Agriverde, Terre di Chieti IGP (Abruzzo, Italy) Pecorino “Riseis” 2018

($11):  Pecorino, the grape and the wine made from it, is a name to remember.  Its home is in the middle of the east coast of Italy in the regions of Le Marche and Abruzzo.  As with all wine, there is a range of style of Pecorino from zippy and cutting to softer and creamier.  This one is definitely on the zippy and cutting side of the spectrum, with a hint of mouth-watering salinity in the finish, which makes it perfect for pasta with clams or mussels.  Add Pecorino to your list of racy whites to try.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2019

Cirelli La Collina Biologica, Colline Pescaresi IGT (Abruzzo, Italy) Pecorino 2018

($21):  Pecorino, both the wine and the cheese, typically have an attractive bite to them.  This one, an organic wine from the organically-focused producer whose name is, literally, “the organic hill,” has a creamy texture that mutes the bite.  It is still there, but overall the wine’s less energetic, but more suave, showing that Pecorino can have a broader profile.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 17, 2019

A Star on Long Island

Recently, I happened to mention to my friend, Howard Goldberg, the longtime The New York Times wine writer, that I was writing a column about Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc.  Howard suggested that I visit Paumanok on Long Island’s North Fork because, he said, they made great Chenin Blanc.  So, I arranged a visit, insisting that I wouldn’t take more than 45 minutes of their time because I was just interested in their Chenin Blanc.  Well, not surprisingly, Goldberg was correct about their Chenin Blanc.  What was surprising was how a scheduled 45-minute visit morphed into a two and half hour tasting due to the discovery that Paumanok’s entire line-up is stellar.

Charles Massoud, Paumanok’s founder, clearly takes risks.  Charles’ son, Kareem, who now makes the wine at Paumanok, explains that his father, who was born in Lebanon and studied in Paris was, and is, a confirmed wine-loving Francophile.  When he, Charles, was stationed in Kuwait working for IBM, he found it impossible to buy wine since Kuwait was dry, due to its Islamic-focused government.   Since the country was dry climatically as well, growing grapes was out of the question.  So his father, always inventive, purchased table grapes and baker’s yeast in the supermarket, and voilà, according to Kareem, he made “wine.”  I can only imagine what would have happened to him had his winemaking been discovered by the Kuwaiti authorities.  I guess the risk of starting a winery on Long Island in the 1980s paled by comparison.

Back in the New York area with IBM, and having read about the Hargraves, who were the first to start a winery on Long Island, Charles took the plunge and purchased what was to become Paumanok Vineyards in 1983.   Already sensing potential xenophobia and potential for anti-Arab antipathy, Charles opted not to use the family name for the winery, instead choosing Paumanok, the Indian name for Long Island.  Kareem, who was in business school at the time, recounts his feelings about the name with his newly-minted business school knowledge: “Awful, three syllables, impossible to pronounce…a terrible brand name.”  Now, he admits that it has turned out just fine and, indeed, is appropriate because, as Kareem emphasizes, their wines are not a brand, but rather a reflection of place.

Paumanok remains an estate winery, that is, they buy no grapes.  All the wines they make come exclusively from their roughly 100 acres of vineyards.  About two years ago, they purchased neighboring Palmer Vineyards, adding another 49 acres.

Paumanok produces three levels of wine, giving them enormous flexibility in deciding what grapes go into which tier.  This stratification allows them to use only the best grapes for their top wines, maintaining quality.  In addition, in a tough vintage, such as 2018, they can make more rosé and less red wine.  Their white label is the most recognizable and the one under which most of their wine is bottled.  Next on the scale is the “Grand Vintage” line, which is mostly for reds, but has occasionally included a Chardonnay, and then, at the top, is the “Minimalist” range, which they bottle in only the best years.  Kareem describes the Minimalist wines as a “minimalist approach.”  He does not use commercial yeast for fermentation, relying on only those present on the grapes or in the ambient air in the winery.  He deliberately avoids the use of the term, natural, and says he is willing to interfere, if necessary, to avoid making flawed wine.  The grapes for the Minimalist line must be pristine and immaculate because he uses only a trace of sulfur during wine making and bottling.  His aversion to sulfur is both a matter of marketing–the public seems to think it’s bad–and also an issue of taste. He maintains that sulfites accentuate the tannins in red wines and account for an unpleasant burnt match-like aroma in whites.

Kareem insists that it is critically important to be selective in the vineyard, noting that sometimes you must “take a loss to preserve quality.”

Paumanok’s focus on Chenin Blanc–inexplicably, no other winery on Long Island makes one–was serendipitous.  Soon after buying Paumanok, the older Massoud purchased a nearby vineyard that had been planted with a variety of grapes, but abandoned.  They kept the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and uprooted the Zinfandel.  Kareem explains that Zinfandel is a late ripening, thin-skinned variety that will rot if the harvest, which coincides with hurricane season, is marred by rain.  They started to rip out the Chenin Blanc, but Uve Michelfelder, the then-vineyard manager who was on-site (the Massouds were living in Connecticut at the time), suggested retaining the last two acres.  Kareem implied that Charles’ response was the equivalent of today’s “whatever,” and the vines stayed.  They are the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyards on Long Island and the grapes from them go into Paumanok’s Minimalist bottling of that wine.

A quartet of Chenin Blanc releases shows why it’s Paumanok’s most popular wine.  The 2018 ($25, 92 pts), similar to its predecessors, is dry, crisp and clean with a hint of flintiness.  Beautiful acidity amplifies its charms.  The 2015, from a riper year, delivers more tropical and floral notes, imparting a richer, but not sweeter, impression.  Again, enlivening acidity in the finish enhances the pleasure.  The 2011, from what Kareem calls “a lousy vintage,” is a resounding success in his mind–and mine too.  Rain during harvest resulted in rot in the vineyard.  Selection of grapes had to be severe, reinforcing Massoud’s philosophy that sometimes you take a loss to preserve quality.  The 2011 Chenin Blanc may lack the verve and precision of the 2018, but it is remarkably good at seven years of age, especially considering the conditions under which the grapes were harvested.  I’d be happy to drink it with spicy Asian fare.

Kareem describes Paumanok’s 2015 Minimalist Chenin Blanc as “drinking a cloud.”  With a broader array of flavors than their regular bottling, it delivers an intriguing subtle nuttiness.  It expands in the glass and shows the heights this grape can achieve in the right hands.

Their Riesling dances on the palate and is stylistic similar to their Chenin Blanc, meaning, graceful.  The 2018 Dry Riesling ($22, 90 pts), from vines planted in 2005, is delicate with enlivening, almost tingling, flintiness.

