UH OH, IT’S PARTY TIME (Budget Edition)

UH OH? Uh oh, indeed. The party season is here and you want to serve good wines but you’re on a tight budget. What to do? Glad you asked. First off, you need to know the range of wines you should buy. Just having white and a couple of bottles of red used to be OK but now, not so much. Now it’s “red, white, and bubbles” – and not just one of each. The name of the game is variety. Also, it’s nice if the wine somewhat matches the food you’ll be serving. It seems like a lot to consider but I’ve got you covered. Here are my preferred party picks (and some alternates) all priced under $12.00 per bottle.

BUBBLES:
Preferred Pick –
CASTILLO PERELADA Brut Reserva, Cava (Spain), NV ($8)PereladaCavaBrut
A blend of Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada together with Chardonnay fermented using Methode Champenoise and aged at least 18 months on the yeasts in the bottle.    Pale-gold-straw in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Cheap Cava that both smells and tastes better than its price. Toasty, yeasty earth with citrus and tree fruit along with some earthy red fruit. Good grip in the mouth, quite long. So much better than it has to be at this price point. Great with appetizers and anti pastas. Perfect with potato chips or popcorn. BS: 90+.
Alternate Picks: Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava ($9) -or- Zonin Prosecco ($10)

WHITES:
Preferred Pick –
NICOLAS HERMEN Riesling Qba, Pfalz, 2011 ($8)
100% Riesling fermented cold in stainless steel tanks with no oak and no ML.    Pale straw with green highlights; bright and clear. Semi-dry with a crisp balance. Offers fresh apple and lime fruit with a hint of peach and a wildflower floral note over a core of wet stone minerality. Fresh and refreshing. Great as a glug-able aperitif. And fine with shellfish and especially with shrimp or mussel dishes. BS: 88+.
Alternate Picks: Polka Dot Riesling from Washington State ($8) -or- Dr. Loosen “L” Riesling from the Mosel ($10)

Preferred Pick –
YALUMBA “Y  Series” Pinot Grigio, South Australia, 2012 ($10)
100% Pinot Gris fermented and aged sur-lie in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with its malo-lactic fermentation blocked.   Straw with green highlights with nice legs, medium-body, fresh acidity, and scant phenolics. The fruit ranges from pear and apple to lime with a hint of honey. Fresh and lively but with some richness in the mouth. Versatile, appealing white that goes with everything. BS: 89.
Alternate Picks: The Ned Pinot Gris New Zealand ($12) -or- Chateau Ste. Michelle Pinot Gris ($10)

Preferred Pick –
La NOBLE Chardonnay,  Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2011 ($10)LaNobleChardonnay
100% Chardonnay (from a mix of lower, more coastal vineyards and higher cooler mountain vineyards) fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, and aged “sur lie” (on the lees) until bottling.  Medium straw in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity.  Fresh, lively, fruit-and-floral Chardonnay offering citrus and tree fruit with some leesy richness and enough mineral earth to keep it in focus. Because it does not go into oak barrels, this is a Chardonnay that works with lots of foods from shellfish through to pork and veal and even mushrooms. Very easy to appreciate and like. This could be your party wine. 88.
Alternate Picks: Louis Latour Ardeche Chardonnay ($9) -or-  Domaine de Gournier Chardonnay from Nimes in France ($10)

REDS:
Preferred Pick –
Le VERSANT Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012 ($11)
100% Pinot Noir, grown on north and east facing slopes in the highlands near Puisserguier & Cazouls in Southwestern France. Fermented using rack-and-return (most unusual for Pinot) and aged 5 months in 90% Stainless Steel tanks and 10% in older oak barrels.    Deep-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Supple dark red cherry and some berry fruit with accents of cola, a subtle earthiness and a bit of black pepper along with spice and a dark floral note. Lovely in the mouth. This is the value-priced, food friendly, everyday Pinot Noir you’ve been looking for. Grows on you as you drink it. Shockingly good for the price. Versatile enough to accompany almost anything you can serve red wine with. BS: 90.
Alternate Picks: Hahn Pinot Noir ($11) -or-  Louis Latour “Valmoissine” Pinot Noir ($12)

