Head south out of Beaune and it’s easy to spot Montrachet, the vineyard on the hill where all the wine tourists are taking pictures. For the best buys in white Burgundies, I like to go just a little bit farther, and turn right around the hill. I’m then in quiet St. Aubin and the warm home, winery, garage and cellar of the Langoureau family. Their village just above Chassagne-Montrachet is somewhere I could live happily; my dog and theirs would have a great time. From their place it’s just a short way up the hill to their 1er cru vineyards, just around the hill from Montrachet, barely 100 yards, same altitude, same rocks, facing more southerly and also gorgeous chardonnay. Right next to the border with Puligny-Montrachet and its grand cru prices. These are prime old vines with the bright young energy of Sylvain and Nathalie. In 2010, even their “village” blanc has nerve and intensity worthy of the neighbor’s admiration. The 1er wines could pass for Puligny. I like En Remilly best, ripe, dense and intense, but it’s a tough choice. So much finesse and polish in the Frionnes, you may like it better. Decide for yourself. At my prices you can try both for nearly the price of one Puligny-Montrachet. Premier cru Burgundy at bargain prices!
I’ll be honest. It was very dark when I got to Domaine Faury in Saint-Joseph. We left Hermitage, Cote Rotie and the other great AOCs of the northern Rhone and climbed high up the granite sides of the valley. Don’t know how Kermit Lynch found it, but I’m very glad he did. I could tell that the farming was hard even if I could not see the terroir. But I could taste it, and recognized the passion of the wine grower when young Lionel Faury showed up with and his wines and his smile. The dark vanished and it felt like the noonday sun came out. Especially the 2010 Saint-Joseph blanc. Wow. Marsanne and roussanne. Like summer in full bloom. with a strong breeze too. Tropical, but not lazy. If you haven’t tried the magic of Rhone whites, join the fan club now and banish chardonnay boredom forever. The Saint-Joseph reds don’t get the hype of Hermitage, but Faury’s sleek and subtle syrahs definitely should. The old vines Vieilles Vignes cuvee is a knockout you won’t forget: hand-harvested, low yield and intensely pure. Not many others know Faury, but it’s a producer every Rhone lover should. This is a family to stick with. They’ve been here for a long time growing grapes and peaches and just put their name on the label 30 years ago. Already it’s one of the greats in the appellation. But Lionel only makes 2,000 cases for France and the world, so I jumped in line to get these for B-21. You’ve got to try them.
Isosceles is about perfect balance. That’s a lesson in Bordeaux as well as geometry, only played out in Paso Robles. Its juicy black fruits stop just at the brink of over the top. It’s still in harmony, sweet, silky and lightly spiced. Justin Baldwin started out to make a first growth Margaux in a very young appellation 30 years ago. Today, he has many fans. He’s kept to a left bank blend, mostly cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot and a touch of petite verdot. Of course, the formula changes every vintage, but you always go wild for it and I continually run out. Now I have the 2008, his best in years, which is sold out at the winery. Justin Isosceles ’08 for $49.99? It’s a beautiful thing.
Parker’s always loved this wine, you and me too. Which is why we ran out. The great mountain of Ventoux behind Chateauneuf du Pape is returning to greatness, as anyone who has opened a bottle of the lush, spicy Terrasses from Chateau Pesquie can attest. The Bastide family started the domaine 30 years ago and in recent years their custom blend for my friend Eric Solomon has nailed a lot of good reviews, 90, 91, 92 points, but never as high the 94-pointer of 2010. A great vintage in the Rhone and exceptional for Pesquie: “absolutely stunning” according to the Wine Advocate. Such a blockbuster so rich and complex you’d swear it was a top Chateauneuf du Pape. Blackberries, raspberries and everything else in the Rhone kitchen, licorice, tea, spice and pepper. At my price, this is indeed a phenomenal bargain and I doubt I’ll have it for very long.
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, though they do 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 last 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.
Yep. Parker’s buddy Antonio Galloni was blown away by Foxglove’s wines. I’m offering these gems from brothers Bob and Jim Varner way below big-box prices, great buys in high-quality cab, zin and chardonnay from the Central Coast. The Varners are Edna Valley heroes everywhere, from Parker to Decanter to Food & Wine for their estate wines (the Varner and Neely labels), and the new Foxglove line sourced from the best winegrowers they know. “The Varners clearly have the magic touch. These are among the finest values readers will find anywhere in the world.” You bet, Antonio. These guys have always done great with chard and I think the Paso Robles reds are as good. A lush cab and a very earthy zin are here too. You don’t have to pay that much at B-21. Load up on Foxglove today!
