Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

You know that your brand is in trouble when, instead of talking about your forty-plus-year history in a nascent wine region, or your long hours of sun, 1300-foot vineyard elevation, diurnal temperature shifts of over fifty degrees Fahrenheit, or any of the other factors that make your terroir an ideal place for ripening interesting grape varieties, all anyone can mention is how your family business heir apparent allegedly got blowies during a commercial airplane flight.

That Troon Vineyards is now, only five years removed from that controversy, viewed as an Applegate Valley pioneer and a purveyor of some of Southern Oregon’s most promising and interesting wines is a minor PR miracle, made possible through the yeoman’s work provided by a combination of team players: new owners Bryan and Denise White (a Texas couple who started with the acquisition of nearby O’Neill Vineyard, then purchasing Troon in 2017), pedigreed winemaker Steve Hall, and impossibly indefatigable general manager Craig Camp.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Take heed!

When Napa-area veteran Camp came on board at Troon to help get the entity into more attractive sale shape, he told me that he was immediately impressed with the potential, given how good the wines already were. He focused first on ensuring that the operational and marketing basics were on solid footing – “block and tackle, man, block and tackle.” The additions of foot-treading and Biodynamics to the mix helped to put the finishing touches on the approach, and Troon was, in a very real sense, thus reborn as a brand.

What hasn’t changed is that Troon’s small vineyard location is capable of some excellent winegrowing magic when the right varieties are planted. Troon is more or less surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, near a wider section of the Applegate River, with river bench soils that consist of pieces of ancient seabed, granite, and sediment. “We have a mostly Northern California climate here,” Craig noted, “with a shorter growing season. So we can produce wines with European ‘weights.'”

Put another way, as winemaker Steve Hall noted when summarizing Troon’s current approach, “you do what can to make something… beautiful…”

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Vermentino (Applegate Valley, $16)

Speaking of beautiful… or, at the very least, substantially pretty… Southern OR seems an unlikely spot for what Steve Hall called “a kind of dangerous animal all-around,” but Vermentino shines here. This example is bright, citric, focused, and lovely, with lees notes rounding out a mineral, nutty backbone.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Rolle (Applegate Valley, $20)

Ten percent Marsanne (picked the same day) is added to this slightly more substantial Vermentino take; it’s less nutty, more floral, and a lot more tropical than its more modest little sister label. It’s also broader, richer, and more textural, which means that you can swap it on unsuspecting Chardonnay lovers.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Roussanne (Applegate Valley, $35)

Unique and characterful, you’ll need to bring your penchant for a pleasing astringent “bite” when drinking this white. It’s worth it, too, for the tropical fruit and white flower aromas, hints of saline and herbs, and its smooth, broad oiliness.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Kubli Bench Blanc (Applegate Valley, $35)

A blend of Marsanne and Viognier, this might be the most excellent “sleeper” wine in Troon’s white lineup. Flowers, citrus, stone fruits, and perfume kick things off, followed by a beguiling, fleshy/flinty/mineral entry that moves to a broad, sexy, silky palate. The finish is long, structured, and demands attention.

 

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2017 Troon Vineyard Riesling Whole Grape Ferment (Applegate Valley, $20)

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)I love this little oddball. Technically, this is an orange wine, and while it’s not quite cloudy, you do get the rosé-not-quite feel from the amber color and visual density. There’s ample skin astringency, of course, but it’s in the form of lime and citrus pith, the way that orange peels make their way into a good plate of orange chicken at your favorite Chinese food joint. The bottom line is that this is an orange wine of which you can actually enjoy an entire glass, which puts it into somewhat rarefied territory.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2016 Troon Vineyard Cuvée Côt Malbec (Applegate Valley, $30)

The words “elegant” and “Malbec” aren’t often used in close proximity of one another, but in this case the use case is justified. Remember what Camp said about “European weights?” I think he had this red in mind at the time. Spices, herbs, green tobacco, plums, earth, leather, and tart red berry fruits, it’s hard not conjure up images of good Cahors when sipping this homage to the European patrimony of the grape.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard Tannat (Applegate Valley, $35)

Even in its best forms, Tannat is a grape that’s a hard sell outside of a steakhouse. Having said that, there’s something about the Troon site that tames this grape’s burly tannins and makes for a pleasant experience without having to wait eight years for things to soften up first. The textbook stuff is all there: tobacco, leather, deep and dark sour cherry fruit, cocoa, and a crap-ton of acidity and structure. But you can get away with pouring this one even if you’re not within chomping distance of a slab of meat.

Block & Tackle (Troon Vineyard Recent Releases)2015 Troon Vineyard M*T Cuvée Pyrénées (Applegate Valley, $50)

Troon’s flagship red is a mix of Malbec and Tannat, and that mix is a complex beast. First, there are more delicate aspects: violets, herbs, spices, plums, and silkiness. Then, there are the rough-and-ready compliments: tobacco, smoke, dark red fruits, and leather. Its penchant for being demanding doesn’t stop once it’s in your mouth, either – that’s where you have to come to terms with the tensions between the wine’s grip/power and its lithe, almost electric finish. I wish more wines like this were being made out West.

Cheers!

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An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

Albert Jané knows how to work a wine media crowd.

