Category Archives: Expensive wine

Expensive wine 80: Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2012


grgich hills chardonnayWant a classic example of Napa Valley chardonnay, with the just right amounts of fruit and oak, a proper mouth feel, balanced alcohol, at a fair price, and that speaks to Napa’s terroir? Then you could do much worse than the Grgich.

This is not damning with faint praise; rather, it says much about how wine is often made in that part of California — score driven, price be damned, and that the consumer will buy the Winestream Media tells them to buy. The Grgich, which has been around longer than I have been writing about wine, takes none of that into account. The 2013 Grgich Hills chardonnay ($42, sample, 13.5%) is no exception.

Look for green apple, a little citrus, and even some peach tucked away in the back. The oak is there, of course, but it’s integrated and part of the wine — not a flavor in and unto itself. Perhaps the most important quality is the wine’s acidity, something most California chardonnays don’t worry about. It helps the wine taste fresh and clean despite its richness.

Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to give as a holiday gift, drink at this time of year, and enjoy anytime.

Expensive wine 79: Northstar Merlot 2010


northstar merlotSte. Michelle Wine Estates does something no other Big Wine company does as well — produce top-notch expensive wine that speaks to terroir. Not even E&J Gallo has been able to figure that out. How else to explain that the Wine Spectator picked the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon as its wine of the year in 2009?

That’s why I was so eager to try the Northstar Merlot ($42, sample, 14.7%) during the Pacific Northwest tasting at my El Centro class a couple of weeks ago. The Northstar, owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and made with grapes from Washington state’s Columbia Valley, has a fine reputation and it has been several years since I tasted it. It didn’t disappoint.

Look for dark, rich fruit (very intense but not overly sweet black cherry?), with an undercurrent of baking spices, zesty tannins, and just enough oak to round out the flavors. It is a powerful wine, but in that specific Washington state sort of way. In this, it’s not bloated or flabby, and will age for much longer than you’d think — at least 10 more years.

This is merlot as merlot, not as a cabernet sauvignon knockoff or as something sweet and fleshy to sell in the grocery store. Pair it with roast lamb and keep it in mind for a holiday dinner.

Expensive wine 78: Raumland Marie-Luise Brut 2008


 Raumland Marie-LuiseGerman sparkling wine made in the traditional Champagne style? How much wine geekier does it get? Not much, but the Raumland Marie-Luise is well worth the trouble to find and the price you will pay.

The amazing thing about the Raumland Marie-Luise ($40, sample, 12%) is not that it’s well made, but that it’s such a value, even at $40. I’ve tasted Champagne (before the boycott) at that price and even $20 more that wasn’t as pleasurable to drink — mass market plonk at high-end prices. The Raumland is made with pinot noir, astonishing in itself given the rarity and inconsistency of German pinot, but even more so given the wine’s subtlety and style. This is not an oaky, yeasty sparkling bomb, but a wine with fine, tight bubbles, hints of berry fruit, an almost spice-like aroma, and bone dry.

Highly recommended, though it may be difficult to find. If you can, serve it on its own (chilled, of course) or with seafood and chicken. We had it with a shrimp boil during the infamous wine samples dinner, and the Raumland was gone in minutes. This is also a fine gift for any open-minded sparkling wine drinker.

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