Our final Tony Leonardini wine of three is this humbly named humble cabernet from the humble Central Coast of California. It tastes a lot better than it should at this price point, offering a nose of fresh berries, with the palate taking things into a blackberry jam-and-chocolate arena. Quite sweet at first, it settles down to reveal tobacco, cola notes, and a bit of coffee on the finish, which dulls the sweetness a bit but ultimately leads to some light sulfur notes.
B- / $13 / bnawinegroup.com
The Loire Valley is a sprawling wine region in northwest France — and the Centre-Loire (named because it is located in the geographic center of France) is the home to some of its most renowned wines, including the widely beloved Sancerre.
Today we’re looking at four Centre-Loire wines, all composed of sauvignon blanc grapes and all produced in a tight geographic area — but each with a distinct focus. All are from the 2013 vintage except for the 2014 Pouilly-Fume. Start by getting a sense of where these regions are in relation to one another, then dig into the reviews.
2013 Joseph Mellot Domaine de Bellecours Sancerre – Fresh and fragrant, with a nice balance of tropical and citrus notes, plus a modest, tart grapefruit character that emerges on the clean, pretty finish. Refreshing and acidic, but still fruit-forward, it’s a textbook example of what an everyday Sancerre should be. A- / $20
2013 Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon – Nice combination of citrus and melon here, with some tropical character. Modest acidity on the finish, with an echo of melon notes at the very end. A simple and fresh wine. B+ / $16
2013 Les Pierres Plates Reuilly – An instantly funkier wine, with notes of blue cheese on the nose, and a little barnyard character on the palate that mixes with some tropical notes. That actually helps to add some character to an otherwise straightforward wine, but a little cheese goes a long way. B / $20
2014 Pascal Jolivet Pouilly-Fume – One of the most acid-forward and melon-flecked of the bunch, this powerful wine has a huge backbone that almost borders on ammonia-scented — though the essence of cantaloupe and honeydew swoop in late to save the day. B+ / $24
France’s Languedoc region is reknowned for offering an array of wines in diverging styles, almost all available at low prices. In recognition of this, we recently received three Languedoc wines for review — one white, one rose, one red — to gauge just how far a buck can go in this sunny, southern part of France. (Pro tip: White are best!)
2014 Montmassot Picpoul de Pinet – An affordable, star-bright-white picpoul from the village of Florensac, offering crisp minerals and simple fruit notes — lemon, apple, and a touch of melon. Some say you can get a touch of salt air on this wine, and if I had a dozen oysters on hand I might be inclined to agree. That said, I’m drinking it with dill-roasted halibut and shrimp, and it’s a perfect, summery combination, especially at this price. A- / $11
2014 Chateau du Donjon Rose Minervois – A rose of 30% syrah, 30% cinsault, 40% grenache. Beautifully floral, and berry-infused. Lightly sweet, with a touch of marshmallow to juice up the strawberries and carnation petals underneath. Uncomplicated but perfectly summery. B / $12
2010 Chateau Trillol Grenache-Syrah Corbieres Cucugnan – Lots of pruny notes up front on this 60-40 grenache-syrah blend, with notes of smoked meats underneath. A bit flabby at the start, it warms up and its somewhat discordant flavors eventually manage to come together, somewhat fitfully. C+ / $15
Aia Vecchia is a Bolgheri-based producer that makes a variety of reds and whites — with a heavy focus on blends made with international grape varietals. Thoughts on three recent releases, one white and two reds, follow.
2014 Aia Vecchia Vermentino Maremma Toscana IGT – A simple vermentino (with 5% viognier). Initially quite sweet with fresh peaches and lemon notes, it gives way to some somewhat off-putting notes of dried herbs and forest floor character, especially as it warms up. It’s more of a food-friendly wine than an aperitivo, but decent enough either way. B / $12
2012 Aia Vecchia “Lagone” Toscana IGT – Nothing much to see here. This Bogheri/Magliano-sourced bottling of 60% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% cabernet franc offers few surprises. Notes of stewed fruits, spiced plums, and chocolate sauce aren’t particularly negative in any way, but they do combine to make for an over-sweetened, mouth-filling experience. It’s a wine that needs food to show its strengths. On its own, the sweeter notes dominate too strongly. B- / $15
2011 Aia Vecchia “Sor Ugo” Bolgheri Superiore DOC – 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot. A fairly light-bodied Bolgheri, offering decent fruit — cherries and plums — balanced by darker notes of licorice, coffee bean, and some chewy tree bark. A slight bitter edge adds more than a touch of nuance, tuning toward menthol notes on the finish. B+ / $35
We reviewed the 2013 bottling of this wine and are back with a new vintage. This year’s version of the Washington state rose is made from a blend of 72% syrah, 8% mourvedre, 8% cabernet sauvignon, 6% grenache, 3% cinsault, and 3% counoise. Nicely floral with rose petal and crushed violets up front, it slides into pretty red fruits, strawberry, and a touch of vanilla cream. Perfect for summer.
