Yep, and not with snooty pulled-duck sliders, but the real deal soft-bun White Castle burgers crawling with onions of my misspent youth. Only 12 cents back in the day. Fact: A White Castle branch in Lafayette, Indiana has tried selling wine. The label appropriately is Barefoot Cellars, which is a bit more polished than its name. Choices initially are chard, merlot, moscato and a sweet red. I’d go for a dry riesling or a Beaujolais. More sliders, please!
This luscious, nervy chardonnay caught me by surprise. This has a clean freshness, elegant polish and savory minerals. And it should. Antica has noble breeding, human and geologic. I know and you know that Piero Antinori has maintained his family’s great old wine making and Antica reds high up on Atlas Peak. Now he proves that mountain fruit makes superb chardonnay, a whole new breed of Napa chard. This is cool-climate, high altitude chardonnay, with high attitude. Grown in in six carefully chosen blocks of rocky soil 1,400 feet up in the Vaca range on the east side of the valley. Wow! The Antica has crisp tastes of citrus, mineral and smoke wrapped in creamy texture. Part of that is oak, which you don’t taste, but feel in the body. Perfectly balanced, as an Italian on top of Napa has to be. You’ll want a lot of this at our special e-price. Run-n-tell that.
…shows gorgeous textural finesse and fabulous overall balance. The signature Napa Valley richness is there, but in a cooler, more mineral-driven style. Smoke, crushed rocks and citrus are layered into the vibrant finish…. 94 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
This far north the sun sleeps in but I don’t mind. The holiday lights are still on and the French are masterful at illuminating public buildings. In Nantes, the musee and the streets around the plaza are hung with gold and white lights like swags of bunting. In the next town the colors are white and blue. In France Santa is in his sleigh and the locals wish everyone Bonne Annee all month long. We will encounter at least three New Year cakes as we follow the wine road up the valley but will find the litte king doll only once. And we are a troupe of 18, wine merchants from across the U.S. plus our guides.
The Loire is a valley of strong terroir and varietal character to match. Its grapes are those that fit this part of the north, in rare cases chardonnay but cab sauvignon need not apply. At the coast, there is muscadet, muscadet and muscadet, until we cruise up into the lands of cabernet franc and chenin blanc. Also-rans elsewhere, these grapes sing and dance here. You can think of the Loire as the land of beautiful castles; I think of Rabelais and his roustabout pals. Before we leave muscadet, Eric Chevalier gives us a taste of sauvignon gris, the rarest grape we taste, and one not to forget, clean focused with cactus needling yet not unpleasantly so.
We head east in the valley of the Loire, now far over its banks, to Epire in Savennieres, our first stop in chenin blanc country, where an unloved grape achieves elegance. It has to here in an 18th century chateau and the much older Romanesque church that serves as its cellar. Here the chenin can be austere crisp with the minerality of schist soils or a more powerful chenin aged in large chestnut barrels. Here we also meet chenin blanc’s longtime companion, plummy cabernet franc from Anjou. I think I could live the rest of my life with these as my only two wines. After another stop deeper into the cab franc country of Bourgeuil, I am convinced, especially when the wine is old vines, ideally on limestone.
At the next winery, we dive deep into the cellar for a tasting of three chenin blancs, a dozen cab francs and a good helping of wit and charm from owners Catherine and Pierre Breton. Their rose of cab franc is named Avis de Vin Fort, French for ”Small Craft Advisory,” and a fine time for sailors stuck in port to drink a clairette, summer or winter. Breton is fierce about the superiority of Bourgeuil’s franc; Fie on neighboring Chinon, he jokes. He uncorks a dusty bottle of 1961 Bourgeuil to prove it. Fifty years old, lovely and lively. No surprise, the Loire has shipped this wine to the world since the 1200′s. And as Breton notes, by the 15th century this was one of the power center of Europe; the castles and palaces prove it.