This is a Brunello you won’t forget… full-bodied, muscular, voluptuous. Utterly charming too, almost as beautiful as the 2006 Suckling scored 100. This comes darn close. Both Suckling and Wine Enthusiast scored it 97 and Parker just called it at 95+ and “…another terrific showing from Giacomo Neri.” The 2007 Tenuta Nuova is saturated with ripe fruits and dark candies with a finish long enough to reflect upon. I’m awed by the dedication of Sig. di Neri, and bowled over by all his Brunellos, from the white label up to their greatest, the Cerretalto, and so is everyone else. Since his Tenuta Nuova topped the Top 100 with the 2001 it is eagerly awaited every year. At last, this year’s is here. You’ll want it in your cellar now. Then wait a little and give it time when you open it. This is luxuriant drinking and a terrific price. You’ll enjoy both for a long time.
Not only a major score but aged vintage cava? Cava so rich it needs an hour or two breathing time? From one of the oldest cava families in Spain, Gramona will surprise you (as much as the first vintage I had did, back in 2000). Anyone with my Champagne loyalties will be thrilled when discovering Spain’s first class cavas. Forget cheap surrogates for French bulk producers, this is cava that rivals the artisan growers as well as the grand marques. Great cava like Gramona is nothing new, the winery goes back 130 years and made its first cava in 1921. Today they make almost a dozen cuvees (and as many still wines plus marcs). Age and experience is the Gramona hallmark. All their cuvees have big proportions of Xarelo, the most ageworthy of Cava grapes, and are aged in the cellars longer than at any other house. The “liqueur” they use for dosage comes from a solera in old sherry and rum barrels that has been going for a century. I have acquired three Gramona wines you must try: the brilliant and elegant 2008 Gran Cuvee, the creamy, complex Imperial Gran Reserva from 2006, and the prized Ill Lustros 2005 shining with minerality, smoked nuts and electric fruit. I’ve priced these at great savings to make sure you start an exciting cava adventure.
Not in the central mountains and far down the coast last year. The AP added it together, killer snow in the Sierra Nevada (May 15! ) and a hard freeze in Paso Robles, then cold and rain all through what should have been a warm and dry May.
“This weather is causing all kinds of problems, but it’s not the first time and not the last,” Santa Barbara County Vintner’s Association Executive Director Jim Fiolek said. “Other products have a more ephemeral lifetime, but ours goes on and on and tells the story of the weather pattern.”
Tablas Creek reported a warm March followed by two all-night freezes in April, very bad news for Jason Haas whose dad founded the place as an American Beaucastel. Last year Haas already lost all grenache, grenache blanc, viognier and marsanne. What plants survived are behind schedule and pushing the prospect of harvests in late October and early November.
Mike Waller at Calera thinks he may pick pinot noir in November. Fiolek took it all in stride, “That’s what makes this business so damned interesting.” Sure there are problems “but it’s not the first time and not the last.”
Not a cheap answer, but I’ll lift a glass of 2011 to that with you, Jim. In the meantime, B-21 has a good stock of that 94-point Esprit de Beaucastel from 2008, grand for both red and white.
You might not know Faugères and I could not have found this patch of the Languedoc without help. So I’m thrilled that Kermit Lynch showed the way to this special place and a very special winemaker, Didier Barral, and his beautifully pure wines at the Domaine of Leon Barral. As lush and earthy as any in Chateauneuf or Priorat at a fraction of the price.
Let me tell you about the place, Faugères is about 50 miles west of Montpellier and maybe 30 from the sea, sort of near St. Chinian and Minervois. High altitude vineyards up in hills with so much schist that some people say the grapes ripen at night from the heat of the stones. Faugères has grown grapes for centuries. Barral is one big reason Faugères is now on the wine route. Some of the wood and slate buildings have been there for ages and some it hand-built yesterday. Small and old-fashioned, certainly. Barral and his wines are famous across France and a beacon around the world for the biodynamic winemaking of the future.
On my visit a Japanese activist was spending a year with Barral to see how he does it. The answer? With cattle, pigs and sheep in the vineyards, ladybugs and earthworms in the soil and natural yeast and an antique wine press. I tasted the luscious 2009s and feasted on Didier’s food in their ancient barn. He then set out two boudins he had made, a roast haunch of pork and a two foot wheel of Franche-Comte.
