Sunday, November 30, 2008

J.L. Chave St. Joseph Offerus, 1998

This wine is produced by the negotiant arm of the famous Hermitage producer, J. Chave. Chave also produces a more expensive St. Joseph from his estate vineyards. The St. Joseph Offerus sold for $16 to $18 when it hit my market with the 1997 and 1998 vintages, but it now costs $25 to $30 retail.

The 1998 is showing very well right now. It's deep and dark but with some burnished notes of maturity beginning to show. When first opened, the aromas and flavors were all fresh and bright red fruit and flowers--very pleasant but not particularly complex. With 30 minutes of airing, it developed considerable power and personality. The nose reminds me of a Cote Rotie--smoke, cured meats, grilled tomatoes and concentrated red raspberry--but the flavors are more supple and flowing, more in line with what I would expect from a St. Joseph. All the charm of a young Syrah on the tongue but with the complex bouquet of a mature wine--a perfect combination as far as I'm concerned. This wine will never reach the heights of a Hermitage or Cote Rotie, but it's very satisfying right now.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Monte Antico Riserva, 1980

Monte Antico is still a major bargain, selling for $8 to $10 in most parts of the country. It is a very good Tuscan red wine that has received high marks from Robert Parker and other influential critics but still sits on the store shelves despite its bargain price. When I bought a case of the 1982 Monte Antico (I paid about $40 for the case), I discovered that the wine is also very ageworthy. I tried to be patient, but even after finishing the case, I never felt that I had opened a bottle that was ready to drink. At the same time, I bought one bottle of the Monte Antico Riserva--a definite splurge at $5.95. Because of the reticence of the regular Monte Antico I let this wine sit longer than I otherwise would. Eventually, it got overlooked and gathered dust on the shelf alongside more prestigious and certifiably age-worthy Barolos and Barbarescos.

Somehow, tonight, for my daughter's 28th birthday, I had enough confidence to open this long-neglected bottle. 1980 was not a great vintage in most parts of the world, and the bottles of 1980 Jaboulet Cornas and Thalabert Crozes that I usually open have become a cliche for November 29. WOW! Monte Antico Riserva was worth the wait.

The color is light brick red but still incredibly clear and bright. The bouquet is similarly clean and clear--mature but finely focused smells of dried cherries and flowers with no off notes or oxidation. The flavors are also beautifully focused and persistent, a savory treat. Good grip and concentration with the essential sweetness of a mature red. This is not a great wine but a very good one that has aged the way all wines should age in an ideal world.

Will I buy another case of Monte Antico? Maybe I will.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Cuvee Haie aux Grives, 2004

This is my favorite cuvee of Vieux Chene, although I'll admit that I have not yet tried the estate's Plan de Dieu bottling which was initiated, I believe, with the 2005 vintage. The Cuvee Haie aux Grives ordinarily takes a bit longer to start showing its charm than the Cuvee Capucines, which has a higher proportion of Grenache in the blend. In the 2004 vintage, however, the Haie aux Grives showed beautifully right from the start.

It's still deep and dark, just beginning to turn. Grenache red raspberry fruit is also beginning to develop a fruit-cake-like concentration, similar to that of a 10 to 12 year old Chateauneuf du Pape. It's very full bodied and velvety on the palate with a good range of ripe fruit flavors that are just beginning to develop secondary characteristics. Very nice.

Epicuro Beneventano Aglianico, 2006

From Beneventano in Southwestern Italy, this wine says "southern Italy" and "warm climate" in the same way that the Langhe Anna (below) speaks of the cooler climes of northern Italy. It's a deep, dark color--similar to what you might expect from an Amador Zinfandel. In contrast to the reserved Anna, this wine just bursts with robust charm--blackberries, dark cherries and spices such as cinnamon. It's full bodied, almost velvety, in the mouth. After the Anna, you might calls this wine sweet, but I'm sure it doesn't have any residual sugar--simply ripe fruit and skins. The fruit tannins are ripe enough that the wine can be enjoyed now, but I think it will be even better with a few years in the bottle.