But we must on to Chinon, and why not, many Rabelaisian tales of debauchery and cab franc are set here under the ancient castellated walls high on the north bank. We end the night at a warm old auberge with a beef daube in a saturated sauce of Chinon cab franc that has been slow cooking for centuries. Our wines come from Charles Joguet, an old firm known to many for its snappy rose in the 19th century label. Our hostess however is one of the bright young faces in Chinon, Anne-Charlotte Genet, whose family runs the estate. Before the meal is over, she promises to try to visit B-21 in May.
The folks at Cliff Bar who made their fortune in health nut bars and moved into wine have climbed another mountain: Low-impact wine for hikers. Why haul that glass bottle full or empty through the wilderness or down the rapids? Instead pack Climber, roughly two bottles of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay in lightweight, heavy duty plastic. Under $20 it’s a fine idea; even better if it’s reusable. Perfect gift for the outdoorsy wine lover, (Peter Vagg, I’m talking to you). For the more sedentary type who has more wine than you can hope to rival, how about a crystal bottle stopper. I hear Baccarat makes one for $100.
Big scores and big markdowns on two of the best-known names in California, just in time to stock up for the holidays. Landing deals on the wines I know you want is why you come to B-21 – and only those of you on our private list can get them this low. Lucky you because these two wines are real crowd pleasers. Chalone’s unique corner of Monterey has always made an especially Burgundian Chard and the 2008 is particularly rich. Markham of course was one of the first names in Merlot in Napa Valley. And with the help of the smiling vintage gods, the 2007 is a ripe red cherry bomb. You could pay $20 or more elsewhere or you can deck your party bar in merry red and white for much less at B-21. You’re gonna want that.
“A rich, layered style, very Burgundian in style, with complex melon, fig, tangerine and light toasty oak. Full-bodied, deep and concentrated, yet light on its feet…” 92 Points, Wine Spectator
“Sleek and well-focused, with appealing cherry and tomato leaf aromas and nicely layered red currant, herb and spicy caramel flavors that linger toward ripe tannins…” 90 Points, Robert Parker’s WA
A day later we are off the map. The Maconnais are an hour well south of Beaune and the long cotes. It is the remote Burgundy that is added if at all as an addendum like Alaska and Hawaii on a map of the lower 48. We are almost to Beaujolais yet the Macon is white Burgundy country, a long valley with strong outcroppings, much limestone and clay. Yet it looks and feels bolder than the Cotes de Beaune. The hills are steeper, the sun brighter and the breeze more refreshing.
Maybe I just wanted that. Still the 2010′s we tasted from St. Veran and Pouilly Fuisse, not even on the market, were the most exciting chardonnays of the trip for me. Bright acids and crisp backbones, especially golden colors, big bouquets and bowls of fruit and cream. They might be Alsacians. Except the buttery texture and subtle vanillas say pure French oak. Will tell you when new Macons arrive next year.
Reporting from Beaune –The answer is … Louis Latour, which owns ten grand cru vineyards and sells the wines of another ten. Latour is even bigger here on the fabled hill of Corton, where it owns three quarters of the white vineyards and a chunk of the red. All told at least 60 hectares of Burgundy’s top reds. Very glad the current Louis, Louis-Fabrice is a friend — and an excellent vintner.
However, when I’m in the little village of Aloxe Corton I can that Louis Latour wasn’t always a giant operation. I tasted through their current vintages in an old cuverie from 1832 smack in the middle of the Corton vineyards where the family started 11 Latours ago. They were barrel makers and brokers back then before they bought their first stony vineyards at Corton Grancey. Could be some of them are still in the caves here 60 feet under the vineyards. Don’t think I’ve been in cellars so old dark and spooky. Catacombs with mold hanging like stalactites. Great place for a tasting — or a horror movie. Back above ground I was impressed by the diversity Latour achieves, hardly a monoculture, under Fabrice, it respects the specificity of terroir and diversity of appellations. From this cuverie , where all the red wines are bottled I can see four grades of Corton, And each parcel has one caretaker who work it year after year. The vineyard we’re in contains many clones and when a vine dies they replant with a different clone.
