UNDER THE RADAR REDS, UNUSUAL AND BEST BUY WHITES AND TWO WONDERFUL NEW CHAMPAGNES
These two Chardonnays are lovely and represent great value.
Qupé is one of the pioneer wineries in the Central Coast area making consistently fine wines that are balanced and age worthy. (To read my article on Qupé and the “Holy Trinity” click here)
2010 Qupé Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido “Y” Block.
With a light yellow color this Chardonnay has a lovely perfume that is faintly floral with tropical tinged citrus and spice nuances. It is beautifully balanced and finesseful with hints of citrus and peach and a very faint floral spiciness. This is a very appealing wine for current drinking and a great value – Highly Recommended. $12.69 Best Buy
This winery’s origins go back to 1982. It was then that Champagne maker Maison Deutz planted grapes in the Arroyo Grande Valley near the coast about six miles south of Pismo Beach. The idea was to join other Champagne producers (such as Moet and Chandon, Taittinger, and Roederer) to make California sparkling wine. But, instead of Napa they chose the Central Coast. They sold the property in 1997. It was then renamed Laetitia for the new owner’s daughter. A year later, it was sold again to a partnership which included Selim Zilkha. In 2001, Mr. Zilkha and his daughter became sole proprietors retaining the Laetitia name.
The land holdings total nearly 1900 acres with about 1/3 currently planted. Some 2/3 of this is planted to Pinot Noir and the rest to Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Syrah, and some Riesling. Seven different cuvees of sparkling wine are also made under the Laetitia label. A significant number of white and red Bordeaux and Rhone varietals as well as a few other wines are made under the Barnwood label. And a red and white wine using Bordeaux and Rhone varietals is made under the NADIA label. To visit their website and check out their wine club click here)
2010 Laetitia Chardonnay Estate Arroyo Grande Valley.
With a light yellow color this Chardonnay has a lovely perfume with floral, melon nuances and hints of citrus and spice. Balanced and harmonious with very nice fruit, the wine has hints of melon, citrus, and spice with a clean, crisp finish. It is delightful to drink now and is a great value – Highly Recommended. $11.99 Best Buy
CALIFORNIA RED WINE
Tablas Creek Vineyard
Last year I visited Tablas Creek Vineyard and posted an article (To read that article click here) Since that time I have been following their wines and have been very impressed. The new newest release of their flagship red wine 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel is terrific. This is a wine to buy and if you are not familiar with their wines please take a look at my previous article. Also, if you have not visited their web site and signed up for their wine club I encourage you to do so. (To read about their wine club click here)
The 2009 vintage was the third consecutive drought year. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% below average. The 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel is a blend of 40% Mouvèdre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, and 5% Counoise. These grapes were grown on cuttings from the vines grown on the Chateau de Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape. The production in 2009 was 3,075 cases.
2009 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel.
This is a gorgeous wine that will benefit from several years of aging. It is dark in color with a deep perfume of plums and cedar with floral undertones. It has great structure and flavor with loads of fruit showing blackberry and plum nuances accented by faint tinges of cedar and spice. With lots of intensity the wine also manages to remain harmonious and well integrated and has a lot of depth as expressed in a long finish. It can certainly be enjoyed now, but it should continue top develop over the next 10 years and drink beautifully well beyond – Outstanding Plus. $55
AR Lenoble is a family-owned business now under the direction of the 4th generation. The name AR Lenoble comes from the initials of the founder Armand Raphael and the name “Lenoble” is based on the belief that “Champagne is the most noble of Wines.” The grapes come primarily from their Grand Cru Chardonnay vineyards in Chouilly, one of the Grand Cru villages in the Cote de Blancs and some Pinot Noir from the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil in the Montagne de Reims. This is a Champagne house that consistently produces outstanding wines that are great values. (To see my review of other AR Lenoble Champagnes click here) These two new releases are terrific. Atherton Wine Imports, San Jose, CA
