Friday, April 24, 2015

ODE TO BUBBLY: The Sparkling Wines of Gruet

If I had my druthers, I'd drink Champagne all day long, every day. Well, druthers AND a large pocketbook, as Champagne can be a very expensive habit. Lucky for me, there are a large number of American producers who make delicious sparkling wine in the Mèthode Traditionelle—aka the Champagne method—and their wares encompass the range of Champagne styles and brilliance quite well while being kinder on the wallet.

A particular personal favorite is Gruet—their NV Brut made one of my very first "Top 20 Under $20" lists. Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico (wait, what, NEW MEXICO?!) this family-run winery has been producing award-winning sparklers since their first release in 1989. You may still be trying to wrap your brain around the concept of quality wine from New Mexico, but the American Southwest has many characteristics of fine-wine growing regions, namely good soils and high-elevation vineyards which cool greatly overnight so the grapes don't ripen too much. (Check out my roundup of nearby Arizona wineries here and you'll get an idea of what the area has to offer.)

While I've found the Gruet Brut and the Gruet Rosé in wine shops all around the country, some of their other offerings are less widely distributed, so when I got an opportunity to purchase a mixed case, I jumped on it. I invited some friends over to taste the array with me, and we had an eye-opening experience getting acquainted with some of the styles of Gruet bubblies.

As kind of a "baseline," we began with the NV Gruet Brut. Everyone agreed it was a solid offering, with notes of green apple, a little yeastiness, and lemon/grapefruit citrus. A blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, it remains a fave go-to sparkler. ~$16.

Next up was the NV Gruet Rosé. 100% Pinot Noir, with a beautiful salmon color. Lots of strawberry on the nose, with raspberry in the mouth, and some herbs and florals to round it out. There is 2% still Pinot Noir added to the bottle, I imagine to add a little depth of flavor… whatever the reason, it works, and suddenly it seemed everyone had a new favorite go-to. A little cheekier, a little sexier, for ~$18.

Our third bottle was the NV Gruet Sauvage, which is 100% Chardonnay, and made in the driest, Brut Nature style. We all agreed there was a kind of dryer sheet/mineral soap-iness character which took some getting used to. Definitely steely and crisp, with mountain florals and lemon peel. Maybe not the universal favorite of the eve, but people kept coming back to it, intrigued. ~$20.

Our first vintage offering was the 2010 Gruet Blanc de Blancs, also 100% Chardonnay ("Blanc de Blancs" basically means "white from whites," so only white grapes are used, i.e., our old friend Chard.) This wine spent three years on the lees, and the subsequent richness and roundness shone through in the notes of Gala apple, toastiness, and its creamy expression. We started to go a little bonkers for this one, no lie. When you realize a vintage Champagne is going to run you generally around $80-100, this baby is even MORE attractive at ~$25. Boo-yah.

Now, the dosage levels of Champagne are varied and confusing, with the wide ranges of allowed residual sugar and the nomenclature, so we'll just leave it that Extra Dry is smack in the middle, with higher residual sugar than a Brut, but not necessarily sweet-tasting. You'll sense the ripeness of the fruit, and a higher viscosity, but as Champagne's acidity is so bright, it can be balanced in a glorious way. And so it follows that a couple of minds were blown by the NV Gruet Extra Dry. Again 100% Chardonnay, and bottle aged a minimum of 18 months, it had notes of marzipan, white peach, rose petals and honeysuckle. ~$16. (I really wish I could've gotten my hands on the Gruet Demi-Sec, which would have had still more residual sugar, but this was certainly an eye-opener for those in the group who would usually shy away from a "sweeter" offering.)

Finally, the Tête de Cuvée, the 2007 Gruet Gilbert Gruet Grand Reserve. Named after the winery's founder, this is a 100% Chardonnay from the property's oldest vines. They use free-run juice, and age the still wine after its first fermentation in French oak barrels. It spent six years aging on the lees, and only 600 cases were made. And it was everything you'd hope from a jewel in the crown: toasty brioche, beautifully yeasty, notes of vanilla, taffy, baked yellow apple, lemon, and mountain florals. Complex and hedonistic. So amazing, I want a whole case all to myself (to drink all day long, every day.) And get this… it's only $43. What the what?!?!

