Category Archives: Wine Review Online

Castello di Fonterutoli, Leading the Way

With the release of a trio of 2017 Gran Selezione wines, Castello di Fonterutoli is leading the way, showing the importance of terroir—site specificity—in Chianti Classico.  Chianti Classico producers have long proclaimed that there are major differences among the wines produced in the region’s nine subzones.  And it’s true that a Chianti Classico from Radda tastes different from a Chianti Classico from neighboring Castellina in Chianti.  But heretofore it’s been almost impossible to know whether the differences were really due to the subzone or to the producer’s style.  After all, when you taste a Chianti Classico made by Cecchi, whose base is in Castellina in Chianti, side-by-side with one made by Castello di Radda, whose vineyards lie in the Radda subzone, are you tasting the difference between producers or subzones?

Castello di Fonterutoli has eliminated that dilemma.  Though situated in the south eastern corner of Castellina in Chianti, Castello di Fonterutoli has vineyards in Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga in addition to their home base.  They produced three wines in 2017, each of which comes from one of those subzones: Badiòla, a single-vineyard wine from Radda; Vicoregio 36, a single-vineyard bottling from Castelnuovo Berardenga; and Castello Fonterutoli, their flagship, a multi-vineyard blend, from Castellina in Chianti.  Thanks to Zoom® and their importer, Taub Family Selections, Giovanni Mazzei, Fonterutoli’s export manager, commented on the wines as a group of us tasted them side-by-side.

Before getting to the wines, here’s a little background.  Chianti Classico is the heart and most important subregion of the greater Chianti area, which extends from Florence to Siena in Tuscany.  “Gran Selezione” is a recently created category that sits at the pinnacle of the Chianti Classico quality pyramid, above Riserva.  It represents about six percent of Chianti Classico’s total production.  To put that into perspective, Burgundy’s Grand and Premier Cru wines account for 11 percent of that region’s production.  No stranger to Chianti Classico, the Mazzei family has owned Castello di Fonterutoli since 1435, which means that Giovanni represents the 25th generation.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, “Badiòla” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  Mazzei believes that the vineyard’s southern exposure and high elevation (almost 1900 feet above sea level) combines great sunlight with large diurnal temperature variation, the combination of which results in ripeness and freshness.  This finesse-filled wine delivers bright fresh red cherry-like notes mingled with mineral nuances.  It has the racy energy of Chianti Classico combined with great elegance supported by suave tannins.  Mazzei calls it a “vertical” wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Castello Fonterutoli” 2017 ($74, 94 pts):  The grapes for Castello, as Mazzei calls it, come from 11 different plots around the hamlet of Fonterutoli.  Each plot is vinified separately, allowing precision in constructing the blend.  The 2017 is the first year the wine was made entirely from Sangiovese.  In the past, they included small amounts of Colorino and Malvasia Nera, but Mazzei noted that after 25 years of research with Sangiovese, they finally decided that was the way forward.  It’s slightly higher alcohol, 13.8% compared to 13.57% for the Badiòla, reflects just a touch more ripeness.  Indeed, the flavor profile tends toward darker cherry notes in this slightly weightier wine.  Suave tannins, a hallmark of all of wines from Castello di Fonterutoli, lend support.  It’s another racy and elegant wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Vicoregio 36” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  The Mazzei family planted 36 biotypes of Sangiovese in their Vicoregio vineyard in Castelnuovo Berardenga. Hence the name of the wine.  This one, the deepest of the trio, conveys black cherry-like flavors, bordering on plumy ones, reflecting the warmth of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Still, it retains incredible freshness and vibrancy.  Mazzei characterizes it as a “wider” wine compared to the “vertical” Badiòla.

Though the winemaking is not identical for the three wines, with oak aging varying slightly, and the age of the vines differing in the three subzones, the wines are all made entirely from Sangiovese and at the same winery.  Most critically, the winemaking philosophy is the same.  So, the differences among the wines reflect their respective subzones of Chianti Classico.

The wines can be purchased as a set of three.  This allows consumers to hold a tasting with a small group of friends, complying, of course, with local regulations regarding size of gatherings, to see for themselves how the wines from Chianti Classico, similar to Burgundy or Barolo, differ according to where the grapes grow.

Michael Apstein
November 26, 2020

Tamarack Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) “Firehouse Red” 2017

($20):  Given the blend, Syrah (33%), Cabernet Sauvignon (27%), Merlot (18%), Cabernet Franc (11%), Mourvèdre (3%), and 2% each of Grenache, Counoise, Sangiovese and Petit Verdot, they could have called it “Kitchen Sink Red.”  But it works.  Fruit flavors mix with savory ones.  Fine tannins make it lovely for current drinking and bright acidity keeps it interesting throughout a meal.  Thankfully, it does not finish sweet.  The world needs more $20 wines that deliver this kind of pleasure.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Mullan Road Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Red Wine Blend 2016

($45):  Unsurprisingly, wine webinars in the era of Covid-19 are hit or miss.  One that I highly recommend is the SommCon Geographical Digest Series, a collaboration between The Somm Journal and National Geographic, during which I tasted this wine, which was previously unknown to me.  Founded in 2012 by Dennis Cakebread of the family that started Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley almost 50 years ago, Mullan Road Cellars makes one wine, a Bordeaux blend.  The precise components of the blend change year to year, as they do in Bordeaux, depending on how each variety fares during the growing season.  The 2016, a seamless blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Merlot (29%) and Cabernet Franc, delivers enchanting savory aromas — olives and herbs — which follow on the palate.  Fruit flavors emerge, but do not predominate.  Waves of flavor cascade on the palate as the wine opens. Simultaneously refined and powerful, it is not overdone.  There’s a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish that reminds you this is a serious wine.  It would be twice the price if it carried a Napa Valley appellation, but since wines from Washington lack Napa’s cachet, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.  Don’t miss it.
95 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine du Château de Messey, Mâcon Cruzille (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) Clos des Avoueries 2017

