Browse Tag

france

TN: Grüner or later (California, pt. 8)

(The original version, with nicer formatting and more photos, is here.)

26 April 2006 –San Francisco, California

[burger & wine at Taylor’s]Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – On a gorgeous, pure blue day on the Embarcadero, an outdoor table is too much to resist, and I end up here rather than back for another (expensive) bout with a few dozen oysters. The Wisconsin sourdough burger is, like all Taylor’s products, pure, drippy decadence. Not cheap, but worth it…especially when partaking of the burger joint’s clever little wine list. I cart a half bottle to my outdoor picnic table and feel completely decadent. (Also, later: sunburned.)

Storybrook Mountain 2003 Zinfandel Mayacamas Range (Napa Valley) – Fat and woody, with spiced cedar and huge blackberry fruit. There’s good acid though, and this really works best as simple, sun-drenched fun.

bacar – Packed, which renders service a little slow, and yet it’s good to see this excellent wine bar in fine economic health despite its slightly difficult location. My only complaint – and it’s a minor one – is that, for several years now, the enticing wine list has been rather dominated by blowsy 2003s. I suppose they have to sell through their stock, but I’m looking forward to being able to order Austrian, German, and other higher-acid whites with more confidence that I’m going to enjoy the results.

Nigl 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kremser Freiheit (Kremstal) – This wine undergoes a fascinating transformation from nose to finish. It starts out very salty, while showing classic celery and green, grassy acidity. From there, it proceeds to sweeter melon rind, green kiwifruit and floral aspects. Finally, it finishes almost fat, with orange blossoms, raw cashew oil and hazelnut. Such a procession from light and nervy to full and flavorful is one of the delightful surprises of good grüner, though it’s not usually experienced quite to this extent. It would be nice if the nose were a little more enticing, but I suspect that will come in time, as its center of gravity shifts forward.

Bründlmayer 2004 Grüner Veltliner Kamptaler Terassen (Kamptal) – White pepper, ripe apple blossom and white rice-encrusted apple and green plum form a ripe, vivid whip-snap, albeit one encased in silk. Skin bitterness adds structure and counterbalance to the fruitier aspects, which edges very slightly towards being a bit warmer (that is, more alcoholic) than ideal. That’s nitpicking, though, for this is a very good wine.

Donabaum 2003 Grüner Veltliner Atzberg Smaragd (Wachau) – A ripe, fat nose of rum-soaked banana skin doesn’t improve much on the palate, where alcohol adds a harsh burn. Things are a little better once one becomes accustomed to the heat, and creamy celery and cauliflower with ripe white asparagus steer the wine towards the silkier, more dairy-like aspects of high-test grüner. Still, as the wine fades, one is once more left with that buzzing, numbing alcoholic fire.

Hirsch 2003 Grüner Veltliner Heiligenstein (Kamptal) – A smoky nose full of mineral dust, ripe celery and heavy red cherries precedes a smooth, balanced palate and long finish that provide more of the same. Unfortunately, the wine also carries a throbbing, fiery burn from out-of-balance alcohol.

Revelette 2004 Côteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé (Provence) – Salty canned fish (not, as it might seem, an inherently bad thing, though it is unusual) and heavy, molten lead with dead, softening wood rotting away in the background. OK, scratch the equivocation about the salted fish; this is pretty much the opposite of “fresh,” which I do believe is a virtual requisite for Provençal rosé. Worse yet: even with all the weirdness, the wine is boring.

Corbières du Boncaillou 1999 Corbières (Languedoc) – Gorgeous aromatics of dried flowers and spice with rustic undertones…but probe deeper, and there’s a smooth granite base with strong, complex striations. There’s a hint of something that tastes very slightly modern, but I’m not sure it’s possible to render Corbières all that urbane without leaving scars. No wounds here.

