Category:Expensive wine

Expensive wine of the month 9: St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Michael Beaulac’s tenure as winemaker at Napa Valley’s St. Supery produced sensible, intelligent wines. He had a plan, and he stuck to it, regardless of what was going on in the wine world around him.

Case in point is the 2004 cabernet sauvignon ($30, sample). It’s clean and well-made, without any of the foolishness of so many Napa cabernets — overripe fruit, over-the-top alcohol, and missing tannins. It’s fruity, of course, because it’s from Napa (black cherry, perhaps), but there is also an earthiness absent from many similar wines. In this, it’s an excellent example of the difference between the Old World and New World styles, and one I wish more California winemakers kept in mind.

This is the wine to drink with holiday prime rib or to give as a gift; and, at $30, represents a bit of a value. I hope that Beaulac, who left St. Supery this year for Pine Ridge, was able to take some of this with him.

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Expensive wine of the month 8: Gaja Barbaresco 2005

The Gaja Barbaresco is an Italian wine with Old World tradition

One of the anchors of an ever changing wine world is a certain kind of Italian wine, which keeps what’s best about Italian style and tradition and combines it with modern winemaking techniques. The Gaja (about $175, sample) is such a wine. But why not? They have been making wine since 1859.

The Gaja is a red wine made with nebbiolo in the Barbaresco region (which is why it’s called a Barbaresco). It has that long Italian finish and incredible tannins that will solve the mystery of why tannins can make wine better. There is the requisite acidity and enough fruit so that U.S. palates won’t be disappointed. The alcohol is a bit high at 14 percent, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem. And you’ll even note the aroma of violets.

This is a wine to share with someone for a special occasion — roast pork or slowly braised beef will do. Open the Gaja at least an hour ahead of time and maybe longer. And if you want to buy it now and put it down, it should be good for 20 years or longer.

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Expensive wine of the month 7: Sandeman 10 Years Old Tawny

The Sandeman 10-year-old offers classic port flavors.

Port is little known in the U.S., and those who do know it figure it to be sweet, sticky wine preferred by old ladies with cats or harrumphing English gentlemen.

Port, in fact, is wine — legitimate, drink it like anything else wine. That we don't drink more of it in the States is a function of its price, for most port is expensive, and that we don't know nearly enough about it. (A concise port primer is here; for our purposes, it's enough to know that port is made like wine, but that fermentation is stopped to retain the sweetness and brandy is added to raise the alcohol level.)

The Sandeman (about $30, sample) is a good place to start to deal with both of those dilemmas. At $30, it's not as expensive as its big brother, the 20-year-old, which runs about $45. In addition, it offers classic port flavors like raisins and vanilla, with a wonderfully long pecan finish and a fine balance between the sweetness and its other characteristics. It's not sweet for sweet's sake, like a soft drink, but sweet in the way that a well-made dessert is.

Which makes sense, because port is first and foremost a dessert wine. There are suggested dessert pairings, including cheeses, but port is almost better on its own, served slighty chilled.

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Expensive wine of the month 6: Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Groth's 2006 cabernet sauvignon is $60 well spent. The Wine Curmudgeon ?s apprehension when he sees pricey Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is well known. There seem to be an infinite number of these wines and each seems to cost more than the next. (They also seem to be suffering greatly during the recession, but that ?s not news to regular visitors here.)

Which is why I ?m pleased to report that the Groth, for those with $60 to spend for a Napa cabernet, is $60 well spent. It compares more than favorably with more expensive wines of its kind, including those that cost $20 and $30 more. The Groth includes what ?s best about Napa cabernet ? the ripe, juicy cherry fruit ? and it doesn ?t have what isn ?t best. The oak is notably restrained, the fruit isn ?t over the top, the tannins are correct, and the alcohol is manageable at 14.9 percent.

This is, obviously, a food wine. Pair with classic red wine dinners like prime rib or rib eye, and save it for a special occasion, be it birthday, anniversary or holiday.

Expensive wine, July 2009 edition: Olivier Leflaive Meursault 2002

Some wine, like the Leflaive Meursault, delivers value for its $40. I found the Leflaive Meursault on a closeout a couple of years for $40. In my notes, I wrote: ?I overpaid for this, but it is a 2002. I'm going to let it sit for a couple of years, at least, and get my money's worth out of it. ?

Once again, the Wine Curmudgeon amazes himself with how little he knows about wine.

I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that. Leflaive is a top Burgundian producer and 2002 is a top Burgundian vintage. The wine more than lived up to its price, and my regret is that I didn ?t buy a second bottle. It was full of green apples, almost a clove-like spiciness, and the oak was wonderfully integrated. It was a bit young, but still eminently drinkable. I have a flock of $40 California chardonnay in the wine closet (white Burgundy is the same thing as chardonnay) that wouldn ?t come close to this in a trillion years.

I drank this with roast chicken, green noodles tossed with some of the chicken fat rendered during cooking, and a green salad with lettuce from the Wine Curmudgeon garden. Anyone who wonders why some of us get so excited about wine need to try that dinner, and they ?ll understand.

Expensive wine of the month, June: Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Icewine 2006

image And when the Wine Curmudgeon says expensive, he isn ?t kidding — $95 for a 375-milliliter bottle, or half the size of a normal wine bottle. But it certainly was fabulous wine.

Ice wine is usually made with white grapes, which give a better base for the acid the wine needs to balance with its rich, lush, sweetness. (Ice wine and dessert wine primer here.) That the Inniskillin was made with cabernet franc, which can be tricky to handle even as a table wine, speaks of the talent and daring of winemaker Bruce Nicholson.

So what does that mean for the wine? It ?s not as honey sweet as white ice wine, and the fruit is strawberry instead of lemon, lime or apricot. In this, the sweetness is different and surprising than what one expects from an ice wine. Think of strawberry ice cream taken to a place it has never been before. Drink this on its own, reasonably cook, and enjoy.

Expensive bottle of wine, May edition: Bressan Cru Pignol 1998


The Wine Curmudgeon does not often quote back label wine descriptions, but this is one of those times that it is warranted. Bressan, a producer in northeast Italy — where most of the wines that anyone has ever heard of are white — has this to say about its red Pignol: ?The flavour is almost hidden, as though it is fearful of being discovered. ?

I can ?t do better than that.

The Pignol (about $80) is one of the most interesting and unique wines I have ever tasted. How, at this age, it can still be almost too young to drink is amazing. I decanted the wine for an hour, and it wasn ?t enough. It kept changing over the next 90 minutes as we drank it, getting darker and more Italian over time. It was a completely different wine when we finished — less fruity, more acidic and more earthy. Pignol, incidentally, is the grape, one of those dozens of Italian varieties that are little known even in Italy.

Was it worth $80? Not if you're looking for something that you feel comfortable with, because it doesn't in any way resemble a Super Tuscan (or a Bordeaux or a Napa, for that matter). But if you want to try something that doesn't taste like what you ?d expect, something that is an example of old-fashioned regional Italian winemaking and Parker be damned, then take the chance. And it does need food — top-quality cooked sausages and the best hard cheese you can find, plus real European-style bread.