Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine 77: Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2012

Leeuwin chardonnayCall it irony or coincidence or whatever, but Australian wines keep showing up in the monthly expensive wine post even though Australian wines are a drag on the market and aren’t famous for being expensive. Bring on the Yellow Tail shiraz, right?

Nevertheless, that producers like Leeuwin are making these kinds of wines points to the quality that has been overlooked in Australia’s troubles over the past decade. The Leeuwin chardonnay ($70, sample, 14%) is top-notch, even for the price, and if it isn’t high-end white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France), it’s not supposed to be.

Look for rich, delicious apple fruit, as well as what the wine magazines called baked apple aromas, with a little cinnamon and spice mixing with the apple. Also, the wine has a full mouth feel, which you should get at this price. This is a New World chardonnay, a little heavier and with a little more oomph than white Burgundy, but it understands that quality is about more than oomph. In this, it should age well, losing some of the heft and becoming more refined over the next several years.

Drink this chilled with classic chardonnay cream sauce dishes; it’s also the kind of wine to give as a gift for someone who wants to explore high-end chardonnay, and understand that terroir exists in places other than California and France.

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

Expensive wine 75: John Duval Plexus 2011

plexus 2011John Duval is a legend in the Australian wine business, someone who made some of the greatest wines in the country’s history when he worked for Penfolds and who has produced consistently outstanding wine on his own since leaving Penfolds in 2003. His wines are an example of the best of Australia, blending terroir, craftsmanship, and that sixth sense that the best winemakers have about what should go where.

The Plexus 2011 ($39, sample, 14%) is a red blend that does all of that, combining shiraz, grenache, and mouvedre to produce a wine that is somehow both powerful and sophisticated, soft and structured, cultured and free-spirited. In this, it does what so much great wine does, marry what seem to be contradictions to produce something greater than the whole.

Look for lots of berry aromas, followed by ripe but not quite jammy blackberry and cherry fruit and some spice and black pepper. That the alcohol is so low for an Australian wine speaks to Duval’s respect for terroir and to work with what the grapes gave in a cool vintage, rather than to force high alcohol to please critics. Not surprisingly, the 2011 Plexus only got 89 points from the Wine Advocate, about what it gives very ordinary $15 California chardonnay.

Highly recommended and a steal at this price, especially given how much junk is for sale that costs more than $40 and gets 94 points. We tasted this in my El Centro class, and the students were flabbergasted that this style of wine could be this delicious and taste so completely different from anything they had tasted before.

This is a Father’s Day gift for anyone who loves red wine and wants to take a step forward in understanding how wine can be different depending on where it’s from. Serve this with any red meat or Father’s Day barbecue.


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Expensive wine 74: Domaine Roger Belland Les Champs-Gain 2005

Belland Les Champs-GainYou love your Mom, right? You want nothing but the best for her, don’t you? Then the Belland Les Champs-Gain is the wine for her and Mother’s Day.

The Belland Les Champs-Gain ($70, purchased, 13%), a premier cru from the Puligny-Montrachet region in Burgundy, is everything that great wine is supposed to be. It’s the kind of chardonnay that people dream about, and that even those of us who don’t want to pay more than $10 for wine will drink without hesitation — subtle and muted, with layers and layers of flavors and aromas.

Look for white pepper, a brilliant use of oak, and almost ripe apples, three signs of great white Burgundy from Puligny. But there is so much more going on that it’s almost impossible to describe. Besides, just listing a bunch of adjectives won’t come close to doing the wine justice (even though that’s apparently what I’m supposed to do).

Highly recommended, though availability may be limited. In which case, ask your retailer for something similar, and you can’t go wrong. White Burgundy remains one of the few parts of the French wine business that hasn’t shot itself in the foot, head, and behind, for which the Wine Curmudgeon is quite appreciative.

