Wine of the Day, No. 468


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The rules that regulate the production of sparkling wine in Piedmont’s Alta Langa region are specific. The district is dedicated only to the production of sparkling wines made in the metodo classico — the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle; the grapes can only be hand-harvested chardonnay and pinot noir; the grapes can only be grown in vineyards that lie at or above 250 meters above sea level, 820 feet or higher. Only 18 producers works under these strictures, and one of them is the estate of Enrico Serafino, founded by the eponymous businessman and entrepreneur in 1878. (Since 2015 owned by the Krause family.) The Enrico Serafino Brut 2013, Alta Langa, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay, offers a pale straw-gold hue and a surging stream of tiny, glinting bubbles; it’s a clean and incisive sparkling wine that becomes more generous …

Champagne Palmer for Valentine’s


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Sure, there are the cliches of the heart-shaped box of chocolates, the tired bouquet and dinner at an over-crowded restaurant, but you can never go wrong with Champagne. I offer today reviews of two products from Champagne Palmer, the Brut Reserve and the Rosé Reserve, non-vintage offerings made from Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. “Non-vintage” actually means a blend of wines from several vintages. The house was founded in 1947, which makes it practically an infant in the ranks of Champagne houses that go back to the 18th Century. I would characterize these sparklers as the epitome of refinement, delicacy and elegance, with a sheen of shimmering style and sophistication. The products of Champagne Palmer are imported by TRU Estate and Vineyards, Rutherford, Calif., the fine wine division of Constellation Brands. These Champagnes were samples for review.


The Champagne Palmer Reserve Brut is a blend of 50 …

Wine of the Day, No. 467


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The first rosé wine from California’s 2018 harvest that I tasted is a winner. This is the Wente Vineyards Niki’s Pinot Noir Rosé 2018, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, 100 percent pinot noir made all in stainless steel. The wine is named for Niki Wente, grape-grower and viticulturalist and cousin to Karl Wente, the winery’s chief winemaker. The estate was founded in 1883 and is operated by the family’s fourth and fifth generations. The wine is described as “small lot,” but the number of cases produced is not indicated. The hue is very pale onion skin or what used to be termed, more colorfully, “eye of the partridge.” Lovely, delicate aromas and flavors of peach and strawberry are permeated by notes of cloves, blood orange and heather with an undertone of red currant, bolstered by a hint of damp roof tiles; all of these winsome elements are elegantly etched by a …

Wine of the Day, No. 466


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Saint-Amour is the northernmost and smallest of the 10 Beaujolais Cru vineyard areas. What are the others? From north to south: Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. These regions, which provide grapes for the best wines of Beaujolais, differ from each other in minute comparisons of soil and microclimate, enough so that experienced tasters can or might be able to detect general variations in character, or maybe you have to live there and drink it every day. Saint-Amour is typically regarded as a medium-bodied wine. The Cru Beaujolais wines usually develop well with three or four and in some cases up to 10 or 12 years aging. The Chateau de Saint-Amour 2016, Saint-Amour, is 100 percent gamay that sees no oak, only stainless steel tanks. The 49.4-acre estate is owned by the Sidaurin family; the wine is made by Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. …

Wine of the Day, No. 465


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Occasionally I use a Wine of the Day post not to announce a product that everybody should rush out and buy for its QPR — quality/price ration — but to bring to the attention of My Readers a winery and winemaker that deserve scrutiny for their high goals and achievements. Thus, I present today the LaRue Wines Thorn Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, Sonoma Coast, a pinot noir of such riveting purity and intensity that is practically smolders in the glass, though actually it’s more elegantly wrought than that metaphor implies. Thorn Ridge Vineyard is a steep, eastward-facing site strongly influenced by maritime winds. Owner and winemaker for LaRue Wines is Katy Wilson, who named the winery for her apparently indomitable great-grandmother Veona LaRue. Wilson produces tiny amounts of pinot noir and chardonnay from carefully chosen and tended vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA. The LaRue Wines Thorn Ridge Vineyard …

