Thanksgiving Wine Strategies

Thanksgiving tableIf you are trying to find the very best wines to pair perfectly with your traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we have one piece of advice: Give up. If your family puts turkey, stuffing, sweat potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce on the table all at once and just lets everyone dig in, then you simply cannot pick one wine that will “pair” – meaning enhance and be enhanced by – the huge range of flavors and textures on everyone’s plate.

There’s a certain freedom in knowing you’ve already “failed” to pick the perfect pairing wines for Thanksgiving: instead, you get to pick out what you want to drink! The only caution: traditional turkey day foods can make some wines taste bad, or at least a lot less good than they should. For the most part red Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec) and oaky wines in general (including Chardonnay) get a little beat up by cranberry sauce and sweet winter vegetable casseroles.

We’re here and ready to help you pick out wines that will make your Thanksgiving as tasty and fun as can be, so don’t hesitate to ask us for help. And, if you’re looking for a little general guidance, here are a few different wine strategies along with selections for each.

Light and Refreshing
If you feel Thanksgiving dinner is almost too much of a good thing, lighter, more zippy wines can help keep you refreshed and going strong through all the big flavors. Wines with good fruit but a bit less alcohol and a bit more acidity do the trick here. For whites consider a zippy Pinot Grigio or Riesling, perhaps with a little touch of sweetness from Germany or dry examples from Austria. For reds, cool-climate Pinot Noir will certainly shine, whether from France, Oregon, or even high-elevation coastal California sites. And, of course, Gamay from Beaujolais is a classic. See our Light and Refreshing Recommendations here.

Thanksgiving redGo Big or Go Home
You’ve got a lot of big flavors on the table, so why not put equally big flavors in your wine glass? While it’s best to avoid a lot of oak – trust me: oak and cranberry are not a happy match! – you can still find plenty of heavyweight choices that will go toe-to-toe with the food. For whites, Alsace or Oregon Pinot Gris are classic Thanksgiving choices, but we’ve had just as much fun with big, later-harvested Grüner Veltliner and even buttery Chardonnay. And rich, creamy, spicy Gewürztraminer is always fun.

For reds, Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, etc. – don’t usually shine, but richer California Pinot Noirs will do well, as will Zinfandel, Spanish Priorat, and even Brunello di Montalcino. We’ve drunk all of those over the years, but Chateauneuf du Pape remains our favorite big wine for the big bird. See our Big and Bold Recommendations here.

Champagne Pink PourBring on the Bubbles
When in doubt, drink fizz! Especially sparkling wines that have a bit of richness or even nuttiness to complement the fine fruit and refreshing bubbles. Top-notch Cava and even sparkling Grüner Veltliner work great here, as do Champagnes with a little toasty oak or a bit of pink color. There are plenty of great choices here, but none better than Jean Vesselle Brut Oeil De Perdrix NV! See our Best Bubbly Recommendations here.

American Classics for the Classic American Meal
It’s an American holiday, so drinking American wines makes a lot of sense! For reds, Pinot Noir from California or warmer vintages/sites in Oregon is always a great choice, and Zinfandel is a classic Thanksgiving match. And, don’t forget “Rhone Ranger” blends featuring Syrah, Grenache and more! For whites, Oregon Pinot Gris certainly works, as does spicy Gewürztraminer and low or no-oak Chardonnay. And, don’t forget the bubbles! See our All-American Recommendations here.

Make Aunt Martha Happy
Most families have at least one person at the Thanksgiving table who is an infrequent wine drinker who can be challenged by some traditional Thanksgiving wine selections. Given them a glass of something soft, fruity, and possibly even a tad bit sweet and watch them smile! If you think they’d like something on the drier side, try a good value, no-oak, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Gamay or Pinot Noir. On the slightly sweeter side, German Riesling is often recommended, and it can work but can also be a tad too acidic for some. A richer Gewürztraminer is great, as are white blends that include a touch of viognier and/or muscat. And, it’s hard to go wrong with fizzy Moscato or the utterly addictive semi-sweet, semi-sparking, red Fracchia Voulet. See our Easygoing Recommendations here.

