Category Archives: Wine Review Online

Bodegas Vinedos de Murcia, Jumilla (Spain) Shiraz/Cabernet/Monastrell “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” 2003

($10, Click Imports): At least some Spaniards have learned quickly how to market Old World wines to us geographically-challenged New World wines drinkers. They put the seemingly incomprehensible, but of course, essential, geographic material on the back label. The consumer is captured by the far more memorable name, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, followed by the varietal blend, on the front label. This intriguing, big, but not overdone, wine has lots going on in it. Monastrell, the Spanish name for Mourvedre, adds an attractive gamey character. Not just a fruit bomb, the wine delivers exotics earthy flavors. A great value! 93 Michael Apstein Feb 21, 2006

Vintage New York

The current fashion in wine, certainly in New World wines, is for ripe, fruity flavors and the massive alcohol that invariably accompanies them. Consumers looking for alternatives need to look outside the mainstream. Wines from New York State, which certainly qualify as “outside the mainstream,” offer an extra touch of ripeness that is the New World’s signature, while retaining vibrancy that a cool climate imparts.

If New York wines have a problem, is not their quality but rather their lack of cachet. Although New York is the 3rd largest wine producing state in the USA, few outside of its boundaries recognize its wines. Even its citizens seem surprised when told that winemakers make excellent Merlot on Long Island.

Part of the problem stems from New York’s leading varietals, Riesling and Merlot. Wine connoisseurs and writers regularly praise Riesling, but when’s the last time you heard someone say, “I’ll have a glass of Riesling.” It’s just not a popular varietal at the moment. Merlot still retains its visibility, but has taken a bashing since Miles scornfully rejected it in the film, “Sideways.”

Riesling Reigns

Call it East Coast prejudice, but my vote for this country’s best site for Riesling goes to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York.

My vote goes to New York despite Eroica (the Riesling collaboration between Ernest Loosen and Chateau Ste Michelle, which has been a consistently delicious example since its first vintage, 1999) and despite the terrific Late Harvest Rieslings from Chateau St. Jean and Joseph Phelps from years past.

Nevertheless, the Finger Lakes Rieslings made by Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard and by Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes region are consistently sensational. Wiemer, who hails from the epicenter of great Riesling along the banks of Germany’s Mosel River, started his winery only in 1979. In a very short time, he has made world-class wines from the shores of Seneca Lake, judging from a tasting last year of his 1981 and 1982 Riesling and his 1984, 1986, and 1987 Selected Late Harvest Rieslings. These wines have aged beautifully, delivering astounding complexity. Their lush flavors are balanced by an invigorating acidity that makes them a pleasure to drink.

Paul Lukacs, one of the leading authorities on American wine, selected Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars as one of the 40 wines he profiled in his newest book, The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages (W. W. Norton). Frank’s 2004 Dry Riesling ($16) won a Gold Medal at the prestigious Critics Challenge Wine Competition 2005 and their 2003 rendition took a Gold Medal at the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition in 2005. It’s appropriate that Dr. Franks’ wines are receiving their well-deserved recognition because he, more than anyone, was responsible for the modern New York wine industry and the state’s great Rieslings.

Native American (vitis labrusca) grapes, such as Catawba and Concord were grown in the Finger Lakes region since the 19th century. Those varieties are great for making jelly, but not for making fine wine. Vitis vinifera, the species of grape common in Europe (and transplanted around the world to places such as California), is the one best suited for making premium wine such as Merlot, Riesling or Chardonnay. Upstate New York grape growers shunned Vitis vinifera, thinking it was too fragile to survive their winters. But Dr. Frank, a German born, Russian trained botanist, showed that vinifera vines could thrive in the region.

Frank, who immigrated to the US in the 1950s, had made wine from vinifera vines in the Ukraine, where the winters are more severe than in the Finger Lakes region. Experience taught him that the nearby lakes would moderate the climate and temperature and protect the vines during winter. In 1962, he founded his winery on the shores of Lake Keuka where he still makes superb Rieslings. The “lake effect” not only keeps the vines from freezing during the winter, but also cools them in the spring, retarding budbreak and protecting them against frost. The overall cool climate of upstate New York provides a perfect environment for Riesling and allows the grape to retain its hallmark vibrant, balancing acidity.

Considered by many connoisseurs to be the world’s best white wine variety, Riesling is under appreciated in the US. Many consumers perceive it as a sweet — and hence, unfashionable–wine. In truth most California versions are cloying and heavy because the warm climate there robs them of acidity. Well made Riesling from an appropriate climate is in my view the most versatile and food friendly white wine, ready to accompany a diversity of fare from spicy Asian cuisine to a summery clambake. Wines labeled Late Harvest Riesling, though too sweet for most food, are fabulous with cheese or by themselves after a meal.

Long Island: More than a Suburb of New York City

As in the Finger Lakes region, vinifera grapes grow well on the East End of Long Island (where virtually all of the wineries are located) because of the moderating influences of the Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite having a mere 24 wineries and 1,600 acres planted to vines (compared to 10,000 acres in the Finger Lakes and 50,000 acres in the Napa Valley), Long Island has been receiving recognition at national wine competitions as a place for making great wine. Galluccio Family Wineries on the North Fork was awarded “Winery of the Year, Eastern United States” at the Critics Challenge Wine Competition 2005 for their string of Gold Medal wines.

Some winemakers believe that Long Island wineries should focus on Merlot. First planted in 1974 by Hargrave Vineyard (the founder of the Long Island wine industry) and Mudd’s Vineyard, Merlot now accounts for about a third of all plantings. In late 2005, five wineries (Pellegrini Vineyards, Raphael, Sherwood House Vineyards, Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Wolffer Estate Vineyard) formed the Long Island Merlot Alliance in a “cooperative effort…to demonstrate to the wine world our commitment to…quality Merlot on Long Island.” (Curiously, Bedell Cellars, one of Long Island’s stellar Merlot producers and the only other New York winery profiled in Lukacs’ book, opted not to join the alliance.)

Roman Roth, winemaker at Wolffer Estate in Sagaponack in the Hamptons, compares the soil and climate on the East End to that of Bordeaux and believes that’s why Merlot, Bordeaux’s primary grape, does so well. (Wolffer also makes stellar Chardonnay, a grape not grown in Bordeaux). Merlot has the advantage of ripening early thus minimizing the chance the crop will be harmed by autumn rain, or by the unusual viticultural risk on Long Island of hurricanes. Many Long Island producers, such as Bedell Cellars, Raphael and Wolffer Estate, excel with this variety, using it to produce lush, deep wines. A tasting of Bedell’s Merlots in 2004 showed how beautifully the wines develop in the bottle. Their Merlots from 1987, 1993 and 1997 were magnificent examples of complex, classy wines. Bedell’s 2001 Reserve Merlot ($30) shows similar promise.

Wolffer consistently makes a range of superior Merlots. Since all the grapes, even from a single vineyard, are not of equal quality, a winemaker can select certain batches for a special bottling. Wolffer’s three Merlots (Reserve, $22, Estate Selection, $35, and Premier Cru, $125), all suave and silky, give consumers a chance to compare different quality levels and to decide which fits their budget.

Raphael, one of the newest Long Island wineries, has devoted 70% of its roughly 50 acres to Merlot because they thought it had a proven track record on the North Fork. Their 2000 First Label Merlot ($35) is sumptuous; the 2001 La Fontana Merlot, their second label (think junior varsity) is a great $20 bottle of wine.

Other winemakers don’t want to put all their grapes in one basket. They feel that there is inadequate experience to know what grapes grow best and that focusing exclusively on Merlot could be problematic in the future. Martha Clara Vineyards, located on the North Fork, hosts an annual Anything But Chardonnay & Merlot Festival where last year several Long Island wineries poured marvelous examples of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and other varietal wines. The warmer climate on Long Island, compared to the Finger Lakes, allows Sauvignon Blanc to ripen well, avoiding the overly grassy or herbaceous flavors that sometimes bedevil that wine. The 2004 Sauvignon Blanc from Macari Vineyards ($16) and from Paumanok Vineyards ($20) and Osprey Dominion Vineyard’s 2002 Fumé Blanc ($15) are all excellent.

Cabernet Franc, like Merlot, ripens early and is also well suited to the area. Macari Vineyards’ 2002 Cabernet Franc, an outstanding wine, shows how well a talented winemaker can do with this grape ($24). Similarly, Martha Clara’s 2004 Gewqrztraminer ($16), with lovely, but not over-the-top, spice suggests a promising future for this varietal.

Long Island Chardonnays are more restrained than their opulent California counterparts because the grapes become less ripe in this cooler climate. Most Long Island wineries make at least one Chardonnay, selecting grapes according to quality. Lenz Winery makes three particularly noteworthy ones labeled White, Silver or Gold Label Chardonnay ($12, $15 and $23, respectively). Two of Galluccio Family Wineries’ Gold Medals from the Critics Challenge Wine Competition 2005 were for their refined Gristina Chardonnay ($13) and their wonderfully expressive and balanced Cru George Allaire Chardonnay ($22).

Although vineyards were planted on Manhattan during Colonial times, the state’s industry is young, with more than 80% of the wineries founded since the New York Farm Winery Act was enacted in 1976. Prices for New York wines are reasonable too, considering their quality. Unlike California, there is only one New York wine selling for over $100 a bottle; most cost between $15 and $30. Given the industry’s youth and the region’s obscurity, some consumers are surprised that the prices are not lower. They fail to realize that making premium wine is expensive because, like waterfront property, there is a limited supply of prime locales for vineyards. And sadly, for the consumer, if New York wineries continue to make wines like these, their reputation will catch up with the quality and prices will rise.