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

Acústic’s Albert Jané, who is *not* actually pretending to play bongos on an old barrel

If you want to quickly win over such a group of wine geeks and influencers, you would have had access to a minor clinic in such powers of persuasion had you tagged along during my recent media tour visit to Jané’s Acústic Cellar, in the Montsant town of Marçà.

The script went something like this:

Take them to your gorgeous vineyard, replete with panoramic views of the mountainous Catalan countryside; show off your small two hectare lot of 40- to 80-year-old bush-trained Garnatxa and Samsó (a.k.a. Carignan) vines; say things like “the best barrel is the one you don’t taste,” and “the best winemakers here are the vineyards;” and gleefully pour your vinous wares, which happen to be excellent. Oh, and also serve delicious Spanish cheese.

Anyway…

Jané describes his wines as “unplugged” (hence the yeah-yeah-I-get-it cleverness of his company moniker), and it’s a fitting term for a winemaking style that seeks to showcase the concentrated, small clusters/berries of the organic fruit that Acústic’s old vines produce. Jané’s approach is relatively old school, favoring hand-harvesting and minimal oak treatment; which seems fitting, considering that his grandfather was a winemaker, his cellar is an old textile factory, and much of the exclusively indigenous vines in his vineyard were planted in the 1930s. Here’s a look at the latest quartet playing the Acústic Cellars tune…

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)2016 Acústic Celler Blanc (Montsant, $18)

Mostly Garnatxa Blanca, with Macabeo and a few others thrown in there in small amounts, this white is floral, rich, tropical, and heady, with a substantial and silky palate. What really blew my away was how textural the palate was for such a hefty wine, and how well the mineral tones showed through. Lest you be concerned with how well it ages, we tasted back to the `11 and it showed some lovely, honeyed goodness. And for a sub-$20 white, it’s overachieving in a big way if it can give you that much pleasurable drinking after even a couple of years or repose in the bottle.

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)2015 Acústic Celler Tinto (Montsant, $20)

Mostly Carignan, with 30% Garnacha, all from vines that are between 25 and 60 years of age. There’s a bit of French oak spice on the nose here, though the barrels are clearly not new, and the wine is powerful, fruity, plummy, deep, juicy, and big. I’d go so far as to say that it’s flashing a come-hither look at you, so keep this one in mind for date night dining. There’s future promise here, too, by the way; tasting back to the 2007, the plummy profile remains, but that older offering still seems fresh and young (though it did take on more floral components).

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)2015 Acústic Celler “Auditori” Vinyes Velles Magiques de Garnatxa (Montsant, $55)

All Garnacha, from some of the oldest vines on the Acústic estate, this is so dense and plummy that it’s almost jammy; it’s also floral, spicy, savory, and sporting serious licorice tones. While undoubtedly powerful, Auditori is also fresh, delicious, and fruity enough to leave you with a lasting, impressive, well,  impression.

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)

An “Unplugged” Spanish Quartet (Acustic Cellar Recent Releases)2015 Acústic Celler “Braó” (Montsant, $33)

Guess what? Old vines, again, these averaging about 40 years (with some in the 60 to 95 year old range), with the emphasis (80%) on Carignan, and the remainder filled out with Garnacha. The yields are, understandably, quite low with bush vines in this age range. The result is warm, buxom, dense, ripe, and delicious. It’s also complex: violets, licorice, baking spices, plums, and even some graphite. Probably my fave out of this quartet, especially considering how the 2007 turned out (inky/extracted/dense, of course, but also savory, floral, and still sexy). The moniker is supposed to evoke strength and courage in Catalan, and, well, yeah, that.

Cheers!

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It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

Look! Wine samples!!!

If it feels like forever since I’ve actually highlighted something from the wine sample pool in a feature here, that’s because in Internet terms, it more or less has actually been forever since I’ve actually highlighted something from the wine sample pool in a feature here.

This is, I like to think, a function of having so many worthy travel-related wine experiences to impart to you (as well as having to drum up at least some money in doing writing and video work for other outlets). But it’s probably more a function of devoted single-fatherhood, the holidays, and allowing myself the gift of not feeling as though I have to hustle all of the f-cking time.

But as the temperature has dipped into obscenely low levels in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. region that I call home at the tail-end of the Winter holiday season, I’ve been raiding the home sample pool in between media jaunts. Two things were bound to happen in that scenario (in order of decreasing statistical likelihood): 1) hangovers, and 2) finding at least a couple of gems to recommend to you.

And so, I’m happy to report that I did find some sample pool princesses to highlight, after kissing a fair amount of frogs…

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)2011 Lieb Family Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Pinot Blanc (North Fork of Long Island, $30)

So, Blanc de Blancs from (Pinot) Blanc; not exactly Earth-shattering novelty, but it hails from an area of the world that is not exactly a household name with respect to the modern sparkling wine market. Only about 900 cases of this 2011 bubbly were made, but presumably every one of them was crafted with the kind of care that should make wine lovers’ mouths water a little bit.

To wit: this is a sparkler that is clearly designed to impress: using yeast developed in Champagne’s Epernay, and seeing four years of tirage. The mousse is delicate, the nose floral (with lovely little apple and brioche action), and the palate almost downright rich (by bubbly standards) with pear, toast, and a touch of honey (the wild, local kind, and not the store-bought, overly-processed kind). Thanks to some raging acidity, your mouth will only barely register the 12 g/l of sugar (though my mind is definitely wondering if a racier, more linear version of this with a smaller dosage would taste just as elegant as this current mix does).