Preferred Pick –
CA’ MOMI Rosso di Napa, Napa Valley, 2010 ($10)CaMomiRosso
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged 8 months in French and American oak barrels. Sensory: Deep red-purple in color with good legs; dry, medium full-bodied with balanced acidity and medium plus phenolics. Offers fresh, dusty red & black fruit showing spicy cherry berry character combined with gravelly earth terroir, dusty mixed oak, and accents of cedar, tobacco, black pepper, leather, and dark spice. Long, clean finish. Fresh elegant integrated focused, and precise; almost Sangiovese like. This is an American red wine to use as you would use Chianti; try it with pizza, pasta and red sauce, lasagna, eggplant Parmigiana, etc. BS: 88+.
Alternate Picks: Tudal “Tractor Shed” Red ($11) -or- Tiziano Chianti DOCG ($11)

Preferred Pick –
HEALDSBURG RANCHES Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast 2010 ($12)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% French oak barrels (none new).   Sensory: Medium-red-purple in color with well formed legs; dry, medium full-bodied with fresh acidity; medium phenolics.  Supple more red than black fruit Cabernet with lots of spice, subtle oak, and a bit of mineral. tough to beat at this price point. Perfect with grilled meats, especially steak. BS: 89.
Alternate Picks: Yalumba “Y Series” Cabernet Sauvignon South Australia ($11) -or- Los Vascos Cabernet Sauvignon Chile ($10)

GENERIC TURKEY WINES

So you need to buy a bottle (or 3 or 4) for Thanksgiving but you’re not really clear on the menu? You know there will be turkey but you don’t know how it will be cooked and you don’t know which sides will accompany it? You’re flying blind; I’m here to help.

All other things being equal, Pinot Noir is the best wine to serve with the traditional thanksgiving meal with all its regional and familial variations and permutations. Traditional New England? No Problem. Pit-roasted Turkey with jalapeño cornbread oyster stuffing? Ditto. Deep-fried Turkey with a Cajun spice injection? Out-a-sight. Turduken? Uh-Huh. Pinot handles ’em all even as it deals with all the oddball spicy, sweet (candied yams, cranberry sauce), salty, or gloppy (overcooked green beans served in casserole with canned mushroom soup and French’s fried onions) side dishes better han any other red. And, if served at 55-58°F (which is ideal cellar temperature), Pinot will actually help a slightly dried out turkey (of which there are far too many) taste better.

My picks (in three different price ranges) are all from France because these wines are lower in alcohol and a bit higher in acidity (freshness) making them better partners at the table.

Le VERSANT Pinot Noir, Vin de Pays d’Oc, 2012versantpn
100% Pinot Noir, grown on north and east facing slopes in the highlands near Puisserguier & Cazouls in Southwestern France. Fermented using rack-and-return (most unusual for Pinot) and aged 5 months in 90% Stainless Steel tanks and 10% in older oak barrels.   Sensory Note: Deep-red color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Supple dark red cherry and some berry fruit with accents of cola, a subtle earthiness and a bit of black pepper along with spice and a dark floral note. Bear Note: Lovely in the mouth This is the value-priced, food friendly, everyday Pinot Noir you’ve been looking for. Grows on you as you drink it. Shockingly good for the price. BS: 90. ($12 SRP)

LEONCE BOCQUET, Rully Rouge, 2009
100% Pinot Noir (from Rully in Burgundy’s Cote Chalonnaise) aged 14 months in a combination of 50% used oak barrels and 50% tank.     Sensory Note: Red-violet in color with well formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics with a longer finish.    Supple darker red cherry-berry fruit and even a hint of cocoa to complement the cola and dark floral notes.    Bear Note: Complete. Drinking very well now. This is Chalonnaise Pinot Noir at a high level.  BS: 91. ($24 SRP)

HENRI de VILLAMONT, Savigny les Beaune Clos des Guettes 1er cru, 2011
Tech Note: 13% Alcohol. 100% Pinot Noir fermented using open-top tanks and punch-downs (classic for Burgundy) and aged 14 months in French oak barrels (40% new).   Sensory Note: Red in color with well-formed legs; dry, medium-bodied with freshly balanced acidity and medium phenolics.  Shows fresh red cherry and berry fruit. Lots of cola and spice but on an elegant and even ethereal structure. Vivid in the mouth with a lingering finish that comes in waves.   Bear Note: YUM. Precise, pure, refreshing; alive-in-the-mouth. BS: 92+. ($35 SRP)

