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2012 is here, presenting a fresh new year of wine trends to contemplate. It’s an exciting time for all of us wine lovers as we stand at the edge of an entire year of wine discovery and imbibing ahead. What will be hot in the wine world this year? What will we fill our glasses with in 2012? Here’s a bit of forecasting for 2012 wine trends, along with some divulgence as to the wines we anticipate buying and drinking the most of and why…
1. Grower Champagne is Vogue
Grower Champagne producers and smaller Champagne houses are becoming more and more popular as bubbly lovers everywhere discover the world beyond Dom Perignon, Krug and Cristal. Of course we’ll never turn down a glass of Veuve Clicquot, but there are so many other high quality, great value Champagnes out there. Grower Champagne producers are grape farmers that make their own Champagne, using the grapes that they grew themselves, as opposed to the bigger houses that buy them in. While these small, artisanal producers lack the marketing power of the ubiquitous big brands, their Champagnes are gaining recognition and are the new fashion.
We’re looking forward to discovering and drinking more under-the-radar, high value Champagnes in 2012, and will continue to drink and promote our favorite grower Champagnes. The Wall Street Journal’s recent article, Bubble by Bubble by Lettie Teague, is a great read on the topic of Champagne. Lettie gives a shout out to some of our favorites, including Pol Roger Brut Réserve, Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Brut and Pierre Gimonnet Brut Blanc de Blancs Sans Année. Our New Year’s resolution is to drink more Champagne! Additional recommendations:
NV Pierre Peters Brut Cuvee Reserve ($46) “Fresh, precise lemon and pink grapefruit aromas give way to deeper tangerine and melon with air. Fine-grained and focused citrus flavors stain the palate, gaining richness on the back end while retaining a tight, nervy personality. The citrus notes linger nicely on the long, sappy, mineral-tinged finish.” – 91 pts, International Wine Cellar
NV Champagne Laherte Freres Brut Tradition ($36) – “The NV Brut Tradition is a beautifully precise, chiseled wine. Citrus, flowers and minerals are woven together in fabric of unusual elegance. This mid-weight, focused Champagne offers terrific energy all the way through to the finessed finish. It is a lovely effort…” – 90 pts, Wine Advocate
NV Rene Geoffroy Brut Empreinte ($50) “The NV Brut Empreinte offers up licorice, smoke, mint and dried apricots in an exotic, compelling style. There is wonderful richness and clarity to be found in the glass. The weight and sheer presence of the Pinot Noir is clearly felt on the palate, while cool mineral notes provide a wonderful foil to the wine’s silky texture…” – 92 pts, Wine Advocate
NV Henri Goutorbe Brut Rose ($55) “The NV Brut Rose Grand Cru is a rather wild, unrestrained wine loaded with baking spices, kirsch, game and sweet red cherries. The wine reveals gorgeous inner perfume and tons of class, with a refined, silky close. Striking aromatics linger on the finish.” – 93 pts, Wine Advocate
2. Bonjour 2010 Burgundy
The 2010 vintage for Burgundy is just beginning to enter the market. While many of the reds have not even been bottled yet, the white Burgundies are just starting to arrive. The 2010 vintage was a small one for Burgundy, which means that we can expect the prices to be higher, but these wines will be worth the investment. In general, the 2010 Burgundy vintage has a lighter, more classic style than the lush 2009 vintage, promising many age-worthy wines with great structure and acidity. Since the quantities will be limited, we suggest grabbing them up while you can.
Anxious to get your hands on a refreshing 2010 white Burg now? Our 2010 Domaine Vincent Dauvissat Chablis La Forest is in-stock and ready to ship.