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)

It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems)2015 Stéphane Aviron Chenas Vieilles Vignes (Beaujolais, $20)

How. The. HELL. I don’t understand how this wine isn’t $35 a bottle. Well, I do understand it, because it has the word Beaujolais on the label and, well, marketing and all of that. But still… Aviron has been getting Gamay grapes from the Chenas 13-some-odd acre vineyard parcel that sources this wine since the early 1990s, but the vines themselves actually qualify as old even by jaded wine nerd standards; they’re average age is 100 years, and most are pre-phylloxera. The site sits on pebbly, clay-and-quartz soil that, presumably, was deemed too shitty to grow anything other than grapes many, many years ago.

Aviron uses precisely zero carbonic maceration in the creation of this Chenas, ostensibly because this is a serious vineyard and therefore deserves a more serious approach, but I’m guessing that the true reason is that Gamay grapes with red berry and plummy fruitiness this deep and lively simply don’t require it. The wine sees a year of aging in oak aged between one and four years, and the result is spicy, peppery, brambly, herbal, and, if I may be so bold (hey, we’re talking about Gamay, here), layered. It’s a minor triumph of a wine; the kind of thing you pull out for pizza night, and then realize with rapid, holy-shit-dude! certainty that your pie is in no way worthy of what you just poured.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at It’s Cold Outside And… Holy Crap! I Actually Review Some Samples! (Tasting Two Under-The-Radar Gems) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

I know we look serious, but much fun was actually had by all

Earlier this week, I took part in an online masterclass/virtual-round-table of sorts with Wines of Chile and Snooth, tasting through a selection of Chilean Carménère reds (some of which you can purchase via a pretty good deal right now), with a group of capable and affable fellow wine-media-types (including @WineDineWanda, @enobytes, @talkavino, and @KellyMitchell).

If you’re kind of scratching your head on the uncharacteristically quick turnaround time in recapitulating the experience here on 1WD, it’s because the whole online-video-Carménère thing is nostalgic for me, as it was one of the first such tastings that I ever did under the 1WD umbrella (back when the writing here could charitably be described as fledgling…).

While almost unlikely to become a crowd favorite based on availability alone, Carignan is probably the empirically best Chilean red fine wine grape, or at least the one with the most depth, intrigue, and soul.

Having said that, the much more ubiquitous Carménère from Chile is still an incredible bargain, and arguably has never been better (or easier to enjoy even at modest price points). In Carménère, Chile is leveraging its ever-increasing winemaking knowledge levels to the full, combining modern know-how with more hand-crafted approaches; the results in some cases are single vineyard wines from older vines that provide an intellectually captivating experience at prices that still kind of defy credulity. At least, that’s how I’m increasingly seeing that landscape, particularly based on what we tasted during our video meetup…

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2016 Viña Casa Silva Cuvee Colchagua Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $15)

I’ve had a lot of fun visiting this quintessentially Chilean spot before, with my main takeaway having been that they like to present Carménère in its more unadulterated, unapologetic forms. “Don’t like green herb notes? F–k you, drink me. Don’t like reeeeeeally dark fruits? F–k you, drink me.” You get the idea. This wine is a perennially excellent introduction to the main pillars of Chilean Carm: dark fruit flavors, strong minty notes, and plenty of tobacco and spice aromas that are delivered from the grape and not from wood.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2014 Viña Ventisquero Grey Glacier Single Block Carménère (Maipo Valley, $22)

The Single Block Grey series is another consistent offering, and in this case, comes from relatively atypical sandy-clay soils of the Trinidad Vineyard. The Grey is similar to Casa Silva’s Cuvee, in that you get full-on Carm, but with more oak aging (a third of it in new French barrels). It’s dark, minty, intense, and evolves on the palate with stewed black fruits, pepper notes, and a meaty, chewy texture.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Viña Requingua Toro De Piedra Grand Reserve Carménère (Maule Valley, $15)

This is Carménère in one of its most supple, gulpable forms. The fruit is characteristically dark and smoky, the wood tones are sweet and caramelized (thanks to some time in American oak barrels), and the whole package exudes an easy, sultry sexiness that makes it hard to stop drinking (you’ll probably pay for that later).

 

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2012 Valdivieso Single Vineyard Carménère (Valle de Peumo, $24)

Interestingly, this is one of those instances where Chile’s long, thin geography is less important than its West/East climatic influences; Peumo, in Cachapoal, is relatively warm and dry, being buffeted from ocean influence by coastal mountains. Now, longtime 1WD readers already know that Valdivieso is full of interesting (and high quality) surprises, and this Carm is no exception to that streak: think earthy, spicy, herbal, and silky, a red that is jsut fine with strutting its stuff.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Siegel Single Vineyard Los Lingues Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $29)

Those who want a more contemplative Carm would do well to give this Los Lingues vineyard red a long look. With only eight months of oak aging, it’s far from being integrated, and it’s going to need some time to ensure that some bottle aging will meld all that woodiness with the dark black cherry fruitiness. BUT… if it does, then you’ll have a textural palate that matches the intriguing nose of this thing. Dark and green herb notes abound, and they are not shy.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2013 Valdivieso Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta (Colchagua Valley, $35)

Another example of the cooling ocean influence being tempered by the coastal range, this Carm and Cabernet Sauvignon blend is complex, supple, and mouth-watering achievement. What’s interesting is how the addition of 45% Cab doesn’t mute the essential Carménère-ness of this wine; the textbook herbal spices and deep, dark cherry fruits are right there, with the Cab supplying tannic scaffolding and additional, tarter fruitiness.