TN: From the Saar to Groenekloof

Van Volxem 2002 Saar Riesling 01 03 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Gorgeously-textured silk paper with the thinnest possible coating of lime honey and a fine-grained granitic surface. The power is obvious at first, though it does recede at an accelerated pace, and this is not a wine for the long haul. (8/06)

Run by the incomprehensibly-named Roman Niewodniczanski, this is an estate with lots of creative ideas about wine. There are successes and there are failures, but certainly no one can say the property is dull. Age – as with this wine – helps clarify some of the notions that Mr. N. is pursuing, because some of his fresh-off-the-bottling-line efforts can be a little obscure. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Theise. Web: http://www.vanvolxem.de/.

JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Better than a previous encounter, with an old-riesling cream supported by dusty, post-windstorm summer leaves and a baked, country road strewn with gravel. Still, it’s definitely on the downslope. (8/06)

One of the better vineyards of the Mosel, producing wines that are usually on the fruitier side in their youth. And, unlike so many of its modern brethren, this feels like it should actually be labeled kabinett…rather than spätlese or, heaven forfend, even auslese. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.jjpruem.com/.

[Scharzhofberg]von Hövel 2005 Scharzhofberg Riesling Kabinett 9 06 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Sweet melon and crisp, ripe engineered apple (by which I mean, one of those Honeycrisp-type breeds) with acidity and intensity, but not much cut or integration. It’s awfully young, so there’s still time, but this seems more a collection of fine ideas than a unified theory. (8/06)

Unquestionably one of the great vineyards of Germany, though the site is perpetually underutilized by many (most?) growers. The best wines have an impressive complexity that is maintained through a long aging curve. Alcohol: 9.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.weingut-vonhoevel.de/.

[Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen]von Simmern 2004 Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 009 05 (Rheingau) – Sweet-tart key lime and shattered quartz crystal minerality with raw steel and a subdued, but solid, structure hanging out in the background. Promising, though there’s the threat of a heavy metal drone looming in the subaudible. (8/06)

The 1893 labels on this estate’s wines are perfect examples of how to make an already-unfamiliar wine completely unidentifiable. Which is a shame, because the wines are really terrific across the range. And “thanks” to a rough patch a short while back, they’re also relatively underpriced for their quality. Not that much in Germany is exactly overpriced in that regard. Alcohol: 11%. Closure: cork. Importer: Carolina. Web: http://www.langwerth-von-simmern.de/.

Sokol Blosser “Evolution” 9th Edition (America) – Off-dry, floral, fruity and fun, though it’s flabbier than a sea lion and sorta flops around in the glass. Cocktail wine, without question. (8/06)

Riesling, müller-thurgau, pinot gris, sémillon, muscat, gewurztraminer, sylvaner, pinot blanc and chardonnay. When this wine was first introduced, it was “Evolution #9.” I suspect Apple (the music publisher, not the computer/iPod manufacturer) had something to say in response, because it’s not called that anymore. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.evolutionwine.com/.

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2005 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – Bitterly tannic when first opened, though this quickly recedes under the impetuous crescendo of graphite-tinged wild cherry and rose hip fruit. There’s an almost vibrant sense of possibility here, though it buzzes and dances just out of perception for the moment, and the structure of the wine is, other than a slight gravitational tug towards the tannic, very nice. (8/06)

Gamay is so delicately malleable in the soils of Beaujolais that it’s almost certain to do wonderfully expressive things elsewhere. Yet it remains so relentlessly unhip that few are much moved to try. This isn’t to say that there’s not a lot of non-Beaujolais gamay elsewhere in France – there is – just that most of it’s fairly mediocre. Here, for example, is a delightfully different take on the grape from the soils of the Touraine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

Peillot 2003 Vin du Bugey Mondeuse (Ain) – Spiced blackberry soda, with blueberry skin and slashing razors of sharp herbs, tar dust and grillchar. Yet it’s full-bodied enough to withstand these rendings, and fills the room with delicious, pulsating fruit. A true success. (8/06)

See previous note for more on this wine. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

Easton 2004 Zinfandel (Amador County) – Briary wild berry fruit and vanilla-coconut wood, with the suggestion more than the actual presence of firming structure…yet the wine is neither soft nor out of balance (for a zin). Good, early-drinking stuff. (8/06)

See previous note for more on this wine. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.terrerougewines.com/.

