Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Luca Ferraris Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato, 2011

If you have never tried Ruche, join the crowd; I have been drinking wine for nearly 40 years, and this is my first bottle of Ruche, wine made from an old, relatively rare grape grown near d'Asti in the Piedmont appellation of Italy. It's easy to compare this wine to Nebbiolo because it has a similarly enchanting aromatic profile. But it is definitely unique. As Kyle Phillips of the Italian Wine Review put it: "If you like this kind of wine you will like it very much. If not, you won't and though this is an obvious comment, unless you are absolutely certain you don't I would give it a try." With this bottle, my first try at Ruche, I am delighted that I gave it a try.

It is believed that the grape was brought to the Piedmont many years ago, probably from the Burgundy area of France. And the color is relatively light, similar to that of Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. The nose is incredibly beautiful--like walking into a floral shop and being bombarded with diverse smells from all directions. Also spice, red currants and pomegranate. Intense but also subtle, if that is possible. New scents seem to be appearing with each sniff.  Much more delicate in texture and body than Barolo or Barbaresco. There is plenty of tannin here but it is hiding behind the fruit and acid structure. Berries on the mid-palate but almost tart on the finish. Citrus? or cranberries. There are some drinkers who may not appreciate the finish, but I love it. Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato is now on my buy list.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Penfolds Koonunga Hill South Australia Shiraz Cabernet, 2008

If you are trying to get a handle on the difference between Australian Shiraz and French Syrah, "generosity" is a key word. Australian Shiraz is often generous (sometimes to a fault) while Northern Rhone Syrah wines, like the one produced by Cave de Tain (below), have more structure (sometimes too much). When Australian winemakers blend Shiraz and Cabernet, as in this wine, they count on Shiraz to provide the generous mid-palate while Cabernet Sauvignon provides the structure. The result can be an enjoyable wine either for casual drinking or to accompany meals.

Very dark and deep. Blue plums, berries, dark chocolate. Has the classic Shiraz/Cab smells and flavors. Hard to isolate either grape, but they complement each other nicely. At eight years of age, this wine has developed a pleasing level of mature complexity, but I would feel comfortable holding it for another year or two.

Koonunga Hill is a Penfolds classic, first produced in 1976. It was inexpensive then and still is, selling for about $8 to $10 at World Market. I prefer the Shiraz/Cabernet rather than the Cabernet/Shiraz because it has the qualities I remember from that initial vintage, but both are good. If you can't afford Penfolds Bin 389 (I saw a price tag of $70/bottle recently), this is the poor man's choice. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Rouge, 2014

Even from the Languedoc, good old-fashioned Southern French wines like this one are increasingly hard to come by. For only $28 a bottle on the wine list of the excellent Meadowlark restaurant near Dayton, OH, it is an unbelievable bargain.

Smells like some of my favorite Southern Rhones from the 1990s: red fruits, pepper, spice and loads of garrigue. The French country side is blooming. Just as good on the palate: zingy, peppery fruit that gets better with every sip. Matches up well with an excellent dish of hanger steak on a bed of arugula with roasted potatoes and broccoli. The dish sounds more straightforward than it really is. And so does the wine. Imported by Frederick Wildman, H&B Languedoc Rouge is a wine to seek out and buy in quantity.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cave de Tain Premiere Note Collines des Rhodaniennes Syrah, 2015

Syrah from the Northern Rhone and the 2015 vintage at a decent price ($15.95)--I had to give it a try.

Deep ruby some purplish tints. Aromas were very Nouveau when the cork was popped, but the wine took on weight and seriousness within 10 to 15 minutes. Boysenberries, violets, spice and black pepper. Intense flavors. Crozes-like. The wine is easy enough to drink now, but I would like to see how it develops over the next year or two.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel California Red Wine, 2001

Steve Edmunds, one of my favorite New World winemakers, says that Rocks and Gravel--a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah--"has always been inspired by the lovely, sunny red wines grown in the South of France, and these days it may be hard to distinguish from the real thing." By the "real thing," I am assuming that Edmunds is referring to Chateauneuf du Pape, and this wine is truly very close, in some ways, even more appealing than a fine Chateauneuf du Pape.

It has all the peppery, spicy, sea salt goodness of a middle-aged Chateauneuf. This Rocks and Gravel, though, is now 15 years old, and showing younger than the two Chateauneufs from 2000 I had last week (2000 Mas Boislauzon and 2000 Pierre Usseglio). Younger, more vibrant fruit but still plenty of the secondary characteristics to be expected from a CdP. More Mourvedre than Syrah in the blend, I suspect. Violets, lavender, a pleasing touch of Mourvedre barnyard. Reminds me of Bois du Boursan or Vieux Telegraphe. But the strong cherry/berry fruitiness reminds me even more of Domaine Sainte-Anne Saint Gervais. Actually, no comparisons are needed; this is Edmunds St. John Rocks and Gravel--a well made wine sourced from well selected vineyards in Paso Robles, Mendocino and El Dorado.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Graham's 20-year Tawny Port

This was a wine opened for Christmas plum pudding, but I still have some to savor. Taylor's 20-year Tawny was my wine of the year for 2016, and Graham's 20-year Tawny is certainly not far behind. 20-Year Tawny is just so much better than 10-Year Tawny. It is more expensive, of course, but well worth it.

Smells and flavors that have built up over 20 years and more in the barrel. Can't quit sniffing. But don't want to miss the flavors. Very complex--fruit, nut, wood, spirity alcohol all in harmony. Walnuts, caramel, toffee and dried fruits. Jam packed with flavor. There are few desserts that can match this wine.

Babich Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) Chardonnay, 2015

I bought this Chardonnay regularly in the late 1990s. It was one of my best introductions to really fine unoaked Chardonnay. There is so much aroma and flavor in this wine that it's hard to imagine why a winemaker would want to sacrifice that by adding the all too familiar traits of new oak.

Good bright color. The label mentions mango and peach, and it's hard for me to get past the mango. Mango, melon, papaya--all of those complex smells and flavors of tropical fruit. Very finely focused. Creamy on the palate with a long, pleasant finish. My ideal (or close to it) in unoaked Chardonnay.