($39, Seaview Imports):  The Mâconnais is becoming to “go-to” place for affordable white Burgundy.  The region has three tiers, which, in ascending order of prestige, are Macon, Macon-Villages, and, at the top, Macon with the name of a village, such as Cruzille, appended to it.  The area has seen an influx of top Burgundy producers and the quality of the white wines has sky rocketed, especially those coming from the 27 villages allowed to attach their name.  This is an area to know for straight forward Chardonnay-based white wines, such as this one, that remain under-valued.  This single-vineyard bottling from the Domaine du Château de Messey is both creamy and stoney.  Paradoxically, it both subtle and penetrating with a hint of smokiness in the finish.  Not an opulent New World-style of Chardonnay, this one is cutting, invigorating and refined.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine Antonin Guyon, Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy, France) “La Justice” 2017

($85, Taub Family Selections):  Domaine Antonin Guyon is a name you can trust.  They make incredibly consistent wines from Grand Cru to their village wines, such as this one, that lies on the wrong side of the road.  La Justice is one of the rare vineyards that lies on the eastern side of the RN974, the main north-south road in Burgundy, to be awarded a village designation instead of just a regional appellation.  Its breeding is immediately apparent with its finesse and persistence.  Not a boisterous wine, it conveys a delicate savory character and a long, explosive finish.  It’s one of the 2017s that’s approachable — really charming — now.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Domaine Antonin Guyon, Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France) “Les Cras” 2017

($95, Taub Family Selections):  Similar to many vineyards in Burgundy, Les Cras isn’t contained within a single appellation.  Part of this vineyard is classified as Chambolle Musigny 1er Cru, while another part is only entitled to a village Chambolle-Musigny appellation.  The portion of Les Cras that carries the village appellation lies above the better situated — middle of the slope — portion that is classified as 1er Cru.  This wine, which carries the village appellation, is more refined and riveting than many producers’ 1er Cru bottlings because Domaine Antonin Guyon is such a talented producer.  Chambolle-Musigny, similar to Gevrey-Chambertin, has a great reputation, which explains why the prices for even village wines are high.  Guyon’s is a delightful expression of Chambolle-Musigny, displaying a velvety texture surrounding a core of bright mineral-infused fruitiness.  It’s full of charm and grace.  It’s another 2017 that perfect for current drinking.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Château de La Chaize, Brouilly (Beaujolais, Burgundy, France) 2017

($19, Taub Family Selections):  Brouilly, the largest of the ten Beaujolais cru, often disappoints. Thankfully, the 2017 from Château de La Chaize, one of the top producers of Brouilly, does not.  It has good concentration, zippy acidity that keeps it fresh and lively, and lots of juicy fruitiness.  Mild tannins mean this mid-weight wine would be just fine right now. It’s widely available, so if, at the last minute, you need something for the Thanksgiving table, this is it.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 24, 2020

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Badiòla” 2017

($99, Taub Family Selections):  Giovanni Mazzei, Fonterutoli’s export manager, believes that the vineyard’s southern exposure and high elevation (almost 1900 feet above sea level) combines great sunlight with large diurnal temperature variation, the combination of which results in ripeness and freshness.  This finesse-filled wine delivers bright fresh red cherry-like notes mingled with mineral nuances.  It has the racy energy of Chianti Classico combined with great elegance supported by suave tannins.  Mazzei calls it a “vertical” wine.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 17, 2020

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Vicoregio 36” 2017

($99):  The Mazzei family planted 36 biotypes of Sangiovese in their Vicoregio vineyard in Castelnuovo Berardenga.  Hence the name of the wine.  This one, the deepest of the trio, conveys black cherry-like flavors, bordering on plumy ones, reflecting the warmth of Castelnuovo Berardenga.  Still, it retains incredible freshness and vibrancy.  Giovanni Mazzei characterizes it as a “wider” wine compared to the “vertical” Badiòla.
93 Michael Apstein Nov 17, 2020

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico DOCG Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Castello Fonterutoli” 2017

($74, Taub Family Selections):  The grapes for “Castello Fonterutoli” come from 11 different plots around the hamlet of Fonterutoli.  Each plot is vinified separately, allowing precision in constructing the blend.  The 2017 is the first year the wine was made entirely from Sangiovese.  In the past, they included small amounts of Colorino and Malvasia Nera, but after 25 years of research with Sangiovese, they finally decided that was the way forward.  It’s slightly higher alcohol, 13.8% compared to 13.57% for the Badiòla, reflects just a touch more ripeness.  Indeed, the flavor profile tends toward darker cherry notes in this slightly weightier wine.  Suave tannins, a hallmark of all of wines from Castello di Fonterutoli, lend support. It’s another racy and elegant wine.
94 Michael Apstein Nov 17, 2020

Bouvet Ladubay, Loire Valley (France) Rosé Excellence, Brut NV

($16):  Bouvet Ladubay, one of the Loire’s largest producers of sparkling wine, is back under Monmousseau family control since 2015, after having been run by a succession of corporate enterprises.  This mid-weight rosé, made exclusively from Cabernet Franc grown in the Saumur region of the Loire Valley, delivers spice with a hint of sweetness.  This energetic wine would be a good match for spicy food or sushi and a superb way to welcome guests this Thanksgiving.
88 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, Saint-Aubin (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  Saint-Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru Saint-Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village Saint-Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé (Mâconnais, Burgundy, France) 2017

($27):  Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2018

($40, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits (Burgundy, France) “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018

($30):  The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many.  It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 10, 2020

In Praise of Regional and Village Burgundy…or, Where to Find Value

Simple economics explains why the wine from Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as the French would now like us to call it, has become expensive.  Really expensive.  French wine regulations limit what can be planted where (a.k.a. the supply) and demand has increased as new markets around the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia, to name just three, discover Burgundy’s allure.  But, in the last year, thanks to the 25 percent Trump tariff, prices for us here in the U.S. are now truly outrageous. (That tariff translates to more like a 35 or 40 percent increase to the consumer by the time the wine traverses the distribution channel and those businesses tack on their margins.)  Zachy’s, a major New York retailer, just announced a “special” price for Jadot’s 2018 Jadot Bonnes-Mares–$512 including local sales tax. Granted, Louis Jadot is a top Burgundy producer in general, and of Bonnes-Mares, a Grand Cru, in particular, and 2018 was an excellent vintage for reds.  But still, over 500 bucks a bottle! Or You could snag a bottle of Domaine Michel Lafarge’s 2017 Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of that village’s top Premier Crus from a stellar producer, for a mere $241 (including tax) at MacArthur Beverages, a leading wine shop in Washington, D.C.

