“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man's desire to understand” Neil Armstrong

In the hands of a master, simple clay becomes a work of art.  And we are left to wonder and appreciate and ponder upon how it was accomplished.  Gilles Baumann with the help of his daughter, Laurie, are masters of humble grapes.  Blending Columbard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng they include some Sauvignon Blanc and create a white wine (Domaine Des Cassagnoles) of distinction.  It is summertime in a glass. And it all happens in Southwest France, an under-appreciated region, which perhaps accounts for its “Mizerly” pricing.  It is my summer value of the year and should be considered my “insider tip” for 2018.

Columbard is the offspring of Chenin Blanc and Gouais Blanc and is used almost exclusively as a blending grape.  It’s relatively neutral in character, not important in the making of table wine and used in the production of cognac and Armagnac. It is noted for its acidity and used all too often in the production, domestically,  of “jug wine.”  Ugni Blanc is better known as Trebbiano in Italy. While it offers fruity and citrusy aromas, it too is noted for its acidity. Gros Manseng can add some flavorful notes, notably apricot and quince, but is noted for its acidity also.  Add in Sauvignon Blanc and you might conclude this wine was acidic enough to leech the enamel off your teeth.

It’s not.

And the plot builds:

In a blind taste, you would be forgiven for guessing this wine to be Sauvignon Blanc.  Less minerality than a Sancerre.  Less grapefruit and grass than a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, but Sauvignon Blanc from somewhere.  South Africa?  No, that’s not it.  But Sauvignon Blanc nonetheless. Yet Sauvignon Blanc comprises the smallest percentage of the blend.  Columard could be (depending upon the character of each vintage and the winemaker’s decision) as much as 40-50%, Ugni Blanc (30%) and Gros Manseng (20-25%).  So assuming each vintage is comprised of the upside of typical, the blend is already at 105%.  At the lower end, the percentage left for Sauvignon Blanc is only 10%. 

The mystery then is how all these acidic, somewhat neutral grapes come to make such a delicious wine? One with a clean mineral edge.  Crisp and zesty, but not overly sharp or acidic, it’s balanced with unripe white peach on the palate.  The lime is creamily subdued and rounded as in a lime meringue pie.  Lemon, green apple, white flowers, tangerine and green herbs greet the nose and carry on to the palate. Grassy notes and grapefruit are detected on the palate also but so classically French: in balance with the fruit, working harmoniously in a textured symphony, each note contributing to the whole of the experience.  A hint of pineapple offset by unsweet kiwi.

Quaffable, but offering complexity uncommon for these grapes, one is left to wonder how it was accomplished.  I first experienced this wine by tasting the last of what was on the shelves from the 2016 vintage.  So impressed was I that I ordered a case. But the 16s were to be no more. I approved an order for a case of the 2017. With an average retail price if $9.99, the risk was small – made even less so by the retailer selling it at just $7.29 a bottle.  Inexpensive wine can be good.  And good wine is always good, though not always inexpensive. But very good wine that is inexpensive is always a joyous find.  I’m very glad I found this one and I’m happy to share it with you.

………………. Jim
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ALC:                     12%
Closure:                Twist Off
Wine:                    White Blend
Grapes estate grown, each variety vinified separately. Small skin maceration for the Columbard and Gros Manseng.  Pneumatic pressing, cold stabilization, fermentation at 18c (64.4F). Aging in tank until bottled.

Baumann’s Cassagnoles is a consistent Medaille D’Or winner in Eauze (the local competition) and Paris, as well as three star and Coup de Coeur in Guide Hachette.

Estate grown and bottled from their Lutte raisonnée farmed vines, certified by Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE).

Imported by:      WEYGANDT-METZLER
My belle-souer (sister-in-law)  has access to the best brats on the
planet as the meat comes from her farm and the brats are
 made from a local packing house.  The Domaine Des
Cassagnoles is so food-friendly it cleanses the palate from
 many different dishes (here, the swiss cheese in the brats)
and accompanies the diner as would a favorite re-born hero at your table.

Eating light for summer?  Tuna salad is a childhood comfort food like warm tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich is in the winter, except I wasn't drinking white wine when I was seven. . A perfect foil to the mayonnaise is the Domaine Des Cassagnoles.

