Thursday, March 29, 2012

Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru, 1992

Poured from a 375 ml bottle, this 1992 Puligny-Montrachet is a deep old gold well it should be after 20 years in the bottle. A sniff and a taste reveal, though, that this wine has a few years yet to go. It has a wonderfully rich bouquet: red roses, cherries, tropical fruits and hazelnuts--very engaging. On the palate, it's full bodied with a range of flavors, including a strong mineral component. Perfect balance of ripeness and acidity. Clings to the palate on the finish. Not a great wine but a special experience. Well chosen oak has contributed to the beauty of this wine, but, even at this age, the fruit is still dominant. This is what mature white Burgundy is all about.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Domaine de Font Sane Gigondas, 1998

Oh yeah! This is Gigondas the way I like it. I've been sampling the 1998 Font-Sane for the last two or three years, and this is the first bottle that is really ready to drink. The crimson color has turned slightly, and the bouquet has come together beautifully--dark peppery, licorice tones countered nicely by the spicy, uplifting qualities of Provencal herbs. The black peppercorn provides excitement in this wine. It's not just a simple dash of pepper but a quality that reverberates, weaving its way in and out of the spicy fruit flavors. Beautifully ripe on the finish. The Gigondas power has given way to Gigondas beauty. This will be wonderful drinking over the next five years or so.

Altos de Luzon, 2006

I am a fan of Finca Luzon's low-priced Jumilla Monastrells--both the organic Verde and the regular black label. Altos de Luzon is a higher-end offering--a blend of Monastrell (50%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%) and Temperanillo (25%) aged for 12 months in French and American oak. It aspires to a more international style, and the Wine Enthusiast calls it "the winery's high-expression baby." The fruit is at least as distinctive as that used in the lower priced Monastrells, and that's saying a lot. It's savory, spicy and sweet with notes of blueberries, ripe cherries and violets. This 2006 has benefited from its time in the bottle, and I suspect it will be even nicer in five or six years.

Domaine de Beauregard Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, 2006

I usually think of Muscadet as a wine for early and uncomplicated drinking. With this wine, anyway, that was a mistake. The last bottle of a half case, this has clearly benefited from a few extra years in the bottle. It has lovely citrus and floral tones with a hint of sea salt. Brushes the palate very lightly with its distinctive leesy qualities. Stylish is probably the word for this wine, and it's very enjoyable.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rhoning Stones Cotes du Rhone, 2007

I didn't buy many upper end Southern Rhones from 2007, even though the vintage was highly regarded by many critics. My view of the vintage, fair or not, was shaped by lower end Cotes du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone Villages wines, many of which were a bit too ripe and one dimensional for my taste. This 2007 Rhoning Stones Cotes du Rhone--apparently made by a cooperative--is one of the exceptions. Although this bottle lacks some of the complexity I found in a bottle opened last July, it is still drinking nicely.

Good deep crimson color, turning to brick around the rim. Grenache spice and peppercorns plus Syrah dark berries and cassis. Ripe and rounded on the finish and probably at its peak right now.

Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone, 2009

I bought and enjoyed several bottles of the 2007 Les Trois Couronnes Cotes du Rhone. At $6.99, it was one of the least expensive Southern Rhones of the 2007 vintage and a decent, traditionally made wine. This 2009 is several notches higher in quality, in my opinion, and I understand that the 2010 is even better. The price, though, may have increased a bit, at least in some areas.

On first opening, the wine is beautifully aggressive: pepper, spice and fruit in good proportions. Good depth and strength. The blend is 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, but I sense some earthy, spicy qualities that I ordinarily expect from Carignane. 2009 Les Trois Couronnes is very ripe but has good pepper and spice for balance and a racy finish. On the second and third nights, the wine is rounder and riper, more like the 2007. It should age for another year or two, but I like the vigor it brings to the table right now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Paul Jaboulet Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, 1989

At first taste, this wine is remarkably similar to the Mount Langi Ghiran Shiraz below. Actually, that's not all that remarkable since both come from 1989 Syrah grapes and are made in a similar style--fruit oriented but not fruit bombs.

The appearance is similar: deep, dark ruby with significant crusting on one side of the bottle. The smells and flavors are also similar: red and black fruits, cassis and a hint of black olives. The Jaboulet Crozes is much less aromatic, however, and there is a smell of juniper berries that my wife considers offputting. Many Thalaberts from the 1980s have this juniper berry note, and I believe it comes from the seasoned barrels used at the estate during this time. On the palate, it's initially richer and fuller than the Langi with black olives more apparent. It's also more acidic. Over time, though, it fades, and, on the second night, it's not nearly as enjoyable. This wine is a bit old for its years, and it's still my least favorite Thalabert of the 1980s.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz, 1989

I opened this wine in memory of the late Trevor Mast; 1989 was, I believe, his second vintage after buying Mount Langi Ghiran, and he considered the vintage a good one. I had a case of the 1989 and remember the lovely black pepper qualities that emerged during the first five years or so of its life. I haven't opened a bottle in recent years and am pleasantly surprised by the development.

