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
La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 904 Spain 2001 $49.99
La Rioja Alta was founded in 1890, a time when much of France’s vineyard area was devastated by phylloxera. During this era quite a few French winemakers, unable to make wine at home, sought refuge in Spain, and it was then that the style of wine we know as Rioja came into being. Today La Rioja Alta has about 360 hectares of vineyard, unusual for the area, which is populated by hundreds of small growers who sell grapes to the larger producers. This bodega, however, buys in very little fruit, being nearly self-sufficient because of its extensive vineyard holdings. Long aging in small oak barrels is one of the main factors contributing to the character of Rioja; thus any bodega aiming at top quality must have significant storage capacity and lots of barrels. Since 2002, therefore, La Rioja Alta has reverted to the old practice of making all their barrels themselves, from American oak dried for two years. At present there are over 43,000 barrels at the bodega. And the company succeeds in making high-quality, traditional Rioja wines. These are not flashy wines in the modern mold, but they are benchmark examples of the typical Rioja style, with real complexity and interest. The 904 spends four years in oak, resulting in a beautifully aromatic wine, redolent of wild berries, tar and spice. The well-balanced, complex palate has both ripe fruit and plenty of structure, ensuring years of life still ahead of it. The following review appeared in Wine Advocate in June of 2010:
“…displays a lovely nose of Asian spices, incense, tobacco, balsamic, and blackberry…has exceptional depth, layers of spicy black fruit, excellent ripeness, and an elegant personality…should continue to evolve for another 5-6 years and drink well through 2040.”
Wine Advocate 96 pts
Chateau Bouscassé Madiran France 2009 $26.99
Madiran, an appellation in the French province of Gascony just to the south of Bordeaux, has long had a reputation for dark, brooding reds based on the Tannat grape variety. Recent years have seen this region take important steps forward, and no one has been more vital to these changes than Alain Brumont, proprietor of the two best estates in the area—Chateau Montus and Chateau Bouscassé. Hard work and an obsession with perfection have taken Brumont to the very forefront of French winemaking, and his wines regularly receive accolades from critics such as Jancis Robinson, Steven Spurrier, Robert Parker, and many others.
Brumont inherited Chateau Bouscassé in 1979 and acquired Chateau Montus in 1981. He understood the potential of the Tannat grape variety and began using new oak for aging the wines, which was not customary practice. The results began to draw attention and in 1991 the prestigious Gault-Millau food and wine magazine of France elected him as Best Winegrower of the 1980’s. In 1995 the Revue du Vins de France voted him Winegrower of the Year, and following that, he was selected to participate in the 2005 Wine Experience in New York, which featured the 100 most prestigious wines in the world.
Fabrice Dubosc, a native of Gascony, took his degree in enology at the University of Montpelier and then trained at Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and later with Marcel Guigal in the northern Rhône. During a visit to the Brumont estates in 2000, Dubosc was impressed by what had been achieved at Chateau Montus in just a few short years and decided to join the effort to make superior wines in the Madiran appellation. Since then, Dubosc has consistently improved the style of the Brumont wines and is recognized by his peers as one of the top winemakers of his generation.
Just as it was in Bordeaux, the 2009 vintage in Madiran was exceptional, a fact amply demonstrated by the ‘09 Chateau Bouscassé. From vineyards located on the edge of a 200 meter high hilltop with soils of fine clay covering cracked limestone and sandstone, this wine is 60% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc. After fermentation, the wine was aged in a combination of new and used wood for 12 months and then bottled without fining or filtration. It exhibits qualities reminiscent of classed growth Bordeaux, with deep color, an intriguing bouquet of spicy new oak, vanillin, and black-cherries, great concentration and richness, medium to full body, and some tannin in the finish. It is just starting to enter maturity and can be enjoyed now, although it will certainly keep and probably improve over the next seven or eight years. It is a wine of unmistakable breed, with great purity and a wonderfully refined nature, and will pair well with fine cuts of beef or lamb, braised short ribs, or roast duckling.
Poderi Elia Langhe Nebbiolo ‘Padrun” Piemonte Italy 2012 $19.99
This small estate in northwestern Italy is best known for first rate Barbaresco, a Nebbiolo based red that, like its neighbor Barolo, enjoys a reputation as one of Italy’s very best wines. Federico Stella is the current winemaker at Poderi Elia, and as the latest in a history that stretches back more than three generations, he has maintained a very high level of quality. Meticulous beyond belief in the cellar, this young and talented producer possesses an uncanny instinct for making world-class wine. Respectful of traditional varietals, but unrelenting in his desire to improve, Stella experimented with over 30 combinations of French oak before settling on his cooperage formula—quite an expense for a small estate. In the vineyards there is no irrigation and everything is harvested by hand. Only indigenous yeasts are employed for fermentation.