As good as Paumanok’s whites are–and they are very good–the reds are even more astounding.  The quality is unexpected given their reputation for Chenin Blanc.  The mid-weight 2016 Cabernet Franc ($29, 92 pts), a perfect balance of red fruit and savory herbs, is a joy to drink now.  The 2014 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($55, 95 pts) is simply sensational.  The vines are 20 years old, which explains, in part, the wine’s grandeur.  Kareem’s decision to select only the top barrels and only wine made from free-run juice, which avoids bitter tannins, clearly adds to the wine’s elegance.  It is weighty, but not heavy.  Paumanok’s 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40, 95 pts) shows that Kareem knows how to handle that grape, the most widely planted one today on Long Island.  Kareem describes 2013 as an amazing vintage, breezy and cool.  I describe the wine as a marvelous Merlot, fresh, dense and silky, combining earthy savory notes with dark fruit elements.

My advice: Buy Paumanok’s Chenin Blanc whenever you can, but be sure to try their reds as well.  Oh, and don’t forget the Riesling, either.

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E-mail me your thoughts about the wines of New York in general or Long Island wines in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

September 11, 2019

William Fevre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) 2018

($25, Maison Marques et Domaines): Saint-Bris, formerly known as Sauvignon de Saint Bris before it was elevated to appellation d’origine controllée (AOC) status, is curious and unique in Burgundy.  Located in the far north, near Chablis and covering a mere 200 acres, it requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  A quick look at the map might explain why.  It is barely 80 miles from Sancerre, home to Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Producers insist that the same Kimmeridgian limestone of the nearby Chablis area imparts a lovely mineral component to the wine.  That is certainly apparent is this one from William Fevre, one of Chablis’ top producers.   They have crafted a stunning example of Saint-Bris.  Tightly wound, it delivers its cutting stony character after sitting in the glass for 15 minutes.  A subtle bite of Sauvignon Blanc reminds you of the grape, but the overall impression is one of minerals, not grassiness.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

Maison Louis Latour, Côteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir “Les Pierres Dorées” 2017

($26, Louis Latour, USA):  Côteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation, replacing Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, an appellation I’ve never seen in the U.S., perhaps because a “grand ordinary” wine is hard to sell.  Grapes for this appellation can come from anywhere in Burgundy, from Beaujolais in the south to Irancy in the north.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are the two chief grapes allowed for red or rosé, though less-well known ones, such as César, are also allowed.  From a practical point of view, it allows Beaujolais producers to now label their wines as Côteaux Bourguignons to take advantage of the cachet of Bourgogne.  To what extent they will do it remains to be seen.  In any case, Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s star producers, is using the appellation for their new project, planting Pinot Noir in Beaujolais.  Latour has been making Valmoissine — a stylish Pinot Noir-based wine outside of Burgundy in the south of France — for decades.  Now, they show it can be done in southern Beaujolais, the part known as Pierres Dorées, named for the golden color of the limestone rocks.  The soil there is closer in composition to that found in the Côte d’Or as opposed to the granite that is common in the cru of Beaujolais.  Earthy nuances complement juicy flavors in this mid-weight wine. The barest hint of tannic bitterness in the finish is a welcome component.  It’s a perfect choice for a simple take-out or oven-roasted chicken.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 10, 2019

Mastrojanni, Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, Italy) Vigna Loreto 2011

($86):  Though not the current release, Mastrojanni’s 2011 single vineyard, Loreto, is still available on the retail market and those who want to know why Brunello is such a revered wine should try it.  The only problem with the 2011 vintage in Brunello is that it followed 2010, a great one.  An advantage of the 2011s is they are earlier maturing than the 2010s.  In my mind, most Brunello usually need at least a decade of age before their glory shows.  But not this one.   It is now gorgeous to drink, combining dark core of mineral-like flavors with the black cherry-like flavors of Sangiovese.   Its suave texture just adds to its appeal and makes rich, but not heavy, wine a pleasure to drink.  Try it with a simply grilled veal chop.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2019

Château Yvonne, Saumur Blanc (Loire Valley, France) 2017

($52, Oz Wine Company):  Most of the wine made from Chenin Blanc, the primary white grape in Saumur, went into sparkling wine or non-distinguished still wine.  That has changed over the last couple of decades, with talented and focused producers, such as Château Yvonne, and others.  Château Yvonne’s tightly-wound 2017 displays enormous energy and a dazzling interplay of Chenin Blanc’s subtle citrus fruitiness and minerality.  I’d put it in the cellar for a few years, but if you’re drinking it this summer with spiced Asian fare or sushi — combinations I highly recommend — open it a couple of hours in advance.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2019

Domaine Guiberteau, Saumur Blanc (Loire Valley, France) Clos de Guichaux 2016

($41, Becky Wasserman & Co.):  Domaine Guiberteau is one of Saumur’s top producers.  As much as I hate to say it because it diminishes my role as a critic, I will:  It’s hard to go wrong just picking their wines blindly.  Their Clos de Guichaux, located within a stone’s throw of the hill of Brézé, the most revered portion of the appellation, has the same tuffeau (sandy limestone) soil that allows Chenin blanc to express itself clearly.  And similar to wines from Brézé, it displays a stone-y edginess that complements the subtle fruitiness of Chenin Blanc.  A long and penetrating zesty citrus finish amplifies its qualities.  I’d give this youthful wine a few more years to open, judging from the way it blossomed the next day.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 27, 2019

An Amber Standout from Georgia

Mosmieri (Kakheti, Georgia) “Kakhuri” 2017 ($20, Corus Imports):  Georgian wines seem to be the rage these days, and there are plenty of possible reasons for that.  Consumers are intrigued that archeologists have figured out that wine has been made in that Caucasus-region country for 8,000 years, putting it among the oldest wine producing areas in the world.  The country’s relatively recent liberation from Soviet domination has resulted in a new-found focus on quality wine production, and its re-emergence is likewise a source of interest.

Additionally, much of Georgian winemaking is closely aligned with the wine world’s current emphasis on minimal-intervention techniques, a point made persuasively by Christine Deussen (of Deussen Global Communications, which represents Georgian wines in the U.S.A.).  Few objects embody this emphasis as dramatically as Georgia’s widely used qvevri, large, egg-shaped earthenware pots sunk into the ground for the fermentation and storing of wine (a practice that has received placement on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists).  As Ms. Deussen also observes, the use of indigenous or autochthonous grapes rather than ubiquitous ones such as Chardonnay also makes Georgia’s white wines unique and fascinating.  (More on the reds in a future posting.)

Impediments to consumers’ enjoyment of Georgian wines include lack of familiarity with Georgian names and geography.  Many potential customers, myself included, experience difficulty distinguishing the name of the grape from the name of the place, and then distinguishing between the name of the wine and the name of the producer.  However, though traditionally produced Georgian wines won’t be to everyone’s liking, dedicated wine lovers need to try them anyway because some–like the one profiled here–can be superb with food.

