It’s been said that an optimist is anyone who gets out of bed in the morning, and I suppose the vinous equivalent would be that an optimist is anyone who pulls a cork, twists a screw cap or otherwise breaks the seal in anticipation of a refreshing libation. So what is a wine-loving optimist looking for when breaking a seal? For me it is a search for just three things; typicity in terms of the varietal(s) involved, balance with the prospect of an evolving complexity over time and last but not least, that sense of place best called terroir. Spring always brings a plethora of new releases and several have all three of these qualities in spades and will be highlighted, but first, a bit of defining.
Typicity should be the easiest hurdle for any wine to clear. For wines with a varietal label, the initial swirl and sniff should confirm the label and invite a deeper exam. However, we are occasionally presented with wines that have a varietal label, but the liquid leaves us puzzled as to what other grapes have been blended in. Or what manipulative shenanigans have gone on behind closed winery doors.
Balance is exemplified by the old cooking aphorism that if you notice the garlic you’ve used too much and should also not be a challenge but there are times … Certain young reds should have tannin but not so much that your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth, and the tannin should be balanced by generous amounts of fruit.
A sense of place is the third essential element and is the result of grapes developing different flavors if they’re grown in different soils. The hundreds of carefully delineated vineyards in Burgundy, and the beginnings of similar systems elsewhere, are the best example of this. And, of course, these wines:
Pierre Moncuit Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru – one of our favorite producers more than a decade ago, Moncuit has returned to our stacks and we couldn’t be happier. This is exquisite, precise, crisp, hand-crafted Champagne with a vibrancy and vitality that surpasses bottlings at twice (or more) the price. ($39.99)
2013 Box O’ Birds Sauvignon Blanc – a quintessential New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from a new-to-us producer. Fresh citrus aromatics with a hint of tropicality, the wine is harmonious and absolutely indicative of origin, one sniff tells you where the grapes were grown. ($12.99)
2012 William Fevre Chablis – 2012 is tasting like an outstanding vintage for White Burgundies and the Chablis are rolling in. Fevre’s 2012s are classic Chablis, the mineral tone and refreshingly crisp character that sets Chardonnays from Chablis apart from Chardonnays grown anywhere else are here in abundance. ($27.99)
2012 Merryvale Chardonnay Carneros – for everyone who thinks that California Chardonnays either have too much butter or too much oak, please try the 2012 Merryvale. The Carneros region produces fruit that has the essential element of balance, neither too much richness nor too much steely reserve. Merryvale has produced a prototypical Carneros Chardonnay by not getting in the way and the result is a delightful California Carneros Chardonnay. ($29.99)
2011 Deovlet Chardonnay Santa Barbara County – Ryan Deovlet continues to impress and this is another superb wine from this talented young man. The lusher body and notes of tropical fruit are the giveaway on Santa Barbara sourcing and the wine offers balance and depth to boot. ($27.99)
2011 Walter Hansel Pinot Noir Russian River Valley “The South Slope Vineyard” – when California Pinot Noir first got on the radar it was for wines made from Russian River Valley fruit and Hansel’s 2011 South Slope offers tell-tale aromas and flavors. Full-bodied and has that quality best described by our musician buyer – “bass note”. And while other RRV Pinots climb the price charts, I’m not sure that Walter Hansel has even kept up with inflation. ($38.99)
2010 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Rosso – this is the only blend on the list but a wine so elementally Italian at such an affordable price has to be given some limelight. The combination of Sangiovese and Sagrantino has any angularity rounded by a touch of Merlot and the aromatics alone will put your imagination at a café table overlooking a sun-soaked valley dominated by vines and olive trees. ($19.99)
2011 Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon Margaret River – another show of hands please, of all those who believe that all Aussie reds are “fruit bombs”. The Ringbolt has fruit to be sure but the Margaret River region of Western Australia offers the opportunity for balance and nuance and winemaker Peter Gambetta has taken advantage. ($15.99)
2009 Kenneth Volk Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – this wine runs slightly contrary to the “sense of place” test in that it is not as boldly ripe as most Cabs from Paso. On the other hand, it has loads of typicity and balance, offering classic Cabernet aromatics and flavors reminiscent of older or old-school Napa and Bordeaux. ($25.99)
- Matt S., Beltramo’s Operations Manager