2006 AR Lenoble Blanc de Noirs Premier Cru.
Wow! This is a stunning and unusual Champagne. It is light yellow in color with a faint golden edge. The perfume is intense with hints of citrus and vanilla and a floral exotic nuance. Rich and creamy with great fruit, the wine has layers of flavor with exotic tropical nuances, citrus, vanilla, and a faint spiciness. It is delicious and very pure and the finish is long and lingering with a gorgeous crispness – Exceptional. $57
2002 AR Lenoble Gentilhomme Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru.
Light golden yellow in color this Champagne has lovely perfume with hints of peach, citrus and vanilla with just a tinge of spiciness. Creamy and balanced with great elegance and finesse, this is a gorgeous Champagne that is beautifully crafted with great flavor and a long finish – Outstanding Plus. $99
Chinon is an area from the historic town of Chinon and 17 surrounding communes in the Loire Valley of France. This area is the birthplace of Rabelais, a great 16th century French writer and humanist. He was a lover of Chinon and reportedly once owned Clos de l’Echo, a famous vineyard in Chinon. Technically Chinon is in the Touraine district which is the area around the city of Tours. However, it is different and is grouped together with its neighbor, Bourgueil, along the left bank of the Loire river and along the Vienne river.
Chinon has the distinction of making predominately red wine and is one of the very few areas (along with Bourgueil) in the Loire Valley to do so. The red grape grown here is Cabernet Franc (although up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon may also be used). Cabernet Franc is believed to have been established in the Loire Valley when Cardinal Richelieu brought vine cuttings to be planted at the Abbey of Bourgueil under the care of an abbot named Breton. Over time the grape became locally known as Breton. By the 18th century Cabernet Franc was well established in the Fronsac, Pomerol, and St. Emilion areas of France. In recent years, DNA evidence has established that Cabernet Franc was crossed with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon. .
For me, Cabernet Franc is an underappreciated, aka Under The Radar, red wine. One reason is that it is generally thought of as a blending grape. But, that’s not the whole story. The wines of Bordeaux utilizing the grape are very different than those of the Loire Valley. There are several reasons for this. First, the soil and climate in each area is different. Second, in Chinon Cabernet Franc is either 100% Cabernet Franc or very close to it, whereas in Bordeaux it is a component of a blend that is usually mostly Merlot and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. And, the wines made from Cabernet Franc in California are different from those of the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. But, they can be extremely good and also Under The Radar. (To see my article on the recently released 2009 Cabernet Franc Historic Vineyard Series from Ridge Vineyards click here)
The Chinons produced by the two producers below are at the very top of Chinons produced. Also, to be included would be those of Catherine and Pierre Breton. (To read my article on the wines of Catherine and Pierre Breton click here)
Domaine Bernard Baudry
Bernard Baudry purchased his first land in Chinon in 1975. The plot totaled five acres and in subsequent years the land holdings have grown to 50 acres. His son, Mathieu, joined him in 2000. They work vineyards that are located in 5 distinct soil types and each of their cuvees utilize the different soil types and vinification methods. The wines are made utilizing traditional methods and aged in old and new barrels. The quality/value relationship here is outstanding. These are wines to buy. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine.
This is a lovely crisp, fruity wine with youthful appeal. It has a gorgeous berry perfume with faint peppery, spicy accents. Flavorful with lovely fruit showing floral, spicy, peppery nuances, the wine is well balanced with a nice underlying crispness – Highly Recommended. $20.25
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Les Grézeaux.
The vines here are 65 years old. The wine has a deep color and a gorgeous perfume with plum and berry fruit showing floral spice nuances. It is very fruity and has lovely flavors hinting of raspberries and plums with floral accents and a tinge of pepper and spice. Balanced with depth and nice crispness on the finish, this wine should benefit from at least 5 years of age and keep well beyond – Outstanding. $25.20
2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Le Clos Guillot.
The vines here are only 15 years of age, but the wine has a gorgeous complexity and balance. It has a deep color and a lovely perfume with berry floral nuances and hints of exotic fruits with a coconut tinge. With loads of spice tinged berry fruit, the wine has richness, depth, and balance with a long finish. This should age beautifully – Outstanding. $28.80
Charles Joguet makes several different cuvees of Chinon. I have been buying and drinking these wines for many years. Some can be consumed young, but the best, for me, are the ones that can be laid away for extended aging - Les Varennes du Grand Clos, Clos du Chêne Vert and Clos de la Dioterie. These 2009s are stunning.
