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An Awesome Aligoté

Let me get right to the point. The 2020 Aligoté from Domaine du Cellier aux Moines is the best Bourgogne Aligoté I’ve ever had, and I’ve had one from Coche-Dury. Why is it so stunning? Firstly, this Aligoté, labelled “Sous les Roches,” comes from a vineyard in Montagny planted in 1945. Secondly, the extremely focused and talented team at Domaine du Cellier aux Moines made the wine.

Although Aligoté represents only about six percent of vineyard plantings in Burgundy today, it has played a much bigger role in the past. In the 19th century, before phylloxera, growers intermingled Aligoté with Chardonnay in grand sites, such as Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet, and blended the two grapes in the winery. After phylloxera, Aligoté fell out of favor and its acreage declined. Now it is usually planted in less renowned sites, frequently on flatter lands in the plains, and often—all too often—winds up being used for making Kir, a popular Burgundian aperitif.

The appellation, Bourgogne Aligoté, is an anomaly in Bourgogne, the epicenter of terroir-based viticulture, because it is named for the grape, not the site. The grapes for Bourgogne Aligoté can come from anywhere in Bourgogne, from the Côte Auxerrois in the north near Chablis to Mâcon in the south. (The French prefer the use of the term Bourgogne, rather than Burgundy because that’s the traditional name of the region. Plus, in French, burgundy can be translated as maroon or Mon Dieu, Bordeaux.)

Before we get to the wine, a bit of the backstory. Philippe Pascal, whose family today owns Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, explains that Raymond Corneloup planted the vines, a sélection massale, in 1945 to celebrate the end of World War II and the surrender of Nazi Germany. (A massale selection, in contrast to a clonal selection, is a selection of many different vines, each displaying a unique characteristic, to maintain the genetic diversity of a vineyard.) Corneloup, who owned vineyards and worked in Montagny, chose limestone rich soil on one of the highest slopes in that village near an old quarry, hence the name of the wine, “Sous les Roches.” When Raymond’s son, François, took over the property, he continued his father’s tradition of selling the grapes to the local Montagny co-op. That is until he retired, at which time he agreed to a long-term contract with Pascal and the Domaine du Cellier aux Moines in neighboring Givry. Today Pascal and his team do all the farming, vineyard work, and harvesting in addition to the winemaking.

Pascal notes that they have not done DNA testing to determine if any of the vines in Sous les Roches are the Aligoté Doré planted in Bouzeron, which are today felt to produce superior wines (see Ian D’Agata’s article: Understanding Bouzeron, Its Terroir, And the Great Wines of Domaine de Villaine). But he notes that the grapes are clearly golden at harvest, like those of Aligoté Dorée, because they wait for perfect phenolic maturity. Sous les Roches is tiny, only one-fifth of a hectare and the production equally minute, about 1,500 bottles in 2020.

Domaine du Cellier aux Moines 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté Sous les Roches                       96

With both minerals and fruit on the nose, it is no surprise that those components of the 2020 Domaine du Cellier aux Moines Bourgogne Aligoté “Sous les Roches” caresses the palate. This thoroughbred displays incredible power and grace. An enveloping creamy richness and riveting mouthwatering saline-like acidity amplifies its appeal.  You’d be excused if you failed to identify this beauty as Aligoté because of its depth and complexity. I repeat the advice that Philippe Pascal gives when showing this wine to visitors, “Do not make a Kir with it.” Its cutting edginess and luxurious body would, however, make it a good choice with a vast array of sushi, Cantonese dishes, and even bolder Asian fare. Planted in the correct site and farmed, vinified, and aged seriously in the cellar, Aligoté can develop in the bottle just like the grandest Chardonnays. Ponsot’s Morey St. Denis Premier Cru Monts Luisants, made entirely from Aligoté, shows just that, developing a layered complexity with a decade or more of bottle age. Though Domaine du Cellier aux Moines’ Aligoté is breath-taking now, I suspect it too will develop divinely with bottle age given its balance and pedigree. The problem, of course, will be keeping your hands off it. Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Finger Lakes Riesling: Paul Hobbs Has Landed

Will Paul Hobbs be the Rocket that launches New York’s Finger Lakes region?

Every under-recognized fine wine region needs a high-profile producer to be a locomotive to pull it onto the world’s stage. With his new venture, Hillick and Hobbs, named after his parents, Joan Hillick and Edward Hobbs, Paul Hobbs just might do it for New York’s Finger Lakes. Robert Mondavi did it for California in the 1970s. At about the same time, Angelo Gaja drew attention to Piedmont and Piero Antinori’s work shined a bright light on Tuscany. The Drouhin family did it for Oregon in the 1980s. Well-known names either go to an area—Drouhin in Oregon—or just by making and promoting superb wines in their home region—Mondavi, Gaja, and Antinori—bring attention to the entire region. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent producers making world-class wines in the Finger Lakes today. That’s just the point. There are, Hermann J. Weimer, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and Ravines Wine Cellars, to name just three.  It’s just that too few people know about them and the region. Hobbs’ presence will change that by putting a spotlight on the entire Finger Lakes region.

Paul Hobbs, one of California and the world’s leading winemaker, needs no introduction. He was among the first, if not THE first of the “flying winemakers,” those who consult in the Southern Hemisphere, effectively doubling winemaking experience. Critics consistently score his wines highly. Hobbs’ Napa Valley Cabernets and Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs routinely command triple figure price tags upon release and sell out quickly, but Hobbs has plenty of experience outside of California. He has partnerships all over the world, Viña Corbos (Mendoza, Argentina), Crocus (Cahors, France), Yacoubian-Hobbs (Vayots Dzor, Armenia), Alvaredos-Hobbs (Galicia, Spain), but what he is doing in the Finger Lakes is completely different, both commercially and viticulturally, from everything he’s ever done before. As with all his other projects, beginning all the way back to 1991, when he started in California, Hobbs has purchased fruit from top-quality growers with choice vineyards in unique terroirs whose viticultural practices met his exacting standards. He would make the wine, bottle it under his label, but also crediting the grower. He explained that it made sense commercially because start-up costs were much lower and “there was less investment if it failed.” It would be seven years after he first purchased grapes from Larry Hyde in Napa and Richard Dinner in Sonoma in 1991, for Hobbs to acquire his initial vineyard, which he named the Katherine Lindsay Estate, in honor of his great grandmother.

However, in the Finger Lakes, though he searched high and low, he could not find growers who could meet his standards and supply him consistently with grapes that met his specifications. So, he recruited his brother, David, who lived in Upstate New York—that’s what everyone who lives south of Albany calls it—and knew something about farming, to help find land suitable for vineyards. He knew it would be expensive, but he wanted to make world-class Riesling, so he felt it was the only way to go. Finally, in 2013, they acquired a 78-acre property, which had mostly never been planted, on the southeastern shores of Lake Seneca. Never mind that he had never made Riesling commercially before. He explained that he has always been fascinated by it, calling it his “gateway ‘drug’ into the wine world.”

Hobbs’ journey into wine was unusual, to say the least. Hobbs had been raised in a tea-totaling fruit farming family in Niagara County in Upstate New York. (Hobbs’ mother prohibited alcohol since her brother died of an alcohol-related accident.) In the late 1960s, his father wanted to diversify from orchard fruit and had secured contracts to supply grapes to local wineries. To convince Paul to run the farming aspect of this new project, he lured him with his first taste of wine, a 1962 Château D’Yquem served in a Dixie® cup. Hobbs recalls that his mother thought it was some exotic fruit drink—a reasonable assessment—and was happy until she saw the bottle.

At Notre Dame, Father James McGrath, his Botany professor, asked him to join his wine appreciation course. Hobbs declined at first because of his mother’s prohibition but then, using a time-honored technique—always choose which parent to ask when you need something—he asked his father, who consented. As the younger Hobbs tells it, his father and Father McGrath “colluded,” to convince him to attend the University of California at Davis, where he received a Master’s in Food Science in Department of Enology, instead of medical school. At Davis, he was a member of a tasting group that invited producers from all over the world. That’s when he really discovered great German Riesling and became fascinated by the grape. To this day, he speaks fondly of how he loves the German precision on the label. For years he managed to make side trips to the Mosel whenever he was in Europe. So, why did it take him forty years to make Riesling? Perhaps, like so many of us, he simply put off things he really wanted to pursue until later in life.  He explains that for decades his world was California, then Argentina. But he always wondered where you could make great Riesling, like J.J. Prum’s. Around 2009, on another leg of his globetrotting consulting, this time for Stratus Vineyard located in Canada’s Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, the proximity to the Finger Lakes got him thinking, like “a seed waiting to germinate,” about Riesling.  He felt that the shale and slate-filled soil and steep slopes cascading down to the lakes was similar to the topography of the Mosel. He had already been looking for sites in Washington State and Oregon, but he found “nothing compelling.”  You could, he felt, “make good, but not great, Riesling there.”

Hobbs plans to focus on Riesling exclusively, with “no burning desire to try other varieties,” though when pushed, he admits to thinking about Blaufränkisch. But he emphasizes his attention with be on making “great Riesling.” He’s not doing it to make a living—he clearly doesn’t have to—but rather to “see what we can do in the U.S. to compete with the world.” He realizes it’s an outsized investment in time and money.

There are challenges. Some years they get very little rainfall. Coupling that with some of the rootstocks they’ve chosen and the well-drained rocky soil, means that they may need to resort to drip irrigation, something Hobbs did not expect. There are steep slopes and rocks that need to be conquered to plant rows up and down the slope instead of across, a system that allows for better airflow, the need for less pesticide and better drainage, but results in greater labor costs. Manual harvesting, which Hobbs insists results in better wine, adds to the expense.  Depending on the year, they may perform labor-intensive leaf thinning and/or a green harvest. All in all, Hobbs’ practices are expensive, but result in better quality grapes, which is what he’s after. Hobbs proudly notes that with these measures they keep their yields to only about three tons per acre of grapes, roughly half to one-third of what is standard in the area. Another challenge Hobbs faces is selling Riesling, which has been embraced by wine critics and wine geeks but not consumers who are put off by the unpredictable level of sweetness. To combat that fear, Hobbs is fixated on a completely dry style. His labels prominently proclaim, “Dry Riesling.” He is positioning Hillick and Hobbs Riesling at US$35, which he admits is a bargain for the quality—and I agree—and would like to see it at US$50 a bottle. To keep costs down, Hobbs built a temporary winery in Ovid, about 30 minutes away from their 22 acres (out of a possible 47) of planted vineyards. He plans a state-of-the-art winery in the future and will convert the Ovid facility to a warehouse.

The winemaking for Hillick and Hobbs Riesling depends on the vintage. To date, Hobbs finds that he achieves full physiological maturity by late September/early October with low sugar levels, of only about 20.5 to 22 brix. The amount of skin contact varies year to year. He favors whole cluster pressing with the juice going into stainless steel tanks, keeping a close eye on how much press juice goes into the finished wine. No sulfur goes into the juice. Fermentation, using native yeasts, is long and slow, sometimes finishing in the following spring. Towards the end of fermentation, he might add sulfur to kill bacteria, preventing malolactic fermentation and allowing the yeast to finish their job. Hobbs remarks that the climate of the Finger Lakes and his viticultural practices means he never needs to acidify the wine. With his name and his established projects all over the world, Paul Hobbs already has a robust distribution network for export. Though he made only 1,845 cases of Hillick and Hobbs Riesling in 2019 and only 1,765 cases in 2020, he’s already exporting it to Japan. He envisions expanding to other Asian countries and the U.K. soon. He hopes that exportation will help make the world realize the potential of the Finger Lakes region for distinctive, top-quality wine. Hillick & Hobbs has released two vintages, the 2019 and 2020, so far. Both are sensational (full tasting notes below). Riesling fans will love this duo of Riesling. Non-Riesling fans will be converted by them. They plan to release the 2021 in the spring of 2023.

It’s ironic that the winery is named, in part, after his previously tea-totaling mother. At least they no longer must drink Château D’Yquem from Dixie® cups.

The wines in this tasting

Hillick & Hobbs 2020 Riesling Estate Vineyard Seneca Lake New York USA                             96

Floral hints announce good things will follow. And they do. This stellar Riesling delivers alluring subtle peach-like nuances balanced by firmness and flintiness. It has substantial weight and density, but without a trace of heaviness. Electrifyingly dry, its riveting saline minerality amplifies the wine’s charms. Befitting an excellent wine, it blossoms as it sits in the glass. Deep and long, it finishes with a delectable hint of bitterness. (12.5% stated alcohol). Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Hillick & Hobbs Riesling 2019 Estate Vineyard Seneca Lake New York USA                              93

The 2019 was the first commercial vintage at Hillick & Hobbs. It’s slightly less explosively delightful than the glorious 2020, which may be a result of an extra year in the bottle, vintage variation, or just a learning curve. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting bone-dry Riesling that delivers a harmonious complexity of subtle fruitiness and stoniness. A delicate hint of white flowers on the nose complements its palate-cleansing edgy minerality. Like the 2020, it is long and refined. (12.5% stated alcohol). Drinking window: 2023-2030.

Burgundy Buying Blueprint for the 99-Percenters

Even a brief glance at on-line ads from wine retailers shows that Côte d’Or Burgundy has become prohibitively expensive for everyone except the so called “one-percenters” at the very peak of the wealth pyramid.  And I’ve seen even some of them balk at the prices.  What’s a Burgundy fan to do while waiting for one’s lottery number to be chosen?

One option is to look to other areas, such as Oregon or New Zealand, that can produce stunning wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  But that’s not an option for committed Burgundy lovers, because to them, it’s not about Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.  To quote, Jacques Lardière, the venerable longtime winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, “If you taste Chardonnay in my wine, I’ve made a mistake.”  Burgundy is about the site—the Burgundians maintain that the grape is merely a vehicle for transporting the flavor of the place to the glass.  So, yes, there are wonderful Chardonnays from New Zealand—look no further than Kumeu River’s line-up—and elegant Pinot Noirs from Oregon—Martin Wood’s Jesse Jackson Vineyard Pinot Noir springs to mind.  But they’re not, nor do they pretend to nor aim to be, Burgundy.

Complicating the matter for U.S. consumers is the fragmented distribution of Burgundy.  Aside from the major négociants, most producers are small and lack national distribution, so wines that might appear on the shelves in New York, might not be in Kansas City or Los Angeles.  And even wines that wind up in major markets, such as New York, may only be available in one or two shops.  So, I will recommend a general approach to finding affordable Burgundy as well as recommending specific wines.

Speaking of major négociants, do not overlook their basic Bourgogne Blanc and Bourgogne Rouge.  I’ve enjoyed many vintages of both colors of Latour’s “Cuvée Latour” and Drouhin’s “Laforêt” bottling.  (Look for more producers to jettison the word Burgundy from the label, replacing it with Bourgogne, the traditional name for the region.  Indeed, burgundy in French means…Mon Dieu…Bordeaux.)

There’s plenty of excellent and exciting wine outside of the famed “Golden Slope.” And even within that hallowed ground, some villages, such as Marsannay, and Auxey-Duresses still offer value from producers like Domaine Bart (Marsannay) and Domaine Lafouge (Auxey-Duresses).  Also, within the Côte d’Or, there is a new regional appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or, which means all the grapes came from that strip of land and opposed to other parts of Burgundy.  So, keep your eye out for wines labeled as such from top producers, such as Pernot-Belicard, Benjamin Leroux, and Michel Bouzereau.

Look North and South

Between Paris and the Côte d’Or lies Chablis, where value abounds.  Though the prices of Chablis 1er and Grand Cru are rising, they remain well below their counterparts in the Côte d’Or.  My advice, though, is to look for village Chablis, especially from the 2020 and 2021 vintages, from top producers.  My list of is long, which is good because most of these wines will not be in all markets: Barat, Billaud-Simon, Romain Bouchard, Jean-Marc Brocard, Jean Collet, Courtault-Michelet, Dampt Frères, Drouhin, Droin, Bichot’s Domaine Long-Depaquit, Christian Moreau Père et Fils, Louis Moreau, Oudin, Pinson, Pommier, Servin, Simonnet-Febvre, Eleni et Edouard Vocoret.  These are not voluptuous Chardonnay-based wines, so if that’s your preference, look elsewhere.  The edgy minerality imparted by the Kimmerigdian limestone-based soil makes them a traditional choice with seafood, but the same zesty character means they can cut through and hold up to spiced dishes as well.

Around Chablis there are a bunch of relatively obscure village and regional appellations now making excellent wines thanks to a bevy of talented young producers and, yes, climate change.  Wines from these areas were lean and often astringent in the past because of poor ripening this far north.  Climate change has made an enormous—and positive—difference here.  Look to Irancy and Epineuil for reds, Bourgogne Tonerre for whites, and Bourgogne Chitry and Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, for both colors.  The whites, especially Bourgogne Tonerre, resemble Chablis with a cutting edginess, whereas the white Chitry and white Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre convey noticeable spice.  The reds from these areas tend to be lighter but not vapid.  The best have an intriguing interplay of fruit and savory earthiness.  Guilhem & Jean-Hugues Goisot is a star with their Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, as well as their Saint Bris, another obscure Burgundy appellation that mandates Sauvignon Blanc, not Chardonnay.  You can buy Goisot’s wines blind.  They offer tremendous value.  Many of the above-named Chablis producers bottle wines from these lesser-known areas.  Additional names to remember are Stephanie Colinot, Christopher Ferrari’s Domaine St. Germain, Clothilde Davenne, and Domaine Richoux.  Trust me, these appellations will not remain obscure for much longer.

South of the Côte d’Or is the red hot Mâconnais, which has attracted super-star producers like Dominque Lafon, whose stellar Côte d’Or Burgundies routinely sell out quickly despite triple digit price tags, and Domaine Leflaive, whose simple 2021 Bourgogne Blanc goes for $140 a bottle.  Growers are discovering and taking advantage of the different terroirs in the Mâconnais.  More and more are bottling under a specific village name, such as Azé, Mâcon-Vergisson, or Mâcon-Lugny, rather than a blend from several villages and labeled as Macon-Villages.  Look for wines from the Bret Brothers, such as their 2021 Mâcon-Chardonnay “Les Crays.” Located in the village of Vinzelles, as in Pouilly-Vinzelles, the Bret Brothers is the négociant arm of Domaine Soufrandière, their family estate.  Their estate wines have increased in price—and are still worth it—but the Bret Brothers label remains affordable and excellent value.  Yes, Virginia, there is a village named Chardonnay in the Mâconnais.  The grapes are from a single plot, “Les Crays” within the village.  This balanced and fresh Mâcon-Chardonnay displays subtle fruity elements balanced by bracing acidity in the finish that amplifies its considerable charms.  Not overdone, you’d never mistake it for a California Chardonnay.  (92 pts; $25).  The Bret Brothers are another producer whose wines you can buy with your eyes closed, so if you can’t find this Mâcon-Chardonnay, just remember their name.

To see the magic in the Mâconnais, find wines from different Mâcon villages made by the same producer to see for yourself how terroir exists here in the Mâconnais just as it does in the Côte d’Or—at a fraction of the price.  I suggest two from a top young producer, Domaine de la Garenne, but any producers’ pairs will make the point.  The difference between the chunky minerality of Domaine de la Garenne’s 2020 Mâcon Solutré Pouilly ($15, 90 pts) and the sleeker stoniness of its brother from Mâcon Azé ($16, 90 points) is illuminating.  Both these wines are fabulous values.

A Few to Try:

Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre “Le Court Vit.” 2019:  Goisot considers the Le Court Vit their best white wine.  The 2019 is stunning, floral, and exuberant in a paradoxically restrained way.  Fresh and spiced, it would be perfect with grilled swordfish or seafood with more assertive flavors.  If you find a more enjoyable $22 wine, please let me know.  ($22, 93)

Dampt Frères, Bourgogne Tonnerre, “Chevalier d’Éon,” 2020:  Tight and youthful initially, this beauty opens in the glass within 30 minutes to reveal a winning combination of floral and mineral notes.  Edginess in the finish amplifies its charms.  If you tasted it blind, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a village Chablis.  ($20, 92)

Dampt Frères, Bourgogne Epineuil, “Elegance,” 2019:  Dampt Frères, best known for their cutting Chablis, does very well with the surrounding, lesser-known appellations, such as Epineuil.  Indeed, they make at least three cuvées from that village.  Elegance was my favorite of a trio of their 2019s, but I’d been happy with either of the other two, their straight village bottling, or “Les Beaumonts.”  The finesse-filled Elegance delivers more black, rather than red, fruit robed in suave tannins and finished with a subtle and attractive hint of bitterness.  It’s another fine choice for current consumption ($25, 92).

Christine, Elodie & Patrick Chalmeau, Bourgogne Chitry, 2019: This refined red shows the potential of Pinot Noir in Chitry.  Generous yet refined, this classy Chitry expresses the near magical interplay of minerals, fruitiness, and savory subtleties of Bourgogne Rouge at a price we normals can afford.  Enjoy now.  ($20, 91).

Château de Chamirey, Mercurey, 2020:  Between the Mâconnais and the Côte d’Or sits the Côtes Chalonnaise and the appellations of Givry (not to be confused with Gevrey, as in Chambertin), Mercurey, and Rully, all of which make both colors, and Montagny, which makes only whites.  Château de Chamirey, a top-notch producer, makes an array of marvelous Mercurey, starting with this village wine.  A blend of six plots from throughout the village, this stylish wine highlights subtle dark cherries in the foreground supported and balanced by a firm stone-y background.  Juicy and harmonious, it’s a delight to drink now.  ($40, 93).

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February 1, 2023

Maison Louis Latour Made Outstanding 2020s

The 2020 vintage in Burgundy, currently on the market, is the third hot—temperature wise—vintage in a row.  It’s also a “hot” vintage judging from some critics’ reviews and retailers’ enthusiasm.  Hot vintages are tricky, especially in Burgundy.  The good news about growing seasons with hot, sun-drenched days is that the wines have ripe flavors and lack green, unripe ones and the accompanying palate-searing acidity.   This is especially true for areas like Burgundy that traditionally—that is, before climate change—had a tough time ripening grapes.  The downside of all this heat is that grapes can get a bit too ripe, which translates into wines with inadequate freshness from low acidity and wind up tasting heavy or jammy.  Pinot Noir is especially sensitive to too much warmth because it loses its glorious perfume and subtlety in those conditions.  Classic Burgundy, in my mind, has what I call “flavor without weight.”  Too much heat during the growing season can obliterate their charms and make them weighty.  Yes, you want ripeness it Burgundy, but then again, not too much.  Excessive ripeness in Burgundy also blurs the differences among the appellations.  The wines lose their focus as ripe flavors overwhelm the subtle differences that distinguish the terroirs one from another.

Vintages in which quality is so high you can practically choose with your eyes closed are rare in Burgundy.  The 2010 and 2015 vintages for red Burgundies are excellent candidates for that kind of vintage.  In my opinion, the 2020 vintage is not—precisely because of the heat.

All of which brings me to the striking success of Maison Latour’s 2020 Burgundies—both red and white.  Latour’s style has always been to capture flavor and charm without going overboard.  Their viticultural and winemaking practices favor maintaining vibrant acidity, which means that the 2020 vintage was perfect for their style of wines.  Overall, Latour’s 2020s are fleshy and fresh with a clear definition of one appellation from another.  They are structured, but not hard or astringent.  Many are remarkably enjoyable now.  I suspect they will remain that way for a year or so, close down for five or so years, and then start to re-emerge.  Their balance suggests they have a long and complex life ahead of them.

Although Maison Latour is one of Burgundy’s venerable négociants—now under the leadership of the 12th generation of the Latour family—it is also an important grower, owning over 125 acres of vineyards, over half of which are Grand Cru.   Those wines carry a circular label on the neck proclaiming Domaine Louis Latour.  Christophe Diola is responsible for the Domaine wines, while Jean-Charles Thomas oversees the négociant wines.

Under the brilliant leadership of the late Louis-Fabrice Latour, who died in September at the age of 58, Latour shrewdly purchased Domaine Simonnet-Febvre in Chablis in 2003.  Paul Espitalié does a fine job overseeing those wines.

Here are just a few examples of their success with the 2020s.

The Reds:

Domaine Louis Latour, Beaune 1er Cru Les Perrières, 2020:  The 7.5-acre Les Perrières vineyard lies high up on the slope in a cooler locale, which may help explain this wine’s bright energy.  Though tightly wound, as expected from a young top premier cru, its stature shows with gorgeous mineral-scented aromatics and impressive length.  Engaging red fruit flavors intermingled with clear stony notes—the site was an ancient quarry—are clearly heard.  Pure and precise, it’s a winner.  (95 points; $125 for the 2019)

Domaine Louis Latour, Aloxe-Corton 1er Cru Les Chaillots, 2020:  Wines from Aloxe-Corton, even its premier crus, are overshadowed by Grand Cru Corton and overlooked by consumers.  Do.  Not.  Overlook.  This.  Wine.  Its fleshy body atop a firm frame of iron-tinged flavors identify it clearly as Aloxe-Corton.  Impeccably balanced and fresh, it is well-proportioned, not over extracted or overdone.  It’s a mini-Corton that has the advantage that it will be approachable far sooner than its grand cru big brother.  (95, $116)

Maison Louis Latour, Pommard 1er Cru Les Epenots, 2020:  More structured, befitting its appellation, this iron tinged Pommard Epenots is sturdy and broad, redolent of dark fruits and minerals.  Though the tannins certainly speak, they are not aggressive.  (92,  $101)

Maison Louis Latour, Volnay 1er Cru En Chevret, 2020:  En Chevret, a highly regarded 1er Cru vineyard, sits adjacent to and just below Volnay Caillerets, a vineyard many consider to be Volnay’s best.  Latour’s suavely textured 2020 En Chevret exemplifies the charm and seductive nature of wines from Volnay.  Floral, fresh, long, it’s captivating.  In a word, wow.  (94, $135 for the 2019)

Domaine Louis Latour, Corton Grancey, 2020:  Corton Grancey, a Grand Cru and the flagship of Domaine Latour, is a blend of five of the Grand Cru lieux-dits of the hill of Corton: Bressandes, Perrières, Grèves, Clos de Roi, Chaumes.  The proportion of each varies year to year, depending on the vintage.  The name, Grancey, comes from the last owners of the château before the Latour family purchased it in 1891.  Château Grancey, a classic multi-storied Burgundian building complete with circular staircases situated in the middle of the Corton vineyards, is the working winery where Christophe Diola makes the domaine wines.  The explosive 2020 is simply sensational, one of best young Grancey releases I’ve tasted.  Both powerful and refined, the wine is succulent, long, and fresh.  The tannins characteristic of red Corton are there, but hardly noticeable because of its suave texture.  Impeccable balance suggests this Grancey will develop beautifully.   Either drink in now or in a decade or two.  (97, $188)


Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis “D1840,” 2020:  Simonnet-Febvre is both a négociant and a grower, owning Chablis village plots, pieces Premier Cru, Mont de Milieu, and in Grand Cru, Preuses.  The D1840 bottles comes from their vineyards that have a village appellation.  Fresh and stone-y, it’s a fantastic village wine, providing more excitement than many growers’ 1er cru.  A citrus buzz in the finish just amplifies its appeal.  Don’t miss it.  (92, $30).

Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis 1er cru Mont de Milieu, 2020:  More elegant, befitting a 1er cru, the floral and mineral-y Mont de Milieu dances on the palate.  This lovely, lacey wine is a delight to drink now with simply grilled fish.  (93, $46 for the 2019)

Simonnet-Febvre, Chablis Grand Cru Preuses, 2020:  Unsurprisingly for a young Grand Cru, Simonnet-Febvre’s Preuses takes time to reveal itself in the glass.  But when it does, look out.  It explodes with a barrage of flint and stones all supported by riveting acidity.  A long and luxurious finish confirms this is a great youthful Grand Cru Chablis.  Give it a decade.  (95, $96)

Domaine Louis Latour, Pernand-Vergelesses 1er Cru En Caradeux, 2020:  The very top portion of the En Caradeux vineyard carries the village, not 1er Cru appellation.  But just below the demarcation, that is the upper part of the 1er Cru portion, marl-filled soil makes it a good site for Chardonnay.  The whole vineyard sits across the valley from the hill of Corton and some say that the white En Caradeux is like a mini-Corton Charlemagne.  Latour’s plush and ripe 2020 finishes with a welcome tinge of bitterness and good vibrancy.  (92, $58 for the 2019)

Maison Louis Latour, Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières, 2020:  Anyone who denigrates négociant bottlings needs to try this extraordinary wine.  A gorgeously transparent wine, its spiciness speaks of Genevrières, which vies with Perrières as the village’s top site, while its richness speaks of Meursault.  Its refinement, length, and energy speak of the Latour style.  (95, $96)

Domaine Louis Latour, Corton-Charlemagne, 2020:  Latour, the largest owner of Corton-Charlemagne, sets the benchmark for that Grand Cru year in and year out.  Explosive and forward, Latour’s ravishing 2020 is less tightly wound compared to many of their young Corton-Charlemagne, which means you can drink it now with enormous pleasure.  My preference would be to cellar it for a decade or two to appreciate the phenomenal complexity their Corton-Charlemagne develops.  With all its ripeness, it is not heavy or over-the-top.  Great spice and acidity in the finish give it energy and length.  A hint of balancing bitterness suggests that this will turn out very well.  (96, $244).

