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Published: Tuesday, 6/27/2006

New bordeaux releases may be the greatest ever

This year's bordeaux releases ('05) are very good, perhaps the best ever.

The French vary the prices with the quality of the vintage. Don't even think of what you paid last year for a bottom-shelf petit chateau (a small winemaker) bordeaux. It's their way of doing business, alas, in contrast to pricing of premium Californias, which generally cost the same year after year, though you may not be able to find one.

For as long as I can remember, and still further back, German wineries have clung stubbornly to traditional bottles: tall, skinny, often of green or brown glass. Even though these wines often may be counted among the world's finest - and even though the United States is the biggest German market - typical American homes are equipped with refrigerators that just don't easily accommodate German bottles. Every time I've raised the issue, it has been treated as a nonissue.

Only recently a distinctive German bottle appeared on local retail shelves. The bottle catches the eye first because it is made of bright blue glass, offset by a bright yellow label and capsule, with tiny scratches of gold. The price, again set with a customer in mind, is in the neighborhood of $11, a bargain because the wine is an estate-bottled riesling, which usually means personal touches. It comes from the Pfalz region, which produces a large share of Germany's total output and some of its best. Look for the proprietary name, "Blue Fish," which seems to belong to a wine grape co-op, a form of marketing wines that is slowly emerging in Europe as a guarantor of quality advantageous both to buyer and seller.

And from South Africa comes the first South African wine that gets my unqualified endorsement. Over the years much of the praise lavished on the country's wines have made me suspicious that politics were replacing palates. All these wines I sampled - straight or with meals, red or white - were worse than poor. Given the geography of climate there is no question that wine, whatever it was then, would ultimately be good.

Now a match with New Zealand's best, this newcomer to area shelves is an '05 sauvignon blanc from the West Cape region and carries a trade name, Kumala. It has admirable structure and chewy texture following upon a knockout aroma and lingering palate. The suggested retail price is $9, a best buy.


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