Today's Sponsor
 The Connoisseur's Series
Membership in California Wine Club's elite Connoisseurs' Series is now available to Wine Advisor readers.

In This Issue
 Too darn hot Rechecking the conventional wisdom: Must red wine always be served at room temperature?
 Bortolotti Spumanti Prosecco Valdobbiadene Extra Dry ($16) Fresh, tart green apples and refreshing fizz make this fine Prosecco an exceptional choice for a fierce summer day.
 The Connoisseur's Series Membership in California Wine Club's elite Connoisseurs' Series is now available to Wine Advisor readers.
 Three outstanding high-end California wines I just about had to fight off my friends to hang on to my tasting share of these remarkably good Connoisseurs' Series selections.
 This week on
What's happening to Pinot Noir, what you're drinking this summer, and a look at relative value in Italian Piemontese wines.
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index The Wine Advisor archives.
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Too darn hot

We're midway through July, typically the hottest, muggiest part of summer in much of the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather around here, at least, is living up to its seasonal role.

It's too darn hot to do much of anything, maybe even too hot for wine. On second thought, let's not get unrealistic about this. But still, it's hot enough to prompt one of our periodic re-evaluations of the conventional wisdom about wine.

According to the Book of Wine Snobbery Laws, red wine must be served only at room temperature, while white, rosé and sparkling wines may only be properly served cold.

Laws, as I've said before, are made to be broken, and there's no better time to break this one than a torrid summer day when the temperature rises to the middle 90s (that's the middle 30s to those of you in the rest of the world).

Bear in mind that the "room temperature" rule was crafted by wine enthusiasts in Europe before the age of central heat, when it wasn't uncommon for sweaters and scarves to be appropriate wear for dinner. So take my word for this: It's all right to put your bottle of red wine into the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour before dinner, just long enough to bring it down to something like "cellar temperature," the natural chill of underground wine cellars and caves.

Realistically, you don't want to serve red wine ice cold. Not good red wine, anyway. An icy chill will rob the wine of the flavor nuances you expect in a red, and will throw its acidity and tannins out of balance. This is why "don't serve reds cold" isn't really bad advice. But ice cold is one thing, and a light, refreshing chill is quite another. Try it yourself if you don't believe me: A half-hour or so before dinner tonight, pour two glasses of red wine. Put one on the table. Chill the other. Then try them side-by-side. I think you'll find the cooler wine more pleasantly refreshing, with no loss of flavor. And if you don't like it, it won't take long for it to warm up again.

Good white wines shouldn't be served too cold, either. But that's another story for another day. Meanwhile, here's today's tasting, a fine Italian sparkler that goes down well with a chill.

Bortolotti Bortolotti Spumanti Prosecco Valdobbiadene Extra Dry ($16)

I last reported on this fine Prosecco from Cantine Umberto Bortolotti as a bubbly fine enough for New Year's toasting at a fraction the price of Champagne. We return to it in midsummer as a stylish midsummer table wine and hot-weather quaffer. It's a clear, light straw-color wine with a greenish hue and a persistent stream of bubbles. Its aromas are light and fresh, tangy apples and citrus. On the palate it's crisp and dry, gently tart lime and green-apple flavors with a refreshing note of prickly carbonation, trailing off to a clean, dry citric snap in the finish. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers. (July 13, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: A natural with fresh summer garden vegetables, it was a delight with an improvised pasta dish of baby artichokes and thin-sliced new potatoes over farfalle pasta with onions and garlic, fresh plum tomatoes, Pecorino Romano and a basil chiffonade.

VALUE: You can find cheaper Prosecco, but this one justifies its mid-teens price with classy elegance at a fraction the price of Champagne. Shop around, as many vendors offer Bortolotti at a lower price than I paid.

WHEN TO DRINK: Freshness is a virtue with Prosecco, particularly with this non-vintage model (although a coded reference on the back label suggests it was shipped as recently as December 2005). Best drunk up fresh, then wait for the next shipment.

Prosecco = "Pro-sec-co"
Valdobbiadene = "Vahl-doh-b'ya-day-neh"

The Bortolotti Website is published in Italian, German, French and English. Here's the English home page:

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Connoisseurs Series
The Connoisseurs' Series:
Unparalleled excellence in California wine

One of the more exciting small events in this wine-lover's life is the monthly arrival of my surprise package from the California Wine Club's limited-membership Connoisseurs' Series, which the Club is now pleased to offer to readers and 30 Second Wine Advisor subscribers.

The Connoisseurs' Series is the only wine club in America that can guarantee a monthly wine shipment of impossible-to-find, 90-plus-rated wines - each and every time. Now, most of you know how little I care about the ratings from the "usual suspects," but here's the good news: These wines are hand-selected by my old wine-judging pal Charlie Olken and his colleagues at Connoisseur's Guide magazine, along with the good folks at California Wine Club, who've impressed me with their fine wine judgment over our 10-year friendship. They haven't let me down yet.

Connoisseurs' Series members may choose to receive a package monthly, every other month or quarterly. Each shipment include two to four bottles of California's highest-rated wines, with detailed background information. Monthly shipments average $125-$175, including all shipping and handling. There's no membership charge, no long-term commitment (cancel any time), and every wine is guaranteed.

