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April 21, 2013 — His ponytail tucked into a tight knot, Baptiste Guinaudeau dodges raindrops and ducks into the tiny cellar of his family’s famed property in Pomerol, Chateau Lafleur.
As he pours barrel samples of his 2012 reds, he explains how tricky this Bordeaux vintage was: spring rains that delayed flowering, a 46-day summer drought that stressed grapes, uneven ripening, threats of rot and mildew in the vineyard.
I hear similar stories at nearly every chateau during my 10-day trip to Bordeaux for the annual en primeur mega-tastings in early April. Six thousand wine professionals from 67 countries are here to assess the latest vintage of wines still in barrel, and decide what’s worth buying as futures.
Chateau Lafleur is a success, the grand vin is subtle and elegant, with aromas of violets, spicy flavors and a succulent texture.
Many of the 500-plus wines I sip and spit are not.
Winemakers who picked at the right time and had a gentle touch in the cellar made elegant wines with intense red fruit flavors, freshness and charm, and alcohol levels mercifully below 14 percent.
The best will offer drinking pleasure way sooner than the grander, more concentrated and tannic 2010s. They’re better than the 2011s; many compare them to the under-sung 2001s….
April 8, 2013 — Colorado construction magnate Joseph Phelps arrived in the Napa Valley in the late 1960s to build someone else’s winery. In 1973 he ended up founding his own.
Last month, for Joseph Phelps Vineyards’ 40th anniversary, company president Bill Phelps uncorked a dozen vintages of the winery’s flagship cabernet blend, Insignia, at New York’s NoMad hotel.
When the first vintage, 1974, debuted at $12 (then considered a whopping sum) it was one of California’s first Bordeaux-style blends with a proprietary name.
The glasses in front of me held the wine’s liquid history from 1976 to 2009, a track record of aging going much further back than the cult cabs that get more buzz.
The 1976, which originally sold for $20 a bottle, was still going strong — deep, rich and flavorful, with a core of intense fruit and spice. The dark 1985 has minty aromas and chocolate-y, tobacco-y notes.
Both were reminders that wines from the 1970s and 1980s from classic producers are some of California’s most profound bottlings — and they are largely unsung….
March 24, 2013 – Burgundy bash La Paulee de New York kicked off this year with something new: affordable wines.
The annual three-day weekend, which alternates between New York and San Francisco, is famous for its $1500-a-seat finale, a bacchanal where deep-pocketed collectors splash out on rare vintages of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti while singing Burgundian drinking songs off-key.
So why open the lavish event with a $75 tasting of wines under $35?
“I’m worried people are starting to think about Burgundy as only expensive wines, the way they regard Bordeaux,” says Daniel Johnnes, La Paulee’s organizer and host and wine director of Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group. “The region is about more than $1,000 bottles.”
Considering today’s prices, that’s hard to remember….
March 20, 2013 – If you stand on the road next to Burgundy’s most famous property, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, you’ll see no discernible aura hovering over its collection of grands crus vineyards. Yet these plots are where the world’s benchmark chardonnay and pinot noir wines come from. (There are eight: one white, Montrachet, and seven reds: Corton, Echezeaux, Grands Echezeaux, Romanee-St-Vivant, Richebourg, La Tache and the crown jewel, Romanee-Conti, for which the estate is named.)
Even in a bountiful year, DRC produces well under 10,000 cases, the equivalent of spilling a few tantalizing drops into the maw of immense worldwide demand, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Spring issue.
I’ve sampled DRC on yachts in Florida, in cold Burgundian cellars, at Hong Kong auctions and in wood-paneled rooms at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. What strikes me always is what the wines share: perfect balance, layered flavors, silky textures and, despite their delicacy, tremendous aging potential.
More than any other estate’s portfolio, DRC’s wines have distinct personalities, each capturing its vineyard’s individual terroir, even in less-than-stellar years. They don’t come cheap. Bottles from 2009, the most recently released vintage, range from $700 to $15,000, and older years can cost from $1,000 to $2,000 an ounce.
Are they worth it? If you believe that the invisible hand of the market always gets it right, the answer is a resounding yes….
March 11, 2013 — “We’re trending above Nascar and the Oscars on twitter,” crows auctioneer Fritz Hatton, as he opens the 17th Premiere Napa Valley trade barrel auction with sharp bangs of his gavel.
Everyone cheers, primed to bid big on cabernet after a week of wooing by vintners at tastings and parties. The wildest event was Raymond Vineyards’ “Napa Gras,” where a woman in long black gloves and abbreviated gold body suit poured wine while hanging upside down.
Napa’s annual February event serves as a barometer of demand for expensive Napa cabs, which seems to mirror the mood on Wall Street. Since this year’s Feb. 23 auction hit a near- record $3.04 million, the Dow has continued to set new highs.
The 211 one-of-a-kind, not-yet-bottled cuvees offered in five, 10, or 20-case lots represent each winery’s best of the best. Most are cabernets from the 2011 vintage, so the pre- auction tastings provide a gauge to the year’s overall quality and an opportunity to scout out the valley’s hot new names…
February 25, 2013 – “Think of wine like music,” says Georg Riedel, the head of the famous Austrian glass company that bears his family’s name. “We’re toolmakers. We don’t write the score; we’re the amplifiers.”
We were at the Argentine consulate in New York for a taste workshop to see which shape of glass best “amplifies” the violet scent, dark, rich, berry flavor and velvety tannins of wildly popular malbec.
The first-ever glass to show off Argentina’s signature red will debut on April 1, in time for Malbec World Day on April 17.
Does the world need it?
Argentine winery Graffigna thinks so. It commissioned Riedel to come up with the design and has a one-year exclusive to use and sell it….
January 14, 2013 – In Sonoma’s Bedrock Vineyard, I’m surrounded by 124-year-old twisted vines with the arthritic look of stumpy bonsai trees.
The mad mix includes a couple of dozen varieties. Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson points out familiar zinfandel, little-known bastardo, nearly extinct castets and some grapes no one’s yet identified.
He makes a pretty delicious red that contains almost all of them.
“Old vine field blends are the only California wines that aren’t ersatz,” says the 32-year-old. “They’re unique. What’s magical is the sum of the parts.”
His dozen or so red and white cuvees from historic vineyards are among the state’s most fascinating wines, high on bold personality, with warmth, intensity, perfumed aromas and layers of flavor. Tasting them, I’m drinking California wine history.
While Sonoma has the largest concentration of old vineyards in the state, they’re in danger of disappearing….
December 31, 2012 – Dark, cold outer space is the new wine and spirits frontier.
The extraterrestrial terroir taste in Meteorito, a cabernet made at Chile’s Tremonte winery, comes from a 4.5-billion-year- old meteorite from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.
Winery general manager Ian Hutcheon, owner of the nearby Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua and anxious to join his two passions, submerged the 3-inch space rock in some of his 2010 cabernet for a year.
In a blind tasting with colleagues, he found the bottled wine had a livelier and fresher taste, “with a curious twist.” It’s coming soon to New York, where it will cost about $20 a bottle……
December 17, 2012 – This year I sampled more than 4,000wines in my search for the recommendable, hunting the world’s best in chilly cellars, historic chateaux, at noisy tastings and the tables of generous friends.
Here, in no particular order, are my 10 most memorable wines, from bargain to blowout. They range from a great Bordeaux to a new California red to a scarce bottling from the mountains of Armenia. All reflect the growing diversity of today’s wine world — and where it’s going in 2013….
12-2-2012 – At a tasting in a World War II cement bunker in Gali winery’s vineyards on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, the 2010 bright, juicy cabernet franc-merlot blend is a big and very pleasant surprise.
One of several dozen small boutique wineries founded in the last few years, Gali is part of the country’s growing wine renaissance. It was the first stop on recent tasting tour that left me highly enthusiastic about Turkey’s wine potential.
After tramping through Gali’s vineyards, with windy views of the blue Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles and Sea of Marmara, I savor the delicious red again on owner Hakan Kavur’s stone terrace with oregano-accented lamb slow-braised in local olive oil.
When it comes to wine, you’re never far from history in this country of more than 800 grape varieties. Though many new vintners in Turkey’s seven wine regions champion international ones like chardonnay and cabernet, I discover the best wines so far come from a handful of Turkish grapes with hard-to-pronounce names like okuzgozu (oh-cooz-goe-zoo) and kalecik karasi (kah- le-djic-car-ah-ser)….
November 18, 2012 — In the Ace Hotel’s dimly-lit, black- walled basement, a small wine revolution is going on. Four hundred people are eagerly lining up to sample long out-of- fashion sherries, which have been on a downward hipness spiral for decades.
This fortified wine, once derided as the drink of blue- rinsed aunts, is a new passion for New York’s trend-conscious wine lovers.
Twenty of the best producers, from the Andalucia region of southern Spain, are here for the city’s first Sherryfest tasting. They’re pouring 150 top examples, from pale, dry, refreshing finos to powerful, complex dry olorosos and rich, sweet moscatels.
“It wasn’t easy to convince the bodegas to come,” says Peter Liem, co-author of the just-released book Sherry, Manzanilla, & Montilla, and one of the event organizers. “They were pessimistic. But really, sherry is the hottest wine in New York.”
A dozen restaurants and wine bars in the city, including the Beagle and Pata Negra, sell scores of sherries by the glass. London has even more….
November 5, 2012 – On a tasting trip to Italy’s Friuli region in 2005, Napa Valley viticulture whiz Steve Matthiasson had an “aha” moment. He fell in love with ribolla gialla, a local white grape.
This little-known variety is now a hot vino-geek item in California, with at least five winemakers producing it. Its rise neatly jibes with the vogue for obscure varieties showing up on trendy restaurant lists.
Sated by oceans of boring chardonnay, neutral pinot grigio, and same-old cabernet, adventurous wine lovers have been pursuing the exotic to expand their wine universes. The Wine Century Club, whose members swear to have sampled at least 100 different varietals to join, celebrated its 7th anniversary in June.
Sipping Matthiasson’s 2010 ($45) bottling at a weathered wooden table on his farm behind a Napa subdivision, I find it deliciously nutty and spicy, with a unique stony, mineral character. Then he pours his juicy, intense 2009 Refosco ($40). Made from the Italian red grape of the same name, it smells of crushed berries.
But wait, there’s more….
October 21, 2012 — Frenchie, a stubby-legged white French bulldog, lolls happily on a leopard-skin patterned carpet under a Baccarat crystal chandelier.
Handing me a glass of bubbly, his flamboyant owner, Burgundy native Jean-Charles Boisset, gets down on all fours, gives the dog a kiss, then picks him up and leads me on a tour of Frenchie’s eponymous Napa Valley winery.
Dog-friendly wineries are on the rise in California. There are 96 in the Napa Valley alone, but Boisset’s Frenchie Winery outdoes them all.
The idea is part of Boisset’s vision for Napa’s Raymond Vineyards, a winery founded in the 1970s he bought three years ago. Raymond’s tasting spaces are a kind of adult wine experience playground — a combo of Disney World, Las Vegas and tongue-in-cheek stage sets….
October 7, 2012 – In a steep terraced vineyard above northern Portugal’s winding Douro river are 6,000 very special gnarled vines. Their grapes make the world’s rarest, most collectible and expensive vintage port, Quinta do Noval Nacional.
I’d tasted only one vintage of what a critic once called the Mount Everest of port. So there was no way I’d miss the chance to sample 12 historic vintages from 1962 to 2003 with Christian Seely, who brought the Quinta do Noval estate back to greatness
The soothing beige-walled private dining room at New York’s Eleven Madison Park hummed with anticipation. Sniffs of the filled glasses in front of me brought heady aromas of mint, dark chocolate, licorice and nuts.
Seely, wearing a dark blue Charvet bow tie and Savile Row double-breasted suit, looked pretty enthusiastic himself, admitting, “I don’t lead tastings like this every day….”
September 23, 2012 — After Jean-Luc Thunevin received the letter informing him his Chateau Valandraud had been elevated to Saint-Emilion premier grand cru classe B, he celebrated by opening many bottles of Dom Ruinart champagne.
It was sweet vindication for the wine maker. Fifteen years ago he was dissed by the region’s traditional winemakers as a “garagiste” upstart and called “the bad boy of Bordeaux.”
Unlike the famous 1855 classification of chateaux on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, Saint-Emilion’s three rankings — rising from grand cru classe to premier grand cru classe B to the exalted category of premier grand cru classe A at the top of the hierarchy — are revised every ten years or so.
The new list of 82 names released in early September also brought triumphs to other well-deserving chateaux, such as Angelus, La Mondotte and Canon La Gaffeliere.
Not everyone is celebrating….
September 9, 2012 – As I sip the latest release of Krug Grande Cuvee (MC) and chew some salty nuts at Eleven Madison Park, company director Olivier Krug compares making the Champagne to his grandmother’s ratatouille.
“Champagne is more complex when you blend many ingredients,” he says.
Revealing numbers like these is a big change. Until recently, most of the region’s grandes marques kept information about their non-vintage-dated blends secret.
Major Champagne house Roederer is touting its 10-year relationship with biodynamics, a risky uber-organic form of viticulture increasingly popular among small grower producers….
August 26, 2012 — At first it sounds like another story about an investment banker jettisoning his dull job to cash in on the excitement of wine.
But as Kevin Sidders, a former investment banker at Credit Suisse (CS) and Blue Beacon Capital, starts talking about his new business, VinConnect Inc., over our ceviche lunch in New York, I become seriously intrigued.
Why did it take so long for someone to do this? Especially, as Sidders points out, because direct-to-consumer is the fastest-growing segment of the wine business….
August 12, 2012 – Portugal’s light, zesty Vinho Verde has been compared to a dive into a cold pool and a spin along a beach road in an open white convertible. As a car, it’s no Porsche, as these whites typically cost about 10 bucks.
I’ve always thought of the best ones as fresh, simple, slightly spritzy low-alcohol wines ideal for washing down steamed clams on a hot August night.
I’ve also experienced Vinho Verde at its worst: a bit like water with a hefty squeeze of tart lemon and a touch of bubblegum sweetness.
So the quality of wines I tasted on my recent tour of this tranquil, rural region in the country’s northwest came as a major surprise. Not only did I find small producers making excellent, intriguing, even complex whites in diverse styles, but also vibrant, exotic reds. So much for vinous stereotypes….
July 29, 2012 – Dry pink wines have been a fad, a craze, a global trend and now they’ve settled into what everyone drinks in summer, and not just at the beach.
My favorites come from France’s Provence, where drinking pink has a 2,000-year history.
With silky textures, vivid aromas of strawberry and fragrant white flowers, and tangy chalky-spicy flavors, most are meant to be drunk young and cost less than $20.
Yet after sampling 15 primo examples at a recent lunch at New York’s Michelin three-star Eleven Madison Park, I realize Provencal roses can be even more seductive and serious than I thought.
Their allure starts before you even take a sip….
July 16, 2012 — When Peter McCrea’s parents paid $7,500 in 1943 for an old goat farm on Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain, it came with a house, a barn, a cottage, and three chicken coops. The chardonnay vines arrived four years later.
The rest, as they say, is history. Their Stony Hill Vineyard is one of California’s oldest great wineries.
At a 60th anniversary of the winery’s first vintage, held at New York’s Corkbuzz Wine Studio, a dozen chardonnay bottlings spanning four decades quash any lingering doubts about their quality and ageability.
In contrast to the buttery, oaky, alcoholic style that has largely defined California chardonnay, Stony Hill’s wines are delicate and tightly wound, almost Chablis-like when young.
That can fool you, because the wines gain weight and complexity with age. The 1973 (then labeled pinot chardonnay), is amazingly alive, pure, vibrant, stunning….
July 2, 2012 — Holding a bottle of 1998 Sassicaia in her left hand, Maureen Downey squints at the iconic Italian label through a large silver-rimmed magnifying glass.
It looks authentic, but is it?
We’re in the chilly Vintage Wine Warehouse in Queens, New York, to find out. Downey, with streaked-blond hair, wearing jeans and flip flops that show off white polka-dotted red toenails, is one of the experts you call if you’re worried your Romanee-Conti, Lafite, or Sassicaia might not be legit.
For more than a decade she’s been on counterfeit high alert, first at three auction houses and now at Chai Consulting, the San Francisco-based wine collection management firm she founded in 2005.
