Winemaker Armin Tement of Austria passed through New York the other day, which gave me a chance to taste some of the most distinctive Sauvignon Blancs being made anywhere in the world (truly).
Want to taste like a wine pro? Here are the five questions you should ask yourself while you sniff and sip, plus three wines that will give you a mini lesson in acid, tannin and aroma.
© Kathryn Rathke
The truth about wine grapes is that they rarely have one name—Pinot Noir, for instance, may be Pinot Noir to you and me (and to the French), but to the Austrians it’s Blauburgunder, to the Italians it’s Pinot Nero and to the Croatians it’s either Burgundac Crni or Modra Klevanyka, though I’m a bit vague on why it’s sometimes one and sometimes the other. In any case, here’s a handy guide to some of the more common of wine’s identical twins »
© Antonis Achilleos
Joe Dressner sought out genius winemakers like Thierry Puzelat.
Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor
Marco de Bartoli Vecchio Samperi Marsala
It's hard to land on one specific wine from Joe Dressner's portfolio to write about—there are so many that are so good. But if I have a sentimental favorite, it's Marco de Bartoli's Vecchio Samperi Marsala. De Bartoli, who also passed away this year, was occasionally known as the wizard of Marsala—a nondescript mass-produced dessert wine that in his hands (and in this particular bottling) could become a kind of exotically aromatic, layered liquid, all hazelnut and dried orange peel and wisps of smoky tea, and, contrary to expectation, not sweet at all but dry. The nickname was deserved, in other words. I also love this wine because when I was in Sicily for my honeymoon twelve years ago, I visited the winery with my wife and chatted for an hour with de Bartoli, who was unexpectedly friendly despite his obvious surprise that two Americans would turn up unannounced at the doors of his (rather difficult to find) winery. For years it was essentially impossible to find his wines here; why am I not surprised that in the end they wound up with Joe Dressner?
Megan Krigbaum, Associate Wine Editor
Agnès and René Mosse Moussamoussettes
I can't claim responsibility for discovering Agnès and René Mosse’s Moussamoussettes, but I will fully accept responsibility for buying most of the cases allotted to New York City. A few years ago, myboyfriend picked up a bottle of this sparkling rosé on the way to dinner at our neighborhood BYOB Middle Eastern place on a whim. We popped open its soda cap top and were entirely delighted. Now we beg our local wine shop for more. It’s a happy wine, a wine that makes it easy to drink the whole bottle. The Mosses are one of my favorite organic producers of top-notch Chenin Blanc in the Loire—they bottle Chenins from several different AOCs, essentially a study of that grape grown in different terroirs. But Moussamoussettes is not this sort of thinker's wine; it’s a pure pleasure wine. And it’s completely different every vintage. The first year, it was quite dry with juicy strawberry fruit. Last year, it was more earthy than fruity, and more bubbly. And this year it was shockingly sweet—better for dessert than with spinach pie, admittedly. There probably aren’t any more bottles of this year’s Moussamoussettes on shelves, but I’m already waiting for next year.
Lawrence Marcus, Associate Digital Editor
2006 Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées Beaujolais L'Ancien
Odd as it might sound, this lowly non-cru Beaujolais was, for me, a bit of a revelation. I bought it expecting a simple Gamay to go with roasted chicken, but that's not what it turned out to be. This wine had none of the wild, edgy flavors that are sometimes associated with the "natural" approach favored by Dressner's producers. Instead, it had real polish. The tannins and deep berry flavors were perfectly balanced in a way that was striking; few wines have quite that much finesse. Basically, this Beaujolais was insanely good. I went out and bought six more bottles, and drank them over the next few years. That a $15 Gamay could age gracefully amazed me, and proved that price and prestige don't have everything to do with great wine.
Kristin Donnelly, Senior Food Editor
2004 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Le Buisson Pouilleux
I was indoctrinated into the “real wine” movement while working at Chambers Street Wines in 2004. During a dinner with some wine business people, I brought out this bottle, made by rock-star natural winemakers Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat. It was nothing like other Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley, which were typically almost clear and very minerally. This was deep golden and cloudy. “Orange wines” were still a fringe phenomenon, so people assumed the wine was flawed. By then, I had learned not to judge a wine by its appearance so I convinced everyone to try it. It was rich, floral and exotic smelling and almost honeyed on the palate—a truly gorgeous wine that was a big hit at the dinner. When I told Joe how much I loved the “Tue-Boeuf Sauvignon Blanc,” he chided me: “You mean Le Buisson Pouilleux,” he said in his Queens-accented French. Typical Joe. He was never a fan of referring to wines the American way, by grape variety, and often made fun of the habit on his blog. Just one of the many reasons people loved him.