[Onyx]Darling Cellars “Onyx” 2002 “Noble Late Harvest” (Groenekloof) – Beautiful old honey and nut paste in a toasty-spicy cream. Extremely sweet, though buoyed by a fair sense of acidity, with rich sunset browns, oranges and golds lingering on the succulent finish. Gorgeous. (8/06)

100% botrytis-affected chenin blanc, 240 g/l residual sugar. Though it’s made from chenin, and should thus theoretically be more akin an ultra-late harvest Côteaux-du-Layon or Vouvray, the actual model here is Sauternes…most easily seen via the oak aging that lends much of the spice to this wine. In truth, many grapes respond well to this treatment, though few can reach the standalone heights of botrytized chenin in its native state. This is not to suggest that the winemaker missed the boat here (especially since the wine is terrific), only that alternative expressions are possible and might be worth exploring. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Loest & McNamee. Web: http://www.darlingcellars.co.za/.

TN: Clearing the cellar

A “clear the cellar” (a/k/a “make room for more wine”) tasting with friends in Connecticut. One addition: the mini-vertical of Clos des Briords (posted elsewhere) properly belongs among these notes.

Chateau des Charmes 2004 Gamay “Droit” St. David’s Bench (Niagara Peninsula) – Faint sweet cherry with a dry soda aspect and spiky acidity. The texture is all aspirin and baby powder. I don’t care for this at all. (8/06)

Mugneret-Gibourg 2002 Bourgogne (Burgundy) – Lovely and balanced, with strawberry seeds the dominant characteristic. (8/06)

[St. Innocent]St. Innocent 1999 Pinot Noir Seven Springs (Willamette Valley) – Gorgeous black cherry soda on the nose, with a rougher, more tannic brew of raspberry, strawberry, plum and grey earth on the palate. Just starting to round into form…though a few more years will bring superior harmony. (8/06)

St. Innocent 2004 Pinot Noir Shea (Willamette Valley) – Woody, showing layers of coconut over raspberry, with lots of thick tannin. Full and almost fat, but structured. Opened way too early. (8/06)

Téofilo Reyes 1996 Ribera del Duero (Castilla & León) – Caramel nougat and thick, dark, sticky fruit. It’s not as awful as it sounds, but it’s sludgy and one-note and, ultimately, pretty boring. (8/06)

Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1976 Rioja Gran Reserva “Viña Bosconia” (Center-North) – Dill and smelly feet, with crabapple tartness and a hot finish. (8/06)

Edmunds St. John 1999 Syrah Durell (Sonoma Valley) – Leather, blueberry and powdery tannin, with all sorts of yummy, earth-and-herb-and-sweat characteristics starting to bubble to the surface. The future looks promising. (8/06)

Müller-Catoir 1996 Mussbacher Eselshaut Rieslaner Spätlese 04 97 (Rheinpfalz) – Clumsy tropical fruit with searing, tongue-scalding acidity. (8/06)

Wittmann 1999 Westhofener Steingrube Spätburgunder Beerenauslese 23 00 (Rheinhessen) – Intense to the point of being overwhelming, with grass, red-toned melon, and pomegranate with huge acidity. Bizarre, and I can’t quite decide what to think of it. (8/06)

TN: A mini-vertical of Clos des Briords

Ollivier 2005 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Huge minerality underneath, with a dusty floral breeze riding the top. Long and elegant, showing balance and a drying, almost tannic finish. (8/06)

Ollivier 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Very young-tasting, showing grapefruit, kiwifruit and melon with seashells and puréed rocks forming a slightly texturally-confused foundation. Big, with slightly spiky acidity. Call it a rebellious adolescence. (8/06)

Ollivier 2002 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Gorgeous, with fantastic green apple acidity, a crystalline texture, and minerals borne on a distant ocean breeze. (8/06)

