Monday, January 30, 2017

Wakefield - Fresh but Serious Wines from South Australia

I’ve reviewed some wines from Australia’s Wakefield before, here and here. They also produce a $200 a pop Visionary Cabernet and Pioneer Shiraz, which are stellar. This time I’ve got two wines from their Jaraman label, which are blended from multiple regions, and two wines from the St. Andrews brand, which come from estate fruit planted in Clare Valley terra rossa soil.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2015 Wakefield Chardonnay Jaraman - Australia, South Australia
SRP: $25
Pale gold color. Juicy white peach and green apple on the nose with some sea spray, honeyed tea and cut flowers. Full-bodied and creamy but some refreshing acidity keeps it balanced. The lemon curd, peach and baked apple fruit is topped in chopped peanuts, almonds and notes of chalk and floral perfume. Vibrant and clean but packed with rich flavor. A blend of fruit from Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills. (88 points)

2014 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon Jaraman - Australia, South Australia
SRP: $30
Plump purple color. Dark and saucy aromas of black cherries and roasted plums, along with a bold shot of menthol and eucalyptus, sweet coffee and clove. Full-bodied with moderate tannins but a refreshing sense of acidity holds it together nicely. Black cherries and blueberry fruit, ripe and juicy, topped in coffee grounds, vanilla, eucalyptus and pepper. Juicy and rich but shows some complexity of non-fruit flavors to keep it interesting. A split of juice from Clare Valley and Coonawarra.
(87 points)

2014 Wakefield Shiraz St Andrews - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $60
Deep purple color. Aromas of deep currants, blueberries, dark plums, along with black pepper, grilled steak, rich earth and eucalyptus. Full but smooth, plush but fresh, ripe fruit (blueberry and blackberry) combines with fleshy tannins and vibrant acidity, and the fruit maintains a fresh edge. Lots of earth, soy, pepper, tobacco, beef jerky. Instantly delicious but complex, with five to ten years of potential development from this wine. Aged 18 months in American oak. (91 points)

2014 Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon St Andrews - Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Clare Valley
SRP: $60
Dark purple color. Aromas of rich currants, plum skins, gushing blackberry, but lots of sweet tobacco, rich earth, violets, smashed rocks and iron. Full-bodied and saucy but vibrant acidity balances out nicely with the sturdy tannins. Deep black currants and black cherries, loaded with coffee, loamy soil, grilled herbs, graphite, roasted chestnut. Density for aging but it opens up nicely with just a little air. Gorgeous Clare Valley Cab! Aged 18 months in 40% new French oak. (91 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lesser-Known Grape Varieties Have Lots to Offer the Andventurous Wine Drinker

The Trousseau grape. Credit: Wikipedia.
2017 is starting off pretty rough on the national stage, but for adventurous wine drinkers, times are good.

More and more importers are searching out ancient and indigenous grape varieties from all over the Old World. And more American winegrowers and producers are trying their hand at grape varieties you may not know.

From Baco Noir to Trousseau to Rkatsiteli (say that last one three times quickly), there are so many ways to branch out from Cabernet and Chardonnay.

A bunch of wine writers (myself included) offer up some suggestions on fascinating, sometimes obscure, but most always delicious, grape varieties. 
Click here for some adventurous, palate-expanding grape varieties to explore.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wine Reviews: Goodies from Tuscany

It’s been a while since I’ve focused on Italy in my tasting reports, but I’ve received a bunch of Tuscan reds over the past few months, so here we go.

Included are three wines from Tenuta Degli Dei, a father-son partnership between Roberto and Tommaso Cavalli. Their family farm in Chianti had been used for raising horses until 2000, when they began making wine. The 2011s from Tenuta di Arceno really impressed me with their structure, depth, and age-worthiness. A few other wines are included as well.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  
2013 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
SRP: $25
Bright ruby color. Aromas of juicy black cherries, tart red currants, tar, smoky herbs and black tea, a lot of spicy tobacco. Full-bodied (14.5%) with moderate tannic structure and bright acidity that keeps it fresh. Dark cherries and juicy plums combine with roasted chestnut, tar, charcoal and loamy soil. Full, juicy but structured, this could use a solid decant or a few years. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. (88 points)

2010 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Strada al Sasso Riserva - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
SRP: $35
Deep ruby color. Bright but rich aromas of red and black currants and cherries, rose petals, cocoa powder, rosemary and potting soil. Serious grip to the tannins, moderate acidity keeps it fresh, the fruit (currants and black cherries) concentrated but delicious. Lots of complex earth, charcoal, sweet herbs, black tea. Bold and rich but it is balanced and elegant. This wine has so much time ahead; don’t fret about burying some bottles and forgetting about them for five to ten years. 100% Sangiovese. (90 points)