This tasting only confirmed what I'd long thought about Gruet: very high quality across the board, a consistent Brut "house style," and vintage offerings that were elevated and nuanced. Kinda like a good Champagne… at a fraction of the price. As I said, the Brut and the Rosé have wide availability, and stores that carry them may be able to get you some of the rest of the portfolio. But you can also purchase through the winery's website here. I hope to get the chance to visit New Mexico in the near future and see the Gruet operations first-hand, but until then I remain very, very thankful that I still have a few bottles left in my case!


Monday, March 30, 2015

GRANDES PAGOS de España ~ Spain's Single Estates

It might seem obvious that, in general, the smaller the parcel of land from which a wine is sourced, the higher the quality. Wines labeled with a large region tend to be entry-level, and then the more telescopic you go—from large region to mid-size region to small region to sub-region to single vineyards—the quality expands exponentially.

In Spain, for many years, large conglomerate companies oversaw wine production, sourcing grapes from areas all over the country. It wasn't until 2000 when a small group of producers stood up for their single vineyard/single estates (called "pagos") and founded what has become the Grandes Pagos de España. This is not a commercial group—they have different importers, for example—but they do share technical expertise, winemaking knowledge, and they've banded together to promote premium, quality wine from all over Spain.

During a recent tasting sponsored by the group, I got to sample some old favorites and meet some new ones. The wide range of styles, sub-regions, and grapes was a little muddying perhaps, but the fact remains that most of these wines were fantastic examples of craft and terroir.

2007 Cava Gramona III Lustros: medium-minus gold color. Warm, toasty almond. Lemon zest. Very bright, lots of minerality. Reflects its gravelly/sandy soils. Zippy acidity on the light yet long finish, gets creamier. ~$45.

2012 Chivite Colleción Blanco: bright medium gold color. Great nose—taffy, oak, baking spices, baked yellow apple. Viscous, good balancing acidity, long finish. Not terribly complex, but overall nice structure and flavors. Bit of tropical fruits come in at finish. 100% Chardonnay, 11 mo. in French oak. ~$50.

2013 La Miranda de Secastilla Blanca: green melon, lemon, celery, interesting. Very tart, green and clean, bit of ripeness at the finish. I like. ~$20.

2013 Cérvoles Blanc: funky nose, overripe honeydew melon. Nice tang, quaffable, balanced, VERY spicy on the finish! ~$30.

2012 Belondrade y Lurton Bianco: love the nose. Taffy. Viscous, lots of flavor, long length, minerals on the finish. 100% Verdejo. ~$40.

2007 Gran Calzadilla: blend of Tempranillo and Cab. Sauv. Nearly opaque ruby color. Floral aromas, rose petals, bit of smoke and cigar box, blue fruits. Bright acidity, ripe blue fruits, subtle tannins. Bit velvety, solid, and pleasant. ~$75.

2011 Enrique Mendoza Santa Rosa: medium-plus ruby. Cedar, rosemary, cassis, violets on the very aromatic nose. Tangy red fruits, brick dust, cherry. Bit tart, but warmth of cherry rounds out the end, accompanied by some savory notes. ~$35.

2008 Finca Valpiedra Reserva: opaque ruby. Great, rich nose. Lavender, graphite, blackberry. Seems a bit tight. Really dense! Blueberry/blackberry, gravel soil, seems high acid. ~$35.

2008 Cérvoles: medium-plus garnet. Cassis, overripe red fruits, dried herbs, woodsy. Smooth, rich and integrated, cedar, dark fruits, yet bright. Very solid, though perhaps not terribly memorable. ~$40.

2012 AALTO: 100% Tempranillo from very old vines. Medium-plus ruby. Purple floral aromatics, licorice, cola, some coconut (from the American oak.) Very young. Cola, tight purpleness, big and bruise. Violets. Intense, dense, shows lots of potential. Yowzers! ~$43.

2011 AALTO PS: Super aromatic, blue and purple fruits, lavender and violet. Wow, that's sexy. S&M sexy, though—too young still, knocks you around a bit. ~$105.

2011 Abadia Retuerta Pago Negralada: opaque purpley/ruby. Very tight nose, elusive, some red fruits and a grape juice element. Tight. Dusty, purple fruit, bit of meatiness. Subtle tannins. "Packed & Purple." Would love to see it open up more. ~$100.

2010 Abadia Retuerta Selección Especial: Super earthy, tobacco, cedar, green pepper. Highly structured and intense. Cassis comes in at finish, young but pedigreed. ~$25.

2011 Palacio Quemado Los Acilates: cured meats, rose potpourri, absolutely intriguing! Tobacco, well-structured, long-lived. Yes. ~$15.