In short, with their 2020s, Latour achieved an impeccable balance of ripeness and liveliness.  I could buy Latour’s 2020 with closed eyes.  Some of these will certainly wind up in my cellar.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or Maison Louis Latour in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein
December 21, 2022

From Decanter Magazine: Chianti Rùfina ups its game with Terraelectae

The wines from Chianti Rùfina, a unique, high-quality sub-region of the greater Chianti area, are overshadowed by those of its larger brother, Chianti Classico. Now, Rùfina producers are striving to change that with Terraelectae, a category of wines that will sit at the pinnacle of the Chianti Rùfina quality pyramid.

Each producer – there are only about 20 of them in all of Chianti Rùfina – will be able to designate a single-vineyard wine made entirely from Sangiovese as ‘Terraelectae’ and will label it with that moniker in addition to the name of the vineyard.

This contrasts with Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione, a category created about a decade ago to highlight the DOCG’s top wines. Gran Selezione must come from a producer’s own vineyards but are not required to be made exclusively from Sangiovese, nor come from a single vineyard.

Terraelectae regulations

Terraelectae wines must be Riserva, have a maximum yield of 70 quintals/ha, contain at least 12.5% alcohol, and be aged for at least 30 months, at least 18 of which must be in oak barrels and at least six months in bottle. The concept is unusual because producers themselves, not a governmental body, are setting the regulations and overseeing the quality and character of the wines (the producers of Buttafuoco Storico in Oltrepò rely on a similar concept of self-regulation).

The wines from Chianti Rùfina are distinct from those of Chianti Classico thanks to its higher elevation and more rugged topography, both which contribute to its cooler climate. Gerardo Gondi of Tenuta Bossi, one of the region’s leading estates, describes them as ‘mountain Chianti’.

Chianti Rùfina, despite producing enticingly savoury wines, always fights for a place at the table. Chianti Classico produces at least ten times as much wine from 15 times as many producers. Habitually confused with Chianti producer, Ruffino, the Rùfina consorzio placed an accent on the ‘u’ in the 1970s to try to convince even the Italians how to pronounce it.

Eventually, Chianti Rùfina producers hope that the Terraelectae wines will combat their underrated status and propel them into the top echelons of Tuscan DOCGs, such as Brunello di Montalcino.

For the initiation of this project, nine producers designated a 2018 Chianti Rùfina as Terraelectae. The wines first were certified as DOCG Chianti Rùfina by Italian wine regulators. Next, the candidate wines were tasted by an outside consultant, Gabriele Gorelli, Italy’s first and only Master of Wine. Then, a group of Chianti Rùfina producers themselves tasted the wines to assert that they conform to a standard character and quality. Only then were the wines allowed to sport Terraelectae on the label.

It was clear from my discussions that some producers who submitted wines were asked to wait a year or two, presumably to refine quality, before being allowed to use the Terraelectae designation. Three additional producers are set to declare a wine as Terraelectae for the 2019 vintage.

The key to success of the Terraelectae project will be whether, as a group, the wines continue to remain top-notch and continue to display a common theme. Whether the self-policing by producers will work in the long term to ensure that this occurs remains to be seen.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day: May it Rest in Peace

On the third Thursday of November the streets here in Beaune are getting ready to accommodate the crowds that will descend on this charming village to take part in the activities leading up to the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction, which always occurs the following Sunday.  The population of this wine capital of Burgundy swells from the everyday 20,000 to nearly 75,000 as people from all over the world converge to take part in the festivities.  Adults of all ages, many with kids in tow, bundled in winter coats and scarfs, mob outdoor vendors who have set up to sell everything from sauteed frogs’ legs to foie gras to the Burgundian specialty of oeufs en murette [eggs poached in red wine].  In past years, signs pasted on bistros and wine bars all over town announced, “Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrivée” (The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived), since the third Thursday of November is the traditional day that wine is released.  Georges Duboeuf is credited with starting the fanfare about Beaujolais Nouveau four decades ago—the wine was shipped by air all over the world so consumers everywhere could open a bottle at the same time—as a way of stimulating a moribund market for Beaujolais.  Duboeuf’s marketing worked, but later he was criticized for dumbing down and destroying the legacy of real Beaujolais, a wine that sold at a competitive price with upper end Côte d’Or Burgundies a century ago.

This year I noticed a distinct absence.  The crowds are still here.  Wine still flows everywhere.  But wait.  There are few posters for Beaujolais Nouveau and few of the local bistros are offering it.  To my mind, that’s just as well.  No doubt, Beaujolais Nouveau is a cash cow.  The 2022, like past years, was sold within two months of the harvest and best consumed within months to capture its freshness.  Producers get their money right away.  Consumers enjoy it because it’s fruity and grapey—basically alcoholic grape juice—and sells for less than $15 a bottle.  But for me, the real value and excitement of Beaujolais lies with the Beaujolais Cru wines, which are drawn from 10 villages in the north of Beaujolais that have the potential to make distinctive wine.  Moving from north to south the Crus are St.  Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnie, Brouilly, and Côte de Brouilly.

There are many producers who have contributed to the resurrection of Beaujolais.  John Anderson, my friend, and colleague here at WRO, recommends them on a regular basis.  (I refer you to his articles.)  Kermit Lynch, a notable U.S.  wine importer, dubbed Jean Foillard, Thevenet, Guy Breton and Marcel Lapierre as the Gang of Four because of their revolutionary approach to making high quality Beaujolais.  Already some of their wines sell for well over $60 a bottle and can be difficult to locate.  Other producers whose wines from the Beaujolais Crus that I recommend highly, are more affordable, and rest in my cellar include Château des Jacques, Marc Burgaud, Château Thivin, Clos de la Roilette, Domaine Pierre Savoye, Château de Raousset, Château du Basty, and, yes, Georges Duboeuf.

Duboeuf, in addition to flooding the market with Beaujolais Nouveau and his successful Beaujolais Flower Bottles, commercializes wine from growers in the Beaujolais Crus.  Growers make the wines.  Duboeuf bottles them and sells them at, I might add, very good prices, which is why I purchased several cases of the 2015s.  Don’t confuse them with Duboeuf’s Flower bottlings of the various Beaujolais crus, which have just the name of the Cru on the label but do not indicate a particular grower or estate.

I’ve been enjoying my 2015s over the past several years—and still have a few bottles left.  They are versatile wines which have the charm of the Gamay grape but with far more complexity and interest, certainly than either the Beaujolais Nouveau or even Duboeuf’s Flower bottlings of the Crus.  Yet, with a few exceptions, they also possess the same easy drinkability thanks to their soft tannins.  Moreover, thanks to these same soft tannins, they can be chilled, making them ideal in summer for chicken, sausage, or meat from the grill.  Wine novices and aficionados alike embrace them—a distinct advantage when you have a diverse group at the table, say at Thanksgiving or at a non-wine-focused gathering of friends—precisely because they deliver such alluring mineral-like aspects along with engaging mixed berry fruitiness without astringency.  In short, they provide something for everyone.  And they’re not expensive.

From what I’ve tasted so far, Duboeuf’s 2020 single estate Beaujolais Cru wines are very successful.  The 2020 Château de Saint-Amour, owned and produced by the Siraudin family, conveys the fresh lively charm for which St.  Amour is known.  Its smooth and seductive texture adds to its appeal.  (90 pts, $18).

Duboeuf owns Château des Capitans, a 30-acre estate located in Juliénas.  The cru takes its name from—who else? —Julius Cesar.  Aurelien Duboeuf, who is Georges’ grandson and has recently taken a role along with his father, Franck, in the winemaking, explains, “To be the owner, you understand what is happening to the vines during the vintage.”  He adds, “you can really understand the grower,” which must be important given their multiple collaborations.  Duboeuf is transforming the estate to organic viticulture, which should be certified as such in 2026.  The fresh and lively 2020 Château des Capitans has wonderful spice intermingled with crunchy red fruit flavors.  The lower stated-alcohol, 13 percent, reflects less-ripe grapes and likely explains the happy absence of potentially off-putting jammy flavors.  This is wine I would put in my cellar ($23, 92 pts).

The wines from the Côte du Py, a slope of blue granite and one of the best sites in Morgan, usually have more of a tannic firmness compared to wines from the other Crus.  (Wines from Moulin-à-Vent and Côte de Brouilly share that character as well.)  Duboeuf’s 2020 Morgon Côte du Py from Jean-Ernest Descombes sings.  Fresh and lively, it conveys an enchanting dark fruitiness anchored to a firm, but not hard, mineral component.  This is another candidate for my cellar ($35, 93 pts).

With its tarry firmness, the 2020 Duboeuf Domaine de Javernière, Morgon Côte du Py is the polar-opposite of the plush and round Château de Saint-Amour.  It’s firmer and more tannic than the Georges Descombes bottling, but like that wine, has a harmonious combination of minerals and dark fruits.  Since it is a more typically structured Côte du Py, it would benefit from a few years in the cellar.  ($23, 92).

My 2015s Beaujolais crus from Duboeuf’s collection of estates have developed nicely over the years.  I suspect their 2020s with do the same, so they’re no rush to drink them.  There is, in other words, no rush at all to drink these Beaujolais!

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E-mail me your thoughts about Beaujolais at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

November 23, 2022

Changes in Chianti: A Boon or TMI?

ou’d think that a region like Chianti, with world-famous name recognition, would just adopt the motto, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Not so.  Changes today abound in the area, specifically the sub-regions of Chianti Classico and Chianti Rùfina, that might well lift the wines to new quality levels.  But, along with the heightened quality comes the prospect of Too Much Information overwhelming the consumer.

A little background information helps navigating the new terrain.  Chianti is a large region with its own DOCG (Denominazione Origine Controllata Garantita), Italy’s highest category for wine) encompassing the area in Tuscany around Florence and Siena.  Within this very large region, lying between Florence and Siena, is an upscale much smaller area, Chianti Classico, with its own DOCG.  The other major subzone for top-notch wine is Chianti Rùfina, lying northeast of Florence.  With new designations and regulations, both Chianti Classico and Chianti Rùfina have upped their game.  (For the sake of completeness, the other subzones of Chianti are Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Colli Aretini, and Chianti Montespertoli.)

Let’s start with Chianti Classico.  It’s a large area encompassing many small villages with a plethora of soil types, exposures, and elevations.  This diversity alone, not to mention differences among producers’ winemaking practices, guarantees a wide range of wines.  In an attempt to distinguish the wines from each of the major villages within Chianti Classico area, the Consorzio Chianti Classico, its governing body, introduced unità geografiche aggiuntive (UGAs).  In theory, the wines from these 11 subzones or villages within the Chianti Classico area have unique characteristics emanating from their individual terroir.  Think of the UGAs of Chianti Classico more like the village designations in Burgundy.  Just as the wines from Gevrey-Chambertin should differ from those of Chambolle-Musigny, the wines from Radda should differ from those of Castellina.  Of course, the elephant in the room with any geographic comparisons is the producers’ interpretation of the terroir, their wine making techniques. To really see—taste—the differences in terroir you need to taste wines from the different sites made by the same producer.  As more and more producers in Chianti Classico make wines from the different UGAs, consumers will eventually be able to see the not-so-subtle differences among them.

Into the weeds we go with the 11 subzones consumers will eventually need to recognize: Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio, and Vagliagli.  The UGAs differ from the recently introduced menzione geografica aggiuntiva (MGA) of Barolo and Barbaresco which identify vineyards, not villages.  Consumers will not need to learn these new UGAs immediately, because they will be used initially with the Gran Selezione tier of Chianti Classico.  So, let’s speak of those and upgrades to that category.

About a decade ago, Chianti Classico introduced a new quality tier, Gran Selezione, that now sits atop the quality pyramid, above Riserva.  To qualify as a Gran Selezione, the grapes must come from the producer’s estate (nothing purchased) and undergo more aging—30 months—compared to 24 months for the Riserva and be approved by a tasting panel.  The allowed grapes, with a minimum of 80% of Sangiovese, remained the same. In theory, the Gran Selezione should be the estate’s best Chianti Classico.

Importantly, if producers opt to label their Gran Selezione with a UGA—they’re not obligated to—they must adhere to stricter requirements regarding the blend.  At least 90% of the wine must come from Sangiovese.  If producers opt to use other grapes for the remaining 10 percent of the blend, they must be only indigenous varieties—no Cabernet or Merlot is permitted.

Chianti Rùfina appears to be going one step further with their TerraElectae designation. But, again, before jumping into this set of weeds, a little background.

Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III included Pomino, which at that time was included within Chianti Rùfina, along with Chianti Classico in his decree of 1716 that demarcated areas of fine wine production.  A very small area of only about 1,900 acres of vines, and 20 or so producers, Chianti Rùfina makes only about 3.5 million bottles a year.  For comparison, Chianti Classico has 13,000 acres under vine and produces roughly 48 million bottles annually.  The most elevated vineyard in the entire Chianti region sits in Chianti Rùfina.  On average, vineyards there are slightly higher in elevation than the ones in Chianti Classico.  Rufina’s high elevation means the Sangiovese ripens more slowly, maturing tannins and developing a panoply of aromas and flavors.  The elevation imparts brisk nights that allow the grapes to hold onto acidity, delivering liveliness to the wines.

Tom Maresca, an authority on Italian wine, describes the difference between Rùfina and Classico brilliantly, “No cypresses and bay bushes here: It [Rùfina] is higher, hillier, wilder, more rugged, with pine trees and mountain laurel as its characteristic vegetation.  There are castles here, to be sure – this is still Tuscany – but they look a lot more businesslike than any in the Classico, as if they might not too long ago have been working propositions.  The whole feel of Rùfina is of another age.  What Rùfina does share with the Chiantis, and with most of the rest of Tuscany, is Sangiovese, but Rùfina’s Sangiovese differs widely from the Tuscan norm.  It has an underlying base of earth and clay that grounds the wine foursquare, so that, as beautifully soprano as the fruit may get in its best vintages, it never lacks a complementary bass to round it.  In my mind, this is a great, great terroir whose potential has not yet been fully exploited….”

Ian D’Agata, a world’s authority on Italian wines (and whose two books, Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, are benchmarks for the subject) notes, “Wine lovers should not forget about Chianti Rùfina.  For the most part a high-altitude, cool-climate viticultural area, its Chiantis are some of the most perfumed, flinty, and refined of all.”  He emphasizes that the region can produce “very fine wines blessed by lacy acidity and refined texture that age extremely well.”

The TerraElectae concept focuses on a specific vineyard in contrast to the Gran Selezione category in Chianti Classico in which wines can come from a group of vineyards, as long as they are all owned by the same producer.  The TerraElectae concept is much like the vineyard designated wines of Burgundy, but without the hierarchical classification of premier or grand cru.  Chianti Rùfina wines bearing the TerraElectae designation must come from a single vineyard owned or managed by the producer, be made entirely from Sangiovese, and be in the Riserva category.  Regulations limit yield and require 30 months of aging of which 18 months must be in oak and 6 months in bottle.  Each producer in Chianti Rùfina is allowed to designate one vineyard as TerreElectae.  So, for example, Marchese Frescobaldi has designated their 2018 Vigna Montesodi as TerreElectae, as has Colognole with their 2018 Vigneto Le Rogaie. Fattoria Selvapiana will designate their 2019 Vigneto Erchi next year.

Taken together, the UGAs of Chianti Classico and the TerraElectae of Chianti Rùfina are very much in step with the current trend of focusing on the origin of the grapes.  That, in turn, should thankfully lead to more distinctive and individualistic wines.

I predict that, in the not-too-distant future, regulators will soon allow UGAs to appear on labels of the normale and Riserva Chianti Classico in addition to Gran Selezione, and that Gran Selezione will evolve from single estate wines to include single vineyard designation ones.  The granularity of site-specificity will be important to wine geeks of the world, like myself. I remain fascinated by how the same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards—whether in Burgundy, Barolo, or Chianti—can result in different, yet equally enjoyable, wines.  The remainder of the wine drinking population will at best, ignore the additional information, or at worst, be put off by it and turn toward more generically labeled wines or White Claw®.  My advice to them is to remember the most important information on the label remains the producer.  Find ones you like and drink their wines.

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In addition to Tom Maresca (Tom’s Wine Line), I am indebted to Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages, Consorzio Chianti Classico, and the Consorzio Rùfina for help unraveling the intricacies of the UGAs and the TerraElectae.  And to Ian D’Agata because he’s the expert.

Email me your thoughts about Italian wines in general or those from Chianti Classico or Chianti Rùfina in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram@MichaelApstein

September 7, 2022

Red Wines of Provence and Notable Rosés

Rosé naturally comes to mind when thinking of the wines from Provence.  But I’m here to tell you that at least one appellation in the region, Les Baux de Provence, makes terrific reds.  They also make excellent rosés.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As someone who has not been swept away by the tsunami of pink wine, I actually find that many of the rosés from Les Baux de Provence are distinctive.  Anne Poniatowski, who with her sister, Caroline Missoffe, are in charge of the venerable Mas de la Dame estate, puts the rosés of the region into perspective, “We (the producers within the appellation) wanted a rosé that was a wine, not just an aperitif.”

With only about a dozen producers and covering less than 600 acres, Les Baux de Provence is a small appellation dominated by the spectacular limestone rich Alpilles (literally, “little alps”).  The appellation sits about halfway between Avignon and Marseille, surrounding the charming village of St.  Rémy de Provence.  It takes its name from Les Baux, the 12th century castle and village, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, that sits on a dramatic plateau overlooking the Plain of Crau, its vines, and its olive groves.  On a clear day, Marseille and the Mediterranean are visible.  (The Vallée de la Baux also holds an AOP for its famous olive oil—don’t miss the ones from Moulin Cornille, the fine co-operative in Mausanne les Alpilles.)

Although the Romans produced wines here, the area gained appellation status only in 1995 and, at that time, only for the reds and rosés.  Formerly, the wines were included as part of the Côteaux d’Aix en Provence appellation.  The allowed grapes for the reds and rosés are the usual Mediterranean suspects, Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, primarily, with lesser amounts of Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise.  In addition, regulators allow Cabernet Sauvignon, though it cannot exceed 20 percent of a blend.  The white wines gained AOC recognition only a decade ago, in 2011.  The allowed varieties are Clairette, Granache Blanc and Vermentino, with lesser amounts of Roussanne, Bourboulanc, Marsanne, and Ugni Blanc.

Some of the reds of Les Baux de Provence are light and chillable, and, I might add, are a great alternative to the ocean of insipid rosés from around the world that flood the market.  Others combine red or black fruit notes with herbal ones that sit on a base of a firm minerality, giving them a serious complexity and presence.  Unsurprisingly in light of the appellation’s proximity to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, only about 20 miles to the west, some of the reds can transmit considerable power.  They are splendid with grilled meats and the hearty preparations of Provençal vegetables, such as ratatouille.   Consumers should always remember to look outside of established appellation origine controllée (AOC), now updated to appellation origine protégé (AOP), to neighboring IGPs (Indicatif Geographic Protégé), IGP Les Alpilles in this case, where winegrowers have more flexibility and fewer regulations.  Ironically, Eloi Dürrbach, one of the founding fathers of the Les Baux de Provence AOC and with his wife, Floriane, owners of Domaine de Trévallon, one of the region’s most prominent producers whose wines often carry three-digit price tags, never used the AOC labeling he helped create.  The reds of Domaine de Trévallon have always contained more Cabernet Sauvignon than regulations allowed (50 percent), so Dürrbach sold them under various regional appellations, currently IGP Les Alpilles.  Regardless of the labeling, they are consistently stunning and develop beautifully with a decade-plus of bottle age.  Domaine d’Éole, another notable producer whose vineyards lie within the boundaries of appellation, still opts to bottle their wines under the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence appellation.

Elizabeth Gabay and Ben Bernheim write persuasively (in their splendid book, Rosés of Southern France, $27, Zalabim Conseil, 2022) regarding the influence of site on the rosés from Les Baux de Provence, and their observations also hold true for the reds and whites in my experience.  The northern side of the Alpilles is cooler than the more sun-drenched southern side, which, in general, makes the wines with northerly exposures fresher and livelier.  Wines from the southern side tend to be bolder.  The soil on both sides—limestone mixed with clay and perfect for fine wine—is similar.  The ever-present Mistral wind helps reduce disease burden, which helps to explain why, by some estimates, 85 percent of producers in Les Baux de Provence farm organically.  Producers told me they’ve proposed to the INAO, the French authorities that regulate wine production, to make organic farming mandatory.  Many producers practice biodynamic viticulture and winemaking as well.

Tasting the wines from this magical part of France over the years has taught me several important things.  First, though inconsistency remains, the wines from Les Baux de Provence are getting better and more sophisticated.  Second, as the public has taken notice of these wines, especially the reds, prices for some of them have reached triple digits in the U.S. market.  However, importantly, many bargains remain.  Third, the reds are more successful overall than the whites, though whites from Château Romanin and Domaine Hauvette, both located on the northern side of the Alpilles, are stunningly impressive.

Mas de la Dame, one of the top producers of the appellation and still family-owned, has about 130-acres under vine, all farmed organically on the south side of Les Alpilles.  They produce about 20,000 12-bottle cases annually and make a wide range of excellent wines that are exemplary among wines coming from this area.  “La Gourmande” red, a 50/50 blend of Grenache and Syrah, falls at the light-and-fruity end of the spectrum (88 pts).  Bottled under the IGP designation (because of a mistake in replanting that resulted in insufficient density to conform to AOC regulations about 30 years ago), it is refreshing and vibrant, perfectly suited for chilling and drinking in place of a rosé.  A step up in complexity is their “Réserve de Mas” red, a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The suave 2018, perfect now for current consumption, delivers a lush combination of dark cherry-like fruitiness and herbal notes atop a firm stony base.  It has good weight, yet isn’t heavy (92 pts).  Poniatowski feels it is typical of the appellation.  Moving up the seriousness ladder of reds at Mas de la Dame, we come to “La Stèle,” a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, made from 55 to 60-year-old vines.  The very impressive 2018, also fruity, herbal, and stony, is bolder than “Réserve de Mas,” and more youthful.  The tannins are firm, but not intrusive.  It needs time.  Be patient and cellar this winter-weight wine for a few more years (93 pts).  At the pinnacle of the red range is the captivating “Coin Caché,” a blend of Grenache (85 percent) and Syrah.  Explosively flavorful but not heavy, the wild strawberry and 14.5 percent stated alcohol signature of Grenache comes through.  Best saved for winter, “Coin Caché” is actually softer than Le Stèle since it spends no time in new barrels.  It has the appeal of Château Rayas with Provencal herbs thrown in (95 pts).

Mas de la Dame’s “Coin Caché” white, an IGP Les Alpilles blend of barrel-fermented Semillon and concrete egg-fermented Roussanne, shows how producers are innovating in ways that heighten expectations of the quality that can be achieved with whites in the area.  The vibrant 2020, power-packed and stone fruit filled (Poniatowski describes it as a “winter white”) will deceive anyone in a blind tasting (92 pts).  But perhaps the most surprising wine to me in Mas de la Dame’s lineup is their “Bois de Rose” (French for rosewood).  Though it is a gorgeous pink, it is labeled Rose (without the accent).  A portion of the wine ages for six to nine months in oak.  Long and refined, it’s a serious wine, displaying a subtle hint of creaminess (93 pts).  I have no U.S. prices for the wines from Mas de la Dame because, Poniatowski tells me, they are in the process of changing importers.  Wise consumers will keep an eye out for them.

Most people to whom I spoke consider Domaine Hauvette to be one of the two top producers (along with Domaine Trévallon) in the area.  It is certainly my favorite.  Their whites, rosés, and reds are all stunning.  Dominique Hauvette farms her 43-acres and vinifies the wines biodynamically.  Her finesse-filled red cuvée, “Cornaline,” wows with elegance, not power.  To me it has the Burgundian character of flavor without weight.  The 2016 is spellbinding (95 pts, $53 for the 2015, imported byKermit Lynch).

The luscious 2016 “Cuvée Lea” (IGP Alpilles) from Domaine d’Eole, whose vineyards are also located on the southern side of Les Alpilles in Eygalières, delivers a marvelous combination of dark fresh fruit flavors, herbs, and alluring spice.  It has surprising elegance for its size and carries its 15 percent stated alcohol seamlessly (93 pts).

The wines from Mas de Gourgonnier, a fabulously consistent producer located south of Les Alpilles, are well-known and widely available in the U.S. thanks to their importer, North Berkeley Imports.  They’ve practiced organic viticulture for decades, before it became commonplace.  The engaging 2018 Les Baux de Provence red, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, has uncommon elegance, finesse, and freshness.  It’s a delight to drink now (90 pts, $20).

Mas Sainte Berthe, with its 100 acres of vines, lies on the southern side of Les Alpilles, a stone’s throw from Les Baux itself.  In transition to working fully organically, they should be certified as such next year.  Consistent with their site, the 2016 red Les Baux de Provence, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, conveys power and substance.  It was more seamless after being opened overnight, which suggests it needs even more bottle age (88 pts).

Other producers whose red wines I’d recommend include Château Romanin, Domaine Guilbert, Domaine de la Vallongue, and Domaine des Terres Blanches.  Look for changes in the wines from Château d’Estoublon, another venerable producer in the Les Baux de Provence appellation.  The famed Bordeaux Prats family—former owners of Château d’Estournel—have acquired an interest in the estate and will be responsible for the winemaking.  Also holding an interest in this estate are former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni.

The character-filled 2021 rosé, “Equinoxe,” from the Domaine de Lauzières is just one example of the unique and appealing character of rosés from Les Baux de Provence appellation.  Made entirely from Grenache Noir, it’s crisp and invigorating with alluring hints of wild strawberries.  It fits Poniatowski’s description of a rose that’s real wine, not just an aperitif (92 pts).

Though not widely available in the U.S. market yet, the red wines from Les Baux de Provence offer an intriguing combination of Rhône-like fullness combined with Provencal herbs and spice.  The rosés deliver considerably more complexity and interest compared to many others from Côtes de Provence.  So, my advice is to branch out and try the wines when you run across them.

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August 10, 2022

E-mail me your thoughts about the red wines from Provence or rosés in general at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Wines from Spain’s Ravishing Rueda are Perfect for Summer

The hot and muggy days of summer call for zippy refreshing wines.  While many people reach for rosés at this time of the year, I find most of them to be innocuous, lacking character.  Instead, I suggest trying Spanish whites from Rueda.  What?  White wines from Spain?  I know, when most people think of Spanish wine, they think red.  Rightly so.  Many Spanish reds are divine.  Just think of the grand wines from Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero, or Toro.  But I’m here to tell you that for summertime drinking you want to explore Rueda, a Denominación de Origen (D.O.) located on a plateau in the region of Castilla y León in northwestern Spain where the Verdejo grape reigns supreme.

Verdejo (which is not to be confused with the Portuguese grape, Verdelho) has been grown in this part of Spain for at least a millennium.  Researchers think the grape originated in North Africa, which explains its ability to thrive in the intensely sunny, dry climate of Rueda.  Verdejo typically produces crisp, edgy white wines with lightly floral aromas.  Regulations require a wine labeled Rueda to contain at least 50 percent Verdejo.  Other grapes in the blend might be Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo) or Sauvignon Blanc.  In 2019, Viognier and Chardonnay were allowed in the blend.  It remains to be seen how the inclusion of these varieties will alter the character of the wines.  Wine labeled Rueda Verdejo must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo, but in practice most producers use Verdejo entirely.  Occasionally, you might see a wine labeled Rueda Sauvignon, which means that at least 85 percent of the blend came from Sauvignon Blanc.