You may not agree (after all, all palates are personal and correct for the persons owning them), but I "practice what I preach" and, for me, this wine is case-worthy.


“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life”.  Omar Khayyam

PERHAPS THE BEST RECOMMENDATION I’LL EVER MAKE Is that you don’t let summer expire before trying this wine (“Celita’s Vino Blanco) from Fenn Valley Vineyards.  The winery’s own literature refers to it as being modeled after Portugal’s Vinho Verde, though I somewhat disagree with the comparison.  Like Vinho Verde, Celita’s Vino Blanco is young wine.  Like Vinho Verde, it is crisp and tangy fresh, light and refreshing.  Like many a Vinho Verde, Fenn Valley’s “Celita’s Vino Blanco” is slightly spritzy.  And like Vinho Verde from the Minho region in northwest Portugal (the coolest and wettest region in Portugal), growing conditions in Fennville (a sub-ava within the Lake Michigan shore AVA) shares some similarities. Fennville too is advantaged by its proximity to a large body of water as is the Minho region in Portugal.  But you won’t find a drop of Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loueiro or any of the other grapes permitted in the production of Vinho Verde.  What you’ll find is Seyval.  And I like it better.  And I’ve had gallons and gallons of Seyval over the years.  But what Fenn Valley does with it in this rendition is amazing.

Apparently, I’m late catching on to this.  Celita’sVino Verde from Fenn Valley Vineyards won Silver at the 2015 Indy International Wine Competition.  Where have I been?  Maybe wrapped up in stodgy traditionalism.  The wine comes in cans, after all.  And Seyval is a French-American hybrid, not of the vitis vinifera prestige.  Then again, it’s what’s in the glass (or in this case: the can) that counts. I’ve already said it’s crisp and tangy fresh, light and refreshing.  Let me add that the nose is light and offers a hint of green herb.  On the palate, expect to enjoy refreshing lemon-lime and just a whisper of pear that balances and softens it all.  And it’s made even more refreshing with a gentle touch of carbonation.

I panel tested this wine with three other tasters. People liked that it was available in aluminum cans.  Chills quickly. Lightweight. No breakage. Perfect at the boat yard or pool (where glass may not be permitted) or at summer outdoor concerts and picnics.  Convenient in the cooler. Recyclable. Another taster particularly enjoyed the slight effervescence in the wine.  I poured my contents into a glass (said I was a stodgy traditionalist) but even I could appreciate the convenience of having it available in cans.  Another appreciated that it was dry but not drying; instead crisp and light and a perfect summer wine.

Less grassy than Sauvignon Blanc, people compare Seyval to Chenin Blanc, Chablis and even unoaked Chardonnay.  Among the other statements I keep repeating here is that I’ve had gallons and gallons of Seyval over the decades.  Comparisons can be misleading.  Seyval can be made dry to dessert sweet and as a sparkling wine also.  Different producers make different styles.  You may enjoy one over the other. 

FennValley’s style (for Celita’s Vino Blanco) is unique and eminently enjoyable for me.   In the winery’s own literature, they state it “is a fun wine, not to be taken seriously.”  I would (again) disagree. Poured in a glass, I defy anyone to know it came from a can or deny the wine credit on its own.   Grapes are intentionally picked about two weeks early of ripeness making for juice that becomes wine with exquisite acidity in cool climate Michigan yet is balanced and delightful.  Then again, sometimes just really good is just that: really good with no apology necessary. There are moments, as Omar Khayyam suggests, that need simply to be enjoyed. These moments that are your life.  A wine that doesn’t require you to abandon all else and ponder deeply upon producing a treatise for your Master of Wine post nominal.  Just fun.  This wine is that.  Don’t be embarrassed for liking it, because you will.

…………… Jim

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Fenn Valley Vineyards
6130 122nd Ave, Fennville, MI 49408 

ALC:     10.5% (11.75%)
TA:          7g/L
pH           3.16
R.S.         1.22% (12.2 g/L)                              

PRICE: $14.99 for a 4-pack of cans
$9 for a 750 ml bottle (still wine)


“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”…  Vince Lombardi

Finally, in the closing act of my one-life play, I acquire patience.  The rush to reach the next unnecessary chore is no longer a self-deemed necessity and the moment is now appreciably extended. Meals are the anthesis of fast food and wine gets aged. Bottles today that were tasted years ago at vineyards and wineries, are now emptied into the wine glass with full bodied flash backs of those wondrous excursions.  People met. Things learned.