The hill of Corton has always been a Latour obsession. The family was the first to plant chardonnay here and helped survive phylloxera. In fact the Charlemagne cross that marks the vineyard was given to the Latours by the Hospices de Beaune for their contributions to Burgundy. I tasted through a number of the wines a few months ago with Frabrice back home in Florida and got another sampling of ’09 and ’10 down in the cellars. Pretty exciting those 1ercrus but the best is from Corton grand crus. The Corton-Charlemagne is beautifully balanced and buttery; Corton Grancey as smooth and luscious as pinot noir can be. It really doesn’t matter where you look, from Meursault to Chablis Fabrice makes honest solid wines at every level with 200 years of family history behind him. And I give you even more value with these discounted prices for the complete tour of Burgundy from village wines to grand crus. You’re gonna want that.
You have come to love the Langoureux wines from St. Aubin as much as I do and you should come for a visit some time. Not just because they are lovely people, which they are. So is Primet, their Bernese, a big floppy sheep dog with long black hair and a handsome brown and white face. However finding their place is a challenge and an education. You can’t see their commune, Gamay, from Puligny-Montrachet but if you go up the hill until you’re in front of Le Montrachet (and it seems like every wine tourist in town does) you’re almost there. On the far side of the valley you can see the hard rock face of the quarry on Chassagner.
Take the road to the left around the hill and in a minute you’re in Sylvain’s best vineyard, En Remilly which almost touches Le Montrachet, same soil. Down the hill is Sylvain and Nathalies’ place. Except for the kids’ plastic slide, it seems like an ancient stone croft but the view out the door is much older, a massive tenth century castle and the center of St Aubin beyond. The tasting room is down a few steps in the basement.
Sylvain makes superb minerally driven chardonnays from St. Aubin, En Remilly and Frionnnes. with the ripe 2009s and the crisper 2010, working 30 to 40 vineyards in 15 separate appellations. Great soil and juice but the trick is in the proper picking and modest oak. He’s doing his best work ever. Definitely a rising leader in the appellation and proud of its small family operations compared to its famous neighbors “When you are in St. Aubin, you have the grower and the soil.” Works for me.
Pairing food and wine in Burgundy is easy. The wines are pinot noir and chardonnay of course. And the classic dishes of Burgundy are distinctive too. You’re familiar with boeuf bourguignon, (duh), coq au vin, the best snails in France and some specialties rarely seen elsewhere. There’s andouillette, a sausage of loose pork choppings and offal, dry cured country ham, a ham/parsley loaf called jamon persillade and the wonderful eggs known as oeufs meurette. In meurette, eggs are poached in Red burgundy and a brown stock served on toast. Benedict never tasted so good. You could make at home; but good eggs are harder to find than pinot. Better to have them in Burgundy. Plus you get the joys of duck, pate, great bread, exquisite chocolate and great cheeses like eposse that melt before they get to your mouth.
Chefs do serve up the seasonal harvest attentively: In October, pumpkin is served every where as puree or soup, happily in its natural sweetness without pie spices. Don’t be ashamed to toast it with kir royale, local sparkling wine with cassis . It’s better here too. Best place for the classic in Beaune is Le Gourmandin, a friendly jewel of a place entertaining the wine trade and the locals for decades. Bob’s been coming here for years, the women at the counter smile and a broker entertaining British wine buyers give us a wave. Seems tiny at first glance, but more dining rooms are in the back up and down. Cooking is just as extensive, Traditional persillade, scallops, local Charolais beef, simple cabbage stuffed with chicken liver and foie gras all elevated to sophistication without fussiness. For heartier, beefier version of Burgundian cuisine, join the crowd at the Grenier a Sel grille, in a medieval salt depot. Today the treasured condiment inside the ancient walls is mustard (Dijon does not have a lock on it). At Grenier, every table gets four mustard pots, smooth, grainy, red pepper and the best, whole grain mustard and currents, blacker than any tapenade and sweet-hot excitement on the simplest foods. And especially on andouillettes.
