Tag Archives: chardonnay

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

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

Expensive wine 112: Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 2015

Chateau Montelena ChardonnayThe Chateau Montelena chardonnay remains classic California white wine

The Big Guy and I were drinking pricey California chardonnay, which is probably worth a blog post all by itself given our devotion to white Burgundy. The point here, though, is that the wines we tasted, which included the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, reminded us that California producers can make some of the best wine in the world.

The Chateau Montelena chardonnay ($48, purchased, 13.5%) remains the kind of California wine that helped earn the world’s attention at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. It’s elegant and balanced, without the too much of one thing or another that makes me crazy when I taste high-end California chardonnay. Yes, some of my colleagues may consider this a fuddy-duddy approach to winemaking, but it’s their problem if they can’t appreciate grace and virtuosity.

What makes the Chateau Montelena chardonnay so classic? Taste this – even just one sip – and you can tell it’s Napa Valley chardonnay. That means more fruit (a lovely, barely ripe green apple) and an undercurrent of minerality, as well as layers of structure. The oak is decidedly New World, but it isn’t over the top and will integrate into the wine over the next several years.

Highly recommended. This is a delicious wine that will only get better over the next five years and could last even longer.

Mini-reviews 111: Geyser Peak, Castle Rock, Ranch 32, Tyrell’s

geyser peakReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This, month, a highly recommended white and red:

Geyser Peak Chardonnay Water Bend 2016 ($18, sample, 14.5%): California white that tastes like coconut and pineapple – another example of the post-modern, better living through winemaking approach that dominates so much wine at this price. Coconut and pineapple are ideal for an ice cream sundae, but probably not the way chardonnay should taste.

Castle Rock Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This vintage of the Oregon red is not what the 2015 was, unfortunately – a little brambly black fruit aroma, but too heavy and not very interesting. It tastes like it has lots of something in it besides pinot noir, a practice that is legal and not uncommon for less expensive pinot noirs.

Ranch 32 Pinot Noir 2016 ($17, sample, 13.5%) If all $17 wine tasted like this California red, I wouldn’t rant about $17 wine. It’s got actual pinot noir character – almost silky, with precise black fruit and actual oak that lends to the wine and doesn’t dominate it. Highly recommended.

Tyrell’s Semillon 2016 ($22, purchased, 11%): This white is another brilliant Australian wine that was lost in the disaster that was 15 percent shiraz and that the Aussie wine business is still recovering from. It’s somehow balanced, soft and crisp and with lots of fresh stone fruit, and balanced. Highly recommended. Imported by Broadbent Selections

Mini-reviews 110: Aldi wine, Bota Box, Chammisal, Jean Bousquet

chardonnayReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, four critically-challenged chardonnays

Broken Clouds Chardonnay 2016 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): I desperately wanted to like this Aldi private label white from California, But it’s a “least common denominator” wine – made to appeal to the most people possible without regard for quality. It’s the same price as Bogle or McManis, but not nearly as well made thanks to the cloying vanilla fake oak and the hint of sweetness. One more example of how Aldi and Lidl aren’t doing in the U.S. what they do in Europe.

Bota Box Chardonnay NV ($15/3-liter box, sample, 13%): This California white, about $4 a bottle, is, sadly, is what everyone thinks boxed wine tastes like. There’s a little chardonnay character, but it’s bitter and tannic thanks to what seems to be the poor quality grapes used to get the price so low. Plus, it tastes like the stems and seeds were crushed with the grapes, which would be the cause of the off-putting flavors.

Chamisal Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($16, sample, 13.5%): This California white is heavy, somehow hot, and oaky though it’s not supposed to have oak. Plus, it’s very warm climate – tropical fruit instead of crisper green apple. In other words, almost everything I don’t like in California chardonnay. Having said that, if that’s your style, enjoy.