Disarmed By Carm (A Chilean Carménère Masterclass)2015 Viña Carmen Gran Reserva Carménère (Colchagua Valley, $15)

I am still trying to figure out how they managed this. Technically, there’s 7% Carignan and 3% Petite Verdot in this Apalta-area blend, from the “Los Peñascos” Vineyard in the foothills, one of the regions highest elevation zones. It’s all hand-tended, French oak aged for ten months, then given another two months in bottle. I just don’t understand how they can pull this off for under twenty bucks per bottle. This is vibrant, structured, herbal, spicy, fruity, and just impeccably balanced stuff. You won’t notice the 2+ grams of RS, unless you’re really, really looking for them (in which case, please just get a life already).

Cheers!

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Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

“We are very cheap for a Grand Cru!”

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Thomas Schlumberger

It could be said that Domaines Schlumberger‘s Thomas Schlumberger doesn’t fully understand the negative connotations of the word “cheap” in the English language. I write that because, as he told me the above quote during a media visit to the Guebwiller property that has been in his family for about 200 years, he phrased it in a tone that was at once proud and matter-of-fact.

The bottom line is that no one really offers a smoother glide path into the vinous world of Alsatian Grand Cru that Schlumberger. First, they have the typical history portion covered: Domaines Schlumberger is still a family business (7th generation export manager Thomas lives across the street from the winery, “where I grew up,” having come back to the family business after a stint in the perfume industry at the behest of his uncle), and still operates out of the area in which the family settled from Germany (choosing the site because of its access to water, needed for their textiles business). From a desire to make wine for their own consumption, they gradually expanded and replanted their plantings in the area to about 70 hectares (this took the purchase of 2500 plots in a single decade, along with ten years of replanting, much of it on terraced slopes so steep that a special breed of horses that don’t experience vertigo were needed to work the vineyards).

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

obligatory winery dog photo…

From a Grand Cru perspective, Domaines Schlumberger has the raw material to offer inexpensive Grand Cru action: about ten percent of all Alsace Grand Cru wines are sold by them, and they are the largest independent winery in the area, exporting 2/3 of their production to 50 countries (so chances are good that you can find some of their wares).

Maybe most importantly for an ultra-competitive, information-saturated wine market, they have what might be the simplest Alsatian SKU category formula: you can try “classic” versions of Alsace’s principal grape varieties in their Les Princes Abbés line, or the Grand Cru single-site versions, and that’s basically it…


Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2015 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Noir Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $NA)

You know me, so it will come as no surprise that we’ll kick off with a wine that contradicts most of what I just mentioned above. You’ll have a harder time finding this little gem of Alsace’s lesser-known red production, which according to Thomas has benefited in quality improvements driven by the Chinese market’s thirst for all things French Pinot-related. Aside from maceration, vinification for this Pinot is performed in exactly the same way as their whites. The result is spicy, lithe, and transparent in the prettiness and expression of its fruit.

 

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $18)

This range is named after the Benedictine Murbach Abbey, who were so dominant in the Guebwiller area that at one time they had their own currency. Today, it’s Riesling that dominates, and it’s tough to find a more solid example of quality Alsatian Riesling at this price. Limes, flowers, petrol, citrus, flint… it’s all here, presented in a super-clean, crisp package that benefits from having about 40% of its fruit come from Grand Cru vineyards.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

 

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2015 Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés (Alsace, $25)

Floral, expressive, broad, and textural, this is a Gewurz that is insanely, dangerously difficult to stop drinking. Lychee, stone and tropical fruits, spice… textbook stuff, along with being delicious. You need know next to nothing about the grape to get behind this.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Saering (Alsace Grand Cru, $30)

This is more than a fair price for a GC in Alsace, but more importantly it’s a fair price for a Riesling this pithy, mineral, and crystalline in its presentation. That it is also fascinating in its texture and pure in citrus fruitiness are bonuses. The most interesting thing, however, is that DS’s Rieslings from this limestone-rich GC site do so well in bottle repose. We tasted back to the 2002 (a cooler year), and it was focused, lemony, long, fresh, and still above all else maintaining its purity. Movie stars don’t age this well.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Pinot Gris Spiegel (Alsace Grand Cru, $27)

What you (well, what I) typically want most from a PG is for it not to be boring. So when it’s actually sexy, that’s got to make you stop and take notice. This PG is downright spry, full of melon and apple flavors and wet stone aromas. You also get hints of white flowers and spices, topped off with generous richness and almost voluptuous roundness. I might need a cold shower now.

 

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2014 Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Kessler (Alsace Grand Cru, $46)

Ok, so this one isn’t “cheap;” but it is spectacular. Kessler has sandstone soils, and DS own 75% of the site, which is formed by a small valley about 300 meters high in between hills that protect it from the cooler drafts of the area’s north winds. This equates to pretty good ripening potential for Gewurz, and if anything the DS Kessler version is expressive. The nose is, in a word, great: lychee, pear, roses, honey, spices, and marmalade. The palate is rich, with about one ton of lemon drop, but is buoyed by a freshness that is rare for more pedestrian renditions of this grape.