Although we’re looking forward to the arrival of our 2010 Burgundies, we are still head over heals for the 2009 vintage. The 2010 red Burgundies will need some time in the cellar, so while we wait, we’re going to continue to enjoy the approachable, delicious 2009 vintage. Recommendations for great value 2009 Burgundies to drink now:
2009 Maison Louis Jadot Gevrey Chambertin ($52) “The 2009 Gevrey-Chambertin is the best of the village-level wines. It shows tons of Gevrey character in a sweet, perfumed style I find irresistible, with gorgeous length and fine overall balance. The level of quality is admirable, considering there are 200 barrels of this cuvee. Anticipated maturity: 2012-2019.” – 87-88 pts, Wine Advocate
2009 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay Vendanges Selectionnees ($72) “Bright red. Deeper, richer and more complex on the nose than the basic village offering, showing aromas of red fruits, rose petal and spices. Richer and broader on the palate, offering very good presence and depth for village wine. Spreads out nicely on the impressively long finish.” – 89 pts, International Wine Cellar
2009 Domaine Jean Marc et Hugues Pavelot Savigny-les-Beaune ($35) “This is also aromatically quite pretty with ripe red berry and plum aromas liberally laced with ample amounts of Savigny-style earth that continues onto the round, supple and appealing flavors that culminate in a balanced and naturally sweet finish. Lovely and fashioned in Pavelot’s usual understated style.” – 87-90 pts, Burghound
2009 Domaine Thierry et Pascale Matrot Puligny Montrachet Les Chalumeaux ($64) “A more expressive and airier nose that features high-toned notes of white flower, pear, white peach and mineral hints is followed by rich, naturally sweet and racy medium-bodied flavors that possess ample size, weight and sap on the solidly persistent finish. This will drink well almost immediately and I like the underlying sense of tension here.” – 91 pts, Burghound
3. Locavore Trend Extends to Wine
The farm-to-table trend has taken America by storm and that movement extends beyond potatoes and carrots, encompassing wine consumption as well. As Americans become more conscientious when it comes to their carbon footprint, we’re sure to see a rise in local wine sales. We oenophiles on the East Coast are beginning to pay more attention to our local wine regions, especially New York’s Finger Lakes region and the North Fork of Long Island. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Dr Konstantin Frank is an exceptional local producer if you’re living on the East Coast. We’re big fans of the 2010 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling, 2008 Dr. Frank Cabernet Franc and the delightful, sparkling 2006 Chateau Frank Blanc de Blancs.
4. Organic and Sustainable Wines
Just as more and more people seek out organic food products, over the past several years, the consumption of organic and sustainable wines has been rising. Many European wine producers have practiced organic, sustainable and biodynamic winemaking for centuries. These practices are publicized more frequently now than ever before because they have become selling points for many modern consumers. Organic wine certification varies from country to country and is a complex issue. Producers that advertise organic and sustainable practices are not necessarily certified organic. As the collective consciousness becomes greener by the day, we’ll see more producers adopting sustainable and organic winegrowing and winemaking techniques. Recommended organic and sustainable producers from our portfolio:
Flora Springs Wine Company, Napa Valley – Practices organic farming.
Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles – Certified organic.
Talley Vineyards, Arroyo Grande Valley – Practices sustainable farming.
Podere Salicutti, Tuscany – Certified organic & biodynamic.
Adelsheim Vineyards, Willamette Valley, Oregon – Practices sustainable farming.
Evening Land Vineyards, California, Oregon & France – Practices organic farming.
5. Food Friendly, Low Alcohol Wines
Sommeliers have long been advocates for lower alcohol wines (below 14% ABV) because of their great compatibility with food. European wines generally have lower alcohol than their New World counterparts and are specifically made to compliment the cuisine of their native lands, which explains the predominance of European producers on many restaurant wine lists. Ripe, over-extracted, high alcohol wines have the affect of overpowering most foods. New World winemakers (and wine drinkers) are becoming wise to this fact and have begun to abandon the over the top, sometimes out of balance, style that was the longstanding fashion. In the year ahead, look for lower alcohol wines coming out of regions such as Napa and the Willamette Valley. Not only will these low alcohol wines enhance your dining experiences, you won’t be bowled over by the first glass! We’ve already started spotting, and drinking, these food friendly beauties from New World regions:
2009 Breggo Cellars Gewurztraminer, Anderson Valley ($27, 13.4% ABV)
2010 The Pinot Project Pinot Noir, California ($14, 13.5% ABV)
2008 Mt. Difficulty Riesling Roaring Meg, Central Otago ($20, 11.5% ABV)
2008 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($42, 13.9% ABV)
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For many of us California wine lovers, Napa Valley represents the pinnacle of quality wine production in the United States. Still a baby compared to Europe’s old world regions, Napa’s winemaking history began in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite the ups and downs in its relatively short history, the valley has risen to world renown and produces many wines of indisputable quality, especially Cabernets and Cab-Merlot blends that rival those of Bordeaux. As far as some Old World wine fanatics are concerned, California and Napa Valley may never shake a reputation for producing sell-out styled “Fruit Bombs”, but for long-time devotees and those of us more recently convinced, there is something truly special about the region’s terroir and the wines that are crafted from it.
