Adventures in Vintage in Willamette Valley

Vista Hills Pinot GlassFew wine regions in the United States see more variation in vintage conditions than Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and two wines from Oregon’s Vista Hills Estate give you a chance to compare two very different years: 2012 and 2013. While one is widely considered “better” than the other, you may be surprised by which you prefer!

Willamette Valley’s 2012 vintage is either the greatest Oregon Pinot Noir harvest of all time or tied with 2008 for that honor – depending on who you ask.

Poor weather during flowering kept yields low, but after that the Valley saw sunshine and moderate temperatures right through the end of October. Almost every wine is a success, with higher than average levels of density and sweet fruit but plenty of balancing minerality and freshness, too. Unlike the 2008s, the 2012s are mostly delicious to drink right now and have the stuffing and structure to develop further in cellar for years to come.

From a Great 2012 to a Rollercoaster 2013
Vintage 2013 was a wild rollercoaster ride. The vines got going early and plenty of summer sun and heat had growers worried that the harvest would come too early, before the grapes had time to develop deep, complex, flavors. Cooler weather in September slowed things down a bit, but as harvest began during early September in earlier-ripening sites, many worried that 2013 would turn out like 2009 – a year of dense, very ripe (sometimes overripe), wines that would tend towards heaviness and brown flavors.

Then came the storm. In late September, the remnants of Typhoon Pabuk blew in from the Pacific and dropped 4-9 inches of rain on Oregon’s vineyards over a single, sodden, weekend. Some growers rushed to harvest all the Pinot they could before the rains arrived. Many of these wines ended up pretty and plump but often lack complexity and can show green notes or hard tannins from under ripeness.

Some growers had no choice but to harvest immediately after the rain as the ripe grapes swelled from the unexpected dose of water and burst, allowing rot to run rampant through the vineyards. Many of these wines ended up thin and diluted from the extra water (although some, mainly Ken Wright, were able to use concentrators to remove the excess water).

Others were able to let the water quickly flow out of their loose, free-draining soils and wait a week or two for the vines to first absorb and then work out out the extra moisture. These are some of the very best 2013s, with plenty of warm harvest richness but also fine purity and verve and supple, ripe, tannins to provide the right touch of support. This is the case, for example, with wines from the Vista Hills estate.

It’s All About the Dirt
The folks at Vista Hills managed to excel in both the “easy” 2012 vintage and the much tougher 2013 harvest. While the winemaking both years is clearly solid, the real secret to their success is a great vineyard site. John and Nancy McClintock’s 42 acres of vines are nestled in the center of what may be the Willamette Valley’s best sub-region, the Dundee Hills. Like neighbors Domaine Serene and Domaine Drouhin, their vineyard is planted on Jory soils.

What are Jory soils? They started out as volcanic rock – mainly basalt – deposited across what are now the Dundee Hills long, long, ago. As the basalt weathered and decomposed, it mixed with iron-rich clay and ancient ocean silt. The result is a loosely packed, nutrient-rich, soil that retains limited amounts of water easily but freely drains when dumped on by heavy rain storms. In flat, lowland, locations, it’s easy to grow most anything in Jory soil. On hillsides where water drains more quickly, though, they make a perfect home for any grape called “Pinot.”

The state of Oregon named Jory the “Official State Soil” a few years ago, and Jory is what makes wines from the Dundee Hills so unique. Pinot Noir grown on Jory soils usually shows bright cherry and red berry fruit with a good dose of dusty earthiness. And, minerality – a sense of crushed stone and iron that you can smell and taste in the Dundee Hills best Pinot Noirs and in top Pinot Gris too.

You’ll find the character of Dundee Hills Jory soils and of the distinctive 2012 and 2013 vintages in two Vintage Hills Pinot Noirs and also in the juicy fresh Vista Hill Pinot Gris, too. The 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot (called “Fourmen” until this vintage) is clearly the winner for drinking right now, with a wonderful generosity and richness balanced by tangy cranberry and citrusy acids. The 2012 Treehouse Estate, Vista Hills’ top wine, is more dense, dark, and driving and is fun to taste now but will really shine from 2017 on.

Vista Hills

What Makes Chateauneuf Chateauneuf?

