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Wine of the week: Hess Sauvignon Blanc Select 2014

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hess sauvignon blancThe knock against Big Wine is that it can’t make terroir-driven wines, because the formula that has given us better quality at lower prices works against that style. But that’s not necessarily true, and we have the Hess sauvignon blanc to prove the point.

Hess is among the 30 biggest producers in the U.S. and it sells six brands besides its namesake. So why is the Hess sauvignon blanc ($11, sample, 13.5%) a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame (since it’s probably $9.99 in many places)? Because not everyone in Big Wine uses the same formula, or any formula at all.

The Hess sauvignon blanc is a tremendous value, given that most sauvignon blanc at this price tastes like it came off an assembly line — a requisite amount of grapefruit, a hint of something tropical, and not much of a finish. This wine is the just the opposite. It shouts of the grassy aroma and flavor that defines California sauvignon blanc, and those are followed by some lemon fruit and a stony finish. Plus, it’s fresh and crisp, two of the qualities that make sauvignon blanc so attractive.

Highly recommended — wine from a producer that cares about quality, its customers, and charging a fair price for its products. Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled or roasted chicken.

Expensive wine 76: Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003

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Chateau Pontet-CanetHow silly are Bordeaux wine prices? The Big Guy, who bought the Chateau Pontet-Canet 2003 (13%) almost 10 years ago, should have kept it in case he needed to top up his grandchildren’s college fund. The wine has doubled in value since he paid $60 for it at a Dallas wine shop.

Wine as investment is an alien concept to the Big Guy and I. We buy wine to drink, which is why any review of the Chateau Pontet-Canet has to take into account its ridiculous run-up in price. What’s the point of a $120 wine, even from a producer as reputable as Pontet-Canet — a fifth-growth estate in the 1855 Bordeaux classification that’s often compared to second growths — that doesn’t make you shiver? Because, as well made as it was, and as well as it has aged, and as much as we enjoyed it, it was worth $120 only if the person buying it wanted to flip it like a piece of real estate.

Which you can’t tell from its scores — proving, sadly, that the idea of the Emperor’s New Clothes is never far from wine and that scores can be as corrupt as a Third World dictator. That’s because the only way to keep the market going is to keep throwing lots of points at the wine, which seems to have happened here. I found lots of mid-90s, with nary a discouraging word.

If you get a chance to try it, the Chateau Pontet-Canet has more fruit in the front (blackberry and raspberry) than you’d expect, and which explains Robert Parker’s fondness for it. The tannins were very soft, and the acidity was muted, almost an afterthought. If you sniff really hard, you can smell graphite, which makes the pointmeisters go crazy. The finish is long, but not extraordinarily so, and the impression is of a quality wine that would be a steal at $40 or $50. But memorable, as one reviewer described? Hardly, unless you’re marveling at the demand for a $120 wine that was made 12 years ago.

Again, this is not to criticize its quality, but to note how little the Bordeaux market has to do with reality. You could buy four terrific bottles of Chablis for the same price; three bottles of a Ridge zinfandel, maybe the best value in the U.S.; or two bottles of Pio Cesare Barbaresco, one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

If and when the French understand this, they’ll understand why 90 percent of the world is priced out of Bordeaux. Until then, I’ll somehow live without it.

Vinho verde review 2015

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vinho verde review 2015There is good news for the vinho verde review 2015, a welcome development after last year’s vinho verde oddness that included expensive vinho verde of surprisingly poor quality. Each of the four wines I tasted were well made and worth buying, and three of them surpassed expectations.

Vinho verde is the cheap Portuguese white wine with a little fizz and a greenish tint, sometimes slightly sweet and perfect for summer.  Our vinho verde primer is here; these wines will get you started. If the prices seem high, I bought three at Whole Foods, which isn’t shy about markups, so they’re probably a couple of bucks less elsewhere.

Broadbent Vinho Verde NV ($8, purchased, 9%): Maybe the best vinho verde I’ve ever tasted, in that it tastes like wine and not a fizzy wine cooler. Look for almost apple aromas, apple and lime fruit, and a stony finish. Highly recommended.

Santola Vinho Rose NV ($8, purchased, 11%): This pink vinho, made with red grapes, was much better than it should have been — not sweet, and with a strawberry-lemon flavor. That it doesn’t have much going on after the fruit and a sort of a bitter finish isn’t necessarily a problem.

Famega Vinho Verde NV ($6, purchased, 10.5%): One of the biggest producers offers a wine that is more sour this year and less fruity, but with decent enough fizz. It was a step up from the usual slightly sweet version.

Santola Vinho Verde NV ($8, purchased, 9%): This is the other big producer, called Sonalto in some parts of the country, and known for its crab label. This year’s effort was typical — fresh, spritzy, a touch of lime, and a hint of sweetness.

For more on vinho verde:
Vinho verde review 2014
Vinho verde review 2013
Vinho verde review 2012

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