Special thanks to Samuel Seidman, Wiemer’s former distributor in Massachusetts, for the opportunity to taste the older Wiemer Rieslings.

February 14, 2006.

Montes, Apalta Valley (Colchagua, Chile) Syrah “Folly” 2003

($70, TGIC Importers): Made entirely from Syrah grown on the upper slopes of Montes’Apalta Valley Vineyard, this is an unabashedly big and extracted wine with flavors that emerge over time in the glass. Oak notes are apparent, but not overwhelming, and the ripe supple tannins provide structure that keeps you coming back for more. The extraordinary length is an indication that this wine will develop beautifully over the next year. 93 Michael Apstein Jan 17, 2006

Selecting Wine in a Restaurant

It is the part of restaurant dining that most people dread. You are with a group of colleagues or friends, or perhaps on a special date. The conversation is flowing, everyone is relaxed and having a good time. Then, the waiter gives you the wine list. As though selecting a wine were not difficult enough as things stand, restaurants have made navigating the wine list more difficult by a lack of consistency in its organization. Sometimes the wines are arranged in a traditional fashion by regions, while other lists arrange the wines by style or grape variety, mixing white Burgundies with California Chardonnay since they are made from the same grape. To make matters worse, most lists are certainly not priced in a way that encourages experimentation.

If all restaurants approached wine the way Disney does at their Napa Rose restaurant in Anaheim or their California Grill atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando, ordering wine in a restaurant would be painless and educational. At those establishments, the staff encourages customers to taste any or all of the scores of wines they offer by the glass to help decide what to order with dinner. They realize that the wholesale cost of the wine is insignificant compared to the value of pleasing and keeping a customer.

Until that attitude moves nationwide, diners will have to rely on broad guidelines and general advice to help them through what can be an ordeal.

Upscale Restaurants

In upscale restaurants that emphasize wine, I’d advise you to ask the waiter or sommelier for assistance. True sommeliers, as in France, are responsible for every stage of restaurant wine service, from buying to pouring. They select the wines for the restaurant by tasting hundreds of bottles supplied by distributors or by visiting wineries directly. They decide which wines can be put on the list immediately and which need to be cellared for service in the future. And, of course, they advise diners. In the United States, sommeliers typically have less responsibility because wine is a less important component of the meal and few American restaurants buy wine to cellar themselves. A few Boston sommeliers, such as Jeannie Rodgers at Il Capriccio in Waltham and Cat Silirie at No 9 Park in Boston, while not going to the lengths of their European counterparts, find treasures for their lists that are not widely available in the retail market.

In other wine savvy restaurants, a sommelier or someone on the staff has tasted and selected all the wines on the list based on what they like and what they feel goes with their food. The typical restaurant wine buyer has endless opportunities to sample hundreds of wines from which to construct a list. Rely on his or her advice. Many consumers still have a cynicism regarding wine recommendations in a restaurant, as if the staff is “pushing” a particular item. While some producers, wholesalers or distributors may offer incentives to restaurants to sell a particular wine once it is on the list, the fact remains that most restaurateurs do not buy items they do not like, regardless of the incentives that may be offered.

Ask the person who gives you the wine list if the restaurant has a sommelier or someone who can advise you about selecting a wine. Voice your preference for red or white or inform the sommelier what your table has ordered. Do not be shy or embarrassed about your preference regarding price. Suggest a price either verbally or by pointing to the right hand column of the list and saying, “what can you suggest in this range?” If you do not suggest a price range, a good waiter or sommelier should offer a couple of suggestions in different price ranges, according to several Boston sommeliers.

Apstein’s Crib Sheet

Ordering wine is more difficult at a restaurant where wine is not a priority and the wait staff knows no more about it than you do. You are truly on your own. Here are the general characteristics of the most important wines to assist you in selecting one with dinner. Since the French generally label wines by where the grapes are grown instead of the name of the grape, important place names where that grape is grown are in parenthesis.

White Wines

Chardonnay (white Burgundy including Chablis, Macon-Villages and Pouilly Fuissé): Creamy, rich, and suave, Chardonnay is a good choice for unadorned seafood, or any fish, chicken, and veal preparations that emphasize butter or cream. California Chardonnays tend to be fuller and riper than their French counterparts. Their familiarity and popularity adds to the price.

Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre and Pouilly Fume): The hallmark of Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes simply called Sauvignon, especially in Italy) is a pleasantly piercing citric character that makes it perfect for spicy or highly flavored dishes. While a touch of coriander or hot chili in a dish obliterates Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand or South Africa, can take the heat. These are ideal wines for Asian influenced cuisine or dishes with lots of different flavors.

Riesling: Riesling from Alsace in eastern France (where they do put the grape name on the label) or Australia is like my father’s rosé: it goes with anything (only in this case, it is true). Many consumers overlook Riesling because of a fear it will be sweet. Most from California and Germany are indeed sweet, but not so for ones from Alsace or Australia. An extremely versatile wine, dry Riesling has a mineral quality and bracing acidity which makes it excellent throughout a meal. The classic match for pork, it is also excellent with all types of fowl, from chicken to goose.

Red Wines

Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux): Intense black fruit flavors typically with an attractive hard edge makes Cabernet Sauvignon a good foil for the fat infused, succulent flavors of beef or lamb.

Merlot (Bordeaux): Softer edges make Merlot more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon, but for practical purposes, it can be used interchangeably at the dinner table. Most Bordeaux is blend of the two grapes and is usually less intense than the Australian or Californian versions of either.

Pinot Noir (red Burgundy): Pinot Noir can be a heavenly wine. Deceptively light, it explodes with bright cherry and strawberry-like flavors, without the astringency typical of most red grapes. It is versatile, equally at home with beef (as in boeuf bourguignon), duck, roast chicken, or even grilled salmon. Just check the credit limit on your card before you order. They are never inexpensive.

Syrah or Shiraz (Rhone wines such as Côtes du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Hermitage): Most Californians call these Syrah while the Aussies call them Shiraz. In either case, they are spicy, full-flavored wines that insist on robust foods, such as stews, casseroles, and other winter fare. Like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, they also are a good choice for beef or lamb.

Italian Food

Since Italian restaurants play such a large role in dining out for Americans, they deserve a category of their own. Despite the potentially confusing labeling (the Italians use both place and grape names for their wines), opt for Italian wines whenever dining in Italian restaurants. Their hallmark, naturally high acidity, cuts the oil and garlic flavors indigenous to the cuisine. For whites, in addition to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, try Vermentino or Sauvignon (all grape names). They are clean, light-bodied refreshing whites that are lovely with seafood. The choice of reds to accompany pasta, meat, and even fish in a tomato-based sauce, is virtually limitless. It is hard to go wrong with Chianti (a place) and its bright cherry-like flavors devoid of sticky tannins, a silky Valpolicella (a place), or a spicier Barbera (a grape).

Concluding Advice

Take advantage of a producer’s consistency and style. If you have enjoyed a Mondavi Chardonnay in the past, but the meal calls for a red wine, you will probably be pleased with one of the winery’s Cabernets or Merlots. Similarly, if you remember fondly a humble Beaujolais by Louis Jadot, you will not be disappointed if you splurge on one of this producer’s upper end white Burgundies.

The least expensive wine of the list usually offers the worst value because it is usually marked up the most. You can find a much more interesting choice for just a few dollars more.

When ordering a bottle of wine to serve as an aperitif or pre dinner drink, inform the waiter of your intentions so he can bring it immediately. Often, there is an inexplicable delay in staff bringing wine to the table.

Wine sold by the glass potentially allows customers to enjoy wine with a meal when only one person is drinking or when you wish to sample a variety of wines with different courses. Be sure the restaurant opened the bottle that evening or has a system to store opened bottles under inert gas to keep the wines fresh. It is especially risky to order wine by the glass at lunch, since the bottles used were often opened the night before.

A glass of port is a pleasant way to finish a meal, especially during the winter. Vintage port, the most prestigious category, is sturdier than ordinary table wine, but nevertheless loses its freshness after being opened for more than a day. Before ordering it, inquire when the bottle was opened. A safer choice is a glass of well-aged, 20 or 40 year old tawny port, which has been exposed to air over its entire life. It will not have deteriorated significantly sitting in a bottle opened even months earlier.

January 17, 2006.

Fonseca, Douro Valley (Portugal) Late Bottled Vintage Port 2000

($22, Kobrand): Late Bottled Vintage Port 2000 ($22, Kobrand): Late Bottled Vintage Port or LBV, is a reasonable alternative to vintage Port. Bottled after five or six years of barrel aginginstead of two for vintage Portit needs no further aging upon release nor decanting since its sediment remains behind in the barrel. Fonseca, one of the consistently great Port houses, has crafted a brilliant LBV in 2000. Spice, an exotic complexity, and wonderful balance complement its power. 90 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2006

Delamotte, Champagne (France) Blanc de Blancs Brut 1997

($74, Wilson Daniels, Ltd.): I suppose it is no surprise that Delamotte, a house located in Mesnil (perhaps the single best village in the Cotes des Blanc, the area of Champagne where Chardonnay reigns supreme) should make a stellar Blanc de Blancs. It doesn’t hurt that it is adjacent to Salon–both are owned by Laurent-Perrier–and uses Salon’s grapes when that house opts not to produce a vintage Champagne. Delamotte’s creamy and elegant 1997 has a suaveness, imparted only by Chardonnay, that seems to go on forever. 94 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2006

Bollinger, Champagne (France) Brut “Grande Année” 1997

($110, Paterno): Bollinger’s vintage Champagne, Grande Année, is rapidly reaching tête du cuvée prices, but at least the quality is there. No longer the bargain of past years (but what is?) Bollinger continues to make stunning vintage Champagne. More forward than their superb 1996, the 1997 Grand Année has that signature brioche toastiness, penetrating flavors without being aggressive, and luxurious length. 94 Michael Apstein Jan 3, 2006

Reserve Wines Score, But at What Price?