Champauvin, covered with the famous galet,  sits across a 10-foot path from Cheateauneuf

Champauvins vineyard, covered with the famous galet, sits across a 10-foot path from Cheateauneuf

As you may know, the name and fame of the Rhone Valley wine region called Chateauneuf du Pape dates from the 1300s when the Papacy temporarily moved from Rome to the French city of Avignon. The Popes built a summer palace about 20 miles north of Avignon on the crest of a big hill overlooking the Rhone Valley. Locals called it “the Pope’s New Castle” – Chateauneuf du Pape. As the Church spurred growth in the Rhone’s vineyards to meet its ceremonial and social needs, the name came to be applied to the better vineyards surrounding the hill.

Once the Pope returned to Rome, the name dropped out of use and the wines came to be known simply as “vin d’Avignon” until the Chateauneuf name was resurrected in the mid-1800s. The wines gradually gained respect within France until phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in the late 1800s.

In the early 20th Century, growers in the area realized that they couldn’t compete with the rapidly developing Languedoc-Rousillon region in the south for pure bulk wine production. Seeking to improve quality, in the early 1930s they banded together to resurrect the brand of Chateauneuf du Pape and establish rules for what wines could or could not use that label. Their approach ultimately became the basis for all France’s designated wine regions – the Appelation Controlee system. The rules specified maximum yields, minimum alcoholic strength (12.5%), and determined which grapes were of acceptable quality (a hard debate settled on a list of 13 varieties).

Mapmaking Gone Wrong. And they drew a map specifying which lands were allowable for Chateauneuf du Pape and which would be left out (and ultimately be labeled Cotes du Rhone).

Cdp and Champauvins Map

To the south and west of the town of Chateauneuf, setting boundaries was easy. As the land sloped down towards the Rhone River, it eventually became too wet to support vineyards.

The eastern side was also easy, if not really based on vineyard character. The drafters simply followed the main road running from Avignon to Orange (now the A7 Autoroute) from the village of le Coulaire in the south and up to the end of the vineyards belonging to Chateau Beaucastel in the north. This sliced one of Beaucastel’s vineyards – called Coudoulet – in two, leaving half of the vineyard in and half out of Chateauneuf. Not entirely fair, but at least easy to explain.

What happened next is a bit of a mystery. The Jaume family farmed a collection of vineyards pretty much due west of Beaucastel and just under the Orange road. The vineyards have the same sub-soils and top-soils as Beaucastel, were covered by the rounded “galet” stones that are Chateauneuf’s hallmarks, and were planted to the same grapes. The logical thing to do would have been to simply continue to follow the road as it curved around to the west a little further and then allow the line to curve back down to the south to the river as the soils changed from red, iron rich gravel to more sand and limestone after the Jaume’s vineyards ended.

Instead, the drafters elected to abandon the Orange road just above Beaucastel and draw the boundary line down a narrow gravel path that ran right through the middle of the Jaume vineyards. The very fine vineyards planted in 1905 and still used for Grand Veneur Chateauneuf du Pape Les Origines plus another medium-sized vineyard became Chateauneuf. The 35 hectare Champauvins vineyard, identical in every way to the vineyards across the 10 foot wide path would be Cotes du Rhone.

Outstanding Wine the Best Revenge! It’s hard to imagine how frustrated and upset the Jaume family must have been when they saw the new region’s map, and we know they protested and demanded explanations for years (but never got one). And, when you visit the Jaume’s at their modest winery just outside Chateauneuf, you get the sense that they still are not entirely over the injustice of making Champauvins somehow “less” than vineyards a few feet away.

Fortunately, under the leadership first of Alain Jaume and today of his sons, Sebastien and Christophe, the family’s Domaine Grand Veneur has decided that quality is its own revenge. They farm Champauvins like the Chateauneuf vines across the path, working mainly by hand (necessary with bush vines and gravel-covered soils) and using certified organic viticultural techniques. Yields are similar to their Chateauneuf vineyards, meaning the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes achieve fantastic ripeness without any excess of sugar or roasted, pruny flavors.

In the modern winery, the winemaking for Champauvins is “old school” all the way. Fermentations proceed slowly with gentle pump-overs to extract classic Rhone flavor and structure without adding any harsh tannins. Grenache (70% of the blend) ages in concrete tanks to help it retain color and fruit. Syrah and Mourvedre mellow in old oak casks, given them the tiny bit of air they need to round out without imparting any oak flavor.