Learned, among other things, that assumptions are dangerous.  You’ll find La Crema not at just your wine retailer but at the small local grocer too.  For the winery, it pays the bills as does the $4-liter bottle of wine at the large liquor store.  I’m not suggesting that what La Crema produces is in that group. I’m suggesting (trying to) that if you fixate an impression of the winery based on what you find at “Happy’s Grocery”, you may be doing yourself an injustice.

Recently, I opened a bottle of La Crema’s “Shell Ridge” 2012 Pinot Noir.  La Crema was founded in 1979.  In 1993, Jess Jackson bought the winery. As with many acquisitions (and there are SO many), these mostly get transacted “under the radar”.  In most cases, people employed remain employed in the same position. Change is/can be disconcerting in the marketplace, but usually what happens is that money simply flows in to build the brand. The label remains and not a lot is said about it.  In La Crema’s acquisition, the quality of wines was enhanced with winemaker Dan Goldfield. And La Crema became one of the top producers in California for Burgundian varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). 

From California’s Russian River AVA, La Crema continued expanding and in 2012 acquired prime lots in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Single vineyard and curve wines made from selected lots expressing terroir and balanced in a Wallenda-like fashion.  But this is “Shell Ridge”: Sonoma, from the Annapolis area of the extreme and rugged coast: steeply sloped, mountainside, and just one ridge from the Pacific Ocean.  To this day, vineyard crews still find ancient sea shells in the soil.

The 2012 vintage was comprised from select blocks of the 150-acre vineyard and focused on four clones: Pommard 777 (my favorite), 667 and 115.   I remember tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon from a well-respected maker in Chile.  Comprised of grapes from six plots (one a Cabernet Franc), I remember tasting the wine from each block separately. I remember liking most and (frankly) thinking another was terrible. I remember the winemaker then blending those individual wines into what would then be labeled under the finished brand and being blown away by the excellence, if not the perfection, of that wine.
And so it is with “Shell Ridge.”  I made some (thick-cut, bone-in) pork chops with a reduction of organic cherries with some diced onion, garlic and balsamic vinegar.  The chops had been brined and left to tender overnight.  Otherwise, things were simple: some pickled organic asparagus flavored with tarragon and shallot and a light salad of mixed spring greens and herbs drizzled with an apple-maple vinaigrette.  For me, if it’s pork it’s pinot.  O.K., some exceptions noted, but generally the pork/pinot pairing works for me.  What I wasn’t prepared for is how well this already magnificent bottle developed in just 6 years post vintage.

Just a few years ago, I would state that there was one, maybe two vineyards in California whose Pinot Noir could usurp the prejudice of my preferences as a Francophile.  Now it’s three.  I’ve had others of La Crema since (both single vineyard and not) and have consistently been impressed.

Akin to the “old world” style, but not ignoring the best of “new world” potential, La Crema (as a non-grocery option) subdues its fruit, restraining it from being adolescent and in your face. The mushroom and barrel of the “old world” is not there. But the juice is graceful and finessed. In this bottle, expect both red and sweet dark cherry but enveloped in layers of sandalwood.  In fact, that’s what I liked most about it. The wine (though I dislike the term) is feminine, it’s nose tempting; its mouthfeel: luscious. It is both sophisticated and classy.  Simply, a lovely wine of exquisite balance that seduces all the senses.  It’s nose is romance and its taste delivers on the  hinted experience.

All of La Crema’s vineyards are harvested by hand.  And, with wines being made respecting its source, their Pinot Noirs are pure and reflective of origin.  I’ve enjoyed several labels. With “Shell Ridge” being the most recent, this wine was not only an exceptional experience but an example in a list of many that excel in personality.  Same grape. Same winery. Different character.