Ollivier 2001 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Somewhat oxidized and unquestionably a bad bottle (or, more likely, cork). (8/06)

Ollivier 2000 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” Clos des Briords “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Very mineral-driven, but with an extra generosity to the ripe honeydew melon rind fruit. Long, big, ripe and rich, showing clear signs of development. (8/06)

TN: Trends

Luneau-Papin “Domaine Pierre de La Grange” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Sur Lie” “Vieilles Vignes” (Loire) – Generous for a Muscadet, but with plenty of nerve and cut, showing brined, water-bathed seashells and a pearl-like texture cut with firm (but not oppressive) lemony acidity. Clean and balanced, with a solid finish and volume-raising affability with food. (8/06)

If there’s a “problem” with the high-quality Muscadets now available from specialist importers like Louis/Dressner (and others), it’s that they confound culinary expectations. They’re not the ultra-crisp, brazen expressions of crushed bivalves that provide such a terrific foil for oysters and their like. Instead, they’re more complete and full-bodied wines, some even possessing the character to be enjoyable on their own. And who’s ever heard of that from a Muscadet? Anyway, the trick is to get a little more aggressive with the pairings. Seafood is still the thing, but I served this with a “surf & surf” dinner of soft-shell crab (soaked in lebne cheese and coated with garbanzo bean flour, then fried), pan-seared salmon (briefly dusted with a Japanese rice flavoring mix that was heavy on the bonito), and local red oak greens drizzled with a ginger and macadamia nut oil vinaigrette. Normally, that would be way too much for a simple Muscadet. Here, the combination was explosively good. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

Tourniaire “‘Le Gari’ des Hauts Débats” 2002 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Smooth, sanded and buffed bubblegum and leather squeezings with the dark residue of blackberries. It’s country wine – simple, everyday quaffing stuff – and is a little too oval for deeper interest, which may very well be a result of the difficult, flooded 2002 vintage. Still, this is the sort of simple, clean wine on which an entire culture of non-oenophilic enjoyment is based. How could one find fault with that? (8/06)

If you’ve read A Year in Provence, you know how this wine is made. A friend and his parents have a place near Jonquières…and like many properties in this area, it comes with vineyards on the property. The grapes are worked by and sold to a cooperative, where they are blended and made into a regional wine (in this case, entitled to the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation). Grape suppliers are then paid either with money, with wine, or (more often) a combination of both. I’ve had the white, rosé and red from this establishment, and all are nice, simple wines that I’d be pleased to drink on a daily basis. Lucky people, these friends of mine. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Not commercially available.

TN: Sardinia & the bottom

[Kuentz-Bas]Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Spice and pear skin, with a slightly disjointed mix of thick, molten-mineral texture and crisp, watery thinness. Not as good as a previous bottle. (8/06)

This underperformance vs. a previous note could be due to bottle variation (which, truth be told, is usually cork variation), but it’s more likely to be due to food variation. The previous bottle was paired with uniform, compatible food, while this one was opened as an apéritif and then forced to accommodate some unusual and variable foods. Remember that every tasting note is a snapshot of a time, place and environment, not an objective and immutable measure of quality. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web: http://www.kuentz-bas.fr/.

JP Brun “Terres Dorées” 2004 Beaujolais Blanc (Beaujolais) – Chardonnay in deep, rich tones, full of earth and brooding twilight duskiness. Balanced and very, very enticing. (8/06)

There’s so much indifferent chardonnay in the Mâcon (another appellation that chardonnay grown in Beaujolais is entitled to, and the one it usually adopts) that it’s almost remarkable what’s achieved here. Careful vineyard work is the principal reason. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Cluver]Cluver 2005 Gewurztraminer (Elgin) – Some of the right varietal notes – peach, rose petal, some vague nods in the direction of spice – but half the orchestra’s missing, as this is thin and watery, with masking sugar and a completely void finish. (8/06)

Perhaps it’s gewurztraminer’s occasionally scary alcohol levels that wreak fear among winemakers, but the grape is one that requires a certain measure of courage. The wild, musky, powerful aromatics that are its signature must be given time to develop, and that requires hang time. And when the grape does not reach these benchmark characteristics, the temptation to mask faults with residual sugar must, at least in part, be resisted. Sweet bad wine is not inherently better than the dry version, no matter how much counter-evidence of popularity the U.S. beverage industry presents to the contrary. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Vinnovative. Web: https://www.cluver.com/.