Let’s start by trying to unravel the label.  Kakheti, a legally recognized and delimited area, is the major wine-producing region of Georgia, accounting for about 70 percent of the country’s vineyards.  Kakhuri, which means in the Kakhetian style and is the name of the wine, is confusing because other Georgian grapes use Kakhuri in their name–Kakhuri Mtsvani, for example, but usually called just Mtsvani.  (Mosmieri’s wine, however, is made entirely from Rkatsiteli, hence the potential for confusion.)  The label describes the wine as a “fine amber” wine.

The wine, though not made in a qvevri, is definitely a qvevri-style wine because the pressed grapes, skins and seeds are all fermented together for several months.  In typical white wine fermentation, the grapes are pressed, with the seeds and stems then being removed and discarded.  The juice undergoes fermentation for a week or two, not for months.  The grape, Rkatsiteli, indeed, should be less foreign to us than most Georgian grapes because Dr. Konstantin Frank makes a fabulous Rkatsiteli in upstate New York and labels it with the grape name.

True to its label, Mosmieri’s Kakhuri is amber colored and truly fine.  (Ms. Deussen says that many Georgians prefer “amber” as opposed to “orange” to describe the character of wine because of confusion with the fruit and the style of some orange wines.)  Mosmieri’s version is effectively a red wine masquerading as white because of the immediately apparent tannic impression on the palate.  Perfectly dry and clean, there’s not a hint of unpleasant oxidation despite the prolonged period of fermentation, which is what accounts for the subtle tannic feel and its amber color.

Its lack of annoying oxidative character differentiates it from many orange wines.  If you’ve been turned off by the orange wine category, here’s a good place to start again.  A substantial wine, Mosmieri’s Kakhuri cries for food.  This is not an aperitif-type sipper for use before dinner.  Powerful because the prolonged fermentation pulls flavors–and tannins and color–from the skins and seeds, it still weighs in only at a stated 13 percent alcohol.  Its acidity and concentration make it a great choice for–believe it or not–a hearty spiced lamb dish.  You’ve heard of red wine with fish.  Here’s white wine…or rather amber wine…with lamb.

90 Points

Posted by Michael Apstein on August 21, 2019 at 1:45 PM

Paumanok Vineyards, North Fork of Long Island (New York) Chenin Blanc 2018

($25):  Under the leadership of winemaker Kareem Massoud and his father Charles, before for him, Paumanok Vineyards has made consistently stunning dry Chenin Blanc.  The emphasis is on dry, because consumers often avoid Chenin Blanc because they can’t predict what’s in the bottle since the grapes can make a diverse range of wines from dry to gloriously sweet.  Their 2018, like its predecessors, is dry, crisp and cutting with a hint of flintiness. Though it’s mouth-cleansing acidity makes it a refreshing choice in the waning days of summer, don’t forget about it for the Thanksgiving table.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Comm. G.B. Burlotto, Verduno Pelaverga DOC (Piedmont, Italy) 2017

($25, Vineyard Brands):  A historic estate founded in the mid-18th century by Giovan Battista Burlotto, Comm. G. B. Burlotto remains one of Piedmont’s top and most reliable producers.  (The Comm. stands for il Commandatore.)  The grape is Pelaverga Piccolo (a.k.a. Pelaverga di Verduno) because it is almost exclusive to the commune of Verduno, according to Ian D’Agata (Native Wine Grapes of Italy, University of California Press, 2014). Almost extinct with only 7.5 acres planted in 1987, Pelaverga is now planted on a whopping 30 acres, according to D’Agata.  After tasting and then drinking this wine, I’m hoping for more.  This light to mid-weight red combines delicate red berry-like fruitiness with an all-spice kick.  The relative absence of tannins makes it perfect for summertime drinking, even chilled, to accompany a light pasta dish or a grilled veal chop.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Foradori, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT (Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy) Manzoni Bianco “Fontanasanta” 2017

($38, Louis Dressner Selections):  Manzoni Bianco is one of Italy’s botanical “crosses,” in this case a cross of Riesling and Chardonnay, made by Luigi Manzoni in the 1920s and 30s, according to Ian D’Agata (Native Wine Grapes of Italy, University of California Press, 2014).  Though this grape is difficult to grow, some producers, thankfully, persevere with it.  Foradori’s is simply captivating.  One whiff and the initial taste pulls you in because its spicy salinity is deliciously refreshing.  Not monotonous, it delivers floral aromas and a white pepper-like bite.  Though this wine will cut through most any food, it is not aggressive — just enlivening.
94 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Moser, Trento DOC (Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy) “51,151″ Brut NV

($23, Divino International Wine and Spirit):  The name of the wine, “51,151”, refers to a cycling record that Francesco Moser set in Mexico City in 1984, according to their website.  This 100 percent Chardonnay base bubbly is, indeed, racy (pun intended), but the elegance imparted by that grape shows, making for a lovely balance.  Its clean and crisp character makes it an excellent aperitive, while its sturdy spine allows you to enjoy it with a meal, with grilled swordfish for example.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Cantine Leonardo da Vinci, Pignoletto Spumante DOC (Emilia-Romagna, Italy) “1502″ 2018

($20):  Cantine Leonardo da Vinci, a large Tuscan-based cooperative, makes this delightful sparkling wine from the Pignoletto grape, not one that is widely known outside of central Italy.  Its inherently high acidity makes it a good choice for bubbly because growers can let it ripen, allowing its exuberant floral and fruity character to shine, without it becoming sappy or flabby.  This one is a charming fruity, just structured, example that is a perfect patio aperitivo on a humid summer’s day.
88 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

William Fevre, Saint-Bris (Burgundy, France) 2018

($25, Maison Marques et Domaines): Saint-Bris, formerly known as Sauvignon de Saint Bris before it was elevated to appellation d’origine controllée (AOC) status, is curious and unique in Burgundy.  Located in the far north, near Chablis and covering a mere 200 acres, it requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay, for its wines.  A quick look at the map might explain why.  It is barely 80 miles from Sancerre, home to Sauvignon Blanc-based wines. Producers insist that the same Kimmeridgian limestone of the nearby Chablis area imparts a lovely mineral component to the wine.  That is certainly apparent is this one from William Fevre, one of Chablis’ top producers.   They have crafted a stunning example of Saint-Bris.  Tightly wound, it delivers its cutting stony character after sitting in the glass for 15 minutes.  A subtle bite of Sauvignon Blanc reminds you of the grape, but the overall impression is one of minerals, not grassiness.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Maison Louis Latour, Côteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) Pinot Noir “Les Pierres Dorées” 2017

