The Local Palate’s team of wine experts has been busy tasting and rating wines in order to provide you with tried and tested options and thus instill you with purchasing confidence (and drinking pleasure). The wines solicited for each tasting are those deemed the most typical, favored, or appropriate for the season. They are then rated by our panel en masse, and the top picks will be published in each edition of the magazine.
And now…the best of springtime wines
Domaine Carneros, 2007
California’s wine regions, Napa and Sonoma, overlap at their southernmost points to form Carneros. The breezes from nearby San Pedro Bay waft over the vines, helping chardonnay and pinot noir grapes ripen while also maintaining their acidity (the quality that makes wine food-friendly). The fine bubbles and notes of pear, citrus, toast, and vanilla make for smooth sipping. Soft and round with plenty of flavor and length, this wine will impress even gurus of the bubbly. Pair with triple-crème cheeses, oysters, and shellfish. In a few words: pear, delicate, lean, crisp, bright, and intense. Suggested retail price: $26.
Picture the scene: a lovely afternoon, enjoying a golden elixir in a goblet on the back veranda. The wine is Pierre Desroches’s best yet. From a tiny two-hectare plot (roughly four acres), comes this 900-case production of chardonnay at its finest. All hand made and lightly filtered, this clean, dry wine is not matured in oak, allowing for pure essence. Full of citrus, pear, and minerals, it finishes with a taste of honey and a bit of butter. Pair with Dover sole, sea bass, and wreck-fish. In a few words: citrus, mineral, limestone, green apple, pineapple, mango. Suggested retail price: $22.
The esteemed Burgundy producer has now set his sights on Beaujolais—a good thing because now mere mortals can purchase and enjoy his wines. Rated among the top 100 by other reviewers for several years, this wine is a blend of grapes from new French oak barrels and old French foudres, and the result is simply stunning. Aromas of berry, cherry, rose petals, and spices tempt immediately, and the back end shows off the power iconic to cru Beaujolais: dark blueberry fruit mixed with some pepper and minerality. Pair with duck confit, Serrano ham, and strong cheeses. In a few words: balanced, black fruit, cherry, pepper, spice. Suggested retail price: $27.
The Perrin family, recent winners of the Winery of Year (France) by Wine & Spirits Magazine, has been making wine in the southern Rhône Valley since 1909. The family settled north of Châteauneuf when they cycled past, fell in love, and subsequently bought up chunks of land. The Côtes du Rhône Reserve blends Grenache blanc, viognier, marsanne, and roussane, all tank-fermented into a rich, spicy drink with hints of peach on the nose and the palate. If discovering demure notes of lemon, quince, and white currants doesn’t hook you, the price surely will. Pair with monkfish, cod, or spicy saffron dishes. In a few words: peach, soft, toasted vanilla. Suggested retail price: $13.
Napa County appears on our list with the respected and well-known name Groth. Right in the heart of Oakville, one of the premiere areas for cabernet production, comes this superb cabernet with a little bit of merlot added to soften things up. While not a terrific year for California, the 2008 Groth Cabernet excelled. With loaded notes of blackberry, cherry, tobacco, and oak, this sweet drink will certainly satisfy the most ardent of cabernet aficionados. The brightness of the fruit combined with the terrific acidity should allow great enjoyment now or after being cellared for years. Pair with one thing: steak. Suggested retail price: $58.
Iron Horse Vineyards in Green Valley is close to the ocean in Sonoma County. A premiere producer of sparkling wines, it is named for a train that stopped nearby in the early twentieth century. With only 1,000 cases made, Ocean Reserve is a limited edition sparkling created in partnership with National Geographic: for every bottle purchased, Iron Horse will donate $4 to establish marine-protected areas and reduce overfishing around the world. The 2005 vintage is 100 percent chardonnay, aged four plus years. Bright and clean in the glass, citrus and tropical fruit aromas spring forth. The taste is light and toasty with hints of vanilla and sea salt. Pair with smoked trout, halibut, salmon, and mussel dishes. In a few words: almond, lemon zest, citrus, caramel, delicate, balanced, tart, fine, beautiful! Suggested retail price: $40.