2013 Palacio Quemado La Zarcita: funky Tempranillo blend with Trincadeira, super crunchy red fruit, smoke. Spicy in mouth, zingy, fresh, tasty. ~$20.

2010 Doix (Mas Doix): medium ruby color. Dusty bouquet, berry salad, bright and minerally, really nice. Powerful but good acidity. Tasty. ~$35.

2010 Numanthia: dusty, cocoa, black fruits. Dark, intense, well-textured, aging well but tannins still pretty big. ~$55.

2011 Termanthia (Numanthia): cherry pie, baked bread, brick dust, really tight and dense, lots of structure, BIG but elegant. ~$180.

(While I was researching prices, I realized that not many of these wines have wide distribution in the States. As the Grandes Pagos movement grows, I expect that will change. For now, the Mas Doix, Numanthia and Termanthia, Abadia Retuertas, and AALTOs have a bit more widespread availability.)

Definitely keep the concept of Spain's Single Estates on your radar—the wines are diverse, delicious, and truly reflect the range of terroir and grapes in Spain. Maravilloso vino!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wonderful Wines Of Washington! (WWOW!)

With the rise in popularity of quality wine from less-than-usual locales, we're forgetting about one right here in the U.S.: Washington State. WA is actually the second largest producer of American wine (behind California) but it's hardly forefront in the mind of consumers looking for wonderful wines.

Time to change that, and how! First of all, let's do some edifying: A) don't equate rainy Seattle with your concept of WA wine—most of the state's wine regions lie to the east of the Cascade Mountains, which act as a rain shadow, in the dry Columbia Valley AVA. B) the area's latitude is the same as between Bordeaux and Burgundy (fairly well-regarded regions, eh?), there is an unusually long length of day, which equals over a hundred more hours of glorious daylight during the growing season—and WA's wide daily temperature fluctuations are great for ripening. C) there is NO phylloxera in the state, so the vines are grown on their own rootstock. D) for you soil nerds: there is volcanic bedrock layered under glacial deposits and soil from multiple ice age floods, with a windblown loess dusting on top—a trifecta of loveliness. E) there are over FORTY varietals planted, with subregions showcasing an incredible array of grapes; Riesling and Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah… rarely at home in the same region.
There's so much more, but let's get to the juice!

I recently spent a day walla-walla-wallowing in the bounty of WA state wines at a trade event sponsored by the Washington State Wine Commission, and found some truly wonderful wines during two seminars and a walk-around tasting.

I was first knocked out by the 2013 àMaurice Cellars Sparrow Viognier, Walla Walla Valley AVA. Nose of straw, lemon, white florals, very viscous, and tangy lemon zest with lots of minerality on the palate. Florals emerge on the super long finish. Winemaker Anna Schafer spoke of her passion in cultivating this gem: "I absolutely love making white wine—you're not making white wine for the scores!" ~$35.

At the walk-around, I beelined to her table to taste more of her offerings: the 2011 àMaurice Cellars Night Owl Estate Red Blend was light but complex, with a super elegant, smoky nose, a bit of earth and charming, well-balanced fruit. ~$48. 2011 àMaurice Cellars Fred Estate Syrah had lots of perfume, spice, and herbs, with lavender sachet in the mouth. Not a hot-n-ripe overblown Syrah, rather an elegant, integrated example. ~$42. And the 2011 àMaurice Cellars Anderson Red Blend showed a great perfumey nose! Sweet plums, rose petals… wowzers! Love this. Elegant, and very flavorful. ~$40.

Another standout was the 2012 Januik Klipsun Vineyard Merlot, Red Mountain AVA. Complex, forward nose of blueberry, blackberry, lavender pastilles, and mocha, in the mouth it had compact, elegant fruit, with good balancing acidity and soft tannins, with a long finish of blackberry pie. ~$30

Almost presented as an answer to the question, "But how will WA wines age?", the 1994 Woodward Canyon Winery Merlot, Columbia Valley AVA had an amazing "whoa!" nose of intense spice box, sweet cedar, and tobacco leaf. It was still very present in the mouth, with flavors of dried herbs and mesquite, with good acidity. Just lovely. (The fruit was actually sourced from the Wahluke Slope AVA, but at the time, it hadn't been granted an AVA designation yet.) Not too shabby for a 20-year-old Merlot from lil' ol' Washington! ~$NA.

Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau is an important figure in the growth of the WA wine industry, always looking to innovate and perfect, and his 2010 Ch. Ste. Michelle Artist Series Meritage, Columbia Valley AVA has the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon he's ever put in a Bordeaux-style blend. He said, "The elegance of the Cab this year just sang to me, and I couldn't hold it down." It had blackberry liqueur and floral perfume, with dense and dark purple notes. Suuuuuuper smooth, with pepper and graphite on the finish. A big wine, but it doesn't punch you in the face. Wow. (Bob also said that "Washington tannins are like a thoroughbred—you have to teach it, train it… that's a good problem to have, to have a wild horse." I loved that.) ~$60.

His 2013 Ch. Ste. Michelle Eroica Riesling carries on a solid tradition of dependable Eroicas, with a great nose of florals—massive honeysuckle!—and spice, mandarin orange, and mouthwatering acidity. ~$20. And I also loved the 2011 Ch. Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, with its dead-on-Cabernet nose of cassis, cedar, and a little green-ness. It was incredibly smooth and integrated, and had a long finish of cassis and earth. ~$30.

Next stop was the Charles Smith/K Vintners table—I've been a fan of their wines for a long time. (I've gleefully written about the Boom Boom Syrah and the Kung Fu Girl Riesling in the past.) And sure enough, out of the gate, I was incredibly impressed with the 2013 ViNO Pinot Gris. Attractive floral nose, spicy, good acidity, florals carry through—wow! Impressive. And only ~$12! I also went coo-coo for the 2012 Sixto Uncovered Chardonnay, with its smooth presentation, cheeky note of taffy, and loads of minerality. No new oak, 100% native fermentation, sourced from three different high-elevation vineyards—a rival to famed CA chards, at half the price. ~$30. Another incredible value is found in the 2013 Wines of Substance Cabernet Sauvignon, which was "kind of left alone," according to co-winemaker Brennon Leighton. Robust red fruit, good balance and length, complex. ~$15.

I'm also familiar with Andrew Will's wines, and really enjoyed the two vintages I tasted from his Champoux Vineyard (and the little kid in me cracked up every time someone seriously mentioned a "shampoo" vineyard.) The Cab Franc-based 2012 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard Blend, Horse Heaven Hills AVA was big and extracted, with dense black fruits and florals, ~$65, and the 2011 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard Blend, Horse Heaven Hills AVA lathered up the palate (see what I did there?) with spiced blackberry jam. ~$74.

If a group of flamingoes is a flamboyance, what do you call a group of Master Sommeliers? (That may be a good question for the twitter.) Three MSs—Shayn Bjornholm MS, Chris Tanghe MS, and one of my former instructors John Ragan MS—led a blind seminar to illuminate WA location, grapes, and blends. (Yes, my palms sweat the minute I realized we'd be tasting blind, but I nailed the three varietals and a couple of sub-regions, so I guess the Minx has some mad skillz after all.)

The quality of the wines in this group was high across the board, but if pressed to name some favorites, I'd include the 2011 DeLille Cellars Harrison Hill Blend Snipes Mountain AVA; cassis, herb liqueur, and sage notes, integrated fruit, elegant and delish! ~$95. Also the 2012 Avennia Justine Columbia Valley AVA, with its red and black berry salad, strong cherry, and florals, was super dense and tasty, and quite grippy. A blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah. ~$40. And I loved the 2012 Gramercy Cellars Third Man Columbia Valley AVA, with silky red fruits, it was a bit meaty (genoa salami) and peppery, with alpine notes. Big, but beautifully balanced. Another S. Rhône blend, this time with the emphasis on Grenache. ~$45.

The 2012 Betz Family Winery Bésoleil Columbia Valley AVA was also incredible, with coffee grounds and herbs on the nose, and a luxe, elegant palate of blueberry, a hint of chalk—so tasty. ~$45. I went to their table for more, falling for the 2011 Clos de Betz Red Bordeaux Blend, with an amazing, packed nose of cassis and cedar, and a flinty minerality. ~$55. Also the 2011 Betz Family Winery Père de Famille Cabernet Sauvignon: "ooooh, rich & smooooooth!" say my notes. Violets, delicious fruit, elegant, quaffable yet good with food. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, and 3% Merlot. ~$68.

"Dense" is the word of the day for the 2011 Col Solare Blend Red Mountain AVA, which also drew me in, with its notes of cassis liqueur, brick dust, velvety red fruit, liquid herbs, it was very dense and very ripe. And very sexy. ~$75.

