Monday, December 31, 2012

Clifford Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir, 2009

As the label suggests, this wine offers up smells and flavors of dark cherries and plums. The dominant theme, though, is black pepper--the kind of pepper you would expect from a Southern Rhone wine. I like it, of course, but it doesn't fit my preconceived notions of either New World or Old World Pinot Noir.

The 2010 Clifford Bay is now on the market, also selling for about $10 a bottle. Is it equally peppery? I'll have to pick up a bottle and check it out.

As for the 2009 Clifford Bay, it's a nice enough Pinot for the price but clearly not in the same league as the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinots I've been drinking. Where are the wild berries?

Jean Descombes Morgon Revisited

The 2005 Jean Descombes Morgon I reported on a few days ago was a very pleasant wine but more one dimensional than I expected compared to my recent experiences with older vintages (1995, 1998, 2000) of the same wine. Because it was served with other wines, only about half of the bottle was consumed that first night and it was recorked and put back on the counter. Every day for the past week, I have had a small glass of the leftover bottle, and each day it got better. Tonight, as I finally finished the bottle, it had the depth that I expect from Jean Descombes Morgon. An excellent wine.

Seven years may seem like a long time to age a Cru Beaujolais wine, but, at least for my taste, it is not enough.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vincent Girardin Emotion de Terroirs Chardonnay, 2005

This is Vincent Girardin's low-end white Burgundy, but it's plenty fine for me. The grapes come from vineyards in Mersault and Puligny Montrachet, and the quality shows.

The wine offers up smells and flavors of citrus, apple, minerals, a hint of almonds and very fine grained French oak. It has a rather fat texture that identifies it as Chardonnay but silky acids that keep it out of the "big and buttery" camp. The finish has a racy tang that keeps me coming back for more. One taster, philhamelin, on Cellar Tracker wrote that Vincent Girardin "plays Chardonnay like a violin; delicate, serious, and often beautiful...With Emotion, he proves he can fiddle as well, and it can be just as pretty." Well stated, philhamelin; and well stated, Vincent Girardin. More fiddle music, maestro, please!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Chateau La Tour Saint Bonnet Medoc Crus Bourgeois, 1990

This is one of my favorite budget Bordeaux wines. I bought a case of the 1990 soon after it was released for a little more than $100, and recent vintages are not much more expensive. I saw the 2009 offered as futures for $139/case. The wine is reliable, good in nearly every vintage and pretty special in top vintages such as 1990 and 1995. But it needs to be kept for at least a decade or two before it really starts to show its best.

The 1990 is a deep ruby color, and it has a well-formed, rather powerful bouquet. Only 12% alcohol so the power comes from the fruit rather than the alcohol. Dark cherries, purple flowers, herbs and pencil shavings. Same on the palate. Medium bodied, still a bit firm even. Will still be giving pleasure for another decade or more.

The blend for Tour Saint Bonnet is 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. A couple of years ago, the Malbec cherry traits were showing the strongest, but the Cabernet is now emerging. The wine is fermented in cement tanks and matured in old oak foudres rather than small barriques. It's an old fashioned approach that still works well, and let's hope that the estate doesn't decide to change things.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ici/La-Bas "Les Reveles" Medoncino Pinot Noir Elke Vineyard Anderson Valley, 1997

How well do Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs age? I bought this wine at auction (at a good price) in order to find out, and the answer was unambiguous: beautifully. At least, that's the case for Ici/La-Bas, which is made by Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, a winemaker known for making ageworthy wines.

The color is a medium deep ruby, no noticeable amber or browning. Beautiful scents of wild berries and spices, mostly cinnamon. The spices are very bright and elegantly stated, as is the fruit. This is a wine I could sniff all night. In the mouth, the wine has silky Pinot texture, and the wild berries carry over in a long, persistent finish. Not much of the earthy quality of Pinot Noir, but I think that is part of the Anderson Valley profile. I have younger vintages of this wine to try, but, right now, it's hard to believe they could be better than this 1997.

