Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine 135: Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux Premier Cru 2015

Louis Michel Chablis ButteauxThe Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux doesn’t taste like other Chablis, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing

This is not the kind of Chablis that many of us expect – minerally, taut, and steely. Instead, the Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux is rich and full, much softer than I usually want from Chablis. And that difference is just another part of the joy of wine.

How different is the Louis Michel Chablis Butteaux 2015 ($30, purchased, 13%)? The winery’s website lists scores from five major international critics for this vintage of its chardonnay from the Chablis region of France’s Burgundy. Each score is different, and the two French scores are the lowest. That five people who taste this kind of wine for a living disagree about its quality (even allowing for the inefficiency of scores) speaks volumes about how unique this wine is.

Because it is. My tasting notes are just as perplexed: “Softer, less traditional style of Chablis, with less minerality and more ripe apple fruit. And what is it in there that almost tastes like oak?” Because this Chablis doesn’t see oak (and most, in fact, don’t).

So what’s going on here? Chalk it up to what the late and much missed Diane Teitelbaum told me years ago: Wine is not supposed to taste the same. It’s supposed to be different – otherwise, what’s the point? This producer, in this part of Chablis with this terroir, doesn’t make wine that tastes like the wine that other producers make in other parts of Chablis, with different terroir.

This difference is not about good or bad; this is a high quality wine that will probably benefit from another couple of years in the bottle. It’s just different, and that’s something I have learned to appreciate.

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Pricing note: Price is suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff

A tale of two Italian wines: Boffa Carlo Arneis and Mionetto Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze 

Italian wineThe former is a lovely $15 wine, while the latter is a $40 Prosecco. How can Italy be going in two completely different directions?

Premiumization has done horrible things to the wine business, so horrible that they go beyond cutting sales and alienating younger consumers. Thanks to premiumization, wine is becoming something not to drink and enjoy, but for collecting and for showing off. Case in point: these two Italian wines.

The Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a beautiful, almost elegant white wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a tremendous value for arneis, a lesser-known grape where prices can top out at $30.

The Mionetto is a $40 Prosecco (sample, 11%). It’s a well-made and enjoyable sparkling wine, but in the end, it’s a $40 Prosecco, not all that different or better than the legions of $12 Proseccos cluttering supermarket aisles.

So how did Italy, a country with thousands of years of winemaking chops, go from the more or less traditional approach that gave us the arneis to one based on premiumization and a $40 Prosecco? Because decisions are increasingly made based on marketing and category management, and not on wine.

My guess? Someone, somewhere decided Mionetto needed a product to compete with Champagne and high-end California sparkling wine. So we got a $40 Prosecco – not because the world was demanding a $40 Prosecco or because the grapes were of such high quality that they would produce a wine worth $40. We got it so an Italian wine would be able to sit on a store shelf next to Champagne and grab some of that market share. Because if a wine costs $40, it must be worth it, right?

The same thing has happened with rose, where the marketplace has been flooded with $25 pink wine that is almost no different from $10 and $12 rose in anything other than retail price. The reason? Because people who buy $25 red and white wines have been taught that cheap wine is crap, so why not sell them $10 rose that costs $25? A rose producer I know can launch into a rant on that subject even more quickly than I can, which should tell you how widespread the practice is.

Finally, remember that this post is not about price, but about value, and that expensive wines can offer, value, too. That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s mantra. The wine business will have you believe that value is no different from price, because that’s how it makes its money. Because, $40 Prosecco. But we know better, don’t we?

Photo: “Hanging Bottles” by garryknight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Expensive wine 134: Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris 2017

eyrie pinot grisThe Eyrie pinot gris shows why this family producer is one of the best wineries in the U.S.

No, the Eyrie pinot gris is not the most expensive wine in the world, and most of the Winestream Media would probably consider it popularly priced. But for those of us who consider value more important than anything else, a wine that costs this much and delivers value is rare and worth noting — and a wine to buy over and over.

The Eyrie pinot gris ($23, purchased, 12.5%) comes from one of my favorite producers, the second-generation Oregon winery that did so much to bring pinot noir to that state (and the U.S.). The pinot gris, if less well-known, is equally worth drinking.

This is still a very young wine, and the pear fruit (and maybe some peach) really isn’t showing the way it should in a few years. It’s sort of hiding in the background, so that when you taste it, you’re not quite sure if it’s there, but you know something is. And, of course, that’s far from the only quality — lots of flint and minerality, maybe some spice, and a clean mouth feel.

Highly recommended. Pair this with grilled seafood or roasted chicken, and be glad such value still exists in a wine costing more than $20.

Expensive wine 133: Eberle Syrah 2018

eberle syrahThe Eberle syrah speaks to the grape and its terroir — and just in time for Father’s Day

Know all the bellyaching the Wine Curmudgeon does about wine samples? Not in this case – it’s a treat every year when the email arrives from California’s Eberle Winery asking if I want to try their new vintage. The Eberle syrah is just one reason why.