Still with me?! I know this is a lot, but seriously—each table I visited kept surprising me with such gems, it was truly a bounty. If I didn't have an appointment to get to, this post would have been three times as long, I'm sure. My last stop on the way out was at the Seven Hills table. I'd correctly blind tasted the varietal of the 2012 Seven Hills Vineyard Merlot Walla Walla Valley AVA during the seminar, and still loved its ripe blue and black fruits on the nose, elements of smoke and mocha, and tasty, intense blueberry pie. ~$38. Next was the only rosé I sampled that day, the 2014 Seven Hills Dry Rosé Cabernet Franc—loved the nose, strawberry-lime rickey, clean and crisp watermelon Jolly Rancher, good acidity, super dry finish. ~$18.

 Their hits just kept on coming: the 2012 Seven Hills Ciel du Cheval Blend Red Mountain AVA: "melting" red fruit, big but super integrated, lovely. My friend Mr. Some Damn Good Wine kept crowing over the note of "Maraschino! Maraschino!!" ~$45. The 2012 Seven Hills McClellan Estate Petit Verdot Walla Walla Valley AVA: just loved the nose. Intriguing. Plummy purpleness across the board. Wow! I drew a heart. ~$35. And the 2012 Seven Hills Klipsun Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain AVA: spot-on Bordeaux nose—cedar, cassis, eucalyptus. Scrumptious, with high tannins, but very integrated. ~$45.

Wineaux, if you haven't figured it out by now, wines from Washington State are indeed wonderful. This tasting confirmed that they have the ability to rival wines from other great regions around the world, and many are values at every price point. Do yourselves a favor, and start familiarizing yourselves with the wonderful wines from WA.

(Side note: as of this writing, I am very close to finalizing a date to sing this summer for the Seattle Mariners as part of my quest to sing the National Anthem for every Major League Baseball team. Rest assured that I will do my very best to tack on a visit to the Columbia Valley to get up close and personal with more of these gems! I love it so when my worlds collide.

UPDATE: The Seattle date is set, barring any theatrical conflicts: July 28. Very excited, not only to sing, but to stomp around Washington State vineyards for a few days. Keep an eye out for my report.)


Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Every year, the Gambero Rosso organization awards the Tre Bicchieri (or, "three glasses,") to a select number of Italian wines from out of 45,000 sampled. Winners and runners-up are showcased during a world tour, which stopped off in New York early February.

Out of all the industry events I attend every year, the Tre Bicchieri seems to be one of the zaniest. Maybe it's the generally effusive nature of Italians themselves, but I think a lot has to do with the layout: wineries are organized by importer (not region, style, or even alphabetically,) so you're bopping from Franciacorta to Brunello to Amarone to Sicily and back again. Maybe it's also that there are a lot of friends and consumers allowed, so people are drinking more than spitting! Who knows. Just… zany.

As with many industry tastings, it's impossible to sample every single wine. IMPOSSIBLE! (For kicks, you can check out my madcap attempt to hit as many of the 250 wineries at the latest NY Wine Experience as I could.) At this year's Tre Bicchieri, there were 321 wines from 180 producers, so even if you were a speed demon and took only one measly minute to taste each wine, it would still take you almost five and a half hours to hit them all.

So I found a section of the room and just plowed in! ("3B" indicates Tre Bicchieri winners, others received slightly lower rankings.)

As luck would have it, I sampled the Red of the Year first. The 2007 Vietti Barolo Villero Riserva (3B) had great, elegant perfume, was "really delicious," with bright, spicy red cherries and brick dust. Silky tannins, good acidity, looooong length and a chewy finish. ~$300. The 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione also had an elegant nose, and was tasty—very floral and very earthy—and integrated. ~$45.

As a bubbly fan, I beelined for the 2009 Il Mosnel Franciacorta Extra Brut EBB (3B). It was very yummy/dirty/funky on the nose, with yellow apple, straw, and a good mousse—warm and rich and oomphy. ~$40. I also was intrigued by the 2013 Adami Valdobbiadene Rive di Farra di Solingo Brut Col Credas (3B). Pear jumped from the nose, with light lemon, minerals, and a bright mousse. Very steely, clean and metallic, cuts like a knife. ~$22.

I also love Amarone (remember when I wondered if it was the Sexiest Wine Ever?) so sampled the 2010 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli (3B). It had tons of black fruit, was very tasty (though maybe not as velvety as I'd hoped,) with good fruit and cola notes. Still very young—I'm prepared to give it some time! ~$75.

