Sunday, May 27, 2012

Louis Latour Vin de Pay Coteaux du Verdon Domaine de Valmoissine, 2007

Even after sampling some very good Pinot Noir wines from the Anderson Valley and Carneros in California, this inexpensive Vin de Pays from Louis Latour still ranks high on my list of Pinots.

Medium ruby with a good saturated color. As always, some high pitched earthy aromas, almost volatile. The boysenberry fruit is quite forward and ripe in this vintage, but there is good acidity for aging. On the palate, it's almost like a Southern Rhone with pepper, spice and black licorice. Has evolved quite a bit from the last bottle I had more than a year ago, but there is still plenty to come.

Domaine de Valmoissine sells for about $14 at D&W FreshMarkets in west Michigan or at Cost Plus World Market. It's a wine that always seems close to being mature (maybe because of the volatility), but it hangs on nicely and improves for 10 to 12 years or more.

The Rhoning Stones Cotes du Rhone, 2007

60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre. Compared to the two wines below (2009 Altitude 500 Ventoux and 2009 Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Ventoux), this Cotes du Rhone has the stamp of 2007 all over it. It's darker in color with riper, richer blueberry fruit. Also some lively acids and nice uplift (rosemary? mint?) Generally, though, more berried fruit and less peppery spice than the 2009 wines. It's drinking nicely now, but on the second night I got some notes of oxidation. It's time to enjoy whatever bottles you have.

Cuvee des 3 Messes Basses Ventoux, 2009

This wine and the Altitude 500 Ventoux (below) are both made by the cooperative at Bedoin. They offer  evidence that this coop has the facilities to produce good wine in the best Southern Rhone tradition. They differ in personality, but as for quality it's hard to choose between them.

Lighter in color than the Altitude 500; I think that is partly because of a different cuvee: 50% Grenache, 30% Carignane, 20% Syrah. Spicier than the Altitude 500 and a different blend of spices--lavender, thyme, rosemary, very Provencal. Also the trademark black pepper. This 2009 has been on the shelf a couple of years longer than the same vintage of Altitude 500, and I suspect it was bottled earlier as well since it seems at a more advanced stage of maturity. The vigor that was its trademark a couple of years ago has calmed a bit, but the wine still has plenty of life. Right now, I prefer it to the Alttude 500.

Altitude 500 Parcelles Saint Nicolas Ventoux, 2009

This and the two wines to follow (above rather than below) are good examples of the kind of Southern Rhone that I like. Each has its own personality.

Deep crimnson with a youthful purplish tint at the rim. Flowers and spice to go along with the boysenberry fruit. An elegant profile. Peppery spice again on the palate--restrained but insistent. A wine that grows on you over the course of a meal. Velvety texture with nice degree of pepperiness on the finish. 75% Grenache, 25% Syrah. 14.5% alcohol.

I had the 2007 Altitude 500 about a year ago and was quite impressed. This 2009 is maybe not quite as good but comes close.

Le Bois de la Tour Haut Poitou Sauvignon, 2009

For under $10, this is a good Loire area Sauvignon Blanc--straightforward with good fruit. Right now, it's singing: gooseberries, mint, nice lift to aromas and flavors. Fresh and zesty. Not a Sancerre but comes close.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays Vaucluse Les Calades, 2003

2003 was a watershed year for Clos Saint Jean; it was the year the Maurels brought in the prestigious consultant Phillippe Cambie to help produce their wines. Up until that time, the Chateauneufs of Clos Saint Jean had a strong following (including myself) but were dismissed by Robert Parker as being hopelessly old fashioned. As far as I'm concerned, there was something positive about being old fashioned. Throughout the 1990s and late 1980s, I bought and enjoyed the CSJ Chateauneufs (the 1989, 1995 and 1998 were particularly good) and also this excellent Vin de Pays Vaucluse, which sold for $4 to $8 a bottle. Some vintages were rustic; others were fantastic, and the price was always right. The Chateauneufs did not seem to age as well as the Vin de Pays wines, which come from vines just outside the CdP appellation..

This was the last vintage that I was able to buy Les Calades in my market. I think I paid about $90 for a case, and it has given enjoyment comparable to that I got from earlier vintages. The wine still has a good bright color, though it has lightened, and there is bricking at the rim. It's much cleaner and less rustic than some vintages of the past. I get scents of cherries and Grenache spice. Smooth and clean on the palate but more than a little tired. It's still drinking well for a nine-year-old VDP, but I don't think it would measure up to the 1998 or 2001. I still have a bottle or two of those vintages which I should try very soon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Domaine du Val des Rois Cuvee Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas, 2004

The first sniff of this wine cast a spell over me: dark cherries reduced to their essence plus some peppery spice. Haunting--not quite like any Southern Rhone I've smelled. On the palate, the wine is also special. Spicy fruit, velvety texture and very concentrated flavors on the mid palate. The flavors are ripe with a strong boysenberry fruit but also dry with a black pepper edge. Only a hint of pepper, though. Valreas is a fine appellation in its own right, but this wine, tasted blind, could easily pass for a traditionally made Chateauneuf du Pape.

Xanadu Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000

The label mentions that the wine was made using a combination of traditional and modern winemaking techniques. For an Australian Cabernet, the "modern" probably refers to a fruit forward style, a somewhat high level of alcohol (15%) and aging in a combination of French and American barriques. The result is a wine that showed very well (although still a bit tannic) when I served it at my daughter's wedding in 2005 and was even better when I last reported on it two years ago. This bottle tonight is not quite as enjoyable, primarily because the alcohol is beginning to add some heat on the palate.

