Kurt’s Fav Five
Every so often someone will ask, what’s your favorite wine? That’s a tough question, and the answer is likely to change with regard to the season, the menu, or my mood. But it’s also true that, at any given time, there are a certain number of wines in the store that I find especially captivating. These are wines that, for various reasons, really stand out among the many that I taste during the course of a month. This section highlights five wines that have achieved that distinction, without regard to any other criteria, such as price or style. I heartily encourage you to explore them. ~ Kurt Galloway
Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva Rioja Spain 2009 $69.99
This estate in northern Spain is one of the most highly regarded in all of Rioja, which is itself the best known and most classic of all the Spanish appellations. Family owned and operated since 1932, Bodegas Muga produces red, white and rosé wines with fruit from their own vineyards as well as some purchased from other growers. They age their wines in barrels made by their own coopers and produce several top tier reds that regularly rank among the best in the entire appellation.
The Prado Enea Gran Reserva is a perfect example. It has long occupied a place at the very upper level of achievement in Rioja, and the style is always very traditional, no doubt the result of winemaking techniques that have not altered much over the course of many years. It is only made in the best vintages and is sourced from the very best parcels that the winery has at its disposal. The grapes from these parcels are among the last to be picked and therefore they constitute the ripest and most mature fruit available.
Prado Enea is mainly composed of Tempranillo but it also contains Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano. The latter is a variety of particular interest. It was once more widely grown in Rioja and prized for its distinctive character, but because it is difficult to grow and prone to mildew, it fell from favor some time ago and now occupies only a tiny portion of the vineyards in the region. The producers who still grow it, therefore, are able to make wines that resemble in style those associated with Rioja from previous generations. Modern wine enthusiasts have demonstrated increasing interest in this style as they search for wines that offer something different and unique, wines that couldn’t come from just anywhere.
Prado Enea is fermented in large oak vats with only naturally occurring yeast. After the fermentation is complete, it rests in those vats for twelve months before being transferred to small oak barrels. It spends three years minimum in those barrels and then another three years minimum in bottle before release. This regimen substantially exceeds the official aging requirements for wines that carry the gran reserva designation, but Muga, like other ultra-traditional producers in Rioja, believe that a fine wine should be ready to drink on release and they take great care to make sure that this is the case for the Prado Enea. It is always a wine of great complexity and character, and even though it can be drunk as soon as it reaches the market, it will continue to improve in bottle for years to come.
The following review of the 2009 vintage was written by Josh Raynolds at Vinous, one of the best online wine journals currently published:
“…heady aromas of smoke-accented red berries, potpourri, incense and vanilla show superb clarity and pick up cedar and pipe tobacco nuances in the glass…sweet, seamless and broad in the mouth, offering concentrated yet vibrant red currant, cherry liqueur and floral pastille flavors that fan out steadily on the back half…a spice cake quality emerges on the impressively persistent, red-fruit- and floral-driven finish, which is given shape by smooth, harmonious tannins…drink through 2030.”
Vinous 95 pts
Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon Scherrer Vineyard Alexander Valley California 2009 $52.99
Fred Scherrer made his first vintage in 1991. It consisted of 600 cases of Sonoma County Zinfandel that came from the oldest part of his father’s vineyard in the Alexander Valley, a parcel that was planted by Fred’s grandfather in 1912. Over the next five years Scherrer expanded production and gradually added other varietals to the offering, including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and eventually Pinot Noir. In 1998 he established a winery near Sebastopol, which remains his location today, and production is currently about 5000 cases a year.
Fred’s winemaking philosophy is straightforward. He says most of the work is done during the growing season and at harvest, when the important decisions are made. He tries to get in the way as little as possible while trying to achieve the desired outcome, saying “there is little reason to touch a wine that is on a wonderful trajectory.” With the exception of one dry rosé, all of his wines are bottled without fining or filtration.
The portfolio includes a number of single vineyard wines as well as wines with more general appellations. Usually the vineyard designates are the synthesis of multiple sub-sites within the given vineyard. The more broadly designated appellation wines are the result of blending carefully selected vineyard sites to achieve balance and harmony. At the bottom of it all, Fred says, there is a simple guiding principle: “I try to make good tasting wine that will age well.”
The 2009 Scherrer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley has a lot to offer. Having just passed its eighth birthday, this wine is just now hitting its stride and displays classic varietal character as well as admirable complexity and depth of flavor. It provides enthusiasts an unusual opportunity to purchase a mature California Cab to enjoy now without having to go through the cellaring process at home. This review by Antonio Galloni was written in February of 2014 and published in Vinous:
“Dark red cherry, plum, licorice, wild flowers and savory herbs form a core of huge fruit as the wine opens up in the glass. A deep, rich wine, the 2009 is hugely appealing today, but it also clearly has the stuffing to drink well for a number of years. Mocha, violets and sweet herbs linger on a powerful finish supported by grippy tannins.”
Vinous 93 pts
Rocca di Castagnoli Poggio a’Frati Chianti Classico Riserva Italy 2011 $29.99
The Rocca di Castagnoli estate comprises 850 hectares in all, making it one of the largest in the Chianti Classico growing zone. The vineyards occupy sites in the Gaiole and Castellina subzones of the appellation and are planted in clay soils at higher elevations, resulting in ripe wines that also display healthy acidity keeping them fresh and lively. Owner Calogero Cali has been steadily improving and expanding the estate since 1981 when he first acquired it. In addition to making extensive renovations in the vineyards, he has also restored the villa and castle, and the operation now includes an excellent restaurant offering classic Tuscan cuisine in a charming country house setting.