The March 8 FBI arrest, and indictment on May 9 by a federal grand jury in New York, of alleged wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan — a.k.a. Dr. Conti — who has sold millions of dollars’ worth of rare wines at auction, have raised fears among collectors about what’s actually in their cellars….
June 17, 2012 – At Shi Tang, a private wine club in Shanghai, Jesse Coffino circled the table, splashing crisp Graziano chenin blanc from Mendocino county into glasses of 15 eager members.
All were regular drinkers of French wine but had never heard of Mendocino. Coffino had to unroll a map.
“It’s hard to break pre-conceptions in China about where good wine comes from,” said 29-year-old Coffino, a Mandarin- speaking, San Francisco Bay-Area native, the wine’s importer.
French labels, especially Bordeaux, dominate imports in China, with a 45 percent market share, according to VinExpo figures.
Coffino, studio director for prominent Chinese artist Xu Bing, founded San Francisco-based Pacific Brothers Wine company two years ago with his 32-year-old lawyer brother Eli. They’re among the growing number of American entrepreneurs focused on bringing mid-priced, boutique quality California wine to China’s rapidly changing market….
June 3, 2012 — Delete. Delete. Delete. Of the 578 offers of 2011 Bordeaux futures that flooded Jamie Ritchie’s inbox one morning, most ended up in his trash file.
In mid-May, after doing practically nothing in the weeks that followed Chateau Lafite’s release of its en primeur price at 420 euros ($519) a bottle on April 16, (a 30 percent dip from 2010), thumb-sucking chateaux suddenly rushed en masse with their own offerings. Major players, like Ducru-Beaucaillou, still haven’t.
“All the merchants wanted a fast and well-priced campaign and we didn’t get one,” says Ritchie, president and chief executive officer of Sotheby’s Wine in New York, including its retail shop.
But didn’t the chateaux, including the famous first growths, reduce their prices this year? Yes, but discounts averaged just 15.81 percent off expensive 2010, according to U.K.-based Farr Vintners’ May 25 final Bordeaux report.
Most offers weren’t nearly enticing enough to kick start demand for a vintage that is very good but certainly not great like the 2010 and 2009.
Considering you can find older, ready-to-drink comparable vintages already in the bottle for similar prices, there’s little reason to buy now…..
May 14, 2012 – Freud struggled to find an answer to the question “What does a woman want?” Ninety-odd years later, some in the wine industry think they know.
According to the new “girly-wine” brand marketers, we want to be skinny, to toss our hair playfully like ponies as we pick our bottles to match moods, not foods. We also crave an easy-sipping flavor profile with a naughty edge of sweetness.
High-heeled shoes star in our fantasies. Well, maybe they got that one right. But aren’t Canadian wine maker Strut’s labels featuring photos of long, shapely, perfect legs emerging from short skirts a guy fantasy?
Just looking at them makes me want to forget about drinking and head for the gym….
April 29, 2012 – In the dusty crypt of a 12th- century abbey, where monks once prayed, I’m rolling a few drops of 1860 Cognac on my tongue.
Sumptuous layered flavors reveal exotic spices, the taste of warm honey, echoes of creme brulee.
This 1860 is pretty spectacular in its own right. But it’s just one of several elements in a luxury Cognac blend, the $4,000,Tesseron Extreme.
I’m at the small Tesseron distillery in Chateauneuf-sur- Charente to discover how it creates elixirs that make Cognac aficionados dig so deep into their pockets.
Founded in 1905 by Cognac collector Abel Tesseron in the Cognac region north of Bordeaux, the company produced eaux-de- vie from its two estates and quietly peddled its rare old stocks to big houses like Hennessy (MC) for nearly a century.
In 2001, it started a line of XO Cognacs (extra old) under its own name. Extreme, its longest-aged and priciest, was introduced more than two years ago….
April 15, 2012 — At 10 o’clock on a sunny Bordeaux Monday morning, tall, slim Christian Moueix places his palms prayerfully together as he intones the tale of 2011’s difficult weather in a smooth baritone.
“The problem factors were very serious drought, a June heat spike, some green merlot, and sunburned grapes,” he says. Still, he managed to pull off some delicious wines anyway, like subtle, complex Chateau Trotanoy.
Complicated, tricky 2011 is definitely not another “vintage of the century.” The worst wines are lean, pruney, bitter and tannic, like biting into a roasted espresso bean, the result of trying to extract too much from shriveled grapes.
I spit into upturned barrel crachoirs (spittoons), red plastic buckets, brown ceramic pots, and stainless steel sinks, in chilly cellars and elegant chateaux. At the end of each day my teeth are purple.
Yet after tasting more than 500 barrel samples during my 10-day visit to Bordeaux earlier this month, the best wines are better than I expected….
April 2, 2012 — Sipping samples of Louis Jadot’s superb 2010 Burgundies downstairs at New York’s Bar Boulud, I breathe a sigh of relief. It looks like I can still afford to buy a few of the region’s seductive bottles at reasonable prices.
Why had I been worried? Because Burgundy has been on a hot streak. New Chinese buyers are falling in love with the region’s “grands crus.” At Hart David Hart’s March 24 Burgundy auction, some lots went for double their high estimates.
Liv-ex’s March report says demand has surged in the last six months, and two back-to-back excellent vintages in 2009 and 2010 are now goosing sales.
Oh, and reports have surfaced of alleged fakes turning up at auctions, usually an indication that the clamoring for these wines is pushing prices to ridiculous levels.
All are ominous signs that Burgundy will get even more expensive than it is now….
March 19, 2012 — David Hirsch, pinot noir pioneer of the “true” Sonoma coast, owes his success to the San Andreas Fault. Its earthquakes pushed up the remote, high ridges that are home to his eponymous vineyard, one of California’s pinot “grand crus.”
Hirsch, a former New Yorker, is among a couple of dozen vintners and grape growers in Sonoma’s brand-new American Viticultural Area (AVA) Fort Ross-Seaview appellation, which became official in January.
To discover why this region is regarded as pinot paradise and whether the wines deserve the hype, I find myself navigating hairpin curves up narrow dirt roads to an altitude of 1,500 feet, where vineyards poke above the fog like sunny islands….
March 5, 2012 — Jon Rimmerman, aka the Garagiste, is late. He’s sending out his daily online wine offer from his BlackBerry in his room at New York’s new Hotel Americano.
It’s a 2006 Ansata from biodynamic producer Marc Kreydenweiss priced at $6.99. This red usually goes for two to three times as much. The bottles sell out in an hour.
Once a day, Seattle-based Rimmerman, 45, pitches one to several little-known, quirky, artisanal and often stellar collectible wines from small producers in an e-mail that includes no dramatic photos of people, vineyards or labels. Since the mid-1990s, he’s relied on prose alone to evoke a wine, a place, and the vicarious thrill of being a wine treasure hunter.
“I want to give people a dream,” he says as we head to the hotel’s restaurant…
February 20, 2012 – As my boots crunch through snow, Pierre-Marie Luneau hands me a chunk of serpentinite rock in his vineyard on La Butte de la Roche. Like all the best Muscadet producers, Luneau is obsessed with how soil affects a wine’s quality.
Muscadet is typecast as a gulpable, fresh, crisp white wine ideally paired with oysters. And in this huge region in the west of France’s Loire Valley there’s always been plenty of plonk.
On a recent tasting trek, though, I discovered just how serious this bargain white is becoming. The Luneaus are among several dozen vignerons busy reinventing it.
Their Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin, like most of the top estates, is in the smaller Muscadet Sevre et Maine area. It has more than 30 separate plots with five types of terroir in four villages.
“Our eight Muscadets,” Luneau says, “express the mineral personalities of these different spots….”
February 6, 2012 — Karl Lagerfeld provoked both boos and cheers for his rustic sketch of Chateau Rauzan-Segla on the 2009 label of the Bordeaux estate, celebrating its 350th anniversary. The wine inside, though, is no dashed-off impression.
Deep and ripe, it shows just how much this second growth in the Margaux appellation has jumped in quality since the estate’s purchase in 1994 by haute couture house Chanel Inc., where Lagerfeld is chief designer.
At a recent Wine Media Guild lunch at New York’s Felidia restaurant, eight vintages of Rauzan-Segla were paired with eight from third-growth Chateau d’Issan, another rising Margaux star. Both properties’ wines are still a bit under the radar — labels whose prices haven’t caught up with their growing buzz….
January 23, 2012 — At Christie’s International (CHRS)’s first New York wine sale of the year on Jan. 25, Krug Grande Cuvee champagne will flow in the presence of Old Master paintings to inspire buyers to bid big, or so the auction house hopes.
This cross-cultural branding is just one way auction houses, which started rushing off to Hong Kong four years ago, are refocusing in 2012.
Christie’s has discovered that their clients who collect classic paintings also dabble in wine, so the Wines of France sale at 5 p.m. follows Old Masters Part 1 at 10 a.m., with works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, and the Art of France at 2 p.m. featuring seductive paintings by Jean-Honore Fragonard. The theory seems to be: they won’t stop spending if you don’t let them leave the building….
January 9, 2012 — Locked away in his garage just over a year ago, Mendocino winemaker Mark Beaman spent hours soaking up the vibe of the Grateful Dead album “Steal Your Face.” Then he set about creating a red wine that “interprets” the album’s music and uses the cover art on its label.
“The Dead’s music style is an earthy, savage blend,” Beaman says. “It made me think of a smoky, bacony syrah, a big one with backbone.”
It took a party with Deadheads and five months to get the recently released punchy 2009 blend of syrah, zinfandel, grenache and petite sirah ($17) to match the music and label.
“Aromas are like the voice, while the guitar lick is the fruit that plays through the wine from start to finish,” says Beaman. “I want someone who tastes the wine while listening to the music to say, ‘I get it….’”
December 27, 2011 — No aspect of popular culture achieves real acceptance until it’s been incorporated into one of Lady Gaga’s outfits, so I was gratified to see her decked out as a wine bottle with cork hat and wineglass gloves on Saturday Night Live’s spring season finale. That was one of 2011’s more notable homages to the drink I sip and spit every day of the year.
Sexy sports cars, too, exploited their wine connection. The Lotus Exige 270E, a 0-60 in 4 seconds rocket on wheels, ran the 2011 Oxford to London Eco-Rally on ethanol derived from chocolate, cheese, and, yes, wine.
Or consider “three penis” wine, which made an appearance on National Geographic’s “The Witch Doctor Will See You Now” series. My idea of a wine-soaked threesome is to open a bottle of Marilyn Merlot with my husband, but in China that would be much too tame….
December 12, 2011 – In 2011, I traveled to wineries on four continents and sampled more than 5,000 wines, from old classics to promising new cuvees, in search of the recommendable. As usual, I encountered plenty of overpriced plonk as well as the stunning and memorable.
My top 10 this year are an eclectic mix, from an esoteric natural wine to a super-scarce cult bottling to a white from a country not renowned for its wine. All reflect where the wine world is today — and point to where it’s going next.
NV Barons de Rothschild Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($125)
My current bling wine is this hyper-elegant fizz, the best of a trio of champagnes in the first joint wine venture of the Rothschild clan. The three branches of the famous banking and wine-growing families separately own Bordeaux chateaux Lafite, Mouton and Clarke, so for wineloving show-offs, the pedigree can’t be beat. Yes, it’s too expensive, but its subtle complexity and creamy texture backed up its label power in a New York launch tasting with project chairman Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, whose mother owns Mouton….
November 27, 2011 — At the 4th Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Fair, a smiling Wing Lung Bank employee hands me a colorful flyer about its new “Wine Financing Service.” Can’t afford a case of investment-grade Bordeaux? This Hong Kong-based bank will lend you as much as HK$5 million ($641,840) to buy, as long you select from its list of 50 top names. The response, says assistant general manager William Tang, has been overwhelming.
Investing in wine is a big topic at this year’s fair, Asia’s largest, held earlier this month at the city’s Convention and Exhibition Centre. The bank’s booth is one of three dozen in a new “Wine Investment Zone.” Many affluent Chinese, worried about rising inflation, a roller-coaster stock market, and restrictions on real- estate investment, are looking to alternative assets. Wine, a status symbol for new millionaires, is a hot choice….
Nov. 14, 2011 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong investment banker Alan Chen embraced wine collecting after a visit to Bordeaux’s Chateau Margaux five years ago.
“Now I’m fascinated by Burgundy,” said Chen, head of Asian Equities at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd., as we sipped 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti Richebourg at a pre-auction tasting in Hong Kong.
It’s outstanding, but he prefers the ethereal 1999 DRC Romanee-Conti he poured at his Bali wedding in 2009. When his wife said her favorite wine was 1990 DRC La Tache, he bought 60 bottles the next day. Current auction price? $68,821 a case.
Chen, 41, is part of the new Asian wave of Burgundy collectors bidding up prices….
October 24, 2011 — California’s Wild West wine country is the chilly Anderson Valley, where some of the state’s best pinot noir grapes grow alongside old redwoods and hidden marijuana plots.
Like others, Burgundy-lover Peter Knez, former fixed-income chief at Barclays Global Investors and BlackRock Inc. (BLK) advisor, came for the pinot. Luck helped him snap up prize vineyards as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEHMQ) collapsed, he says as we head up a rough dirt road, wet with rain, to his steep vineyards and eponymous winery high above the valley floor.
With its marginal climate of warm, sunny days, cold foggy nights, long growing season and steep hillsides, this remote 15- mile-long valley in northwest Mendocino has become the spot for classic, balanced pinots with lively acidity and lower alcohol….
Oct. 10, 2011 (Bloomberg) — “In South Africa, we’re redefining ourselves socially, politically, vinously,” Mark Solms says, pouring vibrant reds and whites in the garden dining room of a friend’s upper East Side townhouse on a recent New York visit.
A decade ago, the South African brain researcher and psychoanalyst left London for home, and took over a derelict wine farm belonging to his family in idyllic Franschhoek Valley. Now he’s producing some of the Western Cape’s most cutting-edge blends at Solms-Delta winery, an ambitious land-reform project that makes you even more gratified to drink them.
As I sip and spit, he leans forward, brushing back longish grey-white hair, telling a tale of new grapes, the past’s legacy and a vineyard technique called strangulation….
That 230-year-old wine is a vin jaune, or “yellow wine,” from the tiny Jura region’s most prestigious appellation, Chateau-Chalon.
I’m sipping the tangy 1969 vintage in the cellar of Jean- Francois Bourdy, the fifteenth generation at this family domaine, who waves around a cigarette as he says, “These old wines are worth a fortune, and they’re still completely drinkable.”
Its nutty, oxidative character reminds me a bit of dry sherry, but the savory saltiness, zing of acidity, and spice- toffee-and-curry powder aromas and flavors are unique, as is the way the wine is made.
Be warned. Vin jaune challenges palate expectations and harkens back to an earlier era. The wine once had illustrious admirers — Prince von Metternich, Napoleon, Rabelais. A winemaker tells me Henry IV used bottles of it to seduce women.
Now the Jura’s most famous wine is finding new fans among old-wine aficionados, adventurous geeks looking for different tastes, and edgy sommeliers….
September 11, 2011– On Saturday night, a torch-lit procession of chateau owners in bright red toques and flowing robes will parade through Bordeaux’s famous medieval village of Saint-Emilion. Naturally, wine will flow as fireworks explode.
The next day, this vinous group — the Jurade — will proclaim the beginning of the harvest from the top of the stone Tour du Roy. They’ll wave their hats and release clusters of purple-black balloons that look like huge bunches of flying grapes as the wind carries them away.
For wine pageantry, the annual weekend event can’t be beat….
August 22, 3011 –Three decades after America’s big- time embrace of the grape in the 1970s, it’s time to ponder what wine means at the philosophical bottom of the glass. A trio of new books sees winemaking at a crossroads.
Let’s start with David Darlington’s “An Ideal Wine: One Generation’s Pursuit of Perfection — and Profit — in California” (HarperCollins, 352 pages, $25.99). This is the best and most entertaining of several summer tomes charting today’s obsession with defining the — get used to this word — “ideal” wine.
Darlington explores the polarities of what winemakers are trying to achieve through the vision of two protagonists. One is the high-tech laboratory wizard Leo McCloskey, chief executive officer of Sonoma-based Enologix Inc.
