Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Larry Mawby's Sparkling Wines

Larry Mawby was my prime source for dry Vignoles in the early-1980s; his 1982 and 1983 were excellent. Today, Mawby doesn't make still wines but uses Vignoles in many of his Bruts. The Cremant Classic is 100% Vignoles. I tasted a flight of four Mawby Bruts on the deck of his tasting room last weekend. Last year, I preferred his Blanc de Blancs; this year, my favorites were the Talismon and the Blanc de Noirs.

The Blanc de Blancs ($18), mostly Chardonnay, is crisp and lively with a long finish. Its sibling the Blanc de Noirs ($18), 100% Pinot Noir, is made in a similar way--hand picked, whole cluster pressed, fermentation in stainless steel, then blended with reserved juice and fermented a second time in the bottle. It's fuller than the Blanc de Blancs on the mid-palate with Pinot earthiness on the finish. I generally prefer Blanc de Noirs and did again this time.

Because it's 100% estate-grown Vignoles, the Cremant Classic ($24) had my full attention. Compared to the Talismon, the nose was a bit tight at first, then opened nicely. I liked the finely focused Vignoles fruit flavors. Medium bodied and well balanced. The juice for the Cremant is fermented in small oak barrels (as opposed to stainless steel for the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs), and that adds another dimension.

Talismon (at $33 the most expensive wine in the lineup) is billed as a "unique aged blend," and I agree. A blend of Vignoles, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, it's fermented in a solera system in small oak barrels. Older vintages are topped up with newer ones. Incredibly complex aromas of spicy fruit and bread dough. Flavors are even fuller and more Pinot-tinged than the Blanc de Noirs. Very fine. If I see this wine for under $30, I'll be a buyer.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Boskydel: Stalking the Leelanau Vignoles

Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in Michigan, with the cool, lake-influenced climate, are probably best suited for Rieslings. From my visits in the early 1980s, though, my favorite wines were made from Vignoles--high in acidity but with the full bodied mouth feel of a Chardonnay. I bought a case of the 1982 Vignoles from Bernie Rink at Boskydel. And when I finally got around to opening the final bottle about five years ago, it was by far the best of the lot.

Bernie, 84, the elder statesman of Leelanau wine, was not at all surprised that his wine aged so well; nor was his son, who now handles much of the winemaking duties. Vignoles has the acid needed to carry on; and the Rinks believe in good old-fashioned wine-making with no tricks to make the wine show well early and then fall apart prematurely. When I went last year to buy a case of Boskydel's Vignoles from the excellent 2008 vintage, I was disappointed that it was all gone. At that time, Bernie warned me that the 2009 Vignoles would be "light," but that didn't deter me one bit once I tasted it last week. Good, lively citrus aromas and flavors with a full range of flavors on the mid-palate and finish. I'm looking forward to drinking it over the next 5 to 10 years.

Don't take your credit card to Boskydel; but if you're ready to buy wine by the case (40% discount), you may not need it. For $69.90 (tax included), I got a case of 2009 Boskydel Vignoles. This is the best wine buy on the planet, I said as I wrote out the check. But please don't change your prices...or your wine, I was thinking.

Other wines worth considering at Boskydel are the white Soleil Blanc (made mostly from Seibel) and the red and rose deChaunac. I bought a case of the Soleil Blanc last year when the Vignoles was not available.

Good Harbor: Tribute to Bruce Simpson

Donna and I visit Leelanau at least once or twice every year, and Good Harbor is always on my short list of wineries to visit. The tasting room and vineyards are located between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau, just south of Leland. There always seems to be a cool breeze blowing but rays of sun to warm your skin and that of the maturing grapes on the vine.

Bruce Simpson, who started the winery in 1980, had a special winemaking touch that I appreciated. Unfortunately, he died--way too soon--a couple of years ago, leaving his wife Debbie and his children to carry on. The 2008 vintage was the last vintage Bruce oversaw, and the 2008 Good Harbor Tribute Chardonnay is a fitting tribute indeed. It's developed beautifully since I tasted it last September. French oak aromas have integrated well with the many splendored Chardonnay fruit; complex white peach, melon and green apple flavors dance across the palate, leaving a very long after taste. Strong fruit and plenty of acid for aging. The 2008 vintage in Leelanau was an excellent one, and the winery believes this is one of the best Chardonnays produced at Good Harbor, and I agree. Whereas nearly all of the other Good Harbor wines are priced in the $10 to $12 range, this Tribute Chardonnay sells for $25 ($21.25 with the 15% case discount). Even by Artisan Wine on a Budget standards, this is an excellent value.

Other Good Harbor wines I tasted:

2008 Leelanau Chardonnay: a bit less elegant and complex than the Tribute, this regular Chardonnay also displays the great fruit from the 2008 vintage. It was aged for three months in neutral French oak (older barrels). Bright fruit flavors with a full mid-palate and developing complexity. For $12.50 a bottle, it's an even more amazing value.

