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Mr. Hi-Time's Greatest Hits


Mr. Hi-Time's Greatest Hits

While T.S. Eliot famously penned that "April is the cruellest month...", we are reasonably certain he was not thinking of America's "tax day" and the pain (and the occasional if not joy at least relief) that comes with paying the piper. We, however, tend to think of our wallets and bank accounts this time of year and aim toward value when it comes to our newsletter cover.

This is being written not long after St. Patrick's Day in March-- many of us happened to celebrate the holiday together (with karaoke-- but that story's for another time) and one of the highlights and repeats of the evening was the Saint-Hilaire sparkling wine from Limoux in the Languedoc. It is such a delicious bubbly-- and the price is very reasonable. We featured it on our cover back in February of 2012 as our "Wine of the Month." Why not, we mused, feature some of our "Greatest Hits" (if you will), our Wines of the Month, that have resonated not only with our palates but with many of you, our friends and customers?!? Once mused, it didn't take us long to come up with the idea of Mr. Hi-Time, (he IS a rock star, after all) posing á la Bruce Springsteen (and apologies to the Boss for nicking his bod), presenting his "Top of the Pop" selections, all those bottlings that hit the charts "with a bullet" in our "Greatest Hits" feature for April looking at some of our best Wines of the Month from the last 2 years. Turn it up!


Limoux, the city in Languedoc in southern France, is believed to be the birthplace of sparkling wine, with local historians asserting that monks from the abbey at Saint-Hilaire brought this certain 'pop' to wine in 1531 AD. Closer to home in locale and temporality, the last inventory of Thomas Jefferson's wine cellar listed 49 bottles of Blanquette de Limoux. While both of the above paragraphs lend a certain historicity and gravitas to the attractive bottle pictured at left, the most important statement about this wine is discovered when tasting and drinking it: the staff loved it.

The nose revels in hints of pastry dough, citrusy notes of tangerine and límon and a touch of peach melba and sea air. The palate is an enchanting mélange of more citrus, touches of honeysuckle and vanilla bean with a cleansing layer of minerality coursing throughout, like a glacial stream galloping seaward. We haven't had a sparkling wine as our "wine of the month" in many years but this was an easy call once Bubblehead introduced it to us. As winter works its way toward spring, this will harmonize beautifully with or without food (brunches to sushi, white meats to fruits and cheeses).

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50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle

The Bergerac wine-growing region, a subregion of South West France, is located around the town of Bergerac in the Dordogne department and comprises 93 communes. Its boundaries correspond more or less with those of the Arrondissement (district) of Bergerac and it is located immediately east of the Bordeaux wine region. The name "Bergerac" apparently comes from the word "Bragayrac", which is derived from the Gallic word "braca", meaning "manufacturer of breeches" (the baggy trousers worn by the Gauls). You also may have heard of Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous French dramatist and duelist famed for possessing quite a large proboscis.

In this case, with this semi-dry white blend, having Cyrano's nose would be a definite blessing. The nose on this wine is lovely; beautifully rich spring fruits-- ripe melons, peach syrup and a mixed stone fruit melange-- are joined by scents of lanolin, vanilla cream and a light minerality. The palate is fat and lush but trimmed with appropriate acidity. Delicate flavor nuances of more peach and apricot meld with orange blossom and cream soda, a nice juxtaposition from the nose to mouth. The semi-dry wine has a leaning toward sweetness with the spring fruit flavors but finishes quickly as the acidity clears the palate, leaving a nice reverberation of (again) spring fruit and dewy grass.

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First off, this is NOT a Port wine. That said, it IS from the Dow family tree (Symington Family Estates), who are more than famous for their Port, and from the Douro region, again famed in the world of Port wines. This is a dry red wine made from traditonal Port wine grapes: 55% Tinta Barroca, 22% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 17% old mixed vines, 3% Touriga Nacional and 3% Touriga Franca. While famed for the fortified wines, just about as many non-fortified table wines (usually called Douro wines) are produced annually. And, as we find incredible quality at all ranges, styles and prices in the world of fortified wines, this Vale Do Bomfim 2008 is clear evidence that their table wines retain both the quality and worth found in their cousins: this is great juice!

