Tag Archives: expensive wine

Expensive wine 117: Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve NV

Jean Vesselle Brut ReserveForget scores: The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve is amazingly wonderful Champagne

The Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve, as delicious and as well made a Champagne as I’ve had in years, shows once again why scores are useless. Its average on CellarTracker (the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software) is 88 points, or about what a quality bottle of $10 wine would get.

Because if the Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve ($44, purchased, 12%) is an 88-point wine, I’m Robert Parker.

This is an exquisite bottle of Champagne, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. It has layers and layers of flavor, including some of the yeasty creaminess that most high-end bubbly drinkers require of Champagne. But it’s so much more than than: A completely unexpected burst of crisp, wonderfully ripe red apple fruit followed by an almost spicy finish and tiny, tight bubbles popping to the top of the glass. In this, it’s bone dry and certainly not your grandfather’s Champagne, and I’m almost certain that accounts for the crummy scores.

Highly recommended, and as enjoyable with food (eggs at brunch, certainly, but also roast chicken) as it is for celebrations. Which is how I drank it – honoring my long-time pal and colleague James MacFayden, who is returning to his native Britain after more than two decades in the U..S. James will be much missed – not only for his fine palate, but for his bounty of Monty Python references.

Imported by North Berkeley Imports

Expensive wine 116: Hedges Family Estate La Haute Curvee 2014

Hedges La Haute Cuvee.The Hedges La Haute Cuvee is top-notch Washington state cabernet sauvignon

Hedges Family Estate has been part of the good fight for quality wine, transparency, and fair value for years. Its $13 CMS red and whites are well made and almost always worth buying, and the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys tasting its more expensive wines, like the Hedges La Haute Cuvee whenever I get a chance.

Hence, my anticipation when I opened the Hedges La Haute Cuvee ($50, sample, 13.5%). It’s Washington state caberent sauvignon that speaks to terroir and the difference between the state’s Red Mountain appellation and those in California and France. It’s not as rich and opulent as a Napa Valley caberent, nor as taut and firm as a great red Bordeaux. It’s different – and that’s the joy, for all wine is not supposed to taste the same.

Look for lots of black fruit (blackberry?), though aging has mellowed the fruit’s power a bit; some baking spices (cinnamon?) and even a intimation of cocoa; beautifully soft and integrated tannins, and a fine balance. One key to this wine: aging in older oak, to complement the fruit instead of overwhelming it. This is a wine that has aged magnificently, and should continue to do so for at least another five to seven years.

Pair this with red meat (I drank it with homemade mushroom and pecan sausage), and enjoy what Washington state has learned about making top-notch red wine.

Mini-reviews 116: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

New Year's wineReviews 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: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not

Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.

Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%):  Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.

Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.

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

Expensive wine 114: Alberto Nanclares Dandelion Albarino 2016

nanclares dandelion albarinoThe Nanclares Dandelion albarino is not only worth what it costs, buts shows how stunning an albarino can be

The Wine Curmudgeon paid $23 for the Nanclares Dandelion albarino, and I will pay it again. And again. And again. It’s not only worth the money, but it’s one of the best albarinos I’ve ever tasted. It puts most of those $17 and $18 albarinos – which sell only because the grape has become hip and with it – to shame.

The Nanclares Dandelion albarino ($23, purchased, 13..5%) is savory and salty in a way that other albarinos can only dream about, even though that’s one of their reasons for being. The albarino grape, used to make this white wine, is grown in the Rias Baizas in on Spain’s Atlantic coast, and it’s accepted as fact that the location lends an oceany, almost saline flavor to the wine.

Most albarinos, including several highly regarded ones, focus on tart lemon fruit, and the savory character is a second thought. In this wine, though, the lemon fruit is in the background. That means the wine isn’t as tart, and has a much richer mouth feel. In all, more complex, more subtle, and more enjoyable

Highly recommended, and especially for a holiday celebration with shrimp, lobster, and even turkey. This is yet another wine that proves that prices can make a difference when the winemaker makes wine for the consumer and not for scores.

Imported by Llaurador Wines

 

Expensive wine 113: Justin Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Justin Cabernet SauvignonThe Justin cabernet sauvignon shows off Paso Robles’ terroir in an enjoyable and value-oriented approach

The Justin cabernet sauvignon is so approachable and so well put together that I had to look twice at the label. Could this really be a red wine from the Paso Robles region of California, which is best known for ripe, almost over the top efforts?

It is, and is yet another label from Justin that shows off the wine and not the winemaker. In this, the Justin cabernet sauvignon ($27, sample, 14%) does something I wish more high-end California producers did: Make wine and not points. This vintage shows it’s possible to to combine Paso Robles’ rich, full style with wine that most of us will enjoy drinking.

Call the Justin cabernet sauvignon a surprisingly well mannered Paso Robles cabernet. That means structure, with aromas of cedar, mint, and green herbs, and flavors of rich black fruit. The tannins are soft, but they’re there, so they balance all that fruit. Perhaps most surprising? That the wine is still quite young, and will get deeper and more complex as it ages. It’s amazing how interesting a wine can be when the producer takes the terroir into account.

Highly recommended, and a value at this price. And yes, it’s even a Thanksgiving wine, and especially if the alternative is a sweet, insipid, 14.5 percent pinot noir that costs $35.

 

The growth of ultra-expensive wine

expensive wineDoes the increasing popularity of ultra-expensive wine mean wine has become a collectible and not something to drink?

The Big Guy, who hangs out with a better class of wine drinker than I do, forwarded me the auction company email: “Can you believe the prices of these wines?” he wrote. The list was expensive wine run amok – impressive labels, certainly, but prices that even I had trouble comprehending:

• $8,500 for a bottle of red Burgundy.

• $1,000 for two bottles of an 1872 Madeira.

• $40,000 for a case of 2000 Petrus, perhaps the Holy Grail of wine collecting.

• $4,750 for a magnun of another red Burgundy.

Which raises a host of questions: Who buys these wines? Do they actually drink them? And, of course, the one that has always fascinated me – how does one justify paying thousands of dollars for a bottle of wine?

Because spending that kind of money happens all of the time. It’s just not auctions, but includes trading on Liv-Ex, a stock exchange for wine. In this, the growth of ultra-expensive wine sales and expensive wine becoming more expensive have been hallmarks of the 21st century wine business. Two decades ago, people bought wine to drink it. Today, more and more people buy wine not to drink it.

This matters for two reasons. First, as these ultra-expensive wines grow in popularity, more resources will be devoted to them. If more resources are devoted to these wines, will less be available for the wine that most of us drink? Second, how healthy can the wine business be when its most prized products are kept in locked vaults? How can the evolution of wine — from something to drink with dinner to a version of coin collecting — be a good thing?

Yes, the sale of ultra-expensive wine remains a small part of the wine business. Those 10 million cases of Barefoot that are sold annually dwarf ultra-expensive wine sales. But how much attention does all that Barefoot get? The hype for ultra-expensive wine dwarfs Barefoot, as well as the rest of the wines that most of us drink. That even I’m writing about it says something – and it’s probably not good.

More about ultra-expensive wine:
Wine as a collectible, and not something we drink
Expensive wine prices in the real world
More about wine prices 2018