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What's new in iJamming!...
Mon, Mar 3, 2003
Ridge Coast Range 2000
Last of The Summer Rosês: Goats Do Roam, Vin Gris de Cigare and Rose of Virginia.
iJamming! Wino/Muso:
"New world wines are just too techno for me."
Featured wine region 3:
Featured wine region 4:
Featured wine region 2:
The Geography
The Villages
Featured vine:
Finally, a worthy rival to Chardonnay.

Now with updated reviews
Featured wine region 1:
Featured wine web site:
What wine fans and music devotees have in common.
Featured wino: TIMO MAAS
Featured party wine:
CLINE's Cotes d'Oakley
And how Cline does it
Featured wine web site: VIGNOBLES BRUNIER
The full iJamming! Contents
the iJammming! Wine Round Up:
One of the reasons I've turned into an oenophile is because wine pushes all the same buttons for me as does music. (See my original wine posting : WHAT WINE FANS AND MUSIC DEVOTEES HAVE IN COMMON ) One of the reasons I've persisted with it is that the people I've met in pursuit of my obsession have proven to be almost uniformly devoted and passionate to their cause - and absurdly generous when it comes to sharing their knowledge, enthusiasm, and wine collections. In addition, whether they be the small family producers and retailers, or the major distributors and importers, I've been struck not just by how hard these people work, or by how little rivalry there is between them, but by how much fun they have.

This was all especially evident over a seven day period just passed, when I was fortunate enough to attend one fellow "wine geek"'s 'bring your own' birthday gathering in Brooklyn, and two of the leading distributors' annual tastings in Manhattan. All three occasions were brightened by the appearance of wine makers as well as by the quality of the wines on show. For example, at the birthday bash, in the garden of a Cobble Hill cafe, I found myself talking to the young(er than me, at least) producer Fredrik Filliatreau of Château Fouquet, a long-standing Loire family winery that has been modernized by Fredrik and his father over the last 15 years. Fredrik had brought with him the Fouquet 2000 Saumur and the 2001 Le Grande Vignoble Saumur-Champigny, both impressive manifestations of the Loire's primary red grape, Cabernet Franc. My knowledge of Loire reds is still in its infancy, but I was able to contribute to the discussion by informing Frederic that Long Island – the land on which he was actually standing – is producing some notable Cabernet Franc of its own. Nothing to rival the 1969 or 1976 Bourgueil that someone had donated to the party, but in time, as the vines gain age and the producers gain expertise, who knows what the Long Island wineries may prove capable of. The passion, for certain is there.

The next day, at the annual Winebow tasting in Manhattan, where some 200 wineries from across the world were pouring their latest releases, I met another Loire estate proprietor. The Comte Henry d'Estutt d'Assay is your old-school, besuited, upper class type of Count, as befits an (originally Scottish) noble family that has owned the Pouilly Fumé estate Château de Tracy for most of its documented 600 years of wine-making, but he was no less charming, no less willing to share his thoughts or listen to mine. Château de Tracy has a policy of minimal intervention in both the vineyard and the wine-making; it ages its sauvignon blanc for eight months 'sur lee' to induce maximum flavor, and is only now releasing the 1999, when most other producers from Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre are onto the 2001s. But then it's hard to tell a winery that's been in business for 600 years to hurry up – and the results of their patience speak for themselves in this richly delicate, grapefruit-dominated wine.

At the other end of the Winebow scale, I met Danielle Montalieu, the vivacious proprietress of new Oregon winery Solena, whose delight at becoming a first-time wine producer (after years working at better-known Oregon producers) is rivaled only by becoming a first-time mother. Once she put away pictures of her baby daughter, she poured her company's extremely impressive first releases from 1999, a Merlot (with 4% Zinfandel) and a Zinfandel (with 3% Merlot), each limited to but a few hundred cases and the latter, in particular, showing promise for the north-western state's adaptation of the 'American grape.'

Then there was Peter Clinton of Vinnovative Imports who, upon moving to the States from South Africa in 1995, was so disappointed by his native country's representations in the American market-place that he and wife Margaret set up an import business to correct matters. They're doing a grand job: the Bradgate Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc 2001 blends equal proportions of those two Loire white staples, and offers up good tropical fruit and vibrant acidity for less than $10 a bottle. Look for it. A Radford Dale Chardonnay 2000 was also impressive; I didn't get back to the table in time to try the red wines.

And at the T. Edwards tasting at the Puck Building this Tuesday, an altogether more restrained affair as befits a smaller distributor, I found myself talking to Mat Garretson, the convivial man behind Garretson Wine. As the founder of the Hospice du Rhône, an annual benefit tasting in California based upon Burgundy's renowned Hospice du Beaune, Mat is one of America's pioneering Rhône Rangers, and if his dedication has yet to gain him fame in the wider market place, he's clearly not bothered: his company slogan is "We've never heard of you either." His e-mail and web address, meanwhile, both go by the name 'Mr. Viognier' and Matt was keen to elucidate on the differences between his two 2001 releases of that most distinguished Rhône grape. One he likened after Ingrid Bergman, the other after DOlly Parton -or Mae West, depending on your preference. I think you get the idea. (Mat has since been in touch to say he's a big Weller fan, and that he chose the orange color for his winery in tribute to the Style Council. Still, Mat's taste in wine remains well proven.)

Over the course of these three events, I must have tasted over 200 wines, and apart from the birthday party, I spat rather than swallowed almost all of them. Palate fatigue nonetheless sets in after a while, and alcohol wends down the throat regardless of good intentions, and so I don't pretend to offer expert tasting notes. But I did come away with a few conclusions about those varietals and regions I've chosen to concentrate on. At the risk of boring readers silly, I'm going to share those conclusions.

