Monday, November 29, 2010

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1983

Paul Jaboulet's Domaine Thalabert was my favorite wine of the 1980s, and I have thoroughly enjoyed nearly every vintage. I don't remember having the 1987 (a weak vintage), and the 1989 which I reported on earlier this Fall is so far a distinct disappointment. The 1983, however, is my favorite, and it seems to be getting better with every year that passes.

Deep ruby with some bricking but not as brown as the 1979 Sociando Mallet that accompanied it on the table. While everyone enjoyed both wines, nearly all preferred the Thalabert for its "big flavors." The bouquet is high toned with the best herbaceous qualities of northern Rhone Syrah--elegant and fine. I also smell red fruit, cassis and a hint of iodine. There is a great deal of complexity on both the nose and palate. And the fruit concentration on the mid-palate--wow! It's like a young wine in many respects with flavors that just keep coming at you. The flavors linger for 10 seconds or longer.

Robert Parker has damned this 1983 Thalabert with faint praise, and I must say that I disagree strongly. He gave a higher rating to the 1989, and I disagree even more strongly. Parker has always raved about the 1990, the best Thalabert ever made, in his opinion. I must admit that I've yet to try it (not counting early tastings) although I do own several bottles and plan to open one soon. If the wines from the 1980s are any indication, there should be nothing lost in waiting for the 1990 to develop its true the 1983 is doing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chateau Sociando Mallet Haut Medoc, 1979

Visit any of the top restaurants in France, and you're likely to see a vintage or more of Sociando Mallet. It's widely recognized as a Cru Bourgeois that consistently produces wines comparable to those of far more expensive classed growths. This 1979 is testament to the wine's ageworthiness.

The color is very deep but with definite browning. The bouquet is also mature but not at all attenuated. I get deep scents of fragrant herbs, tart cherries, currants and Asian spices--has the exotic fragrance of a wine from the Margaux commune. On the palate, the varietal traits of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot have merged into minty and herbaceous old wine flavors but with all the strength and concentration you'd expect from a first or second growth. Very smooth with no hard edges and a more than decent finish.

The tag on this 1979 reads $8.95 because it was purchased nearly 30 years ago. A bottle of the current vintage will set you back at least $45, and the 1979, when you can find it, sells for $50. If well stored, it's worth the price.

Pierre-Bis Clos du Coulaine Savennieres, 2000

Savennieres, the dry white Chenin Blanc of the Loire, is not a wine to everyone's liking. And that's good because it leaves more of it for those of us who love this wine. And the price is usually embarrassingly low for a wine of this quality. Domaine du Coulaine's 4.5 hectares of Chenin Blanc vines are planted on silty-sandy soils over sandstone and schist deposits. The vines are old, yields are low and the wines are recognized by locals and experts as some of these best of the appellation. Yet I paid less than $12 earlier this decade for this bottle, and the current vintage is probably not much more expensive.

The 2000 Clos du Coulaine Savennieres is drinking quite well right now, although I'm sure it will continue to improve for at least another decade. It's a medium deep gold in color, and it's developed some beautiful Chenin Blanc scents--peaches, pears, honey and probably some botrytis. Very fragrant but not at all over the top. On the palate there is an essential sweetness--honey and ripe pears--but the wine is also notably dry with notes of straw and Savennieres minerals. It has a firm, broad-shouldered body--a white wine for red wine lovers, big and powerful but by no means fat. It's a wine of place, everything a Savennieres should be. And it's got me dreaming about the 1985, 1981 and 1990 Savennieres of Domaine des Baumards that I've had before and will have again. Drink it now or wait? With Savennieres that is always the question. And there is no satisfactory answer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bourgogne Leroy Rouge, 1990

Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy, owner of the Domaine de la Romanee Conti, is the producer of arguably the very best (and most expensive) Burgundy wines. As French wine critic Michael Bettane put it, "Domaine Leroy is a welcome reminder of the difference between the very good and the great." This simple Bourgogne is the least prestigious of the estate's wines, and I was fortunate enough to get this 1990 on futures for about $150/case. You'll pay $90 a bottle for this 1990 (if you can find one) today, and even the current vintage sells for about $40.

