Ill admit Im jaded. Although Im lucky enough to be able to sample a sizable percentage of the worlds elite wines on an annual basis, Id have to say that theres a certain predictability to these wines. If you start with a great site, an intelligent winemaker, and an owner who can afford labor-intensive vineyard work and risk-tasting at harvest-time to ensure getting sufficiently ripe fruit, its hard to go wrong, even in a so-so growing season. When wines from world-renowned producers and vineyards are not superb, thats real news.
Whether Im tasting in the cellars or in my own dining room, the wines that excite me are more likely to be the surprises, the outperformers, the ones that overdeliver for the price. Needless to say, once you venture beyond the high-priced wine real estate, these gems are tough to find. You have to dig up a lot of ground to unearth the treasure. Its a thrill when it happens.
The fact is that no matter how much you love foie gras, truffles and lobster, sometimes you just want a juicy burger. Besides, big-name, important wines are demandingintellectually as well as financiallyat least when imbibed on a regular basis. A tangy Beaujolais, a glossy Argentine malbec, a mineral-driven riesling can be just as satisfying, and you can afford them on a daily basis without feeling that youre compromising.
Another advantage of expressive wines like these, wines that immediately communicate their personalities, is that you can serve them with dinner tonight. On the other hand, classic high-priced worthies like Bordeaux, Burgundies and Italys Killer Bs (Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino) are usually dominated in the early going by their new oak component or their powerful structure of tannins and acid. They need years to harmonize in bottle and to develop the aromas, flavors and textures that have earned them a place in the wine pantheon. If you pop them right away, youre getting a tiny fraction of the fireworks youve paid for.
Here are some wines that you can enjoy right now, with an emphasis on warm-weather whites and rosés:
Pale, bright yellow. Ripe, vibrant aromas and flavors of lemon and lime zest, apple, crushed stone, licorice, mint and wild herbs. Penetrating and dense for arneis, with strong minerality contributing to the wines tactile impression. Finishes chewy and long, with a repeating note of wild herbs. An unusually serious and persistent arneis, with no loss of immediate refreshment value.
Full bright ruby. Superripe aromas of blackberry, licorice, mint, menthol and musky tobacco, plus an exotic suggestion of white fruit; almost a porty suggestion here. Sweet, lush and silky, with a layered texture to the intense plum and chocolatey oak flavors. As seamless and creamy as this is, it also boasts a high pitch and a brisk quality. Finishes with suave, dusty tannins and a whiplash of fruit. Drink this now or over the next several years.
Bright, full red. Enticing aromas of raspberry, black cherry, minerals and musky dark spices. Supple, rich and concentrated, with plenty of seamless early appeal for a Priorat wine. This perfumed, pure, fruit-driven wine features a healthy dollop of grenache. The strong, building finish dusts the palate with fine tannins. The three French winemakers behind this venture also offer more expensive and structured Priorat wines but this junior version offers classy early drinking, with none of the rusticity that can be shown by wines from this dynamic appellation in Catalonia.
Pale gold. Very fresh, high-pitched aromas and flavors of citrus fruits and herbs, with complicating hints of honeysuckle and white pepper. Pure, juicy and clean, with a subtle sweetness and a rather suave texture. Becomes more stony with air and finishes with excellent length and grip. This blend of 70% albariño and 30% godello was raised in stainless steel.
Light gold. Exotically perfumed scents of passion fruit, tangerine and melon, plus a hint of honey. A round, fleshy rendition of the variety, offering lush orchard and pit fruit flavors and a hint of smoky oak spice. The broad, long finish features recurring notes of passion fruit and smoke.
Deep ruby. Pungent aromas of black raspberry, smoke, licorice and dried flowers, with a hint of white pepper in the background. Fleshy but focused, featuring spicy dark berry and cherry flavors and a seamless texture. Blends New World fruit expression with Old World restraint and finishes with impressive clarity and lingering sweetness.
Region: South Africa
74% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot and 11% cabernet franc. Bright, saturated ruby-red. Brooding aromas of cassis, dark chocolate, licorice, violet and pepper. Dense, broad and sweet, with a youthful reserve to the intense flavors of dark berries, tobacco and spices. Already shows a plush texture but there's terrific sappy energy at the core. Finishes very long and aromatic, with fine, building tannins and the structure for long aging.
Bright yellow. Pungent citrus and orchard fruits on the nose. Taut, sharply focused lime and grapefruit flavors are complemented by spearmint and white pepper, with a strong undercurrent of talc. Impressively pure, focused and concentrated Sancerre, leaving bitter quinine and oyster shell behind on the bitingly brisk finish.
A Bordeaux blend based on 53% merlot and 33% cabernet sauvignon. Bright red-ruby. Enticing aromas of redcurrant, licorice, iron, loam, tobacco and chocolate. Suave, round and nicely concentrated, with a restrained sweetness to the red fruit, herb and spice flavors. In a polite, very easy-to-drink style and not at all over the top. Finishes with a broad, spicy dusting of tannins and a suggestion of coffee liqueur.
Pale, green-tinged straw. Mineral-driven aromas of citrus, white flowers and anise show excellent clarity and precision. Dry, focused and distinctly racy, with intense lime and pink grapefruit flavors taking a turn toward richer quince and pear in the mid-palate. As usual, a strikingly nervy and concentrated example of Muscadet, finishing with strong cut and crackling minerality.
Pale salmon-pink color. Subtly complex aromas of apricot skin, elderflower, Provençal herbs and floral oils. Supple, pure and round, with harmonious acidity giving this classic dry Southern French rosé a light touch. Offers sneaky palate presence and finishes with good bite. More about soil than easygoing fruit: this should be amazingly flexible with light summer fare.
Light, bright pink. Redcurrant, strawberry and chalk on the nose, with a touch of singed orange gaining strength with air. Dusty red fruit and citrus flavors are braced by tangy minerality, which adds lift and cut. Uncompromising in the best way, finishing with excellent clarity and echoes of lemon and orange zest.
Region: South Africa
Good bright ruby-red. Aromas of black raspberry, pepper and chocolate. Dark berry, spice and pepper flavors are supple but also fresh, offering good cut and plenty of personality for the gentle price. Finishes with smooth tannins and a chocolatey nuance.
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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