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)

Thomas Schlumberger’s Kitterle GC terraces

Cheap Tricks (Domaines Schlumberger Recent Releases)2013 Domaines Schlumberger ‘Cuvee Christine’ Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives (Alsace, $NA)

This sweet wine takes its name from Schlumberger’s great-grandmother (as Thomas explained, “we never name the wines after the kids; what if one of them ends up in jail?”). The original Christine managed DS for about twenty years with ” talent and firmness.” This Christine, also made from Kessler grapes, has a sweet-tooth; baking spices, marmalade, mandarin orange, lemon drop candy, dried roses, and honey all mix in the nose, along with a pleasant flinty note. The palate delivers in spades; it’s spicy, rich, full of sultana, lemon candy, and tea flavors. While it doesn’t lack viscosity or richness, there is good balance here with vibrancy. Queue up the Roquefort.

 

Cheers!

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Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

What do you do when your identity, your story, and even your best efforts are only seen through the contextual lens of your more famous cousins?

Besides developing an inferiority complex, I mean? After all, major characters in Greek tragedies were written with this stuff in mind; and it happens to be the defining lucha of Northern Spain’s Somontano wine region. That’s not the entire Somontano story, of course; as it happens, the region just might be the home of your next favorite Garnacha or Cabernet. While the DO is probably more familiar to WSET students than to American consumers, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have been grown in Somontano for over one hundred and twenty years.

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Viñas del Vero’s old hillside vines

Somontano is a place that’s relatively high on quality fine wine and winemaking prowess, but low on the ohhhhh-producing items (think indigenous grapes, or trendy stylistic techniques) that make for easy feature article material in the wine trade. The area largely produces wines from international varieties, in some cases from vines with significant age on them, done up in styles that are clean, fresh, and modern enough to all but dilute any defining sense of place.

But a sense of place does exist in Somontano, albeit courtesy of more famous wine regions. When the phylloxera epidemic spread throughout France, Somontano’s proximity and favorable climate made it an attractive spot for planting French vitis vinifera; which was later followed by declining demand and the abandonment of vineyard sites that were promising but difficult to farm. Sites like Viñas del Vero‘s “rediscovered” high-elevation plantings.

Situated at the northeastern slopes of the Somontano DO, along the edges of the European plate, these vineyards had dwindled down to 5 hectares by the time that Viñas del Vero rescued them (they’re now up to about 55 hectares). The oldest of the field-blended vines along those 800-meter-high, calcareous hills are in excess of 100 years in age. As Viñas del Vero’s vineyard manager José María Ayuso put it (during a media tour of the region), “you can get maybe one bottle per vine” from those old souls…

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Blecua Estate’s chai (the caves are courtesy of ancient Benedictine monks on pilgrimage)

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

José Ferrer

The modern-to-vintage and influenced-by-famous-neighbors vibes are strong throughout Somontano, but that mojo is especially fuerte in the DNA of Viñas del Vero’s ultra-premium Blecua Estate line.  The boutique winery functions in a formerly dilapidated and abandoned house that was owned by Santiago Gomez, a homeopathic doctor who studied in Florence and brought back the region’s Italian architectural flair when the building was established in the late 1800s. Now, Blecua is named after the last inheritor of the building.

 

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases) Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Blecua Estate winemaker José Ferrer has been at the helm for some time, and was coming up on his twenty-fifth harvest when I met him. Blecua isn’t an easy wine to make, accodring to Ferrer. There’s effectively three selection process: from eight vineyards (vinified separately), grapes (no surprises there), and barrels. The barrel selections are the most arduous, as several lots, coopers, and toasting levels are used. The blend ends up being different with each vintage, but Ferrer has no issue with that. “Nature is more intelligent than man,” he told me, “and we want confidence in the quality of the wine [rather than a totally consistent taste profile].”

To wit…

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)2012 Viñas del Vero Secastilla Garnacha (Somontano, $NA)

Four vineyard sources are used in this red, which is technically a blend of Garnacha, Syrah and Parraleta. Some of the vines might be very old, but the take is thoroughly sexy and modern, with darkly seductive red & blue fruits, notes of minerals, flowers, and meat, and hefty, spicy, appealing sense of confidence. It’s long, deep, and concentrated.

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)2015 Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca (Somontano, $22)

“We found our stride with this wine,” Ferrer noted, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Heady, floral, honeyed, and ripe, here’s a white that’s punching above the weight class of its price. Stone, apple, and tropical fruits all make appearances here, as does a bit of slate and saline. The mouthfeel is round but structured, and it finishes with pith, power, white flowers, lemon curd, and anise. That is a lot of complexity for under $25.

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)2014 Viñas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha (Somontano, $NA)

The brother to the Blanca, and also a Garnacha/Syrah/Parraleta blend, the first thing I noticed about this red was that it combined bramble and pepper with more refined notes of violets. There are plenty of fruits to go around, including blackberry, blueberry, and red plums (courtesy of relatively young vines, about seventeen years old). It’s spicy, fleshy, and fresh, finishing with a little bit of grip so that you make sure not to think it’s messing around.

