By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
When "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was released in 2004, we almost skipped it. Jim Carrey? We immediately pictured the star's over-the-top, cartoonish persona and had a hard time believing he could credibly play a dramatic role. But he surprised us -- pleasantly.
Some winemakers are even more typecast than Hollywood actors. Say "Georges Duboeuf," and it's hard to think of anything other than Beaujolais, even though the leading exporter of French wines makes a wide array of both whites and reds.
At a recent preview of the Georges Duboeuf 2007 vintage wines, to be released in September, we dove into the reds almost instinctively. But when we went back to taste the whites a couple of hours later, we were surprised at how impressed we were -- and said as much to the "king of Beaujolais" himself and his son, Franck, who oversees operations for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf.
"I don't know why people are often so surprised to find how much they enjoy our whites," Franck Duboeuf responded with a laugh. "Our family has been in the [Pouilly-Fuisse] region for more than four centuries."
It shows. Although the 2007 Pouilly-Fuisse was still very young, it already exhibited great promise of rounding out into a beautifully elegant wine, much as the 2005 and 2006 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse ($24) have done. Those crisp, full-bodied, fruity yet well-balanced wines with notes of almond and vanilla were Karen's food-friendly find of the week. We plan to keep a bottle or two on hand all spring and summer to pair with chicken, fish, pork, veal and turkey.
Later, curiosity about what other overlooked treasures we might be missing out on led us to sample whites from Jordan Winery, which makes a celebrated cabernet sauvignon. Andrew especially loved the rich complexity of the 2006 Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30), which is fermented in French oak. Jordan's executive chef, Todd Knoll, who devises dishes to pair with the wines, recommends a potage Saint-Germain (pea soup) with Atlantic lobster with this one. But we enjoyed this creamy-bodied white with sauteed chicken in a lemon-butter sauce and with cheese ravioli in basil pesto sauce, the latter of which brought out some nice herbaceous qualities in the wine. (By the way, both of our picks this week were acidic enough to pair well with salads. Our secrets for a better pairing are to dress your greens with a softly acidic -- thus more wine-friendly -- champagne vinaigrette and to shave a little Parmesan cheese on top.)
Here are some other discoveries that play against type for each winemaker:
Beringer Vineyards: This Napa Valley winemaker is much better known for its cabernet and chardonnay table wines, so we were surprised to be charmed by its 2004 Beringer Nightingale Botrytised Napa Valley Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine ($40 for 375 ml). Its lighter-bodied (as opposed to syrupy) weight and honeyed apricot flavors lend themselves beautifully to either a cheese course or pâté.
Bernardus Winery: Better known for its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, the winemaker also boasts an impressive grapefruity and grassy sauvignon blanc in the 2006 Bernardus Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which is rounded out by the addition of 4 percent Semillon.
Blackstone Winery: We both like its ubiquitous merlot, but even more so its 2005 Blackstone California Zinfandel ($12), which is full-bodied with cooked-plum fruitiness and notes of white pepper. It's a good choice with barbecued ribs or lamb, as is the next wine.
Cline Cellars: It is best known for its zinfandel, but don't overlook the winery's 2006 Cline Syrah ($12) from Sonoma County, a rich expression of the syrah grape with its red-berry fruitiness and hints of spice.
Domaine Chandon: Its lovely sparkling wines made in the traditional champagne method from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes are much better known, but the 2005 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier ($35), with flavors of cherry and a touch of cinnamon, is enjoyable in its own right. Pair it with duck, lamb or pork.
Dr. Konstantin Frank: Best known for its Riesling, Dr. Frank makes other crisp, refreshing whites ideal for spring sipping, including the unusual 2006 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli ($20), which tastes like a blend of Riesling, Gewuerztraminer, Gruener Veltliner and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Iron Horse Vineyards: Iron Horse makes our favorite domestic sparkling wines, but its full-bodied chardonnays have their own appeal. You'll find rounded flavors of pear and a hint of grapefruit curd in the 2006 Iron Horse UnOaked Chardonnay ($26). The French-oaked 2006 Iron Horse Estate Chardonnay ($28) features exuberant coconut on its long finish. The latter employs water-bent (as opposed to the usual fire-bent) barrels, which winemaker Joy Sterling characterizes as "more flattering to our fruit."
Kendall-Jackson Winery: K-J is almost synonymous with chardonnay, but it has a terrific syrah in the full-bodied 2005 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve California Syrah ($12), which is ripe with blackberry fruitiness and notes of black pepper.
Morgan Winery: Best known for its pinot noir, Morgan is well worth checking out for its refreshing, light-bodied and tropical-fruity 2006 Morgan Sauvignon Blanc ($15), composed primarily of sauvignon musque (a sauvignon blanc clone) with added Semillon and sauvignon blanc.
Penfolds: Penfolds may make the single best shiraz on the planet, but it would be a shame to miss sampling its racy, bone-dry and mineral-laden 2007 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling ($20), especially with oysters.
Shafer Vineyards: The maker of one of our very favorite merlots turns out to have a special way with chardonnay, too. Its 2006 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay ($48) is made without malolactic fermentation, the secondary fermentation process that results in softer lactic acidity and, often, a buttery aroma. This beautifully balanced chardonnay exhibits a lively natural acidity and minerality along with bright apple and apricot flavors.
If you still have your doubts, give a few of these a try anyway. You might turn up some delicious surprises.