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Tag Archives: chardonnay

Mini-reviews 68: French wine edition

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French 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. For January, four French wines:

Macon-Villages Les Tuiles 2013 ($10, purchased,13%): This chardonnay from the Macon region of Burgundy is another winner from Cave de Lugny, which specializes in quality cheap wine from that part of France. This is a richer, less crisp style, but still with green apple, and even though the wine doesn’t have any oak.

Château Jacquet Blanc 2013 ($11, purchased,12%): Nothing special about this white Bordeaux, made of sauvignon blanc and semillon. It’s sort of jumbled together, without enough minerality and some sort of citrus and honey combination.

Château Rauzan Despagne Reserve 2013: ($13, purchased,12%): Overpriced white being sold in Dallas as a private label that doesn’t especially taste white Bordeaux, with too much citrus and sweet fruit. Very disappointing.

Hugel Riesling 2012: ($20, sample,12%): This Alsatian white comes from one of the region’s finest producers, and it’s impeccable — some oiliness, pear fruit, and minerality, as well as bone dry. But for all of its quality, it doesn’t come close to delivering value for $20. This is the problem the French wine business faces that few people want to admit.

Wine of the week: Ocean Blue Chardonnay 2013

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Ocean Blue ChardonnayOne of the most important trends in the wine business is the increase in private label wines, which give retailers an exclusive to sell and a bigger profit margin when they do. The catch is that private label wines, which are sold in only one retailer and can be limited in availability, are too often of indifferent quality.

That’s not the case with the Ocean Blue Chardonnay ($9, purchased, 12.5%), a private label for the Aldi grocery store chain. This New Zealand white is unoaked, which helps to keep the price down and gives it a bright and fresh approach. In addition, there is lots of crisp green apple and a rich mouth feel despite the lack of oak.

In this, it’s not especially subtle, but $10 New Zealand wine has never been famous for being understated. That’s how the country’s sauvignon blanc became famous, after all. And those who need vanilla or toasty and oaky in their chardonnay will probably wonder what it’s doing here.

But those of us who are more open minded about chardonnay will appreciate the wine’s value. Drink this chilled, on its own or with white wine food, and even something with a simple sauce. Grilled chicken breasts with garlic and parsley, perhaps? And hope more private labels approach this level of quality.

Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

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Chateau MontelenaThis is the second time this year that the Wine Curmudgeon has been able to talk to one of the participants from the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris. I wonder: Do the rest of the people who do what we do realize how lucky we are?

The occasion was a live cyber tasting last week with Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena, whose family’s chardonnay bested France’s white Burgundies at the Paris tasting. Which was unthinkable 40 years ago, if only because the most planted white grape in California was the colombard used to make jug wine.

We tasted the 2006 Montelena estate cabernet sauvignon ($150, sample, 13.9%) and the 2012 chardonnay ($50, sample, 13.8%), and both were fascinating. The red was so subtle that I didn’t think anyone made cabernet like this in Napa anymore, given the restraint in fruit and alcohol. In fact, The Big Guy (who joined me at Wine Curmudgeon world headquarters for the tasting) laughed after took his first sip. “It doesn’t have enough alcohol,” he said. Then we both laughed when I told him that one of the wine magazines scored it 88 points, which means it’s not any better than many of my $10 wines. And people wonder why scores are stupid.

Look for dark cherry fruit, black pepper and smokiness, enough acidity to offset all that, and an almost dusty finish. This is a food wine, and the more red meat the better. And it will continue to improve with age, getting darker and dustier.

The chardonnay was a worthy successor to the wine that won the Judgment — one of the best California chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The balance was impeccable, especially in a wine this young, with crisp green apple and pear fruit, oak skillfully integrated throughout, a richness that belies all the crispness, and the beginnings of what will be signature minerality on the finish. Highly recommended, even at this price, and a holiday gift for anyone who loves chardonnay.

I asked Barrett what he did differently with chardonnay, compared to so many others in Napa, and his answer was perfect: He made the wine that the grapes gave him, and not to show what a wonderful winemaker he was. There’s no better description for a wine than that.

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