Bait and switch, an unsavory tactic in the used-car business, is finding its way into the wine industry. Think of the bait as a New World reserve wine that is produced simply to generate a 90-point-plus score from a top wine critic. Think of the switch as the regular bottling of the same wine, which is more likely to be what’s available to the average consumer.

A reserve wine in the New World typically is a super selection of a winery’s best production, although it can represent the entire output because there is no legal definition of a reserve wine in the United States. They are usually produced in tiny quantities and sometimes are only available at the winery or to the restaurant trade.

Enter bait and switch. A consumer orders a reserve Cabernet with dinner at an upscale restaurant, is wowed by its concentration and extraction, and looks for it at the local retail wine shop. But he is forced to buy the regular bottling, because that’s the only one available in the shop. The regular bottling pales in comparison because removing the best ten percent of the wine for the reserve strips it of flavor and concentration.

Winemakers acknowledge the potential problem. They defend the practice with the claim that skimming off “only” five to ten percent–a typical amount of reserve wine compared to the regular bottling–does not diminish the quality of the normal bottling.

At the same time, they agree that even a one or two percent addition of Petit Verdot or Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon alters the wine significantly. In that context, their argument that “it’s only ten percent” seems hollow. The next time you have the chance to taste a producer’s reserve side by side with the normal bottling, make your own blend by adding back ten percent of the reserve wine to the regular bottling to see what a difference it makes.

I first noticed the phenomenon at a vertical tasting of Pinot Noir from a prominent Oregon producer, who shall remain nameless. Starting with its first vintage, the wines improved dramatically with each successive year, as would be expected from its increasing experience and the increasing age of the vines. Then, after about five vintages, the quality dropped noticeably. That wine was not from a particularly poor vintage in Oregon. Rather, it was the first year they introduced their delicious super reserve bottling. In the process, however, they stripped their regular bottling of its usual excitement.

The cru classé of the Médoc take a different approach, which bears emulating. Instead of skimming the cream from the top and calling it a reserve, the Bordelais remove inferior wine–a third to a half in some years–and bottle it under a second label. Although they sell it at a lower price, they maintain the integrity, and price, of their primary bottling. The increase in quality of Château Léoville Las Cases in the 1980’s and Château Lagrange more recently has been due, in part, to creation and expansion of their second labels.

The Italians have codified reserve wines, which limits, but does not eliminate, potential for abuse. A riserva, although typically selected in the cellar, must be aged longer before release. Knowledgeable consumers realize that there are two styles of Italian wine–a non-riserva, ready-to-drink everyday wine and a riserva, which is a sturdier wine that needs even more bottle aging. Also, many Chianti Classico Riservas, such as Vignamaggio’s Monna Lisa, come from particular sections of the property and are not just a selection of the best barrels in the cellar.

Some forward-thinking Tuscan producers reject the concept of a reserve wine. Paolo di Marchi, owner of Isola and Olena, no longer makes a riserva because he feels that by doing so, he dilutes the quality of his regular Chianti Classico. This philosophy may explain why his regular Chianti Classico is consistently excellent.

While the reserve bandwagon has chiefly been a New World experience (there is even a California winery that produced a Very Special Reserve), wine critic Robert Parker’s influence has caused it to surface in the Rhone Valley as wineries there try to impress him with ever more concentrated wines.

It is ironic that French producers, the champions of “terroir,” embrace the practice. Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers may not label their special wines, but that’s what they are. Twenty years ago there were practically no special cuvées in the Southern Rhône. Now many Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers have not only one, but two special wines. Sensing the commercial value of these bottlings, even Côtes du Rhône producers are starting to bottle special cuvées.

No doubt the producers are motivated to show what exceptional wines they can make with their raw materials. But when I asked one why he made a special bottling, he replied that if Guigal could reap such financial success from his single-vineyard bottlings, why not he.

But what Guigal is doing in Côte Rôtie is fundamentally different. He is bottling wines made from grapes grown in uniquely situated vineyards. As I walked the vineyards with Philippe Guigal, he showed me that the La Mouline vineyard was situated in a unique amphitheater, with a heat-retaining nature that helped ripen the grapes.

Philippe noted that the adjoining vineyard, not even separated by a footpath, which Guigal had acquired with his purchase of two local firms, had excellent exposure and was a wonderful vineyard, “but it is not La Mouline.” Philippe noted that its fruit would not be used to expand La Mouline’s miniscule production.

Guigal’s latest super duper Hermitage bottling, Ex Voto, while not from a single vineyard, comes from his own vineyards–again recently acquired–and is not a selection of the best barrels of his négociant Hermitage. In that regard he is similar to the Burgundian négociant who produces two wines from the same vineyard, one from his own vines and one from purchased fruit.

Not all New World producers embrace the reserve concept. Napa’s Shafer Vineyards traditionally makes its flagship wine, Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, from grapes grown in a distinctive area of the estate, not a selection of the best barrels in the cellar. Its unique profile and power derives from the location of the vines. Some Oregon Pinot Noir producers, such as Bethel Heights, eschew the reserve designation and instead present a plethora of single-vineyard bottlings.

Just because some single-vineyard wines have tiny productions, do not confuse them with “reserve” wines. A single-vineyard wine is created by nature and its limited availability is a function of nature.

Reserve wine is created by man; by a selection in the cellar, at the expense of the other wines. Its scarcity often leads a consumer to settle, unknowingly, for an inferior wine bearing the same name.

December 20, 2005

Rancho Zabaco, California (United States) Zinfandel “Dancing Bull” 2003

($12): Even allowing for the fact that the Gallo empire can draw upon vast vineyard resources strewn across California, it still amazes me that they can pull together a Zin this fine for twelve bucks. This wine is actually more interesting and useful than many counterparts now selling for upwards of $20 in the current Zin-crazed era, and though its balanced, integrated profile won’t jerk you to attention like many other bottlings, it will win your admiration with its impressive combination of bold flavor and seamless integration. The lead note of fresh berries is augmented by a nice spicy edge and just a little whiff of wood. 88 Michael Apstein Dec 6, 2005

Who Says New World Wines Don’t Develop?

The major criticisms of wines from the New World are that they have too much fruit and alcohol and too little subtlety and elegance. Critics go on to say that these wines are unbalanced and fail to develop complexity and layers of non-fruit flavors as they age. I have voiced these complaints on a regular basis, especially when tasting through a lineup of 15%+ alcohol wines from California or Australia.

I suspect that this style of in-your-face wine is encouraged and reinforced by current fads in restaurants. Many establishments prized as much for their ambience as their food, are painfully loud and serve food that is over-the-top with flavor. Wines in this setting must be flamboyant just to be noticed. With alcohol levels often hitting 15% and concentration to match, they almost scream. The era of elegance and restraint in food–and wine–is fading.

So, despite my admitted prejudice, I confess that a recent vertical tasting of Wynns’ “Black Label” Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon convinced me that some New World wines can indeed develop as beautifully over time as their Old World counterparts.

Wynns “Black Label” Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon

The tasting spanned five decades, starting with the 1954, which was Wynns’ first vintage of the Black Label Cabernet. The exquisite development of some of the wines was amazing enough, but even more startling was the disclosure that these were inexpensive wines not intended for long term aging. (The current release, the 2001, costs about $16 a bottle). Moreover, they were not made in miniscule quantities. Production averaged roughly 40,000 cases annually, according to Suzanne Hodder, Wynns’ Chief Winemaker. Finally, Black Label Cabernet is not even Wynns’ flagship Cabernet. That distinction goes to the one bottled under the John Riddoch label. Nevertheless, these wines (especially the 1976) showed enormous complexity and length while retaining their distinctively Australian identity.

John Riddoch, a Scottish pioneer, founded what is now Wynns Coonawarra Estate soon after arriving in South Australia in the middle of the 19th century. The first to plant vines in Coonawarra, he established the Penola Fruit Company and made his first wines in 1895. He built the now iconic triple-gabled limestone cellars–Wynns’ trademark–two years later. At the end of the 19th century, he was responsible for having the town named Coonawarra (the Aboriginal word for honeysuckle). The Coonawarra region, like much of Australia, turned from producing wine to making brandy until after World War II, and was just starting to return to fine wine when Samuel and David Wynn purchased the estate in 1951.

Coonawarra, located near the coast about 200 miles southeast of Adelaide in the state of South Australia, is today one of that country’s most famous viticultural areas. A cigar shaped strip roughly 15 miles long by a mile wide, Coonawarra is famous for its red (iron laden) soil (“terra rossa”) sitting atop limestone, and is widely regarded as the source of Australia’s best Cabernets.

According to Hodder, Wynns has the oldest significant Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the region. (Penfolds Kalima 42, a small vineyard, is the oldest plot in Coonawarra). Wynns was the first to plant Cabernet widely in Coonawarra, which helps explain why the fruit for the Black Label comes from relatively old vines averaging 28 years in age. Wynns is the largest estate in the region, accounting for a whopping 70% of the vineyards in the terra rossa area. About 90% of the grapes for their Black Label Cabernet comes from their vineyards scattered throughout Coonawarra, and Hodder regards this as a key for assuring quality.

Barrel aging of the Black Label Cabernet has changed over the decades from large casks to smaller oak barrels. Since 1985, Wynns has used a combination of small French and America oak barrels, of which only 20% are new. Hodder says they aim for “oak aging, not oak flavor.”

