Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Domaine Sainte Anne Cotes du Rhone Villages Saint Gervais, 2000

This wine has reached a good place, and I suspect it will stay there for several years. It's Sainte Anne's top cuvee, containing a relatively high proportion of Mourvedre (60%) along with Grenache (20%) and Syrah (20%)..

Very deep, purplish. Sediment crust on one side of bottle. Mature Mourvedre spice and violets. Very lush, almost like blueberry dumplings. Has the Sainte Anne stamp: does not seem tannic but has the stuffing to age forever. Same on the palate. Ripe fruit flavors front to back. Mourvedre spice is showing but also plenty of Grenache berry and Syrah backbone. Gains depth and complexity as it airs and warms. Everything I expect from this cuvee, one of my favorites.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, 2005

With the Los Carneros Pinot Noir fresh in my memory, I wanted to try a red Burgundy of similar price from a very good vintage. This is the last of a six-bottle lot of Matthieu de Brully Bourgogne Pinot Noir, and it seems to be at a good stage of maturity.

Medium light color with some amber forming. Dark cherries and ginger. Warmer and broader than the Los Carneros. Not as intense or focused but decent depth. On the palate, ginger and Pinot earthiness dominate. Generally, not as exciting as the New World offering but perhaps more subtle and reserved. It's a very enjoyable dinner wine.

As you've probably noted, my bias is strongly toward European wines, but at the $10 to $15 level that I've been sampling, I would have to give the nod to Pinots from Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast and Carneros.

Bodegas Osborne 7 Red Wine

I was offered a glass of this wine from the appetizer table at a party and decided: why not? With the ultra-modern label and name, I didn't expect much. On first smell and taste, I decided this was probably a Rioja, and a pretty good one at that. As I continued to sip and taste I became increasingly more impressed. Not Rioja but better than many.

Some really beautiful, complex fruit aromas. Violets and berries. Reminds me of Mourvedre, but no...maybe Grenache. Pretty hard to pin down but very appealing and not at all simple. Flavors don't disappoint, either. Medium to light bodied, not much, if any, oak. Good fruit flavors.

I found myself drinking two glasses of this wine and made a point of looking at the label. Osborne is a reference to the highly respected producer of high quality Sherry. The "7" apparently refers to the seven varieties in the blend: Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Tempranillo and Graciano. No Mourvedre, after all. And the wine is available in a bag in a box, for the equivalent of about $5 a bottle. Great value.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cameron Hughes Lot 266 Los Carneros Pinot Noir, 2009

This wine is my introduction to Cameron Hughes, a California-based negociant. The concept of a negociant is common in Europe, not so much in the United States. Launched by Cameron Hughes and Jessica Kogan a little more than a decade ago, the group seeks out and buys small to medium lots of wine that its tasters judge to be worthy and then bottles them under the Cameron Hughes label. Cameron Hughes does not grow the grapes nor make the wine; it buys wine that has not found a home and sells it for a higher price under its own label. In some cases, the wine comes from a prestigious producer who doesn't want to absorb the bad PR of closing out excess wine at bargain basement prices. At least, that is the impression Cameron Hughes would like to convey. And it worked for me.

According to C-H, Lot 266 was being sold as "North Coast Pinot Noir" by a large producer, even though half of the grapes came from the Carneros appellation in Napa County and half from Carneros in Sonoma County. In other words, it's Carneros Pinot, which is worth $25 to $35 a bottle rather than North Coast Pinot which is worth only about half that much. As a terroirist, that's the kind of information that gets my juices flowing.

How about the wine itself? Medium lightr. Beautiful aromas of flowers, herbs, fresh berries and spice. Subtle but intense and lovely. The smooth Pinot texture is there. Black fruits, cinnamon and, for better or worse, none of the earthy qualities often found in red Burgundy. Lingers. Lovely.

Lot 266 is definitely New World and cool climate--a face of Pinot Noir that is quite appealing to me. Ripe but not overly sweet. Delicate but not insipid. The subtlty is apparent: it matched up perfectly with grilled salmon but got lost when paired with black bean chili. This lot is sold out at C-H but available at D&W Markets in Kalamazoo for $14.99. I plan to go back for more; hopefully it will still be there for the next 15% off sale.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pesquie La Terrasses Ventoux, 2008

The 2008 vintage of Pesquie La Terrasses Ventoux sold for less than $10 at D&W Market in Kalamazoo. That's about 40 to 50 percent less than more highly rated vintages such as 2009 and 2010. As far as I'm concerned, though, the quality is at least as good as those higher-priced vintages. Wish I had bought more while I had the opportunity.

