Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Wine Minx's TOP 20 UNDER $20 for 2017!! (Okay, TOP 30. You deserve it.)

Wineaux, I have heard lamentations from across the globe that there was no 2016 version of this, my most popular post. While most of the time I can reconcile the performing career with the wine career, when gainfully employed on a world tour of a Broadway show, some things do fall through the cracks. Mea culpa. But that only means there are EVEN BETTER finds this year, and I'm rewarding your patience by adding 50% more wines to the list! So without further ado, in no particular order, here are my favorite bangs-for-the-buck from the last 365 days:


2014 Domaine Barmès-Buecher Cremant d'Alsace Brut Nature, Alsace, France
Creamy, intense fruit, exceedingly well-balanced; a truly wonderful sparkler for the price. I could sip on this all day long. ~$19

NV Castellroig Rosato Cava, Spain
Pleasant funk, tasty berries, clean, very nice. (We used it for "Broadway Buzzed" EP 5 and became obsessed with this wine.) Multi-dimensional, elegant and rich. ~$18


2014 Yves Duport Fleur du Chardonnay, Bugey, France
Vibrant nose of straw, earth, lemons, white florals and white pepper. Ginger, pear, honey in the mouth, well-balanced, interesting and yummy! ~$14

2016 Serpens Estate Tokaj Dry, Hungary
A new estate, founded 2015 (so may be tough to find!) Florals, wet concrete, pretty rich in fruit, high acid, minerally, super tasty. Little phenolic bitterness on long, sassy finish. ~$15

2014 Merwida Chardonnay South Africa
Almost neon yellow color. Lemon, straw, and florals on the nose. With an odd but intriguing whiff of coffee grounds (perhaps a S. African typicality?) Butterscotch. Bright and rich at the same time. Long finish. Cheeky. ~$13

2014 J. Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay, CA
Fancy label script and thicker glass announce a higher-end J. Lohr Chard, and this has more floral notes, a softer acidity, great baking spice notes from the oak, and is viscous but not heavy-handed. ~$19

2016 Domaine Jacky Marteau "Lulu" Touraine, France
Kimmeridgian clay soil. Tropical fruit nose, with expected Sauvignon Blanc notes of gooseberry and grass, quite lip-smacking. High, integrated acidity. Sour citrus on finish. Yum. ~$14 

2014 Broadside Wild Ferment Chardonnay, CA
Bruised yellow apple, peach, baking spices, and butter on the nose. Surprisingly fresh and fruity on the palate, with tangerine, lilac, peach, apricot, and honey rounding out the finish. ~$16

2015 Tenuta Rapitala Piano Maltese Bianco, Sicily
I have so rarely met a Sicilian wine I didn't like! This is a blend of indigenous and international varieties. Creamy, floral, Fuji apple, spice. Full-bodied but an easy sipper. Soft acid, long finish. ~$15

2015 Milbrandt Vineyards Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, WA
Spice, yellow flowers, SweeTart candy on the nose. Smooth, butterscotch, some noticeable oak, but integrated. Big, but not overbearing, long finish. ~$14.

Ca Maiol Lugana Molin DOC, Lombardy, Italy
100% Turbiana (Trebbiano.) Great nose of melon, marzipan, peach, shortbread. Super tasty! Flirty and friendly. Good weight, long acidic finish. ~$18

NV Nobilis Vinho Verde, Portugal
Lightly effervescent, lime and pear on the nose, light but refreshing crowd-pleaser, excellent summer quaffer. One of my fave VVs. ~$9

2015 Charles Gonnet Chignin Savoie, France
Spicy lemon and chives on the nose, white pepper, lemon rind, parsley. Good acidity but smooth on the palate, nice balance of weight and flavors; not too heavy, not too light. ~$15

2015 Carol Shelton Wild Thing Chardonnay, Sonoma
Melon, lemon, kumquat, nice spice - delish! Warm, good fruit, balanced acidity. ~$18

2015 Marc Pesnot La Bohème Melon de Bourgogne, France
Natural fermentation lends a bit of funk to the complex nose, with rich florals, lemon peel, and sourdough flavors, and good acidity. Captivating and unusual. ~$19

