Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine 28: Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay 2007

Robert Mondavi sold his self-named company to Constellation Brands in 2004, which means that at least a generation of wine drinkers knows Mondavi only as a name on a bottle of wine they see at the grocery store. Such are the vagaries of family businesses.

If they had known the pre-Constellation Mondavi, or even the pre-publicly traded Mondavi, though, the chardonnay ($40, sample) is the kind of wine they would have associated with the winery. Mondavi made his name not only by marketing Napa Valley (and, by extension, the rest of California), but by making some terrific wine. Talk to the old-timers, and they still wax poetic about the 1979 reserve cabernet, and many remember when Mondavi was about wine and not corporate wheeling and dealing.

Enjoy this wine and imagine what could have been. The chardonnay, frankly, stunned the Wine Curmudgeon with its style and complexity. I was expecting a heavy-handed, post-modern approach — too rich, too overdone and too much of everything else. Instead, I found — dare I say — classicism. This is a wine in balance, with acid to offset the wonderful green apple fruit and enough oak to show it's there but not to overwhelm the wine. Drink this on its own with someone you care about or for a special occasion dinner. Highly recommended.

Wine my brother drinks 3: Quintessa 1997

My brother Jim is a wine aficionado of some repute, though he hangs out in much more rarefied wine circles than I do. His thoughts on Quintessa, a big-deal Napa red wine not usually seen around these parts. It's part of a feature that appears occasionally — Wine my brother drinks. Jim writes:

In-laws arrived for a four-day visit so, of course, the order of the day was to start drinking.  Not that I don't like seeing them, but sharing your very personal space with anyone takes a bit of numbing.  Dinner was lasagna, so I reached into the back of the Eurocave for a 1997 Quintessa which was given to me by a good friend who I am pretty sure only drinks Quintessa. The old "Stick with what you know and like" theory of wine drinking.

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Expensive wine 26: Chateau Lafon-Rochet 1995

What better way to describe this wine than with a quote from my pal Jim Serroka. Jim drinks wine, but is not as serious about it as the Wine Curmudgeon. As such, he often provides much needed perspective. Said Jim: "This is what I thought wine was supposed to taste like."

The Lafon-Rochet ($60, gift) is a big-deal Bordeaux wine, a fourth-growth from Saint-Estephe on Bordeaux's left bank. Fourth-growth means the winery was included in the 1855 rankings of French wine, which classified the wineries in five groups, one (the best) to five; it's still the way left-bank Bordeaux wine is rated by the French. Saint-Estephe, meanwhile, is one of the world's great wine regions, if not quite up to Margaux and Paulliac.

As such, Lafon-Rochet has always been considered a value for this kind of wine. It provides Bordeaux quality, especially for older vintages, without the ridiculous cash outlay that so much Bordeaux requires. That's one reason why my brother, who gave me the bottle, bought it.

The Lafon-Rochet has aged well, and this is a silky, velvety wine. It still has discreet black fruit and those wonderful Bordeaux aromas — mushrooms, forest floor and the like. The oak and fruit are tightly integrated, and the finish seems to go on forever. Don't expect to find New World-style tannins and acid. They're not there, partly from the aging, partly from the style of winemaking, and partly because this wine has more merlot than most left-bank Bordeaux, which focus on cabernet sauvignon. And yes, it would make a nice Father's Day gift for those thinking that far ahead.

Expensive wine 25: King Estate Pinot Noir Signature 2008

What's better than an expensive wine that deserves a review? An expensive wine that is marked down from its suggested list price.

The Wine Curmudgeon is a fan of Oregon's King Estate, which makes more expensive wines but almost always does so with value in mind. Its pinot noirs are an excellent example of this. They're not quite as pricey as their California and Oregon counterparts, but always seem to deliver just as much quality. And their Acrobat line is about as close as you'll get to top-notch discounted pinot noir and pinot gris.

The Signature ($29, sample) is no exception. It's classic Oregon pinot noir — some cherry fruit, minimal tannins, enough acid to offset the fruit, and only 13 percent alcohol. In this, it's the way pinot noir should be — lighter and more delicate than cabernet sauvignon and merlot, which is something that too many pinot producers have lost sight of.

And the price? This is a previous vintage, and when it arrived at the end of last year, the wine cost $34. Today, it's listed on the King web site for $29, and a quick Wine-Searcher check found it for as little as $20. Considering the awful, tannic and harsh pinots that cost $20, this is a steal.

Wine my brother drinks 2: E. Guigal La Turque

image from www.vinfolio.com My brother Jim is a wine aficionado of some repute, though he hangs out in much more rarefied wine circles than I do. His thoughts on E. Guigal's 1994 and 1996 La Turque, two Cote-Roties from a venerable producer. It's part of a feature that appears occasionally — Wine my brother drinks. Jim writes:

"I probably paid a bit too much for these single bottles in the late 90's, $150 a piece, but my logic at the time was that Guigal is a quality house, these were one of their premier offerings, and I'm a big Rhone fan. Which is exactly counter intuitive as to why I like Rhones in the first place, which is value. So I was behind the eight ball from the get-go. And so, like most of us, I decided that I would wait for a "special occasion" to bust these out. The problem with that is that there are always other "special occasion" bottles in the cellar, so the tendency is to let the bottles sit. Bad move."

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Expensive wine 24: Signaterra/Benziger Three Blocks Sonoma Valley 2006

I don’t know that I’ve ever had an unpleasant wine from Benziger Family Winery, dating to the time when its sauvignon blanc (which is no longer made) was a regular in the $10 Hall of Fame. Benziger is a pioneer in organic and sustainable wines, and remains a family business — which is saying something in California these days. More importantly, the family makes quality wines, and especially in the $15 to $25 range where so much of what California produces is chain wine made to get a certain score.

The Signaterra ($50, sample) highlights what Benziger does so well. It’s a red blend that is true to its terroir and to the varietal character of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot used to make it. It’s still a young wine, and will improve with age. But you can drink it now, for the tannins, acid and alcohol are already in balance. It’s full of dark and cherryish flavors, but it will probably get darker and less fruity as it gets older.

This is a fancy dinner wine, the sort of thing one serves when the in-laws come over or the boss is angling for an invitation. It’s a red meat wine as well, prime rib and the like.

Expensive wine 23: Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

The Wine Curmudgeon's feelings about expensive California cabernet sauvignon are well known: Over-oaked, over-extracted, over-ripe and over-priced.

And then I tasted the Chalk Hill ($50, sample) and marvelled again at what talented winemakers can do with quality grapes. It's certainly Sonoma County wine, with black fruit and moderate (for Sonoma, anyway) 14.5 percent alcohol.

But there was an angularity to it that was quite appealing, some edges and rough spots that one normally doesn't find in these kinds of lush, ripe wines. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was an herbal character, which is a mark of red Bordeaux. But even the impression of herbal is more than one gets in most wines of this style.

Very nicely done, and even a value as these things go. It would make a fine gift for The Holiday that Must not be Named, or as the center piece for a classic red wine dinner.