Bottle Sketch

Second Tuesday with Stephen Tanzer

With just a little knowledge about your favorite categories of wine, and basic intelligence about the weather during a particular growing season—this information is easily available in harvest reports published on-line by producers around the world—you can boost your odds for buying great bottles. First, a bit of background:


In very warm climates, the challenge for the grower is to get the grape skins sufficiently ripe before grape sugars skyrocket and acidity levels plunge.  This is especially the case in much of Australia, southern and eastern Spain, Napa Valley and southern France, just to name a few examples.  So a particularly hot summer and harvest in a very warm region is quite often a BAD thing.  What you want to look for is a long, steady growing season, which makes for balanced, full-flavored wines with aromatic complexity and verve.  American wine drinkers are obsessed with the so-called great vintages, but wines from average or even cool years are often more fun to drink in their youth and can also be pleasant surprises with time in bottle. 


In general, moderate climates yield lighter, fresher wines that rely on their acidity for backbone:  pinot noir from New Zealand and Oregon, Albariño from the Atlantic northwest of Spain, and riesling from just about anywhere. These wines don’t benefit from freakishly hot weather either.


Of course, some regions, such as Bordeaux, Southern France, Paso Robles, can be a bit more difficult to handicap, as vineyard owners gain flexibility by being able to blend two or more grape varieties that have different ripening curves.


Based on these variables, here’s a tip sheet for consumers:


For syrah, look for wines from cooler microclimates in hot areas (California, Washington State, South Africa, Australia), or from protected spots in cooler regions (New Zealand).  Hot, dry years raise the risk of exaggerated alcohol, roasted or downright raisiny flavors due to dehydrated grape skins, and very low levels of acidity.


For barbera and dolcetto, two food-friendly sets of wines prized for their palate-cleansing juiciness, avoid vintages that feature hot weather in August and September.  Too much heat can compromise acidity in the wines and send grape sugars (and, ultimately, alcohol levels) soaring.  The same goes for Beaujolais, which is all about energy and easy drinkability, not weight and power.


Similarly, for white wines from France, such as Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Alsace, be suspicious of the very ripe years, where high alcohol and low acidity can blur the aromatic lift and distinctive soil character of the wines.  Even when big, hot-vintage reds have adequate balance, they generally require bottle aging to resolve their substantial tannins.  These are rarely the years that provide fresh, delineated wines for early drinking pleasure.

Second Tuesday Selections:

December 2011

Region: Spain

(60% carinena and 30% garnacha, the rest cabernet sauvignon and syrah):  Pungent aromas of cassis, plum, licorice and woodsmoke.  Sappy and broad but focused, with lively acidity lifting the spicy dark fruit flavors.   Finishes sweet and long, with fine-grained tannins adding grip.

90 points (JR)
Out of Stock

Region: Spain

Greenish gold.  Pungent aromas of citrus pith, beeswax and minerals, with a deeper note of pear skin coming out with air.  Taut and spicy, with very good density and a distinct pungency to its flavors of candied citrus fruits, pear and lemon zest.  A suggestion of licorice builds with air and carries through the broad, supple, energetic finish. 

91 points (JR)
Average Price: $15.99

Region: California

Bright, deep cherry-red.  Scented nose offers cherry, raspberry, cranberry, licorice and sandalwood.  Creamy and vibrant on the palate, with a distinctly seamless texture to the concentrated, pure dark fruit flavors.  Sound acids and smooth tannins give this pinot excellent shape and backbone.  Finishes very fresh, with notes of black cherry and licorice.  Excellent pinot noir at a gentle price. 

90 points (ST)
Average Price: $16.99

Region: Washington

(an 80/20 blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon; the winery cut back on the percentage of semillon in 2010):  Bright full yellow.  Knockout nose combines musky curry powder and cumin notes with pineapple oil, ginger and chlorophyll; today it's the sauvignon blanc that dominates.  Then supple and intense in the mouth, with excellent acidity serving to frame and intensify the peach, citrus, chlorophyll and basil flavors.  Finishes very long, serious and suave, leaving an impression of fairly low alcohol.  A beauty.