My advice is to forget about Grand and Premier Cru Burgundy until you win the lottery.  (After seeing those prices, that advice will be easy to take.)  For too long, too many consumers have focused only on those exalted wines that come from the crème de la crème vineyard sites, which is another reason why prices for Burgundy are in the stratosphere.  But annual production from Grand Cru vineyards averages only one percent of total Burgundy production.  Throw in the wine from all Premier Cru vineyards, and together they still only account for about 11 percent of Burgundy wines.  So, where are the other 89 percent of Burgundies?  They are at the regional and village level.

Regulations require, with rare exceptions, regional and village wines to be made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, similar to Grand and Premier Cru wines. They transmit the same amazing site-specificity, a major allure of Burgundy, that their more expensive stablemates deliver:  Wines made by the same winemaker using the same techniques from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  A marvel of nature!

The 44 village appellations comprise about 36 percent of all Burgundies, while the seven regional appellations comprise more than half (53 percent) of all Burgundy, according to data provided by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB – Bourgogne Wine Board).  Wines that are labeled with the village name typically come from grapes grown in vineyards in that village that are not classified as Premier or Grand Cru, although on many occasions producers will “declassify” some Premier Cru wine into their village label.  Sometimes village wines will carry a vineyard name on the label, such as Gevrey-Chambertin “Justice,” but the appellation remains Gevrey-Chambertin.  Regional wines also may be labeled with a vineyard or fantasy name.  With both village and regional wines, the presence of a vineyard name on the label does not guarantee a higher quality.

The single most important piece of information on the label is the producer’s name, not the classification:  Producer, producer, producer.

Here are a dozen examples of regional or village wines, six reds and six whites, under $40 a bottle that I recommend enthusiastically.  Many of these wines have limited distribution, so if you can’t find these specifically, ask your local wine merchant for similar ones:

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey 2015 ($26, 91 points):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.

Domaine Bart, Marsannay “Les Finottes” 2018 ($30, 91): Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I’d be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 2017 ($37, 91): One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay “Clos de Malte” 2018 ($40, 91): Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018 ($30, 90): The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many. It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge 2017 ($27, 90): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it, too would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Parent, Monthélie Blanc 2017 ($48, 94): Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineral-y and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or 2017 ($30, 92): With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Gueules de Loup 2017 ($35, 92): Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully 2018 ($27, 92): Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, for this article I could have included their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess. It punches far above its weight class.

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, St. Aubin 2017 ($30, 91): St. Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru St. Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village St. Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 ($27, 91): Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.

Not all village wines are inexpensive, nor are they always ready to drink right out of the gate.  Recent releases of a village Chambolle-Musigny from Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, one of the village’s very top producers, run about $100 per bottle.  Her still-youthful 2005 village Chambolle-Musigny, drunk at 15 years of age, was plush and mineral-y, the quintessential expression of that appellation.

However, all of the wines recommended above are delightful to drink now.  But don’t underestimate the ability of modest village or even regional wines to develop with bottle age.  Twenty years ago, I served a bottle of Louis Latour’s 1985 Bourgogne Rouge without revealing its appellation to a group of wine aficionados.  Most thought it came from a Premier Cru vineyard.  Similarly, when I was at Maison Jadot some years ago, they served a 10-year-old white St. Aubin that was glorious.  So, if you buy a case of any of the above wines, put a bottle or two aside to drink in a few years.

Remember: producer, producer, producer.

*         *         *

November 4, 2020

E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2018

($27):  Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, I could include their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess.  It punches far above its weight class.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Parent, Monthélie Blanc (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($48):  Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineraly and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.
94 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre (Burgundy, France) Gueules de Loup 2017

($35):  Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or (Burgundy, France) 2017

($30):  With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.
92 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey (Côte Chalonnaise, Burgundy, France) 2015

($26, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Bart, Marsannay (Côte de Nuits, Burgundy, France) “Les Finottes” 2018

($30):  Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I would be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy, France) 2017

($27): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
90 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses (Côte de Beaune, Burgundy, France) 2017

($37):   One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.
91 Michael Apstein Nov 3, 2020

Firesteed, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Gris 2019

($16):  With roughly twice the acreage planted as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio, in Italian) is Oregon’s second most widely planted variety, after Pinot Noir.  As a wine, Pinot Gris’ spectrum is wide, ranging from light and innocuous to rich with stone fruit flavors and even some sweetness.  Firesteed’s falls into the latter category with subtle pear-like flavors had a hint of sweetness in the finish.  Bright acidity keeps this fleshy wine fresh.  It would be a good choice for highly spiced food and for those who like wasabi with their sushi.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay “Russian River Selection” 2018

($35):  Gary Farrell is well-known for producing excellent single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.  They also produce a bevy of single-vineyard Chardonnays.  This one, however, their Russian River Selection, is a blend of Chardonnay grown in five vineyards: Westside Farms, Bacigalupi Vineyard, Rochioli, Allen and Olivet Lane.  It is a wonderful expression of Russian River Valley Chardonnay with just the right amount of richness anchored by riveting citrus-like acidity.  In short, it’s easy to describe this Chardonnay in one word, yummy!  You’ve heard this from me before, but it needs to be repeated: Its 13.3 percent stated alcohol demonstrates that you don’t need super ripe grapes to make a super wine.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Laetitia, Arroyo Grande Valley (Central Coast, California) Chardonnay Estate 2019

($22):  Let me jump to the bottom line: This is a great value Chardonnay.  Racy and clean, this vigorous Chardonnay has the barest hint of alluring creaminess as well.  Though not an opulent style of Chardonnay, it still has plenty of stuffing and terrific energy.  Its charm is amplified by a trace of grapefruit pith-like flavor in the finish.  Its 13.4 percent stated alcohol, once again, belies the idea that you need super-ripe grapes to make a super wine.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Merry Edwards, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir Meredith Estate 2017

