Tis the season for building wine lists

April 21, 2014

I am nearly tasted out. As the season fast approaches, most of the wine producers, distributors and sales forces are showing their wares. These tastings are so informative. They provide grist for this column for many issues. However, most enjoyable  is the opportunity to see the very busy people who are making decisions for local area stores’ and restaurants’ wine lists, many of whom are longtime friends and acquaintances.

Domaine du Paternel Cassis Rosé 2013 is one of those lovely blends of Grenache and Cinsault that is a rare find. They are great summer sippers. Unlike many Rosés, Paternel provides a nice touch of tannin to provide grip. Pale orange-tinged pink, it opens to a lovely crushed strawberry nose riding a well-structured acid-fruit frame. It devolves though a medium-long finish to a mild caramel flavor. Suggested $25.

Another out of the ordinary sample, was Gracieux Chevalier Cremant de Bourgogne Brut NV. Twenty dollars will buy delicious, sparkling Burgundy with a very complex nose. My notes read: almond, raspberry, baked bread, apple and marzipan nose. Fine bead. Citrus, peach and mineral palate. Porch wine for pals.

Going upscale, Domaine de Chevalier (rouge) 2010 was rated RP 95, Suckling 96 plus Wine of the Year and Neil Martin 95. These Bordeaux from Pessac-Leognan won’t be ready until 2018. They are selling for $90/bottle.  Sweet spices, herbs, bright cherry and cassis flavors.  Fresh with concentrated flavors and very well balanced. I’m going out on a limb, but the 2009 is the better buy for cellaring. For those who want instant gratification, the 92-point Tanzer, 94 WE 2008 can be had priced under $70 in D.C. Medium ruby-colored, it opens to lilac, blueberry, tar and licorice. Ripe fruit, tannins and acidity in balance as it starts to come together. On the palate, cassis, graphite, some oak on a lush, round, full body, finishes with some chocolate hints. The 2008 were under-rated in my opinion because they were a bit backward on release. Ready to start sipping now, they should last another 20 in your cellar, as well.

For Bordeaux lovers on a McDonald's budget, deep purple 2010 Lilian Ladouys St. Estephe has aromas of violets, cassis and blackberries. On the palate, it is juicy, ripe and full-bodied. Pure fruit, good balance and medium-long finish, all for a very modest $28. Get this, folks, it was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast.

The reviewers were flummoxed on Ladouys, and ratings ranged from 86-94 with no consensus. I’m saying 92 points. Starting to drink well now-2020. Even better is Chateau Le Thil Comte Clary, next-door neighbor to Chateau Smith Haut Lafite and made by Stephane Derenoncourt, a terrific winemaker. I’ve written of Derenoncourt on several occasions. Rated 93 by both  RP (Sleeper of VT.) and Suckling and 91 by WS, it is on the market under $29. Another wine where the major writers described it so differently you would think they were writing of three separate wines. I say dark ruby-purple, complex nose of currants, plums, tobacco and a touch of smoke. Rich with a dense fruit palate, chewy tannins and proper acidity. Needs cellar time to come together 2018-25.

A great bargain for big-bucks buyers is Chateau Rauzan Segla Margaux 2005, $160. It is selling for the same price as the 2010 and rated by most a tad higher. The window is 2014-20.

Keith Floyd (1943-2009) the first gonzo TV chef I remember from the '80s and '90s, wrote, “My idea of heaven is a block of foie gras and a great bottle of Sauternes, followed by a raspberry meringue gateaux and another bottle of Sauternes.”  There is a La Bonne Vie lesson here.