Consumers will start to see two new categories, Gran Vino de Rueda, and Vino de Pueblo, on labels.  Gran Vino de Rueda wines must be made from vines that are at least 30 years old whose yield is limited, which theoretically should lead to more complex and elegant wines.  In keeping with the world-wide trend of identifying origins, Vino de Pueblo on the label allows the village name to appear if 85 percent of the grapes came that village.  Presumably, certain villages are home to better terroir, which produces better grapes.

Here’s a trio of Rueda, all made entirely from Verdejo, that show the wonderful range of wines from that D.O.

Bodegas Vatan, Old Vines Verdejo, “Nisia,” 2021 ($16, Jorge Ordonez Selections):  Hints of white flowers draw you in.  Then, the electricity in this youthful wine awakens the palate and perfectly balances the stone fruit flavors.  Citrus zing in the finish just amplifies its charms.  Sip it by itself or drink it with fresh seafood or a summer salad.  92 Points

Buil & Giné, Rueda Verdejo, “Nosis” 2020 ($17, Think Global Wines):  Buil & Giné, based in the Gratallopes in Priorat and one of the top producers there, expanded their holdings to Rueda a couple of decades ago.  Their “Nosis” bottling, made from 35-year-old vines, displays lovely floral aromas and cutting, crisp citrus flavors that balance its substantial density.  Weightier than the Nisia, it is still not a heavy wine.  91

Bodegas Burdigala, “Campo Eliseo” 2016 ($49):  The French team of François Lurton and Michel and Dany Rolland shows how beautifully the wines from Rueda can develop.  Their more generous 2016 Campo Eliseo has traded youthful exuberance for a creamy and nutty complexity that comes with bottle age.  Still supported by good vibrancy, it comes across as a far more “important” wine than most Rueda releases.  93

Aligoté: Burgundy’s Other White Grape

White Burgundy is made from Chardonnay, right?  Well, mostly.  There’s another white grape in Bourgogne, Aligoté, that makes zippy, energetic wines perfect for summertime, and ones that are — I might add — are mostly affordable.  Not an afterthought, Bourgogne Aligoté is treated with respect by top end producers, such as Coche-Dury, whose $300+ per bottle rendition is definitely not in the “affordable wine” category.  Nevertheless, a 2014 Bourgogne Aligoté of his that I recently drank did show how beautifully this wine can develop and the heights it can achieve.  Other Bourgogne Aligoté from highly regarded producers, such as Domaine Michel Lafarge, Domaine Pierre Morey, and Domaine Marc Colin et Fils, whose other wines might carry a triple-digit price tag, can be found retailing for under $30 a bottle.  Drinking their Aligoté gives you an insight into their talents and style without breaking the bank.  My friend and Burgundy expert, John Hayes, coined the term “dust buster” for these palate-cleansing wines.

Two other attributes of Aligoté explain its rising popularity among producers and consumers.  Producers embrace it because is perfectly suited to climate change.  Over the past two decades, increasing temperatures have given us the potential for — and frequently the reality of — overripe grapes with low acidity that translate into heavy flabby wines.  Aligoté, a grape with inherently high acidity, makes fresh and lively wines despite the warmth.  In fact, the extra ripeness imparted by warmer growing seasons has aided Aligoté because the thin and vapid ones are mostly now a thing of the past.

Consumers love it because Bourgogne Aligoté is a great wine to drink young to capture its vivacity.  While the Premier and Grand Cru white Burgundies need years or decades to achieve their potential, wines made from Aligoté are terrific young.  Certainly, they can age and develop complexity in even two to three years and more as Coche-Dury’s 2014 demonstrated.  Planted in the right place Aligoté can develop like Chardonnay, as Ponsot’s Morey St. Denis 1er Cru Monts Luisants, which, surprising to many consumers, is made entirely from Aligoté, shows.  It consistently develops enormous complexity with a decade of bottle age.  But, in general, Bourgogne Aligoté from 2018, 2019, and 2020 vintages are a delight to drink now.

Aligoté has a long history in Burgundy.  In the late 19th century, Aligoté grew alongside Chardonnay — and was blended with it — in such revered Grand Crus sites as Corton Charlemagne and Montrachet.  After phylloxera, it fell out of favor and its acreage declined.  Currently, Aligoté represents only about six percent of vineyard plantings in Burgundy and is usually found in less renowned sites.

The appellation, Bourgogne Aligoté, is an anomaly in Bourgogne, the epicenter of terroir-based viticulture, because it is named for the grape, not the site.  The grapes for Bourgogne Aligoté can come from anywhere in Bourgogne, from the Côte Auxerrois in the north near Chablis to Mâcon in the south.  (The French prefer the use of the term Bourgogne, rather than Burgundy because that’s the traditional name of the region.  Plus, in French, the word “burgundy” can be translated as maroon or, Mon Dieu, Bordeaux.)

An exception to the grape-named Bourgogne Aligoté appellation (and this being France, there are always exceptions) is Bouzeron, located just south of the Côte d’Or in the Côte Chalonnaise, an area where Aligoté is the only permitted white grape.  The Aligoté in Bouzeron, Aligoté Doré, differs from the other Aligoté planted in the rest of Bourgogne, according to Ian D’Agata, one of the world’s foremost experts on wine, which might help explain why the wines from Bouzeron carry a place name instead of the more usual, Bourgogne Aligoté moniker.  That said, consumers will find the charms of Aligoté wine throughout Bourgogne.

Before leaving Bouzeron, I would like to recommend some producers there.  Domaine de Villaine, owned by Aubert de Villaine, who is the co-director of Domaine Romanée-Conti, and his wife Pamela, is arguably the top producer in the appellation.  Their 2019 Bouzeron is positively extraordinary, combining haunting floral aspects with a hint of stone fruits and riveting acidity.  It’s concentrated without being heavy (95 points, $40).  The beautifully crafted 2017 Bouzeron from Jadot, under the Domaine Gagey label, was splendid when I had it in 2018.  Though I’ve not had more recent ones from Jadot, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one of theirs (about $30 — based on that 2017).  Other Bouzeron producers I recommend include Domaine Cruchandeau, Domaine Jean Fréy et Fils, and Christophe Denizot’s Domaine des Moirots.

Just last month, Le Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB), the organization that represents Bourgogne wine, hosted a tasting in New York City of an array of Bourgogne Aligoté wines that showed the extraordinary diversity — and quality — of the appellation.  The first set of Bourgogne Aligoté releases were made in the time-honored fashion, that is, stainless fermentation and aging without lees-stirring.  The second set of wines showed the innovation and experimentation producers were embracing both in the vineyard and in the cellar to create Aligoté with more complexity and individuality.  Some growers focused on Aligoté from specific plots that they felt were especially well-suited to the variety, or from old vines, highlighting that information on the label.  Others experimented in the cellar with partial oak fermentation, maybe some lees stirring (bâtonnage, in French), and using a variety of vessels for aging, such as oak barrels, concrete “eggs,” or terracotta amphora.

The contrast between the wines from these two sets was clear.  As a group, the ones made using time-honored techniques for Aligoté were vibrant, highlighting their energy and brightness.  Wines from the other group often, but not always, showed more complexity and weight, but occasionally oakiness overwhelmed the citrus-tinged electric character of Aligoté.  My favorites, Sylvain Pataille’s 2020 “Clos du Roy” and Bichot’s 2020 “Champ Renard,” came from the second group, but overall, I preferred the consistent style and electricity of the ones fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel.

Sylvain Pataille, one of the top producers in Marsannay, emphasizes that his Aligoté is planted in the “Clos du Roy” vineyard there, one of the candidate vineyards for 1er Cru status.  It has a “wow factor” not usually seen with this grape (95 points, $54 for the 2019).  Bichot’s comes from a single site, “Champ Renard,” within their Domaine Adélie estate and has a beguiling complexity without losing any of its electricity (94 points, $27 for the 2019).  Domaine Jean Fournier, another top Marsannay-based producer made an energetic and long 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté from old views planted in the “Champ Forey” lieu-dit in that village (93 points, $32 for the 2019).  Goisot is so consistent that I’ve rarely found a wine of theirs that disappoints.  Their minerally and racy 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté, fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel, certainly doesn’t and is a bargain (93 points, $22).  Another Côte de Nuits-based producer, Manuel Olivier, made a 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté with great depth and structure (93 points, $19 for the 2019).  The very good co-operative in Buxy in the Côte Chalonnaise produced a steely 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté that they label “Silex” after the type of soil in which the vine grows (90 points, $18 for the 2019).

Though I could not find U.S. prices for some of some Bourgogne Aligoté wines, they are still worth bringing to readers’ attention because the availability is ever changing.  Bailly Lapierre, a superb co-operative located near Chablis in the Auxerrois, made a spirited 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté that’s sure to please (93 points, n/a).  (As an aside, they also consistently make a racy and refreshing St.  Bris, another odd-ball Bourgogne appellation that uses the Sauvignon Blanc grape, that is available in the U.S.  Like Bourgogne Aligoté, St. Bris is affordable.  Bailly Lapierre’s are typically invigorating and zesty, perfect for summer.)  Also, from the Auxerrois, the Irancy-based producer P-L and J-F Bersan fashioned a 2018 Bourgogne Aligoté that successfully combines the energy of the variety with the warmth of the vintage that shows very well now (92 points, n/a).  Since they make a consistently stunning line of Irancy, I’d keep my eyes out for their Bourgogne Aligoté.  Domaine Catherine & Claude Maréchal, whose vineyards are in the Côte de Beaune, made a creamy and cutting 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté that has a substantial presence (92 points, n/a).

It’s heartening to see producers taking this grape seriously.  The range of Bourgogne Aligoté provides something for everyone, from a refreshing dust buster to something with a touch more complexity.  So, as usual when choosing wine, especially Bourgogne, its producer, producer, producer.

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 E-mail me your thoughts about Bourgogne wines in general or Bourgogne Aligoté in specific at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

A Bullseye for Bichot

The house of Albert Bichot made an outstanding line-up of both red and white Burgundies in 2020, no mean feat since the growing conditions made success with both colors difficult because of the heat.  Many critics, myself included, have raved about the overall success of the 2020 vintage for white Burgundies.  I was equally enthusiastic about the reds initially, but now, having tasted a greater range of them, I realize that there is enormous variability among them.  Some are spectacular and others, reflecting the heat of the growing season, are overblown, heavy, and alcoholic.  However, my enthusiasm for the whites, from the Chablis in the north to the Mâconnais in the south, remains strong.

I tasted only two wines from Bichot during my three visits to Burgundy in the fall of 2021 and March 2022, a stellar Corton-Charlemagne, and an equally superb Corton Grand Cru Clos des Maréchaudes, so I was especially pleased when they sent me a dozen samples nicely packaged in glass-stopper-sealed 200-ml bottles.  Among the samples was Corton Grand Cru Clos des Maréchaudes, which showed just as beautifully from the 200-ml tasting sample as it did from the normal 750-ml bottle from which it was poured in March.  It reinforced my opinion of the stature of the wine.  It also assured me that the samples overall were in good condition and accurately reflected the wines.

Founded in 1831, Albert Bichot, still a family-run business, is one of Burgundy’s venerable négociants.  Like other top houses such as Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Louis Latour, and Maison Robert Drouhin, they both own vineyards throughout Burgundy and buy grapes or must from growers.  The wines Bichot makes from their own vineyards are bottled under the names of six different domaines, which are, moving, from north to south, the 165-acre Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis, the 18.5-acre Domaine du Clos Frantin and almost 9-acre Château Gris in Nuits-St.-Georges, (both in Côte du Nuits), the 38-acre Domaine du Pavillon in Pommard (Côte de Beaune), and the almost 20-acre Domaine Adélie in Mercurey (Côte Chalonnaise) and the 13-acre Domaine du Rochegrès in Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais).

Not only was Bichot successful with both colors, they succeeded with both their négociant bottlings and their domaine wines.  Bichot’s charming Fleurie “La Madone” had just the right amount of spice and energy to balance its fruitiness (90 pts).  It’s delicious now.  With a seamless combination of red fruit and earthy notes, their floral Beaune “Clos de l’Ermitage” showed just how enticing a village red wine can be in 2020 (93 pts).  Enjoyable even now, a few years in the cellars with amplify its charms.  Bénigne Joliet, owner of the famed 1er Cru Clos de la Perrière monopole in Fixin sells a bit of his harvest to Bichot.  In 2020 Bichot made an elegant wine showing the darker-fruited and alluring character of the Côte de Nuits (93 pts).  This one will benefit from up to a decade in the cellar.

From the Domaine Adélie comes a delightful Mercurey, “En Pierre Milley,” delivering bright, cherry-like fruit offset by a hint of stoniness that makes it ideal for current consumption (90 pts).  In contrast, the Domaine du Pavillon’s velvety Volnay 1er Cru, Les Santenots, needs time.  It’s poised, possessing lovely structure and concentration without a trace of heaviness (94 pts).  With its alluring yet subtle spice and fine tannins, the Vosne Romanée from Domaine du Clos Frantin is another example of how appealing village wines can be in the correct hands in 2020.  And how alluring they can be now.

The Clos de Maréchaudes vineyard on the east-facing side of the hill of Corton is emblematic of the complexities of Burgundy: a portion is classified as Grand Cru, whereas another portion was only awarded Premier Cru status.  Bichot’s youthful Corton Grand Cru, Clos des Maréchaudes (1.3-acre monopole of the Domaine du Pavillon) displays an appealing iron-tinged character.  Layered and luxurious, it is truly worthy of its Grand Cru status.  It’s explosive, yet not heavy, with invigorating acidity that keeps it fresh (96 pts).  You will be rewarded for a decade of cellaring.

Turning to the whites, we come to Bichot’s lip-smacking Bourgogne Aligoté “Champ Renard” from Domaine Adélie.  Though ripe for Aligoté—here, again, the vintage speaking—it nonetheless has the great verve you’d expect from that grape.  It’s a refreshing white that’s sure to cut through this or next summer’s heat and humidity (91 pts).  Bichot’s white, Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, may lack the breeding of the best Côte de Beaune whites, but it has good density, is amiable and refreshing, and will be more affordable than its Côte de Beaune cousins (90 pts).  If you needed more evidence that village wines should be embraced, look no further than Domaine du Pavillon’s Meursault.  Rich, creamy and energetic, it towers above many lesser producers’ Premier Crus (93 pts).

With its 165 acres, the Domaine Long-Depaquit is a long-time leader in Chablis.  Their monopole, Moutonne, a nearly 6-acre plot, 95 percent of which lies in Vaudésir and the remainder in Les Preuses, is unique, spanning two Grand Cru vineyards in the heart of the appellation, but carrying the name of neither.  Though I didn’t taste it this round, it’s always one of their top Chablis.  Domaine Long-Depaquit’s youthful and penetrating Chablis Vaudésir is ripe yet stone-y and tight as a coiled spring (94 pts).  Chablis-lovers should put this in their cellars for a decade.  In the meantime, look for their floral and mineral-y Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaucopins, which is seemingly delicate, but amazes with its presence and length (93 pts).

In short, judging from these samples, you can close your eyes and point when buying Bichot’s 2020 and be very happy.  These wines are pure, reflective of their origins, balanced and—most important—energetic.  Not a single one is hot, disjointed or overdone.  The only problem with Burgundy at the village level and above—not just Bichot’s, but across the board—is price.  The market for Burgundy is ever-expanding, while the production is not.  Indeed, production is down considerably because of the very small 2021 harvest, which will exert even more pressure on the pricing of the 2020s.  So, bring your wallet.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or Bichot in particular, at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

Don’t Overlook Village Burgundies

I’m just back from a week in Burgundy where I attended a spectacular week-long series of tastings, Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, which turned out to be one of my best tasting experiences ever.  Held biannually, visitors move from Chablis in the north to Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, tasting wines from a group of villages each day.  For example, a hundred-plus producers from Chablis and the surrounding Auxerrois arrange themselves under giant tents in Chablis on Monday showing samples of their recent vintages.  The next day, Tuesday, visitors hop from Gevrey-Chambertin to the Clos de Vougeot to the nearby Château de Gilly-lès-Cîteaux, tasting wines from the villages of the Côte de Nuits.  Wednesday, hundreds of Crémant de Bourgogne producers and those from the Mâconnais and Hautes Côtes gather in Beaune, allowing visitors to explore those appellations.  Unsurprisingly, I learned an enormous amount about the wines from the 2020 vintage during those tastings that I will report about in this and future columns.

Spoiler alert—the 2020 whites are consistently excellent across all appellations.  Some of 2020 reds, such as those from Marsannay’s Domaine Bart, are superb as well, but there is far more variability among them as compared to the whites.

What surprised me, but shouldn’t have, was how good and enjoyable the village wines are.  And how well they develop with bottle age.  I’m not referring just to the wines from exalted villages of the Côte d’Or, such as Gevrey-Chambertin.  I found myself raving about wines from Irancy, an obscure village near Chablis that is unknown to even many Burgundians and extolling the virtues of the often-under-priced village Chablis, not its famed Premier or Grand Crus, that have developed marvelously with a decade of age.

Village wines frequently get lost in the clamor for Premier and Grand Cru bottlings.  But those latter two categories account for only about 10 and one percent, respectively, of all Burgundy, which helps explain why their prices have gone through the roof and are unattainable for everyone except the one-percenters.  And even some of them are having trouble affording Grand Crus from top producers.  Accounting for only about 35 percent of Burgundy’s production, village wines are still in rarefied territory in terms of world-wine pricing context, but are at least more affordable.  Regional appellations, such as Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté, Coteaux Bourguignons, or Mâcon-Villages, to name four of the eight, complete the Burgundy hierarchical pyramid, and account for just over half of Burgundy’s total production.

When choosing village wines, remember the first rule of Burgundy—producer, producer, producer.  It’s no coincidence that the village wines that I found so striking this trip all came from top producers.  From René et Vincent Dauvissat, certainly one of the top producers in Chablis, came a 2015 Irancy and a 2010 Chablis, both of which had developed beautifully and were mesmerizing throughout a meal.  A 2010 Gevrey-Chambertin from Trapet, with its perfect combination of brambly fruit and savory qualities, was equally beguiling.  And a 1992 Pouilly-Fuissé from Château Beauregard, again one of that appellation’s top producers, displayed nutty nuances and was splendidly mature without being tired in the least at 30 years of age — quite a feat considering the abysmal nature of the 1992 vintage in general.

Don’t forget the village bottling of négociants, either.  Many of them are forced to buy small amounts of premier cru wines they don’t really want to secure other wines from growers that they do really want.  Those barrels of unwanted premier crus are often declassified and included in the village bottlings.  For example, for years up to one-third of Jadot’s village Chassagne-Montrachet actually came from premier cru vineyards.  Similarly, Drouhin’s Gevrey-Chambertin bottling typically includes a substantial amount of wine from that village’s Premier Cru vineyards.

Another secret to selecting well-priced village wines is to find villages, such as Marsannay and the aforementioned Irancy, whose prices have not kept up with their leap in quality.  Marsannay, just south of Dijon, is the northern-most village of the Côte de Nuits.  It achieved village appellation status just over three decades ago, in 1987.  Prior to that, its wines were sold under the regional appellation of Bourgogne.  Over the last two decades, the wines of Marsannay have sky-rocketed in quality as young producers have revitalized the appellation.  The market has taken note of the stepped-up quality, and prices for some producers’ wines have already taken off, but bargains remain, at least for now.  I say “for now” because Marsannay producers have applied to French wine regulators to classify some vineyards as Premier Cru.  That classification, which will likely take at least another five years to become official, is appropriate in my mind because certain vineyards, such as Champ Salomon, St. Jacques and Langeroies, to name just three of the 14 candidates, have the potential for making distinctive and very high-quality wine.

You can be sure that once regulators officially identify Premier Cru vineyards in Marsannay, the prices of even the village wines will rise, like what’s happening in Pouilly-Fuissé.  There, and after decades of study, the French wine authorities finally approved the growers’ request to award Premier Cru status to 22 of their vineyards, starting with the 2020 vintage.  The rising tide of higher prices for the Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé has already increased the prices of the village wine.  So, explore the wines of Marsannay while you can.

One of my favorite Marsannay producers is Domaine Bart, who makes an extensive range of wines from lieux-dits across the village, many of which are candidates for Premier Cru status.  Bart’s impeccably balanced 2020s are terrific across the board.  They avoided the potential pitfall of the hot vintage—over ripe grapes resulting in overblown wines.  Bart’s Marsannay will give consumers an insight to the character of the wines from the Côte de Nuits and sell for between $30 and $50 depending on the lieu-dit.

Irancy, which lies just outside of Chablis and is Burgundy’s northern-most village appellation, is set to follow Marsannay’s pathway.  The wines, initially sold only under the Bourgogne application, were promoted in 1977 to Bourgogne-Irancy, still a regional designation, and finally to a village appellation in 1998.  Growers are already discussing which of Irancy’s lieux-dits might qualify for Premier Cru status, though that designation is likely to be at least a decade away.  In the meantime, look out for the notable lieux-dits of Palotte, Les Mazelots, and Veaupessiot.  But also, do remember the rule—producer, producer, producer—so look for Irancy wines from Stephanie Colinot, Christopher Ferrari’s Domaine St.  Germain, Clothilde Davenne, and Domaine Richoux, to name just a few.

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April 20, 2022

E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Bells Up: A Tiny New Oregon Estate

With only a 600-case annual total production, Bells Up is tiny, but their wines tell me their imprint will be huge.  Bells Up is a musical term, and since I know little about music, I will quote from their website: “‘Bells Up’ refers to a dramatic moment in classical music where the composer instructs French horn players to lift the bells of the instruments up and project sound with maximum intensity.  Bells Up’s winemaker and owner Dave Specter—a former French horn player—says the winery is his ‘Bells Up’ moment.”

The wines of Bells Up, all of which carry musical references on the label, project enormously, but they are not loud.  They sing in a delicate yet persistent fashion.

Again, their website tells us that Specter, a burned-out corporate tax attorney, left that profession in 2009 and moved to the Willamette Valley from Cincinnati with his wife in 2012.  They purchased an abandoned Christmas tree farm, started planting its nine acres, and established the winery a year later.  Specter’s path from tax attorney to winemaker was untraditional, demonstrating the saying that, “where there’s a will there’s a way.”  He was a “cellar rat” at a Cincinnati winery (who knew there was a winery in Cincinnati?), took an online enology course at Washington State University, worked a harvest at a winery in Dundee, and studied viticulture at Chemeketa Community College.

Bells Up’s mid-weight 2019 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, named “Titan” for Mahler’s Symphony #1, (93 pts; $44), is a delight, combining bright cherry notes and balancing savory elements.  Weighing in at a modest 13.2 percent stated alcohol, it is not overdone or over extracted.  Rather, it dances on the palate, displaying the charm and elegance Pinot Noir can deliver.  It seems to expand in the glass.  Each sip reveals new nuances, so don’t rush it.  For now, Specter buys grapes to supplement the enterprise’s own plantings, which explains why roughly two-thirds of the blend for Titan comes from Yamhill-Carlton AVA and remainder from their vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA.

Since Bells Up is in Newberg in the Willamette, you’d expect Pinot Noir.  What was unexpected was the stature and poise of their Syrah, the grapes for which come from the Summit View Vineyard on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley.  Another graceful wine, the 2019 Syrah, dubbed “Firebird” as in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite (93 pts, $52) balances plumy dark red fruit with an invigorating saline-like minerality.  Like Titan, the focus here is on elegance, not over-wrought power.  Yet, its power is evident in the enjoyment it delivers.

Returning to the Willamette, we find a delightfully refreshing, but serious 2021 Pinot Blanc called “Rhapsody,” for Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (91 pts, $32).  Pinot Blanc can be disappointing because so many are vapid.  Bells Up has avoided that pitfall with good weight, despite a 12.9 percent stated alcohol, riveting acidity, and a pleasing hint of bitterness in the finish.

Contrary to the composer’s instructions, Bells Up has turned down the volume of their wines so you can really appreciate the complexity of the music.

Currently, the wines are available only by calling (503-537-1328) or emailing the winery,

The 2017 Brunellos: Like Wagner’s Music-Not as Bad as It Sounds

In the two years of this pandemic, I’ve been reluctant to attend public tastings.  I’ve been to exactly two.  A group of maskless people—spitting—seems like a very high-risk activity.  The two tastings, assessing the 2016 and 2017 vintages of Brunello di Montalcino, indicate of the importance I attach to the wines of that tiny Tuscan town.  The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group that represents wineries and growers of the DOCG, sponsored both tastings, held in New York City.  And, I must add, both were conducted under excellent sanitary conditions (proof of vaccination required, masked sommeliers pouring—thanks to Il Gattopardo’s Gianfranco Sorrentino—individual spit cups provided, and for me, mask off only when tasting).

I’ve written about the 2016 vintage of Brunello previously.  In summary, it’s fabulous, certainly the best since 2010 and one of what will likely be one of the legendary vintages from that DOCG.  The wines are balanced, elegant, and stunningly layered, with a combination of dark cherry-like fruit and minerality.  They show the stature of Brunello.  They will need additional bottle age—a decade or two—to show their full potential.  My advice, buy whatever 2016 Brunellos you can still find, and place them in your cellar.

The 2017 vintage is a different story in Tuscany.  It was, as winemakers like to say, “a difficult” vintage.  One prominent and well-regarded Chianti Classico producer told me as we were walking to dinner in Florence, “don’t bother with the 2017s.”  Those wide-sweeping generalizations don’t reflect reality, especially in Tuscany, where there’s an enormous diversity of weather and terroir.  What might be a “difficult” vintage in Chianti, may not be the case in Montalcino even though those DOCGs overlap geographically.  And even within Chianti Classico, some wines, such as Castellare di Castillina’s 2017 I Sodi di San Niccolò, to name just one, were spectacular.  The lesson here is that vintage proclamations are useful, but you really need to taste for yourself or rely on the judgement of people you trust.

Part of the region’s diverse weather can be explained by Mount Amiata (literally, the “friendly mountain”), an extinct volcanic that, at 1,900 feet above sea level, is the weather maker for all of Tuscany.  In Castellina in Chianti, the saying is that if the mountain is wearing its hat (a cloud cover) take an umbrella because it will rain.  By contrast, barely 30 miles away in Montalcino, the opposite is true—cloud cover on Mount Amiata means leave your umbrella at home.  The mountain also blocks warm winds from the south, mitigating what could otherwise scorching heat in Montalcino.

The 2017 vintage in Brunello was, indeed, “difficult.”  But no matter what nature throws at winemakers, the best of them will still produce exciting wines worthy of our attention, perhaps just less of them, as producers need to discard diseased grapes to maintain quality.  Without going into every detail, suffice it to say, it was a hot and dry year.  Lars Leicht, the Vice-President for Education for the Somm Journal and someone who has forgotten more about Brunello than most people know (since he lived and worked in Montalcino for years), told me that there was virtually no rain from May through August and there were scores of 95º+ days.  The heat and drought forced the vines to shut down, which at least had the benefit of preserving acidity, which gave the wines a surprising freshness.  Grapes faced the prospect of shriveling under the sunshine and lack of rain, which potentially could lead to heavy alcoholic wines.  Finally rain in September and a “perfect” October, according to Leicht, helped save the vintage.

Growers have weapons, both in the vineyard and in the cellar, against adverse weather conditions.  For example, they can retain leaves on the vines to shade the grapes.  Among other things, they can adjust fermentation to limit extraction.  Deciding when to harvest during a growing season like 2017 is a grower’s biggest dilemma and most critical decision.  Picking early preserves acidity, which translates into freshness and liveliness in the wine, and keeps sugar, and the wine’s resulting alcohol, lower.  But early harvest risks tannins that have not had time to ripen and soften, leading to wines with coarseness and astringency.  Harvesting late allows tannins to ripen and impart suaveness to the wines, but risks high sugar levels, which translate into alcoholic wines, and low acidity that makes wines heavy and flabby.  Indeed, many wines I tasted exhibited heat that I associate with high alcohols.  Growers were truly caught between a rock and a hard place.  Nonetheless, many Brunello producers clearly made the right decisions and wound up with fantastic wines.  Others were not so lucky.

So, unlike with the 2016s, which you can practically choose with your eyes closed, the 2017s need careful assessments.  The richness and fullness of the 2017s makes many of them candidates for early drinking, allowing enjoyment of the charms of fully ripe and succulent Sangiovese grown on this special terroir.

Unsurprisingly, many of my top 2017 Brunellos came from my favorite producers.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s combined lush darker cherry-like flavors with classic Montalcino minerality.  Their 2017 has good power without losing elegance couple with prominent, but very suave tannins.  Contrary to my advice of early drinkability, I’d cellar this one for at least five years.  (93 pts, $73).