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Grapes grown in the desert, with beautiful mixed nut oils, dry (and dried) stone fruit and an evocative brick-red desert palette of spices. Beautifully long and balanced. Delicious wine. (8/06)

36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’m not often one who is impressed by tales of long post-opening maintenance (e.g. “this bottle was even better four days later,”) because oxidation is not the same as aging, and it says nothing about the wine other than how resistant to oxidation it is. However, for those who find comfort in such assessments, this was just as good two days later, recorked and unrefrigerated. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.

Margan 2006 Shiraz Rosé “Saignée” (Hunter Valley) – Watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Sticky, synthetic and absolutely vile. (8/06)

“Saignée” means that the vats were “bled”…juice from red grapes was removed from its skins, leaving it not with the deep red it will acquire from long soaking with the pigmented skins, but rather with (in this case; grapes and wines differ) a lurid pink. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Southern Starz. Web: http://www.margan.com.au/.

[Sella & Mosca]Sella & Mosca 2002 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva (Sardinia) – Pure island fun, showing walnuts, roasted pecans, bright strawberry bubblegum fruit (though not in a candied way), judicious oak spice, and a nice, crisp acidity supporting everything. (8/06)

This is grenache, showing a lot of the grape’s varietal characteristics (strawberry bubblegum), with some interesting Sardinian elements (the particular balance of the wine) and a little modernistic winemaking (oak, which is rarely my favorite companion to grenache, but which seems to do well here). Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Palm Bay. Web: http://www.sellaemosca.com/.

[Cabasse]Domaine de Cabasse 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret “Cuvée Garnacho” (Rhône) – Not quite dead, but knocking on the door. That was a very fast decline for this wine, and I wonder if there might not have been some sort of cork failure. In any case, this is all tannin and oxidized fruit on the nose. It’s heavy and still thick, and the palate has some slightly more pleasant grenache characteristics, but overall there’s just no pleasure here. (8/06)

Most (though not all) Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages wines are grenache-dominated blends, but occasionally wineries do all-grenache blends, and label them so. It would be logical to assume that the “Cuvée Garnacho” (a local dialect word for the grape) is one such wine, but it’s not; it’s simply a differentiator between this wine and the less traditional grenache/syrah blend from the same appellation, “Casa Bassa.” Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: World Shippers. Web: http://www.domaine-de-cabasse.fr/.

TN: Bugey Bay

Bottex Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – The usual slightly off-dry raspberry froth, with a slightly bitter and hollow edge that’s definitely not usual for this wine. (8/06)

Gamay and poulsard, allowed (rather than induced) to sparkle. Alcohol: 8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

Westport Rivers 1999 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Tastes strongly of tonic water and mineral salts, with grapefruit and some aged, yeasty creaminess lurking in the background. This has always been a bit odd and slightly disjointed, and age doesn’t seem to be helping. Look for other vintages. (8/06)

Don’t let my tepid reaction to this wine turn you off Westport River’s sparklers in general, which are usually quite good…and incredibly good considering their Massachusetts origin. It’s definitely cool-climate viticulture, but that’s a boon for sparkling wine production. As for other vintages: if you run across any ’98, snap it up. It’s drinking beautifully right now. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.westportrivers.com/.

JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Soft and fully creamed, perhaps overly so, with spicy dust starting to fade away on a dry Sahara wind. (8/06)

This isn’t overly old for a kabinett, so a less-satisfying performance is a little surprising. It’s probably an artifact of the vintage, but it could also be something in the wine’s storage history (it was recently purchased, rather than bought at release and cellared). Still, it does point out why even ageable kabinett usually gets consumed in the first flush of youth: the rewards of aging are not always as clear as they are for spätlese and riper styles. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web: http://www.jjpruem.com/.