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)2009 Viñas del Vero Blecua (Somontano, $NA)

Currently, this premium line isn’t available in the USA (importers, I am looking at you). Which is a shame, because it’s worth the rather large price tag with which it would be saddled after it got stateside. The nose alone is incredible complex; cassis, spices, graphite, balsamic, tobacco. Woody now, it will almost certainly integrate well (if the slightly older but also excellent 2005 vintage that we tasted alongside it is any indication of its aging curve). In this vintage, the blend is almost equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Garnacha. It probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but when you encounter something this elegant, delicious, vibrant, and inventive (the interplay between the tannic structure and acidic vivacity alone almost steals the show), it doesn’t do you much good to question (what conceivably shouldn’t work on paper certainly works in the glass).

Cheers!

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

Kiss kiss! We heart San Diego…

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)I was once again fortunate enough to be invited to judge at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine competition, which took place late last month in Stay-Classy San Diego.

CC is always one of the highlights of my professional year; the organizers, volunteers, and fellow judges are all top-notch, and the fact that they’re also great people with whom to hang is just tasty icing on the cake. And then there’s the whole going-somewhere-gorgeous-to-taste-wines aspect, and, well, I suppose In can’t be helped for waxing too poetic at about it.

As in past years, I thought that I would highlight a few of the wines that I considered particularly memorable from the medal-winners. In this case, there were two that received a Platinum award from my judging panel that went on to take Best-in-category awards, and another that didn’t come from my table, but I just wanted to make sure was on your radar because it’s friggin’ tasty…

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)Best Pinot Gris: 2016 J Vineyards & Winery Pinot Gris, California $18

This white might carry a pedestrian statewide-California designation, and be perennially misunderstood by some critics, I’ve always found this to be a minor miracle of a wine. Certainly it punches above its weight class, offering an abundance of tropical fruit and honeysuckle action on the nose, and tempering all of the melon, apple, and pineapple flavors with a bit of well-woven acidic zing. Alsace or Friuli it’s not, but it’s a heck of an attention-getting pour for the money. It was really shining in the blind lineup of PGs that I judged.

 

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)Best Red Bordeaux Blend: 2010 Sodaro Estate Winery Estate Blend, Coombsville, $100

Let’s start with the numbers: 56% Petit Verdot, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Merlot; 22 months in 50/50 New/seasoned French oak. The numbers don’t really tell the story of this superb assemblage, which ends up being greater than the sum of its parts (or its digits). The PV puts the dark blackberry and blackcurrant fruits to the fore, along with prominent aromas of violets, with the two Cab cousins adding additional depth via dried herb and spice notes. It all finishes with tobacco, wood spices, and great length. Plush and ripe, this is decidedly Napa, but in all of the ways for which Napa is justifiably famous. A standout among a flight of Bord’x style red blends.

 

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)Best Rioja: 2011 Ysios Reserva, Rioja $34

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)While I didn’t judge this wine, I felt compelled to try it when the Platinum award winners were unveiled, because I’ve been within spitting distance of the impressive winery building taking photos back in 2012 (see inset pic). I often find that there’s a sweet spot to be had in the middle ground of Rioja’s Reserva category, being between the fruit-forwardness of Crianza, and the matured-whether-you-like-it-or-not-dammit oak influence of Gran Reserva. This Ysios release hits that sweet spot remarkably well, being full of fresh, sour cherry fruitiness, but also not shy about its helpings of smoke and wood spice, all while keeping things food-friendly-fresh on the palate (fresher than one might expect six years on, for sure).

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

Bang bang (Memorial Day weekend visit to San Diego’s Midway Museum)

Cheers!

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Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

Marangona’s Alessandro Cutolo

Alessandro Cutolo kind of looks like a viking.

Aside from close proximity to a body of water (in this case, the Italian Lake Garda), however, the heavy-handed Old Norse warrior comparison fizzles out completely. Because at the crossing of the Veneto and Lombardia regions, Cutolo, as owner and winemaker of Lugana’s Marangona, crafts elegant, svelte whites without even a hint of the roughshod among them; thanks in part to what could only be described as a minimalist approach.

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)“I want to do as little as possible,” Cutolo told me during a recent media-trip visit, “to [express] my idea of the wine.”

This don’t-touch-it-in-fact-don’t-eben-look-at-it-you’ve-already-seen-enough approach starts in his calcareous-clay soil vineyard, where the grass is high (“it helps with disease”) and the treatments are few. “If it’s possible to have less [impact],” he remarked, “than why not?”

Cutolo owns 27 hectares of ten to fifty year-old vines in Lugana, most of them planted to the deceptively age-worthy Turbiana variety. The estate’s buildings date from the late 1600s, and his family farmed grapes, corn, and cattle here since the 1950s. He now produces about one hundred thousand bottles of (downright delectable) Lugana wine per year…

As you might now expect, minimalism extends into the winemaking at Marangona, too. According to Cutolo, “I don’t need a lot of technology; I prefer a ‘vertical’ idea of Lugana. I have a clear idea of what I want in my wine.”

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

In some ways, Cutolo could be considered the kind of winemaker that Lugana needs right now to make it noteworthy among the U.S. wine industry’s ‘cool kids’ – the younger sommeliers and influencers who can’t seem to get enough of smaller production wines crafted from lesser-known grape varieties in even lesser-known wine regions. Hipsters, rejoice, for Cutono is experimenting with concrete vats, amphorae, and natural/orange wines!