Il Poggione opted not to produce their top wine, Paganelli Vineyard Brunello Riserva, in 2017.  Grapes from that vineyard wound up in their regular bottling, which may explain the splendid stature of their brooding, yet fresh, 2017.  Dark minerals and black cherry-like nuances are seamlessly interwoven.  A long and graceful finish keeps the smile on your face.  (93, $84).

From another perennial favorite, Talenti’s explosive 2017 displays graceful fresh cherry-like notes couple effortlessly with marvelous Montalcino minerality.  And all supported by lithe tannins.  (93; $64).

Val di Suga also opted to forego its single vineyard bottlings in 2017, which also explains the beauty of their stylish 2017 straight Brunello.  Perfumed and captivating, its mid-weight character belies its persistence and presence.  This is an elegantly styled Brunello that you’d never guess was the product of a hot and dry year.  (93, $63).

Unlike Il Poggione and Val di Suga, Altesino chose to bottle their iconic single vineyard Montosoli offering in 2017.  The cooler location of the roughly 13-acre Montosoli vineyard at about 1,400 feet above sea level undoubtedly helps explain the poise and refinement of the 2017 Montosoli.  It’s powerful, but not in a heavy or concentrated way.  Rather its presence makes you take notice.  An appealing mineral-like bitterness in the finish reminds you that the team at Altesino managed to avoid the over-ripeness that plagued the vintage.  (93, $125)

Fattoria dei Barbi’s mineral-laden 2017 Brunello was refreshingly refined, bolstered by supporting firmness.  Its excellent concentration, without a trace of jammy fruit, showed that the winemaking here clearly captured the elegance of Brunello.  (91, $70).

Banfi’s new single vineyard offering, Vigna Marruchetto, is an intense—but not overdone—wine whose harmonious balance of minerals and dark cherries is supported by polished tannins.  The barest hint of oak is beautifully integrated.  (91, $84).

The aromatic La Gerla brings together an impeccable balance of red cherry-like fruit and mid-weight minerals.  Lovely and long, it shows that some producers still found grace and elegance in their 2017s.  (90, $62).

The charming Caparzo may turn out to be the bargain of the vintage.  Its captivating floral elements lead you into a mid-weight combination of delicate minerality and refined red cherry-like fruitiness.  It grows in the glass and delivers amazing enjoyment now because its fine tannins provide structure without being intrusive.  (90, $50).

So, Brunello-lovers don’t despair.  There are many 2017 Brunello to enjoy while you wait for your 2016s to come around.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Brunello in general or the 2016 and 2017 vintages in specific at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

March 2, 2022

An Early Look at the Excellent 2020 Vintage in Burgundy

The 2020 Burgundies, both reds and whites, are, in short, excellent, making it the the best vintage from that area since 2015.  It’s been over a decade—2010—since a vintage has excelled in both colors.  Offers for these 2020s as futures are just starting to appear.  Burgundy lovers should scrutinize them carefully and buy as much as they can afford because the quality of the wines is that high.  I find the whites fractionally more consistent than the reds.  That said, I found very few reds that were out of balance, over ripe, or had rough tannins.  There was far more consistency among the reds in 2020 than in 2019.  I base my assessment on visits to the area last September and November when I tasted wines from both small négociants, such as Benjamin Leroux, and large négociants, such as Maison Louis Jadot, growers, such as Pernot-Belicard, and grower-négociants, such as Méo-Camuzet.  The problem will be price, and, as always, availability.

Twenty twenty was one of the earliest vintages in history, with almost everyone starting to harvest in August.  An early harvest usually implies a hot growing season that brings grapes to full ripeness quickly and prematurely.  In this scenario, the very ripe grapes have lost acidity.  (As with all fruit, as grapes increase in sugar, they lose acidity.  That’s why ripe fruit tastes sweet and unripe fruit tastes sour.)  So, an early harvest should produce rich wines with low acidity.  But that was not what happened in 2020.  The grapes were ripe, but they also contained sufficient acidity, which means the wines are concentrated, yet still lively and vigorous.  Indeed, the 2020s have a distinctly different profile from those produced in 2018 or 2019, two other hot years.

Different people to whom I spoke had different explanations for this seeming paradox of ripe, yet lively wines.  Frédéric Barnier, the very insightful winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, felt that the early harvest was due to a warm and early spring rather than great heat during the growing season, as occurred in 2003, 2018, and 2019.  Adequate water reserves from the previous wet winter, combined with warm springtime weather, led to an early bud break.  At this point in the vines’ lifecycle, their energy goes into making tartaric and malic acid, rather than sugar, according to Barnier.  With this reasoning, the grapes accumulate plenty of acidity going into the remainder of the growing season.  Barnier noted that their 2019s often weighed in at 14 percent alcohol with good acidity, whereas their 2020s have excellent acidity and lower levels of alcohol.  He notes that the warmth—what he refers to as “a sunny vintage”—of 2019 produced muscular wines.  In contrast, though 2020 is an early vintage on paper, the wines don’t show it.

Whatever the explanation, Jadot hit the bullseye with their 2020s.  Though I do not review specific wines tasted from barrel samples (due to multiple factors preventing accurate extrapolation to the quality of finished wines), the array of 2020s that Jadot produced was impressive for their consistency, harmony, and freshness.  As readers will see below, I do comment on specific wines if the sample is drawn from a tank containing the final blend that is awaiting bottling.

Jasper Morris, MW, one of the world’s leading Burgundy experts, feels that hydric stress contributed to the otherwise hard-to-explain good level of acidity.  He posits that the vines were stressed by the lack of water during the summer and closed down, preventing sugars from rising too rapidly and acidity, especially tartaric, from falling.

Jean Nicolas Méo of Domaine Méo-Camuzet, says with a smile, “Yes, it’s surprising how the wines turned out.”  He agrees that the season started early and characterizes it as a warm, not a hot year.  He notes that there were only a few days of heat in early August, which were harmful because it reduced quantities, but helped concentrate the acidity.  The modest alcohols of his 2020s, from 12.7 percent to just over 14 percent, reflect the lack of over-ripeness that can plague an early and warm vintage.  They all showed incredible freshness and life.  Many of the barrel samples were simply dazzling.

Pierre Bart, of Domaine Bart in Marsannay, notes that the grapes had little malic acid but good tartaric acid at harvest, which has imparted energy to their wines.  When I tasted there in November, many of the wines had finished élevage, were resting in tanks, awaiting bottling.  Since they were finished wines and not just from a single barrel or a “representative” blend, I feel comfortable assessing them individually.  Bart is well known for a splendid array of wines from the lieux-dits of Marsannay.  Among those that stood out in 2020 were their Marsannay Finottes, Marsannay Montagne, Marsannay Le Echezeaux (En Chezots), Marsannay Les Grandes Vignes, and Marsannay Clos du Roy.  All should be on anyone’s list looking for relative bargains among the 2020s.

Tasting with Nicole Lamarche, who oversees the winemaking at Domaine François Lamarche, is always a delight because of the precision of her wines.  She notes with great satisfaction that the highest alcohol level of all her wines in 2020 was just 13.9 percent—and there was only one at that level.  Certainly not what you’d expect in a hot year.  She is pleased with the levels of tartaric acid and credits her success with an early harvest and “following the vineyards carefully.”  I left the tasting amazed at the beauty of her 2020s.  These were neither massive nor alcoholic.  All were fresh and finesse filled.  Her wines, like those at Domaine Bart, had finished élevage and were awaiting bottling, sometime in the spring.  Her Bourgogne Rouge was simply stunning for a wine of that pedigree and should be a terrific bargain.  All her wines from Vosne-Romanée, even at the village level, were spellbinding.  If I should win the lottery, I’m buying some of her 2020 Echezeaux, which came from three lieux-dits, Vignes Blanches, Clos Saint-Denis, and Les Champs Traversins, and weighed in at all of 13.6 percent alcohol.

“It was the first time I finished harvesting in August,” exclaims Jean-Baptiste Bouzereau, who heads the Meursault-based Domaine Michel Bouzereau.  He opened his notebook containing detailed notes regarding the weather: only two days above 35º C (95ºF) with temperature mostly between 25 to 30ºC (77 to 86º F).  Yes, it was hot, but not like 2019, according to him.  With a Gallic shrug, he sums up the paradox of the vintage succinctly, “[There are] many things that you cannot explain.”  His wines were delicate and elegant with a great presence and brilliant acidity.  Each transmitted its terroir, which is unusual with a hot vintage when the ripeness of the wines blurs the outline of the vineyard.  His lacy Bourgogne Côte d’Or and his three stunning village Meursault from the lieux-dits of Les Grands Charrons, Le Limousin, and Les Tessons, all awaiting bottling, hit far above their weight class.

I repeat what I’ve said about previous vintages of Pernot-Belicard’s wines: buy as much as you can afford, from his Bourgogne Côte d’Or up to his Meursault-Perrières Dessous.  From the tank samples he showed, it is clear that he made great 2020s, at every level.  Despite the mid-August harvest—it was his earliest harvest ever—the wines have enormous energy and are very precise, reflecting their origins perfectly.  There are no blurred borders at Pernot-Belicard.  He, like Bouzereau, can’t explain the paradox of the vintage.

Benjamin Leroux believes that the cooler nights differentiate the 2020 vintage from other warm ones.  He echoes what Barnier told me.  It was an early vintage because of the mild winter and lovely spring, not because of heatwaves.  The vines not being totally dormant during the winter led to early budding and an early harvest.  It was a warm, but not a hot, year.  He thinks the date of picking was tricky, and critical.  He believes the wines are concentrated with everything—flavor and acidity—and are built for long-term aging.  His stunning line-up of barrel samples was ample evidence of his assessment, “a concentrated vintage, yet the lieux-dits still speak clearly.”

Anne Parent describes the contrasting nature of Domaine Parent’s 2019s and 2020s.  She likes the 2019s for generosity and approachability, while the 2020s have more precision and finesse.  Her line-up of barrel samples of 2020 Pommards was extraordinary.  The combination of the power of Pommard with the finesse that she achieves put them in an other-worldly category.  Not to be overlooked, is her stellar 2020 white Corton.  I can’t wait to taste the finished wines because I suspect they will be sensational.

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January 26, 2022         

Profile: Mazzei Castello di Fonterutoli, Toscana IGT “Siepi” 2019

Siepi, a single vineyard blend of roughly equal amounts of Sangiovese and Merlot, is a true Super Tuscan wine.  The vineyard, believed to be one of the oldest in Italy, dates from the 15th century if not earlier, its existence having been noted in a document from 1435.  The site has always been considered to be a great locale for Sangiovese, according to Francesco Mazzei, head of Fonterutoli.  He recalls how Biondi Santi from Brunello took cuttings from the Siepi vineyard when he started in Montalcino.

So, what Mazzei did in the early 1980s was either crazy or brilliant.  Mazzei relates how they pulled out Sangiovese at Siepi and planted Merlot “on a hunch.”  Mazzei reminds us that, at that time, there was no Merlot in the Chianti Classico region.  There was a little Cabernet Sauvignon planted at Tignanello, but Merlot was nowhere to be found.  Mazzei felt that Merlot was a complementary grape to Sangiovese, providing flesh to Sangiovese’s structure.  In retrospective, maybe it wasn’t just a hunch, since clay in this 35-acre vineyard makes it an excellent site for Merlot.

The Mazzei family, like the Antinori and Frescobaldi families, have been making wine in Tuscany for centuries.  The Mazzei’s main estate, which dates from 1435, is Fonterutoli, which lies principally in Castellina, bordering Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga.  Over the last two decades they’ve expanded outside of Chianti Classico with an estate, Belguardo, in the Maremma, and Zisola, located outside of Noto in Sicily.

About 15 of the 35 acres of the vineyard, planted equally between Merlot and Sangiovese, provides grapes for Siepi.  Grapes from the remaining vines find their way into Fonterutoli’s other bottlings.  Even though the vineyard is planted equally with the two grapes, the blend of Siepi can vary from 40 to 60 percent of Sangiovese depending on how each variety fares in a given year.  The vines were planted in 1983 and 1984 at what was then felt to be a cutting edge “high-density” of 2,000 vines/acre.  By today’s standards, viticulture practices having changed over the last 35 years, that density would be considered average.

The first vintage of Siepi was 1992.  Average annual production is about 30,000 bottles.  In a weak year, especially for Sangiovese, such as 2002, Mazzei opted to make little Siepi, the blend hugely favoring the Merlot (80 percent).  And some years, such as 2009 and 2014, no Siepi at all was made.

In 2007, the new, gravity-flow winery opened, allowing Mazzei to parcelize the vinification.  Tanks of varying capacity now reflect the size of individual parcels of the vineyard, such that they can be vinified separately.  Moreover, a gravity-flow winery eliminates pumping, which can harm the wine.  A vertical tasting of Siepi a few years ago demonstrated how the new winery resulted in a fine tuning of an already marvelous wine.

Mazzei has no formula for the barrel aging of Siepi, which depends, in part, on the variety.  For example, they age anywhere from 80 to 100 percent of the Merlot in 225-liter French (Allier) oak barrels (barriques), half to three-quarters of which are new, whereas they age Sangiovese in 900-liter barrels (tonneaux).  As with the exact blend, the exact oak aging depends on the vintage.

Like the Mazzei family themselves, the 2019 Siepi displays power, elegance, and suaveness.  It’s got everything, as you’d expect from a great producer.  Intense, savory and ripe, it displays a masterful combination of dark cherry-like fruitiness and earthy minerality.  The tannins are fine, giving a silkiness to the wine’s texture.  The 2019 Siepi finishes with a delectable hint of bitterness, not sweetness or heat, despite a 14.5 percent stated-alcohol.  Gorgeous Tuscan acidity keeps it fresh and energetic.  From my experience with Siepi, it develops beautifully over ten to twenty years.  If you can afford it, by all means, do cellar at least some of their splendid 2019.  It’s sure to be one of their stars.  $130 … 96 Points

Michael Apstein’s Top Five Wines of 2021

Not all of these five wines qualify as the best –however you define “best”—wine I had in 2021. Instead, each of them taught me something. As a doctor—the word comes from the Latin docere, to teach—I do teach. I teach patients, students, and young physicians. But, I also like to be taught, so I chose these wines because they taught me something. Sometimes the very “best” wines are hard to describe. Jacques Lardière, Maison Louis Jadot’s legendary winemaker of forty vintages, once told me that sometimes words—trying to describe a wine—actually detract from the wine’s grandeur. I guess that’s the definition of truly indescribable. As you’ll see, many of these wines fit that description.

Catena Zapata 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata, Mendoza Argentina               97

Nicolás Catena Zapata has been credited with putting Argentinian wines on the world’s wine map. This wine, Nicolás Catena Zapata, the winery’s flagship, is a multi-vineyard, multi-variety blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grown in their high-altitude vineyards. The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata is bold, but not heavy. Its complexity is riveting. Each taste reminds you you’re in for a treat. Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which invites another sip. A youthful wine, to be sure, its texture and balance predicts a beautiful evolution. It taught me that those of us who focus on and gravitate towards European wines need to open our minds to other parts of the world. Drinking window: 2027-2037.

Domaine Michel Caillot 2014 Bourgogne Blanc Les Herbeux                       95

Founded in 1961 by Roger Caillot (Michel’s father), this Meursault-based estate has just over twelve hectares of vines spread over the Côte de Beaune, including a piece of Bâtard-Montrachet. This Bourgogne Blanc comes from a lieu-dit that lies within the geographic limits of the village of Meursault, but is not entitled to the Village Appellation. I purchased a 12-bottle case of it in early 2021 from Berman’s Wines and Spirits, an excellent Boston retailer, for about 20 US$ a bottle (it was likely being closed out, since it was a seven-year old “simple” Bourgogne Blanc.) I’ve happily consumed half the case already and look forward to the remainder this year. Startlingly expressive, it’s has both good weight and excellent energy. A few herbal notes actually come through, which I guess explains the name of the lieu-dit. It taught me that white Burgundy need not be expensive and that even wines from the less prestigious appellations when made by talented producers can evolve and develop. It reinforces my mantra: producer, producer, producer. This is a seven—soon to be eight—year old refined Bourgogne Blanc that has developed complexity. And so, 95 points for what it is. Drinking window: Drink now until who knows?

  1. Guigal 1990 Côte Rôtie La Mouline                            100

Guigal gets my vote as the Rhône’s best producer. The La Mouline vineyard, about one hectares set in an amphitheater, is planted with Syrah (roughly 90 percent) and Viognier, a white grape indigenous to the Rhône Valley. The vines are very old, some dating to the 1890s. The two varieties are harvested and fermented together, so the exact ratio of Viognier in any particular vintage is unknown and depends on the climatic conditions in any given year. Of the three La La’s, La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque, as they are known, La Mouline always gets my vote, likely because the Viognier in the blend provides finesse and refinement. I was fortunate to drink the 1990 La Mouline twice in 2021. Both times it was other-worldly. Meaty and spicy yet elegant and refined, it’s an explosive and captivating wine. Burgundy meets the Rhône! It taught me that one, I should have bought more of it back then when it was actually affordable, and two, wines can truly be magical. Drinking window: now—2025.

Giuseppe Mascarello e Figlio 1961 Barbaresco                      100

Though today Mascarello is best-known for their gorgeous estate-grown Barolo, they actually purchased grapes for this Barbaresco. They stopped making Barbaresco in the early ‘80s after they acquired most of the Monprivato vineyard because they wanted to focus on estate wines, according to Fred Ek, his longtime U.S. importer. This was a magical wine, delivering the Burgundian sensibility of what I call “flavor without weight,” buttressed by Italian acidity, which kept it fresh and lively throughout the meal. It taught me that in the right hands—producer, producer, producer—fabulous wine can be made from purchased grapes. Drink now—why wait.

Ravines Wine Cellars 2017 Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard Finger Lakes New York State                               95

In its short two-decades of life, Ravines Wine Cellars is already making world-class Riesling. The Danish-born winemaker, Morten Hallgren, comes from a winemaking family—his parents own the top-notch Provence-based Domaine de Castel Roubine. Though the Castel Roubine produces no Riesling, Hallgren certainly understands that grape. Mineral-y and fresh, this Riesling has poise and penetration. The wine reminded me to look to the Finger Lakes region as a source of superb Riesling and that terroir matters, everywhere, because this single vineyard bottling stands head and shoulders about their multi-vineyard offering. Drinking window: now-2025.

2016 Brunello di Montalcino: Don’t Miss Them

The great success of the 2016 vintage throughout Tuscany suggested that the just-released 2016 Brunello would be memorable.  Is it ever! To my mind, it is, by far, the best vintage since 2010.  I certainly prefer the 2016s in general to the more powerful and overdone Brunello from the much-hyped 2015 vintage.  Many experienced critics, such as Kerin O’Keefe (whose book on Brunello remains the benchmark for the region) believe that the vintage ranks with the legendary 2004 and 2001 vintages.  The best 2016 Brunelli are sleek, racy, and, at times, explosive, yet not heavy or overdone.  They are balanced with super fine-grained tannins, which suggests that they should evolve beautifully with proper cellaring, though many are surprisingly easy to enjoy now.

In the past, in normal times, my assessment of the vintage would be based on the annual tasting in Montalcino in February and my discussions there with producers.  This year, Covid-19 prevented that annual trip, so my assessment of the 2016 vintage was limited to what turned out to be a beautifully organized tasting hosted by Gianfranco Sorrentino of Gattopardo, an excellent Italian restaurant in New York City.  Though fully vaccinated, I was still filled with trepidation since it was my first in-public tasting in over a year.  I armed myself with a Solo® cup personal spittoon and extra face masks just in case I forgot to remove it while tasting or spitting.  (I didn’t.)  Sorrentino had thought of everything.  Sixty 2016 Brunelli were available to taste in a socially-distanced setting.  Waitstaff poured the wines, which were on a single table.  Tasters pointed to the wine to taste, received a sample, and retreated to one of the small tables scattered around the large, seemingly well-ventilated room, allowing tasters to sit and taste without crowding.  Only 40 people, all masked, attended and remained masked unless tasting.  No producers were present.  My only insights from a producer came from a tasting with Count Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia via Zoom® conducted some weeks earlier.

With a broad smile, Cinzano described 2016 as a “classic year,” in the best sense of that term.  The growing season was perfect—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry, not too wet.  Importantly, he felt that the region was lucky to avoid the severe heat wave in 2016 that plagued them in 2015, adding that “a balanced year leads to a balanced wine.”

Much is rightly made of the diversity of the soil and climate within this small DOCG region, which consists of just over 5,000 acre acres.  Gabriele Gorelli, the newly minted MW (Master of Wine), explained the region’s diversity at a seminar last year.  He described the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG as a four-sided pyramid with the town at the pinnacle.  The vineyards are planted from just above sea-level to about 1,600 feet.  Although the overall climate is Mediterranean—warm summers and cool winters—he emphasized that it is not homogenous.  Each of the four main slopes has its own climate and pattern of precipitation.  Furthermore, the position of a vineyard on the slope plays an important role in the ripeness of the grapes and the character of the wine: the higher the vineyard is on the slope, the cooler the growing condition.  To complicate matters further, vast differences in soils, even over a small area, amplify the heterogeneity of the region.  Typically, the higher elevations represent the oldest soils with the greatest amount of limestone, by contrast to the more sedimentary or sandy soil near the base.  The hypothesis that wine style is affected by site location within the region is supported by my many tastings over the years of two of Silvio Nardi’s consistently alluring single vineyard Brunelli, Vigneto Manachiara—made from grapes grown in the clay-laden northeast sector—and Poggio Doria, from the gravely-northwest sector. These two wines show the wonderful diversity of wines from this DOCG.

Based on this tasting of 2016s, I could not identify a subzone that consistently excelled compared to other subzones in the DOCG.  Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to tell the locale of an individual producer’s grapes, since some producers own vineyards throughout the zone, not just adjacent to their winery, and make a Brunello that they consider representative of the DOCG.  Hence, knowing the location of the winery does not tell the whole story.  I found my favorites came from all over the entire region.  Indeed, two of my favorites, the 2016 Brunello from Col d’Orcia in the extreme southwestern section and from Castiglion del Bosco in the extreme northwest section, come from opposite ends of the DOCG.  Another favorite, the 2016 Brunello from Silvio Nardi, was made from a blend of grapes grown throughout the entire area.  I don’t find that surprising since I believe producers’ styles play as large a role in how the wines taste as does the origin of the grapes.

My advice is to buy as much of the 2016 Brunello as you can afford.  This is a great vintage that should develop beautifully over the next several decades.  Buy from producers you know and have liked in the past.  As with all wine regions, the vintage is important, but it’s still producer, producer, producer that is critical.  Due to Covid-19, my tastings this year and hence, my assessment of the vintage, was limited compared to previous years.  I did not have the opportunity to taste wines from producers that I consistently like, such as Canalicchio di Sopra, Gianni Brunelli, Il Marroneto, Mastrojanni, or Le Ragnaie.  That said, if I found them at reasonable prices, I would buy them without hesitation, even without tasting them.

The explosive yet graceful Le Chiuse (99 pts, $99) sits at the top of my list of 2016 Brunello.  The balanced Col d’Orcia (98, $44), perhaps their finest ever, is likely the bargain of the vintage.  Others I recommend highly are listed below.  The ones in bold represent great value.  Prices are from

CastelGiocando (97, $59)

Castiglion del Bosco (96, $63)
Corte Pavone (96, n/a)
Fanti, “Vallocchio” (96, $70)
Fulgini (96, $99)
La Poderina (96, $57)
Il Poggione (96, $79)
Talenti (96, $57)

Argiano (95, $57)
Campogiovanni (95, $55)

Capanna (95, $61)
Carparzo (95, $44)
Col di Lanio (95, n/a)
Donnatella Cinelli Colombini (95, $70)
La Fiorita (95, $85)
Silvio Nardi (95, $53)
Il Palazzone (95, $79)
Val di Suga “Vigna Spuntali” (95, $57)

Castello Banfi, “Poggio alle Mure” (94, $62)

Pian delle Vigne (93, $58)

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Email me your thoughts about Brunello at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

2019 Burgundies: A Mixed Bag

While consistency is rarely a word used when describing Burgundies, the 2019 Burgundies present the consumer with an even greater-than-usual stylistic variation.  The usual suspects explain the diversity of the wines:  Frost, poor flowering, and heat.  Frost, which affected areas almost capriciously—some vineyards lost 40 percent of their grapes, while adjacent ones were spared—reduced the crop in many appellations.  Low yields typically produce concentrated wine.  Poor-flowering meant that the grapes were not uniform in size, some big, some small, which alters the normal juice-to-skin ratio, leading to unbalanced wines.  And heat (thank you, climate change) resulted in rapidly increasing sugar levels, making the timing of harvest all that more critical to prevent overly alcoholic and flabby wines.  So, the 2019 Burgundies will vary.  Some will be rich and intense, immediately appealing to those who like that style.  Others show their alcohol as a bit of warmth in the finish, which may bother some consumers but not others.  To be sure, many producers got everything right and made exhilarating and balanced wines.

Since no one has ever asked me what wine I don’t recommend, let’s focus on the exhilarating end of the 2019 spectrum.  Where prices for the 2019 are not available, I have listed the price for the 2018 to give consumers a general sense.  Prices are averaged from, but consumers should check with their local merchants since prices will vary enormously depending on whether the retailers purchased the wines before or after the Trump tariffs were in place.

In Givry, a tiny appellation in the Côte Chalonnaise that is all too often overlooked, is the Domaine du Cellier aux Moines, Givry 1er Cru, Clos des Cellier Aux Moines.  Their 2019 is ripe, yet energetic and precise.  Philippe Pascal, owner of Domaine du Cellier aux Moines in Givry, thinks their 2019 is the best wine they’ve ever made.  Though I still prefer their 2015, it’s hard to disagree with him (95 pts.; $53 for the 2018).  The Domaine du Cellier aux Moines also owns a cool, northeast facing plot in Mercurey from which they made a riveting white in 2019, labelled Les Margotons, after their daughter (90 pts.; $33 for the 2018).  At the expensive end of their portfolio is a stunning Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru, Les Pucelles, made from grapes grown in the Clos des Meix, a walled portion of the vineyard.  The wine displays a gorgeous combination of richness, minerality, and verve (95 pts.; $144 for the 2018).  Pascal said they used an herbal infusion to keep the sap flowing in the vines to prevent frost and, as a result, lost very little compared to their neighbors who used the more traditional candles to heat the vines.

It’s no surprise that Anne Parent, who is in charge of winemaking at Domaine Parent, made stunning whites in 2019.  Their white Monthélie, labeled under their négociant label, Jacques Parent, which honors their father, conveys a wonderful combination of nutty richness and minerality (92 pts., $65 for the 2018).  Domaine Parent’s 2019 white Corton, which they could legally label as Corton-Charlemagne (but opt not to because Anne thinks it has a fundamentally different character because of the location of their plot on the hill of Corton) is fantastically rich and mineral-y without sacrificing any freshness (94 pts.; $217).  Domaine Parent’s 2019 Beaune Les Epenottes is my idea of quintessential Burgundy—conveying flavor without weight (95 pts.; $176).  Anne relates that demand—and prices—for Burgundy has recently sky-rocketed with re-opening of restaurants and the extraordinary low yielding 2021 vintage.

Frédéric Barnier, the winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, and his team succeeded brilliantly with their whites in 2019, capturing the necessary acidity to keep them fresh and vivacious.  Their Meursault Charmes, from a parcel Jadot obtained with their purchase of Prieur-Brunet in 2017, delivers the opulence expected from the vineyard combined with an energetic edginess.  (93; $113) Equally engaging with an entirely different profile reflecting its origins is their Puligny-Montrachet, 1er Cru, Clos de la Garenne from the Duc de Magenta Domaine.  With less ripeness and richness, but no less power, it’s all mineral-y (93; $110).  Jadot’s Corton-Charlemagne, always one of my favorites among their whites, is a broad-shouldered wine in 2019, showing both power and precision (94, $242).  Jadot also succeeded with their reds.  As an example, Jadot’s Marsannay Clos du Roy from Domaine Gagey provides a dark and juicy combination of fruit and earth that’s hard to resist now (90 pts.; $48).