The color is a deep, dark ruby with plenty of crusty sediment left on one side of the bottle. Wonderfully mature and aromatic Syrah; reminds me of a Hermitage la Chapelle of comparable age. Fresh berries and cassis. The black pepper has integrated into the fruit smells but still has a presence. Very much a French Hermitage. On the palate, it's full bodied, but oh so silky smooth and elegant--has the texture of a special wine. More acid lift and less thickness than your typical Aussie Shiraz, and that's to its credit, in my opinion. Hints of Provencal olives on the lovely ripe finish. Thank you, Trevor.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Trevor Mast, Australian Winemaking Legend, Dead at 63

I was saddened to learn of the death last week of Trevor Mast, age 63. Widely recognized as one of Australia's top winemakers, Trevor is best remembered by me as a generous man. He was generous with his time, his knowledge, his love of wine and his friendship. All of those who knew him will miss him greatly.

Actually, the devastating blow that culminated in Trevor's death came about six years ago when he was diagnosed with younger onset Alzheimer's disease. Since that time, his condition deteriorated rapidly, although he continued to live at home under the care of his wife, Sandra.

Sandra and my wife, Donna, were high school classmates, and we have kept in touch with the family for many years. When Donna and I visited the Masts in Melbourne a year ago, Trevor may have recognized us but he was unable to say more than a few words such as "yes" and "no." His superb taste for wine had left him. What we noticed and admired most during that visit was the loving care Sandra gave him and the strong bond that still linked them as husband and wife. It was truly touching to see. The burden of caring for a grown man with a mind that is rapidly regressing to that of a child is clearly more than most of us would want to face. I'm sure Sandra, their four daughters and the rest of their family are devastated at this time by their loss but at least it is a final blow and not the day-by-day loss that they have been experiencing for the last six years.

My thoughts of Trevor dwell on his overwhelming generosity. Knowing my love of wine, he never hesitated to share his vast knowledge. Long before he purchased Mount Langi Ghiran winery--while he was still an assistant winemaker at Seppelt's--he fell in love with the Shiraz grapes from a site in the Grampian Mountains, then owned by the Fratin brothers. Year after year, the Fratin brothers' grapes were used to make Seppelt's top-of-the-line Show Reserve Shiraz. Before buying the property in 1985, Trevor worked as a consultant for the Fratins and visited us in Kalamazoo, Michigan at a time when he was attempting to market Mount Langi wines in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Trevor and Sandra bought the property--beautifully situated in the mountains--and started making some of the first and best cool-climate Shiraz wines in Australia. Trevor loved the Hermitage wines of Jaboulet and Chave (as I do), and he succeeded beautifully in emulating that style. Introducing that style to an Aussie wine-buying public accustomed to big, bold, highly extracted Shiraz wines was no easy task, but Trevor was up to it. My experiences tasting alongside him at wine store tastings or at home are treasured memories. With his boyish charm, tousled red hair and good humor, he was never intimidating but could somehow guide you to find the best qualities in the wines you were tasting. I remember when he asked me to taste through his complete line of barrel and recently bottled samples and write down my impressions. He nodded and respected my judgment, and it was several weeks later that I discovered that my favorite wine of the tasting was one of his failures. "The Cabernet fruit for that year was very light, and it ended up getting way too much oak," he said. "I don't know how I'll ever get it out." Australian and American wine drinkers like the smell and taste of oak, and Trevor took a risk when he started giving them less, rather than more of it. He once turned down the job of winemaker at Taltarni, he told me, because the winery wanted a more extracted style of wine than he was willing to make. Ultimately, Trevor's style and taste won the day, with me, and with many other wine lovers.

When my family last visited the estate, Mount Langi Ghiran wines were selling for about $10 to $12 a bottle. After the Langi Shiraz was featured, along with Grange Hermitage and Henschke's Hill of Grace, on the cover of the Wine Spectator, the price quickly went to $40 and beyond. Trevor and Sandra later sold the winery with Trevor staying on as a consultant for a few years until the effects of his illness made it difficult to continue. Losing Trevor Mast is a major blow to his family, his friends, his colleagues and everyone who likes the lovely taste and smell of real Australian Shiraz. Trevor's memory is in the glass, and it will linger.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A-Mano Italian Pinot Grigio, 2010

I've written before about the young American/Italian couple who produce this wine. The winemaker, Mark Shannon, was trained in California, but he and his Italian partner, Elvezia, have bought vineyards in the bootheel of Italy. I've liked past vintages of both the Pinot Grigio and the Primitivo.

Medium deep yellow with bright tones. The label mentions apples and peaches, but I smell mostly peaches, ripe pears and nuts. This 2010 is not quite as crisp as previous vintages and leans toward the fuller bodied Pinot Gris style. Not as delicate or tightly focused, but I still like the broad fruit and nut flavors. And it's lively and fresh enough to make it a good wine for serving on the deck this spring and summer. At $7.95 a bottle, it's well worth a try.

Domaine l'Oratoire Saint-Martin Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Cuvee Prestige, 1998

The "drink up" label I put on this wine in June of last year was apparently premature. At the time, I detected some alcohol showing on the finish, but I don't find anything wrong with this bottle. It has turned yet another corner and is now even more special.

Sediment is forming, but the color is still a good deep ruby with only hints of amber. The bouquet is classic for this wine and its appellation: cherries (dark and red), Provencal herbs, berries and a hint of cinnamon. The wine is showing maturity in the best sense; all of its parts have come together nicely. Crinkly Grenache berries and spice on the long, beautiful finish. Many of the grapes in this cuvee come from 98-year-old vines, and that shows in the wine's personality. It's very, very hard to take the glass from your nose and mouth.