Within reason, that is.

“Natural wines are wonderful… but sometimes, I have to make a living!”

If anything, that experimentation – along with the clean, focused results in the wines – suggests a sort of marriage of two worlds, the traditional and the modern, that are part of the whole Marangona vibrazione. The winery takes its name from a bell tower in the old town; the tasting area is literally carved out of the remains of the oldest part of the estate; and the wines are as fresh as daises.

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)2016 Marangona “Marangona” Lugana, Lombardy $16

Cutolo calls this “the soul of my estate,” and as far as disembodied representations go, one could do far, far worse. This white over-delivers at nearly every turn, from an abundant nose (tropical and stone fruits, wet stone, white flowers, pepper), to a mineral-water-clean palate featuring salinity, purity, and apple, citrus, and exotic fruit flavors (some still clinging to their skins and pith). It’s linear, energetic, and expressive.

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)2015 Marangona “Tre Campane” Lugana, Lombardy $20

The vines used here average about 35 years old, and are a mix of different harvest times, in order to marry the different Turbiana ripeness profiles. It’s a deeper wine than the ‘Marangona,’ spicier, too, with more stone fruit and mineral aromas. The citrus flavors are riper, too, the body is more pronounced and fleshier, but that ample acidity is in full force, suggesting a very respectable aging curve.

 

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)2012 Marangona ‘Il Rintocco’ Lugana Superiore, Lombardy $NA

For whom doth the bell toll? In this case, for you, if you’re a Lugana lover. A small percentage of old oak is used in the blend, along with a later harvest, and the combination makes this white both heady and yeasty on the nose, with a good deal of floral character and a lot of lift. Lemon drop, sultry exotic fruits, citrus pith, and stone fruits are all in the mix, and the balance is excellent, the expression fresh, and the whole thing downright sexy (in Lugana terms, anyway).

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)2013 Marangona “Rabbiosa” Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva, Lombardy $NA

Botrytis, baby! Hey, why not. 12% abv and 18 grams RS, but not a cloying bone in its little body. This is fresh stuff, with candied lemons, brioche, limes, honey, sweet floral notes, and yet a delicate, stylized touch. For those who like their dessert to have zing.

Less Is More (Marangona Lugana Recent Releases)

No vikings, but Lake Garda does have the kind of edifices that vikings might have enjoyed attacking

Cheers!

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We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

Those visiting Miguel Torres Chile‘s charming little restaurant spot, but without bringing a requisite sense of winemaking history along with their appetites, are likely to come away thinking that this  pioneering Spanish wine brand’s foray into Chile consists of some tasty juice and really good food, the end.

In the infamous words of the USA’s 45th president (who, incidentally, was elected to that office the night before I arrived at Miguel Torres Chile during a media tour):

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

Admittedly, the wine biz (spectacularly) overuses the concept of context, but Miguel Torres Chile is legitimately a brand that has to be experienced in context for it to make sense.

In 1855, Jaime Torres headed to Cuba and, a mere fifteen years later, returned to Spain stinking rich from time spent in the trade and oil businesses. The Torres family then began a successful wine business in the Penedès, and, in what I am guessing was the manifestation of Torres’ large-scale dreams, built the largest wine vat in the world. Everything went up in smoke during the Spanish Civil War, and it was after rebuilding that things started to get really interesting. The Torres clan eventually went on to pioneer mich of what we’d now consider normal winemaking in Spain, including the planting of international grape varieties, temperature controlled vinification, and the use of French oak barrels.

Fast forward to the present day, and you’ve got fourth generation family member Miguel A. Torres, a chemist by education and an author of several wine books, overseeing much of the family business (including giving approval to the final blends for some of the Chilean wines, to the point where samples sometimes have to be sent to him to taste in Spain)…

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

Well-known chef Geeta Bansal, Miguel A. Torres, and some wine writer dweeb from Philly

I was lead through some of the recent Miguel Torres Chile releases by the enviably-named Leonardo Devoto Magofke, formerly of Viña Errazuriz and now a part of the Viña Miguel Torres oenology team in Chile, helping to craft about 500,000 cases per year. There’s no shortage of ingenuity in the lineup, as you’ll see below:

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

The enviably-named Leonardo Devoto Magofke

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (central Valley, $13)

This is part of the brand’s fair trade lineup of wines, and it is surprisingly persistent for a wine in this price-range, which ought to make regions producing more expensive entry-level fine-wine SBs pee themselves just a little bit. There are great herbal touches on the nose, lots of pithy grapefruit tastiness, along with stone fruits and white flowers to add a bit of palate depth and aromatic complexity, respectively.

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)Miguel Torres Santa Digna Reserva Carmenère 2015 (Central Valley, $13)

This is a Carm. that’s clearly under control; it’s been tamed, in a good way. Lots of minerality, dark fruit flavors, tweet tobacco spices, chewy tannins, big acids, and a sense that Carm’s predisposition to pyrazines has been leashed up tight, so that you get more pleasant dried herb notes instead. Solid, and a nice introduction to a perennially misunderstood, gonna-need-a-few-years-of-therapy-to-cope grape.