Maison Louis Latour, another top Beaune-based producer, hit a home run with their 2019 reds, from their bright and charmingly rustic Coteaux Bourguignons, labeled Les Pierres Dorées (90 pts., $23 for the 2018), to their suave and perfumed 1er Cru Volnay En Chevret (93, $95 for the 2018) to their statuesque Corton Grancey (96 pts.; $159 for the 2018).  Louis Fabrice Latour, head of the eponymous house, said they were “obsessed with freshness and acidity” in their 2019s.

I always look to the less prestigious appellations in a hot year because the grapes from those areas can benefit from the additional ripening.  Good examples in 2019 are the stylish Bourgogne Côte d’Or from Alain Janniard (91 pts.) and Bichot’s balanced Bourgogne Côte d’Or (91 pts.; $25 for the 2018).

Maranges, an overlooked village of the Côte d’Or, sits west and above Santenay, which means it’s a cooler locale.  Its location may explain why its 2019s showed so well at a blind tasting organized by the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessional Vins de Bourgogne) for me in September 2021.  Look for Domaine Jean-Claude Regnaudot’s charming Maranges 1er Cru, Clos des Loyères (92 pts.; $39 for the 2018) for immediate drinking or their more substantial and structured Maranges 1er Cru Fussières (92 pts.; $39 for the 2018) for cellaring for a few years.  Their wines are imported into the U.S. by Kermit Lynch.  Also, in Maranges is a different Regnaudot domaine, the Domaine Bernard and Florian Regnaudot, who made a lively and precise Maranges 1er Cru Clos des Loyères (92 pts.) and an enchanting Maranges 1er Cru Le Clos des Rois (92 pts.).  Unfortunately, the wines from Bernard and Florian Regnaudot do not to appear to be imported in the U.S.

My advice when purchasing the 2019 Burgundies: Taste before you buy, even from producers whose wines you’ve always liked, to be sure you like what they’ve done in this heterogenous vintage.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or the 2019 vintage in specific at and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc: Created by an Act of God

In this article, Michael Apstein tells the history, viticulture and winemaking side of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc. As well as a vertical tasting of the wines spanning close to 40 years.
by Michael Apstein

Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc is a rarity in Beaune, where 86 percent of the appellation’s vines are red. And among the whites in Beaune, few ever achieve the elegance and stature of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc. Moreover, though classified as a Beaune Premier Cru, Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc sells at prices closer to that of a Grand Cru. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of this famed vineyard by Maurice Drouhin, the son of Joseph Drouhin, who founded the house in 1880, so I thought it was a good excuse to taste a dozen vintages from my cellar, spanning the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, and make a pilgrimage there to discover what all the fuss was about.

Frédéric Drouhin, grandson of Maurice and along with his sister, Véronique, and two brothers, Philippe and Laurent, run this family-owned estate, explained the origin of this iconic wine, what many would consider the flagship of this venerable house. Just after the end of World War I, Maurice took over from his father what was a négociant firm at the time. By Frédéric’s description, he had a “quality-driven” personality. It’s abundantly clear that he was also a visionary. He anticipated that growers would eventually start to bottle their own wines, making it more difficult for négociants to have a steady supply of grapes and wine. So, he decided to buy vineyards. Travel was difficult in those days, which meant that working and maintaining a vineyard in the Côte de Nuits, though a more prestigious locale, was impractical. He opted for what he felt was the best site in Beaune to which he and the workers could walk.

In 1921, he started buying parcels in the Clos des Mouches, recognized as a top vineyard even before the official classification system came into effect. Bordering Pommard to the south, Clos des Mouches takes its name from the bees who came there to gather pollen. (Mouches, though literally “flies”, is Burgundian slang for bees). Bit by bit, Maurice acquired roughly just over half of the entire vineyard—40 different parcels comprising 14 ha (35.6 acres). At that time, the vineyard was planted almost exclusively with Pinot Noir, the grape for which Beaune was best known.  Maurice’s early task was to replant the vineyards following the devastation of WWI and phylloxera. He followed the tradition of the time by including a small percentage of white grapes—chiefly Chardonnay and Pinot Beurot (aka Pinot Gris). These whites would be harvested together with the reds and co-fermented to provide extra sugar to boost the final alcohol without adding significant flavor. Think of it as a kind of vineyard-based chaptalization necessary at a time when ripening Pinot Noir was always a challenge. That practice explains why, even today, there are white varieties co-mingled with reds in some Burgundy vineyards.

Southern wall of Clos des Miuches bordering Pommard

Maurice opted for Chardonnay and planted it in separate rows so it would be easier to care for the vines.  Then, in 1928, by a quirk of nature—an act of God—the Chardonnay ripened too late to be co-fermented with the Pinot Noir. Maurice, always a parsimonious farmer, decided to make two barrels of white “house” wine. When he tasted it, eureka, he realized he had something unique and excellent, so, starting in the 1930s, he replanted the entire vineyard equally with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a planting pattern that has remained to this day.

Standing in the vineyard, its heterogeneity is apparent. Its four terraces of vines display not so subtle differences of exposure, elevation, and vine age. Even a cursory glance at the ground by a non-geologist such as myself reveals soils and rocks of different colors that must harbor different minerals and nutrients. Some vines are planted in an east-west direction, while others have a north-south orientation.  Frédéric emphasizes that each of the 35 to 38 parcels receives individual care. They are harvested and vinified separately as often as possible.  Making the final blend from these different wines is like completing a puzzle, according to Frédéric, searching for just the right combination to create the Clos des Mouches style. The batches that do not make the cut for Clos des Mouches, usually about 20 to 30 percent, wind up as part of the blend for Drouhin’s Côte de Beaune, a small, 25-ha, appellation that is many cuts above the more well-known and much larger, Côte de Beaune-Villages.

Clos des Mouches looking east (Note the east-west orientation of the vines)
Clos des Mouches looking north (Note the north-south orientation of the vines)

The Drouhin family has a deep and emotional attachment to the vineyard. They bury their dogs there. It’s where Robert, Maurice’s son, always went to find worms when he went fishing. One year, according to Frédéric, he found no worms, which startled him. That revelation convinced him that they needed to move forward with organic viticulture to rejuvenate the soil, which they did starting in 1988.  Frédéric notes that Clos des Mouches has acted as a laboratory for biodynamic practices since their portion of the vineyard was large, contiguous, and devoid of “pollution” from their neighbors. Barely a decade later, in the mid-90s, Drouhin moved to biodynamic practices in Clos des Mouches, practices that have spread to the rest of their domaine. Now, they farm the entirety of their domaine biodynamically, according to Frédéric.

The diversity of rocks

The winemaking is simple and non-interventional. At Drouhin, they press the Chardonnay and give it a little skin contact, depending on the vintage, according to Frédéric. Then, the Clos des Mouches Blanc is fermented and aged in oak barrels made by a variety of coopers, about 25 percent of which are new. Drouhin clearly considers the vineyard and the wine Grand Cru, despite its official Premier Cru classification. The market does so as well, since their Clos des Mouches Blanc commands anywhere from a 50 to 100 percent premium over other producers’ wines from the same vineyard. Frédéric is quick to note, however, that that premium occurs in the marketplace since they price the wine only about 25 percent higher than their other Beaune Premier Crus. Consumers and the press often ask Frédéric why they don’t replace the Pinot Noir with Chardonnay since the Clos des Mouches Blanc commands a higher price, 25 to 30 percent more, than the Clos des Mouches Rouge. His succinct response: “Because we like it.” After tasting six vintages of the rouge with him, the 2019 to the 1978, I can see why!

I tasted the following dozen vintages of Drouhin’s Clos des Mouches Blanc from my cellar in preparation for my visit to Maison Drouhin in Beaune last month,and then tasted a few more directly at the domaine. Although Frédéric opined that the Clos des Mouches Blanc started to enter its drinking phase at about seven years, the tasting of older vintages showed just how brilliantly they developed, providing great pleasure even at their 35th birthday and beyond. From these tastings, several things are clear: 1) Clos des Mouches Blanc has uncommon elegance and stature for a white wine from Beaune 2) Though fermented and aged in oak barrels, none of the wines, not even the youngest, tasted oaky. You felt the effects of oak—a suave richness—without tasting its presence. 3) Similar to white Grand Cru Burgundy, Clos des Mouches Blanc is tightly wound when young 4) It starts to unwind by age seven, reaches a plateau at about age ten to 12, and then remains there, depending on the vintage, for 30-plus years.

Clos des Mouches Blanc may have been created by an Act of God almost a century ago, but it is men and women—the Drouhin family— that have made their Clos des Mouches Blanc the Grand Cru-like icon it is today.

The wines: Going back four decades of Clos des Mouches Blanc, 1982-2019

Please note that all the wines in this report from the 2000 vintage (included) and younger I tasted in Drouhin’s cellar, except as noted, with Frédéric Drouhin in Beaune in September 2021. All wines in this report from vintages before 2000 came from my cellar. Relative to the drinking windows of some of the wines in this report, readers may be surprised to find that in many cases I have given the same year – 2025 – as the upper limit of my drinking window range, and this for wine of very different vintages. I have chosen 2025 despite the difference in freshness/acidity described in the tasting notes because I suspect that none of these wines will gain anything from further aging. Clearly, the question might well be the steepness of the decrease of the slope of their line of enjoyment—and most importantly, the provenance and storage of any bottle someone comes across.

(The photo credit for the bottles shot in this article goes to Dee McMeekan. All other photos in this article are by the author, Michael Apstein).

1982 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      92

Its apricot yellow almost orange color initially gives you pause. But its creamy, texture and freshness offer reassurance. Pleasure awaits. A subtle ginger-like spice offsets nuttiness and a hint of butterscotch. An amazing 39-year-old white Burgundy!  Véronique Drouhin, who oversees Domaine Drouhin Oregon, remembers that 1982 yielded a larger than average crop. Drink now.

1985 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      98

Though similar in color to the 1982, the 1985 is far fresher and brighter. It has less depth—there’s still plenty of stuffing—but far more elegance and precision. A hint of white pepper-like spice balances its minerality.  The wine displays a positively glorious combination of weight, finesse and persistence. A magical 36-year-old white Burgundy, the 1985 Clos des Mouches Blanc shows how wonderfully these wines can develop. 98 points. Drink now – 2025

1986 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

Don’t be put off by the deep color of these mature white Burgundies. Similarly orange colored, the ’86 displays even more energy than the ‘85, but somehow with less finesse and minerality. Surprisingly, it conveys more mature notes—more subtle apricots—compared to the ‘85. But, frankly, we’re counting angels on the head of a pin. The 1986 delivers similar overall pleasure, especially as it sits in the glass! Apparently, it just needs time to open after 34 years! The ginger-like spice, which is becoming a signature of this wine to me, appears in the finish. Drink now – 2025

1987 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      80

The darker orange of the ’87 is suspicious and does not bode well. Unsurprisingly, given the vintage, this wine is disjointed and clearly on the downside.

1988 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

A dark straw color suggests the 1988 is back on track. And, indeed, one sip confirms it.  Great acidity imparts a wonderfully uplifting freshness that balances a subtle nuttiness and honeyed richness. Minerality persists as does a white pepper-like spice. The acidity in the finish amplifies its appeal. You’d be hard pressed to determine the age of this elegant wine in a blind tasting. Drinking window: Drink now – 2025

1989 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      94

Despite its orange-tint, the 1989 shows no sign of fatigue. Quite the contrary. Fresh and lively, it displays a balanced combination of delicately dried fruit and that ginger-like spice atop a suave texture. Good depth and refreshing citrus notes in the finish just expands its appeal. Its elegance is still apparent at three decades of age. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1990 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      95

With its concentration, the 1990 still, at 31 years of age, displays the ripeness of that vintage. Brilliant acidity keeps the caramel and honeyed notes in this orange-colored wine in check. Spicy nuances also provide balance. It’s an intriguing and harmonious combination of honey, spice, and citrus. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1991 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

The medium to dark straw color suggests less ripeness and maturity compared to the 1990.  The palate confirms that initial impression. The caramel-y notes are still present, but it’s more elegant and racier. At 30 years of age, this is a seductively mature, yet fresh wine. Drinking window: Now – 2025

1992 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      91

Darker yellow than the 1991, with a tinge of orange, the 1992 displays caramel notes, but without the zestiness of the 1991. Still, it’s surprisingly good and fresh, especially considering the less than wonderful vintage. Drinking window: Now. Drink up.

1993 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      —

Sadly, the 1993, from a reputedly excellent vintage, was badly oxidized.

1994 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      —

A straw yellow without a hint of orange correctly predicted the fresh, slightly creamy and mineral-y character of the 1994. A firm structure nicely offset its honeyed, but not sweet, richness.  Ginger-like spice appeared with air. But after an hour in the glass, the bright straw yellow color turned orange and clear oxidation appeared on the palate.  I’ve never seen a wine oxidize in front of me. It went from a 94 to a 74-point wine in an hour. Drinking window: Now, but quickly.

1998 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      85

The brass-colored 1998 showed far better than expected considering the vintage. Lemony acidity imbued life and a hint of ginger-like spice added complexity.  But overall, it lacked both amplitude or excitement. Drinking window: Past its prime. Drink up, if you have any.

2000 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      93

The 2000, from a lighter vintage, is, nonetheless, lovely, and still fresh. Reflecting the vintage, it displays less of a presence, but a tell-tale ginger-like spice still appears. This is an elegant, gentle wine that’s mature, yet still fresh. Frédéric points out that they had only recently begun biodynamic practices in the vineyard, so they had less of an impact on the wines from this vintage. Drinking window: Now – 2025

2006 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

Frédéric describes the 2006s as “charming.” He explains that a lightning storm forced an earlier than anticipated harvest of the Chardonnay. For reasons he could not explain, lightning damages Chardonnay, but not Pinot Noir, grapes, making it a rare year in which they harvested in Chablis before the Côte d’Or. It was the first year for their current technical director/winemaker, Jérôme Faure-Brac. At 15 years of age, this Clos des Mouches Blanc was sensational, mature, yet fresh and precise. Dried stone fruit flavors and a hint of spice filled out its honeyed, yet not sweet, richness. Enlivening acidity in the finish amplified its stature. Drinking window: Now – 2030

2010 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      85

Sadly, the darker color of the 2010, from a great vintage, suggested premature aging. That mature character carried through on the palate, pushing it over the top. Surprisingly, with air, it started to regain vibrancy, but never showed the grandeur expected from this vineyard in a great year. The pieces were there—good acidity, a touch of spice—but they never came together. Drinking window: Based on this bottle, drink now. But I suspect it was the odd, off, bottle, so I would not generalize regarding drinking window based on this one sample.

2014 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      97

As Frédéric predicted, a hint of maturity was just starting to peek out at seven years of age.  This wine has a little bit of everything and not too much of anything. A subtle and engaging nuttiness complements the stone fruit flavors and spice-y notes. A creamy texture adds a luxuriousness without overwhelming. Riveting acidity in the long finish intensifies its stature. Frédéric, with typical Gallic understatement, sums it up succinctly, “Ca c’est bon.”  (This one, it’s good). The fly in the ointment is the extremely small quantities—they lost 90 percent of the Chardonnay—due to a severe frost and hail that year. Drouhin was forced to release the Clos des Mouches Blanc in three-packs! Frédéric warned that some on the market currently could be fake. Drinking window: 2025 – 2035

2017 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      92

The 2017, the product of a cooler and wetter year, is the least exuberant of the ‘17/’18/’19 trio. The characteristic stone fruit and ginger-like spice is there, but partially hidden at this stage. The balance is superb, nothing sticks out, so I suspect the wine is just in a “closed stage.” I expect to see it blossom nicely in a few more years. Drinking window: 2025 – 2035

2018 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      93

As expected of a top-notch young white Burgundy, it was tight, like a coiled spring ready to unleash its energy. This clean and chiseled wine had remarkable acidity, especially considering the warmth of the vintage. Minerals, a hint of stone fruit, and a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reinforce its stature. Its elegance persisted the following day after being left in the fridge overnight. (this sample I tasted at home for a Zoom® tasting sponsored by Drouhin in June, 2021). Drinking window: 2028 – 2038

2019 Joseph Drouhin Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches                      96

Véronique explains in an e-mail that they kept the 2019 in barrel longer than usual because of the quality of the lees. She continues, “The quality of the lees was stunning and kept nourishing the wine bringing volume, complexity and length. It kept getting better and better so we let it [remain undisturbed] until . . . it was time to blend all [the] barrels. Once that was done we waited another couple of weeks before bottling it.” This prolonged barrel-aging helps explain the wine’s great texture and length. It’s richness and elegance are compelling, yet it’s not an overdone wine.  Delicate spiciness—again a hint of ginger comes through—and an uplifting finish add excitement to the 2019. Tasted next to Drouin’s 2019 Corton-Charlemagne, the Clos des Mouches Blanc was lighter, but no less penetrating and persistent. Drinking window: 2029 – 2050

Michael Apstein

Michael Apstein has written about wine for over three decades. As a free-lance writer, he has written over 300 wine columns for The Boston Globe newspaper. His writing has also appeared in a variety of U.S., Canadian, and U.K. publications, including Decanter, The San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Magazine, and Wine and Spirits. Furthermore, he has been a regular guest commentator on Whitley on Wine, a radio show based in San Diego and broadcast nationally. Over the course of his career, Michael, who is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Division of Gastroenterology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, has received numerous awards, including a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award in 2000 the Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne Press Trophy in 2008. Michael also judges frequently at numerous international and national wine competitions and is a well-respected wine educator who taught at the Boston Center for Adult Education for 20 years, an activity for which Bon Appetit magazine chose him as one of five instructors nationwide whose “focused classes closely examine a specific wine producing region or wine style.”

The 2019 Cru Beaujolais Releases

The world loves Beaujolais.  And for good reason.   The various red wines of the Beaujolais region provide something for everyone, from simple “everyday” pizza wine to far more serious and structured ones from the crus, the top ten named villages.  Sometimes the wines from the crus do not even carry the word Beaujolais on the label.  The enthusiasm for Beaujolais is not limited to Americans.   Signs and posters exclaiming, “Beaujolais est arrivé” (Beaujolais has arrived) are plastered all over France in restaurants and cafes on the third Thursday of November, the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is released.  Between Beaujolais Nouveau and the crus are two other levels, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.

My focus here will be limited to the 2019 wines from the crus, having tasted a bevy of these wines at home and an additional 27 samples from all the ten villages at a tasting organized for me by InterBeaujolais, the organization that represents all of the Beaujolais growers and producers, at their offices in the heart of the region.

Before getting to the wines, let me say something about the vintage.  I will not bore you with the details of the weather month by month, but suffice it to say, it was a hot year, what the French call a “sunny vintage.”  The summer’s heat and sun led to ripe grapes.  The challenge for producers was to avoid letting those ripe, sugar-laden grapes turn into super rich, high-alcohol, low-acid wines.  Typically, grapes that are very ripe have lower levels of acidity—as all fruit ripens, sugar goes up and acidity falls.  This pattern can lead to wines that lack vivacity and energy because they contain less acidity.  You tire of drinking them because they are heavy, they are not refreshing nor palate-cleansing.  Fortunately, for Beaujolais, the Gamay grape (it’s full name: Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc), the region’s major variety, is naturally high in acidity, so it weathers warm, even hot, vintages better than, say, Pinot Noir.

The weather explains the variability of these 2019 Beaujolais crus.  This is not a “point and shoot” vintage where every wine will appeal to everyone.  Some wines are lush and ripe and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy that style.  Other have less richness, but more energy—a more traditional style of Beaujolais—and will appeal to others.  In short, there’s something for everyone in the 2019 crus.  In typical Beaujolais character, the vast majority—you’ll see exceptions below—have mild and suave tannins that making these wines ready to drink now.

The ten crus, from south to north, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas, and Saint-Amour, produce different and identifiable wines thanks to varying soils and exposures.  For example, the wines from Brouilly are typically lighter and fruitier, “friendly” wines in contrast to the neighboring ones from Côte de Brouilly, which is a rocky hill filled with blue stone formed by an ancient underwater volcano.  Wines from the Côte de Brouilly typically have an attractive firmness that can benefit from a year or two of age.  The best way to appreciate the differences among the crus is to taste wines from the various villages made by the same producer.  In contrast, tasting a Morgon from Georges DuBoeuf and a Moulin-à-Vent from Château des Jacques will raise the question, is the difference due to the cru or to the producer?  My mantra—producer, producer, producer–remains as important here as in the rest of Burgundy.

My advice to consumers is to taste these wines before buying quantities of them to be sure they are the style that you are looking for and that fits your taste and pocketbook.   Most of these, except the ones with considerable tannins, will take a chill nicely so don’t be afraid to buy a case or two the of the ones you like to drink next summer in place of rosé.  Better still, drink them this fall with coq au vin.  But still chill them slightly to enhance your enjoyment.

Domaine des Billards, Saint Amour.  Saint Amour can produce both light and delicate wines as well as more robust ones.  The Barbet and Tessier families own this domaine, which is part of the well-respected Maison Jean Loron portfolio.  Weighing in at a hefty 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it falls into the ripe and powerful category.  There’s a lot going on here.  ($20, 88)

Domaine Cheysson, Chiroubles.  Domaine Cheysson, one of my favorite producers, skillfully combines a floral and fleshy aspect with great acidity, giving the wine energy and lift.  It’s also one of the rare Chiroubles that is widely available in this country.  ($20, 92)

Château de Poncié 949, Fleurie, “Les Hauts du Py.”  No newcomer, the 949 refers to the date the original château was founded.  Maisons et Domaines Henriot, who also owns Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy, William Fevre in Chablis, and Champagne Henriot, also owns the Chateau de Poncié (a.k.a. Villa Ponciago) in Fleurie.  Given the heights of quality of their other properties, it’s no surprise that the Chateau de Poncié Les Hauts du Py is stunning.  It conveys the seeming paradox of delicacy and power.  Brilliant acidity balances ripe, not over-ripe, fruitiness, keeping it lively and long.   (n/a; 93)

Domaine Perroud, Brouilly, “L’Enfer des Balloquets.”  Named for the hell that is the steep (40 percent) Balloquet hill the harvesters must endure, it’s a helluva wine.  Denser than most wines from Brouilly, it maintains a precise balance of black fruit, a hint of tarriness, and great acidity.  A subtle bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  ($19, 92)

Domaine Rochette, Régnié, “Cuvée des Braves.”  With this cuvée, Domaine Rochette has polished the texture while maintaining the earthiness—some would say charming rusticity—of Régnié.  The focus here is more on firm minerals rather than fleshy fruit.   Weighing in at a modest 13 percent stated alcohol, it’s long and balanced and not over-ripe.  ($20, 90)

Georges DuBoeuf, Juliénas, “Château des Capitans.”  In addition to his “flower label” bottlings, DuBoeuf produces or commercializes a bevy of wines from individual estates in the crus, including this one from his own property in Juliénas.  Though its focus is red and black fruits, there’s plenty of complementary and balancing spice and a briary element.  Terrific acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  ($23, 90)

Domaine du Clos du Fief, Juliénas, “Tradition.”  Father and son team, Michel et Sylvain Tete, are in charge of this top-notch domaine.  Their Juliénas displays an alluring and balanced combination of black fruit and an almost black pepper-like spice.  Fresh and lively, with an uncommon suaveness, this is one of the great successes of the vintage.  ($22, 94)

Pascal Aufranc, Chénas, “En Rémont.”  Pascal Aufranc, another star producer in Beaujolais, makes this terrific Chénas from 70-year-old vines.  A muscular wine, to be sure, but it remains fresh and lively.  The focus here is on minerals—you feel the granite—and then sense the rich black fruit.  It’s a wonderful combination.  Some tannic structure, apparent at this stage, makes this Chénas a good candidate for a couple of years in the cellar.   Then, serve it with roast lamb.  ($17, 93)

Domaine du Riaz, Côte de Brouilly.   DuBoeuf bottles and commercializes Riaz’s very stylish Côte de Brouilly.  This domaine made a beautiful Côte de Brouilly in 2015, another warm vintage, so it’s no surprise that they succeeded admirably in 2019.   This finely textured wine delivers a near magical combination of fruitiness and firm, not hard, minerality, reflective of the grapes’ origin.  ($19, 93)

Nicole & Romain Chanrion, Côte de Brouilly.   Nicole Chanrion, who comes from six generations of experience, is one of the top producers on the Côte de Brouilly.  She, and her son Romain, who now works with her, make wines that always impress.   And certainly, their 2019 is no different.  It marries fruitiness with firm and refined minerality.  Beautifully textured, it is fresh and captivating.  Don’t miss it.  ($26, 94)

Château Bellevue, Morgon, “Les Charmes.” Another property in the Jean Loron portfolio, this Morgon really sings.  It displays a panoply of floral and mineral elements.  Dare I say, it’s a charming wine.  Structured and precise, it’s firm without being hard, making it a fine representation of the Les Charmes lieu-dit.  A discreet hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces its stature as a grand wine.  ($35, 95)

Georges DuBoeuf, Morgon, Côte du Py, “Jean-Ernest Descombes.”  The Côte du Py, a blue-stone slope, is the best-known lieu-dit within Morgon.  Gamay grown here takes on a firm and distinct mineral-like character, which often takes a couple of years to soften.  The warmth of the 2019 vintage brought out a ripe bright dark cherry-like fruit and allows this Côte du Py to be enjoyed now.  ($33, 91)

Yohan Lardy, Moulin-à-Vent “Les Michelons.” Wines from Moulin-à-Vent tend to be the sturdiest of all Beaujolais cru because of the granitic soil in that area.  And there’s no doubt that you can taste and feel its presence in this wine.  But there’s an exuberance of red and black fruits here as well.  Old vines, dating from 1911 and 1950 planted in a 5-acre walled vineyard within the lieu-dit of Les Michelons, likely explain the wine’s complexity and power.  Good acidity keeps this muscular giant in balance.  ($24, 90)

Any of these wines should bury the outdated view that Beaujolais is a simple wine of little consequence.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Beaujolais in general or the crus in specific at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

What am I Drinking Now? Domaine Louis Jadot 1985 Bonnes Mares

Louis Jadot 1985 Bonnes Mares                                    98


Chambolle-Musigny is home to two grand cru vineyards: Musigny, whose name was appended to the village’s original name in the nineteenth century, and Bonnes Mares (the latter name is almost always written with a hyphen between the words Bonnes and Mares, but at Louis Jadot they prefer the spelling without it, as you can see from the photo of this wine’s label). A decade ago, François Millet, long time winemaker at Comte de Vogüé, compared the two wines while we were tasting them in the cellar: “Bonnes Mares grabs you, while Musigny gently takes you by the hand to lead you.” Less poetically, Bonnes Mares is more muscular and powerful, displaying more black fruit compared to the more red-fruited and floral Musigny. Though expensive like all Burgundy grand crus, Bonnes Mares is, dare I say, a bargain compared to Musigny, which usually sells for at least twice the price. Indeed, Bonnes Mares is occasionally less expensive even than Chambolle’s most famous premier cru, Les Amoureuses, which abuts Musigny.

Bonnes Mares, one of Burgundy’s thirty-three grand cru vineyards, is unique. It’s the only Côte de Nuits grand cru that spans two villages, Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-St. Denis.  The vineyard faces east and lies on a slope that ranges in elevation from 250 to 280 meters above sea level. Ninety percent of its 15.06 hectares lie in Chambolle, while the remainder extends into Morey. Most of the roughly twenty-five producers have vines in both villages though Domaine Fougeray de Beauclair makes a Bonnes Mares exclusively from its vines in Morey-St. Denis. Some could argue Bonnes Mares should have two appellations, based not on the village boundaries but rather based on its different soil compositions: About one-third of the vineyard has white soil, while the remainder has a darker soil. A diagonal line that runs from the northeast corner of the vineyard to the border with the premier cru Les Fuées on the southwest demarcates these two basic soil types, with the white soil lying at the top of the slope. Importantly, Domaine Louis Jadot has a long narrow strip of vineyard that goes from the base to the top of the slope, encompassing both soil types. The Jadot holding of 0.27 hectares in Bonnes Mares dates back to 1985 at the time of its acquisition of the Clair-Daü estate. As part of that acquisition, Jadot also acquired plots in Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Chapelle-Chambertin, Musigny, Les Amoureuses, and Clos Vougeot, making it the most significant transfer of top vineyards in modern Burgundy history. In fact, Maison Louis Jadot bottled Bonnes Mares as a négociant prior to 1985, but the 1985 is the first vintage of Bonnes Mares bottled under the Domaine Louis Jadot label (estate-owned vineyards).