2016 Beaumont Chenin Blanc W.O Bot River, South Africa
Loving modern S. A. Chenins these days. This one has spice, green herbs, lemon zest, bit of yellow apple warmth. Very light and zingy. Tart lemon. Lite pineapple. Nice spice in mouth. Integrated acidity. Tasty! Great summer sipper. ~$15


2016 Château Barbanau La Girafe Verte Rosé, Provence, France
A blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. Very pale onion skin color. Great herbs on nose; tarragon, basil, menthol. Nice fruit, cheeky. ~$18 

2016 Kelby James Russell Rosé, Finger Lakes, NY
Made from Cabernet Franc, so bright red. Nice raspberry expression, with plum, and "spice rack dust," this is super tasty. (Don't turn your nose up at its intensity!) ~$17

2016 Broccardo Langhe Nebbiolo Rosé, Italy
Slightly smoky, tanninc, savory, (a "masculine" rosé,) with notes of Rome apple, cherry cola, overall very pungent and delish. ~$18

2016 Marquis de Goulaine Rosé d'Anjou, Loire, France
Very pale pink, lots of strawberry, scrumptious, herby, fruity, light sipper, very nice. ~$13


2012 Trefethen Double T, Red Blend, CA
Amazing nose of cassis, blackberry liqueur, blueberries, bit of smoke, and cedar. Continues in the mouth with tart, sweet tobacco, lil' green pepper, weighty but tangy. Outrageously pedigreed but quaffable! ~$18

2013 Predator Cabernet Sauvignon, CA
Dark berry fruit nose, rich and very MOCHA-y. Hints of pine and good acidity balances it. Like a dark chocolate/berry pie? Rich, flavorful and lovely. SOOOO much going on for only ~$15.

2015 Grayson Cellars Pinot Noir, CA
Smoky and spicy nose. Tasty! Black cherry, pepper, well-balanced with good acidity and weight, and a lip-smacking finish. ~$15.

2014 Camp Cab Franc, Sonoma, CA
Notes of blueberry, mocha coffee, clove spice, and blackberries. Delish Cab Franc with good, balanced acidity. ~$18.

2013 Vega Montan Mencia Bierzo DO, Spain
After getting acquainted with Mencias a few years ago, I snap them up when I can find them! Nearly opaque bricky-purple but lightened by refreshing acidity. Delicious red and purple fruit tang, velvety finish, violet florals, layer of herbs. Yummers. $15.

2012 Pasquale Pelissero Freisa “La Ferma,” DOC, Langhe, Italy
Nose of wet leaves, florals, dried spices. Super structured, had to double decant! But elegant Old World red, definitely tastes like it costs far more. Like a love child of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. ~$15

2015 Calaña Red Blend Jumilla, Spain
Smoky, robust black cherry and blueberry fruit. Nice acidity, little chalky, soft tannins. Great length. Some graphite, dark chocolate, raspberry liqueur. Just yummers. ~$12

2012 Ch. de Jonquieres Cuveé Eole Grande Réserve, France
Opaque purple-ruby. Blue and black fruits. Violets. Velvety and heady. Some smoked meats. Dark and rich fruit but smooooth finish, excellently balanced acidity keeps it from overwhelming. Chalk and lavender on the finish. ~$18

2012 Bairaktaris Monolithos Nemea, Greece
Old vine Agiorgitiko. Cab-like nose, cassis. Wow - black cherry, berry, herbs, baker's chocolate, great character, complex and well-structured. Amazing! ~$16 (If you can't find the '12, there are more recent vintages available.)

2015 Cesari Mara Valpolicella Ripasso DOC, Italy
Sexy nose. Spice, herbs, florals, fresh cherries. Sweet tannins. Delish! Approachable. Yummy. Big but so lovely! Clean and fresh style - not what I expected from a ripasso style. (And as most are $25-40, so this is a steal at) ~$20.  

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Still with me? Great job, Wineaux! I admit that some of these wines will be hard to find, and many aren't even available in all markets. But take this list to your purveyors, and see if they can find something that wets your whistle. And when you do, be sure to comment below with your own finds! 

