In Monday's edition, I spoke with some skepticism of the 2003 vintage in the Southern Rhône, where a torrid summer yielded grapes so ripe, early-maturing and loaded with sugar that producers were tempted to make wines in a fat and slap-happy Californian or even Australian style.
I've expressed similar concerns about Burgundy, where you'll recall that I encountered some intriguing if bizarre "New World"-style 2003 wines in barrel tasting last summer.
Beaujolais, after all, is at its best when it's a "fruit bowl in a glass," and under-ripeness is more often the region's challenge. So, when a good, quality Beaujolais producer is handed grapes as sweet and ripe as those in 2003, the result can be an absolute delight. So it is, I was pleased to find, with the Beaujolais-Villages of Louis Tête, who ranks year in and year out as a favorite because of his apparent commitment to present wines that see little manipulation in their quest to reflect pure, natural fruit.
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Louis Tête 2003 Beaujolais-Villages ($9.99)
This is a very dark reddish-purple wine, surprisingly dark for a Beaujolais, offering the first hint that this hot-vintage wine lies at the bold end of the style spectrum. Ripe, luscious strawberries burst out on the nose and palate, the signature flavor of the Gamay grape but present here in unusual degree, without the odd banana scents or green and herbaceous character that often afflict Beaujolais. Juicy fruit almost conveys an impression of strawberry Kool-Aid at first, but it's saved by delightful freshness and crisp acidity, finishing with an appealing whiff of fragrant black pepper and a dry, tart snap. Full, forward fruit and good acidity makes for an appealing, mouth-watering Beaujolais, a vintage well handled by Louis Tête with its usual clean and balanced style. U.S. importer: Bercut-Vandervoort & Co., Brisbane, Calif. (March 28, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with an Americanized variation on fettuccine Alfredo made with mellow, sharp yellow Cheddar and a dash of hot mustard, a variation that plays beautifully against the wine's ripe and forward fruit.
VALUE: Buy it by the case at $10 a bottle.
WHEN TO DRINK: Quaff it during the coming year, before its exuberant youthful fruit begins to fade.
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French Wine Explorers:
Join me in the Rhône in June!
Among all the wines and wine regions of the world, I can't help feeling a special affection for the Rhône Valley. Scenic country, historic cities and villages, friendly people and great food and wine - few wine regions can match the Northern and Southern Rhône, and I would boldly venture to say that none exceed it.
My annual tour with French Wine Explorers is coming up soon - on June 6-12 - and we do still have a few spaces remaining open. As 30 Second Wine Advisor readers, I would love to have the opportunity to meet and share wine and fellowship with you on this memorable seven-day, six-night tour.
This is a first-class tour, featuring meals at several Michelin-starred restaurants, including La Vieille Fontaine at l'Hotel d'Europe, which is one of the best and most elegant restaurants in the region; another exceptional meal will be at Le Grand Pré, which is one of the author Patricia Wells's favorite local restaurants. Accommodations will be similarly first-rate, including several days at l'Hotel d’Europe, offering the height of old-world charm and elegance in the historic center of Avignon, close to all the major sights, restaurants and shopping.
We'll be enjoying VIP visits to some of the best wine-producing estates of the region in the prestigious appellations of Hermitage, Côte Rôtie and Châteauneuf-du-Pape; and in a very special event that few wine-loving visitors are privileged to enjoy, we have an invitation to the Echansonnerie dinner, a private, gala dinner and dance for the wine makers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and their families and friends, in the historic 14th century wine cellars of the Papal Court at Avignon.
For U.S. tourists, the tour is priced in dollars, not Euros, and the price is all-inclusive, protecting you from the weak dollar exchange and ensuring full value for this once-in-a-lifetime tour. And please be assured that the tour will be first-class and VIP but never stuffy ... we're looking forward to an exciting, friendly and casual week of touring the Rhône as an intimate group of wine-loving friends. If you love wine and love the Rhône, you'll find this a truly unforgettable experience, and I do hope you'll join us.
If you have any questions at all about the tour, please feel free to get in touch with me personally at email@example.com.
For more information, visit French Wine Exporers' Northern and Southern Rhône tour page,
The Literate Wine Lover
Christy Campbell's The Botanist and the Vintner
I'll confess right up front that I don't fully understand how the book-publishing industry and its public-relations machinery works. When I wrote a brief review of this intriguing wine-history book by British journalist Christy Campbell book last December, I noted with some puzzlement that it wasn't slated for publication until March 2005 but that a British edition, bearing the slightly different name "Phylloxera: How Wine Was Saved for the World," had been in print for more than a year and was already available to U.S. readers on Amazon.com.
Now it's March, the American edition is finally here, and - inscrutably - both The New York Times and The San Francisco Chronicle have reviewed it this week as if it were brand-new, with no mention that the same book has been available for 14 months and that its American publisher has been hawking it since autumn.
For those who haven't already read the earlier edition, though, the American hardcover version is worth a look. Well and thoroughly told, it covers the story of phylloxera, the root-gobbling aphid that was accidentally exported to France in a shipment of American grapevines in 1862 and that all but wiped out Europe's vineyards within a generation.
While it may not be a book for beginners - it goes into quite a bit of advanced detail about botany, vine cultivation and wine production, introducing just about every character on either side of the Atlantic who was involved in tracking down the problem and coming up with the solutions that saved the industry - Campbell does an excellent job of spinning it all into a gripping, if almost scholastically thorough, tale about one of the most important chapters in the history of wine. A few slip-ups in the "translation" from British to American English - a reference to Napa vine rows being a remarkable 10 meters apart where the editors clearly failed to convert meters to feet, for instance - don't diminish the enjoyment of a good historical read.
The following link-to-buy from Amazon.com will get you Christy Campbell's The Botanist and the Vintner for $16.47, a 34 percent discount from the $24.95 list price, and will return a small commission to WineLoversPage.com:
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005