Tag Archives: expensive wine

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Expensive wine 84: J. Christopher Dundee Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir 2012

 J. Christopher Buying pinot noir may be the most difficult thing in wine. It’s expensive, and since there are so many styles, you’re not sure if what you’re spending all that money for will be wine that you want to drink. Which is where the J. Christopher, an Oregon pinot nor from the Willamette Valley, comes in. It does everything an Orgeon pinot is supposed to do, and it’s fair value for the price.

The J. Christopher ($39, purchased, 13.8%) is, if not spectacular, well made and well put together. Look for fragrant black cherry fruit, some much welcome savory herbs, a bit of minerality toward the back, and just enough earthiness so you can say the earthiness is there. It’s not as fruity or rich as as California pinot noir, and it’s not as subtle as red Burgundy, but it is interesting and enjoyable.

Pair this with traditional pinot noir dishes, whether roast lamb or grilled salmon. It’s probably not going to get much better over time, so drink now.

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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.

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Dinner with an old Concannon petite sirah

Concannon petite sirahThese days, Concannon Vineyard is just another part of multi-billion dollar The Wine Group and its wine is mostly ordinary grocery store stuff. A couple of decades ago, though, Concannon made some of world’s best petite sirah, a red grape that is little known and perhaps even less respected. I was lucky enough to have a taste of those days when I had dinner with an old Concannon petite sirah.

My pal John Bratcher brought the wine, the 1997 reserve petite sirah; I made sausage parmigiana with my mom’s red sauce; and Lynne Kleinpeter added her keen palate and quick wit.

The Concannon petite sirah, which cost just $25 when it was released in 2001, did not disappoint. That this wine, made in the supposedly less prestigious Livermore Valley from what is supposed to be a lesser grape, aged for almost 20 years with such grace speaks to how silly we are when we assume that something not anointed by the Winestream Media isn’t worth drinking.

The wine’s color was just starting to brown and the cork didn’t come out cleanly. Other than that and a bit of sediment, this was a wine that had aged exquisitely — soft but still delicious dark plum fruit, a hint of spice and earth, supple tannins, and a balance and integration that you can only hope for when a wine ages this long. We took our time with it, making sure it lasted the entire dinner. This was not an experience to be rushed.

John told us that the Concannon family, whom he had worked with, made reserve from a vineyard so old that the grape juice was actually dark and powerful enough to use as ink. This partly explains why the wine aged so well, but it’s also a testament to the Concannons, who wanted to make a wine that would, literally, stand the test of time. Which it did.

Sadly, this Concannon petite sirah isn’t available unless you know someone who was smart enough to save a bottle. And, ordinarily, I don’t write about wine that you can’t buy. But this was such a moment in my wine drinking life that I wanted to share it. My only regret? That this post is the only way most of you will get to taste it.

Photo courtesy of Splash, using a Creative Commons license

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Expensive wine 82: Anne Amie Winemaker’s Select Pinot Noir 2012

Anne Amie winemaker's selectNothing illustrates the foolishness of the three-tier system more than the Anne Amie winemaker’s select. This Oregon producer isn’t especially big, and only has distribution in 39 states. Which means that those of you in the other 11, including Pennsylvania, can’t buy it.

Which is a shame, because the Anne Amie winemaker’s select ($24, purchased, 13.6%) is a steal, perhaps the best pinot noir at this price I’ve had since I started writing the blog. If nothing else, it is varietally correct. To find a pinot that tastes like pinot at this price is the equivalent of my beloved Chicago Cubs winning two or three World Series in a row, and they haven’t won one in more than 100 years.

And there is much more than varietal correctness. This is a beautiful and delightful Oregon-style pinot with zingy red fruit (very red cherry), a touch of bramble and blackberry on the nose, soft and relaxing tannins, and more oak than I thought. This wine is still very young, and the oak should fade into the background over time, letting the fruit show a little more. It also shows how a talented winemaker can work with a warm vintage to produce a balanced wine.

Highly recommended (though the price may be higher elsewhere), and another reason why Anne Amie is one of my favorite producers in the U.S. I just wish more people could buy its wines.

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What’s wrong with California expensive wine?