As always, drink well. Cheers.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Beat the Heat with ROSÉ FROM PROVENCE!

Right now, summer has descended, New York City is baking in the heat, and all I can think about is escaping to the seaside with a glass of rosé in hand. While the beach is merely an hour away on the A train, sometimes it's just easier to conjure refreshment by popping over to the wine shop and grabbing a bottle of rosé from Provence!

While great rosé is made all over the world, Provence is where they've mastered the style so many folks find appealing; lots of minerality, good fruit, and a crisp finish. Typically made from the traditional southern French grapes Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault, these are also generally very affordable wines.

I, for one, encourage rosé consumption year-round, but it certainly is enjoyable to cool off with a glass of rosé in the summer heat. And the fact that these are "red wines in a white wine's body" make them amazing to pair with a range of foods, from lobster to a cookout hot dog.

At a recent tasting sponsored by Vins de Provence, "The Taste of Style," I enjoyed a lovely array of the following rosés (there were some whites and reds from the region as well, and I couldn't help but include one DELISH white below.) Enjoy!

2016 Château Barbanau L'Instant Rosé (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah) (Winery is Organic and Biodynamic.)
V pale onion skin. Herby, spicy, white pear, tasty, good balance, ticks fruit and complexity boxes. Quaffable. ~$20 WM: 89

2016 Château Barbanau La Girafe Verte Rosé (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah)
V pale onion skin. Great herbs on nose; tarragon, basil, menthol. Nice fruit, cheeky. ~$18 WM: 92

2016 Mirabeau en Provence Pure Rosé (Grenache, Syrah)
V v pale onion skin. Light fragrant nose, minerally, elegant, clean, good present acidity. ~$25 WM: 90

2016 Mirabeau en Provence Étoile Rosé (Grenache, Syrah)
V v pale silvery onion skin. Fruit forward, peach, melon, good grip, clean and minerally. ~$35 WM: 91

2016 Cep d'Or Rosé (Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah)
V pale pink, light but great tastiness and fruit through the finish, green herbs too. ~$16 WM: 88

2016 Château L'Arnaude Cuvée Nuit Blanche Rosé (Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan)
V pale peach, good floral perfume, red berries, very dry, a little bitter. ~$NA WM: 86

2016 Château de Pampelonne Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Tibouren) 
V pale pink, nice florals, stemmy nose, tasty, elegant, good berries on finish, nice. ~$21 WM: 90

2016 Mas de Pampelonne Rosé (Neighbor of ^) (Grenache, Cinsault, Tibouren) 
V v pale salmon, great nose, florals and berry fruit, minerally, stemmy. ~$18 WM: 89

2016 Fleur de Mer Rosé (Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan)
V pale pink. Raspberry, strawberry, bitter-ish but well-balanced. Tangy minerality. Nice. ~$18 WM: 89

2015 Château Sainte Marguerite Ikon Rosé (Cinsault, Grenache)
V pale onion skin, florals, ripe melon, cherry, slurp. ~$NA WM: 90

2016 Domaine du Dragon Grande Cuvée Rosé (Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Sra, Rolle)
V pale pink. V floral, nice, savory and spicy in mouth. Yum. ~$NA WM: 91

2016 Château Rêva Symphony Rosé (Grenache, Sra, Cinsault)
V pale pinky salmon, nice acidity, savory, tart red fruit. ~$NA WM: 89

And the DELICOUS white:
2016 Château Sainte Marguerite Symphony (Rolle)
Pale silvery-gold. Lemony nose, whiff of smoke. Tight and lemon-limey with great herb, tarragon. 7-UP-y Clean, tangy, grassy, herby, minerally, so delish. ~$27 WM: 93

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As the mercury continues hovering at the top of the thermometer, believe me, I'll be drinking a lot more rosé. Keep your eyes here for more posts on delicious rosés from all over the world! Post in the comments with your favorite rosés, from Provence or elsewhere. and share the wealth!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hungary's Versatile and Delish Signature White Grape

Frequent readers know I adore good wine from atypical locales. And die-hard Wineaux already know that Hungary is home to one of the world's most exotic, revered dessert wines: Tokaji. ("Toe-kai.") But not a lot of folks know that the main grape of Tokaji, Furmint ("foor-mint,") is absolutely delicious when vinifed as a dry table wine.