For $20,000 a year, he helps winemakers “drain-down sweet” and get their wines stylistically “in the right ballpark,” which translates as getting their bottles into the 90+ ratings for Robert Parker and Wine Spectator scores, a leg up in this competitive market.
The other is Randall Grahm, charismatic owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard….
Aug 8, 2011 – Lazing in a hammock, chilled glass in hand, I’m sipping my new favorite summer wine, moscato d’Asti. Who knew that this would bond me to the hip-hop community? Ever since rapper Kanye West started giving shout-outs five years ago to the lightly fizzy, perfumey white wine, moscato has been a varietal on the rise.
There are four main varieties of the versatile muscat grape, which can be made in styles from dry to sweet. The star of the family, though, is moscato bianco, used in Italy’s classic moscato d’Asti, from the Asti area of Piemonte. These wines mostly fall in the middle of the sweetness spectrum and are gently sparkling, or, as Italians say, frizzante. They’re the frivolous, under-$20 whites in a serious region that produces collectible, expensive Barolos….
July 25, 2011 – Moon-shaped lanterns floated over a Chateau Haut-Brion dinner during Vinexpo last month. Owner Prince Robert of Luxembourg brushed off talk of 2010 prices, launching into tales of his early screenwriting career.
Now we know: his 2010, still in barrel, can be had for $1,159 a bottle. My advice? Don’t bother.
The long, drawn-out Bordeaux futures campaign finally climaxed on Fourth of July weekend. Haut-Brion, Lafite, Latour, and the other first growths released stratospheric prices while most Bordeaux-obsessed Americans lazed, indifferent, at the beach….
July 11, 2011 (Bloomberg) – Baron Eric de Rothschild and 11 other judges, in crimson velvet robes and matching hats, sweep into the candlelit cellar at Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Eight teams from the world’s top business schools and universities wait at round tables, ready for a showdown of their esoteric wine knowledge and tastebud skills.
Surrounding both at this 10th annual 20 Sur Vin wine competition in a stone-pillared wine temple are dimly lit barrels of very expensive red. The recently released futures price for one bottle of 2010 Lafite has climbed to $1,600….
June 20 (Bloomberg) — By night, Rajeev Samant parties at Mumbai clubs with supermodels and Bollywood friends like director Rohan Sippy. By day, he’s the restless chief executive officer of India’s largest winemaker, Sula Vineyards.
We’re having lunch in Tulsi, a new Indian restaurant in Manhattan, a quiet backdrop for someone who says a Grateful Dead concert was one of the defining moments of his life.
The 44-year-old Samant, a windsurfer and yoga practitioner, is wearing a cufflinked white shirt and jeans. Designer sunglasses perch on his smooth shaved head. Bollywood, he says, reflects — and influences — India’s changing view of wine….
June 6 (Bloomberg) — Small bands of “Archangels” fan out at London’s recent wine fair, intent on separating the good from the bad. Instead of halos and wings, these 50 seraphim are armed with lists and iPhones.
Their mission is to sip and savor offerings from new independent vintners for U.K. online retailer Naked Wines.
After tasting Decanter magazine’s medal-winning sparkling wines, Archangel Peter Batty, a filmmaker and musician, dismissed the selections as “a lot of crap.”
But at a table of Argentine labels, the Beviam reds from Mendoza’s Bodega Cavas del 23 wowed him. Two days later its 2007 Beviam Syrah was offered on the Naked Wines website, and within 48 hours the 600 bottles were sold out….
May 16 (Bloomberg) — Can Chateau Latour catch Chateau Lafite? We’ll find out on May 27, when vintages from Latour’s cellar in Bordeaux spanning almost 150 years go on sale at Christie’s International in Hong Kong.
Wines resting in the perfect storage conditions of a chateau’s cellar command a serious premium. That was part of the story behind the mindboggling prices at Sotheby’s Hong Kong Lafite sale last autumn — a case of 1982 sold for $132,594, or $11,050 a bottle, double the average current price.
The key factor, though, was the continuing Chinese love affair with Lafite….
Thirty-four years later, the Harvard-educated, viola- playing, kayak-racing winemaker is one of Sonoma’s old guard, known for the long-lived cabernets from his Laurel Glen winery, which he sold two months ago. Like many winery founders today, at 64, he wants to move on.
Campbell, in open-necked blue shirt and black jacket, is in town for a nostalgic wine retrospective, a tasting of 15 vintages of his iconic cabernet sauvignon, hosted by the winery’s new owner Bettina Sichel at New York’s Tocqueville restaurant.
Laurel Glen’s cab is surely California’s most under-the- radar great wine, thanks to Campbell’s lack of patience for marketing and his scorn for chasing critics’ scores….
April 18, 2011 (Bloomberg) — Warm spring sun streams into the Chateau Latour tasting room as I spit one of the top wines from Bordeaux’s 2010 vintage into a small stainless sink.
“It’s like a skyscraper,” says Chateau Latour President Frederic Engerer, his arms forming a column in the air to illustrate the taste-shape of this stunning first-growth red.
Ten days ago, Bordeaux’s famous chateaux were basking in the attention of 5,000 merchants and journalists from 68 countries for the yearly ritual of tasting barrel samples of the latest vintage. The purpose, as always, is to create buzz and entice the trade to buy the wines as futures….
Apr. 4, 2011 (Bloomberg) — On the morning of March 11, Henry Sidel watched Japan’s earthquake and tsunami devastation via computer in a Chicago hotel room. He pulled out his phone and started frantically calling his sake producers.
The founder of New York-based Joto Sake LLC, Sidel was on a sales trip to promote the jizake, or artisanal sakes, he imports from eight top small breweries (kura), in different parts of Japan. It took him two days to track them all down….
I give them a sniff, two sips just to be fair, then a groan and a thumbs-down score.
I’m not merely disappointed. I think they’re a wine crime. Why? Because when pinot is made to caress the tongue instead of grabbing it, it can seduce the palate as no other grape can.
Fortunately, the small band of passionate pinot makers championing pure fruit elegance and silky-textured finesse over gross oak and ghastly levels of alcohol (some 16 and 17 percent!) is growing and getting more vocal….
March 7. 2011 (Bloomberg) — Eben Sadie pours glasses of red and white, brushes back sun-bleached hair and starts talking his wine revolution. The South African’s non-stop philosophizing seems part vision, part spin — until I taste his brilliant, original wines.
“I’m a soil maniac,” says South Africa’s most outspoken winemaker (a term he hates). “Some people bet on horses, I like to walk into a vineyard and say, ‘I bet this will be the one.’”
Sadie focuses on getting terroir — a taste of the climate, soil, and tradition of where the grapes are grown — into his wines.
We’re in the Sadie Family Wines office above his small winery, a room with orange walls, maps of Burgundy, and crate shelves lined with empty bottles that once held the world’s greatest vintages.
In this cluster of whitewashed buildings in the Swartland district, the opinionated Sadie is making some of the most fascinating wines I tasted during a recent trip through South Africa’s vineyards….
Feb. 21, 2011 (Bloomberg) – At midnight, the Les Cadets de Bourgogne singing troupe is belting out “New York, New York,” as 370 Burgundy fans sip the region’s greatest wines, twirling white napkins above their heads in time with the music. A disco ball spins above, the light bouncing off the 1,000 or so rare bottles littering tables.
This $1,400 dinner, cooked by four superstar chefs, is the official finale of La Paulee de New York, a bi-annual three-day extravaganza organized and hosted by Daniel Johnnes, wine director at Restaurant Daniel. The event never fails to remind us just how stunning Burgundy’s best pinots and chardonnays can be….
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) — A blizzard threatened the New York arrival of nearly 100 Bordeaux chateau owners who were eager to show off their 2008 vintage, now bottled and soon to appear on retail shelves.
They, and the wines, made it and tales of hours on airport tarmacs mixed with wine talk as I sipped and spat the 100-plus reds and whites at the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting at New York’s Metropolitan Pavilion just over a week ago.
Many owners are already touting the greatness of 2010 and suggest 2008 may be Bordeaux’s last price/quality buy.
I’ve heard that about other vintages, but this time it just might be true — at least until the Chinese start hoovering up these wines. After all, 2008 Chateau Lafite, that country’s favorite label, has skyrocketed from $600 to nearly $2,000 a bottle in the past year, riding Chinese demand…
As a long-time wine collector, making his own was a secret dream. During harvest in March or April, he’ll fly down from New York to pick malbec grapes and play cellar rat.
Asmundson bought 3 acres of land in the Uco Valley for just under $200,000 from Vines of Mendoza, a five-year-old company in Argentina that sells parcels of prime vineyard acreage, plants them to owners’ specifications, then manages caretaking and winemaking. Owners can participate as much or as little as they wish…
Jan. 10, 2011 (Bloomberg) — The steep narrow road, high above Portugal’s Douro river was half washed out. The car skidded around hairpin curves with vines on one side and no guard-rails on the other, leaving me white-knuckled in the passenger seat.
I had asked to see touriga nacional. The name sounds like a football team or an obscure political party, but it’s an iconic Portuguese red grape variety, thought by some to rival cabernet sauvignon.
Last month, touriga nacional was the theme of Portugal’s first ever wine conference, held in the northern city of Porto. The country’s wine industry heavies were selling the grape as their “national” varietal, hoping to follow the success of Argentina with malbec and New Zealand with sauvignon blanc…
Dec. 27, 2010 (Bloomberg) — George the elephant made a great impression crushing riesling grapes for southern Oregon’s Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards during harvest this year. Winery owner Stephen Reustle partnered with nearby Wildlife Safari for the U.S.’s first-ever elephant grape stomp, conceived as a way to raise funds for the zoological park.
Initially he was dubious of the scheme, worried that the elephant’s weighty step would pulverize the grapes, break the seeds inside and release harsh tannins. He gained some confidence after George lifted one huge foot and Reustle felt its soft, fleshy pads.
Still, the 29-year-old pachyderm wasn’t exactly a grape- pressing natural….
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) — In 2010, I once again sipped thousands of wines looking for the few worth recommending. I’m happy to report I found more compelling high quality wines than ever — especially from the 2009 vintage in Germany, Beaujolais, Bordeaux, and Burgundy — among a sea of plonk and expensive disappointments. Here are my 10 picks of the year.
2007 Fia Nobile Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($20)
My bargain of the year is this lively red from Sicily, discovered at New York’s Convivio restaurant. Charged with finding one wine for dishes with clashing tastes, the sommelier offered his secret weapon — the frappato and nero d’avola grape blend known as Cerasuolo di Vittoria. The Fia Nobile version, my introduction to the category, brims with crushed cherry aromas and light but rich texture.
1939 Massandra Gurzuf Rose Muscat ($525 at auction)
In the Ukraine’s Crimea, the Massandra winery on the Black Sea once produced sweet dessert muscats for the czars. Its collection of bottles, stored in 21 underground tunnels, survived the Russian Revolution and some were served to Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference. History was in my mind as I sipped the amazingly fresh-tasting 1939, with aromas and flavors of rose petals and spicy brown sugar, at a Zachys’ auction before 38 lots of old vintages went on the block….
“That’s the power of provenance,” said the sandy-haired, soft-spoken chairman and chief executive officer of Bordeaux Winebank, after six of his wines set records. “When wines have it, collectors pounce and pay.”
The 128 cases of first and top second growths, in original wooden cases, carried tamperproof traceability seals and used eProvenance’s radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to register whether they’d been subjected to extreme heat or cold during storage or shipping. A certificate for each case guaranteed it came direct from chateau cellars and had been stored in Bordeaux since release….
Nov. 8, 2010 (Bloomberg) — Beethoven composed part of his 9th Symphony in a small apartment at the Mayer am Pfarrplatz winery. Downstairs in its noisy tavern, with old paintings of antlered animals and memorabilia of the composer, I’m dining on schnitzel and gemischter satz, Vienna’s contribution to the wine world.
Light, tangy, fragrant and surprisingly complex, the best examples of this white blend pair brilliantly with local cuisine, and with music. They are the ideal sippers in the barrel-laden cellar, where winemakers and other guests dance to the echoing strains of Strauss.
The only world capital with major vineyards, Vienna grows more than 600 hectares of vines inside the city limits, and its vinous history goes back some 2,000 years. The Danube, which bisects the city, creates perfect microclimates….
Taittinger, president of his family’s eponymous champagne house, drinks a bottle a day.
Champagne, he says, can be a great help “when you’re with a beautiful woman and you’re not a genius.”
But in the wine region where some of the most important battles in European history were fought, today’s clashes are no wars of the sexes. They’re over the authenticity and image of the world’s finest fizz…
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Like many young savvy sommeliers, 33-year-old Michael Madrigale of New York’s Bar Boulud, extols obscure wines from the Jura, swoons over Burgundy and indulges in Bordeaux bashing.
“All the high prices in Bordeaux have left a collective bad taste in the mouth of everyone,” he said. His Bordeaux customers “are people with gray hair.”
But is the world’s largest fine wine region really just a no-soul place filled with insanely priced luxury products for investment rather than drinking? Well, not exactly.
Admittedly, Bordeaux’s image is one of glamorous chateaux, 87 glitzy crus classes wines, and worldwide demand. First growths now sell for thousands of dollars — 2009 Lafite futures cost $1,550 a bottle and you won’t get the wine until 2012. That of course, is what has helped make the region a global success.
What everyone forgets is that Bordeaux has more than 8,500 estates, and some of them are tiny family-run properties that make good cabernet and merlot blends for reasonable prices….
Sept. 20 (Bloomberg) — Sipping Cristal champagne and 39 other blue-chip labels, New York wine lovers kicked off the autumn auction season at a two-night Acker Merrall & Condit sale on Sept. 10. They bid big, especially for Chateau Lafite and Romanee Conti, spending $4.9 million — a sign auction prices are still rising.
“Lafite gets stronger each month, like a well-fed Godzilla,” said Acker’s John Kapon, as he headed off for the company’s two-day sale in Hong Kong on Sept. 17-18, which totaled HK$68.1 million ($8.8 million), the second-highest ever for a wine auction in Asia after Acker’s May sale…
The whites at Left Foot Charley winery, housed in what was once the laundry of the state loony bin in Traverse City, are so crisp and savory they convince me my palate won’t suffer if, while here, I’m a “locapour”.
The word means someone who’s committed to drinking the vino of the region — say, within a 100-mile radius to a half-day drive of wherever they are…
These are the first of the fabulous 2009 vintage to hit shop shelves, several from the “Gang of Four” vintners who rescued the world from bubble-gum-style Beaujolais nouveau. Unlike tannic cabernet and merlot, these reds shine when lightly chilled, perfect for summer…
Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) — The lively, intense, utterly delicious wine I’m swirling in my glass is 89 years old, and it’s a white. Razor-sharp acidity is what preserved this German riesling with the impossible-to-say-in-one-breath name: 1921 Hessische Staatsweinguter Kloster Eberbach Rudesheimer Hinterhaus Rheingau. I checked that spelling, twice.
“Of course, 1921 is one of the two greatest vintages of the last century,” confides bushy-mustached German vintner Reinhard Lowenstein….
July 19 (Bloomberg) – Ziggy, a golden Labrador trained to sniff out bad wine corks, is showing off his tricks at Sojourn Cellars’ tasting salon in Sonoma.
I’m visiting this charming white clapboard house to find out why owner Craig Haserot is thriving when big-name Napa wineries are discounting their cabernets 30 to 50 percent to clear inventory.
“The main thing is that from the beginning we’ve sold 70 percent of our pinots and cabs direct to consumers online,’’ says Haserot. Ziggy wags his tail.
I recently visited several premium wineries in Sonoma that are growing, in contrast with their recession-battered peers….
June 28 (Bloomberg) — Peter Silver, a collector of single- malt whisky, nibbled on cheese and sipped water as bidders pushed up the price of a bottle of Macallan 50-Year-Old Anniversary Malt to $9,250, almost double the record price paid for Chateau Lafite.
Silver, dentist to jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and member of the international tasting group Malt Maniacs, was one of three dozen fans at the Bonhams whisky auction in New York on June 22, which also took telephone bids from as far afield as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Europe…
June 14 (Bloomberg) — When offers of 2009 Chateaux Cantemerle futures hit his inbox, Chris Adams, president of New York retailer Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, didn’t hesitate to snap up 50 cases.