And maybe you’d like to bring some bubbles? Everybody may like the guy who brings donuts or breakfast tacos but everybody LOVES the guy who brings the bubbles. You can be that guy. Don’t know what to grab? Gotcha covered there too:

Castillo PERELADA Brut Reserva, Cava (Spain), NVPerelada500x500
Tech: 11.5% Alcohol. A blend of Macabeo, Xarel·lo and Parellada together with Chardonnay and Subirat Parent, Garnatxa Tinta, and Monastrell. Fermented using Methode Champenoise and aged at least 18 months on the yeasts in the bottle. Sensory: Pale-gold-straw in color; dry, medium-bodied with fresh acidity. Cheap Cava that both smells and tastes better than its price. Toasty, yeasty earth with citrus and tree fruit along with some earthy red fruit. Good grip in the mouth, quite long. So much better than it has to be at this price point. BS: 90+. ($10 SRP)

JANSZ Brut, Tasmania, NV
Tech Note: 12% Alc. A methode champenoise blend of 58% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Meunier aged two years en tirage (on the yeasts) before disgorgement and finishing. Sensory Note: Pale green straw in color and fully sparkling with a nice bead even in the larger Riedel glasses. Plenty of fizz. The yeast-and-fruit nose was evident even as I was pouring the wine. In the glass, I found yeast and toast notes along with citrus and floral as well as a bit of red fruit. There is even a Champagne-like mineral component along with enough richness to make this work well with food. (I continued to sip it after we were seated with some of La Vista’s excellent mussels.) It is crisp and fresh with a fine balance and very long finish. Bear Note: Delicious. I think Carol has a slight preference for the Jansz Rosé but I find them both to be excellent. And I think this was better with the mussels than the Rosé would have been. BS: 92+. ($25 SRP)

GOSSET Brut Excellence, Champagne, NVimages-1
Tech: 12% Alcohol. A blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 36% Chardonnay, and 19% Pinot Meunier sourced primarily from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset bases this blend on three vintages and then adds 20% reserve wines (wines aged in a sort of solera with many vintages blended together). The wine spends over 2.5 years en tirage (resting on the lees before disgorging). Sensory: Medium straw in color with a hint of green highlights. Dry, light-to-medium-bodied with crisp acidity and scant phenolics. Focused, classy, classic, and delicious. Tart lemon-citrus fruit with some some subtle red fruit notes along with lots of toast and a lot of minerals. Fine style. Gets richer and more satisfying as it warms and flattens (which I like very much). Delicious. BS: 92. ($41)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

BAROSSA and BEYOND with Jane Ferrari of Yalumba

On Tuesday, November 26th at 7pm, please join me, SPEC’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, in welcoming Yalumba’s famed traveling winemaker, the ever popular Jane Ferrari to Houston at l’Alliance Française for a tasting and class featuring eleven wines of Yalumba.

The informative and entertaining Ms. Ferrari, who is a native of Barossa, will talk about where the wines come from and how they are made as well as the history and traditions of both Yalumba and the Barossa Valley. Jane Ferrari is a trained winemaker (educated at Australia’s esteemed Roseworthy College) who gets her hands dirty both in the vineyards and the wineries in Barossa but also travels the world telling the Yalumba  story. She is down to earth and very entertaining in a way that must be experienced. Jane first visited Houston in October of 2003 and utterly charmed a group of over 60 wine fans. She has been back almost every year since and has “wowed” us all each time. In addition to information about wine, you may hear about Australian and American culture (or lack thereof), Baseball, Elvis, and only Jane knows what else.