Its position under the radar is because there simply wasn't much dry Furmint in the world-wide marketplace until recently. But Hungarian producers are getting their wares out in the U.S. more and more each year, and you should seek some out ASAP — do not pass go, do not collect 200 forint — especially because 2017 was named the "Year of Furmint" by both the SOMM Journal and the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture.


I sampled some amazing Furmints at the Council General of Hungary in New York City recently, and spoke with some passionate winemakers about this versatile grape.

Tamás Kis, Owner and Winemaker of Somlói Vándor, poured his winery's eponymous offering, the 2015 Somlói Vándor Furmint, which had a bright nose of florals and straw. On the palate, it showed notes of quince and lime, and had a charming acidic structure with very good length. Tasty! If you are a Sauv Blanc fan, this one's for you. ~$24.

Also on the lighter side was the 2012 Zafír Dűlő from Erzsébet Cellar. The woman next to me compared it to a white Burgundy, quite the compliment, though I found it lacking a bit of character to agree. Still, it showed yellow apple and lemon on the nose, and was very clean and minerally on the palate. ~$31.

I went "Lady Gaga" over the 2015 Degenfeld Furmint Dry, with its heady floral nose and excellent fruit/acid balance. It was rich-seeming though light and quaffable, with straw, florals, white peach, and a not-overly acidic finish. A great summertime sipper at ~$18. 

Tamás Kovács, owner and winemaker at St. Donat Estate, poured his 2015 Marga Furmint Selection Estate Bottled. ("Marga" is the Hungarian term for "marl," which is a soil type related to limestone.) This had a soft nose, but its white floral perfume blossomed in the mouth, accompanied by bright and tangy acid. ~$22.

Mr. Kovács came prepared with a wonderful map of Hungary on his iPad, on which he could zoom in to illustrate the volcanic and flatland topography of the major Hungarian wine-growing areas. He also had pictures of his small, round aging vessels. When I asked if they were concrete, he turned up his nose a bit; "This is not concrete. Concrete is the past." I stood corrected; these vessels were porous ceramic stone units, which breathe like oak barrels do, but are totally neutral. 

Furmint started to show its spicy side in the 2015 Kvaszinger Hatalos Furmint, along with ginger and melon on the nose. This had integrated acidity and a leesy richness, with a touch of bitterness and long length. ~$27. 

The Spice Girls themselves (what's with the music references today?!) would be overwhelmed by the 2015 Béres Lőcse Furmint Selection Estate Bottled. The nose had rich rome apple and candied melon, but it was a bit schitzo, because in the mouth it was SO dry and SUPER spicy!! Once I got over the difference in expressions, I kept returning to it and wrote, "wow" in my notes. ~$27.

Furmint often gets compared with Chenin Blanc, and I definitely got that similarity with the 2013 Vision Furmint from Holdvölgy. (This was the only 2013 poured, which is too bad, as it Mr. Kis proclaimed it "an excellent vintage.") This had an inviting floral nose with a candied melon presence, flirty and tasty ripe fruit on the mouth, with high acidity. ~$24. 

The last dry Furmint of the day was the 2012 Barta Öreg Király Furmint, which had a slightly maderized nose (like a light Sherry,) with a funky barnyard feel and overripe lemon, but on the mouth it was light, lemon-peel acidic, with straw on the finish. I found this really interesting; earthy, but bright. And it also shows that this grape definitely has aging potential. (This one is for you Chardonnay fans.) ~$39

Finally, there was one sweeter style poured; the 2012 Basilicas Szamorodni Tokaji. "Szamorodni" means "as it comes," and refers to the condition of the grapes when picked. This is not like Sauternes, where multiple passes are made throughout the vineyards and individual grapes at optimal ripeness are picked each time; here the bunches with varying degrees of ripe berries will get picked "as it comes." Because of the topography and climate of Tokaji, the dessert-wine grapes will often be affected by botrytis (the "noble rot" that also hits Sauternes, and adds an amazing, distinctive flavor to these wines,) and this showed some botrytis on the nose, with peach, apricot, and vanilla. With about 66 grams per liter of sugar, it was definitely sweet, but not at all cloying, as the amazing acidity keeps it fresh. ~$NA.