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Mixed nut oils and dried apricots with a roasted earth and mushroom character. The wine doesn’t initially seem all that assertive, but there’s a surprising amount of power and concentration, which must eventually express itself as force. This is a very complete and impressive wine. (8/06)

36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’ve noted before how I find this winery’s Rhône-style whites an even more impressive achievement than their reds, and this is another reason why. Rhône whites are notoriously cranky agers, and yet bottle after bottle of this wine shows clear development and increased complexity. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.tablascreek.com/.

[Tempier]Peyraud “Domaine Tempier” 2003 Bandol Rosé (Provence) – Orange blossoms and lavender. Serious and structured for a rosé, but in a very light-bodied way. In other words, just about everything one wants from a rosé. Yet the finish is nearly absent, which is probably an artifact of the vintage. (8/06)

This is a very expensive rosé (around $30 at one local store, though I bought it for much less), and one expects a lot at that price. In many years, Tempier delivers. This, at least, is a healthy attempt. Alcohol: 11-14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web: http://www.domainetempier.com/.

[Van Duzer]Van Duzer 1998 Pinot Noir “Barrel Select” (Willamette Valley) – Brown earth, loam, wet autumn leaves and dried cherries. Just a little tiny bit past it, with the tannin biting the remaining aromatics into rough chunks, chewing them up, and spitting them out in an increasingly angry way. Drink up soon. (8/06)

Van Duzer has taken a turn for the commercial and increasingly dismal, but this is a reminder of a time when they made better wine. Even then, the last time I tasted this wine (maybe 2004 or so), it was drinking beautifully. Well, that was a quick demise… Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.vanduzer.com/.

[Pegasus Bay]Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Massive black fig, dark plum, orange rind and intense, ripe red beet. It seems like it should be packed with structure, but it’s really not. A bit of a hammer blow pinot, yet one with amazing complexity and persistence. Still, it is big. (8/06)

Outstanding pinot in the forceful modern style. In fact, it does veer into syrah territory, and many will dislike it for that reason – I myself would be disheartened if most pinot tasted like this – but as an occasional alternative, its qualities are impossible to deny. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Importer: Empson. Web: http://www.pegasusbay.com/.

TN: Royal and green mountains

Notes from a few days in Montréal and Vermont:

Dard & Ribo 2004 St-Joseph (Rhône) – Exciting and complex, if fairly primary, showing grilled blackberry residue, pure essence of nighttime blueberry, and the essential Northern Rhône “meat liqueur” character, all layered over rich, dark black earth dusted with urfa pepper. The acidity is shockingly vivid. Outstanding. (8/06)

St-Joseph is becoming like Cornas: a appellation almost forgotten outside of the work of a very few committed producers. These 100% syrahs lack the masculinity of Hermitage and the Burgundian elegance of Côte-Rôtie, but replace them with more upfront fruit and a generous texture. Plus, they’re cheaper than both. This should be a recipe for export success, shouldn’t it? Closure: cork.

Foillard 2004 Morgon Côte du Py (Beaujolais) – Perfectly ripe berries bursting from their skins, showering fresh tarragon and light grey graphite with beautifully enticing juice. It’s light and flirty as an apéritif, more serious and substantial with food, and effortlessly moves between the two states. This is the kind of wine that makes you want to roll around in the grass and giggle. (8/06)

Gamay is not often an ageable grape, except over the very short term, but from a few select terroirs the story changes. Morgon Côte du Py is one such terroir. But unlike some other ageable Beaujolais terroirs, like Moulin-à-Vent, the solidity and structure is not immediately evident. Morgon Côte du Py bridges the gap between the pure aromatic delight of other Beaujolais and the deceptively firm construction necessary to support the wine’s future development. Closure: cork.

