Pinot Meunier: Champagne’s undersung grape

7 Sep

All wine lovers are familiar with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They’re stars, both in Champagnes and on their own. But Pinot Meunier, well, that’s another story entirely. It’s the overlooked Champagne grape. And while it usually takes just a supporting role, Meunier plays a very important part in Champagnes.

THE GRAPE GROWERS CAN COUNT ON

For one thing, it makes up 32 percent of grapes grown in the region, a bit more than Chardonnay (30 percent), a little less than Pinot Noir (38 percent). Meunier yields more juice than its partners. And it’s a hardy black grape, the only major Champagne grape that ripens in extremely cold seasons. (The Vallée de la Marne, in the northwestern part of Champagne–where most Meunier is grown–tends to be a little cooler than other parts of the region.) Because Meunier buds later than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it’s less likely to be affected by early spring frosts. And because it matures faster, it skirts problems with mold and mildew that sometimes follow late season rains. In other words, Meunier is the grape growers can count on.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Peter Liem, author of ChampagneGuide.net, says this reliability is a huge factor in its importance. But, he adds, “Meunier offers something the other grapes don’t.” In non-vintage wines, that’s “exuberance and fruitiness.” And “when treated seriously and in the right terroir,” Liem continues, “Pinot Meunier produces very high-quality wines. In the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been an explosion of interest among high-quality growers.”

Grower Champagne importer extraordinaire Terry Theise agrees. “Good vine material,” he says, “grown in good vineyards and vinified in a careful–i.e., not slapdash–manner can give excellent results.”

MOUSSE FILS

For the first time, for example, two 100% Meunier Champagnes, which Theise imports–the Spécial Club and the Rosé Spécial Club, both from Moussé Fils–have been featured by the Club Trésors (http://www.clubtresorsdechampagne.com/en). This organization of 28 artisan winemakers is known for high-quality wines from the best areas of the Champagne region. Its Club wines are generally produced from the oldest vines in the finest vineyards.

Winemaker Cédric Moussé, whose family has been cultivating vines since 1750, is one of the early wave of winemakers now celebrating Meunier. Eighty percent of his production is Meunier. Theise describes Moussé’s wines as “highly flavory and loaded with Meunier charm” and elegance. Moussé’s wines often receive excellent reviews. Two that have include the currently available Or d’Eugène Brut NV and the Millesime Terre d’Illite Brut 2012.

MEUNIER FACTS

Meunier means miller in French. Pinot Meunier gets its name because the downy white undersides of its leaves look as if they’ve been dusted with flour.

Meunier is thought to be a genetic mutation of Pinot Noir.

Some consider Meunier to be the least ageworthy of the three major Champagne grapes. That’s why it’s usually found in non-vintage blends–to add youthful accessibility.

When its buds are destroyed, Meunier can produce another batch, thereby recovering as much as 70 percent of its original yield.

Few Grandes Marques–i.e. the major, most prestigious producers–boast of their Meunier with one notable exception: Krug, one of the most prestigious Champagnes of all. It values the spiciness and fruitiness of Meunier.

OTHER MEUNIER PRODUCERS AND ENTHUSIASTS

In 2015 some Meunier producers and advocates founded an association to draw attention to it. Members of the Meunier Institut (https://www.facebook.com/meunierinstitut/) include Champagne Eric Taillet, Champagne Météyer Père et Fils, Champagne Roger-Constant Lemaire, Champagne Serveaux Fils, Champagne Roger Barnier, Champagne Moutardier, Champagne Heucq Père et Fils, Champagne Didier-Ducos, Champagne A. and J. Demière, and consultant oenologist Pierre-Yves Bournerias.

Additional Meunier enthusiasts in Champagne include René Geoffroy, Gaston Chiquet, Chartogne-Taillet, Aubry, Egly-Ouriet, José Michel, Michel Loriot, Laherte Frères, Jérôme Prévost, Françoise Bedel , Déhu Père et Fils, Bérêche & Fils, Dehours et Fils, Lelarge-Pugeot, René Collard, Benoît Tarlant, Franck Pascal and Christophe Mignon.