($26, Louis Latour, USA):  Côteaux Bourguignons is a relatively new appellation, replacing Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire, an appellation I’ve never seen in the U.S., perhaps because a “grand ordinary” wine is hard to sell.  Grapes for this appellation can come from anywhere in Burgundy, from Beaujolais in the south to Irancy in the north.  Pinot Noir and Gamay are the two chief grapes allowed for red or rosé, though less-well known ones, such as César, are also allowed.  From a practical point of view, it allows Beaujolais producers to now label their wines as Côteaux Bourguignons to take advantage of the cachet of Bourgogne.  To what extent they will do it remains to be seen.  In any case, Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s star producers, is using the appellation for their new project, planting Pinot Noir in Beaujolais.  Latour has been making Valmoissine — a stylish Pinot Noir-based wine outside of Burgundy in the south of France — for decades.  Now, they show it can be done in southern Beaujolais, the part known as Pierres Dorées, named for the golden color of the limestone rocks.  The soil there is closer in composition to that found in the Côte d’Or as opposed to the granite that is common in the cru of Beaujolais.  Earthy nuances complement juicy flavors in this mid-weight wine. The barest hint of tannic bitterness in the finish is a welcome component.  It’s a perfect choice for a simple take-out or oven-roasted chicken.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 20, 2019

Saumur: Home to Fabulous Dry Chenin Blanc

The Chenin Blanc grape can be transformed into fabulous wine.  It makes sensationally riveting dry wines and lusciously sweet ones.  In this column, I want to focus on the dry ones.  They are exceptionally versatile, equally well suited to stand-alone as an aperitif or with a meal, especially with those foods that can pose a challenge for matching with wine, such as sushi, spicy Asian fare or roast pork.  Flavorful, yet lightweight and refreshing, they are perfect in the summer.  In truth, they are wonderful regardless of the season.

Indeed, often when in doubt as to what to serve with a meal, choosing a dry Chenin Blanc is the answer.  (Remember this advice at Thanksgiving.)  So, if this is such a wonderful wine that has been embraced by wine geeks and sommeliers, why hasn’t it captured the attention of the usual, dare I say, normal, wine drinker?  Because, like Riesling, when you see the grape name on the label, you often can’t tell whether the wine will be one of those riveting dry ones or a sweet one.

All wines made from Riesling, even in France with its chauvinism regarding appellation, are labeled with the grape name.  (In Germany, it is assumed the wine is made from Riesling unless otherwise noted.)  In the U.S. and South Africa, the latter with more Chenin Blanc planted than anywhere else in the world, the wines are labeled with the grape name, so there is plenty of potential for confusion.  As a result, the consumer rarely knows from the label whether the Chenin Blanc will be dry or sweet.

Thankfully, not all Chenin Blanc-based wines are labeled by the grape name, so consumers can know in advance what they are getting.  In France, the appellation system focuses on geography, not the grape name and the appellation indicates which ones are the enlivening and dry Chenin Blanc-based wines and which ones are sweet.  In France’s Loire Valley, where the greatest amount of Chenin Blanc is grown, there can be clarity.  Wines from Savennières, Jasnières and the white wines from the Saumur and Chinon appellations will be dry.  Wines from Côteaux du Layon and its subzones will be sweet.  Vouvray, sadly, remains a conundrum because they can be either dry or sweet and often times without a clear indication on the label, although recently I’ve seen more and more of them labeled as “dry” or “doux” (sweet) to help the consumer.

In the past, Saumur Blanc was not a particularly noteworthy or memorable appellation.  Most Chenin Blanc planted there went into bubbly wines, which, by the way, can be very good.  There was hardly any focus on quality dry still white wines.  Over the last decade that has changed and now some positively thrilling dry whites come from the chalky limestone soil of the appellation.  Just from a brief drive through Saumur, a village on the southern border of the Loire about equidistance from Angers and Tours, you can predict the soil of the surrounding vineyards just by looking at the surrounding architecture.  All the structures, buildings, castles, and bridges, are made from white limestone, which was quarried locally.

Theirry Germain, the enthusiastic and passionate owner of Domaine Roche Neuves, makes whites that are both rich and mineral-y, with gorgeous acidity and penetrating length.  One, Clos Romans, comes from a walled vineyard that dates from the 11th century that had been neglected.  He resurrected it by using the modern high-density formula (4,000 vines per acre) for planting, which he and other growers tell me produces better fruit.  He farms it biodynamically and although the vines are only 15 years old, the wines are stunning and sought after.  (The current release, 2017, vintage sells for $88).  So far, he produces only about 600 bottles annually.  He told me when I visited him in 2015 that Jean-Claude Ramonet traded him one-for-one:  His 2014 Clos Romans for Ramonet’s Le Montrachet.

Germain is not the only one shinning a bright light on the potential of Saumur Blanc.  There’s also Philippe Porché’s Domaine de Rocheville, where they make two versions of Saumur Blanc that highlight the diversity even within the appellation.  Their Le Clos de la Thibaudière, from Brézé, the most renowned village in the appellation, makes your mouth water with its striking saline minerality and contrasts beautifully with the riper and rounder Saumur Blanc, La Dame, from Parnay, the home base of the domaine.  Though the oak treatment is slightly different, Porché attributes the dramatic difference between the wines to the differences in the soil between the villages. I predict that in another decade the names of seemingly obscure villages in Saumur will be familiar to wine lovers as the villages of the Côte de Beaune.

Other top-notch producers whose wines I can recommend are Domaine Guiberteau and Domaine Arnaud Lambert, both of whom bottle wines from Brézé, Domaine du Collier, Domaine Filliatreau, and Chateau Yvonne.

Domaine Guiberteau, another family domaine, has roughly half of their organically farmed 24 acres planted to Chenin Blanc, 70 percent of it in Brézé.   Clos des Carmes is their top Chenin Blanc cuvée, but my advice is to buy any of their wines–reds included.

With almost 100 acres, Domaine Arnaud Lambert is large by comparison.  They, too, like all the forward-thinking producers in this area, farm organically.  The domaine bottles three Chenin Blanc-based cuvées from Brézé, Clos David, Clos de la Rue, and Clos de Midi, but frankly all of the wines–white and red–are exceptional.

Antoine Foucault, son of legendary Loire producer, Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard, almost certainly the most famous red wine Loire producer, started Domaine Collier with Caroline Boireau.  Breaking from his father’s tradition, two-thirds of their roughly 17-acre estate is planted to Chenin Blanc. They make two whites, one blended from their vineyards and one, called La Charpentrie, from the vineyard of the same name, many of whose vines are over 100 years old. Their whites are tight when young and, like great wines everywhere, need time in the bottle of evolve.

Though Domaine Filliatreau, a family domaine started in 1967 by Maurice Filliatreau, focuses on red wine, which, by the way, are consistently excellent, they make a small amount of superb white Saumur called L’Imago that can stand with the best of them.

Château Yvonne, with just over a quarter of their roughly 28 acres devoted to Chenin Blanc, farm using a biodynamic philosophy, the current trend among forward thinking vignerons. Their 2017 Saumur Blanc is tightly wound, but mineral-y and balanced with an underlying creaminess.

These are consistently superb producers who, unfortunately, make only small quantities of various cuvées, so, I suggest you snatch up whichever of their wines you find.

