A New Year brings with it trying a bunch of new wines. This January’s selection reminds me of why France has ruled the wine world for so long. Forget the uber-expensive top-of-the-line stuff where France has long been the world’s best (or at least, most sought after). Even in the more affordable range, France produces excellent wine across a wide range of varietals. The 2011 Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 is a world class, terroir filled Syrah that, despite being Paris’ 3rd level, is utterly amazing; yet, ‘only’ $30. Also around $30, the 2011 Paul-Henri Thillardon Chénas Réserve des Blémonts, a wonderful Beaujolais from Chénas, is simply scrumptious, and like nothing else you can find. Moving on to the Loire region, a Cabernet Franc that stops you in your tracks awaits with the 2010 Sylvain Dittière Saumur-Champigny Beaugrands, also about $30. As for Bordeaux, at only about $20 the 2010 Château Haut-Surget shows the rest of the world how to make a Bordeaux blend at a reasonable cost that drinks well above its price point. Moving to the Southern Rhone for a Grenache blend, the 2011 Domaine d’Ouréa Vacqueyras, at about $35 will put a smile on your face due to its yummy fruit mixed with a dusty sense of place. These are all mid-range wines that will not break that bank, yet have the quality and small lot craftsmanship that remind us what wine, and its relationship to the ground it springs from, is all about. Unfortunately, many of those I mention below are hard to find in the United States (except the Haut-Surget), but those Books and Vines readers in Europe should snap these up.
2011 Domaine Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 (France, Rhone, Northern Rhone, Cornas): Damn this is good stuff from an outstanding up and coming producer. Roasted meats, load of black fruit and minerals. A Northern Rhone that lives up to its promise at a price that is actually affordable for most. Yummy and contemplative. Wine Advocate gives it a 93-95, I go 94. About $30, which is a steal for a wine of this tremendous quality. Find it, buy it and realize how good life can be!
2011 Paul-Henri Thillardon Chénas Réserve des Blémonts (France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Chénas): Excellent stuff. Minerality with bright, live red fruit, and hints of multiple spices. Could almost taste the land this came from. Wow, really good stuff. Impossible to find now, was about $30. I would give this a 93+ and was in amazement of good a Chénas this is. If you can fine it, buy a case.
2010 Sylvain Dittière Saumur-Champigny Beaugrands (France, Loire, Saumur-Champigny): Eye-opening, delicious, lots of herbs, leather, pepper and flowers on top of blue fruits. A bit of band-aid funk makes it very interesting. Still rocking on days 2 and 3. Again, all about place, and is amazingly good for a tariff of $30. This is what makes Cab Franc so amazing, when done right. About $30, if you can find, which in the United States, you probably will not. Highly recommended.
2011 Domaine d’Ouréa Vacqueyras (France, Rhone, Southern Rhone, Vacqueyras): Wonderful dusty blackberry fruit, garrigue, minerality and cocoa…the fruit is very fresh and alive. Good finish and mouth presence. Outstanding and a relatively great value compared to CdP’s of equal quality. I would give this a 92 and strongly recommend. About $35. Unfortunately, hard to find in the United States.
2010 Château Haut-Surget (France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Lalande de Pomerol): I think this outstanding for what is for Bordeaux a paltry sub-$20 price. Lots of bright blue fruits, some kirsch, and bits of cedar. Tannins are there but not at all in the way. As an easy drinker, really outstanding. I would give this a 92. About $20, and as a bonus, relatively easy to track down in the United States. Recommended.
NV Frank Cornelissen Contadino 8 (Italy, Sicily): Frank Cornelissen’s wines sure are interesting, just a pleasure to drink and always thought provoking. So damn fresh, a bowl full of red fruits, volcanic soil, lots of acidity and a chameleon like character, changing every hour into something new. Some drinks 95, others 85, but always getting more interesting, and usually better, the more time it is open. I would give this a 91+. About $27. Buy a bunch!
2009 Jean-Paul Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes (France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Morgon): Been two years since my last bottle of this outstanding wine from a great vintage. Still very good, nice red and blue fruits with tons on minerals and tea, yet it is lacking some of the amazing vibrancy it had a couple years ago. I would drink up in the next year. Wine Advocate gives it a 93+, Wine Spectator a 91. At this stage of its development, I agree with $91. About $30. Recommended.
2007 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard (Washington, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley): Better on day 2. The first night, when popped, while it had the Cayuse funk that I like, the palate just seemed to thin. It seemed to flush out over the day, which together with the red and black fruit, beef blood and pepper, really brought up my opinion of it. Still, did not live up the ratings hype from 2007. Wine Advocate gave this a 98. Wine Spectator a 95, IWC a 93. Was about $80 on release, now about $150. I would give this a 91. Hard to justify at that price.
2010 Domaine Galévan Châteauneuf-du-Pape (France, Rhone, Southern Rhone, Chateauneuf du Pape): Decent wine, not quite as good as I expected. Smoked meat, creme de cassis and some herbs, medium bodied. A bit of a weak mid-palate. Wine Advocate gives this a 95. I would go 88. About $35. Probably pass.
2007 Aubert Pinot Noir UV Vineyard (California, Sonoma County, Sonoma): First, the good. Fantastic taste, loads of dark berries with some smoked meats and spice. The not so good…. no getting around this thing is huge, almost Syrah like in texture with some heat at the end. Also, after one night, it largely fell apart. Dare I say this is one that would probably be best quite young. Wine Spectator gave this a 96, Wine Advocate gave this a 95+. They are wrong. I would go 87. $80 on release, about $125 now. Pass.
2010 Château des Annereaux (France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Lalande de Pomerol): Nothing wrong with it, it was okay, just nothing special. Not overly modern, not traditional, just there with decent fruit. I would give this an 86. For those in Europe, there are worse ways to spend $18. Not easy to find in the United States.
2010 Saxum Terry Hoage Vineyard (California, Central Coast, Paso Robles): I don’t know, must be in a dead spot, but I do not see the fuss from the critics. Big, rich black and blue fruits, though surprisingly muted. Some flower elements and perhaps some tobacco notes, but again, muted. So, good elements, but at least with this bottle, not singing real well yet. Wine Advocate gives this a 94+, IWC a 94. I go 86 and wonder.