CHAMPAGNE FACTS

Although most Champagnes are white, they’re made mostly from black grapes that are very lightly pressed.

Meunier is not the least well-known grape in Champagnes. The other approved but truly rare grapes are the white Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Fromanteau (aka Pinot Gris)–which together make up less than 0.3% of plantings.

Advertisements

Producer to Rely On: Chateau Ste. Michelle

14 May

With year after year of excellent vintages, it’s a great time to drink Washington wines. And for consistently high-quality, very reasonably priced wines, I recommend those of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s biggest and oldest winery.

It’s also one of Washington’s best. It has a worldwide reputation for quality and has received much recognition from the wine media. It has, for example, been chosen as a “Top 100 Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits magazine 22 times, more than any other U.S. winery.

Founded in 1934, the Chateau Ste. Michelle (https://www.ste-michelle.com) label dates back to 1967. CSM pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington under the guidance of famed California winemaker André Tchelistcheff. At the time, there were only 12 wineries in the state and 88% of their production was fruit wine or fortified dessert wine, according to Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s parent company.

As it flourished, Chateau Ste. Michelle played a pivotal leadership role mentoring other Washington wineries, turning the state into one of the world’s premier wine regions. Among other things, it helped establish-–and continues to fund–a world-class Viticulture & Enology program at Washington State University; sponsors a scholarship fund at state universities for high-achieving, low-income students; helped create the Washington Wine Commission; and employed numerous winemakers who eventually went on to improve other wineries in the state.

CSM attributes its success in part to having vineyards in the Columbia Valley, which affords ideal conditions for grape growing. (It’s in the same latitude as Bordeaux and Burgundy, France’s most-esteemed wine-growing regions.) In the valley, warm days and cool nights ensure a long growing season. The grapes ripen fully and maintain crucial acidity.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is best known for Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and especially Riesling. Its Rieslings have garnered attention since 1974, when its 1972 Johannisberg Riesling won a now famous Los Angeles Times blind tasting. Today it’s the largest single producer of Riesling in the world.

CSM offers some of the best values available. There are many different varietals ripe for exploring. At these prices, it’s hard to go wrong.

 

Chateau Ste. Michelle wines are available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries. It produces five tiers at different price levels: Columbia Valley, Single Vineyard, Indian Wells, Ethos Reserve and Artist Series Meritage. I’ve listed the $20-or-under wines below that have been well received by the wine media, as seen on CSM’s website (https://www.ste-michelle.com/our-wines). There you’ll also find more expensive, well-rated wines.

Riesling Columbia Valley 2016 $9

Riesling Columbia Valley Dry 2016 $10

Gewurztraminer Columbia Valley 2016 $10

Pinot Gris Columbia Valley 2016 $15

Merlot Columbia Valley 2015 $15 Food & Wine magazine’s Ray Isle included this Merlot in his list of 50 of the world’s most reliable, inexpensive wines—bottles that offer amazing quality for their price year in and year out.

Syrah Columbia Valley 2016 $15

Sauvignon Blanc Horse Heaven Vineyard 2016 $18

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Indian Wells Merlot $20

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 Indian Wells $20

If you’re a fan of sparkling wines, I recommend the following wines of Domaine Ste. Michelle (https://www.ste-michelle.com/shop/michelle)

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Columbia Valley $13

Domaine Ste. Michelle Extra Dry Columbia Valley $13

Domaine Ste. Michelle Rosé Columbia Valley $13

Gifts: A Book and a Bottle

15 Dec

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, $24.95 (paperback)

The holiday season is here in full force, which for many of us means it’s time to buy presents galore. While finding perfect gifts is the hard part of the season, this year there’s an easy choice for the wine lovers on your list: Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible has just been revised and updated.