I shared a recent package of three outstanding reds with a crowd of friends at a summer picnic, and they were so enthusiastic about all three that I just about had to fight for enough to give you these tasting reports. The Club tells me that they're still available, but in very small supply. If you're keen to enjoy them, I suggest you act promptly. Visit or call The California Wine Club at 1-800-777-4443 to learn more about The Connoisseur's Series. Feel free to tell them that I sent you ... and, if you join, please don't hesitate to contact me by E-mail and tell me what you think.

Sirita Sirita 2001 Napa Valley Merlot ($47 retail, $43 per bottle for half or full case orders from Connoisseurs' Series)

This excellent Merlot is produces by Larry Stone, a leading sommelier who twice won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine Service before he went on to make wine at Francis Ford Coppola's Rubicon Estate in Napa and at this, his own small-production winery. It's a dark reddish-purple wine, clear but richly hued. Intense dark-berry fruit enticingly blends blackberries and blueberries. Flavors are consistent with the nose, black fruit backed by balancing acidity and structural tannins. It gains a bit of earthy, smoky complexity and oaky nuances with time in the glass but remains well-blanced and elegant through a long finish. Only 560 cases were produced. Here's a profile of Larry Stone on the Court of Master Sommeliers Website: (July 15, 2006)

Rosenblum Rosenblum Cellars 2003 Sonoma County Hillside Vineyards Syrah ($28 retail, $25 per bottle for half or full case orders from Connoisseurs' Series)

One of the upper-tier wines from Rosenblum's extensive portfolio, this bold Syrah is complex and expressive, bringing together a hint of the Northern Rhone in a "blockbuster" Syrah that's undeniably New World but rises far above the monolithic style that diminishes so many costly California and Australian examples of the variety. Very dark reddish-purple in color, it's ripe and intense, starting with a load of juicy black plums that gain complexity from Rhonish touches of smoke and red meat. Big and bold, its 15.3 percent alcohol demands attention, but it boasts both power and grace, and it's likely to become more so with a few years of cellar time. 850 cases made. Winery Website: (July 15, 2006)

Ridge Ridge 2003 Sonoma County California Geyserville ($35 retail, $31 per bottle for half or full case orders from Connoisseurs' Series)

If any American producer is to earn recognition as a "California First Growth," Paul Draper's Ridge Vineyards ranks in strong contention, not only for its classic Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon but also for this wine, its memorable Geyserville Zinfandel blend. Very dark garnet in color, it breathes lovely Zin bramble fruit, more elegant than muscular. The word "elegance" defines the flavor as well. Clean, luscious black fruit is perfectly balanced by mouth-watering acidity. Intense but not boisterous, fine Zinfandel fruit wraps 14.6 percent alcohol and soft tannins in a velvet blanket. A blend of 76 percent Zinfandel, 18 percent Carignane and 6 percent Petite Sirah, it's aged in air-dried American oak, but only 15 percent of it is new oak, yielding appropriately subtle oak accents. A total of 850 cases were made. Winery Website: (July 15, 2006)

This week on

Some highlights of recent articles on that I hope you'll enjoy:

QPRwines: 1999-2001 Piedmont Red Wines
When we combine these wines by score and price, the 2001 vintage easily ranks highest on the basis of critical ratings points, but all three vintages are close in terms of price. Neil Monnens' QPRwines provides reports on 486 Piemontese reds.

Hot topics in our WineLovers Discussion Groups
Our WineLovers' Discussion Groups are the best places online to ask wine questions and participate in the civil and intelligent discussion of good things to eat and drink. Our WineLovers Discussion Group (WLDG) is the Internet's original wine forum, a non-commercial venue intended for wine-related conversations that range from apprentice-level to wine professionals. Our WineLovers Community on the Netscape/CompuServe service is dedicated to wine education, a friendly place to get quick answers to your questions about wine, beer, spirits and all good things to drink.

Poll: Summer wine preference
Many people find that their wine-tasting habits change during summer, when torrid heat inspires thoughts of chilled whites, crisp dry rosé wines or even sparklers. Others stay the course, choosing sturdy red wines regardless of the weather. How about you? This week's casual poll on our Netscape WineLovers Community invites you to vote on your summer wine preference. Feel free to add a comment to explain your vote!

What is happening to Pinot Noir?
An awful lot of Pinot Noir these days - especially from New World regions - doesn't taste much like Pinot any more. It's big, strong and oaky, with none of the delicacy traditionally associated with great Pinot. What's happening here and why? Read the opinions, and add your own, in this WineLovers Dicussion Group topic:

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:

 Argentine immigrant wine (July 14, 2006)

 Impressive Chilean red (July 12, 2006)

 Mosel made easy or Mosel made stupid? (July 10, 2006)

 Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:

 Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Savory blueberry sauce (July 13, 2006)

 Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:

 30 Second Wine Advisor, daily or weekly (free)
 Wine Advisor FoodLetter, Thursdays (free)
 Wine Advisor Premium Edition, alternate Tuesdays ($24/year)

For all past editions, click here


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Monday, July 17, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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