Weekend Wine Notes: Nine Robust Reds for Superbowl Snacks


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Oh, sure, you’re thinking, “Hey, F.K., this is America! We drink beer when we watch the Super Bowl!” All right, I understand the issues involved, but even when you’re talking about barbecue nachos, baby-back ribs, Sloppy Joes, prime rib sliders, even certain varieties of chili and quesadillas, a large-framed, robust wine can be as appropriate as beer, though, I confess, not with super-spicy food laced with serranos and such. Anyway, following that premise, I offer nine examples of the sorts of wine you could serve this Sunday while watching two teams neither of which apparently deserve to be there contending on the gridiron of valor. Prices range from a comfortable $14 and $18, good for supplying bottles to crowds of football fans, up to $60. As usual with these Weekend Wine Notes I deliver no elements of technical, geographical or historical data for the sake of quick, …

Wine of the Day, No. 464


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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“Claret” is what the British call — or used to call — the red wines of Bordeaux, as in “we had a fine old claret for lunch at the club today” or “the claret that Oswald presented for dinner was more than amusing but less than distinguished.” The term is not to be confused with “clairette,” which is what the Bordelaise term a wine made from red grapes that is more robust than a rosé but less dense and dimensional than a regular red wine. Producers in California either take the term seriously or they have a riff and a laff, as in Bonny Doon’s red wine blend named “A Proper Claret,” which is anything but proper. David Ramey plays the game slightly slantwise by blending 8 percent of the decidedly not Bordeaux variety syrah with 52 percent cabernet sauvignon, 26 percent merlot, 12 percent malbec and 2 percent …

Wine of the Day, No. 463


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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You say that you like your sauvignon blanc fresh, breezy, snappy and fruity, but maybe not excessively fresh, breezy, snappy and fruity the way they emerge from New Zealand? Well, friend, I have the wine for you. The Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2017 derives from volcanic, stony soil that lies about 2,100 feet above sea level in the High Valley AVA, established in 2005. That’s in Lake County, directly north of Napa County. High Valley is cooled by maritime breezes that seep in from the west, making it the coolest of Lake County’s vineyard regions. The color of the Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is very pale straw-gold; pert aromas of lime peel, guava and grapefruit open to winsome notes of tangerine, talc and lilac; lithe and spare on the palate, this sunny, leafy sauvignon blanc brings in herbal touches of bay and thyme with undertones of fennel and fig, …

Pinks to Chase the Blues Away


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The Royal Shut-Down is having nefarious effects all up and down the economic, social and cultural scales, including — and this may seem trivial to many people — the wine industry. While furloughed administrators at the shuttered Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are out delivering pizza or driving Uber or substitute teaching shop class, labels cannot be approved. (Every alcoholic beverage made in or imported into the United States must have its label approved by the TTB to make certain that all information is correct and legal and printed at the regulated size and in proper type face.) That means wineries intending to release in the coming months the rosé wines just made from the 2018 harvest cannot send these wines to market. Not to worry your pretty little heads though! Rosés from South America, where the seasons are topsy-turvy, have been arriving in North America …

Wine of the Day, No. 462


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Chateau de Campuget traces its origin in what is now the Costières de Nîmes AOC to 1640. The year cited in the Campuget “1753” Rosé 2017 refers to the date of a document that mentions the vineyard. Costières de Nîmes is the southernmost vineyard region of the Rhône Valley, lying between the city of Nîmes and the western marches of the Rhône river delta. The city, which has a long prehistory, became a Roman colony around 28 BC. Fifty-nine percent of the production of the AOC is red wine; 37 percent rose; and only 4 percent white. Campuget “1753” Rosé 2017, Costières de Nîmes, is a blend of 80 percent syrah grapes and 20 percent vermentino, made all in stainless steel. The color is a bright tawny copper-salmon hue; aromas of raspberries and pomegranates carry hints of cloves and citrus blossom, with a touch of grapefruit underneath. This offers more …

