Villa Bellangelo Pinot Noir 2012

Bellangelo Pinot Noir 2012Oh, Central New York.

I wanted to like this $18 wine more than I can say.  I spent six years in CNY, including many a fall afternoon on the shores of the Finger Lakes, throwing Frisbees in stinging needle rain that were blown behind me by offshore gales.  It is where I consumed my first ice beer and smoked my second joint.  Central New York is the kind of place where the haze of nostalgia descends while you’re still living there.

And so I had high hopes.  The only other New York wine I can remember specifically was a very fine Konzelmann (technically Canadian) Riesling, $10 for icy striations of glassy sweetness.  And if it could present a solution to the Pinot Problem, its tendency toward tantrum and disappointment even, perhaps especially, in Burgundy, well, I would swell with pride.  N.B. that I have been back to CNY exactly once since 1998.

The verdict came on the pour.  It was juice.  Lovely ruby juice that caught the light, but juice.  On the nose, straight-up cherries and rhubarb, perhaps a hint of strawberries, but in the mouth … nothing.  Some bright acid.  No tannins to speak of.  None of the joining of hands and deep chant of the Côte-Rôtie.

If, like me, one of the first great wines–the first bottle over $50–you ever consumed was an exquisite Pommard on the February shores of the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing exploration of New World Pinot Noir is an endless disappointment.  I have never consumed a good value Pinot from California, not even my precious Paso Robles.  Oregon/Washington and New Zealand deliver at price points above $30, but even then they are just a faint echo of Burgundy, the Kingdom Come to France’s Led Zeppelin.

And so I think it is time for a new Pinot Paradigm.  Gone should be the defining expectations of the Mâconnais, the crystalline delicacy that made Paul Giamatti so insincerely insane.  We don’t need to confuse it with Gamay or Barbera but the fact is that the angels rarely sing.  In discussions of wine, the only categorical imperative is to face reality.

And so on the cultish scale, this is a very poor wine indeed.  Hell, they make Merlot, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat!  I can’t imagine who they’re trying to fool.  But under the new Pinot Paradigm, I enjoyed it very much with spicy goose sausage chili and a kale salad in a ginger-sesame dressing.  It is overpriced, but this bottle was a gift for a weekend watching a beautiful black labrador for a friend and so it is difficult to downgrade on ducats.  Consider this more of a rating for the concept of crappy New World Pinot.  But “crappy,” like all the categorical concepts, is relative, and an adjustment of the mind to open new vistas of wine is a small price to pay. (Rating: Good)


McPherson Tre Colore V. 2012


Wine from Texas—well, why not!

Our man, Famous Jacob, brought a bottle back after a recent jaunt south. We did not know what to expect.

We quaffed it while wolfing down a cheese sandwich—it was a decent light red wine that retails for $14. It is fruity and shows some black pepper. (Rating: Good)

Texas wine-making is a recent phenomenon, and McPherson Cellars is aiming high. This is no simple Merlot—rather, Tre Colore is blend of three Rhone varieties, Carignan (27%), Mourvedre (62%) and Viognier (11%).  Yes, that’s two reds and a white. Such a combination says to us that there is thinking behind the wine-making, and that we can expect to see Texas wines continue to improve.

You may read more about the McPherson line of wines at


Summer Wines Survey: What to Drink?

Casal Garcia NV Vinho Verdeby B.D. Fischer

What to drink this summer?

Like most serious wine guys, I poo poo “red in winter, white summer” to the exact same extent that I poo poo “red with beef, white with fish.”  Like most things, it is a matter of context.  There is nothing intrinsic to our path around the sun or even the temperature that demands one wine over others.  Rather, there are contexts partially intrinsic to our equinoctial and solstitial relationships that inform and delimit our wine choices.  I present here for your drinking pleasure three of those common to summer, with concomitant recommendations:

At a Barbecue: Icardi Barbera d’Asti, 2011

Jay McInerney famously recommends Barbera for pizza, which while I can’t get behind it demonstrates a certain largeness of thinking. (I don’t see what’s wrong with Chianti, as college seniors have been proven over two straw-thatched generations.) His reasoning is that the acidity of the tomato sauce presents a singular problem in combination with the cheese and (god willing) sausage.  The first demands a hero acid to stand up in kind to the bully, a Riesling or a Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are inadequate to the fatty umami of the other components.  Thus the dilemma.

