Category:Wine reviews

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

Christmas wine 2018

christmas wine 2018Four recommendations for Christmas wine 2018

Suggestions for Christmas wine 2018, whether for a last minute gift or for a holiday dinner. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind — don’t overlook the blog’s 2018 holiday gift guide.

These will get you started:

Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International

Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA

Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

Librandi Rosso Classico 2015 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red is made with the almost unknown gaglioppo grape, which may or may not be related to sangiovese. That means quite Italian in style (earthiness and grip), but more ripe red fruit than a Chianti. Interesting and very well done. Imported by Winebow

More about Christmas wine:
Christmas wine 2017
Christmas wine 2016
Christmas wine 2015
Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014
Expensive wine 114: Alberto Nanclares Dandelion Albarino 2016

 

Wine of the week: Henry Fessy Gamay Noir 2016

Henry Fessy gamayThe Henry Fessy gamay noir is a quality red at a more than fair price — and just in time for the holidays

The cheap wine gods have taken pity on the Wine Curmudgeon. Maybe it was all the plonk I drank this year, or that I had to write the same things over and over in 2018 – sweet when it’s supposed to be dry, over-ripe with too much alcohol, and not varietally correct. Because the cheap wine gods put the Henry Fessy gamay on a store shelf where I could find it.

The Henry Fessy gamay noir ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of red wine that used to be relatively easy to find but is a rarity in our Big Wine, sweet and smooth 21st century world. This French red is delicious, but more importantly, it’s varietally correct: It’s made with the gamay grape, so that means not quite tart berry fruit instead of the flabby softness that is all too common in cheap Beaujolais. Plus, there is a bit of zip, a lick of baking spice, and refreshing tannins. Missing is any hint of focus-group inspired smoothness or of residual sugar hiding behind fake oak and handfuls of added acidity.

This wine tastes like it should cost $17 or $18 instead of $12 (and I bought it on sale for $10). So what’s going on here? First, gamay isn’t a grape that gets much respect, even in France, and that tends to lower the price. Second, it’s not an appellation wine, but a vin de France, where the grapes came from anywhere in the country and which also lowers the price. Third, the producer is known for quality, high-end Beaujolais, so we get the expertise without the cost.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. This is the kind of wine to buy by the case and drink when you want a glass of quality at a more than fair price.

Imported by Louis Latour

 

Wine of the week: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay 2016

Domaine de Bernier chardonnayThe Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay, a French white, is just this close to being named 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year

The Wine Curmudgeon rarely questions what other people think about what they drink. After all, it’s part of the blog’s reason for being. But this comment, on wine-searcher.com discussing the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay, is worth noting:

“Light on flavor, but good nose. Not as good as Yellow Tail.”

Arghhhhhhhhhh.

Taste, of course, is relative. But to say that tarted up Yellow Tail chardonnay, fortified with residual sugar and pumped full of fake oak, tastes better than this French white from the Loire region? That’s like saying I enjoy spending $100 on 92-point Wine Spectator Napa cabernet sauvignons.

No, Yellow Tail is not better than the Domaine de Bernier chardonnay ($10, purchased, 12%). The wines are just different. That’s the point of wine, something that I have been trying to get across for 11 years. Obviously, I still have some work to do.

The Domaine de Bernier is $10 Hall of Fame wine, an unoaked chardonnay that tastes exactly like it’s supposed to taste: Wonderful green apple aroma, clean and crisp, a bit of apple and pear fruit, no oak, and a little minerality. I drank it with spaghetti with clam sauce, and the wine was gone before I realized it. If it wasn’t a little thin on the back, I’d name it the 2019 Cheap Wine of the Year here and now.

The Yellow Tail comment speaks to the danger of buying wine on price, which happens more and more given the sad state of cheap wine. The reasoning goes: “I like Yellow Tail, and it’s $10 chardonnay, so let me try this $10 chardonnay.” That approach, though, overlooks the differences in the wines, that the Domaine de Bernier is not supposed to taste like the Yellow Tail. The former is more subtle – a food wine instead of a cocktail wine. A French wine, and not an Australian wine. A wine shop wine instead of a grocery store wine.

And those differences are OK. All I ask is that wine drinkers try to understand why they exist and use that knowledge when they buy wine. Otherwise, we’ll continue to be stuck with overpriced, poorly made plonk.

Imported by Vineyard Brands

Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014

cune crianzaCVNE’s Cune Crianza is a red Spanish wine that delivers tremendous value and quality

Spanish wine still offers some of the best value in the world. And, whenever the Wine Curmudgeon despairs about the future of cheap wine, I drink something Spanish like CVNE’s Cune Crianza and feel better.

The Cune Crianza ($13, purchased, 13.5%) is everything an inexpensive Spanish Rioja (a red wine made with tempranillo from the Rioja region in northern Spain) should be. It’s varietally correct, with that faint orange peel aroma, not quite ripe cherry fruit, and a bit of earth and a touch of minerality. The touch of oak offers a little vanilla, but it’s in the background and doesn’t take over the wine. In this, there is a tremendous amount of structure for a crianza – the least expensive class of Rioja, and one that sees little of the oak aging that helps to provide structure.

And yes, it’s worth the extra two or three dollars – especially when you consider the alternative is something likes this.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and the $2019 Cheap Wine of the Year. The past year has not been kind to cheap wine, but the CVNE Cune Crianaza is a reminder about what is possible.

Imported by Europvin

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

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Bianco 2015

Zirtari BiancoThe Feudo Zirtari Bianco is an astonishing $10 white wine, and especially given how old it is

This Italian white blend from Sicily is not supposed to be this enjoyable. First, it’s too old – who ever heard of a $10 white wine lasting more than a couple of vintages? Second, the producer’s wines are notoriously inconsistent, and my notes are littered with lines like “not as good as the last one.” Nevertheless, the Zirtari Bianco is $10 Hall of Fame quality cheap wine.

Which, of course, is one of the joys of doing this – finding a wine like the Zirtari Bianco ($10, purchased, 13.5%) when I don’t expect to find anything at all. It’s a blend of insolia, a native Sicilian grape, and chardonnay. Hence, the sum is far greater than its parts, given the usual quality of Sicilian chardonnay.

Look for spice (white pepper, nutmeg?), almonds, and pear fruit, which is a surprisingly delicious combination considering the two grapes that have been blended together. Plus, it’s not thin in the mouth or on the finish, which is what usually happens with a three-year-old cheap white wine.

Highly recommended, but there is a conundrum: Should you try to find this vintage, and hope it held up as well as my bottle did? Or should you buy the current vintage and hope that it’s as well made as this one? I don’t have an answer, though it’s almost certainly easier to find the current vintage.

Imported by Santa Margherita USA