MacNeil is a multi-award-winning, preeminent wine writer, educator and consultant.  e-RobertParker.com says, “No one combines style, knowledge, skill, passion and presentation better than Karen MacNeil.” And The Wine Bible is a classic that belongs in every wine library. Because it’s so comprehensive, I think it should be one of the first books in that library.

For one thing, it’s simply lots of fun. Not every book that’s 996 pages is. But this eminently browsable tome is chockablock with informative asides, tips, engaging anecdotes, definitions, glossaries, photos, maps, labels and recommended producers. It informs and, thanks in part to MacNeil’s colorful, dramatic writing, entertains.

I especially enjoy the many short, creative topics. For example, in her chapter on Burgundy, MacNeil includes sections titled “History, Monks, the Establishment of Terroir and the French Revolution”; “Where’s the Boeuf?”; and “The d’Or in Côte d’Or.” Other intriguing sections include “Sauerkraut, Skunks, and Sweaty Socks” and “Chateauneuf-du-Extraterrestrial.”

For this second edition (the first dates to 2001), MacNeil has tasted more than 10,000 wines and visited dozens of wine regions around the world.  Sections on the wines of China, Japan, Mexico and Slovenia are new. The history, food, wines, grapes and wineries of each region are, of course, covered. So are tasting wine, shopping for wine, choosing wine glasses, matching wine and food, cooking with wine, storing wine, and many other -ings. And much more.

Bottom Line: The Wine Bible makes wine almost as enjoyable to read about as it is to drink.

If you’re looking for a bubbly wine–a sparkling gift for many people–I recommend Lucien Albrecht’s Crémants d’Alsace–and so does MacNeil. She includes Albrecht in her “Alsace Wines to Know” section.

Romanus Albrecht started the winery in 1425, and over the centuries other Albrechts have been responsible for significant innovations and advancements. In 1971, for example, Lucien Albrecht helped gain Appellation d’origine Contrôlêe status for Crémant d’Alsace; he’s considered one of the founding fathers of this AOC regulated category.

Crémants d’Alsace are some of the best French sparkling wines from regions outside Champagne. Lucien Albrecht Crémants are especially well regarded by many. In 2004 they won an unprecedented four gold medals at the Crémant Wine Challenge tasting. French wine expert Jacqueline Friedrich calls Lucien Albrecht wines “excellent … on every level” in her book The Wines of France.

There are two versions–a white and a rosé (which I prefer):

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut (50% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris and 25% Riesling): Fine and elegant bead (bubbles); light, delicate palate; crisp acidity. Well balanced, fruity finish.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir, the only red wine grape allowed in Alsace): Aromas and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and cherry. Exuberant mousse (the sparkling effervescence of a wine). Crisp acidity. Creamy texture. Long finish.

The suggested retail price for both is $21.99, but I’ve seen them on winesearcher.com for as little as $15.

Screw-capped wine scores 100 points from wine guru Robert M. Parker Jr.

1 Sep

It’s not everyday that a wine receives 100 points from Robert M. Parker Jr., the most influential wine reviewer ever on the planet. And it wasn’t until last October that a screw-capped wine joined that illustrious list.

The wine, Odette Estate’s 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap AVA  in the Napa Valley, will be released today. In the October issue of The Wine Advocate, Parker called the vintage “absolutely magnificent.” He described the wine as being “off-the-charts,” mind-blowing” and “glorious,” with a “stunning nose,… a full-bodied skyscraper-like textural extravaganza [and] luxurious ripeness…. Everything is beautifully married in one harmonious, glorious wine.”

Such glory doesn’t come cheap. The screw-capped wine, sold along with a conventionally cork-closed bottle, will set you back $600. And it won’t be easy to get. The 2012 Odette Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is being made available by invitation to Odette’s winery membership in September. If you’re not yet a member, to add your name to the wait list, you’ll have to call or email PlumpJack (see odetteestate.com). On the other hand, you might want to splurge on the readily available 2012 Odette Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is also delicious–and got a score of 96–at a third of the price.