Wine of the Day, No. 461


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The cool hillsides of northeastern Italy provide a fruitful climate for growing white wine grapes. Today we look at the Russiz Superiore Sauvignon 2017, produced by the Marco Felluga estate in the Collio region, officially Collio Goriziano, not to be confused with Colli Orientali del Friuli, which it borders on the west. Both are part of the greater Friuli-Venezia Giulia area that lies at Italy’s extreme northeastern extent that touches Austria and Slovenia, with the Adriatic Sea to the south. Despite what you might think, the city of Venice is not in this region. The Russiz Superiore Sauvignon 2017, composed of 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, fermented and aged 15 percent in oak barrels, 85 percent in stainless steel. The color is very pale straw-gold; enticing aromas of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit are wreathed by notes of fennel and celery seed, acacia and jasmine; a few minutes in the …

Wine of the Day, No. 460


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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So, what do you want in a chardonnay wine made in California? Lushness, oak, spice and tropical flavors? Or spareness, elegance and minerality? Somehow the Eberle Winery Estate Chardonnay 2017, Paso Robles, manages to meld all those qualities into a perfectly integrated whole that should gratify adherents of either mode. Half the wine is made in stainless steel tanks, the other half in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. The color is bright medium gold; classic notes of pineapple and grapefruit are permeated by hints of cloves and jasmine, with touches of smoke and quince preserves; the balance between a moderately dense texture and lithe, lively energy provides not just pleasure but a kind of thrill on the palate. This chardonnay is dry but juicy and flavorful, all elements accruing to a burgeoning limestone quality through the finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 2,797 cases; the winery should make …

Weekend Wine Notes: 12 Excellent Wines to Begin the Year


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Actually, the title of this post is a misnomer. What I offer today, in the first Weekend Wine Notes of 2019, are 10 wines that rate Excellent and two that rate Exceptional, the latter both pinot noirs from different regions of California. Also included in this diverse roster are a Gewurztraminer 2012 from Alsace; a chardonnay from Sonoma Coast; two sauvignon blancs, one from New Zealand, the other from Tuscany; a monumental cabernet/shiraz blend from Australia’s McLaren Vale region as well as an equally monumental 100 percent shiraz from Padthaway; two wines from Costières de Nîmes in the Southern Rhone Valley, one white, one red; a Spätlese Riesling from Rheingau, in Germany; and a stylish merlot from Walla Walla, Washington. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, historical and geographical data that I dote on for the sake of quick and incisive reviews ripped, as it …

Wine of the Day, No. 459


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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You may say, “FK, as a person who writes about wine, you receive an ungodly amount of samples for review. Why would you go out and buy wine at retail?” Because, Dear Reader, I have scads of chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon on hand, but I grow weary of those wines, especially in their manifestations fashioned in California, where wines made from those grape varieties tend to be over-oaked, stridently spicy, high in alcohol and generally feel as if they were manufactured by committee. For dinner, especially, I require wines that are more charming and elegant, balanced and integrated, true to the grape, yet individual, a little eccentric, a wine with lots of spine and a bit of shimmer. That’s where the Flotsam & Jetsam “Stalwart” Cinsault 2017, Western Cape, South Africa, comes into play. Made from dry-farmed, old bush vines by Chris and Suzaan Alheit at their Alheit …

Wine of the Day, No. 458


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The EX label represents the second line products of Wrath Wines. Sabrine Rodems is winemaker for both brands. For EX, she makes an unoaked chardonnay, a pinot noir and a sauvignon blanc. EX was previously known as Ex Anima. Today, we look at the EX Pinot Noir 2016, Monterey County. True to the winery’s mission to utilize a minimum of new oak, this wine aged a brief eight months in mostly neutral French oak, a scant seven percent being new barrels. The oak influence is so subtle as to be almost subliminal, a gently shaping force. The color is a beguiling and totally transparent medium ruby; aromas of ripe and spicy red and black cherries and currants are bolstered by notes of smoke, bay leaf and sage, sandalwood and rhubarb, these elements gradually unfurling and segueing seamlessly onto the palate. The wine is supple, lithe and succulent, deftly balanced by …