Save Your Money for Black Friday!
Maybe you’ve got quite a crowd for turkey day or perhaps you’re saving up for a bit of Black Friday binge shopping. Sometimes you need a bunch of delicious Thanksgiving-friendly bottles at a budget price. We’ve got you covered with everything from crisp Pinot Grigio to gutsy Cotes du Rhone and beyond. See our Best Value Thanksgiving Recommendations here.

Finding Value in Sablet’s Soils in the Rhone


Sablet, France

Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Lirac – the big names of France’s Southern Rhone region turn out some of the most exciting Grenache-based red wines in the world. But with growing fame comes growing prices, so value seekers need to get off the Rhone’s main wine path a bit and explore some of the Valley’s lesser-known villages, vineyards, and vigneron.

Which is why we were at the bi-annual Rhone Valley wine show in Avignon last March: looking for value. We found it in Ventoux, Vinsobre, Plan de Dieu and – in this case – in the slightly obscure Cotes du Rhone Village of Sablet.

The name refers to the village’s sandy soils (Sablet = Sand) dotted with patched of clay, a soil pattern shared with Gigondas which rises up just to the south of Sablet. As in Gigondas, Sablet’s soils drain water very, very, quickly, forcing vines to drive their roots deep into the earth in search of water and nutrients. It’s a touch warmer here than in Gigondas, giving more ripeness and supple textures but still showing better than average minerality and power.


Meeting Winemaker Pablo Hocht and the Avignon Rhone Show

Young Pablo Hocht, assistant winemaker at St. Cosme in Gigondas, has done a brilliant job of capturing and celebrating Sablet’s potential – if on a micro-scale! – in this luscious 2013 Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet.

We’ve tasted a lot of Rhone reds made with less care and delivering much less pleasure but still somehow selling for $30+. The value in this satisfying, honest, and just plain delicious red is off the charts. Get some while you can.


Dom De Creve Coeur CdR Villages Sablet

Barolo vs. Barbaresco – What’s the Difference?

NebbioloNebbiolo is the great red grape of Italy’s Piedmont region, and when grown in the small communes of Barolo and Barbaresco, it’s one of the great red grapes of the world.

The perfumed aromas of cherries, rose petal, tar, spice, truffle and more are unique, as is the balance of intense flavors, rich ripeness, and lifting acidity. There’s also a lot of tannin, making Nebbiolo a wine that’s best with rich foods, a long decant, and/or a few years of cellar time. When it’s made right, though, there are few wines more satisfying with hearty stews, rich risotto, or pretty much anything with truffles.

For a variety of reasons, Nebbiolo from the Barolo region was the first to find international fame in the late 1800s and the first to reclaim international attention after WWII – Barbaresco always seemed to lag behind. So there’s been a temptation to consider Barolo the “better” wine and Barbaresco the “little brother.” You’ll see that attitude reflected in prices, with Barbaresco selling for a 20-40% discount to comparable quality Barolo.

But, it’s exactly the wrong way to look at things – top Barbaresco is just as fine as excellent Barolo and, for the average consumer, it’s a much better choice to experience Nebbiolo’s magic.

Soil and Climate
Nebbiolo is the only grape allowed in any wine labeled Barbaresco or Barolo and the winegrowing and making are pretty much the same in both regions. The biggest differences are soil and climate. Barbaresco’s soils are a tiny bit richer in organic matter than Barolo’s, so the grapes ripen a little faster with more fruit flavor and a little bit less tannin. And, although Barbaresco is only 10 miles away from Barolo, it’s a tad cooler and gets more refreshing maritime breezes than Barolo.