Napa Valley lies north of San Francisco and is bordered by the Mayacamus Mountain Range to its west and north and the Vaca Mountains on its eastern side. To the north, rises Mount St Helena, part of the Mayacamas Range. Mount St Helena’s East Peak is the highest point in Napa County and one of the mountain’s five volcano derived sub-peaks. Charles Krug, one of Napa’s original pioneering winemakers, founded his winery at the base of Mount St. Helena in the early 1860s. This winery and land was eventually purchased by the Mondavi family 80 years later and was where Robert Mondavi started his winemaking career.
The vineyards of Napa Valley enjoy a Mediterranean climate and benefit from its proximity to the ocean. Ideally positioned near enough to the Pacific, yet far enough inland, the vineyards are cooled by the infamous fog that rolls in off the San Francisco Bay, but are not enveloped by it. The Valley gets hot in the summer and maintains moderate temperatures throughout the winter and the grapevines bask in the temperate climate. The northern end of the Valley is sheltered by the coastal mountain ranges and maintains warmer temperatures than the southern end, which is more exposed and closer to the San Pablo Bay. Thus, there are multiple microclimates within Napa.
Not only do the northern and southern parts of the valley differ in climate, they also have different geological characteristics. In the northern end, the soil is largely composed of volcanic earth, lava and ash. The region’s volcanic history is evidenced by the hills and volcanic soils found in the middle valley as well, in the area surrounding Yountville. The soils of the southern end have been formed by the ebb and flow of the San Pablo Bay over time, making this area rich in sediment.
From the region’s early years in the mid-nineteenth century to the present time, the Valley has undergone its fair share of hardship, including a devastating outbreak of phylloxera and the setbacks caused by Prohibition. Yet during this same relatively brief time period, Napa managed to emerge as a world class wine region with a litany of iconic producers. Perhaps the most noteworthy moment in Napa’s recent history was the “Judgment of Paris” tasting competition in 1976, the infamous blind tasting that really placed the region in the forefront of the world wine stage. The tasting put Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays up against prestigious red Bordeaux and white Burgundies. The judges ranked California wines above those of France in both categories. The top scoring wines were the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon, besting First Growth Bordeaux including Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion, and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay topped the contestants from Burgundy. These remarkable results proved that Napa Valley was a superior wine region with great potential.
When it comes to Napa, one thing is clear, Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme. Cabernet crafted by the Valley’s most talented and dedicated winemakers is some of the most opulent, majestic and seductive wine to be had. If you’ve ever doubted Napa’s distinctive terroirs and the variety of styles that come from this one appellation, try tasting a Cabernet from Howell Mountain next to one from a lower elevation vineyard with gravel or volcanic soils. Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain Cabernet showcases mountain fruit at its finest, while Far Niente produces some extraordinary Cabernet from its lower elevation, flat and gravelly Oakville vineyards.
The Who’s Who of Modern Day Napa
When I think through the canon of Napa Valley producers and consider the major players today, several groups tend to form in my mind. The pioneering producers of the late 19th Century, some of which are still making great wine today, are the first in my retrospective and include Far Niente, Beaulieu Vineyard, Chateau Montelena and Mayacamas Vineyards. Next are legendary producers that emerged from the mid-20th Century onward, major iconic names such as Robert Mondavi, Dominus Estate, Opus One, Shafer and Pahlmeyer. Then there are the smaller artisanal producers that appeared during this time, including Flora Springs, Caymus Vineyards, Diamond Creek, Heitz Wine Cellars and Dunn Vineyards.
A new generation of artisanal winemakers and producers has emerged in more recent years, crafting some of Napa’s purest expressions of the unique terroirs within the appellation. Our favorites in this category include Altamura Vineyards and Winery, Ramey Wine Cellars and Blackbird Vineyards.