Domaine Louis Jadot’s 1985 Bonnes Mares is quintessential Burgundy, what I call “flavor without weight.” Explosive mineral-like dark flavors appear while the wine dances on the palate, light as a feather. Even at thirty-five years of age, it remains fresh, continuing to evolve in the glass throughout the meal. Each sip brings new delight. The seductive texture of Chambolle speaks loud and clear as its prominent tannic structure of youth has melted away. There’s a grandeur to this wine. What a way to be grabbed! Drink now and over the next decade.

Single Vineyard versus Multi-Vineyard Blends

Dr.  Laura Catena, the managing director of Bodegas Catena Zapata, Argentina’s most famous winery, quips that her father, Nicolás Catena, must have known about fighting climate change before anyone else.  In 1992, his neighbors considered him foolish when he started planting vines at high-altitude.  He was looking for the highest possible site where there was water, according to his daughter.  Mind you, Bodegas Catena Zapata already had one of the highest vineyards in the world, the Angélica Sur Vineyard, named after Nicolás’ mother, planted at about 3,000 feet above sea level 60 years earlier.  Nicolás Catena knew that as you went up, temperature went down, even more so at night, amplifying the difference between the daytime and nighttime temperatures.  This greater diurnal temperature variation allowed grapes to retain acidity, which translated into fresher and more lively wines.  Today, some three decades later, winegrowers try to combat climate change by either planting vineyards further north or south, depending on the hemisphere, or by “going up,” and planting at higher elevations.  Stephen Brook, writing in Decanter, the world’s leading wine magazine, highlighted the importance of Catena’s philosophy for Argentina when he wrote, “Nicolás Catena thrust Argentinian wine into the modern era”…because he realized “the key was to plant the right varieties in the right location, specifically cooler, higher sites where jamminess would not be an issue.”

Although one might think that the enhanced light that results from thinner air at higher altitudes might burn grapes—we sunburn much more easily at higher altitudes—the more intense light aids photosynthesis, the vines’ energy source, without harming the grapes.

All of which brings us to Adrianna Vineyard.  Nicolás Catena planted the 30-acre vineyard at about 5,000 feet above sea level.  Located in Mendoza, specifically in the Gualtallary District of Tupungato, Adrianna Vineyard is home to strange bedfellows.  Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc made sense, since these Bordeaux varieties are often planted together, but then there’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Viognier, which I suppose is the first indication that this single vineyard, unsurprisingly, is not homogenous.  More about that later.

Laura Catena, MD and Larry Stone, MS recently led a Zoom® tasting to discuss the concept of Grand Cru by tasting several of Catena Zapata’s wine and other great wines from Burgundy, Bolgheri, and the Willamette Valley.  Though that discussion was informative, what I found most fascinating about the tasting was the diversity of wines, even made from the same grape, that came from within a single vineyard.  It forced me to reconsider the idea of “single-vineyard” wines.

The San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey County with its 8,500 acres of vines is reported to be the largest vineyard in the world.  Compare that with Guigal’s famed La Mouline, which is roughly 2.5 acres.  In between, in Burgundy, as Larry Stone pointed out, is the 45-acre Les Folatières vineyard, one of Puligny-Montrachet’s top premier crus.  In reality, four distinct sites, what the French call lieux-dits (literally, place names), Peux Bois, Au Chaniot, Ex Folatières, and En la Richarde, comprise the Les Folatières vineyard.  Producers can make and label their wine “Les Folatières” if the grapes came from one or more of the lieux-dits.  Theoretically, there could be four distinct wines all labeled Les Folatières, made from grapes grown in the four lieux-dits.  But, in reality, they are all labeled, Les Folatières.  The same is true, on a larger scale, in the grand cru vineyard, Echezeaux.  Eleven lieux-dits comprise this almost 100-acre-vineyard.  There is no doubt that some sites produce better grapes than others.  Indeed, producers know this and sometimes put the name of the lieu-dit on the label along with vineyard name, Echezeaux.

That certain portions of a vineyard produce better grapes is well-known by winegrowers around the world.  Sections with older vines are treated with reverence.  But vine age aside, certain plots, even a few rows of vines, within a vineyard are prized over adjacent ones.  Winemakers might use these grapes for their “reserve” wines or special bottlings.  The point is—a vineyard, regardless of size—is not homogenous.

All of which brings me back to Catena Zapata’s Adrianna Vineyard.  We tasted three wines from Adrianna, a stunning 2017 Malbec and two incredibly different 2018 Chardonnays, labeled White Bones and White Stones.

The 2017 Malbec labelled “Fortuna Terrae” reminded me that this grape planted in the right spot and vinified by the right people can make wonderful wine.  In my experience Malbec is all too often a big, heavy, one-dimension fruity wine displaying little or no complexity.  Catena Zapata’s Fortuna Terrae does not fit that description.  Yes, it’s a bold wine—it is Malbec, after all—but it’s not heavy.  As it sits in the glass, complexity and minerality come out.  The tannins are suave, and, as expected from the vineyard’s altitude, the wine is fresh and lively.  Indeed, it’s a surprisingly floral and elegant Malbec.

The White Stones Chardonnay comes from a 6.2-acre parcel of the Adrianna Vineyard rich in rounded rocks covered in calcium carbonate, according to Catena.  Weighing in at a modest 12.5 percent stated alcohol, it is restrained, yet paradoxically explosive.  Tightly wound initially, with air it blossoms, showing a hint of spice that complements its front and center flintiness.  Its mineral-y aspect stands out and grows with air.  Lip-smacking acidity—there’s the effect of altitude again—amplifies its charms.  You’d be forgiven if you identified it as a Grand Cru Chablis in a blind tasting.

The White Bones Chardonnay comes from a 5.4-acre parcel on a dried riverbed filled with crumbled limestone.  Drawing on her specialty in Emergency Medicine, Catena said the area reminded her of broken bones.  Despite its close proximity to the White Stones parcel, the White Bones was vastly different—far more floral and flamboyant, displaying herbal, almost minty, qualities that overshadowed any mineral aspects.  It did, unsurprisingly, have the same mouth-watering freshness and a similarly modest, 12.6 percent, stated alcohol.

The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata, the winery’s flagship—Catena calls it a “Super Argentinian”—provided an ironic counterpoint because it showed that a great wine need not be a single-vineyard wine.  The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata is typically a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grown in a variety of their high-altitude vineyards.  The Malbec came from Adrianna and Nicasia Vineyards, while the Cabernet Franc came from Adrianna, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from both Adrianna and La Pirámide vineyards.  Similar to the Fortuna Terrae Malbec, Nicolás Catena Zapata is bold, but not heavy.  Its complexity is riveting.  Each taste reminds you you’re in for a treat.  Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which invites another sip.  A youthful wine, to be sure, its texture and balance predicts a beautiful evolution.  This gem is one for the cellar.

Yes, the vineyard is important, but in my mind it’s still producer, producer, producer.  So, it’s fine to remember the name of the Adrianna Vineyard.  But, my advice is to remember the Catena Zapata name.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Argentinian wine in general or Catena Zapata in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

September 2, 2021

Castellare di Castellina (IGT Toscana) “I Sodi di S. Niccolò” 2017 (Imported by Winebow, $85) 97 Points

The 2017 vintage represents the 40th anniversary of I Sodi di S. Niccolò, a truly iconic Italian wine.  It was likely the first Super Tuscans from Chianti Classico area using autochthonous grapes.  It showed—and continues to show—the extraordinary heights the wines from the Chianti Classico region can reach.  When it debuted in 1977, it did not conform to the regulations for Chianti Classico, which required roughly 10 percent of the blend to come from white grapes.  It was, and still is, a blend of only Sangiovese (~85%) and Malvasia Nera.  Hence the IGT Toscana official designation then instead of the DOC.  Although now, with the change in regulations for Chianti Classico, it could be labeled under that DOCG, Castellare in Castellina has opted to continue to label it as IGT Toscana.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò represents an enormous achievement of the winemaking team at Castellare di Castellina because the weather during the growing season was, as they say, “difficult.”  That’s an understatement.  One prominent Chianti Classico producer told me that you could forget about the 2017s.  Well, that’s clearly not the case as evidenced by this wine.  The I Sodi di S. Niccolò vineyard, located in the Castellina subzone of Chianti Classico, has a great advantage in hot, dry years, such as 2017.  Its 400-plus meters above sea level elevation and its south eastern facing location in an amphitheater that catches the winds coming from the Val d’Elsa mitigate the heat.

The soil of the vineyard is a classic mix of galestro and alberese, ideal for Sangiovese and other autochthonous varieties, according to Daniele Cernilli, one of Italy’s top wine authorities.

The wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in barrels, half of which are new, for anywhere from between 24 and 30 months, depending on the vintage.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò is gorgeous.  It’s explosive, yet not flamboyant.  It has power and persistence, yet retains incredible elegance.  It delivers the panoply of flavors you’d expect from a great wine—succulent cherry-like fruitiness, earthy and spicy savory notes—without any of them dominating.  You feel the effect of oak aging without tasting it.  The tannins, which could be accentuated in a hot vintage, are fine and supple.  The acidity, which could be diminished in a hot vintage, is not, and provides uplifting energy.  The alluring hint of bitterness in the finish demonstrates that the grapes were not over ripe, despite the reputation of the vintage.  I would echo what Cernilli remarked during a tasting of this wine, “It’s a wine that reflects its site more so than the vintage.”  It’s remarkably enjoyable now, which, as the late Louis Latour from Burgundy, reminded me, “great wines always taste great.”  Its impeccable balance and grace indicate decades of development ahead of it.  I hate to call an $85 wine a bargain, but compared to what’s in the marketplace today, it is.

Michael Apstein

What am I Drinking Now? Pernot Belicard

Pernot Belicard 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or

Domaine Pernot Belicard is a name to remember because it will soon be included among the top names for white wine in all of Burgundy. The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, grandson of Paul Pernot, a legendary producer in Puligny-Montrachet. Philippe started in the family cellars at a young age, so even though he is still a young man, he has plenty of experience—not to mention a superb teacher—behind him. Belicard is his wife’s family name and with their marriage came the vineyards, which had been in the family for decades. Prior to their marriage, the family either sold grapes or leased their vineyards. In 2008, Philippe took over his in-laws’ domaine and used those grapes for his wines. He is letting the leases on the other family vineyards expire so he can increase production in the future. Eventually, he should inherit some of his own family’s vineyards too, expanding Pernot-Belicard even further. Given the quality of his wines, that is good news for consumers.

The Pernot Belicard domaine is small, only 4.5 hectares, and, at this stage, produces only about 30,000 bottles of white wine. The vineyards are mostly in Puligny-Montrachet, where he has seven plots that he blends to achieve a harmonious expression of a village Puligny-Montrachet. In some vintages he bottles an exceptional Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes from one of the plots. He also has small parcels in three of that village’s Premier Crus: Champ Gain, Champ Canet, and Perrières. All three of his Puligny Premier Crus are chiseled, distinct and reflect their respective sites. He also has vines in Meursault from which he makes a spectacular Meursault Vieilles Vignes and a stunning Meursault Les Perrières-Dessous. He produces a small amount of elegant white Beaune Premier Cru from the from Pertuisots. With the 2018 vintage, Philippe added a little Aligoté and additional village Puligny-Montrachet from his family’s holdings.

The grapes for this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or come from six plots totaling 2.3 ha on the lower portion of the slope just outside of the boundary of the Puligny-Montrachet village appellation. With the 2017 vintage, Philippe opted to use the new regional appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or to indicate that all the grapes came from vineyards within the Côte d’Or as opposed to the broader labeling, Bourgogne Blanc, which encompasses vineyards throughout all of Burgundy.

The grapes for the 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or, like all his grapes, are hand-harvested. Half of the juice is fermented and aged in older oak barrels—the other half in stainless steel tanks. He performs no batonnage and, in keeping with his low-intervention philosophy that the wine should reflect the site, he explains that the wine determines when the malolactic occurs—sometimes in November, sometimes in January. If necessary, he performs a soft fining and filtration before bottling. Pernot Belicard’s firm and mineral-y 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or displays good depth and definition, punching far above its weight category. With exceptional length and stature rarely seen in a regional wine, it delivers more enjoyment that many producers’ Puligny-Montrachets. And—at half the price (roughly USD 30). Drink now and over the next five years.

Since all of Pernot-Belicard’s 2017s are top-notch, I recommend buying whatever you can find and afford. He also succeeded admirably with the 2018s by harvesting early, the end of August, to capture the acidity, which makes those wines easy to recommend as well. I highlight this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or because it takes real talent to make a sensational wine from less exalted terroir—and it’s a bargain.

Rosé-Nothing but Rosé

Readers may find it odd that I, who am generally unenthusiastic about rosé, should be writing about that category.  And enthusiastically at that.  However surprising that may be (even to me), I stumbled across a category of rosé, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, that is stunning.  I recently tasted a dozen examples from the 2020 vintage and found an appealing consistency among the wines from that appellation.  There was not a loser in the bunch.  And the most expensive of the group was $17!

My introduction to Bardolino Chiaretto (key-ar-et-toe) was serendipitous.  Last month I attended a webinar called Rosauctoctono, which is an association of Italian producers making pink wine.  They prefer the moniker Vino Rosa over rosé or even rosato to indicate high-quality pink Italian wine.  All the wines tasted during the webinar were made from autochthonous or indigenous grapes.  I’m a big fan of wines made from autochthonous grapes because they each have a unique profile and display unique flavors.  Rarely do you find a cookie-cutter wine made from autochthonous grapes.  So, I figured that rosés from those kinds of grapes just might ignite an interest in me.  While many of these Vino Rosa were noteworthy, the two that leaped to the top were both Bardolino Chiaretto, a wine that I was unfamiliar with.  (Chiaretto means “little pale one.”)  So, I asked Irene Graziotto from Studio Cru, the Italian PR firm who organized the Rosa tasting, if I could sample more of them, and within a few weeks a dozen more Bardolino Chiaretto from the 2020 vintage arrived at my door.

DOC regulations may explain why Bardolino Chiaretto is so engaging.  Rosé is all the DOC allows producers to make.  No red, no white.  All production must be rosé.  Bardolino Chiaretto is one of only two appellations in Europe whose wines are restricted to rosé.  (The other is Tavel in the southern Rhône. In distinction to Tavel, there is a separate, but geographically overlapping, DOC for Bardolino’s red wines, so producers can make either Bardolino Chiaretto or Bardolino as long as they conform to the regulations for the respective DOCs.)

This sharp focus on rosé is distinctly different from how many rosés were, and still are, made.  In the past, and to a certain extent today, much rosé was a by-product of beefing up red wine.  Producers wanting to enhance the power of their reds would remove some juice after a day or so of maceration to concentrate what remained.  Known as saignée (literally, bleeding, in French), this practice resulted in lightly pink colored juice being bled off and darker, more robust red juice that was still macerating with the skins that eventually would become a heftier red wine.  Winegrowers, like other farmers, are naturally parsimonious and would not want to discard the drawn-off pink colored juice, so they let it, too, ferment, which usually resulted in an undistinguished, but easy-to-drink, rosé.

To be fair, with the increasing popularity of rosé, many producers are focusing on it today, doing precisely what the DOC regulations for Bardolino Chiaretto demand.  They enhance quality by picking grapes earlier to capture their acidity, which translates into liveliness in the wine.  In the cellar, they let the skins and juice macerate for just hours and then, like white winemaking, separate the now-pink juice from the skins and complete the fermentation.  The remaining pomace (leftover skins after fermentation) is either distilled or used for fertilizer.  In short, producers are not relegating rosé to a by-product of enhancing red wine.  Hence, the possibility of finding higher quality rosé is better now than it was a decade ago.  That said, there’s still an ocean-full of insipid pink wine on the market, which makes Bardolino Chiaretto all the more welcome.

Bardolino Chiaretto comes primarily from a trio of red grapes used for Valpolicella and Amarone, Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, grown around Bardolino, a town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.  Though located in northern Italy, the climate is remarkably mild, allowing cultivation of olive trees that produce a very fine olive oil in addition to grapes.

Unlike many appellations that try to use a standard recognizable bottle, producers of Bardolino Chiaretto use a variety of shapes; these range from tall slender Alsace-like ones, to slope-y shouldered Burgundy ones, to square-shouldered Bordeaux bottles.  The one thing in common is clear glass so that the gorgeous pink hues are apparent.  You’ll find them bottled under screwcap as well as cork and labeled as Chiaretto Bardolino or Chiaretto di Bardolino and, sometimes, simply Chiaretto.  Regardless, they all conform to the same DOC regulations.  Starting with the 2021 vintage, the official labeling will be Chiaretto di Bardolino to emphasize the origin of the grapes, much like Barbera d’Alba or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Some of the Chiaretto Bardolino sport the additional moniker, Classico, indicating that the grapes grew in the center or best area of the DOC.  Among the dozen examples I tasted, the ones from the Classico area stood out from most of the others with more depth and elegance.  However, several non-Classico bottlings, such as the organic Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) and Giovanna Tantini’s, were equally impressive, so I would not be wedded to that designation.  As usual, it’s producer, producer, producer.

The wines vary in color from the very trendy pale pink to more intense salmon color.  These dry wines display a richness despite stated alcohols of less than 13%.  (Only two of the 12 weighed in at more, 13 and 13.5% stated-alcohol.)  They all had riveting acidity and character, something often lacking in many rosés, making them singularly bright and refreshing.

For what it’s worth, here are my five favorites, but frankly, I’d be thrilled to drink any of these, which is something I don’t believe I’ve ever said about a group of rosé wines.  The points I’ve assigned reflect my enthusiasm for the wine within this category and should not be equated with wines in other categories.

Guerrieri Rizzardi, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico “Keya:” Gorgeous aromatics; slightly deeper pink which carries through on the palate as a fuller wine; still with bracing and refreshing acidity; persistent; lovely hint of bitterness in the finish.  ($14, 95 pts).

Giovanna Tantini, Bardolino Chiaretto: Pale pink; juicy, yet delicate red fruits; crisp, refreshing and long; attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  (N/A, 94).

Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) Bardolino Chiaretto: Savory nuances add complexity to the delicate red fruit component; fresh and lively; long and persistent; a real presence.  ($14, 94).

Marchesini Marcello, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: Based on my experience with two vintages of this wine, Marchesini Marcello is a name to remember.  Cutting and crisp, the 2020 delivers intensity and freshness.  ($17, 94).

Valetti, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: gorgeous salmon color; juicy red fruits; alluring spice; great acidity; elegant and persistent.  (N/A, 94).

The others:

Il Pignetto, Chiaretto (92, $N/A)
Vigneti Villabella, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico (92, $N/A)
Zeni, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, “Vignealte” (92, $N/A)
Cavalchina, Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Le Fraghe, “Rodon,” Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Monte del Frá, Bardolino Chiaretto (89, $N/A)
Poggio delle Grazie, Bardolino Chiaretto (87 $N/A)

Have I been converted to rosé?  No.  In most situations that call for rosé, I still prefer to drink a slightly chilled low-tannin light red, such as Beaujolais, because they are usually more interesting.  Have I been converted to Bardolino Chiaretto—most definitely.

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E-mail me your thoughts about rosé in general or Bardolino Chiaretto in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.        July 28, 2021

What Am I Drinking Now? Ridge Vineyards 1994 Monte Bello

A word from the Editor-in-Chief

Please join me in giving a BIG welcome to Michael Apstein, one of the most passionate and nicest people in wine, not to mention erudite. I do not use the word “erudite” lightly: believe me, no other word could be more apt (in fact, in this case, you might even say “Apst” ): for Apstein, Michael, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and one heck of a good doctor and teacher (trust me, I know); but one with over 300 wine columns under his belt for the Boston Globe daily. His first of what I hope will be an interminable of pieces at TerroirSense offers a glimpse into his writing style: clean, scientific, and to the point (there’s the doctor), very easy to understand and learn from (there’s the teacher) and just plain fun to read and enjoyable (there’s the good writer). I have always been fascinated by how well California wine ages, a trait that I do not believe goes recognized or gets appreciated as much as perhaps it should. Please do tell us what your thoughts are on the subject and Michael will be happy to respond, and I might chime in too, as after all all us wine geeks love a lively wine discussion. And make sure to also follow Michael if you like on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein. Welcome Michael!

– Ian D’Agata, TerroirSense Wine Review Editor-in-Chief

Ridge Vineyards 1994 Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains         96

Without question, Ridge Vineyards is among the best producers in California. Their Monte Bello, their single vineyard Bordeaux-blend first produced with the 1962 vintage, is one of California’s greatest wines. At twenty-six years of age, the 1994 Monte Bello demonstrates the stature of the wines from this vineyard.

The Monte Bello vineyard is comprised of four ranches, Perrone, Torre, Rousten, and Klein, lying between 510-820 meters above sea level (or 1700-2700 feet) in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Francisco. Both its elevation and proximity—just twenty-four kilometers or fifteen miles—to the Pacific Ocean explains its cool microclimate, which at first glance might be less than ideal for red Bordeaux varieties. But there’s sufficient heat during the day to achieve ripeness and the cool temperatures at night preserve the grapes’—and hence, the wine’s—acidity. The clay atop limestone soil, which is very different from the soils of other sites well-known for Cabernet Sauvignon in California, such as Napa and Sonoma Valleys, contributes to the wine’s uniqueness.

Ridge produces two wines from this property, an Estate Cabernet, which is more approachable in its youth, and Monte Bello, which Paul Draper, Ridge’s longtime winemaker who retired in 2006, advises needs a decade of age to show its complexity.

In 1994, a cool wet spring delayed set and, as a result, harvest, which started with Merlot on October 1, was late by today’s standards. The remaining varieties were picked between October 18 and 28. For comparison, the grapes for the 2018 Monte Bello were harvested roughly a month earlier.

The winemaking is non-interventional or, as Draper refers to it, “pre-industrial.” They use native yeasts and allow malolactic fermentation to proceed naturally. The wine is aged in oak barrels, mostly French, but with a little American oak as well. The only intervention is a strict selection of grapes and wines that go into the final blend of Monte Bello.

Always a Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blend, the 1994 Monte Bello was the first vintage in which it comprised less than 75% of the blend and another three grapes—Merlot (15%), Petit Verdot (9%) and Cabernet Franc—were included.  At 26 years of age, it remains youthful and fresh.  Flavors—initially plummy—evolve as it sits in the glass. A gorgeous olive-tinged savory aspect emerges. During the meal over a couple of hours, each sip brings new delight. This wine is not fading. For all its muscular power, there’s not a trace of heaviness. Indeed, its elegance is startling. The suave tannins impart a silky texture. Weighing in at a modest 12.7% stated-alcohol reminds us that you do not need super ripe grapes to make a super wine. Drinking window: now-2031.

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato: An Overlooked Gem in Piedmont

Granted, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato is not the first wine people think of when they think of Piedmont.  Well, Agricola Ferraris shows us why it’s time to broaden our horizons.

First, let’s untangle the nomenclature.  Ruché (spelled Ruchè in Italian and pronounced roo-kay) is an aromatic red grape with excellent levels of malic acid that accounts for the wines’ freshness and vivacity.  Though pale colored, the grapes have the capability to impart considerable tannic structure, similar to Nebbiolo.  Castagnole Monferrato, a picturesque Italian hill village from which the Alps are easily visible on clear days, is located about six miles northeast of Asti and gives its name to the DOCG.  The soils vary from white (rich in calcium carbonate) to brown (with more clay), which means there is potential for great variability in a particular wine’s style, from tightly structured examples to ones that are more approachable when young.

When I visited the area a few years ago, a representative of the consortium than represents Barbera, Asti and Monferrato explained that in 1964, Don Giacomo Cauda, a parish priest in Castagnole, discovered a couple of rows of Ruchè in the church’s vineyards and decided to make wine from them, which he labeled Ruchè del Parroco.  From these few rows, the vineyard area expanded to about 125 acres by 2000 and currently to 375 acres spread over seven municipalities.

The Italian wine authorities recognized the wine’s quality and distinctiveness, awarding the area DOC status in 1987 and elevating it to Italy’s highest level, DOCG, in 2010.  The grape’s popularity may be spreading to California, where Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm told me that he has planted three acres of it in San Juan Bautista and admits, “I went slightly Ruché mad.”  However, he is very happy with the 40 gallons (roughly 200 bottles) of it that he made.

Luca Ferraris, whose family-run firm is the largest vineyard owner in the DOCG, is the self-appointed ambassador for Ruché.  (Grahm refers to him as the “King of Ruché.”) Ferraris makes a range of excellent Ruché, including this trio that shows the extraordinary range of the DOCG:

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG “Clàsic” 2020 ($20): Those looking for bold fruitiness should go elsewhere.  Here, the focus is on an alluring Middle Eastern spice box of aromas and flavors—cinnamon and cloves—and dried flowers.  Light on the palate, the flavors in this lively wine nonetheless persist.  You’d never realize it weighs in at 15% stated alcohol.  The potentially severe tannins of Ruché are nowhere to be found.  Ferraris has transformed them instead into fine ones that lend support, which makes it ideal for current consumption.  Try it even slightly chilled this summer.  Balanced and harmonious, this wine is for those who embrace the savory side of life.   91 Points

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG “Vigna del Parroco” 2019 ($23):  Ferraris acquired priest Don Giacomo Cauda’s Ruchè del Parroco in 2016 and renamed it “Vigna del Parroco.”  It remains the only officially recognized cru in the entire DOCG.  A gorgeous wine that still retains the savory focus, it is also more refined and complex than the Clàsic.  The spice box character is present, but toned down and, as a result, the wine is even more enchanting.  Its subtlety is captivating and makes you pay attention as the flavors change with each sip.  It has a “flavor without weight” sensibility that I find in Burgundy, or, for that matter, aged Barolo.  Though the tannins are fine, they provide plenty of support without astringency.  A zippy finish amplifies its charms.  Ferraris’ Vigna del Parroco, like their Clàsic, is not for those looking for a fruity wine.   Similar to the Clàsic, it’s beautifully balanced and carries the 15% stated alcohol effortlessly.   94 Points

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Riserva “Opera Prima,” 2017 ($40):  Luca Ferraris bottled this wine in honor of his nonno, (grandfather) Martino, the founder of the winery. Altogether different from Ferraris’ other two renditions of Ruché, Opera Prima, with its chocolate-y nuances, has an Amarone-like sensibility to it.  The fine tannins that are a hallmark of Ferraris’ wines together with a suave texture hold it all together.  You feel the 16% stated alcohol, yet it’s not hot or burning, just warm and enveloping.  In short, it’s balanced.  A subtle and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  The Opera Prima has a black fruit component, but once again, the overall impression is not that of a “fruity” wine.  Unlike their Clàsic or even the Vigna del Parroco, both of which you could chill briefly and drink in the summer, the Opera Prima is clearly a wintertime wine for hearty fare.   92 Points

More Wine Reviews:
Connect with Michael Apstein on Twitter:   @MichaelApstein

Costières de Nîmes: Overlooked Southern Rhône Gem

Even those who know little about wine recognize the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Wine enthusiasts can name other important appellations in France’s southern Rhône Valley, such as Gigondas, maybe even Vacqueryas.  Really savvy consumers know that Vinsorbres, Rasteau and Cairanne, previously included under the Côtes du Rhône-Villages umbrella, have achieved their own appellations, and that Sablet and Seguret are two of the 21 named villages that remain under that umbrella.  But even the savviest consumer tends to overlook the Costières de Nîmes, the Rhône’s southernmost appellation.  And that’s a big mistake.  The wines are distinctive—Syrah rather than Grenache reigns here—and are now generally high-quality and well-priced.

It’s easy to understand why this area has been overlooked.  It’s located on the “wrong” or west side of Rhône River, whereas the most famous of the southern Rhône’s appellations lie on the river’s eastern side.  It’s so far south and west, people assume its wines are included in the “lake of the Languedoc” and not a Rhône Valley appellation.  (It’s administratively part of the Languedoc, but vinously it hangs its hat on the Rhône Valley’s coat rack).  Up until three decades ago, the wines weren’t all that good because the post-phylloxera replanting and philosophy in the early 20th century was oriented to quantity, not quality.  However, that has changed dramatically since the Costières de Nîmes received AOC status in 1986.

Having spent many summers renting a house near Uzès, just outside of the Costières di Nîmes appellation, I have a broad familiarity with its wines and have watched their transformation from rough-and-tumble reds and heavy whites to polished and energetic ones.  So, I was thrilled to attend, via Zoom®, an in-depth tasting hosted by Evan Goldstein, MS and Michel Gassier, one of the appellation’s top producers, to update my familiarity with the appellation.