As with many unusual varieties/locales, you will have to work a little harder to seek dry Furmints out. But the incredible quality of the wines I sampled above suggest that they will be the darlings of somms and merchants before too long. Furmint is quite reflective of its terroir, so that explains the incredible range of experiences, from super-bright and tangy to richer, rounder, earthier flavors. It's hard to know exactly what you will get from each wine by merely glancing at the label, but grab whatever bottle you can find and start experimenting. I think you might end up freaking out over Furmint yourselves.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017


A lot has been said about the 2012 vintage Brunello, but does the wine live up to the hype?

Full disclosure: I am not the world's biggest Brunello di Montalcino fan. I often find the younger wines unbalanced and overbearingly structured, and many BdMs with some age have lost their pleasant fruit and are just too austere for my palate.

But at a recent tasting sponsored by The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, I was introduced to a range of 2012s that absolutely sparked my interest. I'm sure the vintage isn't the only contributing factor to my change-of-heart, but it seems to be the foundation.

It certainly wasn't an easy growing season in Montalcino in 2012. With a dry start, snow and rain during important growth stages, and a HOT summer, yields were down. But the important weeks leading up to harvest were practically perfect.

BdM is a DOCG wine -- the highest-rated level of governmental standards of control. These are high-class wines, although their popularity has only risen to world-wide levels over the last 50 years or so.

3D map of Montalcino, from the Consorzio presentation.
The area of Montalcino is located in Tuscany, Italy, and is basically a square, rising to a slightly off-center peak like a pyramid. Soils differ in the main four quadrants of the region -- a combination of sand, clay, and limestone. We tasted wines from all parts of Montalcino, grown on all soil types, at various elevations. (As is required by DOCG regulations, all of these wines are 100% Sangiovese.)


2012 Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium ruby color. Fragrant cherry, floral, cola nose with ripe, perky fruit. Quite tart in the mouth, with tangy, mouthwatering acidity, and a cheeky, long finish, with present but integrated tannins. One of my faves, and perhaps the most "easy-drinking." ~$70.

2012 Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium ruby color. Big tangy cherry-berry nose, with sandalwood and florals. A bit stemmier, bramble-y, and a mineral tang like a rare steak sangue. Good acid, nice finish. ~$50.

2012 La Magia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium-plus ruby color. Woodsy, sweet herbs, black cherry nose. This one's gutsier, quite tannic with good acidity, yet elegant and balanced. ~$45.

2012 Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium ruby color. Light floral perfume, merde-y nose. Super dry feel, leafy, dusty. Stylistically not my fave, but also well-balanced. ~$60.

2012 Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium-plus dark ruby color. (The most opaque of the flight.) Ripe fruit, robust nose. Big and bold, black cherry and grape soda notes. High acidity, big but balanced tannins, a bruiser. (Higher altitude and maybe picked later?) But I like it! ~$75

2012 Pian Delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium ruby color. Very herb-y, cherry, pine nose. Super structured, but classic Brunello -- elegant and playful in the mouth, with spices and tart cherry. Another fave. ~$40.

2012 Talenti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG -- Medium ruby color. Very astringent feel, leafy, eucalyptus/pine sharpness, with more sangue minerality. I have a slight suspicion my glass was off, but couldn't verify. ~$55.


So what REALLY made the Minx reconsider her thoughts on Brunello? As Jeff Porter, Beverage Director for the Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group and one of the leaders of the tasting, said, these are "very pretty" wines. They were elegant and approachable, and in every case I found the potentially troublesome acidity and tannins inherent in Sangiovese totally well-balanced. That structure makes these long-lived, and also incredible food wines, so I just might have to pop out and grab a few bottles, for now AND later!


Monday, August 1, 2016

TOO DARN HOT? Warm-Weather Wines.