Huber Obere Steigen Gruner Veltliner, 2008

I have previously served Huber's Hugo Gruner Veltliner with the Asian Fusion dishes of Chinn Chinn Asian Restaurant of Mattawan, MI. And the match was close to perfect. I haven't seen Hugo on the shelves recently, but this Huber wine from the Obere Steigen vineyard is an even better Gruner and also a perfect match for the excellent Chinn Chinn food.

It's a medium deep yellow with green tints. The aromas are intense and full of yellow fruits, spices, herbs and flowers. The wine has been fermented in stainless steel to preserve its fresh fruit attractions. Three months of lees contact has added body and complexity. This is a serious wine worth putting away for a few years. But there is nothing wrong with the way it is showing right now.

Jean Descombes Morgon, 2005

Compared to older vintages of Jean Descombes (1995, 2000, 2002) I've been drinking recently, this wine seems a bit one-dimensional. It has nice crushed raspberry fruit but the early blush that was so enjoyable in 1996 or 1997 has faded, and it has not yet been replaced by the complexities of a mature Morgon. The wine is ripe and soft and easy to enjoy. And, as an accompaniment to spicy Asian fusion food, it's perfect. But compared to the Domaine Diochon I had last week and older Jean Descombes Morgons I've had over the past year, it lacks dimension.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Chateau Coulinat Saint Croix du Mont, 1983

Saint Croix du Mont is a satellite appellation to Sauternes, and this wine provides a good foil to the Clos Labere beside it on the table, both in 375 milliliter bottles. Saint Croix du Mont generally gets less botrytis than Sauternes, but I think roles are reversed with these wines.

The color might be a shade darker than the Clos Labere but both are well aged. On the nose and palate, though, they are worlds apart. The Coulinat is not as sweet and doesn't have the racy acids that are keeping the Labere going, but it has considerably more depth, probably because of higher levels of botrytis. Honey mixed in with the apricots. Very different wines; both enjoyable.

D'Arenberg McLaren Vale Old Vine Shiraz, 1995

This wine was overshadowed by the Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape beside it at the table, but it is a very good Shiraz made in the old style of Australian winemaking--aged in large old foudres similar to those used in Chateauneuf du Pape.

The color is medium deep, holding up well for its age. Black and red fruits with some yeasty smells. Nothing showy here; just good wine. Medium bodied on the palate with good fruit and acid. Nothing wrong with this wine and a lot that's right.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Clos Labere Sauternes, 1983

This wine's very deep old gold color suggests that it may be a bit past its prime. And it is. Nevertheless, it's a delightfully sweet dessert wine with smells and flavors of apricots, peaches and coconut. As a second wine of Chateau Rieussec (one of the top Sauternes in 1983), it probably was made from some of the estate's less botrytized grapes. But, at least at this stage, that may be a plus for the wine. It has none of the bitter, honeycomb flavors that even the best Sauterne wines often develop in their old age and lots of sweet fruit flavors that make it a delightful dessert wine.

I paid $4.99 for a half bottle of this in the mid-1980s and am getting several times that much pleasure tonight.

Bois de Boursan Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989

This wine was drinking well when it was young--during the late 1990s--and I had several very enjoyable bottles at that time. Re-visiting the wine on Christmas day 2012, I found the same classic Bois de Boursan elements plus plus. This is a very fine Chateauneuf du Pape that shows no sign of fading.

Medium deep color. Warm, spicy bouquet. Garrigue and dark cherries. The spiciness of Mourvedre blended with the ripe berries of Grenache. Everything that I remember from a decade ago but now with additional depth and complexity. It is on the palate that this wine sings--silky smooth with sweet fruit flavors and a finish that doesn't want to quit. This is Chateauneuf du Pape at its best. Compared to the powerful, funky personality of Pegau, also near the top of my list, Bois de Boursan always seems delicate. Very different styles; I'll take both although at this point in time, Bois du Boursan clearly offers a better QPR--quality/price ratio.

I should mention that I have tasted several vintages of Bois de Boursan's better known prestige bottling, Cuvee Felix. There is no denying that it's a good wine, but I prefer the regular cuvee.