The Wines

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1954 (no longer available commercially): With a white label bearing the word Cabernet, this 50+ year old wine delivers hints of cedar and tobacco, but the exotic, gamey aromas and flavors tell you you’re not in Bordeaux. Not surprisingly, it fades in the glass and the acid shows, but it’s still a remarkable wine. 86

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1958 (no longer available commercially): Even though it tasted older than the ’54, its tannic structure was more apparent. Nonetheless, it was similarly exotic with an attractive leathery character. This one and the 1954 were clearly past their prime, but it took little imagination to see what they would have been like 10 or 20 years earlier. 84

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1976 (no longer available commercially): Hodder tells me that 1976 was a great vintage in Coonawarra. There’s no question about that–judging from this fabulous wine. An alluring nose is followed by an intriguing combination of fresh and dried fruit, leather, and earth flavors. Perfectly balanced, it is long and complex. Ken Ward, the winemaker at the time, said that this was simply made as a wine for everyday drinking. Hodder attributes part of its splendor to a greater focus on quality in general as the Australian wine market became more sophisticated. Wynns also had just switched from using large casks for aging to small old oak barrels. 96

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1980 (no longer available commercially): Herbal, leafy aromas and a vegetal hint suggested this wine was made from under-ripe grapes. Hodder noted that they moved away from this style during the 1980s. 80

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1994 (no longer available commercially): Ripe and lush, this still-youthful wine shows considerable development in the glass. Big, yet wonderfully balanced with a long finish, it should continue to evolve for at least another decade, but it is quite delicious now. 94

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 1996 (no longer available commercially): Another great success, the 1996 is similar to the ’94, with aromas of tobacco that unfold in the glass. Succulent, juicy black fruit flavors, balanced beautifully by fine tannins, persist into a long finish. The ’94 and ’96 certainly support Hodder’s preference for drinking these wines when they are 8 to 12 years old. 94

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 2001 ($16, Foster’s Wine Estates): A warmer year produced this opulent but classy wine. Loaded with primary black fruit flavors, yet still balanced by supple tannins, it is easy to see why consumers enjoy Black Label in its youth. An excellent value! 92

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 2002 (Not yet released): Not quite as plush as the 2001, the 2002 reflects a slightly cooler growing season. Still a big, intense wine, the firmer tannins would make this a good match for steak or rack of lamb. 87

Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Coonawarra (Australia) Cabernet Sauvignon “Black Label” 2004 (A representative, but not final, barrel sample): Wynns started a vine rejuvenation program in the 1990s and intensified it after the 2002 vintage. The objective was to save old vineyards by severe pruning and new trellising. The 2004 is a product of this concerted effort. Although what I tasted was a barrel sample, it showed terrific promise with juicy, lively red and black fruit elements followed by a supple, harmonious finish. It already has balance, which seems the hallmark of Black Label Cabernet.

Is Lower Alcohol the Key?

These Black Label Cabernets have aged and developed beautifully. But up until the 2001 vintage, none had alcohol levels above 13.5% (the 1976 weighed in at 13%). Time will tell whether the current releases, with more alcohol (the 2001 and 2002 hold 14%) will develop similarly. Hodder noted that they selected these vintages not because they were the best, but because they “show styles and trends in winemaking even though you think you’re style-immune.” Let’s hope the current trend of 15+% alcohol wines goes the way of the vegetal, under-ripe style.

November 22, 2005

Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough: A True New World Terroir

The French speak passionately about terroir, a concept maintaining that the character of a wine comes from the unique climate and soil where the grapes are grown. They claim grapes are mere vehicles for transmitting the flavor of the earth into the wine from which they are crafted. Hence, the French usually name their wines after the places where the grapes are grown rather than after the grape varieties from which the wines are made.

For me, the most compelling evidence for this concept comes from Bordeaux. The blend for Chateau Lagrange, a consistently delicious wine from St. Julien, is different each year depending on how each variety ripens. Marcel Ducasse, the proprietor, uses more or less Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend depending on the vintage. In 2000, the finished wine was comprised of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot (with no Petit Verdot). Compare that to the 2002 vintage, when Ducasse used 54% Cabernet, 33% Merlot, and 13% Petit Verdot. Despite the dramatic differences in varietal composition, both wines are easily identifiable as Chateau Lagrange. But the French do not have a monopoly on terroir. Sauvignon Blanc grown in the Marlborough region of New Zealand imparts a “sense of place” as stongly as any wine in the world.

The advantage for consumers of wines that have a sense of place is predictability. Just as you know what to expect in terms of basic character from Chateau Lagrange year after year, you know what to expect from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Even when a winemaker incorporates a little Semillon in the blend or ages a portion of the wine in oak barrels, the inherently “place-specific” character of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc–a piercing citric quality and electrifying edge–still shines.

New Zealand is probably the only country in the world where vineyards contain more Sauvignon Blanc than Chardonnay. And in Marlborough, located at the northeastern tip of the South Island (and New Zealand’s most acclaimed area for Sauvignon Blanc), there is five times the acreage devoted to Sauvignon Blanc as to Chardonnay.

Sauvignon Blanc thrives in Marlborough and produces distinctive wine primarily because of the place’s climate–lots of sunshine, but not a lot of heat. Blenheim, a town in the middle of Marlborough, usually has more sunny hours than any other place in New Zealand, according to Michael Cooper, a leading authority on New Zealand wine. Marlborough’s climate is cool, especially at night, and is comparable to vineyards on Germany’s Rhine River. The combination of sun without excessive heat means that the grapes ripen slowly, developing deep flavors while maintaining good acidity. Cool temperatures at night prevent the degradation of malic acid in the grapes, and the resulting wines are flavor-filled and lively.

It is staggering to realize how Marlborough has established itself as one of the world’s great areas for Sauvignon Blanc in such a short time. No grapes were planted there until 1973, and the first Sauvignon Blanc vines went in a couple of years later. In about three decades, Marlborough has gone from producing no wine at all to crafting world class Sauvignon Blanc. It is illuminating to compare that time span to the history of the Loire Valley towns of Sancerre, Quincy and Pouilly-sur-Loire (home to Pouilly Fumé), which have been growing Sauvignon Blanc for centuries. Similarly, in Bordeaux where Sauvignon Blanc is a mainstay of that region’s white wine, the grape has been planted for hundreds of years.

Although New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs take top honors every year at the International Wine for Oysters Competition at Washington D.C.’s Old Ebbitt Grill, they are equally well suited to other types of seafood. Their bracing acidity and overall edginess also makes them a good choice for pairing with spicy Asian fare.

These are wines to drink young–upon release. The appealing piercing quality that is their hallmark is lost with age. Kiwi winemakers use every technique they can to capture and preserve that character, which explains why most of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are bottled with screwcaps.

I have been a fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for years and have tasted a wide range of them from every recent vintage. The 2004 vintage stands out as a year when it seems that almost every producer made exciting wine. It’s hard to go wrong even if you close your eyes and point randomly at any bottle on a store shelf. But for those who would like some specific advice, here are 20 that I found particularly appealing:

The Crossings, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Reserve “Catherine’s Run” 2002 ($27, W. J. Deutsch & Sons): An exception to the “drink ’em young” rule, the Crossings 2002 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a gorgeous, classy wine. Fermentation and aging for a brief time in three year-old French oak barrels added complexity without imparting oakiness. There’s no doubt regarding the originating location behind this wine–the signature cutting edge of Marlborough has not been lost–but there is much more going on in the glass than usual. An eye-opening treat. 95

Babich, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc “Winemakers Reserve” 2004 ($20, Select Fine Wines): This rich expression of Sauvignon Blanc is less angular than most, but still retains attractive zing and acidity. It delivers enticing complexity without losing its focus. 92

Cloudy Bay, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($30 Moët Hennessy USA): Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc is credited with introducing American consumers to the category–and perhaps to New Zealand wines in general. The 2004 continues Cloudy Bay’s winning streak of combining an attractive, slightly smoky, almost gunflint quality (which adds considerable complexity) with a vibrant, citric zing. 92

Gravitas, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc St. Arnaud’s Vineyard 2004 ($ distributor): I predict that we will see more single vineyard bottlings as winemakers and viticulturists gain experience with Marlborough’s microclimates and diverse soils. Gravitas has produced a stylish, delicious wine etched with smoke, minerals, and a racy lime finish. 92

Nautilus, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($18, Negociants USA): A lively wine, this has good weight and plenty of fruit and minerality to balance its citric acidity. A stellar example of what Marlborough has to offer. 92

Tohu, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($16, Davies & Co): One of the few wines of this vintage still sporting a cork closure, this has alluring herbaceous notes intertwined with minerality. Its broad range of flavors is balanced by its zingy citric edge. 92

Brancott Vineyards, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2004 ($21, Allied Domecq): Brancott–known as Montana everywhere else in the world–was the leading company to invest in and develop Marlborough in the 1970s. The company has extensive vineyards from which to select fruit for its Reserve bottling. It’s no surprise that their 2004 Reserve combines great depth and length with the quintessential grapefruit tang of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. 91

Mount Riley, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($16, Quintessential): Mount Riley is riding a string of successful vintages of Sauvignon Blanc. Their 2004 has an appealing pungency and an almost electrifying zip to it. 90

Spy Valley, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($23, Broadbent Selections): Although the name of the winery comes from a nearby electronic surveillance station, there is nothing clandestine about this Sauvignon Blanc. It delivers appealing gooseberry flavors and that signature Marlborough grapefruit-like edginess. 90

Huia, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($23, Via Pacifica): I’ve always liked Huia’s Sauvignon Blancs, and their 2004 is no exception. The lemon-lime flavors are clear, but do not dominate this well-balanced wine. 89