($68):  Wow!  It’s worth repeating, Wow!  And I don’t mean that in terms of power, I mean that in terms of stature and finesse.  Merry Edwards has always been one of my favorite producers, especially for Pinot Noir, but she has outdone herself with their 2017 Meredith Estate.  Talk about a track record.  In the last decade, I’ve scored only one Meredith Estate less than 95 points—the 2011 received 94.  She purchased the 24-acre site in 1996 and planted to Pinot Noir a couple of years later.  They consider it their flagship wine.  I think the 2017 is their best ever, showing more finesse and sleekness than in previous years without sacrificing intensity.  Heidi von der Mehden, who is Merry Edwards new winemaker after serving as Edwards’ assistant since 2015, told me during The SOMM Journal’s Geographical Digest webinar, “Domestic Bliss,” that the 2017 vintage was cooler than usual, which she felt explained the slightly different profile of the wine.  It’s a gorgeous wine with what I think of as the hallmark of Pinot Noir — flavor without weight.  Without a trace of heaviness, it dances, seemingly forever, on the palate.  It’s both racy and voluptuous, but not overdone, with an emphasis on the savory side of Pinot Noir.  Its suaveness makes it a joy to drink now.  Its impeccable balance suggests it will evolve beautifully with age, so there’s no rush.
98 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Ridge Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County, California) “Lytton Springs” 2018

($44):  Full disclosure: I am prejudiced against Zinfandel.  So, perhaps my enthusiasm for this wine is helped by the absence of a varietal name on the label, but I don’t think so because I tasted it in a line-up of Zinfandels at a SommCon Virtual Summit.  This is a captivating red blend, based primarily (72 percent) on Zinfandel.  Petite Syrah (18 percent), Carignane (8 percent) and Mataro, all grown in the same vineyard and vinified together, a so-called field blend, round out the wine.  The beauty of this wine is its balance  — lush dark fruit intermingled with spice cresting a brambly profile.  The tannins contribute balance by adding a welcome hint of bitterness, offsetting the apparent ripeness.  It’s actually restrained, at least for contemporary Zinfandel. (At “only” 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it could be considered low alcohol for Zinfandel.)  This is great choice as we head into colder weather and heartier food.  Ready now, but Ridge’s wines develop beautifully over time, so there’s no rush if you lay down a case.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Col d’Orcia, Sant’Antimo DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “Rosso Col d’Orcia” 2014

($25, Taub Family Selections):  Col d’Orcia, best known for their stunning Brunello di Montalcino, makes other wines.  At first glance at the label, you might think this is their Rosso di Montalcino.  It’s not.  Also, don’t be put off by the 2014 vintage, which was, as the Italians themselves describe it, “difficult.”  Col d’Orcia, like other talented producers, still manages to do well in difficult years.  The Rosso Col d’Orcia is a blend of Sangiovese clones (60 percent), many of which were ancient and at risk of becoming extinct, with two other less common, but traditional, Tuscan grapes, Foglia Tonda (30 percent) and Bersaglina.  It’s a great mixture of fleshiness, minerality and herbal, savory elements supported by firm tannins.  It has the hallmark elegance of Col d’Orcia’s Brunello.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Travaglino, Oltrepò Pavese DOC (Lombardy, Italy) Pinot Nero Poggio della Butinera Riserva 2015

($42):  Italy is not known for Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) the way it is for Nebbiolo or Sangiovese.  In the relatively cool Oltrepò Pavese region, the grape does well, as Travaglino shows with this 2015 Riserva.  Nicely concentrated, but certainly nowhere near a New World style, it delivers both fruit flavors and savory character, the latter of which is immediately apparent in the nose and carries onto the palate.  Bright acidity (it is Italian, after all) amplifies its charms, while refined tannins provide structure. It even finishes with a delightful hint of bitterness, reinforcing its Old World origins.  Drink now with grilled salmon or even beef, rather than sipping it by itself.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Champagne Devaux, Champagne (France) “Augusta” Brut NV

($40, Seaview Imports):  The Augusta refers to Augusta-Maria Herbin, Devaux’s wife, another widow of Champagne, who led the firm from 1879 to 1895.  Family ownership ended in 1987, when, according to their website, it passed to the Union Auboise, now Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux, a co-operative.  There are 22 coops in Champagne, accounting for over a third of all the wine pressed there, according to the Comité Champagne, the trade group that represents all of the growers and producers.  Coops, unfairly in my view, have a poor reputation.  Indeed, they often are the place to find value, since they have the ability to produce many wines of differing quality.  Take this one, for example.  Champagne Devaux is the coop’s flagship wine.  Most of the wine comes from the 2016 vintage with 20 percent reserve wine (older vintages) rounding out the blend.  A blend of Pinot Noir (80 percent) and Chardonnay, it delivers both power and elegance. Its engaging roundness allows you to enjoy it on its own before dinner, but its intensity and length means it’s fine at the table with, say, grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Bodegas Caro, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec “Aruma” 2018

($15, Taub Family Selections):  This Malbec is an unusual wine for Bodegas Caro, a collaboration between Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and Nicolas Catena, two stars in the wine world.  It is unusual because they pride themselves on combining two winemaking cultures, Bordeaux and Argentina, and their two respective grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, but there’s no Cab in this.  Ideas evolve and it’s perhaps not surprising that they would produce a 100 percent Malbec since that grape is emblematic of Argentina.  (As an aside, Lafite had Malbec planted in their vineyards in the 19th century.)  The 2018 Aruma focuses on ripe, dark fruit with soft tannins balanced by good acidity.  It may lack the wonderful complexity of Bodegas Caro’s Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend, but it’s hard to find stylish, ready-to-drink Malbec at this price.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 27, 2020