In "Shell Ridge", expect soft mellow tannins (it’s Pinot Noir).  Expect cherry (both red and dark sweet) on the palate in a luscious mouthfeel of silkiness enhanced with exotic spice. Sandalwood.   Layers of sandalwood going deeper and developing. Anise. Blackberry then reintroduces the fruit. Medium bodied but palate coating lusciousness, this is romance in the glass.  Other tasters refer specifically to boysenberry, rose petal (I get some of that), dark chocolate and espresso bean.

There is no wrong impression. Each palate is personal and correct for the person owning it.  But in tasting this with others, all the participating palates were joyful.  Some noted Cedar (not Sandalwood), and pomegranate, orange zest, plum and black licorice with green tea. Maybe perfection is not possible. Each moment has its influences: the meal, the company, the mood and so many other things that affect our judgement (which alone is subjective anyway).  But this wine was as close to perfection as I could imagine a wine could be.

………………. Jim

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Composition:               100% Pinot Noir
Oak:                             100% French (39% New of Medium and Med Plus Toast).
Aging:                          9 Months in Barrel
ALC:                             14.5%
TA:                               .54g/100 ml
pH:                               3.51
R.S.                              .05

After de-stemming, 70% of whole berries are left in tank. Must is left to rest for a 5-day cold soak at 48F. Fermentation is in open top tanks. Cap is punched down 3 times daily.

ARP:                         N/A  Vintage No Longer Available.  Was Between $45-$60.   Look For Current Vintages.  Recommend 2013, 2014 and (especially) 2015

La Crema Winery
Tasting Room:
235 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Note:  Your merchant may (or may not) carry these better labels and may (or may not) be able to order you a sample bottle.  I’ve always been a big fan of taking a “winecation” and visiting the vineyards and wineries. But you can also “travel” without leaving home by visiting the winery’s website.  Not the sam experience., but it will be the same wine.


“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity”….. William Butler Yeats

Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with Neil McGuigan of McGuigan Wines from Hunter Valley, Australia.  In addition to the “Mc” prefix of his last name, I was drawn to his wine being from Australia because it was from Australia.  Fact is, with such famed areas as Margaret River, Yarra Valley, McLaren Vale, Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra, Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Hunter and others, what’s not to like about the potential of Australian wine?

But it can be found. A sufficient amount of head busting plop became popular here from that country (and no, I will not mention label or labels).  Enough so, that it turned me off to the wines in general, though I should know better and do.  Some of the best Cabs and Syrah (Shiraz) in the world have come from there. So has some delightful Riesling. But I’m not alone in that experience.

Then too is the reality that I’m an “old world” guy.  That’s not to be admitted by wine reviewers, but I value truth over popularity and maintain that we all suffer, to some degree, by that benchmark that first impressed us as to what constitutes the makings for “quality” wine (see  Australia is the innovative capital of wine production after all.  From viticulture, to closures, to label design, Australia is the current “first” in things. Enough said.  Hopefully, intellect and reason triumph over emotion and I can freely admit that it did so upon tasting this 2016 Chardonnay “The Plan”.

I feel compassion for any winemaker who takes on Chardonnay to begin with.  After all, with people so divided over and absolute about their preferences, I don’t feel much guilt over those of mine already admitted.  Oaked, not oaked? All stainless with no malolactic?   Stop it!  Chardonnay itself is rather a neutral grape and benefits from some degree of coaxing. Besides, there should be room for different styles because you will undoubtably be required to match different styles with different meals. 

McGuigan hit a bullseye on the balance target with his Chardonnay. It works, for me, as a versatile wine that can be enjoyed on so many different occasions. The wine shows elegant stone fruit and a touch of creaminess, or as McGuigan says, “all part of the plan”.  Without knowing the price point, I tasted the wine and was impressed by its aromatic complexity: quince, kiwi, lime crème. Tropical and floral aromatics, lemony acidity ….. a creamy palate, and all in one glass.  Just a touch of vanilla oak, more like a grace note, in the background balancing the citrus.