The 2009 Morellino di Scansano Calestaia Reserva (3B) was intoxicating. Lots of floral and red fruit perfume, very tasty, bit of tea, spice, good fruit, flirty, well-structured yet approachable now. 100% Sangiovese from Tuscany. ~$42.

Another Tuscan group showed the 2010 Colle Massari Montecucco Sangiovese Lombrone Riserva (3B) with an attractive nose, delicious and complex fruit, spice, and yet easy-drinking. ~$45. I also enjoyed their "Super Tuscan" blend of Bordeaux-grapes and Sangiovese, the 2011 Colle Massari Bolgheri Rosso Superiore Grattamacco—very spicy, robust, lavender florals, tasty, earthy, good tannic structure. ~$75. And the 2009 Colle Massari Brunello di Montalcino Poggio di Sotto again had a great nose, with violet florals, caramel, herbs, chocolate... just lovely. I'll definitely be looking for more from this producer! ~$240.

Some Chiantis from Tuscany tasted next included the 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Colledilà Gran Selezione (3B) with a most amazing nose! Very unusual: brick dust, crushed lavender, red plum, red currant. Lots of structure and intriguing on the palate, but the nose was the best. ~$55. And the 2011 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva (3B) showed ripe red fruit on the nose, with red and black fruits (supported by 20% Merlot in the blend, no doubt,) with herbs and a pizza-spice-y finish. Tasty. ~$30.

At this point in my tasting, I met up with some friends: Mr. Some Damn Good Wine, Mr. Tolerant Taster, and Mr. NJ Wine and Beer (not every Wineau has a catchy name, but I guess the folks who do tend to gravitate to each other. [You can follow all these wacky Wineaux on the twitter, lose the "Mr."s and look them up!]) Our newly-formed Posse bounced around to some more tables, increasing the zany quotient by a factor of ten.

Hopscotching to Friuli Venezia Giulia, I tried the 2013 Ronco dei Tassi Collio Malvasia (3B)—abundant with minerals, pear, peach and straw, light and herby with a nice grip. ~$18. I really do enjoy Collio wines and was intrigued by the 2011 Ronco dei Tassi Fosarin, a white blend, which was very meaty and pungent, feel of warm hay, and viscous. ~$20. I went nutso over the 2008 Cantina Valpolicalla Negrar Amarone della Valpolicella Classico San Rocco Domini Veneti (3B). Graphite, smoky flintiness, violets! Herby perfume, intoxicating nose. Spicy, rich—THIS is sexy. Warm and ripe with subtle tannins, from a single vineyard. More, please! ~$40.

Back up to Lombardy and Franciacorta again, for the amazing 2007 Ferghettina Franciacorta Pas Dosé 33 Riserva (3B). Soapstone, lemon curd, honey and yellow apple on the nose, very crisp and clean, minerally, bit yeasty (72 months on the lees, so!) Very nice, very tasty. ~$48

Alas, when we made it to Tenuta Sette Ponti (the Winery of the Year,) they were out of their famous 2011 Oreno. Sad face. But the 2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti Saia Feudo Maccari (3B) was dense and spicy, with cocoa and earth, and supple tannins, (~$30) and the 2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo was earthy, herby and dense with tasty tart fruit. ~$25.

We all enjoyed the 2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore Roggio del Filare (3B): macerated berry nose, cherry cola, robust and fruity, VERY structured, super tannic, but very, very tasty. ~$50.

Back to white, back to Collio for the 2013 Ronco Blanchis Collio (3B)—spicy!! A true multitude of spices. Warm, round melon and... spice galore. ~$20. Although familiar with Gavi wines, I hadn't yet tried the 2012 Villa Sparina Gavi del Comune di Gavi Monterotondo (3B) which had delicious melon, litchi, great round fruit, and good minerality. Yum. ~$50.

And far be it from me to leave any Franciacorta unturned, so I sipped on the 2004 Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Extra Brut Lucrezia Etichetta Nera (3B) which was quite perfumey, with florals and sugar cookie (~$150,) and the 2007 Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Extra Brut Lucrezia CruPerdu, with a very soapy nose, great ripe fruit, pear, yeasty, tasty. ~$135.

