Category:French wine

Wine of the week: Hugel Gentil “Hugel” 2013

Hugel GentilWhen I started doing this, Alsatian wine was one of the world’s great values and the Hugel Gentil was $10 Hall of Fame quality wine. Then the euro gained in value against the dollar, the Alsatians didn’t try told the line on price, and that was that. There were still nice wines, but didn’t offer the value they once had.

Fast forward to 2016, when wine value is going to hell in a handbasket. The Hugel Gentil ($13, purchased, 12.5%) is about the same price it was five or six years ago, but given how much junk is out there at $13, it has become a value once again. Which pleased the Wine Curmudgeon, not only because I like the wine but because it once helped someone who didn’t drink much wine impress several business colleagues when she picked it off a confusing wine list.

In this, the Hugel Gentil is an old standby that remains all that it should be — a soft, enjoyable, riesiing-ish blend that is made with riesling as well as most of the white grapes grown in the Alsace region of France. It’s not sweet, but it is comfortable and easy, with ripe white fruit and and a flowery aroma. It’s the kind of wine that fits nicely between all the sweet riesling with cute labels that give riesling a bad name and those gorgeous German rieslings that we can’t afford to buy.

Drink this chilled on its own, or pair with with almost any grilled or sauteed fish.

Mini-reviews 82: Mateus, Kermit Lynch, Muga, Yealands

Kermit lynchReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

? Mateus Rose NV ($5, purchased, 11%): I don’t remember this wine, popular when I was in high school, tasting like raspberry 7 Up. But that was a long time ago. The wine has been repackaged since then, so that it’s in a clear glass bottle instead of the traditional green and doesn’t look quite the same as it did. And maybe it did taste like raspberry 7 Up all those years ago, which isn’t offensive — just odd.

? Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves 2014 ($20, purchased, 12%): The legendary Kermit Lynch imports this French white Bordeaux, and it’s another example why you should buy any wine that has Lynch’s name on it. Look for freshness, minerality, and a clean sort of citrus flavor. Well worth every penny of the $20 it cost.

? Muga Rioja Reserva 2011 ($23, purchased, 13%): This Spanish tempranillo blend from one of my favorite producers was much lusher and fruitier than I expected, without as much of the tart cherry acidity and herbal appeal that I like about wines from the Rioja region. Having said that, it’s well worth drinking, and should age for close to forever. As it does, the fruit and oak will probably give way to more traditional flavors.

?Peter Yealands Pinot Gris 2014 ($12, purchased, 13%): Why grocery store wine makes me crazy. Yealands is a respected New Zealand producer, and this white should have been delicious. But the bottle I bought was a previous vintage that was bitter and pithy on the back, and much of the fruit, freshness and crispness — hallmarks of pinot gris — were gone. Who knows how long it was sitting and baking in some warehouse? Did anyone at Kroger care?

Expensive wine 83: Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2011

Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte BlancIs any wine worth $100 a bottle? That’s the question the Wine Curmudgeon has been agonizing over since I started this wine thing all those years ago, and I still don’t know that I have an answer. But I do know how much fun it was to taste the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2011 ($100, sample, 13%) to try to find the answer.

The Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc is a beautiful wine, a white Bordeaux that takes what most of us know about that blend and says, “Close your eyes, taste this, and don’t say anything quite yet.” There is so much going on, so many layers of flavor — lemon, honey, almonds, spring flowers, peaches, minerality — that I don’t even know where to start to describe it. It’s also very young; the layers overlap and nudge each other, each vying for attention. Eventually — two years? three? four ? — they’ll start to blend, and the wine will be that much more impressive.

Finally, a word about oak. Regular visitors here know how I feel, that oak should be part of the wine and not its reason for being. Also, white Bordeaux, given that it’s made with sauvignon blanc, is difficult to oak well. The Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc turns all of that on its head, and the oak is another layer that adds quality, flavor, and complexity — and it too, will eventually blend into the whole.

Highly recommended, and a wonderful gift for anyone who loves and cares about wine. And if you do taste it, let me know if it answers the $100 question.

Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

affordable red BordeauxThe Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to teach the world to ignore French wine. It’s not just that so much Bordeaux is overpriced and underwhelming, but that the Bordelais are in such denial about it. We just need a new marketing company!

That’s why I was so excited last week, during a Bordeaux tasting in Dallas organized by the Spec’s retail chain, to find a handful of $15 to $20 wines that were worth buying. Granted, that’s still more than I wish they cost, and those at the $20 end were pushing the price/value barrier, but it’s a start. That’s because the couple of times I mentioned price to producers at the event, they looked at me as if I was crazy. They truly don’t understand that they have priced themselves out of the reach of almost all U.S. wine drinkers, and I guess no one noticed that only 9 of the 60 or wines at the tasting cost less than $30.