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Valadorna di Arcanum - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $80
Deep purple color. Rich and concentrated nose of dark currants and plums, violets, coffee, scorched earth, vanilla, all of it deep but inviting. Full-bodied with fleshy tannins and moderate-to-fresh acidity, serious structure but not too dense. Black cherries, blueberries and cassis mix with charcoal, violets, coffee, eucalyptus, fennel and fallen leaves. Plush yet structured, velvety yet clean and fresh. Lots of life ahead.  60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 months in 80% new French oak. (91 points)
2011 Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $100
Deep purple color. Rich, exotic aromatics of blackberries, black cherries and currants, the fruit comes in waves, backed up by clove, cinnamon, violets and dark chocolate, but also some black olive and charcoal. Full-bodied, hard-line tannic structure, but some medium acid helps balance it out. Rich with plum, blackberry and cassis, juicy by concentrated, and I get a complex mix of non-fruit elements: mint, chewing tobacco, dark chocolate, clove, birch root and black olive. Hedonistic flavors but serious depth and structure. 5-10 years should do wonders for this beauty. A blend of 77% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot, aged 12 months in 80% new French oak. (93 points)

2013 Tenuta degli Dei Chianti Classico - Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG
SRP: $24
Vibrant purple color. Juicy black cherry and raspberry aromas, along with spicy tobacco, eucalyptus, birch root and pepper — a cool combo for sure. Medium-bodied with vibrant acidity and some quite serious structure to the tannins. Black cherries and red and black plum fruit, showing tartness but a good amount of richness. Lots of secondary notes of pepper and tobacco, fallen leaves and tree bark. I like the complexity of flavors and balance of structure and freshness; seems like it could improve with a few years, easily. 100% Sangiovese. (88 points)   

2013 Tenuta degli Dei Le Redini Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $30
Vibrant light purple color. The aromas are bright and juicy with lots of red currants, roses, tobacco and eucalyptus. Full-bodied with moderately firm tannins, moderate acidity. The fruit is quite concentrated, red and black currants, but there’s a freshness to this wine that is very attractive. Notes of coffee, eucalyptus, black tea, finishes bright and full of herbs and smoke. Really opens up after a few hours; even though this is the less expensive bottling, it’s still deserving of a few years in the cellar, or a long decant now. 90% Merlot, 10% Alicante, aged 12 months in oak. (90 points)

2012 Tenuta degli Dei Cavalli Toscana IGT - Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT
SRP: $60
Medium purple color. Juicy red currants, some blueberry as well, along with cedar shavings, violets, light roast coffee. A velvety texture despite serious structure, balanced by some moderate acidity, the fruit is both tart but plush with juicy black cherry, currant, blueberry. Notes of smoky charcoal, grilled rosemary and oregano notes, cedar shavings and coffee woven in nicely. A bit dense and tannic, although the texture is quite balanced, this should be great in five to eight years. 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Petit Verdot, 15% Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in barrel. (93 points)

2013 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva Italy, Tuscany, Chianti, Chianti Classico DOCG 
SRP: $25
Pretty rose/ruby color. Red currant and wild raspberry aromas, topped in rose petals, espresso and tar notes. Medium-bodied with dusty tannins and moderate to tangy acidity. Red and black currant fruit, tart and a bit tightly wound at this point, but still pretty. Notes of roasted herbs, coffee, anise and pipe tar fill out this blend of Sangiovese and 5% Merlot. I’d decant it and serve with a big Italian style family dinner. (87 points)  

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

For Bordeaux Bargains, Check Out Cru Bourgeois

I can’t afford high-end Bordeaux. I taste them whenever I can, but most of the greatest wines carry price tags that keep them out of reach for few but the very wealthy.

While the best wines remain out of reach for most of us, there are surprisingly good Bordeaux reds available for those who can drop $15 to $35 a bottle. And these aren’t necessarily drink-me-now, chuggable reds. They’re legit, ageworthy blends worth checking out.

I’ve been on an inexpensive Bordeaux kick for a while now. The Cotes du Bordeaux appellations offer quality and value; ditto for this mixed Bordeaux case I tasted recently. A recent tasting of wines classified as Crus Bourgeois reminded me that these wines deserve the attention of savvy Cab and Merlot-loving wine enthusiasts.

The history of the Crus Bourgeois dates back to the Middle Ages. Obviously, the classifications and quality of these wines have gone through dramatic changes over the centuries. (Check out a full history here.) For our purposes: the past decade has proven pivotal for these wines, and, like Bordeaux in general, improvements in across-the-board quality have been very impressive.

Between 2007 and 2009, wine producers of the Médoc region (on Bordeaux’s Left Bank) got together and jumpstarted this classification by forming the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc. This collective established legally-recognized quality assurance guidelines, as well as an official selection process. Two years after each vintage, eligible wines are submitted to an independent panel, blind-tasted, and ranked. If they pass muster, they can be labeled Cru Bourgeois, meaning this language may appear on a wine in one vintage, but not another. The most current vintage classification (2014) contains 279 Chateaux, so the styles, production levels, appellations, etc., all vary widely. Seeing Cru Bourgeois on the label is not a guarantee that you’ll enjoy the wine, but it’s a good indicator that the bottle contains legit vino.

The numbers vary, but about 1/3 of the Médoc’s wine (some 30 million bottles) receives this classification. Crus Bourgeois wines come from eight different appellations: Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Estèphe, Saint Julien, and Pauillac.

I recently attended an event sponsored by the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc to taste through some 2014 vintages. Overshadowed by the highly-touted 2015 vintage (and early word is that 2016 may be even better), this isn’t a classic vintage. But there are plenty of solid young red blends available, many of which over-deliver for the price.

