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WINE REVIEWS: Balverne

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Couple of wines came in for my review, so here goes. Balverne is a sort of sister winery to Notre Vue. These two wines, a white and a rosé, are both lovely: light, clean and flavorful, perfect for summertime sipping.

Balverne 2019 Sauvignon Blanc (Chalk Hill); $27. When I sniffed this wine, I thought of Marlborough, the New Zealand region so famous for Sauvignon Blancs of this style. Gooseberries! Green grass! That pungent intensity that marks pyrazines! And to complete the orchestral notes, lusher strings of tropical fruits and citrus: think Meyer lemon, with a squeeze of honey.

That’s a lot of flavor. Fortunately, the wine is thoroughly dry, with bright, cleansing acidity, and relatively low alcohol of 14.2%. Chalk Hill is one of Sonoma County’s lesser-known regions, but it’s very good for anything with “Sauvignon” in its name, including Cabernet. I always think of Chalk Hill as striking a middle tone between Sonoma’s ocean-influenced coolness and Napa Valley’s inland heat. After the wine’s intensity hits the middle palate, it drifts off into a long finish in which baking spices show up. All in all, a delightful wine, savory and clean. Foodwise, it’s tremendously versatile. For some reason I keep thinking of fried calamari, dipped into aioli. Score: 90 points.

Balverne 2019 Rosé of Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $24. Back in the 1990s, I asked a restaurant, Vertigo, in San Francisco’s Transamerica Tower, if I could taste through their rosé wine list. They supposedly had more rosés than any other restaurant in America. They set me up at the bar, and I went diligently through scores of rosés from Italy, France, Portugal, California and elsewhere. This wasn’t for official reviewing; it was just for my curiosity.

That tasting was a revelation. I learned, years before this current consumer-driven rosé frenzy, how good they can be. The best were dry, crisp with juicy acidity, mildly fruity and delicate, with low alcohol and a savory, spicy finish. Balverne’s 2019 Rosé stands well in comparison. The color is an attractively pale salmon-pink. The aroma is subtle and complex. Peaches…strawberries…orange zest…vanilla bean…cinnamon…a floral note. In the mouth, deep, penetrating flavors echo the aromas, yet the wine never loses that pretty delicacy. Crisp acidity, and a spicy finish. The alcohol is 14.1%, which gives a bit of heat; I wish it were a half-percent lower, but it’s fine. Easy to drink, easy to like, with some real sophistication. Tremendously versatile at the table, but I’m thinking paella. A very good job. When our restaurants re-open—may it be soon!–this will be a welcome addition to the list. But only 180 cases were produced. Score: 90 points.

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