Monday, December 24, 2012

El Chaparral de Vega Sindoa Navarra Old Vines Garnacha, 2010

There is a story about this wine, from Food and Wine Magazine, that I have recounted before. About a New York City chef who loves the wine and the Spanish winemaker who showed her new ways of cooking. I'm a romantic and, having read the article, had to have a few bottles of the wine.

The color is deeper than to be expected from a Grenache wine. And there are other indications that it may have spent some time in French oak barriques. Very spicy nose with an emphasis on nutmeg. Also cherries and red berries. The label uses the term "extravagant," and I think that's a good descriptor for this wine. Rich and smooth, same spicy flavors come through on palate. Extravagant, yes. But having finished my third bottle, I'm less impressed than I was after the first bottle.

Domaine Vieux Chene Vin de Pays Vaucluse Cuvee Friande, 2009

Vieux Chene makes some excellent Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines, but I usually buy the less expensive Vin de Pays bottlings that come from vineyards right near the winery. Cuvee Friande is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.

Medium deep crimson. Delightfully open nose of fresh cherries, berries and black pepper. Not as simple as price ($7.49) implies. The 2007 Cuvee Friande became a bit flabby after about two years in the bottle, but this 2009 has much more structure. Peppery, spicy flavors with a bowl of fresh cherries on the finish. I'd go back for more of this.

Helfrich Alsace Pinot Gris, 2007

I like Pinot Gris; my wife likes Pinot Grigio, which is usually a much, much different wine even though the two are made from the same grape. This Helfrich Pinot Gris from Alsace suits me to a T even if it does have some residual sugar as many wines from Alsace do these days.

It's a medium deep gold color, just about right for its age. Blossoming smells of ripe pears, flowers and minerals. Pinot Gris strength and size. On the palate, it's rich with those hard to describe flavors that are typical of Pinot Gris...but not Pinot Grigio. Too sweet, she says. Just right, I say.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Domaine Diochon Moulin a Vent, 2000

Many who consider themselves serious wine drinkers show little respect for wines made from the Gamay grape. Perhaps because Beaujolais Nouveau has become such a cultural phenomenon, they tend to think of any wine from Beaujolais as being light, trivial and unworthy of serious attention. That's unfortunate for them but good for the rest of us because it leaves behind wines such as Domaine Diochon to pick up at reasonable price--usually between $12 and $15 a bottle. Made traditionally and aged in large old barrels, this is a wine that will age and continue to give pleasure for years and years.

Very light cherry red. The smells are also light but very intense--red berries, wild cherries and flowers. Lovely. Dances lightly on the tongue, but there are strong tannins and acids--as persistent as those of a wild raspberry. The essence of elegance--tensile tannins, intense smells and flavors. A wine that grows on you with sip after sip. Very Pinot-like but better than most Pinots I have tasted.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rabasse Charavin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne, 2004

There was a time--many years ago--when Cairanne wines were considered better than those of Chateauneuf du Pape. A few years ago, when I tried a 2000 Clos l'Oratoire Saint Martin Cairanne Reserve head-to-head against a 1995 Clos Saint Jean Chateauneuf du Pape, there was no question in my mind: both wines were very good but the Cairanne was superior.

L'Oratoire Saint Martin ranks near the top of Cairanne producers, but Rabasse Charavin is right there too or not far behind. Unfortunately, Rabasse Charavin has not been available in my marketing area since the mid-1980s. That's why I was so excited when I saw this 2004 and the 1999 Cuvee Estevenas of Rabasse Charavin available by auction on For a ridiculously low price of $10, I scored eight bottles of the 2004 and four of the 1999. My first taste tonight confirms that I was indeed a winner.

A beautiful bouquet is just forming, and it's classic Cairanne: dark cherries, lavender, spice and black pepper. Very concentrated and very yummy. Still smells and tastes young. I think some of the grapes (probably the Syrah) were picked earlier than is typical for Cairanne because there is some tart acidity on the mid-palate. But that's no problem; it just accentuates the deep pepper traits. Good acid, good tannic grip and lovely, lovely fruit. Some of the Grenache vines at Rabasse Charavin are pushing 100 years. I love it.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2010

This, in my view, is what Macon-Villages is all about--a fine unoaked Chardonnay with personality and character. It's been fairly widely available for about $12 a bottle.