The tasting was spearheaded by international wine guru, Bordeaux aficionado, and all-around cool guy, Panos Kakaviatos, who writes for Decanter and blogs at Wine Chronicles. Ripple, which has a new Executive Chef Ryan Ratino, hosted us and provided us with wonderful food. While I’ll miss Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s cooking, all signs point to Ripple continuing as one of DC’s most delicious and wine-friendly restaurants.

I’ve included average retail prices where they’re available, although some of these wines don’t have much (or any) distribution in the U.S., so the prices are not included. But it’s safe to say most of these wines would retail in that $15-25 range.

My notes…

2014 Château Lalaudey - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Aromas of juicy black cherries and earth. Vibrant acidity meets firm tannins and juicy currant fruit. Earth, leaves, oak and coffee. Could age nicely for in the near-term but quite pleasant now. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Aged 14-18 months in 50% new French oak. (87 points)

2014 Château Meyre - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Smoky nose with fresh black cherries and earth. Fleshy but firm with black cherries and red currants and notes of tilled soil. Accessible, not too gritty. A blend of 44% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. (86 points)

2014 Château Moulin à Vent - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Open and juicy aromas of red cherries, anise and pepper. Structured quite nicely with vibrant acidity and solid tannins. Deep cherries and currants with smoke, anise, iron and earth. I love the smooth texture despite the bold foundation. 70% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, aged 12 months in 30% new oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Peyredon Lagravette - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Brighter aromatics but still juicy, more floral tones and potting soil. Tannins show serious grip. Spiced tea, herbs and campfire on top of black currants and cherries. Seems powerful and built to last quite a bit. Cabernet Sauvignon with 37% Merlot. (88 points)

2014 Château Rollan de By - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
A voluptuous and inviting nose of creamy black fruit, earth, sage and coffee. Velvety but plenty of grip, rich fruit (cherries and plums) but softer around the edges, with notes of earth, anise and vanilla. 70% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot aged 18 months in French oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Tour Seran - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Similar in style to the Rollan de By (same ownership and winemaking team), but with a bit more pepper and soil aromas. Plush, rich, lots of dark cherries and plums, and a good dose of peppery smoke and dark soil. Very attractive and accessible but good tension to unravel in the cellar. (89 points)

2014 Château La Haye - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Bright but rich aromas, the lively currant fruit is topped in violets, peppers and smashed rocks. Rich texture, bold tannins, fresh acidity, the currant fruit is rich but precise and laced in pepper, earth and black tea. Impressive. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, aged a year in about 50% new oak. (89 points)

2014 Château Labadie - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Really digging these aromas of plums and wet earth and smoke and tobacco. Plush on the palate but great grip, fresh acidity. Black tea, charred earth, anise and campfire smoke on top of deep but tart plums. I’d love to see how this ages in three to six years. Merlot with 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Cabernet Franc. (89 points)

2014 Château Patache d'Aux Médoc - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Interesting nose of violets and black tea on top of black cherries. Vibrant acid frames the wine, firm tannic backbone, but this has some vibrant red fruit in here. Anise, gravel, smashed rocks and black tea flavors. Minerals and freshness on the finish; a few years in the cellar for sure. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot aged a year in 1/3 new French oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Hanteillan - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Fresh aromas of cherries and violets and lots of earth tones. Silky, smooth, structured but approachable. Herbs, tea, leaves, minerals, lots going on here, lots of improvement over the coming years. For this price… yeah. Merlot with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, aged 14-16 months in 30% new barrels. (89 points)

2014 Château d'Arsac Margaux - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
Smells of tars, pepper, soy, smoke and black cherries. Very pretty despite its density. Smoky earth, mocha, pepper, iron gravel, these are mixed in nicely with black cherries. Should age nicely. Cabernet Sauvignon with 47% Merlot, aged 10 months in oak (30% new) and 20% vats. (89 points)

2014 Château Larose-Trintaudon - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Tart strawberries and green beans on the nose. Light and acerbic, far more so than any other wines in the tasting. Green beans and green pepper. Off balance. Merlot with 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot aged 12 months in 1/4 new barrels. 

2014 Château Larose Perganson - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Light red fruits on the nose. More structured than the Larose-Trintaudon and a lot more balance. Juicy black and red cherries with earth and rocky notes. A hint of astringency on the finish, but maybe time will mellow this out. 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot aged a year in 40% new French oak. (85 points)

2014 Château Arnauld - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
So dark and saucy on the nose. Palate is dark, bold and concentrated but packed with flavor. Plump plums and juicy currants topped with anise, smashed rocks and vanilla. Oaky but very pretty. Modern in style but should age very nicely. Cabernet Sauvignon with 30% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot, aged 18 months in all new oak barrels. (89 points)

These older vintages were tasted during the dinner.

2012 Château La Haye - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, St. Estèphe
Lots of pepper and smoke on the nose. Full and grippy but fresh acidity keeps it relatively smooth. Cassis laced with tobacco, pepper and gravel. Young but quite good. (89 points)

2012 Château Haut Breton Larigaudière - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Margaux
Wow – this is a pure and silky wine with currants and plums blended nicely with graphite, violets and pepper. Packed but lush. Highly delicious. (89 points)

2012 Château Lalaudey - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Smells of green pepper and incense. On the palate, this is bizarre. Lots of green pepper, so unbalanced, biting, acerbic. Nope.