Below your will find more thorough introductions to some of the incredible producers from our Napa Valley portfolio…
The Italian phrase Far Niente means “without a care” and conjures an idealistic time and place, a lazy summer afternoon spent sipping wine on the patio. Far Niente Wine Estate, the namesake of this whimsical phrase, indeed dates back to a peaceful time in our country’s history. Founded by John Benson in 1885, the winery was built in Napa Valley’s western Oakville. Benson, one of the “forty-niners” who came to California with the Gold Rush in 1849, was the uncle of Winslow Homer, the American Impressionist painter. The winery flourished until its doors were closed in 1919 by Prohibition. The property lay deserted until 1979, when Gil Nickel purchased the land and vineyard and began restorations.
Today, the winemaking tradition that began over a century ago is continued through the joint ownership of Nickel’s family members and close friends. Far Niente produces premium Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays that are celebrated for their age-worthy character. The Estate owns vineyards in some of the very best areas of Napa Valley including the Martin Stelling Vineyard and John C. Sullenger Vineyard in Oakville, as well as Barrow Lane Vineyard, John’s Creek Vineyard and Carpenter’s Vineyard in Coombsville. Far Niente has several sister wineries, including Dolce and Nickel & Nickel in Napa Valley, and EnRoute in the Russian River Valley. View all available Far Niente wines.
In 1978, Randy and Lori Dunn purchased their initial 14 acres of property on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain. A year later, in 1979, the Dunn’s harvested their first crop of Cabernet Sauvignon, thus establishing the winery. Randy graduated from UC Davis in 1975 and had been making wine at Caymus Vineyards before leaving to start his own label. Now the Dunn’s children, son Michael and daughter Kristina, are assisting with the family business and both share their father’s passion for winemaking.
Randy Dunn set out to make great, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon in the old world style of Bordeaux. He has remained faithful to this founding philosophy and, year after year, continues to produce spectacular Cabernets that are expressive of the Howell Mountain growing region.
Each year, Dunn Vineyards produces two red wine labels, Howell Mountain and Napa Valley, each 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Napa Valley bottling includes a portion of grapes from the Napa Valley floor (a maximum of 15%) with the rest harvested from their Howell Mountain vineyards. The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has softer tannins and is ready to drink earlier on, although it can still age beautifully for 15 or more years. The Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a bigger style wine, showing bolder fruit and tannins. These wines can age for decades before reaching their peak! View all available Dunn Vineyards Cabernet.
Ramey Wine Cellars
Founded by David and Carla Ramey, Ramey Wine Cellars is located in the charming town of Healdsburg, in the heart of Sonoma County. David Ramey is one of California’s leading winemakers, recognized for contributing innovative techniques to New World winemaking, while staying true to Old World traditions. David has a graduate degree in winemaking from the University of California at Davis and began his career working at the legendary Chateau Pétrus in Bordeaux, where he was exposed to the great French winemaking traditions. Back home in California, he went on to make wine at Chalk Hill, Matanzas Creek, Dominus Estate and Rudd Estate, helping to establish these well known wineries. David’s work, pioneering the use of native yeasts, as well as malolactic and barrel fermentation, has successfully created a luxuriant wine style that has garnered acclaim the world over.
Ramey Wine Cellars specializes in Cabernet blends, Chardonnay and Syrah, and crafts both a single-vineyard series, as well as an appellation series. Ramey’s Cabernets come from Napa Valley’s best vineyards and are incredibly rich, powerful expressions of the grape. View all available Ramey Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.
Heitz Wine Cellars
Founded by Joe and Alice Heitz in 1961, Heitz Wine Cellars is one of Napa Valley’s most legendary estates. Joe Heitz began working part-time as a cellarman during the 1940s. Then an aspiring veterinarian, destiny called and he fell for winemaking instead. Joe and Alice bought their first vineyard in 1961 and set to work building Heitz Wine Cellars, quickly establishing a shining reputation as one of Napa’s most prestigious wineries. Focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon, Joe’s talent for winemaking and the couple’s hard work resulted in wines of the highest quality.
