Monday, June 27, 2016

Affordable White Burgundies - They do Exist!

Affordable White Burgundies .... Including a Sauvignon Blanc, yes, a Sauvignon Blanc!

There are a few things certain in life: taxes, Hollywood will soon release another comic book movie, and white Burgundies are expensive. Actually while this last claim is generally true, there are some very impressive white wines from Burgundy that won't result in you taking out a loan. Here are a few of the better examples I've tasted recently.

Goisot Saint-Bris "Exogyra Virgula" 2014
Everyone knows that Chardonnay is the white Burgundy, right? Well, there are a few exceptions and here is one that few people know, as it's made from Sauvignon. Saint-Bris is named for the small village of Saint-Bris-les-Vineaux in northern Burgundy, in the Yonne department south of Chablis. Here both Sauvignon Blanc as well as Sauvignon Gris are used to produce a medium-bodied, dry white; this particular example has textbook Sauvignon perfumes, with notes of hay and freshly cut grass, along with a subtle notes of melon. It's very well made and is quite refreshing and delicious and would be ideal paired with simple seafood.

Giraudon Bourgogne Aligoté 2014
Another white variety that performs well in Burgundy is Aligoté. While this is actually among the top 25 most widely planted varieties in the world (it's also grown in such countries as Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine), it is not that well known by most consumers. In Burgundy, it can be used in a sparkling wine known as Cremant de Bourgogne, but in this instance, it's the basis for a dry, very flavorful white wine with appealing apple flavors and lively, lip-smacking acidity. Giraudon, located in the town of Chitry in the Auxerre department near Chablis, specializes in Aligoté and makes a typical delicious example that would be perfect with shellfish. What's best about this wine - and the Saint-Bris mentioned above - is the reasonable price, less than $20 a bottle on US retail shelves.

Vincent Bourgogne Blanc 2014
Now on to Chardonnay! Bourgogne Blanc is almost always an excellent value, as some of the most renowned producers of Burgundy produce a version of Bourgogne Blanc that is nowhere as expensive as their most famous offerings; even better is the fact that these offerings of Bourgogne Blanc are very impressive wines in their own right. J.J. Vincent is an excellent producer, best known for Pouilly-Fuisse; his versions are regularly excellent, but given the reputation of that wine, you have to pay a bit of a premium for his examples. Not so with his Bourgogne Blanc - this 2014 has aromas of yellow flowers, mustard seed and a note of vanilla; there is good richness on the palate, good acidity and persistence, and very nice Chardonnay character. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. 

Meurgey-Croses Viré Clessé "Vielles Vignes" 2014
If you must have white Burgundies from such AOC as Corton Charlemagne or Puligny Montrachet, you'll probably pay dearly for them. Head to the Maconnais area of southern Burgundy and you'll find any number of well made white Burgundies that are fairly priced. Examples include Macon, Macon Lugny and Saint-Veran. One wine from this area that should be better known is Viré Clessé, named for two towns in the appellation. The 2014 from Muergey-Croses is one of the finest white Burgundies in its price range I've tasted in years! Offering expressive aromas of fresh lemon, lilacs and a hint of grapefruit, this is medium-bodied with very good depth of fruit, and has excellent freshness and ripeness with very good acidity. 

This is a beautifully balanced wine with impressive varietal character and excellent complexity. What's most impressive about this wine is that this is a "vielles vignes" selection, meaning one from old vines; in this case, 65 years old. These older vines produce extremely flavorful fruit; this producer vinified most of this wine in steel, with a small percentage in wood, resulting in a multi-layered wine. For a retail price of around $30, this is an excellent value! Pair this with poultry, most seafood or goat cheese and enjoy this over the next 2-3 years, perhaps longer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Serious Rosé

I've always enjoyed a well made Rosé and I've loved a few of them. So it's been especially gratifying to see how many sommeliers and wine buyers across the country also favor these wines. Recently, I was at Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City, where wine director Jeff Kellogg had put together a marvelous selection of rosés, both still and sparkling. I sampled a glass of Ettore Germano "Rosanna", a sparkling Nebbiolo from Piemonte that is one of the best of its type (I have written about this wine in my upcoming book on Piemonte); I went back the next evening and with a few friends, thoroughly enjoyed the Chartogne-Taillet non-vintage Rosé from Champagne - just sublime!

So yes, rosés have arrived and have become sought after wines in many instances; the best are much more than simple summer sippers. Here is a list of some of the finest I've enjoyed over the past few months:


Ferrari non-vintage (Trento DOC) - There are some excellent metodo classico sparkling wines made in Trentino in northeastern Italy; the best examples from this cool climate area are labeled as Trento DOC. The firm of Ferrari, established in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, and managed by the Lunelli family since the 1950s, is the best known Trento DOC producer; it is also arguably the finest. Their classic rose is a blend of 60% Pinot Nero and 40% Chardonnay; it is aged slightly longer than 24 months on the lees. Medium-bodied with a rich mid-palate, very good acidity and impressive persistence, this is very flavorful, and quite elegant, and will drink well for the next 3-5 years.