The earlier ripening date – about 2 weeks ahead of Barolo – and cooling breezes gives Barbaresco a big advantage over Barolo in warm vintages like 2009 and 2012. Both are considered “difficult” years in Barolo, with the summer heat making it difficult to ripen tannins and giving many wines cooked/roasted profiles. But both are excellent in Barbaresco, where alcohols usually come in 0.5-1 percentage point under Barolo and the extra heat just added a touch of fleshy richness.

So, Barbaresco delivers all the Nebbiolo wonderfulness you’ll find in Barolo, but in a bit softer, more accessible style. The typical Barbaresco has a touch more fruit, a bit less tannin, and an earlier starting drinking date than Barolo. Barbaresco’s more tempting structure is reflected in the region’s rules – Barbaresco can be released after only 2 years aging while Barolo has to wait 3 years. But, don’t underestimate how well Barbaresco grows in cellar – it will still develop for 20 years with no problem. You just get to drink it a bit sooner!

Paitin FamilyPaitin’s Historic Legacy
The Paitin story starts in 1796 when Benedetto Elia purchased a pretty 30 acre or so property in Barbaresco from Luigi Pellissero (another famous Barbaresco name!). Over the next 100 years or so, the Elia family grew grapes and made wine here, including the lightly sweet, sometimes sparkling, Nebbiolo then common in the region. Once they and their neighbors finally figured out how to get Nebbiolo to ferment dry in Piemonte’s cool autumns, they launched their first Barbaresco in 1893. By 1898, Paitin’s wines were recognized as outstanding and the first exports to the rest of Europe began.

In the 1960s, Secondo Pasquero-Elia moved the estate forward by building a new cellar and – importantly – beginning to replant the estate’s vineyards by taking the best vines from each plot and matching them to the soils where they performed best. In the 1980s, Secondo and sons Silvano and Giovanni Pasquero-Elia began working with importer Marc De Grazia. De Grazia favored riper, more lush, Nebbiolo, and encouraged Paitin to adopt “modern” Barbaresco techniques: more ripeness in the vineyards, roto-fermenters to limit tannin extraction, and the use of new oak barriques to add polish and sweetness to the wines.

The results were fine: plenty of good ratings and ample consumer demand for ripe, fleshy, Barbaresco that drank well early and still aged nicely, too. But, as Antonio Galloni writes, “The Pasquero-Elia family has been producing wine for several centuries, making this small estate one of the historic properties of Piemonte. The wines have received critical acclaim for decades. Brothers Giovanni and Silvano Pasquero-Elia could easily have rested on their laurels. But they knew they could do even better.”

Moving Forward from “Modern”
Although Secondo still works in the winery, Silvano and Giovanni have been drivers in Paitin’s revitalization over the past 15 years or so. The brothers have moved Paitin back to what I like to call an “enlightened traditional” approach to winemaking. In the vineyard, they achieve perfect ripeness for loads of fruit flavor and supple tannins, but avoid over-ripe or roasted fruit flavors. In the winery, they have eliminated the use of new French oak and now age their wines entirely in larger, more traditional, Slovenian casks. And, roto-fermenters are on the way out as they have returned to more traditional, long, fermentations including gentle pump overs and submerging the grape cap for better extraction.

You’ll see some of these changes in the powerful 2009 Barbaresco Sori Paitin, but they are even more obvious in the just-released 2012s. Here, with help from long-time Bruno Giacossa associate Dante Scaglione, the wines show a new-found energy and precision to go with traditional power and ageability. They are as delicious as ever, but offer even more potential to improve with time.

As Galloni sums up:

“The Pasquero-Elia family has superb vineyards and already knew how to craft delicious wines, but the continued search for excellence and the willingness to invest in the future is what separates the true greats from the merely good and excellent producers. … The Pasquero-Elia family has made fabulous wines for years, but now they are in a position to challenge for one of the very top spots in Barbaresco. Personally, I couldn’t be happier for them, because they have made all the right choices and are therefore richly deserving of the success that now appears to be coming their way.”