Heitz Wine Cellars produced the first Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in 1966, introducing a wine that would develop a cult following and become legendary around the world. The story begins in 1963, when Tom and Martha May bought the land, recognizing its potential and believing that the site would merit a single-vineyard label. They were given a couple bottles of Heitz as a housewarming gift, and visited the winery soon after. When Joe and Alice Heitz met Tom and Martha, the couples were fast friends, a bond that proved very fortunate for Napa Valley Cabernet! The Heitz family arranged to be the sole buyer of the May family’s grapes, and thus began one of the greatest relationships in wine-making history. Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet would become the first vineyard designated wine in Napa Valley and helped to establish California as a serious contender in the world of wine. The 2004 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard is ready to be enjoyed.
Since 1968, Diamond Creek has been producing Cabernet Sauvignon exclusively. The wines exhibit the distinctive qualities imparted by the soils and micro-climates of Diamond Creek’s three vineyards. Keeping productions small, the resulting wines are long-lived, elegant and complex, celebrated by connoisseurs the world over. View all available Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon.
Altamura Vineyards and Winery
Well off the beaten path in Napa Valley, Altamura Vineyards and Winery is the only winery located in Wooden Valley, situated high amidst pastoral, rolling hills. Frank and Karen Altamura established the winery in 1985 and practice a careful, hands-on approach to grape growing and winemaking. Frank’s passion for winemaking is clear in each bottle of the winery’s highly collectible wines. We were blown away by the 2007 Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon.
Located in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, Blackbird Vineyards bares a strong resemblance to Bordeaux’s Pomerol region. With its cool climate and gravelly soils, Oak Knoll has proven to be an exceptional location for Merlot production. Led by the expertise of winemaker Aaron Pott, one of Napa’s finest, Blackbird Vineyards produces truly special Bordeaux-style red wines. The 2008 Blackbird Vineyards Arise is sublime.
Memorial Day has always been one of my favorite holiday weekends, the unofficial start of the summer season. The official turning of the season may be a few weeks away still, but these long, hot sunny days and warm, pleasant nights sure have me fooled, and I couldn’t be more thankful. It’s time to break out the whites in our wardrobe and to fill our glasses with light, bright, refreshing summer wines.
Here at Wine Cellarage, we’ve compiled a selection of great summer wines that we’re thrilled to share with you. These wines have been chosen for their excellent quality and great value. They are sure to keep you cool and quenched all season long without draining your summer vacation fund! There are certain wines that go hand-in-hand with the summer season, classic choices that will never go out of style, including Rosé, Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. In addition to these classics, we’ve added some slightly more unusual wines to our summer wine collection. Among them, delicious Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley, a Gewurztraminer from Northern California and a fantastic Methode Traditionelle sparkler from New Zealand.
Our homage to the summer season doesn’t stop with our exciting portfolio of summery wines. This year, we’ve partnered with Eating Vine, a new recipe sharing and wine pairing community, to create three different Summer Wine Packs. Each pack is an intriguing wine tasting adventure, filled with six carefully selected wines from Wine Cellarage and paired with amazing recipes from Eating Vine!
Our Summer Wine Packs are a great way to stock-up on crisp, cooling summer wines, such as Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Prosecco and even Champagne. Perfect for picnics, parties and gifts, the delicious recipe pairings will make entertaining easy, breezy and elegant all summer long.
Here’s a closer look at our summer wine collection…
There’s no better way to welcome the warm weather and to kick off the summer ahead than by opening the season’s first bottle of crisp, refreshing berry-scented rosé. Rosé is the ideal wine for summer barbecue’s and parties. Incredibly food friendly, Julia Child put it best when she said, “Rosés can be served with anything!” As you gear up for summer entertaining, don’t forget the rosé! Perfect pairings include barbecue flavors, sausage, hamburgers, and just about anything on the grill – veggies, fish, shrimp, pork and so on. And of course, fresh salads and side dishes get along incredibly well with this cool, crisp rosy wine!
One of the best rosé values out there comes to us from an award-winning South African producer, Mulderbosch Vineyards. Renowned as one of the country’s very best white wine producers, Mulderbosch makes two highly regarded reds and an excellent 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. The 2010 Mulderbosch Vineyards Rosé Stellenbosch ($12) is a delicious, refreshing rosé, showcasing complex aromas and flavors of rose petals, lime zest and wild strawberry.