Tasmania, the Australian region famous for sparkling wines, produces some of the best values available when it comes to bubbles. Jansz was the first, and remains the only, Tasmanian wine maker devoted exclusively to méthode champenoise production. Made with chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier—each wine is separately batched and then blended at the end for the best possible taste. The perfume of honeysuckle and citrus is a siren song to drink. The palate of nougat, roasted nuts, and delicate strawberry is as intoxicating as the aroma. One of the best values for sparkling wine on the market and only 500 cases imported. Pair with grilled shrimp, calamari, and triple-crème cheeses. In a few words: solid, green apple, citrus, bright, lively, creamy. Suggested retail price: $20.
The Luberon region of the Rhône Valley was planted during Roman times, and Michel Chapoutier has been producing wines here since 1808. Chapoutier was the first winemaker to put braille on his wine labels because his friend, Gilbert Montagne, was blind. With this outstanding white consisting of Grenache blanc, vermentino, ugni blanc, and roussane (all indigenous grapes) he brings forth a wine that showcases the best of France for summer drinking at an amazing value. The wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation and therefore retains a crispness and vitality rarely seen at this price point. Full of white blossom, lemon peel, and citrus notes, the palate is light and exhilarating. A must for all pool, beach, or boat sipping this summer. Pair with plank grilled salmon, crab cakes, oysters, and fresh goat cheeses. In a few words: lime, citrus, easy. Suggested retail price: $14.
To create Oberon, Tony Coltrin sourced grapes throughout Napa Valley’s finest wine growing regions, including Rutherford, Oak Knoll, Wooden Valley, and Oso Vineyards at the northeastern end of Napa Valley. With the addition of petite sirah, merlot, syrah, and petit verdot, Oberon is a serious player in the cabernet game. The process starts with a post-fermentation bath with the skins, bringing out a lush dark blackberry flavor, along with cherry and licorice notes. Then there is the malolactic fermentation in a barrel and finally the eighteen months of oak aging (47 percent new French oak) further concentrates the wine. It finishes with a hint of cocoa powder and a lingering toffee taste. Pair with roast beef, venison, rabbit, and gouda. In a few words: raspberry, fat, sweet, jammy, powerful. Suggested retail price: $25.
For years, German wine has been stereotyped as “too sweet.” Schloss Mülhelenhof from the Rheinhessen region of Germany aims to change all that. Their organic approach captures the pure essence of the region and the grape, and this cross between the German grape classics of riesling and sylvaner yields a result similar to what the outcome of a sauvignon blanc and gruner veltliner merger would be. It is a winning combination as it is now the second most planted grape in Germany (the first being riesling). This wine is aromatic with honeyed notes of ripe apricot, white peach, and fragrant melon. The taste is rich, full, and round and finishes completely dry. No sweetness here, just fruit juiciness. Pair with salmon gravlax, prawns, and shellfish. In a few words: rich, round, herbal, balanced acidity, delicious, peach, pear. Suggested retail price: $16.
Oregon has been making a splash lately with pinot noir, and with good reason. Oregon and Burgundy are on the same latitude. But climate only does so much. The famed winemaker, Thibaud Mandet, educated at the University of Bordeaux, overseas the post-fermentation maceration and French oak aging for the Pierre Leon. The grapes are sourced from the best lot on the vineyard, producing juicy red cherry flavors with a touch of cinnamon and clove. Smoky in the mid-palate, it has a persistent finish with some black cherry flavors. A tremendous value here. Pair with chateaubriand or pork tenderloin. In a few words: cherry, structured, depth. Suggested retail price: $42.
From the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina, comes a cabernet grown at an altitude of 4,429 feet above sea level. Thus, the hot sun ripens the grapes by day while the cool night-time temperatures bring acidity to the grape (and eventually to the wine). Zolo then ages the wine in French and American oak for almost a year to further soften the tannins. The result is simply spectacular. Huge jammy notes of blackberry, cassis, coffee, chocolate, and spice make for a remarkable first sniff. The taste is soft and luxurious and with a bit of sweetness from the fruit at the very end. Warning: Ultra-small production makes this cult wine tough to find. Pair with braised beef, porterhouse, veal sausage, and hard cheeses. In a few words: balanced, massive fruit, ripe, classic. Suggested retail price: $25.