The vineyards are planted mostly to Sangiovese but there is also Cabernet Sauvignon, Canaiolo,
Colorino, and Malvasia. There are several named vineyard sites, of which Poggio a’Frati is one. It sits at about 430 meters above sea level and consists of Sangiovese and Canaiolo planted in clay soils with a high limestone content. After fermentation in stainless steel the wine is aged for 15 months in a combination of oak casks and large wooden vats and then given an additional 12 months of aging in bottle before release. This is a wine of genuine breed and elegance, with exquisite balance and a wonderfully polished style. It is showing beautifully now and will age gracefully for another five or six years. The following review from Vinous provides an excellent description of the 2011 vintage:
“…gorgeous…succulent, round and inviting…captures the essence of the year in its expressive, welcoming personality…dark cherry, kirsch, mint, rose petal, spice and sweet tobacco overtones add nuance on the generous finish…drink through 2023.”
Vinous 91 pts
Françoise & Denis Clair Saint-Aubin Burgundy France 2014 $34.99
This small estate in Burgundy’s illustrious Côte d’Or comprises a mere 15 hectares of vineyard land, spread among various sites in Saint-Aubin and Santenay, and the history of its existence is a familiar one. Following a family tradition going back generations, Denis Clair had been growing wine in his own vineyards in Santenay for years, but in 1986 he made the decision to begin making and bottling wine himself. Along with that decision came a move toward new vineyard acquisitions and, together with his wife Françoise, a native of Saint-Aubin, he gradually expanded his holdings, bringing the estate up to its current size. Production is a little over 6,000 cases annually, roughly 65% red and 35% white, and it covers a range of offerings, from Hautes Côtes de Beaune and Bourgogne Aligoté to commune and premier cru level wines from Santenay, Saint-Aubin and Puligny-Montrachet. About 75% of the production is exported, with Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands making up the most important markets, followed by the US, Britain and Australia. In 2000 Denis and Françoise’s son Jean-Baptiste joined the operation and today he and his parents continue to improve and expand their enterprise.
The fruit for the commune level Saint-Aubin comes from a south-facing parcel planted on chalky soils. The vines, 100% Chardonnay, are an average of 35 years old, and at harvest all the fruit is picked by hand. After a light crushing and gentle pressing, the must goes into barrels, where it is fermented and aged. Ten percent of the barrels are new, and total aging time is about ten months. Production hovers around 1,000 cases each year.
The 2014 vintage in Burgundy produced superb white wines and this Saint-Aubin exhibits many of the best characteristics of the year, namely exciting aromatics, excellent concentration and structure, and a well-chiseled palate with great vigor and intensity. It brims with ripe, sappy fruit backed up by firm acidity and an underlying mineral tone that can only come from limestone soils. At just $35 a bottle it also represents an amazing value for those who seek the pleasures of white Burgundy at something like reasonable prices. In short, this is highly recommended.
Ken Forrester The FMC Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch South Africa 2014 $59.99
Ken Forrester began his professional life in the hotel industry, where he specialized in the restaurant trade. In 1977 he bought a share in a successful eatery in the center of Johannesburg, and from there a string of other restaurants. This experience engendered an interest in fine wine which stayed with him, and in 1993 he and his wife Teresa set their hearts on an historic vineyard in Stellenbosch. This beautiful farm, complete with a Cape Dutch homestead built in 1694, had stood vacant and derelict for some time before they bought it. A massive renovation project followed, with Ken taking charge of the vineyard while Teresa saw to the house.
Most of the vineyard was planted to Chenin Blanc, a grape variety originally from the Loire Valley in central France and brought to South Africa as early as 1655. With its exceptional versatility both in terms of where it grows and the range of wine styles it is capable of producing, Chenin Blanc assumed a very important role in the South African wine industry, a role which it retains to this day. Ken has devoted himself to developing its potential even further, determined to make wines that will rival the quality of any in the world. He makes a variety of styles, beginning with straightforward, crisp and delicious dry versions that match a great many menu items, all the way to intensely concentrated sweeter versions that resemble the late harvest wines made from this variety in the prestigious French appellations of Quarts-de-Chaume and Bonnezeaux. He never tires of promoting the virtues of Chenin Blanc and has dedicated a great deal of time and energy to its research and development.
The FMC is one of the crowning achievements of the winery. It is made with hand selected grapes produced from low-yielding, old bush vines planted in 1974 in a vineyard with a southwest exposure and gravelly soil. The fruit is harvested at full maturity in several passes and fermented with natural wild yeast in new French oak barrels with a 400 liter capacity. Due to the repetitive harvesting, some botrytis is always present, and the wine spends 12 months on the lees in barrel before bottling. Rich and layered, with dried apricot, vanilla and honey tones, it is a marvelous expression of Chenin Blanc and has garnered acclaim from the world’s foremost wine writers in one vintage after another. Here is a review of the 2014 vintage from Stephen Tanzer which appeared in Vinous in May of 2017:
“Bright medium yellow. Musky, leesy aromas of ripe peach, orange, honey, brown spices, macadamia nut and iodine-like minerality. A touch of honeyed sweetness is well buffered by spicy oak and the wine’s terrific old-vine, stone fruit intensity. Finishes dusty, firm and long, with excellent grip and an intriguing saltiness. Delicious already, this should also make an interesting old bottle.”
Vinous 92 pts