2006 Good Harbor Pinot Grigio Reserve: I still have a bottle of this I bought on last year's visit, and I'm pleased to find that it's become deeper and broader over that period. Great Pinot Gris aromas with some added richness from 20% barrel fermented Chardonnary.

2010 Good Harbor Riesling: I finished my tasting with this Late Harvest Riesling. Lots of sweet upfront fruit--white peaches, apples plus some of the mineral element that I found in the Pinot Grigio. Nicely focused flavors on the finish, dry enough to go with a spicy meal as well as dessert.

The 45th Parallel of Michigan

The 45th parallel--roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole--cuts across the famed Hermitage Hill in the Northern Rhone and some similarly high-powered Barolo vineyards in the Piedmonte region of Italy. In North America, that latitude marks the Willamette Valley in Oregon...and the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas in Michigan.

While lacking the prestige of these other wine-growing areas, Leelanau and Old Mission are certainly capable of producing world-class wines. When I first started visiting the area and tasting wines in the early 1980s, there were only a handful of wineries--L. Mawby, Good Harbor, Boskydel, Leelanau Cellars and Chateau Grand Traverse. New wineries are cropping up nearly every year, but these five early pioneers are still my favorites. Because they bought land when it was relatively inexpensive, their prices are reasonable, and their vines have reached a good state of maturity. More important, for me, the winemakers clearly share my view of wine as a beverage to be enjoyed with meals every day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chateau du Trignon Cotes du Rhone, 2007

This is another fine example of the quality of the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. I still insist that it's not the vintage of my lifetime (nor of Robert Parker's) but it apparently offered conditions for complete ripening of the Grenache and Syrah grapes.

Deep garnet./ Oh yes, traditional Cotes du Rhone at its best with black pepper, garrigue, red and black fruits. Dark and serious; more like Rasteau than Cairanne. Peppery, spicy Carignan along with all of the best facets of Grenache and Syrah.

Chateau du Trignon, a long time favorite of Kermit Lynch, has old vines well situated at the foot of the Dentelles mountains near Gigondas, Rasteau and Ventoux. The estate has recently been purchased by the Quiot family, owners of Vieux Lazaret in Chateauneuf du Pape, and I would say it is in good hands. The 2003 Trignon Cotes du Rhone Villages Rasteau that I reported on several times over the last few years was a distinct disappointment, but that may have been because of bad storage or transport before the wine reached me. It may also have been a result of transitional problems before the estate was sold.

Chateau du Trignon was one of the least expensive Cotes du Rhone wines at Binny's in Chicago. For recent Southern Rhones, particularly those from 2007, I would say that cheaper is usually better--at least for my taste. It means the winemaker has not purchased expensive barriques to join the trend toward an international style.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Viognier, 2009

Like all Viogniers, this wine smells sweet but tastes dry. Not too dry, though. Medium light. Delicate floral and musky aromas typical of Viognier. Pears and peaches. Lacks the cassis finish that characterizes more expensive Viogniers. But for $6.99 (Sawall's Health Foods in Kalamazoo), who can complain. A delightful summer wine.

Louis Latour Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir, 2007

Winemakers and other knowledgeable wine people have told me that a wine, once it's in the bottle, never adds fruit, only loses it, with aging. Of course, that's true, but the perception of fruitiness can change over time as a result of tannins, acid and the overall balance of the wine.

This 2007 Valmoissine was particularly aromatic when first opened, but the prominent scents were of flowers and spices more than fresh fruits. Not as typically Pinot as in past vintages such as 2004 and 2005. The wine is certainly not short on acid; it's almost like a Barbera in its attack. On the second night, though, after the wine has had a chance to breathe in some oxygen, the fruit emerges beautfully--dark cherries, blueberries and pomegranates to go along with cinnamon and paprika. Wow! The wine is also riper and fuller with more body and flavor. Really coming alive.

Domaine Valmoissine always ages much better than you'd expect (check out the Louis Latour website for advice on past vintages). And this 2007 is one for keeping.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Domaine de la Bastide Les Figues Cotes du Rhone, 2009

A blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Carignane, this Cotes du Rhone lacks the peppery, spicy charm that I expect from a Southern Rhone, but it's a very good dinner wine. Subtle scents of cherries, flowers and a hint of vanilla. I suspect some of the wine has been aged in barriques, and that is covering up some of the pepper and spice. Compared to the d'Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz beside it, however, this is a traditionally made wine. Tannins are much softer; smells and flavors are all fruit oriented (as opposed to the coconut of the Stump Jump). I detect a slight oxidized note on the finish. Even so, I think the wine is likely to improve over the next couple of years.

