From Bugey to Bruges

Peillot 1999 Roussette du Bugey Montagnieu Altesse (Ain) – 95% dead. What’s left isn’t worth drinking, either.

These wines are delicately perfumed and utterly delicious when young. But they’re not meant to age much, and this was a cellar orphan that deserved a better fate. Oh well. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

P&N Reverdy 2004 Sancerre “Cuvée Les Coûtes” (Loire) – Strikingly intense slate shavings over razor-sharp grapefruit. Long, balanced and throbbing with power. Terrific Sancerre.

A single-vineyard Sancerre from a good vintage and a good producer is usually going to represent some sort of paradigm for sauvignon blanc, and this wine is no exception. Fans of the boisterous Marlborough style will point to the zingier fruit of the New Zealand versions, but this wine is no less intense, it just expresses its intensity in a different mode. It’s also worth noting that the Marlborough sauvignons universally considered to be the best are those with stronger minerality at their core. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler.

Collard “Château Mourgues du Gres” 2004 Costières de Nimes “Les Galets Rouges” (Languedoc) – Rustic, with sun-baked garrigue and light red fruit notes, plus an unquestionably touch of the barn. Medium-light bodied (for a Languedoc wine), and clearly for drinking soonish, but quite fun and versatile with food.

Mostly syrah, with some grenache, mourvèdre, and carignan, and a fairly pure expression of a disappearing wine style: the un-spoofulated Languedoc red.Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler. Web:

Castillon & Fils “Château l’Ermitage” 2004 Costières de Nimes “Via Compostelle” (Languedoc) – Slick and modern, and also very tight at first, but eventually showing intense, leathery syrah characteristics (hints of blackberry and tar, strong but fuzzy tannin, a bit of post-afternoon sweat) and a long finish. It’s a highly updated expression of this appellation, but a fine one with enough individual characteristics to stand out, and the balance and potential to age and develop for a half-dozen years.

100% syrah, and definitely spoofulated (cold soaked, micro-oxygenated), though not at all in an unpleasant way. The techniques take the rusticity out of the wine and replace it with a bit of anonymity, but at the same time ageability and overall complexity increase. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web:

Trimbach 2001 Pinot Gris Ribeauvillé “Réserve” (Alsace) – Pear crystals and melted aluminum with a strong dusting of Alsatian spice and nerve. Very slightly off-dry. This is probably ready to drink, though it won’t fall apart over the next few years either.

Trimbach’s label nomenclature and classification scheme are fairly simple, yet opaque to the uninitiated. Here’s how it breaks down: yellow-labeled bottlings are from a combination of estate and négociant fruit. Wines labeled “réserve” come from estate fruit, usually from vineyards around Ribeauvillé. Gold and black labels indicate estate fruit from grand cru vineyards (Trimbach has philosophical and marketing objections to the Alsatian grand cru system, and thus doesn’t use them, even when they could). And finally, white labels indicate their top bottlings: most late-harvest wines (though late-harvest versions of the gold-label wines will remain gold-labeled and carry differentiating shoulder strips), special one-off bottlings, and the inimitable Clos Ste-Hune. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web:

Mont Marçal 2000 Cava Brut “Reserva” (Cataluña) – Leaden, papery and slightly resinous. Utterly boring.

I know cava. Cava has, in the past, been a friend of mine. Mont Marçal, you are no cava. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classical. Web:

Nora 2004 Albariño Rías Baixas (Northwest) – Simple, juicy quaffing wine, full of light tropical/stone fruit and a sticky texture somewhat assuaged by slightly unintegrated acidity. Fun.

Albariño is a grape capable of complexity and even, if the right steps are taken, a certain tropical beach sort of profundity (though this is rare). But it can also be pure, fruity fun, and that’s the direction in which this wine is headed. A colorful umbrella wouldn’t be out of place. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ordoñez/MRR Traders.

Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House White” (California) – Mixed citrus with slight spiky, lime-spritzer acidity and a mildly confected finish. Good party wine, but don’t peer behind the curtain. Tasted from two bottles, with consistent notes.

These fun, inexpensive wines – which come in red and rosé versions – are leading the charge of the screwcaps into higher-end but still everyday American wine drinking. With the exception of the red, which can exhibit real quality from time to time, that’s often their principal quality. Then again, that’s nothing at which to sniff. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web:

Germain-Saincrit “Château Peyredoulle” 2001 Premières Côtes de Blaye Maine Criquau “Vieilles Vignes” (Bordeaux) – A soft, rather delicately-constituted distaff cousin to a Bordeaux…which is, of course, pretty much what this wine is meant to be. Slight, graphite-like tannin and cedar chest with classic pencil, dried cassis, and tobacco aromas…but everything through gauze and haze, as if seen only dimly…though the finish is long and lovely enough. It might be worth aging this a bit, to see what happens, but no matter what the raw materials will always be thinly-scattered.

The Premières Côtes de Blaye are on the right bank of the Gironde, which suggests that they’re mostly merlot, with cabernet sauvignon in a supporting role. That’s true here. Value, rather than quality contending with the famous names elsewhere in Bordeaux, is the operative word here. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ideal. Web:

Aucœur 2002 Régnié “Cuvée de Vernus” (Beaujolais) – Bright red fruit and gravelly minerality. Tart and short, with little life ahead of it, but in a good place right now…with the right food (meaning: something rich and fat that this little wine can slice through).

I’ve written about this wine before, and there’s not much more to say. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Violette.

Goracci “Tenuta Roccaccia” 2004 Bianco di Pitigliano “Superiore” (Tuscany) – Light, flighty, slightly bitter and ultimately tilting away from pleasurable towards insipid. The dandelions and lemon are nice, but one would like a little more. Or at least I would I can’t always speak for “one.”

Trebbiano toscano and chardonnay, not showing either to any great effect. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Montecastelli. Web:

Cantillon “Organic” Gueuze (Belgium) – As always with Cantillon, sharply and sourly acidic, showing intense cherries and plenty of brett. There’s more here, though: complex dustings of pepper, mixed mineralities, perhaps even a bit of paprika. This is about as authentic as lambic gets, though it will most certainly not be for everyone.

Cantillon is the most obsessive and traditionalist of all Belgian breweries, and their products are both masterful and controversial as a result. I’m a fan, but even I don’t love everything they do. Still, one can’t say they understand Belgian beer without trying these marvelous creations. Closure: cork. Organic. Importer: Shelton Brothers. Web:


  • Ken Sternberg

    May 6, 2006

    “Melted aluminum”? Come on, Thor. When’s the last time you tasted melted aluminum in a wine or anything else?

  • Thor Iverson

    May 6, 2006

    The last time? In the Trimbach 2001 Pinot Gris Ribeauvillé “Réserve.” As I believe I wrote.

  • Ken Sternberg

    May 6, 2006

    Hmm. Well ok, then. I hear melted aluminum does wonders for a casserole or stew.

  • Anonymous

    May 6, 2006

    Cantillon is definitiely not for the faint of heart. I still recall a magum of Rose de Gambrinus self disgorging in a hotel ballroom in New Orleans. I expect the stain on the ceiling may still be there. The bottle was pretty well empty. Quite the event.

    Recently had some of the St. Lamvinus. Have you tried that yet?

  • Thor Iverson

    May 7, 2006

    I still recall a magum of Rose de Gambrinus self disgorging in a hotel ballroom in New Orleans.

    I’ve had the occasional Cantillon do that as well. Gosh darn those natural brewers…

    Recently had some of the St. Lamvinus. Have you tried that yet?

    Haven’t even seen it. I’ll hunt around.


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