Rosé is the perfect summer sipper

The Resurgence of Rosé

I have to admit one of the best things I like about drinking rosé wines is the way they look in the glass. The colors range from light coral to dark pink with brilliant highlights.

That’s especially true of the Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé from Willamette Valley. And the color isn’t the only thing to enjoy. While many rosé producers from the famous regions in the south of France craft their blush wines from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and other traditional varietals, the Van Duzer folks went with pure Pinot.

Good choice…this wine has a delicacy and finesse that Pinot Noir is especially good at delivering.

Here at the start of summer, our oenophilic attention naturally turns to the lighter wines…the ones that go with crisp salads, white fish dishes in butter sauce or light fruit sauces.  One of my very talented chef friends has a new summer menu at his restaurant that features Chèvre salad with sunflower seeds and basil lemon gastrique. There’s also a grilled wild striped bass, and a cherry, gorgonzola arugula salad.

Back to the Van Duzer. As I’ve already mentioned, the wine is gorgeous in the glass…but my admiration of it didn’t keep me from starting to sip.  On the nose, the characteristic New World Pinot aroma of strawberries is unmistakable, backed up by raspberry notes. The wine opens up on the palate, paying off the strawberry expectation, with raspberry and perhaps a bit of red grapefruit. There’s over 13% alcohol in this wine, but you’d never know it. The balance among the acidity, alcohol, and residual sugar is right there. It’s not too sweet, which makes it a perfect complement to summer dishes that contain citrus flavors, or light red fruits.

As I was preparing to write this, Wine Spectator magazine did a cover story on just this topic…rosé wines for the hot summer months. Strangely enough, even the wines they liked the most didn’t rate more than 90 points. Maybe it’s because rosés aren’t “serious” wines?  True, they don’t deliver huge black fruit flavors like a Napa Cabernet, or the sophistication of a $400 white Burgundy.  But make no mistake. As long as “Flo” Merlier and the crew at Van Duzer turn out rosés like this one – wines that are both elegant and fun – we’re all going to have a happy summer.

Van Duzer Pinot Noir Rosé 2013 – 91 points, at least.

Gewurz Gains Ground

This tonguetwister grape has always been one of our favorites with Indian food, so when our friend Jim showed up at the house last week with four bottles to sample, I broke out our special Helicium tasting glasses with utmost speed.

We normally associate Gewürztraminer, a cool-weather white grape, with the Alsace region between France and Germany, but it turns out that some other countries are trying their hands at it, too. In fact, many winegrowing regions that are far enough north (like Washington State, for example) are getting into the Gewurz game. Chateau Ste. Michelle has a bottling, as do several other US wineries.

We had two bottles from Italy’s Alto Adige region, which is so far north and borders so closely on Germany it’s barely in Italy at all.  The main city, Bolzano, is right in the center of the region, but the towns a bit farther north have such a mixed cultural heritage, it’s hard to tell who’s from where.

Many winemakers vinify this grape in a wide range of styles. It’s especially good as a sweet wine, and there are plenty of passitos, SGNs, and vendage tardives on the shelf. Our preference, though, is for a drier, leaner style, with the classic characteristics of cream, spice, lychee, and citrus.

In northern Italy, Elena Walch is a big name, producing dozens of red and white wines, from Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay to Lagrein and Cabernet. We tried two from this producer.

Elena Walch Gewürztraminer 2013 – Light straw color in the glass, with a nose of honey and white flowers. The aromas carry through on the fairly straightforward palate. A bit hot on the finish, but it fades in a few minutes.  WW 87

Elena Walch Gewürztraminer Kastelaz 2013 – A bit darker than the regular bottling, with deeper aromas at first. Nicely balanced acidity, with notes of orange peel, honey, and vanilla.  WW 89

Domaines Schlumburger Gewürztraminer Les Princes Abbes 2008 – Unlike Elena Walch, these Alsatian wines came in the traditional tall skinny bottle.  A medium straw color in the glass, we picked up white flowers on the nose, and nutty, red apple notes on the palate.  The nicely balanced acidity led to a clean finish.  WW 90-91

Hugel Gewürztraminer 2011 – From one of the largest producers in Alsace, this straightforward wine was very light in the glass and on the nose. Traditional flavors of green apple and good acid balance. A simple pleasure.  WW 91

So that’s it on the whites as we start the summer. Look for more info on light bites and light whites right here. Sample widely.

Sette Ponte 2007

Seven Bridges—Two Great Wines

Sette Ponte has always been one of my favorite producers in Tuscany. Their Sangiovese-based wines are great with food, bold and well-integrated, and always dependable in quality.  Besides, I think the backward “N” they use in the winery name is just so cute.

Their highest end wine, the Oreno, is consistently in the Wine Spectator Top 100 listing, but generally it’s a bit beyond our means.  A more economical choice:  the Crognolo, that goes for around $35 a bottle.  In 2009, Wine Spectator named the 2007 vintage as #30 Wine of the Year.  We’ve been sitting on a few bottles of it ever since.

The other night, Debi and I decided to see how it was coming along, and opened a Sette Ponte Crognolo 2007 with some cheese and spinach ravioli and spicy marinara sauce, and the wine absolutely sang.

It’s mainly Sangiovese with a bit of Merlot blended in, and it makes a difference.  The Merlot gives the wine a softness and sense of integration with the tannins that’s very pleasant.  In the glass, it’s a dark ruby color, very clear, bright and alive.  The nose gives some smoke, earth, sage, and violet.