Saumur is an area where young producers see an opportunity to make unique wine, and a name for themselves, because the raw materials–the soil, the weather, and grape variety fit together perfectly here–so expect to see many new names.  And rush to try them before the wines command triple digit price tags.

Of course, you can find excellent dry Chenin Blanc closer to home.  Two I recommend heartily are from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma and from Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island.  The crisp 2018 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($25) delivers flinty hints.  It finishes dry and refreshing because of its vibrant acidity.

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Email me your thoughts about Chenin Blanc in general or ones from Saumur in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

August 14, 2019

Roederer Estate, Anderson Valley (Mendocino County, California) Brut NV

($24):  Although I’ve not sampled every sparkling wine from California, Roederer Estate’s is my favorite.  Part of the reason their wines are so good is, of course, the talent of Roederer, the French Champagne producer that owns it.  But another important reason for their quality is that all of the grapes for their sparkling wines come from their vineyards, which means they have total control over the entire process from vineyard to winemaking to aging.  A traditional Champagne-style blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, their non-vintage Brut is lively and fresh, with a remarkable smoothness.  Fruitier and less yeasty than Roederer Champagne, it has the Roederer balance and elegance. It over-delivers for the price.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Champagne (France) 1er Cru, Brut, Blanc de Blancs “Cuvée Cuis” NV

($55, Terry Thiese Estate Selection):  Blanc de Blancs (literally, white from whites) has no legal meaning except in Champagne where it means that only Chardonnay, a white grape, can be used.  The expectation, which is fulfilled dramatically with this wine, is a Champagne of purity and elegance.  Gimonnet’s also has a creamy texture and impressive precision and length.  Though a perfect summertime Champagne because of its refreshing, light-on-the-palate style, I look forward to drinking it year-round, and acquired a case of it for my cellar for that very purpose.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, Bourgogne Aligoté (Burgundy, France) 2017

($33):  Based in Puligny-Montrachet, Domaine Paul Pernot et Fils, a family-owned and run domaine, is one of Burgundy’s stars for white wines.  No question, their Bâtard-and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet are stunning, albeit at triple digit prices.  They put the same care that goes into those Grand Crus into their Bourgogne Aligoté.  Aligoté is the second permitted white grape in Burgundy and is planted in about 4,500 acres throughout the Côte d’Or and in the Chablis area (compared to 37,500 acres for Chardonnay).  Aligoté can make thin and sharp wines and was, and still is, used to make a Kir, an aperitif made with a touch of cassis syrup poured into a glass of Aligoté. Pernot’s rendition, however, has remarkable depth and purity that would be wasted in a Kir.  Instead, embrace this energetic wine with its citrus-tinged acidity the next time you need to cut through spicy Asian fare, steamed clams or other bivalves.  My friend, John Hayes, refers to it as a “dust-buster.”
90 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Simonnet-Febvre, Irancy (Burgundy, France) 2015

($20):  Irancy, a small red wine appellation in northern Burgundy, near Chablis, is a name to remember.  Its northern locale has meant lean and angular wines in the past because Pinot Noir was tough to ripen.  But climate change in general and the wonderfully warm 2015 vintage means it’s time to take another look at this under-the-radar area.  Simonnet-Febvre, a top Chablis producer, fashioned a balanced Irancy in 2015, focusing on the mineral side of Pinot Noir as opposed to its fruity aspect.  A pleasant touch of bitter cherry-like flavor appears in the finish.  Don’t expect opulence in this wine, but its firm edge makes it a lovely match for marinated grilled chicken.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 13, 2019

Lingua Franca, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Avni” 2016

($39):  Lingua Franca is one of ever-increasing numbers of Oregon wineries that have a French connection.  In this case, Larry Stone, Master Sommelier and wine consultant, purchased a vineyard in 2012 in the Eola-Amity Hills section of the Willamette Valley, originally planning to sell the grapes.  According to their website, Dominque Lafon, a Burgundy superstar, suggested they make wine instead and along with David Honig, Lingua Franca was born. They made the 2016 Avni from a combination of their own fruit and some purchased from neighbors in their not-entirely completed winery.  They clearly overcame whatever the challenges those circumstances posed because the wine is, in a word, delicious.  (And given the prices of domestic Pinot Noir, a bargain.)  Not surprisingly, it has a Burgundian flair to it.  Long and graceful, it is restrained yet mouth-filling with a seamless combination of fruit nuances and herbal savory notes.  I can’t wait to taste future releases from this producer.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2015

($45):  The Drouhin family, one of Burgundy’s star producers, made history when they bought land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and started Domaine Drouhin Oregon there in 1987.  Over three decades later, they remain one of Oregon’s — and America’s — leading producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As with their Burgundies, delicacy and finesse are the hallmarks of their Oregon wines.  With this one, their non-reserve bottling, they manage an elegant expression of both the fruity and savory sides of Pinot Noir.  The flavors dance on the palate without a trace of heaviness.  Try it with grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Dusky Goose, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2016

($65):  John and Linda Carter, both successful in their respective careers — he in business and she in music — had the good sense to hired Lynn Penner-Ash to make their wine.  She was the one who put the Rex Hill Vineyards’ Pinot Noir on the map in the late 1980s and 1990s before establishing Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.  Her talents are clear with Dusky Goose Pinot Noir.  She has fashioned a moderately intense style of Pinot Noir, while still capturing its herbal and savory nuances.  So often robust Pinot Noir wines fall into what I call the “Pinot Syrah” category of jam-y power.  Not this one.  It retains balance and grace.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Couly-Dutheil, Chinon (Touraine, Loire Valley, France) “Les Chanteaux” 2017

($25):  Though the vast majority (>95%) of wine from Chinon is red and made from Cabernet Franc, noteworthy and distinctive whites made from Chenin Blanc also carry that appellation.  This is one of them.  Couly-Dutheil is one of the top Chinon producers, making a bevy of easy-to-recommend reds year after year, so it should come as no surprise that they can make this stellar white wine.  Cutting acidity in the finish balances and amplifies its peachy nuances.  A lush texture and even the barest hint of stone fruit bitterness adds complexity and allure.  It reminds us the Chenin Blanc planted in the right place and make into wine by the right people makes one of the world’s great wines.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Saint-Véran (Burgundy, France) 2015

($40):  Comte Lafon, one of Burgundy’s most talented and best producers, is known especially for his white wines from Meursault, which usually sell for triple digits upon release.  Here’s a chance to get an insight into his talents with this one from Saint-Véran, appellation bordering Pouilly-Fuissé in the Mâconnais part of Burgundy.  Opulent, reflecting both Lafon’s style and the vintage, it has enough acidity to keep you coming back throughout the meal.  Fortunately, unlike his Meursault, this beauty is for the table, not the cellar.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 6, 2019

