Article and
Tasting Notes by
George Heritier



And so, the weather has warmed once again here in Day-twah, and our red-to-white ratio has shifted accordingly to the paler shades of the wine spectrum. As always, we�ve taken the opportunity to try several new selections from such diverse regions as the Santa Cruz Mountains, South Africa�s Walker Bay appellation and the Iberian Peninsula. We also tried some new offerings from producers we�ve already come to know and admire. All but one of these reviewed here are whites, with a lone ros� included to maintain a certain continuity with others from the same source.

Jim and Bob Varner planted their Spring Ridge Vineyard in Portola Valley in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains in 1980; the vineyard is made up of several different blocks with distinct soils and microclimates that have been dry farmed since 1988. The Varners grow and make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which have been receiving high praise from many observers over the last few years, so I got my hands on some of the Chards (the Pinot Noir is sold out in Bastardo�s neighborhood) to see what they�re all about.

2002 Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Neely Spring Ridge Vineyard2002 Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Neely Spring Ridge Vineyard, 14.3% alc., $35: The bright golden color of this delicious Chardonnay sets the scene for the bright, rich pear, sweet pea, canned pea and lemon flavors and aromas, complemented with just the right kiss of oak. Full bodied and well balanced, with good acids, excellent concentration and length and a rich, almost unctuous character. No fat assed, low acid, over-oaked Cal chard, this! Find this wine

2002 Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Home Vineyard, 14.1% alc., $39: Bright gold in color, but not nearly as intense as the Neely, not that that�s a bad thing in this case; rich apple and pear flavors and aromas shaded with a note of lime and more than a hint of �the pea thing� as it opens and warms in the glass. What starts out as some subtle, unobtrusive oak emerges with air to add some spice to the mix. Well balanced, with fine concentration, good acids and nice length. My only complaint with this otherwise tasty Chardonnay is that I�d like a little more on the nose.  Find this wine

2002 Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block2002 Varner Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay Spring Ridge Vineyard Amphitheater Block, 14% alc., $31: Bright golden color, with the most �apple-like� character of these three; there�s some pear here too, but it plays a subordinate role at most. There�s some oak here as well, but it�s never obtrusive, adding a moderate note of spice, and the package is rounded out with hints of lemon, Cr�me Brule and some minerality that emerges with air. Medium-full to full-bodied, ripe, but not over-ripe, with the brightest acids of these three, very good concentration, density and length on the finish. Find this wine

I like all three of these a lot, and find it especially interesting that these �older� vintages are available in southeastern Michigan, when the �05s are available elsewhere. Too bad the Bee Block is sold out here, because our colleague Brad Baker has nice things to say about that one as well. If I had to pick a favorite, I might give a slight nod to the Neely this time, for its almost unctuous nature, but on another night, it could well be a different verdict. I�m glad that we got the opportunity to try these three with a few years under their belts, because they�re all showing very well. This is one producer I�ll definitely be getting to know better.  But wait, there's one more that we got our hands on as well!

�Oh my God, it�s like liquid peanut butter!�

2005 Varner Foxglove Chardonnay, Edna Valley, 14.5% alc., $12.99: Regarding this pale to medium straw colored Chardonnay (Foxglove is essentially Varner�s second label), my better half exclaimed, �Oh my God, it�s like liquid peanut butter!� I guess I can see where she could get that impression, but it�s very subdued for me, with bright pear, lemon citrus and a subtle minerality taking the lead in the flavor profile. Good presence, with excellent cut and length, and moderate oak shading (about 15% is barrel fermented in old wood). This is quite popular around the Detroit area, and elsewhere, and for good reason; for me, it�s quite tasty (though obviously not in the league of the first three noted above), but Kim doesn�t like it, giving a good example of just how different two people�s impressions of a shared wine can be. Find this wine

We had the opportunity to try three new releases from Tablas Creek, whose wines are made from Rh�ne varietals and have really wowed us as of late, and these efforts more than lived up to our expectations.