2012 Château Moulin à Vent - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
Juicy red cherries, red plums and flowers on the nose. Smooth but nice grip. Red/black currants mix with rose petals, pepper and loamy earth. No rush. (87 points)

2012 Château Meyre - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
Softer approach with sweet plums and roses. Fresh with tart currants, flowers and wet earth. Showing nicely now but still some tannin/acid strength to go a few years. (87 points)

2010, an amazing vintage, shows the heights of
quality the Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux can reach
2010 Château Larose Perganson - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
After a bunch of 2014s and 2012s, this 2010 popped out and demonstrated why I love this vintage so much. Tart but deep berries and violets on the nose. Full and tannic but it has this smooth, velvety presence on the palate. Straight up deliciousness with its juicy currant fruit, which is matched by anise, graphite, campfire and coffee. This will improve for quite some time. (90 points)

2010 Château Larose-Trintaudon - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
I really didn't like the 2014 but this is solid. Bright and spicy red fruits. Still going with the tannic structure, some tartness, vibrant red cherries with notes of herbs and pepper. Good for a few more years, I think. (87 points)

2010 Château Patache d'Aux Médoc - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Very pretty and floral on the nose. Deep and full but well-balanced on the palate. Dark but fresh currants with earth, savory notes. Very nice! (89 points)

2010 Château Tour Seran - France, Bordeaux, Médoc
Rich, dark currants on the nose with sweet coffee, clove and tilled soil. Chewy but fresh on the palate, dense but luscious. Currants and plums and earth and coffee, woven together nicely. Long finish. Very pretty stuff, showing nicely now but improvement to come. (90 points)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Chablis on the Cheap - Classic Chardonnays From $13-$38

God, I love Chablis. I taste a ton of California Chardonnay, and I am a massive fan of more Cali Chards than I can count. But, when I sit down to taste a bunch of Chablis, my mouth starts to water before I even take a sniff.

Unfortunately, I can’t drink Raveneau on the reg. If I won the lottery, I’d be snatching them up by the case. But, while the top echelon of Chablis producers demand serious money, there are a lot of producers of good, and sometimes thrilling, Chablis for a reasonable amount of money. 

This tasting included wines from all over the quality and classification spectrum of Chablis, from Grand Cru down to Premier Cru, generic Chablis, and Petit Chablis. (However, my favorite was the Premier Cru Fourchaume.) 

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. 

2015 La Chablisienne Petit Chablis Pas Si Petit - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Petit Chablis
SRP: $13
Light yellow color. Aromas of green apples, peach, hints of sea breeze and chalk dust. Medium/light bodied but a vibrant and creamy texture balanced off of bright acidity. Yellow and green apple, lime zest, the fruit mixes with honey, salted almond and chalk notes. A bit simple, but very pleasant and delicious, a great introduction to the wines of Chablis. For my palate, this destroys a lot of California Chardonnays at the same price-point. (86 points) 

2014 Samuel Billaud Chablis Les Grands Terroirs - France, Burgundy, Chablis
SRP: $25
Pale lemon color. A bit richer aromatics than the Petit Chablis, this shows more yellow apple and pear, some creamy honey and almond as well, with a light dose of chalk and ocean spray. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity, nicely balanced, with yellow apple and pear, a shot of lime peel. Honeysuckle and honeycomb mix nicely with sea salt, preserved lemon and chalk dust notes. Pure and clean on the finish. (87 points) 

2014 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vey - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
SRP : $27
Medium yellow color. Aromatically, a huge burst of sea spray, chalk dust and salted almond, lemon and lime peel with some dandelion and cut flower stem notes, too. Brisk acidity kicks off the palate and carries this wine all the way through. It’s a tart and refreshing ride but there’s plenty of apple and lime fruit, and more than enough minerals, sea salt, oyster shell. (87 points) 

2014 Isabelle et Denis Pommier Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru
SRP: $35
Bright lemon color. Bursting aromatics of dandelion, honeysuckle and lilies, along with mandarin orange, lime peel, and richer notes of honeycomb and nougat as well. Lovely texture on the palate, great balance between incredible acidity and some creaminess. Oranges, limes and lemons topped in oyster brine, sea salt, honeycomb and peanut shell. Such a tangy and lip-smacking wine but enough richness and texture to keep it balanced. Lots going on here. I’d love to hold onto this for four or five years. (91 points)

2013 Jean-Claude Bessin Chablis Grand Cru Valmur - France, Burgundy, Chablis, Chablis Grand Cru
SRP: $38
Light gold color. Aromas of oranges, lime, preserved lemon, crushed shells, lamp oil, honeycomb and raw almond. Medium-bodied with laser-like focus and acidity, a pure and zesty wine. Minerals, river rocks and crushed shells on top of lemon, lime, green pears and orange peels, add in some white tea and honeycomb notes. Lacking a bit of density and intensity I look for in a Grand Cru, still very good stuff, though. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Atheism in Antiquity: A Review of Tim Whitmarsh's "Battling the Gods"

Over the past decade or so, much screen space has been consumed by hand-wringing over the “New Atheist” movement. This cabal, so goes the trope, led by the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, is injecting a novel and venomous form of atheism into our discussion about religious faith. I have my own problems with the most outspoken and prominent atheists all being privileged white Western men, but I don’t buy into most of the critique of the “New Atheist” movement. 