Discovering Domaine Tix

Rhone Show at AvignonBack in March, Meg and I braved the gusty Mistrial winds to attend and taste several hundred wines at Découvertes en Vallée du Rhône, the bi-annual festival in Avignon featuring winemakers and wineries from across the Rhone Valley.

It was a delight to meet the energetic, slightly mischievous, Marie Pirsch and Philippe Danel of Domaine du Tix (Philippe will be at Chain Bridge Cellars on Saturday, Oct. 17!) – and tasting their wines one of the highlights of the show.

The level of style, polish, and sophisticated fun we found in each of their wines is unusual for Cotes du Ventoux, and that’s undoubtedly due to the estate’s charming owners. Marie and Philippe came to Domaine Tix in 2001 looking for a retirement home after successful careers in the fashion industry. They found about 10 acres of table grapes planted, a decrepit house, and soils and a microclimate so perfect for making authentic, delicious, Provençal wine that they couldn’t resist!

Dom Tix at Rhone Show

Philippe Danel will pour at Chain Bridge Cellars on Saturday, 12-4

After first grafting the table grapes over to wine varietals – all traditional grapes for the Ventoux area – Marie and Philippe gradually expanded their plantings, today farming about 20 acres in total. In 2006, they expanded their staff by one-third – hiring their nephew Vincent to take charge of the vineyards. When their brand-new, pocket-sized, winery opened in 2008, production reached today’s levels – a whopping 3,000 cases per year.

On the Slopes of Mount Ventoux
Domaine Tix’s vineyards are about 18 miles due east from Chateauneuf du Pape about 300 meters up on the western slopes of Mount Ventoux, the tallest mountain in this part of France (reaching nearly 2,000 meters at its peak). As in the rest of the Southern Rhone, there’s plenty of sunshine, which should make ripening Rhone grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan a snap.

Dom Du Tix Ventoux GarrigueBut ripeness in the shadow of Mount Ventoux is anything but certain. The elevation brings down temperatures a bit, but the real challenge is the cold air that flows down the mountainsides every night. The alternating warm days and cool nights help wine grapes retain bright acids and firm structures, but mean they need to be farmed carefully at low yields and with plenty of vineyard work in order to get ripe fruit flavors and supple tannins.

Marie, Philippe, and nephew Vincent clearly take the time to do the hard work needed to get fine grapes into the winery and then allow them to transform themselves into excellent wines. Even better, each wine is clearly infused with both classic southern Rhone character and a touch of playful style. These are wines that impress on first meeting and improve with longer acquaintance. All are very nicely priced, too, as they were brought to the USA just for us. I recommend them very, very highly!

Meet John Grochau … or “Why Whole Cluster Matters”

John GrochauSince founding Grochau Cellars in 2002, former bicycle racer and Portland waiter John Grochau has operated by one simple mantra: “Don’t screw it up.” He developed his interest in Willamette Valley wines working at one of Portland’s best wine restaurants, Higgins. He then went on to work at Erath and serve four years as an assistant winemaker at Doug Tunnel’s Brick House Wines in Ribbon Ridge.

John works with growers up and down the Willamette Valley, selecting those who farm sustainably and value balanced ripeness over either quantity or pure power. In the winery, he tries to do as little as possible. Hand harvested grapes are sorted in the vineyard and at the winery to remove any imperfect fruit. Based on the character of the vineyard and vintage, he destems part of the harvest and leaves some of the grapes whole on their stems – up to 50% for some blocks and vintages.

Once the grapes are in the vat, he waits to let the yeast living in the winery or that traveled from the vineyards with the grapes to start a natural fermentation. Gentle pump-overs and punchdowns help extract color, structure, and flavor before aging in mainly used oak rounds off the edges without adding overt wood flavors.