Dry Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2019

($20):  Founded in 1972 by David Stare and still family-run, Dry Creek Vineyard continues to excel.  Dry Creek Vineyard’s initial focus was on Sauvignon Blanc because Stare loved the wines of the Loire Valley.  So, it’s not surprising that Dry Creek Vineyard continues to make a consistently fine Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2109 follows in those footsteps.  It takes a balanced, middle-of-the road approach with a little bit of everything and not too much of anything.  Fleshiness offsets an invigorating citrus element.  Lively, but not aggressive, acidity stimulates the palate.  A delightful hint of grapefruit pith-like bitterness in the finish enhances the overall picture.  Although you can enjoy a glass by itself, it really shines next to a plate of grilled swordfish.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Raeburn Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2019

($22):  The focus of the 2019 Raeburn Pinot Noir is firmly on bright pure cherry-like fruit.  Suavely textured, it is easy to enjoy this mid-weight wine now.  A touch of heat and a hint of sweetness in the finish likely results from the 14.5 percent stated alcohol.  It’s rare to find a Pinot Noir that’s this enjoyable at this price.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

J. Lohr, Paso Robles (Central Coast, California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Signature” 2016

($90):  An over-sized bottle with the wine weighing in at 15.1 percent stated alcohol accurately predicts the nature of this Cabernet Sauvignon:  powerful.  Fruit-forward and dominant, it’s a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere and Saint-Macaire, an ancient grape from Bordeaux, which is no longer used there, but was included in the allowed mix for Meritage wines in California.  Ready now, it’s a soft, fleshy wine that imparts sweetness, then finishes nicely with an offsetting hint of bitterness.  Those looking for density and oomph in their Cabernet will embrace it.  It’s ironic that J. Lohr, who won the 2020 California Green Medal Sustainability Award and prides itself on a commitment to sustainability, opts to use a heavy bottle that most environmentalists criticize for adding unnecessarily to the wine’s carbon footprint.
90 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Black Stallion Estate Winery, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Release 2017

($60):  The packaging — over-sized bottle — and 15 percent stated alcohol suggests this Cabernet is from the “bigger is better” school.  And there is no question, it’s a big, ripe wine with plenty of power.  Yet, it’s not overblown or overdone.  The grapes come primarily from mountain vineyards throughout the Napa Valley, which accounts for its freshness, according to Black Stallion’s website.  It leads with lovely aromatics and then delivers a mix of deep black fruit-like flavors, spice and herbs.  The tannins provide structure, but are unobtrusive under the layers of fruit.  Good acidity keeps it fresh and in balance, except for a touch of heat in the finish, reflecting the high alcohol.  Though not my style of Cabernet, it is well-made and people who enjoy high octane “Napa Cab” will love it.  Its supple and velvety texture makes it ideal for drinking tonight with a grilled hunk of meat.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

 

Agricola Punica, Isola del Nuraghi IGT (Sardinia, Italy) “Barrua” 2015

($46):  Agricola Punica is a collaboration between Tenuta San Guido, the Bolgheri producer responsible for Sassicaia, and Sardinia’s Cantina di Santadi.  The late Giacomo Tachis, who was a genius at sensing the utility of the so-called Bordeaux varieties in selected Italian locales, suggested the blend of Carignano, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for their wine to be called “Barrua.”  It turned out to be an outstanding recommendation.  Despite the stated 15 percent alcohol, the 2015 Barrua does not come across as ripe or overdone.  Quite the contrary.  Lush fruitiness gives way to savory and herbal elements amplified by a lively freshness in the finish.  The tannins are present for support, but they are refined and supple, not aggressive.  Yum!
93 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Schloss Johannisberg, Rheingau (Germany) Riesling Silberlack Trocken GG 2018

($75):  Schloss Johannisberg, whose Riesling planting started in 1719, is thought to be the oldest Riesling producer in the world.  (The first documented wine harvest from the site itself was a roughly a thousand years earlier, in 817.)  The estate grows only Riesling, yet makes many different wines depending on where in the vineyard the grapes grow and when they are harvested.  Stefan Doktor, the estate director, explains that they make many different wines because of the diversity of soils and microclimates within the vineyard, which is located at the confluence of warmer air from the Rhine river and cooler air from the north.  He emphasizes that you need cold climate to make superb Riesling.  Cold nights especially — and the nights are cold at Schloss Johannisberg — slow ripening and allow flavors of the Riesling grape to develop.   The other advantage of this northern clime, according to Doktor, is long hours of daylight during the summer, from 5 AM until 10 PM, which helps the grapes achieve ripeness.  He adds that the quartz in the soil retains heat, which also aids ripening.  This wine, labeled Silberlack Trocken for the vineyard parcel, is bone dry with a measured residual sugar of 2.7 grams/liter.  To put that wine-geek number in perspective, tasters can typically start to detect sweetness at a level of about 5 grams/liter.  The GG stands for Grosses Gewachs, the equivalent of Grand Cru, indicating the stature of the growing site.  The grapes come from the coolest part of their vineyard, the southwest corner, which is always the last to be harvested.  The wine is positively gorgeous, racy, minerally and penetrating.  It’s all you could want.  The first sip makes you smile.  With impeccable balance, all the elements are in harmony and dance across the palate.  The tension between vibrant minerality and alluring peach-like fruitiness is splendid and seemingly never ending in the aftertaste of the wine.  Sip it by itself, or drink it with virtually anything.  You will be surprised how wonderful it is, even with a steak.
96 Michael Apstein Oct 20, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Viognier 2018

($30):  The Viognier grape is tough to translate properly into a wine.  Ripeness is necessary to release its inherent floral character, but over-ripeness results in a heavy wine.  Naumes strikes the balance. Lovely floral apricot aromas predict the stone fruit flavors that follow.  In a less well-crafted version, those stone fruit flavors would be heavy.  In this one, they’re bright, despite the 14.5% stated alcohol.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) “Triolet” 2017

($40):  The blend, Barbera (60%) and Malbec, is unique.  I know of no other winery producing it.  The name, Triolet, which is a type of poem, according to the dictionary, is equally unique.  Corey Shultz, the winery director, says the name is to honor the Naumes Family’s triplets and that in subsequent vintages there will be third grape in the blend.  Initially this intriguing blend was flat, but within 30 minutes in the glass, the wine blossomed.  The more assertive Malbec adds muscle to Barbera’s charm, resulting in more power and less finesse.  But, very much in the Naumes style, the wine is balanced and not overblown.  It’s a trade-off.  Those who prefer heft in their wines will prefer the Triolet.  Consumers looking for a more nimble and spritely wine will embrace their straight Barbera.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2017