The 2010 Domaine Saint Ser Cotes de Provence Saint Victoire Rosé Prestige ($21) is an elegant rosé, offering lovely aromas of wild red berries, hints of watermelon and lemon zest; a perfect pairing for traditional Provencal meals like Bouillabaisse. This wine definitely has the structure to stand up to substantial dishes. (I paired this with grilled sausage and peppers last weekend and it was wonderful!) The Domaine Saint-Ser is located in the Saint Victoire sub-appellation of the Côtes de Provence and is home to a small number of elite producers.
The 2010 Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Rosé Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence ($14) is the perfect summertime quaff, showing aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry and wild strawberry, along with racy minerality and bright acidity. You’ll want to drink this rosé every chance you get this summer. Charles Bieler has been crafting his delicious Provençal rosé for the last 5 years. Named for his daughter, Sabine, who was born the same year as the wine’s first vintage, this rosé honors Charles’ father, Philippe, who introduced he and his sister to the wine business.
Sauvignon Blancs are the perfect coolers for hot summer weather. Their vibrant, zesty character, citrus aromas, herbal notes and crisp acidity make them a classic choice for summertime imbibing. Sauvignon Blanc is best consumed within a few years of its release, while youthful, fruity and refreshing. This native French varietal is the main constituent of white Bordeaux and is widely planted in the Loire Valley, most notably in the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.
This year we can’t get enough of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Craggy Range wine estate makes one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs. Owned and operated by the Peabody family, Craggy Range specializes in exceptional single-vineyard wines that are true to their terroir. The 2009 Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is from their Te Muna Road Vineyard in Martinborough and is produced from vines that grow on stony, limestone-rich soils. Minimal cellar intervention results in an elegant Sauvignon Blanc with a delicate, soft texture and mineral undertones.
Another favorite from New Zealand is the 2010 Cloudy Bay Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($27). Located in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough, Cloudy Bay’s vineyards benefit from the cool, maritime climate bestowed by the South Pacific. This sustainable, environmentally conscious wine estate single-handedly pushed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc into the spotlight. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc delivers classic characteristics of ripe lime and grapefruit, along with a remarkable tropical medley of papaya, mango, orange blossom and gooseberry. Vibrant and refreshing, this is just what the doctor ordered on a hot summer afternoon and makes an ideal accompaniment for the fresh flavors, herbs and spices of Asian cuisine.
While we love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, we’ll always have a taste for those from the Loire Valley. Pascal Jolivet is one of the Loire’s youngest estates producing exceptional Sauvignon Blancs. Established in 1987, Domaine Pascal Jolivet is devoted to natural winemaking and sustainable techniques. Based in Sancerre, the estate owns over 70 acres of the best vineyards in the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sauvignon Blanc Attitude ($17) offers floral and citrus aromas, bright acidity and minerality on the palate. This delightful wine drinks like a Sancerre at half the price.
If it is true Sancerre that you’re after, the 2010 Domaine des Vieux Pruniers Sancerre Blanc ($20) is a wonderful, affordable option. Domaine des Vieux-Pruniers is located in the village of Bué, a few short miles from Sancerre. Here the grapes grow on incredibly steep, hillside vineyards renowned for their limestone-rich soils. This is a quintessential Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc – clean and pure, showing aromas of citrus fruit and blossoms, zesty lime and orange flavors and brisk minerality that lingers on the palate.
Chardonnay is the chameleon of the grape varietals, thriving in a range of climates and crafted in a variety of styles. Relatively neutral in character, Chardonnay is easily influenced by its environment and the winemaker’s techniques. For these reasons, it is one of the most popular and widely planted white wine grapes in the world. Native to France’s Burgundy, Chardonnay is the only grape variety permissible in Chablis and one of three grapes varieties used in Champagne. Outside of France, Chardonnay has flourished in the New World wine regions, growing happily in California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and beyond.
Chablis is always a refreshing choice for summertime and perfect for pairing with lighter dishes, especially seafoods. The 2009 Domaine Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils Chablis Vieilles Vignes ($25), made from fifty year old vines, is a classic Chablis with plenty of zippy minerality and pure fruit character.
The 2009 Bouchard Pere et Fils Bourgogne Blanc ($18) is a great summer Chardonnay from Burgundy – lively and fresh, offering pear and peach aromas and a smooth texture with just a touch of oak. The Bouchard Bourgogne Blanc is an ideal accompaniment for grilled seafood, shellfish and poultry dishes.