Even with the Merlot blended in (about 10%) the Crognolo was very tight at first, and aggressively tannic, bit it calmed down fairly quickly. For me, the palate was a bit hard to figure out, and sometimes it’s hard to decide whether that’s because the wine has no specific focus, or because it’s so well balanced that no particular flavor characteristic comes forward.  In this case, there was, in addition to the earth and smoke flavors promised by the bouquet, a hint of cherry candy, plum, blackberry, and a not-unpleasant vegetal note.

We’ll save the rest of the bottles for another few years.

Depressing Name — Great Wine

Depressing Name — Great Wine

I’ve always been a fan of Chateauneuf du Pape, not only because it’s almost always very tasty stuff, but also because, aside from maybe Champagne, it’s one of the most complicated blends on the planet.  In fact, 13 different grapes are legally allowed in the final blend (several of them white) but almost no producer uses all of them.

Still, when you skilfully mix together Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Bourboulenc, Terret Noir, Cinsault, Counoise, and some of the remaining six varietals, you get some terrific drinking experiences.

Problem is, you have to know the producers.  Since the final blend is totally up for grabs, and since everyone has their own recipe, you never know quite what to expect.

Cousin David secured a whole raft of 2000 CNDP at an auction, and was kind enough to lay some of them off on me.  We opened the Vieux Donjon 2000 the other night, and boy, has it held up well.

Dunno why they named it after an old prison, but the people down around Avignon like to do that sort of thing.  There’s an Old Telegraph, too.

The Vieux Donjon took a while to open (should’ve decanted it), gave us nice earth on the nose, with a bit of olive.  It’s medium-bodied, with tar, sage, black plum, and brown leather on the midpalate.  Great complexity, but if you have some in the cellar, don’t wait too much longer to drink it.

New wine store–new discoveries

Knocked Out in Naples

Naples, Florida is the home of probably the richest, most successful charity wine auction on the planet – the Naples Winter Wine Festival.  So it stands to reason that there are a lot of (pretty sophisticated) wine collectors and lovers in the area…especially when it’s cold up north.

Which is why my friends Jason and Brandie Dixon LaFond opened the Naples Wine Collection in December, offering a selection that starts at uncharacteristically low prices for the area, and climbs up from there for the rarer bottles.

The interior of the Naples Wine Collection

So when Jason hands me a bottle and says “You gotta try this,” I do it. Our latest discovery…

Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – The place is just east of St. Helena in Napa Valley, and it’s exactly what it says…a ranch. They grow wine, they make olive oil, they sell the beef they raise on the property, and there’s a major country restaurant, too. If the beef and olive oil is as good as their wine, I’m buying all I can get.

This rich, robust red doesn’t give up much on the nose at first, but gradually offers smoke and mixed dark berries. On the palate, there’s blackberry against a background of black tobacco, bitter chocolate, smoke, and ash. Very mouthfilling. The most impressive part is this wine’s balance. The tannins are round for a young wine, and the acidity offsets the richness of the fruit and earth flavors.

I’ll be surprised if Jason and Brandie keep this in stock for very long.

Cruising and Wine Sampling…They Go Together


The cruise lines have obviously been monitoring their target demographics more attentively of late, because the Celebrity ships we’ve sailed on in the past few years have wine bars on them. These are dark wood and leather chambers that hold those Enomatic wine dispensing machines where you can insert your key card and receive a 2-oz. pour of Opus One for $20, or other whites and reds for more reasonable prices.  A good way to sample widely, albeit a bit pricey.

The Celebrity Constellation

The ships also manage to stage a “Wine 101” class at least once during each cruise, and hold little wine flight events every night or two. Last week, on the Celebrity Constellation, I ran through quite a few of these small pours, and found some interesting new delights.

One fight, which they whimsically called “Run With the Bulls,” featured four Spanish varietals, though the last one was a Sherry, and I passed on it. The other three, however, were pretty reasonable.

Side note:  I have to admit we don’t drink a lot of Spanish wine around the house.  I lived in Spain in the early Seventies, well before I had been awakened to the joys of the vine, and my wine discoveries at the time were less than inspiring. In fact, we used to drink this stuff called “CASA,” which we bought in the supermarket. It came in liter bottles and I swear to this day that it consisted of water, alcohol, and food coloring. No grapes ever came near that liquid.

A bit unfair of me?  Probably.  But I’m still open to discovering new treats, from Spain or anywhere else.  Here are some that I discovered in the middle of the Caribbean.

Castell de Raimat Albariño Costers del Segre 2011 – This tiny region is way up in northern Spain, northwest of Barcelona. It was a bit “fatter” than I expected, and could have used a touch more acidity. However, there were nice citrus notes, some lemon zest, and a hint of pineapple. Very refreshing.

Bodegas Ramón Bilbao Rioja “Edición Limitada” Tempranillo 2010 – This deep, rich red exuded characteristic aromas of smoke and tar, since the Spanish love to oak their wines to the max.  On the palate, subtle notes (way in the back) of dark plum and blueberry.

Bodegas España Garnacha Athénticas – This wine almost approached a ripasso in its style.  There were strong flavors of prune and raisin, tempered a bit by the blending in of a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. Great for those who like a richer, sweeter style.

Sample widely…and order my latest book, Secrets of the Wine Whisperer, on my website or on Amazon.

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