The result is a wine chock-full of big, deep, aromas of kirsch, black cherry, crushed herb, wild lavender, and dark chocolate flow from the glass. Those same notes flow across your palate in a rich, vibrant, wine that coats your mouth with flavor and leaves ripe, fine-grained, tannins lingering behind. If they wanted to, the Jaume family could give this the same heft and density that makes “true” Chateauneuf so cellar-worthy (if hard to enjoy young), but because it’s “just” Cotes du Rhone and cannot command Chateauneuf prices, they craft it to be open, supple, savory, and delicious right now.

Thibault Liger-Belair: Resurrecting a Great Name

Thibault Liger-Belair

Meet and Taste with Burgundy’s Thibault Liger-Belair on Saturday, April 18, 12-4 pm.

Thibault Liger-Belair’s ancestors tended vineyards and made wine in Burgundy’s Nuits Saint Georges from 1720 on, but in the early 20th century, the best vineyards were leased out to other winemakers.

Thibault studied winemaking before starting his career at a Parisian communications firm and then trying his hand at a dot-com start-up. In 2001 – at the age of 26 – he realized that he needed to return to Burgundy and resurrect the family Domaine.

From his first vintage in 2002, Thibault’s work attracted notice. Over the years, he’s gradually expanded the Domaine by taking back family vineyards as leases ended, purchasing additional vineyards, and adding a small negotiant business as well.

No Rules, Just Great Wine
As he explained during our visit in February 2014, his goal is to make wines that represent and reflect their vintage and terroir while avoiding harsh tannins and delivering pleasure to the drinker. He has converted the Domaine vineyards to biodynamics to build vine health and achieve ripeness, and is willing to take yields as low as he has to in order to get ripe fruit. In most of his vineyards, Thibault is allowed to harvest 30-40 hectoliters of juice per hectare of land. In practice, he rarely keeps 30HL, often drops fruit down to 20, and – as with the 2012 Nuits Saint Georges Charmot – can go as low as 10 hectoliters per hectare. Whatever it takes to get ripe, healthy fruit.

Once in the winery, his recipe is…no recipe! In general, Thibault prefers to avoid the flavor of oak in his wines, and most see 20-30% new oak (50% is his maximum). His oak barrels are custom-made for each vineyard, always using staves dried at least 36 months but mixing wood from forests grown on sand, clay, and stone – often in the same barrel! – to take advantage of each type’s different characteristics.

Fruit is always sorted twice – in the vineyard and on a sorting table at the winery – and given a pre-fermentation cold soak to begin gentle extraction. Whole clusters are usually mixed with destemmed fruit, although the exact ratio varies by vineyard and vintage. Gentle pumpovers during fermentation are supplemented by more vigorous punchdowns – sometimes only 2 or 3 in total, other times daily. Then, the wines go into their designated barrels and stay there until he feels they are ready to bottle.

The 2012s are an outstanding set of Burgundies, and a fine introduction to the work of what has become a Nuits Saint George benchmark. Thibault described them as “like 2010 but with more flesh,” and all are showing their fine quality and outstanding potential right now.

Rosso di Montalcino – More Than “Baby Brunello”

As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner says, “Rosso di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most food-friendly wines (think pasta, grilled sausage and lasagna).” Like its big brother, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso is made entirely from Sangiovese Grosso – the larger berried clone of Chianti’s Sangiovese that seems to thrive only on the rolling hills of Montalcino. But, unlike Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino is supposed to be … fun!

Brunello is intended to be a “serious” wine. When Biondi Santi first labeled Sangiovese from Montalcino “Brunello” in 1888, it was for their best wine from a great vintage. And, so it continued for years, with Biondi Santi only releasing new Brunello in 1891, 1925 and 1945. As “Brunello” became an annual event and more producers joined the party, everyone agreed to keep things serious. Only the most ripe, powerful, and intense wines qualified or could withstand the mandatory four years of cellar time before release – especially before 1998 when the wine had to stay in cask for a full 42 months.

When the Rosso di Montalcino designation was created in 1984, the objective was to let new Brunello producers (they were multiplying furiously by then) generate a little cashflow by selling at least some Montalcino wine a year after harvest. The first Rossos were a mixture of wine from younger vines and casks that didn’t make the cut for the “big boy” Brunello.