The color is a deep crimson, perfect for a Southern Rhone. Very aromatic: blue plums, red berries, cinnamon and just the right amount of Grenache pepper. Plump and juiicy on the palate. Good finish. Everything you should expect from a Ventoux or from a Pesquie La Terrasses. I doubt that this 2008 is going to get any better, but I suspect it will hold at this level for a year or two.

Pesquie La Terrasses is always a bit pricier than other Ventoux wines, probably because it's marketed more effectively by Eric Solomon and, in top vintages, gets raves from Robert Parker. (The 2010 was awarded 94 points--undoubtedly the reason for the higher price.) But it's not necessarily any better than lower priced Ventoux such as La Vieille Ferme, Altitude 500, Font-Sane or Cuvee les Trois Messes Basses. Ventoux is a very under-rated appellation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Taste of Rhone

A Taste of the Rhone was the theme of D&W Parkview's wine dinner Sunday at the Oakwood Bistro.

The 2011 Mas de Bressades, Costieres de Nimes is a white wine--a blend of Viognier and Marsanne from an area south of Chateaneuf du Pape. Served with smoked salmon and mascarpone mousse beggar's urse with caper gremolata and extra virgin olive oil. Medium deep gold. Flowers, Red Haven peaches. Very pretty, as you would expect from Viognier, but more versatile as a dinner wine. The Marsanne adds body and richness.

2010 Domaine Ogier Le Temps Est Venu is basically a Cotes du Rhone, but it's too international in style for my taste. Darker color than a typical CDR. Sweet vanilla smells and flavors. Not much spice, pepper or garrigue. That's what happens when you put Grenache in new oak barrels. Too sweet for me, but there are those who prefer this style. The second course dish, though, was the highlight of the eveningj: deep fried poached duck egg with dressed frisee and pepper cured pork belly. WOW. The duck egg was crisp on the outside but still runny enough to coat the pork belly. Layers of flavors and textures.

2009 Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Garancieres is another internationally styled Rhone wine imported by Bobby Kacher. I usually avoid them, but the new oak seems to work here, maybe because 60 percent of the wine was aged the traditional way, in foudres. The best of both worlds, I guess. The color is deep and dark (barriques?) Big, big, big nose--wild blueberries and lifted Gigondas fragrance. Oak is in the background, adding some complexity. Big, rich mouthfeel. Made for lovers of New World Cabernet who want a slightly gamey twist. Paradoxically, it seems to get more tannic, oaky and alcoholic as it airs. It will probably go through that stage before it opens up again in a few years. Served with lentil cassoulet with venison and pheasant. Another excellent dish and very well matched to the wine.

2010 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone. At about $10 a bottle, this is the least expensive wine of the evening, but it held up well with the main course: braised country lamb ribs with a smoked garlic flan, powdered bleu cheese and sliced, grilled Portobello. I've already bought half a case of this Cotes du Rhone and believe that it was showing better a year ago when I tried it. Smells a bit tannic tonight but eventually opens up. Black fruit, spice and light pepper. Medium bodied and basically traditional. I would come back to this in another year for maximum pleasure.

2009 M. Chapoutier Banyuls. Served with the dessert: rosemary shortbread, salted caramel and a tart cherry compote. Very dark.Black fruits, licorice and alcohol. A fortified wine; 90% Grenache. Thick and sweet.

Joseph Mellot Destinea Vin du Pay du Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

I have in the past enjoyed Joseph Mellot's Sancerre wines, and this lower level Vin de Pays Sauvignon is made in a similar understated style. Five years after the vintage date, it is still a light color. Aromas are fresh and pretty--gooseberries, lime and green leaves. None of jalopenas or green bell peppers that you often get in New Zealand Sauvignons. In the mouth, it's as refreshing as a Sauvignon Blanc is meant to be. For $10 to $12 a bottle, you get a taste of the Loire Valley terroir.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

MezzaCorona Vigneti delle Dolomiti Pinot Grigio, 2011

Year after year, I keep an eye on the new release of MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio. It's usually about $8.99 when released but at some time during the year, it will be discounted to $6.99, and, at that time, I buy. Even at $9 or $10, though, it is an excellent buy.

As the label explains, all of MezzaCorona's wines come from the estate's own vineyards in the foothills of the Dolomites mountains in northeastern Italy. The Dolomites are rugged and snow-capped. So even in the foothills, the climate is cool, explaining the fresh, brisk, clean aromas and flavors. And the foothills are lined with limestone soil, similar to the soil that produces the wonderful mineral-laced wines of Chablis and the Loire in France.

