Sips: A $15 white Burgundy stands out, defying the region’s high-price image

Finding chardonnay with character at prices that won’t break the bank is often a challenging proposition. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I opened a bottle of Bourgogne, the broadest appellation in France’s Burgundy, where the region’s famed chardonnays (and pinot noirs) are made in very small quantities and command stratospheric prices.

VincentJ.J. Vincent’s 2008 Bourgogne Blanc, by contrast, provides real Burgundy character at the unbeatable price of $15 or under,  according to retailers listed on wine-searcher.com. Few chardonnays I’ve tasted recently offer the level of complexity this one does at such a modest price.

I enjoyed sipping it on its own before dinner and then with grilled wild salmon marinated in soy sauce, maple syrup and lime. Notes of apple, orange and a touch of brown sugar are supported by refreshing acidity and a good deal of minerality on the finish. Oak treatment is subtle. I think this wine, with its roundness, has also benefited from a year or so in the bottle. It will match well with all kinds of seafood, shellfish, chicken and pork dishes. Alcohol is listed at 13 percent.

J.J. Vincent, by the way, is a leading winery in the Mâcon region of southern Burgundy and is best known for Pouilly-Fuissé, including wines produced by its famed Château-Fuissé.  Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. Received as a press sample.


Swirls: Stopping by one of the more charming wine stores you’ll ever find

Little wine store 1Have you ever fantasized about opening the perfect little wine store with just a small number of really good bottles offered at a range of prices? I have. As a model, you might look at Bookstore Wines & Spirits in the old fishing village of Siasconset, located in the eastern end of Nantucket. Known for its cottages, some of them hundreds of years old, and its gardens, the town is as picturesque as they come, and the wine shop, owned by Cindy and Rolf Nelson, fits right in. The wines, approximately 150 of them, stand upright in what I assume were former bookshelves, given the store’s name. The one nod to modernity is the new tasting machine that lets customers try out four wines the store features on any given day. “How much is it for a taste?” I inquired of Marina, a sales person. “It’s free,” she said. The words were as refreshing as the cool breezes coming off the Atlantic.

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Sips: Long Island’s ‘Early Wine’ and ‘Right Coast Red’ stand out

I’ve been tasting a range of wines from the East End of Long Island in recent weeks, mainly from the North Fork, where the vast majority of the region’s 60 or so vineyards and wineries are located.  Among others, two under-$20 wines stand out for  casual, warm-weather summer drinking.

Macari Vineyards’ 2010 “Early Wine” Chardonnay brings to mind green apples and lime and may be this region’s best answer to Portugal’s Vinho Verde with its fresh and fruity style and, as far as Early wine American wines are concerned, its relatively low alcohol, which is listed as 11.5 percent. It was harvested by the winery in Mattituck late last August, fermented without oak and bottled less than six weeks later. Served quite cold on a warm and humid evening, it was a delightful apéritif and will serve well accompanying local fluke, either sautéed or marinated into ceviche, or with fried calamari or clams. Production was 1,045 cases. $17.

When friends invited us over last weekend for grilled pizza, the best of several wines we tried with these delicious homemade pies was Lieb Family Cellars’ 2008 Right Coast Red, an easy drinking yet interesting blend of 45 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cab franc, 12 percent malbec and three percent petit verdot. Lots of red and dark fruit here, with blackberry, blueberry and raspberry notes, a subtle overlay of cedar and a peppery note. Yummy wine. The $30 price tag surprised me, but I guess that’s part of the price of drinking “local.” I also like that the bottle has a screw cap. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Wines received as press samples.


Sips: Enjoying an $11 Fitou from France’s Languedoc

I doubt that many casual American wine drinkers have ever enjoyed or even heard of Fitou, an appellation in France’s  Languedoc just before that region gives way to the the vineyards of Roussillon to the west. In fact, when I visited Languedoc in May on a tour organized by the region’s trade group, we never made it to Fitou. I wondered what the name meant and found the  answer in a nice sFitounapshot of the region on thewinedoctor.com.  In “Occitan,” it says, referring to the ancient language of the region (Languedoc means language of Oc), “’fitou’ means border or frontier and Fitou once sat at the border between France and Catalonia.”

Fitou is a red-wine appellation, and I reacquainted myself with it the other night when I opened and enjoyed a sample I had received for review. Mont Tauch’s 2008 Fitou is from one of the region’s better-known cooperatives, which dominate production, and is a medium-bodied wine with gentle tannins. It’s not profound but has decent complexity and is about as  as good as it gets at a suggested retail price of $11, which means you can probably find it for a dollar or two less.

As it opened up with a little air, I got both blackberry and raspberry tastes along with herb, green olive and cinnamon notes. The blend is 40 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 30 percent carignan, the region’s signature variety. I chilled it for a few minutes to make it more refreshing on a warm summer evening, then enjoyed it in front of a good movie with a plate of pasta tossed with sliced cherry tomatoes, garlic and parsley sautéed in olive oil. It will also match even better with grilled sausage, pork or chicken. Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, California. Received as a press sample.