For Odette is part of the PlumpJack Group, which for 15 years has been a leader in the use of alternative closures for luxury wines. In 2000 PlumpJack daringly released some of its finest 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon under screw caps. It sold the $135 wine with a conventional cork-closed bottle (priced at $125) so that buyers could compare the two. While the “sales people were petrified,” John Conover, general manager of the PlumpJack group, has said, consumers accepted the easy-to-open bottles. Fifteen years later, they line up for them.

NOTE: I’m a big believer in screw caps. I think they make eminent sense for most wines and wish many more producers would opt for them. I admire and commend the PlumpJack group for using them and for taking a chance with them when others wouldn’t.

Some Don’t Like It Hot: Temperatures to Serve Wine At

2 Jun

I want to share an easy way to remember good temperatures to serve wine at. I came across it in the “Welcome to Wine Country” brochure from Uncork New York!, which suggests two mnemonics to remember: 45-55-65 and 3-2-1.

1) Sparkling wines, including Champagne, should be served at 45° F. It takes three hours of refrigeration to achieve this temperature.

2) White table wines and late harvest and ice wine dessert wines should be served at 55° F. A good two hours in the fridge should be sufficient to cool them.

3) Red wines, port and sherry should be served at the cool room temperature of 65° F. It takes about one hour to reach this temperature.

This is an easy system to remember, but it benefits from some tweaking. After doing more research, I came up with other numbers that suggest serving:

Sparkling wines and Champagne at 40° F to 50° F

Light- to medium-bodied whites at 40° F to 50° F
Full-bodied whites at 47° F to 60° F
Rosés at 40° F to 55° F

Light, fruity reds at 50° F to 62° F
Complex, rich, mature reds at 60° F to  68° F

White dessert wines at  40° F to 50° F
Port at 60° F to 65° F

Unfortunately, the nifty mnemonic doesn’t work for these temperatures. Such is life. I suggest you try out different temperatures and post your favorites on the refrigerator. For many of us, just getting in the ballpark of these temperatures will be sufficient.

Bubbles Galore in Champagne and Sparkling Wine

4 Jun

I’ve always loved bubbles. When I was young, like many other kids, I enjoyed playing with them in the bathtub, in my soda glass or in the backyard. Now that I’m older, I enjoy them in seltzer, Champagne and other sparkling wines. I even have an entertaining bubble screen saver on my computer. (I’d like to be able to say I never met a bubble I didn’t like, but the financial kind aren’t much fun.)

These days my favorite bubbles are the plentiful carbon-dioxide ones in all kinds of sparkling wines. I find their effervescence invigorating, refreshing and uplifting. They always improve my mood. But they’re not there just to cheer. Their presence plays an integral role in the wines: They affect mouth feel (tingly), look (vivacious) and taste (hopefully wonderful). They even affect the aroma, because they guide it toward the nose.

How many bubbles does it take to accomplish all this? Quite a few. Until recently, I thought there were 49 million in every bottle, as the Champagne Wines Information Bureau reported some time ago, citing the research of scientist Bill Lembeck.

Lembeck, simply put, determined how much carbon dioxide is in a standard 750-ml bottle of Champagne and divided it by the volume of an average bubble. With the help of a device called an optical comparator, he figured that out to be 4.2 millionths of a cubic inch.

But according to new research reported in the New York Times (“TAKE A NUMBER: One Million,” May 6), French physics professor Gérard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, has determined that a 3.4 oz. glass of Champagne is blessed with some 1 million bubbles before it becomes flat in roughly 4 hours. (There are about 7.5 glasses this size in a 750-ml bottle, which translates to 7.5 million bubbles per bottle.)