Get me on a boat, it's HOT!
Wineaux, there are a number of amazing posts I've been working on (while living my OTHER existence as a performer,) but I had to address a concern of many fellow oenophiles during this hot, HOT summer.

What to drink when the mercury is off the charts?!

So many people say, "it's too hot to drink wine," and I say, "NO" to that!!

So here's a little primer for the rest of your summer.

60-70 degrees F: try an Albariño from Spain, or a Vermentino from Sardinia. Both of these exhibit rounder fruit flavors like melon and apricot, and are a bit weightier, though still well-balanced and super quaffable. Martin Codax is a reputable Albariño producer (though your local store may have some other wonderful options,) and I always enjoy the Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino. Both usually <$20.

70-80 degrees F: time for refreshing bubbles! A cava from Spain has the same methodology of production as Champagne, but the indigenous grapes result in a lighter, more refreshing sipper. I'm a huge fan of the award-winning Segua Viudas cava. (~$10) Also, go a little red (YEP!) with a sparkling Brachetto from Italy. Some of these are on the sweeter side, so if that's your taste then hooray, but I prefer one made in the drier style. You get a refreshing, light red, on the herby side, but perfect out on the patio as the grill is firing up. The Banfi Rosa Regale has wide distribution, and is slightly sweet but balanced. (~$18)

80-90 degrees F: I think it's time for a Chenin Blanc (Loire Valley or South Africa) or a nice rosé from Provence. Chenin is such an under-appreciated white grape!! It's known for its lanolin and wax notes, but I find many options are brighter, more interesting, and a great alternative to your more typical Chard and Sauv Blancs. MAN Vintners' (S. Africa) is inexpensive and pretty easy to find, or you can splurge a little for a Vouvray from the Loire.

You can hardly avoid tripping over the summertime rosé displays in your local wine store, and I believe in rosé ALL YEAR ROUND, but there's a reason why so many people go gaga for rosé in the summer. One from Provence, France, will have light strawberry notes, florals, and herbs, and you may find you've sucked down the whole bottle without even realizing it.

90-100 degrees F: It's getting uncomfortably warm out there... you need refreshment, NOW. Head straight for a Grüner Veltliner from Austria, or a grassy Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or the Loire Valley. These will all be crisp with high acidity, perfect for cutting through the mugginess of a hot day. A Grüner picked early will have lime, celery and white pepper notes—and while you can find a ton of value options, try and find an FX Pichler  G.V. and marvel at its elegance.  (~$25-$100 depending on designation.)

Oyster Bay is a common and affordable NZ ZB, but again, your wine purveyors can steer you to a delectable Sauvignon Blanc to fit your desired style and price range.

100+ degrees F: You can't even turn your head without wanting to pass out, so you need something light and caressing like a cool breeze. A Muscadet from the Loire Valley will be refreshing and minerally (those aged "sur lie," or on their lees, will be weightier,) or try a perfecto Txakoli from northwestern Spain. These have a little shpritz, and their fruit is crisp and lean, often with notes of ginger, with tons of acidity and low alcohol. I like the Ameztoi, which comes in both a white and rosé style. (~$20) And if you're serious about your Txakolis, you can pour it into a flat-bottomed glass from a high reach, as the Basque do!

Wineaux, I hope you stay cool and enjoy wines like these during the rest of the dog days of summer. Let me know if you find other summer sippers you love!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016


My, how we Wineaux love our classifications. Well, maybe it's a love-hate kind of thing, because they certainly confuse many consumers. (And sometimes classifications are even self-regulated, hm.) But they are everywhere, so the first part of my task today is to zero in on the Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion.

It's not that difficult if we telescope a bit: France > Bordeaux > Saint-Emilion (located on the "Right Bank," of Bordeaux, where Merlot is king,) > Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. (Which is a classification, divvied into Grand Cru Classé and Premier Grand Cru Classé.) Every 10 years the classification is reviewed, most recently in 2012.

In 1982, a group of classed growers formed the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion to work together to promote their region, their wines, and to continuously strive to elevate quality. 

A recent tasting sponsored by the Association shined a spotlight on two recent vintages: the acclaimed 2010 and the erratic 2012. 2010 is known as one of the standout Bordeaux vintages, and may very well be a benchmark year for the Right Bank. 2012 was beset by very turbulent weather, but if growers picked early, they were on track for a great wine.