The color is medium deep and youthful, but the wine has changed since I tasted it a few months ago. Then it was brisk and lively; tonight, it is mellow with broad Chardonnay smells and flavors. Apple, peach and minerals. Smells and tastes like an unoaked Chardonnay should. Best for drinking right now with just about any light meat or vegetable dish.

Gran Sasso Terre de Chiete Sangiovese, 2008

I had a glass of this Sangiovese at Salt of the Earth Restaurant in Fennville, MI several years ago and liked it so much that I kept my eye out for it at local wine shops. The bottle I found cost less than $10. And with a couple years of aging, it's even better than it was at Salt of the Earth.

Deep ruby. Dark cherry, peels, plums, nice floral notes. Smells and tastes like a Chianti but much smoother on the palate. Plenty of tannins but they are ripe and velvety. At a good stage of maturity. Would buy more.

Pierre Bise Clos de Coulaine Savennieres, 1998

This is a very unusual wine--one for connoisseurs of Loire Chenin Blanc. The color is a very deep old gold--almost like a 20- to 30-year-old Sauternes. But while the wine may look dead, it very definitely is not. Pungent smells, very hard to pin down and describe. Minerals, honey, botrytis but no oxidation as you would expect from the color. And on the palate, it shines. Smooth and rich like a Vouvray but much drier. Botrytis tones and some pleasant bitterness on the finish. This Savennieres requires your full attention--definitely not for casual drinking as an aperitif. And it drinks better when the bottle has been open, aerated for several hours and warmed. At room temperature, the bitterness fades into a rich, ripe Vouvray taste. I'm not sure I've ever encountered such strong skin tannins in a white wine, and that's one reason it is unusual.

1998 was not a good vintage for Savennieres or at least for Clos de Coulaine. I'm looking forward to trying the 1997, 1999 and 2000. But I feel I have learned something about Chenin Blanc and about Clos de Coulaine for having this wine at this stage of its maturity. If you search for my previous notes, you will probably find they were not this positive.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Prince of Pinot Rules

During my recent fling with North Coast Pinot Noir, I keep running into tasting notes by the Prince of Pinot. Nearly any wine I seek information about, I can find it from the Prince of Pinot. Who is this masked rider?

Although his writing style strikes me as that of a younger man, the Prince of Pinot is actually another retired ophthalmologist, William "Rusty" Gaffney, M.D.,  who has decided to devote his life to writing about fine Pinot Noir. That's slightly less expensive than buying a vineyard in the Anderson Valley, as Dr. Larry Londer, another retired ophthalmologist, did.

Dr. Gaffney's web site,, has almost anything you might want to know about Pinot Noir, and he produces a monthly newsletter, PinotFile, that is one of the most informative I have ever read. What's more it is FREE! At the web site, you can download all the past issues and get on the mailing list to be notified when a new issue comes out. For the commercial newsletters--Burghound, The Wine Advocate, International Wine Cellar--PinotFile has to be a major headache. The Prince of Pinot clearly has beaucoup tasting experience, and his reviews seem to me to be right on target. I highly recommend the site and the publication.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Domaine Sante Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint-Gervais, 1999

This is my favorite of all the Domaine Sainte Anne bottlings. It has a high percentage of old vine Mourvedre in the blend, and that shows up in beautiful spicy tones after about 10 to 12 years in the bottle. This 1999 is showing well right now.

Medium deep ruby. Warm, round, spicy Mourvedre with Grenache berries at the edges. Also some subtle floral scents. Very typical of Sainte-Anne style. On the palate, even more developed Mourvedre spice and black plums. Broad flavors. Mature and relaxed Saint-Gervais.