There are, however, other estimates. Until recently Liger-Belair himself claimed that there were 15 million bubbles per glass. He later admitted that the formula he used to reach this conclusion was too simple. To arrive at his new estimate, he took additional factors into account (see below). The California Wine Institute’s website states that there are approximately 44 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine/champagne. In The Wine Bible (2001), Karen MacNeil wrote that Champagne producer Bollinger has claimed there are some 56 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. According to Champagne expert Tom Stevenson’s Champagne &  Sparkling Wine Guide 2003, Moët & Chandon used a camera-based, computer-linked “artificial vision system” to record the release of bubbles and concluded that there are on average 250 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine.

The calculation is complex, which explains the widely varying results. Many factors affect the number of bubbles–the concentration of the gas, the type of glass, the temperature of the wine and the room, the angle of the pour and the size of the bubbles among them. All must be taken into account.

So it seems this is another one of those mysteries that won’t soon be solved, unless, as my husband jokingly says, someone sits down and counts every bubble. In the meantime, I’ll just have to be content with knowing there are more than enough bubbles in these wines to make me very happy, pour myself another glass and leave it at that.

RECOMMENDED CHAMPAGNES AND SPARKLING WINES

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Champagne NV (SRP $36*): Nicolas Feuillatte is currently the fourth best-selling Champagne brand in the U.S. Sales of it rose 12% here last year, considerably more than any of the other Top 5 brands.

This Brut Réserve comprises 20% Chardonnay (contributes elegance and finesse), 40% Pinot Noir (adds roundness and structure) and 40% Pinot Meunier (supplies fruit character). It has aromas and flavors of apple, pear, apricot and peach. It’s delicate, fresh, clean, lively, complex and well balanced–and an excellent value. It’s a good choice as an apertif and complements chicken, salmon, shellfish, sushi, cheese, fruit and dessert.

Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé Champagne NV (SRP $150): The Barons de Rothschild have been making Bordeaux since the 1850s. Three arms of the family–from Château Lafite, Château Mouton and Château Clarke–recently teamed up to produce Champagne, which first arrived in the U.S. in 2011.

This elegant Champagne, 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, is fresh, vivacious, complex and well balanced, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry and citrus. Exuberant mousse –the bubbles are seemingly endless, even days after the bottle was first opened. Serve as an aperitif or with sushi, sashimi, tuna tartare, berry soup or fresh strawberries.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV (SRP $22): Crémants d’Alsace are the leading sparkling wine, after Champagne, on the French domestic market. The word crémant used to signify the least fizzy Champagnes. Today it indicates some of the best French sparkling wines made by the méthode traditionnelle (formerly called the méthode champenoise) from regions other than Champagne.

Albrecht’s Rosé Crémant is 100% Pinot Noir. It has aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry, along with crisp acidity, a creamy texture and a long finish. Serve as an aperitif or with charcuterie and mild cheeses.

Veuve Ambal Cuvée Marie Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV (SRP $25): Burgundy’s sparkling wines, called Crémants de Bourgogne, are also made using the méthode traditionelle. This Veuve Ambal uses the main Champagne grapes–Pinot Noir and Chardonnay–in equal proportions. It features floral and fruity aromas and flavors, especially of pink grapefruit, and toasty notes. It’s well balanced and full flavored. Serve as an aperitif.

Ferrari Brut Trento NV:  (SRP $25): Giulio Ferrari was the first viticulturist to bring Chardonnay vines to Italy in the early 1900s. In the years since, Ferrari has become one of Italy’s best sparkling wine producers. Its wines are made using the metodo classico, aka méthode traditionelle.

This elegant Brut, 100% Chardonnay, has aromas and flavors of apples, apricot, lemon and wild flowers. It’s fresh, clean and balanced. Serve as an aperitif or with seafood and other light dishes.

Valdo Brut Prosecco NV (SRP $14): 100% Glera. (Glera grapes used to be called Prosecco. Now only the wines themselves are.) According to IRI Infoscan, Valdo is the No. 1 Prosecco in Italy. This Valdo Brut is fruity, fresh, floral and versatile, with aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and pear. It, like other Proseccos, is made using the Charmat method, in which the secondary bubble-producing fermentation takes place in large stainless-steel tanks, not in bottles. This technique is especially appropriate for Prosecco because it preserves the wine’s fresh, fruity character. Serve as an aperitif or with appetizers, seafood and other light dishes.