But, over the years, the best Brunello producers have come to see Rosso as its own distinct style of wine. The best Rossos retain many of the flavors of Brunello – dark cherry, wood spice, leather, and violets – but in a more fresh, vivid, and approachable style. Eric Asimov captured the whole point of Rosso di Montalcino in the introduction to his 2011 Rosso tasting:

“Here sat the wine panel, having tasted 20 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, reveling in the unmistakable earthy, dusty flavors of pure sangiovese. With their winsomely bitter, citrus-tinged cherry flavors, these wines were soulful and elemental, like good trattoria food. They wanted less talking and more drinking.”

What Will You Taste? I’ve been drinking wines made by Andrea Cortonesi for years, and one of the many things I appreciate by the man who is often called “a master of Montalcino” is how his Rosso does just what Rosso is supposed to do.

Certainly, you’ll find echoes of Cortonesi’s two Brunellos in this pair of 2013 Rossos. The Uccelliera – from heavy soils in Montalcino’s south – emphasizes breadth, power, muscular tannins, and dark, intense, fruit. In contrast, the Voliero – from sandier soils in the northern part of the zone – delivers more perfume, more elegance, and a lovely floral spice not often found in powerhouse Sangiovese.

But I love that neither wine is trying to be Brunello. They both have the right touch of wood to match their open, pure textures and a level of extraction and tannin that invite drinking young with delicious, fresh foods. You can enjoy either right now, although both will get better over the next few years (and Uccelliera benefits from a decant today). And both cost about half what you’d expect to pay for even an average Brunello.

A Look at the Ratings. One last note, this time about ratings. We’ve come to admire and respect the experience and critical faculty for Italian wines of both Antonio Galloni (formerly of Wine Advocate, now with his own Vinous publication) and Monica Larner (formerly of Wine Enthusiast, now Wine Advocate). And, to quote Galloni, both are most valuable when you look beyond their ratings:

“Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the value of ratings. In a perfect world, a score neatly summarizes everything that is contained within a review. But a number can never give you context, or tell you important things about a wine, how it was made, and, most importantly of all, if you will like it. I believe it is time for us – all of us – to start giving a little more importance to words. The keys to understanding these wines lie in the producer commentaries and tasting notes more than it does in the scores alone.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous, February 2015

In this case, we suggest you look beyond both the ratings and the words when evaluating Monica Larner’s review of Uccelliera Rosso 2013. I’ve tasted this wine – as you can on Friday and Saturday – and I can’t find the “brimstone and pencil shavings” notes she cites first or the “easy tannins” she finds at the end. What I taste and smell is a rich, ripe wine, with powerful tannins that really want a little time to mellow. Perhaps her sample bottle was shocked or off somehow? We’ll be interested in hearing your comments when you come by to try the wine this weekend!

What to Expect from Northern Rhone Syrah

Cote Rotie vineyards

The steep vineyards of the Northern Rhone provide unique terroir for Syrah

The Syrah grapes Stephane Ogier grows on the steep hills North of Ampuis are, genetically at least, from the same Syrah vines planted along California’s North Coast, in the Southern Rhone, and even in Australia (where it’s called “Shiraz”). But where warm-climate Syrah explodes with lush (often jammy) blue/black fruit, delivers mouthfilling alcohols (14.5-16%), and can be swaddled in oaky vanilla and spice, Syrah from the Cote Rotie neighborhood is something else again.

Much like the Cornas and St. Joseph reds from Vincent Paris we introduced you to last year, Ogier’s L’Ame Soeur Syrah 2011 is Syrah with Burgundian elegance, freshness, and minerality. The fruit is pure, rather than lush, and features fresh, even tangy, red and blue berries and plum. While the aromas and flavors are decisively ripe and intense, the alcohol is a trim 12.5%. And the wine wears its year in French oak (20% new) with restraint, showing a hint of spice and the silky tannins that only a spell in barrel can bring. It’s delicious, food friendly, and sure to improve over the next decade or so.

Northern Rhone versus the Rest of the World. Why is Syrah from the Northern Rhone so different – many would argue more interesting and delicious – from Syrah grown anywhere else in the world? The key is that subtle and complex concept the French sum up by the word “terroir.”

Most of the land along the Rhone River between Lyon and Valence is too cool to ripen Grenache, the Southern Rhone’s top grape, and too warm for Burgundy’s Pinot Noir. It’s also mostly too cool for Syrah as well, except in places where very special conditions obtain. First, the soils need to be rocky, loose, and low in clay so that water drains quickly and the vines send their roots down deep for moisture and nutrients. Second, each Syrah vine needs to receive unobstructed access to the northerly sun’s light and warmth, which means vineyards need to run up and down steep hillsides so one vine doesn’t block the sun from others.