In addition to Barbaresco, the estate produces Barbera, Dolcetto, Moscato d’Asti and the Langhe Nebbiolo, which is relatively new to the portfolio. A total of 6,000 cases are made annually.
This excellent red displays the aromatic intensity characteristic of Nebbiolo, with notes of cherry, tar and tobacco leaf, followed by a structured palate rich with tangy red fruit and hints of fresh earth. Medium to full bodied and dry, it is drinking well now but will hold for another three to five years.
Xavier Vignon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc Rhône Valley France 2011 $53.99
In the late 1980’s Xavier Vignon took his degree in oenology from the University of Montpelier in southern France, after which he spent a decade working at various posts in some of the world’s most important winemaking regions, including Bordeaux, Alsace, Napa Valley, New Zealand and Australia. Eventually he settled down in the southern Rhône Valley with a job as a consulting oenologist at the Council for Oenology at Avignon. It is in this capacity that Xavier has established invaluable contacts throughout the southern Rhône, acting as consultant to major estates such as Chateau La Nerthe, Mont Redon, Beaurenard, Domaine Marcoux, La Gardine and Raymond Usseglio, to name a few.
These contacts eventually led to the creation of Xavier’s own negociant business, which he established in 2002 with partners Jean Pierre Hughes and Tristan Depauw. Using his intimate knowledge of the vineyards in the various appellations of the Rhône Valley, gained through his associations with some of the area’s best growers, Xavier accesses top quality fruit for the wines in his portfolio, which represents a wide range of important sub appellations throughout the valley. This is a serious negociant business, dedicated to producing high quality wine at every level. Along the way the company also manages to distribute quite a few notable values, demonstrating what can be achieved even in the less exalted pockets of this vast winegrowing area.
Robert Parker, influential wine critic and Rhône Valley authority, has written enthusiastically about this increasingly important source of fine Rhône wine. Here are some of the observations he printed in the Wine Advocate in October of 2011:
“This is an up and coming, small, high quality negociant operation run by oenologist, Xavier Vignon and two partners…Tasting through this portfolio in September confirmed the efforts they are making to turn out high quality wines at reasonable prices.”
Jeb Dunnuck, one of Parker’s colleagues at Wine Advocate, concurs; he writes:
“I was blown away by these current and new releases. Across the board they showed beautifully made profiles, with not only loads of fruit and texture, but superb balance and classic Southern Rhone character…In addition, the prices remain remarkably low, and these wines are a treasure trove for the savvy buyer.”
This review of the 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc was penned by Robert Parker in 2012:
“…reveals pronounced floral notes as a result of the 40% Clairette included in the blend (the rest is 20% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul, Bourboulenc and other white varietals)…Somewhat Chablis-like, it offers up lots of crushed rock, floral, white citrus, spice and rose petal notes. Medium-bodied and refreshing, it should drink well for 2-3 years.”
Robert Parker 90 pts
Adelsheim Pinot Blanc Bryan Creek Vineyard Chehalem Mountains
Willamette Valley Oregon 2013 $17.99
Oregon pioneer David Adelsheim planted his original vineyard on Quarter Mile Lane in the Chehalem Hills north of Newberg in 1972. Since then the estate has grown to 190 acres representing eleven different vineyard sites farmed by the Adelsheim team across the northern fringe of the Willamette Valley. Fruit farmed by others – which constitutes at most 25% of total production – tends to be taken from sites that Adelsheim considers especially exciting and that complements the estate’s own vineyards geographically and stylistically.
The Bryan Creek Vineyard came into existence in 1988 when the Adesheims approached their neighbors Joy and Jess Howell about leasing 20 acres to plant grapes. The 60-acre Howell property is directly across the road from the original Adelsheim estate vineyard at Quarter Mile Lane, and once the Howells agreed, planting began the next spring at what became Bryan Creek Vineyard.
The parcel is situated high on the southern slopes of the Chehalem Mountains AVA (American Viticultural Area), on basaltic-origin, clay-loam soils that store enough moisture to get the grapevines through the annual summer droughts. The 700+ foot elevation approaches the upper limits of where the Adesheims like to plant, but the direct southern exposure provides some compensation. The grapes ripen later than at most of the other Adelsheim sites, but this long “hang-time” can lead to incredible complexity and intensity of flavor.
The 2013 Bryan Creek Vineyard Pinot Blanc certainly exhibits these qualities. It offers terrific depth and varietal character, chiefly in the form of ripe apple and pear flavors and an exhilarating fruit skin-like quality in the finish that renders it outstanding as a partner for a wide variety of foods, especially pork, poultry and seafood. Here is a review of this wine from Wine Spectator:
“Fresh and lively, offering vivid flavors of Bosc pear and green apple, with hints of mineral and floral combining in a distinctive package. Drink now through 2018.”
Wine Specatator 90 pts