Alas, I did not have time to sample the full Saint-Emilion bounty available due to time constraints, but found a few stunners from both vintages.

2012 Clos Saint Martin: notes of chalky lavender and cassis. With grippy tannins, this was dense and packed, but shimmied into a nice fruit-touched finish laced with cocoa powder. ~$60.
2010 Clos Saint Martin: smoky berry/cherry nose, with a heady floral perfume. This one is sexy — red fruit, good, strong structure, a boffo wine. ~$100.

2010 Clos Des Jacobins: florals and soft red berries on the nose. With a somewhat light personality, it was still elegant with red, redddd, reddddddd fruits. ~$60.

2012 Château La Commanderie: pyrazine-y green pepper, black cherry, spice. Quite smooth and velvety. ~$30.
2010 Château La Commaderie: dark fruits and graphite on the nose. Tangy personality, cherry cola, strong but integrated tannins. ~$35.

2012 Château Faurie de Souchard: smoky, spicy, licorice, black and blue fruits. Tightly wound with dusty tannins. ~$30.
2010 Château Faurie de Souchard: liquid cassis and purple flowers on the sexy nose. "Wowzers. SEXY wine," I wrote, with a "Purple Velvet Elvis" kind of feel. ~$35.

I preferred the 2012 Château Dassault, to the 2010, with its heady blueberry, plum, cherry nose I couldn't get enough of. Not overly tannic, with good acidity, pleasant and rich enough but approachable now, ~$45. The 2010 Château Dassault seemed very earthy, dusty, herby — more Cabernet Sauvignon-like, although there was only 5% in the blend — but I'd love to see it when it opens up. ~$50.

2012 Château Fonplegade: cassis, cedar, and rose petals on the nose, with a nice tang and brightness, fairly approachable. ~$40
2010 Château Fonplegade: "wow" nose! Smarties candy, cranberry, underripe red cassis. Glorious festival of cheeky red fruits, nice florals, bit of licorice, good acidic tang, amazing. ~$50

Both the 2012 and 2010 Château Grand Pontet had a relatively high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and it showed. The 2012 was earthy, "merde"y, and woodsy with good structure, ~$35, and the 2010 had strong cigar leaf and herbs with a little more black fruit expression and sneaky tannins; very nice for the style. ~$55

2012 Château La Dominique: great nose — floral, red berries, cassis. Approachable, smooth, LOVELY. Like your new best friend/crush. WOW! ~$42
2010 Château La Dominique: intoxicating cassis and lavender nose. Mocha, dried potpourri, wonderful structure, very purple-y finish. ~$60

In years like 2010 and 2012, especially when coaxed by the right hands, Right Bank Bordeaux lets the Merlot shine, and these tend to be more approachable than the Left Bank Cab-heavy offerings, even in great vintages. (Especially in great vintages, acutally, due to Cab Sauv's intense structure.) It's also a fantastic bang for the price point buck, considering two of my favorites above retail under ~$45. Some of these producers don't have the widest distribution here in the U.S., but keep your eyes peeled for 2012 and 2010 Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classes (it will say that on the label,) and snap up a few bottles when you can, you'll be glad you did. And don't forget to let me know what you find!


Wednesday, January 6, 2016


People who know me have heard me say, "If I could drink Champagne all day long, every day, I would." So it should be no surprise that when I had the chance to dine with Piper-Heidsieck's award-winning Chef de Cave Régis Camus, I jumped. On a balmy November day, I joined him and a few other Wineaux at Koi Soho for an incredible lunch, paired with an array of Piper Champagnes.

We began with the ubiquitous red-labelled Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV: notes of brioche and lemon, clean, with a sublime mousse, bright yet rich. 100% malolactic fermentation but still so fresh. ~$45. Lifting his glass, M. Camus said, "The first glass is the best of the day." So true.