Not sure what these grapes will taste like? Well, it noses like a Malbec with rich spice, graphite, pencil shavings and gobs of dark fruit, plums and a touch of strawberry tea. The palate is a nice mix between the fruit and spice of a Rhône with the body and structure of a decent-sized Cab. Bright mixed red fruits, chewy spice, black pepper, earth and plum finish with a brace of very good acidity. Barbecued meats, fatty cheeses, maybe a grand aïoli fête-- pair with richness and be rewarded!

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The Coquille d'Oc is a colourful new range of wines produced at Sainte Rose, located near Servian in the Languedoc region of Southern France. With their striking labels, easy drinking style and affordable price point these wines are guaranteed to create an impression-- and this red wine certainly did so with our staff!

The scallop shell (coquille is French for "shell") on the label is a very appropriate image to use for wine from Sainte Rose for two historical reasons. Firstly this shell was a waymarker for Medieval travelers on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. Secondly, they have found actual scallop shells in one of the vineyards that date back to Roman times as there was a Roman settlement on the outskirts of what is now their local village. Le Coquille D'Oc is comprised of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre.

Ahh-- the southern French wine nose never ceases to fascinate (usually in a Pavlovian way) and amaze us. La Coquille blends notes of spice, black tea, leather, meat, cherry vanilla fruit and sea salt. The palate is equally tempting, with oodles of sweet, forward fruit that is balanced by good amounts of tannin and grip. Notes of both red and black plum, blackberry fruit, black pepper and mixed spices envelop the palate while the rounded tannins counterpoint nicely. The finish is lengthy and gorgeous. So much for so little!

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Dry Creek Vineyard has produced Fumé Blanc since 1972-- this is a wine at the heart and soul of this family winery. Modeled after the classic wines from the Loire Valley in France, this stainless steel-fermented, no-oak style Fumé Blanc is crisp, balanced and immediately drinkable. Winery founder David Stare was the first vintner to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek Valley, and they proudly carry his legacy forward in producing this classic, dry, white wine. This is wine as distinctive and vibrant as the sailboats gracing their winery labels since 1982 (they are passionate about the sport!).

The nose on this Fumé is rich: notes of citrus, Meyer lemon and kaffir lime, with a touch of creamy gooseberry, spring melon and salt air. The palate starts lush with ample viscosity as flavors of lemon-lime citrus, white peach and lemon grass meld seamlessly-- all while being uplifted by streaks of clean minerality and buoyant acidity. Rigged for running, this delicious, crisp, fruit-filled wine is definitely ship-shape and Bristol fashion-- perfect for hot August nights and fresh oysters.

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The 2012 growing season was marked throughout California as being incredible both in terms of productivity and the quality of the grapes that were harvested. After a series of cool, relatively short harvests this vintage was an incredible boom. Though temperatures were moderate, they were consistent with relatively few heat spikes and virtually no rain. For Hahn's Pinot Noir growing in the Arroyo Seco AVA, the predominant source of this wine, conditions were ideal for producing rounded and fruit forward wines. A dash of around 8% of Pinot Noir from their estate vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands contributed a note of acidity and elegance to the final blend.

This Pinot Noir highlights the qualities and beneficent properties the grape can attain in our great state when listened to in the vineyard and allowed to yearn toward Elysian climes. It's difficult enough to make great Pinot Noir-- but great Pinot under $10? Amazing. The nose is quite attractive with light spice, peppered plums, black currant and other mixed red fruit notes. The palate is silky and lush while uplifted by fresh acidity as flavors of sweet red and black fruits and berries, raspberry and boysenberry, intertwine with a touch of earth, cola berry and vanilla bean.

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Terra Alta is not a very well-known region-- it's tucked away in the south eastern corner of Catalonia, beneath Montsant and Priorat, in eastern Spain. It is one of the largest areas in Catalunya under vine. With plenty of old Garnatxa bush vines, it is amongst the best regions in terms of quality and authenticity. It is also one of the most mountainous (Terra Alta literally means 'highlands') and with low yields and old vines, the potential is clearly here and the proof is in the bottle. We haven't done a wine of the month in January for a long, long time; but once we tasted this wine, we knew we had to share it. The nose is sweet and rich, with notes of dark fruits, plums and cassis (red and dark), midnight florals, sweet spice and black licorice. The palate continues with the sweet dark and red fruits, blackberry and currant, with touches of mineral earth, underbrush and evident forward acidity. Excellent wine-- phenomenal at this price.