The wines she’ll present and we’ll taste include:

Jansz Brut, Tasmania, NV
Yalumba Y Series Unwooded Chardonnay, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Y Series Viognier, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Viognier, Eden Valley, 2011
Yalumba Y Series Shiraz Viognier, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Y Series Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia, 2012
Yalumba Barossa “The Strapper” GSM, Barossa, 2012
Yalumba Patchwork, Barossa, 2010
Yalumba The Scribbler, Barossa, 2010
Yalumba Shiraz Viognier, Eden Valley, 2009
Yalumba FSW8B Botrytis Viognier, Wrattonbully, 2009

BAROSSA AND BEYOND with Jane Ferrari will cost $30 per person cash ($31.58 regular). The event will be held at l’Alliance Française which is located at 427 Lovett Blvd. (The corner of Lovett and Whitney is a block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose.) To register for this class, please call Marlo Ammons at 832-660-0250 or send her a note at MarloAmmons@specsonline.com.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Houston Area Women’s Center.

I HEAR VOICES

I hear voices. That is to say that – when I am tasting wine – I sometimes (well, fairly often) hear voices coming from the wine. Which is different from hearing voices in my head telling me to “stay home and clean the guns today.” I just want to be clear on that.

So what voices do I hear?

Well, sometimes it’s a corporate spokesman and sometimes it is a farmer. Sometimes it is the strikingly beautiful pure tenor of a solitary winemaker and sometimes it is a chorus. Sometimes the chorus is tuned up and in sync but other times maybe the cracks are showing or it becomes elevator music (which brings me back to the corporate spokesman).

Sometimes I hear the grape variety or varieties. A single variety can be interesting but add a couple of back up singers (think “Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux Babes”) and things can hop. And sometimes a duet (Sauvignon and Semillon) or a trio (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre aka GSM) is the top of the scene. When GSM plays at the Chateauneuf, all their local buds sit in but after Counoise and Cinsault in the harmony, and maybe Bourboulenc, they kind of all fade in together.

Sometimes the very earth talks. Limestone speaks with an elegant reserve. Clay offers more fruit and freshness. Slate gives a thrilling trill. Quartz combines the thrill with a fun sort of elegance. Gravel speaks with a dusty authority. Sand is all about fruit and elegance.

Sometimes it is technique talking. Do I hear the tenor of punch-down or the quiet bass of pump-over? Do I hear the bubble and hiss of barrel fermentation or the whisper of a temperature controlled tank?

Sometimes the very barrels speak, maybe with a French accent or an American twang or even the exotic tones of Hungarian oak. The yeast can whisper and even slip into a harmony. Even the cellar can talk, but only rarely and I really have to listen.

Most of these are good voices but sometimes the leather-jacketed, gum-smacking flaws intrude with the strident, discordant voices of TCA and oxidation and barnyard.

When do I hear these voices? Usually only when I’m tasting or drinking from proper glasses in a quiet situation where I can pay attention to the wine. But sometimes they are so loud and insistent that they can intrude into Syrah in a red Solo cup at a tailgate. Not all wines speak and not every wine that speaks has anything to say that I want to hear.

What do their voices say? Most often, they try to tell me where they are from – but I don’t always understand. They tell me about who owns the vineyard and who made the wine, what kind of grapes they used, and how they were grown. Sometimes they talk about the weather but less often than you might think. They speak of how the wine was made and aged and even bottled. If I really listen, they can tell me where the wine was made (as opposed to where the grapes were grown)

When I taste Leoville Poyferre, I hear the male rhythm of the Cuvelier men (the owners) acting as the bass for the soaring freshness of the female winemaker. I hear Cabernet Sauvignon coaxed into letting loose while Merlot and Franc (and, is that Petite Verdot?) sing along. I hear French oak and malo-lactic in barrels adding layers below the melody. Whispering through it all, I hear the gravel and freshness of St. Julien. The song of Poyferre is different from its neighbors but many of the notes are the same. It is more exuberant than Leoville las Cases and somehow more modern than Leoville Barton with whom it shares the most in common.

When I taste a Mugneret Gibourg Chambolle Musigny les Feusselottes, the close harmony of the winemaker-owner sisters interweaves with the theme of Pinot Noir in its uniform diversity along with the limestone exuberant (is it from Chambolle or from the ladies?) elegance along with the subtle, supple oak. Here, even the cellar, wet and cool and coated in a unique flora, speaks. Its voice is quiet and easy to miss amongst the joyous harmony of the other elements but like a haunting fiddle track, its depth and nuance and informs the rest of the parts.

