Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine 199: Stags’ Leap Chardonnay 2017

stags' leap chardonnayThe Stags’ Leap chardonnay may be the best value among expensive wines I’ve tasted in years

This California white wine may be the best value for any domestic white wine costing more than $25 I’ve tasted in years. It’s certainly the best value in California chardonnay: It tastes like Napa Valley, where the grapes are from. It tastes like chardonnay, and not a tub of butter. And it’s only going to get better with age, truly amazing given its price.

Much of the credit for the quality for the Stag’s Leap chardonnay ($30, sample, 14.2%) goes to winemaker Christophe Paubert, whose approach is focused on the grapes, and not getting on the cover of the Wine Spectator. Hence, a wine that isn’t over oaked, isn’t hot, and isn’t stuffed full of winemaking tricks. “I’m not that kind of winemaker,” he said during lunch in Dallas last month.

Instead, Paubert worked with what the grapes gave him, and the result is a chardonnay that is fresh and bright, with crisp green apple fruit intertwined with a little lemon zest. It’s rich and full in the mouth, but not oaky and toasty, and it finishes with a certain sort of minerality one doesn’t taste much anymore in California chardonnay. Yes, there is oak, but it’s in the background, supporting everything else.

Highly recommended, and especially for Mother’s Day next month. This would pair especially well with something like crab and shrimp stuffed fish, or even a classic French dish like sole in a simple white wine sauce.

Expensive wine 118: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2013

Le Cigare VolantThe Le Cigare Volant shows screwcap wines can age with style and grace

Randall Grahm, the Boony Doon impresario who only uses screwcaps, has insisted for years that wine ages under screwcap. This remains heresy in the wine business, which has grudgingly allowed that screwcaps are OK for cheap wine, but not for fine wine that can cellar for years. Which means not enough of the wine business has tasted this vintage of the Le Cigare Volant.

The Le Cigare Volant ($45, sample, 14.5%) is the Bonny Doon flagship, a fine red wine made in Grahm’s trademark Rhone style. Hence, Old World style and attention to terroir, but New World sensibility and technique. That means subtle tannins and a clean finish, but earthiness and spice (cinnamon, in the way it can be almost chili hot) on the front. There is also a mix of red and fruit black fruit (raspberries and plums), plus an almost gaminess that you don’t expect from California wine. Despite the high alcohol (and very high for Grahm, who prides himself on restraint), the wine is neither hot nor overwhelming.

Grahm says screwcap wines age differently than cork wines, which is not bad – just different. That this wine is still so young but intriguing speaks to this; as it continues to age over the next 8 to 10 years, the Le Cigare Volant will become richer and more complex, and it’s complex already.

Highly recommended. Serve this with lamb or duck, and enjoy not just the wine, but how easy it is to open the bottle.

Expensive wine 117: Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve NV

Jean Vesselle Brut ReserveForget scores: The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve is amazingly wonderful Champagne

The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve, as delicious and as well made a Champagne as I’ve had in years, shows once again why scores are useless. Its average on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software) is 88 points, or about what a quality bottle of $10 wine would get.

Because if the Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve ($44, purchased, 12%) is an 88-point wine, I’m Robert Parker.

This is an exquisite bottle of Champagne, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. It has layers and layers of flavor, including some of the yeasty creaminess that most high-end bubbly drinkers require of Champagne. But it’s so much more than than: A completely unexpected burst of crisp, wonderfully ripe red apple fruit followed by an almost spicy finish and tiny, tight bubbles popping to the top of the glass. In this, it’s bone dry and certainly not your grandfather’s Champagne, and I’m almost certain that accounts for the crummy scores.

Highly recommended, and as enjoyable with food (eggs at brunch, certainly, but also roast chicken) as it is for celebrations. Which is how I drank it – honoring my long-time pal and colleague James MacFayden, who is returning to his native Britain after more than two decades in the U..S. James will be much missed – not only for his fine palate, but for his bounty of Monty Python references.

Imported by North Berkeley Imports

Expensive wine 116: Hedges Family Estate La Haute Curvee 2014

Hedges La Haute Cuvee.The Hedges La Haute Cuvee is top-notch Washington state cabernet sauvignon

Hedges Family Estate has been part of the good fight for quality wine, transparency, and fair value for years. Its $13 CMS red and whites are well made and almost always worth buying, and the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys tasting its more expensive wines, like the Hedges La Haute Cuvee whenever I get a chance.