Mendocino Vineyards Mendocino County Chardonnay, 2009

I've searched all over the internet and can't find a reference to Mendocino Vineyards except for this 2009 Chardonnay. The label says the grapes are 100% organic and that the wine was bottled and cellared by Mendocino Vineyards (wherever that might be). The appellation, though, is Mendocino County. It's a large appellation with both cool and hot areas, but this wine is showing the acidity you would expect from a relatively cool climate.

Medium deep gold. Green apples, lime. There is a vanillin, lime oak presence but it doesn't get in the way of Chardonnay smells and flavors. Brisk acidity and some pleasing ripeness on the finish. I like this. More like a Macon than a typical New World Chardonnay.

I doubt that I'll ever track down Mendocino Vineyards; it's probably a second label of a better known winery. The wine, though, is being closed out at Harding's Markets in Kalamazoo for $5.99 and, for that ;price, I'm going back for more.

Domaine du Val des Roise Signature Cotes du Rhone Villages Valreas, 2004

Pinot is always exciting, but now I'm back in the arms of my true love, and Emannuel Bouchard's Valreas is one of my all-time favorites from the Southern Rhone. I remember well this same cuvee made by Emmanuel's father, Romain Bouchard, back in the mid-1980s (was it 1983, 1985 or 1988?). It just kept getting better and better, and I think he taught his children well. The younger Bouchard spent 15 years in bio-medicine before taking over the winery that has been in the family for nine generations. But he has clearly adapted well to a different kind of biology and a different kind of medicine. This 2004 Val des Rois has always been good but tonight it's sensational.

The color is a very deep crimson/ruby. The age is showing in subtle tints, and there's none of the artificial darkness that comes from small barrels. Deep, deep, deep bouquet. Black pepper (both the Grenache and Syrah variety) plus black fruits, herbs and spices. Dark, deep and intriguing. Very compact and concentrated on the palate. Flavors burst out from all directions and levels. This is a special wine--not similar to Chateauneuf du Pape nor Gigondas but maybe better in its own way. Old vines, yes. And low yields. Traditional winemaking at its best.

This may be my last bottle of the 2004, but I still have several of the 2007 Val des Rois Signature which should be even better when it reaches full maturity.

Painted Gate Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 2008

You may have noticed that I'm in the middle of a little fling with North Coast California Pinot Noir. My first love is still Southern Rhone, but my trip to the Anderson Valley last spring has kindled a little interest that has introduced me to some very enjoyable Pinots. I saw Painted Gate at World Market for $9.99--an excellent price for a Pinot with a specific Sonoma County (as opposed to California) appellation. Sonoma County is, of course, not as prestigious as Russian River or Sonoma Coast. (The latter, though, is much broader than it appears and the eastern edge is a good 30 miles inland.) And the vintage is the dreaded 2008--the year of the forest fires in northern California. Nevertheless, the wine is worth a try.

The color is a medium ruby, and I'm met immediately with attractive spicy, floral tones. Also dark cherries and, yes, a hint of smoke but not too much. The silky Pinot texture is on the palate along with some more smoke that is actually very pleasant. Adds some dimension. For $10, yes.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Repeal of Prohibition--Yea!

The repeal of Prohibition fortunately happened several years before I was born--on December 5, 1933. for my parents, unfortunately, repeal meant nothing; they remained teetotalers until the day they died.

I'm not planning anything special on December 5, but I did accept a generous wine-buying opportunity from Yorkville Cellars. To celebrate the Repeal Anniversary, the winery is offering wine by the case at half price. Phone orders are taken only on December 5, but online orders may be made earlier--50% percent discount plus free shipping! Case orders only--12, 24, 36 bottles, etc.--but the cases can be mixed.

I tasted through the whole range of Yorkville wines when we were in California last Spring, and I liked everything I tasted. It's a good old-fashioned tasting room, not unlike many of those in Michigan, with no pressure and no tasting fees. My favorites were the Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot so I put together a mixed case of those along with a few of the versatile Hi-Rollr Red, a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Probably because I signed the winery guest book, I received a flyer announcing the sale, but I'm sure Yorkville would not turn away buyers who did not receive the offer. You'll probably need the discount code: BUGSY. Say the secret word, and the speakeasy door will open.