John sums up his approach nicely: “It’s simple really: Don’t screw it up. Resist the urge to do too much. Modern winemakers have such an array of options available to them it’s staggering. Micro-oxygenation. Wine concentrators. Enzyme addition. Not to mention the temptation so many indulge to beat an otherwise fine wine over the head with a battery of new oak. We eschew all this. Minimal handling, subtle coaxing, oak as a seasoning not as main dish: These are the hallmarks of our wines. Honest, accurate, true to their roots and to the wonderful subtleties of vintage variation.”

Whole Cluster Magic

Until about 50 years ago, all red wine was made pretty much the same way. Pick the grape bunches, through them into a vat, stomp around on them a bit to break the skins and free up the juice, and then wait for yeast from the vineyards or living in the winery to get to work. The increasing alcohol, fermentation heat, and a little extra stomping around extracted color and tannin from the grape skins and seeds. If some extra hard tannin or green flavors were also pulled out of the stems – well, that’s just one reason you needed to wait a few years before the wine was ready to drink!

Today, as winemakers attempt to make wine with more fruit flavors and earlier accessibility, most red winemaking starts with putting grape bunches in a device called a destemmer, one that knocks the berries off their stems and dumps them whole or, more often, crushed into the fermentation vat. Destemming lets winemakers avoid the sometimes-bitter flavors and tannins from under-ripe stems and helps the fermenting wine retain color and fresh fruit flavors. If a little texture and body and complexity was lost, no matter: the critics (especially Robert Parker) love fruit and hate greenness so much that the winery was sure to come out ahead.

Over the past 20 years or so, more and more winemakers – especially those working with Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir – have been carefully heading back to the future to try to regain the benefits of including stems in fermentation without suffering the downsides. And you’ll taste how whole cluster use can benefit Pinot Noir, especially, in all three of John Grochau’s featured 2012 wines.

Vineyard by Vineyard, Vintage by Vintage

John decides how much fruit to destem vs. leave whole-cluster on a vineyard-by-vineyard, block-by-block, and vintage-by-vintage basis. The perfect 2012 growing season and harvest meant that he had no concern about adequate fruit in his wines – the ripe berries were bursting with it! In fact, his challenge was to avoid making wines that were “only” about fruit and that lacked the aromatic and textural complexity great Pinot Noir really should have.

So he left between 30% and 50% of his grape bunches intact and fermented them along with the destemmed berries. The addition of stems keeps the fermenting vats’ caps loose and open, allowing more oxygen in and lengthening the fermentation. While some color is lost, the wine gains extra does of spice, herb, and floral complexity and a bit more lengthy tannins on the finish.

But the biggest difference I see in whole cluster fermented Pinot Noir is in mid-palate texture. Taste any of these wines, and you’ll immediately notice how rich and silky they feel in your mouth. It’s a different kind of richness than you get from high alcohol or extract – it’s more akin to glycerol or the kind of gelatin-based slickness you get in a really great meat stock. It seems to keep the flavors on your palate longer and buffers the fine-grained, firm, tannins emerging on the finish – stretching everything out to give more length and delight.

Just like in the old days, John’s use of whole clusters means that these wines will give even more delight as they age gracefully over the next decade or so. But they are far too smooth, silky, and delicious to wait that long – best have some to drink now and others to follow for years!

We’ve enjoyed John Grochau’s wines for years, especially his entry-level “Commuter Cuvee,” surely one of the best value Pinot Noirs coming out of Oregon year after year. But we’ve leaned in harder with his 2012 releases for two simple reasons: the wines are outstanding and they are outstanding value.

We strongly recommend you sample all three of these featured Pinots – one from the Dundee Hills in Willamette Valley’s northern region, one from the fine Zenith Vineyard in the southerly Eola-Amity AVA, and one a blend of fruit from across the valley. As Matt Kramer said of John’s wines a few years ago, “A couple of sips will tell you he’s a purist winemaker interested in finesse, nuance and what can admiringly be called a certain tenderness.” Lovely stuff you really should try!