Mr. NJ Wine and Beer and I accidentally left the other two in the dust zooming to the other side of the room to find an old friend, the 2010 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (3B). With a grappa-ish, herby nose, and "sweet" fruit, it presented a little too baked for me, alas. Maybe next time! ~$42

I had to fly to a meeting with another Wineau, so bid the remainder of my Posse adieu (or, ciao,) and headed out into the cold with a little Italian zaniness in my step. While I felt like I may have missed some real gems in all the chaos, I was thrilled at the numerous wines I did discover. With the incredible range of wines coming out of all corners of Italy, there truly is something for everyone—so grab three glasses of your own, split a bottle with some friends, and dance the zany night away.


Monday, February 2, 2015

2012 BORDEAUX: A "Run-DMC" Vintage

Last year I wrote that the 2011 Bordeaux offerings provided some gems if you were willing to take the time to unearth them. Well, Wineaux, prepare yourselves for some serious mining in regard to the 2012s.

Many high-end, famous critics (who get to attend the En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux) seem to agree that 2012 had quality issues much like 2011, and neither vintage was helped by the fact that 2009 and 2010 were stunning vintages all around. In 2012, ripening of the Cabernet Sauvignon was problematic, and Sauternes lost most of its crop to bad weather just before harvest. The dry whites fared well and the Merlot-based reds were salvageable, but 2012 will not be a vintage to remember, or to save.

However, this means something generally not a rule in Bordeaux: the 2012s will be far more accessible early on than those from the opulent vintages.

On a very snowy winter's day, I attended the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting, which showcases 95 respected producers from all over Bordeaux. Generally I was not overly impressed with the offerings, although I managed to find one or two Châteaux from the different regions whose wine stood out amongst its peers. (Something to bear in mind: given the unpredictability of the vintage, many of these wines that are showing too tart or one-dimensional may almost certainly evolve in the bottle, and relatively soon, so while some show obvious potential now, others may yet surprise us.)

Ranged from acidic and bright Sauv Blanc-driven wines,
to rounder, richer offerings buoyed by more Sèmillon in the blend.

2012 Ch. de Chantegrive Blanc: Amazing nose, ripe pear and peach, quince, SweeTarts. Very "sweetly tart" in the mouth, excellently balanced acid, but the word for sure is TART. Liked it though. TOP White. ~$22

2012 Ch. Bouscaut Blanc: 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon; really get the Semillon on the nose, and in the body. Rich and viscous, nice spice on the finish, warm and luxe, very well-balanced. ~$35

2012 Ch. Carbonnieux Blanc: Subtle nose of florals, grass and herbs. Florals, tart lime zest, tasty, but doesn't stand out. ~$45

2012 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: Elegant tart tropical fruit nose, very vegetative and green, but grippy. ~$100

2012 Ch. de Fieuzal Blanc: Light tropical fruit, nice depth of flavor—yellow apple and minerals. Pretty tasty, but simple. ~$65

2012 Ch. Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc: FAVE White: Taffy and melon nose. Nice spice and herbs in mouth to balance flavors. Rich and round. Oomphy. ~$55

2012 Ch. Latour-Martillac: 70% SB, 30% Sem, rich and round, very early and grassy, straw, tart citrus on finish. Nice. ~$35

2012 Ch. Malartic-Lagravière: Clean, steely lime. One note. Bit watery. ~$60

You will see the St.-Éms were very categorized by tart red fruits,
in some cases, so tart as to be off-putting.

2012 Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot: Spices on the nose! Macerated berries, very spicy in the mouth, nice integration, can drink now, though firm tannins are present. FAVE St.-Em. ~$52

2012 Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière: florals, red fruits, herby, tart. ~$65

2012 Clos Fourtet: Dark berries, very tart, a little disjointed at present but very good potential. ~$75

2012 Ch. La Gaffelière: Very interesting nose, spicy, bright red fruits, some jam, pomegranate. Very tart. ~$53

2012 Ch. Troplong-Mondot: Very perfumey nose of rose petals, but also quite tart. ~$85

In Pomerol, the tartness of the red fruits was tempered a bit
by earthiness and similar flavors.

2012 Ch. Beauregard: Earth, spice box, black fruits. Tasty, complex, smoked meat on the finish. FAVE Pom. ~$43

2012 Ch. Le Bon Pasteur: Smoke, dark fruits, a bit of tart red fruit on the finish. ~$NA [60-70]

2012 Ch. Clinet: Woodsy, very tart but bright red fruit. ~$75

Many wines from the large Médoc appellation seemed to have
a good "multi-faceted-ness" and are outrageously EXCELLENT values. 

