Tag Archives: chardonnay

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Mini-reviews 68: French wine edition

French wine reviewsReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. For January, four French wines:

? Macon-Villages Les Tuiles 2013 ($10, purchased,13%): This chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy is another winner from Cave de Lugny, which specializes in quality cheap wine from that part of France. This is a richer, less crisp style, but still with green apple, and even though the wine doesn’t have any oak.

? Ch teau Jacquet Blanc 2013 ($11, purchased,12%): Nothing special about this white Bordeaux, made of sauvignon blanc and semillon. It’s sort of jumbled together, without enough minerality and some sort of citrus and honey combination.

? Ch teau Rauzan Despagne Reserve 2013: ($13, purchased,12%): Overpriced white being sold in Dallas as a private label that doesn’t especially taste white Bordeaux, with too much citrus and sweet fruit. Very disappointing.

? Hugel Riesling 2012: ($20, sample,12%): This Alsatian white comes from one of the region’s finest producers, and it’s impeccable — some oiliness, pear fruit, and minerality, as well as bone dry. But for all of its quality, it doesn’t come close to delivering value for $20. This is the problem the French wine business faces that few people want to admit.

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Wine of the week: Ocean Blue Chardonnay 2013

Ocean Blue ChardonnayOne of the most important trends in the wine business is the increase in private label wines, which give retailers an exclusive to sell and a bigger profit margin when they do. The catch is that private label wines, which are sold in only one retailer and can be limited in availability, are too often of indifferent quality.

That’s not the case with the Ocean Blue Chardonnay ($9, purchased, 12.5%), a private label for the Aldi grocery store chain. This New Zealand white is unoaked, which helps to keep the price down and gives it a bright and fresh approach. In addition, there is lots of crisp green apple and a rich mouth feel despite the lack of oak.

In this, it’s not especially subtle, but $10 New Zealand wine has never been famous for being understated. That’s how the country’s sauvignon blanc became famous, after all. And those who need vanilla or toasty and oaky in their chardonnay will probably wonder what it’s doing here.

But those of us who are more open minded about chardonnay will appreciate the wine’s value. Drink this chilled, on its own or with white wine food, and even something with a simple sauce. Grilled chicken breasts with garlic and parsley, perhaps? And hope more private labels approach this level of quality.

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Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

Chateau MontelenaThis is the second time this year that the Wine Curmudgeon has been able to talk to one of the participants from the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. I wonder: Do the rest of the people who do what we do realize how lucky we are?

The occasion was a live cyber tasting last week with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, whose family’s chardonnay bested France’s white Burgundies at the Paris tasting. Which was unthinkable 40 years ago, if only because the most planted white grape in California was the colombard used to make jug wine.

We tasted the 2006 Montelena estate cabernet sauvignon ($150, sample, 13.9%) and the 2012 chardonnay ($50, sample, 13.8%), and both were fascinating. The red was so subtle that I didn’t think anyone made cabernet like this in Napa anymore, given the restraint in fruit and alcohol. In fact, The Big Guy (who joined me at Wine Curmudgeon world headquarters for the tasting) laughed after took his first sip. “It doesn’t have enough alcohol,” he said. Then we both laughed when I told him that one of the wine magazines scored it 88 points, which means it’s not any better than many of my $10 wines. And people wonder why scores are stupid.

Look for dark cherry fruit, black pepper and smokiness, enough acidity to offset all that, and an almost dusty finish. This is a food wine, and the more red meat the better. And it will continue to improve with age, getting darker and dustier.

The chardonnay was a worthy successor to the wine that won the Judgment — one of the best California chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The balance was impeccable, especially in a wine this young, with crisp green apple and pear fruit, oak skillfully integrated throughout, a richness that belies all the crispness, and the beginnings of what will be signature minerality on the finish. Highly recommended, even at this price, and a holiday gift for anyone who loves chardonnay.

I asked Barrett what he did differently with chardonnay, compared to so many others in Napa, and his answer was perfect: He made the wine that the grapes gave him, and not to show what a wonderful winemaker he was. There’s no better description for a wine than that.

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Wine of the week: Cave de Lugny La C te Blanche 2013

Cave de Lugny La C te BlancheThe Wine Curmudgeon reviews a proportionally larger share of French wines, and when I look at the numbers — which I do because I don’t want to go too far in any direction — I always wonder if I should try to do fewer French wines. Then I taste something like the Cave de Lugny La Cote Blanche ($10, purchased, 12.5%), and I understand why I do so many cheap French wines.

They’re that good, and especially if they’re from Cave de Lugny, a cooperative in Burgundy that somehow produces affordable red, white, rose and sparkling wines from that very expensive region. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of them over here, but the Les Charmes is a $10 chardonnay well worth drinking, and the $10 Macon-Villages chardonnay is equally delicious.