California expensive wineNothing, actually. But what happens when one of the world’s top wine writers picks only a handful of California labels as her best expensive wines in the world for 2015? If you’re a California expensive wine devotee, it’s time to panic, and many did on Twitter and elsewhere. If you have a little more perspective, Elin McCoy’s choices speak to how much great wine is made in the world, and how even those who buy pricey wine sometimes don’t understand the need to try something different.

McCoy’s list of the 50 best wines for $50 or less in 2015 had just seven wines from California. Excluding the six Champagnes on the list, that meant 7 of 44 — just 16 percent of the best expensive wine in the world — came from California. Is it any wonder so many howled so loudly? It’s one thing when I criticize California for making such ordinary, grocery-store cheap wine. But expensive wine? That’s the Napa and Sonoma reason for being, and if those regions don’t dominate lists like this, their supporters figure something must be wrong.

But as McCoy said when I asked her about it, “Those seven wines were more than from any other place but France, so I guess I don’t feel I neglected California too much.” And, she added, the list doesn’t have any wines from Chile, Argentina, and Washington state, which also make great wine.

Hence perspective, something too many American wine drinkers lack. Because it’s not enough to have 17 percent — it must be 50 or 60 percent or even more. Because, dammit, expensive California wine is the best wine in the world. Everyone knows that. And if you don’t, you don’t know anything about wine (and no, I’m not going to link to the blog posts that say that — no need to start the new year with a flame war).

Which is that lack of perspective. I’ve written many times that California makes the best wine in the world, cheap or expensive, but only when it wants to. The rest of the time, it’s content to make wine other people think it should make, be it a focus group or the Winestream Media. And if anyone complains, we get the speech in the previous paragraph.

Or, as one noted wine competition judge told me when we discussed this, “California wines have gotten boring, for the most part. Same ole, same ole, year in, year out. … I can appreciate the box they have built for themselves. Why mess with success? But no one wants to discuss it because we are all so close to those people and that industry, but the reason I love Old World wines so much is that they are interesting, with unexpected, often delightful, surprises. And every year, they are different.”

And difference brings perspective.

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Expensive wine 81: Ridge Lytton Springs 2013

ridge lytton springsDollar for dollar, Ridge is probably the best winery in the U.S. This is doubly impressive given that it makes almost no white wine and most of the reds it makes are zinfandel. But quality will out, as the Ridge Lytton Springs demonstrates.

The Lytton Springs ($32, purchased, 14.3%) is an amazing wine, a zinfandel blend that includes just enough petite sirah, carignane, and mataro so it can’t be labeled zinfandel. Credit this to Ridge impresario Paul Draper’s sense of humor and winemaker John Olney’s sense of what needs to be done with the wine. Who knew one percent more petite sirah and one percent less zinfandel would make such a difference?

Look for lots of jammy black fruit with more oak than expected, but with pepper, acidity, and some herbal notes toward the finish. Best yet, there are even so-subtle tannins, something most zinfandels, even at this price, abandoned years ago and that lend structure to the all that fruit. This wine is a work in progress, and will only become more complete, as the fruit fades and it becomes spicier and deeper over the next couple of years.

Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for a red wine drinker who appreciates something just enough off the beaten path. I had the Ridge Lytton Springs with pot roast, and it was one of those pairings that explains why we do pairings. And Christmas prime rib would be terrific, too.

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Expensive wine 80: Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2012

grgich hills chardonnayWant a classic example of Napa Valley chardonnay, with the just right amounts of fruit and oak, a proper mouth feel, balanced alcohol, at a fair price, and that speaks to Napa’s terroir? Then you could do much worse than the Grgich.

This is not damning with faint praise; rather, it says much about how wine is often made in that part of California — score driven, price be damned, and that the consumer will buy the Winestream Media tells them to buy. The Grgich, which has been around longer than I have been writing about wine, takes none of that into account. The 2013 Grgich Hills chardonnay ($42, sample, 13.5%) is no exception.

Look for green apple, a little citrus, and even some peach tucked away in the back. The oak is there, of course, but it’s integrated and part of the wine — not a flavor in and unto itself. Perhaps the most important quality is the wine’s acidity, something most California chardonnays don’t worry about. It helps the wine taste fresh and clean despite its richness.

Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to give as a holiday gift, drink at this time of year, and enjoy anytime.