The 2009 vintage is another great one in Bordeaux, and futures buying heated up last week as more chateaux released prices for their still-in-the-barrel wines….
May 24 (Bloomberg) — Sixty-five noses are sniffing glasses in a wine-to-wine taste-off on the 36th floor of New York’s Mandarin Oriental hotel. Mine is one of them.
The 10 numbered reds in front of me include two first- growth Bordeaux, two high-end Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons, an Italian Super Tuscan, and five Chilean wines, all from the 2006 vintage. The bottles are in brown paper bags, so we don’t know which wine is which.
The task? Rate the wines and pick the top three. Will Chile’s “icon” entries make the grade?
May 10 (Bloomberg) — Alejandro Fernandez, one of Spain’s visionary winemakers, is serenading me with an old folk song in his tasting room.
It is 25 years since his Tinto Pesquera red gave Ribera del Duero a future as a serious wine region and he is opening bottles to prove it.
La Ribera, a high rocky plateau bordering the Duero river 90 minutes’ drive northwest of Madrid, produces bold, savory, long-lived reds from the tempranillo grape with vivid fruit, dense structure and scents of leather and tobacco…
April 26 (Bloomberg) — I enjoy a grand cru Burgundy as much as the next wine lover, and maybe more. But with top names going for several hundred dollars a bottle, my budget rarely supports such splurges.
Which is why I was on the prowl for seriously seductive bargain-priced whites and reds at last month’s Grands Jours de Bourgogne trade fair. I found some of the most delicious wines I sampled during my week’s stay in the underrated appellation of Auxey-Duresses…
April 12 (Bloomberg) – Last week at Chateau Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux, director Gildas d’Ollone and winemaker Thomas Do Chi Nam looked set to share a fist bump despite driving rain outside. Body language usually tells the tale during the region’s annual “en primeur” tastings, and the chateau’s 2009 is that good.
The latest harvest, once again, is being hyped as the region’s “vintage of the century.”
I raved about the last great one, 2005. This year I sampled barrel samples of more than 400 wines over six days to see if the 2009s are as good — or even better. Pichon-Lalande is; some others are not…
March 29 (Bloomberg) – John Pierpont Morgan liked to sip old vintages of Madeira with his fellow industrialists while cruising New York harbor on his steam yacht Corsair.
I’m savoring them in the Manhattan mansion where his son lived, now part of the Morgan Library and Museum complex. The cedary, layered 1780 Borges Bual Madeira ($2,450) on my tongue could have been drunk by Thomas Jefferson. The wine is surprisingly delicious, its caramel and candied fruit flavors and lively acidity intact after more than two centuries…
March 15 (Bloomberg) – “What’s terrifying,” said John Kolasa, managing director of Bordeaux chateau Rauzan-Segla, “is what will happen to Bordeaux wines in America now that Diageo has bowed out.”
I was sipping his silky, charming 2007, one of the best wines from this lackluster vintage poured at the annual Union des Grand Crus tasting in New York, which never includes first growths.
So far 2010 is awash in discounted Bordeaux and the mostly middle-rung ‘07s promise more. That’s because the biggest U.S. importer of Bordeaux wines, Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines, a unit of British drinks giant Diageo PLC, announced last year that it was getting out of the Bordeaux business in the U.S. — and then started selling off its vast inventory in October…
Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) — I think of the past 10 years as the counterfeit-wine decade. While the number of fakes began exploding in the mid-1990s, the problem was only widely acknowledged a few years ago and promises to heat up even more in 2010….
Jan. 19 (Bloomberg) –“See those white bands around the vines? They’re soaked in garlic and oil,” says Chilean winemaker Matias Rios as I kneel down for a sniff. The pungent smell keeps fat insects called burritos from destroying pinot noir vines at Cono Sur Vineyards & Winery, the oldest in Chile.
Dec. 29 (Bloomberg)– Every year, the world of wines and spirits produces great bottles, pleasant surprises and some thoroughly weird stories. This year, I’m happy to report, was no exception.
Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) — In 2009, I spat out 5,000 wines in my quest for recommendable bottles.
Nov. 30 (Bloomberg) – I brushed away drooping cobwebs in the spooky cellar at R. Lopez de Heredia winery in Spain’s Rioja region. In front of me, bottles of 45-year-old white wines rested beneath white mold that felt like a furry animal pelt.
Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) – Piemontese winemaker Angelo Gaja paced back and forth, his hand stuffed in the pocket of his Brioni suit, as he addressed about 200 attendees for the first World Wine Symposium, dubbed the “Davos of Wine.” “Cabernet is like John Wayne,’’ Gaja said.
from BLOOMBERG MARKETS:
March, 2013 — Bar-hopping in Santiago several years ago, I fell hard for my first-ever pisco sour, a floral-scented sweet-tart drink topped with frothy egg-white foam. It tasted fruitier than a mojito, creamier and spicier than a margarita and more refreshing than a whiskey sour.
Made with potent white-grape- brandy pisco, the national spirit of both Chile and Peru, this silky-textured con- coction slid down my throat so slyly, I had to order another to sip with the tangy ceviche on my plate.
Back home, top pisco was hard to find in bars and stores. Now, at last, it’s the drink du jour in London, New York and San Francisco….
January, 2013 – Cases of wine were taking over William Ingram’s Manhattan apartment. “I have a tendency to buy more than I have space for,” the investor says, chuckling.
Now, the majority of his valuable 1,200-bottle collection rests quietly across the Hudson River at Domaine Wine Storage in New Jersey. “It’s hassle-free,” Ingram says. “I get a couple of cases delivered every month for dinner parties.”
At least 25 professional wine storage spaces have opened in and around large cities, including Hong Kong, London and New York, in the past few years. The best will coddle your pricey Burgundies, protect against disaster scenarios, give you advice and even invite you to tasting dinners. Here’s what to look for in a wine storage company….
November, 2012 – A taste of 1911 Jim Beam at a friend’s house ignited private-equity investor John Hawkins’s passion for collecting rare, old American spirits. “I put down the glass and said, ‘Wow,’” the 52-year-old managing partner at Generation Partners recalls. “It was so smooth, with flavors of honey and citrus.”
It’s tough to track down pre-Prohi- bition bottles yourself, so Hawkins turned to Soutirage, a wine and spirits concierge service based in California’s Napa Valley that had provided the Jim Beam at the event.
Until recently, the five-year-old company’s mission was to help wealthy clients build and manage their fine wine collections and provide other related services….
October, 2012 – Twenty black-tied collectors sampled historic vintages of Penfolds Grange, Australia’s most legendary red wine, as candlelight reflected off polished glasses in Baccarat’s Cristal Room in Moscow. Winemaker Peter Gago was on hand to unveil Penfolds’s new $168,000 silver- and-glass decorative ampoule filled with its fresh, opulent 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon. But the real stars on this June evening were the old bottles of Grange, an intensely rich and powerful shiraz-cabernet blend. Gago served his favorite, the rare 1953, which sold initially for A$1.76 a bottle and can now be had in Australia for A$25,000 and up….
October 22, 2012 — For the past three centuries, France’s world-famous Cognac region has been synonymous with the heady, amber-colored brandy that bears its name. In California, a handful of small distilleries only a few decades old are aiming for the same kind of quality.
To find out how these American upstarts compare with Cognac’s legendary bottlings, three other judges and I conducted a blind tasting of boutique brandies from today’s fastest-growing category, the luxury XO level, at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters. They all had subtle aromas and layered flavors of dried fruit, spice, caramel and leather, thanks to having been aged in oak barrels for a couple of decades.
With only five serious producers, California was the underdog in this competition against six French bottlings. Cognac is home to four giant global brands and hundreds of small family distilleries, and only brandy made there can be named after that region. Like producers in Cognac, the Californians double distill wine in traditional copper pot stills. The big difference is the grapes….
To see a video of the panel, click here:
August, 2012 – Roger Weisman, the bartender at Tertulia restaurant in New York, starts splashing Trabanco Cosecha Propia Natural Cider in a glass. He gradually raises the bottle higher and higher to pour a long, arcing stream. “This Spanish escanciar technique mixes air in, making bubbles,” Weisman says as he hands me the pale, cloudy, slightly fizzy drink. “It’s kind of a flamenco move.”
The cozy, brick-walled West Vil- lage spot, which opened last sum- mer, evokes the rustic cider houses of Spain’s northwest Asturias region, where wild beaches and dry, earthy sidras are the main attractions.
Cider, long considered a simple yet refreshing drink for summer, is becoming more sophisticated and complex….
July, 2012 – In late April, I spent a couple days exploring the increasingly sophisticated wine scene on Long Island’s North Fork, two hours east of Manhattan. Several dozen boutique wineries—marked by green Wine Trail signs sporting a bunch of grapes— now line the two main roads between Aquebogue and Southold. I tasted the best wines the region has to offer and was surprised by their quality— as well as by the new restaurants where young chefs are creating an exciting local cuisine to match….
June, 2012 – Bartender Scott Beattie swerves his dark-blue Jeep Com-mander onto the shoulder of a Sonoma County road. “Bay laurel tree,” he calls happily as he jumps out, cuts off a handful of leaves, pinches one to release the aroma and lets me sniff. He says he’s picturing it in a tall cocktail of St. George Spirits Terroir Gin, pickled huckleberries and lemon juice.
Foraged wild ingredients, fruit from neighbors’ trees and herbs, vegetables and flowers from local farms—all are essential elements in Beattie’s cre- ative, vibrant drinks. He first gained fame with them six years ago, long be- fore the phrase farm-to-glass cocktail was coined, when he was bar manager at Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg. With two Michelin stars, it’s Sonoma’s answer to Napa Valley’s three-star The French Laundry….
May, 2012 – Importer and restaurateur Paulo Kin Yee Pong has been foment- ing change in Hong Kong’s rapidly evolving wine world for more than a decade, since he was 24. Now 35, he recently launched another innovative venture: regionally themed wine shops named Bordeaux Etc and Champagne Etc that are one more indication of what a sophisticated wine destination this city has become.
“The Etc stands for my idea of what a wine store should do: endear, tease, cultivate,” Pong said when I stopped by his high-rise office in November. In a hand-tailored dark suit and black- rimmed glasses, Pong was getting ready for the December opening of the shops. Afternoons were spent on-site, tweaking architectural plans, checking plastering and choosing which wines from his own extensive collection he would add to the inventory….
April, 2012 – Under the watchful eye of a puckish old king, bartender Bill Dante lines up six different Bloody Marys on the smooth, polished wood. The St. Regis hotel’s King Cole Bar—with its famous Maxfield Parrish mural as backdrop—is where the ultimate brunch drink was probably introduced to America more than 75 years ago. What better starting point to assess Manhattan’s new riffs on the recipe?
The original Bloody Mary, called the Red Snapper at the King Cole Bar, was a tangy mix of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, salt and cayenne pepper. Now, bartenders are transforming the familiar drink in eccentric ways. WD- 50’s Proud Mary is pink and carbon- ated. Spins at The Rum House include a version that uses white rye whiskey instead of vodka and is garnished with a slice of spicy salami. The only constant ingredient is tomato juice….
February 23, 2012 – On a glass coffee table in his Hong Kong high-rise apartment, Peter V. Kwok eagerly unrolls an aerial photograph of the wine estate he bought in November. His Chateau Tour Saint-Christophe grows merlot and cabernet franc grapes in the St.-Emilion appellation of Bordeaux. With his finger, he traces the outline of its 17 hectares of old vines — and then points out a dark-green slope.
“Those vines may produce the best wine,” says Kwok, managing director of USI Partners Ltd., a Hong Kong holding company with investments in hotels in China, including in Tibet.
Kwok, 63, is one of at least 12 Chinese investors who have recently bought a chateau in Bordeaux, France’s world-famous wine region noted for great reds such as Ch. Petrus and Ch. Mouton Rothschild. Since 2008, these investors have purchased mostly small, little-known and sometimes distressed wineries, and at least 10 more deals are in the pipeline, according to the chateaux and local real-estate firms, Bloomberg Pursuits reports in its premier issue….
January, 2012 — Behind the Bar at Prescription Cocktail Club on rue Mazarine in Paris, a young, blond bartender shakes up a Very Old Cuban. The heady mix, for 12 euros ($17), includes rum, ginger liqueur and mint and is topped off with champagne. It’s tangy and refreshing on a warm September night. There’s indie rock on the sound system, candles flicker and a few chic couples are arranged on comfy loveseats.
Before 2007, Paris had no real cocktail scene to match those in London, New York, Sydney or Tokyo. A trio of 29-year-old French entrepreneurs and their clever speakeasy-style bars—Experimental Cocktail Club, Curio Parlor and the newest, Prescription—have changed all that….
November, 2011 – Bubbles fizz gently in dozens of wine glasses. Four opinionated tasters had smiled approvingly at No. 1, but con- troversy breaks out over No. 6. “A tasty, creme brulee–like crowd pleaser,” Josh Green says, giving it a solid three stars.
“Pink lemonade with too much fruity sweetness,” coun- ters Raj Vaidya, panning it with zero stars. Robin Kelley O’Connor finds whiffs of cinnamon and flowers, while I sa- vor its creamy texture. We both write down two stars.
We’re at the first ever BLOOMBERG MARKETS panel tasting on a late July afternoon in New York. It’s 100 degrees Fahr- enheit (38 degrees Celsius) outside, but we judges—and the 15 grower champagnes we’re tasting blind—are staying cool in an air-conditioned boardroom at the Penn Club. A couple of hours after we start, I tally our scores, and we remove the bot- tles from their shiny gold bags. Two bubblies are the clear win- ners, while a third qualifies as the tasting ’s best value.
Made by small producers from grapes grown in their own vineyards, these champagnes are nicknamed “farmer fizz…”
October, 2011 — In Chateau Pontet-Canet’s vIneyards in Bordeaux, shaggy-maned Breton horses pull carts that spray teas made from stinging nettles and horse- tail plants. Flowers and grass grow be- tween the rows of grapes. And during this fall’s harvest, technical director Jean-Michel Comme will check the phase of the moon before sending out pickers. “These biodynamic methods help us improve quality,” he says. “The wines are deeper. They have more aro- mas. They’re wines of emotion.”
As we look out over the vines from the tasting room above the cellar, Comme splashes a 2010 barrel sample in my glass. This red is a stunner: smooth, elegant and complex. Fifth-growth Pontet-Canet has been punching above its weight for the past five years. Comme and owner Alfred Tesseron say that’s because of their conversion to biodynamics in 2004….
When meat is slathered with the hottest rubs and spiciest barbecue sauces, a well-chilled rose is a better match than a red….
This boom in urban boozemaking has made the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan prime tasting and tour destinations. Here are nine of the best spots to visit in the city….
July, 2011 – Charles Banks was poking around the small cellar at South Africa’s Mulderbosch Vineyards in spring 2008 when its wine- maker pulled out some old vintages of chenin blanc. Stunned by how delicious the 15- to 20-year-old whites tasted, Banks saw the future unfolding. Three years later, his company, Santa Barbara, California–based Terroir Capital LLC, has purchased two wineries in the Cape Winelands, including the well-known Mulderbosch brand…
June, 2011 — On a cold night this spring, I sat in tiny Bar Veloce in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood sipping a tangerine-colored Italian aperitivo garnished with an orange slice. The fizzy, citrus-and-rhubarb-flavored combo of Aperol and prosecco made me think of lounging in an Italian cafe in warm sunlight. I was in the midst of a crash course in the
family of complex Italian bitter liqueurs called amari, the latest buzz-generating ingredients in cocktails. Their colorful bottles now line the back bar of dozens of hip Italian restaurants. They’re also featured—along with other bitter offerings—at new East Village nightspot Amor y Amargo..
May, 2011 — One hand on the wheel, former investment banker Joao Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro casually maneuvers his four-wheel-drive Mercedes up a winding, rutted track through alarmingly steep, rocky vineyards in northwest Portugal’s Douro Valley. This isolated region of terraced vines and tile-roofed, whitewashed houses is famous as the source of grapes for sweet fortified port. Ferreira—who works at Quinta do Vallado, his family’s estate—belongs to a band of five ambitious vintners making sophisticated dry table wines here. Known as the Douro Boys, they ignited a local revolution with their earthy, ageworthy reds….
