By Jim Campanini
Bobby “BZ” Zohn was back in North Andover last weekend at the Wine ConneXtion, pouring from his list of “90 points and above” wines based on ratings received from Wine Enthusiast and Decanter magazines and top-flight reviewers James Suckling and Robert Parker.
Like snowflakes, Zohn’s events are never two the same. They’re filled with lively, intelligent banter, fun facts on wine trends, delivered in Zohn’s unassuming and friendly manner.For years he’s been a great ambassador for Martignetti Companies, where his title is listed as “Connoisseur Sales Representative”. With several weeks to go before Christmas, Zohn was presenting a 9-bottle wine list and pouring it twice for customers gathered around the tasting “bar”. The selections offered a broad range of grape varietals and wines, including Champagne, from both domestic and international markets.
All the wines were appealing, and three captured my special attention – Delas Cotes Du Rhone Saint-Esprit Syrah from France ($9.95), Daou “The Pessimist” Red Blend from California ($21.99), and Louis Roederer “Carte Blanche” Champagne of France ($36.99).
- The Wine Butler, my good friend Mike Pigeon, accompanied me to the tasting and was in good service. He concurred that the Cotes du Rhone was outstanding for the price but gave his best-of-show recommendation to the Two Hands “Angels Share” Shiraz from Australia ($26.99). So let’s embark on a tour of Zohn’s world.
- Sokol Blosser “Evolution” White Blend, Oregon, $11.99 – Zohn’s first interesting tidbit: The wine is a take off on the Beatles’ ‘Revolution No. 9’ song recorded on the famous 1968 White Album. The original song lasts slightly more than 8 minutes, which is about how long it will take you to name all the grapes in this juicy white blend. Yes, there are nine. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris dominate while Gewurztraminer, Gruner Vetliner, and Riesling – among others – join in for a spicy, flavorful uptick. Launched in 1998 by winemaker Alex Sokol Blosser’s mother when it was called Evolution 9 (the number has since been dropped from the front to the back label), the wine has earned mention on Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 100 Bargain List several times and is a solid choice with Asian cuisine. (WE, 91 points).
- Jermann Pinot Grigio 2016, Italy, $19.99 – Zohn says the best Pinot Grigio is made in the Veneto region of Fruili located in northeast Italy and he’s very high on this one. The price seems a bit stiff for every-day Pinot Grigio drinkers, but Jermann’s deep straw-colored version is weightier and fruitier than most light, watery, flabby brands.This is the real deal if you want to experience the pure expression of the fresh green apple, pear, lime and honeysuckle flavors that this grape can offer. (Suckling, 91 points).
- Delas Cotes du Rhone Saint-Esprit Syrah 2017, France, $9.95 – Zohn reported that famous Burgundy winemaker Jacques Grange crafts this delicious plum-red wine from the Rhone Valley, a hot spot for high quality values like this one. The taste says this wine should cost three times its selling price, and Decanter gave it a stunning 95 points. The rating is slightly exaggerated in my book, but Grange has set a high standard with this Syrah (90 percent) and Grenache blend. The ripe fruit represents a motherlode of richness. You can smell violet and spices in the glass and taste dark berries and black licorice in abundance on the palate. Stock up on this one.
Tolaini ‘Valdisanti’ Super Tuscan Blend 2014, Italy, $22.99 – A nice, dry, full-bodied red for hearty beef stews, osso bucco, pasta Bolognese and hard cheeses. It’s a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), Sangiovese (20 percent) and Cabernet Franc (5 percent). This wine, still in its youth, will keep in the cellar for a few more years but I think it’s at its best right now. (Suckling, 91 points).
- Girard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, $23.99 – For me, this was like tasting most California Cabernets – a good, full-bodied wine exhibiting a lot of black fruit flavor that doesn’t disappoint. Yet it’s a bit shy on excitement. Maybe it’s me and I’m taking California wines for granted because there are so many good ones. So don’t blame this wine if it didn’t bowl me over. Parker gave it 90 points and he knows a lot more about what makes a good wine than I do.
- Daou Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, California, $45.99 – The ‘reserve’ on the label doesn’t mean anything by American viticultural standards (in Italy it designates longer aging) so Zohn gave a quick explanation: Daou wants consumers to know this wine is made from its very best grapes. This is a gorgeous Cabernet with rich candied cherry, licorice and vanilla traits running through and through. It evolves with a few swirls in the glass, gaining intensity and velvety smoothness. Parker gave it 91 points – an underscore in my book.
- Daou ‘The Pessimist’ Red Blend 2017, California, $21.99 – The Daou winery is located in Paso Robles, an appellation teeming with activity and innovative work. The mineral rich soils yield great depth of flavor to the grapes, and this is a beauty. It’s got energy from the first sip and a whole lot of delicious flavors. The color is inky black, a creation of Syrah, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel, a grape that shows its strong suit in Paso Robles.
You get a sense of homebaked blueberry pie on the first whiff, followed by tastes of black currant, toasty vanilla and mocha. Like shooting stars across the sky, the fruit comes at you in layers, one more inviting than the next. The wine is luscious and harmonious in every way. Wine Enthusiast gave it 93 points.
- Two Hands ‘Angels’ Share’ Shiraz 2015, Australia, $26.99 – From the prestigious McLaren Vale region of South Australia comes this purple-colored gem with a lot of blackberry and spice cake impressions. Wine Butler Pigeon is fond of full-flavored Syrah and crowed that this wine commanded respect on all levels. Zohn explained that the name refers to the small amount of wine that evaporates from the oak barrels during aging. According to legend, medieval winemakers assumed that the angels watched over the wines being made and took their share for their work. Upon learning Zohn’s tidbit, the Wine Butler declared Angels’ Share to be a “blessed” bargain for the holidays. (Suckling, 92 points).
- Louis Roederer ‘Carte Blanche’ Champagne, France, $36.99 – My appreciation for Champagne grows every time I taste an exquisite bubbly like this one. This is pure liquid gold. It shimmers in the glass with tiny, bursting beads of delight that are fascinating to watch on their ascent to the surface. A cuvee of Chardonnary, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir from Reims, it fills the mouth with a mellow sweetness of honeyed almond notes balanced against orange citrus crispness.The finish is creamy, semi-dry and enduring. Roederer makes many fine, high-end Champagnes so it’s nice to find one at such an affordable price.This is a great recommendation for holiday toasting with friends and family. Parker gave it 90 points.