Hence, my anticipation when I opened the Hedges La Haute Cuvee ($50, sample, 13.5%). It’s Washington state caberent sauvignon that speaks to terroir and the difference between the state’s Red Mountain appellation and those in California and France. It’s not as rich and opulent as a Napa Valley caberent, nor as taut and firm as a great red Bordeaux. It’s different – and that’s the joy, for all wine is not supposed to taste the same.

Look for lots of black fruit (blackberry?), though aging has mellowed the fruit’s power a bit; some baking spices (cinnamon?) and even a intimation of cocoa; beautifully soft and integrated tannins, and a fine balance. One key to this wine: aging in older oak, to complement the fruit instead of overwhelming it. This is a wine that has aged magnificently, and should continue to do so for at least another five to seven years.

Pair this with red meat (I drank it with homemade mushroom and pecan sausage), and enjoy what Washington state has learned about making top-notch red wine.

Mini-reviews 116: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

New Year's wineReviews 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. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.

Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%):  Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.

Expensive wine 115: Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2015

benoit droin chablisThe Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains shows why aging matters in wine, and why we should appreciate it

Perhaps the most important difference between truly great wine and the stuff most of us drink most of the time – and price, sadly, doesn’t much matter here – is that truly great wine ages and changes as it ages. And, like the Benoit Droin Chablis, it usually changes for the better.

The Jean-Paul & Benoit Droin Chablis Premier Cru Montmains 2015 ($47, purchased, 13%) is chardonnay from the Chablis region of Burgundy in France, which makes it white Burgundy. But unlike most white Burgundy, Chablis isn’t oaked. This difference gives it a character of its own – sort of like the Puligny that is my guilty pleasure, but different enough to be a pleasure all its own.

Which brings us to the aging. The Benoit Droin Chablis is still quite young, and it may take 10 more years before it really tastes like Chablis, with the telltale minerality and limestone and almost steely green fruit. But that’s one of the great joys of Chablis, that you can drink it now and sort of see how that will happen to the wine. That this is almost a $50 wine makes it difficult to buy two, wait a couple of years, and see if you’re right. But one learns to live with that.

Having said that, the wine is delicious even without the aging – certainly worth what it costs, and especially for anyone who appreciates white Burgundy (and if you need a last-minute holiday gift). Look for green apple, minerality, and a certain softness that you usually don’t find in Chablis. Until, of course, the wine ages.

Imported by European Cellars/Eric Solomon

Holiday wine gift guide 2018

holiday wine gift guide 2018The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2018 — because no one wants to give the wine equivalent of a fruitcake

• Holiday wine trends 2018

How to avoid giving tacky wine gift bags — “for the wine lover on your lists” — or overpriced, celebrity-endorsed wine accessories (because if an A lister likes it, we should buy it)? The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide out 2018, of course. Because why waste money on bad gifts when you can use it for quality wine?

Keep in mind two must-haves for anyone who drinks wine regularly – the Rabbit wine preserver ($10), cheap and effective, and a top-notch waiter’s corkscrew from Murano ($10). Both have passed the WC’s lengthy, real-life testing process — which means I use them over and over and over. And over.

Plus:

• Kevin Zraly’s new edition of the “Windows on the World” wine course (Sterling Epicure, $18) is probably the best one-volume wine book available. That means it’s worth buying, whether for beginning wine drinker or cranky wine critic. Plus, Zraly’s memoir is scheduled to be published in the next year or so, chronicling his 40 years in the wine business.

Chateau La Tour Carnet ($38) is a red Bordeaux that offers quality but doesn’t cost a fortune, given the prices of red Bordeaux. This French blend, more cabernet sauvignon than merlot, combines modern winemaking with traditional Bordeaux style and terroir. Older vintages like the 2010, which may be more expensive, will especially show that combination. This is the red wine for someone who thinks cabernet begins and ends in the Napa Valley.

The L’Conti Blanquette ($15) is sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France, and tastes nothing like any other French sparkling wine. It’s probably closer to Spanish cava, with lemon and green apple fruit. Plus, you can tell people you tasted a wine made with the mauzac grape. Highly recommended.

• Those who know Italian wine find refosco, a red from northern Italy, to be an acquired tasted. I’ve acquired it, and you’l find quality in refosco from $10 to $20. The Tenuta Luisa ($20) is dark but also bright; a little savory but also a little spicy. It’s more interesting than the less expensive versions, and surprisingly available.

• My new weakness is white wine from Spain’s Basque region made with the hondarrabi zuri grape, most costing around $20. The labels include the phrase “Getariako Txakolina,” which is the name of the region. I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t well-made — almost herbal, with citrus and stone fruit, a little fizz, and some minerality — but not sweet. This is about as far from chardonnay as you can get.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016
• Holiday wine gift guide 2015