At $5.99 from Trader Joe's, this is a wine that you might consider buying in quantity. On the other hand, the Epicuro Salice Salentino sitting beside it on the shelf for the same price is even more appealing for my tastes.

Boroli Langhe Anna Rosso, 2005

From Langhe (in Piedmont), you would expect a Nebbiolo-based wine, and the 2005 Anna has 29% Nebbiolo plus 17% Barbera. But it's the Cabernet (31%) and Merlot (23%) that stand out in the aromas and flavors.

It's a medium to light ruby, and the aromas introduce a reserved, austere personality. It smells dry, and it is. But the subtle smells and flavors just keep coming at you from different directions. Pleasantly astringent but still good fruit and herb traits, similar to a good Claret but with a distinctively Italian flair. This wine and Aglianico (above) are about as different as two wines can get. And I like them both.

Domaine Chaume-Arnaud Vinsobres, 2004

I firmly believe that Vinsobres is one of the most underrated areas of the Southern Rhone. And this domaine, owned and run by Valerie and Phillippe Chaume-Arnaud, is my favorite. Phillippe tends the vineyards; Valerie makes the wine. They are a young couple who believe in organic methods. And they also pay attention to the wine-making wisdom of their elders who have worked the land for years. Valerie's wine-making is traditional, eschewing both new oak and stainless steel in her effort to focus on the quality and purity of the fruit.

But even though I have confidence in the producers and the good 2004 vintage in the Southern Rhone, I still have a few doubts about this wine and its maturity. The color is a beautiful deep crimson, and the initial aromas are everything I could expect: freshly crushed blueberries, violets, herbs and black licorice. But there is also a bit of green toughness in the background--probably young Mourvedre. Flavors are the same--concentrated fruit and herb but with a tough, hard streak near the finish. It's still a good wine to stand up to grilled steak, and I really think this hard streak will mature into a beautiful Mourvedre spice-box component if I have the patience to give this wine some time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Joseph Drouhin LaForet Bourgogne Chardonnay, 2006

Joseph Drouhin makes some very fine (and expensive) white Burgundies. I still have vivid and fond memories of a Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches I had at a wine dinner in the early 1990s. At the bottom of the Drouhin hierarchy, this LaForet Bourgogne Chardonnay is widely available and a reliable choice for a $10 to $12 white wine. In the 2006 vintage, it reminds me of a good Macon Villages with just a touch of the qualities of the more expensive wines from around the village of Beaune.

The wine is fermented under controlled temperatures in stainless steel. This preserves the fresh fruit flavors but ironically gives it a deeper gold color than a comparable wine fermented in wood. The aromas are much fresher than the medium gold color might suggest. Pear smells are dominant along with golden delicious apples, citrus and yeasty notes. After fermentation, the wine spent a few months in older oak barrels that imparted a touch of complexity to the natural flavors of Chardonnay. It's medium bodied and steps lightly across the palate. A classy wine with a crisp, citric finish that goes well with pork, scalloped potatoes and oven-roasted apples.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Piazzano Chianti, 2006

A wine-by-the-glass selection, this Chianti was a good accompaniment to the basil and olive-oil oriented dishes I had last night at Bravo Restaurant in Kalamazoo. It's a youthful bright crimson color, and the smells and flavors confirm that it was aged in concrete tanks rather than new wood. Tart cherries, pepper, spice--fresh and lively. A full bodied wine but by no means heavy with just the right amount of acidity for my tastes and the dishes of the restaurant. Bravo!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Domaine de l'Oratoire Saint-Martin Cairanne Reserve des Seigneurs, 1998

This wine, tonight, at this defining moment in time (as our new President-elect might say) is a major reason I continue to get excited about wine. It has reached that stage of maturity that wine lovers are always waiting for but all too rarely see.