Cazes 1991 Rivesaltes “Ambré” (Roussillon) – Old sugar, caramelized and spicy with moderate oxidative notes and a crisp, apple-skin bite sharpened by walnut oil. It’s not particularly complex, but it’s quite delicious. (8/06)

Rivesaltes of this form is a vin doux naturel, which means high-sugar grapes have their fermentation blocked by the addition of alcohol, thus fortifying the wine and leaving it with a good deal of residual sugar. This method is more familiar when used to make Port, but it’s done all over the winemaking world, and is very common around the Mediterranean. Fortified muscat is the best known form of this wine, but this particular bottling happens to be made from grenache blanc. And finally, these wines are typically consumed young…but as this wine shows, given the right conditions they can age quite well. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.cazes-rivesaltes.com/.

Serge Dagueneau 2004 Pouilly-Fumé “Les Pentes” (Loire) – Light, pale schist and dust through a gauzy filter, with faint grass and green apple notes. A very indistinct wine that tastes completely stripped. (8/06)

100% sauvignon blanc, with none of the allegedly-signature “gunflint” promised by the appellation, and every evidence that the wine has been excessively filtered. Pouilly-Fumé doesn’t have an excessive number of high-quality proponents, but I’ve had much better from this domaine in the past. Web: http://www.s-dagueneau-filles.fr/.

Cazes “Chateau Les Ormes de Pez” 1996 Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux) – Almost as pure an expression of the classic Bordeaux descriptor “cigar box” as one will ever experience. And “almost” because the other major aromatic impression is of sticky waves of butterscotch-tinged oak. There’s a really beautiful wine lurking in here, but the wood – at least at this stage – is doing its best to bury it. A shame, really, but maybe time will heal this wound. (8/06)

A cabernet sauvignon-dominated blend (with merlot and cabernet franc playing supporting roles). As for the oak…unfortunately, that horse left the barn a long time ago, and it’s probably too late to coax it back in. How Bordeaux is improved by being made to taste more like anonymous New World cabernet I can’t imagine. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.ormesdepez.com/.

[Everett Ridge]Everett Ridge 1999 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley) – Massive blackberry and boysenberry fruit bordering on concentrate, with jammy inclinations only slightly mitigated by a nice dose of ground black pepper. A one-note wine…though it’s a tasty note. (8/06)

Zinfandel is capable of aging, certainly (though a significant number of the most ageable are not 100% zinfandel at all), but – especially these days – two destines are more likely. The first is excessive alcohol dominating all else, which is the fate of some of the more overdriven and overripe versions (though high alcohol at bottling is not a 100% reliable indicator). The second is where we find this wine: ever-more concentrated fruit, moving from on-the-vine, to jam, to syrup. (More coverage of Everett Ridge can be found here.) Closure: cork. Web: http://www.everettridge.com/.

Isabel 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Slightly heat-damaged by the external evidence, and the wine bears this out: the intense aromatics and green-tinged edges are gone, replaced by a creamy, pear-dominated wine that’s primarily about its texture. Sourced from the New Hampshire state liquor system, which has a long and dedicated history of baking their product. (8/06)

The state of this wine is a shame, because Isabel – while it has gone through peaks and valleys – makes a sauvignon blanc that does not ape the popular tropical fruit salsa (complete with hot pepper) style, but rather exercises restraint in the pursuit of structure. Also, their sauvignon blancs are much drier than most of what’s commercially available these days. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.isabelestate.com/.

TN: Behind the green door

Trimbach 2001 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Light on the lychee, showing more peach and apricot with firm acidity. If a “deft” Alsatian gewurztraminer is even possible, this is a candidate. But one might wish for a little more intensity…which it has shown in the past. A bit closed, then. (8/06)

Most gewurztraminer is made in a huge, upfront style and never really shuts down or ages in any useful way. The really sweet stuff – represented by the vendange tardive and sélection des grains nobles designation in Alsace – often lasts more than it ages. But occasionally, one finds a gewurztraminer with the structure and balance to age…which it does by developing its bacon fat and spice characteristics. I’m not sure this is a long-term ager, but it should be better in a few years. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.