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)Miguel Torres Vigno Cordillera Carignan 2013 (Maule Valley, $23)

Why Carignan isn’t regarded as Chile’s signature red grape, I don’t think I will ever understand, but this is a nice example of why lesser-known varieties from dry-farmed, 75-year-old vineyards should never be underestimated. Savory, tart, juicy, herbal, and even a touch floral, this is intellectually compelling stuff. The palate is silky and broad on entry, moving to black cherry and black raspberry fruitiness, and finishing with pucker-up-buttercup acidity. Break out during one of those “I need something different and I need it now” moments.

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)

We Like Mike (Miguel Torres Chile Recent Releases)Miguel Torres Manso de Velasco Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (Curicó, $55)

Named after the founder of Curicó, and coming from a vineyard where the vines are mostly in excess of 100 years old, this one gets a pass on utilizing the “old vines” term on the label. Savory cassis and dried herbs kick things off here, with earth and cloves and a little funk backing them up. Next up are black plums, minerals, and a ton of tannic and acidic structure, tension, and texture. This is one of Chile’s first true single vineyard wines, and deserves its iconic status, but… it’s just really sexy for its age. Think Helen Mirren…

Cheers!

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Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Celebrating the Beaujolais Nouveau release, Burgundy style, in NYC

The term “vintage of the century” has been tossed around like confetti by the French lately (though we can forgive them, I suppose, given the hella-bad weather some of their regions have been suffering in the last couple of vintages). It’s become more of an eye-roll-inducing a phrase than “private email server.”

And so it’s with a bit of uncharacteristic understatement that I use the term in reference to 2015 in the humble hamlet of Beaujolais. Yeah, that place that churns out the Nouveau stuff. The fact of the matter is, 2015 was probably an actual vintage of the century for Beaujolais.

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé

I got a quick crash course in this when I was invited last month to NYC, to a dinner celebrating the release of Georges Duboeuf’s 2016 Nouveau (ok, quit the eye-rolling, it’s tasty, quaffable stuff when in the hands of folks who know what they’re doing with it… their 2016 Nouveau is fruity, fresh, clean, and delicious enough that you could mistake it for Beaujolais Villages blind).

Anyway, it was during that trip (thankfully before the dinner and after-parties) that I got to sit down with Franck Duboeuf, who walked me through several of their more substantial 2015 Cru area wines. Frank is well-steeped in the vino of the family business; he and his father taste with two oenologists, twice a day. The volume? “50 samples, minimum,” he told me; “after 40 years, we don’t have to talk.”

While Franck is a bit on the mild-mannered side, his family’s 2015 Cru releases did a crap ton of talking, and those who love good Cru Beauj ought to be listening. Closely. Because this vintage is putting the game in Gamay, and the beau in Beaujolais…

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Franck Duboeuf, and the author, both of whom are not at home

 

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)2015 Georges Duboeuf Domaine de Combiaty (Brouilly, $20)

This is one of the largest domaines for GD, in one of the largest appellations in Beaujolais, with a predictably larger variety of soils. The wine is quite mineral, with black berry fruits, licorice, pepper, and sweet plum. The palate is smooth, broad, and lithe, with a bite of structure at the end, courtesy of the Gobelet-trellised, 60-year old vines. The food pairing options are practically limitless, and it’s balanced enough to please both those who like their reds a bit lighter, and those who would rather feel a little tannic edge in their vino.

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)2015 Georges Duboeuf La Madone (Fleurie, $20)

The vines here are younger (20+ years), planted on what Franck calls “pink granite,” hilly soils. This is a very obvious Beaujolais in its floral, grapey, carbonic-maceration nose, but the fruits are dark (in Beaujolais terms), with cassis and coca peeking out. Things get quite serious on the palate; it’s actually downright grippy. You could put a few years of bottle aging on this puppy, and it likely won’t break a sweat.

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)2015 Georges Duboeuf Domaine de Quatre Vents (Fleurie, $22)

50-ish year old vines in this spot, also on pink granitic soils, from vineyards that have been owened by the Darroze family since the 1950s. The wine is, in a word, gorgeous; spicy, floral, silky, full of ripe red berry fruits, topped off with cloves and earthiness. There’s even a touch of heat on the palate, but no freshness is sacrificed. Think confident and feminine. Also think roast chicken.

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)2015 Georges Duboeuf Domaine du Riaz (Cote-de-Brouilly, $20)

Here, there are stony, basalt soils around an ancient volcano, with 50-year old vines farmed by the Brac de la Pierre family. The wine is better than the outdated label; spicy, mineral, bright, and downright lovely. Pepper and earth notes, tapenade, candied red berries all kick things off; the palate is lively, and delicate, before moving to a territory that is both structured and delicious.

 

Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais)2015 Georges Duboeuf Domaine de Javernieres Cote du Py (Morgon, $20)

The Lecoque clan farms the south-facing plots that house the 50-year-old vines used in this Morgon. Fragrant and rosy, with licorice, spices, pepper, and plums, all of the elements are there for a killer Cru Beauj. You know it’s Morgon with the extra bit of body and the hints of deeper structure, but you get the added bonus of a finish that’s spicy, full, and quite long. A friend to meats and cheeses.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Your New Gamay Beau (Tasting Georges Duboeuf 2015 Cru Beaujolais) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!