The color shows good saturation, with some amber tones, and there is plenty of sediment as Mme Leroy predicts on the label, since the wine has not been filtered. I get some tanky scents when the wine is first opened, but they give way to wild cherries, cranberries and flowers. On the palate, the cherries are dominant. There is none of the earthiness that I usually find in Pinot Noir. The terroir for this wine has resulted in more fresh fruit plus savory tones of iodine, herbs and mushroom. The after taste is very long and satisfying.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2002

There is a tendency among wine snobs to dismiss Beaujolais and all wines made from Gamay as simple and unworthy of aging. There are, in fact, many ageworthy Gamay wines (mostly Beaujolais Cru), and I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to try the Morgon of Jean Descombes at eight-plus years of age. A gorgeous full-fruited, red cherry wine when young, it takes on special nuances, similar to those of Pinot Noir, when given some time in the cellar. I've bought Jean Descombes Morgon nearly every year since the 1991 vintage, and I sample them all from time to time to see how they are developing. My favorites at the moment are 1995, 2004 and 2005. The 2002 has been disappointing until now, but this bottle seems to indicate that it may be a late bloomer, just now coming into its own.

The color is a brilliant ruby, and the bouquet is best described as pretty rather than powerful. The bouquet opens slowly to reveal dark cherries, pomegranates and violets. Flavors are ripe and plump on the mid-palate with concentration and depth that become more apparent with every sip. The after-taste, though, is what makes this wine special. It just keeps on coming at you several seconds after you swallow.

Domaine de Font-Sane Cotes du Ventoux, 2006

This wine has the qualities I expect from a good Southern Rhone: a bright crimson color, lightening just a bit from a year ago; a nose of red and blue berries, Provencal spice and black pepper; and a full-bodied fruit cake presence on the palate. As always with Font-Sane, there are some muscular tannins lurking in the background to remind you that this is a serious wine. But in the end, there is the ripe fruit and generous personality that defines Ventoux. The label talks about the "happy combination" of Grenache and Syrah, and happy, indeed, is the marriage. It's a more powerful wine than La Vieille Ferme Ventoux but equally enjoyable as a more-than-simple every day drink.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya de Santa Ana Monastrell, 2008

I've been on the lookout for good Jumilla Monastrell, and this is the Jumilla Monastrell of my dreams. Why Jumilla Monastrell? I've tasted several very good ones recently, and they were very good values. I love Monastrell (known as Mourvedre in France), and Jumilla, in southeastern Spain, apparently provides a good climate for growing this warm-weather grape. Summer days can get hot in Jumilla but because the elevation is 1,500 feet above sea level, nights become very cool. As a result, Monastrell grapes reach a complete level of ripeness while maintaining high acidity. Luzon Verde and Casa Castillo are Monastrells from Jumilla. Castano, another excellent Monastrell, is from nearby. All are under $10. I paid $12.99 for this Altos de la Hoya, but, wow!

Some of the vines at Bodegas Olivares date back to 1872, and all are pre-Phylloxera (the root louse that destroyed nearly all of Europe's vineyards in the late 1800s). Because the fruit from these vineyards is gloriously aromatic, the winemaker carefully avoids using any new oak that might cover up the natural scents and flavors. The wine is aged in well seasoned small barrels from Burgundy in France.

The color is deep and inky. From the time the cork is popped, the scents coming from the glass are heavenly. I smell delicate, ripe red berries and flowers at first, almost like Grenache or Pinot Noir. Later, they broaden out; now, I get darker smells of blueberries, cassis, black pepper and spice. Very deep. On the palate, the wine is super friendly. No tannins to get between the tongue and those lovely fruit flavors--red and blue berries and dark peppery, spicy notes. Deep, deep fruit; lovely spicy finish.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pierre Sparr Alsace ONE, 2005

As the label indicates, Alsace ONE is a blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. All of these grapes have a role to play, but right now the Gewurztraminer spiciness is dominating the nose with powerful scents of fruit cocktail, rosepetal and Gewurz barbershop. On the palate, the wine has a glycerined, full bodied texture but plenty of brisk acidity. Peachy ripe up front with Gewurz spiciness again on the mid-palate and a ripe pear-like finish. This is a delightful Alsace white drinking beautifully right now.