In little Gevrey-Chambertin, the traditional favorite is Chez Guy, now smartly redone in deep crimson and blonde woods, the curtains and glass are suntly emblazoned with the names of the villages famous cru. Oeufs meurettes remain the same as does the beef cocotte, slowly braised for 12 hours and presented istraight from the oven in a Staub casserole, too hot to touch and very easy to eat. Wherever you go, don’t hold back. When ordering a fixed menu, you are offered the choices of cheese or dessert or cheese AND dessert. The French go for both. You should too. You’ll be back home all too soon.
Out of 109 wines, like we had at this weekend’s tasting and sale, how do you pick a favorite? Although some would zero in on the 2008 Mas Doix Doix, remarkable Priorat, like licking slate in the rain, I can’t narrow my favorites down so far. I had too many pleasures. Call me promiscuous. Best reds under $10: 2010 Castano Monastrell and 2010 Santa Julia Organica. Best reds under $20: Zuccardi Malbec Serie Q, 2009 Tres Picos and 2010 Resalso. Best reds $20 to $40: 2001 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza, 2008 Luca Besorde Dante, 2006 Lindaflor Malbec. Top dollar reds: 2001 Fincas de Ganuza, 2005 Torre Muga, 2007 Catena Adrianna, 2008 Mas Doix Doix. Best whites: 2009 Louro do Godello, Lindaflor Chardonnay. Most fun in a bottle: 1927 Alvear Solera PX.
Very cool. Tired of boring Chard? Then follow Steve MacRostie to the coolest corners of Sonoma, up the coast and Wildcat Mountain. Steve himself is a very nice guy, pretty quiet when I met him at a tasting last year where there were too many Chards. Nothing modest about his wine though, the Macrostie Chardonnay sang loud and pure. You’re gonna want that.
“A rich, elegant style, with intense, concentrated citrus, green apple, spice and fresh-cut flowers. Full-bodied, gaining depth and complexity on the finish, where the minerality shines through.” 92 Points, Wine Spectator
Couldn’t miss Mt. Etna when I was in Sicily last summer. Amazing mountain, so big and yet it seems close enough to touch. Not so. Driver said it would take a cab at least an hour and half. Probably why Andrea Franchetti took the old slow fisherman’s path, the passopisciaro, to the vineyards and winery he started in 2001. He touched off the explosion in great Sicilian wines and Passopisciaro has been a sellout favorite of yours as long as we’ve had it. Mine too: I can’t ask for more than high altitude, 80-year-old vines, volcanic soils, from lava to gravel, and the amazing Nerello Mascalero. A little Pinot Noir, a little Nebbiola but very much its own indigenous grape, the kind of unique old flavors Italy’s famous for. Good news is that the 2009′s are coming, an exquisite vintage especially in the single vineyards, and great Rosso and Chardonnay too. Order now for my best prices and to be sure you get your share of the 2009 Passopisciaros. You’re gonna want that.
“The 2009 Passopisciaro is impressive. Sweet red cherries, flowers and spices are some of the notes that are woven into a fabric of incomparable grace and elegance. Deceptively medium in body, the wine shows surprising density over time, with layers of fruit that build towards the harmonious, enveloping finish.” 92 Points, WA
“Attractive density and expressive fruit, all supported by firm yet well-balanced tannins. A bright, articulate finish adds proportion and balance.” 93 Points, WA
“An exquisite wine layered with dark, sensual fruit. It is at once muscular yet weightless…” 94 Points, WA
“Sweet dried fruit, herbs and spices are some of the nuances that emerge from the glass.” 93+ Points, WA
“Bright red fruit, flowers, anise and minerals wrap around the palate…Sweet scents of cedar, dried herbs and tobacco.” 94 Points, WA
“Juicy, concentrated flavors of thyme, lime, banana, honey and stone coat the palate. Finishes long and very clean, with mouthwatering freshness.” 90 Points, IWC
We learned long ago that South Africa’s vineyards were as much fun as a safari. Safer too. I now know that Africa produces more than good value, much as we all like that. Of course it has unique climate and geology, its own grapes too. Yet South Africa has long, smart wine-growing traditions. It makes exceptionally good $10 bottles and great wines well above. This week I’ve cut prices so you can explore them all. Start with the Rhonish Wolftrap red, the Porcupine Syrah or the homegrown Chenin Blanc (steen to the locals) from Man Vintners. Every one over delivers for the price. Then treat yourself to the better grades, like the 2009 Chakalaka, a dark red blend of Syrah and oddball grapes as robust and complex as the spice it’s named for and the 2010 Hamilton-Russell Chardonnay, the taste of Beaune for only $24. At these prices, you can fill your lodge for weeks. You’re gonna want that.