Expensive wine 73: Pierre-Marie Chermette Fleurie Ponci 2013

Pierre-Marie Chermette Fleurie Ponci Wine geeks get teary-eyed at the mention of high-end Beaujolais, and not just because they’re usually the only ones who know about it. Their argument: That Beaujolais that isn’t the $10 stuff that the Baby Boomers grew up on can be as subtle, interesting, and sophisticated as any great wine, and often at half the price.

The catch, of course, is that there isn’t much high-end Beaujolais, called cru Beaujolais, for sale in the U.S. and it’s not so cheap as to be a great deal compared to other great deals, like Rioja. So even if you find one, how do you know if you should buy it if there isn’t a wine geek handy?

Which is where a knowledgeable retailer comes in, like Cody Upton at Pogo’s in Dallas, who sold me the Pierre-Marie Chermette Fleurie Ponci ($32, purchased, 12%) for a BYOB dinner with the Big Guy. Because, given the price and how little I know about high-end Beaujolais, I wouldn’t have bought it. There’s plenty of sparkling, some white Burgundy, lots of quality Rhone and Rioja, and even California red and white at that price that I know and enjoy.

But I trust Cody, and the Poncie, a red wine from France, shows why. It’s not so much that it was delicious, or that the Big Guy marveled at what it tasted like. Rather, it showed that wine geeks can be right, and that just because a wine is made with the sadly unappreciated gamay grape and comes from Beaujolais is no reason to dismiss it. Cody said this is one of the great Beaujolais of the world, and he was right.

Look for a violet sort of aroma, lingering soft berry fruit, and even some earthiness, which I usually don’t associate with Beaujolais. In this, as with all great wine, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and maybe one day I’ll figure out how great wines do that.

Highly recommended, and especially with Mother’s and Father’s Day coming up. Interestingly, it needs food, despite its soft fruit and cushy tannins — almost any roast meat, cheese courses, and even pate.


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Expensive wine 72: Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2010

Two Hands Gnarly Dudes ShirazThe latest Australian wine news is more doom and gloom: 2015, with some grape prices once again less than the cost of production, will see more more growers fail. So let’s remind the world what’s right about Australian wine, the Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz ($40, sample, 14.8%).

This red wine from the well-regarded Barossa does so much that other, more expensive, higher scoring wines don’t do. For one, it ages gracefully, becoming more interesting over the past three years without losing any of its varietal or Aussie character. For another, it does the clever name bit without being silly. Finally, the alcohol, though high, doesn’t get in the way and make you groggy after a couple of sips.

Look for deep, rich black fruit (black cherries? plums?), tannins that demonstrate how tannins should be done, and a jammy, almost refreshing, intensity that ties everything together. This is red meat wine, but wine that will complement beef, not relegate it to the back of the plate.

Highly recommended, and it’s worth noting that its original $40 price has been cut by one-third by a producer who understands the marketplace and wants to sell wine. Would that more producers felt that way.

Expensive wine 71: Jordan Chardonnay 2012

jordan chardonnayThe world of California chardonnay has gone in so many directions over the past decade that it’s sometimes difficult to keep track. First, everything was toasty and oaky, then there was the backlash against toasty and oaky, and then there was the backlash against the backlash. Meanwhile, alcohol levels shot up by a point or more, giving us chardonnay that was hot as some zinfandels, close to 15 percent. Except when they weren’t.

Through all of this, a handful of producers ignored the trends and did what they did best. One is the Jordan chardonnay ($30, sample, 13.7%). Vintage after vintage, it’s dependable, well-made, and varietally correct. This, in the hipster world of California chardonnay, is often seen as damning with faint praise.

Which is foolish. What’s wrong with doing something correctly every year? The Jordan is the archetype for California Russian River Valley chardonnay, with green apple fruit, oak more or less in balance, and a rich mouth feel. This vintage is a little less oaky and more crisp, with a bit of apricot in the mix.

The Jordan chardonnay is better with food, and especially with classic chardonnay dishes made with cream sauces. But given the extra acidity in this vintage, don’t shy away from from roasted fish or chicken ballotine. Highly recommended (even for the holiday that must not be named), and regular visitors here know how fussy I am about chardonnay.