($40):  Captivating herbal notes are immediately apparent in the nose and later on the palate. A blend of several clones of Pinot Noir, this is a delicate and airy example of the varietal, displaying a wondrous mixture of savory and fruity flavors. Its focus is on elegance, not power or concentration. A perfect choice for grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Syrah 2017

($35):  This big, bold Syrah has beautiful balance and bright acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  It conveys a splendid combination of savory, almost bacon fat-like nuances, spicy black pepper notes, and dark fruitiness. Though youthful and forceful, it is not overdone or boisterous.  Instead, there’s an appealing elegance to accompany all that muscle.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

Naumes Family Vineyards, Rouge Valley (Oregon) Tempranillo 2017

($30):  As much as I liked Naumes 2016 Tempranillo, their 2017 struck me as even better.  Its firmness and minerality presents a great contrast to the fleshy and fruitier Malbec.  It is structured without being aggressive or hard.  Its stature is apparent in the long and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  With air, its focus on minerality rather than fruitiness becomes more apparent. You could sip the Malbec by itself.   This serious Tempranillo needs a grilled steak.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 13, 2020

A Rogue in Oregon

One definition of rogue is “something out of the ordinary.”  It is fitting, then, that the Naumes Family Winery is located in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, because they certainly do something out of the ordinary.  Ordinary, in terms of Oregon wine, is pretty clear: superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and notable Pinot Gris.  While Naumes produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, they also produce out of the ordinary wines, both in varietal composition—Barbera, Grenache, Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Tempranillo—and most importantly, in quality.

The Rogue Valley, located in southern Oregon, bordering California, is named for the river that runs through it.  (French fur traders supposedly named it La Rivière aux Coquin [rogue] because they regarded the native tribes located there as coquins.)  Although the Willamette Valley is currently Oregon’s best-known wine producing region, the Rogue Valley was home to Oregon’s first official winery, Valley View Winery, established in 1873 by Peter Britt, according to the Oregon Wine Board.

The east-west orientation of the river and the surrounding valleys could explain the diversity of plantings because cooling Pacific breezes in the western-most part of the appellation allow varieties that prefer cooler climates, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to thrive.  The warmer and drier environment in the eastern areas are well-suited for varieties that need warmer conditions to achieve full ripeness.  But that broad generalization doesn’t explain the plethora of varieties of grapes Naumes Family Winery grows and wines it produces.   The varying elevations of the valleys’ hillsides also give growers flexibility for adopting plantings to local climatic conditions.

Corey Schultz, Naumes’ Winery Director, explains that it not as simple as the east-west orientation suggests.  They’ve been able to plant new varieties, Malbec, Barbera, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, Tempranillo, in addition to their existing ones, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache and Pinot Gris, all within a 15-mile radius because of the variation of elevations, temperatures, and wind flow patterns, according to Schultz.  As an example, he told me that one day in August the temperature on the valley floor hit 106ºF while at the same time it was 64ºF in the vineyards on the slopes.

Naumes Family Winery Syrah 2017 ($35):  This big, bold Syrah has beautiful balance and bright acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  It conveys a splendid combination of savory, almost bacon fat-like nuances, spicy black pepper notes, and dark fruitiness. Though youthful and forceful, it is not overdone or boisterous.  Instead, there’s an appealing elegance to accompany all that muscle.  93

Naumes Family Winery Malbec 2017 ($35):  Full disclosure: Malbec is not my favorite wine because too often it is just a big monotonic red wine.  So, I was shocked when I tasted this one.  There’s lots going on—fruit, to be sure, but smoke-y and earth-y nuances peek out as well.  Uplifting acidity keeps you coming back for more. Glossy tannins are especially appealing and allow you to enjoy it now.  93

Naumes Family Winery Tempranillo 2017 ($30):  As much as I liked their 2016 Tempranillo, their 2017 struck me as even better.  Its firmness and minerality presents a great contrast to the fleshy and fruitier Malbec.  It’s structured without being aggressive or hard.  Its stature is apparent in the long and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  With air, its focus on minerality rather than fruitiness becomes more apparent. You could sip the Malbec by itself.   This serious Tempranillo needs a grilled steak.  94

Naumes Family Winery, “Tanto Manta” 2017 ($40):  This fifty-fifty blend of Tempranillo and Grenache marries the two beautifully.  The Tempranillo provides structure and minerals while the Grenache contributes a floral fruitiness.  More approachable than the straight Tempranillo at this stage, it would be a good choice with a hearty pasta dish tonight.  92

Naumes Family Winery, Pinot Noir, 2017 ($40):  Captivating herbal notes are immediately apparent in the nose and later on the palate. A blend of several clones of Pinot Noir, this is a delicate and airy example of the varietal, displaying a wondrous mixture of savory and fruity flavors. Its focus is on elegance, not power or concentration. A perfect choice for grilled salmon.  92

Naumes Family Winery Pinot Noir “Clone 667” 2017 ($40):  I won’t get into the scientific definition of a clone as it relates to grape varieties.  Suffice it to say that in this case it’s a Pinot Noir with unique qualities.  The wine certainly is very different from their blended Pinot Noir, showing more fruit, more concentration and fewer earthy flavors.  In short, those who prefer more muscular Pinot Noir will embrace it.  90

Naumes Family Winery Pinot Noir “Pommard Clone” 2017 ($40):  If the Pinot Noir Clone 667 was the weight-lifter, this one is the ballerina.  Light in color and on the palate, it dances on the palate. It’s a captivating lighter style of Pinot Noir.  If you prefer the Clone 667, you won’t be enthralled by this one and vice-versa.  I’m enthralled by both because it shows that clones matter.  90