The Marlborough Valley region of New Zealand is known for inexpensive tropical fruit bombs that are so high in acidity they're almost like sodas/soft drinks. But more and more, Marlborough is delivering world quality wines in the $15-$20 range of your everyday Sancerres/Pouilly Fumés. Last year at Winebow I 'discovered' the 2001 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc from Goldwater Estates, and the 2002, tasted last week, was just as impressive: lovely full-bodied tropical fruit flavors that scream of the new world (peaches, papaya, pineapple) but with the restrained acidity and delicate intensity you expect from the old world. At T. Edward's, I was taken by the Huia Sauvignon Blanc from the same vintage and region, for its elegance and restraint ("that's funny, you just described the couple who make the wine," was the importer's response to this comment). And in-between these events, I picked up a bottle of the beautifully-designed Tohu Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (see right), named for and made by Maoris, and which captured the best qualities of both the Tohu and Dog Point. Given the obvious success of the 2002 vintage, and the clearly rising standards of the Marlborough Valley, you'd be a fool not to try any one of these if you see them in your local store.

Sauvignon blanc is more conflicted in California. Too many of the west coast wineries insist on giving this most refreshing and food-friendly of wines the 'Chardonnay' treatment – i.e. wood, wood and more wood. I found Duckhorn, Kelham and Quivira especially guilty of this; Frog's Leap, Lolonis (with its Fumé Blanc from 40-year old vines) and Cain (with the Cain Musque) were among those that get full marks for letting the mineral and tropical qualities shine instead on their 2001 releases.

The Loire's sauvignon blancs appear to be back on form after some problems with the 1998 and 2000 vintages. There's nothing not to like about a flinty Pouilly Fumé such as the well-priced Dominique Guyot, or a more grassy and full-bodied Sancerre from Serge Laloue. It's also worth remembering the Menetou Salon appellation which lies further in from the Loire river but produces equally notable, occasionally sharper and generally cheaper sauvignon blanc. The best-known producer appears to be Domaine Roger Champault, whose 2001 Clos De La Cure screams of citrus zip.

Australia is less successful than New Zealand with the grape (heat plays a factor, as does the Aussie's greater experience with semillon) but there was an impressive, easy-going, tank-fermented South African sauvignon blanc 2001 from Jardin, which comes at a friendly price to match its amiable approach.

Those who have only drunk Californian Chardonnay could be forgiven for associating the grape with the taste of oak. But taste a great Burgundy from Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet or Chassagne-Montrachet (the generally high-quality 2000s are just hitting the stores) and you come to realize this doesn't have to be the case. These chardonnays , from the grape's spiritual homeland, offer a creamy, mineral, white-fruit elegance and delicately lasting finish that justifies their reputations as the best white wines in the world – and at around $50, they are often no more expensive than many more bruising Californian counterparts. Even an inexpensive Chablis, Macon-Village or Bourgogne blanc can better its New World competition simply by handling the wine's oak content with restraint. (Charton et Trubechet is a producer to look out for, given that it sells from most Burgundy appellations and in just about all price brackets.)

Fortunately, the prevalent trend, especially down-under , appears to be in moving away from oak entirely, and I was impressed with 'unwooded' 2001 bottlings from Alpha Domus in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay, Coopers Creek in neighboring Gisborne and, from the Hunter Valley in Australia, Cockfighters Ghost. The Novellum 2000 from France's Vins de Pays d'Oc sees growing conditions similar to Châteauneuf du Pape, and two months aging in barrels previously used for Viognier; at just $10 a bottle, it's has surprising acidity and strong flavors, and is well worth seeking out. And while we're on the subject of unoaked, I have to give props to Barboursville of Virginia (the original Thomas Jefferson estate, whose Viognier I've also raved about) for swimming against the American tide, and making their apple-and-pear flavored Chardonnay (2000) entirely unoaked, so that the fruit dominates along with a clean and mouth-puckering freshness. And for just $12.

Out in California, for all that over-oaked monstrosities dominate the marketplace, there are many who get the balance right. One is MacRostie, a (Scottish-rooted) family winery I came across during my first days of proper wine-trying back in the early nineties and which I was pleased to see (at the Winebow tasting) is considered one of the best in its game. Certainly, the 1999 Chardonnay Reserve has the butter and vanilla that is the hallmark of oak treatment, but it has sufficient fruit to compensate and a rich, opulent texture that seems to sit in the mouth for ever. It's comparable to the best Burgundies both in taste and, at $35 a bottle, in price, too. MacRostie's regular Carneros (2000) is a touch over $20 but more readily available and no slouch either.

Other examples of Californian chardonnays I tasted that 'judiciously' integrate their oak were the Liberty School ($14 ) and the Paige 23 ($20), and the Meursault-like Bedford Thompson (c. $20), all sourcing grapes from Santa Barbara County and all vintage 2000. Then there's the Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch from the Napa Valley ($50); the Dutton Ranch ($36) and the Rued Vineyard ($46) from Dutton Goldfield in the Russian River Valley; and finally, ZD's 2000 Chardonnay at around $33, and its 1999 Reserve from the Napa ($56), which is intensely and unapologetically big and buttery, but classy all the same and wearing its 14.5% alcohol with pride.

Be warned, these latter wines are of a certain style that doesn't always meet with approval. At the birthday do I attended, a bottle of Flowers Porter-Bass 1998 (admittedly a difficult vintage from the Russian River) lay abandoned with comments like "thin, tannic, sharp and woody" – while the Meursault 2000 Les Tillets from Boyer-Martinot disappeared in minutes.


Continue to Part 2: Pinot Noir, Rhône Rangers, Southern France, and Zinfandel.
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