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On Tap for 2012
One of the remarkable stories in California wine over the past five years has been the steady rise of the Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves, the sparkling wine house on the Sonoma side of Carneros that is owned by Spain's giant Freixenet wine company.
What is most remarkable is the striking difference between the Gloria Ferrer bubblies of today compared with its earliest efforts, which were competent but bland. The Gloria Ferrer wines of today (including its underrated pinot noirs, chardonnays and merlots) have verve and complexity, striking qualities that have made them increasingly popular on the wine competition circuit.
In recent years, Gloria Ferrer has entered a number of different cuvees — Royal Cuvee, Carneros Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs, Va de Vi and Brut Rose — that have taken the top prize for sparkling wine at prestigious wine competitions.
The most recent triumph came in the first week of the new year, when its 2006 Blanc de Blancs ($28) was voted Best Sparkling Wine at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Look for more of the same from Gloria Ferrer this year.
Over the next year, you will no doubt hear a good deal from the growing and ever more vocal "Drink Local Wine Crowd" that seems to have its roots in Texas, where some of the local wines are actually pretty good.
I have no quarrel with the movement other than the underlying message that somehow it's a betrayal of regional fidelity to enjoy a Cotes-du-Rhone from France or a juicy Malbec from Argentina.
I wish the local vintners well, but if it's not in the bottle, it's not something I can support. Near where I live in San Diego, there is one outstanding winery, Fallbrook, and about 30 others that range in quality from occasionally acceptable to barely mediocre.
I'm afraid I owe it to you, dear reader, not to steer you in the direction of bad wine. Try the local wines, yes. Embrace them only if they're delivering the goods.
Expect wine prices to inch up this year as more people adjust to economic conditions and step out more often for the splurge wine purchase. I'm hearing that sales of wines priced at $20 to $40 — a category that was fairly dead a year ago — are on the move again, though we all know deals abound at every turn.
We'll see how all of this pans out, but I'm kind of enjoying the boom in moderately priced wines, particularly in restaurants, where the sweet spot is holding steady at $30 to $50.
The backlash against wines that emphasize power and heft over elegance will gain momentum. It got a boost when the San Francisco Chronicle wine editor, Jon Bonne, selected Cathy Corsion as the Chron's 2011 Winemaker of the Year.
Corison is a Napa Valley icon because of her magnificent cabernet sauvignons down through the years at Chappellet and now Corison Winery on Highway 29 in the heart of the valley. Choosing her as the year's top winemaker is a serious statement, for her cabs have always been about finesse, complexity, balance and elegance.
Corison held to her notion of what makes great Cabernet and never delved into the realm of the high-alcohol fruit bombs that play so well with some of the more prominent wine magazines.
I've tasted verticals of Corison cab going back more than 10 years, and the wines have aged splendidly, which I attribute to their impeccable balance.
The Chronicle wine section is closely watched throughout the California wine industry.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value. The scores are a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Gerard Bertrand 2009 Chateau L'Hospitalet La Reserve La Clape, France ($18) — This is my first exceptional value wine of 2012. It's what's known as a GSM blend of grenache, syrah and Mourvedre. This wine exhibits rich, sensuous textures with supple tannins and layered blackberry and black raspberry fruit. La Clape is a small spit of land that juts into the Mediterranean (eons ago it was once an island unto itself) southeast of Narbonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was once a sub-appellation of the Coteaux du Languedoc, but last year was elevated to AOC Grand Cru status, a long overdue and well deserved promotion in vineyard rank. Rating: 91.
Zocker 2009 Riesling, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($20) — It is now apparent that the French-born winemaker Christian Roguenant, who got his start in this country making superb sparkling wines for the now-defunct Maison Deutz before moving to even greater acclaim as the expert hand behind the world-class chardonnays and pinot noirs of Baileyana, is something of a genius with aromatic white wines. His albarino and gruner veltliner, made for Tangent and Zocker, respectively, reside at the head of the class for wines made from those grapes in California. Now he's added a dry Zocker Riesling to the lineup, and as you might imagine, it is a benchmark for this noble grape variety in California. Beautifully structured, with mouth-watering acidity and intense aromas of stone fruits, melon and citrus, the new Zocker Riesling also exhibits a wet-slate minerality that is so enticing it's extremely difficult to stop at one glass. Once again, kudos are in order for the redoubtable Mr. Roguenant. Rating: 91.
Joseph Phelps Vineyards 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($32) — There is no doubt about the fact that Joseph Phelps Vineyards is more and more a cabernet house. In fact, one of the four or five best cabernet houses in the Napa Valley. Yet JPV is hardly a one-trick pony, since it pared down its portfolio a number of years ago, and one of the less heralded stars remaining in the stable is the sauvignon blanc, which in 2010, as in just about every other vintage I can remember over the past 20 years, it is an impeccably made, well-balanced wine that is a superb match with goat cheese or grilled fish with savory herbs, or simply on its own as an aperitif. This wine exhibits attractive notes of citrus, melon and dried herbs, with juicy, refreshing acidity and a long, pleasing finish. Rating: 90.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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