Grand Prieur Cotes du Rhone, 2006

After a few evenings spent drinking Australian Shiraz and California Cabernet, it was an unbelievable delight to come back home to one of my favorite Southern Rhones. While the Joel Gott and Nine Stones wines (see below) are very well-made, fruit-oriented wines, they lack both the complexity and come-hither qualities of this 2006 Cotes du Rhone.

As in the past several vintages, the color of Grand Prieur is more purplish and less crimson than you'd expect from a traditional Cotes du Rhone. But there is nothing else that might indicate new oak treatment. I smell ripe blueberries, licorice, cherries and Vacqueyras minerals. (The vineyards are in Vacqueyras but the yields are too high to meet appellation standards.) Compared to both the Nine Stones Shiraz and Joel Gott Cabernet tasted alongside it, this wine is very ripe, silky smooth with rounded fruit flavors and a hint of pepper on the finish. Goes well with just about anything you put on the table.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008`

Joel Gott has a Napa Valley Cabernet that sells for about $40. This is a California appellation blend with fruit coming from less exalted vineyards in Mendocino, Lake and Paso Robles. It is probably made with a little less exposure to new oak as well, but the resulting price, $15 to $20, is attractive. It's very fragrant, not so much blackcurrant as blueberries, spice and cassis. The aromas are blended together so nicely you could almost talk about a bouquet. There is sweetish berry fruit on the palate with a slight spiciness. I would say that a good portion of the fruit comes from Paso Robles; it's similar in style to Liberty School and other Cabs from that area.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nine Stones Hilltops Shiraz, 2005

Nine Stones also has Shiraz bottlings from Barossa and McLaren Vale in Southwestern Australia. It's important to read the label before you buy, because each wine has its own personality. If you like your Shiraz big and bold, you'll like the Barossa; I prefer the McLaren Vale for its elegant mid-palate fruit. Hilltops, which comes from high elevation vineyards in Southern New South Wales (in the southeast) shows a totally different side of Shiraz...and one that I like a lot, particularly after it has spent a few years in the bottle.

You can smell the ripe berry fruit from across the table as soon as the screw cap is removed. It has the immediacy of a barrel sample plus the warm glow of a maturing wine. There is very little evidence of new oak, and I like that. On the palate there is black pepper, spice and racy blueberry/raspberry fruit. Reminds me a bit of a Crozes-Hermitage. It's drinking very nicely right now, but I think it will continue to improve for a few more years.

Agricole Vallone Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva Vereto, 2000

I assumed that this wine was on its last legs when I saw many, many bottles on the closeout shelf at Harding's Market for $4.79 a bottle. I avoided it for several days, thinking it was no bargain, then tried a bottle. And the first bottle sent me back for more and more. But that was two years ago, and the wine just keeps getting better and better.

It's a deep ruby with good saturated color, and the bouquet is beautifully mature but without any loss of vibrant fruit. Dark cherries, licorice, flowers--sweetish fruit with ripe skin tannins but plenty of racy acidity. A long, ripe finish, no hard edges. Very Italian, very Puglian, very good. I once had a stash of this wine, but it is too good to stay away from.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Domaine Daulny Clos de Chaudenay Sancerre, 2006

Nearly all Sauvignon Blanc wines are considered DYA--drink youngest available. Although this Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is four years past its vintage date, it's hard to believe it was ever drinking any better than it is right now. In fact, I've had this wine several times since it appeared on the market, and I can attest that this is a special bottle.

Aromas and flavors of mint and melon are subtle yet penetrating. They are ripe and fruity enough that the wine is pleasing to drink on its own before the meal. And they blend nicely with the complex flavors of Etruscan chicken. On the palate, the wine is fresh and lively but there is good concentration and more body than you'd expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Domaine Daulny's Clos de Chaudenay has long been one of my favorite white wines. And this is Clos de Chaudenay at its best.