Tannic Structure Without Harshness. You’ll find sites that fit these conditions dotted along the hills that hug the Rhone River, most famously at the majestic hill of Hermitage in the south and along the super-steep slopes of Cote Rotie in the north. In these schist and stone-laced vineyards, Syrah vines develop ripe skins, seeds, and stems that give tannic structure without harshness. And, the grapes develop layers and layers of perfume and flavor at lower alcohol levels and with more vibrant, fresh, acidity than can be found anywhere else in the world.

Stephane Ogier’s L’Ame Soeur Syrah comes from vineyards like these on low but steep hills below Cote Rotie and just north of the town of Ampuis. And, as Robert Parker noted, the wine showcases all of the best attributes of the Northern Rhone’s best terroirs. Dark in color, beautifully perfumed, layered on the palate with ripe but tangy fresh fruit, and finishing long and fine, this beauty marries the character and power of Syrah with the elegance and grace of a great red Burgundy. And, while it lasts, it delivers all of that at a very attractive price!

Champagne, Cava, Cremant – What’s The Difference?

champagne glassesWe get lots of questions about the names and terms used for different sparkling wines, so here’s a quick primer for anyone who is feeling a touch confused.

The big name in the field is Champagne, a label that used to be applied to many different kinds of fizz. Today – after years of negotiation and some fairly aggressive litigation by the Champenoise – the “Champagne” name is restricted to wines that:

  • Come from the Champagne region of France
  • Are made from seven authorized grapes (but mainly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and the red Pinot Menieur)
    Get their bubbles from a secondary fermentation that takes place in bottle
  • Rest on the lees – dead yeast cells – from that secondary fermentation for at least 15 months for non-vintage or 30 months for vintage dated wines

The story of how Champagne was first created and popularized is long and winding and full of myth (no, Dom Perignon did not “invent” Champagne – he tried to stop it from fizzing!), but it’s ended up with Champagne holding the title of, arguably, the best sparkling wine in the world and certainly the most expensive. So while drinking “real” Champagne is a treat – and something we all should do more often! – it’s not surprising that many other sparkling wines have emerged to try to slake our thirst for fine fizz at more reasonable prices.

Sparklers from Italy, Spain and the U.S. Many Americans start their sparkling wine adventure with crisp, fruity wines from Italy like Moscato di Asti or Prosecco. We love them both, but neither uses Champagne grapes or even the Champagne method to create fizz. These wines undergo secondary fermentation in a large tank and are then bottled with the fizz already in the wine. It’s a less expensive process that won’t give you the same texture or toasty flavors found in méthode champenoise wines.

The best of Spain’s sparkling Cava wines can deliver much more Champagne quality at a fraction of the price. These wines are made using the méthode champenoise (although they’re not allowed to use that term on the label – nothing to suggest competition with Champagne is allowed!), and can show some of the creaminess and yeasty, toasty notes we love in Champagne. But Cava is usually made with different grapes – macabeu, parellada and xarel·lo are most common – which give the wines different flavors and often a nuttier, more oxidative character.

Most top-notch American sparkling wines are made with Champagne’s fermentation methods and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, and in many cases, the companies and even the same winemakers who make the best wines in Champagne create these American wines. But most grow in warmer climates and in richer soils than you find in Champagne, so they tend to be a bit heartier and seldom quite as finely textured as true Champagne.

France’s Cremant. So, what about Cremant? The term was originally used to denote wines from Champagne that had a little less fizz than regular Champagne, but that style and usage have fallen away today. Now the French use “Cremant” to designate sparkling wines made outside of Champagne using the Champagne method of secondary fermentation in bottle. You’ll find Cremant wines from all across France, many – like Cremant d’Alsace – using very different grapes from Champagne (e.g. Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or even Riesling).

Cremant de Bourgogne. Which brings us to the Cremant wines of Burgundy: Cremant de Bourgogne. Sparkling wine in Burgundy dates from the mid-1820s when the brothers Petiot, who owned vineyards in the Cote Chalonnaise (Burgundy’s southern regions), hired a bright young winemaker from Champagne to make their still wines. Recognizing the grapes he’d seen grown at home (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and the same type of limestone-rich soils, he soon persuaded the Petiot brothers to let him try his hand at making fizzy Burgundy.