Atheism is as old as the hills. But atheism evolves as time goes on, due in some part to the fact that scientists are constantly making new discoveries that fill the gaping holes left by vapid religious explanations. Lighting used to be the realm of the divine; meteorology snuffed that out. Disease was once God-inflicted; now we have germ theory. Neuroscience shows us all sorts of fascinating things about how we incorporate new ideas into existing paradigms. Contrast this with theology, the only –ogy field of study that never receives new data. Theologians riff on other theologians’ take on other theologians’ take on Holy Scriptures. But it’s all copies of copies of copies. Nothing new, just the same things said in (sometimes) novel ways. 

Maybe atheism seems “new” because more and more people are stepping out of the shadows and saying publicly (and, yes, sometimes loudly), “No. I don’t buy this.” 

I’ve been fascinated by skepticism for many years, and I’ve often wondered what it would’ve been like to be a doubter, a skeptic, an atheist in ancient times. Sure we have Enlightenment thinkers, who faced their own tribulations, but what about further back? Like way back — Ancient Greece, perhaps? 

This is where Tim Whitmarsh’s book “Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World” comes in. It is a fascinating foray into the ancient roots of skepticism and atheism. Whitmarsh is a professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge, and this is where he focuses his dissection of religious disbelief. “This book thus represents a kind of archaeology of religious skepticism,” he writes. And it’s a wonderful archaeological dig.   

According to Whitmarsh, the notion that atheism is new is a “modernist vanity.” 

The history of atheism matters because, as Whitmarsh puts it: “History confers authority and legitimacy.” He continues: “The deep history of atheism is then in part a human rights issue: it is about recognizing atheists as real people deserving of respect, tolerance, and the opportunity to live their lives unmolested.” 

I like Whitmarsh’s nuanced approach in almost everything he analyzes. He seems like a seasoned explorer posing questions to Greek history and trying to answer them as best he can, as opposed to someone vigorously defending a thesis and cherry-picking evidence to support it. As far as the scope of his analysis, Whitmarsh kicks off with pre-Socratic philosophers and ends around the Third Century AD. He deals largely with partial first-sources (recordkeeping of ancient atheism wasn’t very good) and secondary sources. 

Much of the book focuses on how atheists relate to the fluid belief systems of Greek polytheism. These Olympian views, he explains, were diverse and maintained unique regional qualities, leaving much open to interpretation and, also, dissent. Greek polytheism, he says, was “not designed for personal communion with the divine,” and, “legal judgment was never theologized in Ancient Greece.” 

Contrast this with the theocratic monotheism of later Christendom, which “puts up firm barriers between insider and outsider: the one god demands absolute loyalty.” Only in Christian late antiquity did atheism begin to be, “constructed in systematically antithetical terms, as the inverse of popular religion.”’ 

Epic poems of Homer and Odysseus were revered but were not considered scripture; they were hotly debated and playfully satirized. This led to the freedom to explore the texts without fear of blasphemy or state-sponsored retribution for heresy. Whitmarsh explains how, “the nonscriptural nature of Greek epic poems had a significant effect on the development of logical thought,” as Greeks felt free to doubt the historicity of some of the more unrealistic elements of the myth. But all was not well for religious doubters. There was definitely some pushback from religious and state institutions, although nothing like the persecution that would be meted out by Christendom. Whitmarsh writes: “What the Athenian example shows is that even within Greek polytheism, a flexible and adaptive system, the mixture of religion, law, and imperialism was a potentially toxic one.” 

It’s impossible to label the first prominent atheist, but Whitmarsh offers up more than a few suggestions of Greek skeptics, doubters, and those who question the existence of the gods. The pre-Socratic philosopher Hippo of Samos certainly gained a reputation as an atheist. (Aristotle blasted him for being a strict materialist.) The Skeptic Sextus is fascinating, and Whitmarsh claims he supplied the, “most important evidence for a sustained, coherent attack on the existence of gods in intiquity.” Lucretius the Epicurean was a strict naturalist and pointed out that heinous acts committed in the name of religion would be condemned in any other area of life. Lucian came later (AD 120-180) and skewered and mocked the new cult of Christianity. All of these free-thinking heroes offer modern-day atheists a lot to ponder.
“By the second century AD atheism, in the full, modern sense had acquired full legitimacy as a philosophical idea,” the author writes. 

Unfortunately, this trend toward more open criticism of religion would be crushed. Constantine did his part to make the Roman Empire a Christian one, while later emperors like Theodosius I forced all Romans to worship in the specific Nicaean Christian context. “The Christianization of the Roman Empire,” writes Whitmarsh, “put an end to serious philosophical atheism for over a millennium.” 

Over the next centuries, there were surely countless skeptics, doubters, blasphemers and other rabble-rousers who did their part to fight back against authoritarian theocracy. But they likely did not survive; the same goes for any of their writings. 