Domaine Jean Bousquet Chardonnay 2018 ($12, sample, 13.5): This Argentine white is grocery store chardonnay that would be OK at $8 or $9, but is overpriced here. Plus, it’s not especially crisp the way an unoaked, cool climate chardonnay should be. It just sort of sits in the glass and you don’t really care whether you finish it or not.

Wine review: Four Target California Roots wines

Target California Roots winesThese four Target California Roots wines don’t do anything to help the cause, and three of them aren’t even worth the $5 they cost

The Wine Curmudgeon wanted to write a glowing, “run out and buy these wines” review. Those of us who care about cheap wine need the good news. But these four Target California Roots wines aren’t much better than the $3 junk I tasted earlier this year – sadly, more marketing hype than wine, and where the back labels are of higher quality than the wine.

For instance, why does $5 wine have a cork? Why do the bottles have a punt (albeit shallow)? Why is the phrase “vinted in the Golden State” on every bottle? Why should I care? Why is not one of the wines labeled sweet, including the moscato, when my mouth felt like cotton candy at the end of the tasting?

The wines were purchased; each cost $5. My Target didn’t have the red blend, the fifth wine. Read and weep:

California Roots Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (13.5%): Smells like boysenberry juice, tastes too much like children’s cough syrup, and finishes with that old Big Wine standby, charred chocolate fake oak. It’s not so much that it doesn’t taste like cabernet, but that it’s overpriced at $5.

California Roots Chardonnay 2016 (13.5%): This smells like chardonnay, with lots of green apples, and I had high hopes I could write something nice. But the wine is so thin – diluted apple juice for babies? – that it had almost no flavor at all, save for a bit of sweetness. I’ve never tasted chardonnay made in the style of cheap, inoffensive pinot grigo.

California Roots Pinot Grigio 2016 (13.5%): Professional and competent wine, even if it’s not exactly pinot grigio. Think Costco’s Kirkland pinot grigio (pears and tonic water), but with appropriate amounts of sugar to cover up any bitterness and to round out the rough spots.

California Roots Moscato 2016 (10%): Not quite as sweet as white zinfandel, but that’s the approach. There’s a hint of the characteristic orange aroma of the muscat family, but everything else is sugar. And then a little more sugar just to be on the safe side.

Christmas wine 2017

christmas wine 2017Four choices for Christmas wine 2017 to help you enjoy the holiday

Suggestions for Christmas wine 2017, whether for a last minute gift or for a holiday dinner. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind:

Ken Forrester Petit Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): Top-notch South African pink from one of my favorite producers. More in the Loire style, even though it uses Rhone grapes (grenache and a little viognier), so less fruit (unripe strawberry) and more stoniness and minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by USA Wine Imports.

Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 2013 ($79, purchased, 13%): My favorite white Burgundy, and perhaps my favorite chardonnay in the word. This vintage is more tropical than I expected (lime and almost banana fruit), but still crisp, minerally, and white Burgundy-like. And the oak, with hints of pecan and caramel, is a revelation, a master class in how to age wine. A tip o’ the WC fedora to the Big Guy, who brought it to a recent wine lunch. Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for someone who loves wine. Imported by Vineyard Brands.

Bervini Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($18, sample, 11%): Old-fashioned Italian bubbly, the kind we drank in the 1960s and ’70s — more fizzy than sparkling, a touch sweet, and balanced with raspberry fruit. It’s well made and fun to drink, but price might turn some people off. Imported by WineTrees USA.

Silver Totem Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($16, sample, 13.5%): An amazing Washington state red wine that comes from Big Wine producer Banfi, but tastes like Washington state cabernet. Everything is where it is supposed to be — some heft, some rich dark fruit but not too ripe, and enough acidity so the wine is more than smooth. Highly recommended.

More about Christmas wine:
Christmas wine 2016
Christmas wine 2015
Christmas wine 2014
Expensive wine 101: Franco-Espanolas Bordon Gran Reserva 2005
Expensive wine 104: Dönnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Riesling Spätlese 2014