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Expensive wine 63: Volta Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

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Volta Cabernet Sauvignon The email was straightforward: Would the Wine Curmudgeon review the Volta cabernet sauvignon ($60, sample, 14.5%), even though it wasn’t the kind of wine usually featured on the blog? “A review in your monthly expensive wine feature would be great if that works out for June,” wrote the winery representative. “I wouldn’t dare insist it be a positive one, only that you share your true thoughts with your readers.”

Which is what the Wine Curmudgeon does anyway, so a few considerations about the Volta cabernet sauvignon:

• It’s a good example of this kind of pricey Napa Valley wine, rich and full with a burst of sweet berry fruit, very smooth tannins, and a chalky finish. The grapes are top quality, but you’d expect that from a wine at this price. The oak is relatively subdued, and it’s not as over-extracted and over-ripe as many similarly priced and styled wines from this part of the world. Having said that, it’s not subtle, either, and is firmly part of the post-modern wine movement.

The wine is hot, which means the alcohol shows more than it should. It’s most noticeable when you smell it, when there is a whiff of something that isn’t fruity; and on the finish, when it’s almost like a sharp bite. This isn’t unusual for this kind of wine, because it’s made with very ripe grapes that have more sugar to be turned into alcohol during fermentation. I don’t like hot wine, but many people consider it a good thing. I don’t know any, but I do know they are out there.

• This bottle did not hold up well after we opened it. After 30 minutes in the glass, the wine started to fade and it lost much of its fruitiness. I don’t know if it was just this bottle, or if the vintage has started to get old. This style of wine, given the grapes’ ripeness and the techniques used to make it, doesn’t always age well.

Expensive wine 62: Chamisal Califa Chardonnay 2011

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Expensive wine 62: Chamisal Califa Chardonnay 2011One of the challenges with writing about California chardonnay, and especially the expensive kind, is that the Wine Curmudgeon is often in danger of wearing out his welcome. How often will visitors here read “over-oaked” and “too much alcohol” before they shake their heads, click the post closed, cancel their e-mail subscription, and hope someone tells me I need to get some help.

Fortunately, I was at a big-time tasting last week, and the Califa ($40, sample, 13.2%) was one of the highlights. It comes from the Edna Valley, which means winemaker Fintan du Fresne doesn’t have to deal with the expectations that winemakers do in Napa or Sonoma. That means he can take advantage of the region’s cooler temperatures (and it was very cool in 2011) to fashion a leaner, though still rich and elegant, white wine. Look for green apple and lime fruit, some amazing crispness, and just enough oak to let you know you’re drinking high-end chardonnay.

How nice was this wine? I preferred the Califa to Pine Ridge’s Dijon Clones chardonnay, also at the tasting, and there was nothing wrong with the Dijon Clones. The Califa wasn’t intent on impressing me with the first sip; rather, it’s as if it said, “Take your time. Drink a little more, and really get to know me.”

Highly recommended (though, sadly, with what appears to limited availability). This is a Mother’s Day gift for any mom who loves wine and wants to be reminded why California is one of the world’s great wine regions.

Expensive wine 61: Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2011

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Expensive wine 61: Adelsheim Elizabeth's Reserve Pinot Noir 2011The Wine Curmudgeon has long lamented the state of pinot noir, in which much of the expensive stuff doesn’t taste like pinot any more. And that the expensive stuff is way past expensive, priced so that only tech moguls and Chinese generals can afford it. And that many winemakers get annoyed when someone asks them about this, as if we’re questioning their ability.

Fortunately, there are still producers who can remind us of pinot’s greatness, and Oregon’s Adelsheim Vineyard is one of them. The Elizabeth’s Reserve ($55, sample, 13%) is beautiful and classic Oregon pinot noir. Look for elegant red fruit, a subtle but full middle that is almost coy, and tannins the way they should be in pinot noir — a hint and not a kick in the teeth. The oak shows through more than I would like, but that’s probably a function of youth. The wine is still a little young, and could use another year or two in bottle.

This is not necessarily a food wine, but would be even better with it, including and especially the classic pinot pairing of roast lamb. Highly recommended; in fact, I found another bottle after I drank this one. Don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad it did. I’m going to let the second bottle age and save it for a special occasion.

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