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Expensive wine 68: Kelly Fleming Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

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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

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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.

Expensive wine 66: Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 ans 2005

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Guffens-Heynen Pouilly-Fuissé Tri des 25 ans 2005Great wines have great stories to go with them, even if the stories can be embarrassing. Such is the case with the Guffens ($80, purchased, 13%), although the story isn’t about the wine as it is the people involved.

Jay Biletti has been a long-time supporter of Drink Local Wine and an advocate for Arizona wine. I’ve judged with him many times, and he is a smart wine guy who is always fun to taste with. Several years ago, when Jay and I were judging the late Southwestern Wine Competition, we ordered a bottle of white Burgundy. It tasted and smelled quite funky. “It’s corked,” said Jay, who could plainly smell wet dogs and damp basements. “Oh no,” I said. “It’s just funky. White Burgundy can do that.” We went around with this for a bit, and Jay almost believed me. So we asked Diane Teitelbaum, whose wine knowledge is immeasurable and who was eating dinner with us. She took one whiff, and gave me a firm look. “Of course it’s corked, Jeff. What were you thinking?”

Hence the Guffens, which Jay brought to dinner in honor of that night when he was in Dallas this summer. Which was not corked. Really. It’s classic white Burgundy (chardonnay from the Burgundy region of France, in this case the Pouilly-Fuissé part of Burgundy). It’s still very young, and won’t reach its peak for at least another couple of years. The fruit (apple-ish?) is way in the back, and you’ll taste more white pepper and minerality than anything else. The oak is hovering over all, in exactly the way oak should hover.

Jay and I enjoyed the wine, and he was very nice when we told the corked story to the other guests. They didn’t even laugh too hard.

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