Another impressive Trento DOC rosé is from the firm of Revi; this 100% Pinot Nero is a new cuvée from this producer; it is a vintage-dated offering (millesimato) from 2009. This offers bright strawberry and plum aromas and flavors, along with good acidity and is round and quite elegant. It is a touch lighter in body than the Ferrari, but no less flavorful; this is delicious now and will drink well for another 3-5 years. 

Moving to Champagne, I've tasted so many great examples over the past few years. Two recent examples that impressed me are the previously mentioned Chartogne-Taillet and the Bereche "Campana Remensis", both non-vintage and made according to the more common assemblage method for rosé Champagne, where a small amount of still red wine is added into the blend. The Chartogne-Taillet is effusively fruity, with tantalizing flavors of strawberry and raspberry with very good acidity and an ultra-clean, very long finish. The Bereche offering is not as bright as the Chartogne-Taillet, but the complexity and finesse of this wine, along with its distinct earthiness, combine to make it a winner. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

One other rosé Champagne of note that caught my attention lately is from Christophe Mignon, whose firm is located in Festigny in the Vallée de la Marne, west of Epernay. Mignon specializes in Pinot Meunier and it's neat to see that he actually produces two separate rosés from this variety. The one I tasted was produced according to the assemblage method; Mignon also makes a saignée rosé in which the color of the wine is derived from the skins of the Pinot Meunier grapes. Medium-bodied with aromas of ripe strawberry and orange poppies, this is a sumptuous rosé Champagne!


You used to only hear about rosés from France, especially those from Provence or from Tavel in the Rhone Valley. But now, given the popularity of rosé, there are notable examples produced around the world. Here are a few examples:

Hacienda di Arinzano Rosé 2015 - From northern Spain, this is 100% Tempranillo, the principal variety of Rioja. Displaying a beautiful deep cherry color, with watermelon and pear aromas, this is clean, elegant, tasty and ideal for chicken or simple summer foods.

Chateau Les Crostes Rosé 2015 - Here is a textbook rosé from Provence, which to me is like saying that this is a classic rosé with its blush color, delicate nature and its pleasingly dry finish. What a lovely quaffer to enjoy during the hot weather or with lighter pastas or salads!

Masi "Rosa di Masi" 2015 - From one of Italy's most famous producers, this is 100% Refosco, which gives this rosé a distinctive character. With beautiful pink cherry fruit and a dry finish, this is medium-bodied and quite tasty. Lovely on its own or with lighter red meats.

(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Domaine Thomas & Fils Sancerre Rosé "Terres Blanches" 2015 - Sancerre, from eastern Loire, is one of the world's most famous white wines. Few realize that many producers also release a Sancerre Rosé, made entirely from Pinot Noir. Displaying a pretty blush strawberry color and pear, plum and dried cherry aromas, this has excellent ripeness, very good acidity and impressive persistence. Nicely balanced, this is a beautifully made rosé to enjoy over the next year or two. This would be ideal paired with sautéed shrimp.

Domaine Lafond Tavel 2015 - Here is a first-rate example of one of the world's most famous and classic rosés. A blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Cinsault and 20% Syrah, this has a beautiful deep pink color and intense aromas of bing cherry and wild strawberry. Medium-full with rich complexity and a touch of meatiness (this will stand up to roast meats), this is an outstanding rosé to be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years. 

Schloss Gobelsburg "Cistercien" Rosé 2015 - From one of Austria's finest producers, this is made with a predominance of Zweigelt with a smaller percentage of Saint Laurent. Offering dried strawberry and dried orange peel perfumes and flavors, this has a rich mid-palate, backed by a delicate finish. Quite dry, with very good acidity, this is something special! Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tre Bicchieri Returns

The Tre Bicchieri tastings are returning to the United States! Organized by Gambero Rosso, the bible of Italian wines, these special tasting bring together dozens of producers from all over Italy, as they pour their top-rated Tre Bicchieri wine for the media and press.

The 2016 "Vini d'Italia" is the 29th edition of this guide, published by Gambero Rosso. For this year's guide, some 22,000 wines from a total of 2400 producers, there were 421 wines that were awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating. This rating is the highest given by the publication and it goes to the most outstanding wines from all over Italy. What's great about this award is that is it not only reserved for the most celebrated red wines, such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino and Amarone, but also less famous reds such as Dolcetto, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Rosso Piceno, along with may stellar whites (Verdicchio, Vermentino, Timorasso, et al) and of course, several prominent sparkling wines from Franciacorta and Trentino, along with a few examples of Prosecco.

There will be three tastings in the US, starting on February 4 in Chicago at the Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th Street. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of the participating producers who will be pouring their wines in Chicago.

The tasting in New York City will be held on February 9 at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W. 18th Street. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of participating producers who will be pouring their wines in New York City.

The tasting in San Francisco will be held on February 11 at Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard. Register here for this event (press) and here for trade.

