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Tag Archives: red wine

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 cabernet sauvignon ($65, 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.

Thanksgiving wine 2014

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Thanksgiving wine 2014The Wine Curmudgeon got a press release last week touting a big-time California producer’s five pinot noirs for Thanksgiving. Because, I suppose, we’re supposed to drink pinot noir for Thanksgiving.

Excuse me while I throw a fit. Is this 1985, when we could only drink certain wines with certain foods at certain times? Of course not. This is the 21st century, when we can drink what we want when we want with whatever food we want. Which makes Thanksgiving the greatest wine holiday in the world, since it is about and variety and being thankful for all those choices.

Guidelines for holiday wine buying are here; this year’s suggestions are after the jump:

Wine of the week: Little James’ Basket Press Red NV

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Little James Basket Press RedThe blog’s seventh annual birthday week begins on Monday, so what better preview for all the fun than Little James’ Basket Press Red ($10, purchased, 13.5%)? This is cheap French red wine that does everything that great cheap wine should do:

 • Varietally correct. This is a red Rhone blend with lots of Rhone-style red fruit, It’s made with grenache, which seems to take on a different life every time I review it. This year, it was sweet cherries, and much less dark than last year. And it’s even different from the review two years ago.

• Tasty. The bottle was empty before dinner was over, which has turned out to be the best way to determine how much I like a wine. It’s not as spicy as years past and the funky aroma is fading, but the tannins and acid still balance the fruit. Think steak frites.

• Unpretentious. That means a screwcap, a clever front label, and a weird tasting note on the back label with the phrase “irresistible crunchy fruit.” I have no idea what that means, but it’s still infinitely better than the usual junk that passes for back label tasting notes.

• Non-vintage. The key to the Little James is a solera, in which old wine is mixed with new wine and vintage doesn’t matter. In fact, for a cheap wine, this often adds complexity that the wine wouldn’t have.

Highly recommended, and certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame next year. The only drawback? The importer has been sold, and I’ve had difficulty finding the wine in Dallas. Thanks, three-tier system.

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