Enter the logic of Barbera.  Unusual for a red, its structure is supplied by high acid and wispy tannins.  McInerney’s logic of pizza therefore applies equally to the barbecue, where like as not we are presented with meats drenched in tomato bases of varying sweetness and vinegar.  Barbera is to a summer barbecue to what Beaujolais is to Thanksgiving, and complements without complication.  The 2011 Icardi Barbera d’Asti I consumed recently was red almost to purple and yeasty on the nose with sharp berries.  It required no decant and displayed a generosity I find mostly absent from Italian reds, which tend toward the emotional flintiness of those who came of age in the 1930s.  Mouth-watering acid in the mid-palate with practically no tannins, the wine changed not at all in the glass save for a fruity broadening to encompass a more crowd-pleasing strawberry.  The barbecue was half over, but the whole bottle was gone. Imported by Vinifera Imports. Price:  $16. (Rating:  Very Good)

In the Pool or at the Beach: Grüner Veltliner

In the U.S. wine market the Austrians are cursed.  Aside from Riesling, which is more associated with Germany, their two great wines are Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. (The Teutons aren’t much for reds as we know them; try a German Pinot sometime and you’ll see what I mean.) Despite the Germanic origins of English, both present significant pronunciative difficulties for Americans.  With it strange spiciness Gewürztraminer is difficult on the palate, too, and tends to induce love-hate reactions.  Not so Grüner Veltliner, an elegant wine which is exported almost exclusively from Austria and deserves a wider audience.

Don’t make the mistake I did with a recent bottle of 2011 Lust & Laune, which was to chill it to 43 degrees. (If you don’t have a wine chiller–and it’s a wine toy worth having if there’s any wish to rise above dilettante–this is all day in a refrigerator.) It weakened the acid and brought out some unpleasant petroleum notes; 49 would have been more appropriate.  As the wine warmed in the glass, however, it took on the restrained qualities of a Hapsburg at court, neither overly acidic nor sweet, refined grass aromatics and mild spice in an admirably unitary package.  A paradigmatic Grüner is perhaps a bit weightier, but this was still an excellent everyday summer white, especially with the waves lapping in the background. Imported by:  Magellan Wine Imports. Price:  $13. (Rating:  Good)


6:37pm On a Tuesday, After Work on the Porch, Top Two Buttons Undone, and a Slight Sweat: NV Casal Garcia Vinho Verde

My shorthand recommendation for Vinho Verde is “wine soda,” and to drink it is to indulge the pleasureful id, frustrate language, and forestall analysis.  I have never known a person who tried Vinho Verde and was not delighted.  As the reputation of Prosecco rightfully ascends, do not forget the Portuguese entry in the carbonation sweepstakes.  It will never find an easy home at a fancy banquet, but thank the maker we spend little of our lives at fancy banquets.  And it is cheap.

Literally “green wine,” Vinho Verde is the name of the region in the far north of Portugal, not the grape, and “green” refers to its age rather than its color for the wine is meant to be drunk young.  In color, it is generally white or rose–the reds are hard to find (I have never had one).  The NV Casal Garcia I consumed recently was a rose, the finest example of the species I have encountered and widely available.  The nose is of light strawberry, the kind of soft smell that carries a long way on a slight breeze.  At first taste there is a slight pungency from the skins that produce the beautiful deep pink, but this gives way to the acid that is as Newt Gingrich claims that government should be, limited but strong. (A white Vinho Verde is likely to be more LBJ-ish in its acid.) The appeal of the wine in the mouth is not in its flavor but in the feeling it inspires, the very definition of cliches of crispness and refreshment.  At 10.5% ABV it is everything in moderation, but not the Brahmin moderation of a Grüner.  Rather, it is the uncomplicated lounging of the slacker, a loose restraint that is never tight and always a good time, at least in moderation. Imported by:  Maverick Wine Co. Price:  $8. (Rating:  Excellent)


Chateau La Croix St. Georges 2007

Chateau La Croixby B.D. Fischer

In Sideways Paul Giamatti famously and vulgarly declares (paraphrasing here; this is a family booze site) that he will not under any circumstances drink Merlot. Although equally famously partial to Pinot Noir, in so doing he throws in his hat with the cult of Cabernet Sauvignon centered in California, Pinot and Merlot belonging as they do to the antipodal ends of the spectrum of noble reds. No, the reason for the ghettoization of Merlot is that does not adhere to the cult’s ideology of gigantism, complexity, and tannins.

This perspective does violence to the history of wine. Cabernet’s cache derives from its centrality to Bordeaux, but the silencing of Merlot obscures the fact that it is the most planted varietal in Bordeaux and predominates on the right bank of the Dordogne River, including in Saint-Émilion, a world heritage site by the light of the United Nations. Saint-Émilion generally runs about 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, strong evidence that Merlot isn’t all that bad.

These thoughts and others were on my mind last night as I cracked a bottle of 2007 Chateaux La Croix St. Georges from Pomerol, another right bank commune. The St. Georges is more than 90% Merlot, and in drinking it I was reminded simultaneously of why the Giamatti snobs look down their nose and how wrong it is to do so. After a nice decant, the bottle revealed itself as nearly perfectly balanced and delightful from a sheer drinking perspective.