And this is where Whitmarsh ends his analysis. I’ll leave him to finish off with a closing remark: 

“Individuals surely experienced doubt and disbelief, just as they always have in all cultures, but they were invisible to dominant society and so have left no trace in the historical record. It is this blind spot that has sustained the illusion that disbelief outside of the post-Enlightenment West is unthinkable. The apparent rise of atheism in the last two centuries, however, is not a historical anomaly; viewed from the longer perspective of ancient history, what is anomalous is the global dominance of monotheistic religions and the resultant inability to acknowledge the existence of disbelievers.”

I highly recommend this book to both theists and atheists with curiosity in these matters.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Perfect Time to Explore Bordeaux Wine on the Cheap

A storm gathers over vineyards in Bordeaux. Credit: Vins de Bordeaux
This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

About a decade ago, when I was a struggling newspaper reporter with a flashy new ID to purchase wine and a measly budget with which to purchase it, I cut my teeth on inexpensive Bordeaux. These wines didn’t need years in the cellar (which I didn’t have) — these were cheap, zesty Sauv Blancs for salads and fish and fresh and Merlot-tinged reds for everything else. I found a lot of fun wines, but even as a wine newb, I was turned off by some of the acidic, weak, and stemmy wines. Flash forward to today, and I think it’s fair to say the overall quality of entry-level Bordeaux has made an impressive leap.

While I still taste some wines I’d much rather avoid, those wines seem fewer and farther between. There is plenty of juicy and fresh blanc and rouge out there. If you’re dropping cash on some grand vin from a respected Chateau, it’s probably a good idea to give your palate a primer on the vintage. 2013 is widely disparaged as a vintage, but some of the wines have a fresh and tangy, early-drinking presence that I find attractive. And the 2014s are overshadowed by the hype of 2015, there are some really good wines that you may be able to snag for less. And wines from less prestigious appellations can give you an idea on what to expect from the serious stuff.

A few weeks ago I pointed out a few bargain-heavy, tasty, accessible Bordeaux reds from the Cotes de Bordeaux appellations. I’m back this week with a case of Bordeaux (white, red and sweet) from
Vins de Bordeaux, the region’s trade group.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.


2015 Château du Champ des Treilles Vin de Passion - France, Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers, Sainte Foy Bordeaux
SRP: $15
Medium yellow color. Smells of sea breeze, chalk and nettle on top of orange and lime peels. Medium-bodied, tart and bright but some slight creaminess to the mouthfeel. Tart lime, kiwis, oranges, topped in honey, saline and chalk dusty. Bright, balanced and exciting for the money. Equal parts Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle grown in clay soils of the Sainte-Foy commune.
(87 points)

2014 Château Marjosse Blanc - France, Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers
SRP: $16
Medium yellow color. Aromas of pineapple and kiwi, lemongrass, chalk and honeycomb. Medium-bodied with a bright and crisp appeal but some slightly creamy texture, too. Lemongrass, white pepper, sea salt and tonic water flavors on top of grapefruit, lemon and pineapple. A slight note of minerals on the finish. Not too deep or complex but very nice and fresh for the money. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, 15% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Muscadelle. (86 points)

2014 Clos des Lunes Lune Blanche - France, Bordeaux
SRP: $20
Pale yellow color. Aromas of lemon curd, lime peel, pineapple, some cut grass and nettle. Tangy acidity on the palate with a moderately creamy palate. Tart limes and apples mixes with pineapple slices, and the fruit is topped in white pepper, lemongrass and mountain stream-style minerals. A bit tart, almost bracing, but very tasty and vibrant. 70% Semillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc aged six months on the lees. (87 points)

2014 Château Les Charmes-Godard Blanc - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Bordeaux Côtes de Francs
SRP: $20
Light yellow color. Really fresh and juicy aromas with a tropical blast of papaya and peach with some lime zest, sea salt and honeycomb. Creamy texture on the palate but precise acidity balances it out. Plump melon and peach meet tart lime, lots of crust sea salt and mineral flavors, too, with a well-blended honey and cream element. Quite complex but so fresh, I’m interested to see this in a few years, but it’s very good now. 65% Semillon, 20% Sauvignon Gris and 15% Muscadelle, feremented and aged in 1/3 new oak. (89 points) 

2013 Château de Cérons Graves - France, Bordeaux, Graves
SRP: $28
Rich yellow color; Juicy aromatics of white peach, papaya and apricot, with lots of chalk dust, white pepper, floral perfume and honeyed tea. Plump texture on the palate but vibrant, lip-smacking acidity, and the balance is on point. Juicy white peaches, lime drizzled on papaya, the fruit is very pretty and laced with notes of green tea, honey, chalk dust, clover and mineral. Complexity is impressive but it’s so delicious and easygoing at the same time. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon, 10% Sauvignon Gris. (90 points)


2010 Château de Reignac - France, Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur
SRP: $31
Deep purple color. Very concentrated, takes a long time to coax out aromas of black currant doused in pine needles, cedar, loamy soil and dark roast coffee. Full-bodied (14.5%), tight grip, medium-low acidity, this shows compact structure. Black currant, dark plums, dense fruit with tart, smoke, charcoal, pencil lead and loamy soil. Needs time but solid stuff. 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% of the grapes spend time in new oak. (88 points)

