Category:Wine of the week

Wine of the week: Armand Roux Carousel NV

I stumbled on this when I needed an inexpensive, French-style sparkling wine to use for the white wine tasting at my Cordon Bleu class. I was quite overwhelmed by its quality and its $8 price.

The wine, made with French chardonnay, comes from the Armand Roux company, best known for the L ?Epayri jug wines. But there is nothing jug-like about the Carousel. It’s dry, clean, and crisp with decent bubbles, and it doesn’t have any of the off-flavors or sweetness that inexpensive sparkling wine sometimes shows. It’s not as tight as similarly-priced Spanish sparklers; whether this is an advantage or not depends on how you feel about cavas like Cristalino.

I’m not quite sure that it’s as food friendly as the Spanish wines (it doesn’t have as much acid), but serve it chilled for summer porch sipping or Sunday morning brunch and you’ll be more than happy.

Wine of the week: Frei Bros. Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2006

image I have never been completely sold on California sauvignon blanc, especially for wines that cost $16 or less. They’re not necessarily poorly made; rather, the style is kind of wishy-washy — not New Zealand and not Sancerre, but not especially California, either.

Which brings us to the Frei Bros. (about $16), which does seem to have found a certain Sonoma style — not especially citrusy, but with some tropical fruit, a bit of grassiness and a long, pleasing finish not often found in wines of this price. It’s more than a solid value.

In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the entire Frei line. The operation, run by the Gallo empire, has improved the wines with this vintage, focusing on what it get can from the grapes and not what it wants to turn the wine into. Even more impressive than the sauvignon blanc was the pinot noir, a fine example of what can be accomplished in California (though pricey at around $25).

Wine of the week: Bonny Doon Syrah Le Pousseur 2005

Syrah_le_pousseur_2005-400pxI have written very nice things about Bonny Doon and winemaker Randall Grahm recently. And, ordinarily, I’d slow down. But he keeps making such terrific wine that I’m almost compelled to keep writing nice things.

Take, for example, this syrah (about $20). It tastes almost nothing like any New World  syrah — none of the over-the-top inkiness of Australian shiraz and no overdone California fruit. In fact, it has quite a few French-style syrah elements to it, including a wonderfully funky aroma. And regular readers know that if the Wine Curmudgeon recommend a wine that costs more than $10 or $12, it must be really, really good.

Having said that, don’t drink this if you’re expecting one of those high alcohol, incredibly unsubtle, jammy-to-the-point-of-no-return syrahs. But if you want a deep, dark, rich, well-balanced red wine, drink it with barbecue and grilled steaks.

Wine of the week: Tormaresca Neprica 2006

image One of the rules of this business is that one should only write about wines that are locally available. After all, what’s the point in waxing poetic about a wine that no one can buy?

Which brings us to the Neprica, a sample of which arrived this week and which I tasted immediately. That’s because it’s a $10 Italian red blend from Tormaresca, a very reliable producer that understands how to combine quality and value.

In fact, this wine is so good that I’m going to break the availability rule. Since I just got the sample, the wine probably isn’t in most stores yet. Never mind. Go to your local retailer and tell them to order some.

The Neprica is made with a local grape called negroamaro, plus primitivo and cabernet sauvignon. It’s darker in flavor than chianti, but it’s still low in alcohol and it’s not aged in oak. The latter gives it a fresher favor. I drank this with spaghetti and tomato sauce with mushrooms, and my only regret was that I didn’t have another bottle.

Wine of the week: Les Jamelles Sauvignon Blanc 2006

image The French, who once supplied the world with quality cheap wine, have been mostly supplanted by the Australians and the Chileans over the past decade. This has caused not just consternation within the French wine industry, but serious financial difficulty.

Some producers, realizing the crisis, have made significant changes to their products. They use better quality grapes, have upgraded their production techniques, and have adjusted their pricing to compete with $7 bottles of Yellow Tail. They understand that consumers will not pay a 10 or 20 percent premium because the wine label has some French on it.

Case in point is the Les Jamelles, one of the finest $10 sauvignon blancs — one of the finest sauvignon blancs at any price — that the Wine Curmudgeon has tasted in a long while. This is French sauvignon blanc the way it used to be — cheap, tasty and complete. There’s hardly any citrus, because Les Jamelles understands that French wine is not supposed to taste like New Zealand wine. It does have some tropical flavor,  mostly pineapple, as well as the minerality that French sauvignon blancs are supposed to have.

Drink this, chilled, on its own, or with seafood, salads or grilled chicken.

Wine of the week: Peirano Estate Petite Sirah 2006

Ask someone from Napa what they think of Lodi, and you’ll get a snicker. “Oh, do they make wine up there?”

Which is one reason why the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine from Lodi so much, and especially wine from Peirano Estate. Regular visitors might know Peirano from The Other, the winery’s red and white blends.

Peirano, and Lodi wines in general, are well-made, offer value, and aren’t pretentious. Case in point is the petite sirah ($15). Petite sirah is related to syrah, but has its own character and flavor. It’s a little deeper and the fruit flavors aren’t quite as jammy. The Peirano has lots of deep, dark rich plummy flavor, but it’s not as overwhelming as a shiraz. You can even drink on its own, though it’s better with food. Serve this with pizza with tomato sauce and sausage, for example, or grilled hamburgers with lots grilled onions and mushrooms.

Wine of the week: Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2006

image Some wines are like old friends. You may only talk to them once or twice a year, but when you do, you pick up the conversation where you left off and it’s like no time has passed.

This is one of those wines. I don’t drink it often, but when I do, I am reminded of why I like it so much. It’s not expensive (about $13), it’s always well made, and it solves a variety of food pairing dilemmas.

Chenin blanc gets a bad rap in this country, while viognier is very little known. The former is often badly made in a sweet style, while not enough winemakers understand the possibilities that viognier offers. At Pine Ridge, those are not problems.

This vintage is what wine types call off dry, with floral aromas and a clean finish. This means it’s sweet enough for spicy food like Thai and Cajun, but not so sweet that those who like dry wine will spit it out. All wineries should be this consistent in quality from year to year.

I need to remember to drink this more often.