Matua Valley, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($13, Beringer Blass Wine Estates): Matua Valley produced New Zealand’s first Sauvignon Blanc in 1974 near Auckland on the North Island. Their 2004 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, vibrant and long, is a super buy. 89

Wither Hill Vineyards, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($20, Paterno Wines International): A plethora of flavors, buttressed by refreshing and penetrating acidity makes Wither Hill’s 2004 an easy wine to recommend. 89

Coopers Creek, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($16, various importers; refer to Coopers Creek website for importer in your area): Hints of smoke and minerals add intrigue to the lime-infused flavors in this wine. It’s a balanced beauty. 88

Glazebrook, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($17, Frederick Wildman): Even with a slightly less citric signature than most of its counterparts, Marlborough character still shines through in this wine, which culminates in a grapefruit-like finish. 88

Twin Islands, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($11): Lemony and lively, this is an easy-to-recommend example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A great value. 88

Redcliffe, Marlborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($12, Palm Bay Imports): Redcliffe’s rendition, a more straightforward offering than most, retains the quintessential Marlborough zip and is another great value. 88

Postscript: Marlborough Doesn’t Have a Monopoly on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Outstanding Sauvignon Blanc also originates from other locales in New Zealand. Martinborough, located at the southern end of the North Island, is a stone’s throw away (across Cook Strait) from Marlborough. Looking at a map, it not hard to imagine that these two areas were attached before being separated by some hiccup during the earth’s formation. Well known for some of New Zealand’s most prized Pinot Noir, Martinborough also makes noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc.

Craggy Range Winery, Martinborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc, Te Muna Road Vineyard 2004 ($23, Kobrand): Slightly less piercing than its counterparts from across Cook strait, Craggy Range’s version has a captivating minerality and depth that results in an outstanding wine. 92

Palliser Estate, Martinborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($19, Negociants USA): Also a little less edgy than the ones from Marlborough, Palliser’s 2004 Sauvignon Blanc has an extra dimension of minerality. 91

Pencarrow, Martinborough (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($13, Negociants USA): Pencarrow, the second label of Palliser Estate, offers solid wine at an excellent price. Their 2004 Sauvignon Blanc is flinty with good substance and an attractive bite. 88

Mount Difficulty, Central Otago (New Zealand) Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($19, American Estates Wines): Located in Central Otago (a tiny area in the southern part of the South Island known best for its Pinot Noir), Mount Difficulty made a dynamite 2004 Sauvignon Blanc. Its name notwithstanding, subtle earthy flavors balanced by cleansing citric zing and a long finish make it easy to enjoy. 92

October 25, 2005

Archery Summit, Oregon (United States) Pinot Noir Arcus Estate 2002

($75): Archery Summit, Oregon (United States) Pinot Noir Arcus Estate 2002 ($75): Arcus Estate, a 40 acre vsite, is Archery Summit’s largest vineyard. The Willamette appellation was introduced in 2003, which explains why it’s labeled simply, “Oregon.” (The 2004 vintage will carry the Dundee Hills appellation.) This is great Pinot Noir because it delivers more than just fruit flavors. Floral, violet-like aromas are followed by gamy and earthy overtones and an incredible finish. It’s a classy wine. 95 Michael Apstein Oct 25, 2005

Duval-Leroy, Champagne (France) Brut 1996

($50, Partner’s Wine Marketing): Most vintage Champagnes from this monumental year have disappeared from retailers’ shelves, but happily Duval-Leroy just released theirs. Disgorged in October 2004 after 7 years on the lees, it has gorgeous toasty/yeasty qualities, the creamy elegance of Chardonnay and a seemingly endless finish. With some non-vintage offerings now going for more than $50 a bottle, this Champagne will not last long. Stock up for the holidays early. This Champagne is not to be missed. 95 Michael Apstein Oct 25, 2005

Laurent-Perrier, Champagne (France) Brut “Grand Siècle La Cuvée” NV

($85, Laurent-Perrier USA): Do not let the lack of a vintage date deter you from enjoying this fabulous tête de cuvée Champagne. Laurent-Perrier’s tradition is to blend their best wines exclusively from grand cru villages from the last three vintages to fashion this luxurious bottling. The deliciously creamy elegance of Chardonnay–50% of the blend–marries perfectly with the power of Pinot Noir to make an elegant, classy Champagne. 96 Michael Apstein Oct 25, 2005

Sauvion et Fils, Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie (Loire Valley, France) Château du Cléray 2003

($10, W.J. Deutsch & Sons): I’m not a fan of most 2003 white wines from Europe because the scorching summer robbed them of acidity. But it’s hard to kill the acid in the Melon de Bourgogne, the grape from which Muscadet is made. Muscadet, which can often be a little lean, benefited from the extreme heat and the little extra ripeness in 2003. That ripeness and its citric acidity makes this one a great accompaniment to simple seafood, like steamed clams. 89 Michael Apstein Oct 11, 2005

Lucien Albrecht, Alsace (France) Riesling Grand Cru Pfingstberg 2001

($35, Pasternak): Albrecht’s regular Riesling is always quite good and well priced at about $15. This one, from the Grand Cru vineyard, Pfingstberg, is glorious. With lots of intensity and minerality, it delivers everything you’d expect from a grand cru vineyard. I recorked the unfinished bottle, stored it in the fridge overnight, and found it equally enjoyable the second day. 92 Michael Apstein Oct 11, 2005

 

A Conversation with Christian Moueix, Part II: Dominus Estate

Christian Moueix, perhaps the most influential wine figure in Pomerol and St. Émilion where he oversees his family’s ten properties, also owns Dominus Estate in the Napa Valley. During a recent trip to California to supervise activities at Dominus, he stopped in Boston and we met and tasted for three illuminating hours in my kitchen.

This article, the second and final part based on that visit, focuses on Dominus Estate. Part I, which appeared last month and is available by clicking on “Wine Articles” then “Columns,” focused on his family’s properties in Bordeaux.

Moueix is thrilled when he sees a bottle of Dominus in France because he does not sell it in his native land. A sighting means that a countryman probably has visited the Napa Valley property and thought enough of the wine to bring it back. Dominus, a personal venture for Christian, is entirely separate from the family’s holdings in Bordeaux. He purchased it without using family money and still has no plans to market it with his family’s other wines in France.

Moueix, an articulate and engaging man, spent two years at University of California, Davis where he received his master’s degree in enology in 1969. Two major things he learned there were the limit of technology in making fine wine and how much he loved the Napa Valley.

Upon returning to France in 1970, he was put in charge of the family’s estates, but craved a personal challenge. He knew he couldn’t compete with Château Pétrus or Trotanoy so he decided to look outside of France. Since he had fallen in love with Napa Valley while at Davis, he enlisted the help of Robert Mondavi to look there for a suitable vineyard.

Moueix didn’t want just any vineyard; he wanted one that was capable of producing truly outstanding wine. Mondavi introduced him to the daughters of the late John Daniel, who had owned Inglenook. The daughters owned the 120-acre original Inglenook estate, called Napanook, the grapes from which were responsible for some of California’s greatest Cabernets. He formed a partnership with them in 1982, creating Dominus Estate to make a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine. A buyout made Moueix sole proprietor in 1994.

The Napanook vineyard has a unique terroir, with a gentle, 5 percent slope up to the Mayacamas Mountains that Moueix regards as perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon. Neighbors thought he was crazy when he pulled out a substantial number of perfectly healthy Chardonnay vines and planted additional Cabernet. But Moueix firmly believed-and today most winemakers agree-that certain varieties of vines should be planted only in specific locales especially suited to them.

As in the Bordeaux tradition, Dominus is made by blending wines made from a variety of grapes. Initial vintages were composed of about 75 to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with the balance comprised by Merlot. In 1986, Cabernet Franc made its way into the blend, with Petit Verdot added in 1989. Cabernet Sauvignon still predominates in current vintages, but Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot continue to contribute.

Moueix adopted a Bordeaux model-unusual for California at the time-by making only two wines, Dominus, the flagship “chateau” or “estate” wine, and Napanook, a “second” wine. The total production, like at his family’s properties in Pomerol and St. Émilion, is relatively small, consisting of just 70,000 to 100,000 bottles (6,000 to 8,000 cases) annually. Half of the production meets his rigorous standards and is bottled as Dominus. The other half is either sold off in bulk or is bottled under the Napanook label.

Since Napanook comes from grapes grown on the lower-flatter and less well-drained-part of the vineyard and from the youngest vines, it is more approachable than Dominus. Made from less intense fruit, it could be overwhelmed by oak flavors and tannins acquired during barrel aging. Moueix uses older oak barrels and keeps Napanook in them for a shorter period of time to maintain the wine’s balance.

Moueix is equally judicious with his use of oak aging for Dominus. Although he ages Dominus in small French oak barrels for 18 months, only one-third of them are new. Christian’s son, Eduardo, who was instrumental in managing Dominus, told me previously that he did not like calling Napanook a “second” wine because he is fearful that the second wine concept won’t be embraced by the US market. After tasting multiple vintages of Napanook, especially the 2001, I think he may be mistaken. Napanook represents an excellent opportunity to buy classy Napa Cabernet at a reduced price, usually less than half that of Dominus.

Christian’s plan in California, based on life-long involvement with making great wine, was to let the terroir speak. He was ahead of his time in California with this focus on the vineyard. The prevalent thinking in California when Moueix started Dominus was that winemaking technology, not the vineyard, was responsible for great wine. Now, most winemakers in California aiming to produce outstanding bottles agree that-as in real estate-making superb wine comes down to location, location, location.

