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Mini-reviews 72: Estancia, Toad Hollow, Les Dauphins, Belleruche

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. • Estancia Chardonnay Unoaked Read More »

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Critics Challenge 2015

This year, as the Wine Curmudgeon parses wine competitions and tries to understand how they fit into the next generation of the wine business, the Critics Challenge 2015 stands out. It’s one Read More »

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Wine of the week: Félines Jourdan Picpoul-de-Pinet 2013

Picpoul, the white wine made with the picpoul grape in southern France, is one of those summertime wines that most Americans, unless they write a wine blog, don’t know about. The catch, Read More »

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Winebits 387: Syrah, canned wine, Chablis

• So long to syrah? Talk to retailers, and they’ll tell you they can’t give away syrah. Now there are Nielsen figures to back that up. Syrah’s sales in grocery stores are Read More »

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Colorado Governor’s Cup 2015

Midway through yet another enthusiastic debate during the sweepstakes round of this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition, I asked Doug Caskey, who runs the event, “When’s the last time you heard Read More »

Mini-reviews 72: Estancia, Toad Hollow, Les Dauphins, Belleruche

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wine reviewsReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.

Estancia Chardonnay Unoaked 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): Not very chardonnay-like, with an odd, though pleasant, orange muscat aroma and a hint of sweetness. Chardonnay for people who want it to taste like moscato.

Toad Hollow Risqué ($16, sample, 6%): One of my favorite bubblies, mostly because it’s made using an obscure grape and equally obscure sparkling process. This is the best it has been in years, and one of best sweet sparklers I’ve tasted in a long while. Tight, wonderful bubbles, sweet lemon, and acidity to balance all.

Cellier des Dauphins Les Dauphins Reserve Rouge 2013 ($13, sample, 13%): Grocery store plonk masquerading as award-winning French wine, with lots of flabby sweet red fruit, harsh tannins, and almost nothing else. This is a marketing wine, where what the label looks like is more important than what’s in the bottle.

Chapoutier Belleruche Rose 2014 ($12, sample, $13): Everyone else likes this wine more than I do, and it always shows up on summer rose lists. But it always seems pricey for what it is — sweet, crisp strawberry fruit and not much else.

Critics Challenge 2015

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critics challengeThis year, as the Wine Curmudgeon parses wine competitions and tries to understand how they fit into the next generation of the wine business, the Critics Challenge 2015 stands out. It’s one competition that doesn’t treat the judges like college interns, and where each judge isn’t overwhelmed by tasting hundreds of wines.

Plus, the event always attracts top-notch entries. Who knows? Maybe wineries figure there’s an advantage to letting people who judge wine for a living judge it in a competition.

This year was no exception. We did 160 wines over 1 1/2 days, using the event’s unique format to score the wines. Each table of two judges tasted the same wines, gave each a point total corresponding to a silver, gold, or platinum medal, and the wine received the highest of the two medals. Yes, I had to give a score, which is not something I like, but since it’s more about the medal, I have made my peace with it. That each wine is judged by two people adds another level of quality control, and platinum medals are tasted yet again. In addition, the judges write tasting notes for each medal-winning wine.

Besides, given the quality of the wines, who am I to complain? At one point, Michael Franz (one of the leading critics in the country) and I were handing out platinums like they were bronzes at other competitions. Complete results are here, and the highlights included:

* Perhaps the best flight of pinot noir I’ve ever judged, which included three platinums and six golds. The platinums went to ZD Wines, Coomber Family Ranch, and Dutton-Goldfield, and each wine (as well as most of the golds) was fresh and interesting, far removed from the heavy, overwhelming alcohol bombs that are the current critical favorites. The only catch? Each of the wines cost more than $40.

* A platinum for a merlot costing less $15 from Kon Tiki, a Chilean producer, with surprising depth and subtlety for a grocery store merlot. The bad news? It appears to have limited availability. If you can find it, though, buy as much of it as possible.

* A platinum for the nebbilo from Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyard, one of my favorite U.S. producers. Franz and I each gave it a platinum; this is a terroir-driven wine that speaks to the best of winemaking.

* Tremendous value from a couple of flights of $15 and less Chiantis, including platinum for Banfi, Gabbiao, and Castela D’Albola, as well as four golds.

The fine print: The competition pays a $500 honorarium and travel expenses.

Wine of the week: Félines Jourdan Picpoul-de-Pinet 2013

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Felines Jourdan picpoulPicpoul, the white wine made with the picpoul grape in southern France, is one of those summertime wines that most Americans, unless they write a wine blog, don’t know about. The catch, of course, is that given the way the wine world works, even if more of us knew about picpoul, we probably wouldn’t be able to buy it. The last time I checked, the retailers that bother (and even the good ones) carry the same picpoul.

Because it’s not chardonnay, and aren’t we supposed to drink chardonnay?

Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is ever vigilant, and can report that the Felines Jourdan picpoul ($10, sample, 13%) is well worth knowing, buying, and drinking — lots and lots of it, in fact. Jourdan makes a couple of picpouls, which by itself would recommend it to the Wine Curmudgeon. That this version of the Felines Jourdan picpoul is so well done, and offers so much more than almost any other picpoul I’ve tasted, makes it that much better.

Look for the varietal’s trademark tart lemon fruit (picpoul loosely translates as lip-stinger in English), as well as something softer — peach? — in the middle and a little minerality on the finish. Again, not something that a lot of $10, one-note wines have or even consider having.

Drink this chilled on its own or with almost any combination of boiled seafood this summer (or in any of the other nine months, actually). Highly recommended, and almost certain to go into the $10 Hall of Fame in January.

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