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, 70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc, 14.5%, $35: Pale to medium gold in color, with a tight nose that gradually opens with air and a bit less of a chill to show rich ripe yellow fruit aromas of melon, golden delicious apple, pear, white flowers and a hint of honey, all of which echoes and expands on the palate with great balance and length, just enough acidity to make it all work and that signature smooth, dense, almost viscous character that graces everything these folks put out. These wines like some time so give it three to five years in the cellar and then check back in to see where it�s at. Nice stuff, 35 bucks and all. The grapes hung almost a month longer than usual; Grenache Blanc was harvested starting on September 26th, the Roussanne in several batches between September 26th and November 7th and the Picpoul Blanc on November 1st. Whole cluster pressed and fermented with native yeasts, the Roussanne half in stainless steel and half in oak �pieces,� and the rest in stainless steel. All went through malolactic fermentation, then were blended in May, then racked, cold stabilized and bottled in June, 2006.
Find this wine

2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Grenache Blanc2005 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Grenache Blanc, 15.3% alc., $27: Medium straw color with a tinge of lime; the reticent nose only hints at the pungent, substantial flavors of green apple and melon shaded with a hint of lime and some mineral. Rich, ripe and full bodied, with ample acids and excellent length, with a certain �green� character, and in this case, that�s a positive descriptor, because it�s certainly not lean, sour or under-ripe in any way. Absolutely delicious; I savored every sip. Harvested between September 26th and October 26th; whole cluster pressed and fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel. Malolactic fermentation in neutral French oak, final blends assembled in May 2006 and bottled in June 2006, with only a light cold stabilization beforehand. Find this wine

2006 Tablas Creek Ros� Paso Robles 60% Mourv�dre, 28% Grenache, 12% Counois, 14.8% alc., $27: Rich raspberry pink color, with a lovely perfume encompassing a wide spectrum of red berries (spearheaded by strawberry and raspberry) and cherry; plenty more of the same on the palate, with more density than your average ros� (no matter where in the world it�s from) and that fine balance, smooth texture and lush Tablas Creek character. A most worthy successor to last year�s model.  From the oldest French sourced vines at Tablas Creek, which ripen later than the rest of the vineyard. Harvested and co-fermented together on the skins in a single stainless steel tank; after 72 hours, 800 gallons are drawn off and fermented dry away from the skins, supplemented with saign�es (bleedings) from other Mourv�dre lots. Find this wine

As with Tablas Creek, we�ve become big fans of Steve Edmunds' Edmunds St. John wines, based almost entirely on Rh�ne varietals, and this next selection only reinforces our appreciation.

2005 Edmunds St. John Shell and Bone Paso Robles White Wine2005 Edmunds St. John Shell and Bone Paso Robles White Wine, 14.2% alc., $21: Made with Viognier and Roussanne grown in the hills west of Paso Robles, this medium straw-pale gold offers flavors and aromas of yellow apple, pear and melon that are neither over- or under-ripe; a subtle undertone of minerality adds a nice touch to the overall effect. Good cut, length and presence to this, and if it�s not overly complex, I quite like what�s here, and a few years in the cellar should pay dividends. A fine match for Kim�s salmon patties and a spinach salad. Viognier sourced from the Rozet Vineyard, and the Roussanne from the Tablas Creek Vineyard; both vineyards on vertical shoot-positioned trellis. Whole-cluster pressed, and fermented in 22 year-old French Puncheons, with spontaneous malolactic fermentation in wood. Most of the Roussanne and all of the Viognier was transferred to stainless steel in April '06, and bottled at the end of August. Find this wine

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is the southern-most wine estate in Africa, and their wines reflect the remarkable terroir of their location.

(Allow me to digress briefly and share an ironic anecdote about this wine: well over a year ago, the local distributor brought a bottle of the 2004 Hamilton Russell Walker Bay Chardonnay by for me to try, and I loved it for many of the same reasons I love its successor, so I ordered up several for my retail shelves. None were delivered, because they were out of stock, leaving me to exclaim WTF!?! How do you promote a bottle of wine that�s not in stock?!