Moueix planned to avoid irrigation and acidification, which he believes reduces quality. (Grapes, like all fruit, lose their acidity as they ripen. In warm climates where grapes can get very ripe, winemakers sometimes add acid to the fermenting juice-acidify it-in an attempt to keep the wine balanced and lively.) He has held to that plan. The vineyard’s proximity to the Mayacamas Mountains provides it with adequate rainfall and explains why he has never needed to irrigate, according to Moueix. And, as with all his wines from Bordeaux (even those from the scorching 2003 vintage), he never has acidified Dominus or Napanook.

Even after 20+ years, Moueix still finds Dominus challenging. Everything-the land, the climate, the predominant grape variety, Cabernet Sauvignon-is different from what he grew up with in Pomerol. (The family’s Pomerol estates contain practically no Cabernet Sauvignon.) Even the terms to describe the soil are different than in Bordeaux. In California, when winemakers speak of a gravel-like soil, Moueix says they point to small pebbles of alluvial origin. In Bordeaux, gravel is composed of large pebbles or rocks at least one inch in size.

As we tasted various vintages of Dominus, I got the sense that Moueix-always a perfectionist-was not quite satisfied with many of the wines. He sometimes wonders whether Napa Valley is too warm to produce what he calls “wines of sensitivity.” A problem in Napa Valley is that heat spikes in September can send the grapes’ sugar levels from not quite ripe to over ripe quickly while the ripeness of tannins and flavor compounds lags behind. The dilemma for winemakers is difficult: should one pick earlier at lower sugar levels, when tannins may be astringent but when one can make wines with lower alcohol and more elegance, or later and riper, when tannins are supple but alcohol can be inelegantly high?

Moueix plans to deal with this dilemma in a way that contradicts conventional wisdom. Although it is now widely believed that lowering yields invariably heightens quality, Moueix plans to increase yields slightly at Dominus. His theory is that a larger crop will take longer to ripen, giving tannins time to ripen before sugar levels become excessive. Judging by Moueix’s extraordinary track record, I suspect that Dominus-which is already superb-will become even better in years to come.

THE WINES

Napanook, Napa Valley (California) 1999 ($50): A dry year in California, 1999 produced some concentrated, tannic wines, including Napanook. Despite the great aromas from the glass, the alcohol and over extraction shows. Moueix finds it curious that many pundits ranked this wine higher than the 2001 Napanook, which he believes is a far superior wine. 85

Napanook, Napa Valley (California) 2001 ($50): This is a classy, easy to savor Napa Valley Cabernet. More restrained but better balanced than the 1999, the 2001 is supple and plush. It expands and becomes even better after it has been opened for an hour or two. 90

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1991 (No longer available except at auction): I remember a vertical tasting of Dominus in Boston in 1996 at which time the 1991 stood out. The wines from the 1980s were quite tannic, but the 1991 heralded a new, more balanced style. Moueix attributes the change to the increasing age of the vines, and more importantly, experience with the vineyard. He noted that every parcel of the vineyard is different and that it takes time to learn how to handle the grapes from each plot. The 1991, even better now, has evolved and developed alluring elements of tobacco and smoke along with a dried fruit character. 93

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1994 (No longer available except at auction): The 1994 Dominus is a wine with, as Moueix would say, sensitivity. A stunning wine, it has everything: great aromas, plenty of powerful bright fruit, and those seductive, hard to describe, not-quite-fruit flavors that linger in the seemingly endless finish. It has real finesse. 96

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 1996 (No longer available except at auction): This is a real powerhouse of a wine that may still become more elegant as it evolves with more bottle age. I prefer the nuances of the 1994, but this would be hard to turn down with a big slab of charbroiled beef. 90

Dominus Estate, Napa Valley (California) 2002 ($125): This is a voluptuous wine with lots of everything, including black fruit, alcohol, and supple tannins. Consumers who look for intensity and power in their cabernets will love it. 88

Postscript: Although Christian has loved the Napa Valley from the outset, his continuing lament is that he wishes he knew which specific elements of the weather in California made the difference between a good and a great year. In Bordeaux they know exactly what they need-even though they don’t always get it-to make great wine. But in California he is still trying to figure it out. I suspect that’s part of why he makes such great wine; he is always thinking.

Back to Part I

September 27, 2005

Budini, Mendoza (Argentina) Malbec 2003

($11, Vine Connections): Here’s what I refer to as a “pizza wine,” an inexpensive, flavor-packed bottle that can hold up to pepperoni. It is a fresh, ripe Malbec that, thankfully, is neither overoaked nor over extracted. Budini is the name of an Argentine cat that can appear larger than it is by puffing its fur when threatened. Like the cat, the wine is deceptive; it has amazing quality for the price. 86 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2005

Luca, Altos de Mendoza (Argentina) Syrah 2003

($30, Vine Connections): Laura Catena, daughter of Nicolas, who runs one of Argentina’s best wineries, aims to make small quantities of very high quality wines from particular sites. Although she started in 1997, her first commercial wine was from 1999 because rain effectively washed out the 1998 vintage for her. The excellent quality she has achieved in such a short time suggests that this is a label to watch. She blended a little Bonarda and Malbec into this Syrah and achieved a lush, intense wine with hints of smoked bacon fat and a vibrant finish. 91 Michael Apstein Sep 1, 2005

A Conversation with Christian Moueix

Perhaps people who spend their entire life with Merlot become like the wine: easy-going and charming, without hard edges. That describes Christian Moueix, a man who is remarkably straightforward, especially for someone so important and influential in the world of wine. His intelligence and insight were immediately apparent during a wide-ranging, three-hour meeting and tasting in my kitchen last month.

The son of Jean-Pierre Moueix, Christian oversees the family’s ten properties in Pomerol and St. Émilion, including Château Pétrus and Château Trotanoy, and runs a Napa Valley winery, Dominus Estate. The family company also manages and consults with many other châteaux situated on the right bank of Bordeaux’s Gironde River.

This article, the first of two about Christian Moueix, focuses on his family’s properties in Bordeaux and issues related to that great region. Part two, which will appear next month, focuses on Dominus Estate.

Although he was in the US for one of his usual trips to oversee Dominus, his mind was not far from Pomerol. Very involved in the day-to-day running of his family’s French properties, Christian watched the weather reports in France while in the US and called home frequently to direct viticultural practices in preparation for a heat wave. “When a heat wave is predicted, it is very important to afford the grapes maximal shade by not trimming the canopy of the vines. Keeping the grapes cool is essential,” according to Moueix. He thinks that part of the reason his family’s properties did so well in 2003–a scorching year–was an unsightly but beautifully functional canopy.

The other major factor contributing to their success in 2003 was reliance on Merlot, which grows well in clay soils that retain water well. Even their Merlot vines planted on limestone, a less water-retentive soil, did well because they are old enough to have developed very deep root systems in search of water. Not everyone in Pomerol in 2003 was so lucky. Château Le Pin, for example, bottled no wine in 2003; the locals referred to it as Le Pin Grillé (literally, grilled) because the grapes were so roasted.

Moueix also offered an illuminating assessment of so-called “garage wines”–expensive wines made in very limited quantities at small production facilities. He believes that a garage wine is defined not just by small production but also by a lack of reliance on terroir. If size were the only criteria, all the châteaux of Pomerol would qualify because of their microscopic production. Despite its tiny production from 5 acres of vineyard, Moueix does not regard Château Le Pin as a garage wine because of its unique location.

He is optimistic that garage wines will not take over the world. In fact, he believes that consumers’ infatuation with these wines will fade because they are finding that these wines do not develop with age. His older brother Jean-François, who owns retail wine shops in Bordeaux and has a good pulse on consumer reactions, sees sales of these wines dropping. And in the US, prices for La Mondotte and Château de Valendraud, (two garage wines praised highly in American publications) have fallen dramatically.

Moueix vehemently disagrees with those who consider Château Hosanna (one of his newer properties in Pomerol) a garage wine, contending that it does not fit the mold due to its well-defined terroir. The property, which formerly was named Château Certan Giraud, has venerable vines in its well-established vineyard. When he purchased it in 1999, the Giraud family asked him not to use the Giraud name, and he–being a pragmatist–agreed. Since he already owned a brand called Certan, he considered calling it Château Certan. As a courtesy, however, he visited neighboring properties bearing “Certan” in their names to seek approval from their proprietors.

Monsieur Thienport at Vieux Château Certan had no objection, but Madame Bareau-Bader owner of Château Certan-de-May balked (foolishly, in my estimation). As Moueix noted, he is in the business of promoting Pomerol, so the last thing he wanted was a fight, especially over mere words, so he abandoned Château Certan and named the property Château Hosanna. (This anecdote offers a good example of how self-defeatingly rigid some French wine producers can be. Given the family’s track record, Moueix undoubtedly will make spectacular wine from this property, and the 2000 is already stunning. Any other Château entitled “Certan” would have gained cachet from Moueix’s efforts under the intended name, but Madame Bareau-Bader failed to see that.)

In any case, Château Hosanna, immediately adjacent to Château Pétrus, is planted with 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. Moueix believes that this combination makes a more feminine, approachable wine than Pétrus, which is almost 100% Merlot. He immediately increased the potential quality of Château Hosanna by selling a small parcel that was well situated but nevertheless inferior to the main vineyards, which are contiguous with Pétrus.

Moueix’s family has a long and storied relation to the broader region surrounding Hosannah and Pétrus. Jean-Pierre Moueix started the business in 1937, and was responsible for putting the wines of Pomerol, Bordeaux’s smallest appellation, on the map. The Médoc traders ignored the right bank wines of St. Émilion and Pomerol when producing the famous Classification of 1855, more because of geography than commercial protectionism. The wines from the châteaux of the Médoc, situated on the Gironde river’s left bank, were widely known in the 19th century because they could be shipped easily down the river to the Atlantic and beyond. By contrast, the wines of Pomerol and St. Émilion were effectively landlocked to the north on the right bank of the Gironde, and consequently had narrower commercial appreciation. That changed gradually, largely due to Jean-Pierre’s diligence, and today many wines from Pomerol fetch prices far higher than those of their Médoc neighbors despite lacking classified growth status.