When I taste a Lancelot Royer Cuvee des Chevalier Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru Champagne from the town of Cramant, I am thrilled with the violin (almost fiddle in its joy) solo of Chardonnay from a vintage paired the string orchestra of the long-aged, fractionally-blended reserve wines along with the quiet brass (more French horns and trombones than trumpets) of the cellar and time. The vivid specificity of place (Cramant) comes through as a sort of interwoven percussion track keeping everything in focus. Intermixing with all that is the stately country charm, almost a reel, of the family owner/grape-grower/winemakers.

With a Donnhoff Estate Riesling, it is the firm, focused, controlled voice of Riesling that carries the melody even as the deeper notes of sand and quartz and even slate roll like the bottom end of the piano and the almost aristocratic voice of the owner provides the middle. Still, there is purity, precision, and joy here that come both from the owner and the confluence of grape and exposure, terroir and technique. The fewer elements combine for a different kind of complexity. These and other voices are there but sometimes a seemingly important voice (such as technique) is not evident. Nevertheless, it may be adding to the richness of the wine’s sound with out singing loud enough to be detected. Of course, sometimes the perfect blending of many voices along with all the voices of the orchestra (think fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth) is the whole point.

These wines and many others speak and do so with beauty – but it is not always so.

Some wines have the corporate monotone of the committee that can’t or won’t become a choir. Rather it is more of a multi-voice corporate rap but without any edge or other redeeming value. In some wines the earth speaks, not with elegance or freshness but as dense black dirt or as bottomless, wet, black clay that is more about, well, dirt than terroir or place. Sometimes the winemaker tries but the voice breaks and the wine is somehow flawed. Some wines try to blend too many different grapes or too many different places or too many disparate techniques or … and the sound gets muddied and indistinct. There is no joy in hearing these wines but they do speak and in their speaking and even singing, they still tell us about themselves.

Wine has so much to say if only we learn to hear the voices. Are you listening?

CHAMPAGNE FRIDAY: Luxury PJs

I’m back.
And what better way to come back than with two great bottles of Champagne.perrier-jouet-belle-epoque-fleur-de-champagne-blanc-de-blancs-brut-millesime-champagne-france-10334806
How does it feel to drink two great Champagnes like this on a Friday Afternoon? About how it felt the other night when I walked into a party between two beautiful women both wearing mink coats (sort of the inside of a mink sandwich). Both felt pretty darn good.

The most famous of the PJs is the already luxurious Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque (aka Flower Bottle) Brut Champagne with its distinctive painted green bottle and its $150 SRP. This wine in the still available 2004 took the top spot in a recent competitive tasting by a number of top Texas sommeliers against such competition as Roederer Cristal 2005, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2004, Dom Perignon 2004, and Krug Grand Cuvee. But the two wines I have tasted here – the two PJs in the clear flower bottles – are something else. Layering Lux on Lux, they are among the ultimate expressions of Blanc de Blancs on the one hand and Rosé on the other. The yin and yang of Champagne, they are the ultimate PJs.

PERRIER JOUET Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs, Champagne, 2002
Tech: 12.5% Alcohol. A blend of 100% Chardonnay wines from Cramant and Avize in the Cote de Blancs aged 6 years en tirage (on the yeasts) and finished with a 0.9% dossage. Sensory: straw in color with green highlight and fully sparkling; dry, light-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Fresh and alive and vividly Chardonnay with lots of lemony ripe citrus, plenty of chalky mineral and a subtle pie crust yeastiness. Succeeds both as wine and a sparkling wine. BS: 96+. (SRP: $350)

PERRIER JOUET Belle Epoque Rose, Champagne, 2004

Tech: 12.5% Alcohol. A blend of 45% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims and 55% Chardonnay from Cramant and Avize in the Cote de Blancs aged 6 years en tirage (on the yeasts) and finished with a 0.9% dosage. Sensory: Copper-salmon in color and fully sparkling; dry, medium-light-bodied with fresh acidity and scant phenolics. Rich with notes of red fruit and citrus to go with mineral earth and subtle toast. Lovely, integrated complete. Delicious food friendly Rosé. BS: 96. (SRP: $300)

CHAMPAGNE QUOTE:
Too much of anything is bad but too much Champagne is just right. – F. Scott Fitzgerald