There are people out there—and they know who they are—who missed Father's Day. You forgot to call, you were traveling, the gift got eaten by the dog; whatever the case, now's a good time to make it up to dear old dad. In fact, speaking as a father myself, it's always a good time to give gifts to fathers. Nothing warms the cold cockles of the heart more than a thoughtful present from a dutiful child, except maybe an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island plus a speedboat-driving butler, but hey, that's hard to come by. In any case, should dad be a wine-lover, here are some handy gift ideas, good for any occasion whatsoever.
Affordable: 2010 Bodegas Borsao Garnacha Joven Campo de Borja ($8)
This robust Spanish red is a great partner for burgers off the grill.
Sky’s the Limit: 2007 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($100)
A benchmark Napa Cabernet. Velvety, rich and deceptively powerful, it’s drinking great right now—especially with some sort of troglodyte-size T-bone.
Affordable: 2009 Fetzer Valley Oaks Zinfandel ($9)
A juicy red from one of the world’s largest farmers of organic grapes.
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 SokolBlosser Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir ($50)
Sokol Blosser farms organically, participates in salmon-safe run-off programs, uses biodiesel fuels and has solar panels in its vineyards. Plus, its Pinot Noir is terrific.
Beach Dad (no glass bottles)
Affordable: 2008 Bandit Cabernet Sauvignon ($8)
Dark fruit and lots of flavor in a one-liter cardboard Tetra Pak.
Sky’s the Limit: 2009 Wineberry Chateau du Chatelard Bourgogne Blanc ($45/3 liter box)
New York–based Wineberry packages small-production French wines in cool wooden three-liter boxes.
Affordable: 2009 Arnold Palmer Cabernet Sauvignon ($11)
A straightforward and appealing red from a golf great.
Sky’s the Limit: 2008 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon ($85)
Former NFL star Drew Bledsoe grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, with Chris Figgins, whose family owns one of the state’s top wineries, Leonetti. They reunited to create this structured, intensely flavorful Cabernet.
Affordable: Mionetto Il Prosecco ($9)
A lively Italian sparkler from one of the best-known Prosecco producers.
Sky’s the Limit: 2002 Dom Pérignon ($140)
Dom Pérignon lives up to its reputation, especially in the terrific ’02 vintage. Plus, dad will definitely impress his friends with his bottomless wallet (well, your bottomless wallet, but who’s counting?).
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Or at least wine from a French Château owned by an Irishman. A few weeks back on the Today show I semi-predicted that one of the wines served at the royal wedding events would be Château de Fieuzal, a white Bordeaux from a property owned by wealthy Irish fellow named Lochlan Quinn. Well, I was wrong.
But, because evidently I'm more in tune with the doings of royalty than I thought, Fieuzal was poured at a recent dinner for the Queen in Dublin castle. It's a lovely white wine, and the current 2009 vintage can be found here, for about $45.
In fact, white Bordeaux tends to be a bit of a forgotten category. But the combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (typical of these wines) has a subtle fragrance and taste that's easy to become addicted to. A few good ones to try out include those from Château Graville-Lacoste, Clos Floridène, Château Carbonneau, Château Bonnet, Château Ducasse, and Château Rahoul. In the I've-got-money-to-burn-and-I-don't-care category, also look for Domaine de Chevalier blanc and Chateau Smith Haut-Lafite blanc. The 2009s are on shelves, but these wines age well and 2008 was a great vintage for white Bordeaux, so don't shy away from those either.
I had a great time on the fourth hour of Today today, recommending a few super value wines with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. These were drawn from my February column—essentially, tasty wines that are made in quantities greater than 150,000 cases. That's 1,800,000 bottles, which means that they sure ought to be available somewhere nearby. Check out the clip here.
For fun, here are a couple more that have substantial production, but that didn't quite make my 150,000 case cut-off:
2009 Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($10) Pinot Grigios labeled with the broad Veneto region classification tend to be less interesting than more pricey wines from regions like Friuli and the Alto Adige, but this crisp, lightly spicy white transcends its pedigree.
2009 Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay ($14) Though Kendall Jackson's iconic Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay remains immensely popular, longtime winemaker Randy Ullom tweaks his successful model-quite effectively with the first vintage of this bottling. The wine is made solely in stainless steel tanks and older oak barrels (which impart no oak flavors), keeping its lemon-citrus flavors lively and crisp.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.