Anna de Codorníu Brut Cava (SRP $15): The Codorníu winery, founded in 1551, is one of the largest producers of Cava, Spain’s popular sparkling wine. In 1659 the heiress of Codorníu, Anna, married winemaker Miquel Raventós, bringing together two important winegrowing families. In 1872 Cava pioneer Josep Raventós produced the first bottles of Spanish sparkling wine made by the méthode traditionelle. Anna de Codorníu, a tribute to the last descendant to carry the Codorníu surname, was launched in 1984. It was the first Cava to include Chardonnay.

This Cava, 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada, has aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus, peach, apple and lime. It’s well balanced, crisp and refreshing. Serve as an aperitif or with shellfish, white fish, sushi and sashimi.

Korbel Brut California Champagne NV (SRP $13): Korbel calls its sparkling wines Champagne, but since they’re not made in Champagne, many would not. They are, however, made using the same process as Champagne, the méthode traditionelle. And, in any event, many of Korbel’s bubblies, year after year, offer excellent value for very good sparkling wine.

This Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard and Pinot Noir. It  has aromas and flavors of citrus, baked apple and raspberry and is crisp and refreshing. Pair it with oysters, smoked salmon, fried and salty foods, shellfish, sushi, egg dishes and roast poultry.

Korbel Brut Rosé California  Champagne NV (SRP $13): A blend of Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay, Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc. Its aromas and flavors are mainly strawberry and black cherry. Flavorful, bright and aromatic. A versatile wine, it complements grilled and barbecued foods, tomato sauces, pizza, turkey, ham and creamy vegetable side dishes.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Note: I received samples of these wines.

Oregon’s Archery Summit Hits the Target

20 Mar

Christopher Mazepink,  winemaker and general manager at Archery Summit, isn’t the least bit fazed by Pinot Noir. Perhaps that’s because he went straight from graduate school at Oregon State University to making it. Instead of being intimidated by the famously persnickety grape, he’s excited by the challenges crafting topnotch Pinot Noir presents.

Mazepink quickly fell in love with the varietal. He especially relishes the winemaking process, the grapes’ diversity at different sites and Pinot Noir’s distinctive character. Pinot Noir has, he says, “more personality than any other grape…. It will never be formulaic…. You’ll never see the same vintage twice.”

Oregon’s Pinot Noirs are considered by many to offer the best of California and the best of Burgundy. Mazepink thinks that “people are chasing the Oregon style” for this reason. The wines combine the ripe fruit flavors of California Pinots with the minerality, freshness of fruit, and savory, spicy character of Burgundy wines. They’re generally good both when young and when aged five to eight years.

Much is done at Archery Summit as it is in Burgundy. Its caves are modeled after the subterranean cellars of the famed Côte d’Or. Mazepink uses Old World techniques–including wooden tanks, native yeasts and large percentages of whole clusters–as well as Pinot-centric technological innovations to craft his Pinot Noirs. He’s been known to occasionally stomp the grapes with his feet. (Some of the best Ports are still made this way.)

At Archery Summit, Mazepink makes six to eight Pinot Noirs each year. The grapes are grown in the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that he considers to be the Willamette Valley’s finest. “I firmly believe that the best wines in Oregon,” he says, “are made from the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs,” where the winery’s six estate vineyards are located.

Archery Summit’s wines often receive high ratings. The Wine Spectator recently rated four of its 2011 vineyard-designated wines  (Archer’s Edge, Archery Summit, Arcus and Renegade Ridge) 90 or above. Mazepink, who started at Archery Summit in 2013, is used to receiving similar scores from Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate and other publications as well.

Mazepink thinks like you might. “I’m a consumer first,” he says. “Our wines are made to go with a wide range of food.” And that, says this food-and-wine lover, is just how it should be.

Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (SRP $54*): This wine is a blend of grapes from six vineyard estates in the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs. Whereas its single vineyard wines are about the place, Archery Summit’s blends are about the style and the vintage, and the 2012 vintage was stellar. Aromas and flavors of blackberries and other dark fruits. A touch of cinnamon and star anise spice. Lush and layered. Sustainably farmed.

Vireton Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2012 (SRP $24): One of Mazepink’s mandates at Archery Summit is to raise the profile of its Pinot Gris, and this is the first nationally distributed white wine from the winery. It offers fresh fruit, fresh acidity and fresh minerality. Aromas and flavors of apple, lemon, lime, white peach and tropical fruit. Flinty minerality. Lively. Notable textural richness and residual flavor.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Hardys: Australia’s Wine Powerhouse

8 Jan

By Sharon Kapnick

Although it isn’t particularly well known in the U.S. these days, Hardys is the biggest-selling wine brand in the U.K. According to the 2013 Intangible Business Report, it’s also the most powerful Australian wine brand in the world and the second most powerful wine brand–only Gallo surpasses it–overall. (Intangible Business is a leading independent international brand valuation and strategy consultancy in the U.K.)

In addition to these high standings, Hardys winemakers have been praised by Australia’s leading wine critic and authority, James Halliday. In the Wine Atlas of Australia, he wrote, “Hardys has a dedicated and highly talented winemaking team which often seems to be one step ahead of the field.” He’s also lauded its “diverse portfolio of exceptional quality wines.”

Hardys obviously is a brand to explore. Its first vineyards were planted in 1854 by Thomas Hardy, whose goal was “to create wines that will be prized in the markets of the world.” Today the fifth generation of the Hardy family aims to do the same.

I recently had a chance to try several Hardys wines with chief winemaker Paul Lapsley. The popular Nottage Hill line is priced at just $13 SRP (suggested retail price). The 2012 Pinot Noir is outstanding, which is no mean feat.  (As Ray Isle writes in Food & Wine’s blog, “With Pinot, it’s tricky even getting ‘good’ and ‘affordable’ into the same bottle.”) With aromas and flavors of red and dark cherries, raspberries and herbal hints, it’s light, lovely and very food friendly. And it’s a great buy.

Another good value is the 2011 William Hardy Shiraz (SRP $17), one of the newly introduced William Hardy wines. It’s a blend of grapes from at least five regions. “Australians don’t hesitate to blend cross-region,” Lapsley said. “The goal is to make the best wine you can.”  With aromas and flavors of blueberry, dark cherry and plum, this Shiraz is soft, round, full bodied and complex, with balanced acidity.

Tintara’s 2010 McLaren Vale Shiraz (SRP $19) sticks to grapes from one region. It’s distinguished by flavors of dark red fruits, a silky round texture and a complex fruit character.

Eileen Hardy is the top tier, which aims to showcase the breadth and depth of Hardys wines. I tried the 2012 Chardonnay, which was elegant, well balanced and creamy. The 2013 Decanter Asia Wine Awards gave the 2010 Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir from Tasmania the International Trophy for Pinot Noir. (These wines are expected to reach the U.S. in the next year or so. Estimated prices are $90-$100.)

The wines range from eminently affordable to a bit of a splurge. Hardys offers something for everyone.

Grower Champagnes

10 Dec

By Sharon Kapnick

They don’t have familiar names like the Big Brands. But they do have lots of charm, personality and character. They are–ta-da!–grower Champagnes. Unlike the prestigious Champagnes with household names, they’re made in limited quantities using grapes from choice, small vineyards that are lavished with individual attention.

These handcrafted, artisan Champagnes aren’t meant to taste the same year after year. They’re created by small growers who prize “individually distinctive flavors,” writes importer Terry Theise. That’s partly why growers are now making wines of their own instead of just selling grapes to the Big Houses (aka the Grandes Marques) like Veuve Clicquot or Taittinger.

