The 2009 Kalamazoo Food & Wine Fest offered a great opportunity for tasting. In two and a half hours, I could make it through only a small number of nearly a thousand wines available. And I had no time to take notes. Some observations:
RHONE: I had a chance to taste through the offerings of Les Trois Couronnes--Cotes du Rhone, Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape. My favorite was the Gigondas, a wine true to its appellation and not nearly as backward as the Vacqueyras at this stage. (The Vacqueyras was not at the tasting, but I had a bottle at home a couple of weeks ago.) It's got that streak of Gigondas gentle power running right down the middle. It's probably the Mourvedre in the blend that makes it special. The Chateauneuf was very good as well--Grenache centered and traditional but at this stage not showing enough to make me a buyer. The price for those attending the event ($23) is good, but my inclination would be to spend a bit more for (about $30) for a Fortia or Lucien Barrot.
One of my favorite Rhones at the tasting was the 2007 Vieux Chene Cuvee Friande Vin de Pay de Vaucluse ($7.99 event price); it's drinking beautifully right now. I also enjoyed the 2007 Chateau Suzeau Cotes du Rhone, which had a distinctive lemon peel trait. The Delas Saint Esprit Cotes du Rhone (75% Syrah, 25% Grenache) impressed me even more than it did last week at home. And I heard lots of good comments about this wine as I moved around the tasting. For those attending the event, it can be purchased for $9.59.
Also of note were the Languedoc wines of La Clape: Rouge des Karantes ($7.79), Domaine des Karantes La Clape ($10.99) and Diamant des Karantes ($37.99). They are all Rhone blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, traditionally made and beautiful. Yes, the pleasure increases as you ascend the price scale, but, for me, the Diamante is not four or five times better than the simple Rouge des Karantes.
AUSTRALIAN: At the Australian table, there was a choice of the inexpensive Wishing Tree, medium-priced Rutherglen or premium-priced Elderton wines. I skipped the Wishing Tree since I've had these wines before and never been impressed. The Elderton Unoaked Chardonnay ($11.49) was very good, not at all what most Americans have come to expect from Australian Chardonnay. No butter, no cream just elegant Chardonnay fruit, well defined. The Rutherglen Red was a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah; presumably, the Petite Sirah was added to deepen the color because this grape has relatively little flavor. But isn't the Syrah inky enough without it? This wine was okay, but I preferred the Rutherglen Reunion MSG (Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache). Compared to other MSGs I've had, this one was fairly approachable and not too tannic. For $13.29 (event price), I could enjoy this wine occasionally, although it would never make me forget my Chateauneufs or even my Cotes du Rhones. The highlight was the Elderton Barossa Cabernet ($22.45)--a very sleek wine with well defined Cabernet fruit. I may well buy some because it's my wife's style of wine and would go quite well with roast lamb. The Elderton Command Shiraz (normally $100 but marked down to $66 for the event) was an impressive, powerful show wine. It fills the mouth and makes you say, WOW! But, for me, it's too big, too showy and too oaky. A wine to try, not to buy.
ITALIAN: Some of the wines making the most lasting impression on me were Italian Barberas. Were I a bit younger, I could go for Barbera in a big way. It has an exciting range of fruit and peel aromas with high acidity that keeps you coming back for more. Unlike most red wines, it goes well with salty foods (even popcorn and potato chips) and with either fish or beef. I've reported before on the San Silvestri Ottone Piedmonte Barbera ($7.99) and I couldn't resist trying it again. Beautiful. Then there was the Canavese Rosso ($16.59), a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo, and the Canavese Barbera ($20.99). These are classier, more elegant renderings compared to the Ottone. I was also very impressed with a wine I hadn't tried before: Lionello Marchesi Morellino de Scansano ($13.99). This wine has a very powerful personality, right in line with my other Italian favorites.
There were other wines I tried and enjoyed, including a Frey-Sohler Alsace Muscat ($11.99), a Couly Dutheil Chinon Rouge ($15.99) and a Grand Moulin Rouge Cotes de Blaye ($12.69). But oh so many, I left untouched. There's always next year.