Champagne lovers know that a NV wine isn't a "second runner-up" to the vintage-declared bottlings. A NV blend represents the identity of the Champagne house, as it is crafted year to year to achieve the house style using reserve wines and different percentages of the three permitted varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier,) from a base vintage. When I asked M. Camus if he had favorite reserve wines that he was perhaps reluctant to use up, he said, a tad derisively, "Others want to hold, like museum. The Chef's job is to keep using wines." I took another sip, savoring the generous history in my glass.

Blending also occurs with a vintage wine, but with different varietals and vineyards, not years. The Piper-Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2006 (49% Pinot Noir, 51% Chardonnay) was sourced from 16 Grand and Premier Crus (rated vineyards) during a "challenging yet rewarding" year marked by a wide range of weather. It had a yeasty nose with a strong tangerine element, and was rich and floral with an incredible length of fruit. Vivid, generous, gorgeous minerality, balanced acidity, strong mousse. ~$80. M. Camus called this "The Diplomat," and with a little prodding, I discovered he has nicknames for all of his vintage-designated Champagnes — 2008 was "The Diamond," 2004 was "The Marathoner." Love it! Toasting with the 2006, M. Camus said, "The second glass... is the best of the day." Agreed.

A Champagne house's Tête de Cuvée, or Cuvée Prestige, is its jewel in the crown. For Piper, that is the Rare, and they have only released EIGHT vintages of Rare sine its debut in 1976. As winemaker, M. Camus can take the gloves off and use complete creative freedom to craft a spectacular wine. The Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2002 (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir) has a bold nose of baked lemon and brioche. It is luxe beyond belief, with a creamy mandarin curd finish. Disgorged in 2012, this spent 9 years on its lees, and has the oomph to be cellared for another 20. ~$180. As we raised our glasses, I said, "Let me guess: the third glass…" and we all chorused: "is the best of the day!"

Most of the courses at Koi Soho have an Asian flair, and it doesn't take a Master Somm to pair Champagne with sushi... but how about red meat? Well, for a winter lamb chop, look no further than the Piper-Heidsieck Rosé Sauvage NV (55-60% Pinot Noir, 20-25% Pinot Meunier, 10-15% Chardonnay, with some "vin de couleur," or still Pinot Noir, in the mix.) This was a deep, vibrant pink, with very fragrant strawberry notes, candied cherries, grapefruit, and roses, with a subtle mousse. Like the NV Brut, the rosé is blended from a base wine (in this case, 2010,) and a large number of reserve wines. M. Camus implied this rosé is one of his toughest wines to make; the color should be consistent from year to year, Pinot Noir could overwhelm the blend but shouldn't, and some vintages, crops of Pinot Noir don't pass muster for the rosé. But it's worth it; the Piper Heidsieck Rosé is another very striking, yet elegant, wine. ~$60.

Finally, we headed into dessert with the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime. (55-60% Pinot Noir, 20-25% Pinot Meunier, 10-15% Chardonnay.) This is a Demi-Sec, which means it has a higher dosage (added sugar) and will exhibit apparent sweetness. But make no mistake, this is not a syrupy, cloying dessert wine. Think of it more like a voluptuous bombshell pin-up! Notes of marzipan, pineapple, vanilla cupcake. Delicious fruit, extremely well-balanced. (My notes have "delicious" again.) It certainly paired well with the dessert course, but would be a heady experience on its own. ~$50.

Although M. Camus has been named "Champagne Winemaker of the Year" by the International Wine Challenge eight times, Piper-Heidsieck doesn't command consumers' attention the way Perrier-Jouët or Möet & Chandon do. What does that mean for you Wineaux? Simple: incredible Champagnes at comparatively bargain prices. Perhaps Piper-Heidsieck doesn't have the reputation of other large houses, but it is a mistake to pass over these incredible wines. The cultivation of the vintage offerings and the high percentage of reserve wine in the NV bottlings belies the price points. In general, the Piper style is bold yet elegant, and who doesn't want that in a Champagne! So go seek some out, and let me know if you agree.

Many thanks to M. Camus and to my friends at Terlato Wines for a delicious luncheon and the unique opportunity to drink gorgeous Champagnes with their Chef beside me. I look forward to tasting with M. Camus again someday (and perhaps inspire a nickname for a future vintage —"The Minx"?!)