A unique experience, wines like few others can make from syrah, carignan and mourvedre. Each wine is marvelous; even the “basic” cuvee from 40 year old vines is a huge helping of Faugères‘ rich, wild terroir. I know you’ll want more, and at B-21’s prices, you can have them all. This is the best of the very old way of France.
Following the path of the famous importer Kermit Lynch I looked forward to meeting many of his great discoveries, especially Philippe Bernède. He’s the master of Malbec, the famous “black” wine of Cahors up in the rugged terrain above Toulouse. This is where Malbec was born, in an old Roman town east of Bordeaux. You don’t know Malbec until you’ve had it from the source, no matter how much from Argentina you’ve drunk.
Bernède is quite modest about it although his family has tended malbec for six generations and Clos la Coutale is the most famous label in the region. It’s an old favorite of Kermit, and mine too. The 2008 was a centerfold of “The Buzz” last year. Finally got to meet him when he joined us for a seaside feast of shellfish straight from the Mediterranean. Too bad we couldn’t have had cassoulet to go with his Coutale; it’s made for duck fat. Maybe next time – and I will be back. Bernède’s a quiet and charming guy with many talents: On the side he invented a new kind of corkscrew with a double hinge.
Anyhow, his wines have set the standard for Malbec, a robust “red” that truly is nearly black. Full of blackberries and very dark fruit, silkier than you expect, maybe because of the dollop of Merlot or his careful barrel aging (in Seguin-Moreau barrels just like the high-priced guys). Still the 2009 is definitely big and built for the long haul. ’09 was a terrific year for Bordeaux and it delivered the same goodness in Cahors.
Getting there is no longer half the fun; with modern air travel it’s twice the pain. Some lessons from the wine-weary travelers:
1) Travel ultra light. Layer, layer, layer; rotating dirty clothes makes them fresh! Well, better to arrange a two-night stay somewhere so you can get a few things laundered. If you over do on anything, clean socks and underwear take up less space and go a long way.
2) Make lots of room for electronics. I feel like a traveling power plant but camera, cell phone and laptop are essential; each needs a charger and each plug needs a converter. And European hotels in old buildings don;t have enough outlets. Take a multi-plug extension cord. Take extra storage capacity for cameras and cellphones.
3) Modern airports everywhere are vast. You may have to walk a mile with your carry-ons. See rule one. European train stations are beautifully efficient, but you still have to haul your bags up into the train. See rule one again.
4) If you have a rollaboard, queue up early for the best shot at overhead space. Wait for the line to go down and you lose.
5) Wear your heaviest shoes rather than pack them. Takes a little longer after going through security but worth it.
6) Don’t go to the market on the last day. If you do, the joys of all those cured meats and charcuterie will vanish at the U.S. border. We tried to eat our way through two pounds of hams, salami and cheese on the train to Paris and the flight back to Chicago. Couldn’t do it. And of course I got into a line at customs run by Officer Hard-Ass. He gave a rough time to every one and of course sent me off for further inspection. I was allowed to keep the cheese, but the last of the meat was confiscated. “Next time eat it on the plane,” the inspector warned. I tried.
Pinot is a very big family. Pinot noir is of course the favored child, talented but willful. Pinot grigio is the wild one without a bit of discipline, brilliant one minute and a wastrel the next. But pinot blanc is the quiet one, late blooming but profound, growing up into a charming dinner companion. My latest find is Becker Estate from Rheinpfalz, like a fine white Burgundy with a peachy accent, creamy with acidic zing. Good with shrimp . Better with pork or roast chicken.
This pinot blanc is clean, crisp and refeshing. Delicate flavors of citrus, green apple and floral aromas are nicely accented by a refreshing acidity and chalky minerality. – Winemaker’s notes
Colomé just keeps getting better. The Malbec has been a league leader for years and a Top 100 regular for Wine Spectator. Just a whiff of the 2010 Torrontes wowed us too. Both of Argentina’s signature grapes are winners in Colomé’s hands, always a lot of class for little cost.
The estate Malbec received a 92 from Sr. Parker, and it’s a terrific wine. It has the kind of dense fruit I like, lots of dark berries that are very fresh and jammy but with very little sugar; lots of tang and tingle. It’s layered with licorice, fig and chocolate. Amazingly, the white has just as much punch and perfume, the most character I’ve had in a Torrontes. This is a big white, packed with spice and energy despite its size, like a Botero dame doing a tango. Take note: there’s nothing new about Colomé wines, this is no startup import label. It’s from higher up, in Salta where they’ve been making good wine for almost 200 years. Both of these are rich wines and great value at everyday retail, and at B-21’s prices they are terrific deals.