The color is a deep crimson with the slight browning that is to expected. The nose is not unlike that of a mature Chateauneuf du Pape--fresh strawberries, dried cherries and the wonderful spice-box bouquet of Mourvedre that has turned the corner. It's deep and serious with all the complex smells and flavors blending together. Rich mid-palate and long finish with power and concentration. The wine may or may not remain in this stage for long (I would guess another six months to a year), but right now it's dancing. And so am I.

Monday, November 17, 2008

R Wines South Australia Strong Arm Shiraz, 2006

This wine is much improved from the last bottle I had a couple of months ago. Although it's a very enjoyable Shiraz that received 91 points from the Wine Advocate, in my opinion, it has neither the upfront charm nor the substance of the Vieux Chene Vin de Pays reviewed below.

The color is nearly opaque and bluish. Aromas show all the best qualities of Shiraz--blackberry, cassis and only a hint of herbs for complexity. Ripe and bold but not oaky. On the palate, it's full bodied but smooth, again with no hint of oak or rough tannins. Good fruit presence.

The label reveals that the Strong Arms image derives from an alcohol level of 15.5 percent. It seems to me that the relatively high alcohol lifts the aromas, frames the fruit and adds body, leaving the impression of a big wine but without tannic toughness. Many winemakers from warm climates such as Australia seem to be favoring this type of wine, and there's no question that it has an appeal. At this stage, I don't detect any alcoholic heat nor raisined qualities, and the wine is not made for aging.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2007

I've been buying Vieux Chene wines since the 1980s. The wines have always been good but since the 2004 vintage they seem to have taken several steps forward in quality and now rank as one of my top three or four Cotes du Rhones.

I've written previously about the owners, Jean Claude and Beatrice Bouche. A visit to their web site,, will give you an idea of how much care the Bouches take in tending their vineyards and producing a wine that reflects the special qualities of their vineyards. I love both the CDR Capucine and the CDR Haie aux Grives Cotes du Rhones; they are special wines. Because of its lowly appellation and price, I expected little--but got a great deal more--from this Cuvee Friande.

In its youth, this wine is a deep plummy red. The aromas are fresh and forward--ripe red berries and an almost yeasty, vanilla quality that does not come from new oak. Flavors are very ripe but are supported by a peppery structure. Wild flowers and herbs are more apparent on the finish than on the nose at this stage of development. The blend is 80 percent Grenache, 20 percent Syrah, and the Grenache charm seems to be carrying it at this stage. Skin tannins become more apparent on the second night, covering some of the ripe red berry fruit but revealing that the wine has substance and staying power. I drank the 2004 Cuvee Friande over the first two or three years but it was still on the upswing when I had the last bottle about a year ago.

At $9.19 a bottle at D&W FreshMarket, Cuvee Friande is, in my opinion, probably the best wine for the price in my market right now. Drink it now but buy plenty so that you can chart its progress over the next couple of years.

Gilbert Picq Chablis Premier Cru Vosgros, 1997

This is a beautiful example of a Premier Cru Chablis at a good stage of maturity. It bears no resemblance to other bottles of this same wine that I bought at the same time and drank earlier this year. I've put the previous bottles in the class of "predox" or "prematurely oxidized" white Burgundy from the late 1990s. But this wine is certainly not prematurely oxidized or anything else. It is beautiful.

The color is medium deep (previous bottles were several shades darker). The nose is fresh and clean--strong flinty notes but not at all heavy. Also unwooded Chardonnay smells: apple, pear, lime. Very limey, in fact, but not from French oak. The wine has a light, fresh feel on the palate but with strong, persistent flavors. Flint and lime dominate the mid-palate sandwiched between butter and nuts at the front and back. Strikes a perfect balance between ripe fruit and flinty earth tones.

