Kuentz-Bas 2004 “Alsace” (Alsace) – A mélange of spicy, off-dry stone fruit with some grapefruit-like crispness supporting the whole package. Simple, fun and fruity…and a good value. (7/06)
A blend of Alsatian varieties (which could mean any or all of the following: riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer, muscat, pinot blanc, chasselas, auxerrois, sylvaner, and even no-skin-contact pinot noir). Traditionally, this would be called a zwicker…or, if it stuck to the riesling/gewurztraminer/pinot gris/muscat quartet, an edelzwicker…but both names are somewhat debased in the public mind. Its counterparts in the U.S. market would be wines like the Sparr “One” and the Hugel “Gentil,” if you’re interested in comparisons. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web: http://www.kuentz-bas.fr/.
Alois Lageder “Tòr Löwengang” 2004 Pinot Grigio Benefizium Porer (Alto Adige) – Clean mountain streams cascading through firm pillars of minerality and down a white granite cliff, and exploding in a fine mist over an orchard of ripe Bosc pears. Definitely not mass-market pinot grigio. (7/06)
This, like many of the top pinot grigios from the spectacularly beautiful Alto Adige, is (at least in part) barrel-fermented and/or barrel-aged; 20% or so, according to the data I’ve seen. Oaking pinot gris is rarely a good idea, but virtually every success with the technique that I’ve ever tasted has come from the producers of this region. Why might that be? Intensity of flavor, perhaps, or maybe just a Germanic reluctance to overuse the technique when such varietal purity and site-specificity are in evidence. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lageder/dalla Terra. Web: http://www.lageder.com/.
Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Solid lychee and crushed quartz with bitter cashew oil and a solid wall of rose petals on the finish. (7/06)
Detractors of gewurztraminer – and there are many – tend to be particularly repelled by drier versions, which exhibit all sorts of odd-for-wine aromas and textural elements; residual sugar can be a nice buffer for these people. On the other hand, there’s nothing strange about gewurztraminer’s aromatics in comparison to, say, a red from the Rhône Valley. In fact, there are similarities: both move asymptotically towards meat-like characteristics with age. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Granger 2002 Juliénas (Beaujolais) – Roses, violets and peach blossoms over a zingy froth of raspberry and strawberry; crisp, pure and engaging. (7/06)
I’ve got three wildly differing notes on this wine…one was cork-affected, one was dark-fruited, and this one is decidedly lighter in aromatic hue. Chalk it up to cork variation, bottle variation, or whatever…but the one thing they all have in common is a strong floral aspect. Terroir? Might be. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Rosenthal.
Breton 2004 Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” (Beaujolais) – Looks and smells so light – a burst of summer flowers and red berries – that the persistent growth of the palate, adding both structure and surprising depth to the experience, is a bit shocking. As agile as a dancer, but with the fortitude to persevere for years. Marvelous wine. (7/06)
The importer for this one calls his stable of Beaujolais producers “The Gang of Four,” and they get a lot of media attention. Really, this is a bit dismissive to a lot of other producers doing great work in the regions, but then it’s Kermit Lynch’s business and he can promote it the way he wants. One caveat, though: Breton is one of the low- or no-sulfur-added enthusiasts, and while this may or may not make for a more pristine wine (I think the jury’s still out on that), it does render the wine very susceptible to poor transport or storage conditions. Lynch takes extraordinary measures to protect his wines while they’re under his control, but eventually he sells them to wholesalers, and between there, retailers, restaurants and the public, there’s no telling what could happen. I highly recommend this wine, but be sure it’s purchased from a place you trust to not have baked it at some point in its life. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.
Au Bon Climat 2004 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) – Soft red and lavender berries with a gentle, easygoing approach. There’s some brightening acidity, and a cluster of earthy/rocky structural elements tumbling about the wine, but mostly this is about an enticing, fragrant, fruit-forward beverage of both joy and elegance. (7/06)
85% pinot noir, 15% mondeuse. ABC (as people tend to call it) is one of the older guard of pinot producers in this currently very active region. The wines retain a sort of Europhilic nod towards a style that’s not quite in vogue these days, but they’re still unquestionably Californian wines. Still, if you like your West Coast pinot to have some elegance and lightness, ABC is one of the best options. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.aubonclimat.com/.
Cooper Mountain 2002 Pinot Noir “Reserve” (Willamette Valley) – Corked. (7/06)
It’s a shame: so much attention paid to the biodynamic regimen in the vineyard, careful work in the cellar, and the whole thing is ruined by a few cents’ worth of tree bark. I do hope Cooper Mountain is investigating the alternatives. Alcohol: 12.5%. Biodynamic. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.coopermountainwine.com/.
Porter Creek 2004 Zinfandel “Old Vine” (Sonoma County) – Spicy, dark plums, a bit of black road tar, and reduced blueberry concentrate with a dusting of freshly-cracked black pepper; an intense, powerful wine that nevertheless carries a nice undercurrent of acidity. The wine, for all its force, is fairly round and balanced, promising at least the potential for balanced aging. (7/06)
This is a bit of a hidden gem in the Russian River Valley. It’s tucked away in a beautiful setting away from the major tourist thoroughfares, and probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves…because they make some pretty lovely wines here. Only the loss of one of their key vineyards to Gallo (who, of course, started moving earth around the moment they could get their tractors on it) has kept this winery from moving from strength to strength. Alcohol: 15.1%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.portercreekvineyards.com/.
Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Spicy, slightly untamed dark blueberry and blackberry fruit given a fleeting attempt at polish in the cellar…it pretties things up a bit, but there’s no real way to restrain this much fruit. It’s not overpowering, though it might be a little acid-deficient. (7/06)
Amador zin is an almost perfect evocation of the region: untamed, wild frontier country that has never really advanced into the slick modern age. Which isn’t to say there isn’t slick, modern winemaking to be found, only that the terroir seems to mitigate against it. But whenever a zin reminds me of a skin-scratching slog through a dense underbrush of berry vines, I think Amador. And I’m usually right. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.terrerougewines.com/.
Mustela 2004 Moscato d’Asti (Piedmont) – Fresh, floral and succulently sweet, with that wonderful, fruity lightness that one expects from this wine. Plus, of course, bubbles. Too many moscatos d’Asti seem, these days, to strive overmuch for perfume and power; the wines are much better without such exertions. (7/06)
The difference between Asti Spumante (which means sparkling wine from Asti) and moscato d’Asti (which means muscat from Asti, but also happens to be sparkling) is about as clear as mud to the average consumer, but it’s really a twofold difference. The first – the one actually mandated by legislation – is merely a variation in the allowed range of finished alcohol levels…lower for moscato d’Asti, higher for Asti Spumante. The second is not mandated, but rather subject to the needs of marketing: it is the (probably correct) belief of many producers that the Asti Spumante name has been devalued by a lot of cheap, heavily advertised products. However, it’s important to note that there’s no inherent qualitative difference between the two, and even though moscato d’Asti gets most of the admiring press, there’s plenty of tasty Asti out there as well. Alcohol: 5.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Arborway.