B+ / $12 / bielerandsmith.com
Sonoma-Cutrer is best known for its Chardonnay, which is one of the top-selling wines in American restaurants. The winery makes other bottlings (particularly Pinot Noir), but this year the company branches out into Sauvignon Blanc for the first time ever. Here’s how this new release stacks up.
This inaugural bottling offers clear pepe du chat notes on the nose, with some tropical character backing it up. On the palate, both the ammonia notes and the fruit are in balance, with the more pungent hospital character up front ultimately giving way to more of a pineapple-focused finish, tempered by mineral and steely, metallic notes. Considerably better with food than on its own.
B- / $25 / sonomacutrer.com
Baron Cooper isn’t a winemaker. He’s a dog and as the namesake of this series of wines he’s leading the charge toward the raising of funds for Best Friends Animal Shelter. Five percent of all sales of these wines — about a buck a bottle — will go toward ending the killing of dogs and cats in animal shelters nationwide.
There are a number of Baron Cooper wines, but we got a couple to try out. Thoughts follow.
2013 Baron Cooper Chardonnay California – A relatively unadorned chardonnay, lightly buttery with notes of vanilla and lychee. As the body takes hold, solid fruit emerges — golden apples and a touch of lemon — and the lightly sweet finish ties everything together. For a wine without much of a pedigree (and a “California” designation), it’s surprising how successful it is. A- / $24
2012 Baron Cooper Cabernet Sauvignon California – A less impressive wine, a more typically workmanlike example of a widely-blended, youthful cabernet. This expression offers some pruny notes, light astringency, and a woody character that ultimately makes for a fairly lifeless experience. Ho hum. B- / $25
Another Tony Leonardini wine, Volunteer is a considerably higher-end offering than the Butternut Chardonnay we recently reviewed. Volunteer is a relatively light-bodied cabernet (blended with small amounts of merlot and cabernet franc), with simple notes of currants and cherries, backed with a bit of rosemary and mixed, dried herbs. The finish is easygoing, slightly sweet, with light notes of violets.
B+ / $30 / bnawinegroup.com
Cola brown in color and dense with flavor, the venerable Punt e Mes is pretty much at the end of the line in the world of sweet vermouth. As brand owner Branca puts it, “The story goes that back in 1870 a stock broker, caught up in a debate with a few colleagues at Bottega Carpano, ordered a vermouth laced with half a dose of quina liqueur using a Piedmont dialect expression: ‘Punt e Mes’ (roughly translatable as ‘one and a half’).”
Like the Alessio vermouths we recently reviewed, Punt e Mes blurs the line between a sweet vermouth and an amaro. The nose is intensely bitter, with just a trace of sweetness to it. On the body, bitter orange, cloves, and quinine dominate before giving way to a finish that’s loaded with coffee, cola, and ample prune notes. Hints of cinnamon, some sweeter citrus notes — both lemon and orange — and a touch of gingerbread also emerge from time to time. The finish is just about equally bitter and sweet, which is quite a remarkable feat, actually.
Not a vermouth to be trifled with, Punt e Mes is best experienced in moderation in cocktails that demand — or deserve — complexity.
B+ / $27 / branca.it
It’s called Butternut for a reason. This Chardonnay from Napa-based winemaker Tony Leonardini is a classic expression of the wine, a bold and brash and butter-laden experience that starts with vanilla and nougat and ends with oak and applesauce. It’s sugar and spice and, well, maybe not everything nice, but if you like your chardonnays to blow the doors off with unctuous, sticky sweetness, this one’s for you.
B- / $13 / bnawinegroup.com