a powerful, intense and concentrated wine that practically resonates in the glass with energy and dynamism. (The vineyard, by the way, is certified sustainable.) Acidity is profound; the finish is steep and lithic. Still, for all the emphasis on structure, this merlot, deeply committed to its place on earth, delivers myriad pleasures, especially, as we drank the bottle last night, with pork chops marinated in olive oil, soy sauce, lime juice, a mix of black and Szechuan pepper and smoked paprika. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 333 cases. Drink now through 2019 to ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

A sample for review.

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