TN: A (mostly) great eight

[Houchart]Quiot “Domaine Houchart” 2005 Côtes de Provence (Provence) – Sun-drenched raspberry and strawberry, done up in semi-lurid fashion. Heavy, like so many Provençal rosés that hit the export market. And is that residual sugar, too? (7/06)

35% grenache, 25% syrah, 20% cinsault, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 5% mourvèdre, and 5% “other.” Don’t you just love categories like that? Anyway, this is either produced or owned by the Quiot family (better known for their Châteauneuf-du-Pâpes from Vieux Lazaret and Duclaux) – the bottle and the web site differ on this point – and could almost be said to taste concocted for the American market. It’s probably not, but what it’s definitely not is very good. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Ruby. Web:

Trimbach 2003 Pinot Gris Ribeauvillé “Réserve” (Alsace) – Heavy, with good metallic pear aromatics and fair acidity, but absolutely no finish. None. Wham-bam-thank-you-wine. (7/06)

2003 claims its European victims in many ways, and here’s yet another. Producers who deal in relentless residual sugar did a little better (or at least covered their tracks better), but all in all it’s not shaping up to be a particularly exciting vintage for the fatter Alsatian grapes (pinot gris and gewurztraminer). As for the rest, we’ll see. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web:

Renardat-Fache Bugey Cerdon (Ain) – A vivid neon froth of strawberries and raspberry flowers with touches of rose petal jam; incredibly flavorful, but a bit sudsier and more abrupt than previous releases. (7/06)

Gamay and poulsard, or maybe just gamay (there are apparently different lots of this wine in certain years, which can be differentiated by a lot number that’s very difficult to find), and…as always…“soda pop for adults.” Alcohol: 7.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Plaimont producers]Producteurs Plaimont “Les Vignes Retrouvées” 2004 Côtes de Saint-Mont (Southwest France) – Simple, earth-infused stone fruit, beaming sun and shade in equal measure. A simple little country gem, perfect in its own way. (7/06)

The cépage of this one is unknown, though arrufiac, courbu, gros manseng and petit manseng are all possible. This is a cooperative winery; cooperatives the backbone of “traditional” French viticulture, but are almost totally unknown in the States. Sometimes, it’s no big loss…and sometimes, it’s a shame, for quality-minded cooperatives can be a terrific source for inexpensive everyday wines with real character. Which this one is. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Carolina Web:

Dubourdieu “Château Graville-Lacoste” 2004 Graves (Bordeaux) – Fresh yellow/lime-green fruit and grass, with solid acidity. A bit foursquare and masculine – I’d prefer a little more spring in its step – but very tasty with the right food…something crisp and light. (7/06)

Mostly sémillon, with sauvignon blanc in a supporting role. This is the opposite of how the blend usually works in New Zealand, for a number of reasons (the greater marketability of sauvignon, a more variable quality to the sémillon, and the fact that Australia already does quite well with varietal sémillon bottlings), so it can be hard to readjust expectations enough to appreciate white Bordeaux on its own merits. Nor is it often well-served by comparison to the sauvignons of the Loire Valley. But what white Bordeaux is – or rather, can be – is a more elegant, more refined, and perhaps more dignified expression of the same thought pursued from Sancerre to Marlborough. Graville-Lacoste is typically quite adept at inhabiting this niche, though it remains a relatively “fun” wine in most vintages. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2004 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – A rich mélange of raw, roasted and pressed-into-oil nuts, with wet grey minerality, a creamy texture, and a pleasant overlay of peach and nectarine purées. Long and structurally sound, with aging potential. (7/06)

55% viognier, 29% marsanne, 8% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. The Perrin family’s California venture (they’re the ones who make Beaucastel in France) is better-known for its Rhône-style reds, but I think the whites are a more remarkable achievement; other producers had already proved that California could be successful with the Rhône palette of red grapes (though few make them as well as Tablas Creek). Whites, however, have been a decidedly mixed blessing elsewhere…either too thin and uninteresting, or too fat and overwhelming, or oaked and tarted up in the manner of the most abused chardonnays. The whites at Tablas don’t have the same intensity of slightly oxidative minerality that their Rhône ancestors do, but they’re developing it vintage by vintage (could it be related to vine age?), and the results are a lot of fun to drink. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

[Viret]Clos du Paradis “Domaine Viret” 2000 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Saint-Maurice “Cosmic” (Rhône) – Beautiful, dry-roasted dark berries and rich, organic black earth with mixed herbs, sandy-textured tannin, and interminglings of maturing, autumnal fruit. Just beautiful. (7/06)

Viret’s Dressner-specific cuvée, meant for earlier drinkability (though I wonder if there will be any more, as it used to be represented on their web site, and is no longer there) than most of their more strong-willed bottlings. Still cosmocultural, and still delicious. Who cares how they make it, if these are the results? (Well, obviously they do.) Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM. Web:

[Durban]Leydier “Domaine de Durban” 2002 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône) – From 375 ml. Sweet peach and pear with quartz-crystal minerality and freshening acidity. Striking, satisfying, and complex. Year after year, this is the best muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise on the market. (7/06)

It’s interesting that, even fortified, this is lower in alcohol than many high-octane California whites and reds. What’s more interesting is that the quartz-like minerality carries through to Durban’s striking Beaumes-de-Venise red. Anyone still doubting the influence of terroir after tasting these two wines is just ignorant (or possibly mean-spirited). Alcohol: 15%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

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