March 2011 — Pablo Alvarez pulls his black SUV up to an electrified fence that guards an almost bare area next to an old vineyard. Underneath that square patch, he says in a soft voice, is where his family’s wine estate, Vega Sicilia, keeps bottles of its iconic cuvee, Unico, safely entombed.
Spain’s first collectible wine, and its most famous one, Unico is coveted by aficionados from New York to Singapore…
January, 2011 — In a downtown New York coffee bar, Italian master barista Giorgio Milos is pulling espresso shots from a shiny, $15,000 La Cimbali machine. A thin stream of brown liquid—called a mousetail—fills a small, warm, white ceramic cup. The espresso Milos hands me looks perfect, with a layer of silky crema, or reddish-brown foam, that has tiger-skin streaks on top. A swirl releases aromas of toast, citrus and chocolate, and a sip reveals complex flavors and a smooth balance between sourness and bitterness.
Espresso aficionados are always looking for the perfect cup. But what makes an espresso great? Milos—who won the Italian Barista Championship in 2008 and works for coffee giant Illycaffe SpA— is a traditionalist, following techniques perfected in Italy, where espresso was invented. In the U.S., the U.K. and Scandinavia, a new wave of passionate baristas are using larger doses of coffee and beans from individual estates to create a richer, more syrupy drink with a different taste profile….
November 2010 — Global private investor Phokion Potamianos caught the wine- investing bug early. At 17, he spent 20 pounds on a rare cabernet sauvignon from Greek winery Domaine Porto Carras. “I sold it three years later for £350,” he recalls. “I was very pleased with myself.”
This past spring, Potamianos, now 46, put money—he wouldn’t say how much—into the just-launched Bottled Asset Fund, which is directed by Sergio Esposito, co-founder of New York’s Italian Wine Merchants. Along with Citigroup Inc. Chairman Richard Parsons; William R. Benz, head of Pacific Investment Management Co.’s Europe, Middle East and Africa operations; and at least 21 other investors, Potamianos is betting on serious profits from wine. “I’ve found it a fascinating investment vehicle for the last decade, with qualities and economic dynamics akin to the art market and other objects of beauty,” he says…
October, 2010 — in his vineyard on the strikingly barren Greek island of Santorini, winemaker Paris Sigalas shows me the strangest-looking grape vines I’ve ever seen. They creep low on the ground instead of standing in neat trellised rows. Each is trained into a coiled-basket shape that hides the grapes from the hot sun and the scouring wind off the Aegean Sea.
This tourist mecca—a 50-minute flight from Athens—is known for its black-sand beaches, deep-blue water and romantic sunsets. It’s also a celebrated wine region where vintners are making intense, modestly priced whites with salty, mineral- tinged flavors from the native assyrtiko grape…
Kazuo Uyeda holds a filled cocktail shaker at a precise slant and then pumps his elbows in a three-point twisting motion so furiously that his arms are a blur. The slim Japanese master bartender is showing off his much-discussed “hard shake” in New York’s Hiro Ballroom.
The recent fascination in the West with the mystique of Japanese cocktail techniques has drawn more than 100 top bartenders and enthusiasts to this two-day seminar with Uyeda. In Tokyo, the 65-year-old is a legend…
July, 2010 — Every month, Belgian-beer fanatics check the website of Saint Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren to see whether reservations are open for its legendary 12 ale. They phone the abbey’s hot line, which is often busy for hours, on the specified day; make an appointment to pick up one 24-bottle crate; provide the license plate number for a Belgian-registered car; and, on the given date, wait in line at the abbey, which is about an hour and a half west of Brussels. The receipt warns against reselling, though bottles trade regularly on EBay and elsewhere for stiff prices….
June, 2010 — On a damp March night, natural-wine importers Jenny Lefcourt and Francois Ecot are in crowded Manhattan wine bar The Ten Bells with three of their French vintners. “Today, you have a choice: robot wines or real wines from a real place,” says Lefcourt as we sip a rich 2007 Marcel Lapierre Morgon Cuvee MMVII, a Beaujolais made by one of the heroes of the natural-wine movement.
By “real,” Lefcourt, 39, means wines made from grapes grown organically but also with as little intervention as possible in the winery. France is the epicenter of the trend, and Paris now boasts almost 20 natural-wine bars and bistros…
May, 2010 — “Bitters are as essential to cocktails as salt is to food,” Stephan Berg says as he pulls a travel pack of five tiny bottles of different flavors from his briefcase. Berg, 38, is co-owner of The Bitter Truth GmbH, a company based outside Munich that uses top-quality herbs, barks and spices in its concoctions, many of them adaptations of bygone-era recipes. Bitters “point up flavors, add a layer of complexity and give a cocktail an aromatic kick,” says Berg, a barman who has amassed a collection of historic examples…
April 2010 — It’s harvest time in the Napa Valley, and winemaker Aaron Pott has been on the road since 7:30 a.m. He’s spending what will become a 12-hour workday nibbling grapes in vineyards and deciding when to pick, sampling fermenting wine and fielding anxious calls on his mobile phone from exhausted cellar workers.
In the midst of the usual harvest craziness, Pott, 43, looks remarkably calm….
March 2010 –At a reconstructed version of George Washington’s distillery, I’m stirring a barrelful of boiling water and grain with a heavy wooden rake…
February 2010 –Money manager Douglas Famigletti learns how to get the most out of a wine event in seven easy lessons.
January 2010 –Master drink slinger and bar impresario Sasha Petraske pops a large block of ice from a plastic mold, sets it on a cutting board and, wielding the muddler end of a bar spoon like an ice pick, stabs its center.
In SOMMELIER JOURNAL:
April 15, 2012 – Now that Robert Parker, long considered the world’s wine guru, is approaching retirement age—he’ll be 65 in July—it’s an appropriate time to assess what his legacy is likely to be.
The industry has changed dramatically since Parker launched his newsletter The Wine Advocate in 1978. And since 2005, when my critical biography of him, The Emperor of Wine,was published, he has spun off many of the regions whose wines he once regularly reviewed—and influenced—to his new hires: Antonio Galloni; Neal Martin; Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW; David Schildknecht; Mark Squires; and the controversial Jay Miller, who recently stepped down. Only Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley remain completely under his sway. At the WineFuture 2011 conference in Hong Kong last November, Parker himself acknowledged that he was not as influential as he was a decade ago. Which aspects of his influence will endure…?
In DRINKS BUSINESS HONG KONG:
April, 2012 (DBHK)– As auction gavels now bang down record prices for top Burgundies, it’s worth pondering just where California’s sought-after bottles fit in today’s volatile wine auction scene. Any chance they could become the next hot category?
After perusing sale catalogues and canvassing collectors and auction directors, it’s clear that the secondary market for Californian wine is more complicated and divided than one might think. And so far, with only a few exceptions, it is firmly centred in the US, and especially at auctions held in California….
3.25.13 - Every week, I taste dozens of sample bottles that have arrived on my doorstep, looking for good values. One that really impressed me last week was this striking, aromatic 2011 Masseria Li Veli Verdeca, with lively fruit, mint, and spice flavors and a crisp texture. This white is much more expressive and complex than its price would suggest. It’s also a wine that needs the right dish — like the pasta with freshly-made pesto we served — to shine.
The Masseria Li Veli stone winery is on the Salento peninsula in Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s “boot.” Its long history began in the 19th century, when famous Italian economist Marquis Antonio De Viti De Marco transformed the estate with the goal of becoming a model for winemaking in Italy’s south. A century later, the Falvo wine family purchased and restored it, aiming to focus on local varietals.
This white is part of the winery’s Askos project, started in 2009, to rediscover and celebrate forgotten grapes…
3.11.13 - At a recent tasting of rare sweet wines at New York’s The Modern restaurant, the producer also poured his $12 dry aromatic white as an aperitif. This fresh, lively, easy-sipping 2011 Domaine Cazes Le Canon du Maréchal has intense aromas of apricots and orange blossom, and soft, round tropical fruit and peachy flavors with attractive herbal notes. It was lovely for sipping without food while just standing around and chatting, but is also one of the few wines that would go with asparagus. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that it has been a by-the-glass pour for asparagus dishes at Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in France.
Domaine Cazes, which has no connection with the Cazes family of Bordeaux’s Château Lynch-Bages, is in the heart of the small, somewhat obscure Roussillon region between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean in southern France on the Spanish border. The area is part of the historic principality of Catalonia, which is mostly around Barcelona. General manager Lionel Lavail showed off a few phrases of Catalan and said, “We’re more Spanish than French…”
1.14.13 – It’s oh-so-fashionable now to bash Bordeaux wines as slick, unaffordable and made only for investors. But they’re not. This attractive, fruit-scented 2010 Château Saintongey Vieilles Vignes, with lovely taste notes of cherries and herbs, has just enough structure and tannin to make it excellent with roast lamb on a cold night and costs only $15.
No, this wine isn’t one of the region’s fancy crus classés that require a decade or more of cellar aging to be at their best. Château Saintongey is a simple Bordeaux rouge for everyday drinking from the vast area south of the city of Bordeaux called Entre Deux Mers.
The 37 acres of vines and the chateau were acquired and totally renovated 20 years ago by Charles Yung et Fils, which owns seven estates in Bordeaux.
Chateau Saintongey is part of the company’s mid-range and vintages of this wine have won plenty of medals in France, the U.K. and the U.S. It’s the kind of attractive inexpensive Bordeaux red that the French enjoyed with Sunday dinner a couple of decades ago and that turned up on wine lists at French bistros in the U.S….
12.17.12 -The holiday season is a time for wine indulgence, and to me that means fizz from Champagne, the only region in the world entitled to use the name on the label. At the New York Wine Media Guild’s annual Champagne lunch, I tasted this good buy Charles Heidsieck Rosé Reserve, a crisp, elegant and sophisticated non-vintage bubbly with a seductive pale pink color and a lot of complexity for the price. A combination of bright red fruit and spice flavors, with an overlay of toastiness and a creamy texture, this wine is best when not too chilled to reveal its tantalizing aromas.
A decade ago, pink fizz was only a small percentage of the Champagne region’s production. But demand continues to boom and rosé bottlings are now up to 8%. Most big houses as well as small growers make at least one for their portfolios; sadly, they cost more than their regular non-vintage or vintage brut counterparts….
12-3-12 – Chile has long been a good source for just the kind of bargain reds you need in quantity for holiday parties and dinners. At $14 a bottle, this spicy, smooth 2010 Calcu Cabernet Franc from the Colchagua Valley, with its taste of red berries, hints of cocoa, and wonderfully silky texture, really over-delivers for the price.
The rural Colchagua Valley, in the central part of Chile about 80 miles south of Santiago, is the southernmost sub-region of the Rapel Valley. It’s better known for big-name prestige reds made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Carmenère — such as icon wine Clos Apalta — than Cabernet Franc. But recently a few producers have become very interested in this varietal. Based on the examples I’ve tasted, including this one, I’m convinced Cabernet Franc has a promising future there. (Thanks to the brilliant new book “Wine Grapes” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz and just published by Ecco, I now know that Cabernet Franc is one of Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents.) Bordeaux varietals were first planted in this region — also home to Chilean cowboys — back in the 19th century…
11.19.12 - When it comes to choosing what to drink with Thanksgiving dinner, I belong to the no-one-wine-is-perfect crowd — but sparkling rosé is pretty close to ideal. That’s why my pick this week is lively, fruity non-vintage Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé, with its elegant pink color, crisp apple and strawberry flavors, zippy acidity and creamy texture….
11.5.12 – I’m always happy to discover another New World producer committed to biodynamic wines — especially when the wines are really good. My latest discovery is the smoky, sophisticated 2009 Seresin Reserve Chardonnay from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. It’s fruity and tangy with a slight taste of nuts, a satiny, polished texture and a surprisingly long finish.
This was one of six Chardonnays from New Zealand that I tasted at a seminar on the country’s terroir and climate, which aimed to illustrate the diversity of styles in various regions. One from Central Otago had deep minerality, while Seresin’s, from the winery’s hillside Raupo Creek vineyard in Marlborough, had more zest and citrus character. Though Marlborough gained its reputation from its Sauvignon Blancs, the terroir clearly suits Chardonnay, too….
10.22.12 - I used to think Malbec’s popularity was bound to wane, but it’s still a hot varietal in the U.S. despite the dozens of simple, jammy examples. This big, savory 2009 Catena Alta Malbec, with its aroma of violets and layers of glossy dark fruit flavors, is one of the best around. It’s not cheap, but it iswell worth the price, and has a great back story, too.
This rich, sophisticated red is perfect for drinking with grilled strip steaks on a cool night. It was one of the best wines I tasted at a Women in Wine Leadership Symposium held in New York City last week. The event was a chance for top level women in the industry such as Costco’s wine buyer Annette Alvarez-Peters and innovative women wine producers to share thoughts about the state of women in wine and some good bottles.
Laura Catena, the managing director of her family’s Catena Zapata winery in Argentina and author of the book “Vino Argentino,” held forth on a panel about multigenerational wine families. The winery was founded in 1902, but her father Nicolas, third generation, put it on the path to world fame….
10.15.12 - New Zealand is so identified with Sauvignon Blanc that few people realize this country also makes delicious whites from other varietals. This spicy 2011 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris from Central Otago is full of racy acidity and ginger, pear and quince aroma and flavor notes, and has a rich texture and surprisingly long finish. Think of it as a perfect accompaniment to smoked trout or a creamy salmon pâté.
This white was one of many excellent wines I tasted on a one-day trip from New York to Montreal with eight New Zealand winemakers and winery owners in a restored private rail car. The organizers solved the problem of how to taste on a swaying train by serving wines in stemless Riedel “O” glasses placed in wooden boxes divided into individual sections….
10.8.12 – Viognier was once hyped as the next white varietal in California to go boom, but over the past two decades examples have been a mixed bag. This elegant 2011 Stags’ Leap Viognier, with its luxurious texture, aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom, and taste of white peach and apricots, is a reason to revisit the category. It is one of the really interesting California bottlings of the varietal. Many others, sadly, are not worth drinking.
The best, like this Stags’ Leap, are rich and exotically perfumed, yet also have vibrant acidity and a stony minerality….
8.20.12 – Dozens of celebrities have become vintners in the past decade or so, but only a handful are making wines as interesting as the three reds from rocker Sting and his producer, philanthropist wife Trudie Styler. The latest debut from their Tuscan estate, Il Palagio, is fresh, charming 2010 When We Dance Chianti, which has wonderful aromas of cherries and lilies, a bright, lively taste of red cherry fruit and a very down-to-earth price.
I think of it as a go-to everyday Chianti, one that is perfect with summer pastas with fresh heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, garlic, the best olive oil and chopped basil from the garden. Made in a fruity, drinkable style and fermented and aged in stainless steel, When We Dance is a blend of mostly Sangiovese, Tuscany’s signature grape, with dashes of Canaiolo and Colorino for color and tradition….
8.13.12 – Lately, I’ve been musing on all the talented rising stars among the younger generation of winemakers around the world. In California, one of them is 26-year-old Gavin Chanin, whose brilliant, balanced 2009 Chanin Bien Nacido Chardonnay I tasted for a second time a week ago with wild sockeye salmon sautéed with shallots, parsley and wine. This white has deliciously concentrated fruit, but definitely leans toward a mineral, focused style, with the racy acidity the French call nervosité. There’s depth, but not heaviness; richness, but also plenty of subtlety.
I liked it even better with dinner than I did at the packed In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York several months ago….
7.30.12 – It’s midway through summer rosé season, and I’ve happily been sampling widely. In my tastings, some reasonably priced pink wines from southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region have surprised me — like this juicy, strawberry-scented 2011 Le Petit Chaperon Rosé from Domaine du Loup Blanc. Made from Cinsault and Cenanson grapes, it’s an exuberant, gulpable rosé that offers mineral and cherry flavors that seem to go with just about everything.