From Dirt to Wine: Patricia Green’s Willamette Pinots

Patricial greenNot surprisingly for someone who wants to make “wines from dirt to wine,” Patty Green has worked from the ground up. After a stint doing reforestation work (which sounds better than “planting lots of trees), Patty began in the wine business by picking grapes at Hillcrest Vineyard in the mid-1980s. By 1987 she was Assistant Winemaker there, followed by some consulting work in the early 1990s.

In 1993 she became winemaker and sole employee of Torri Mor where Jim Anderson eventually signed on as employee number 2. After a fine run there (including plenty of highly rated wines and a bunch of local and national acclaim), she and Jim left to form Patricia Green Cellars in 2000.

A 2013 Rollercoaster. With 25+ Willamette Valley vintages under her belt, Patty’s had the chance to see pretty much everything the Willamette Valley has to offer. So she was ready for the rollercoaster 2013 campaign. The vintage started off early and then got warm, sunny, and dry and stayed that way. Visiting Willamette Valley vineyards in July 2013, the main concern growers had was that ripeness would come too early for flavor development.

Things slowed down a bit as the summer went on, though, and most sites were entering their harvest windows a tad early in September when remnants of a Pacific typhoon arrived and dropped four inches of rain on the Valley in only two days. For many, this was a disaster, with bloated grapes cracking and rot beginning to spread. Some were forced to pick right after the rain, giving them diluted grapes to work with in the winery and requiring a lot of winemaking to save the vintage.

Patty and Jim were more fortunate – or, rather, their approach to winegrowing was especially well suited to deal with the rain. All of their vineyards are dry farmed and on free-draining sites, and they only use vines 20 years old or order for their estate bottlings. The old vines and loose soils shed the rains easily, allowing them to pick ripe, healthy fruit a week or more after the rain.

A Light Touch with Great Sites. It helps that their vineyards are some of the most outstanding in all of Oregon and that their winemaking is careful and restrained. The heart of their operation is their 30 acre estate vineyard in Ribbon Ridge, right next door to Beaux Freres and not far from Brick House. The wines featured today include some juice from the Estate vineyard (you’ll find that in the Reserve) as well as wines from the benchmark Freedom Hill vineyard down South and the unique Chehalem Mountain sites called Lia’s and Olenik Vineyards.

The recipe in the winery is simple – there is no recipe! Before and during harvest, Patty tries to match soak times, maceration lengths, and barrel programs to the specific character of each site and vintage. Only three things are constant for every wine: native yeast fermentation; all barrels from Cadus, a premier Pinot Noir barrel house; and tasting, tasting, and tasting some more as the wines evolve to pick the right time and best blend to bottle.

The goal is to produce wines that deliver great pleasure young and old while telling the unique story of each vineyard and vintage. This set of outstanding 2013s does that in spades. Do not miss them!

Rutherford and Beaulieu Vineyards: “Beautiful Place”

Andre Tchelistcheff

André Tchelistcheff

Shortly after joining Beaulieu Vineyard in 1938, Russian-born/French-trained head winemaker André Tchelistcheff was heard to say that no wine from this prime slice of Napa Valley could be considered great unless it had a touch of “Rutherford dust.” Tchelistcheff went on to make wine at BV for 35 years, trained and influenced multiple generations of Napa winemakers, and earned the titles “Dean of American Wine” and “Maestro” from his disciples and peers. But few things he did or said have provoked as much discussion or confusion as Rutherford dust.

Start with the basics. Brothers Georges and Fernande de Latour arrived in Napa Valley in 1903 in search of a vineyard. When they reached the prune and apple orchards around the tiny village of Rutherford, Fernande exclaimed “beau lieu!” – beautiful place. They purchased a small ranch, adopted Beaulieu as the name for their new vineyard, and set about assembling what would reach 500 acres of land on and around what came to be called the Rutherford bench.