Another Chardonnay that we’ve fallen for this year is from a fantastic South African producer with a rich history, Glenelly Wine Estate. Located in Stellenbosch, the estate’s heritage goes back to the 17th century. May-Eliane de Lencquesaing purchased the property in 2003, after running the famed Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for 30 years prior. May de Lencquesaing is renowned for the wines of her Pauillac Grand Cru Classé Chateau and has upheld the same level of excellence at Glenelly. The 2010 Glenelly Chardonnay The Glass Collection Stellenbosch ($14) showcases the exceptional quality and value coming from this estate.
Unique Summer Wines
If you love Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley as much as we do, François Chidaine’s Vouvrays are not to be missed. Crafted in a range of styles from bone dry to sweet, Chidaine’s Vouvrays share an ethereal, elegant quality and great complexity. This summer we’re sipping Chidaine’s dry styles – the 2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Clos Baudoin ($25) and the 2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles ($23), which are enchanting now and will age gracefully for years to come.
Breggo Cellars’ extraordinary white wines from unique varietals (Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling) places this Northern Californian producer on our summertime favorites list. The 2009 Breggo Cellars Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley ($27) is exotic and enticing with opulent aromas of orange zest, lychee, honeysuckle and rose. Elegant and refreshing on the palate, bright tropical flavors mingle with zippy acidity and a long, lovely finish. Only 398 cases made!
On of the best value sparkling wines we’ve come across is the NV Quartz Reef Sparkling Methode Traditonelle ($28) from Central Otago, New Zealand. Blended from 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Chardonnay, this is a beautiful, brisk and refreshing sparkling wine that you’ll want to enjoy poolside, dockside and just about everywhere else you go this summer.
When we think of summertime sparkling wine, we think Prosecco. Both the NV Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry ($14) and the 2009 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede ($20) are amazing! When looking for the ideal wine to pop open on a hot Saturday afternoon, you can’t go wrong with either of these delightful, summery Proseccos.
The concept of terroir is not exclusive to the great vineyards of Burgundy and Barolo. Anyone who has tasted through and experienced the so-called great growths of Northern California cabernet will immediately recognize the difference between the elegance of the Ridge Monte Bello, from high atop the Santa Cruz Mountains and the richness of wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, from the heart of Napa Valley.
Just because a wine is without hundreds of years of history does not mean terroir is inapplicable. Napa Valley wineries demonstrated this at the Judgment of Paris in 1976.
A similar situation is beginning to emerge in Santa Barbara, encompassing the AVAs of Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills. Despite the popularity pinot noir from Sideways, winegrowers and winemakers, to date, have had most success with the Rhône varietals of syrah and grenache for reds, and viognier, marsanne, and roussanne for whites. The Burgundian nomenclature of labeling with specific vineyards has also taken hold, with Bien Nacido, Thompson, Stolpman and Larner becoming more and more familiar to the consumer.
Jaffurs, located in heart of the city, is an urban winery that uses only purchased grapes from the best of these vineyards in Santa Barbara. The winery excels in single vineyards syrahs, as well as small
productions of viognier, roussane, and grenache blanc from the famed Thompson Vineyard. Tasting through these wines, the sense of place is not lost. Santa Barbara is located on an east-west stretch of the Pacific coast line, and its climate is decidedly Mediterranean, and the city has the moniker of the American Riviera. As such, the grapes have no trouble ripening, and the resulting wine should be full-bodied, supple, and rich.
Jaffurs does not shy away from this bold style involving high alcohol levels, which in recent years, has seen a backlash from the wine community for being extracted and difficult to pair with food. These criticisms are valid to a certain extent, but the key for any wine is still balance above all else, and Jaffurs achieves it splendidly. Its wines retain a firm structure and vibrant acidity. The judicious use of oak, mostly involving used, year-old barrels, complements a dark, rich expression of syrah, without masking the primary fruit and peppery qualities.
Winemakers often aspire to make their favorite wines. And more often than not, unfortunately, the result is a wine without identity. In this case, Jaffurs might be expected to look to the Hermitage or Côte-Rôtie for inspiration. One taste of its syrahs should make its intentions clear: this is a big, badass syrah from Santa Barbara; if you would like a wine that reminds you of the Northern Rhône, go buy a wine from the Northern Rhône. These wines make no apologies for being what it is, and nor should they.