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.
• Jean-Jacques Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): This is the second time I bought this chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, which shows that even those of us who do this for a living make mistakes. Bland, boring, and overpriced. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons
• Raimat Saira Albarino 2016 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This Spanish white is cheaply made, watery, and doesn’t much taste like albarino. It apparently exists for no other reason than to cost $10. Imported by Aveniu Brands
The Dauvissat Chablis is chardonnay that shows why that French region makes such terrific white wine
There are very few values left in high-end French wine (to say nothing of not-so-high-end French wine). But you can still find value from Chablis in Burgundy, like the Dauvissat Chablis.
Yes, $27 seems like a lot to pay for value. But the Dauvissat Chablis ($27, purchased, 12%) is the kind of wine that offers more than you expect. Chablis is chardonnay, but chardonnay usually made with little or no oak. Hence, it’s not only much different from New World chardonnay, much of which is dripping with oak, but it’s also much different from other white Burgundies. That means a steely, very mineral quality, with almost no vanilla or toastiness, but a wine that can still be rich and full.
In other words, chardonnay for those of us who appreciate fruit and less winemaking. The Dauvissat Chablis is just that: Fresh and crisp, with lots of tart green apple fruit, lots of that wonderful Chablis minerality, and nary oak anywhere. The wine combines Chablis tradition, so that it’s clean and almost stony, but with more New World-style and less subtle fruit. It’s an impressive combination, and especially at a price that usually buys very ordinary white Burgundy or even less impressive Napa chardonnay.
Highly recommended, and should age for at least a decade. This is just the bottle for anyone who wants a white wine for Mother’s Day that is more than buttery and caramel.
The 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.
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.
• Ken Forrester Petit Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 13%): Top-notch South African pink from one of my favorite producers. More in the Loire style, even though it uses Rhone grapes (grenache and a little viognier), so less fruit (unripe strawberry) and more stoniness and minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by USA Wine Imports.
• Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 2013 ($79, purchased, 13%): My favorite white Burgundy, and perhaps my favorite chardonnay in the word. This vintage is more tropical than I expected (lime and almost banana fruit), but still crisp, minerally, and white Burgundy-like. And the oak, with hints of pecan and caramel, is a revelation, a master class in how to age wine. A tip o’ the WC fedora to the Big Guy, who brought it to a recent wine lunch. Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for someone who loves wine. Imported by Vineyard Brands.
• Bervini Rose Spumante Extra Dry NV ($18, sample, 11%): Old-fashioned Italian bubbly, the kind we drank in the 1960s and ’70s — more fizzy than sparkling, a touch sweet, and balanced with raspberry fruit. It’s well made and fun to drink, but price might turn some people off. Imported by WineTrees USA.
• Silver Totem Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($16, sample, 13.5%): An amazing Washington state red wine that comes from Big Wine producer Banfi, but tastes like Washington state cabernet. Everything is where it is supposed to be — some heft, some rich dark fruit but not too ripe, and enough acidity so the wine is more than smooth. Highly recommended.
The Bruno Clair Marsannay is white Burgundy with an unexpected — and enjoyable — twist
One of the great joys of wine is tasting something that you’ve never tasted before, and especially when that wine is even more than you thought it could be. Which is the Bruno Clair Marsannay ($28, sample, 13%) in every way, shape, and form.
This is a chardonnay from Marsannay, a less well known part of Burgundy and especially for chardonnay. For one thing, the chardonnay is blended with 15 percent pinot blanc, which is unheard of in most of Burgundy. For another, many of the producers in Marsannay aren’t as serious about what they’re doing as Clair is.
All of which means it’s not what I expected from a white Burgundy (which, of course, is the Wine Curmudgeon’s guilty pleasure). The wine is not as elegant or as regal as a Montrachet; rather, it’s like the little brother with a sly grin, the one no one takes seriously, but who does so at their own peril.
Look for a subtle and engaging use of oak to round out the wine, as well as the green apple and pear that is key to so much white Burgundy. The pinot blanc take some of the edge of the chardonnay’s acidity, while complementing the spiciness, also a characteristic of white Burgundy.
Highly recommended, and a fine value at this price.
Four choices for Christmas wine 2016 to help you enjoy the holiday
Suggestions for Christmas wine 2016 – either for a last-minute gift for a wine person, or to drink with all those upcoming holiday dinners and leftovers. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind:
• Farnese Fantini Rose 2015 ($10, purchased, 13%): An Italian pink wine that is fruity (very red cherry) and fresh. It’s not quite in the New World style, but it’s not quite Provencal, either. Very nicely done, and the sort of wine to enjoy at a holiday party and marvel at its cost and quality.
• Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les Sétilles 2013 ($22, purchased, 12.5%): Top-quality white Burgundy (made with chardonnay) at a remarkable price and that has all the things it should have — apple fruit, white pepper, that certain amount of oak. This wine is still young and a little tight, making it a fine value if you want to buy a couple of bottles to hold, either as a gift or for yourself.
• Campo Viejo Cava Gran Brut Rosé NV ($10, sample, 12%): This grocery store Spanish sparkler can be inconsistent, but this bottle was everything I hoped for – varietally correct, tight bubbles, and fresh, cherryish fruit. A nice value, whether you want an aperitif or something to toast with.
• Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2012 ($45, purchased, 13.5%): This California Rhone-style blend from the irrepressible Randall Grahm shows why his wines are so interesting. It’s both earthy and refined, for one thing, with a wonderful foresty aroma and dark but not forbidding fruit. Plus, it will age for at least another decade, and get even more intriguing as it does. Highly recommended. If you know someone who wants to venture outside of their California cabernet sauvignon comfort zone, give them this.
Needless to say, we had never paid that much for a bottle of wine, which was the point. “It’s OK if you’re going to do this once every century,” said The Big Guy, and who was I to argue?
My other goal? Make sure the food was up to the wine, and it’s not being immodest to say that it was (or so the others at the dinner, including Lynne Kleinpeter and Kathy Turner, told me):
• A goat cheese and salmon timbale with the Sauzet, a chardonnay. The wine was young and fresh enough to handle the richness of the goat cheese, and it complemented the food exactly as I had hoped.
• Chicken breasts stuffed with mushrooms duxelles with the Epenots, a pinot noir. This was one of those pairings that shows why pairings matter – the wine made the food taste better and the food made the wine taste better. The Epenots, though still young, had some of that Burgundian mushroom and forest floor, and the bright red fruit did the chicken proud.
• An apple tart with a Fonseca 10-year-old tawny port ($32, purchased, 20%), a bonus because I like port. This is a more traditional style port – less fruit and more nuttiness, and not hot at all.
So were the Burgundies worth $150 a bottle? As delicious as they were, probably not. For one thing, both were still too young, and will need at least a decade before they’re going to taste the way they should taste. The Sauzet, in particular, was angular and disjointed (or at least as much as a classic white Burgundy can be), and only time will smooth out those rough edges.
That they weren’t worth what they cost isn’t so much a criticism of the wines, but of the wine business and how foolish high-end wine prices have become. The Big Guy remembers paying $50 in a restaurant for the Sauzet in the 1990s; that means the retail price has increased 10-fold in the past two decades. In other words, paying $20 for a cup of Starbucks coffee today. The best value of the evening was the port, given how much crappy port costs $20 and $30, and I’ll buy another bottle when this one is gone.
Hopefully, when Cubs manager Joe Maddon – a wine guy of no small repute – celebrates the World Series, he’ll have as much fun as we did on Saturday night.