Rutherford lies in the middle of the Valley as it runs south to north, far enough south to benefit from cool maritime air at night but far enough north to get plenty of heat and sunshine. It’s at the widest part of the Valley, so it gets more hours of sun each day than vineyards more shaded by the mountains to east and west.

Rutherford BenchAnd, importantly, its vineyards are planted on free-draining, alluvial soils – a deep blend of gravel, sand, silt and clay that rests on the rocky base of the old Napa River. Some argue that the best of these soils run on a slight rise from Oakville to St. Helena and call them the Rutherford Bench. Others say that the only Rutherford Bench is the one you can sit on in front of the Oakville General Store. In any event, these dry, loose, often wind-blown (and, thus, dusty) soils are a fantastic place to grow Cabernet Sauvignon

What Is Rutherford Dust? Ask most Napa winemakers to describe “Rutherford dust,” and many talk about things like minerality (a kind of stony/chalky note), or a ground spice character that many liken to just-grated allspice. And, even more will call out how Rutherford Cabernet – especially lower alcohol wines from times before the current emphasis on super-ripeness – leave behind tannins so firm and fine that they remind you of cocoa powder – or the finest of wind blown dust.

As it happens, you’ll find those cocoa powder tannins – fine, dusty, and so ripe they melt away easily – in both of today’s Beaulieu wines along with a dash of minerality and even a little grated allspice (in the Georges de Latour, anyway). But, dusty tannins weren’t actually what Tchelistcheff meant.

Having trained in France and drunk the greatest wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and beyond, Tchelistcheff believed that the first duty of every great wine was to represent the place where it was grown. And, for Rutherford wines, that meant showing the tantalizing balance between warm, even hot, days and cool, foggy, nights. It meant showing fine ripeness of fruit and a touch of fresh herb, but neither the stewy, roasted flavors of hotter vineyards up-Valley or the colder regions to the south. And, because Tchelistcheff believed Rutherford was a great Cabernet vineyard, it meant that any wine wanting to claim “Rutherford” on the label had to be great, too.

In trying to say all of that, he drew on the most distinctive element of 1930s Rutherford: the fine, reddish, dust that blew up off the vineyards and got onto and into everything (hopefully not including the wine!).

Beaulieu VineyardBeaulieu is Back! After establishing Rutherford as a great Napa Cab site and joining Louis Martini, Inglenook and Charles Krug as a America’s foremost wineries from the end of Prohibition – the 1970s, BV’s quality sagged a bit in the 1980s and 1990s. Multiple changes in corporate ownership didn’t help, and having to replant virtually all of their Rutherford sites in the early 1990s due to phylloxera wasn’t an asset, either.

Things got a little better after André Tchelistcheff returned as a consultant in 1991 (he’d retired in 1973). He pushed for lower yields in the new vineyards and helped BV make the transition from redwood fermentation tanks and American oak to stainless steel and French oak. But the winery’s focus on its value, supermarket, wines after Tchelistcheff’s death in 1994 left the fine wine program a bit adrift.

Fortunately, a new focus on quality emerged in the mid-2000s with the hiring of Bordeaux consulting superstar to work on the Georges de Latour Private Reserve program. As Robert Parker noticed in his reviews of the 2005 releases, “Michel Rolland, the brilliant wine consultant, was brought in to help resurrect the Private Reserve program, and it appears his magic has spilled over onto the other wines as well.”

Tasting these 2012s, you’ll be immediately struck by how the new BV is marrying the restrained, traditional, style that made the winery great with an increased emphasis on ripe fruit and supple, velvety, structures. Yes, you’ll find a little of that “Rutherford dust” cocoa powder texture to the tannins and a hint of grated allspice, too. But mainly you’ll love how both wines are so pure, textured, and fun to drink right now.

And, at these prices, a little gold dust is sprinkled in with the Rutherford dust, too.