Interest in dry rosés has been growing for the past eight years as more and more drinkers discovered pink wine isn’t synonymous with sweet, plonky white Zinfandel. The international winemakers’ group RAP (Rosé Avengers and Producers), which staged its eighth annual Pink Out tasting in San Francisco in May, surely helped raise consciousness about dry rosé….
7.23.12 – Only a handful of California wineries make good wines from Pinot Gris. One of them is the round-textured 2011 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris from their Helluva Vineyard, with its lemongrass and honeysuckle aromas. Another winner from this year’s Critics Challenge annual wine competition, it’s a white that combines coastal freshness, nectarine and mineral flavors, and enough weight to match rich salmon or pork dishes.
Milla Handley was one of Anderson Valley’s pioneers. She first made wine there in 1982, when she fermented and aged 10 barrels of Chardonnay in her home basement. Now the winery produces a wide range of varietals, from Gewürztraminer to Pinot Noir (she makes four), and an excellent sparkling wine, too….
7.16.12 – When two talented, successful winemakers start a joint project to create a brand of inexpensive wines, the results often deliver a lot of deliciousness for the price. Witness this peppery, cherry-and-cassis-flavored, soft-textured 2010 Zantho Zweigelt, a red from dynamic Austrian duo Josef Umathum and Wolfgang Peck.
The two vintners launched a line of wines with the brand name Zantho a decade ago, producing them at a cooperative winery in southeastern Austria’s Burgenland region. It lies in the village of Andau, known originally by the name of Zantho. The native lizard found in the areas vineyards inspired the image on the label…..
7.2.12 – Quirky philosopher-winemaker Randall Grahm has always been a champion of exotic and obscure varietals, and this newly-released summery, tangy white, 2011 Bonny Doon Vineyards Albariño, is one of his successes.
That’s a surprise, because growing conditions on Albariño’s native turf — cool, rainy Rias Baixas in northwestern Spain’s Galicia region and in northern Portugal where it’s called Alvarinho – are completely different from those in California’s warm Central Coast, where Bonny Doon’s grapes grow.
Albariño has a pretty short history in the U.S. Practically no one had even heard of the grape until a few importers began bringing in Spanish examples of these fragrant, light, vibrant, mineral-tinged whites 20 years ago….
6.25.12 – I’m always hunting for delicious reds that over-deliver for price, and this darkly fruity, smooth 2010 Banfi Centine, a red blend from Tuscany, is one of them. I tasted the current vintage last month while judging at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition (now in its ninth year). It won Best of Show trophy for reds in our final sweepstakes round, beating out bottles that cost six times as much.
The Centine label has been on best buy lists since the first vintage hit retail shelves more than 15 years ago. This was the first time, though, that I’d sampled it blind alongside such stiff competition. No, this 2010 isn’t subtle or complex or terroir-driven, but it does have surprising structure and depth, freshness and a dark cherry and berry taste, all of which go well with everything from hamburgers and steaks on the grill to pasta and pizza….
6.18.12 – Though winemakers on Long Island’s North Fork tout their Merlots, I wish more would plant whites like Chenin Blanc. That was my conclusion after tasting the zippy, slate-and-grapefruity 2011 Paumanok Vineyards Chenin Blanc on a recent visit to the winery in Aquebogue. The wine, bottled with a screw cap, has a raciness and complexity reminiscent of the Loire Valley, and was perfect with succulent local Pipes Cove oysters at a nearby restaurant. I think of it as an ideal summer wine to sip while watching waves roll in and dining on grilled fish, fried clams or a big bowl of mussels.
The North Fork is a long narrow peninsula at the far eastern tip of Long Island and its history as a wine region goes back nearly 40 years. The first grapes were planted in Cutchogue in 1973, almost as an experiment, by Louisa and Alex Hargrave, whose Hargrave Vineyard inspired a second wave of pioneers. Among them were Charles Massoud, an IBM executive, and his German wife Ursula, who founded Paumanok 10 years later. They planted a diversity of red and white grapes and named their estate after the Native American word for Long Island. The Massouds’ son Kareem is now the winemaker….
6.11.12 – Chardonnay continues to be the world’s most popular white, so I’m always on the lookout for good ones. Among the many delicious California examples being poured at the first New York City “In Pursuit of Balance” tasting, this chalk-and-pear-flavored 2010 Lioco Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, with aromas of white flowers and citrus, stood out for its combination of richness and edgy minerality.
It’s one of the few California chardonnays to remind me of wines from France’s Chablis. Why? This is an un-oaked white, fermented with wild yeast in stainless steel tanks, that has depth and minerality. Aging on the lees for five months and no filtration gives the wine richness. It has elegant acidity and modest alcohol well below the state’s bigger-is-better buttery examples. Best of all, unlike the growing number of boring no-oak Chardonnays that also have no flavor, the tangy Lioco tastes of the terroir in which the grapes were grown….
June 4, 2012 – Some of the best wine bargains today are made in Spain from local varietals few have heard of. The fragrant, super food-friendly 2010 Viña Mein Blanco is a blend of seven grapes that I encountered at Restaurante Costa Brava in San Diego. With plates of tapas like salty jamón serrano and tender grilled octopus, this fresh, citrus-and-mineral white with melony aromas and a soft texture was just plain delicious. It was also great with my main course – braised rabbit – and I kept sipping glasses of it as I watched local flamenco dancers far into the night.
The main grape in Viña Mein is Treixadura, with smaller percentages of Godello, Loureira, Torrontés, Albariño, Albilla and Lado….
May 28, 2012 – One of the most promising spots these days for delicious, well-priced wines is Portugal’s Douro Valley, famous for rich, sweet, fortified Port. The plummy, lush-textured 2009 P + S Post Scriptum is a terrific example of the new dry reds being made from traditional Portuguese varieties growing on the steep slopes above the Douro River. This new release has exotic aromas of violets and Earl Grey tea, delicious dark berry and chocolaty notes, and the balance you find in a plump, smoothly fruity Bordeaux.
The combination of Bordeaux grace and exotic Portuguese flavors is hardly surprising. P + S stands for Prats + Symington, a joint wine project between the Symington family of Port fame and Bruno Prats, former owner of Bordeaux’s Château Cos d’Estournel. The partners began experimenting in 1999….
May 21, 2012 – Just before dinner, I open wine samples that have recently arrived, hunting for something impressive. All too often the California Sauvignon Blancs seem ho-hum, with none of the snappy flavors that make the varietal fabulous with seafood. This classic 2011 Wrath Ex Anima Sauvignon Blanc is one of the exceptions. With herbal aromas, tart gooseberry fruit, flinty minerality and plenty of structure, it’s like New Zealand meets the Loire Valley in the same bottle. And it was great with a stir-fry of shrimp and bok choy.
Michael Thomas and his family bought the 72-acre San Saba vineyard in Monterey County back in late 2007 and have rapidly transformed its viticulture. The estate is just below the Santa Lucia Highlands, where cool morning fog rolls in from the Pacific. Add in little rainfall and a very long growing season, and you have the conditions to make a ripe Sauvignon Blanc that still has zing and balance. Like other wines in Wrath’s Ex Anima line, it’s neither fermented nor aged in oak….
May 14, 2012 – Last week, while drinking with friends in Le Cirque’s Lounge and Bar in Manhattan, I discovered a terrific wine of the week lurking on the restaurant’s expensive list. The succulent 2007 Au Bon Climat La Bauge Au-Dessus Pinot Noir is silky-textured and delicate, with luscious cherry-berry flavors, notes of spice, leather and damp earth, an elegant structure and a long juicy finish.
It’s more Burgundy than California in style, and, in this day of over-$50 single-vineyard California Pinots, it’s very reasonably priced for the quality — at least in retail shops….
May 7, 2012 – Last Friday night I blind-tasted a dozen Sauvignon Blanc samples I’d received in the past couple of weeks and picked out this brilliant creamy, chalky 2010 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon from New Zealand as a winner. Its layered minerality, rich grapefruit, lemon and herb flavors, and subtle complexity make it more French in style than the typical zingy, in-your-face examples from New Zealand. At the end of a dinner for two with mustard-coated wild salmon sautéed with shallots, the bottle was empty and I was longing for just one more glass….
April 30, 2012 – At the Vintus Wines spring portfolio tasting in New York City last week, I found a surprising number of potential wines of the week. Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez was pouring several less-than-$20 candidates that really impressed me, especially this delicious white, the 2010 Gaba do Xil Godello from the region of Valdeorras. With aromas of orange peel and flowers, crisp flavors of chamomile, stones and fresh pears, and a full, round texture, it’s a tasty, versatile value that seemed to sing of spring….
April 23, 2012 — On my recent trip to Sonoma, Calif., I stopped by Littorai winery to taste new releases with one of my favorite California Pinot producers, Ted Lemon. In his lineup of vineyard-designated Pinot offerings, I fell hard for this Asian spice-black cherry-and-mineral 2009 Littorai B.A. Thieriot Vineyard Pinot Noir, a succulent wine with plenty of richness and a long, long finish that promises to be even better with more age.
No, it’s not cheap, but then expressive Pinots that evoke a strong sense of place never are, no matter where they come from. This one is worth it…
April 9, 2012 – Last week I was in Bordeaux sampling hundreds of barrel samples from the 2011 vintage, but in my travels I also tasted some reasonably priced wines from older vintages that really impressed. One of them was the cassis-scented 2005 Château Fonréaud, a sumptuous wine with the depth, core of warm fruit flavors and wonderful balance that can make even less expensive Bordeaux reds great food wines.
I tasted it over dinner with the proprietors, Jean and Marie-Hélène Chanfreau, on a cold night at the elegant château surrounded by vines. The estate is in the sprawling, less fashionable Bordeaux district of Listrac, north and west of famous Left Bank Margaux estates like Château Palmer, but it has superb vineyards with 30-year-old vines planted on gravel over limestone at the highest point in Listrac….
April 2, 2012 – On a recent trip to California, I headed out to the dramatic Sonoma Coast to visit Fort Ross Vineyard, high above the Pacific. Yes, the winery makes the expected fine Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in this cool, cool climate, but the owners also produce this delicious and unusual 2007 Fort Ross Pinotage, a nod to South Africa where they both grew up.
Pinotage is a controversial grape that people generally love or hate. Developed in South Africa in 1925, it’s a thick-skinned cross between varietals Pinot Noir and Cinsault. In the best wines, it exhibits the same bright, tangy fruit as Pinot Noir, along with the rustic, earthy, brambly flavors and robust structure that come from Cinsault….
March 26, 2012 – I’m a fan of zingy, fresh Sauvignon Blancs – and I usually find less expensive California examples pretty boring and flat. So I was delighted to discover the zesty, vibrant 2010 Gainey from the Santa Ynez Valley in one of my recent blind tasting lineups of winery samples.
Interestingly, the 2010 is somewhat different from previous vintages. In the past, Gainey’s white also contained a fair amount of Semillon. But in 2010, the winery opted to leave it out, making the wine 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Though the previous version had many fans, I think I prefer it this way. It still has melon, guava and citrus scents and flavors and a rich texture, but it also has a new freshness and minerality that really combined well with a mixed green salad and sautéed scallop dinner after my tasting….
March 12, 2012 -- For years California Chardonnays were bashed as buttery, oaky and over the top. But more and more of them fit a different profile. This lemony 2010 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay from California’s Santa Lucia Highlands is pure and crisp, with weight and richness but without the telltale vanilla notes of new oak aging. It was fermented and aged in stainless steel and limestone-based cement tanks.
And this balanced white comes in an unusual ceramic bottle that keeps the wine as chilled during dinner as it is when you pour the first glass. Winemaker Charlie Wagner II says he was inspired by the ceramic bottles used for absinthe….
February 20, 2012 – During my week tasting wines in the Loire Valley, I sampled everything from stellar dry and sweet whites to deliciously complex reds, and all reminding me just how wonderfully diverse this region is. One red that captured me was this fragrant, cassis-laden 2010 Domaine du Pas Saint Martin Saumur La Pierre Frite, a new domaine to me, which I sampled at Le Favre d’Anne, one of Angers’ one-star Michelin restaurants.
Alongside stuffed quail with foie gras on a celery root timbale, its smoky flavors and aromas of violets and lavender seemed just about heaven. I didn’t realize until later how reasonably priced it was. And the grapes are organically grown, too — the vineyards have been certified since 1997….
February 13, 2012 — I’ve just come back from a tasting tour in the Loire Valley, home to some of the best bargains in the wine world. One of them is the crisp, zippy and sappy 2011 François Chidaine Touraine Blanc, which tastes of cut grass and herbs. I sampled it at Chidaine’s stand at the Salon de la Loire, the region’s annual trade fair in Angers. The blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc and a small percentage of Chardonnay is a textbook perfect savory white that shows surprising complexity and length for the price. And on a freezing snowy day, it made me think of — and long for — spring.
François Chidaine has worked with his father Yves since 1989, and gained a following for his delicious and complex wines from his family’s Chenin Blanc vineyards in Montlouis and later for his Vouvray from the famous Clos Baudoin estate, which he began acquiring in 2002….
February 6, 2012 – This is the last of my picks for Valentine’s Day. In the past five years, rosé Champagne has become the essential seductive bubbly for romantic toasts. The delicate non-vintage Ruinart Rosé Champagne, with its flattering salmon color, fresh strawberry aromas, flavor of cherries, and polished texture, is both delicious and a good value compared to other rosé fizzes.
No one knows precisely why rosés in general and pink fizz in particular suddenly took off in popularity five or six years ago. It’s been fashionable from time to time since the first one was made in the late 18th century…
January 23, 2012 – I’m hunting for Valentine’s Day wines early this year, and my first pick is the rich, full, velvety red blend 2008 Lasseter Family Winery Amoureux from Sonoma. What could be more in keeping with the day’s romantic sentiments than a wine whose French name means lovers and whose label features a bee sipping nectar from a red rosebud? Its backstory has an appropriate dose of romance too.
The wine’s bold blend includes about two-third Malbec, a fair amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and small dashes of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Hollywood couple John and Nancy Lasseter, who bought their estate on the outskirts of town of Glen Ellen a decade ago, say they selected the wine’s name because they first discovered and fell in love with Malbec while honeymooning….
January 9, 2012 – One of my recurring New Year’s wine resolutions is to drink more wines made from the less well-known grape varieties that offer value, new flavor profiles and high quality. So this week I’m trumpeting Torrontés, the fragrant native white from Argentina that’s been vastly overshadowed by the country’s wildly popular signature red, Malbec.
The light, delicate deliciously rose-petal-scented 2011 Bodega Colomé Torrontés, with its refreshing citrus, herb and spice notes and smooth yet lively texture, is a prime example. It’s surprisingly food-friendly. I enjoyed it with tangy lime and chili-laced ceviche, a plate of sushi appetizers and a stir fry of scallops and baby bok choy….
December 19, 2011 – My last pick was an expensive Champagne, so this week I’m highlighting a lighter, easy-to-drink $15 Prosecco, the Italian fizz that’s skyrocketed in popularity. In a lineup of a dozen examples, the gulpable non-vintage Nino Franco Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, with its soft bubbles, fresh green apple and flower scent and tangy citrusy flavors really stood out.
Don’t think of Prosecco as poor man’s Champagne. Its character is completely different, with none of the edgy acidity and layered complexity that are Champagne’s hallmarks. Fresher is better. In Italy, it’s the national aperitivo, something to sip anytime, and its uncomplicated appeal fits particularly well with the spirit of the holidays. I plan to keep several bottles in the refrigerator to pull out for low alcohol sustenance while trimming the tree, as a pick-me-up while wrapping presents or to welcome unexpected guests bearing gifts. Put out a plate of olives and prosciutto, pull the cork and you have a party….
December 5, 2011 – For me, holidays and sparkling wine go together. There is nothing more celebratory than welcoming guests with a glass of bubbly, like this crisp, pure, stunningly elegant non-vintage Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve Brut Champagne.
When I tasted it at Hong Kong’s Cuisine Cuisine restaurant a couple of weeks ago, it perked up three unusual salty, savory and slightly sweet appetizers, and I was reminded that Champagne goes well with just about everything. It’s a blanc de blancs, meaning it’s made only from Chardonnay.
The Pierre Péters is a grower Champagne, the newly hot category also known as “farmer fizz….”