Naumes Family Winery Viognier 2018 ($30):  The Viognier grape is tough to translate properly into a wine.  Ripeness is necessary to release its inherent floral character, but over-ripeness results in a heavy wine.  Naumes strikes the balance. Lovely floral apricot aromas predict the stone fruit flavors that follow.  In a less well-crafter version, those stone fruit flavors would be heavy.  In this one, they’re bright, despite the 14.5% stated alcohol.  92
Posted by Michael Apstein at 6:25 PM

October 7, 2020

Pouilly-Fuissé Vineyards Finally Get Premier Cru Status

The Nazis were responsible for the lack of Premier Cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé.  As Frédéric Burrier, the head of the Pouilly-Fuissé growers’ organization, explains: In the 1940s, in Occupied France, the Germans could requisition village wines, but had to pay for ones, at least theoretically, from a higher classification.  At that time the only higher classification was Grand Cru.  Premier Cru did not exist.  So, growers there formalized the generally accepted classification of the better sites into a Premier Cru category that ranked above the village level.  Pouilly-Fuissé sat in so-called “Free France” (or Vichy France), where the Germans had to pay for all wines, even those with only a village classification.  Hence, there was no impetus for the growers to create a Premier Cru category.  Contrast that with neighboring Montagny in the Côte Chalonnaise, just over the dividing line.  Seventy-five percent of the vineyards became—and still are—Premier Cru.

It’s not as though there were no better situated vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, which was, and still is, the most important appellation in the Mâconnais, in southern Burgundy.  Of course there were.  Everyone agrees that Pouilly-Fuissé has plenty of superior vineyards that long ago should have been classified as Premier Cru.  The problem, as is often the case in parochial Burgundy, was that growers could not agree on where to draw the lines.

Even a cursory look around the iconic cliffs, Roche de Solutré and Roche de Vergisson, reveals the plethora of exposures of the vineyards.  Some must be better locales than others in this broad amphitheater that spreads over four villages, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé, Chaintré and Vergisson.  Just as the topography changes abruptly, so does the soil in this part of Burgundy.  Just a mile away over the next ridge, in Beaujolais, schist predominates, which is far better suited to Gamay than Chardonnay.  But in Pouilly-Fuissé the soil, although variable, is primarily limestone and clay, similar to the Côte d’Or, and an ideal environment for Chardonnay, the only grape allowed in the appellation.

Now, 75-plus years later, that glaring mistake has been corrected.  The French wine authority, the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), has recognized 22 vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé appellation that merit Premier Cru status.  The official timeline from submission to approval was lightning-fast by French bureaucratic standards: a decade.  Burrier, who also is the head of Château de Beauregard, one of Pouilly Fuissé’s leading domaines, noted that it took another decade of work prior to the submission to convince his fellow growers of the value of the endeavor.  The long process was necessary to allow the growers to become comfortable with the hierarchy of Premier Cru and to deal with the politics that inevitably arise when drawing boundaries.

The selection and delineation of the vineyards was stringent.  Officials relied on soil analysis and a history of the quality of the wines, including how they developed over time, from candidate sites.  Only about 25 percent of the total vineyard area of Pouilly-Fuissé is now designated as Premier Cru.  Compare this with Premier Cru designation in the Côte d’Or: roughly 33 percent of Chambolle-Musigny is Premier Cru.  Morey-St. Denis’ Premier Cru sites comprise about 40 percent of the vineyard area, and 75 percent of Beaune vineyards carry that designation.

The Premier Cru designation will appear on Pouilly-Fuissé labels starting with the 2020 vintage.  Paradoxically, despite adding 22 names to the lexicon, the new designation eliminates confusion.  Heretofore, a consumer would not know whether the name on the label was from a revered vineyard site, an ordinary piece of land, or a fantasy or brand name.  Now they will—because all of the top sites will carry the Premier Cru moniker.  A complete listing of new Premier Cru vineyards appears at the end of this article.

The new designation adds prestige to Pouilly-Fuissé in general because now, after all these years, it will share the same hierarchy as the rest of Burgundy.  The upgrade, the first addition of Premier Cru vineyards in Burgundy since 1943, marks the beginning of a new era for the entire Mâconnais region, according to Burrier.  Growers in neighboring St-Véran, for example, have already started the process of applying for Premier Cru status for some of that village’s vineyards.  Super-star producers from the Côte d’Or, such as Dominique Lafon, Domaine Leflaive and Maison Louis Jadot, have invested heavily in the Mâconnais.  More are sure to follow, especially as prices for vineyard land in the Côte d’Or remain in the stratosphere.

Audrey Braccini, winemaker and director at Domaine J. A. Ferret, another top domaine, believes that the new classification recognizes the quality of the wines from Pouilly-Fuissé and puts them on the same rank as other white wine appellations in Burgundy.  At Ferret, they are deciding how their labeling will evolve.  Traditionally, Domaine Ferret has always focused on individual climats (vineyards) using a time-honored, but somewhat confusing hierarchical ladder of “hors classé” and “tête de cuvée.”  Those terms may disappear and their Tournant de Pouilly bottling, for example, currently an “hors classé,” could be labeled a Premier Cru, Les Reisses, because the grapes come from that vineyard.

Beaune-based négociants, who are responsible for roughly 70 percent of the wine produced in Pouilly-Fuissé, will also need to adjust to the new classification.  Bernard Retournaz, head of Louis Latour, USA, told me that Maison Louis Latour, a top négociant, has contracts with two growers, each of whom has holdings in one of the newly designated Premier Cru vineyards, and will likely bottle those wines separately.  Conversely, Frédéric Barnier, winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, which also owns Domaine Ferret, will not bottle any Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé under the Jadot label, at least at this time, though he held out the possibility that they may do so in the future.

How exactly the new classification will change the quality and price of village Pouilly-Fuissé in the future remains to be determined because there are so many factors affecting the market today.  Certainly, Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus will be more expensive than the village wines.  Though prices have not yet been set, consumers should expect to pay at least 20 percent more for Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé from top growers or négociants.  In many cases, though, consumers may see little or no increase because Pouilly-Fuissé from top sites, such as Le Clos or Les Perrières, already cost more, even without the official Premier Cru designation.

