With picnics and poolsides a couple of favorite places to enjoy summer wines, we've been spending more time visiting and sipping than writing in recent weeks and we hereby apologize. But there are a lot of bargains and some good tasting out there, along with a few interesting trends in the wine business.
Jordan, founded by Tom Jordan, who grew up in Mount Vernon, Ill., and became a successful petroleum engineer, built one of the most elegant estates in northern California and makes wine to match the architecture and decor of his Alexander Valley winery. Five years ago, he persuaded his son, John, an attorney, to take over the winery. Samples of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Chardonnay arrived recently, representing the new generation of Jordans.
The Cab, at $52, may not be a bargain, but it's a splendid wine, rich and round, with bright flavor of berries and currants, a long finish, and worth a splurge. The blend is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19.5% Merlot, 4.5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec, two-thirds aged in French oak and the remainder in American oak. A year in barrel and two years in bottle gives it sufficient age to be drinkable now, though another couple of years in the cellar will show a discernible difference in body and flavor. The Chardonnay, from Russian River Valley ($29) grapes, seems a little more classic French in style, without as much of the big, buttery quality that some California offerings still show and that is too intrusive for me. The simpler French Chablis style works better with food, especially oysters on the shell or crab legs.
* * * *
The bargain side is demonstrated by three French imports from Bordeaux, and yes, the price of $10 for the white and the rose, $12 for the red, is not a typo. Of course these are not Grand Cru, First Growth Bordeaux wines, but they are good companions to a meal, whether at home or in the back yard or a state park or just at a side-of-the-road picnic table. These are young, bright, frisky wines that can be quaffed. They are not great wines, but they're nice drinking right now.
Bordeaux, by the way, covers a lot of territory in southwestern France
The white, an '09 from Chateau de Parenchere, is a blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc, with some Semillon and Muscadet. The citrus notes of the Sauvignon come through nicely. I'm not a fan of Semillon; it tends to bring flabbiness to usually crisp white wines, but there seems to be only a small amount, adding some flavor and a little body. A pleasant aperitif, too, but take it off the ice for a half-hour or so before drinking. Too much cold hurts the flavor.
The red, from Marquis de Chasse, is from 2007, and is a basic Bordeaux blend (60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc). It's a little on the light side, but has a pleasant flavor. Not sophisticated or world-class, but drinkable and a nice companion to some hamburgers on the grill.
And the rose, from Axel des Vignes, was brisk and appealing, fresh and flavorful, with a hint of strawberry. Perfect with a chicken sandwich, or even a bacon, lettuce and tomato.
* * * *
Speaking of rose wines, Angove, an Australian producer, has a Nine Vines 2008 Rose that also is a winner. Grenache (70 percent) and Syrah (30) is a traditional blend for good fruit, crisp berry flavors and a dryness that is easy on the palate.
At the price-conscious edge of today's spectrum, a couple of ten-buck specials from Concannon Vineyard, a Central Coast standby for more than 125 years. John Concannon, a fourth-generation vintner, has a 2007 Shiraz and a 2009 Riesling in his Selected Vineyards collection. Both are excellent values and tasty drinking. The former, a delightful companion to lamb or wild game, has raspberry notes and a suprisingly long finish for a wine in this price range. The Riesling, a touch sweeter, shows off citrus and pear, with pleasing acidity that makes it work well with spicy Asian or Latin American fare.
* * * *
Judy Jordan, founder and president of J Winery, in Healdsburg, decided some 20 years ago that she wanted a career in the wine business, but not at the family winery. Her winery, not very far from the one now operated by her brother, became known for elegant, delicious sparkling wine, then spread into various still wines, led by a glorious 2007 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, priced at about $35. It's an elegant wine, almost delicate, but with a strong backbone. Winemaker George Bursick leads it through malolactic fermentation, then ages it for 15 months in French oak barrels and another six months (at least) in bottles. There are violets in the aroma, traditional cherry with a hint of clove on the palate.
Pinot Noir, the great grape of Burgundy, is as happy in the Russian River Valley as it is in its French homeland, and the J version is a delight. A little tannin holds on, but another few years should smooth it out even further.