Here is a link to a list of participating producers who will be pouring their wines in San Francisco.

I'll be attending both the Chicago and New York City tastings - hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hugel - The Wines of Alsace (Part Two)

Photo ©Hugel

There are so many days to celebrate, so why not a day for a winery? I never knew this until a few weeks ago, but November 14 is Famile Hugel day - Hugel, being the famed Alsatian producer, of course. 

Well, I'm game, so I tasted a few of their classic wines to get me in the mood. A few words about Hugel first; the firm was established in 1639 (!) and is today located in the charming village of Riquewihr in the Haut-Rhin section of Alsace (this is the southern half of Alsace and is considered the best wine area in the region). The winery is still family owned - how nice in this era of corporate buyouts and mergers - and is being managed by the 12th generation of the Hugel family.

There are several lines of wines produced by Hugel. Here are notes on three wines from the classic range:

2014 "Gentil"
"Gentil" is the name of a blended wine from this house; the wine is primarily Gewurztraminer, backed by smaller amounts of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat and Sylvaner. There are pleasing aromas of Anjou pear along with hints of jasmine and peony. Medium-bodied, this is round with appealing fruitiness, good acidity and has a dry finish with a slightly bitter edge. I'd pair this with crayfish or quiche. The $15 price tag represents a good value.

2013 Riesling
Riesling is considered the jewel of Alsatian wine; for that reason alone, most examples will cost you at least $25, with most priced much higher. Here's one for $13, which is a rarity. It offers subtle notes of pear, elderflowers and a hint of petrol (a classic descriptor for Riesling). It's medium bodied and perhaps a bit shy on the finish, but for a dry Riesling at this price, one that will be even better in another year or two, it's a winner!

2012 Gewurztraminer
Here is the best wine of the four. Offering beautiful varietal aromas of lychee, yellow roses and grapefruit. Medium-full with very good weight on the palate. Very good acidity, impressive persistence, good complexity and excellent varietal character. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years, perhaps longer. Excellent!

If you think about it, November 14, being Famille Hugel day, is just in time for Thanksgiving. All of these wines would work well with your holiday meal, especially the Gewurztraminer with turkey. But if you prefer a more muted aromatic wine, opt for the Riesling or "Gentil" - they work beautifully with turkey, chicken, pork or many other dishes. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pierre Sparr - The Wines of Alsace (Part One)

I love the white wines of Alsace; I honestly believe that this may be the greatest wine region in the world. I say that, partly as I adore Gewurztraminer, one of the region's best wines, but I'm also such a big advocate, thanks to the overall quality of the other famous whites from here, especially Pinot Gris and Riesling. I'm referring to the dry versions of these wines, and then there are the amazing vendange tardives, late harvest wines that offer outstanding complexity and can age for decades.

I've tasted a lot of Alsatian wines from small and mid-sized family estates, but until recently, none from a cooperative. This type of producer is one that you see in many zones in France, Italy and other European countries; the fruit is sourced from growers that are also members of the cooperative. Generally the quality is quite good - sometimes very good - with a few wines being of excellent or outstanding quality.

Situated in the town of Beblenheim, the Pierre Sparr winery was founded back in 1680; nine successive generations have continued making wine. Pierre Sparr took over in the early 1900s and rebuilt the estate after damage during World War II. Today the winery owns 37 acres in the Haut-Rhin and has contracts with growers in another 370 acres in the region.

Vineyards of Pierre Sparr

Tasting through the wines, the Selection line offers clean, well made wines at a fair price ($14-$20 US retail). While these wines are pleasant and offer good varietal character, it is the Pinot Gris (2013 vintage) that is the standout. Medium-bodied with good acidity and complexity, this has very good richness on the palate as well as distinctive floral perfumes to accompany the ripe apple notes; enjoy this now and over the next 2-3 years.

Of course, you judge an Alsatian producer by the Grand Cru wines and it's no different with Pierre Sparr. I tasted three- here are my thoughts on the wines:

2011 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Mambourg
Beautiful varietal aromas of lychee, yellow rose and grapefruit. Medium-full with very good concentration. Nice wine, excellent ripeness, nicely balanced, easy-drinking. While I like the wine, I would have preferred a drier finish - this has a light sweetness, which is pleasant and may attract some drinkers, but I am a fan of the classic dry style of Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years -perhaps longer.

2011 Riesling Grand Cru Schonenbourg
Lovely aromas of apricot and yellow peach with hints of petrol. Medium-bodied with good concentration; excellent balance, good acidity, and very good varietal character. This is not the most complex or lush style of Alsatian Riesling, but it is well mad and very satisfying. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years.

2011 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Mambourg
Deep yellow; aromas of nutmeg, Anjou pear, pine and brioche - just lovely! Medium-full with very good concentration. Excellent varietal character, good acidity and persistence with impressive harmony. Excellent- enjoy over the next 3-5 years. (The $45-$50 US retail price tag is very reasonable for this wine type.)

The wines of Pierre Sparr are imported in the USA by Wilson Daniels.