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Tag Archives: expensive wine

Expensive wine 69: Chateau Montelena

winereview

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.

Expensive wine 68: Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

winereview

Kelly Fleming Cabernet SauvignonIn those long ago days before the recession, when price was no object for producers and their goal was to make Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon as over the top as possible, the Kelly Fleming cabernet sauvignon was not unusual. $90? No big deal. 14.8 percent alcohol? Nice, but not 15.1 percent.

What makes the Fleming (sample) unusual and worth reviewing six years later is that it held up in a way that many other wines from that fairy tale era have not. I cleaned out the wine closet at the end of this winter, working my way through a dozen or so bottles of similar wines that I got as samples when high-end producers still sent samples, and most of the wines were gone, faded and old. Some of the $100 wines had even started to turn to vinegar.

The Fleming, on the other hand, not only held up, but improved with age. Which I certainly didn’t expect. It was balanced in a way that it wouldn’t have been in 2011, with lots of black fruit but where the whole was greater than the sum of the fruit. The tannins were soft but noticeable, and the finish was spicy, long, and surprisingly complex. This is wine, and not something to marvel at — high praise from the Wine Curmudgeon for this style of wine.

Having said all of this, the Fleming is still a pre-recession, $90 bottle of Napa cabernet with all that entails. It is not subtle, but still showy in the way those wines are. Most of us will wonder why we would want to spend that much money. But if you like this style, and you have the money or dine at expensive steak houses, then you’ll enjoy this — and be glad you bought it and not something else.

Expensive wine 67: Brandborg Pinot Noir Estate 2012

winereview

Brandborg pinot noirOne of the controversies amusing the Winestream Media, which allows its members to toss cyber-objects at each other, is the state of expensive pinot noir. It’s convoluted beyond description; for our purposes, it’s enough to know that some of my colleagues are throwing a hissy fit because other of my colleagues want to drink pinot noir that doesn’t taste like cabernet sauvignon. Sommelier Rajat Parr seems to be particularly disliked for advocating this kind of pinot noir, and I admire his thick skin.

The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, could care less about what his colleagues drink. Or argue about. Which is one of the differences between us.

Rather, I mention the controversy because the vitriol has gotten to the point where wines like the Brandborg ($38, sample, 12.8%) are dismissed because they don’t fit the current style. In this, the Brandborg is part of the resurgence in traditional pinot noir — which, oddly, I’ve noted here in several recent reviews, including this one and this one, without realizing it.

The Brandborg is quite nicely done, being both a varietally correct Oregon pinot and a wine with much more going on that just varietal correctness. It’s even big enough (though still balanced) that it needs food. Look for low alcohol, more fruit than a red Burgundy (black cherry?), and minerality, as well as a wine that’s still young and not quite all together. It’s going to get more complex and taste even better over the next couple of years, and offers fine value even at its price.

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