the urge to splurge

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I generally devote my Friday blog to the sort of affordable, every day wines that are the standard newspaper wine column fodder. Although my Seattle Times wine column is no more, I still feel an obligation to serve those readers who stuck with me over the past decade and more, so these Friday essays are designed to fill that need.


Once in awhile I’m gonna write about pricier wines, more exclusive wines, cultish wines – the sort of wines that would be certain to bring down the wrath of newspaper readers were I to mention them in print (remember print?). Not that I am always a fan of expensive wines. The pipeline is full of over-priced plonk, and all too often if an $80 or $150 sample turns up on my doorstep, it’s a clear indication that the winery can’t sell the stuff, so they give it away on the chance it will strike reviewer gold.

Of course, what is too expensive, like everything else having to do with wine, is entirely in the mind of the person making the purchase decisions. Not long ago Trader Joe’s announced that after something like a dozen years, they would have to raise the price of two buck Chuck by 50 cents. I was in California at the time, where two buck Chuck actually costs two bucks, and happened to be strolling by the wine aisle of the local TJ’s when I overheard an elderly shopper announcing in a loud voice to her friend that she would no longer be buying the wine BECAUSE IT HAD GOTTEN SO EXPENSIVE! Apparently, that extra 50 cents was a deal breaker.

There are times, however, when a splurge wine is what you want. Maybe it’s a holiday, a birthday, an anniversary, a new job, a promotion, a vacation, a bribe... whatever. You’ve got the urge to splurge. Here are a few good bottles to look for.

Badia A Passignano 2007 Chianti Classico Riserva; $53. In my view, Chianti Classico Riserva wines are among the world’s best values, and this one, admittedly at the high end of what these wines usually cost, is worth the tariff and more. It’s 100% Sangiovese, from an estate owned by the Antinori family, and dedicated to doing everything possible to produce pure Tuscan (not Super Tuscan) wines of exceptional character. This succeeds on all levels – it’s soft and supple (like real Corinthian leather), past its youth but well structured for more development, should you wish to cellar a few bottles. Best of all it’s drinking beautifully at the moment, a subtle, detailed expression of all the nuanced scents and flavors that make Tuscan Sangiovese so uniquely special.

Shoup 2007, 2008 and 2009 Red Wine; $100. Allen Shoup is the founder of Long Shadows and the former CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. This is his personal wine project, made at Long Shadows by winemaker Gilles Nicault. The three vintages listed will all be released (likely as a boxed set) on August 1st. Gilles writes: “In 2007, we used 30% Stillwater Creek and 20% Benches Cabernet in the blend. In 2008, 50% Benches. In 2009, 50% Stonetree Cabernet.” All three reflected the specific vintage conditions and their differing time in bottle. Had I to choose, I’d go with the 2007, a beautifully-integrated, floral and dusty wine, with contoured, sculpted fruit. Plums and cherries dominate, with dustings of cocoa powder, coffee and a hint of hazelnut. The wine is graceful and profound, with superb length and finesse. Any (or all) of them would be a show-stopper.

Pirouette 2010 Red Wine; $50. Pirouette is a Cabernet-dominated, Bordeaux style blend, with 31% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot completing the mix. Scents of violets and raspberries open, with plenty of sweet new oak. It’s bright and spicy in the mouth, youthful and balanced, with terrific energy and aging potential.

Feather 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon; $55. This is Long Shadows’ 100% Cabernet Sauvignon offering, a sharp-edged wine with a brilliant mix of berry, cherry and black fruits, sparked by juicy acids. There’s spice and chocolate highlights as well, and a purity and focus that suggests cellaring will add still more complexity over the course of a decade or more.

William Hatcher 2010 Pinot Noir; $48. This is an excellent vintage for this cuvée, showing great concentration of fruit. It’s a generous mix of strawberry, raspberry and cherry flavors, with the depth of preserves, but not the jammy character. Perfectly buoyed with zippy acidity, and finished with a lightly toasty edge, this is a lovely bottle for drinking now or cellaring for a few more years.

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