Fast forward to April 2007: I noticed that the wine noted below was in stock in the same distributor�s book, so I immediately ordered some up for my shelves without tasting them, betting on the winery�s rep for producing excellent wares and Vineyard Brands� penchant for importing the same. My bet paid off, because I brought one home to try, and as noted, liked it so well, I picked up another four as well. I ordered up another batch for the shelf and, yup, they were out of stock. Oh well, like the old folk song goes, �I got mine��)

2005 Hamilton Russell Walker Bay Chardonnay2005 Hamilton Russell Walker Bay Chardonnay, 13% alc., $23.99: Medium straw color, with an immediate, and very aromatic creamy, stony minerality apparent on the nose, fanning out on the palate to include some subtle butterscotch over pear, cream and what my better half describes as �a little bit of that canned pea thing;� medium-full body, with a creamy texture that belies the crisp acidity and good length on the finish. Much closer to white Burgundy in character than, say, California Chardonnay, and that�s fine with us. We opened three of these with three different sets of friends, and it was a big hit each time, particularly with smoky grilled chicken. Sourced from low-vigor, stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soil, seeing 8 months in 228 liter French oak barrels; 7,000 cases produced. Find this wine

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL

Of course, we couldn�t do a feature on warm weather whites without including a few from Chablis�

"Any limestone-mineral is almost completely masked by the spicy oak that emerges more and more with air as the wine warms in the glass."

2005 Olivier Laflaive Chablis les Deux Rives, 12.5% alc., $17.99: I�d be hard pressed to call this medium straw colored Chardonnay a Chablis if it were served blind, because it gives little if any of the usual characteristics of that region that one might expect. Any limestone-mineral is almost completely masked by the spicy oak that emerges more and more with air as the wine warms in the glass. There�s a good core of rich apple-pear and citrus fruit here, and it marries well with the oak influence, showing a creamy texture and good full-bodied cut, concentration and length, but there�s little �sense of place,� and this could have come from a variety of regions from around the world. It�s not a bad wine by any means, especially at the Costco price listed here, and I enjoy it for what it is, but what it is doesn�t deliver the kind of Chablis personality that I prefer for my money.  Find this wine

Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., New York, NY

2005 Domaine S�guinot-Bourdet Chablis, 12.5% alc., $21.99: Medium straw to pale gold in color, this delivers a lot of what the Laflaive les Deux Rives fails to in regional character, with flavors and aromas of rich, intense almost-ripe yellow apple shaded with notes of chalky mineral and some subtle bees wax; intense concentration of flavor, with zippy acidity and very good length, you certainly can enjoy this now with some smoked grilled chicken breast like we did, but it really would like at least a few years in the cellar to develop and show more of what it will have to offer. One more reason why we love the wines of Domaine S�guinot-Bourdet. Find this wine

Imported by J et R Selections, Mt. Pleasant, MI

While we love to drink wines from the Loire and Alsace, these four are the only ones we�ve had lately (we�ll have to do something about that), but they sure are good ones.

2005 Domaine Gibault Touraine Platine, 13.2% alc.: Our friends Joel and Sally Goldberg brought this delicious medium straw colored Sauvignon back from their last visit to the Loire Valley, and we took a break from exploring the wines of Michigan�s Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas to see what it has to offer. A slightly musky wine, with an almost sweet quality about it, but this is NOT a sweet wine; it shows a spicy note that Kim likens to blade mace over sweet apple and pear, with some subtle underlying minerality and herbaceousness, being almost viscous and driven along with deceptive acidity. A lovely Sauvignon, and one I�d much rather drink than most of the yeast monsters coming out of New Zealand these days. Find this wine

2006 Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre, 13% alc., $27: Medium straw color, with attractive aromatics of pear, grapefruit and a little lime, with follow through on the palate of rich fruit and no shortage of underlying minerality; zippy lemon squirt acidity drives it along nicely on a medium-full bodied frame, with good length on the finish. I get the impression that, due to the nervosity and intensity of fruit, this will improve for some years to come, though it�s already impressive now with a seafood pasta salad, and no doubt among a variety of other fish and fowl possibilities.  Find this wine

2006 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette, 12% alc., $14.99 alc.: Medium straw color tinged with a hint o� peach; a little tight on the nose, but much more expressive on the palate, with mineral-laced, slightly sweet peach and apple flavors. Medium to medium-full body, somewhat unctuous and quite smooth textured, never quite masking the deceptive acids. Vouvray has never quite done it for me, but the minerality here gives this enough interest and complexity to give me cause to pause and reconsider. It would be interesting to try it with some spicy Asian food. Find this wine

