12 April 2006

One weekend, two dinners, many wines

Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – Strawberry Kool-Aid for adults, frothier and more sudsy than usual, with a fine particulate texture churning away into the ether. Fun, fun stuff, though not quite as fun as it usually is. Too much froth, not enough pretty pink fruit?

In these Louis/Dressner-dominated parts, this is the “other” Bugey-Cerdon (after Renardat-Fache), and usually the less fruity, more soil-driven of the two. This bottle seems a little different. It’s gamay, mostly, with some poulsard as a rule. And it’s about as pure a summer quaffing wine as one can possibly find. Alcohol: 8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Lychee, wet and sticky cashew, canned peach syrup, and crystalline quartz-textured spice with a mineral edge and a faintly animalistic haze (more sweat than stink). Off-dry, but quite food-friendly.

(See previous commentary on this wine.) Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.

Lageder “Tòr Löwengang” 2004 Pinot Bianco Haberlehof (Alto Adige) – Striking red apple skin and dark iron minerality, firm and Teutonic with splashes of crisp and intense ripe fruit. Very, very good.

The world of pinot blanc is a generally dim one, with most of the best examples from other regions – specifically, Alsace – much improved by 50/50 blending with auxerrois to lend weight, spice and impact. Here, however, the pinot blanc is a pristine vessel for the expression of the Alto Adige’s often shocking minerality. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: dalla Terra. Web: http://www.lageder.com/.

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – The bright green sauvignon flavors are starting to relax a bit, showing more of the aged soda and dried green fruit flavors of this lightly-blended (10% sémillon) wine. It’s sharp and distinct, but melts on the finish with pleasantly vegetal notes.

The Donaldson’s “other” winery is Pegasus Bay, and that’s where all the critical action is. But there’s an important place for well-priced everyday wines as well, and Main Divide satisfies that need from a combination of purchased grapes and younger, not-ready-for-prime-time estate grapes. The little bit of sémillon adds a bit of welcome complexity. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Meadowbank/Empson. Web: http://www.maindivide.com/.

Ridge 1997 Lytton Springs (Dry Creek Valley) – Vanilla- and anise-scented sweet American oak essentially covering a thinning layer of blackberry and boysenberry fruit juice. This would appear to suggest further aging, but as the mild tannins in this wine are starting to bite a bit, I think Draper’s advice to drink now-ish is probably wise.

80% zinfandel, 15% petite sirah, 2% carignane, 2% mataro, 1% grenache. Paul Draper’s back label notes here rather strongly allude to a difficult year, and anytime he recommends drinking a Lytton Springs in its first five years of life, you know he’s not pleased with the results. What I wish is that he (and his working winemaker) had been a little less aggressive with the oak, because I’m not sure the wine handled it all that well. The Lytton Springs vineyard produces some of Ridge’s most structured, long-aging wines in good vintages, so this remains a bit of an anomaly. Alcohol: 14.9%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.ridgewine.com/.

Storrs 1997 Zinfandel Lion Oaks (Santa Clara County) – Intensely concentrated “zinberry” fruit, heavy on the dried wild blackberry, wild blueberry and olallieberry (tending towards, but not reaching, the jam stage), with the receding memory of structure at the circumference. There’s still some acid, though, and this ends up being crisp and delicious, though in a narrow-focused way. I think it’s probably time to drink this, though it seems in no danger of fading quickly away.

When this wine is good, it’s very good…but it’s not good every year. The joys of a marginal climate, I guess, which would be a more European than Californian model for vineyard siting. This one has aged very nicely, but then it was always a good Lion Oaks; in recent years, the winery’s Rusty Ridge zinfandel has shown more consistency and more reliable “oomph,” which is (after all) what most consumers want from their zinfandel. Personally, I like both. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.storrswine.com/.

El Grifo 2002 Malvasía Dulce (Lanzarote) – From 500 ml. Sun-infused sweet golden melon with spiced peach pulp and baked lemon-apple brightness, soaked with concentrated but not overbearing sweetness. Just beautiful.

[Lanzarote]The moonscape viticulture on this remote Canary Island is almost impossible to believe. Not only is the soil weirdly black, but the low-slung vines are planted in individual pits to protect them from the searing and blasting winds. Why anyone would choose to make wine in such an environment is beyond me, but given the results we can be glad they do. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ordoñez/MRR Traders. Web: http://www.elgrifo.com/.

Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede Brut (Veneto) – Quite dry and unfriendly, showing mineral bitterness and strident tones of rindy citrus. I’m not sure if the wine is angry at me or I at it, but either way it’s not a worthwhile exchange of ideas. Or maybe it’s just too dry.

Single-site Prosecco is an admirable thing, and this one is from clay with marine subsoil, and definitely shows more mineral-driven characteristics than many of its simpler brethren. It’s a shame, then, that I don’t like it more. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Vias. Web: http://www.bisol.it.

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – Lemon-lime giving way to ripe asparagus (not a bad thing) and leafy, late summer-sweaty aromas with a tonic undertone. Finishes a touch heavy, but very nice otherwise.

Marlborough and Canterbury don’t look that far apart on a world map, but in New Zealand distances there’s just one (sensible) road between the two, and it’s neither a wide nor a straight one. The Marlborough component of this wine must thus make its way down one of New Zealand’s endlessly perilous-but-beautiful roadways to the winery’s main facility just north of Christchurch, and one wonders what this sort of transport – common in New Zealand, actually – does to the grapes. There’s no obvious damage here, and I suspect that if the Donaldsons could make a worthwhile Canterbury-only sauvignon they would, but this is the sort of thing that leads wineries down the road of expansion. Not, to my knowledge, in the cards for the Donaldsons, but one never knows. Satellite winemaking facilities are springing up all over Marlborough. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Meadowbank/Empson. Web: http://www.maindivide.com/.

Thomas-Labaille 2004 Sancerre Chavignol Les Monts Damnés (Loire) – The first young Thomas-Labaille I’ve liked in what seems like forever. There’s intense white-toned minerality here, with green apple acidity and illuminated green grape and almost-ripe red cherry flavors, but the dominant characteristic here is the bleached stone quality. Fantastic and perfectly balanced, though definitely one of the more strong-willed Sancerres out there.

Green and rather insipid characteristics are what so many people dislike about sauvignon blanc, and most Sancerre is no exception. Part of the enthusiastic embrace of New Zealand’s wild and zingy style was a reaction to just this phenomenon. But while Sancerre can be molded into a Marlborough-style mold (as several modernistic winemakers have proved), its best examples have always been something quite different: transparent windows on the soil. Here’s an example of the latter, coming from what most acknowledge as Sancerre’s best vineyard. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Patricia Green]Patricia Green 2002 Pinot Noir “Estate” (Yamhill County) – Initial whiffs of brett eventually fade a bit; those with an extreme aversion to brettanomyces will never embrace this, while those who enjoy a very mild amount of funk in their bass will probably enjoy the results. Anyway, there’s also vivid but elegant frothed strawberry and red cherry fruit, with hints of cranberry darting in and out of the mix, and a long, pleasant finish that leads to the barest suggestions of earthiness. A surprising effort from a New World producer in its mimicking of an Older World style, and while it’s not at the top rank of Oregon pinots, it’s certainly worth a second look.

Ms. Green calls this wine big; I’d quibble with her assessment in the context of Oregon pinot, though maybe she’s using the context of her own products. It’s certainly fruit-forward (which you’d expect from Oregon pinot), but there’s a certain restrained simplicity to the package that doesn’t admit to the excesses of the concentration-at-any-cost crowd that infests the New World of pinot these days (nor does it get buried in a tide of new wood, another egregious sin). Despite the minor flaws here and there, I rather like this wine. It has a certain sweet innocence to it, despite the slick packaging. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Web: http://www.patriciagreencellars.com/.

[Big House RedBonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – Silly and insubstantial when first opened (for, it must be admitted, pouring into a stew), but a day by itself works wonders on the body and integration of this wine. After some alone time, it shows ripe mixed red fruit with some chunky purple grape skins and a fresh, balanced structure. The wine is good, but it’s an excellent bargain.

Mass-produced wines of this sort aren’t always as consistent as one might expect. Grape sources change, and as the costs of the raw materials goes up but the desire to maintain a price point remains, sacrifices must be made. This represents a bit of a return to form, at least based on my tastings (and this wine is a bargain staple among several of my relatives, so I get to taste it on a regular basis), with some of the recent hollow acidity being replaced by something of more weight and substance. Plus, the whole conceit behind the name and labeling is just hilarious. Alcohol: 135%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/.

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