I don't have anything against expensive wine. I even drink it myself when the occasion arises. My point is that we expect everyone to drink expensive wine, whether they want to or know anything about it instead of realizing the limitations involved. It's like learning to drive — you don't start with a Lamborghini, do you?
In fact, I told the people on the show, I look for the same thing in expensive wine that I look for in cheap wine — value. And the Sauzet ($50, purchased) delivers on this count over and over and over. It's chardonnay from the French region of Burgundy, and specficailly the area called Puligny-Montrachet. In this, the wines are elegant and always in such balance that it's almost impossible to believe.
Sauzet is just one of many excellent producers from the area. The 2006, which I've tasted three times, has changed — and for the better — each time. Always, it's a mix of green apple fruit, spiciness (cloves or white pepper?) oak nestled in the background, and the minerality that defines this wine.
This would make a lovely gift for The Holiday That Must Not be Named, as well as for any dinner with someone you care about.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month
? Knez Pinot Noir 2010 ($30, sample): California red was OK as far as it went, but not very interesting. The various parts were there ? pinot smokiness and some black fruit ? but something was missing.
? Leese-Fitch Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($12, sample): A stunning grocery store white that I ?d drink again — just 13 percent alcohol and almost no fruit at all (for a California wine, anyway). Lots of grassiness on the aroma and an almost flinty finish.
? Camelot Chardonnay NV ($7, sample): Lots and lots of fake oak, though it does taste like California chardonnay if you like lots and lots of fake oak.
? Domaine Paul Blanck Riesling 2011 ($18, sample): Disappointing, especially considering how much I enjoy Alsace riesling. Too sweet for the alcohol level, and though it had the requisite amounts of petrol on the nose and soft, ripe white fruit, seemed out of balance.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Today, wines to enjoy over the Labor Day weekend:
? Schug Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2010 ($25, sample): Elegant chardonnay that is a huge bargain at this price. It retains California freshness and fruit while showing some of the length and breadth of a fine white Burgundy.
? Anne Amie Pinot Noir Cuv e A 2010 ($25, sample): Classic Oregon pinot (and always a favorite), with berry fruit and earthiness that balance each other, and a fine value at this price.
? Acrobat Pinot Noir Rose 2011 ($10, purchased): Nothing really wrong with this Oregon rose, but mildly disappointing if only because it ?s not up to the quality of the Acrobat pinot gris. Tastes of red fruit with almost sauvignon blanc-like acidity.
? Colores Del Sol Malbec 2010 ($12, sample): At $8, this is a nicely done grocery store wine, featuring the typical blueberry cola aroma. But, unfortunately, it doesn ?t cost $8.
The wine business doesn ?t have a national brand, in the way detergent has Tide or ketchup has Heinz. Those products are instantly recognizable, sold everywhere in the country, and seen as representative of their category.
What the wine business has, instead, is Kendall-Jackson. It ?s about the only brand sold everywhere that wine is sold, and even people who barely drink wine know Kendall-Jackson. And what was the big wine news when Barack Obama was elected president? That someone had seen K-J bottles in his Chicago home.
The chardonnay is the most ubiquitous of the Kendall-Jackson wines. It made the brand famous, and has been the best-selling chardonnay in the country for 20 years, according to the winery. Some 2.5 million cases are sold annually, which would make it the 12th biggest winery in the U.S., according to Wine Business Monthly.
The secret to the wine ?s success? Stuck fermentation, which the late Jess Jackson, who started the winery, pioneered in the early 1980s. In stuck fermentation, not all of the sugar in the grape juice is converted into alcohol during fermentation, which produces a sweeter wine.
?I picked this up at the grocery store just for the hell of it. The nose shows the expected buttered pear, but also some crisp green apple. The palate actually has some fresh acid, which I like. Crisp apple flavors, rounded out by some whipped butter. Not toasty at all, just pure buttered fruit. The acid on the finish keeps it balanced. This is not a serious wine, but it's very pleasant, albeit not very exciting. ?
That ?s a fine description of the wine (though ?whipped butter ? is a bit much), and is pretty much what it tastes like. What surprised me were how those flavors and qualities were so noticeable, when in most wines at this price (and I ?ve seen it for as little as $10), you have to hunt for them. This is not a shy wine.
But the tasting note is written entirely from the perspective of someone who doesn ?t think the wine is worth writing about. And that ?s the thing about K-J and its wines that always baffles me. It takes effort to make the wine taste that way year after year, because the key to grocery store wines is consistency of quality. Consumers will forgive one lesser vintage, but after that, it ?s on to the next cute label.
In this, K-J also pioneered something taken for granted these days ? the professionally made wine, produced every year without flaws or off-tastes. When I started drinking wine in the 1980s, it was all too common to find wines that were oxidized or made with unripe fruit or tainted in some way. That almost never happens anymore, and today ?s arguments about wine quality are about styles and not whether the wine is technically well made.
No doubt I wax too metaphysical. K-J and Jackson ?s successors probably don ?t care about that. What ?s a 92 in the Spectator when your chardonnay is bigger than all but 11 wineries in the U.S.?
? Wine Guerrilla Rebel Cru 2009 ($25, sample): Powerful zinfandel red blend with massive fruit, almost 15 percent alcohol and very little subtlety. If you like that style of wine, you're going to love this. Excellent example of post-modern California winemaking.
? Embotellado Rioja 2010 ($12, sample): Lots of red fruit in the middle. Nothing really wrong with it if you want a fruit forward wine that tastes like Australia but comes from Spain.
One of the myths about the wine business is that wine needs to age. Most wine doesn't, of course. Buy it and drink it and neither the drinker nor the wine will be worse off. That's something that most people, and even those who drink a lot of wine, are often confused about.
Hence it's always a treat to taste wine where aging is part of the wine's makeup. Generally, these are expensive, Old World wines; California high-end producers have a love-hate relationship with aging wine, though there are certainly some California wines that age well and producers who care about it.
The Boillot ($30, purchased) is a good example of how aging works (and comes from a solid, if lesser known, producer in Burgundy). It's chardonnay that is ready to drink now, and doesn't seem tight or jumbled the way younger wines that are made to age sometimes do. In other words, you can taste all the flavors — they're distinct and one doesn't dominate the mix. In this case, that means pears and some apples, even a little honey, and the minerality that is so crucial to these wines. There was a little more oak than I expected, but it still had all of Puligny's rich and lush fruit and character.
The other thing about aging? Wines can fade, and get worse, not better. The Boillot is ready to drink now. Hold it for much longer, and the fruit will go away and the wine will, literally, lose flavor. Now, though? A great gift or something to serve for a fancy holiday dinner where you pull out all of the stops. Cream sauce, even.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:
? Stag's Leap Merlot 2004 ($35, sample): Cleaning out the wine cellar, and found this gorgeous, beautiful wine. Tastes like Napa, with deep, luscious black fruit, but with other qualities that make for a wonderful wine, including a long chalky finish and a full, rich middle.
? Flat Creek Estate Pinot Grigio 2010 ($18, purchased): Texas white wine that sits between tonic Italian pinot grigio (has more lemon) and fruit forward Oregon pinot gris. There was something odd in the back that bothered me, but may not bother anyone else. And it would be a better value at $14 or $15.
? De Bortoli Sauvignon Blanc Emeri NV ($11, sample): Very odd, but intriguing, Australian bubbly made with sauvignon blanc. Sweet tropical fruit but not as much citrus as one would expect. Less tight and bubbly than cava, but not as soft as some Italian sparklers. Keep in mind for the holidays.