Some of the wines sampled at the tasting.
Oh, the sacrifice!
100% Chardonnay, about 25% undergoes malolactic fermentation.  Extended lees contact contributes creaminess. And “light use of oak” means the use of staves, not new French oak barrels. But before the snobs among us recoil, I suggest they taste this wine because, ultimately, it’s what’s produced, what is in the glass that matters.  My take is that McGuigan has zeroed in on preferences for balance, but not via compromise.  Everything about this wine bespeaks finesse, delicacy and subtlety.  McGuigan explains that it’s all about “oxidizing sulfur.”  I get his point, but it’s simpler to just trust my taste buds. They told me the wine is fresh, but not overly acidic.  Among us older folk, that means you won’t get “reflux” after a second glass.  And a second glass is easy to want.  It’s creamy but not heavy.  It’s offers fruit and texture but is not too weighty or forward.    

Apparently, I’m in good company in this assessment.  “The Plan”
Neil McGuigan (l) and The Mizer
wines are among the best-selling wines in Australia with four expressions: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and a Red Blend.  McGuigan has been awarded “International Winemaker of the Year” four times (a record) by the International Wine & Spirits Competition in London. Additionally, McGuigan Wines has been awarded the “Australian Producer of the Year” in 2009, 2011 and 2012.  A red, produced by McGuigan, is the #1 selling wine in Australia.  And now, McGuigan wines has come to the States.

Many a good Chardonnay is made around the world and I wouldn’t purport to opine which is “best.”  All palates, as I have often said, are personal and right for the owner of that palate.  But I can say that not many a Chardonnay offers all that McGuigan’s “The Plan” does and certainly not at a suggested retail price of $11.99.  Perhaps Yates would approve. The “Plan” Chardonnay has found a common ground that just might be able to unite the Chardonnay camps.


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McGuigan Wines:                   
ALC:                                                      12.5%
TA:                                                         5.5g/L
pH:                                                         3.35
RS:                                                         9 g/L

Suggested Pairing:  Creamy pasta or risotto, roast or creamy sauced chicken, shellfish and salmon, cheese or ham-based salads, macadamia nuts, crab cakes and scallops (or chowders). 

Stay tuned for a review or reviews of other McGuigan wines landing ashore here.


“Wine lives and should be respected as a living thing.  It develops in the bottle, and opens in the glass.”…. James McMillan

The more wine I enjoy from cooler climate Monterey County (California), the more I enjoy wine that shows typicity.  And the more wines I enjoy from Scheid Family Vineyards, with estate vineyards in Monterey County, the more I enjoy wines that offer value.  Uncork and pour, this “Metz Road” Pinot Noir shows “old world” character of forest floor, brandied berries and mushroom compost.  If that’s what tingles your taste buds: enjoy. You won’t be disappointed.  But I recommend you decant after tasting from the bottle, or at the least, vacuum pump and enjoy the next day.

That’s when it opens in the glass. Floral notes of lilac, delicate and haunting, red licorice and a meld of brandied cherries. It’s one of those wines whose aromas are so enjoyable, it makes you put off tasting it for the joy of continuing to whiff the aromas.  It morphs in the glass as moments pass.  Initially, a tad sweet, then lots of brown spice with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon (unusual for this varietal) and black plum. The spice carries into its long finish.  Its nose offers cherry and blackberry. Its texture, with air in the glass, continues to get creamier. “Old world” notes of woodruff and forest floor meet “new world” cherry and liquid smoke in this medium bodied wine that is yet fruit rich with cherry and cola and develops some heat which remains throughout a long finish.

Metz Road is single vineyard juice from the Riverview Vineyard and named for the road (Metz) running alongside Riverview Vineyard. The vineyard is nestled on a bench high above the Salinas River and near Monterey Bay.  Cold afternoons and lingering coastal fogs make for a cool growing micro-climate so beneficial for Pinot Noir.  Grapes are hand picked in early morning, pressed to temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then racked 100% to French oak (60% new) for twenty months before bottling.

None of this routine is exclusive. But what may be exclusive is the price to quality ratio of this wine from Scheid Family Wines. With an ARP of $30, Metz Road combines old and new world style with no jarring overtones to diminish its balance.  Tannin, acidity and fruit work in partnership balance. I tasted vintages from 2013 (from their Mesa del Rio vineyard, also in Monterey) and 2015 and found them consistent in quality and style.
Attention to detail even includes useful info on
the label instead of  the all too common foo-fo.