This wine is exactly what I expected it to become when I bought it a decade ago. I still have one or two more. Will they be like this one? Or like the oxidized disasters I've had before?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

This is an old favorite, and I'm drinking my way through a case all too quickly. Serving an ancho/beef brisket/squash chile for guests, I thought immediately of the Alderbrook Zinfandel (below) and this Salice Salentino. I was looking for ripe fruit to counter the spices plus intensity and complexity to match those of ancho chile.

This wine is a deep, dark garnet, nearly opaque. It's friendlier than the Zinfandel with sweet fruit and licorice coating the palate from front to back. Dark cherries, blackberries--very concentrated and rich. The ripe fruit charm is deceptive because this wine has every bit as much power and intensity as the Alderbrook and less alcoholic heat. The finish is long and rich. Although it has been in bottle three years longer than the Alderbrook, this wine is much younger in its development.

Alderbrook Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel, 2003

I am a fan of Dry Creek Zinfandel, but my favorites are either priced out of my reach (Ridge Geyserville) or no longer available in my area (Trentadue). This Alderbook Zin--$11.79 at D&W FreshMarket--fills the bill quite nicely. It has a lot of the intense old vine traits I love in the Ridge and Trentadue wines.

It's a medium deep color with some rusty tones--actually fairly light for a Zinfandel. But there's nothing light about the aromas and flavors. The Dry Creek intensity is apparent from the first sniff--blackberries, dried cherries, cloves and flowers. The label speaks of orange blossoms, and, yes, I smell orange blossoms too. The flavors are equally intense and powerful--this wine reminds me of a good Southern Italian red like the Salice Salentino of Agricole Vallone (see above). Black pepper, blackberries and black licorice dominate the finish. This is a very enjoyable wine, usually priced at $25 and a great value at $11.79.

Etienne Loew Alsace Tokay Pinot Gris Cormier, 2004

Nothing new to report since the last time I had this wine [October 12, 2008]--a rich, expressive Alsace Pinot Gris. It's sweeter than my wife would prefer (she's the Pinot Grigio lover in our family) but I think it carries its fruit quite well. The ripe pears in brown butter flavors get increasingly deep and complex on the long finish. I love it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone, 2003

In contrast to the 2003 Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux reviewed below, this Cotes du Rhone represents the 2003 Southern Rhone vintage at its best. It's very deep and dark in color; must have a good bit of Syrah in the blend. It's also deep and serious on the nose: tobacco, herbs, black pepper, black fruits and garrigue. On the palate, it has good body, good strength and just the right amount of warmth. The alcoholic content is listed at 13 percent, and there are no raisins and no alcoholic heat at this stage (although I did detect a hint of raisins on the second night). The wine is very concentrated and powerful; in this respect, it reminds me of an old vine Dry Creek Zinfandel or a Salice Salentino from Italy. Sticking to the Southern Rhone, a comparison to Gigondas or Vacqueyras may be more appropriate.

Guigal Cotes du Rhone has a reputation for quality and staying power. I remember enjoying the excellent 1983 well into the decade of the 1990s. The wine is widely available, and I suspect there are still some 2003s on the shelves. Guigal 2004 and 2005, from reports I have read, are very different wines...but still very good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jean Descombes Morgon (Georges Duboeuf), 2004

I usually drink Jean Descombes Morgon either when it is young and bursting with macerated raspberry fruit or at about 10 years of age when it has taken on subtle nuances and depth of flavor. I have always suspected that this Morgon, like many wines, goes through a relatively dumb period in middle age. I picked the 2004 Jean Descombes at this time because I thought it would still be in its youthful stage; actually, it was drinking with all the glory of a mature wine.

