I've written up Californian Sauvignon Blancs at this web site before: check the whole page on Honig. But I can't resist doing so again after picking up Kunde Estate's 2002 Sauvignon Blanc Magnolia Lane Sonoma Valley, in a rush, for a wine to accompany pasta-and-green vegetables one January night, and being highly impressed by its amenable approach. Kunde is celebrating its Centenary in 2004, and with former Ridge winemaker David Noyes on board for the last fifteen years, it has every right to claim itself one of the better, more traditional producers in Sonoma County. Tradition in the New World, however, is not the same as in Old Europe, which is why the Magnolia Lane nods its hat to the style of Bordeaux whites by blending in 11% Semillon and then shows true independence by adding a smidgeon just 4% - of my beloved Viognier.
The result is an intriguingly complex wine. In the nose, there's citrus flavors of grapefruit, along with some passion fruit and melon, and a familiar grassy-chalky texture too. Yet it lacks the pervasive gooseberry-asparagus flavors of a classic Loire Sauvignon Blanc and is also absent the heady tropical fruits that are the tell-tale sign of New Zealand's finest. Instead, it offers aromas of refined subtlety and a taste of absolute grace, unusual qualities in a Californian wine. The wine is bigger bodied than many a Sauvignon Blanc, for which you can perhaps credit the Semillon; it's also fuller, rounder and a little more perfumed, which must be the Viognier punching above its weight. There's some honey on the back palate, and an agreeable impression of what the label suggests as spearmint. With just 20% of the blend seeing oak maturation, the rest cold-fermented in stainless steel, the Magnolia Lane is a stellar example of how Californian wineries can be innovative and interesting without being aggressive. And at a sensible price, too.
MUSIC: It's sunny and soft. It's Californian but clearly influenced by Europe. It's subtle and yet easily approachable. Fonda's album Catching Up With The Future will make a perfect match.
Any casual visitor to iJamming! will quickly learn that the southern Rhône is my favorite wine region. That's why I've posted one extensive feature about Côtes du Rhône reds, another about Côtes du Rhône-Villages reds, one on the whites of the southern Rhône and yet another on the region's rosés . Why, Rhône-friendly readers might wonder, have I not yet waxed lyrical about the Southern Rhône's undisputed champion, the world-renowned wines from Châteauneuf du Pape?
Well, the original intent was to post other features working my way up the remaining southern Rhône appellations Lirac, Vacqueryas and Gigondas before reaching the pinnacle of Châteauneuf du Pape. Time, I now realize, will prevent this project being completed soon, and so while I strongly recommend each of those three Appellations as a wonderful graduation up the Rhône wine scale, I'm going to jump ahead and recommend one of the "big boys."
For time is not just against me in completing my tasting tour, but also against you and your buying power. The southern Rhône enjoyed four superlative vintages from 1998 through to 2001, but storms of a Biblical nature hit the vineyards at harvest time in 2002, drowning many Châteauneuf du Pape vineyards under two foot of rain just as the vignerons would normally start picking their grapes. A number of producers have 'declassified' their wine down to generic Cotes du Rhones; those who've produced a Châteauneuf du Pape are hardly shouting about it from the rooftop.
The scorching summer of 2003 might appear to provide some recompense, but it also served to reduce the crop quite substantially. This in turn will push prices up further from a region that's already seen increased attention and price increases thanks to these four consecutive great vintages. American consumers can then add in the ongoing fall of the dollar against the Euro, and acknowledged that they may simply be priced out of the 2003 Châteauneuf du Papes.
Fortunately, the 2001s have only recently started hitting the shelves, and there's no shortage of good 2000s out there too. 2001 was a near-enough perfect vintage in Châteauneuf du Pape, whereby the best wines, as always, will improve for ten-thirty years, though many are approachable upon release. But the 2000s are considered more 'forward', so don't feel shy about choosing a bottle from that vintage and opening it tonight. The basic bottling from Domaine Roger Perrin, at around $30, may seem more expensive than most of us would pay for anything less than a special occasion, but by the standards of Bordeaux and Burgundy, this most sublime of wine regions remains affordable. Besides, Châteauneuf du Pape is a special wine. Here are a few reasons:
1) The guidelines established back in 1923 for the wines of Châteauneuf du Pape proved so successful that they became the foundation for the whole of the French Appellation Contrôlée system.
2) The wines of Châteauneuf du Pape have the highest minimum alcohol content (12.5%) of any wines in France.
3) Flying saucers are forbidden by local law from landing in the vineyards. (Seriously!)
4) Many of the vines are planted in fields full of huge glacial boulders (galets roulés) which, while back-breaking for the farmers and seemingly incompatible with fruit-growing, serve to absorb the Provençal heat during the day and reflect it back on the vines in the evening hours. This terroir is unique to Châteauneuf du Pape.