Scheid Family Wines is one of the region’s largest growers and one you may never have heard of. But it’s likely you have enjoyed their wines.  Like other wineries, Scheid produces wine under many labels (Andover Estate, Aristotle, District 7, Pareto’s Estate and others) and sometimes without the Scheid name prominent.  And, as with most wineries, they offer different levels within the same varietal, so there is more than one Pinot Noir, for example, with levels of quality being branded differently.  I’ve enjoyed several of Scheid’s varietals including Chardonnay, Riesling, Petite Sirah and a blend of Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot and others.  Consistent throughout has been a price to quality ratio bespeaking value. 

………………. Jim
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TECH SPECS   (For 2015 Vintage)
Scheid Wines:          
Metz Road Wines:   
ALC:                                 14%
Brix (at harvest):               25.7
PH:                                    3.72
TA:                                    0.64 g/L
Clones:                              Pommard, 667, 777
Soil:                                  Well-drained decomposed granite          
Points:                               91 Wine Enthusiast
Juice is fermented in open top fermenters with a punch down three times daily to gently extract color and tannins.


“Battles, unlike bargains, are rarely discussed in society.”….. James Fenimore Cooper

How times have changed since I first read The Last of the Mohicans in high school.  Today, it seems everything is fit for discussion or even viewing on the airwaves.  But on the plus side, given this lack of reservation today, it’s OK now for me to review this wine with an ARP of just $11. I can be a certified “snob” and a Mizer at the same time!  That’s a good thing because the story of this wine is an interesting one.

It begins in 1946 when Santa Cristina was introduced as a Chianti Classico by Niccolo Antinori.  Instrumental in the renaissance of Chianti, the Antinori family was involved in the famous Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend (“Tignanello”) that was influential in the “Super Tuscan” movement and “Solaia”, also from the Tignanello Estate.

Santa Cristina is a blend of Sangiovese (60%), with the remaining 40% coming from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and was never meant to be the others.    In 1987, with the passage of the DOCG laws (surprisingly spearheaded by Niccolo’s son, Piero), lower yields were mandated for classified vineyards. Among other things, more aging would also be necessary and doing this would alter the style and character of Cristina.

Interesting because one of the first things that struck me upon tasting this wine was its “new world” character.  Its taste is a tad sweet - attributable to rich, ripe, juicy fruit.  The nose is of mashed berry preserves. On the palate, the wine coats; thick, rich and juicy with ultra-ripe berry. A hint of cherry cola and a whispered hint of cardamom-like spice.

With the 1987 vintage, Santa Cristina moved away from the Chianti Classico designation and began adding Merlot in 1994 (10%) to the blend to make it softer and add more nuances of fruit.  The wine now is classified IGT (as were Super Tuscans anyway). While some may lament this “declassification”, I’ll opine that Niccolo Antinori knew where he wanted to go with this wine and arrived successfully where he intended.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Chianti Classico or even the Chianti from the DOCG’s 6 other sub-zones.  It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the dry and tannic Nebbiolo of Barolo. It does mean that there is room for all styles.  And, as I write this, I’m thinking of people whose only experience with Italian wine (other than Prosecco) has been with one of the Nebbiolo grape, maybe a Gattinara, and assumed that was representational of Italian wine.  Or maybe they found Chianti too acidic.

Italy is the land of over 900 grapes, but that doesn’t even matter in this example because – other than Sangiovese which is so widely accepted it might as well be an “international variety – the rest of the grapes are!  For those people wanting to branch out and taste the wines of the “old world,” this is your introduction.  For “old world” wine aficionados that want a “daily red’ and are in the mood to lighten the load on their palate, this is your wine also. 

With an ARP of $11 U.S., this wine is Antinori’s best value Tuscan red. I found it at $8.99 making it taste even better.  Grapes are grown on their estate hillside vineyards in Cortona, near Montalcino. Varieties are picked at different times favoring each variety’s most opportune time, then   de-stemmed and soft pressed. The must is fermented on the skins for one week (may vary) in stainless, then racked before undergoing malolactic fermentation. The result, after blending, is a “user friendly,” easy drinking red wine with red fruit and very gentle tannins. Other tasters note hints of black pepper, eucalyptus, blackberry, mint and cranberry. A wine for all seasons most definitely suitable for discussion in society.