93 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: Italy

Bright, dark red.  Aromas of sour cherry, licorice, minerals, menthol and candied violet.  Juicy, spicy and vibrant; at once cool and ripe, displaying lovely floral lift and energy.  With its youthfully medicinal character and fine-grained tannins, this lively barbera should be very flexible at the dinner table.

90 points (ST)
Average Price: $19.00

Region: California

Deep, bright red.  Sexy, open-knit raspberry and floral scents, complicated by subtle anise and allspice nuances.  Suave, silky and bright, with energetic raspberry and cherry flavors lifted by tangy acidity.  Very suave pinot with no rough edges.  Fills out with air and shows excellent clarity on the long, intensely perfumed finish. 


92 points (JR)
Average Price: $23.00

Region: France

Aromas of white peach, orange blossom and lavender.  Uncompromisingly dry without being at all hard.  Penetrating crushed stone minerality is lifted by an orange blossom note and complicated by a saline quality.  A perfect example of a wine that shows intensity without weight.  Really dusts the palate on the clinging finish.  About as far from California chardonnay as one could imagine:  this wine will really bite into food, rather than overwhelm it.

91 points (ST)
Average Price: $24.00

Region: California

Inky purple.  Powerful, deeply pitched aromas of black and blue fruits, licorice, olive and violet, with a smoky overtone:  very syrah.  Sappy, penetrating bitter cherry and blueberry flavors show very good depth and become spicier with aeration.  Finishes chewy and sweet, with gentle tannic grip.  Offers plenty of upfront appeal but has the structure to age too. 

91 points (JR)
Out of Stock

Region: Spain

(60% carinena and 30% garnacha, the rest cabernet sauvignon and syrah):  Pungent aromas of cassis, plum, licorice and woodsmoke.  Sappy and broad but focused, with lively acidity lifting the spicy dark fruit flavors.   Finishes sweet and long, with fine-grained tannins adding grip.

90 points (JR)
Average Price: $24.99

Region: Italy

Good medium red.  Musky, slightly reduced aromas of wild strawberry, plum, coffee and rose; there's something a bit pinot-like here.  Then plump and sweet but not heavy, with a silky texture to its red raspberry flavors.  Big and chewy on the back end, finishing with serious tannins and lingering sweetness.  Lovely accessible nebbiolo.

90 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: Spain

Light gold.  High-pitched and precise on the nose and in the mouth, offering lively citrus zest, pear, floral and herbal qualities.  Dry and silky in texture, showing very good depth and energy.  Closes clean and nervy, with noteworthy cut and floral-driven persistence.

90 points (JR)
Out of Stock

Region: Argentina

Saturated ruby-red.  Crushed blackberry and licorice on the nose.  Sweet, deep and young, with strong spice and pepper notes lifting the  intense dark berry and mineral flavors.  Really superb fruit here.  This very concentrated, pliant malbec finishes with building ripe tannins and lingering spice and berry notes.  (Incidentally, there's also a terrific non-reserve bottling from this producer for a mere $12.)

91 points (ST)
Out of Stock

Region: France

(a blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon):  Aromas of lemon drop, pineapple, fresh herbs, licorice and vanilla.  Supple citrus flavors are complicated by savory soil tones and a touch of minerality.  Nicely pliant in the middle palate, then lively and firm-edged on the back end, finishing with noteworthy complexity.  A steal at this price.

89 points (ST)
Out of Stock

About Second Tuesday

Since 1985, Stephen Tanzer and his team of renowned, widely published regional experts have spent months of every year on the wine trails of the world, having their passports punched and tasting tens of thousands of wines annually, the best of which are reviewed in the independent, critically acclaimed, bimonthly International Wine Cellar (IWC).

Many wines featured in Second Tuesday will be selected from past, current and upcoming issues of the IWC. But Stephen and associate editor Josh Raynolds will also include superb recent discoveries that would otherwise slip between the cracks of IWC coverage.

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