2012 Ch. Chasse-Spleen [Moulis-en-Médoc]: Lovely, complex nose. Luxe fruit, Asian spice, soy sauce umami, bit tight now but very good potential. TOP Méd. ~$30

2012 Ch. Poujeaux [Moulis-en-Médoc]: Very spice box-y! Cedar, red berries, tasty, bright red and purple fruit. TOP Méd. ~$28

2012 Ch. Cantemerle [Haut-Médoc]: Earthy, dusty, spicy cedar nose. Very bright and light, bit of licorice, rose florals. Hm! ~$30

2012 Ch. Citran [Haut-Médoc]: Love the nose! Ripe and round, red and purple. Very purple fruit, blueberries. This one's different and very interesting. TOP Méd. ~$20

2012 Ch. La Tour de By [Médoc]: Light, bit of spice. Somewhat thin, but pleasant. Very fruity and earthy elements. ~$22

Mostly positive things to say about Margaux,
also well-rounded, also great values for the appellation.

Manager Dominique Befve
showing off his delicious
Ch. Lascombes.
2012 Ch. Brane-Cantenac: Very earthy, cigar box, nice red fruits, round expression. Yum! TOP Marg. ~$50

2012 Ch. Cantenac Brown: Mesquite, cranberry, grippy tannins, but good blend of fruit and structure. ~$45

2012 Ch. Giscours: Warm, spicy, nice red fruit, not terribly impressive, though. ~$48

2012 Ch. Kirwan: Stunning nose, lush red fruit and perfume. Tangy red fruit, nice spice, cranberry, mocha. FAVE Marg. ~$40

2012 Ch. Lascombes: Very purple nose, very nice, violets. Very very tasty, very very purple! Cocoa powder, iodine. TOP Marg.  ~$65

More earthy, vegitative notes found here.

2012 Ch. Gloria: Nice, interesting umami nose. Not that much fruit expression—chalky tannins kind of rob it of fruit. ~$36

2012 Ch. Léoville-Barton: Herbs and floral nose, nice fruit. Lots of green pepper in mouth. Solid, but not my style. ~$70

2012 Ch. Talbot: Really merde-y nose, but purfumey too! ("Perfume-y merde," that's a new one.) Violets, very compact, complex, yummy. FAVE ST-Ju. ~$50

Pauillac, like Margaux, seemed to hold a lot of potential.

2012 Ch. Haut-Bages Libéral: Love the nose, overripe blackberries, funky cheese thing. Very tasty, velvety, dense and dark, nice spice. TOP Pau. ~$40

2012 Ch. Lynch-Bages: Very herby, very cedar, mortadella, but woah—TOO young!! Very black tea tannic. (I was tasting with my friend, the Some Damn Good Wine guy, who said, "Uh…hold.") ~$100

2012 Ch. Pichon Baron: Not overpowering, but a complex nose: blueberry jam, whiff o' wood smoke. Elegant, fresh herbs, good red fruit, rose petals. FAVE Pau. ~$105

2012 Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: Quite earty, cocoa, florals, red tangy fruit on finish. ~$100

(With the storm outside a-ragin', I wrapped up my tasting by beelining to the dessert wines. Alas, that meant I missed the three St.-Estèphe offerings, not to mention so many wonderful Châteaux from the regions I did sample. Oh well, no time to cry over missed wine!)

Sauterns and Barsac ranged from too light to too cloying,
but still had some personalities shining through.

2012 Ch. Coutet: Strong note of tangerine peel, very pleasant, but one-note. ~$70

2012 Ch. Doisy Daëne: Ripe melon, ripe pear. Really pear-y, actually. Very pleasant; nice finish and not too cloying. TOP Saut. ~$40

2012 Clos Haut-Peyraguey: Honey, apricot, honeysuckle. Very tasty, round and rich, but not enough acidity to balance = too syrupy. ~$55

2012 Ch. La Tour Blanche: Light florals, lemon verbena, good acid, lemon curd on the finish. Yum. Good balance. Very nice. FAVE Saut. ~$55

So there you have it, Wineaux. You major Bordeaux-lovers may just have to write off 2012—alas, the early reports on 2013 are also spotty—but while we wait for the "next big vintage," talk to your merchants and somms, and I bet you can find a decent bottle or two to enjoy in the meantime. To look on the bright side, unearthing the good 2012s will give you accessible Bordeaux at a relatively affordable price… it's still one of the world's best wine regions for a reason.