November 21, 2011 – Every November the what-wine-goes-with-Thanksgiving-dinner agonizing starts all over again. One of my rules has always been to choose an American wine for this all-American holiday. But rules are made to be broken, right? This year my answer to the what-to-pour dilemma is the lively, juicy, easy-drinking 2009 Potel-Aviron Beaujolais-Villages. Light-bodied and gulpable, it has a silky texture, bright, tart berry-fruit flavors and surprising finesse for a wine at this price.
Beaujolais is superbly versatile when it comes to food, which is why it’s such a good pick for Thanksgiving…
November 14, 2011 — A recent obsession of hip sommeliers and natural wine aficionados is the category of “orange” wines — white wines made the way red wines are, by letting the crushed juice sit on the grape skins for a period of time to pick up tannin, weight and extra flavors. The appealing and unusual 2007 Movia Lunar Ribolla Gialla, with the rich, full texture of a red and the citrusy vitality of a white, is a good introduction.
It shone at the end of a long dinner and a lineup of fascinating wines at Hong Kong’s Crown Wine Cellars, a wine storage facility in underground World War II bunkers with a private members clubhouse.
Don’t expect a whistle-clean, zingy white. The color of the Movia Lunar is a slightly cloudy soft orange and the flavors are a deep complex blend of minerals, dried pear, fresh peach and cardamom….
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2008 Cascina Gilli ‘Vigna del Forno’ Freisa d’Asti
October 31, 2011 – I love discovering varietals I’ve never tasted before, which happens frequently with Italianwine. That’s because the country has literally hundreds of native grapes, most found only in a single region or even just a small area. The fresh, yet smoothly rich 2008 Cascina Gilli Vigna del Forno Freisa d’Asti, with its bright ruby red color, delicate aromas of wild berries and intense matching flavors, is my latest find. I sampled it alongside thin slices of delicious hard sausages and chunks of salty parmesan at importer Domenico Selections’ fall portfolio tasting.
Chiara Martinotti from Cascina Gilli, in northern Piemonte, was pouring and talking. I learned that the freisa grape is native to the region, where it became known in the 20th century. Now there’s a rising interest in this grape….
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week: 2009 Foursight Zero New Oak Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir
October 24, 2011 – As winemakers from other appellations flock to Mendocino’s cool Anderson Valley to make bright and balanced pinot noirs, people who have a long history in the valley have also planted grapes to keep their land in the family.
That’s the story behind this vibrant, fruit-charged 2009 Foursight Zero New Oak Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir. I tasted it two weeks ago at the Boonville Hotel’s restaurant Table 128 and was pretty impressed. I was also quite intrigued.
California winemakers usually age their pinot noirs at least partly in new oak barrels. While some use only a small percentage, there are plenty whose pinots have the telltale signs of too much — a toasty vanilla nose and ponderous, raw wood flavors that make the wine more about oak than fruit.
Foursight winemaker Joe Webb, son-in-law to the owners, uses no new oak at all to age this wine. It’s made in an old-school way with indigenous yeasts, a percentage of whole clusters, no filtering, no fining, minimal sulfur. The result is pretty, delicate and complex, with spicy strawberry and cherry flavors. It’s understated and positively gulpable….
October 17, 2011 – I can be finicky when it comes to the world’s most finicky grape, pinot noir. Too many California winemakers, even in top areas, seem to have a fatal attraction for producing big, oaky pinots for cabernet lovers. But that’s not the case with the classic 2009 Tudal Winery Pinot Noir from the Bacigalupi Vineyard in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. It shows off much of what makes pinot fans embrace the grape: dark black cherry and rhubarb aromas, bright red fruit flavors with a touch of earth and minerals, and a full-bodied soft texture that makes you keep drinking.
The Russian River Valley has been prime pinot territory for decades, thanks to Pacific fog and cool temperatures, and 2009 was an excellent vintage…
October 10, 2011 — Last Friday, as the sun finally emerged in rain-lashed Anderson Valley, I stopped to taste at Roederer Estate and was reminded all over again why this is one of America’s best producers of sparkling wine.
The latest vintage of their top cuvée, elegant, layered 2002 Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, is a fine example, with baked apple and brioche aromas, tarte tatin flavors and a sleek texture that’s both crisp and creamy. Almost a decade old, it still shows plenty of tiny bubbles, is just beginning to reveal its depth, complexity and richness, and promises even more in the future.
The Louis Roederer Champagne house in France, famed for its high-end Cristal bottling, first put down California roots in 1982…
October 3, 2011 — Three weeks ago, I was in France’s Jura region, east of Burgundy’s famous Côte d’Or and about an hour’s drive from the Swiss border, sampling dozens of wines I’d never tasted before.
One of my biggest surprises was the excellent quality of the sparkling wines, called Crémant du Jura, which are made by the same traditional method used in Champagne.
The best one was this vivid, floral-and-almond-scented non-vintage Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Crémant du Jura, with its crispy bubbles, polished style, creamy texture, and earthy minerality. It’s much better than many basic non-vintage Champagnes, but costs a whole lot less….
September 26, 2011 – An early taste of East Coast Indian summer last week inspired me to open a line-up of chilled rosés. The finesse and elegance of this 2010 Wolffer Estate Grandioso Rosé from Long Island really impressed me — and made me question, once again, why so many of us act as if only Memorial Day to Labor Day can be rosé season. The Wolffer’s subtle ripe fruitiness, fresh lively acidity and delicious dry chalky savor remind me of rosés from Provence.
It has the same pale coppery-salmon color and the same versatility with food. The Wolffer rosé was delicious with our entire dinner, from aperitif, to olive and tomato salad, to spicy grilled shrimp and a soft cheese afterward.
But the red grapes in this wine are Bordeaux varieties merlot and cabernet franc, which do well in the Long Island East End’s breezy maritime climate….
September 19, 2011 – Driving home from a summer vacation visiting family in Michigan, I stopped overnight in Buffalo, N.Y., and soon had thoughts of a crisp delicious white after a long day in the car. Happily, at Protocol restaurant just off the New York State Thruway the wine list included the lively 2008 Saintsbury Chardonnay, with its balanced, citrus-and-pear flavors and surprising character and elegance for the price. Only $20 retail, it cost me just $29 at the restaurant.
One of the world’s most popular white varietals, chardonnay is produced in just about every grape-growing country. An awful lot of these wines are completely mediocre, and finding one that consistently displays real finesse and elegance in this price range can be daunting. Decent examples from Burgundy, the grape’s home, tend to be more expensive, and modestly-priced California bottlings too often range from the neutral and boring to tasting of buttery popcorn or far too much oak. Which makes the Saintsbury look like even more of a standout….
September 12, 2011– At historic Château de la Rivière, high above the Dordogne river in Fronsac on Bordeaux’s Right Bank, I found this lip-smacking, violet- and berry-scented red. The 2010 Les Sources du Château de la Rivière, a succulent, silky-textured Merlot blend from a great vintage, is gulpably fruity right now. It’s the chateau’s second wine, and it spent no time aging in oak barrels.
Fronsac remains a little-known and underrated appellation despite the growing number of ambitious estates making serious wines in the past decade. One I visited recently is this fairytale stone chateau. Beautiful and imposing, with several stone towers and a grand wide terrace overlooking vineyards sloping to the river, it’s the largest estate in the appellation, with 58 hectares of vines….
September 5, 2011 –I love the flower and spice character of a good Gewürztraminer, and the best California examples I’ve tasted have all come from the cool Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. This refreshing yet exotic 2010 Breggo Gewürztraminer, made from Ferrington Vineyard grapes, is perfect sipping for the last gasp of August.
Think aromas of lemongrass, lychee, rose petals and tangerine peel, and light, crisp, spiced-apple and pear flavors, with a hint of cloves. A mouthwatering, elegant white with a subtle hint of sweetness, it was the ideal choice for thin pork chops sautéed with fresh Granny Smith apple slices in a spicy soy sauce marinade….
August 15, 2011 — The French wine appellation of Madiran suddenly grabbed attention a few years ago when London-based scientist Roger Corder recommended its wines as the most heart-healthy in the world. Luckily, it turns out they’re also worth drinking for the taste. Take this generous, tartly fruity 2007 ’1907′ Madiran that I drank with some hearty spare ribs a couple of nights ago. Its dark black fruit flavors and deep iron tang tell you you’re tasting something quite different and give the wine a surprisingly complex taste for its $14 price tag. There’s a hint of licorice and other minerals, too.
The ’1907,’ named for the year the appellation was first defined, is both powerful and fresh, a winning combination for a summer red. Produced by independent winegrowers jointly with two local cooperatives, it’s a blend of grapes from all over the small Madiran appellation, yet manages to give you a sense of place….
Bernard Portet, co-founder of famous Napa Valley pioneer winery Clos du Val, has always championed balanced, elegant reds, even bucking the steady trend toward high-scoring high-alcohol, oaky wines. So, no surprise that his first wine after his retirement a year ago is this deliciously smooth, complex and balanced 2008 Heritance cabernet sauvignon, which sells for a very reasonable price. My advice is to snap it up….
August 1, 2011 — Drinking pink is just as hot a trend this summer as it has been for the past six. So many new rosés are now on the shelves that I’ve focused my tastings this year on those from regions not usually associated with pink wine. One of the most interesting and delicious I’ve sipped recently is the intense, strawberry-scented 2010 Lafon-Roset, made by Château Lafon-Rochet, one of five grands crus classés in Bordeaux’s St. Estèphe appellation.
Owned by the Tesseron family, Lafon-Rochet is known for its balanced, elegant, well-priced red. The rosé is a new idea — 2009 was the first vintage — partly the inspiration of the new generation, 32-year-old Basile Tesseron, who is taking over management of the château from his father Michel….
July 25, 2011 – VinExpo week in Bordeaux last month was filled with parties and tastings of hundreds of wines. At the 12th Tour de France dinner at Domaine de Chevalier, where nine producers showed off their best wines, this bright, deliciously intense 2008 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Riesling ”Brand,” reminded me how stunning the top wines from Alsace can be.
Yes, this wine is very expensive, but it’s a collectible that will age and age. I sipped it with freshly shucked oysters and a half dozen other hors d’oeuvres, impressed by its layers of powerful fruit, elegant acidity and extraordinary finesse….
July 18, 2011 – With summer temperatures and humidity soaring, I’ve been drinking mostly cool white wines for the past couple of weeks. Sadly, a surprising number have been neutral and boring or too heavy to refresh. But not this 2010 Vesevo Beneventano Falanghina “V” from Italy’s Campania region, which is mouth-filling but also fresh and vivid. Its flavors are pure, crisp citrus and tangy minerals yet it has a lovely honeyed finish. Aromas of piney woods, white flowers and juicy pears tantalize.
The wine was so satisfying as an aperitif with a classic caprese salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil that we just kept drinking it with grilled shrimp and veggies. And it’s only $16….
July 11, 2001 – In a world of supersize wines, how pleasant to come across a white of delicacy and nuance — from Japan, of all unexpected spots! The underplayed but luscious 2009 Magrez-Aruga Koshu has a lightly floral aroma and round citrus and kiwi flavors with a distinct hint of minerality. It has a vague resemblance to sauvignon blanc — to which it may be related — but this is not a wine that shouts its virtues or flavors. What really stands out is its high acid subtlety. What could be better with sushi?
Since I’ve tasted only a couple of wines made from Japan’s most important native grape, I’m not sure if quiet subtlety is a hallmark of the best, but based on this wine, food-friendly koshu should have a bright future….
June 27, 2011 – I came across this little-known French white recently on the imaginative wine list at The Fishery restaurant in North Pacific Beach, Calif. Tangy and crisp, but also rich and complex, the 2009 Domaine du Gros’ Noré Bandol Blanc has a slightly salty taste that reminds me of the sea — which is why it was perfect with the ahi tuna poke laced with chili and cilantro.
The sun-drenched Provence region is definitely the land of rosé. But the small appellation of Bandol within it, which surrounds the picturesque coastal fishing village with the same name, has also won acclaim for serious Mourvèdre-based reds. Yet few wine lovers realize that producers there make tiny quantities of whites too…
June 20, 2011 – Mid-range California cabernets can often be better right-now drinking than $100-plus wines, which usually require years of aging for their tannin and oak to mellow. The bold, fruity 2007 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon is a good example. Savory and rich, with aromas of cedar and spice and taste notes of cocoa and dark fruit, it has a lush, mouth-filling texture that’s the definition of smooth.
I think of Paso Robles as a hotbed of syrah producers — it’s sometimes known as “the Rhone zone” — but it’s home to more than 40 grape varieties. Cabernet sauvignon accounts for a whopping 38 percent of the region’s vine acreage….
June 13, 2011 – June has become the unofficial beginning of rosé drinking season. Each year I wonder whether the drink-pink trend will start slowing, but, no, it just keeps growing. The reason is wines like this dry, pale pink 2010 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, with its bright fruit aromas, fresh strawberry-rhubarb-watermelon flavors, and crisp, savory finish. It’s a wine for sipping on the deck or patio, with or without food, a wine that makes you crave another glass….
June 6, 2011 – Blind tasting 180 wines in two days at a competition is an über-fast way to track trends and discover terrific bottles. This 2009 Zonte’s Footstep Sea Mist Verdelho was one of my standouts at the annual Critics’ Challenge, held a week ago in San Diego.
After being tapped for a platinum medal by one of my co-judges, the wine turned up in a lineup tasted by all the judges in our quest for the best white wine of the competition. It lost the runoff to an excellent “medium-sweet” California riesling, but I thought this mouth-filling yet zingy Australian Verdelho should have won. It has fragrant aromas of herbs, ginger and limes, a tantalizing flavor mix of chalk, citrus and tropical mango, and a crisp finish, perfect to sip both as an aperitif and with spicy grilled shrimp….
May 30, 2011 – Finding a delicious pinot noir for under $20 is no easy task. One producer that delivers on value when it comes to this finicky grape is Pali Wine Co. This stylish 2009 Pali “Alphabets” cuvée from Oregon’s Willamette Valley is spot-on, offering intense ripe bing cherry flavors, velvety texture with underlying lightness, and aromas that marry earth, iron and sweet berries. Its uncomplicated pinot pleasure won’t disappoint, as so many inexpensive examples made from this grape do….
May 23, 2011 – Greece has a bewildering number of native grape varieties with unpronounceable names, and many make simply stunning wines. The whites especially are worth discovering — like this delicious 2009 Domaine Gerovassiliou G made from Malagousia. It brims with very fresh, floral, almost jasmine-scented aromas and distinctive flavors of citrus and melon overlaid with a faint smokiness and minerality. Delicate yet intense, round yet crisp, and incredibly food friendly, it’s a perfect partner to grilled fish and summer salads.
The Malagousia grape very nearly died out completely. Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who started his eponymous winery in northern Greece just southeast of the city of Thessaloniki in 1981, is the one who rescued and revived it….
May 16, 2011 –Finding a delicious, complex California cabernet for $30 isn’t an easy task — which is why I’m so excited about the wonderfully balanced 2007 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon, the second label of Sonoma’s Laurel Glen Vineyard. This red overdelivers for the price, with a spicy aroma of tobacco, red berries and smoke, and bright forward fruit flavors underlined with minerality and a tantalizing floral note. Approachable now, it has enough hidden tannin to age well….
May 9, 2011 — The 2008 Pullus G Traminec, a lovely white with rich aromas of wild roses, tangerine and lychee, is just one reason to explore the fascinating wines of Slovenia, the world’s latest vine spot to generate buzz. Crisp and fresh, it’s loaded with lovely green herb and spice flavors, has a lightly creamy texture, and will convert even those who think they don’t like gewürztraminer (called traminec in Slovenia). It’s lighter, crisper and more delicate than California or Alsace examples, with a real taste of terroir, and I found it a perfect match with a dinner of coconut milk-shrimp curry….
May 2, 2011 — Portugal’s vinho verde (literally, “green wine”) is that country’s water-white, prickly-tart picnic favorite, best served stone-cold. At less than 10 percent alcohol, it can be knocked back with abandon.