“Bright yellow. Cool aromas of melon, kiwi, lime zest, dusty herbs and licorice. Juicy and densely packed, with a bit of sweetness balanced by brisk acidity. A crisp, clean midweight with a dusty texture and a ripe nectarine flavor on the lively finish. Terrific value.” 88ST
“Very bright red-ruby. Black cherry, pepper, tree bark and candied violet on the almost liqueur-like nose. Then juicy and vinous in the mouth, with lovely red berry sweetness complicated by pepper and a touch of woodsmoke. Finishes with a fine dusting of tannins and nice length for a wine in its price range. User-friendly and downright gulpable.” 88ST
“A solid red from the Franschhoek Valley made by new-wave winemaker Marc Kent. It’s a truly handcrafted Syrah, fermented in small open-top tanks, and then aged in wooden barrels. Aromas of raspberry, black pepper, smoked sausage and cloves. The silky texture and full flavor make it a great wine on its own or enjoy with most red meat dishes.” 90SS, 90RAS
“Dark and winey, with lots of sappy kirsch, blackberry and plum sauce notes supported by dark licorice and sweet spice through the finish. Shows nice range and character. Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Grenache and Tannat. Drink now.”90WS, 90WA
“The palate has a very attractive hazelnut and lanolin-tinged entry. It has wonderful definition and a taut, citrus finish
that is long in the mouth. Try to resist temptation and cellar this for several years.” 93WA
“2009 The Chocolate Block has a rustic, earthy bouquet with a touch of saddle-leather and Provencal herbs. The palate is smooth and rounded on the entry and is armed with crisp acidity to cut through that plush dark berried fruit interlaced with rosemary, white fennel and white pepper. Very svelte and harmonious towards the slightly oaky finish and demonstrating good length, The Chocolate Block is a well-crafted Rhone(ish) blend from Mark Kent and his team. Drink now-2015.” 90WA
Maybe not. Wine and fast-food pairing is not so easy for some of the national chains that have tried it, the New York Times reports. Problem isn’t blue nosed prohibitionists so much as personnel and logistics issues, like needing older servers and occasionally bouncers. Still you can more than caffeine, and fizzy sodas at a few Starbucks in Seattle, at Sonic Drive-In in Homestead, and a few of Burger King’s upscale Whopper Bars, like Vegas, New York City and South Beach. Don’t look for beer or wine in Orlando at Florida’s other Whopper Bar Universal’s City Walk, but it does have bourbon burgers.
I won’t argue whether that unoaked chardonnay or an ’09 CdR is best with Double Whopper or Sonic’s Bacon & Blue hot dog (crisp rose?). I do think that prudery and snobbery combine to opposes the idea of wine with everyday food. Beer has it easier. Beer goes with brats at the ballgame and burgers on the grill, but most of us like a cheap red with pizza. And why not? Saying “Europe does it better” is tiresome but sometimes true. In long road trips from Spain to Germany this year I avoided fast food but stopped in plenty of gas stations. Almost all served drink as well as food. Beer, wine, brandy as well as espresso. Nothing fancier than the cellophane sandwiches. Hard to call that wining and dining “sophisticated.” But it does seem ….mature.