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Slurping Around with P.D.W. December 2012

Hi all – First the apology for this being so late. Harrieth and I were in Australia the first three weeks of November, then Thanksgiving, then an NIH study section, then a short visit to Dallas. We do have a wine report from the Australia trip, but I will not make it this month’s column because it is 110 pages of single spaced text. But it does discuss 954 different wines we tried at over 60 wineries in McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley, so if any of you are planning a wine trip to those areas any time soon, I would be glad to send the full report to you so you can pick and choose where to invest your time.

Sparklers worth having:

Just as last year and the year before that, I thought I would now triplicate-publish my sparkling wine suggestions verbatim – so self-plagiarism, since I have not tasted the wines this year. As I reread the following from Dec 2010 and 2011, I think the discussion still applies; the prices are likely higher, I have not checked. But likely not that much higher:

Low price: Freixenet is a big Cava (Spanish equivalent of champagne) producer and they make some very dependable and tasty white sparklers. I like Carta Nevada Brut and Cordon Negro Brut. Both are very widely available. The former is a touch sweet but full of tasty fruit and costs just $6. Goes very well with cheese and crackers, smoked oysters and olives in front of the fire. The latter (wine, not the fire) is dryer and technically “superior” to the former and costs $9 (Trader Joe San Diego prices). Both have just 11.5% alcohol so they will not dissolve your brain tissue.

Medium price: Schramsberg and Roederer Estate are two very reliable California sparkler houses that also make excellent bubbly. Schramsberg blanc de blancs is mid-$20’s; their blanc de noirs low-$30’s. Roederer Estate’s non-vintage brut is about $20. These are all classical sparklers with finesse, dryness, and light, zesty, apply/yeasty flavors and are clearly high quality.

Higher end: Veuve Clicquot is a true French champagne and is always excellent, again with light, clean, dry elements yet tasty and long-lasting. But it costs $35-$40. Still, that is less than many high-end French bottles, and excellence is guaranteed.

And do not forget Australian sparkling Shiraz if you can find it. Not much gets to the USA, sadly, but if you can find one, give it a try. The makers usually leave a touch of residual sugar in the wine, but usually there is very good depth of flavor. Great with any red meat, obviously. No specific names to suggest because they are so rare – just ask your wine shop, and you never know. They vary in price from $10 to $30. I probably would not pick the cheapest.

Now that the Red, White and Blue Journal Editors (or perhaps I, as editor of the J Applied Physiology) will arraign me/myself on ethics violations, I shall redeem myself with the following original material.


2011 Pewsey Vale Riesling, Eden Valley, Australia $13. The nose and palate both have very nice lemon notes with a floral edge. The palate is rich (so many dry(er) Rieslings are a bit thin), clean and has just right acid – bright but not tart, and the finish is barely off-dry. There is no “kerosene” which is a typical aging characteristic in Australian Riesling. Very appealing indeed. Available here, not just in Oz.

2011 Chateau Haut Mayne Blanc, Graves $12. This wine has a nice apricot and citrus nose and palate. It is light and fresh, clean and with bright acidity. The wine is dry and there is a pleasing richness.

2011 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ $13. Another in a long line of really tasty NZSB’s. Distinctive herbal gooseberry on the nose and palate, with some passionfruit as it airs in the glass. Not too tart or acidic, it is rich and enjoyable alone or with sea food. Very good length and balance. I thank Connie Hsia for showing me this one in Dallas last week.

2011 Opolo Roussanne, Central Coast CA $18. Should you be looking for a heavier white that has a touch of sweetness (residual sugar)--and it is Christmas--this one works, although it is a bit expensive. Roussanne is a classical Rhone region white grape. The wine is quite varietal (ie it tastes like it oughta), with pear and citrus on the nose and palate, medium acid, a lush viscous mouthfeel and good length and balance.


Wish I could run through the several hundred very nice reds we tasted in Oz, or even the 40 or so top class wines from among them, but a) no room b) no USA availability so c) no reason to write them up.

2011 Garnacha de Fuego, old vines, Calatayud, Spain $7. aka Grenache, a Rhone red grape. Grenache has the following stereotypical features: A color that is often lighter than most reds, sometimes like Pinot Noir. A nose of candied red fruit, usually raspberry, coming across as ripe, even sweet. A palate that is similar, and which often displays heat (ie, you can actually taste the sweet burn of ethanol on the extreme sides of your tongue, usually at the finish), consistent with the commonly seen high alcohol level (15% or more). Soft tannins and very good acid make for a ripe, almost sweet but bright flavor that is too easy to drink. The alcohol adds to the sweet sense. Count this example as among that stereotype. 15.5% alcohol. Note absence of a listed winemaker. Someone made it, it did not get there unassisted. It was bottled for Bodegas Breca; selected by Jorge Ordonez and imported by Henry wine group. And despite this chain of middle men, and non-name maker, what a deal for $7.

2011 Evodia old vine Grenache, Calatayud, Spain $7. yes, a double take, and almost the identical wine in appearance (deeper than many Grenache); nose –as above; palate – as above; and price - as above. There is a little bit of black pepper on the nose and palate and a slight stemminess that sharpens the wine in a good way. 15% alcohol.

2009 Artesa Pinot Noir, Carneros, CA $14. Artesa does good stuff relatively inexpensively. This one has a nose with more coffee grounds and oak char than fruit, but the palate is the total reverse – Really good, strong, bright cherry fruit, cola, earth, real Pinot varietal flavors, some oak char, very good length, good acid, medium tannin and good length. This is very good, very serious Pinot at a decent price.

My best holiday season wishes to you all, and may you have enough good wine that you remember none of it.


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