Christian’s current project in France is to raise the visibility of Château Magdelaine, a property in Saint-Émilion that his father purchased in 1952. Most of its 27-acres lie on Saint-Émilion’s centrally located limestone plateau, but a third of them are situated on the surrounding clay slopes. The vineyard is planted with an unusually high percentage of Merlot for Saint-Émilion, 90%, with the remainder devoted to Cabernet Franc. This blend is not unusual for Moueix, all of whose properties emphasize Merlot. (Although Michel Rolland, who owns Château Bon Pasteur in Pomerol and consults around the world, is frequently referred to as Mr. Merlot, I suspect Christian Moueix knows as much about this grape as anyone).

Although Merlot often grows better in water-retaining clay than in limestone, Christian thinks that the Merlot at Château Magdelaine does well because the roots are forced to dig through the limestone to find water and nourishment. He believes wine from vineyards located on the plateau, such as Belair and Ausone, can age “practically forever” because the limestone bedrock supplies structure. Although the main parcels of Château Magdelaine were planted in 1976, the oldest block, planted in 1921, remains in production. The youngest vines, comprising about one-third of the vineyard, are themselves reasonably mature at 15 years of age.

The yield at Château Magdelaine is always among the lowest in St. Émilion, typically averaging 40 hl/ha. Moueix produces only about 60,000 bottles (5,000 cases), about half of which goes into a second label, Château Saint Brice, which is not sold in the US. (With the 2004 vintage Moueix changed the name to Les Sanges de Magdelaine because second wines are not supposed to carry the word Château on the label.) The wine for the second label comes typically from young vines and those planted on the lowest part of the slope, the Pied de Côte, which don’t do as well, especially in rainy years.

Moueix is a great fan of the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux and thinks that it may turn out to be even better than the 2000 after a decade. He believes–and my tastings of a wide range of 2001s confirm–that the individual appellations are distinct and identifiable in a year like 2001, whereas the slightly riper character of the 2000s blurs the delineation between one area and the next. (Angelo Gaja has the same opinion comparing Barolos from 2001 with the riper 2000s.)

Although Moueix described the 2001 Château Magdelaine as having the “typical delicacy of Bordeaux”–which it certainly does–it also has considerable complexity and vivacity, as well as extraordinary length. It is remarkably approachable now, but its fine, supple tannins suggest it will also develop beautifully. Moueix attributes the vivaciousness of Château Magdelaine to the limestone plateau and the approachability to the high percentage of Merlot in the blend. (A 1982 Château Magdelaine, pulled from my cellar and tasted in preparation for Moueix’s visit–I’ll stoop to any excuse to open a great bottle–had developed beautiful mushroomy flavors buttressed by similar vivacity.) I would snap up current vintages of Château Magdelaine, such as the 2000 and especially the 2001, because they are severely under priced (about $50-80 for each) compared to wines from neighboring properties.

Click Here for Part II

August 30, 2005.

Casa da Vila Verde, Vinho Verde (Portugal) 2003

($10, Signature): Casa de Vila Verde has overcome the problem that plagues all too many bottlings of Vinho Verde-cutting acidity without the ripe fruit flavors to balance it. The scorching heat of 2003 ripened grapes nicely in this northwestern part of Portugal, which explains the better fruit flavors-green apples-to complement that refreshing zing. An excellent choice for spicy cuisine. 87 Michael Apstein Aug 9, 2005

2002 Red Burgundies: Catch Them While You Can

Although they may lack the cachet of wines from small growers, such as Lafarge or Mongeard-Mugneret, the Burgundies made by négociants, especially in 2002, are not to be missed. Négociants are companies, either large or small, that buy grapes or newly made wines in bulk from growers. If they purchase grapes, the négociant vinifies the wine. If they buy newly made wine, they age and finish them in their cellars, bottle them under their label and market them.

On the label of Drouhin’s Domaine wines it says “Recolte du Domaine” under the name of the wine; those wines that are not Domaine wines will have “mise en bouteille par Joseph Drouhin.” near the bottom. Drouhin feel that all their wines – whether they be Domaine or négociant wines – are equally fine, and therefore they do not try to highlight the Domaine aspect.
Many négociant firms, such as Maison Louis Jadot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Maison Louis Latour, own substantial amounts of vineyards themselves, giving them the opportunity to combine their grapes with ones they purchase. Others, like Nicholas Potel or Alex Gambal, own very little–Potel has less than 4 acres–or none at all. A big advantage of négociants is that they produce reasonable–at least by Burgundy standards–amounts of wine that are available on retailers’ shelves.
Négociants have always dominated the Burgundy wine trade. Fifty years ago, it was a rare grower or domaine, such as the Domaine de la Romanée- Conti, that bottled and marketed the wine themselves. For the most part, the entire production went through négociants. Pressured in part by American importers, such as Alexis Lichine and Frank Schoonmaker, small growers started bottling their own wines in the 1950s and the era of the grower began. In the 1970s, négociants actually encouraged growers to bottle because adverse economic pressures prevented them from buying as much wine as the growers wished to sell. Some in the trade feel the development of the French highway system did much to stimulate growers to bottle themselves, as direct sales to visiting consumers became commonplace. In 1970, the négociants controlled about 70% of the market according to Jean Charles Boisset, a leading négociant. Even today, with growers continuing to shift toward bottling and marketing their own wines, négociants still control about 64% of the business, according to Boisset.

Though the total volume lost by négociants to growers over the last three decades seems small, much of the loss was from top-notch growers who owned prized parcels in premier or grand cru vineyards. Faced with the prospect of losing the cream of crop in terms of supply, négociants like Maison Louis Jadot responded by buying additional vineyards as they became available. Négociants have always owned property themselves–Jadot and Drouhin each own or control about 150 acres–in addition to the wines they purchase. Typically, though not invariably, they bottle the wines from their individual vineyards separately, but only subtle differences on the label identify this point to the consumer. The only difference between Louis Latour’s domaine and non-domaine label is the disc on the neck that says either Domaine Louis Latour or Maison Louis Latour, with the latter utilized for the négociant wines.

In my experience, the négociants’ domaine bottlings always have a little extra pizzazz because they have complete control of the grapes from start to finish. But weighing in on the other side is none other than the very straight talking Pierre-Henri Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot, who has remarked to me on several occasions that some of the best wines Jadot has made came from vineyards owned by someone other than Maison Jadot.

The 2002 vintage was superb for both reds and whites. Many winemakers told me that the extraordinarily healthy grapes allowed them to conduct an unhurried vinification to extract pure flavors. The recommendations below focus on the reds because I–along with many producers–believe they are more exciting, in the same league as the great 1985s and 1990s. The 2002 reds are immediately charming (as were the 1985s), yet they have plenty of stuffing for protracted aging and development. I am betting that the 2002s, like the 1985s, will evolve beautifully and have stashed many cases in my cellar.

Many 2002s are still available at the retail level and will remain after the microscopic amounts of the much more inconsistent 2003 vintage have disappeared from the shelves. The 2002s also have the advantage of having been purchased with a far stronger dollar, and are bargains compared to their 2003 counterparts. While I’m sure there are many fabulous 2003s–Jadot’s Bonnes Mares springs to mind–the 2002 is a far more consistent vintage and a safer bet for long term cellaring.

2002 vintage reds from five leading Burgundy negotiants are reviewed below, with the negotiant houses appearing in alphabetical order:

Bouchard Père & Fils

Joseph Henriot, of Champagne fame, rapidly reinvigorated this venerable Burgundy firm after he acquired it in 1995. Henriot proved that dramatic changes in the cellars could improve the quality instantaneously and buy time while the necessarily slower improvements in the vineyards took hold. Bouchard Père & Fils, the largest landowner in the Côte d’Or (or “Golden Slope,” the heart of Burgundy), with over 225 acres, had failed to keep pace with the times, but Henriot changed that seemingly overnight.

Bouchard Père & Fils, Santenay (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($24, Clicquot, Inc.): Luc Bouchard told me that he finds the wines from Santenay unappealing in difficult vintages and that Bouchard won’t buy in those years. However, in a year like 2002, Bouchard purchased heavily, the equivalent of just over 3,000 cases. With the appealing characteristic rusticity of Santenay, Bouchard’s 2002 is unexpectedly charming and graceful. It’s a great introduction to Burgundy. 88

Bouchard Père & Fils, Monthélie 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Les Duresses 2002 ($30, Clicquot, Inc.): A domaine bottling, this wine is amazingly intense for a Monthélie. A great perfume, coupled with a long, sweet finish and supple tannins, means it’s delightful now. 90

Bouchard Père & Fils, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Beaune du Châteaux 2002 ($40, Clicquot, Inc.): This wine, which has been sold widely in France, made its first US appearance in 2002. A blend made exclusively from up to 16 of Bouchard’s 1er Cru vineyards in Beaune which are not bottled separately, such as Beaune Marconnets or Beaune Grèves, it’s a great buy. The grapes from the small plots Bouchard owns are harvested and vinified separately and then blended to create Beaune du Châteaux. A pure fruit nose, gives way to up front fresh red fruit flavors, great delicacy and length. 91

Bouchard Père & Fils, Volnay 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée Carnot 2002 ($55, Clicquot, Inc.): As Clos des Ursules is Jadot’s flagship from Beaune, this is Bouchard’s standard bearer from Volnay. This portion of the Caillerets vineyard, Bouchard’s first acquisition in 1775, was subsequently acquired by others through inheritance. A marriage to a member of the Carnot family brought it back to Bouchard and explains its elongated name, Ancienne Cuvée Carnot. A vertical tasting of it back to the 1964 in Bouchard’s cellars in 2000 showed how beautifully this wine ages and evolves. Its fabulously floral nose screams Volnay. But its combination of power and delicacy coupled with extraordinary length make it special. Mild to moderate tannins are ripe, not intrusive, and assure a lovely evolution. 95

Maison Joseph Drouhin

Drouhin, one of the great négociants located in Beaune, produced a stunning line of village wines in 2002, perhaps in part because Drouhin’s winemaker, Laurence Jobard, the first woman winemaker in Burgundy, has been with the firm for over three decades. This house, like all négociants, maintains that all their wines–whether they be domaine or négociant wines–are equally fine, and therefore it does not try to highlight the domaine aspect. On the label of Drouhin’s domaine wines it says “Récolte du Domaine” under the name of the wine, whereas negotiant bottlings will have “mis en bouteille par Joseph Drouhin” near the bottom.