That’s because the Eberle syrah ($32, sample, 14.6%) does what so many other wines don’t – it tastes like syrah, which means it’s varietally correct, and it tastes like it was made with grapes from the state’s Paso Robles appellation, so it speaks to terroir. That means a rich and full wine, but one that doesn’t let the winemaker’s or marketer’s pretensions get in the way. And how many times can we say that?

Yes, the alcohol is high, but it’s in balance and the fruit isn’t overripe. The oak is restrained, and the tannins are those that should be in syrah – the back label says chalky, and that’s as good an adjective as I can think of. This is top-notch New World syrah, with smoky and almost fatty aromas, lots and lots of dark berry and plum fruit, a hint of spice, and a long and interesting finish.

How well made is this wine? The bottle was gone almost before dinner was over, and no one felt the effects of the alcohol. Highly recommended, and just the thing for a Father’s Day gift for those fond of red wine. Pair this with red meat, barbecue, or grilled sausages.

Mother’s Day wine 2020

mother's day wine 2020Four suggestions — rose, white, red, and sparkling — for Mother’s Day wine 2020

Mother’s Day wine 2020: This year.s version, the 14th annual, finds us in a different place than ever before. But the premise hasn’t  changed — We’re looking for value and quality, and we want to buy Mom something she will enjoy and not something we think she should drink.

These Mother’s Day wine 2020 suggestions should get you started:

La Playa Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($9, purchased, 13%): Supermarket Chilean white  sauvignon blanc at a fair price (lots of citrus and not much else); given how inconsistent these wines have become it offers value. Imported by Cabernet Corporation

CVNE Via Real Rosado 2019 ($12, sample, 12.5%): The white viura grape, part of the blend for this Spanish pink from a top producer,  adds a little lemon something or other to the tempranillo’s cherry fruit. It’s both welcome and interesting and a well-made wine. Highly recommended. Imported by Arano LLC

F. B. Schönleber Riesling Extra Brut 2013 ($22, sample, 13%): German sparkling isn’t common in the U.S., and this bubbly makes me wish that wasn’t the case. It’s a delicious, dry and minerally sparkling that exceeded all expectations. Highly recommended. Imported by Angels’ Share Wine Imports

Masseria Li Veli Primonero 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red, made with the negroamaro grape, has earth, dark black fruit and very Italian in structure and acidity. Fire up the social distancing barbecue. Imported by Li Veli USA

Photo:“Contest18A Mother” by FolsomNatural is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

More about Mother’s Day wine:
Mother’s Day wine 2019
Mother’s Day wine 2018
Mother’s Day wine 2017
Wine of the week: MAN Chenin Blanc 2018

Expensive wine 132: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2017

chateau montelena chardonnayThis vintage of the Chateau Montelena chardonnay shows once again the greatness of California wine

Full disclosure first: When we talked last month, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told me he read the blog and enjoyed it. Who am I to argue with his good sense?

Regardless, it’s easy to write nice things about the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, which I do every couple of years. This vintage ($50, sample, 13.9%) is again a testament to what makes California wine so wonderful – fresh, layered, sophisticated, and uniquely different from great wine anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the 2017 tastes completely different than the 2015. Which, as Crafton and I discussed last month, is part of the joy of wine. Truly take what the vineyard gives you, and let the wine speak for itself. Because what’s the point of making the same wine every year just to get 92 points?

The 2017 is still very, very young, and its fruit and spice won’t completely show themselves for at least several years. But the wine is still drinkable and quite enjoyable – some floral and apple-y aromas, a wonderful rich baked apple fruit precisely balanced with the rest of the wine, and a long, amazing, and chalky finish.

Highly recommended, and just the thing for Mother’s Day. Toast Mom with this, even if you can’t be with her, and appreciate life’s small pleasures in a time of uncertainty.

Expensive wine 131: Justin Isosceles 2015

Justin IsoscelesThe Justin Isosceles is a powerful, well made California red blend

The Wine Curmudgeon has always appreciated Justin’s wines, whether the $12 sauvingon blanc or the pricey, pricey red blends. It’s not necessarily a style I prefer, but the wines are always well made and aren’t as over the top as so many others.

The Justin Isosceles ($70, sample, 15%) is a case in point. On the one hand, this red blend (mostly cabernet sauvignon, with about equal parts merlot and cabernet franc) costs a lot of money, and especially for a wine from California’s Paso Robles region. Plus, that 15 percent alcohol screams “HOT FRUIT BOMB DESIGNED TO GET 96 POINTS!”

On the other hand, it’s not nearly as hot and as ripe as it could have been. Powerful, yes, in that fruit forward, California style. That means lots and lots of black fruit aroma, and it tastes of not too sweet cherry fruit. Plus, there is even a little spice, and the oak pushed just enough to the background so as not to get in the way. If it’s not subtle, it is mostly balanced, very layered, and well worth drinking (assuming the price doesn’t scare you off).

I’m not sure the Justin Isosceles is going to age all that well for that much longer, so it’s ready to drink now.