When I dropped that line as we were pouring our second glasses, one of my dinner companions less devoted to the oenological arts asked me just what I meant by “balance.” This is, of course, one of those terms that the Giamattish aspects of our character delight in deploying to signal our erudition. In its most basic application it means balance of flavors, that neither, say, blackberry nor stone fruit nor leather nor tar predominate but all are allowed their moment in the sun of the mouth. This is not what I meant here, though; rather, I mean that the impression of strength in the mouth was constant from the front of the palate through to the finish. It was as if one were drinking a piece of Amish furniture.

Balance is not to be conflated with structure, which is where Cabernet has been adjudged by the Giamattis as decisively superior. If balance is workmanship then structure is craftsmanship, the fine detailing of an exterior gargoyle as expressed by tannic nuance and explosion. The St. Georges is a lakeside cottage, not an imitation of Versailles. Why this should render it fit only for the spit bucket is beyond me.

The 2007 Chateaux La Crois St. Georges had mild but firm tannins and classic plum and coffee on the nose and palate. We drank it with a bison top sirloin in a ginger sesame sauce. It was imported by Julienne Importing and cost $39 from the Chicago Wine Company. (Rating: Very Good)


Bargain Red Wines We Have Enjoyed Recently

Both of these red wines came from Argentia, and both cost $8.95 retail at Pearson’s in Washington, DC.

Red Diamond Merlot 2011: Like the bottle says, it offers plum and vanilla flavors, the latter being pretty faint.  This wine went just fine with cheese and pasta with red sauce. (Rating ***) Read more at:

Bodega Elena de Mendoza Red Blend 2010: This wine was a bit more subtle than the Red Diamond. It is 62% Malbec, 21% Syrah, and 17% Bonarda. A bit earthy/leathery, which we like.  (Rating ***1/4) Read more at:


The Major Types of Italian Red and White Wines

 Editor’s note: We’re republishing this article from our archive as part of a reorganization of the site’s content.

To help you choose the perfect bottle of Italian wine—here is a list of

Major Italian Wines from ITALIAN WINE FOR DUMMIES®

Major Italian Red Wines

Amarone: Lusty, full bodied wine from partially dried Corvina grapes, in the Veneto region. Dry and firm wine, but it’s ripe, concentrated fruitiness suggests sweetness. Needs rich, savory foods or flavorful cheeses.

Barbaresco: Similar to Barolo, from the same grape in a nearby area, but generally a tad tighter in body and slightly more approachable. Drinks best at 8 to 15 years of age, depending on the producer.

Barbera: Varietal wine produced mainly in the Piedmont region. Dry, light- or medium-bodied, with intense berry flavor, mouth-watering acidity, and little tannin. Particularly versatile with food. Many of the best wines are from the Alba or Asti zones.

Barolo: Dry, full-bodied, magisterial wine. Has complex aromas and flavors of strawberries, tar, herbs, and earth, as well as a firm, tannic structure. Drinks best at 10 to 20 years, depending on the producer.

Brunello di Montalcino: Full-bodied, intense, concentrated wine. Dry and quite tannic, it drinks best when it’s at least 15 years old.

Chianti: Very dry, medium-bodied, moderately tannic wine with lovely tart-cherry flavor, mainly from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti area of Tuscany. “Chianti Classico” is often the best.

Lambrusco: Most commonly a sweet, fizzy wine with delicious, grapey flavors. Dry and sparkling styles also exist.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: Generally medium-bodied and flavorful with red fruits and a slightly vegetal note. Lighter examples are smooth and easy to drink; the best wines are concentrated and denser in texture.

Salice Salentino: Dry, full-bodied. Generally have somewhat intense aromas and flavors of ripe, plummy, baked fruit, and rich, dense texture. Suitable with robust foods.

Valpolicella: Medium-bodied wine. Dry, lean, and only moderately tannic, with more or less intense cherry aromas and flavors. Some versions, such as single-vineyard wines are particularly good.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Medium-bodied, dry, and lean, with red cherry flavor, similar to Chianti but slightly fuller.


Major Italian White Wines

Asti: Sparkling wine, deliciously sweet, low in alcohol, with pronounced fruity and floral flavors. Usually non-vintage, but freshness and youth are essential to its quality.

Frascati: Dry or slightly off-dry, light-bodied, and un-oaked with crisp acidity and subdued flavor.

Gavi: Dry, medium-bodied wine. Typically crisp and un-oaked (sometimes slightly oaky) with delicate notes of honey, apples, and minerals.

Orvieto: A generally medium-bodied wine. Dry, crisp, with flavors of pear and apple and a pleasantly bitter finish.

Pinot Grigio: Generally light-bodied, dry, and crisp, with subdued aromas and flavors and no oakiness. Made from Pinot Gris grapes, usually in Northeastern Italy. Wines from Collio or Alto-Adige DOCs are usually the best.

Soave: Generally dry, crisp, un-oaked, and light- or medium-bodied, with flavors of pear, apple, or peach.

Verdicchio: Dry, medium-bodied, crisp white with minerally flavor and a sea-air freshness.

Click here to order a copy of Italian Wine for Dummies.