Finca Luzon Jumilla Monastrell, 2009

A couple of years, I bought an inexpensive Spanish wine with an unusual label--some green blades of grass or weeds, eyed by a couple of flying insects. That was Finca Luzon Verde Jumilla Monastrell 2005, and for $6.99 I found range and precision of flavors that are usually found in wines costing several times that much. Alas, I bought only one bottle and have been searching for more ever since. Last month, I discovered the wine's sibling, Finca Luzon Jumilla Monstrell 2009 for a similar price at Binny's Beverage Depot in Chicago. This apparently is the non-organic version of the "Verde."

Like the Luzon Verde I remember from two years ago, this wine has a deep, bluish Mourvedre color (Monastrell is Spanish for Mourvedre). The aromas are fresh and forward--blueberries, blue plums, licorice and lavender. Very ripe and supple on the mid-palate and very enjoyable, but it's not as focused nor as complex as the Luzon Verde of my memory. It reminds me a lot of the Tarima Jumilla Monastrell I reported on a couple of weeks ago, although not as powerful nor tannic.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Barbadillo Palomino Fino Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz, 2008

Penny Ross of D&W Market's wine department brought this wine to my attention. For $8.59 a bottle, it's a bargain, and I plan to go back for more. Palomino is the grape variety used to produce Sherry, but this is a white table wine from a modest Spanish appellation that will match up well with just about any summer meal.

Medium yellow./ Green apples, minerals, flowers--not your typical oaky Chardonnay but not like Sauvignon Blanc nor Pinot Grigio either./ Same on the palate. Medium bodied, fresh and lively. It's hard to find descriptors for the range of bright fruit flavors, and that may be what I like most about this wine. I suspect that it will get even better with a couple of years in the bottle.

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages, 1999

When it's young, Domaine Sainte Anne's CDR Villages is like crushed berries and cream. I love it. With a decade and more of bottle age, it takes on another dimension.

Medium deep ruby with good saturation./ The bouquet has developed nicely. Not as ripe and fruity as it once was but has taken on nuances of black raspberries, cassis and spice. / Same on the palate. The Syrah has reached a good stage of maturity, and the Grenache and Mourvedre are adding their voices. Has some similarity to a good Crozes Hermitage such as Domaine Thalabert but may be even better. Just the right degree of warmth (13% alcohol) to bring out the subtle fruit flavors. There is nothing flashy about the finish, but it keeps bringing me back for sip after sip, and the memory lingers. I paid about $10 for this wine; the pleasure it's giving me right now is worth several times that much.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas Cuvee Prestige Les Vignerons de l'Enclave des Papes, 2007

I have written some negative things about the highly touted 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. Tasting this wine, I'm ready to take them all back. The Grenache (75%) and Syrah (25%) grapes for this wine clearly reached a complete stage of ripeness, but I find none of the over-ripeness or flabbiness that characterizes many higher priced wines from 2007.

The color is deep and dark and so are the smells--blue plums, black pepper, black and blue berries and Provencal spices. A big fruit-oriented wine that fills the mouth with flavors. Good depth. This modest Valreas is produced by a cooperative, and I bought it for $5.99 at Trader Joe's. Nothing fancy here--no barriques, no hype, just good old-fashioned Valreas wine. It's filled out a lot since I bought it a couple of years ago. I don't know what vintage is now on the shelves at Trader Joe's, probably the 2009. I greatly enjoyed the 2001 and 2004 vintages, was somewhat disappointed by the 2005. Judging from this wine, I will gladly take a shot at the 2009.

Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc, 2009

I usually shy away from wines with cute names, but there is nothing gimicky about the reputation of Pascal Jolivet. I have enjoyed this Loire estate's Sancerre and Pouilly Fume in the past and knew I could count on a high quality wine (as well as an attitude) when I ordered it as a wine by the glass at C'Est Tout bistro in a southern suburb of Dayton, Ohio.

And yes, the wine does have an attitude--aggressive scents of passion fruit, mint, melon, minerals and all the other good things I expect from a Loire Valley Sauvignon. The "attitude" is actually a bit less aggressive than that of Haut Poitu Sauvignon reported on below, and I consider that a plus rather than a minus. On the palate, the flavors are smooth, subtle and a good match for an excellent entree of sweet potato/goat cheese ravioli. Flavors of the ravioli are warm and broad and benefit from the finely tuned focus of the Sauvignon Blanc.

For $16, this wine is not a great bargain since the grapes come from the broad Loire Valley appellation (rather than Sancerre, Pouilly Fume or Menetou Salon). That's not much less than I pay for my favorite Sancerre, Domaine Daulny. In the grand scheme of things, though, the wine is cheap. Good luck finding a Sauvignon Blanc with this much character and quality from California, New Zealand, South America or anywhere else but the Loire Valley.