This vintage of the Chateau Montelena chardonnay shows once again the greatness of California wine
Full disclosure first: When we talked last month, Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton told me he read the blog and enjoyed it. Who am I to argue with his good sense?
Regardless, it’s easy to write nice things about the Chateau Montelena chardonnay, which I do every couple of years. This vintage ($50, sample, 13.9%) is again a testament to what makes California wine so wonderful – fresh, layered, sophisticated, and uniquely different from great wine anywhere else in the world.
In addition, the 2017 tastes completely different than the 2015. Which, as Crafton and I discussed last month, is part of the joy of wine. Truly take what the vineyard gives you, and let the wine speak for itself. Because what’s the point of making the same wine every year just to get 92 points?
The 2017 is still very, very young, and its fruit and spice won’t completely show themselves for at least several years. But the wine is still drinkable and quite enjoyable – some floral and apple-y aromas, a wonderful rich baked apple fruit precisely balanced with the rest of the wine, and a long, amazing, and chalky finish.
Highly recommended, and just the thing for Mother’s Day. Toast Mom with this, even if you can’t be with her, and appreciate life’s small pleasures in a time of uncertainty.
Reviews 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.
• Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.
• Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow
• Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import
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