I always drink MezzaCorona young because it's so fresh and lively--a good Spring and Summer wine but also enjoyable tonight on one of the coldest days of the year in Michigan. The first smells I get are minerals, then fresh herbs--mint and parsley. The fruit is under-stated but present: melon, peach, green apple and citrus but a stiff acid backbone. MezzaCorona Pinot Grigio is never showy but always fresh and clean, leaving the palate ready for another taste. If you drink carefully, examining all the nuances, there is much to find. More likely, you will drink it because you are thirsty, and it goes down all too easily.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Domaine de la Tourade Gigondas, 1998

The lamb stew is all the better for having been made with the Clos Saint Jean Vin de Pays Les Calades (see below). And, as I suspected, the Domaine de la Tourade Gigondas is the perfect match for lamb stew.

Three or four years ago, when I last tasted this 1998 Gigondas, I thought it was nearing its end. Drink up, I thought. But old viney Grenache-based wines can fool you. The primary fruit aromas and flavors have given way to beautiful secondary traits, and the wine is just entering its most enjoyable stage. Wish I had more!

I smelled hints of oxidation in April of 2009, and I still smell them tonight. But they have become more attractive, like the crinkly lines around the eyes of a classically beautiful older woman. Delicacy and elegance but with the twinkling power of a good Gigondas underneath. Still some cherries and berries--more dried than fresh tonight but no less enjoyable. And a garden full of garrigue--thyme, rosemary and sage. What the stew lacks, the Gigondas provides very nicely. The finish is intense and deep.

Clos St. Jean Vin de Pays Vaucluse Les Calades, 2003

With a cellar like mine, I nearly always have a few reds and a few whites that I am no longer eager to drink, and these wines come in very handy for cooking. Unfortnately, or I shoukl say fortunately, right now, I am particularly low on cooking wines so I was doubtful when I pulled out this 2003 VDP, which cost about $5 or $6 but has always given a lot of pleasure. From vineyards just outside the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation, Les Calades is a long-time favorite and was ridiculously under-valued until Clos St. Jean suddenly became Parkerized about 2003. The 2003 vintage (also Parkerized) is not a favorite of mine, but this VDP has always been one of my top 2003s--not overly sweet or alcoholic as many Southern Rhones from that vintage are.

When I popped the cork, I became even more doubtful. Wow! This is good stuff. Intense aromas of black fruits, leather, garrigue and black licorice. Same on the palate with good fruit concentration, firm acid and a long, pleasing finish. This is a wine that would go well with the lamb stew. But I had planned to drink a Gigondas so into the pot it goes. But I save a glass for now and a few more for later.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

For Info on Loire Wines, See Richard Kelley's Site

If you're interested in wines of the Loire Valley (and anyone looking for artisan wines on a budget should be), you should check out the wine site of Richard Kelley, an English Master of Wine who is doing incredible work in this area ( Kelley, I believe, is the one responsible for bringing to market the lovely "Le Pinot Noir" wine that I report on below. The Cave St. Verny also produces a Gamay wine that Kelley likes even better and that I would very much like to try, although I doubt that it will appear in my market since wine marketing people are so reluctant to take Gamay serious as a wine grape.

I really didn't intend to make fun of the label for Le Pinot Noir. It is very attractive but seems to be attempting to lure unsophisticated foreigners into buying wine from a region that is largely unknown, even in France. (Read Kelley's piece on the Cotes d'Auvergnes for a profile of the region.) Australians do it with crass labels featuring kangaroos and koalas. Le Pinot Noir is a far more sophisticated approach, and, unlike Yellow Tail Shiraz, introduces you to a very good wine.

NOTE: Don't forget the second "e" in Kelley's name. It's not the most common spelling of the name, and there is actually another web site,, that contains a dangerous trojan, according to my Internet Security program.

Cave St. Verny Le Pinot Noir, 2007

The packaging for this wine reminds me of an American trying very hard to seem French but not really succeeding. It's an impressive design, though: all-black (noir) label with the words Le Pinot Noir in gold letters; then some attractive orange dots underneath. For information about vintage and appellation, you have to go to the back label. I had serious doubts about the authenticity of this wine, but the price was $9.99 minus 15% because of the sale in progress at D&W Market.

What's in the glass is not at all disappointing. It's definitely not red Burgundy; it comes from the St. Verny cooperative in the Cotes d'Auvergne, a long neglected wine region near the Rhone Valley. Gamay is a major grape there, and I suspect there may be some Gamay in this wine, even though the label proclaims only "le Pinot Noir." The color is medium light ruby. Aromas and flavors are fresh, lively and very Pinot in character. Wild mixed berries with just enough spice and a subtle cracked black peppercorn trait on the finish once the wine aerates and warms. Crisp, chewy tannins countered by ripe fruit. It's definitely French but a face of Pinot Noir that's unique and quite pleasant. At this price, I will certainly be drinking more.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Grao Vasco Dao Tinto, 2000

I drank a lot of Portuguese dry reds in the late 1970s, and Grao Vasco Dao was one of my favorites, often selling for $2 to $3 a bottle or even less. Glad to see that it's still around and still a bargain--$5.99 right now at World Market.