The growers like to capture the terroir--the unique flavors derived at specific parcels of land–that is often blended away by the Big Brands, which instead strive to maintain a consistent house style. They prefer to keep their wines original and are less bound by convention. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, for example, are the usual grapes used in Champagnes; but Moutard Père & Fils and L. Aubry Fils also use Pinot Blanc and/or the obscure grapes Fromenteau (aka Pinot Gris), Arbanne and Petit Meslier in some of their Champagnes. (These grapes were common in Champagne centuries ago; today these seven grapes are the only ones still allowed in Champagne.) Fleury Père & Fils has adopted organic and biodynamic growing methods, which it claims open “the soil and vines to cosmic influences.”

Grower Champagnes have been arriving on U.S. shores in discernible numbers since the mid-’90s. According to the Comité Champagne (CIVC), the trade association of independent Champagne producers and houses, the volume of grower Champagne shipments to the U.S. is, well, growing. In 2012 it comprised 4.2% of total volume, up from 3.8% in 2010 and 2011. They’ve caught on with sophisticated Champagne lovers in part because, as Theise writes, “it’s nicer to buy Champagne from families [rather] than from factories.”

Savvy sommeliers adore these Champagnes, which appear on many top restaurant wine lists. They bring cachet to the lists. Jacob Daugherty, sommelier at David Bouley’s cutting-edge kaiseki restaurant in New York City, said Brushstroke’s list sticks to  grower Champagnes. There’s not a Grande Marque to be found.  Paul Grieco, co-owner of the Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant in New York City, said, “The public’s thirst for uniquely great products allows the smaller estates to flourish. They add luster to the polished sheen the Champagne region already wears.”

All this is available at excellent prices, usually no more, and often less, than famous-label Champagnes. Daugherty said, for example, that the highly respected Vilmart grower Champagnes offer 90% of the quality of the famed Krug at one-fourth the price. Robert Rogness, co-owner of Wine Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., which carries an extensive line of grower Champagnes, also touts the good value of these wines. He said, “The best Champagnes cost much less than the most famous Champagnes because the price of fame is so high.”

To identify grower Champagnes, look for RM (récoltant-manipulant, or grower-producer) on the label. Other producers to seek out include Paul Bara, Henri Billiot , Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle,  Pierre Peters and Vilmart & Cie.

My Favorite Wine Book

19 Nov

If I could own only one book about wine, it would be What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea — Even Water — Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Bullfinch Press; $35). It’s a treasure trove of wonderful ideas for food-and-wine pairing. Page and Dornenburg enjoy educating consumers and taking the fear out of wine-and food pairing. They do it brilliantly–clearly, comprehensively, enthusiastically. And, for What to Drink with What You Eat, they enlisted the advice of more than 70 other wine experts, including master sommeliers, chefs and others at some of the country’s best restaurants

The heart of the book is Chapter 5 (matching beverages to foods) and Chapter 6 (matching foods to beverages). Here you’ll find wines to complement hundreds of ingredients, cuisines, and dishes, practically anything you can think of: cassoulet, ceviche, chicken tikka masala, osso buco, ceviche, dim sum, steak tartare, French toast, sushi, sandwiches, more than 100 cheeses–even gefilte fish. Also included are matches for fast foods like pizza, McDonald’s Big Mac, even a Kit Kat candy bar, for which they suggest a blended African tea.

There’s an important chapter on the fundamental rules of food-and-wine pairing and lots of other helpful, interesting information, like “Wines to Have on Hand So You’re Ready for Any Occasion,” “If You Like This, You Might Also Like That” and “Desert Island Lists of Some of America’s Leading Beverage Experts.”

Bottom Line: With Page and Dornenburg as your guides, soon you’ll be thinking like a sommelier. What to Drink with What You Eat is a must-have book for anyone interested in the topic. It’s empowering and eminently browsable. And it makes a great holiday present–for yourself or for others who love food and wine.