2011 Château La Grave (Paul Barre) - France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Fronsac
SRP: $32
Rich, dark ruby color. Aromas of spicy red cherries, darker plums, graphite, tobacco, grilled rosemary and leather — the aromas get quite complex with air. Medium/full-bodied with sturdy tannic grip and bright acidity. Juicy black cherries and tart plum flavors, laced with smoky herbs, loamy soil, charcoal, leather. Tart but not lean. Some serious development potential for the cellar. Merlot with 36% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec. (88 points)

2012 Château Mauvesin Barton - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Moulis en Médoc
SRP: $21
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of spicy green and black pepper, spice rub, leather and eucalyptus on top of bright red and black currants. Medium-bodied with some moderate grip to tannins and medium acidity, and it’s balanced quite nicely in a smooth package. Juicy black currants and cherries topped in spicy tobacco, black pepper, oregano, and the cedar and cigar box notes blend in very nicely. Still plenty of life ahead. 48% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, aged 12 months in 1/3 new oak. (87 points)

2012 Clos du Jaugueyron Haut-Médoc - France, Bordeaux, Médoc, Haut-Médoc
SRP: $36
Vibrant purple color. Aromas of tart black currants and cherries, plum pits, some leather and incense sticks. Medium-strength tannins on a medium-bodied frame, bright acidity. Tart but well-ripened fruit (black cherry, plum), with a complex dose of bell pepper, leather, anise, black tea and cedar shavings. Solid structure but it opens up nicely. One of the most “serious” Bordeauxs in the tasting, and I think it’s worth holding onto for two to five years to see what happens. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, aged 12 months in 25% new oak. (88 points)

2014 Château Tire Pé DieM - France, Bordeaux
SRP: $12
Bright purple color. Deep black cherry and rich plum aromas along with coffee, sweet herbs, cedar and pencil shavings. Tart but structured with dusty tannins. Black cherry and tart red and black currant fruit blend well with coffee grounds, charcoal and spicy tobacco. Pretty but quite structured, I think this could stand a few years of sleep. 100% Merlot, aged eight to 10 months in concrete.
(87 points)

2013 Clos Puy Arnaud La Cuvée Bistrot - France, Bordeaux
SRP: $25
Pale ruby color. Smells of tart cherries, pomegranate and rose hips with some spicy salad greens. Medium-bodied, tartly acidic, light tannins like fine dust. Tart cherry and under-ripe strawberries mix with iron, quinine and stemmy notes. Tastes too biting and green for me. Tried to let it open up and evolve, but not much changed. 70% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc that undergoes some carbonic maceration. (79 points)


2014 Château du Seuil - France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Cérons
SRP: $34/500ml
Rich golden color. Smells of honey, apricot jam, baked apple, orange marmalade and cinnamon. Plush texture with plenty of richness but balanced nicely by fresh acid. Orange rind, lemon oil and dried apricot flavors are backed up wonderfully with honey, spiced tea, nougat. Delicious stuff, the freshness really makes this wine beg for food. Semillon with Botrytis. (90 points)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pinot Noir from Alsace, Burgundy, Italy & California

It’s time for a lot of Pinot Noir. Well, it’s always time for Pinot, but I recently tasted through a bunch of them from all over the world, most of which are not very expensive.

This report features a few leaner, zestier versions from Alsace, most of which I think over-deliver for the price. Speaking of good prices, we’ve also got some value-driven Pinots from lesser heralded villages in Burgundy. While not exactly thrilling, some of these $20-$25 bottles are seriously good for the money. Lastly, I’ve included a Pinot from Italy and a few from California that I received after I’d already conducted my California Pinot single-blind tastings for the fall.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Noir “E” - France, Alsace
SRP: $26
Juicy cherry color. Aromas of bright strawberries, red apple peel, rhubarb, white pepper and spiced tea. On the palate, I get brisk acidity with silky tannins, a bit lean in body but so fresh and tangy. Red apple, tart strawberries and red plums combine with complex elements of rose petal, sage, white pepper, tar and spiced black tea. Lovely now but could improve over the next few years. This isn’t a chewy, in-your-face kind of Pinot, but a lean and zesty one. If you like that style, this is really good stuff. (89 points)

2014 J.B. Adam Pinot Noir Alsace Les Natures - France, Alsace
SRP: $25
Light ruby color. Aromas of tart strawberries, white cherries, lots of rhubarb, some roses, black tea, hints of green olive. Medium-bodied with brisk, tart acidity and some dusty tannins for moderate structure. So brisk and bright in its red apple, cranberry sauce and wild strawberry fruit, backed up by white pepper, soy, green olive, the savory spice aspects get more and more complex with air. Deliciously zesty but this has a lot going on. Fermented in century-old casks and aged a year in bottle before release. (88 points)

2008 Hugel et Fils Pinot Noir Jubilee - France, Alsace
Winemaker Etienne Hugel died
earlier this year, way too soon,
but his great wines live on.
SRP: $42
Rich ruby color. Gorgeous nose of raspberry leaf tea, bright strawberries, red currants, topped with nettle, sage, some wet forest floor and mushroom notes as well. Vibrant acidity on the palate, dusty tannins, lots of complexity in this wine and it needs air to open up properly. I get tart red apple and wild raspberry fruit mixed wonderfully with notes of rose petals, savory spices and mushroom. A delicious wine but it’s so elegant and contemplative, too. Still lots of life ahead. From the limestone soils of the Pflostig vineyard. (91 points)