Gassier explains that the Rhône River is responsible for the rolled-rock soil of Costières de Nîmes just as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The conventional wisdom holds that the rocks (galets in French) store the day’s heat, radiating it back during the night to enhance ripeness.  Gassier thinks that might have been their chief attribute 50 years ago, but now, with climate change, he believes the grapes need no heat boost to ripen.  He views the rocks’ asset both in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the Costières de Nîmes as a water management tool.  As he explains it, the rocks prevent the soil from being compacted, leaving space for water accumulation.  Plus, water trapped in the rocks evaporates more slowly during windy conditions.

The soil coupled with the Mediterranean climate puts the region squarely within the Rhône Valley appellations.  What makes it different is its micro-climate, according to Gassier.  The Costières de Nîmes is the coolest among Rhône appellations despite its southern locale because of the cooling influences of the Mediterranean and the marshlands of the Camargue, home to France’s famous wild horses.  As the sun heats inland locations during the morning, the overlying air rises, which draws in cool moist air from the Mediterranean and marshes, keeping daytime temperatures below 90ºF for much of the summer.  Photosynthesis, the process that creates energy for the vines, occurs best at moderate temperatures (54 to 90ºF).  The longer the vine remains within that temperature range, the more energy it has to promote phenolic ripeness, explains Gassier.

The combination of rolled-rock soil and the cooler growing conditions explains the predominance of Syrah, rather than Grenache, in the vineyards and in the red blends.

On a map, the Costières de Nîmes straddles the Languedoc and Provence and is, as Gassier puts it, the “balcony of the Camargue.”  The culture of the area is unique with a landscape populated by rice fields, roaming cattle and horses.  The bullfights here, sometimes advertised as “toro in piscine,” (literally bull in a swimming pool) are a game to see who can induce the bull to jump into a child’s swimming pool.  Placing rings on the bull’s horns is another form of “bull fighting.”  No capes, picadors, or gore here.

The area itself has quintessential Provençal charm and has arguably the best-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.  Indeed, the Pont du Gard, a tri-level Roman aqueduct whose remarkable slope of one inch per mile, remains my favorite architectural landmark in all of France.  Also, in Nîmes itself is the magnificent Maison Carrée, a Greek-style Roman temple, and an equally impressive arena that looks like a mini-Colosseum.

Everywhere you turn in Nîmes, you come upon a crocodile.  A brass one, that is.  It’s the city’s mascot, the origin of which dates from Roman times.  The story goes that the Roman Emperors were constantly fearful that returning victorious generals could unseat them.  So, they bribed them not to return by bequeathing them new colonies to rule.  Nîmes was given to the general whose legion was victorious over Egypt.  That legion chose the image of a crocodile chained to palm tree as their logo.  The message was plain for all to see:  Here was the general and the legion that had subjugated the Egyptians.  The Romans have long since departed, but the mascot remains throughout the city.  The AOC Costières de Nîmes has adopted it as well.

The Costières de Nîmes appellation is a small area, containing about eight percent of the Rhône’s vineyards area.  An astounding twenty-five percent of its vineyards are certified as organic today, the highest in the Rhône Valley.  The ever-present winds help keep the vineyards free of disease.  The 71 producers and nine co-operatives produce roughly equal amounts (45%) of reds and rosés.

The red wines in general are less weighty and fresher than those from other southern Rhône appellations.  Though Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre predominate, Marselan, Carignan, and Cinsault are also allowed.  Most blends are Syrah-heavy because growers prefer the lighter skinned Grenache for rosé.

The same grapes, just in different proportions, comprise the rosés.

The remaining ten percent of production consists of whites, chiefly from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.  The white wines must include two of those three grapes, but Bourboulenc, Clairette, Rolle (a.k.a. Vermentino) and Viognier are also allowed.

The two white wines tasted during the webinar showed the wonderful range the category can achieve from this appellation.  At one end of the spectrum was the floral and lively 2020 Mas des Bressades “Cuvée Tradition” ($12, 89 pts).  Lacey and peachy with excellent acidity, it was like a refreshing summer breeze.  At the other end was Domaine Gassier’s 2018 “Nostre Païs” ($14, 92 pts).  More substantial, yet not heavy, its saline minerality and creamy texture cried for a place at the dinner table rather than the patio.  Both refute the notion that Rhône whites are heavy and flabby.

The rosés showed an equally broad spectrum.  The delicate, dry, and light 2020 Château Saint-Louis La Perdrix ($13, 86 pts) would go nicely with a summer salad or to chase away the heat of the afternoon, while the more powerful 2020 “Fleur d’Eglantine” from Château Mourgues du Grès ($26, 86 pts) displayed considerably more muscle under its pink hue.  It, too, had a cleansing, dry finish.

My experience over the years is that the red wines from Costières de Nîmes shine and should cement the appellation’s reputation as a source for fine wines.  The two reds shown during the webinar, unbeknownst to me previously, confirmed that impression.

The story of the label of the 2018 “Denim by Beaubois,” by Château Beaubois is as fascinating as the wine is delicious.  The label first.  Though the denim that Levi Strauss purchased, and turned his company into a household name, came from Genoa (Gênes in French, which seamlessly morphed into jeans), it originated in Nîmes, which was a major fabric center at the time.  (The word denim is a contraction of French phrase, de Nîmes, meaning “from Nîmes”).  A ying/yang of spice and black fruit succulence makes the 2018 Denim by Beaubois ($30, 92 pts) a joy to drink with grilled meats this summer.  Mild tannins allow it to take a chill.  It shows that powerful wines need not be heavy or overbearing.

With its more structured framework, the 2018 Château de Valcombe ($20; 90 pts) is more suited to the cellar than the table at this stage.  This blend of Syrah (70%) and Grenache effortlessly conveys the marvelous combination of savory and dark fruit flavors so often found in Costières de Nîmes reds.  Those who can’t wait (which would be understandable) should open and decant it a couple of hours before serving.

Over the years I’ve had many wines from Mas des Bressades, so any of their wines is likely to be a safe bet.  The 2018 “Nostre Païs” from Domaine Gassier, also unbeknownst to me prior to the webinar, was so impressive that I would jump at the chance to buy any of their other wines.  Same for the wines from Château Beaubois and Château de Valcombe.  In my experience, the reds from Château Mourgues du Grès are stunning and should be grabbed whenever you see them.  In alphabetical order, here’s a list of other producers who I heartily recommend based on past experience with their wines: Domaine Cabanis, Château de Campuget, Château Grande Cassagne, Domaine au Moulin Piot, Domaine de La Patience, and Domaine Terre des Chardons.

A final word about pricing.  Of the 275 Costières de Nîmes currently listed on, 235 (85%) are less than $20 a bottle.  Time to find a crocodile.

*          *          *

June 30, 2021


E-mail me your thoughts about Rhône Valley wines in general or the Costières de Nîmes in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Photo Credits:  Pont du Gard by Dee McMeekan; all others by Michael Apstein

Look to Collio for White Wines for Summer

Regardless of what you’re eating this summer, a white wine from Collio will fit the bill.  This small region with fewer than 4,000 acres makes a broad range of white white wines extending from lively and fresh examples to ones substantial enough to stand up to a steak.  The Italians have known the quality of wines from Collio for decades; it was among the first areas to be awarded DOC status in 1968.

Collio, sometimes called Collio Gorizia, is tucked away in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the northeast of Italy, bordering Slovenia.  It’s an apt name for the DOC—Collio comes from the Latin, collis, for hill—because almost all of the vineyards here are on hillsides.  Eighty-five percent of Collio’s production is white, with Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc accounting for half the plantings.  A variety of other grapes, including Pinot Bianco, and two, Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, capable of making heftier wines, also make noteworthy bottlings here.

Ribolla Gialla, a late ripening variety, is typically the last white grape harvested, sometimes even after the first of the reds are ripe.  Despite that, it holds its acidity exceptionally well.  Collio is an ideal locale for this grape because it must be planted on hillsides to achieve its potential.  It’s a misunderstood variety because it can be transformed into two very different styles of wine.  The so-called crisp and lively “classic” style accounts for about 80 percent production.  The remaining 20 percent is so-called “orange” wine, which is white wine made in the red wine tradition with extended skin contact, usually by small estates.  And though Collio doesn’t produce a lot of sparkling wine, almost every producer that does make one uses Ribolla Gialla for that purpose.

Collio’s soil, a mix of marl and sandstone, resulting from the area being underwater millions of year ago, is called ponca locally.  Growers attribute a distinct minerality in the wines to this unique soil.  It is a little surprising to walk through hillside vineyards and find fossilized shells.

Nestled between the Mediterranean and the Alps, the climate is cool, rainy and windy, which prevents grapes from becoming over ripe and helps explain the wonderful brightness in the wines.

Here are a trio of wines that show the incredible range of Collio DOC whites.

Livon, Pinot Bianco “Cavezzo” 2018:
Pinot Bianco often makes light, innocuous wines.  Not this one.  Livon’s 2018 Cavezzo has weight and an alluring texture.  A hint of grapefruit-rind bitterness in a lively finish enhances its appeal.  This stylish Pinot Bianco has surprising complexity and could redefine the category for you.  It would be great as a stand-alone aperitivo, but would also be a good choice for simple grilled fish.
($40, 92 Points)

Russiz Superiore, Friulano 2019:
Marco Felluga, the man in charge at Russiz Superiore, is a good name to remember for top-notch wines.  In addition to a seductive texture, this 2019 Friulano has good power without a trace of heaviness.  Nuances of orange-rind poke through and complement its fruitiness and spice.  A small portion (about 15%) of the wine was fermented in oak barrels, which adds complexity without a trace of oakiness.  Lively acidity keeps his weighty white fresh.  This Friulano would be a fine complement to the meatiness of grilled red snapper.  

($27, 93 Points).

Colmello di Grotta, Ribolla Gialla 2018:
This is a spritely, classically framed Ribolla Gialla that was fermented and aged in stainless steel and amphorae without skin contact.  It captures your attention with a gorgeous array of white flowers and honeysuckle-like fruitiness, but without sweetness.  This beguiling wine has good density and a hint of saline-like bitterness in the finish.  It would be a good choice for linguine in a clam sauce or other hearty seafood.
($17, 93 Points).

Look to Collio for White Wines for Summer

Regardless of what you’re eating this summer, a white wine from Collio will fit the bill.  This small region with fewer than 4,000 acres makes a broad range of white white wines extending from lively and fresh examples to ones substantial enough to stand up to a steak.  The Italians have known the quality of wines from Collio for decades; it was among the first areas to be awarded DOC status in 1968.

Collio, sometimes called Collio Gorizia, is tucked away in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the northeast of Italy, bordering Slovenia.  It’s an apt name for the DOC—Collio comes from the Latin, collis, for hill—because almost all of the vineyards here are on hillsides.  Eighty-five percent of Collio’s production is white, with Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc accounting for half the plantings.  A variety of other grapes, including Pinot Bianco, and two, Friulano and Ribolla Gialla, capable of making heftier wines, also make noteworthy bottlings here.

Ribolla Gialla, a late ripening variety, is typically the last white grape harvested, sometimes even after the first of the reds are ripe.  Despite that, it holds its acidity exceptionally well.  Collio is an ideal locale for this grape because it must be planted on hillsides to achieve its potential.  It’s a misunderstood variety because it can be transformed into two very different styles of wine.  The so-called crisp and lively “classic” style accounts for about 80 percent production.  The remaining 20 percent is so-called “orange” wine, which is white wine made in the red wine tradition with extended skin contact, usually by small estates.  And though Collio doesn’t produce a lot of sparkling wine, almost every producer that does make one uses Ribolla Gialla for that purpose.

Collio’s soil, a mix of marl and sandstone, resulting from the area being underwater millions of year ago, is called ponca locally.  Growers attribute a distinct minerality in the wines to this unique soil.  It is a little surprising to walk through hillside vineyards and find fossilized shells.

Nestled between the Mediterranean and the Alps, the climate is cool, rainy and windy, which prevents grapes from becoming over ripe and helps explain the wonderful brightness in the wines.

Here are a trio of wines that show the incredible range of Collio DOC whites.

Livon, Pinot Bianco “Cavezzo” 2018:  Pinot Bianco often makes light, innocuous wines.  Not this one.  Livon’s 2018 Cavezzo has weight and an alluring texture.  A hint of grapefruit-rind bitterness in a lively finish enhances its appeal.  This stylish Pinot Bianco has surprising complexity and could redefine the category for you ($40, 92 Points).  It would be great as a stand-alone aperitivo, but would also be a good choice for simple grilled fish.

Russiz Superiore, Friulano 2019: Marco Felluga, the man in charge at Russiz Superiore, is a good name to remember for top-notch wines.  In addition to a seductive texture, this 2019 Friulano has good power without a trace of heaviness.  Nuances of orange-rind poke through and complement its fruitiness and spice.  A small portion (about 15%) of the wine was fermented in oak barrels, which adds complexity without a trace of oakiness.  Lively acidity keeps his weighty white fresh.  ($27, 93).  This Friulano would be a fine complement to the meatiness of grilled red snapper.

Colmello di Grotta, Ribolla Gialla 2018:  This is a spritely, classically framed Ribolla Gialla that was fermented and aged in stainless steel and amphorae without skin contact.  It captures your attention with a gorgeous array of white flowers and honeysuckle-like fruitiness, but without sweetness.  This beguiling wine has good density and a hint of saline-like bitterness in the finish.  It would be a good choice for linguine in a clam sauce or other hearty seafood.  ($17, 93).

June 15, 2021

Etna Erupts

One of the great things about Italian wines is that so many notable ones, both white and red, fly under the radar.  Everyone’s familiar with the great wines of Tuscany, Chianti Classico and Brunello, to name just two, and from Piedmont, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, but these wines often command triple digit prices, commensurate with their reputations.  My advice is to explore other regions, such as Sicily, and especially Mount Etna.  Though Etna received that island’s first Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1968, it still accounts for only about one percent of the island’s wine production.  And it’s only been in the last couple of decades that more than a few producers have explored and embraced its unique and challenging terroir.  (Most winemakers worry that rain at harvest could ruin a year’s work.  On Etna they worry that an eruption could wipe out a decade or two of work.)  In 2017, none other than Angelo Gaja, arguably Italy’s most well-known producer, purchased about 50 acres on the slopes of the volcano.  To quote Daniele Cernilli (a.k.a. Doctor Wine®), one of Italy’s top wine experts and critics, “The attention from a producer of such great and recognized prestige has confirmed the undisputed value of the volcano’s terroir, strengthening its image and consolidating its position among the most interesting areas in the world for wine production.”  Now, as you’ll see below, Etna’s wines are not inexpensive, but they are amazing for what they deliver.

One of Sicily’s top producers, Donnafugata, has been exploring the different lava-influenced terroirs on Etna.  If you haven’t tried their wines from Etna, or any wines from Etna for that matter, you’re in for a real treat; they’re the kind of wines that make you wonder—why haven’t I heard about these before now?

Donnafugata, still family-owned and one of Sicily’s top producers, has finally made it to Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano.  They had their sights on viticulture on Etna about 20 years ago, but got side-tracked to Pantelleria, an island off Sicily’s southwest coast.  Fortunately, that detour resulted in the birth of Ben Ryé, a wonderful sweet wine (DOC Passito di Pantelleria) made from the Zibibbo (a.k.a. Muscat of Alexandria) grape that has savory undertones and bracing acidity, making it a perfect accompaniment to a cheese course or to act as dessert by itself.  I, for one, am glad they finally made it up the mountain because they are making stellar wines there that erupt with flavor.

Though Donnafugata’s first vintage on Etna was the 2016, they do have old vines because they purchased and rehabilitated vineyards, some of which are 80 years old.  While no one can say for certain why old vines produce better grapes, and hence, better wines, every winemaker I’ve ever spoken to agrees that they do.

Etna’s a hot area, both literally and figuratively, for stellar white and red wines made from the autochthonous grapes, Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio.  Though Donnafugata’s historic home is in Marsala on the opposite, western, side of the island from Etna, they’ve established estates all over the island since 1983 when Giacomo Rallo founded the company.  With about 50 acres, their Etna property is the smallest of their four estates.  (For completeness, Donnafugata has just over 700 acres in Contessa Entellina, 90 acres in Vittoria, and about 170 acres on Pantelleria.)

The Etna DOC encompasses about 2,700 acres in a reverse C arc around the volcano’s northern, eastern and southern sides.  The same three basic components that explain the distinctive quality of great wines around the world are present on Etna: a unique climate, a unique soil, and unique grapes.  Despite being in the middle of the Mediterranean, Etna’s elevation gives it a continental climate, characterized by cold winters, wet springs, and hot summers.  Snowy winters and rainy springs provide ground water for the vines during the hot dry summers, while the large day-night temperature changes during July, August, and September maintain acidity in the grapes and hence, the wines.  The volcanic soil from successive lava flows, known locally as sciare (literally, to ski), imparts a distinctive mineral component to the wines.  The grapes, Carricante for the whites, and Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, for the reds, are unique and grown practically nowhere else.

Carricante, an aromatic white grape, typically displays fabulous acidity and a distinct sapidity or saline touch.  Donnafugata’s 2018 Etna Bianco DOC “Sul Vulcano,” made entirely from Carricante, displays an immediately engaging floral component.  A crisp and chiseled wine, it captures the best elements of that grape.  This paradoxically vibrant yet restrained wine starts to blossom after 30 minutes in the glass.  Its refreshing, saline-tinged acidity keeps it fresh, and you coming back for more, throughout the meal.  This mid-weight mineral-laden white is just what you want for the hot and humid months ahead.  (95, $40).

Nerello Mascalese, like Nebbiolo, often lacks color despite substantial tannins.  A high-acid grape, it delivers both fruity and savory elements.  Nerello Cappuccio, in contrast, has great color, soften tannins, and a larger fruit profile, which makes it an excellent choice to blend with Nerello Mascalese.

Donnafugata’s 2017 DOC Etna Rosso “Sul Vulcano,”
 a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio, is a seductive mid-weight red that marries red fruit flavors with a distinct lava-like minerality.  Not an opulent wine, it has a lovely austerity without being hard or astringent.  Indeed, it’s clean and elegant with an exceptionally long and refreshing finish which makes it perfect for current consumption this summer with grilled meats or seafood in a tomato sauce.  (92, $35)

Donnafugata is exploring how wines differ depending on where the grapes grow.  During a Zoom tasting earlier this month, José Rallo and Antonio Rallo, the sister and brother team running the company now, explained that there are over 100 distinct areas, locally called contradas, which are determined by lava flows.  The contradas, which vary in size from 5 to 10 to over 100 acres, have a distinct and unique microclimate despite their often close proximity, according to Antonio.  He explains that the contrada Montelaguardia, whose soil is a result of a 1614 to 1624 eruption, and the cooler contrada Marquesa, whose soil date from a different eruption, are only a couple of miles apart, but produce different wines.

Donnafugata’s 2017 Etna Rosso “Fragore” from the Contrada Montelaguardia, made entirely from Nerello Mascalese, is denser than Sul Vulcano Rosso, but paradoxically, still displays a wonderful austerity.  This is no fruit bomb.  Indeed, the power and concentration have a lava-tinged savory character.  As expected from a monovarietal Nerello Mascalese, the tannins are more apparent, but are finely honed, not astringent or green.  Good acidity keeps this muscular wine fresh and invigorating.  The name, fragore, which means the sound or the roar of the eruption, is appropriate because of the wine’s energy.  This Fragore just needs time, maybe five years, to blow off steam and settle down.  (95, $85).

Time will tell whether the wine world will know the contrada of Etna as well as the villages of Barolo or the vineyards of Burgundy.

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Email me your thoughts about Sicilian wines in general or those from Etna in particular at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein 

Terroir is Alive and Well in Barolo

With three wines, all made from Nebbiolo grape, the Marchesi di Barolo, a top producer in Piedmont, shows the importance of terroir.  The French, especially the Burgundians, have long insisted that the idea of terroir—where the grapes grow—is fundamental to the character of the wine.  Indeed, the French name many of their wines, and certainly their best ones, by where the grapes grow, not by the grape name.  No Pinot Noir for them.  It’s Gevrey-Chambertin or Pommard.  The Italians take a somewhat broader approach.  Some of the best Italian wines, such as Barolo, are named by location.  Others are named by the grape, such as Barbera, and some are named by both, such as Langhe Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape from the Langhe, a wider area of Piedmont surrounding Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco) or, Barbera d’Alba.

The only way to truly understand terroir is by holding constant the other key element in determining a wine’s character, namely the winemaking.  Here’s the dilemma.  If I’m tasting two wines from grapes grown in two different vineyards made by two different producers, are the differences due to the place (the vineyard) or to the producer? Hence, the key to appreciating terroir is to compare the same producer’s wines made from grapes grown in different sites.  And thanks to the Somm Journal webinar hosted by Italian wine expert Lars Leicht and featuring Valentina and Anna Abbona from the family that owns Marchesi di Barolo, we could do just that.

We tasted a trio of wines, side-by-side, all made by the Marchesi di Barolo: a 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC “Sbirolo,” a 2015 Barolo, Comune di Barolo, and a 2015 Barolo “Sarmassa.”  The vintages were not the same, but both 2015 and 2018 were similar in style, being warm, and thus producing ripe wines.  And though the barrel aging is not the same among these three wines, the aging and winemaking in general is driven by where the grapes are grown.  So, the differences among these three wines essentially reflect the differences in terroir.

Wines labeled Langhe Nebbiolo must contain a minimum of 85 percent Nebbiolo, though most all are entirely Nebbiolo, and can come from vineyards classified as such or from Barolo (or Barbaresco) vineyards that have been de-classified.  Producers might opt to declassify some of their Barolo to Langhe Nebbiolo if, for example, the grapes came from an inferior part of the Barolo vineyard or the wine did measure up to the producer’s standards for Barolo.

The bright and lively 2018 Marchesi di Barolo Langhe Nebbiolo “Sbirolo” displays light floral notes and delicate cherry-like fruitiness.  The tannins, for which Nebbiolo is famous, are apparent, but not hard nor astringent.  Overall, there’s a pleasing austerity to the wine, making it an excellent choice for current consumption with pasta in a meat sauce as opposed to a stand-alone aperitivo.  (90 pts; $20)

The Marchesi di Barolo’s “Barolo del Comune di Barolo,” is a blend from their vineyards within in the municipality of Barolo, one of the 11 villages that comprise the DOCG and the one from which the DOCG takes its name.  The 2015 displays a darker profile, from color to palate, compared to their Langhe Nebbiolo.  Though a gorgeous floral element is present, the wine’s focus moves from cherry-like fruitiness to a tar-like mineral aspect.  It expands over in the glass, gaining layers of flavor.  It has great concentration, yet is not overdone.  A lovely, subtle bitterness in the finish enhances its appeal.  As expected from a Barolo, the tannins are more apparent, yet not intrusive.  It’s surprisingly forward and easy to taste, but its balance and structure suggest that more complexity with evolve over the next decade or two.  (93, $65).

Sarmassa, along with Cannubi, are likely the two top vineyards in the village of Barolo.  Marchesi di Barolo consistently produces a wonderful Sarmassa from their substantial holdings there.  The youthful 2015, denser and darker even than their Barolo del Comune di Barolo, is fabulous.  Despite its more noticeable tannic structure, its charms are readily apparent because the tannins are suave, not harsh or intrusive.  Wonderfully perfumed, this powerhouse retains balance and elegance.  Its grandeur blossoms further in an incredibly long finish.  Barolo-lovers should find a place in their cellar for this wine.  (95, $100)

The venerable Marchesi di Barolo estate has both a royal and saintly history.  Juliette Colbert, the great-grand-daughter (or perhaps great-grand-niece) of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” became the Marquise of Barolo when she married a nobleman, Marchese Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo in 1806 and moved to his estate in Barolo.  She is credited with changing the style of the local wine from sweet and red, to dry and robust, yet elegant, one that is today’s Barolo, and with labeling it by that place name.  A great advocate for the poor and downtrodden, she was beatified by the Catholic Church and was titled Venerable by Pope Francis in 2015 because of her life of “heroic virtue.”  She died in 1864 without heirs, leaving the entire estate to a charitable foundation, Opera Pia Barolo, which she founded to continue her good works.  Opera Pia Barolo operated the estate until 1929 when charities were required to sell-off property.  Enter the Abbona family whose winery and vineyards were across the road from those of the Marchesi di Barolo.  Though not the best time to be making investments, they, either foolishly or prophetically, seized the opportunity to buy the estate.  Thus, the Abbona family became only the third owners of this jewel and contributed to the fiscal health of Opera Pia Barolo, which is till operational today.

In 1980, Ernesto, the patriarch of the family, again, either foolishly or prophetically, planted Barbera in the Paiagallo vineyard, one of Barolo’s top vineyards for Nebbiolo whose eastern border actually abuts Cannubi.  As Valentina, Ernesto’s daughter, told me several years ago when I visited, her father replaced the more valuable Nebbiolo vines with Barbera, even though he realized it may have been against his economic interest.  Ernesto wanted to return to the Piedmont tradition of having even “humble” varieties planted in the best terroir, according to his daughter.  She explained that he wanted to challenge the general image that Barbera belongs only in sub-par terroir.  She continued that, in this way, her father felt that Barbera could shine, displaying the elegance and power of a great terroir and, simultaneously, be more accessible at a young age.

All of which brings me to Marchesi di Barolo’s 2017 “Peiragal,” their Barbera d’Alba planted in the Paiagallo vineyard.  Suave, and elegant, it is not your “typical” Barbera.  It comes across softer and richer, despite excellent acidity, with far more complexity.  Plushness replaces the briary exuberance that I associate with Barbera and makes it immediately enjoyable.  It’s a lovely choice now for a rich meat sauce-draped pasta.  It does really shine.  (93, $29)

The French have long insisted that the grape is merely a vehicle for the terroir.  The grandeur of this Peiragal supports that theory.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Barolo in general or Marchesi di Barolo in specific at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

2016 Brunello di Montalcino: Don’t Miss Them

The great success of the 2016 vintage throughout Tuscany suggested that the just-released 2016 Brunello would be memorable.  Is it ever! To my mind, it is, by far, the best vintage since 2010.  I certainly prefer the 2016s in general to the more powerful and overdone Brunello from the much-hyped 2015 vintage.  Many experienced critics, such as Kerin O’Keefe (whose book on Brunello remains the benchmark for the region) believe that the vintage ranks with the legendary 2004 and 2001 vintages.  The best 2016 Brunelli are sleek, racy, and, at times, explosive, yet not heavy or overdone.  They are balanced with super fine-grained tannins, which suggests that they should evolve beautifully with proper cellaring, though many are surprisingly easy to enjoy now.

In the past, in normal times, my assessment of the vintage would be based on the annual tasting in Montalcino in February and my discussions there with producers.  This year, Covid-19 prevented that annual trip, so my assessment of the 2016 vintage was limited to what turned out to be a beautifully organized tasting hosted by Gianfranco Sorrentino of Gattopardo, an excellent Italian restaurant in New York City.  Though fully vaccinated, I was still filled with trepidation since it was my first in-public tasting in over a year.  I armed myself with a Solo® cup personal spittoon and extra face masks just in case I forgot to remove it while tasting or spitting.  (I didn’t.)  Sorrentino had thought of everything.  Sixty 2016 Brunelli were available to taste in a socially-distanced setting.  Waitstaff poured the wines, which were on a single table.  Tasters pointed to the wine to taste, received a sample, and retreated to one of the small tables scattered around the large, seemingly well-ventilated room, allowing tasters to sit and taste without crowding.  Only 40 people, all masked, attended and remained masked unless tasting.  No producers were present.  My only insights from a producer came from a tasting with Count Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia via Zoom® conducted some weeks earlier.

With a broad smile, Cinzano described 2016 as a “classic year,” in the best sense of that term.  The growing season was perfect—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry, not too wet.  Importantly, he felt that the region was lucky to avoid the severe heat wave in 2016 that plagued them in 2015, adding that “a balanced year leads to a balanced wine.”