Drouhin Oregon, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay Roserock 2016

($31):  The Drouhin family, the famed Burgundy producer, is doing what comes naturally to Burgundy producers, focusing on the uniqueness of vineyards.  They’ve purchased an additional vineyard in another part of the Willamette Valley and are making distinctive wines there that are different from the ones they produce in the Dundee Hills, showing that terroir is alive and well in Oregon.  Their 2016 Roserock Chardonnay has an immediately appealing plumpness without being fat or heavy.  Expansive in the mouth, it has the Drouhin sense of refinement.  Given the prices of domestic Chardonnay, this one’s a bargain.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Lingua Franca, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Avni” 2016

($39):  Lingua Franca is one of ever-increasing numbers of Oregon wineries that have a French connection.  In this case, Larry Stone, Master Sommelier and wine consultant, purchased a vineyard in 2012 in the Eola-Amity Hills section of the Willamette Valley, originally planning to sell the grapes.  According to their website, Dominque Lafon, a Burgundy superstar, suggested they make wine instead and along with David Honig, Lingua Franca was born. They made the 2016 Avni from a combination of their own fruit and some purchased from neighbors in their not-entirely completed winery.  They clearly overcame whatever the challenges those circumstances posed because the wine is, in a word, delicious.  (And given the prices of domestic Pinot Noir, a bargain.)  Not surprisingly, it has a Burgundian flair to it.  Long and graceful, it is restrained yet mouth-filling with a seamless combination of fruit nuances and herbal savory notes.  I can’t wait to taste future releases from this producer.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Maysara, McMinnville, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Jamsheed” 2012 

($33):  The Momtazi family is not in a rush.  In 1997, they purchased close to 500 acres — an abandoned wheat farm that had been free from chemical fertilizer since the beginning of that decade — and finally starting planting them in earnest two years later.  It took them that long to prepare the earth by plowing and turning the soil repeatedly.  Though not certified biodynamic or organic, by all measures they are both, eschewing the use of chemicals and pesticides.  They use herbal teas to keep insects and disease at bay.  Oh, and they hold back their wines until they think they’re ready.  This 2012 Jamsheed, their current release, is.  Savory and mineral-y, it’s sensational.  A glossy texture and freshness just add to its appeal, which is immediately apparent.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Maysara, McMinnville, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir “Asha” 2012

($50):  Maysara’s Asha Pinot Noir comes from the same vineyard as the Jamsheed, but since the vineyard is large with multiple soils and numerous clones of Pinot Noir, they have the ability to create different blends.  As enthralled as I was with the Jamsheed, this one is more spell-binding.  The focus is also on the mineral-infused savory aspect of Pinot Noir, rather than its fruitiness.  And the suave texture is similar.  But somehow, the Asha just has an extra dimension.  It’s a brilliant expression of Willamette — really McMinnville — Pinot Noir, and despite the price tag, it’s still a bargain.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Brittan Vineyards, McMinnville, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir Gestalt Block 2015

($60):  Founded barely 15 years ago, in 2004, by Robert and Ellen Brittan, Brittan Vineyards is a name to remember.  Robert, who was the winemaker and estate manager at Stags’ Leap Winery for 16 years, must be a fast learner because that winery didn’t make Pinot Noir, or if they did, it was not a focus of their production.  Now he makes a bevy of them and my recommendation is to buy whichever of them you can find.  Take this one, for example.  The Gestalt Block faces west, sits on basalt rich land, and is buffeted by winds.  The result, according to Robert, is that the vines suffer and produce less fruit — less than one ton per acre typically.  The 2015 Gestalt Pinot Noir is more mineral-y than fruity with bright, uplifting acidity.  A vigorous wine, it is not heavy, but rather long and graceful.  They’ve captured what I consider the essence of Pinot Noir — flavor without weight.  Given the low yield, there’s only 450 cases, but it is worth the search.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2015

($45):  The Drouhin family, one of Burgundy’s star producers, made history when they bought land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and started Domaine Drouhin Oregon there in 1987.  Over three decades later, they remain one of Oregon’s — and America’s — leading producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As with their Burgundies, delicacy and finesse are the hallmarks of their Oregon wines.  With this one, their non-reserve bottling, they manage an elegant expression of both the fruity and savory sides of Pinot Noir.  The flavors dance on the palate without a trace of heaviness.  Try it with grilled salmon.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Dusky Goose, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2016

($65):  John and Linda Carter, both successful in their respective careers — he in business and she in music — had the good sense to hired Lynn Penner-Ash to make their wine.  She was the one who put the Rex Hill Vineyards’ Pinot Noir on the map in the late 1980s and 1990s before establishing Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.  Her talents are clear with Dusky Goose Pinot Noir.  She has fashioned a moderately intense style of Pinot Noir, while still capturing its herbal and savory nuances.  So often robust Pinot Noir wines fall into what I call the “Pinot Syrah” category of jam-y power.  Not this one.  It retains balance and grace.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Domaine Ferret, Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, France) 2016

($44, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  Ferret has always been one of the top names in Pouilly-Fuissé, being one of the first to move from bulk to bottled wine after World War II to ensure quality.  Since being acquired by Beaune-based Maison Louis Jadot in 2008, Ferret’s wines have reached new heights, no doubt, in part due to Audrey Braccini, their exceptionally talented winemaker.  (Ferret has had female winemakers since 1840.)  Though Ferret bottles several vineyard-specific Pouilly-Fuissé, this one is a blend from their vineyards throughout the appellation.  The 2016 conveys the delightful combination of charming fruitiness supported by a stone-like mineral quality.  Enlivening acidity, especially in the finish, keeps it fresh throughout a meal.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

P. Ferraud et Fils, Saint-Amour (Beaujolais, France) 2017

($17):  Saint-Amour is the most northern Beaujolais cru and the second smallest, after Chénas.  Clay in the granitic soil here adds an oomph to the wines, according to growers to whom I spoke.  Ferraud’s is wonderfully fragrant and immediately enticing.  After its floral allure, its power comes as a surprise, but a welcome one because it is not overdone.  Firmness balances its cherry-like ripeness.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

P. Ferraud et Fils, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) “La Dynastie des Ferraud” 2015

($30):  Though Ferraud’s wines have been in the U.S. market in the past, they currently have no importer, which is a shame because they consistently make distinctive Beaujolais.  (The prices I quote come from a world-wide averages.)   My experience with their wines comes from decades ago when they were imported and, more recently, drinking them in Paris bistros.  A tasting earlier this year in New York showed that they haven’t lost their touch.  La Dynastie des Ferraud originally was a barrel selection of their best wine, from any off the Beaujolais crus.  For the last seven years it has come from Moulin-à-Vent and has been made in conjunction with a Burgundy producer who supplies 3-year old oak barrels where the wine ages for six months on its fine lees.  Mineral-y and suave, it conveys a Syrah-like peppery quality that adds allure.  It is a powerful wine reflective of the superb and ripe 2015 vintage, yet it is not overblown or jam-y.  On the contrary, it’s refined and elegant despite its power.  Long and graceful, it shows the heights to which Beaujolais can rise.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 30, 2019