2014 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Pinot Noir Reserve - France, Alsace
SRP: $30
Vibrant rose color Aromas of lush red cherry and raspberry jam, very fruit-forward but lots of roses and sweet spice notes, too. Light/medium-boded with smooth tannins, but enough to frame the wine structurally, bright acidity. Juicy red cherries and raspberries taste so fresh and silky, and I get complex notes of rose petal, clay soil, pepper, bay leaf, and more savory notes come out with time. Plush but tangy, a more voluptuous wine (compared to the others) but it stays precise. Drinking wonderfully but I’d love to revisit in three or four years. (90 points)

N.V. Parigot & Richard Crémant de Bourgogn Rosé - France, Burgundy, Crémant de Bourgogne
SRP : $24
A salmon/copper color. Bright and floral aromas with chalk and toasted bread on top of raspberries, white cherries and rose hips. Fresh acidity, a bit lean, but really fresh and tart. White cherries, tart strawberries and watermelon rind with notes of chalk and cut flowers. (87 points)

2015 Maison Chanzy Rully En Rosey Rouge - France, Burgundy, Côte Chalonnaise, Rully
SRP: $22
Rich ruby color. Smells of juicy raspberries, cranberry sauce, lots of smoke and some pepper and pickling spices. Very smooth on the palate despite some grippy tannins, and the acid keeps it fresh. Darker, juicy black cherries and plum fruit, backed up by violets, dark soil, soy and some coffee. Plush but nicely structured, this is accessible now but really opens up after a few hours, and I’d love to taste it again in two to four years. Another great value, and it really shows some of the high quality but inexpensive options out there in the 2015 vintage. (88 points)

2015 Louis Latour Santenay - France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Santenay
Really good Burgundy for $20!
SRP: $20
Medium ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries and red plums with some dusty earth and violet notes. On the palate this shows supple but structured tannins and fresh acidity, a nice balance. Red cherries and plum fruit is juicy and ripe and mixed with notes of dusty earth, violets, sage and some sweet cola. Open and quite pretty but should improve for a few years. Seriously good value right here!
(88 points)

2014 Gabriel Billard Bourgogne Cuvée Milliane Vieilles Vignes - France, Burgundy, Bourgogne
SRP : $20
Bright ruby color. Smells of juicy cherries and sweet raspberries. More fruit-forward aromas but the fruit is still tart and lively and I get notes of roses and sweet cola. The acidity is quite tart and the tannins are light. This Pinot shows tangy red apples and wild strawberries along with notes of soil, leather and light roast coffee. Perhaps a bit thin, but it’s a fresh and tangy wine for early consumption. (85 points)

2014 Michel Magnien Fixin - France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Fixin
SRP: $28
Deep ruby color. Aromas of juicy red cherries and tart raspberries with some tobacco, rose hips and cedar. Medium-bodied, some moderate grip to the tannins, medium acidity. Flavors of darker cherries and raspberry jam, the fruit is touched with tobacco, earth, coffee, some wood and smoky campfire notes. Good stuff but could use some air or a year or two to open up. (87 points)

2014 Benoit Cantin Irancy - France, Burgundy, Côtes d'Auxerre, Irancy
SRP: $24
Medium ruby color. Very bright and tart on the nose with cherries, strawberries, roses and wildflowers. Fresh and zesty on the palate, medium-bodied, light-to-medium tannins, a fine dusty and tart feel to the wine. Tart strawberry and red apple peel blend with light earth tones. Ready to go right out of the bottle, good for those who like a brisker style. (86 points)

2015 Peter Zemmer Pinot Noir Rollhütt - Italy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Alto Adige - Südtirol
SRP: $18
Vibrant raspberry color. Smells like tangy strawberries, pomegranate and some green pepper, tobacco, raspberry leaf tea and a kick of rhubarb — very interesting aromas. Medium-bodied with light tannins and fresh acidity. Sour cherries mix with sweet strawberries and notes of tobacco, rhubarb and dill. Delicious, fresh, accessible Süditrol Pinot for a very reasonable price. (88 points)

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $35
Pale ruby color. Aromatically rocking with lots of roses, nettle and sage on top of crisp, cool raspberries and cherries — lots of complex aromas pop with air. Full-bodied and velvety with smooth tannin and moderate acidity. Juicy strawberries and raspberry jam play off of cola, rhubarb, rose petal, white pepper, hints of caramel coffee. Rich and voluptuous (and some cellar potential) but it’s also vibrant and absolutely delicious. Aged 10 months in 1/3 new French oak. (89 points)

2014 Equavinity Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $48
Light ruby color. Aromas of juicy raspberry and wild strawberry, crisp red apple peel, topped with rose hips, rhubarb, hints of mint and oregano. Full-bodied but smooth and silky with fine tannins and crisp acidity, makes it refreshing to sip despite richness of texture. Bright notes of red flowers, white pepper, lemon zinger tea, mint and eucalyptus. Lots going on here in terms of complexity and richness, but it’s so fresh and inviting, too. Aged 14 months in 25% new French oak. (90 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.