Vinho verde is not a wine category usually associated with memorable bottlings. But the 2009 Varanda do Conde is on another level, straw-colored, with a tickling slight effervescence that underscores sappy-tart acidity and bright, citrusy, lingering fruit. This is sheer deliciousness in the glass, cracklingly crisp, and gulpably appetizing…
April 25, 2011 — Northern Portugal’s Douro region, noted for rich sweet fortified ports, is fast becoming a hot spot for excellent dry reds too, and the soft, ripely fruity 2008 Prazo de Roriz is a great example of the growing trend. Its plush texture, smooth tannins, and dark cherry and mineral flavors are balanced by a tangy acidity that makes this red incredibly food friendly, especially with smoky, spicy grilled foods.
Summers are scorching in the Douro, where vines are planted on rocky slopes in steep terraced vineyards that look like steps down to the 475-mile long Douro River, which originates in Spain…
April 18, 2011 — Some people have the impression I think California chardonnay ought to taste like white burgundy. Not true. I’m a fan of wines that taste like the place they come from. This 2009 Morgan Double L Vineyard chardonnay is a superb California example that would never be mistaken for a bottle from France, but it’s no over-the-top buttery-oaky white.
Fleshy, creamy-textured, and full of varietal lemon, pear and hazelnut aromas and tastes and a sweet vanilla, toasty hint of oak, it has an attractive edge of minerality too…
April 11, 2011 — Pinot noir fans hardly need to be told that the finest expressions of their favorite grape come from France’s Burgundy region. But there are side effects to this: scarcity and high prices. That’s why I’m always cheered when I come across an enticing example with a real-world price tag: The scented, savory-tart 2009 Domaine Faiveley Mercurey Premier Cru Clos des Myglands — a wonderful mouthful of authentic burgundy from a super vintage, and a solid value at $35….
April 4, 2011 — I’ve been a fan of New Zealand’s sauvignon blancs for years — no other country’s version of the grape quite matches their racy, dazzling style, zingy gooseberry tang and live-wire acidity. The 2010 Chasing Venus is a delicious example of the breed. It’s entirely fermented in stainless steel to preserve a maximum of crisp fruitiness. One cold, appetizing glass rapidly invites another, which makes it a perfect aperitif, and its citrusy edge accents seafood like a squeeze of lemon….
March 28, 2011 –As a wine, syrah has something of a Jekell-and-Hyde personality. In a hot region, it’s often clunky and can be downright brutish (think inky-monster Australian examples). But in a cooler climate, this emphatic red can really shine, projecting power without heaviness. A delicious example of this is the 2008 Amavi Syrah from Washington state — it’s not a wine to study, it’s a wine to drink with gusto from a large goblet, accompanied by grilled meat….
March 21, 2011 — I’ve complained a lot in print about excessively oaked California chardonnay. Here’s one that shows the state’s winemakers can still produce modestly-priced, balanced, focused bottlings that de-emphasize the oak to bring out all the sex appeal of the grape — and give it the crisp, lean character that can make it such a pleasure at the table.
There’s lots to like about the 2009 Paul Dolan Chardonnay. It has just the right amount of fruit and restrained alcohol. It brims with noticeable richness and minerality and bright lemony notes of refreshing acidity, all of which make it a super food wine….
March 12, 2011 — Trying wines made from unfamiliar grape varieties is one of the most enjoyable aspects of tastings for me. On a recent trip to South Africa, I sampled many examples of the country’s local red, pinotage, and was surprised by the wide range of flavors and styles.
One of the best was the 2008 Kanonkop Pinotage, with its rich, full taste; smoky aroma; dark, plummy mocha depths and unusual tangy wild note that somehow seemed to reflect the continent….
March 7, 2011 — A decade ago, Mâcon whites were no-personality, bargain-basement chardonnays, but this intense and lemony Viré-Clessé, made by superstar Burgundy winemaker Dominique Lafon, shows just how much the region’s wines have changed. With its floral aromas and racy mineral, citrus and pear flavors, this rich, round wine has a balance, complexity and precision I rarely find in California examples of the world’s most popular white….
February 28, 2011 — An attractively priced, screw-topped proprietary red from one of New Zealand’s top producers, the 2009 Craggy Range Te Kahu hits all the right notes. Bright and balanced, with mouthfilling black fruit flavors, yet lively acidity, it’s an extremely versatile food wine. As you might expect from a merlot-dominant bordeaux-style blend, ripe plumpness comes wrapped in soft, textured tannins that check the fattiness of meat dishes, but its tartness complements those with a tomato base too. Additional spicy nuances — cedar and smoke — emerged when I sipped the final glass with a plate of hard cheeses: gruyere, Canadian cheddar, Wensleydale….
February 21. 2011 — It’s hard to find a good cheap pinot noir. Most under-$20 examples are just light but dull reds or over-charged fruity plonk — either way, they lack the seductive style that makes the classic grape of Burgundy so appealing.
That’s why the 2009 Veramonte Reserva Pinot Noir grabbed my attention. Tart, fresh and succulent, with a balance of scented aromas, soft fruit and silky texture, this is a drink-me-now bottle that could be mistaken for a top-class bourgogne rouge….
February 14, 2011 — If you want a wine on the candlelit table that will trumpet your affection, this bordeaux with a big heart on its label can’t be beat. The 2004 Calon Ségur is medium weight, succulent and elegant, with sweet currant and earth flavors and plenty of fruit aromas. A delicious classic that’s ready to drink right now, it’s also a serious wine that will age well, which makes it a fitting symbol for long-lasting love….
February 7, 2011 — A red sparkling wine may not sound like a must-try. But trust me, this deliciously dry, fruity, cherry-colored frizzante will change your mind about Italy’s lambrusco. Its fresh, lively earthy-berry flavors dance on the tongue, and its acidity and tiny bite of pleasurable bitterness in the finish make it just right with flavorful food.
I sampled it while trolling the several hundred liquid offerings at Vino 2011, New York’s annual Italian wine expo held at the end of January. The Lini “Labrusca” was just one of a half-dozen fascinating bottlings made from Italian indigenous grapes being poured by import company Domenico Valentino….
Jan 31, 2011 — Sauvignon blanc has become my go-to white. When faced with a wine list full of mysterious choices, I know I can’t go wrong by choosing this varietal. It’s got plenty of edgy, tart personality, pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes, and its price tag rarely causes sticker shock.
Franciscan Estate’s latest vintage of this grape hits the right notes: fresh, clean, herby aromas, mouthwatering acidity, cleansing mineral-laced flavors and a liveliness that’s all too often missing in California examples…
January 24, 2011 — First-rate cabernet comes in various styles. There’s the classic Bordeaux model, the muscular Napa Valley cult-wine model, the lean, herbaceous South African model — the list goes on and on.
Here’s another example that manages to strike its own special balance: a supple, rounded, sleek and seductive cab from Australia, the 2007 Château Tanunda “Noble Baron.” It’s from the Barossa Valley, a warm region largely associated with smoky-deep, powerful shiraz. But it shows none of the over-the-top qualities in which New World winemakers sometimes indulge. It’s often said that the mark of a really good wine is that it invites a second glass. I found myself pouring out the next one just after polishing off the first…
Jan. 10, 2011 — Whenever I have the chance to taste chablis — and I mean the real thing, from France — I go for it. It’s the one wine that demonstrates why chardonnay doesn’t need an in-your-face overlay of oak flavor to be delicious. Yes, I know fermenting and/or aging the world’s best-known white grape in barrels can add nuance, but I find most New World winemakers can’t resist overdoing it, like chefs who over-salt their dishes. The result? Aggressive chardonnays that trade elegance for obviousness.
This Chablis allows the pure character of cool-climate chardonnay to shine through…
January 3, 2011 — The holidays are over, and like most wine lovers, I’m looking for good value wines. Here’s refreshingly crisp super-lively everyday white that’s a downright bargain: 2010 Indaba Chenin Blanc from South Africa. Packed with citrus and pear notes and a tart, mineral-edged appetizing flavor, this dry, tangy wine is my current “refrigerator white” — a bottle that’s kept pre-chilled so I can have a glass while I’m chopping vegetables or stirring pots. It comes with a screw-cap to maximize freshness….
December 27, 2010 — If there’s one holiday that calls for a bottle of champagne, it’s New Year’s Eve. Even if you feel like bidding good riddance to 2010, who doesn’t have hopes for 2011? That’s worth uncorking a bottle of France’s top bubbly. I’ll be opening up Taittinger’s lovely, stylish “Prélude” as I watch the ball drop and make a few toasts (and silent wishes).
Somewhere, some sourpuss of a wine lover may be thinking that popping the cork on a pricey fizz at midnight while wearing a funny paper hat is a waste of effervescence. I disagree; I want to start the New Year with a bang, a nose-tickling scent of citrus and smoke, a cascade of fine bubbles, and a tart, clean, lingering finish….
December 20, 2010 — One reason I look forward to the holidays is the excuse they provide to open bottles that seem pretty indulgent. Tops on my list is port, whose rich, fruity warmth seems perfect at the end of a grand winter dinner. And its sweet, velvety texture matches everything from salted nuts to rich sweets like Belgian chocolates or plum pudding, that I try to studiously avoid for most of the calendar.
My pick this year? Dow’s 20-year-old tawny, with its dried-fruit scent (think apricots), wonderfully smooth texture, and tangy, lingering finish…
December 13, 2010 — If there’s one time of year when you don’t need an excuse to pop open a bottle of bubbly, it’s the holidays. But there’s usually a tug of war with the wallet: Few of us can afford to uncork champagne for a large gathering, even if our palates point in that direction.
Which is why this surprisingly stylish French fizz is my pour of choice this season. Pale yellow and frothy, it’s rich, deep, round and tartly dry, with a citrusy note to its refreshing acidity. Tasted blind, its burnished notes suggested much pricier bottlings. At under $20, it’s my idea of how to float a party with style….
December 6, 2010 –One of my biggest pleasures is finding distinctive wines made from unusual indigenous grapes in emerging regions. At a tasting of wines from Puglia, Italy, I discovered the intense, full-bodied 2005 “Puteus” Salice Salentino, a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera di Lecce from the Mocavero winery. This fresh red’s spicy, earthy aromas, bright ripe cherry flavors and satiny texture make you immediately crave another glass.
Puglia, the long narrow “heel” of boot-shaped Italy, is hardly a new wine spot. Vines have been grown here for millennia. Yet until a decade ago, the vast quantity of its wines, mostly produced by cooperatives, were pretty rustic, sold in bulk as high-alcohol blending vino. Then a growing number of growers began embracing modern innovations in viticulture, without giving up tradition….
November 29, 2010 — I’m a riesling fan, so I was delighted to find a tantalizing U.S. bottling that goes way beyond the simple and fruity style of the vast majority of domestic examples. The 2009 Poet’s Leap is fresh and zingy, with aromas of smoky flint and spicy fruit, flavors of white peach and wintergreen, and the racy acidity that makes riesling so food-friendly.
It also demonstrates the serious potential of Washington State’s Columbia Valley as a source of truly fine rieslings — especially when made with an Old World sensibility….
This second label of Château d’Issan in the Margaux appellation shows that’s an oversimplification. Even in the widely panned 2007 vintage, the wine offers the kind of elegance, balance and character that made Bordeaux famous. At $30, it outclasses just about any California cabernet in the same price range….
November 14, 2010 — For most of us, the traditional menu on Thanksgiving rarely changes. But choosing wines to serve with it seems to provoke anxiety every year, even among experienced party givers. A friend begged me to come up with only one wine that could take on everything from her roasted turkey with sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to gooey marshmallow-topped baked sweet potatoes and more.
My pick is the 2009 vintage of Tablas Creek’s bold, vibrant, fruity-spicy dry rosé from their organic vineyard in Paso Robles. One of the best dry rosés in the U.S., it also fulfills my unwavering rule of drinking American on this national holiday….
November 8, 2010 — Sometimes one wine is enough to show that a region is a serious contender in the New World pinot noir sweepstakes. That’s how I feel about Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir, which comes from the coastal Hemel-En-Aarde Valley in South Africa’s Walker Bay region.
The 2007 vintage is one of the best pinots outside Burgundy that I’ve tasted. With its complex earthy, spicy aromas and seamless, subtle flavors, it has a Chambolle-Musigny-like finesse and succulence, framed by elegant tannins that will repay several years of aging….
November 1, 2010 — On my recent six-day stay in Austria, I found myself falling in love with the country’s signature grape, grüner veltliner, all over again. This example from the latest vintage, the 2009 Nigl Grüner Veltliner Freiheit, comes from Nigl, a producer on everyone’s short list of the best. Quintessential fresh GrüVe (as the grape is nicknamed), it’s delicate and peppery, with green, savory flavor notes and lemony acidity and a creamy texture….
October 25, 2010 –Some regions are woefully underrated, which means the best examples are fantastic buys. That’s the story of Muscadet, the fresh, light, crisp, racy French white made at the cool western end of the Loire Valley. The 2009 Domaine de la Pépière is the latest vintage of my go-to label, made by brilliant winemaker Marc Ollivier. Its tangy, slightly salty taste recalls the briny, savory scents of the nearby Atlantic Ocean….
October 18, 2010 — Sometimes at a big tasting, as I’m sipping and spitting dozens of wines, one will just jump out with its sheer deliciousness.
That’s what happened when I sampled the 2008 Edmunds St. John Syrah “Cuvée Fairbairn,” a deep syrah with savory flavor notes of berries, pepper, and leather and aromas of lavender and smoke. This is maverick California winemaker Steve Edmunds’ first wine ever from biodynamic grapes…
October 11, 2010 — On a visit to Western Australia, I became a huge fan of the snappy sauvignon blanc-semillon blends of the Margaret River region, which are nicknamed “SBS” or “SSB,” depending on which grape is dominant.
This example from pioneering Cullen winery is one of the very best. The latest vintage of its flagship “SBS” is a wonderful balance of tangy acidity and savory herbs and spices, with aromas of smoke and honeysuckle. The texture is surprisingly rich and round for a wine with a why-not-finish-the-bottle 11.5 percent alcohol…
October 4, 2010 — The pleasures of the outstanding 2009 vintage in Beaujolais show brilliantly in this debut wine from a producer new to the region. It’s lip-smackingly good, with a spicy, velvety richness, intense aromas of violets and peonies, and a tangy seductive charm. That’s a lot for a mere $20.
Tucked between renowned Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon, Fleurie has always been one of my favorites…
September 2. 2010 — Debates about terroir are as hot as ever, especially when it comes to California. My big question is always: Do wines from individual vineyards display a distinctive sense of place in, say, Napa Valley?
It doesn’t help that Napa produces hundreds of wines made by producers who are all over the map in their approach to winemaking.
So when I had a chance to sample 63 wines made from Stagecoach Vineyard grapes, I grabbed it. On the basis of rocks, exposure, altitude, microclimates and volcanic soils, this is surely one of the valley’s most distinctive sites. Would the wines reflect that — and the subtleties of its soil and topography…?
In May, I was a judge at two international wine competitions in California that taught me plenty about the current state of California wine. But they also illustrated a new trend in U.S. competitions: targeting particular audiences and offering specific judging perspectives, a big change from the traditional state fair model.
Does that make the results more relevant? Well, maybe….
May 3, 2010 – The latest grape aiming to join the ranks of great wine is blaufrankisch, a varietal that practically no one had heard of until a few years ago. Though its name hardly rolls off the tongue as easily as chardonnay or cabernet, it’s beginning to garner fans among adventurous wine lovers and turn up on hip wine lists. But is the world ready for an expensive new red with an unpronounceable name?
I asked myself that question after a day of surprising tastings with six Austrian growers earlier this year….
March 6, 2010 –The massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Chile on Feb. 27 and killed more than 800 people hit the country’s wineries hard. For the past week, dozens of winemakers have been tweeting tales of toppled and cracked tanks, crashed barrels, collapsed buildings, broken bottles and vast amounts of wine lost, streaming onto floors.
Yet among these sad tales were small triumphs…
January 30, 2010 — Everyone in the fine wine world is happy to see the back of 2009. Though I see positive signs for 2010, I’m not breathing a sigh of relief — yet….
December 10, 2009 — In Washington, a “sex on wheels” wine should just about do it.
November 9, 2009 — …why one wine tastes different from another made by the same winemaker, from a vineyard not far away, the differences are clearly there.
October 7, 2009 –”Yes, we want to make a Saint-Estephe-style of first growth.” Wine tasting at Château Montrose.