………….. Jim

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Santa Cristina:   
ALC:                             13%
Imported By:               Ste Michelle Wine Estates
                                    Woodinville, WA


“Only the unimaginative can fail to find a reason for drinking champagne.”Oscar Wilde, Irish playwright and novelist

I’ll admit to stating that most don’t enjoy Champagne in a way as to be fair to it. We drink it too cold. Pop, Pour, Fix and Gulp. And if it foams out of the bottle, even better!  I’m not suggesting that it be enjoyed in a white wine glass and that the mousse be allowed to settle a bit in the glass so as to enjoy the wine as a wine with the benefit of some air and without the freshly bubbling  mousse over stimulating and clouding the palate (well, actually, I am).

But I have to concede that Champagne does make every occasion special.  It needn’t be a special occasion. It’s the Champagne itself that elevates the occasion.  Certainly now that the long road of labor has ended in your successful completion of the university’s requirements for a PhD – sure: open the Champagne.  The repair shop calls you to advise the problem with your car is not as serious as what they thought and it will cost much less than what they estimated – sure: wake up from that dream and enjoy a glass.  Or, it’s Sunday. And you’re looking forward to time with the newspaper and making something to eat without you having to eat it behind the steering wheel of your car on your way to work.  Brunch anyone?

I love Champagne.  Its acidity makes it a trusted companion to many foods. A brut can go nicely with oysters on the half shell or just as well with potato chips on movie night at home and you in your pajamas.  Or poached eggs and salmon toast. Or wasabi deviled eggs, or actually so many styles of deviled eggs. Or smoked trout, salmon or other roe over cream cheese and horseradish filled Belgian endive cups. Sushi, sashimi, oh my!

A previous Sunday was so lazy, I used whatever I had. No trips to the grocery. Brunch made from what was on hand and wine from the “cellar”.  That meant quiche Lorraine, fresh fruit, steamed asparagus. That meant Champagne Bollinger special cuvee brut.  On the nose, it’s all clean and fresh. There’s a whisper of clean sea breeze and a note of kelp. The Kimmergian shelf extending into Champagne, comprised of the shells of marine micro-organisms, contributes to a sub-soil of chalk, marl and limestone that gives the wines from Champagne their unique minerality and (for me) salinity on the nose.  On the palate: a meld of citrus-orange and brioche.  Minerality is strong and commanding attention while yet being part of a whole. Apple is dominant. Notes of toasted walnut.

The wine is 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. 30% of the juice is aged in used oak barrels of 228-liter size (60.2 gallons) and some (40-year-old) 400 liter casks before blending. It’s rich with no jagged edges; a nice roundness that can only be appreciated by slowing its consumption down after pouring it into your glass.  Bollinger’s own vineyards are the source of over 60% of their production which emphasizes Pinot Noir. And while vintage conditions change with weather, these estate vineyards provide for consistency in location at least, and in the management and harvesting of the vineyards. The wine is matured for 30-36 months on the lees with the final blend consisting of 40% to 50% of reserve wines and 5-10% of those reserve wines being 5-15 years in age and having been kept in magnums, instead of stainless or cask, under cork. Bollinger has more than 750,000 reserve magnums stored and it is this reserve wine that contributes to notes of dried fruit (apricot) that adds to the complexity of their Special Cuvee. Of the Chardonnay used in their Special Cuvee, 90% comes from premier and grand cru vineyards in the Cotes des Blancs.

This is labor intensive made Champagne with other tasters commenting on notes of peaches and pear, crème brulee and candied Meyer lemon zest and hazel nuts. It is the purest expression of Bollinger’s house style and, I think, will even get better with 1-2 years aging in your cellar. Its balance of creaminess and tart-crisp acidity is Wallenda-like.  What a pity to Pop, Pour, Fizz and Gulp. But with a little time in the glass, what a reward!  Be imaginative and think of your own reason to pair it with something – and make that something something special.

……... Jim

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Imported By:               Terlato Wines International
ALC:                           12%
Style:                           Brut
Dosage:                       8-9 grams per liter
ARP                            $57. (U.S.)
James Suckling:          92 Points
Wine & Spirits Mag:  93 Points
Wine Spectator:          93 Points

Note:   Full disclosure requires I admit to having a built-in, incontrollable preference for Blanc de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay.  You too will have a preference and that may include Blanc de Noir or sparkling wines, or Champagne other than a brut style, or Prosecco or still another form of “bubbly”.    