ROBERT PARKER 91 POINTS - "A joint venture between Eric Solomon and proprietor Nuria Altes, this is an unreal value made from 100% Grenache from vines planted nearly 100 years ago. Its deep ruby/purple color is followed by a flowery perfume revealing aromas of forest floor, underbrush, sweet black cherries, raspberries and strawberries. Medium-bodied, ethereal as well as sublime, this finesse-styled Grenache possesses a delicacy that is difficult to believe for such intensity. Consume it over the next 3-4 years."

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We're back in France for September as the warm weather persists and the madding crowds (hopefully!) are safely back home after vacationing througout the summer months. This coquettish 100% Provençal Viognier (from Condrieu cuttings) does not blush a bit as she plays with our affections, wafting about with a perfume of spring blossoms, peach, butterscotch, lanolin and a touch of river water. Peaches are in play again on the palate, along with unctuous viscosity moderated by apropos acidity as mixed stone fruits and a touch of spice lead to a sweet, satisfying finish. Pair this with fish, white meats and vegetable dishes, white sauce pizzas. 500 cases of this wine were made for importer Jeff Wellburn for California only. So once it's gone, it's gone!

The winery itself is quite interesting, as well. For those used to seeing a sea of vines stretching to the horizon, the Château Routas estate vineyards come as a surprise - there are many small non-contiguous plots interspersed among stands of trees and other natural features, including a copse of truffle oaks. The scrubby, stony wildness of the area is one of its most appealing features. Each planting of vines seems to exist in its own distinctive environment.

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The Azienda Agricola Masciarelli was estabilished in San Martino in 1978 by Gianni Masciarelli and started producing wines in 1981. Gianni inherited from his grandfather Giovanni the passion for the vineyards and for wine. In the old cellar of his grandfather, who was producing small quantities of wine for the love of it, Gianni started creating his wines.

Since the beginning, Masciarelli focused on the potentials of the native wine varieties speaking the language of his people: Montepulciano and Trebbiano. In Masciarelli's productive philosophy, great importance is given to the land and to its wine culture and tradition. The main passion of Gianni is Abruzzo, an extraordinary region, with intense flavors, tastes and scents that you can find in all its typical products: from pasta to wine, extra-virgin olive oil to cheese, from meat to saffron, truffles to pastries, to ventricina salami, to confetti.

This wine is hitting on all cylinders and quickly rose to the top of the barrel against some very good competition to capture our "Wine of the Month" title.

The nose is quite attractive with bright red fruit scents, touches of sarsparilla and root beer, camphor, ginger and a soupçon of earthy spice. In the mouth, soft red fruits dominate, berries and cherries, with earthy hints of anise and spice, black plum and strawberry compote. Velvety tannins and easy acidity lend structure to this quite tasty, easy-drinking wine. Awesome price-to-quality ratio on this top shelf bargain.

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Now in the fourth generation of the Escudero family, Bodegas Y Viñedos Ilurce in general, and this Rio Madre in particular, takes full advantage of the climate and terroir in La Rioja Baja. "Lower" Rioja is drier and hotter than Rioja Alta, allowing for full ripening of and great concentration in the grapes. The Graciano grape is used mainly in the Rioja region, known for deep color, aging potential and aromatics

The nose is a sexy blend of cassis jam, blackberry pie, blackcurrant, Ceylon tea and charcuterie. The palate contains the same ripe, dark berries as the nose adding notes of tobacco and raw earth. Silky tannins and excellent structure, fine acidity, lead to a resounding finish with echoes of dried fruit and earthy spice.

STEPHEN TANZER 91 POINTS - "Opaque ruby. Sexy, high-toned cherry and blackcurrant aromas are complicated by notes of Indian spices and fresh rose. Smooth and seamless in texture, offering intense black and blue fruit flavors that become spicier with air. The floral element repeats on the finish, which shows excellent clarity and persistence. This wine delivers uncanny value and has the structure to age."

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