In early November, Josh Raynolds and I took the New York-Geneva flight and hit the ground running. He headed to Ampuis, the home of Cote-Rotie, for his top-to-bottom tour of the major Rhône appellations while I drove off to Beaune, the nerve center of Burgundy. Over the next couple of weeks, each of us tasted over a hundred wines per day, without even a Sunday off for bad behavior.Folks tell me what a glamorous job I have. I wake each day at dawn, scrape the frost off my windshield, and venture into the bone-chilling fog to sample tooth-rattling wines from barrel in cold cellars until around 7 p.m. (sunset is around 4:30 in Burgundy in November). Josh puts in even longer hours than I do - he doesn't actually sleep - but then he's an animal, and I mean that in a good way. When I return home weeks later, teeth and tongue as black as a chow's, the elevator guy in my building inevitably asks me, "How was your vacation?" If only.
Of course the job has its perks. I've been privileged to taste every vintage of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's La Tâche before and after bottling for the past 20+ years, and Josh has first crack at Guigal's La-La wines (La Mouline, La Landonne, La Turque). But I have to say, we get just as charged up (well, almost) when we find a $20 wine with concentration and conviction, because we can actually find these bottles in the marketplace and afford to drink them on a daily basis. These are the wines we enjoy when we're off-duty: fruit-driven Beaujolais, structured yet pliant malbec from Argentina, racy sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley or New Zealand, an offbeat red from Italy, dry riesling from just about anywhere, a ridiculously cheap but satisfying bottle from Spain, a rich and inviting red from southern France.
So that's the objective of this regular feature: to find real wines - affordable, available, food-friendly, complex enough to bring us back for another glass but not too complicated to require our full attention. We can't afford grand cru Burgundy any more than you can. Here are some reasonably priced bottles we have particularly enjoyed in recent weeks.
Perfumed aromas of peach nectar and flowers. Juicy, pure and intense, with lovely floral perfume and bright framing acidity. A bit viognier-like like in its floral complexity. Finishes juicy and long, and not a bit heavy. This is the #1 torrontés imported from Argentina and virtually never misses.
Greenish-yellow color. Spice-accented melon and white peach aromas are complicated by orange peel and white flowers. Juicy, palate-caressing pit fruit flavors are lifted by tangy acidity, picking up a touch of bitter pear skin with air. Lingers with subtle sweetness and very good tenacity. This gained complexity in the glass and has the balance to reward at least another couple years of bottle aging.
Bright full red. Cherry, raspberry and pepper on the nose and palate, along with licorice and exotic wild herbs–plus a whiff of tropical fruit. Precise and juicy in the mouth yet seamless, with a firm spine of acids and tannins making this a serious wine for its modest appellation and very gentle price. Finishes with a light touch. No trees were killed to make this wine.
Bright, deep red with ruby tones. Very dark aromas of black cherry, licorice, crushed stone, pepper and wild herbs. Dense, sweet and rich yet brisk, with harmonious acidity giving shape and lift to the highly complex flavors of dark fruits, wild mint, peppery herbs and spices. Finishes with suave tannins, lovely length and a light touch. Plenty of personality here.
Bright gold. Dried pear, chamomile and toasty lees on the nose, with a bright note of orange peel adding vivacity. Smoky and tactile, offering subtly sweet pear and citrus flavors and a touch of iodine. Pretty serious for the category, finishing with very good clarity and mineral-driven persistence.
Bright cherry-red. Ineffable pungent perfume of red cherry, rose petal, medicinal herbs and red licorice. Ripe but juicy and light on its feet, thanks to lively floral and spicy elements and brisk acidity for this warm year. Finishes with excellent cut and sneaky persistence. Corvina is the main grape used to make Amarone, but this wine could not be more different in style.
Pale, bright yellow. Sweet but subdued aromas of pineapple, mint and crushed stone. Juicy and delicate in the mouth, with moderate sweetness to the chewy flavors of pineapple, lemon and white flowers. An impression of strong acidity gives atypical energy and penetration to this basic riesling, which finishes long and brisk, with lemon and lime flavors and strong stony minerality. Showing more fruit today than the 2009 version, but a deeper minerality as well.
Region: New Zealand
Bright pale yellow. Pungent aromas of grapefruit, pepper, anise and flowers. Juicy, dense and intense, with excellent penetration to the grapefruit, soft citrus and fresh herb flavors. As dry and bracing as this is, there's solid palate-coating texture here too, and excellent length and lift.
Saturated bright red-ruby. Lively aromas and flavors off black cherry, licorice, pepper and spicy herbs. Sappy, silky and concentrated; compellingly sweet and creamy in texture but with excellent energy for a southern wine. This seamless wine really saturates the mouth without leaving behind any impression of excess weight.
Pale straw-gold color. Ineffable perfume of musky grapefruit zest, tangerine, linden flower and brown spices. At once weighty and penetrating, with lovely bright acidity for the year. The finish offers sneaky length and intensity, with a solid stony backbone giving it a youthful reserve. I'd plan on enjoying this wine next summer.
(One-third each grenache, syrah and mourvèdre): Inky ruby with a bright rim. Seductive bouquet of red and dark berry preserves, olive, potpourri and smoky minerals. Sweet, expansive black raspberry and cherry flavors are complemented by floral pastille and spice cake qualities, with silky tannins adding support. Punches way above its appellation, finishing with excellent depth, clarity and spiciness.
(Made from nebbiolo with vespolina and croatina): Medium red. Perfumed, inviting aroma of strawberry, iron, rose petal, sandalwood and a whiff of meat. Silky and round, with very dry but pliant flavors of strawberry, spices and crushed stone. Nicely integrated acidity gives this wine a seamless quality. Finishes with suave fine-grained tannins and excellent length. Very distinctive wine. Paolo de Marchi, who owns the Isole e Olena estate in Chianti, began resuscitating these abandoned hillside vineyards in Lessona, in the northern part of the Piedmont, about ten years ago.
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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