1997 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Alsace Cuv�e St. Catherine, 13.5% alc.: This medium straw shows floral notes and a hint of petrol over lovely herbal apple and peach in flavor and aroma; medium full-body, with excellent cut, concentration and length, showing more complexity as it opens, especially in the petrol department, but it�s never out of balance. A fine complement to a nice plate of lake trout at Leland, Michigan�s Bluebird Restaurant. Find this wine

Domaine Vincent Delaporte, Domaine Pichot, & Domaine Weinbach imported by Vineyard Brands, Inc., Birmingham, AL

The wines of Spain are hot these days, and I�ve been especially impressed with their whites, particularly the Albarino and Verdejo noted below. So imagine my surprise when I got the opportunity to try a QPR gem from Portugal that knocked my socks off (and continues to do so, as I sip on another glass as I write this report).

"I�m hard pressed to name a better white from California for the same price."

2005 Condado das Vinhas Alentejano Vinho Branco2005 Condado das Vinhas Alentejano Vinho Branco, 13.5% alc., $10.99: This little QPR gem is a blend of two indigenous Portuguese grapes, Roupeiro and Antao Vaz, and I�ve been a fan from my very first sip. Medium straw in color; chalk, mineral and bee�s wax play as prominent a role in the wine�s personality as the grapefruit, lemon and lime flavors and aromas. Medium full-bodied and fairly rich, with good depth, cut and length, it offers great value; in fact, I�m hard pressed to name a better white from California for the same price. (Why do I mention California with respect to a Portuguese wine?  Might it be because the Golden State has been lagging further and further behind the rest of the wine producing world when it comes to serious QPR wines?  Do ya think...?!) Tasted on several occasions with consistent impressions. Find this wine

Imported by Grapemoments Division of Sintra Imports Inc., New Bedford, MA

2005 Mar de Frades Rias Baixas Albarino2005 Mar de Frades Rias Baixas Albarino, 12% alc., $18.99: Medium straw in color, with rich, appealing, mineral laced apple, white peach and citrus flavors and aromas; medium-to-medium full-bodied, with very good concentration, excellent acidity and good length on the finish, this wine epitomizes the descriptors �crisp and refreshing.� This was one of the stars of the recent �Iberian Express� tasting of Spanish and Portuguese wines that roared through the country a few months ago, and it reveals a special little feature on the label, a blue sailing ship that appears only when the wine is chilled sufficiently to be consumed. It could be a gimmick with a lesser wine, but this is definitely NOT a lesser wine.  Find this wine

Imported by William Grant and Sons, Inc., New York, NY

2005 Naia Rueda2005 Naia Rueda, 100% Verdejo, 13% alc., $14.99: Pale straw in color, with a modest nose of sea air and grapefruit that gives only a little indication of the rich, expressive grapefruit, lime and mineral flavors that follow; medium to medium-full body, with excellent cut and length. A delicious Spanish white that delivers far more than these humble descriptors might indicate; perhaps I simply enjoy it too much (three times, I have to admit) to spend time trying to �evaluate� it. This is another one that I barely got to know before it was out of stock. However, I got the chance to try the �06 in a setting in which I wasn�t able to take notes, but it was more than a worthy successor; I loved it and brought some into my department, which sold out quickly, and once again, when I ordered more, it was out of stock at the distributor! Arrgh!!! I�ll try to find more and file a report.  Find this wine

Imported by Veritas Distributors, Warren, MI

And finally, a new vintage of a wine we�ve enjoyed in the past, made from a varietal native to the Iberian Peninsula, but grown in Argentina.

2006 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes Valle de Cafayate, 13.5% alc., $15.99: The 2005 version of this was a beauty, and this pale to medium straw is as good, if not better. It exudes pretty, almost perfumed peach, honeysuckle and orange blossom on the nose, and those impressions follow through on the palate with a subtle underlying minerality, seeming almost sweet following a bite of some fine smoked chicken, but finishing decidedly dry when sipped on its own. The wine shows a huge intensity of flavor, seeming a little more fruit forward than the �05, with just enough acidity to make it all work and very good length on the finish.  Find this wine

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, CA

Reporting from Day-twah,


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� George Heritier June, 2007