The rule of real estate
No, it's not "location, location, location," although that rule of thumb for real estate works well for wine, too.
Today we're examining the notion that the more precise and narrowly focused the "appellation" - the legal label designation that describes the geographical source of the grapes - the better the wine is likely to be.
According to this rule, a French wine with the geographical name "Margaux" on the label, indicating that its grapes were grown within that favored village, ought to be better than one labeled "Haut-Medoc" or just-plain "Medoc," which may contain fruit from throughout that region; and those in turn might have the edge over a wine merely labeled "Bordeaux," a generic appellation that may encompass wines grown anywhere in that broad area.
The same principles apply all over France, of course, and in most of the world's other wine-growing regions: "Chianti Classico," from the center zone in the historic Italian wine country in Tuscany, enjoys a reputation above just-plain "Chianti." In California, a designation from "Stag's Leap District" or "Oakville" may trump the broader "Napa," which beats "North Coast" or generic "California" on the label.
Does this rule really work? Like a lot of the other rules of wine, there's some justification for it as an overall guide. Particularly in regions with a long tradition of commercial wine, the theory holds that the reputation of the "best" real estate is built on its track record, and grapes grown in the most-favored villages reflect that history in their quality (and, generally, in their demand-driven price).
But as with most wine rules, it helps to know when to keep them and when to break 'em. By paying attention, the discerning consumer can often find value by defying the conventional wisdom, taking a risk on a wine that ignores the rule when the odds seem right.
So for today's tasting I tried two modest wines from broad appellations indeed. I felt quite comfortable putting down 10 bucks for Glass Mountain Quarry despite its generic "California" label, knowing this to be a "second label" from the highly regarded Markham Winery and one that I've enjoyed in previous vintages.
The other wine, a decidedly low-end 2000 Bordeaux from Chateau Le Mas, was a bit more of a gamble. Although it's a generic "Bordeaux" from an unknown producer, I took a chance because the vintage was generally good across Bordeaux; the wine's label ("mis en bouteille au chateau") indicated that it was grown and bottled by the producer, not anonymous bulk wine; and it was cheap enough that the risk wasn't a serious one.
Both wines were worth the price, and the Glass Mountain was a particularly good value, showing once again that it pays to know when to break the rules.
Glass Mountain Quarry 1999 California Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.99)
This clear, dark reddish-purple wine, a "second label" of Napa's Markham winery, shows pleasant and appealing scents of cherries, berries and aromatic vanilla with an aromatic whiff of cedar in the background. Its ripe and fresh flavor is focused on clean, simple fruit framed by appropriate acidity. Clearly "New World" in style, it's a good, basic and well-made California red table wine for a price that's more than fair. With 76 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it just meets the minimum requirement for varietal labeling; there's also 14 percent of Merlot and 10 percent of Shiraz in the blend. (July 27, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fruit and acid balance make it a pleasant companion with char-grilled leg of lamb.
VALUE: A very good buy for $10.
WHEN TO DRINK: Still in current release, this four-year-old vintage ought to hold up well for a few more years, but it's made for immediate enjoyment, not long-term aging.
WEB LINK: The U.S. national distributor, Paterno Imports, has a detailed report on Glass Mountain Quarry at
Chateau Le Mas 2000 Bordeaux ($8.99)
Inky garnet, almost black, this simple Bordeaux falls on the "green" and "weedy" side of the aroma spectrum. A volatile whiff of furniture polish is offputting at first, but this soon blows off to reveal herbaceous but attractive scents that reflect the characteristic cedary "cigar box" and herbal "lead pencil" aromas of Bordeaux over fresh red fruit. Its rather fat and full flavor comes as a surprise in the wake of the lean aromas, but it's juicy and quaffable, with sufficient fresh-fruit acidity and a smooth but marked tannic astringency emerging in the finish. A lot of complexity here, but some awkwardness too. Might be worth holding for a while to see if things come together. U.S. importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (July 27, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's herbal character and fruit make it a natural companion for grilled lamb.
VALUE: You won't find much 2000 Bordeaux for less than $10, so high expectations aren't reasonable. But it's drinkable and even interesting, making it a fair value for the price.
WHEN TO DRINK: As noted, it might benefit from a year or two in the cellar, but I wouldn't count on more.
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Red wine with fish? Well, sure! James Bond's fictional advice in Goldfinger notwithstanding, it's OK to break the rules, columnist Natalie MacLean suggests. For some ideas about when it makes sense to match red wine with fish - and when it doesn't - see her article, "Finding Your Solemate," at
There's a lot to like about Umbria, Italian wine expert Tom Hyland says. A bountiful climate, wonderful foods, and distinctive wines have made it one of his favorite Italian regions. And then there's Sagrantino, an indigenous red grape that makes distinctive wines. In a column from his Italian Wine Guide, Tom offers his thoughts on Umbria's unusual reds, plus a bonus report on a great new wine bar in Rome:
MoCool! The oldest and largest annual gathering of online wine lovers, the MoTown Cooperative Offline, is less than a month away, with a weekend full of wine and food events luring a crowd from around the world to the Detroit and Ann Arbor area in Michigan. I'll be there, and I hope you will, too!
This year's theme is "California Dreamin'," with the wines of California being the focus for an exciting Friday dinner, Saturday picnic and Sunday brunch. Mark Aug. 22-24 on your calendar, and for all the specifics, click to the MoCool Page on WineLoversPage.com,
Save up to $60 per gift with The California Wine Club!
Sure it's summer and sure holiday shopping is the last thing on your mind but The California Wine Club has something that just might change that! You'll receive 2001 prices on any holiday gift ordered before August 31, 2003. Plus, there's no billing and no shipping until December 2003.
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Tasting the alcohol (July 25, 2003)
Indiana hybrid (July 23, 2003)
Salad days (July 21, 2003)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Lamb burgers (July 24, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, July 28, 2003