Tag Archives: French wine

2019 Cheap Wine of the Year: Château La Gravière Blanc 2017

Château La Gravière BlancChâteau La Gravière Blanc, a French white blend, is the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year

It wasn’t easy, in the past year of drinking dangerously, to find a cheap wine to uphold the standards we’ve worked so hard to maintain over the past 11 years. Yes, there were plenty of $10 roses that were worthy, but cheap wine should be about more than rose. Fortunately, we have the Château La Gravière Blanc as the blog’s second annual Cheap Wine of the Year.

The Château La Gravière Blanc ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is a white French blend from the Bordeaux sub-region of Entre-Deux-Mers, which is mostly known for making truckloads of cheap wine that tastes like cheap wine. That’s the last thing the La Graviere is.

It combines traditional white Bordeaux style and terroir with modern winemaking; hence a delicious wine that is not simple or stupid. The wine features fresh lemon fruit as well as an almost California-style grassiness, but it also comes close to an old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. This used to be common in these kinds of wines, but it as rare these days as a Big Wine dry red that is actually dry. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t another New Zealand knockoff.

Drink this chilled, either on its own or with chef-style salads, roast chicken, or grilled shrimp. This is the kind of wine you buy one bottle of and then go back for a case. Which is I did.

Imported by Luneau USA

More Cheap Wine of the Year:
2018 Cheap Wine of the Year: Bieler Pere et Fils Rose 2016

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.

New Year's sparkling wine 2017

New Year’s sparkling wine 2018

new year's sparkling wine 2018

New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 recommendations for those of us who want value and quality

The one thing I was reminded of during the blog’s Champagne boycott? That Champagne, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, is not the be all and end all when it comes to bubbly. Yes, it’s some of the finest wine in the world. But it’s also some of the most expensive. And we demand value on the blog, even when it comes to New Year’s sparkling wine 2018.

Consider these wines for your New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 celebrations. Also handy: The blog’s annual wine gift guidelines and the sparkling wine primer.

Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut NV ($17, sample, 12%): Nicely done Italian rose sparkling that’s not actually Prosecco — it’s a little sturdier in style and has firmer bubbles, though still made using the charmat method, Plus, pinot noir fruit (cherry? strawberry?), though $17 may be a bit much for some. Imported by Angelini Wine

Vibraciones Cava Brut Rose NV ($10, purchased, 11.5%): A Hall of Fame quality Spanish sparker made with the traditional trepat grape; no pinot noir foolishness here. Look for freshness, bright red berry fruit,  and top-notch bubbles. Highly recommended.  Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 739 NV ($69, sample, 12%): Beautiful and fairly-priced Champagne that sits halfway between a more commercial yeasty, brioche cuvee and something that focuses more on fruit and acidity. Tight bubbles, a bracing finish, and tart green apple fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Vintage 59

Barcino Cava Brut NV ($15, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish bubbly is all one can ask for in a wine at this price, and then some. It’s taut, almost zesty, tart, and interesting. Look for lemon and apple fruit in wonderful balance. Highly recommended. Imported by Ole Imports

More on New Year’s sparkling wine
New Year’s sparkling wine 2017
New Year’s sparkling wine 2016
New Year’s sparkling wine 2015
Wine of the week: De Chanceny Cremant de Loire Brut NV
Happiness through cava and bratwurst

Wine of the week: Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV

Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de LimouxThe Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux isn’t Champagne, but it’s not supposed to be — so enjoy the difference

The world does not revolve around Champagne, as I make mention of each year around this time. Sparkling wine is made almost everywhere that wine is made, and there are a variety of interesting, fairly priced, and quality labels. So know that the Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux NV does not taste like Veuve Clicquot or Nicolas Feuillatte, but also know that it’s not supposed to.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux ($15, purchased, 12%) is a cremant, which is what sparkling wine from France not made in the Champagne region is called. A cremant from Limoux is made the much the same way as Champagne (the second fermentation is in the bottle and not a steel tank, as with Italy’s Prosecco), but there are a couple of differences. Hence, the production is called methode ancestrale to differentiate it from Champagne’s methode champenoise.

First, cremant de Limoux is made with different grapes, primarly mauzac, which is local to the region. Next, the second fermentation is unaided, so that the bubble creation doesn’t get a boost from the addition of more yeast, as in Champagne. These differences make for subtle, yet interesting changes from the sparkling wine most of us drink.

The Jean Claude Mas Blanquette de Limoux, thanks to the mauzac, is a very traditional blanquette, with a yeasty, brioche kind of finish. But unlike so many Champagnes that finish in that style, it’s also quite fresh and light, with barely ripe apple fruit. In this, it’s almost a food wine – New Year’s brunches, for example. What you don’t want to do is use it for something like mimosas, which would cover up what makes the wine interesting.

Imported by Espirit du Vin

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

Christmas wine 2018

christmas wine 2018Four recommendations for Christmas wine 2018

Suggestions for Christmas wine 2018, whether for a last minute gift or for a holiday dinner. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind — don’t overlook the blog’s 2018 holiday gift guide.

These will get you started:

Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International

Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA

Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

Librandi Rosso Classico 2015 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red is made with the almost unknown gaglioppo grape, which may or may not be related to sangiovese. That means quite Italian in style (earthiness and grip), but more ripe red fruit than a Chianti. Interesting and very well done. Imported by Winebow

More about Christmas wine:
Christmas wine 2017
Christmas wine 2016
Christmas wine 2015
Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014
Expensive wine 114: Alberto Nanclares Dandelion Albarino 2016

 

Wine of the week: Henry Fessy Gamay Noir 2016

Henry Fessy gamayThe Henry Fessy gamay noir is a quality red at a more than fair price — and just in time for the holidays

The cheap wine gods have taken pity on the Wine Curmudgeon. Maybe it was all the plonk I drank this year, or that I had to write the same things over and over in 2018 – sweet when it’s supposed to be dry, over-ripe with too much alcohol, and not varietally correct. Because the cheap wine gods put the Henry Fessy gamay on a store shelf where I could find it.

The Henry Fessy gamay noir ($12, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of red wine that used to be relatively easy to find but is a rarity in our Big Wine, sweet and smooth 21st century world. This French red is delicious, but more importantly, it’s varietally correct: It’s made with the gamay grape, so that means not quite tart berry fruit instead of the flabby softness that is all too common in cheap Beaujolais. Plus, there is a bit of zip, a lick of baking spice, and refreshing tannins. Missing is any hint of focus-group inspired smoothness or of residual sugar hiding behind fake oak and handfuls of added acidity.

This wine tastes like it should cost $17 or $18 instead of $12 (and I bought it on sale for $10). So what’s going on here? First, gamay isn’t a grape that gets much respect, even in France, and that tends to lower the price. Second, it’s not an appellation wine, but a vin de France, where the grapes came from anywhere in the country and which also lowers the price. Third, the producer is known for quality, high-end Beaujolais, so we get the expertise without the cost.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame and Cheap Wine of the Year. This is the kind of wine to buy by the case and drink when you want a glass of quality at a more than fair price.

Imported by Louis Latour