[Kanu]Kanu 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Fruity, semi-zippy and light, with an intensely green-fruited character feathered by grass. It’s fairly monotone, but it’s a nice enough quaff. (8/06)

95% sauvignon blanc, 5% chenin blanc. Sauvignon is a very insistent grape; it tastes what it tastes like, and only the most remarkable terroir or winemaking can wrench it from this varietal consistency. Since most sauvignon blancs are fairly identical, the question is: what is one willing to pay for that flavor profile? The Kanu is a fairly good value, but no better than certain mass-market New Zealand sauvignons. If it and other South African versions are going to compete on the marketplace, they’ll have to find something interesting to say. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Cape Classics. Web: http://www.kanu.co.za/.

La Puerta 2005 Torrontes (Famatina Valley) – A mélange of fruit flowers and meadow-derived perfumes, with a sticky and somewhat heavy texture. Lightly off-dry. More fun to smell than to drink. (8/06)

A fairly new winery, producing in a dramatically beautiful valley. Torrontes is the Argentine analogue to muscat, in that its principal quality is its heady aromatic presence. But, like muscat, what it also needs is freshening acidity and an eye towards lightness, something this wine doesn’t quite achieve. Alcohol: 13.3%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Ecosur. Web: http://www.valledelapuerta.com/.

[Felsina]Fèlsina “Berardenga” 2000 Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany) – Sweet wild cherries and wind-blown organic soil, lightening and then firming up again on the finish to show structure and balance. Not everything is in sync – the fruit is a little too forward, the tannin is a little too hard – but it’s a worthy and expressive wine. (8/06)

100% sangiovese, done as traditionally as one can expect these days, from old vines. It’s almost remarkable that a producer as solid as Fèlsina gets such wide distribution, and sells for such reasonable prices. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Domaine Select. Web: http://www.felsina.it/.

TN: A Ridge and three valleys

Jadot 2004 Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy) – Light, clear pear and faint dried orange with a thin layer of spice. Decent, quaffable, nothing special. (7/06)

My father-in-law’s favorite wine. Why? I have absolutely no idea. It’s recognizably white Burgundy, but beyond that…I dunno. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Kobrand. Web: http://www.louisjadot.com/.

Banfi 2004 Pinot Grigio “San Angelo” (Tuscany) – Light lemon-grapefruit juice with a sticky, palate-deadening texture. Off-dry? This is cocktail wine, totally unsuitable for food, and just reeks of industrialism. (7/06)

This is the pinot grigio style that has made it the most popular imported white wine in the United States: simple fruit, simple sugar, absolutely no complexity. There’s really not much to say about wines like this. They are what they are. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Banfi. Web: http://www.castellobanfi.com/.

Ridge 2002 Zinfandel Ponzo (Russian River Valley) – Big, almost explosive fruit and oakspice with a particulate leather texture, black earth, and an utterly compelling and enjoyable presence on the palate. Delicious and not yet fully mature, but drinking incredibly well now. (7/06)

96% zinfandel, 2% carignane, 2% petite sirah. This isn’t a vineyard Ridge has been vinifying separately for long (it used to go into a Sonoma blend), but the results so far have been highly promising. Alcohol: 14.4%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.ridgewine.com/.

Ruffino 2001 Chianti Classico Riserva “Ducale Oro” (Tuscany) – Roasted strawberry-encrusted game and white-peppered earth, but overly restrained, as if tasted through gauze. Very matter-of-fact, with a simplistic finish. (7/06)

85% sangiovese, 15% “other.” A Riserva should be a masterwork of sangiovese and the terroir, but this wine has slid year by year into a sort of comfortable mediocrity. It’s a shame, too, given its ubiquity in the marketplace, as many people will get the incorrect idea that this is what Chianti Classico Riserva is about, and all it can achieve. There’s a lot of underachieving wine in Tuscany, and this is a sort of poster child for the underachievement. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.ruffino.com/.