The Justin Isosceles is a powerful, well made California red blend
The Wine Curmudgeon has always appreciated Justin’s wines, whether the $12 sauvingon blanc or the pricey, pricey red blends. It’s not necessarily a style I prefer, but the wines are always well made and aren’t as over the top as so many others.
The Justin Isosceles ($70, sample, 15%) is a case in point. On the one hand, this red blend (mostly cabernet sauvignon, with about equal parts merlot and cabernet franc) costs a lot of money, and especially for a wine from California’s Paso Robles region. Plus, that 15 percent alcohol screams “HOT FRUIT BOMB DESIGNED TO GET 96 POINTS!”
On the other hand, it’s not nearly as hot and as ripe as it could have been. Powerful, yes, in that fruit forward, California style. That means lots and lots of black fruit aroma, and it tastes of not too sweet cherry fruit. Plus, there is even a little spice, and the oak pushed just enough to the background so as not to get in the way. If it’s not subtle, it is mostly balanced, very layered, and well worth drinking (assuming the price doesn’t scare you off).
I’m not sure the Justin Isosceles is going to age all that well for that much longer, so it’s ready to drink now.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve speaks to Oregon quality and value
The Ponzi family was one of the first to make pinot noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the 1970s, and their pinot has long been regarded as some of the state’s best. Now, second generation winemaker Luisa Ponzi wants to do for chardonnay what her father Dick did for pinot.
The Ponzi Chardonnay Reserve ($40, sample, 13.5%) shows the skill and quality in her approach. First and foremost, it’s a tremendous value – a top-notch New World chardonnay that is quite young but delicious now (and could age for as much as a decade).
Look for an almost baked apple aroma, followed by fresh, tart green apple fruit and baking spice flavors and supported by just the right amount of oak. The finish is long and pleasant. This wine, as most great Oregon wines do, sits somewhere between the French and California versions of chardonnay and shows why Oregon has earned its excellent reputation.
Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to buy now drink and buy again and keep for a couple of years.
Once again, the Portuguese Esporao Alandra Branco white blend is terrific cheap wine
One of the best things about this job is finding a great cheap wine that remains a great cheap wine from vintage to vintage. And the Wine Curmudgeon has found one with the Esporao Alandra Branco.
The 2018 version of the Esporao Alandra Branco ($9, purchased, 12.5%) is a Portuguese white blend made with grapes like antão vaz that most of have never heard of. And that’s OK – not every wine has to be made with chardonnay. That it doesn’t taste exactly the same as the 2017? That’s OK, too. Vintage difference is not a bad thing as long as quality remains consistent. And it has here.
The 2018 is a little brighter and fresher than the 2017. There is more lemon and lime zest flavor than the than citrus fruit that the previous vintage had, and there is even a little minerality that wasn’t there last time. This wine is leaner and not as full in the mouth; again, not a bad thing, just different.
Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2021. It’s just the wine as winter ends and we’re looking for something lighter and more spring-like.
The Bonny Doon X-Block syrah is magnificent California red wine, combining the Old World with the New World
Those of us who love savory syrah – that is, where the wine is earthy and funky instead of being stuffed with sweet fruit, like the Australians do it – were especially sad when Boony Doon’s Randall Grahm sold his legendary winery at the beginning of the year. Grahm was famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for many things, but I don’t think he ever got enough credit for wines like the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah.
Grahm was able to combine an Old World approach to syrah with California’s riper and richer fruit. In this, the Bonny Doon X-Block syrah ($48, purchased, 13.5%) is an amazing wine – funky enough for those of us who want that, but fruity enough so as not to turn off people who think funky is a slang term 50 years out of date.
The X-Block is a step up from Grahm’s Le Pousseur syrah, which costs about half the price. But it’s more than worth the added expense: There’s the smoked meat, bacon-y aroma, a bit of pepper and spice, soft tannins, and full, rich black fruit. Open the wine about an hour before you drink it, and serve it with anything beefy or smoky or both. In addition, it’s still young and should age for at least a couple of more years.
Highly recommended, and just the gift for someone who likes savory syrah, what with the Holiday that Must not be Named coming up later this week. So long, Randall. It was a hell of a ride.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres shows chenin blanc can make classic white wine
Chenin blanc has a crummy reputation in this country, since it’s moistly used to make sweet bulk wine or soft, drab white blends with a cute label. Both approaches overlook the grape’s ability to astound, as it does in wines from various parts of France’s Loire. The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres is just one such example.
Know that chenin blanc can be similar to chardonnay, especially in pear and apple flavors. But it is also quite different. For one thing, oak is rarely used to temper the wines, so the fruit flavors are a little more crisp. And classic Savennieres is quite minerally, almost steely.
The Chateau d’Epire Savennieres fits the classic mold: A pear sort of fruit, but also steely and minerally. It’s ready to drink now, and should age for at least several years. Highly recommended, and it’s easily one of the best wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of years.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted
The Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir demonstrates that French red wine is more than cabernet sauvigon and merlot
Red wine from Franc’s Loire is made with cabernet franc, which explains why most of us have never tasted red wine from France’s Loire. Which is too bad, given the quality of the Charles Joguet Chinon.
The Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée Terroir ($25, purchased, 13%) is from Chinon in the Loire — not quite coastal, but close enough. That means a cooler climate and less fruity wine, though the Joguet doesn’t taste like that on first impression. But that’s what makes it such an interesting wine — it is fruity (black cherry?) at first. But that gives way to something more Chinon-like: that graphite, almost pencil lead quality that defines Old World cabernet franc, plus a sort of pine forest something or other.
Highly recommended. This is holiday food wine at an incomparable price, whether prime rib, roast salmon, or a vegetarian mushroom dish.
The Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve offers value and quality just in time for Thanksgiving
Oregon pinot noir has long enjoyed a reputation for value and quality, and little has changed about that despite all of the other changes in wine since the end of the recession. Case in point: the Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve.
The Patricia Green Pinot Noir Reserve ($24, purchased, 13.7%) is one of the best values in wine today – a top-notch red made with quality fruit that speaks to the region’s terroir and the pinot noir grape. In this, it offers a standard that others need to pay attention to (and probably explains why the Wine Spectator likes it as much as I do).
The best part about this wine may well be that it’s still young, and will need a couple of years to show off its best qualities. Because there are plenty of those. It’s a subtle wine, much closer to Burgundy than California, but still very Oregon in style. That means earth and the tannins found only in quality pinot noir. There is brambly black fruit, but it’s more zesty and less pronounced than elsewhere in the state.
Highly recommended, and just the wine for Thanksgiving. Or, frankly, when you want to enjoy quality at an unbelievable price.