A description of Charles Jouget, the evolution of the domaine and its wines is shown below as reproduced in part from the website of the importer, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant Berkeley, CA.
Charles Joguet, a young painter and sculptor, abandoned a budding art career to assume direction of the family domaine in 1957. He soon began to question the common practice of selling grapes to negociants, as his own family had done for years.
The Joguets owned prime vineyard land in between the Loire and Vienne Rivers, with some of their finest found on the left bank of the Vienne, just outside Chinon, in Sazilly. These very lieux-dits (unclassified vineyards) had been recognized for their character and defined before the Renaissance—some even date back to the Middle Ages. Variations in the soils of these alluvial plains were substantial enough to realize that he was sitting on what would be considered in other regions as premier cru and grand cru vineyards. To sell the grapes off or to vinify these individualized plots together would have been madness. Separate terroirs, he believed, necessitate separate vinifications. Over the course of his tenure, Charles took the risks necessary to master the single-vineyard bottling with an artistry that A.O.C. Chinon had never before seen. In so doing, he realized the true potential of the land.
Charles has since retired. Today, the young, eager, and talented Kevin Fontaine oversees the vineyards and the cellars. He and his team farm thirty-six hectares of Cabernet Franc. Closely adhering to the tradition of Charles, who stills lives on the property and stops by frequently, the domaine bottles nine different cuvées, handling each one as a unique terroir and microclimate with individualized care and attention. In fact, Kevin has also begun experimenting with biodynamic farming in one half of the vineyard holdings, and he has become so convinced by the results that he is executing a long, slow conversion of the entire domaine. That ethic trickles into the cellars as well, where careful deliberation and experimentation bring about gradual change.
The wines are divided into two lines: precocious cuvées and those for long-aging. Precocious cuvées, like the “Cuvée Terroir” and “Les Petites Roches” (Little Rocks), are made to be consumed young. If premier crus were permitted in Chinon, Les Varennes du Grand Clos would certainly be considered one of them. Clos du Chêne Vert and Clos de la Dioterie are perhaps their greatest wines—certainly of grand cru quality—with excellent aging potential.
The 2009s here are very successful. With air the Les Petites Roches can be enjoyed now. The other three wines should be laid away for a few years. They should be stunning in 5-10 years and keep well beyond. They need a lot of air. I tasted them over 3 days and they were best on the 3rd day. This is a very good sign.
And for a bench mark, I took two 2005s from my cellar – Les Varennes du Grand Clos and Clos de la Dioterie. They were great. Still youthfully exuberant, but balanced with great depth and flavor. The Clos de la Dioterie, in particular, is off the charts and should keep for 20 or more years.
2009 Charles Joguet Chinon Les Petites Roches.
With a deep color this wine has a nice perfume with hints of plum and a tinge of spice. It has gorgeous pure fruit and is rounded with a good backbone underneath and a lovely crisp finish – Highly Recommended. $19.80
2009 Charles Joguet Chinon Les Varennes du Grand Clos.
The vines here are around 45 years old. The wine is dark in color with a deep perfume redolent of plums and cassis with floral undertones showing a faint spiciness. Rich and rounded with lots of very pure fruit there is a firm underlying structure that should carry this wine for many years – Outstanding. $33.30 Best Buy
2009 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos du Chene Vert.
In some years this wine can be quite peppery. This year that quality has been replaced by tinges of exotic fruit and green olive. Strangely it is almost Burgundian in character. But, no matter, first and foremost, it is a truly outstanding wine with a long life ahead. Dark in color it has a deep perfume of plums with an exotic nuance. Loaded with fruit the wine is rich and flavorful with a firm underlying structure. Already complex with hints of exotic fruit, green olive, and a tinge of chocolate and spice, this wine has a long life ahead – Outstanding Plus. $45.90 Best Buy