Raeburn Winery, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2017

($20):  Those who maintain that California Chardonnay has moved away from the rich buttery style to a more elegant, refined approach will find support for that generality with this wine.  Lemony tones in the finish keeps it fresh, while delicate creamy notes remind why Chardonnay that has seen a judicious use of oak is so popular.  This stylish Chardonnay is a bargain, to boot.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni DOC (Liguria, Italy) Vermentino “Grey Label” 2018

($25, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Lunae Bosoni, the largest winery in Liguria, shows that big can be beautiful.  They make an exquisitely consistent line-up of Vermentino.  Scents of wild herbs and spice leap from the glass of this one, their so-called entry level wine.  Its clean and cutting nature enlivens the palate.  A subtle touch of white pepper-like spice in the finish enhances its appeal.  It’s a fantastic choice for summertime seafood, such as linguine bathed in a clam sauce.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni DOC (Liguria, Italy) Vermentino “Numero Chiuso” 2015

($60, Montcalm Wine Importers):  This, Bosoni’s “number one,” is a limited production of 2,600 bottles from a single 20-hl barrel, where the wine rested on the lees for 14 months.  The lees aging adds richness and roundness, which results in a different expression of Vermentino.  Though still bright and refreshing, the wine’s suaveness mutes its vivacity a bit.  Bosoni’s Numero Chiuso and their Cavagini complete a gorgeous quartet of Vermentino that offers something for everyone.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni DOC (Liguria, Italy) Vermentino “Cavagino” 2017

($45, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Though this Vermentino comes from three vineyards in the more highly regarded Cavagino area of the DOC, I suspect that the major difference in the wine’s character compared to Lunae Bosoni’s other Vermentinos is in the winemaking, because they have been experimenting with barrique fermentation.  Forty percent of this wine underwent barrique fermentation, which lends a bit of creaminess to Bosoni’s Vermentino hallmark floral spicy nose and freshness.  The oak influence is not intrusive.  It adds an extra dimension at the expense of some of the Vermentino’s energy.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Lunae Bosoni, Colli di Luni DOC (Liguria, Italy) Vermentino “Black Label” 2018

($40, Montcalm Wine Importers):  I know my editor, and others, are wondering how I could possibly could give 95 points to a Vermentino.  Taste it and you’ll see.  As much as I like Lunae Bosoni’s “Grey Label” Vermentino, this, their so-called “Black Label,” is just better.  It has everything that their Grey Label has, but is longer, denser, more complex.  In brief, it’s a more complete wine.  Both floral and mineral-infused, it’s amazingly long and bright.  It has enormous energy that persists into the finish and then some.  It’s one of the best Vermentinos I’ve ever had.  The leap in quality is likely due to both a careful selection of grapes and a bit, but not too much, of skin maceration in the winery.  On a personal note, usually, after I taste samples that have been sent to me, I give the remainder of the bottles to friends.  Not this one.  I drank it with our dinner of grilled swordfish in a robust tomato caper sauce.  Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s most prominent wine reviewers, has awarded this wine tre bicchieri (three glasses), its highest ranking, 10 years in a row.  I’m betting this will be the 11th.
95 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Peter Zemmer, Alto Adige – Südtirol DOC (Italy) Pinot Grigio 2018

($15, HB Wine Merchants):  Pinot Grigio spans the spectrum from innocuous or insipid to charming and noteworthy.  Peter Zemmer’s is definitely in the latter group.  An immediately captivating floral sensation predicts enjoyment.  It has remarkable depth and persistence for a category that is all too often fleeting and bland.  This one has character and verve and explains why the variety became so popular initially.  A wisp of bitterness in the finish enhances its overall appeal.  Both refreshing and serious, it does double duty as a stand-alone aperitif or as an accompaniment to simply prepared seafood.  Buy it by the case for the rest of summer.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

P. Ferraud & Fils, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) “L’Éolienne” 2016 

($25):  Ferraud has had presence on the U.S. market for decades, but currently lacks an importer.  That’s a shame because their wines are distinctive and unique.  Take this one — a classic Moulin-à-Vent with fruit-infused charm, minerality, and a lovely fleshiness.  A firm, rather than hard, profile makes it perfect for current consumption, but knowing how their wines develop, there’s certainly no rush.  Although there are lots of climats (vineyards) in Moulin-à-Vent from which growers are making single vineyard wines, L’Éolienne is not one of them.  It’s a proprietary name.  But don’t sweat the details, the wine is worth it.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Domaine Ruet, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Douby 2017

($25, Schatzi Wines):  Consumers can select anything that Domaine Ruet makes and be happy with it.  This Morgon, from the climat (or vineyard) Douby, is sensational.  It has the firmness for which Morgon is known, but with a charming fruitiness and haunting minerality.  It has a refinement and length that is not usually associated with Beaujolais.  But this is not “Beaujolais,” but rather Douby from Morgon from a top producer.  Lovely now with a summertime grilled steak, its balance suggests a lovely evolution.  Yes, the label is unfamiliar — Morgon, Douby.  Consumers, it’s time to learn more geography.  This wine shows why it’s worth it.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Louis Tête, Beaujolais-Villages (France) 2017

($14):  Beaujolais-Villages is a wine that comes from any one or a combination of 38 specified villages, and the category is thought to have the potential for more interesting wines compared to those labeled Beaujolais.  This one is juicy, with good weight and concentration, yet not heavy or overly fruity.  Mild tannins provide needed structure, but are not so prevalent as to be intrusive even after chilling.  This is a great alternative to any of the thousands of insipid rosés on the market for summer enjoyment.  An hour in the fridge before you pull the cork does the trick.  It would be perfect for salad Niçoise with rare tuna.
88 Michael Apstein Jul 23, 2019

Beaujolais: A Versatile Wine

One of the many things I love about Beaujolais is its variety and versatility.  There’s Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage that’s almost closer to alcoholic grape juice than to wine, and which many in the American wine press deride regularly.  Released on the third Thursday of November, it can be a refreshing, all-purpose wine for the Thanksgiving table.  In France, its arrival is celebrated in cafes and bars all over Paris and Beaune with signs and banners reading, “Beaujolais est arrivé!”  (Beaujolais has arrived.) Each establishment proudly offers one of two from their favorite producers.  I’ve often overheard animated discussions among customers regarding the quality of one over the other.