Theoretically, the quality of village Pouilly-Fuissé could fall as wine from Premier Cru vineyards that previously went into the village bottling is now bottled separately.  Retournaz thinks that’s unlikely because climate change has helped previously marginal sites in Pouilly-Fuissé, so that overall quality is up.  Both Burrier and Braccini are adamant that they would still include Premier Cru wines in their village cuvées to maintain the quality of their village Pouilly-Fuissé.  They think their village wines could outshine some Premier Crus made by some of their neighbors.  Barnier insists that Jadot will maintain the quality of what he describes as their “premium” Pouilly-Fuissé.

Pricing of village Pouilly-Fuissé will be a different matter and impossible to predict.  Estimates indicate that about 70 percent of the overall production of Pouilly-Fuissé goes to the United States, and as such, it is almost a brand.  The large importers and distributors exert enormous pressure to keep the price constant and reasonable.  The 25 percent Trump tariff and the closure of restaurants due to Covid-19 have reduced demand, at least temporarily.  As a result, the prices négociants are paying growers for bulk wine is down, according to Burrier.  However, upward pressure on prices may be on the horizon if growers decide to bottle more Premier Cru, removing it from the bulk market.  As the French would say, on verra (we’ll see).

The new Premier Cru stratification is a splendid opportunity for consumers to experience the magic of Burgundian terroir at reasonable prices.  Burgundy so fascinates me because wines made using the same winemaking techniques from the same grape variety grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  It’s the magic of nature.  That discovery has become impossibly expensive using wines from the Côte d’Or.  However, the same magic exists in Pouilly-Fuissé.  So, I urge consumers to taste two or three Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus from the same producer to discover for yourself the stunning effect of nature.

Despite the plethora of new vineyard names to learn, my advice for Pouilly-Fuissé remains that for Burgundy in general: producer, producer, producer.  Here’s my short list of favorite domaines: Château de Beauregard, Château de Fuissé, Domaine Auvigue, Domaine Ferret, Domaine Jacques Saumaize, Domaine La Soufrandière, Domaine Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, and Domaine Roger Lassarat.  If the domaine wines are not available in your market, do not overlook those from the following négociants, whose wines are consistently good, well-priced and widely available: Maison Bouchard Père et Fils, Bret Brothers, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Louis Latour, and J. J. Vincent.

Under Vichy, and for the past 75 years, you couldn’t tell which were the best sites in Pouilly-Fuissé.  Now you can.

*         *         *

The new Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Vineyards, by village:

Chaintré:

Le Clos de Monsieur Noly
Les Chevrières
Aux Quarts
Le Clos Reyssier

Fuissé:

Le Clos
Les Brulés
Les Ménétrières
Les Reisses
Les Vignes Blanches
Les Perrières
Vers Cras

Solutré-Pouilly:

La Frérie
Le Clos de Solutré
Au Vignerais
En Sevry
Aux Bouthières
Aux Chailloux
Pouilly
Vers Cras (the vineyard spans Solutré-Pouilly and Fuissé)

Vergisson:

Les Crays
La Maréchaude
Sur La Roche
En France

*         *         *

E-mail me your thoughts about Pouilly-Fuissé at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein and on Instagram.

September 30, 2020

Miolo, Vale dos Vinhedos (Brazil) Brut “Cuvée Tradition” NV

($14, CapCity Beverage):  There’s probably no greater statement regarding the potential of the sparkling wine industry in Brazil than the investment by Moët & Chandon there in the 1970s.  Miolo has been producing sparkling wines from there vineyards in Vale dos Vinhedos, the first Brazilian area to receive DO status, long before Moët invested in the country.  This one, their Cuvée Tradition, is made, as the name implies, by the traditional Champagne method with the secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle.  A blend of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it was disgorged in 2017.  It has a lovely austerity.  Its charms blossom after being opened (and re-stoppered) for a day.  A fine stream of bubbles enlivens the palate.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 29, 2020

Casa Perini, Farroupilha (Serra Gaúcha, Brazil) Moscatel NV

($20, Aiko Imports):  Brazil ranks third in wine production in South America after Argentina and Chile, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine.  And almost a quarter of the country’s production is sparkling wine.  Most of the fine wine production is located in the Serra Gaúcha area, where Italian and German immigrants settled, in the southern (cooler — away from the equator) part of the country near the border with Uruguay.  Made with the Moscato grape, this sparkler is stylistically reminiscent of Asti Spumante — floral and slightly sweet.  It’s the type of bubbly you might sip while sitting by the pool in the afternoon since it weighs in at a mere 7.5 percent stated alcohol.
86 Michael Apstein Sep 29, 2020

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Vespa” 2019

($35, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  Barbera is a terrific wine for a meal because the grape has inherently high acidity, which makes it lively and perfect for food.  Its problem is image.  When consumers see many on retailers’ shelves selling for less than $10 a bottle, the question is, why spend more?  Well, let me tell you.  With Barbera, you get what you pay for.  Ten bucks gets you thin acidic swill.  Paying a bit more does wonders.  Take the Barberas from Cascina Caslet, a top producer.  This one, with a Vespa on the label, is juicy with ripe black fruitiness and fabulous balancing acidity that keeps it in balance.  Mild tannins lend structure without being aggressive.  Indeed, you could chill the wine for thirty minutes in the frig when it’s hot outside.  Try it with a hearty pasta dish.  You’ll fall in love with Barbera.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020

Cascina Castlet, Barbera d’Asti DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Litina” 2016

($40, Artisan Selections by Romano Brands):  The label sports CCC in bold letters on the bottle, the abbreviation of the winery, Cascina Caslet, plus the village, Costigliole, where it’s located. The important information can be found on the neck label. Similar to their Vespa bottling, the Litinia, named after a family member, is a robust wine that delivers black fruitiness buttressed by zippy acidity.  In addition, there’s an intriguing savory component and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish.  The biggest difference, however, is textural. It’s suave and displays an unusual sophistication for a Barbera.  This is serious wine that shows the potential of Barbera in the right hands.  It would be a great choice to accompany a grilled steak.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 8, 2020