The best affordable wine at the event, and perhaps the best under $20 red Bordeaux I have tasted in years, was the 2011 Chateau Ampelia ($17, sample, 13.5%), made by from the seventh generation Despagne winemaking family. It’s a blend of 95 percent merlot and five percent cabernet franc, and tastes not only like it’s worth that much money, but is honest in its approach. That means it doesn’t tart up the fruit to appeal to U.S. drinkers, so that the merlot tastes like merlot, the cabernet franc adds a little heft, and it’s not a too fruity malbec. Look for red fruit, a bit of spice, and a wine that will age for a couple of more years. Highly recommended.

Also worth trying: the Chateau Croix Mouton ($17, sample, 13.5%), not quite as impressive as the Ampelia, but with ripe fruit and French style; and the Chateau Puygueraud ($20, sample, 14%), an old standby with fresh fruit and an almost herbal aroma — would that it cost a couple of bucks less.

Finally, to be fair, the quality of almost all the wines was tremendous, Bordeaux as it should be — incredible fruit, top-notch winemaking, and everything that is wonderful about French wine. The 2011 Chateau Clinet was earthy, peppery, deep, and full, all I could have hoped for. That it costs $90 was the only problem.

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

Chapoutier Bila-HautIt’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have much in common — both are controversial and both do things that they’re not supposed to do. Chapoutier, for instance, has gone into the riesling business, something a Rhone producer has probably never done in all of France’s recorded wine history.

They even understand the U.S. market in a way that too many of their competitors don’t. What they don’t have in common is the quality of the wine; Chapoutier’s are much better than anything Franzia does these days, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary. The Chapoutier Bila-Haut ($15, sample, 14%) is a case in point: It’s a varietally correct Rhone-style red blend from the less known Roussillon region in southern France that appeals to both the commercial side of the market — its premiumized price (almost twice what it costs in Europe) and fruit forward style — and to those of us who think Rhone-style wine should taste a certain way.

Look for a hint of the earthiness and rusticity that I appreciate, but which isn’t overwhelmed by lots of red fruit (cherry?) and a richer mouth feel that has more to do with the New World than the Old. Having said that, it was quite pleasant and enjoyable, a red wine that will come in handy as spring arrives and that I would buy at $12 or $13.

Wine of the week: Ch teau Moulin De Mallet 2011

Ch teau Moulin De MalletThis will sound like damning with faint praise, but it isn’t meant to be. Rather, this review of the Ch teau Moulin De Mallet speaks to how much the wine world has changed over the past couple of decades.

Is the Mallet ($11, sample, 13.5%), a French red Bordeaux blend, as French as I want it to be? No, but since it’s almost impossible to find that style of French wine at this price any more, it will do. In fact, save for the Chateau Bonnet red and one or two others, you’re probably not going to find any better or more interesting Bordeaux that is this affordable, given that winemaking styles today emphasize fruit at the expense of the rest of the wine.

Look for softish red fruit, some earth (but not enough to be unpleasant if you don’t like that quality), the requisite amount of tannins, and just enough terroir so that it tastes French. This is an older vintage because it was a sample, but the newer vintages, including the 2014, are probably just as worth drinking. Enjoy Ch teau Moulin De Mallet on its own, or pair it with any straightforward red wine dinner, whether hamburgers or a tomato-based soup.

Wine of the week: Saint-Cosme C tes du Rh ne 2013

Saint-Cosme Cotes du RhoneDespite all the doom and gloom in the wine business, with prices rising and quality vanishing, there are still producers who care. And France’s Saint-Cosme is one of the best.

Its Little James Basket Press red and white blends from the Rhone are terrific examples of $10 wine, and the Saint-Cosme Cotes du Rhone red ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a step up, a lesson in how to provide varietal character, terroir, and value. Or, as I wrote in my notes: “What a red Rhone blend at this price should taste like, and why can’t anyone else do this?”

Look for deep red fruit from the syrah and a little licorice, but more subtle than usual and almost tight; that is, where you think there should be more fruit flavor but it’s hiding but will come out as the wine ages. This Sainte-Cosme is earthy but not off-putting, and speaks to the traditional Rhone style where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Highly recommended. Pair this with any fall stew or meat dish as the weather gets cooler. And know that someone, for all the focus groups and private labels, still cares. Writes Sainte-Cosme’s Louis Barroul: “It is my pleasure to offer every year a wine of this quality at a reasonable level of price. This is what French wine means: bottle a bit of spirit even at an affordable price.”