Then there’s juicy Beaujolais that are fresh and fruity wines perfect for chilling and drinking at this time of the year.  A step up is Beaujolais-Villages, wines coming from any of the 38 villages in this area just north of Lyon that have the potential for better wine.  They, too, provide mid-weight wines that are perfect for drinking chilled in the summer.  However, Beaujolais-Villages from top producers–Château du Basty springs to mind–can have a depth and complexity that makes you realize that this category, often relegated to lower shelves in the supermarket, can provide amazing value. Look out, in particular, for old vine–“vieilles vignes”–bottlings of Beaujolais-Villages.  Some of these plantings date back to pre-World War II and even pre-Great War.

Finally, there’s the serious side of Beaujolais.  The Gamay grape can reflect its origins or, in modern terminology, be transparent, just as the Pinot Noir in the Côte d’Or.  Locals have known this for decades, bottling special cuvées from prized sites separately.  But it has taken six centuries after Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, exiled the “vile and noxious” Gamay grape from Burgundy in favor of the “elegant” Pinot Noir for the rest of the world to notice.

This transparency is most apparent in the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages in the northern part of the appellation whose soils are rich in granite and that are capable of producing such distinctive wines that only the name of the village in required on the label.  From north to south they are St. Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.  Reference to Beaujolais on the label is optional.

Jeanne-Marie Deschamps, one of Burgundy’s smartest brokers and a woman who knows the area well, describes the region as a series of several “volcanic eggs” jutting from the countryside, with vines on all sides of these outcroppings.  The topography differs from that of the Côte d’Or, which primarily faces southeast, and is more like Italy’s Chianti Classico where vineyards seemingly spread in every direction, leading to very different exposures.

Audrey Charton, whose family owns Domaine du Clos des Garands, a superb estate in Fleurie, told me that one reason Beaujolais’ soil is unique is that the region was never hit by an ice age that brought soil and debris from elsewhere.  The topography and variation in soil explains why the wines from these villages are very different one from another.  Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon are considered the sturdiest, followed by Côte de Brouilly, while Chiroubles is the least structured.

One thing that is particularly exciting is how producers are focusing on the vineyards (what the Burgundians call climats) within these crus.  Though Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, was not the first to bottle a Beaujolais cru with a vineyard name, I nonetheless credit them with popularizing the concept when they purchased the Château des Jacques estate in Moulin-à-Vent in 1996.  Depending on the vintage, Château des Jacques produces up to five distinct wines from individual climats within Moulin-à-Vent (Clos de Rochegrès, Clos du Grand Carquelin, Clos de Champ de Cour, Clos de la Roche and Clos des Thorins) in addition to their Moulin-à-Vent cru.

Jadot is not the only major Beaune-based négociant to expand the Burgundian philosophy to Beaujolais, meaning, each vineyard is intended to portray a unique terroir.  Bouchard Père et Fils owns Château de Poncié in Fleurie and makes wines from two individual climats, while Albert Bichot at Domaine de Rochegrès prominently labels their wine from their 5-acre plot in the Rochegrès climat as Rochegrès, subordinating even Moulin-à-Vent to small letters.

Maison Louis Latour, another top producer, acting as a négociant, has bottlings from the climats in five of the 10 crus.  And, of course, Beaujolais producers who concentrate solely on the crus, such as the excellent Chateau Moulin-à-Vent in Moulin-à-Vent and Mee Goddard’s superb domaine in Morgon bottle climat by climat.  With some of these vineyard bottlings, the name Beaujolais does not appear on the label.

Vineyard by vineyard bottling in Beaujolais is, to me, an exciting concept.  Here’s another area where wines using the same winemaking technique and made from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  It’s another marvel of Nature.  And fortunately, unlike in Côte d’Or, the epicenter of terroir, the wines from the climats of Beaujolais are affordable.

Tasting Jean Foillard’s 2017s wines from three different climats in Morgon–Corcelette, Côte de Py and Charmes–is instructive.  Since Foillard is emphatic that the winemaking and élévage (aging) are identical, tasting his wines side by side show that dramatic differences among the terroirs.  The same is true with Château Thivin’s wines from the Côte de Brouilly. Wines from three different parcels (Godefoy, which faces east, La Chapelle, a south facing site on a 55-degree slope near the top, and Les Griottes de Brulhié, south facing at mid-slope) are all gorgeous and suave but delightfully different. Claude Geoffroy, whose family owns Château Thivin, told me that it’s the terroir speaking because the winemaking is the same for each parcel.

Despite the point this approach makes, there is enormous potential for confusion.  The number of proposed climats is impressive and for non-wine geeks who might not even be familiar with the names of the 10 crus, adding scores of more seemingly obscure names is daunting.  In addition to the many–officials are still identifying sites–in Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie has 13 climats, and Morgon six, perhaps the best known of which is Côte de Py, basically a hill of schist. (For completeness, the other five are Grand Cras, Les Charmes, Corcelette, Les Micouds and Douby.)

But as Cyril Chirouze, the very talented winemaker at Château des Jacques, commented, “not all of the Côte de Py is not the same.”  Much like the famed Clos Vougeot in the Côte d’Or, where location in that vast vineyard is key, the location of the vines on the Côte de Py also matters.  Indeed, some producers are already identifying a subplot there, Jarvenières, towards its base, that produces slightly less firm wines and labeling them with that name.

To make matters worse, some producers use proprietary names in addition to, or instead of, place names.

Still, it’s an exciting time for Beaujolais.  Changes in grape-growing, winemaking, and site specificity are on the way.  Guillaume Striffling, another talented Beaujolais producer, says that he has specific plots in Regnié, which produce distinctive wine but cannot use their names because they are not recognized officially.  To be recognized, the climat must be approved by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), the French governing agency that regulates wine, which he notes is a long bureaucratic process. His Gallic philosophic streak is apparent when he remarked, “often in the wine business when you are planting a vine, you think to yourself ‘this is not for me, this is for my children because everything in the French (wine) industry takes a long time.’”

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Email me your thoughts about Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

July 17, 2019

Domaine Bel Avenir, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais, France) En Mortperay 2017

($25):  Growers in Moulin-à-Vent, the most robust of the 10 crus of Beaujolais, have embraced the concept of making wines from specific sites, just as in the Côte d’Or, their more famous neighbor in Burgundy to the north.  En Mortperay is one such site, situated on the edge of the appellation, bordering Fleurie.  More floral and elegant than you might expect for a Moulin-à-Vent at this youthful stage, it still conveys plenty of power.  Its impeccable balance, interplay of flavors, and lingering finish make it a very serious wine and hard to resist now.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019

Dominique Piron, Morgon (Beaujolais, France) Côte du Py 2017

($30):  The Côte du Py is arguably the most famous climat or vineyard in Morgon and possibly all of Beaujolais.  Composed of back stone, it can be home to power and dense wines that need considerable age before revealing their charms.  But, as is always the case, the producer plays an enormous role in the style of the wine.  With Piron’s 2017 Côte de Py there’s an engaging floral component to the wine that complements its firmness.  Less powerful than many, this mineral-y infused wine is fine to open now.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 16, 2019