5) The wines come in embossed bottles that emphasise their status as heavy-weights.
6) The red wines (there is some high quality white, no rosé) have the highest number of different grapes permitted in the blend of any wine anywhere some thirteen in all.
Only three wineries use all thirteen grapes, and Domaine Roger Perrin is not among them. Perrin's blend is more consistent with that of most Châteauneuf du Pape estates a predominance (70-75%) of strong, sweet, spicy, aromatic Grenache, some Syrah (10-15%) for meaty backbone, a little Mourvèdre (6-8%) for earthiness and further ageing potential, and a smattering of Cinsault, Clairette, Counoise and Vaccarese to round out a blend unique to the Estate. The average age of these vines is some 60 years old, ideal for concentration of flavor.
Largely because of the unusual blends, a good Châteauneuf du Pape can be difficult wines to describe, and I tend to associate them with their colour. Think lavender, think violets, think a cross between blood red and black night with feminine pink adding its sensuality. In other words, think purple. The Perrin is a big wine, no doubt about it (though its 14.5% alcohol is not unusual for the vintage), but good Châteauneuf du Pape wine-makers are experts at wrapping their power-house Grenache inside a velvet glove.
The Perrin wine sings loud and clear with its pronounced Provençal aromas (a blend of herbs and olives and grapes unique to the region), sweet Grenache fruit (the usual plums and dark cherries, though you'll also encounter more dried fruit flavors like fig and currant in a big wine like this), and earthy intensity (Châteauneuf du Papes often have a 'barnyard'/'leather saddle' aroma); it hits the palate with a perfect balance of muscle and finesse, offers up chewy tannins and a strong, vibrant peppery finish. Cellar it for a decade and it will turn into something else entirely a smoother, more sensuous wines full of secondary flavors or drink it now and raise the roof.
The wines of Roger Perrin (not to be confused with the Perrin brothers of Châteauneuf du Pape's most esteemed estate, Château Beaucastel) tend to be filtered and fined, reducing the chance of sediment in the bottle; this places the Domaine in the 'modern' camp frowned upon by the Village's many 'traditionalists'. But Perrin doesn't drown the wine in oak, as is increasingly becoming the tendency on the assumption that this suits 'New World' tastes. Given this balance between old and new, allowing that the wine is priced sensibly for the Appellation, and that quality wise it falls somewhere between the easy-going attractiveness of the most inexpensive Châteauneuf du Papes and the age-worthy intensity of the more expensive Reserve bottlings, the Domaine Roger Perrin is an ideal introduction to what I consider the ideal wine region.
MUSIC? This is a special wine, to be saved for the best of musical occasions. And it's a classic wine in all sense of the word, offering immediate pleasure upon release but clearly built to last. Try it with the newly re-released Echo And The Bunnymen back catalogue.
Santa Julia is the brand name given to the everyday, inexpensive wines produced by Argentinean giants Familia Zuccardi. Among the company's five whites is a Viognier, and it's not desperately good. Fortunately, Santa Julia excels at Argentina's own Rhône-like white grape, Torrontes. Of especially high acidity and notably pungent aromas, Torrontes flourishes in the arid climate of the country's northern areas where it is, in fact, the most commonly-planted of all grapes.
The Santa Julia Torrontes hails from the Maipu and Santa Rosa areas of Argentina's prime wine-growing region, Mendoza, where it is estate grown and bottled by Zuccardi. The 2002 Torrontes is an everyday light yellow-greenish color that opens up in the glass to offer the peaches and perfume aroma so reminiscent of Viognier, along with some of the tangerine and cake-like flavors of a sweet Muscat. In the glass it has a bright acidity that distinguishes itself from these two European standards, while offering up a spicy, full-bodied, dry white wine that makes for an ideal aperitif or food wine even if it lacks some intensity and complexity.
Torrontes may be little known, but it's widely available. I've found this wine on sale in a London pub, a Yorkshire wine store and back here in Brooklyn. Better yet, it's shamefully inexpensive: the Zuccardi bottling barely nudges $10. It's almost impossible to find Viognier that good for that price and you most certainly won't find any hailing from Argentina. I'm not telling you anything you won't hear from the real experts. The 2001 Santa Julia Torrontes was rated 'Excellent Value' by the Wine Advocate, while the 2002 was awarded four stars by Britain's Decanter Magazine, which also hailed it as one of the World's 50 Best Value Buys. The 2003 vintage (remember, the southern hemisphere harvests during the northern hemisphere's spring) has just been released.
MUSIC: Torrontes is vibrant, aromatic, and indigenous to Argentina. So is Buenos Aires native Gaby Kerpel's Carnabailito.