Wine of the Day, No. 457


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The number in the name of the Santa Barbara Winery Lafond Vineyard 2.3 Riesling 2016, Sta. Rita Hills, indicates the level of residual sugar left in the wine after fermentation, that is, 2.3 percent. This is, in other words, a moderately, lightly sweet riesling whose scrupulously balanced character and crystalline acidity keep it zesty, refreshing and exciting. The color is very pale straw-gold, and any sweetness is really a function of the intense ripeness of its peach and lychee fruit scents and flavors, highlighted by classic notes of rubber eraser, smoke and lime peel; from mid-palate back through the lustrous flint, limestone finish and grapefruit-inflected finish, the wine is bone-dry, the whole enterprise riding on an element of exquisite tension. 12.9 percent alcohol. We happily drank this bottle with a pasta loaded with red cabbage and bacon, abetted by a touch of cream and toasted walnuts. Winemaker …

30 Great Wine Bargains of 2018, $20 and Under


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The title of this post needs no elaboration, but I’ll inform you that prices range from $7.50 to $20. It’s a diverse group of wines. Seven from France; 6 California; 5 Italy; 2 each Argentina, Australia, Chile and Oregon; 1 each Bulgaria, Germany, Portugal and South Africa. (Welcome, Bulgaria!) By genre or hue: 1 sparkling wine; 3 rosé; 10 red and 16 white. As a matter of fact, the 30 wines on this roster would make a great restaurant wine list. So, enjoy! In moderation, of course.

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Albert Bichot Bourgogne Aligoté 2015, Burgundy, France. Excellent. About $16.
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Amalaya Malbec 2016, Salta, Mendoza, Argentina. With 10 percent tannat, 5 petit verdot. Excellent. About $16.
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Domaine Bousquet Gaia Tupungato White Blend 2016, Mendoza, Argentina. 50 percent chardonnay, 35 pinot gris, 15 sauvignon blanc. Excellent. About $18.
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Domaine …

50 Great Wines of 2018


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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The 11th & 12th Days of Christmas with Champagne & Sparkling Wine


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Sorry about that. You know the drill, the world is too much with us late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers, blah blah blah, so today, the actual 12th Day of Christmas — Twelfth Night — we double up with a twofer to compensate for the absence of the 11th day yesterday.

These wines were samples for review.
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I reviewed the Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé 2012 on February 14, 2017, obviously aimed at Valentine’s. Today it’s the turn of a new vintage for that wine, the Frank Family Brut Rosé 2014, Carneros, a blend of 88 percent pinot noir and 12 percent chardonnay, aged 30 months in the lees in bottle. The color is a pale but radiant copper-salmon hue, enlivened by a constant stream of tiny bubbles; the first impression is of a compote of strawberries and raspberries, spiced and macerated and slightly …

The Tenth Day of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine


This post is by Fredric Koeppel from Bigger Than Your Head


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Lying about 20 kilometers south of the walled city of Carcassonne, the town of Limoux is supposedly the place where the traditional method of making sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was invented, even before it occurred in Champagne. The producers of Limoux sparkling wine insist on this point, as if precedence were everything. Let them have their little triumph, because Crémant de Limoux, one of several categories of the region’s sparkling wine, can be delightful and engaging. A good example is the Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux St. Hilaire Brut, a non-vintage blend of 60 percent chardonnay grapes, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent each pinot noir and mauzac, aged on the lees in the bottle for 12 months. The chenin blanc and mauzac indicate that this is indeed a local product. The color is very pale gold, animated by a constant upward stream of …