The Cote Blanche, which seems to be a World Market private label, is yet another terrific effort from Cave de Lugny. It’s chardonnay from the Macon area of Burgundy, so that means no oak. a mineral finish, and some apple and lemon fruit. But there is also an almost rich mouth feel, which makes the wine more interesting and is not easy to do for $10. It’s a step up from the previously mentioned Macon-Villages — and for the same price.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this chilled on its own, or with roast or grilled chicken. It would also do nicely as the wine to cook with and to drink in a dish like braised chicken with mustard and garlic (and I would add lots of sliced onions).

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Expensive wine 66: Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuiss Tri des 25 ans 2005

Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuiss  Tri des 25 ans 2005Great wines have great stories to go with them, even if the stories can be embarrassing. Such is the case with the Guffens ($80, purchased, 13%), although the story isn’t about the wine as it is the people involved.

Jay Biletti has been a long-time supporter of Drink Local Wine and an advocate for Arizona wine. I’ve judged with him many times, and he is a smart wine guy who is always fun to taste with. Several years ago, when Jay and I were judging the late Southwestern Wine Competition, we ordered a bottle of white Burgundy. It tasted and smelled quite funky. “It’s corked,” said Jay, who could plainly smell wet dogs and damp basements. “Oh no,” I said. “It’s just funky. White Burgundy can do that.” We went around with this for a bit, and Jay almost believed me. So we asked Diane Teitelbaum, whose wine knowledge is immeasurable and who was eating dinner with us. She took one whiff, and gave me a firm look. “Of course it’s corked, Jeff. What were you thinking?”

Hence the Guffens, which Jay brought to dinner in honor of that night when he was in Dallas this summer. Which was not corked. Really. It’s classic white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, in this case the Pouilly-Fuiss part of Burgundy). It’s still very young, and won’t reach its peak for at least another couple of years. The fruit (apple-ish?) is way in the back, and you’ll taste more white pepper and minerality than anything else. The oak is hovering over all, in exactly the way oak should hover.

Jay and I enjoyed the wine, and he was very nice when we told the corked story to the other guests. They didn’t even laugh too hard.

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Four Arrogant Frog wines

Arrogant fron winesFinding quality cheap wine from France is not as easy as it used to be. The weak dollar is the main reason, but a change in focus for French producers, who price wine to sell to the Chinese because they can’t think of anything else to do, hasn’t helped, either.

Save for exceptions like the Lurton family’s Chateau Bonnet or my beloved Gascony, most cheap French wine knocks off $10 California wine; is junk foisted on U.S. consumers because we’re too American to know better; or is the same as it has been for years, like La Vielle Ferme — OK, but nothing more.

That’s why the Wine Curmudgeon was so excited by the recent Arrogant Frog Twitter tasting, where a dozen wine writers sampled four $10 French wines from the Languedoc in southern France and tweeted with winemaker Jean-Claude Mas. The good news is that the wines — a sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, and red blend — offer tremendous value for $10. If they’re not quite French enough in style for me (I would have liked more grip), they’re still well made and well worth buying.

Mas was candid and well-spoken: “You must convince people to buy your wine by being consistent. It’s easy to make great wine one year. Try doing it for 30 years.” Plus, he avoided winespeak, something that rarely happens at these things, and there was nary a mention of brix or canopy management.

A few thoughts about the wines after the jump: Continue reading

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Mini-reviews 62: Hot to Trot, Sauzet, Dr. Pauly, Chateau St. Jean

Mini-reviews 62: Hot to Trot, Sauzet, Dr. Pauly, Chateau St. JeanReviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

? 14 Hands Hot to Trot Red 2012 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): The problem with this red blend is not that it’s very ordinary and slightly sweet (probably somewhere around E&J Gallo’s Apothic), but that it doesn’t say, on either front or back label, that it isn’t dry. As has been noted many times here and elsewhere, producers have an obligation to share that information. Otherwise, dry red drinkers will buy something they don’t want and sweet red drinkers will pass it by. The Wine Curmudgeon expects more from 14 Hands than this kind of winery sleight of hand.

? Etienne Sauzet Bourgogne Blanc 2012 ($43, purchased, 12.5%): Impeccable white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France) from one of my favorite producers. Layers and layers of complexity, just like much more expensive wines from specific appellations within Burgundy. Still young, and I could have held on to it for six months or more. Some oak when first opened, but the wine eventually evens out to become a traditional Sauzet with white pepper and green apple fruit. Very reasonably priced considering the quality. Highly recommended.

? Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube am Doctorberg Riesling Kabinett 2010 ($27, purchased, 7.5%): Gorgeous German riesling, rich and full, with honey, lemon, and minerality — exactly the way it should be, as anyone who appreciates this kind of wine can attest. Yes, it’s sweet, but it’s supposed to be; in fact, it’s surprisingly heavy and needs food (tuna steaks, perhaps?). Highly recommended.

? Chateau St. Jean Fum Blanc 2012 ($12, sample, 13.5%): California sauvignon blanc is flabby, heavy, and without any sort of style or grace, to say nothing of fruit. This used to be one of those wines that you could always count on; now it’s stuff sold at the grocery store.