Maison Drouhin, Chorey lès Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($25, Dreyfus Ashby): Wines from Chorey les Beaune, the only village in the Côte d’Or without a premier cru vineyard, offer great value when they are crafted by a talented producer like Drouhin. With pure fresh red fruit flavors, this one is uncomplicated and charming now. An excellent buy. 86

Maison Drouhin, Côte de Beaune, (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($25, Dreyfus Ashby): The Côte de Beaune appellation, less well known in the US than Côte de Beaune Villages, ranks between Beaune and the Beaune 1er Cru in stature, acording to Véronique Drouhin. Primarily made from wines from the young vines of Drouhin’s flagship property, Beaune Clos des Mouches, it has forward, pure ripe fruit flavors, little tannin, and good acid. It is a fine example of Beaune–as good as many producers’ Beaune 1er Cru–and represents an excellent value. 88

Maison Drouhin, Pommard (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($43, Dreyfus Ashby): The denser, spicier, black fruit component makes this a delicious village wine and highlights the difference between it and the more delicate, red fruit-dominated wines of Beaune. 90

Maison Drouhin, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($200, Dreyfus Ashby): A domaine bottling, this Bonnes Mares is staggeringly good, plush and balanced, with a seemingly endless finish. 96

Maison Drouhin, Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($175, Dreyfus Ashby): Sometimes wines from Grand Cru vineyards are disappointing. Not this domaine bottling. It has a magical combination of power and elegance and the extra umph that should characterize a Grand Cru. 95

Maison Louis Jadot

Jadot indicates a domaine wine, for example, Bonnes Mares, by inserting the domaine name in the small rectangle at the bottom of the label. Label of negociant wines lack the rectangle and say “. . .mis en bouteille par Louis Jadot.”  The Jadot wines from Beaune, where the firm is based, are stunning across the board and–by Burgundy or even California Pinot Noir standards–reasonably priced. The are probably the finest array of Beaune 1er cru I have tasted, which explains why I bought a case of each for my cellar. The three recommended below are just a sampling. If you run across others, don’t pass them up.

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Theurons 2002 ($36, Kobrand): A bottling from a vineyard owned by the heirs of the Jadot family–Domaine des Héritiers Louis Jadot–this is a concentrated wine, rather big for a Beaune, with great texture and length. 92

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Boucherottes 2002 ($36, Kobrand): This more muscular wine, also from a family owned vineyard on the border with Pommard, has great color and concentration without being overdone. Exceptionally long, it’s even bigger, but not necessarily better, than the Theurons. 92

Louis Jadot, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos des Ursules 2002 ($48, Kobrand): Jadot’s flagship Beaune from a portion of the Vignes Franches vineyard, the Clos des Ursules is always a winner. The 2002 is no exception. With more structure than their other Beaune 1er Cru, it should turn out very well. A wonderfully balanced wine. 94

Louis Jadot, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Petit Chapelle 2002 ($55, Kobrand): From purchased grapes, Jacques Lardière, Jadot’s exceptionally talented winemaker, has produced a very good, earthy, surprisingly big wine from a lesser known premier cru. 90

Louis Jadot, Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($100, Kobrand): Also from purchased grapes, this Charmes Chambertin attests to the validity of the appellation contrôllée system. It has more of everything–complexity, length, and power–than the Petite Chapelle. 94

Louis Jadot, Bonnes Mares Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($125, Kobrand): Always my favorite, Jadot’s Bonnes Mares, a domaine wine, is suave, long, layered, and luxurious. The tannins and structure are there, but unobtrusive, and bode well for development. 97

Maison Louis Latour

Always known for their superlative white Burgundies–it’s hard to find a better Corton Charlemagne–Latour has made substantial improvement in their reds starting with the 1999 vintage.

Maison Louis Latour, Marsannay (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($17, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour has fashioned a remarkable value with this simple Marsannay, a town not known for producing engaging red wines. Its bright fruit makes for a charming, easy to drink wine. Not to be missed. 88

Maison Louis Latour, Chambolle Musigny (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($48, Louis Latour, Inc.): Here is a great village wine, fleshy and plump, with unexpected length. Delicious now. 90

Maison Louis Latour, Volnay 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) En Chevrets 2002 ($34, Louis Latour, Inc.): This has the quintessential Burgundy character of loads of flavor without heaviness. Impeccably balanced, it is unusual to see premier cru wines at this price. 90

Domaine Louis Latour, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Vignes Franches 2002 ($46, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour owns about a third–over 7 acres–in this prized vineyard from which he makes consistently excellent wine. The 2002 is glorious, concentrated and well structured. I would drink his Volnay En Chevrets while waiting for this one to evolve. This is another one that went into my cellar. 93

Maison Louis Latour, Pommard 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Epenots 2002 ($50, Louis Latour, Inc.): Latour owns a small portion of this vineyard and combines his grapes with others to make this appealing wine. Plumper than his Beaune Vignes Franches–in keeping with the character of Pommard–it’s juicy and supple. 90

Maison Nicolas Potel

Nicolas Potel is a new breed of Burgundy négociant. He and his father, Gerard, the highly regarded manager of Domaine Pousse d’Or (a high-quality estate specializing in wines from Volnay and adjacent towns), started a small negociant business in the mid 1990s. When Gerard died suddenly in 1997, Nicolas focused on the négociant business, Maison Nicolas Potel, which was recently purchased by Cottin Frères (a company that controls a larger Burgundy négociant, Labouré Roi). Armand Cottin, President of Labouré Roi, told me he intends to keep Maison Nicholas Potel entirely separate to allow Nicholas to work his magic with the necessary financial support behind him.

Nicolas Potel, Bourgogne Maison Dieu (Burgundy, France) 2002 ($19, Frederick Wildman): Potel owns just one small, four-acre, vineyard called Maison Dieu between the towns of Beaune and Pommard, on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The wine doesn’t even qualify for a town name, but must be sold under Burgundy’s least prestigious appellation, Bourgogne. Despite its lack of pedigree, it’s a lovely wine, silky and rich, without heaviness. It surprises with layers of flavors expected only in wines from grander locales. (Starting with the 2003 vintage, Potel will label this wine as Cuvée Gerard Potel to honor his father.) A great buy. 88

Nicolas Potel, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Clos des Vignes Franches 2002 ($36, Frederick Wildman): The pure cherry-like fruit is packaged here in Potel’s signature silky suaveness. Tightly wound at this stage, I expect it will blossom beautifully over the next five years. I also put this one in my cellar. 90

Nicolas Potel, Pommard 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Pezerolles 2002 ($55, Frederick Wildman): Explosively rich, lush and long, it’s hard not to drink this one now. But I’m sure that cellaring it will pay dividends in the future. 92

August 1, 2005.

Nicolas Potel, Bourgogne (Burgundy, France) Maison Dieu 2002

($19, Frederick Wildman): Potel owns just one small, four-acre, vineyard called Maison Dieu between the towns of Beaune and Pommard, on the “wrong side of the tracks.” The wine doesn’t even qualify for a town name, but must be sold under Burgundy’s least prestigious appellation, Bourgogne. Despite its lack of pedigree, it’s a lovely wine, silky and rich, without heaviness. It surprises with layers of flavors expected only in wines from grander locales. (Starting with the 2003 vintage, Potel will label this wine as Cuvée Gerard Potel to honor his father.) A great buy. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005

Maison Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2002

($25, Dreyfus Ashby): The Côte de Beaune appellation, less well known in the US than Côte de Beaune Villages, ranks between Beaune and the Beaune 1er Cru in stature, acording to Véronique Drouhin. Primarily made from wines from the young vines of Drouhin’s flagship property, Beaune Clos des Mouches, it has forward, pure ripe fruit flavors, little tannin, and good acid. It is a fine example of Beaune–as good as many producers’ Beaune 1er Cru–and represents an excellent value. 88 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005

Bouchard Père & Fils, Beaune 1er Cru (Burgundy, France) Beaune du Châteaux 2002

($40, Clicquot, Inc.): This wine, which has been sold widely in France, made its first US appearance in 2002. A blend made exclusively from up to 16 of Bouchard’s 1er Cru vineyards in Beaune which are not bottled separately, such as Beaune Marconnets or Beaune Grèves, it’s a great buy. The grapes from the small plots Bouchard owns are harvested and vinified separately and then blended to create Beaune du Châteaux. A pure fruit nose, gives way to up front fresh red fruit flavors, great delicacy and length. 91 Michael Apstein Jul 22, 2005