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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Chapoutier Bila-Haut 2014

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Chapoutier Bila-HautIt’s probably an exaggeration to call Michel Chapoutier of the renowned Rhone winemaking family France’s version of Fred Franzia, the man the U.S. wine business loves to hate. But the two have much in common — both are controversial and both do things that they’re not supposed to do. Chapoutier, for instance, has gone into the riesling business, something a Rhone producer has probably never done in all of France’s recorded wine history.

They even understand the U.S. market in a way that too many of their competitors don’t. What they don’t have in common is the quality of the wine; Chapoutier’s are much better than anything Franzia does these days, despite the latter’s claims to the contrary. The Chapoutier Bila-Haut ($15, sample, 14%) is a case in point: It’s a varietally correct Rhone-style red blend from the less known Roussillon region in southern France that appeals to both the commercial side of the market — its premiumized price (almost twice what it costs in Europe) and fruit forward style — and to those of us who think Rhone-style wine should taste a certain way.

Look for a hint of the earthiness and rusticity that I appreciate, but which isn’t overwhelmed by lots of red fruit (cherry?) and a richer mouth feel that has more to do with the New World than the Old. Having said that, it was quite pleasant and enjoyable, a red wine that will come in handy as spring arrives and that I would buy at $12 or $13.

Wine of the week: Vionta Albarino 2014

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Vionta albarinoA couple of years ago, about the only people who knew about albarino were the ones who made it. And since they were in Spain, the idea of albarino didn’t bother most American wine drinkers.

Today, though, you can find albarino, a white wine, in a surprising number of U.S. wine retailers, a development that makes the Wine Curmudgeon smile. And why not? The Vionta Albarino ($14, purchased, 12.5%) is a welcome change of pace, existing somewhere between chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot grigo. Think of the relationship as a wine-related Venn diagram.

The Vionta albarino is an excellent example of how the grape does that — fresh lemon fruit (Meyer lemon?), a little something that comes off as earthy, and fresh herbs. It also offers, as quality albarinos do, a touch of savory and what aficionados call saltiness (since the wine is made near the sea).

The Vionta albarino is a food wine — pair it with rich, fresh, grilled or boiled seafood, so the flavors can play off each other. Highly recommended, and something I’ve bought twice since the first time. Who says all $15 wine is overpriced?

Expensive wine 82: Anne Amie Winemaker’s Select Pinot Noir 2012

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Anne Amie winemaker's selectNothing illustrates the foolishness of the three-tier system more than the Anne Amie winemaker’s select. This Oregon producer isn’t especially big, and only has distribution in 39 states. Which means that those of you in the other 11, including Pennsylvania, can’t buy it.

Which is a shame, because the Anne Amie winemaker’s select ($24, purchased, 13.6%) is a steal, perhaps the best pinot noir at this price I’ve had since I started writing the blog. If nothing else, it is varietally correct. To find a pinot that tastes like pinot at this price is the equivalent of my beloved Chicago Cubs winning two or three World Series in a row, and they haven’t won one in more than 100 years.

And there is much more than varietal correctness. This is a beautiful and delightful Oregon-style pinot with zingy red fruit (very red cherry), a touch of bramble and blackberry on the nose, soft and relaxing tannins, and more oak than I thought. This wine is still very young, and the oak should fade into the background over time, letting the fruit show a little more. It also shows how a talented winemaker can work with a warm vintage to produce a balanced wine.

Highly recommended (though the price may be higher elsewhere), and another reason why Anne Amie is one of my favorite producers in the U.S. I just wish more people could buy its wines.

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