The color is a deep, dark ruby characteristic of good New World Cabernet. I still get a lot of pleasant fruit and oak aromas--plums, currants, anise and coffee. The oak has integrated a bit but is still a major player. All the elements are present for a big, ripe Cabernet experience at the peak of maturity, but the alcohol gets in the way on the finish, leaving a somewhat disjointed impression. This may change, but I suspect that this "modern" style of wine is at its best at about 10, rather than 12, years of age.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2010

Now this is what unoaked Chardonnay is about! Vinified in stainless steel to preserve the vibrant fruit qualities; and what great fruit it is!

Smells and flavors are of green apple--fresh and crisp. Also citrus and a nice custardy quality on the palate. Full range of Chardonnay flavors, ripe in the middle but zesty and fresh at the edges. Creamier and richer than you would expect from wine raised in stainless steel.

I've seen this wine for $10.99 at Cost Plus World Market and elsewhere--a major bargain.

Nine Stones McLaren Valen Shiraz, 2005

I've said some positive things about this wine in the past, but it has reached somewhat of an awkward stage at the moment.

Forward New World nose: blue plums, anise, coffee oak. The oak seems more dominant than it was a couple of years ago, but I think there is still strong fruit underneath. Ripe but tannic on the mid-palate. With aeration, it opens up like brown sugar. Now plums, cherries and softer tannins.

Domaine du Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Syrah, 2009

Vieux Chene's inexpensive Vaucluse wines come from vines around the winery, according to the domaine's web site. And they must be very good vines because these wines are usually several steps above VDP quality. Vieux Chen's Cuvee Friande and Cuvee de la Dame Vieille are made up of varying blends of Grenache and Syrah. And in 2009 and 2010, the estate produced a 100% Syrah and a 100% Grenache from the Vaucluse appellation. I tried the 2009 Grenache earlier this year and was quite impressed; this 2009 Syrah is also a winner.

At least at this stage the wine has a strong black pepper component--vigorous and very attractive. Also some dark berries, lavender and herbs. It's definitely Syrah--warm climate in the Rhone, cool climate in Australia. Plenty of tannins on the mid palate. It will be interesting to see how the wine evolves, but I love it at this aggressively youthful stage. Black raspberries and lavender on the finish. At 13.5%, the alcohol level is just right, and at $7.49, the price is perfect.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Buying Wine at Auction

If you know what you're looking for, it's often possible to find some good bargains by buying wine at auction. is the auction I use, mainly because they have a Chicago office where I can pick up wines in person if I wish.

Having just visited California wine country, I am amazed at the good buys in California wines in the current auction. Goldeneye Pinot Noir (from Duckhorn), for example, will cost you $55 in the shop, but the bid right now on a 2006 Goldeneye is only $30. And I suspect that will be the sale price since the wine escaped last week's auction without a bid. Anderson Valley winemakers recommend five to eight years' aging for their Pinots, so this wine is just approaching its drinking window. The bid on the 2006 Turnbull Cellars Cabernet is $20 (less than half the current release) and a terrific buy for an Oakville Cabernet.

French wines are ordinarily a bit less of a bargain, but I saw a 1998 Raymond Usseglio Chateauneuf for a bid of $25. That's less than I paid for this wine on release, and I'm expecting great things from it. The Hachette Guide considered it one of the best Chateauneufs of the vintage. Online reviews indicate that it's somewhat bretty at this stage, but some, including myself, consider that a plus in traditional Chateauneuf du Pape.

One way I have of finding bargains is by bottom fishing. On the home page, I select "other ways to browse." That gives every wine in the auction, and I hit the price button to browse from low to high. Most of the wines in the $5 and $10 category are low-end commercial wines plus other wines that could be a bit old to drink. But there are also some occasional bargains. Last month, I found two Anderson Valley Pinots (1998 Greenwood Ridge and 2000 Elke Vineyards) for $15 apiece. They may be over the hill, but I'm willing to take the chance in order to learn something about the ageworthiness of this appellation.

The negative is that buyers pay a 15% premium. Sales tax may or may not be charged, depending on the state. And there is a shipping cost that could add as much as $4 to $5 a bottle depending on how much is shipped at one time. Even so, it's possible to find some bargains.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marchesi di Montecristo Nerello del Bastardo, 1999

This is a Trader Joe's special, purchased for $5.99 and still showing itself no worse for wear 13 years after the vintage date. The color has lightened a bit but is still medium deep. While the bouquet may be less flamboyant than it was in its youth, it is no less beautiful: cherries, licorice, red flowers--very Nebbiolo and very pretty. I could sniff this wine all night and not get tired of it. There are plenty of tannins and acid to give the wine backbone and power, but the basic personality is tender: ripe cherry and licorice on a bed of red flowers. As with a good Barolo, the finish has a dry feel but not because it's devoid of fruit. I think it will continue to improve.

Domaine Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras, 1998

"This is a wine I would expect to drink at Chez Panisse," was my initial impression when I tasted this 1998 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras. It's every bit as delicious and traditional as the Provencal food from that great Berkeley restaurant, and it made me hungry for a return visit. Well, at least I can taste the wine. It's a Kermit Lynch selection, and Kermit, also from Berkeley, has ties to Alice Waters and her restaurant.

Maturing beautifully, Sang des Cailloux is very Vacqueyras in its smells and flavors: dark cherries, black licorice, earth, leather and minerals. It's now fully developed and even more typically Vacqueyras than it was when I last tasted it in 2009. Has the earthy qualities I love in Couroulou. On the palate, the wine is powerful and, again, unambiguous in its personality. Ripe cherry up front, then a bold mid-palate presence with some tannins, and finally a long, ripe finish. Is not fading one bit. And that's good because I have a few more bottles in the cellar.