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Wine Review: ’Tis the season for specialty wines

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Welcome to the slow season – at least for new wines that is. This is the time of year when the latest white wines are being bottled, as are the reds from a previous year. It is also the time when special wines that were set aside for extra aging or blending are examined and, if all went well, are also ready to be released to the public.

These specialty wines are always very interesting, as they show the new trends in winemaking and also test the public’s acceptance of these wines. The white or blush zinfandel that was developed at Trinchero’s Sutter Home vineyards were slowly and gingerly put into the marketplace to test the waters, and rapidly became one of the most popular wines in this country.

Another sweet sensation is the currently popular moscato. Once considered an uninteresting wine grape, it was toyed with by several wineries until it became the sensation it is today.

Those wines are sweet and fairly new, but what about the old standard dry wines that have been around for centuries? Their characteristics have been set in stone and any change would be sacrilege; get ready for some sacrilege.

Cigar Zin Old Vine Zinfandel ($19.99)
These ancient zinfandel vines still produce grapes – and excellent grapes at that. The wine from these grapes seems to draw its flavor and aroma from the very soul of the grape.

Old vines do not produce prolifically; however, the grapes they do produce are exceptional. This old vine wine has a deep and multilayered aroma of peppery spice, coffee and nutmeg. The flavor is a merry-go-round of black pepper, spice, coffee and cocoa – and not the usually strong raspberry often associated with the variety. The variation in flavor from other zinfandels is achieved by eight months aging in French and American oak barrels, which impart their own individual characteristics to a wine. This very enjoyable wine raises the status of the once lowly zinfandel to near classical proportions.

Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($40)
It is not too often that you bring a $40 bottle of wine home to serve with the evening dinner. You do, however, reserve a bottle of wine like that for those times when only the best will do.

Let me introduce you to the Cuvee Sauvage, which has been made in a manner similar to the techniques of days gone by. Fermentation begins by the wild yeast (the white bloom) that naturally forms on all fruit and, thus, the name “sauvage,” which is French for wild. The grape juice is put into oak barrels and left to its own, while the wild yeast that was on the grapes begins the fermentation.

There are several forms of wild yeast, and as one slows, another one takes over and adds its individual nuances. After fermentation ceases, the wine is placed in French oak barrels to age for 18 months. Putting the wine in oak after it has fermented, gives the winemaker the opportunity to tightly monitor and control the amount of oak that will be married to the wine.

The Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay is a wine with the feel of silk. It has a kaleidoscope of fruit flavors, a background of soft oak and an earthy component that introduces new flavors and depth with each sip. The finish is elegant and lingers long. This wine also offers a rare balance of fruit and oak. The delicate fruit flavors that separate a great chardonnay from the rest of the pack are abundant in this wine. White peaches and tropical fruit are the most obvious aromas and flavors with a haunting mineral element at the finish.

As with all of the world’s great chardonnays, this wine is capable of being cellared for a decade or more to gain the mellowness and grace that a great wine only attains with age. Don’t miss this gem.

Wine columnist Bennett Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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