The color is much lighter than it was a couple of years ago but it's still a medium deep ruby. It's reticent on the nose and a bit dry on the palate when I first try it, but both open up beautifully with 20 to 30 minutes of air. I smell ripe gamay fruit, very concentrated red berries, with floral highlights--very pretty and complex enough to qualify as a bouquet rather than aromas. The same qualities carry over to the palate. It's more savory than sweet with a lovely medium to light body that goes beautifully with grilled Atlantic salmon. The concentrated red berries are very persistent in the long finish. This tastes very much like a mature Jean Descombes Morgon, but my experience with the wine tells me it is likely to be even better in a few years. That's something to look forward to.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2003

This is one of my favorite Ventoux wines but one of my least favorite vintages. I've had up and down experiences with it over the past year or so [January 13 and May 29, 2008], and this bottle ranks somewhere in the middle.

It's still a brilliant crimson color, medium deep with no signs of aging. The nose is very ripe, forward and typical of the warm '03 vintage. The alcohol level is only 13.5%, and there is no heat on the palate or finish. But if you sniff closely, you can smell the raisins, and the flavors are jammy like an Australian Grenache. The wine has a cherry/berry fruitiness with a charming ripe feel on the palate that many wine drinkers would love. But I miss the characteristic peppery/spicy backbone of Ventoux. I hope this is my last bottle of 2003 because I'm hungry for the beautiful flavors and smells of the 2005 Font-Sane [July 24, 2008].

Alois Lageder Riff Pinot Grigio, 2005

This Pinot Grigio is from the Dolomites in the northeast corner of Italy. It's a cool growing area that also produces the widely available MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio.

Even at three years of age, Riff Pinot Grigio is still a youthful looking medium deep yellow. The nose has fresh scents of ripe pears, mint and herbs, slightly spritzy but in a positive way. It has a full mouth feel more like an Alsace Pinot Gris while still retaining the freshness and lift to be expected from a northeastern Italian Pinot Grigio. Very nice. At special pricing, it's only slightly more expensive than MezzaCorona, and I like it better.

Chateau Gazin Graves, 1981

The best known Gazin is from Pomerol, and the current vintage sells for about $40/bottle. This Gazin is an obscure wine from Graves, and the price tag from 27 years ago reads $7.56. But considering the way it's drinking tonight, I would gladly put it up in a blind tasting against any $40 wine.

The color is a deep plummy red with good saturation and little if any amber. It has a vibrant bouquet of black currants, flowers, cherries and a hint of black tea. The flavors are beautifully focused with fine fruit definition. It's cool and collected with no rough edges and a ripe, exotic finish. On the second and third night, the black tea element becomes increasingly prominent, but the wine shows no deterioration.

Not all lesser Bordeaux wines age this well, but many do. While it may not have the finesse and class of a Gazin Pomerol, it is a very enjoyable wine.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jean-Claude Thevenet Macon Pierreclos, 2005

This small domaine, located in the small village of Pierreclos near the center of Macon, has been run by the Thevenet family for three generations. Grapes are picked by hand and vinified at a controlled low temperature followed by malolactic fermentation. The wine is then left on the lees for a period before bottling, but there is no oak aging.

The result is a bright wine with remarkably well focused flavors--lemon cream, pear and apple. It's not at all showy but has a very elegant feel on the palate with richly developed flavors that you might expect from a much more expensive white Burgundy wine. It has a faceted beauty.

This wine ordinarily sells for about $14; I bought it on closeout from Sawall's Health Foods for $11.

Don Miguel Gascon Mendoza Malbec, 2007

With its traditional label, this wine makes a favorable impression on the shelf, and I was not disappointed when I popped the cork. It's a very deep, bluish purple color, and the first sniff verifies that it's a perfect match for a grilled strip steak. Blackberries, dark cherries and coffee--big and bold with interesting flavors and textures. The wine smells and tastes thick and concentrated. On the first night, the huge fruit presence overwhelms the tannins, but both wood and fruit tannins are more apparent on the second night. Malbec cherries dominate the personality. This seems to be a wine that would age well; but if you're not intending to cellar it, drink it now while the fruit is so powerful. The price is $10.99, and there is good availability at D&W FreshMarkets.