It was a hit, and over the next 150 years sparkling Burgundy became a popular wine with both consumers (who loved the fizz and savings) and winegrowers (who were able to make it using grapes that didn’t ripen well enough for still wines). Naturally, some Cremants were excellent wines made by meticulous winemakers, and some were utter plonk made by folks out to make a buck.

To control quality and help establish sparkling Burgundy’s brand, in 1975 the French government created the Cremant de Bourgogne appellation. To qualify as Cremant de Bourgogne, the wine must be made from legal Burgundy grapes (Beaujolais’ Gamay can be up to 20%) and undergo secondary fermentation in bottle. Critically, the rules require a minimum of one full year’s aging on the lees before release, ensuring that the wines have time to soften, gain depth, and add extra layers of flavors.

Cremant de Bourgogne used to be made from vineyards across Burgundy, including from grapes grown in what are now 1er and Grand Cru appelations in the Cote d’Or. With soaring demand and prices for grapes from these sites, today most Cremant comes from vineyards in the far north (Auxerre) or the far south (Cote Chalonnaise) of the region. As the Oxford Companion to Wine says, “Cremant made in the north is usually much lighter and crisper,” while “Cremant from southern Burgundy can be full and soft, a good-value alternative to bigger styles of Champagne.”

International Wine Review’s comment, “Good-value alternative to bigger styles of Champagne,” describes Cremant de Bourgogne, and especially Domaine Michel Sarrazin’s Cremant de Bourgogne to a “T’. Although at these special prices, “great-value” might be more accurate still!

JJ Confuron’s 2012 Burgundies

jj confuron

Wines on tasting Saturday, Jan. 17, 12-4 pm

We’ve purchased JJ Confuron wines for the store in the past (the 2006s, especially, were lovely), but a tasting with the local importer, JAO Imports, last summer convinced us to go as big as we could with this fantastic set of 2012 reds.

As you’d expect from a small, very in-demand estate like this, we were only able to get limited supplies of what we thought were the best wines – and we were delighted to get a few bottles of the ultra-rare and utterly profound Grand Cru Romanee St. Vivant!

Extraordinary Vineyard Sites. The vineyard sites themselves are the story here. The Domaine’s 8.5 hectares of vines were part of the legendary Charles Noellat estate. Over the course of the 20th Century, the Noellat properties were divided in three – part going with Charles’s granddaughter to Hudelot-Noellat, part purchased by Lalou Bize-Leroy in 1988, and the remainder to Confuron through his wife, Andee Noellat. Today, these three famous Domaines farm their vines side-by-side – including in one of the best slices of the Grand Cru Romanee Saint Vivant – one using conventional farming (Hudelot-Noellat), one biodynamic (Leroy) and one organic (Confuron).

All of Confuron’s 2012s were hand harvested on a block-by-block basis as winemaker Alain Meunier (Confuron’s son-in-law and, with wife Sophie, the current owner of the estate) decided the fruit was ripe and ready. Grapes came into the winery at natural alcohol levels of 12-13%, which is exactly what Meunier strives for.

Fruit for the village wines was 100% destemmed while 20% whole clusters were used in the 1er and Grand Crus. Meunier believes that using a good proportion of top-quality barrels help his wines shed excess fat without masking the pure fruit or adding unattractive wood tannins. The village wines receive 30% new oak, the 1er Crus 40-50% and the Grand Crus about 60% new wood each year. The resulting wines are, as Clive Coates says, “classy, poised, and very fine.”

A Note about the Critics’ Notes … We tasted and selected our favorite wines from Confuron’s 2012s before we looked at any reviews, although for the most part, the critics’ opinions are similar to ours. We’ve included Burghound’s ratings here because of Allen Meadows’ long involvement with the region and estate. But take some of his critique about reduction with a grain of salt. Meadows tastes wines like these very early in their elevage (too early, I think). Because Meunier does minimal racking of the wines before assembling his final cuvee for bottling, the wines often show funky reductive notes when Meadows tastes them.

Neal Martin (Wine Advocate) and Steve Tanzer both taste later in the year, often after the racking to bottling tank. I usually find their assessments more useful. Last, the local folks at International Wine Review (i-Wine) tasted the wines the same day I did – theirs are the only reviews based on the finished, bottled wines.