2009 Charles Joguet Chinon Clos de la Dioterie.
The vines here are about 75 years old. This 2009 is a stunning wine. It is dark in color and has an intense perfume showing a myriad of fruits with faint exotic nuances. Very pure, rich, and concentrated, the balance here is amazing and the fruit is intense. Flavors of plum and cassis are intermingled with hints of chocolate and spice and melded together in a seamless complexity. The finish is very long and very expressive. This will be a great wine for the next 20 years or so and the evolution will be a thing of beauty – Extraordinary. $47.70 Best Buy
Some may confuse Muscadet with Muscat. But, in fact, they are most always at the opposite end of the spectrum since wine made from the Muscat grape is almost always sweet, while Muscadet is dry. Much of the confusion must come from the name Muscadet itself. You see, the wine is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape which is grown in the Western end of the Loire Valley in the “Pays de la Loire” region of France. So, unlike, all other French wines produced from a designated area (know as Appellation d’ Controlée), “Muscadet” is not named for the area in which it is grown or the grape variety (which is allowed only in the Alsace region owing to the shift in ownership of Alsace back and forth from German territory to French). The Melon de Bourgogne grape was first planted in this area around the 17th century. And, at some point, in its early history, the grape was thought to have a Muscat or musky flavor. But, that is not true today – hence, the confusion. The generic area of Muscadet is divided into 3 sub regions. The largest (accounting for about 80% of Muscadet production) and best is Sèvre-et-Maine. Further, the best Muscadets are designated “Sur Lie” which means the wine receives extra aging that gives them a creamy quality to balance the crispness.
Domaine André-Michel Brégon
Michel Brégeon is a fierce proponent of extended aging of Muscadet before bottling. Below is the description of the man and his wines as taken from the website of the importer, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA. Kermit has been importing these wines since 1979! They are wines to buy as they are Under The Radar, attractively priced, and great compliments to a wide variety and preparations of fish.
“Michel Brégeon is part renegade, part crusader, and full-blown terroirist. Over the years, he has become an ardent defender of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine terroir….Thanks to his deep understanding of the nuances of the land, he plays the game much differently than the region’s caves cooperatives and negociants, who produce en masse and lose the subtlety of the appellation. For seven years, he worked for his family’s domaine before setting out on his own in 1975. When his father retired in 1989, he gave his remaining vineyard land to Michel. Today, Michel farms seven hectares of vineyards in clay, silica, and gabbro soils. Gabbro is old, blue-green, volcanic rock, rarely found in vineyard land. Formed by magma eruptions under the ocean floor, it is said to impart intense complexity to Michel’s wines. His corner of the Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine, Gorges, is particularly known for this rock, and all of Michel’s vines are planted in it. His small community of vignerons is actively seeking recognition and preservation of this particular cru, called “Gorgeois.”
Though Muscadet (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) has been commonly known to produce young, fresh wines, (even those that spend a few months sur lie), Michel has broken the mold, keeping some of his wines on the lees for as much as seven years! He ages these wines in subterranean glass-lined cuvées. In his mind, the longer they stay there, the better. The unexpected freshness and depth of these older wines has silenced many a skeptic….”
The average age of vines at this domaine is 40 years and the annual production is 3,000 cases. The wines below were recently bottled after extending aging on the lees. They are wines of great purity and finesse, but with depth and complexity. Forget your impressions of Muscadet! If you have not tasted these wines, you are in for a big surprise. They are similar to, but not the same as, a fine Chablis perhaps with a touch of Saint Aubin. The latter wines are made with Chardonnay, so go figure! But, if you like those wines, you will love these Muscadets!
2005 Domaine André-Michel Brégon Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Réserve.
The vines here average 40 years of age. Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this wine has a gorgeous floral perfume with hints of pineapple and a kiss of vanilla. It is rounded yet with a wonderful crispness and the flavors hint of citrus and mineral with a very faint tinge of pineapple. Beautifully balanced, this is a gorgeous wine with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding. $28.80 Best Buy
2004 Domaine André-Michel Brégon Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie Gorges.
The vines in this vineyard average 50 years of age. This is an amazing wine that is utterly compelling. It is light golden yellow in color with a really gorgeous perfume of citrus and a tinge of mineral accented by apricot nuances. With lovely fruit the wine is lush and rounded but with a very harmonious crispness. Citrus and mineral flavors are complemented by hints of peach and apricot. This is an irresistible wine – Outstanding Plus. $30.60 Best Buy