Much is rightly made of the diversity of the soil and climate within this small DOCG region, which consists of just over 5,000 acre acres.  Gabriele Gorelli, the newly minted MW (Master of Wine), explained the region’s diversity at a seminar last year.  He described the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG as a four-sided pyramid with the town at the pinnacle.  The vineyards are planted from just above sea-level to about 1,600 feet.  Although the overall climate is Mediterranean—warm summers and cool winters—he emphasized that it is not homogenous.  Each of the four main slopes has its own climate and pattern of precipitation.  Furthermore, the position of a vineyard on the slope plays an important role in the ripeness of the grapes and the character of the wine: the higher the vineyard is on the slope, the cooler the growing condition.  To complicate matters further, vast differences in soils, even over a small area, amplify the heterogeneity of the region.  Typically, the higher elevations represent the oldest soils with the greatest amount of limestone, by contrast to the more sedimentary or sandy soil near the base.  The hypothesis that wine style is affected by site location within the region is supported by my many tastings over the years of two of Silvio Nardi’s consistently alluring single vineyard Brunelli, Vigneto Manachiara—made from grapes grown in the clay-laden northeast sector—and Poggio Doria, from the gravely-northwest sector. These two wines show the wonderful diversity of wines from this DOCG.

Based on this tasting of 2016s, I could not identify a subzone that consistently excelled compared to other subzones in the DOCG.  Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to tell the locale of an individual producer’s grapes, since some producers own vineyards throughout the zone, not just adjacent to their winery, and make a Brunello that they consider representative of the DOCG.  Hence, knowing the location of the winery does not tell the whole story.  I found my favorites came from all over the entire region.  Indeed, two of my favorites, the 2016 Brunello from Col d’Orcia in the extreme southwestern section and from Castiglion del Bosco in the extreme northwest section, come from opposite ends of the DOCG.  Another favorite, the 2016 Brunello from Silvio Nardi, was made from a blend of grapes grown throughout the entire area.  I don’t find that surprising since I believe producers’ styles play as large a role in how the wines taste as does the origin of the grapes.

My advice is to buy as much of the 2016 Brunello as you can afford.  This is a great vintage that should develop beautifully over the next several decades.  Buy from producers you know and have liked in the past.  As with all wine regions, the vintage is important, but it’s still producer, producer, producer that is critical.  Due to Covid-19, my tastings this year and hence, my assessment of the vintage, was limited compared to previous years.  I did not have the opportunity to taste wines from producers that I consistently like, such as Canalicchio di Sopra, Gianni Brunelli, Il Marroneto, Mastrojanni, or Le Ragnaie.  That said, if I found them at reasonable prices, I would buy them without hesitation, even without tasting them.

The explosive yet graceful Le Chiuse (99 pts, $99) sits at the top of my list of 2016 Brunello.  The balanced Col d’Orcia (98, $44), perhaps their finest ever, is likely the bargain of the vintage.  Others I recommend highly are listed below.  The ones in bold represent great value.  Prices are from

CastelGiocando (97, $59)

Castiglion del Bosco (96, $63)
Corte Pavone (96, n/a)
Fanti, “Vallocchio” (96, $70)
Fulgini (96, $99)
La Poderina (96, $57)
Il Poggione (96, $79)
Talenti (96, $57)

Argiano (95, $57)
Campogiovanni (95, $55)

Capanna (95, $61)
Carparzo (95, $44)
Col di Lanio (95, n/a)
Donnatella Cinelli Colombini (95, $70)
La Fiorita (95, $85)
Silvio Nardi (95, $53)
Il Palazzone (95, $79)
Val di Suga “Vigna Spuntali” (95, $57)

Castello Banfi, “Poggio alle Mure” (94, $62)

Pian delle Vigne (93, $58)

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Email me your thoughts about Brunello at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

The Joys of Exploring Italian Wines

One of the many things I adore about Italian wine is its seemingly limitless depth.  You can always uncover a wine area or category unbeknownst to you, even if it’s been known to the Italians themselves for decades.  Take, for example, Albana Romagna.  It may be a discovery for me and other Americans, but the Italians have known the potential of the grape grown in this area for decades.  Comparably obscure to most of us is Refosco dal Peduncolo, a red variety usually showing hard-edged tannins, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al., but a grape that a talented producer has turned into a delightful red wine suitable for chilling.  That same producer also makes a dynamite Pinot Grigio (not exactly an obscure grape), that retails for about $12.  And of course, I’d be remiss if I omitted the new category of Prosecco Rosé, a brilliant marketing maneuver combining two of the hottest selling categories in wine today. At least that’s what I thought until I explored the subject a little deeper.

But first, let’s start with Albana Romagna.  In 1967, it was among the first wines to be awarded Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) status.  And then in 1987, it was the first white wine elevated to (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita) DOCG status, Italy’s highest classification.  Although the decision of the wine authorities to name this wine as Italy’s first DOCG white was controversial at the time, I certainly recognize their wisdom after tasting scores of examples four years ago at a tasting in Romagna and, more recently, a stunning one, by Celli, just last month at a Zoom® tasting organized by Michèle Shah.  Mauro Sirri, owner of Celli, and other producers describe Albana Romagna as a white wine masquerading as a red because of its power and a hint of tannic structure.  They also call it a sugar machine, which makes it suitable for sweet wines.  Yet, despite the high sugars, the grapes have incredible acidity, providing balance for both the dry and sweet versions.

The grape does exceptionally well in a specific kind of soil, called spungone romagnolo, a limestone rich sandy soil filled with fossils thanks to its undersea location three and a half million years ago.  The grand cru area for Albana, according to Ian d’Agata, a world authority on Italian wines, in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy, is Bertinoro, one of the twelve subzones of Romagna, exactly where Celli is located.  In addition to Albana Secco, the dry version, producers make a sweet version from late harvest grapes, Albana Dolce, a sweet one from partially dried grapes (passito or passimento), and also a sparkling version.

Celli’s 2019 Romagna Albana Secco, “I Croppi” (DOCG) is outstanding.  It’s a substantial wine, conveying subtle nutty and stone fruit character, similar to a white wine from France’s Rhône Valley, but with vibrant and penetrating acidity.  You feel the underlying mineral component—a captivating salinity—and an ever so slight and welcoming bitter tannic component that results from a short period of skin contact during fermentation.  It’s an elegant and balanced “orange wine,” without emphasis on the “orange.” (Orange wines are white wines fermented like red wines, that is, with extended skin contact.  Some can be unbalanced and overpowering.)  Cutting and clean, Celli’s I Croppi’s power and verve make it an excellent choice for those otherwise hard-to-match tomato-based or other highly-flavored seafood dishes.  But frankly, the wine is so satisfying, I’d be tempted to drink it with most anything.  (95 pts., $20.)

Refosco dal Peduncolo, a red grape named because its stem also turns red as it ripens, is found mainly in Italy’s northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.  Though it’s the region’s best-known red grape, according to d’Agata, it has had little commercial success in the U.S., perhaps because of the potentially tough tannins.  Ai Galli, a small, family-run winery based in the eastern Veneto, very near Friuli Venezia Giulia, takes a slightly different approach with their entry level Refosco dal Peduncolo, which carries the Veneto IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation.  They select grapes from younger vines and allow the yield to rise, which results in a lighter wine.  They also age the wine in concrete tanks, eschewing wood that could add more tannins.

Despite its dark red color, Ai Galli’s 2019 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (Veneto IGT), is not a heavy wine.  Fresh and clean, it delivers bright cherry-like fruit flavors wrapped in mild tannins.  Indeed, the tannins are soft, which means that chilling the wine does not amplify them.  The acidity keeps it fresh, making this charming wine an excellent alternative to a rosé, especially for those who are disappointed by the banality of most rosé.  It’s also a good match for hefty seafood as well as pizza or pasta with a Bolognese sauce.  (88, $12.)

Ai Galli also shows their talents with a bargain-priced (“entry-level,” as they call it) Pinot Grigio.  The Ai Gailli 2019 Pinot Grigio, (Delle Venezie DOC), a fresh and floral wine, has a captivating delicacy.  This clean, crisp Pinot Grigio finishes with a welcoming hint of bitterness.  It costs all of about $12 per bottle! (88 pts.).  Most Pinot Grigio bottlings at that price are vapid.  Ai Galli’s is not.  Alberto Piccolo, spokesperson for Ai Galli, told me via Zoom® that he felt it was essential to avoid skin contact entirely during fermentation because the grapes’ skins are grey-ish in color—hence, the Grigio or Gris, in French—and could impart color to the wine.

Starting with the 2019 vintage, Prosecco Rosé is an official DOC.  As noted in the introduction, I thought this was simply a brilliant marketing maneuver combining two of the hottest selling categories in wine today.  But, after speaking at length with Piccolo, whose winery makes an array of Prosecco, including a Prosecco Rosé, I’ve come away with a different impression.  He explains that Prosecco Rosé is a premium product that will inevitably cost more for a few reasons.  Most importantly, it must include 15 percent of Pinot Noir, the grape which gives it its rosé color.  The requirement that the Pinot Noir must be grown within the area will push the price up because that grape is not widely planted there.  Additionally, the Prosecco Rosé must be vintage dated, so blending over multiple years, as is allowed with regular Prosecco, is forbidden.  Thirdly, the secondary fermentation must be twice as long as for regular Prosecco, 60 days versus 30 days, which will also increase production costs.  I’ve not tasted many Prosecco Rosés yet so I’m looking forward to seeing for myself whether Piccolo is correct.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Italian in general or those mentioned here in specific at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

February 24, 2021 

New Bordeaux Varieties

If this keeps up, the French will need to stop complaining about bureaucratic delays.  In just two years, the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), the regulatory body for French wines, has approved six new grape varieties that can be planted in Bordeaux and included in the blend of the wines.  Two years!  It took the same regulatory body over a decade to codify Premier Cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé.  Mon Dieu, what is going on?

What’s going on is climate change.  These new varieties, four reds (Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional) and two whites (Alvarinho and Liliorila), can be planted in limited amounts in the less prestigious appellations, such as Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superior, and Entre Deux Mers, starting this year.  An estate can allocate no more than five percent of their vineyards to the new varieties and they cannot comprise more than 10 percent in of the final blend of the wine.  Importantly, as Jane Anson, a world authority on Bordeaux, points out, the new varieties are not allowed in the most prestigious appellations, such as Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Éstephe.

This announcement, first reported in Drinks Business, had me running to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, the leading reference on that subject since I had never heard of Arinarnoa, Castets, and Liliorila.

According to Wine Grapes, Arinarnoa, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, gets its name from the Basque dialect words arin, which means light and arno, which means wine.  How a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat could possibly produce a light wine is beyond me.

Castets is a “very minor western Pyreneen variety clinging on in France,” according to Wine Grapes.  It is native to the south of France and is a component of Château Simone’s “Palette” Rouge.

Wine Grapes tells us that France recorded fewer than 10 acres of Liliorila, a cross of Baroque (another grape I’ve never heard of) and Chardonnay, in 2008 and has the potential to produce powerful aromatic wines.

It’s not surprising that two traditional Portuguese varieties, Touriga Nacional and Alvarinho, would be included since they do well in hot climates.  Marselan, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, a kind of Bordeaux-Rhône collaboration, already has a following in southwestern France and is becoming popular in China.

These grapes have variable vegetative cycles—that is they bud and ripen at different times—and have resistance to a variety of maladies.  The hope is that they will mitigate the effects of climate change in Bordeaux.  As the French would say, “On verra” (we’ll see).

One thing is clear—the INAO can move when it wants to.

Read more:  Michael Apstein
Connect with him on Twitter:   @MichaelApstein

A Guiltless Way to Enjoy Sauternes

I love Sauternes, but rarely drink that sweet wine.  One reason is that the classic combination of foie gras and Sauternes hardly ever comes up these days.  But the major reason is that a little goes a long way.  One glass as dessert is divine.  Two is overkill.  I relish Sauternes with cheese, most of which go far better with sweet wine than with red wine, but am reluctant to open and then potentially waste the remainder of a 750-ml bottle, or even a 375-ml half-bottle, just to have a glass.  But what if you needn’t discard the rest of the bottle?  What if you could indulge and have that small glass of Sauternes whenever you wanted without having to invest in a Coravin®?  What if just recorking the bottle and refrigerating it would allow you to have another glass a few days later?  There would be no guilt in opening—and not finishing—that half-bottle of 1990 Château Rieussec you’ve been cellaring.  The scientist in me said, “Let’s do an experiment to find out.”

But first, a word or two about Sauternes, a region in Bordeaux that transforms Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon into a sweet yet vibrant wine.  Usually, the blend is about 80 percent Sémillon and the remainder Sauvignon with a few producers using small amounts of a third allowable grape, Muscadelle.  In this part of Bordeaux conditions are perfect for the grapes to be attacked by a fungus, Botrytis cinera, often referred to as the “noble rot.”  The fungus punches tiny holes in the grapes, dehydrating them, which in turn, concentrates the grapes’ sugar and, very importantly, their acids.  Unfortunately, the grapes are infected haphazardly, forcing harvesters to pass through the vineyards several times to collect only the fungus-affected bunches.

The prolonged harvest combined with reduced yields from dehydration increases the cost of producing these wines.  Yet, despite that, Sauternes remain under-priced for their quality, precisely because of lower demand.  The affected grapes are fermented normally.  There is no pre-fermentation drying of grapes as there is in some parts of the world where other sweet wines are made.  Fermentation stops before all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, typically resulting in wines with around 14 percent alcohol, up to 100 grams/liter of residual sugar, and higher than usual acidity.  Indeed, it’s the acidity that’s key, balancing the wine and preventing it from being cloying.  In my mind, the grandeur of Sauternes rests with its vibrancy, not its sweetness.

Now, the experiment.  Several years ago, I purchased six half-bottles of 2005 Château Coutet, which have rested quietly in my cellar.  Every night for six nights, I opened a new half-bottle.  I poured a small glass for my wife and myself, dated the bottle, but obscured the date with masking tape, re-corked it and placed it in our very cold (34ºF) refrigerator.  On the sixth night my wife and I tasted all six bottles without knowing when each had been opened to see if we could discern any differences among the wines.

In normal times, a group of tasters would have joined us for this blind tasting, but with COVID-19 in full force in Massachusetts, that was not possible.  Instead, I brought the blinded bottles to Fred Ek, another experienced taster, and asked him to rank his preferences.  Fred has more than 50 years in the wine business as a retailer, importer, and broker, having introduced Americans to the wines of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaines des Baumard, and Maison Guigal, to name just three.

After un-blinding the bottles, two results stood out.  First, all of the wines—remember these are 15-year old Sauternes in half-bottles—were enjoyable with lovely apricot-y notes and brilliant acidity, and that includes the one opened six days earlier.  I’d happily drink any of them with cheese or as dessert.  Secondly, none of our rankings correlated with how long the bottle had been open.  Though both Fred and I identified correctly the wine that had been opened most recently, it was neither his nor my first choice.

A venerable estate, Château Coutet is one of only 11 properties classified as a Premier Cru in 1855 Classification of Sauternes.  It is located in Barsac, one of the five communes entitled to the Sauternes appellation.  (The other four are Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac.)  Barsac is the only one with its own appellation, which producers can use in place of Sauternes.  Wines from Barsac tend to be livelier than the wines from the other communes, so perhaps that gave Coutet an edge in holding up nicely after being opened and recorked.

Would the same result hold true for a Sauternes from a commune known for more opulent wines?  I purchased six half-bottles of 2010 Château Raymond-Lafon, a non-classified but highly respected property located in the commune of Sauternes itself and repeated the experiment.  This time, to test the limits further, I opened a bottle every two or three days and then, as with the Château Coutet, tasted all six blindly at the end of the two weeks.  Peter Holt, who was wine director for 30 years at the now-closed and much-missed Anthony’s Pier 4, the legendary restaurant that had one of Boston’s greatest wine lists, acted as another judge.  Peter, it hardly needs to be said, has a long and vast experience tasting and evaluating Sauternes.  The results of this tasting were similar to those of the Coutet tasting.  All the wines were uplifting and balanced, even the one that had been opened for twelve days.  They were all lush and fresh, though less racy than Coutet.  Again, each of our rankings—Peter’s, my wife’s and mine—bore no relation to the length of time the bottle had been opened.

There are many potential explanations for the longevity of Sauternes after the bottle has been opened.  An obvious one, for which I could find no evidence, is that sugar acts as an antioxidant.  Alternatively, since these 10- and 15-year-old wines in half-bottles had already undergone the usual and expected oxidation during normal aging, perhaps additional oxidation from being opened for a few days was, as they say, lost in the round-off.  The answer could simply lie with the noble rot.  It is reasonable to think that something the fungus imparts to the wine—or perhaps the fungus itself—acts as an antioxidant, much like lees act as an antioxidant during fermentation and aging of dry wines, and keeps the wine fresh even after the bottle has been opened for two weeks.

We in the scientific community would call the results of this experiment preliminary, meaning that they need to be verified by others.  I suggest that you, the consumer, start the process of verification by opening a bottle—or half-bottle—of Sauternes, having a glass, re-corking it, and discovering how long it remains vibrant in your refrigerator.  My guess is you’ll have finished the bottle long before you would have thrown it out.

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By Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2021

E-mail me your thoughts about Sauternes or anything else at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Changes and Consistency at Merry Edwards

Changes abound at Merry Edwards Winery, one of California’s leading Pinot Noir producers.  In 2019, Louis Roederer, the Champagne house, purchased the winery, adding it to their already impressive group of California properties.  With the 2018 vintage, Heidi von der Mehden took over from Merry Edwards herself as winemaker after working with her since 2015.  What hasn’t changed is the stunning quality of the wines.

Though responsible for the entire lineup of 2018s, Von der Mehden’s talents were clearly apparent earlier with the Bucher Pinot Noir.  She has been responsible for that wine since it was first added to the Merry Edward’s Pinot Noir portfolio with the 2016 vintage.  Though I didn’t taste that initial bottling, I reviewed the 2017 Bucher (93 pts) last year: “The 2017, a large-framed Pinot Noir, combines ripe black fruit notes with fabulous acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  Not overdone, it carries the 14.5 percent stated-alcohol seamlessly.  Underneath the fruit lies an intriguing and balancing mineral-like tarriness.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces that this wine, as juicy as it is, is not solely about fruit.  Refined tannins made it hard to resist now.”

The 2018 Pinot Noirs are equally impressive.

The 2018 Sonoma Coast bottling displays bright and lively red fruit character with savory nuances and a welcome hint of bitterness in the finish.  It’s a “high-toned,” leaner style of Pinot Noir that superbly reflects the cool coastal influences (91; $54).  It makes a wonderful contrast with the riper and deeper 2018 Russian River Valley bottling, whose fruit comes from a variety of vineyards in that warmer AVA.  A weightier wine with black, rather than red, fruit, the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is juicy and well within bounds despite a 14.5 percent-stated alcohol.  It also has that alluring bitterness in the finish (92; $60).

The three single vineyard bottlings continue to show the importance of site: Same vintage, same grape, same winemaker, but three different wines, all of which are superb.

The floral 2018 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir displays a gorgeous layered complexity, with minerality and dark fruitiness intertwined.  It conveys far more mineral-like nuances than the Russian River Valley, reflecting the focus of a single vineyard.  Heft and intensity without being over the top, coupled with suave tannins and an engaging bitterness in the finish, make it hard to resist now (94; $73).

The dark and brooding 2018 Olivet Lane is amazingly refined, especially considering its concentration.  Less floral and fragrant than the Klopp Ranch, it expands and explodes as it sits in the glass.  Initially, black fruit flavors predominate, but with air and time, savory notes appear and take over.  Merry Edwards’ signature suaveness amplifies its appeal.  Though plush and powerful, it is not heavy nor overdone (96; $72).

Unlike its two stablemates, the youthful 2018 Meredith Estate displays toasty oak flavors and little else initially.  But, befitting a youthful, tightly wound wine, its considerable charms emerge with time in a glass.  Denser and more concentrated than the other two, it remains balanced and within bounds.  Under the new team, Merry Edwards continues to avoid the overdone, “Pinot Syrah” style.  Similar to their other 2018s, its grandeur is apparent in an intriguing dark cherry-like hint of bitterness in the exceptionally long finish.  The 2018 Meredith Estate needs a few years to come together, as I’m sure it will, judging from previous vintages (96; $80).

Thankfully, it appears that there’s no change in style despite new ownership and a new winemaker at Merry Edwards.  Their Pinot Noirs remain bold, yet balanced, expressions of that grape, not Burgundy wannabes.
Posted by Michael Apstein on January 6, 2021 at 6:46 PM

Gifts for Wine Lovers…or for Those Who Want to be Wine Lovers

At this time of the year, people can be understandably fearful of giving wine to their wine-loving or worse, wine-geek, friends.  So, here are some fail-safe suggestions, both vinous and educational.  Plus, an essential but inexpensive gift item that would be a perfect as a stocking stuffer.

Let’s start with the vinous.

Cognac and Sherry are, perhaps, the two categories that wine lovers know least well.  Even those who consume wine every night with dinner rarely drink Sherry or Cognac regularly.  So, you don’t need to worry about embarrassing yourself by giving a bottle of either.

Cognac is a distillate made from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France.  The three critical pieces of information on a Cognac label are the area from which the grapes came, the amount of aging, and, perhaps, most importantly, the producer.  Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne (no relation to the bubbly wine region) are the top two areas within the greater Cognac region.  On many labels, you’ll see the term Fine Champagne, which means the grapes came from a combination of the two areas, with Grande Champagne contributing more than half the blend.  I find Cognac from a lesser-known area, Borderies, that ranks just below Grande and Petite Champagne in prestige, particularly attractive because the best have a wonderful floral component.  They can be hard to find, but are worth the search.

The longer a Cognac has been aged, the smoother and more complex it is.  Those labeled VS (Very Special) and VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) have been aged for a minimum of two and four years, respectively.  The best for gifts are those labeled Napoléon and XO (Extra Old), which have been aged for a minimum of six and ten years, respectively because there are more refined than the younger Cognacs.  Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 a bottle.  Some prestige Cognacs, XXO (Extra Extra Old), Ancestral, and Hors d’âge (Beyond Aging) receive even greater aging, but are best left to the “one percenters.”

There are many great Cognac producers.  Courvoisier, Hennessey, Martell and Remy-Martin are the four largest and account for 90 percent of the market, by some estimates, which means they are widely available.  All of them make excellent Napoléon and XO Cognac that are easy to recommend.  Camus, a family-owned producer, makes an exceptional Borderies.  Other small producers whose Cognacs I enthusiastically recommend are Delamain, A. E. Dor, Ferraud, Frapin, Geffard, Paul Giraud, Hine, Peyrat, and Voyer.

Even Sherry aficionados have a difficult time explaining Palo Cortado, which makes a bottle from that category an easy choice.  The most useful definition for me comes from Javier Hidalgo, of the eponymous bodega that produces a stellar line of Sherry.   According to him, a Palo Cortado represents the “best barrels in the cellar.”  Originally, the story goes, these were barrels of fino that didn’t develop as anticipated, but were, nonetheless, delicious, unique and reserved for the family.  Think of them as an elegant and complex Amontillado.  After it became apparent that the family could drink only so much, these barrels were bottled and sold as Palo Cortado.  They will run $50 to $100, but, unlike table wine, a Palo Cortado does not need to be consumed in one sitting.  It can last open for weeks.  In addition to Hildago, look for one from Lustau or Williams and Humbert.

The choice of a wine book this year for your wine loving friend is, as the saying goes, a no-brainer.  Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux is simply spectacular.  She has the perfect credentials for writing this book: British by birth, Anson has lived in Bordeaux for close to two decades.  She has been the long-time Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter, the world’s more important wine magazine. Plus, she writes beautifully and, most importantly, is unequivocal in her assessments.

There have been plenty of great books about Bordeaux.  Look no further than Stephen Brook’s The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines, The Château, The People.  But Anson’s is different and unique.  In addition to the vast details of the individual properties, she focuses on the terroir of the appellations and on that of each of the château, so the reader has an insight into what makes them unique.  Of course, you learn lots about the now-out-of-my-price-range Classified Growths (who knew Lafite formerly made a white wine?).  But you also get jewels of recommendations of lesser known and affordable properties.

Take these in the section on the Haut-Médoc, “another best bet is the 17ha Ch. Meyre . . . the vines are in two areas with 13ha around the château on limestone with clay and sand, and another section closer to the Gironde river on a gravel outcrop” and further along “In the category of Great Unknown Bordeaux Wines is Ch. les Vimières. . .”

In the chapter on St-Estèphe, she advises that Ch Laffitte-Carcasset is a “good-value Cru Bourgeois.”  Only someone with Anson’s experience can give this kind of valuable and detailed advice about these less well-known estates.  The maps and illustrations are superb.  Turning the pages is a joy.  If you have even a passing interest in Bordeaux, you’re making a mistake by not owning this book. (Published by Berry Bros and Rudd Press and sold by Sotheby’s Wine in the USA, $80.)

I give similar high praise for Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy and his sequel, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs.  You’d never know from his exquisite prose that D’Agata is a physician and molecular biologist by training.  With these books, he has produced two scholarly texts that are a great pleasure to read.  In Native Wine Grapes of Italy, he tells you where specific grapes are grown and, importantly, who are the top producers.  He’s not afraid to give his opinion either, as an excerpt from the section on Lambrusco shows: “After all that [people trashing Lambrusco], you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Lambruscos were best forgotten, but there are thrilling Lambrusco wines to be had too; and not just lip-smacking delicious dry Lambrusco rosso and rosato, but great sweet ones too.  Wine snobs will sneer at the latter wines, but I don’t see the problem: if some fetishists prize fruitiness and sweetness in their wines above all else, who am I to argue?  And besides, I like those sweet wines too.”

In Native Wine Grape Terroirs, you learn about the differences among Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato in a succinctly and clearly written single paragraph.  They are essential reference books for anyone interested in Italian wines.  Which book to buy? Frankly, I’d suggest both since they complement each other. (University of California Press, 2014 and 2019, respectively; each about $45).

The above-mentioned books are for the established wine lover.  For the wannabe or those just starting out, the 7th edition of Wine for Dummies by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW and Ed McCarthy is a good place to start (Wiley Publishing, about $22).  In clear prose without a patronizing tone, the authors unravel what for many is an intimidating subject.  The reader gets an essential understanding of wine—what to expect from a given bottle—which gives them the framework and confidence to expand their knowledge on their own.  The book’s layout allows readers to return to learn more as they explore new categories of wine.  Full disclosure:  the authors are friends and colleagues here at Wine Review Online.  With that acknowledged, it’s a terrific book for anyone with a yearning to learn about wine.

There is no better beginners’ book about wine than Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.  On its 35th edition and with over four million copies sold, it is the world’s best-selling wine book.  And with good reason—it’s fabulous.  Zraly is a superb teacher and his easy going, slightly irreverent at times, style is evident in his writing.  I guess my enthusiasm for his book is summarized best by the fact that I gave a copy to each of my daughters.  A perfect gift for students of finance or law who, sooner or later, will be handed a restaurant wine list when entertaining clients.

After the September 11th tragedy, Zraly moved his widely successful Windows on the World Wine Course to other locales.  With Covid-19, he’s adapted again and gone on-line with Zoom® format.  Regardless of the setting, his teaching is brilliant and entertaining.  In these one-hour classes, he explores a topic with four wines that are delivered in advance so during the class you taste along with him.  I took his one-hour Spanish class, found it entertaining and educational.  He has the rare ability to teach something to everyone, from novice to expert, during the same class, regardless of their level of experience.  The class fee is $50 with the four bottles adding between $100 and $150.  A gift certificate would make a great present. For more information go to

And now for the essential stocking stuffer:  A Champagne stopper.

It will transform the way you think of Champagne.  No longer it is a “special occasion” beverage, but rather a nightly aperitif.  You can spread the $50 cost of a bottle of Roederer NV Brut Premier over five nights, with a large, 5-ounce, glass a night.  Alternatively, you and companion can each enjoy a reasonable, 4-ounce, pour over three nights.

A Champagne stopper looks like an oversized bottle cap with short wings that clamp under the rim of any bottle of any kind of bubbly.  It allows you to re-stopper the bottle, maintaining the fizz, for another day.  It’s easy to use—both attaching and removing it from the bottle is a cinch.  It keeps the Champagne or sparkling wine fresh and bubbly for four or five days.   Don’t forget that if, by chance, the fizz is gone on day five, the still wine that remains is still fresh and ideal for deglazing a pan in place of white wine.  (About $10.)

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E-mail me your thoughts about what you’re giving your wine friends this year at and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

December 9, 2020

Castello di Fonterutoli, Leading the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Apstein
November 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember: producer, producer, producer.

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November 4, 2020

E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general at and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

A Rogue in Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 7, 2020

Pouilly-Fuissé Vineyards Finally Get Premier Cru Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


Les Crays
La Maréchaude
Sur La Roche
En France

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

September 30, 2020