The color is impenetrably dark and deep, and so are the aromas and flavors. It's thick and chewy from skin and pip tannins but there are still bright fruit qualities showing through. Plums, figs, blackberries and spice. Big and powerful, though only 13.5% alcohol. Also good intensity and freshness. $5.99? Why don't I buy more Portuguese dry reds?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Manzanita Creek Chalk Hill Foothill Vineyard Chardonnay, 2010

The Chalk Hill appellation is an area on the west side of the Mayacamus Mountain Range in northeast Sonoma County--warmer than the rest of the Russian River Valley, cooler than Alexander Valley. Chalk Hill is best known for its white wines, particularly Chardonnay, and the Salerno brothers, winemakers at Manzanita Creek, say they are committed to producing wines that reflect the terroir.

That's why I bought this wine, for the terroir...along with the fact that it had been marked down from $23 to $10 at World Market. Unfortunately, I didn't learn much about the terroir or personality of Chalk Hill wines because the winemakers had been a little heavy-handed in their use of new oak. I get very powerful and quite pleasant smells and flavors of lime and vanilla. Very rich on the palate. This certainly meets the definition of "big and buttery." But where is that special Chalk Hill fruit? I know it's there, under all that oak, because the big concentrated flavors are persistent and not a thin veneer, as in many heavily oaked wines. While the wine is very pleasant to drink now, I will wait a few months to let the oak and fruit integrate a bit more. At $9.99, it is unquestionably a good value.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Les Trois Couronnes Gigondas, 2007

After tasting through the whole range of Les Trois Couronnes wines (Cotes du Rhone, Vacqueyras, Gigondas, Chateauneuf du Pape), this Gigondas stood out as my favorite. And at one time I found it priced at about $10 to $12 bottle. That's less than half the price of other Gigondas wines, and not much more than the price of a good Cotes du Rhone. Then again, the wine is not as good as my favorite Gigondas wines such as Cayron, Font-Sane and Tourade..

It's a big, powerful wine--as Gigondas bottles tend to be. Dark color and lots of tannin. Aerating the wine with the Rabbit device makes the wine significantly more drinkable. Black plums, spices and more than a hint of underbrush. With aeration, the wine is rich and ripe--perhaps a bit too ripe for my taste. That may be the vintage. For the same price, I'd be willing to take a chance on the 2009 or 2010.

On the second night, the wine shows more nuances of black pepper, skins, stems and seeds. It's a very traditionally made wine and should become more multi-dimensional with a few more years in the bottle--maybe five or six years. That;'s fine with me; I have a few more bottles.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Loimer Lois Kamptal Gruner Veltliner Trocken, 2009

The label and closure for this Austrian Gruner Veltliner is so green that it's hard not to think green when you smell or drink it. And green it is, although a very pleasant shade, fresh, understated and lovely like a sprig of mint on a gin and tonic. I've read descriptions of Gruner that mention wax beans, lima beans and legumes as part of the aroma/flavor profile, and I never can find any of these. White pepper? Yes, and a touch of green apple and lime. Descriptors are hard for me to come up with, but the wine is fresh, complex and lovely.

Lois is not named after a woman of that name but rather refers to loess, wind-borne soil that covers this area of lower Austria. Lois is not a Gruner to put away but I always find nuances emerging after an hour or so at the table. Very good with vegetable-oriented meals.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Domaine Rabasse Charavin Corinne Couturier Cainanne Cuvee Estevenas, 1999

If I had opened this wine last week, it would have been my Wine of the Year for 2012. And I seriously doubt I will encounter anything in the next 12 months to match it.

Corinne Couturier took over Rabasse Charavin from her father, Robert Charavin, in 1985 and has been crafting some of the best wines in the Southern Rhone since that time. Cuvee Estevenas is her top Cairanne offering, with 80% of the juice coming from Grenache vines 100 plus years of age. The rest is Syrah from vines 25 to 30 years of age. The grapes get excellent exposure to the southern sun for complete ripeness and concentration. Cuvee Estevenas, like all of Couturier's wines, is made traditionally in enamel-lined stainless steel and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

The color is very dark cherry, still bright and youthful. Even though I didn't decant the wine, as the domaine suggests to release all of the nuances, the bouquet is beautifully deep and broad--very old viney. Leather, anise, dried and fresh fruits. Like some of my favorite Chateauneufs du Pape, it has the compactness of a rich fruit cake--deep, deep layers of smells and flavors. On the palate, the wine is surprisingly fresh with delicate red berry flavors from front to back. A haunting kind of elegance that comes only from a special wine that has been well aged. An hour later, the wonderful flavors are still lingering in my memory as well as my tongue.