"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.” …..   Khalil Gibran

Imagine a world in which, one by one, pigments began mysteriously disappearing and eventually, artists could paint using just one color.  And every musical instrument could only play one note: “C”.  Roses came in only one type: shrub and in orange.  And every street, everywhere, was “one way” and going in the same direction!

Front Label
If you love wine, you must love grapes. They can’t all be your favorite.  But they should all be  respected.  Many were here, the gift of nature, before we were.  And when we learned all the fun things we could do with them, some became our favorites, what are known as the “international varieties” of the wine trade.  Problem is, production follows demand.  And when demand becomes too narrowly focused, production of some wines suffers.  It becomes a spiral downward and then ….

And then there is no more.

So thanks go out to Emilio Buffon who has invested his life’s passion and resources to the revival of indigenous vines such as Cividin, Sciaglin and Ucelut (for white wine) and Forgiarin, Cjanorie, Cordenossa, Fumat and Piculit Neri (for the reds).  He discovered some of these varietals, in a state of abandon, more than thirty-five years ago, at his winery in northeast Italy. They had long been neglected, overgrown by undergrowth. Not pruned and not tended.  With government assistance, he worked to identify these vines. He worked the earth to restore it to health and propagated the vines, replanted them and eventually made wine from the varietals. Most were indigenous to this area within Italy and close to becoming extinct. At a time when “international varietals were increasingly being blended with the popularly accepted grapes of their home countries, there was little interest in this and great financial risk.  Long since forgotten, there was no “play book” for making these wines.  No taste standard.  Just trial and hopefully no errors. You poured the finished wine and a new play book opened.
But the thought that these gifts of nature (which were and are unique to this area at the foothills of the province of Pordenone on the banks of the Tagliamento river) were doomed to extinction in his own lifetime, that was a loss Bulfon could not be party to.  Currently, 11 of his almost 16 hectares are devoted to the cultivation of native Friulan recovered varieties. And on May 6, 1991 the Minister for Agriculture included the Forgiarin, Sciaglin, Ucelut and Piculit  Neri varieties in the National Catalogue of Vines.  

For me, it offered up an aroma of woodsy brambled berries. On the palate, a very bright tart cherry taste.  Others pick up herbaceous and smoky vanilla notes, red berries and pomegranate. One taster commentated about the wine’s “strong” (another “mild”) minerality, and a hint of blackberry and blackcurrant.  Another referenced a “milk chocolatey mocha” character. We all agreed that tannins were noticeable, but didn’t agree on the level, with me stating they were mild-plus to moderate.

Rear Label
Not having had this wine for many years and not remembering the experience, I was concerned with noting its “markers” --- those dominant characters I would remember if blind tasting this wine again and then challenged to identify it.  Good for me. Not fair to the wine, perhaps, when writing about it.  It finished crisply with a good balance of fruit to acidity.

There’s something else we can agree about and it’s that without Emilio Bulfon our world would be even more “grape franchised” than it is, and without the opportunity to explore those areas of our palate that we yet may not know can be so enjoyable. Emelio Bulfon’s work was love made visible, and we can be the beneficiaries.

………….. Jim
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Emelio Bulfon Winery:
Production Area:                     Friuli Gave, Western Foothills
Vineyard Location:                 Colle;Pinzano al Tagliamento
                                                Valeriano; Castelnovo del Friuli
Classification:                         IGT
Training:                                 Double & Simple Guyot
Density:                                  4000 Vines Per Hectare
Number of Buds:                    12-14 Per Vine
Yield:                                      70-80 Quintals per Hectare   
ALC:                                       13%
ARP:                                       $20.
Imported By:                           Imports In., Chicago IL.
Note: 1 Quintal equals .1102 Tons and 1 Hectare equals 2.471 acres.        

Recommended (by the vineyard) Pairings: Meat dishes, game or fowl.  With its crisp acidity and bright, clean fruit, I would enjoy this, however, with an Italian style charcuterie with dry salami, hard cheese and vegetable