• Taking expensive to new levels: Or, why the general public thinks wine drinkers are so snotty. Writes Lisa Carley for the New York wine Examiner, discussing a white Burgundy tasting at Le Bernardin in New York: “I was its guest – or was it my muse? It wasn’t the first time we’ve met, but my wine life is irrevocably changed by the experience. For the better? I hope. For the worse? Could be – what can compare to perfection? What in the world am I talking about?” If anyone is still reading, she tasted wines that cost as much as $750 a bottle at a legendary restaurant where lunch costs $85.
• Making local a success: Disclaimers first: This story was written by my pal Dave McIntyre, and it features another friend, Andrew Stover. Nevertheless, what Dave writes about Andrew is true – he has brought local wine to the Washington, D.C., area, one of the toughest markets in the country. That’s the kind of place where people spend $85 for lunch and $750 (or more) for a bottle of wine, and if it ain’t chi chi, they ain’t spending. Somehow, Andrew has sold wine from from very un-chi chi like places like Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Idaho, and Maryland to the retailers and restaurants who cater to those people.
My two letters (here and here) to Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, a well known wine geek, were mostly in fun. Those of us who are Cubs fans don’t know any other way — how else to live with the memories of 1969, 1984, and 2003? Once a baseball generation, it seems, we must watch as our hopes are crushed “like so many paper beer cups.”
In Chicago, you can count on three things: The Democratic mayor, the bone-crushing winter, and the ineptness that is the Cubs. But not this year? Because now that the Cubs have advanced to the National League championship series, I have expectations to manage (to paraphrase my brother), something that I had long ago given up on.
Which means we are one step closer to the $300 bottle of white Burgundy that I said I would buy Maddon if the Cubs did something they have not done since 1908 and which, honestly, I can’t being myself to write. Jinxes and all off that. There are still two playoff series to go, and still plenty of opportunities for those hope-crushing paper beer cups.
But maybe, just maybe, I’ll call my French wine guy and ask him what he has in stock.
You love your Mom, right? You want nothing but the best for her, don’t you? Then the Belland Les Champs-Gain is the wine for her and Mother’s Day.
The Belland Les Champs-Gain ($70, purchased, 13%), a premier cru from the Puligny-Montrachet region in Burgundy, is everything that great wine is supposed to be. It’s the kind of chardonnay that people dream about, and that even those of us who don’t want to pay more than $10 for wine will drink without hesitation — subtle and muted, with layers and layers of flavors and aromas.
Look for white pepper, a brilliant use of oak, and almost ripe apples, three signs of great white Burgundy from Puligny. But there is so much more going on that it’s almost impossible to describe. Besides, just listing a bunch of adjectives won’t come close to doing the wine justice (even though that’s apparently what I’m supposed to do).
Highly recommended, though availability may be limited. In which case, ask your retailer for something similar, and you can’t go wrong. White Burgundy remains one of the few parts of the French wine business that hasn’t shot itself in the foot, head, and behind, for which the Wine Curmudgeon is quite appreciative.
The Wine Curmudgeon reviews a proportionally larger share of French wines, and when I look at the numbers — which I do because I don’t want to go too far in any direction — I always wonder if I should try to do fewer French wines. Then I taste something like the Cave de Lugny La Cote Blanche ($10, purchased, 12.5%), and I understand why I do so many cheap French wines.
They’re that good, and especially if they’re from Cave de Lugny, a cooperative in Burgundy that somehow produces affordable red, white, rose and sparkling wines from that very expensive region. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough of them over here, but the Les Charmes is a $10 chardonnay well worth drinking, and the $10 Macon-Villages chardonnay is equally delicious.
The Cote Blanche, which seems to be a World Market private label, is yet another terrific effort from Cave de Lugny. It’s chardonnay from the Macon area of Burgundy, so that means no oak. a mineral finish, and some apple and lemon fruit. But there is also an almost rich mouth feel, which makes the wine more interesting and is not easy to do for $10. It’s a step up from the previously mentioned Macon-Villages — and for the same price.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame. Serve this chilled on its own, or with roast or grilled chicken. It would also do nicely as the wine to cook with and to drink in a dish like braised chicken with mustard and garlic (and I would add lots of sliced onions).
Great wines have great stories to go with them, even if the stories can be embarrassing. Such is the case with the Guffens ($80, purchased, 13%), although the story isn’t about the wine as it is the people involved.
Jay Biletti has been a long-time supporter of Drink Local Wine and an advocate for Arizona wine. I’ve judged with him many times, and he is a smart wine guy who is always fun to taste with. Several years ago, when Jay and I were judging the late Southwestern Wine Competition, we ordered a bottle of white Burgundy. It tasted and smelled quite funky. “It’s corked,” said Jay, who could plainly smell wet dogs and damp basements. “Oh no,” I said. “It’s just funky. White Burgundy can do that.” We went around with this for a bit, and Jay almost believed me. So we asked Diane Teitelbaum, whose wine knowledge is immeasurable and who was eating dinner with us. She took one whiff, and gave me a firm look. “Of course it’s corked, Jeff. What were you thinking?”
Hence the Guffens, which Jay brought to dinner in honor of that night when he was in Dallas this summer. Which was not corked. Really. It’s classic white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, in this case the Pouilly-Fuiss part of Burgundy). It’s still very young, and won’t reach its peak for at least another couple of years. The fruit (apple-ish?) is way in the back, and you’ll taste more white pepper and minerality than anything else. The oak is hovering over all, in exactly the way oak should hover.
Jay and I enjoyed the wine, and he was very nice when we told the corked story to the other guests. They didn’t even laugh too hard.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, mini-reviews of four wines I really wanted to like, but didn’t:
? Gallo Family Vineyards Hearty Burgundy NV ($9/1.5 liters, sample, 12%): The wine your parents and grandparents drank in college (in a 50th anniversary edition) is more modern in style these days, with more ripe black fruit. But it still tastes pretty much like it did then, which is surprising, and, for better or worse, epitomizes the concept of jug wine.
? Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc Les S tilles 2011 ($25, purchased, 12.5%): Disappointing white Burgundy from one of my favorite producers — more like what California chardonnay tastes like when winemakers say they’ve made “French-style” wine. Oak isn’t integrated at all, though apple and pear fruit is evident.
? Sunshine Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013: ($7, purchased, 13%): Aldi store brand is one-note, citrus-aggressive New Zealand white that’s a step up from something like Monkey Bay but, oddly, not all that enjoyable when the bottle is empty.
? Globerati C tes de Gascogne ($6, purchased, 12%): Easily the worst made Gascon wine I’ve ever had — thin, lacking fruit, almost no terroir, and none of the white grapiness that makes Gascon wine so much fun. What was Globerati thinking?
I don't have anything against expensive wine. I even drink it myself when the occasion arises. My point is that we expect everyone to drink expensive wine, whether they want to or know anything about it instead of realizing the limitations involved. It's like learning to drive — you don't start with a Lamborghini, do you?
In fact, I told the people on the show, I look for the same thing in expensive wine that I look for in cheap wine — value. And the Sauzet ($50, purchased) delivers on this count over and over and over. It's chardonnay from the French region of Burgundy, and specficailly the area called Puligny-Montrachet. In this, the wines are elegant and always in such balance that it's almost impossible to believe.
Sauzet is just one of many excellent producers from the area. The 2006, which I've tasted three times, has changed — and for the better — each time. Always, it's a mix of green apple fruit, spiciness (cloves or white pepper?) oak nestled in the background, and the minerality that defines this wine.
This would make a lovely gift for The Holiday That Must Not be Named, as well as for any dinner with someone you care about.